Halloween Extravaganza: INTERVIEW: Scott Hughes

Meghan: Hi, Scott. Thanks for being here today. Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Scott Hughes: I am a writer and teacher in Georgia. I have been an avid reader for as long as I can remember. Before I even started kindergarten, I would take my older brother’s school books, and I taught myself how to read. As a kid, I also made up stories (I lied a lot, in other words). Once, when my family moved to a new town, I told my Sunday school teacher that my parents would tie me to the back of their car and drag me around when I was bad, and she believed me. My mom had to convince her I had made that up and that the cops didn’t need to be informed. Once I learned that there are people who make a living making up stories, I knew that’s what I wanted to do with my life.

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

Scott Hughes: 1) My grandparents and Trisha Yearwood’s parents were best friends, so I spent many times in my youth around her; I’ve also met Garth Brooks several times because of this. 2) I love the band ABBA; there’s even a nod to this in one of the stories in The Last Book You’ll Ever Read. 3) I started out on the pre-med track in college; then I realized that I loved literature a lot more than my science classes (although I did like them, just not as much as my English ones). 4) “Rainbow Connection” is the best song ever written, and I want it played at my funeral. 5) I got to meet my idol Stephen King at a book signing several years ago, and I completely froze up; he is the main reason I wanted to become a writer, but I couldn’t get a single word out, which is rare for me.

Meghan: What is the first book you remember reading?

Scott Hughes: I have vague recollections of reading Dr. Seuss, Berenstain Bears, and stuff like that, but the first book I have a clear memory of reading is Little House in the Big Woods. Then, of course, I got the whole Little House collection and loved them all.

Meghan: What are you reading now?

Scott Hughes: I always have a few books going at once. Usually, I’m reading (or rereading) Stephen King books along with something else. Right now, I’m reading Doctor Sleep (for the first time) and listening to Storm Glass by Jeff Wheeler on Audible.

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

Scott Hughes: Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft by Janet Burroway because it’s a textbook, and who enjoys reading textbooks? I read it from cover to cover even though we didn’t have to for the college class I was taking. I even got the chance to meet her at an event while in my MFA program at Georgia College & State University, and I got her to sign it. She thought it was odd I wanted her to autograph a textbook, but she wrote me a very nice note in it.

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

Scott Hughes: Besides the stuff I’ve mentioned before (about making up a lot of stories and realizing people did that for a living), I don’t know that I ever made a conscious decision that I wanted to write. I just started doing it because I had to. I had all these characters and scenes and ideas and feelings trying to claw and scream their way out of my brain and onto the page. I wrote a lot in journals when I was about twelve and started writing poems and stories soon after. I started writing more seriously in high school, and I got involved in my school’s literary journal.

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

Scott Hughes: I usually write in my living room. I have a writing desk in another room in my house, but it just has stacks of story and poem drafts on it.

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

Scott Hughes: When I write rough drafts, I always have music blaring. I know this sounds distracting, but it helps drown out that critical voice in my head that can keep me from writing something terrible, which is what all writers have to learn to do; start by writing awful first drafts. Then when I start revising, I do that in complete silence so I can hear that critical voice clearly.

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

Scott Hughes: The utter boringness of it, especially when I’m working on a novel. Having the raw idea swirling in your head is exhilarating, but sitting down to write the first draft of something, particularly a piece that’s really long, is a slog that you have to force yourself to keep pushing through. I think that’s what keeps most people from becoming writers—realizing that the process is almost never fun or exciting.

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

Scott Hughes: I’d probably have to say two dark fantasy stories, “Moonbody” (published in Deep Magic) and “Songcaster and Little Dune” (published in Bewildering Stories). To go against what I just said, these two stories flew from me. Writing them was not a slog at all. I pictured everything—the characters, the plots, the scenes—so clearly and fully formed from the start that it was like I wasn’t even writing them. It was more like I was taking dictation, to paraphrase Salieri from the movie Amadeus.

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

Scott Hughes: The primary author is Stephen King, which I’m sure is true of most horror writers from the past few decades; some of my favorite books of his are The Stand, the Dark Tower series, all of his short story collections, and On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. I love his son Joe Hill’s work too; Pop Art is one of the best stories I’ve read in the past decade. It’s one of those that makes me angry in a good way—angry that I didn’t write it and angry that it’s so damn good, like it makes me want to stop writing forever and simultaneously continue writing to try to create something just as good (the Germans probably have a word for this feeling; they have a word for everything). Other non-horror writers that have influenced my style are John Steinbeck and Flannery O’Connor. They have a way of turning simple (and I don’t mean that negatively) language into astounding and beautiful prose. Sometimes we writers are guilty of trying to get too flowery and verbose, and these two writers always remind that most of the time simpler is more impactful. Some lesser known writers that I love (to give them a shout out) are Judson Mitcham, Anya Silver, Jim Nichols, Tom Franklin, and Sara Pirkle.

