Halloween Extravaganza: INTERVIEW: Jeff Parsons

Meghan: Hi, Jeff. Welcome to Meghan’s House of Books. Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Jeff Parsons: I’m married with 3 children. I’m a Mechanical Engineer with Nuclear Engineering experience working in a Civil Engineering position doing IT work (well lately, that’s mostly true). So, my thoughts are more than a few standard deviations away from familiar territory, a mindset that’s perfect for writing, btw. I’ve been toying with the idea of getting back into pen & pencil artwork for my upcoming book. Over 20 of my short stories have been published as well as two books of short story collections. I am a servant to 2 cats named Buddy and Holly. They are benevolent overlords.

Meghan: What are five things most people don’t know about you?

Jeff Parsons:

  • I collect ancient coins. My oldest coin is from Sicily 5th Century B.C.
  • I volunteer medical services for the fire department’s Community Emergency Response Team.
  • I’ve co-authored four classified scientific papers. Luckily, I’ve forgotten everything relevant about them so I’m no longer a target for kidnapping by disgruntled nations (and I’m sure the gruntled ones never cared either).
  • I used to fly airplanes solo as a student pilot. My longest solo flight visited two airports for about 500 miles total. Yeah, that was scary, especially flying through an unexpected thunderstorm.
  • I love computer games that are in an open immersive world setting like Assassin’s Creed Olympos. I feel like I’m living in the past except there’s no fear of dying (I only fear boredom).

Meghan: What is the first book you remember reading?

Jeff Parsons: I first read a lot of horror comics and Mad Magazine.

My first book was Fire-Hunter by Jim Kjelgaard. It’s about living in prehistoric times. It had a simple plot but was fun to read.

My first serious book was The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. It had beautiful woodblock drawings in it. The plot had an enormous amount of depth to it – something quite new to me. I got hooked on books after that.

Meghan: What are you reading now?

Jeff Parsons: Day by Day Armageddon by J.L. Bourne. He knows his military tech and the book is written with an extraordinary sense of realism to it.

Meghan: What’s a book you really enjoyed that others wouldn’t expect you to have liked?

Jeff Parsons: The Princess Bride by William Goldman. It was hilarious, even funnier than the movie.

Meghan: What made you decide you want to write? When did you begin writing?

Jeff Parsons: For the longest time, I’ve done technical and marketing writing at work. I knew that fictional writing was fun and it was a great way to feel creative. I felt I could make a contribution due to my background and life experiences (actually, I think many people can do the same if they want to). I always wondered what it would take to get published. I searched on the internet for the best way to get started. The simplest way was to submit short stories to small press magazines that accept new authors. From there, be persistent, keep on getting published, building up a resume of accomplishments that shows your commitment (street cred). In my early writing years, about a decade ago, I received excellent feedback from some editors. I used that constructive criticism to sharpen my skills while holding onto my own ideas about what I wanted to write. Since then, as painful as the process can be, I treasure objective critical evaluations from editors and my writers’ group.

Meghan: Do you have a special place you like to write?

Jeff Parsons: I often write while watching tv. I think it’s because my thoughts become more spontaneous if I’m a little bit distracted. I used to study while listening to music, so I think the theory works for me. Sometimes, to get a different point of view, I go to a noisy coffee shop to write.

Meghan: Do you have any quirks or processes that you go through when you write?

Jeff Parsons: I don’t write a story immediately. I let an idea simmer. I let it gather along with other ideas to form a plot. For me, I need the plot to be solid before I start writing in the details. It’s like building a house – you need the foundation and framework up first before you do everything else (excluding utilities). Nothing is worse than writing something contradictory that makes no sense. Speaking of making no sense, sometimes the characters write the story for me and I just sit back and get all the credit.

Meghan: Is there anything about writing you find most challenging?

Jeff Parsons: I write first drafts on paper. It’s more flexible for me and I can do it practically anywhere, but eventually the mad scribbling needs to go into the software. I hate typing my edits into my computer. It’s agony. I mean, have you seen my handwriting? Seriously.

