Happy Birthday to the World’s Greatest Dad + An Interview with Michaelbrent Collings

Today is the birthday of the World’s Greatest Dad – not to be confused with all of those other fathers out there who believe that this title is theirs. It’s partly because of him – and completely because he married my mother – that I am the person I am today, and I thank God every day that I was able to have the time with him that I did. Unfortunately, he passed away while I was in high school – a million years ago, but just like yesterday – and has spent the last 20+ years being a guardian angel to a kid that really needed him.

When Michaelbrent asked me if I would be interested in reading his latest, Stranger Still, and said that the release date was today, I knew that having him on for a second interview would be the PERFECT birthday present to my dad. Michaelbrent is the kind of author that would have captured my dad’s attention, and he writes the kind of books that my father would have made sure his daughters spent some time with. I am excited to be able to sit down with his latest – it looks fantastic – and honored to have him here today.

So, without further adieu…

Meghan: Hi, Michaelbrent! It’s been awhile since we sat down together. What’s been going on since we last spoke?

Michaelbrent Collings: SO much! I’ve written some more books – my newest, Stranger Still, hits today – and I’m a dad and husband so life only functions on “sleep deprived” and “slightly more sleep deprived.” But it’s been a great time overall. Just finished out the most successful year of my career and passed a quarter-million ebooks sold, so I can’t complain!

Meghan: A quarter-million ebooks?! That’s amazing!! Who are you outside of writing?

Michaelbrent Collings: See above re “dad and husband.” My most important jobs all revolve around them. There’s also a lot of church stuff (which often makes people laugh given what kind of thing I write), and I’m also involved in community stuff. I mentor a recently-released felon, I try to take my kids to do service around our city, things like that. But first, last, and mostly: family.

Meghan: How do you feel about friends and close relatives reading your work?

Michaelbrent Collings: Great! Most of them are big readers, so it’s actually more “who can I count on not reading my book?” Obviously my kids are too young for some of the books I write, but other than that… have at it! If I was ashamed/worried about someone reading something, I’d have to ask myself why I was doing something like that. I’m not ashamed of what I do, or who knows about it. So read away.

Meghan: Is being a writer a gift or a curse?

Michaelbrent Collings: Why can’t it be both?

That’s the nature of good things – they tend to come paired with a bad thing, and vice-versa. Writing is a huge blessing in that it allows me to express myself, to try and tell stories that entertain and enlighten, and that allow me to hang out with tens of thousands of readers who have provided me with a livelihood. It’s a curse in that it so often keeps me up at night, makes me ramble incomprehensibly, and sometimes just sees straight-up incompatible with “normal” life.

But overall: blessing. Definitely.

Meghan: How has your environment and upbringing colored your writing?

Michaelbrent Collings: Well, I grew up in a reading and writing environment, so that was huge. My father was the Creative Writing Director for a major university, and my mother spent many nights and weekends reading books to us as children and then – as we grew – reading the stories that we wrote. Dad was also the world expert on Stephen King for a good long time, so I grew up with screaming in the house as a good thing.

Meghan: What’s the strangest thing you have ever had to research for your books?

Michaelbrent Collings: I couldn’t even begin to guess! All I know is that I’ve researched enough bizarro stuff that every once in a while I wave and hold up a sign that says “Hi!” so that whatever NSA guy is monitoring me through my laptop’s webcam will have a nicer day.

Meghan: Which do you find the hardest to write: the beginning, the middle, or the end?

Michaelbrent Collings: The end, definitely. That’s where everything comes together, so it tends to be the most emotional as an experience. And though I always try to craft a story that people can enjoy spending a day or two with, sometimes people forget that I haven’t spent a few days with it. I’ve spent weeks or months with it, and by the time I get to the end I very often just want to get it over with! I try not to rush things, but there’s definitely a cumulative exhaustion that sets in.

Meghan: Do you outline? Do you start with characters or plot? Do you just sit down and start writing? What works best for you?

Michaelbrent Collings: I do ‘em all. With Stranger Still, I mostly pantsed it. Same with The Colony Saga, which was a seven-book series. On the other hand, I typically do pretty thorough outlines for mysteries like Blood Relations and The Longest Con. They’re all fun to do – though going in without an outline is definitely the scariest because it usually isn’t until about 2/3 of the way through that I finally figure out what’s happening myself!

Meghan: What do you do when characters don’t follow the outline/plan?

Michaelbrent Collings: Giggle maniacally.

Meghan: What do you do to motivate yourself to sit down and write?

Michaelbrent Collings: Think about all my vices – like paying for food and shelter.

Meghan: Are you an avid reader?

Michaelbrent Collings: Yes, but it’s changed a lot over the years. I do a lot more non-fiction reading for fun, and while I read a lot of fiction as well, it tends to be during the day as part of the “market research” aspect of my work.

