Halloween Extravaganza: INTERVIEW: Mark Sheldon

Meghan: Welcome to Meghan’s House of Books, Mark. It’s a pleasure to have you here today. Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Mark Sheldon: I’m thirty-seven and I live in Southern California with my wife of ten years, Betsy. We don’t have any children, but several nephews and a niece that keep us plenty occupied.

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

Mark Sheldon:

  • I was born in Hawaii.
  • I traveled up the Yangtze River a few years before the Three Gorges Dam was built.
  • I lived in Germany for three months when I was in third grade. The only German I really remember is the phrase “Ich bin ein kleines gewerbegebiet,” which translates roughly into “I am a little business district.” I was an odd child.
  • I also write music.
  • My spirit animal is a penguin.

Meghan: What is the first book you remember reading?

Mark Sheldon: First one I read by myself was definitely Green Eggs and Ham.

Meghan: What are you reading now?

Mark Sheldon: Stephen King’s The Green Mile. It’s been on my bucket list to read that one for decades, and finally gotten around to it.

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

Mark Sheldon: Ooh, that’s a hard one, because I really wear my heart on my sleeve as far as the kind of books I read. Closest answer I can give is that I didn’t hate The Cursed Child nearly as much as the majority of the Harry Potter fandom did.

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

Mark Sheldon: I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember – and I’m pretty sure that before that I was telling stories. Earliest story I remember writing was in Kindergarten, and was about a mystical crystal from outer space which created the dinosaurs, and when it’s power died out so did they, and that was why they went extinct. Had pictures and everything.

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

Mark Sheldon: Someday, when Betsy and I get our dream home, I’ll have a writing nook and all that jazz, but at this point in my life I pretty much squeeze in my writing where and when I can.

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

Mark Sheldon: Normally I’m a very thorough plotter. I had sketched out the detailed plots of all twelve books of The Noricin Chronicles before I even wrote the first book. With the Sarah Killian books, I’ve gone for a more free-form approach, where I’m basically just writing as I go along. I have the overall story arc in my mind, but I haven’t done any sketching or pre-plotting on paper before I set down to write each book. It’s proven both liberating and challenging, but I think the freeform technique lends itself well to Sarah’s frenetic personality.

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

Mark Sheldon: The “afterwork” – promoting, etc. I love writing, I love the editing process, and everything leading up to publication, but I’m a fairly humble person by nature, so “selling myself” isn’t something that comes naturally to me.

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

Mark Sheldon: I’ve very fond of my short story, The Life of Death, which was included in Crystal Lake’s anthology Fear the Reaper. As suggested by the title, it’s the story of Death’s life and the events that pushed her to don the cloak and scythe.

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

Mark Sheldon: Too many to list for sure, but top of the list would be everything by Douglas Adams. I loved the books of Dean Koontz when I was a teenager, but have kind of grown out of him now that I’m older. J.K. Rowling has had a huge impact on me as a reader and writer – not just Harry Potter, but I am extremely fond of her Robert Galbraith books as well (Casual Vacancy was well-written, but not really my personal cup of tea). Dan Brown is sort of my guilty pleasure author.

Meghan: What do you think makes a good story?

Mark Sheldon: If only it were that easy, heh! I think the characters are the most important part of any story. You could have an amazing plot, but who cares if there isn’t anyone you care about inside of that plot? That said, I have always been a sucker for a good surprise ending.

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

Mark Sheldon: I love any character with snark. I am something of a smart-ass myself, so I love characters that can hold their own in a verbal joust. I think that should be fairly evident to anyone who has read the first chapter of Sarah Killian: Serial Killer for Hire.

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

Mark Sheldon: The trio of Mike, Dan, and Shelley from The Noricin Chronicles are probably the closest representation of the different aspects of my personality. Mike being the socially awkward nerd, Dan being the idealist who believes in standing up for what is right, and Shelley the smart-ass.

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

Mark Sheldon: I wouldn’t necessarily say I’m turned off by a bad cover, though an intriguing one certainly will catch my eye more. For The Noricin Chronicles, since I was self-publishing and had a budget of $0.00, I designed all the covers myself, except for the first one. For the Sarah Killian books, both covers were designed by Ben Baldwin, an artist with Crystal Lake, so I wasn’t quite as involved with those designs obviously, but I gave Ben some basic ideas about the books’ themes, events, and Sarah’s character, and he went from there.

Meghan: What have you learned creating your books?

Mark Sheldon: I think most people imagine authors as sort of fantastical gods, creating their worlds and characters, divining the events and trials that their subjective characters will have to face. The truth is, at least as I and several other writers I know have found, we don’t have nearly as much control over what we write once the pen starts moving. Amy Reyshell in The Noricin Chronicles was particularly stubborn about doing what she wanted, regardless of what I had sketched out for the plot ahead of time.

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

Mark Sheldon: I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but the end of The Relics of Time (Book 5 of The Noricin Chronicles), was definitely the hardest scene I’ve written so far. I had to do things in that book that made Betsy stop talking to me for a few hours. That said, the first scene of Sarah Killian three is going to be extremely difficult for me to write when I get to it – I can’t really get into why without spoiling the end of Book 2 – and will almost certainly surpass The Relics of Time in becoming the hardest scene I may ever write.

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

Mark Sheldon: For the Sarah Killian books that’s easy, because I’m not aware of any other horror-espionage books out there. Not saying they don’t exist, but they haven’t come across my radar yet if they do. The Noricin Chronicles was written to be more of a mainstream work, however it’s still relatively unique, I think, in the way that I blended history and literature into my original story. Other writers have certainly tackled blending history with an original story or pre-existing literature with a new story, but there aren’t many books out there that did both to the extent that I did in The Noricin Chronicles.

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)?

Mark Sheldon: I’d say the title is even more important than the cover – especially in the current age of digital books, there are instances where the title is the first and maybe only impression a reader will get before reading the summary and deciding if they want to buy. For Sarah Killian: Serial Killer for Hire, the title was really what came first, so that was easy and the rest of the story just evolved out of me figuring out exactly how a serial killer who worked for hire would function. The title for the second book – Sarah Killian: The Mullets of Madness – came to my mind as I was writing the first book, when early on Sarah mentioned that there were few things in the world she could stand less than a man with a mullet. As soon as she had said that, the title Mullets of Madness struck me as a good name, and I knew that I would be using it for her at some point in the series.

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

Mark Sheldon: There is certainly more of a buildup for the completion of writing a novel. Months or even years of writing, re-writing, re-re-writing, so of course the satisfaction of finally having come to completion on that is really incomparable. However, there’s also something very satisfying about being able to tell a complete story in such a succinct format as the short story form. So I’d say both are very fulfilling, just in very different ways.

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

Mark Sheldon: Like I mentioned earlier, Sarah Killian is a very unique blend of horror-espionage. Sarah works for a secret organization known as T.H.E.M. – the Trusted Hierarchy of Everyday Murderers. T.H.E.M. contracts out various types of killers – such as your standard assassins – but Sarah’s branch of Professional Serial Killers is a somewhat more specialized breed of killer for hire. When put on assignment, Sarah will blend herself into a community for months – maybe even years – at a time, creating two separate personalities within that community: the “dupe,” who is the everyday person that Sarah pretends to be while on assignment, and the profile of the killer who will be taking out the group of people that she has been contracted to exterminate. She uses various tools out of the James Bond and Mission: Impossible playbooks to help her create these personas and blend into the community without raising suspicion.

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

Mark Sheldon: There really isn’t too much from Sarah Killian that ended up on the cutting room floor. My editors at Crystal Lake have been very generous with the editing process and been more interested in technical details than re-working my vision, so I’m very grateful for that. I mentioned earlier that the character of Amy Reyshell in The Noricin Chronicles gave me some difficulty – as I’d originally drafted it, she and Dan weren’t supposed to start dating until around the fifth book, however about hallway through book four I think it was (it’s been almost ten years since I’ve published them, and I’m not one to re-read my own books after they’ve been finished), she said to me, “To hell with that shit, I’m not waiting any longer” and made out with Dan in front of the whole school.

Meghan: What is in your “trunk”?