Meghan: What’s the most satisfying thing you’ve written so far?

Jeff Parsons: A recent sci-fi story about how a post-apocalyptic human fights back against titan invaders with the help of some aliens. The story absolutely resounds with rah-rah courage in the face of overwhelming odds.

Meghan: What books have most inspired you? Who are some authors that have inspired your writing style?

Jeff Parsons: City Infernal by Edward Lee. Pompeii by Robert Harris. Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke. Armor by John Steakley. The Hobbit by J.R.R Tolkien. The Conan the Barbarian series by Robert E. Howard. Short story – A Sound of Thunder by Ray Bradbury. And everything H.P. Lovecraft.

Meghan: What do you think makes a good story?

Jeff Parsons: A good story affects you on a personal level. It’s relatable. The scenes are real. It provokes emotions. It makes you think. You can apply it to your life. You learn something useful to you. Also, it has to flow seamlessly like water when you read it. Using too much description distracts away from the story. From my Toastmaster years, I’ve learned that reading a story aloud can help you detect any awkward parts.

Meghan: What does it take for you to love a character? How do you utilize that when creating your characters?

Jeff Parsons: The characters must be real. No perfect people are allowed. There are many sides to everyone; no one is completely good or evil. Also, everyone has their own personality but strangely, we often share common life experiences. This is really scary when you consider that even the worst people can occasionally do good deeds – perhaps in some aspects of our lives, we’re not as unique as we think we are.

Meghan: Which, of all your characters, do you think is the most like you?

Jeff Parsons: Recently, I wrote a story about a Maine State Detective. He had an intuitive knack for solving cases. In a similar way, I think I’m clever simply because I think differently than most people. Despite unverified anecdotes to the contrary, I’m only mildly afflicted with the ravages of intelligence.

Meghan: Are you turned off by a bad cover? To what degree were you involved in creating your book covers?

Jeff Parsons: I’m definitely turned off by a bad cover. Like most people, I make an initial visual judgement based on the cover, then if it’s interesting, I’d scan the book summary. It’s not fair, but it’s an effective way to quickly choose what you’d think about buying. Also, if they took the time to make a decent cover, it makes me think that the rest of the book will also have the same level of attention. My current book was a collaboration between me and my fabulous publisher Hellbound Books. (Shout out to HBB – woot woot)

Meghan: What have you learned creating your books?

Jeff Parsons: An outline is essential. Your first draft should just capture the framework of your ideas, not be anything remotely perfect. It should be extremely drafty (like at hurricane level F5). Also, take some time off from writing if you’re starting to feel burnt out. You have to find a way to make this fun. I often listen to music or a movie while doing the various aspects of writing (outlining, wordsmithing, editing, editing, editing, weeping bitter tears, staring into the abyss, wallowing in willful ignorance, more editing, etc.). Overall, what’s the point of writing if you don’t want to? And why choose writing? There are far easier ways to accomplish goals, make money, or get attention.

Meghan: What has been the hardest scene for you to write so far?

Jeff Parsons: I wrote a story about an android saying goodbye to his dying cat. I drew from my own experience at the vet with my cat Princess. Heart-breaking but happy in a way. I’m glad her pain was taken away quickly and that I was there for her in her last moments.

Meghan: What makes your books different from others out there in this genre?

Jeff Parsons: Bold, daring, and unique is what I’ve heard about my writing, at least on the up side. I shall not utter the words of the dark side (they come from Mordor, bad juju). When I write using technical jargon, I often know what I’m talking about. If I writing about feelings or romance, it’s a good idea for me to reach out for another’s perspective. (e.g. Jeff, are you daft? A woman would never say that… ahhh, I say)

Meghan: How important is the book title, how hard is it to choose the best one, and how did you choose yours (of course, with no spoilers)?

