This week we are joined by the prestigious MJ Preston, author of The Equinox. He is a horror writer who has created something unique, refreshing and utterly frightening.
Hi Mj, and welcome. Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
Thank you for the invitation Julieanne. I am an author and artist who hails from
. I am 46 years-old, but I think like a teenager and sometimes forget that I am not. I published my first horror novel, The Equinox, last July. Canada
Can you tell us about your latest project/work in progress?
Well, I've actually got a couple projects on the go. First and foremost I am promoting: The Equinox pretty much seven days a week and that has taken the bulk of my time. I am also plugging away at a new novel and a script for Equinox. In the New Year, I am going to slow down on the promotion and get down to business on my other projects. I hope to have the film script finished in the first quarter of 2012 and hopefully by mid year the first draft of my new novel will be done.
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
This is a question I have gotten a few times. I suppose it's one that is kept in every interviewers list. I first considered myself a writer in 2002 when I summed up my Mother's life at her graveside in a few short minutes. My Mother had a pretty tough life and part of her experiences have come to life in my writing, but I have yet to tackle them in a direct way.
What inspired you to pen your first novel?
This is a tough question to answer without sounding like a self absorbed idiot, but I was in the army for 12 years and have been called much worse, so here goes: When I was a kid I used to sit in class and stare out the window day dreaming, my teachers would be incensed by my inattentiveness. I was constantly in trouble for not finishing assignments in Science, I stunk in Math, but I really loved the art of storytelling from a very young age. My grammar was atrocious, but I had a vivid imagination.
My mother affectionately used to call me "Nowhere man" after the famous Beatles Song, because I was always making all my "nowhere plans for nobody," but really I was living in that other world we writers often go during the creation process.
As you well know, the story becomes very real to us, as do the characters. Now, that I have completely diverted off your original question I will try to answer it in the most honest way I can. Nothing inspired me to write my first novel, it is just an extension of who I am. A piece of work generated by a nowhere man making all his nowhere plans for nobody. The one thing I have managed to hang onto in my 46 years is my ability to day dream. As a child I was an expert day dreamer and stories spilled out of my head by the thousands. Being able to take that fleeting glimpse and turn it into something others would read and enjoy is probably the greatest gift one can ask for.
How did you come up with the title for your book?
The Equinox was the working title for the manuscript from its very beginning. I had considered calling it "Skin", but opted for the original title. The Equinox is when day and night are equal. This happens twice a year in the Spring and the Fall and it is also considered a time of balance. The Equinox is a major theme of the story so it seemed only sensible to use it as a title.
How much of your work is realistic?
All of it! At the risk of sounding political, I think horror writers generally use the real world as their watershed for ideas. There are so many horrible things that happen in the world today that translate easily into horror. Possession can be equated to mental illness. A curse can be likened to a life altering disease. The horrible things that the human race perpetrates on one another like rape, murder and child exploitation easily match up to the mindless flesh eating zombie or the voracious appetite of a skinwalker. Perhaps the creatures we conjure up are not realistic in the reality as we know it, but the darkness that lurks inside them is alive and well.
Where do you hope to take your writing in the future?
I don't know. I would love to just buy a place where I can get up in the morning and bang out a few thousand words then spend the rest of my day shooting photography and dreaming the rest of my life away, but it really is a question of where my writing will take me. I have a number of projects up there in the grey matter, one that is not a horror at all, but I don't know if life will afford me the time to finish them. For the time being I will follow that inner voice and see where it leads me.
Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
Editing-groan-I hate editing. By the time the story gets to the editing process I am away from my comfort zone of creativity. I know it's necessary, but for me it is like sanding something to make it beautiful. It's hard work. I hate hard work.
How do you develop your plots and characters? Do you use any set formula?
No! I don't use any formula. I write by the seat of my pants. I start my story, research along the way and go from there. Sometimes I know the outcome, sometimes I don't
Interesting! How long does it take you to write a book?
[Laughs] Well Equinox took 20 years, but I am hoping that the next one will only be about a year. I don't have children to raise and the military took a lot of my time. Life has a way of getting in the way of the things we love to do, but I am hoping that I have found a way to balance it out.
If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in any of your books?