Mark Sheldon: Not sure if this entirely qualifies, but I have a book I wrote called The Motif which I finished a few years ago and is waiting for the right home to publish it. It’s a suspense novella about a song that drives people to murder-suicide when they hear it. Sort of like The Ring, but with an MP3 file instead of a video tape.

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

Mark Sheldon: Sarah Killian 3 is the next project I’m going to start working on. Sarah’s primary story arc will be completed with that book – not saying that this will be the end of her books, I will always be open to continuing on with her story if the inspiration strikes, but for now I will be wrapping up her current storyline with the third book. After that, I have a sci-fi horror book that’s been plugging around in the back of my brain for a while that I would like to actualize. And from there on – who knows?

Meghan: Where can we find you?

Mark Sheldon:

Facebook: Author Mark Sheldon, Mullets of Madness, Noricin Chronicles

Twitter: I sadly had to retire my Twitter account, due to being hacked, and
have not had the time or energy to start a new one from scratch.

Website ** Email

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?

Mark Sheldon: Just thank you for this opportunity, and I always love hearing from people who have enjoyed my writing!

Mark Sheldon is the author of The Noricin Chronicles and the Sarah Killian series. He has also published a collection of short stories titled Mores From the Maelstrom. He lives in Southern California with his wife Betsy.

Sarah Killian 1: Serial Killer (for Hire!)

Meet Sarah Killian, a professional serial killer (for hire!) with a twisted sense of humor.

Sarah Killian is not your average thirty year-old single woman. Foul-mouthed, mean-spirited, and a text-book-case loner. Also, she is a Professional Serial Killer. 

In this Crime Fiction / Thriller novel with a twisted sense of humor, Sarah works for T.H.E.M. (Trusted Hierarchy of Everyday Murderers), a secret organization of murderers for hire headed up by the mysterious Zeke. You’ll be surprised to learn who their biggest clients are. Conspiracy theories, anyone? 

But a wrench is thrown into the clockwork of Sarah’s comfortable lifestyle when, on her latest assignment, she is forced to take on an apprentice, Bethany—a bubbly, perky, blonde with a severe case of verbal-vomit. In short, Bethany is everything Sarah is not. 

Will Sarah be able to adjust and work with her new apprentice, or will she break her contract with T.H.E.M. and murder the buxom bimbo?

So if you’re looking for a strong female lead that doesn’t care what you think, in a book similar to the best of Dean Koontz and J.A. Konrath, then look no further than Sarah Killian – Serial Killer (For Hire). 

Just don’t call her an ‘assassin.’ You might not live long enough to regret it.

Sarah Killian 2: The Mullet of Madness

Have you ever woken one morning with a burning, insatiable desire to go out and kill someone?

Sarah Killian, a notoriously foul-mouthed and mean-spirited serial killer for hire, along with her cohort assassin Mary Sue Keller, are back on assignment for the Trusted Hierarchy of Everyday Murderers (T.H.E.M.).

After receiving an ominous warning from a mark-gone-wrong, it becomes clear that Nick Jin—Sarah’s former nemesis—is still at large and singling her out.

Sarah and Mary Sue are dispatched to Tennessee to discreetly kill off an accused family of KKK organizers, but their true mission is to lure Nick Jin into a trap. But will Nick—always several steps ahead of T.H.E.M.—see their bait for what it is? One thing is guaranteed: blood will be shed.

In the spirit of Sidney Sheldon, Dean Koontz, and Joss Whedon,The Mullets of Madness is a truly unique blend of horror, suspense and espionage.

Halloween Extravaganza: INTERVIEW: Kenzie Jennings

Meghan: Hello, Kenzie. Welcome to the new Meghan’s House of Books. Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Kenzie Jennings: I’m an English professor living in the humid tourist-hub of central Florida, and I keep wondering why I’m still here because I hate hot weather. It may have to do with having a job with benefits and time off to write, all of that sort of thing, but I’m not sure. I may need to get out more.

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

Kenzie Jennings:

  • I’ve never had a single best friends. I’m a military brat (and was a military spouse), which might be the reason I’ve never had one.
  • I hate vegetables. All of them. I eat them only because I have to… because ADULTING, that’s why.
  • I was once a portrait photographer for a company that shall not be named due to its suckiness.
  • At one time, I lived not far from a sumo training facility and dorm – known as a “stable” or “beya” (I was living in Tokyo, and many people I know know this about me, but not about the sumo thing). The first hint for us (my ex and me) were the huge towers of empty pizza boxes we kept seeing that had been left outside the building for the garbage-men. No one else in Tokyo would’ve had an appetite quite like that.
  • My mom once hired a medium to communicate to the ghosts in our house, and my parents had bought a house with, obviously, a lot of history to it. My little sister had kept seeing an old woman in her bedroom, just watching her there, and years later, when another family was living there, the little boy who had that room said the same thing. So, naturally, the most logical thing to do would be to hire someone to have a nice chat and a cuppa with the resident “nanny” there.

Meghan: What is the first book you remember reading?

Kenzie Jennings: L. Frank Baum’s Oz books (the creepiest children’s series ever, IMHO).

Meghan: What are you reading now?

Kenzie Jennings: Student essays

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

Kenzie Jennings: Around the World With Auntie Mame. I love the sour wit of the narrator and all the oddball characters… oh, and I loved the Rosalind Russell movie, too, by the way, so reading the novels was just… fitting for me.

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

Kenzie Jennings: I began writing when I was 9 or 10 when I was at my loneliest, if anything, to open new doors and make up imaginary friends to love and villains to fight.

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

Kenzie Jennings: I often wind up writing on my sofa in the living room, which is so comfy but, later, so bad for my back. It forces me to get up to go for a walk in order to stretch out the kinks.

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

Kenzie Jennings: I have a really mad collection of virtual Stickies all over my desktop screen, some for characters, some for plot turns, but most of them for continuity so that I don’t forget who did what, who has what, what happened at one point to whom, etc. Continuity is my weak point. I can’t remember anything.

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

Kenzie Jennings: Besides continuity, I find plot development especially difficult. I can come up with a great concept, but I can never seem to figure out what comes next. It takes me awhile— sometimes weeks, even months, to figure out where things are going.

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

Kenzie Jennings: Jayne, Juxtaposed was the most satisfying work I’ve ever done. It’s a (and forgive the awful genre term) “chick lit” superhero novel. It took me 5 years to complete, and I wrote it during the worst possible time in my life thus far.

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

Kenzie Jennings: Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, Jeff Strand’s Pressure, Bentley Little’s The Ignored & The Store, Natsuo Kirino’s Out, Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’ Diary, Gillian Flynn’s Sharp Objects, Jenn Ashworth’s A Kind of Intimacy, Jack Ketchum’s Off Season & Old Flames… (among many more)… have all inspired me. I don’t know if they’ve inspired my writing style, but they have certainly presented the kind of character development and storytelling I enjoy.

Meghan: What do you think makes a good story?

Kenzie Jennings: Interesting protagonists that change, strong dramatic tension (heavy climaxes help, too, and that just sounded really dirty of me), a good sense of description, believable dialogue, and a satisfying ending make for a good story to me.

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

Kenzie Jennings: I don’t have to love any character to make me interested in her or him. Some of the most fascinating characters to me are the most awful “people” with complex motivations. I’ve more respect for authors who can make us root for the unpleasant ones as well as the usual suspects, those shiny, idealized heroines and heroes. One of the most common critical notes from male readers who’ve read my stuff is that I don’t craft “nice” or “(more) likeable” female protagonists, but it isn’t always necessary to do so. Female protagonists can be unlikable. I mean, authors like Ruth Rendell and Gillian Flynn created a whole collection of them, for shit’s sake, and I really believe that’s why we’re hooked by their work. Not only that, my characters must be—above all—complicated. They can be darkly funny, awkward, prissy, anxious, lost, silly, and so on, sure, but if they’re not complex, and sometimes even quite difficult, they’re not authentic to me.

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

Kenzie Jennings: None of my characters are really like me, but they may have certain qualities, idiosyncrasies, or situations that mirror (or have mirrored) my own. For example, in Reception, the protagonist, Ansley Boone, suffers from benzodiazepine withdrawal syndrome, something I’d been afflicted with for years having been overprescribed and then (horribly) weaned off lorazepam. I’ve used both my research and my own experiences with it to, more or less, craft what she’s going through. That said, she’s more impulsive than I could ever be, and she makes some truly horrible decisions along the way.

