Friday, April 20, 2012

Christine Morgan Interview


I would like to welcome you all to the first in a series of great interviews with new and established authors and writers. Considering I tote a “dark heroic fantasy” blog title, we will not necessarily be centering only on writers of “dark heroic fantasy”. I just wanted to make that clear up front for potential readers including authors who may be interested in participating in an interview on PR: DHF.

Being a writer myself, I find more often than not my own fiction writing, typically in the Scifi / Fantasy genre, slipping into other genre realms like Suspense-Thriller, Horror, Mystery, etc. I think I would be limiting myself, the offerings of this blog, and opportunities with a wide variety of writers if I only offered discussions relating to just the Scifi / Fantasy genre.

Enough on that.

The first author to grace the PR: DHF blog is the very accomplished and very talented Christine Morgan.

Christine Morgan divides her writing time among many genres, from horror to historical, from superheroes to smut, anything in between and combinations thereof. She's a wife, a mom, a future crazy-cat-lady and a longtime gamer, who enjoys British television, cheesy action/disaster movies, cooking and crafts.

Her stories have appeared in several publications, including: The Book of All Flesh, The Book of Final Flesh, The Best of All Flesh, History is Dead, The World is Dead, Strange Stories of Sand and Sea, Fear of the Unknown, Hell Hath No Fury, Dreaded Pall, Path of the Bold, Cthulhu Sex Magazine and its best-of volume Horror Between the Sheets, Closet Desire IV, and Leather, Lace and Lust.

She's also a contributor to The Horror Fiction Review, a former member of the HWA, a regular at local conventions, and an ambitious self-publisher (six fantasy novels, four horror novels, six children's fantasy books, and two roleplaying supplements). Her work has appeared in Pyramid Magazine, GURPS Villains, been nominated for Origins Awards, and given Honorable Mention in two volumes of Year's Best Fantasy and Horror.

Her suspense thriller, The Widows Walk, was recently released from Lachesis Publishing, and her horror novel, The Horned Ones, is due out from Belfire in 2012.She's currently delving into steampunk, making progress on an urban paranormal series, and on a bloodthirsty Viking kick. And after my own foray into the bloody realms of Viking berserkers in BEDLAM UNLEASHED (omnibus edition coming out May 2012), I am looking forward to seeing what Christine brings to the table.

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Christine's current offering: The Widow’s Walk
Publisher: Lachesis Publishing
Genre: Suspense
Page Count: 382 pages

For a young married couple, Erin and Gil, the small coastal town of Blackwater Cove is many things. The seaside; their first home; the beginning of a wonderful new life together; Gil’s chance to work alongside his brother Colby on a fishing boat, a job he loves. But Blackwater Cove isn't the idylic paradise Erin and Gil imagine. Their cozy home is haunted by a tragedy of love betrayed and lost. It is the story of a husband betrayed and a life stolen by the cruel power of the sea. It is a tragedy that spills over into the lives of Erin and Gil. All because Erin has disturbed the power that lies dormant in… The Widow’s Walk

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PR:DHF: How did THE WIDOW'S WALK tale come to you? What inspired you to write about a haunted seaside abode? What makes this piece stand out for you and, hopefully, the reader?

CM: I have a real approach/avoidance relationship with the sea.

On the one hand, I love it, I love being near it or on it ... my favorite vacations are cruises, I'm fascinated by old-fashioned sailing ships (from Viking longships to Napoleonic tall ships), the sea is a place of beauty and power, romance, peace and mystery.

On the other hand, it scares the crap out of me. The dark depths, the pressure, the endless expanses and merciless forces, the unknown, the creepy-damn-things that live in it (sharks, jellyfish, don't even get me started on the weird critters of the trenches).

I'd already written and self-published three horror novels set in Trinity Bay, a fictional town based on the area where I went to college. But I started thinking, possibly after one too many episodes of Deadliest Catch, that I wanted to write a story set in an even smaller town, with a little independent fishing fleet.

