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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Interview Series: Speculative Fiction Author Jessica McHugh

JK: Today, Famous Writer welcomes prolific speculative fiction author Jessica McHugh. Her latest release, Rabbits in the Garden, was published by Post Mortem Press in February 2011.
Not one to rest on your laurels, are you, Jessica? I understand you have several other projects going on or coming out soon.

Jessica McHugh: Reliquary Press is publishing my horror/adventure novella Danny Marble & the Application for Non-Scary Things in September 2011. This will be my third collaboration with Reliquary Press. The third book in my "Tales of Dominhydor" fantasy series is also coming out in 2011, and my first play "Fools call it Fate: a story of sex, coincidence, and an electronic cigarette" is being produced for the Mobtown Theatre this July.

Every year, I get better at my craft, and I have a lot more stories to tell. By the end of this year, I will have had eleven books published by small presses in four years, and I don't plan on stopping any time soon.

JK: Congratulations! Those are some amazing accomplishments. How does such a prolific career get started?

JM: I grew up in Hampstead, Maryland, a smallish (at least it was then) town near Baltimore. As a kid, I played a lot of soccer, did ballet, tap, jazz, and spent a lot of time in the theatre. I appeared in a bunch of plays in high school, as well as performed with the award-winning North Carroll Ensemble. I've always had a wild imagination, something that probably worried my parents until I started writing all of these books.

I've been writing all my life, but I really started writing seriously when I was 19 and working at a perfume kiosk in a mall. I wrote so many short stories during that time, but I also started writing my first novel, Maladrid. At the time, I didn't know what Maladrid would become, but as of 2011, it's the first book in a four-book fantasy series called "The Tales of Dominhydor," currently being published by Double Dragon eBooks. In my early twenties I wrote, Maladrid, Yven, and Palaplia, and while the stories stood the test of time, the writing did not. I've had to completely rewrite significant parts of these books, especially Palaplia. Right now, I'm working on rewriting the fourth book, Telinhe. As for all the short stories, I'm working through them slowly, but Abandoned Towers Magazine has published one of the first stories I wrote during that time: "My Caroline, My Love," and they'll be publishing another, "Tyler Returned," in an upcoming online issue as well.

JK: So, readers have a lot to look forward to. Tell us more about your latest release. Is it for adults or teens?

JM: Rabbits in the Garden is a horror/suspense novel about Avery Norton, a 13 year old girl in 1950s Martha's Vineyard whose mother accuses of murder. She is shipped off to Taunton Lunatic Asylum where she endures all of the wonderful "treatments" our 1950s mental hospitals had to offer. It is a coming-of-age story, but it's not really intended for anyone under 15. However, that doesn't mean that someone under 15 couldn't handle it. It's not nearly as graphic as when I read Pet Semetary at 11, but there are some pretty horrific parts.

JK: Yikes! Where do you get your ideas? Does real life play any part?

JM: I definitely use a lot of my own experiences and feelings when constructing plot and characters, but none of my characters are exactly me or anyone I know. I use hints of my life, but I paint the story in embellished colors. Other than that, I really create a lot of my worlds on my own. Little things may pop up here and there, and I definitely insert inside jokes into all of my books. I love it when someone tells me they actually picked up on one of them. For the most part, I like creating twisted worlds that possess only mere shades of reality.

JK: It sounds enchanting. Do you think any particular piece of literature helped to push you in the direction of fantasy/speculative fiction?

JM: My favorite book is The Phantom Tollbooth. I love the way Norman Juster uses language now as much as I did the first time I read it. That book is most likely the reason I use alliteration as much as I do. My favorite word is "cacophony," one I learned from The Phantom Tollbooth oh so many years ago.

JK: I agree, The Phantom Tollbooth never gets old. What else influences you work?

JM: I couldn't really say. As an author, I try not to allow anything to directly influence my work, as I want everything I write to be as original as possible. If something does inspire/influence me, I take it in and forget about it. If it comes out in the writing, so be it.