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

Kenzie Jennings: I am utterly turned off by a bad cover. Who isn’t, really? Bad font style, outdated stock photos, busy-background-dark-font, all of it… Just no. I was incredibly fortunate to be invited to offer input for Reception’s cover. Not only that, Jarod and Patrick from Death’s Head Press hired a friend of mine, the immensely talented Lynne Hansen, to do the cover, and she definitely made it sing. It’s a glorious, gorgeous cover that grabs one’s attention. It’s also darkly funny too, and I love that sort of thing. (It’s purposefully made to look like a wedding magazine cover)

Meghan: What have you learned creating your books?

Kenzie Jennings: It’s okay to gamble some when writing. There are readers for everything. Not everyone is going to dig Reception because it’s gory and shocking in places, but I kept on telling myself it was okay for me to write what I actually wanted to write.

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

Kenzie Jennings: The last scene/ending of Reception. I completely rewrote that ending three times. The one I settled on will be the most polarizing for readers, but I don’t care. It’s how it HAS to end.

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

Kenzie Jennings: The narrators’ voice(s). I’d like to say something more sophisticated than that, but that’s it really. Although, I’ve never read a cannibals-at-a-wedding novel.

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)?

Kenzie Jennings: Titles are as important as the cover. I am not all that clever at coming up with titles. An ex-boyfriend (also a writer) came up with Jayne, Juxtaposed, which was brilliant and simple, but now if I continue it on as a series, each title will have to be like it, and now that the ex is not around anymore, I’m kind of unsure where to go with it. Reception was easy because… well, it’s about a wedding… and things go bonkers at the reception.

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

Kenzie Jennings: Writing a novel makes me feel more fulfilled. I am awful at short stories. I didn’t used to be. Nowadays, I’m so into long form that I’ve forgotten how to keep things to a minimum. It’s not that I ramble. I don’t think I do. But I like crafting connected scenes and developing characters that change slowly (and meaningfully) rather than rapidly.

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

Kenzie Jennings: Since I’m fairly new to this novel-writing thing, I’ll simply mention Reception. Its tag line is “A wedding already burdened with family drama goes batshit when, during the reception, the groom’s family reveals themselves to be cannibals.” I think readers who like their stories with some contemporary family drama and gore will love it. I don’t know what sort of target audience that is though. It’s for horror readers, for sure. As for readers taking away something from it, how about something like… I hope they simply enjoy the ride, and we’ll see how we do with that?

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

Kenzie Jennings: I made some cuts to some of the more frivolous set up scenes, like the one in the salon, which was a lot longer than I’d intended. Some of the more humorous bits were removed because they were silly and made no sense in the long run.

Meghan: What is in your “trunk”?

Kenzie Jennings: I have way too much in my “trunk,” some of it probably junk. Most are short stories I don’t know how to finish. One day though.

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

Kenzie Jennings: I’m working on a psychosexual horror thriller titled Nice Girl about a woman who, to put it mildly, doesn’t care much for being rejected. I was inspired in part by an opinion piece I’d read in Medium about the Incel subculture that spawned the likes of Elliott Rodger and Alek Minassian. The general thesis of the piece was that women could never be Incels (even though the term was created and self-appointed by a woman) because we’re taught to blame ourselves when we’re rejected rather than blame the men who rejected us. I thought… well, I guess it’s time to develop a story about a female Incel.

Meghan: Where can we find you?

Kenzie Jennings: Website ** Amazon ** Twitter ** 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?

Kenzie Jennings: To get in a celebratory wedding mood, have a glass of bubbly while reading Reception… and don’t eat anything too heavy. You’ll need to run at some point.

Kenzie Jennings is an English professor currently residing and sweltering in the humid tourist hub of central Florida. She has written pieces for a handful of news and entertainment publications and literary magazines throughout the years. Back when she was young and impetuous, she had two screenplays optioned by a couple of production companies, but her screenwriting career ended there, and she hasn’t looked back since. Reception is her debut novel.

Reception

While her rehab counselor’s advice replays in her mind, Ansley Boone takes on the role of dutiful bridesmaid in her little sister’s wedding at an isolated resort in the middle of hill country, a place where cell reception is virtually nonexistent and everyone else there seems a stranger primed to spring. Tensions are already high between the Boones and their withdrawal suffering eldest, who has since become the family embarrassment, but when the wedding reception takes a vicious turn, Ansley and her sister must work together to fight for survival and escape the resort before the groom’s cannibalistic family adds them to the post wedding menu.

Halloween Extravaganza: INTERVIEW: Jack Rollins

Meghan: Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Jack Rollins: I live in Newcastle in the North-East of England. I have three children: a daughter and two sons. I’ve been writing for about twenty years, in which time I have worked in government jobs, the financial sector, adult education, and social care, as well as started and sunk a couple of businesses. No matter how many times I’ve reinvented myself, writing has always remained a part of me.

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

Jack Rollins: This is difficult, because I’m known to share quite a lot with my readers across my social media.

  • I run a head shop/new age gift shop.
  • I was divorced by the time I turned 23.
  • I love to sing.
  • My favorite fictional character is Sydney Carton, from A Tale of Two Cities.
  • I love a good board game.

Meghan: What is the first book you remember reading?

Jack Rollins: I remember a little Ladybird Books, skinny hardback of The Golden Goose. I loved that story, the artwork in the book was amazing. I read it again and again. I could only have been a boy of about four or five at the time. The first novel I can remember reading was Roald Dahl’s The BFG, which I was very happy to read again last year, to my sons, across several bedtimes.

Meghan: What are you reading now?

Jack Rollins: On my Kindle app, I’m reading The Hidden, by Fiona Dodwell. I love this story as it’s set in Japan, and I’m a sucker for Japanese culture. I loved the J-horror movies of the 90s and early 00s, so this story takes me back to that time, you know, seeing The Ring and Audition for the first time.

In paperback, I’m reading Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk. I love the movie, but I never did get around to reading the book. So I’m correcting that now, and I’m pleased to say, my familiarity with the movie has not diminished my enjoyment of the book at all.

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

Jack Rollins: I loved The Time Traveller’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. To this day it remains one of my favorite books. The movie adaptation was a travesty. They butchered that book. Someone should’ve been tried for murder when they produced that thing.

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

Jack Rollins: At school, I always used to mutate creative writing assignments to whatever I wanted to write. Often the teachers would give feedback like: “Entertaining, but has little connection to the brief. Excellent effort.” I took that as a win. If out of all thirty stories they read when they marked their work, they were still entertained by mine, I didn’t give a shit about the brief. That was a win as far as I was concerned. I got more serious about it in my twenties, but didn’t consider myself a writer as such until my early thirties, when I wrote The Cabinet of Doctor Blessing.

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

Jack Rollins: When the shop is quiet, I get a chance to write. I’m trying to forge out a bit of a routine now, so I can really rack up the word count on some long-languishing projects. But anywhere I can write with minimal distraction becomes, by default, a special place to me.

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

Jack Rollins: No, I just battle my lazy brain, or anxious, depressed brain, whatever it is my head tries to throw at me, and then I settle down and hammer the keyboard. I’m trying to ensure I don’t need any little rituals, because not having those down perfectly can become a reason not to write. We have so many distractions these days, don’t we? So it could be easy for me to go down a Twitter rabbit-hole and get lost for 2 hours and realize I now don’t have time to write, because I have to go shopping, or pick my kids up. I need to just be disciplined and write without any bullshit excuses.

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

Jack Rollins: Remaining free of distraction, and being in the moment enough to find the flow. Some scenes I write can be a bit bumpy to get started, I’m not into it. Then I get going and the characters sort of take over and direct me.

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

Jack Rollins: I’m satisfied just to get anything finished. It’s been a hard slog this last few years, I don’t mind admitting. A story like Tread Gently Amidst The Barrows was satisfying because I’d never even considered writing about trolls. I enjoyed learning about the mythology of those creatures and thinking of ways to make it mine. You know, how can I take this idea and make it feel like a Jack Rollins story?