That got me thinking about sailors and their wives and their houses. Some would be painted bright colors so the men could see them from afar when their ship was coming home. Some had widow's walks, those high balconies or walkways where wives could look out to sea for returning sails. It all struck me as sad and kind of spooky.

Those elements came together to form the basic outlines of The Widow's Walk, and what would happen if I took a young couple who weren't steeped in that history and tradition, and plunked them down smack in the middle of it.
 
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PR:DHF: How many other publications do you have out there?

CM: Oh, a lot, a lot, especially depending on what you consider as a publication.

I've been writing with a hopeful eye toward publication for twenty years. I've got almost that many self-published books out, plus short stories in over a dozen anthologies, and some books done through smaller presses. I've edited a couple of amateur anthologies and online 'zines. I've posted far too many assorted stories online.

So, a LOT. It's sometimes scary, sometimes impressive, and sometimes downright depressing to consider how many millions of words I've written.
 
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PR:DHF: Are they (the other publications) all Suspense-Thrillers? Would you yourself categorize them in this way/genre? Is this your favorite genre to read as well as write? Why?

CM: No, not at all, though I do like to think there's some elements of thrill and suspense in most everything I write ... along with elements of humor, romance, comedy, and the whole range of emotions and experience. As a general breakdown, most of them are fantasy or horror. I've done a six-book fantasy series for kids, and two roleplaying game books. I've written zombies, superheroes, historical fiction, erotica ... I don't want to even try and limit myself to one genre.

I feel the same way about my choices in reading material. I'll read ANYTHING if it's good. Though if I had to pick only one genre, it'd be horror. I've been reading horror since I was ten years old. It's had a huge influence on shaping my life and my writing. Among the horror writer community, I've found myself feeling more at home than anywhere else.
 
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PR:DHF: Have you always worked the night shift at the psych facility?

CM: I have to assume this has influenced a lot of your work as real life can sometimes be stranger than fiction. (I also must thank you for your "day job" work in this area. It takes special people to work those types of jobs. My stepfather is in a nursing home and though I enjoy visiting him and saying to hello to the regulars, I don't know if I could work there...so very depressing. So, thanks for the "day job" work you do. It is appreciated.)

I went into working the night shift at a psych facility right out of college, so, it was my first real job. And only real job, since I never got around to pursuing further degrees or credentials. Been doing this for 20+ years too.

I've worked all the different shifts. I spent a while as a program coordinator, assisting the supervisor, running the client-and-family groups, and so on. But, the night shift schedule suited me better, and especially after I transferred to a smaller facility, it offered me much more opportunity to write.

It has its downsides, to be sure ... in the summer, when I'm trying to sleep during the day, when it's bright and hot, when everyone in the neighborhood seems to be mowing their lawns or doing home repairs, when the park is full of Little Leaguers. Not to mention trying to arrange doctor appointments and the like.

As for influencing my work and being stranger than fiction, oh, yes, that is certainly true. I've based more than a few characters on people I've met in the course of my career (residents, staff, management and outsiders alike). I've borrowed quotes and scenarios directly from on-the-job events. It certainly has helped prepare me to take most anything in stride.

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PR:DHF: You mention you have self-published several works. In these days of opportunities for writers to self-pub versus pursue "traditional" publishing routes, what are your thoughts on the opportunities both offer a writer nowadays? 

CM: My initial experiences with self-publishing came about when I was young and stupid with my first novel and got taken in by one of those shady vanity-type presses after several rejections. It soured and embittered me so much that I decided I could do a better job on my own (well, with the help of my husband's layout skills and some amazing artist friends). I felt even then that it was hugely important to edit and make as professional a project as I could.

Being somewhat OCD and having massive guilt-pangs about typos and other mistakes even in simple online stories or fanfics helped with that, I suppose. Pains me to look back at stuff from years ago and see the mistakes. Ouch.