Meghan: What kind of books do you absolutely love to read?

Michaelbrent Collings: There are very few I don’t. I don’t like erotica, but other than that, the breadth and width of my reading tastes are pretty wide.

Meghan: How do you feel about movies based on books?

Michaelbrent Collings: Depends on the movie. I don’t get mad when movies don’t follow books – they’re different beasties, and changes should be made. But I do not like a bad movie regardless of it’s genesis. So I like good movies based on books, and bad ones make me groan.

Meghan: Have you ever killed a main character?

Michaelbrent Collings:

Meghan: Do you enjoy making your characters suffer?

Michaelbrent Collings: Quite the opposite. I tend to get very into my characters’ heads, so writing about their pain hurts me as well. I wrote a character based on one of my children, and when I realized he was going to die for the story to work, I really had a bad day. The day I wrote that scene was worse – I barely talked at home that night.

That said, I do make them suffer. Suffering is not only interesting, but it shows us who the characters really are – and hopefully that way also shows us what kind of people we are as we read.

Meghan: What’s the weirdest character concept that you’ve ever come up with?

Michaelbrent Collings: OHMIGOSH. There’s a character in Stranger Still that I just had a blast with. He is a murderous psychopath who is a narcissist of unbelievable proportions – to the point that he believes every thought he has is deep, even though the extent of his education is mostly reading Netflix descriptions and Instagram posts. He was a hilarious set of dichotomies and I worried it wouldn’t work, but advance readers almost all have mentioned how much they loved/hated the guy.

Meghan: What’s the best piece of feedback you’ve ever received? What’s the worst?

Michaelbrent Collings:
Best: keep writing
Worst: give up

Meghan: What do your fans mean to you?

Michaelbrent Collings: They mean so very much. I write because I have to. But I write full-time because they allow it. They support my family, and so there is a debt I can never hope to repay.

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

Michaelbrent Collings: More books! I will be working on a paranormal horror novel (tentatively called The Forest) about a pair of teens who go into a forest where their friend has been lost. Two of the three survive, because of what happens there. Twenty years later they go back… and things get even worse.

Meghan: Where can we find you?

Michaelbrent Collings: I’m easy to find. Just Google “Michaelbrent” and you’ll find me!


You can also sign up for my mailing list (called Michaelbrent’s Minions) and get a free book, plus special access to deals and giveaways!

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 or the last?

Michaelbrent Collings: Just thank you. I appreciate every single person who’s made this weird, wild, wonderful trip possible!

About the book:
Your sins are Legion…
… and now you belong to him.

Legion is a teacher. An avenging angel. A murderer.
A madman.

Born in the blood of a dying mother, raised in the underground hideout of an insane father, he travels the world looking for those who keep secrets and sins. He finds those who have fallen short, and teaches them the lessons they need to leave their mistakes behind.

And if he has to teach a lesson that ends in death, well… sometimes that’s the cost of proper education.

That’s why, when he sees a man kidnap two people on the side of the road, Legion knows it is time to teach again.

Soon he finds himself caught in the crossfire of a coup in a Russian crime syndicate. Legion is captured, beaten, bleeding, in chains; cut off and alone. 

It’s just the way he likes it.

Legion has his students. And the lessons are about to begin…

About the author:
One of the most versatile writers around, Michaelbrent Collings is an internationally
bestselling novelist, produced screenwriter, and multiple Bram Stoker Award finalist.
While he is best known for horror (and is one of the most successful indie horror authors
in the United States), he has also written bestselling thriller, fantasy, science fiction,
mystery, humor, young adult, and middle grade works, and western romance.

As a novelist, Michaelbrent has written dozens of bestsellers that have also received
critical acclaim, and he and his work have been featured on everything from mom-and-pop
podcasts to Publishers Weekly, The San Francisco Book Review, and NPR.

Halloween: INTERVIEW: Michaelbrent Collings

Meghan: Hi, Michaelbrent. It is an absolute pleasure having you here today. Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Michaelbrent Collings: Billionaire playboy by day, dark vigilante by night. Or maybe that’s Batman. Shoot.

As for me, much less cool.* I’m a writer. I am best known for horror, in which genre I’m an international bestseller, multiple Bram Stoker Award finalist, and one of the top indie authors in the US, but I have also written bestsellers in sci-fi, fantasy, thriller, suspense, urban fantasy, and even Western romance. So though I’m not Batman*, I do apparently have a multiple personality thing going that even he would be proud of.

*I SAY I’m not Batman, but have you ever seen me and him in the same room together? So there you go.

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

Michaelbrent Collings: Hmmm… tough one. I’m a pretty open book, so that’s a great question! Here goes:

1) I abhor coconut, which I can only assume was created as a practical joke.
2) My favorite movie is Harvey.
3) My favorite movie STARS are Cary Grant and Bob Hope.
4) I asked my wife to marry me 10 days after our first date.
5) I am typing this in my in-laws’ house. And if you already KNEW about this one, then GET OUTTA MY IN-LAWS’ HOUSE, YA CREEPY STALKER!