It was the same with Anti-Terror, trying to feel my way around a briefing which was as simple and as complex as: write a story for an Extreme Horror collection. So I had to decided, what is extreme? What’s extreme for me? What are the things that I normally flinch away from in my writing, and how do I get it across in a way that still feels like my story?

In my current work in progress, Carsun, I created a new villain to help me get past the block that prevented previous incarnations of this story from being released. I wrote a scene in which this evil presence is revealed to one of the good guys, and when I finished writing that part, I sat back, very happy with myself and very satisfied that this new addition was the piece that will bring this story right out of development hell. That one scene, when I hit the end, was one of the most satisfying things I have written and when Carsun is released in early 2020, I feel really positive that horror readers will get right into it.

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

Jack Rollins: I try not to be over-influenced, really. I remember noticing that when I was starting out, when I was reading David Copperfield, the character descriptions in my writing at the time, became overly-long and out of step with what a modern audience would expect. I try to read for pleasure as opposed to inspiration.

The exception would be Adam Nevill. He inspires me to dig deeper, work harder and really get to the core of the words that will send a shiver up a reader’s spine. Every (fiction) book that I’ve read with his name on the cover has at least once, caused me to feel fear. That’s how into his stories I get. No other writer has every caused that kind of reaction in me. I often wonder if he and I share some common fears. So I think he’s a good role model for me to have as a writer.

In terms of work ethic, I have a lot of respect for Matt Shaw. His extreme style has a huge following and, while it isn’t my favorite subgenre of horror, it’s Matt himself who I find inspirational. His work rate is incredible, banging out novels, novellas and stories while developing movies and all sorts in the background. I’m proud to call him a friend and I look at him to remind myself what’s possible if you just get sat at that keyboard and get to work, and keep working, and keep working.

Meghan: What do you think makes a good story?

Jack Rollins: Probably the same things as anyone else. Good plot. Engaging characters. Natural reactions to unnatural events.

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

Jack Rollins: I try not to get too precious about my characters. I found that if I became too attached to them, I pulled punches in my stories – like not wanting to hurt a person that I’m fond of. Instead, I try to remain dispassionate, a casual observer, and cover my eyes and ears when the blood starts flying and the screaming begins. And if I’ve done my job correctly, then the reader will hopefully have developed the attachment to the characters, and they’ll want to look away… but they won’t be able to.

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

Jack Rollins: I’m not going to say. But he sometimes pops up in my stories, and I tend to make him my worst side. If the character is presented with a choice and I could turn left or right: left is get what you want, but to hell with anyone else; right is try to get what you want, but do your best to inflict no harm. I would like to think that in real life, I’ll go right. He will always go left. He takes the options that occur to me, but which I would never really want to choose. In that way, he’s not like me, he’s just a more expedient version of me. He’s the devil version of me on my shoulder saying, “Take a short-cut this time. Fuck everyone else.”

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

Jack Rollins: I almost always judge a book by its cover, because once I’ve read what’s inside, it becomes a spine or a piece of art staring out at me from my shelf, so I like books that have had some thought in their design.

I had the most input with The Séance because the image was designed by one of my brothers, and the demonic face you see on there is a distorted version of him. So I got to make some suggestions. Generally, though, I’ve worked with cover artists who I can make a suggestion to, show them some cover art styles on other books that I like, and then leave it to them. They’re the experts after all. I have to be comfortable with the product of course, but I respect that they do what I can’t.

I’m having a bit of an artistic binge at the moment, trying painting and sketching. In the long-run I’d like to be able to produce one or two of my own covers with more complexity than say, what I produced for Hard Man.

Meghan: What have you learned creating your books?

Jack Rollins: I’ve learned a lot about Victorian medicine, farming and the age of credulity. From the business side of things, I’ve learned a lot of practical skills about websites, marketing and the creation of the files required for e-books and paperbacks. One of the most important skills I picked up when I ran my ill-fated small press Dark Chapter Press, was typesetting – ensuring the best possible reading experience for the customers at the end. I spent hours tweaking the gaps between words and individual letters to make sure I eliminated ‘widows’ and ‘orphans’ (for those who don’t know, this is when you have lines or whole pages with one or two words on them, the skill is pinching back tiny increments of space throughout the chapter, to draw those words back into a more eye-friendly alignment).

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

Jack Rollins: They’re all hard to write, for different reasons. I was working on a sequel to Dead Shore, and I had tears in my eyes after writing one particular sequence. It struck a nerve with me about when my youngest son was only three weeks old and we nearly lost him to a nasty case of bronchiolitis. I didn’t finish the story in the end. Not because of the upset, just because it’s hard not to turn a story like that into another shitty episode of The Walking Dead.

Some scenes are hard to write because you’re trying to find the flow, like I mentioned earlier. It’s not emotionally hard, it’s just the mental act of putting thoughts in order, trying to get the hook, and then physically getting words on the page.

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

Jack Rollins: My stories tend to be full of characters you can relate to, or at least feel like you know someone similar to them. I want to sell you the people first, and their activity. So a mother walking her toddler along the beach, and him saying things and playing exactly like a toddler of that age does, and the mum thinking the things the mum of a toddler thinks, is going to feel real to you. Then when the weird stuff starts to happen, you’re already locked in. You already care.

I work hard to find emotional hooks in the characters I present you with, so you can go along for the ride without it being spoiled by jarring, uncharacteristic behavior that skips an ocean of character development. The hero isn’t a hero until they’re pushed to become one. And even then, it won’t come easy. And even then, as in Doctor Blessing, they are still going to do things that push them lower in your estimations of them.

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)?

Jack Rollins: The title is of vital importance, for building mystery but not giving the game away. I have no formula. The titles just spring from the story. Sometimes it’s right at the beginning, sometimes the title doesn’t reveal itself until the book is finished.

Over the years of working on the various books that have resulted in Carsun, there were titles such as Matt Carsun: Saturnine, Matt Carsun: Man, Matt Carsun: Zero. When the time came to dust him off again and produce the definitive version of the story, the one that I would unleash on the public properly, I dropped most of the elements of the titles from earlier incarnations. Carsun. It’s about him. It’s about his dad, his brother. It’s about what it takes to be him and to remain him by the end of the book. Like the pace of the story, the title suggests urgency, like we’re shouting for him. But are we angry at him? Or do we need him?

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

Jack Rollins: I enjoy writing novels and novellas more than short stories. I always consider myself to be trying to write. If I sold a million books, I’s still be trying to write, to refine my work, to tell better stories that leave a mark on readers. The day you stop trying to write, is the day you’re sitting back on your arse, smugly knocking out the same old tat, knowing that your readers will buy it because your name is on the cover.

I find the storytelling in longer reads easier. I have more time to develop the characters, and to pack more into the plot. I’ve found myself struggling with short stories sometimes, because I naturally stray into Hollywood blockbuster plots, layering up the peril. You just can’t do that in a short. It has to punch hard and snap back quickly, and then it’s gone.

Sometimes, a story like Spores or Once Tolled The Lutine Bell will spring to mind, and it just has this great pace and flow and the story is just the right scale for the number of words required. But it’s rare I can write a short story to order just like that. There’s usually a bit of butchering to be done to get the story down to size, then rewrites to make sure the trim-down didn’t cut the heart out of the piece.

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

Jack Rollins: My books often have some interconnectivity, little Easter eggs that suggest these characters are walking within the same world at different times. Look out for the names of shipping companies and tea brands, demons whose names recur, just little things like that.

Stylistically, Doctor Blessing has to be very different to Carsun, but ultimately both have my signature all over them. I like to see good characters possessed of a power or evil that could swing them either way. Can evil deeds have good consequences? Do the good guys always have to win? The world doesn’t work like that, so why should books?

And while I rail against hope in real life, I think it’s nice to have escapism, and feel hopeful for a desired outcome in the stories. Though, over time, after reading enough of my work, you’ll never know until the last pages if you’re going to get the outcome you think the characters deserve, or do I still have a twist up my sleeve?

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

Jack Rollins: The best example I can give is in Carsun. The old versions of the story featured fictionalized impressions of old school friends. Over time, I’ve shifted the focus away from Carsun’s school days and put a few years on him. I realized a few months ago, one of the biggest problems I had was that I hadn’t considered these characters growing up. I had too much of an attachment between those character names and these real guys I don’t see anymore and haven’t heard from in years. I had to cut the ties, strip them out, and replace them with new creations.