Meghan: What do you think makes a good story?

Scott Hughes: That’s a tough question to answer because it can be so many things, and it can be different depending on the story. If I had to boil it down, I would have to say it’s writing that makes you forget you’re even reading it—something that when you get to the last word, you blink and look around like you’re coming out of hypnosis.

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

Scott Hughes: Flaws and yearning, which leads to the broader category of believability. I know some readers need to feel a connection with characters to love them, but that’s not always the case for me. I need the character to feel like a living, breathing person (or animal or monster or whatever). All people have flaws and they all yearn for something, so that’s what I try to do when creating characters, no matter how minor. I usually freewrite from the point of view of all my characters, which can take quite a long time but is invaluable, just to hear them speak about what they want, what they hate, what they love, what secrets they have, what memories they cherish or despise. Most of this material never ends up in the stories, but it helps me to create the living, breathing people that I look for when reading.

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

Scott Hughes: It would have to be Jake Hillstrom in “Dreamcatch” (which is being published by Toe Good). Almost all my characters have a little bit of me in them, but Jake is nearly a replica of me because it’s loosely based on events that happened to me and my ex-wife, which made the story very difficult to write. Because he is so close to me (and Jake’s wife is so close to my ex-wife), I felt the overwhelming need to capture them exactly. It’s probably the longest I’ve ever worked continuously on a story that I didn’t give up on. It took me over a year to get from rough to final draft.

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

Scott Hughes: I’ve never decided to read or avoid a book based on the cover, so I’d have to say no. Whenever I buy hardcover books, the first thing I do is take off the dust jacket. A plain one-color cover is my favorite because it doesn’t influence me at all; it lets me imagine all the possibilities on the pages inside. I was indirectly involved in creating the book cover for The Last Book You’ll Ever Read. There’s a meta element to the eponymous story in the collection, and the book cover in that story is described in detail. My publisher thought it would be great to have the cover of my book resemble the one in the story, and I loved the idea. I think the cover looks amazing.

Meghan: What have you learned creating your books?

Scott Hughes: Since The Last Book You’ll Ever Read is my first published book, I’ve learned that promoting a book is much harder than actually writing it. I’ve also learned from working on novels that the whole endeavor can be overwhelming. If you look at it as “I’m going to write a book,” it can make you want to give up, but if you take a step back and look at it like building a house—just lay one brick at a time, a little each day—that eventually you get through it and have a finished product.

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

Scott Hughes: In general, long scenes of dialogue are hardest. They can quickly get confusing if many characters are involved, and you have to come up with things for the characters to do during the scene so that everything isn’t just “he said,” “she said,” or “they said” without going too far in the other direction and having characters narrow their eyes or steeple their fingers or cross their arms after everything they say. In particular there is a scene that takes place in the YA novel I’m writing, Red Twin, that has about five characters in it. It’s dialogue heavy, but I don’t want it to feel like all the characters are simply standing in place delivering their lines. It’s like blocking in a play or movie while also writing what each character is saying.

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

Scott Hughes: I wrote it… Just kidding. That’s tough to say. Everything there is to write has already been written, after all. This is probably a question that readers can answer better than an author. I set almost all of my horror stories in the South, where I’m from, particularly Georgia. I feel like that’s something many writers (ones I’ve read, anyway) get wrong. Georgia isn’t just rednecks and Bulldogs football. There’s an amazing, and often troublesome, history with Georgia, and every small town has its characters that would seem like unbelievable caricatures if I described them in precise detail. The places I’ve lived and visited in my state are rife with material for the horror genre. My dream is to make Georgia (or my fictional version of it, at least) an epicenter of supernatural oddities and terrors like Stephen King’s Maine.

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)?

Scott Hughes: I tell my students all the time that titles matter. Most writing books I’ve read focus on the first line, the “hook” to capture your reader’s interest, but to me the title is the hook. Whenever I’m looking through a journal, magazine, or anthology, I scan the table of contents first for the most intriguing titles. Choosing my own titles can be the easiest or hardest part of the process. Sometimes the title is first thing that comes to me, and I go from there. Other times, I finish the piece and then spend days or weeks searching for the right title. My book was originally titled Sinister Whispers, which came from one of the stories. My editor suggested taking that story out and replacing it with a different one that fit the collection better, so I had to think of a different title. After arranging the stories, we decided to break the story The Last Book You’ll Ever Read into two parts to bookend the others. Then it seemed natural, or inevitable, that the title for the collection should be The Last Book You’ll Ever Read. It’s mysterious and conjures a little dread. It’s like calling it Don’t Read This Book. That makes people want to read it more, to find out why.