I also always felt there was an inherent unfairness in the concept of how, say, bands and comics and movies could do it themselves and be indie, edgy and cool ... while self-publishing had (and to a degree still does) this stigma of how it MUST be crap or else a REAL publisher would have taken it.

I think a lot of that has to do with people thinking that anyone who's even semi-literate can write; it's only putting down words and letters, it's not like an ART requiring training or talent, right? So, why pay someone to do it? Ugh. Despicable mentality.
 
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PR:DHF: What do you think about the idea of pursuing a balance between self-pubbing and pursuing traditional publishing/publishers if one is serious about being a published author/writer?

CM: I must think it's a good idea, because I keep plugging away at it. One source of frustration can also be the glacial pace of response times, turnaround, the frowned-upon-ness of multiple or simultaneous submissions, and just how damn LONG it takes for things to actually happen.

I write fast, so I pile up this immense backlog. I have no shortage of ideas and stories on the to-do list. So, after a while it becomes much less stressful and easier on the sanity to just go ahead and publish the older stuff.

If nothing else, it shows I'm persistent. And I've been told that a nicely produced self-published book can demonstrate even to the real publishers, editors and agents that I take this seriously and am willing to put in the hard work.


PR:DHF: Do you enjoy the digital book (ebook) format for reading currently or do you still purchase ye olde wood pulp paperbacks and hard cover books? Or do you partake of both nowadays?

CM: I've yet to jump on the e-reader bandwagon. Only a matter of time, I suppose ... but then, I still have a clunky old Nokia phone that I only use for making calls, I don't Twitter, I listen to CDs, and I'll probably be the last person on the planet wearing glasses instead of contacts or laser surgery (or cybernetic eyes, I'm sure that'll be next).

Lately, I've been reading more books as PDFs, review copies and such. I like it, but it still does feel kind of remote and detached. I'd also fret much more about an e-reader device in terms of the expense and paranoia -- what if I lost it, broke it? couldn't very well take it to the beach or in the bathtub; a single paperback is lots easier to replace.

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PR:DHF: Regarding your self-pubbed works, what is the one you are most proud of and where would one find it if interested? (Feel free to give a brief summary or synopsis of the book/story.)

CM: I guess I'd have to say the ElfLore hardcover omnibus.

The trilogy was originally published by a small press, but then they cut their fantasy line and the rights reverted to me. I decided to give them another revision and then put them together into a hardback, and it turned out so well, such a gorgeous book with a fantastic cover, I really love it.

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PR:DHF: When sitting down to write (or standing up if that's your schtick LOL), are there any routines you go through to get yourself primed to write?

CM: I do most of my dedicated writing in my night-shift time slot. Usually, things at work have settled down by 1:00 AM and don't get stirring again until about 5:00 AM, so, those four hours are when I can really nose to the grindstone. I don't have any particular set routines or rituals.

But, especially if I'm working on something historical, or with a challenging tone or voice or setting, I try to get myself in the right mood and headspace by reading or listening to something inspirational for it.

Coffee also helps, of course. And peanut M&Ms.

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PR:DHF: When churning up a new written work, do you outline the entire tale before you start writing, or do you lay it out in your head and let it flow and come together as you do the actual writing?

CM: I'm not much of an outliner. I will when I have to, when the story calls for it, but in general I much prefer character- and scenario-driven stories. Like going on a long road trip. I know where I'm starting from and I know where I'm headed ... what happens along the way, detours and scenic routes, stops, side trips, accidents ... well, that's where the adventure and excitement can come in.

Bear in mind that this is for writing only. On actual road trips, I'm not very keen on trying out those little woods-roads that aren't on the map. Seen and read too much horror for that! Not that I'm a rigid vacation scheduler either; we get there when we get there and so what if we "make good time" or not?

Some of my books, I've begun with a large cast of characters and no idea who'll make it out alive at the end. Tell No Tales was like that, which was fitting since it's a story about reality game show contestants on a haunted pirate island. The Horned Ones, coming this summer from Belfire, was also like that ... I'm going to take all these characters, stick them in a tourist cave, trap them there, throw in some monsters, and see what happens!