JK: I can really appreciate that philosophy. So, is your Muse completely untamed, or do you have tricks for taming it?

JM: Honestly, sometimes ideas just pop into my head and I can't pinpoint where they came from. As for Rabbits in the Garden, a huge amount of that story came directly from a dream. It was one of those rare occasions when my dream had a clear beginning, middle, and end. I wrote down everything I remembered and used most of it to create the story, but I also used an old story beginning I wrote several years ago. It was called "The Garden," and was so gruesome that I decided to stop writing it. Luckily, it fit perfectly with the plot I'd gleaned from my dream and I merged them. But most of the time, I just think of a weird scenario, pose some questions, and let the story answer them. Similarly, I don't really plan how I'm going to differentiate between characters because they do it themselves, naturally. When I start writing dialogue, it just pours out as if I were dictating real people. The only problem with this is that I sometimes repeat points made in previous conversations, which is something I catch during editing.

JK: So far, it sounds like writing is a natural, organic process for you. How in the world do you get all the ideas on paper? Is it some dark magic from one of your stories?

JM: I'd say I devote three to five hours (collectively) a day. On weekends, it's a lot more. But I still feel like I don't write enough. I don't have a specific "work area," although I do have a Writing Hut. It's really just a second bedroom, but on the weekends, that's where I go to write. I just chill out on the couch with a DVD or music playing and write write write. However, I will write anywhere, and I believe that's how I get so much done. I write in the bathroom, when I go out to eat, and any time I'm waiting for something. I write on my arms, legs, and scraps of paper towels. I am always thinking about writing and when I think of something good, I'm going to write it down, no matter where I am. One of the reasons I can do that is because while I'm married, I don't have children. In a few years, my ability to write so much will most likely dwindle. That's why I devote so much of my time to it now. I'm hoping to eventually ditch my full-time job and be able to dedicate more time, but we'll see what happens.

JK: So it really is all about discipline. Drat, I was hoping for a potion or magic spell. But discipline seems to be getting you some great results. How about feedback from readers and support from friends and family?

JM: I get really wonderful feedback as far as reviews, and I do feel like my fan base is growing every day. I just wish it would grow a little faster. My friends are definitely supportive. However, some only support the fact that I write and don't support me by actually purchasing and reading my books. Honestly, it hurts my feelings a bit. Some are more than happy to say "I know a published author," but unwilling to actually read my books. Then there are the friends who do read my books and give me honest feedback. My best friend, Jenny, is one of those people. She always wants my books to be longer, for me to elaborate on the smaller stories that hide within the bigger story, so with my current novel, PINS, I'm going to see if I can deliver everything she wants.

As for my family, they came around. I think it took me getting published and getting a "real" job for them to come around, but I'm glad they did. My mother has actually edited many of my books before I sent them out for submission, which is something I never thought would happen several years ago. I thought she'd think I was a major weirdo. Then I realized I am a major weirdo and I'm okay with that. She seems to be okay with it, too.

JK: Family reactions can be the strangest and least predictable in a writer’s experience. How wonderful that they accept your calling now. I guess most people have to be convinced with conventional proof of success. What about you? Do you consider yourself a success?

JM: Bestseller or not, I feel successful as an author. I work extremely hard because I'm extremely passionate, and those things got me here today. But what also got me here was my husband, Dave. Before him, I was just a writer with a bunch of stories under her belt. I never tried to get published because I didn't believe I could. He believed in me. He encouraged me like no one else did. He changed my life, and I while I owe every published work to my diligence, passion, and talent, I also owe every published work to him.

JK: I’m now a lifetime member of the “My Husband is Awesome” Club, too. It’s a great place to belong.

Thanks for stopping by for this interview and inspiring me and my readers!

JM: Thank you so much for having me as a guest on your blog, Jessica. It was an absolute delight.

• Find more delightful things at
• Get Rabbits in the Garden directly from the publisher: Rabbits in the Garden
• Or get it in eBook and print through Amazon here and here.