When Carsun is released, just know that there are a lot of bodies on the editing room floor, bleeding thick, black ink from their mortal injuries.

Meghan: What is in your “trunk”? (Everyone has a book or project, which doesn’t necessarily have to be book related, that they have put aside for a ‘rainy day’ or for when they have extra time.)

Jack Rollins: I mentioned that I’ve started painting. Painting, more than sketching has become my go-to activity. Even though it means cleaning brushes and palettes afterwards, I am more inclined to jump in and start a painting even in the late evening, than I am to draw. I’m very much a beginner, but I’m pleased that I’ve given painting a try and enjoy it immensely – and if anyone reading this lives with anxiety or depression, take my advice: grab some cheap canvases, brushes and oils or acrylics, stick some Bob Ross on YouTube or Netflix and disappear into your creativity for a while. I swear, you will thank me later.

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

Jack Rollins: More. More novels, more novellas and short stories. Carsun should be with us in early 2020. I have at least one story I’m gearing up set within that world. I have plans for a story set in Newcastle. I might have something up my sleeve for fans of Doctor Blessing, too… but let’s not get too ahead of ourselves, shall we?

Meghan: Where can we find you?

Jack Rollins: I’m all over the usual suspects of social media, where I have a lovely, supportive community of creatives and readers all interacting and having fun. We chat about anything, and you never know… I might even release a book or two!

Website (where you can get 3 of my stories FREE, so put me to the test)
Facebook ** Instagram ** Twitter ** Minds ** Pinterest

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?

Jack Rollins: I’d like to take the chance to say thanks to the readers who have been with me over the years. I appreciate you and your patience over the times where circumstances have required me to step back from writing for a while. I hope the new stories will be worth the wait. And for anyone new to my work, I hope you’ll give me a little of your time and try three of my stories risk-free, by visiting my website and joining my VIP Readers Group (you can leave at any time, even after you’ve downloaded the third book, if you like!), and I hope those stories will mark the start of an exciting relationship between us. I have lots of stories in the pipeline, so now is a really great time to get on board!

Jack Rollins was born and raised among the twisting cobbled streets and lanes, ruined forts and rolling moors of rural Northumberland, England in 1980. He is the author of the horror novel The Cabinet of Doctor Blessing, the novella The Seance, and a range of short, dark fiction tales.

Jack lives in Newcastle, England.

The Cabinet of Dr. Blessing (The Dr. Blessings Collection, Parts 1-3)

A chilling tale of gothic horror, told in three parts, collected in one volume. Dr George Blessing operates in his Victorian London hospital. Sympathetic to the poor, Blessing is summoned to a traumatic childbirth. There he discovers a creature of nightmarish power and malevolent intent, whose unearthly abilities he wants to harness for the good of mankind. When he reveals the secret to a friend after a dinner party, Dr Blessing’s obsession triggers events threatening to destroy his reputation, his family and the entire city. As the creature grows ever more powerful and suspicious investigators close in, the doctor is one step from death at every turn. Told in the tradition of a penny-dreadful, each part intricately spins a gripping web of secrets, lies and death, blending “Hammer House of Horror” style scares with fast paced action.

The Seance: A Gothic Tale of Horror & Misfortune (free on his website)

Albert Kench is summoned back to London from his travels in Australia, and is shocked to find that his sister has suffered horrific mental and physical damage. A man of science and progress, when Albert is told that Sally attended a seance prior to her collapse and has been touched by otherworldly forces, he believes there must be another, more rational explanation. Albert learns of a man who claims mastery of the dark arts, who may hold the key to Sally’s salvation. Albert sets off in search of answers, but can he emerge victorious without faith, or will he be forced to accept the existence of a realm beyond the world around him?

Hard Man

Ruling the dark underworld of Tilwick is no easy feat, but Eddie Garfield does so with brutal efficiency.

For sixty years, he has abided by two simple rules, rules that have painted the cobbles with splattered blood and broken teeth, and forged an impressive legacy. But sixty years is a long time… people are becoming restless; the criminal young bloods are ambitious and hungry to take their slice of the pie, and they’ll do anything to obtain it. Even if it means taking down one of their own… Hard Man takes place in the mysterious town of Tilwick, where the demon Mammon is worshipped as a god. The town featured in Rollins’ story ‘Home, Sweet Home’ (Kill For A Copy, Dark Chapter Press), and will soon provide the chilling backdrop for his long-awaited novel, Carsun.

Dead Shore: A Zombie Outbreak Story (free on his website)

When a group of teenagers mess around with the washed-up body of a dolphin, Karen and toddler Charlie find themselves caught in a wave of chaos and violence as one by one the residents of Ashmouth fall prey to a deadly virus, transforming them into relentlessly violent zombies. Allying herself with Dean, one of the teenage boys, Karen must stay strong and alert as the world she knows crumbles around her and there appears to be no way out. Is the village doomed, and will this zombie outbreak remain contained?

Tread Gently Amidst the Barrows (free on his website)

Tread Gently Amidst the Barrows sees Jack Rollins return to the Victorian era for a chilling, thrilling tale as the progress of mankind and technology trespass into the world of the mythical in Sweden. A series of night-time disappearances among the workforce of railway engineer Oliver Stroud threaten to bring the construction of a new railway bridge to a standstill as local superstitions give rise to unrest and desertion. Stroud is left with no choice but to investigate an ancient burial site to bring closure to the matter once and for all but there is no peace to be found among the barrows of Old Uppsala, for neither the dead, nor the creatures of myth who live among them.

Halloween Extravaganza: INTERVIEW: Brian Hodge

Meghan: Hi, Brian. It is an honor to have you here on Meghan’s House of Books as part of my annual Halloween Extravaganza. Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Brian Hodge: When I did 23andMe, the DNA results showed 12% mountains, 14% being half of a dyad, 8% Maine Coons, 5% coffee, 2% Belgian ale, 6% black metal, 7% Berlin school electronics, 8% ambient, 11% solitude, 6% kettlebells, 4% Odin, 5% Green Man, and 12% trace elements and unidentifiable.

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

Brian Hodge: (1) My favorite person from history is Leonardo da Vinci, because I’m fascinated by polymaths. (2) I am, so far, up to a blue belt in Krav Maga, the hand-to-hand combat system of the Israeli Defense Forces (the progression is white, yellow, orange, green, blue, brown, black). (3) I once managed the circus feat of projectile vomiting strawberry shortcake into my own underwear. (4) For more than twenty years, I’ve been an investor. (5) My primary childhood doctor told me I have unusually tough connective tissue, which I’ve chosen to interpret as being armor plated.

Meghan: What is the first book you remember reading?

Brian Hodge: It would’ve been from the Little Golden Books line for children. I had a couple of Christmas books … The ABC’s of Christmas and the other told the Rudolph story.

Meghan: What are you reading now?

Brian Hodge: The same ones. No, okay … I always have a few going at the same time. Right now, that’s The Blade Itself (Joe Abercrombie); Inc. Yourself (Judith McQuown, because I’m thinking about doing that); Faster Than Normal (Peter Shankman, about ADHD brains); Ghost Rider (Rush drummer Neil Peart’s memoir about losing his first family); and The Divine Spark (essays on psychedelics).

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

Brian Hodge: Can I cheat? I promise, it’s still writing related. I can’t think of a book, but I loved the show Gilmore Girls. Which probably wouldn’t have been something most people familiar with me would think I’d find essential. But a few weeks after its first season debut, I stumbled across this article, headlined something like “The Best-Written Show You Have No Idea Exists.” Okay, then — challenge accepted. And I right away fell in love with it, in part because the dialogue was so sharply written.

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

Brian Hodge: Second grade was when I wrote my first story. I was trying novels by sixth. That drive was always there, from even before I’d learned the alphabet, so there was never a conscious decision about it. It was just following the impulse.

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

Brian Hodge: My desk, most of the time. It’s this big oak beast with a hutch that I bought right after we moved to Colorado. When I snuff it, I’m thinking the whole thing should be smashed up as the wood for my funeral pyre.