Jeff Parsons: Lately I’ve been shopping online. The title is what I see after the book cover. If the title is silly or something that doesn’t interest me, I move on, leaving my brief emotional commitment behind. Coming up with a thought-provoking title is difficult. For my latest book, I thought about what the meaning of horror to me: life is unpredictable, like a moth to the flame – we’re all just one event, mishap, of decision away from things that could change our lives forever. Thus, my book was named, The Captivating Flames of Madness. The Victorian goth cover shows a pair of hands carefully holding a candle and in the flame is a death’s head.

Meghan: What makes you feel more fulfilled: Writing a novel or writing a short story?

Jeff Parsons: My two published books are collections of my short stories. I’m working on a novel now and it’s quite the long-term learning experience. I know so much more now than I ever did, but it’s difficult at times to keep at it. Taking a break from writing helps from time to time. In contrast, short stories give me almost immediate gratification and since I’m easily distracted by shiny objects and chocolate, the Pavlovian write story/ get reward dynamic works well for me.

Meghan: Tell us a little bit about your books, your target audience, and what you would like readers to take away from your stories.

Jeff Parsons: I usually write about real people in the world around us. Then, I ease in the unusual or supernatural into the story. I’d like for people to think there’s a greater world out there we don’t know anything about. I’m also curious about what the past was like. Not all fictional tales have to be sunshine, rainbows, and puppies… Horror is like the safety in riding a roller coaster, being close to danger but not in actually in danger. I like stories that make us think outside our comfort zone.

Meghan: Can you tell us about some of the deleted scenes/stuff that got left out of your work?

Jeff Parsons: Not much to say. I often delete parts that interrupt the flow of the story. Usually, they’re small snippets because I keep the plot line snug and tight. It’s difficult to let an interesting description go… the decision process is about as easy as doing algebra in a foreign language. A good writer’s critique group is helpful for trimming away the fluff.

Meghan: What is in your “trunk”?

Jeff Parsons: I’ve been working on an alternative history Lovecraftian book for the last three years. In maybe another year, I’ll be ready to set it loose on the world.

Meghan: What can we expect from you in the future?

Jeff Parsons: More short stories books. I’m also getting interested in sci-fi horror. I think I’ll be flexing my technical muscles more and reaching out more for critical help. I’d like to receive some gratis art work for my book, from those who’d wish to get known by PR…

Meghan: Where can we find you?

Jeff Parsons: Facebook

Meghan: Do you have any closing words for your fans or anything you’d like to say that we didn’t get to cover in this interview?

Jeff Parsons: If you’re writing, make sure it’s fun. Pay attention to how people behave – go watch them… Write about what interests you, not what you think others want to read.

Thank you for your kindly invite to share.

Jeff is a professional engineer enjoying life in sunny California, USA. He has a long history of technical writing, which oddly enough, often reads like pure fiction. He was inspired to write by two wonderful teachers: William Forstchen and Gary Braver. In addition to his two books, The Captivating Flames of Madness and Algorithm of Nightmares, he is published in SNM Horror Magazine, Bonded by Blood IV/ V, The Horror Zine, Dark Gothic Resurrected Magazine, Chilling Ghost Short Stories, Dystopia Utopia Short Stories, Wax & Wane: A Coven of Witch Tales, Thinking Through Our Fingers, The Moving Finger Writes, Golden Prose & Poetry, Our Dance With Words, The Voices Within, Fireburst: The Inner Circle Writers’ Group, Second Flash Fiction Anthology 2018, and Year’s Best Hardcore Horror Volume 4. For more details, visit his Facebook Author Page.

This book’s title comes from the reality that – like a moth to the flame – we’re all just one event, mishap, or decision away from things that could change our lives forever. 

What would you do if fate led you astray into a grim world where you encountered vengeful ghosts, homicidal maniacs, ancient gods, apocalyptic nightmares, dark magic, deadly space aliens, and more?

If you dare, why not find out? 

Read for yourself the twenty-two gloriously provocative tales that dwell within this book – but be warned, some of my dear readers have experienced lasting nightmares…