Meghan: What is the first book you remember reading?

Michaelbrent Collings: This one is IMPOSSIBLE. Because I grew up in a house of books – my dad was the head of Creative Writing in a major university when I was a kid – I have no memory of life without books. I do remember my mom reading the Narnia books to us on the front lawn, and being bored of the whole Dick & Jane thing in kindergarten because I already knew how to read. But first book? That’s like asking about my memories of a first breath.

Meghan: What are you reading now?

Michaelbrent Collings: I read tons of different thing. I tell people that the depth and breadth of my reading habits are limited only by the square footage of the tops of my toilet tanks. Because I’m a dad, so my best reading is typically done in the one room my kids have not claimed as a “team sports” kinda space.

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

Michaelbrent Collings: Probably Les Miserables or Winnie the Pooh. Since I’m best known as a horror guy, that kind of thing surprises a lot of people. But both are masterfully written, full of lyricism, and are built around themes that wove themselves into my mental DNA when I read them for the first time.

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

Michaelbrent Collings: See above re house of books and Dad’s job. My earliest memory of writing is taking a red crayon to unlined paper and writing a one-page “story” about a bird. My dad then very kindly took it and helped me with some great critiques about the story, and how I could make it even better. He was and is my best writing teacher.

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

Michaelbrent Collings: Pretty much anywhere with wifi access and a refillable Diet Coke policy. ;o)

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

Michaelbrent Collings: Mostly it’s pretty drudge-like. I tell people who yearn to be full-time writers that as soon as you GET that job, you realize how much like OTHER jobs it really is. It’s a great job, don’t get me wrong, but it is work, and most work is by nature boring and banal.

My one quirk would probably be in the “coming up with idea” stage I do a lot of walking in tight circles and mumbling to myself. My wife and kids are used to it, and say nary a word when I will suddenly sit up straight at dinner, blurt a phrase that means nothing to anyone other than me, and then rush away to write whatever the idea was on a note card or something.

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

Michaelbrent Collings: Almost all of it. But it’s a challenge that I love; that stretches me and forces me to always try to be better than I was the last time.

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

Michaelbrent Collings: The most satisfying thing I’ve written – now and forever – is whatever book I just finished. So right now it’s Scavenger Hunt. In a few months it’ll be something different. Each book is terrifying in its own way – not just story-wise, but to me as an author – and so finishing each one is like discovering and then conquering a brand new mountain.

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

Michaelbrent Collings: Books that inspire me:

1) The Bible – regardless of theology, it’s the single most influential book in the English language, and has some of the most stunning imagery and language.
2) Winnie the Pooh and Peter & Wendy – both are beautiful mixes of laughter, whimsy, and adventure.
3) Les Miserables
4) Too many others to list

Meghan: What do you think makes a good story?

Michaelbrent Collings: I can only answer that one for myself. And for myself I’d say: a plot that is fun on its face, filled with interesting characters who do NOT make stupid or irrational decisions for no good reason other than authorial laziness, and themes I can unpack on later readings.

I read a lot of different genres, and any book that has those things in it will definitely get a second look from me.

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

Michaelbrent Collings: Two different kinds of love here:
1) admiration
2) envy

For the first, I love characters who are good. Who desperately try to do what is right, and whose passions and decisions are all channeled through a moral lens that helps them find truth – both for themselves and for the reader.

For the second, I love villains that do and say things that I would love to do or say were I to give into my most awful moments. The ones who would slaughter the person who goes through the 15-items-or-less line with 16-items-or-more.

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

Michaelbrent Collings: That one’s easy: Ken Strickland from my series The Colony Saga. He and his family are explicitly modeled on me and mine. It’s a zombie apocalypse series, and I wanted to really ground it in reality – no supermen, no cops who have access to caches of weapons. Just normal folks. So I made the story a seven-book “what would I do in that situation?” story.

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

Michaelbrent Collings: I am definitely turned off by a bad cover – more in indie works than in traditionally published stuff. In trad-pub, the author has little or no say over the cover, so I won’t judge the words by some outside factor he or she did not control. In indie stuff, a bad cover just says to me that the person involved either a) doesn’t care or b) isn’t competent. Neither of those encourages me to hand over my money.

I do my own covers, so I’m always watching for good and bad covers so that I can mimic the traits of the former and avoid the pitfalls of the latter.

Meghan: What have you learned creating your books?

Michaelbrent Collings: Mostly that it’s work. Always and forever. When I started out, I remember sitting on a panel at a writing con with James Dashner and Brandon Mull and feeling like a fraud. Now I sit on panels as someone who’s sold many many books and has been up for awards and even written movies… and I still feel like a fraud as often as not. I never feel like I’ve learned enough or done enough, and I suppose that in the final analysis that’s a good thing, because it keeps me growing as a writer and a person.