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

Brian Hodge: It’s more about how I begin the day overall. For me, writing in the morning is optimal, when I’m freshest and my head is clearest. So I get up about 5:30am, and after a bit of mobility warm-up, I head outside for a cardio workout in a fasted state. It comes down to: “Get up, get out, get moving.” It’s usually either trail running or going to the park we live by for a jump rope regimen with agility and weighted ropes. There are a lot of benefits from this: fresh air, getting the blood flowing, and especially the production of BDNF, brain-derived neurotrophic factor. Even in the middle of winter, it has to be awfully deadly out to keep me inside. Then I’m back in for a pint of warm water with lemon juice and apple cider vinegar, and I step into a cold shower for a few minutes. This routine leaves me feeling phenomenal — energized but calm, focused, just plain turbocharged. So it’s a great place from which to begin working.

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

Brian Hodge: Probably keeping on the right side of perfectionist tendencies, before toppling over onto the other side where they start to become paralyzing.

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

Brian Hodge: It’s always the most recent things — the latest novel, The Immaculate Void, and the newest collection, Skidding Into Oblivion. I consider them companion volumes. They started out as a single book, then while writing a capstone piece for the collection I accidentally wrote a novel. And I recently did a piece called “Insanity Among Penguins,” for Final Cuts, an upcoming anthology edited by Ellen Datlow, themed around films. It’s about a lost Werner Herzog documentary, and unnerved the shit out of me more than anything has in a long time.

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

Brian Hodge: It was less about individual books than the cumulative effects of bodies of work. There’s no getting away from Stephen King, and encountering Clive Barker was like seeing the bar get raised. John Irving and Shakespeare left their marks. Dylan Thomas, for rhythm, but that came from audio recordings of him. I always like to credit three contemporaries who came along around the same time, Poppy Z. Brite and Caitlín R. Kiernan and Kathe Koja, for making me more aware of language — they all burst out of the gate doing beautiful things with language — and then Kathe turned me onto Cormac McCarthy. Still, that’s scratching the surface. I’m always absorbing something.

Meghan: What do you think makes a good story?

Brian Hodge: Compelling characters in interesting situations. Preferably situations whose resolutions aren’t telegraphed too obviously ahead of time, and ideally in well-realized settings.

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

Brian Hodge: Just like loving people in real life, there’s almost no end of reasons, or combinations of reasons, that can bring it about. It could be elements of chemistry and compatibility, like worldview and humor and vulnerabilities. It could be admirable traits, like commitment to a cause or striving to do the right thing no matter how hard it may be.

I found Game of Thrones to be a master class in this. There were so many characters I loved, and for different reasons. But one thing I noticed that I especially responded to were characters who were devoted to protecting, looking out for, whatever, one or more weaker characters — even if they were only weaker in the moment — no matter the cost. It was the selflessness of that.

So in my own work, I’m more conscious of this than I used to be. But then, two or three years ago, I had a similar thing called to my attention in a review. I don’t remember what it was covering specifically, but the reviewer brought up having noticed this thread throughout several things of mine they’d read: of characters having to make really hard choices. I hadn’t consciously realized it, but it made me think: Yeah, I guess that’s right. I love it when characters find it in themselves to make the hardest moral choices of their lives. Okay, then, more of that.

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

Brian Hodge: I’d have to go back to my first couple of novels, Oasis and Dark Advent, the main protagonists of those. A few years ago, in an afterword to a new edition of the latter, I mentioned that the reason the central characters of both novels are students is because, at the time, a student was still about all I knew anything about being. They were such early novels…not just early in my overall body of work, but early in my life. I wrote Oasis about a year out of university. So it was like, okay, if I tap all that, high school and college, at least I’ll have that much locked down. So we’re talking most like me at the time of the writing, but not now. You grow, you evolve, you start achieving your Ultimate Form. I wouldn’t want to be either of those lunkheads now.

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

Brian Hodge: I should know better, but, yeah, I still can’t help seeing a bad cover as a poor reflection of the contents. As for my own, I’ve occupied every possible station along the continuum: with no input whatsoever and having to take what they give me, total veto power, making suggestions for changes to the basic concept, to designing and compositing my own for some upcoming novella re-releases.

Some of the most satisfying experiences came from projects with Cemetery Dance Publications, and working more closely with the artists. Vincent Chong did the covers for my fourth collection, Picking the Bones, and that new edition of Dark Advent. The most I did was talk about mood, then Vinny knocked them out of the park. He’s glorious. The same with Kim Parkhurst, an artist I got directed to for a novella called I’ll Bring You the Birds From Out of the Sky. With this, it was more than the cover. The story is rooted in cosmic horror, and involves a cache of Appalachian folk art, so I thought it would be cool to have several style-appropriate color plates throughout the book. Kim totally ran with it. All I had to do was sit back and drool over the work-in-progress that she would send me. That little book looks so good I want to lick it.

Meghan: What have you learned creating your books?

Brian Hodge: Years ago I read something that immediately struck me as true, but I’d never considered it before: that each book teaches how you to write that particular book. The implication being that there’s not as much carryover to the next as you might think, because the next presents its own new set of challenges. But through all that, one overarching thing I’ve learned is to simply trust the process. That as long as you keep showing up to do the work, and giving it all you have, the details tend to sort themselves out along the way. What you’re doing that whole time is giving your subconscious mind more and more to work with, and the subconscious is always busy, always solving problems. So many times I’ve had no concrete notion of how something should culminate, but by the time I’m on the final approach, it’s there. So I don’t stress about it like I might’ve early on. I trust the process.

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

Brian Hodge: The one that’s always stayed with me as the biggest ordeal is a chapter in my sixth novel, Prototype. One of the central characters is this damaged guy who finds out he has this extremely rare chromosomal abnormality. About two-thirds in, he finally meets another one like him, whom he finds to be in even worse shape, so it’s devastating for him. I wanted to get as deep into this as possible, so I really prepared for it. On the stereo, I set this 20-minute Godflesh track on infinite repeat, like this spiraling black hole of oppressive noise, and wrote the chapter over several hours while tripping on acid. It got the job done, but I was useless the next day.

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

Brian Hodge: Really, I’m the last person who should weigh in on this. About all I can say is that they’re uniquely mine, but that’s going to apply to most anyone with a byline. You’d have to ask readers, and even then, ten different people might give you ten different answers.

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)?

Brian Hodge: They’re vital, but regardless of whether it’s novels or short stories or long fiction or collections, it seems like I either know what the perfect title is very early on, or it eludes me and nothing ever feels quite right. The best times are when I have a title sitting around waiting for the perfect thing to hang beneath it. “Scars In Progress,” a piece in the collection from earlier this year, Skidding Into Oblivion, is a good example of that. One day I was skimming some dull technical material and misread the phrase “scans in progress.” Wait — what was that again? So I knew I had a keeper, even if it had to gather dust a few years for the right story to come along and claim it. Happy accidents like that can come from anywhere, so you have to always leave yourself open to receive the gifts.

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

Brian Hodge: I’ve always described novels as being like marriages, while shorter works are passionate flings on the side. So they each have their own rewards. A novel is obviously a bigger accomplishment, but there are times when it’s a bigger pain in the ass, too. So the intrinsic reward ratio is skewed. Let’s say a particular novel is fifteen times the length of a particular short story. Is it fifteen times as fulfilling? I can’t say that it is. I’m just happy to cross another finish line, however long the race. What I most love is the process, and the relationship with the work, however long it lasts.

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

Brian Hodge: Every book, whether it’s been horror, crime, or more recently fantasy, has been a product of the time it was written. Five years apart, the same idea might undergo a very different development and execution. So I don’t think in terms of a target audience. That would feel too calculating. The main concern is to do the best job I possibly can with the narrative that has started to undress itself in front of me.

And it doesn’t matter what I might want readers to take away, so I never think of that either. When you release something new into the wild, you may retain ownership of the work itself, but you relinquish control over the experience of reading it. People find their own meanings in things. I’ve seen people align perfectly with what I felt I was putting into a work, and seen other people derive takeaways I never intended. But I would never tell the latter people, “No, you’re wrong,” because it’s their own subjective experience. The first time anyone asked me what I wanted readers to come away with, it was during a convention panel, and all I said was, “A receipt.”