No, I don't think so. One thing I regret is the artistic side of Equinox. When I was creating images for the book I wasn't thinking about any type of a graphic companion and a lot of the art is not high enough resolution to publish.
Live and learn.
How do you feel about the horror boom of the 80’s and early 90’s?
Well a lot of descent horror literature came out at that time. In the 80's I think Stephen King and Robert R McCammon produced some of their best work. As far as
goes, there were some cool flicks, but man they have a way of sucking the life out of a good idea. Hollywood
In the 80's and early 90's it was all about guys with hatchets and machetes that never seemed to die no matter how much you dismembered them and burned them and fired them into space. "Yeah! Jason Voorhees I am talking about you!" It really became somewhat absurd, although there were some really imaginative creepy films like Seven and Jacob's Ladder.
Jacob's Ladder is one of the most underrated thrillers of all time.
What about the horror genre interests you?
It's funny you should ask this. I think we all have a fascination with the dark side of humanity. Horror used to be the only real outlet for examining it while keeping our moral compass pointed North.
In other genres we had the good guys and the bad guys. That seems to be changing now, with books and movies that begin telling us tales from the viewpoint of the bad guys. The only difference is that with are starting to sympathize with the bad guys.
Horror faces some very serious challenges in the future. I hope that the artists who wish to usher in a new generation of enthusiasts do not sell out completely to trends and work on new ways to keep the genre alive, because it is a wonderful medium in which to explore how all of us tick.
What scares you?
Something that terrifies me is being helpless. There are some things in this world that are completely beyond our control, I don't really need to point them out, but those things are what frightens me.
What was your first introduction to horror literature, the one that made you choose that genre to write?
I couldn't pin it down on a particular book. I was heavily influenced in the 70's and 80's by horror authors like Barker, King, and McCammon, but I also fell in love with the horror genre thanks to directors like Ridley Scott and John Carpenter.
I can tell you a rather lurid story about a friend of mine who had to unload all his dirty magazines because his girlfriend demanded it. I think he had about 15 or 20 different men's magazines and being a teenage boy with no internet I was more than happy to take them. Anyway, once we get past the spectre that I was once a deviate who couldn't control his hormones I will tell you that I read a few good horror stories in those magazines. Later, I would graduate to Rod Serling's Twilight Zone and the companion Night Cry to get my fill of horror fiction, but I still kept the girls around until I got a girlfriend who made me dump them.
Do you look to your own phobias to find subject matter? Are your stories the products of nightmares, childhood experiences, fantasies?
Yes, yes and yes. I used to have a recurring nightmare about being abducted by a stranger. Looking from the back of a big old car and watching my house disappear from the back window. Everything I write comes from inside me somewhere.
Have you ever used contemporary events or stories “ripped from the headlines” in your work?
Certainly I've researched events and have used some real examples. In The Equinox there is a scene where the Psychologist Kolchak is walking the mass graves left by Stephen Hopper and as he says something to the officers. If my memory serves me correctly he says, "Corrl."
When the officers ask what he is talking about he explains that Dean Corrl was a sexual sadist who killed a number of boys in Houston. He compares that case to the one they are investigating. Dean Corrl, along with his two accomplices really did exist.
What draws people to horror novels? Why do we, as readers, like to be scared?
I think its natural for people to want to get out of that comfort zone. We do this all the time by jumping out of airplanes, getting on roller coasters and sitting down with a book we know bites back. I think we feel more alive when we test our nerve.
Where do you as an author draw the line on gory descriptions and/or erotic content?
I think I draw the line when it gets out of my comfort zone. I have no issue with incorporating gore into a scene that requires it. If there is a scene where sex is a part of the story I have no issue with that either.
Now a combination of the two?
Well that's a whole other animal. For example if I was writing a story about a serial killer who was a rapist and a sadist I would be very leery about describing such a scene in an explicit manner. This seems to be something a lot of horror films are doing these days and I question the ability of the writers and look at it as a cop out.
In the film 8 MM, the main character decides to torture and kill the men who used a girl in a snuff film. You see him enter the room where they are, and then the door closes behind him. You know there is some horrible stuff going on behind that door, stuff you can only imagine, but that is enough. The writer doesn't have to show you the blow by blow, your imagination is already painting the picture.