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

Michaelbrent Collings: Definitely the one in The Colony Saga where one of Ken’s children dies. No spoilers, but since that family was modeled on mine, the moment I realized that one of the kids was going to die – as a hero, but dead at the end just the same – writing that was incredibly draining emotionally. I came home a wreck, and when my wife asked what was wrong I told her I’d had to imagine how our child would die in that situation. She understood – bless her heart! – and helped me through a pretty dark moment or two in the coming days.

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

Michaelbrent Collings: I think that one of the things is that because I DO write in so many genres, my books are able to draw on a lot of different genre elements to enrich whatever book I’m writing. My YA fantasy has dashes of horror, my science fiction exists in a thriller world, my romance understands that high stakes make ultimate triumph more valuable. Also, I genuinely like people, and I think that shows through in how I treat characters. All of them – even the villains – are folks who have made rational decisions given their life experiences, and I think that recognition allows me to write characters who have more verisimilitude and definitely are more capable of being sympathetic to the audience.

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)?

Michaelbrent Collings: Ugh. Titles are SO HARD and SO IMPORTANT. I think I’m getting better at them, but they still cause me misery.

Most of the time I will try to put multiple layers in the title. Predators is about a safari that goes wrong and its survivors are tracked by a pack of hungry hyenas… and also about a group of women scarred by emotional predators. Terminal is about a group of people in a bus terminal who are made to choose one of their number to survive the night… and so the decisions the make are final, terminal ones in the truest sense. Scavenger Hunt is about a group of people who find themselves in a horrific scavenger hunt where the tasks or horrible and cruel… and then they find out that they have already been involved in a different – and much more cruel – kind of scavenger hunt in their own lives.

Titles should tell the audience what they’re in for at the very least – give them a sense of the genre, the “feel” of the book. But it’s nice to make one that they read before starting the book and say, “Sounds cool!” and then they read it after they’ve finished and go, “Ohhhh! NOW I get it!”

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

Michaelbrent Collings: Novel, definitely. I feel like they’re less ephemeral, and because of the length I can certainly take up more real estate in the readers’ brains. I get to settle in and move things around over a longer period of time and – hopefully – make that much more of a difference in their lives at the end.

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

Michaelbrent Collings: My target audience is anyone who likes a good yarn. Simply that. I try to make my books entertaining on their face, and hope that the first thing readers take away is a bit of escapism and fun. I also hope that they can go back and re-read them, see foreshadowing and clues I layer into all my books, and pick out the themes I try to use to shore up the walls of my plots.

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

Michaelbrent Collings: There aren’t really that many. I have an editing process that really works, and most of my books end up in final draft pretty close to how they finished out as first drafts.

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

Michaelbrent Collings: Hopefully years of writing. Like I said, Scavenger Hunt hit on October 31, and in the future I’ll probably be releasing a middle grade fantasy called THE DYING IMMORTALS, then a prequel to my apocalyptic thriller THIS DARKNESS LIGHT.

Meghan: Where can we find you?

Michaelbrent Collings: I’m pretty easy to find. First of all, I’m the only “Michaelbrent” in the world, so just google that and I pop up right away. Failing that:

Website (Written Insomnia: “Stories that keep you up all night”) ** Facebook ** Twitter

You can also sign up for my email list (and get some free books).

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?

Michaelbrent Collings: Only this: thanks for letting me chat with you!

One of the most versatile writers around, Michaelbrent Collings is an internationally bestselling novelist, produced screenwriter, and multiple Bram Stoker Award finalist. While he is best known for horror (and is one of the most successful indie horror authors in the United States), he has also written bestselling thriller, fantasy, science fiction, mystery, humor, young adult, and middle grade works, and Western Romance.

As a novelist, Michaelbrent has written dozens of bestsellers that have also received critical acclaim, and he and his work have been featured on everything from mom-and-pop podcasts to Publishers Weekly, The San Francisco Book Review, and NPR.

Find more about him at his website or sign up for his mailing list (and get a free book!).

Scavenger Hunt

“I already know all your names. As for me… you can call me Mr. Do-Good.”

Five strangers have woken up in a white room. A room with no doors, no windows. 

A room with no hope.

Because these strangers have been kidnapped, drugged… and brought here as the newest contestants in the world’s most high-stakes scavenger hunt. Run by a madman named Mr. Do-Good, the game offers only two options: win or die. 

All they have to do to survive is… complete every task… on time… and not break any of Do-Good’s rules.

Playing the game will bring the players to their breaking point and beyond. But play they will, because Do-Good has plans for these strangers, and their only chance to live through the night is to discover what’s really behind his Scavenger Hunt.