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

Brian Hodge: I tend to not work in a way that generates big, solid chunks of extraneous stuff. I’m lazy, I don’t want to do all this work that’s just going to get tossed, so paradoxically I do as much heavy lifting upfront as possible. I’ll have these freeform conversations with myself on a yellow legal pad as a way of brainstorming, to get a good idea of where things might be headed, who the characters are, and so on. With a completed first draft, my metaphor is that it’s like a fighter showing up for training camp — recognizable but out of shape. The subsequent drafts, it’s mainly about losing flab and building more muscle where needed. The final pass-throughs, to get to the optimal fighting weight, we’re down to sweating off ounces — a word here, a few words there.

Meghan: What is in your “trunk”? (Everyone has a book or project, which doesn’t necessarily have to be book related, that they have put aside for a ‘rainy day’ or for when they have extra time. Do you have one?)

Brian Hodge: That’s interesting, the difference in terminology here. To me, “trunk novel” has always meant an early stab at writing a book that didn’t turn out well, so it gets stashed away in this trunk, real or metaphorical, and likely never sees daylight again.

But what you’re talking about, to me it just falls under time- and project management. I have ideas for novels, and am hundreds of pages into one of them, but it’s not their time yet. So they’re idling like airliners on a runway, waiting on the tower to clear them for takeoff. And I like to mess about with music and sound design, in a home studio. By now it seems to have sorted itself out into three stylistically different identities. I can’t accord it the same priority as the writing, but it’s still something I love doing. Photography, too — I like doing photography. The rationalization I came up with for it all is that success in one field of creative endeavor should fund the ongoing abuse of another.

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

Brian Hodge: If we are what we repeatedly do, as Aristotle said, for more than a year I ceased to be much of a writer. My parents died in April of last year, then I was appointed estate executor. There were so many responsibilities and obligations, that this was my focus for the next year. Then I needed to take some time off from everything. There’s still estate business to tend to now and then, but I pretty much have my life back again, even though it feels slow in getting back up to speed. Like turning an aircraft carrier.

Lately I’ve been putting together my sixth collection. I wrote the main finale for the third and final volume of editor Stephen JonesLovecraft Squad trilogy of mosaic novels. I just did a piece for an anthology called Miscreations. There’s a gritty fantasy novel called A Song of Eagles that’s part of a larger Kickstarter project, and was 50,000 words along when I had to set it aside the day I woke up to the news my mom had died. So now that I’m warmed up, I’ll finish that one, then decide which runway novel to go with next.

Then there are some potential TV and film projects. We’ve just renewed the option for a TV adaptation of a story called “The Same Deep Waters As You,” by a London-based production company. I read their season one treatment recently, and really like what the attached writer, from Sweden, has done with it. A few other things are still in the negotiation or paperwork phase, so it’s too soon to go public with the news.

Meghan: Where can we find you?

Brian Hodge: My website has an email link. I’m usually active on Facebook, although a brief sabbatical is occasionally necessary when the whining hits critical mass. I still have an account on Twitter but hesitate to send anyone there. When the family stuff blew up, I didn’t have time for it, and it’s been dormant ever since.

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?

Brian Hodge: Nah, other than to say thanks very much for having me here.

Called “a writer of spectacularly unflinching gifts” by no less than Peter Straub, Brian Hodge is one of those people who always has to be making something. So far, he’s made thirteen novels, over 130 shorter works, five full-length collections, and one soundtrack album.

His most recent works include the novel The Immaculate Void and the collection Skidding Into Oblivion, companion volumes of cosmic horror. His Lovecraftian novella The Same Deep Waters As You is in the early stages of development as a TV series by a London-based production company. More of everything is in the works.

He lives in Colorado, where he also endeavors to sweat every day like he’s being chased by the police. Connect through his website, or Facebook.

The Immaculate Void

“You wouldn’t think events happening years apart, at points in the solar system hundreds of millions of miles distant, would have anything to do with each other.”

When she was six, Daphne was taken into a neighbor’s toolshed, and came within seconds of never coming out alive. Most of the scars healed. Except for the one that went all the way through.

“You wouldn’t think that the serial murders of children, and the one who got away, would have any connection with the strange fate of one of Jupiter’s moons.”

Two decades later, when Daphne goes missing again, it’s nothing new. As her exes might agree, running is what she does best … so her brother Tanner sets out one more time to find her. Whether in the mountains, or in his own family, search—and—rescue is what he does best.

“But it does. It’s all connected. Everything’s connected.”

Down two different paths, along two different timelines, Daphne and Tanner both find themselves trapped in a savage hunt for the rarest people on earth, by those who would slaughter them on behalf of ravenous entities that lurk outside of time.

“So when things start to unravel, it all starts to unravel.”

But in ominous signs that have traveled light—years to be seen by human eyes, and that plummet from the sky, the ultimate truth is revealed:

There are some things in the cosmos that terrify even the gods.

Skidding Into Oblivion

We each inhabit many worlds, often at the same time. From worlds on the inside, to the world on a cosmic scale. Worlds imposed on us, and worlds of our own making.

In time, though, all worlds will end. Bear witness:

After the death of their grandmother, two cousins return to their family’s rural homestead to find a community rotting from the soul outward, and a secret nobody dreamed their matriarch had been keeping.

The survivors of the 1929 raid on H.P. Lovecraft’s town of Innsmouth hold the key to an anomalous new event in the ocean, if only someone could communicate with them.

The ultimate snow day turns into the ultimate nightmare when it just doesn’t stop.

An extreme metal musician compels his harshest critic to live up to the hyperbole of his trolling.

With the last of a generation of grotesquely selfish city fathers on his deathbed, the residents of the town they doomed exercise their right to self-determination one last time.

As history repeats itself and the world shivers through a volcanic winter, a group gathers around the shore of a mountain lake to once again invoke the magic that created the world’s most famous monster.

With Skidding Into Oblivion, his fifth collection, award-winning author Brian Hodge brings together his most concentrated assortment yet of year’s best picks and awards finalists, with one thing in common:

It’s the end of the world as we know it… and we don’t feel fine at all.

Halloween Extravaganza: INTERVIEW: David Watkins

Meghan: Hello, David. Welcome, welcome. Tell us a little bit about yourself.

David Watkins: I am a teacher by trade and writer the rest of the time. My main job – the one that keeps the roof over my head – is as a math teacher in a school in North Devon in the UK. Teaching is a great and rewarding job, but it’s also very stressful. Writing is a great release for that – it’s an endless source of names of characters who need to die extremely violent deaths. I went part time a couple of years ago so I could devote more time to writing and improve my work-life balance. I’m also married with two children, so my time is at a premium.

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

David Watkins: I’m a twin, have a soft spot for bad 80s rock, love things like roller coasters, can fall asleep anywhere (once during a Rage Against The Machine concert), and I will cancel anything to watch Wales play rugby – although most of my friends already know that!

Meghan: What is the first book you remember reading?

David Watkins: The Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton. I know that she’s been accused of bigotry and sexism in her books but I loved the stories as a boy. Wonderful displays of imagination. A few years ago, I tried to read The Famous Five to my sons but, honestly, it hasn’t aged well.

Meghan: What are you reading now?

David Watkins: Right now, I’m reading Dead by Design by James Mortain. I’ve met James a few times and he’s a top bloke so I’m relieved to say I’m really enjoying the book. It’s the second in his Detective Deans series about a police officer who starts to have psychic awakenings. Good stuff and some of it is set locally to me, which is nice. I just finished Thingy by J. R. Park, which is an extremely limited release to publicise Duncan P. Bradshaw’s Cannibal Nuns from Outer Space! I would highly recommend both and indeed, anything released by The Sinister Horror Company is worth any horror fan’s time.

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

David Watkins: The Time Travelers Wife. I really don’t like romantic books at all (my wife is a big fan) but I stayed up all night to finish that one. Ignore the film!

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

David Watkins: I have written for as long as I can remember, so I can’t really recall a time when I decided to ‘give it a go’. As a boy I was a big fan of the Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers black and white TV shows (the Buster Crabbe ones) and obviously Star Wars. I remember making up different story lines for those and it went from there. I think cliff-hanger style of storytelling has had a big impact on my own writing.

My original plan was to be a teacher for five years, write a few books in my holidays and then be a writer full time. Ridiculous when you think about it! I have now been teaching for twenty five years, have published three books and recently finished the fourth.