Why should fans of horror movies read horror books?
Movies, although a lot of fun, are unable to offer up the same intimacy as a book. In books you get beneath the surface and inside the heads of the characters.
What in your opinion are crucial elements in creating a marketable horror novel?
You have to trust the reader and respect them. But even then, genre writing is an uphill battle littered with the graves of many casualties. I'm not going to tell you it's an easy gig, because it isn't. You have to love this and even then loving it isn't enough you gotta have talent. If you're in it for the money or some kind of fame give it up now, because you are writing for the wrong reasons.
The perception of the horror writer is that he/she is just a little bit weirder than most. Do you find yourself — and other horror writers — to be more idiosyncratic than the average person?
Speaking only for myself, I have to say I have a pretty dark sense of humour. When I was in the army I had a sergeant yell at me that if I didn't stop smiling that he was going to rip out my eye and skull fuck me. Instead of wiping the smirk off my face, I started laughing. This Sergeant was really in my face, screaming at me spit flying and all I could think was about a guy plucking out someone's eye and mounting him to fornicate. I still have both eyes, but man I did a lot of push-ups over that outburst.
Along with that I tend to look at mundane things and draw my own conclusions or imaginings. When I look at abandoned house I might wonder if there's a body decomposing inside. Sometimes I see bad things and I file them away for later use.
Thanks Mj for a great insight into you and your work.
Below is an excerpt of the phenomenal The Equinox.
Excerpt from: The Equinox - Chapter 11 - The Big Blind
His car hit the rumble strips on the side of the road and he swerved the wheel. His anger was inhibiting his focus, and he thought it would be wise to pull over and take a deep breath before he smashed the car up.
Ten minutes later, he pulled the car onto the other side of a bridge that spanned the Red River. He got out. The fresh air awakened him and he decided to smoke one of the three joints he’d earmarked for the night at the casino.
He lit it up and looked out over river. He drew off the joint, and felt himself begin to relax.
He’d sort this out.
He took another toke, held it, then exhaled.
“What a fucking bummer night,” he said.
“What a bummer indeed.”
Scott jerked around. At the end of the bridge stood the man who’d given him the money.
“You,” he indicted. “How? You fucked me!”
The dark man stepped closer and deftly plucked the joint out of his hand. He took a deep draw off it, then blew the smoke back in Scott’s face. “Ah, devil weed.”
“Who are you?”
“I am the one your mother warned you about.” He waved a hand toward the far side of the bridge and said, “Do you know what day it is, Scott?”
A pack of coyotes lined up at the end of the bridge side by side, their eyes reflecting in the darkness.
“No.” Scott’s voice suddenly sounded hopeless.
“It is the tenth day by the old calendars. The tenth day is the day of the dog and it is but one day in many as the autumn equinox approaches.” He waved his hand again, and at the other end of the bridge another pack of coyotes set up and stood single file. “On this day I command the dog. Tomorrow I will command the monkey.”
The man climbed upon the edge of the bridge. He began to change.
Perched on the railing, not with feet but great talons, he handed the joint back to Scott. “Take another draw on that thing, Scott; you’re going to need it.”
He looked left, then right. The coyotes growled hungrily. He looked back upon the creature towering above. He whimpered.
“Go ahead: have a last draw.”
Scott Masterson took the last toke of his life and as he exhaled the creature before him said, “This is going to hurt like hell.”
The talon tore upward and opened his belly, spilling his insides out. He wanted to scream at how it hurt – but the real pain was when the creature began to pull them out and feast on them. Scott fell weakly to his knees. The fire in his abdomen was all that kept him from collapsing.
The creature reached into his belly and pulled out a length of small intestine. As it gulped his insides down its eyes rolled, filming over, and Scott felt himself slipping away.
When it was done, it cracked his skull open on the railing and then said something in the ancient language to the waiting coyotes. They moved in to get their fill while it watched with satisfied interest. It was not the first time predatory animals shared in its kills, but it still studied their actions with amazement.
The coyotes growled and bickered over the fresh meat while it meditated.
To find out more about Mj, and to connect with him follow the links below:
Next week we have author J.B Sullivan, who will be surprising us with a short story written especially for us.
See you all next week :)