I credit/blame a lot of the WAY that I write on my long history in roleplaying games. Been doing that since I was fourteen, usually running the game and designing the campaigns. That's why I find that story hooks and sequel ideas naturally work themselves into whatever I'm doing, so there's always the next one brewing.

I've also found that the best sessions, the most exciting and memorable and fun, were the ones where the characters would react to something, the story might go off in an unexpected direction, and we'd end up winging it. I far prefer that to the scripted, railroady kind of campaign, and I guess that just transferred across into my writing as well.

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PR:DHF: Seems we have both recently dove into the realm of Steampunk, what is it that interests you when writing in this most interesting of genres? Are there any plans for a self-published piece of your Steampunk work to be offered to the masses? Or has anything been taken in yet by a traditional publisher that might be available in the near future?

CM: Steampunk appealed to me for a lot of reasons -- history, weird tech/science, and the prospect of being a melting pot of genres and tropes. I see it as being kind of like a superhero universe ... anything goes! It lends itself well to all sorts of crossover possibilities. I've written steampunk with vampires, steampunk Lovecraftian, steampunk serial killer ... I've got plans for many more, including steampunk with zombies, steampunk with pulp cliffhangery adventure, steampunk with magic ... the possibilities are endless, yet they can all also be tied together.

When I set out to start writing my steampunk stories, I wanted to do something with the same basic setting and a revolving cast of recurring characters. That way, I wouldn't feel constrained and I'd know I could revisit that world whenever I liked and uncover more of it as time went on.

So, I came up with the idea for a character, Chantal Noir, a gutsy young paranormalist from the Little Paris district of a steampunk city. In her line of work, she could get pulled into almost anything, know all sorts of unusual other people, and has a whole backstory to explore.

I love stories that are interconnected and evolving. The Pendergast books by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child have been a huge influence on me in that regard. I was also blown away by Robert McCammon's recent historical works, which gave me what I crave in terms of the FEEL, the language and sense, the texture.

I love writing historical stuff for that reason, and for the challenge of the different eras -- Viking stories have a different tone from steampunk, for instance; I've also written medieval and pioneer. As a side benefit, while there's as much if not more research required, I don't have to worry so much about modern technology and pop culture advancing past me while I wait on those response times for something set in the present day.

I mentioned the three I've already written, all of which are either being considered for or about to be sent off to anthology submission calls. I've got an entire list of more, and expect that I'll have enough for my own steampunk collection soon. That's something I could readily see self-publishing, once they've all had their shots at finding first-print homes elsewhere.

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PR:DHF: Any advice for writers in general you would like to share? Words of wisdom? Secrets of the craft you've learned? Good books on the writing craft you may have run across that have helped you hone your skills as a writer?

CM: READ. A lot. A variety of things. Listen to audio books, too ... read your own writing aloud ... challenge yourself by experimenting with your comfort zones, with character or point of view. Cultivate beta-readers who really will give you feedback, pay attention to what editors tell you and why. Remember that it's about making the story as good as it can possibly be, and not about pandering to your authorly ego. Work on building up patience, since things DO take a damn long time. Write. Send stuff out and follow up. Don't take the rejections personally. Develop a thicker skin. Keep on trying. Always strive to improve. Etc.

As for books on the craft, aside from the basic musts like Strunk & White, I cannot recommend strongly enough On Writing by Stephen King. It may not be a handbook, but, for me and the way I approach things, it resonates. 

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PR:DHF: I would like to thank Christine for offering up her time and thoughts on her books and the subject of writing, and also big thanks for being first for this interview romp.

You can find smorgasbord of Christine’s work here:

If you would like to correspond directly with Christine, you can find her here:

If you have questions for PR:DHF, you can send your comments and questions to: pwelmerink@gmail.com.

Thanks and see you next time.

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