There were two events that made me take writing much more seriously. The first was that my twin brother bought me a copy of On Writing by Stephen King, which is simply one of the best books about the craft I’ve read. On the front page, my brother had written ‘I hope this inspires you!’ My brother loves his books and can read a copy multiple times without so much as a dent on the spine, so for him to deliberately deface a book by writing in it was a pretty big message to me.

Secondly, I was driving to work, too fast, too late, just a normal day and I lost control of my car. I hit a lorry and completely wrote off the car. The only part of the car that wasn’t smashed to pieces was my seat. I am very, very lucky to be alive. As I lay in the hospital, berating myself whilst a nurse removed glass from my hands, I wondered why I’d never given writing a serious go. Four months later, I had the first draft of The Original’s Return written and have not looked back since. That was ten years ago, but it came out in 2013 so I’m averaging a book every two years since then. I’m not the speediest of writers, but I feel it’s more important to write well than quickly.

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

David Watkins: Not especially. I have an office in my house that I write in, or I use the kitchen table. However, I can – and will – write anywhere. The only time I freeze is when someone is reading over my shoulder as I type, so go away darling, I love you too!

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

David Watkins: Music and tea – as much of both as I can.

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

David Watkins: Coming up with twists on plots can be difficult, especially if you try to force it. It’s very difficult to be original when so many thousands of books are being published, seemingly every day. That said, it’s fun to twist people’s expectations. In The Original’s Return, I don’t use the word ‘werewolf’ but it’s clear that’s what we’re dealing with. However, there are no full moons, no silver bullets or any of those clichés and the reviews are overwhelmingly positive so people seem to like this approach.

Editing is always a challenge, but I have learned to enjoy it as it’s when the story comes into focus. Tightening up the language makes the story flow better and that is the most important thing of all for readers.

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

David Watkins: Satisfying is a difficult one. I’m not sure I’m completely satisfied with anything I’ve written – it’s all about striving to be better. I don’t have a huge amount of self-confidence about my writing (does anybody?), so it’s always a lovely surprise when someone says ‘I really enjoyed that’. I just had some feedback on my latest WIP from someone whose opinion I really value and she thought it was ‘absolutely brilliant’. It’s about monsters running amok in Exeter but she couldn’t believe I’d made them up from scratch and hadn’t based them on an existing trope. Phew!

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

David Watkins: Stephen King has been a big influence on both my reading and love of horror. His On Writing is a book every aspiring writer should read. Joe Lansdale is another: just brilliant characters and stories. The Hap and Leonard series is probably his best known work but his Drive In series is great fun. It’s a shame the The Drive In 3 is only available as an eBook or at a ridiculous price in the UK.

Meghan: What do you think makes a good story?

David Watkins: For me the key word is story. It has to have a plot. I’m not interested in a 500+ page rumination on the way people’s lives are connected by a baseball – give me some people to care about (one will do) and an intriguing story and I’m all yours. Take Brian Keene’s Urban Gothic. That is one dark and twisted tale, but the characters feel very relatable so you want them to survive.

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

David Watkins: The character has to seem like a real person. They shouldn’t just do things because the plot dictates, but because it is a logical move for that character. We all know of moments in books and, especially, films where someone does something stupid (like not call the police) for no reason other than it fits the plot. If you establish the character is anti-authority, anti-police or whatever then that moment is now earned. This is something I’m working on constantly.

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

David Watkins: This one is easy: Jack Stadler, the main character of The Original’s Return and The Original’s Retribution. He runs, plays guitar, loves Springsteen, is a new dad and math teacher. I didn’t look very far from the mirror to get inspiration for him. He’s also a werewolf, so he’s a much cooler version of me.

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

David Watkins: Definitely. I am very fortunate with my covers in that one of my mates (Rowan) is a superb photographer and another is a graphic designer (Frank). Frank takes Rowan’s photos and turns then into my covers. They look fantastic and have been praised in reviews and all it cost me was a firm handshake and a few beers.

Meghan: What have you learned creating your books?

David Watkins: Edit, edit, edit. And then, when you think it’s done, edit one more time.

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

David Watkins: There is a rape scene in The Original’s Retribution that surprised me when it came up. It fits for where the character is at that moment in the story, but I didn’t enjoy writing that bit. My wife gave me a ‘really?’ look when she read it and it remains her least favourite scene of mine. To be honest, that probably means it did its job.

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

David Watkins: That’s a tough one. They are resolutely British, both in setting and outlook and are all set in beautiful Devon. Both of The Originals books do not feature the word ‘werewolf’ at all. I started out with that as a challenge to myself: how far can you get without using the word? The Devil’s Inn features a few legends of Dartmoor, but I don’t mention that in the text so it’s there for interested readers to look up themselves.

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)?

David Watkins: The title of a book should be intriguing enough to make you pick it up. All of my titles have come up as part of the writing, so it was fairly easy to come up with them. However The Original’s Return had been out for six months before a mate said ‘it sounds like a sequel.’ Damn – minor problem as it’s the first in the series!

For The Devil’s Inn I had the title before I’d finished writing the first chapter. As it’s about the Devil visiting a pub in Devon, the title suggested itself.

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

David Watkins: I don’t write that many short stories (although this is something I’m working on) so it would have to be novel. There is something about the length that makes it a challenge and it’s a lovely feeling when you type ‘the end’. I think it’s probably a similar feeling for marathon runners and sprinters: both are challenging and rewarding in different ways.

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

David Watkins: They are designed to be page turners and so would make ideal books for anyone looking for a fast paced story, from teenagers upwards. None of them are ‘young adult’ but my son read The Original’s Return when he was thirteen (spoiler: ‘best book I’ve ever read’, but then he has to say that as homeless at thirteen is a tough gig). I want them to be entertained, first and foremost.

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

David Watkins: No – they were deleted for a reason!

Meghan: What is in your “trunk”?

David Watkins: I have an idea for a sci-fi story about the early days of colonising an alien planet. It’s percolating nicely so may well be my next project. Obviously, it will become more of a horror story at some point rather than straight sci-fi. Seems I can’t write a story without someone dying horribly.

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

David Watkins: I am doing final edits on The Exeter Incident which is about monsters running amok in the Devon capital. I will be approaching some publishers for this one, but may well self-pub again if the terms aren’t right.

Meghan: Where can we find you?

David Watkins: Twitter ** Facebook ** Goodreads

David Watkins lives in Devon in the UK with his wife, two sons, dog, cat, and two turtles. He is unsure of his place in the pecking order: probably somewhere between the cat and the turtles.

David’s latest novel is The Devil’s Inn: a chilling tale set on Dartmoor during a fierce snowstorm. Has the Devil really come to Devon?

He is now working on a new stand alone novel, set in Exeter. He hates referring to himself in third person, but no-one else is going to write this for him.

David can be found on Twitter so please drop by and say hello, where you’ll find him ranting about horror, the British education system and Welsh rugby, but not usually at the same time.

Amazon US ** Amazon UK ** Goodreads

The Original 1: The Original’s Return

Sergeant Peter Knowles has seen it all: in Afghanistan he witnessed death on a level that no-one should walk away from. Returning to Britain, he jumps at the chance to lead a small team in Devon. The task sounds more like a holiday; exactly what Knowles and his men need.

The mission: watch Jack Stadler. 

Jack has always led a quiet life, but now he is suffering blackouts and has violent fantasies. 

When the first dismembered body is found, Knowles begins to realise he has made a terrible mistake…

The Original 2: The Original’s Retribution

Sergeant Peter Knowles has sworn to hunt down the remaining wolves in Britain and kill them all. He wants revenge for the massacre that took the lives of his friends. 

The wolf packs are scattered and scared, but someone new has started to galvanise them. 

Someone terrifying. 

Someone closer to Knowles than he could ever suspect.

The Devil’s Inn

“I don’t want to die in a pub in Devon…”

There is a pub in the heart of Dartmoor where a fire has burned every day for over one hundred and fifty years.

It is said the fire never goes out. It is said that if it does, the Devil will appear and claim the souls of all inside.

Tonight, seven strangers are stranded there during a fierce snowstorm. Tonight, the fire will go out…