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

Scott Hughes: I would never say writing a novel makes me feel fulfilled. I’ve written about four at this point, all unpublished so far, and when I’ve finished them, I’ve felt only relief, like “Thank God that’s over.” Writing a short story does feel more fulfilling, like I’ve crafted a contained little world in a few (or perhaps more than a few) pages as opposed to a sprawling work that I always look at and find things that I want to tinker with. I guess I’m trying to say that writing a short story gives me a sense of finality that writing a novel doesn’t.

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

Scott Hughes: My books vary in genre and content. The Last Book You’ll Ever Read is a collection of horror stories, and I have another collection of stories (horror, fantasy, and science fiction) called Horrors & Wonders that I’m shopping around. In February, I have a book of poems coming out (The Universe You Swallowed Whole from Finishing Line Press). I’m currently finishing a YA steampunk-type novel called Red Twin. With such differing content, I don’t know that I have a target audience. The short story collections are aimed at adults who love speculative fiction, the poetry book is for readers of poetry, and the YA book is for a younger crowd. What I want readers to take away from my writing, whatever form it takes, is that something in it makes them view the world in a slightly different way or from a perspective other than their own. Also, I hope they never feel that their time spent with my work, whether it’s just a minute or several weeks, was wasted.

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

Scott Hughes: Any writer will tell you that there’s tons of stuff that gets the axe. All the scenes I’ve cut could fill an encyclopedia. One in particular from The Last Book You’ll Ever Read was the end of “Dark Highway.” Without giving too much away, the story was originally published with an ending that changed perspective from the main character to a couple of policemen. When I was working on the book revisions, my editor suggested I change the ending—that it didn’t feel quite right. I worked on it for several days, and what I came up with was still a shift in perspective but closed the story in a profoundly different and more satisfying way.

Meghan: What is in your “trunk”?

Scott Hughes: In my “trunk” is the YA novel Red Twin. I’ve been working on it since 2007. A lot of writers might have tossed it in the bin at this point, but I keep going back to that world and its characters. It’s a story that I have to tell. I’ve had a rough draft of the entire book done for several years, and I’ve revised about 75% of it to my liking. But I keep getting sidetracked by short stories, poems, and other projects. I’ve made the first chapter available on my website just to get it out there and also to push myself to finish it. Hopefully, after I’m done promoting The Last Book You’ll Ever Read and The Universe You Swallowed Whole, I can finally focus on revising the remaining 25%. I say that now, but I’ll get sidetracked by dozens of story and poem ideas in the meantime.

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

Scott Hughes: As I’ve said, my book of poetry is coming out in February, and I hope to have my second short story collection Horrors & Wonders accepted for publication soon. You can always check my website for newly published stories and poems. And, fingers crossed, I’ll finish Red Twin in the next year and start sending it out.

Meghan: Where can we find you?

Scott Hughes: Website ** Amazon ** Goodreads ** Facebook ** Twitter ** Instagram

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?

Scott Hughes: I’d like to thank you, Meghan’s House of Books, for doing the work you do to promote authors and connect them with readers that might never have heard of their writing. I’d also like to thank any readers who have or will give my book a read, and I’d like to hear from you. You can reach me through any of the links I’ve provided or email me. I promise this won’t be the last book you’ll ever read from me.

Scott Hughes is a Georgia writer who graduated from Mercer University and then received an MFA in creative writing from Georgia College & State University. His fiction, poetry, and essays have appeared in such publications as Crazyhorse, One Sentence Poems, Entropy, Deep Magic, Carbon Culture Review, Redivider, Redheaded Stepchild, PopMatters, Strange Horizons, Odd Tales of Wonder, and Compaso: Journal of Comparative Research in Anthropology and Sociology. His collection of horror short stories, The Last Book You’ll Ever Read, is available from Sinister Stoat Press, an imprint of Weasel Press. His poetry collection, The Universe You Swallowed Whole, is forthcoming from Finishing Line Press in February 2020. He is the Division Head of English at Central Georgia Technical College and is currently finishing a young adult novel, Red Twin. He lives in Macon, Georgia, with his two dogs, Bacon and Pip. For more information, visit his website.

The Last Book You’ll Ever Read

A mysterious book on your doorstep, a man trying to outrun an otherworldly horror, an elderly woman who creates strange concrete creatures, a computer that isn’t what it seems, an enigmatic nothingness closing in on someone’s house… 

The Last Book You’ll Ever Read is a collection of five macabre tales that you won’t soon forget.