The Context Of Death. Interview With Alex Dolan, Author Of The Euthanist

Some book titles are designed to appeal to certain types of people.

euthanistI saw The Euthanist by Alex Dolan and bought it immediately! It’s definitely my type of book, and in this interview, I ask author Alex Dolan about some of the controversial topics that underlie the story.

Tell us how you got into writing.

My father worked for Houghton Mifflin, so I grew up around books and I’ve written since I was young. My dad typeset and bound my first story when I was six. It was called The Jewel, and essentially an Indiana Jones rip-off.

Part of why I like to write is because I like to read. And I’ll read anyone. Tom Robbins’ Jitterbug Perfume remains one of my favorite books because of the imagination he poured into it. My literary crush is Joyce Carol Oates. Michael Faber intrigues me these days because he seems to tackle a different genre with every new title, and he nails it—sort of like a literary Ang Lee.

So, I try to read as much as possible, and every time I read a fresh voice, it inspires me to keep writing, to see if I can add something to the conversation.

Why did you decide to tackle the topic head-on by titling the book The Euthanist?

I’d always had an academic interest in the death with dignity movement, but when my father passed away a few years ago, I started to seriously consider end-of-life decisions, and how much power we all have over those decisions. That’s what made me dig a little deeper into the subject.

Once I started researching it, I was fascinated, and the story evolved from there. I knew going into it that I was writing about delicate subject matter, and I thought it made sense to be clear from the title what the book would be about. Either this is going to interest someone or not, and I wanted a title that let readers know what they were getting themselves into.

dignity in dyingI support the charity Dignity in Dying and I campaign for the right of terminally ill but mentally sound patients to choose their own means of death, in their own homes, with their loved ones. I believe sick and dying animals are treated better than sick and dying humans – so I am your target audience!

[For a powerful argument on this topic, check out fantasy author Terry Pratchett’s book, Shaking Hands with Death. Terry died of early onset Alzheimer’s in March 2015 and was a passionate campaigner for the right to choose his own death.]

How do your own opinions and feelings on euthanasia come out in the book?

I think people should have more choice in end-of-life decisions.

That being said, I don’t preach either side of the argument in the book. It can be a divisive issue, and I try to respect others’ opinions. We’re at an interesting time in this country, where 27 states are currently debating death with dignity legislation, and yet the media seems to avoid covering the issue. I think we should have a very public discussion about it, and my hope is that the book might help ignite that discussion.

My readers love strong female characters and Kali is definitely strong. What parts of you are in her character?

Thank you! There’s not much of me in Kali. She’s largely based on a collection of people I interviewed, which included paramedics, EMTs and firefighters, as well as some personal friends who shared similar characteristics. I wanted to create someone physically formidable, strong-willed and courageous, and my research fed into a composite that became Kali.

How did your research for the book and what kinds of reaction did you get along the way?

Whenever I can, I try to interview people face to face, or at least by telephone. There’s so much I can draw out of a real person that I can’t get from a secondary source. Given how sensitive this material is, I forced myself to limit these kinds of interviews. As I mentioned, I interviewed a number of paramedics, EMTs and firefighters, but I avoided speaking with anyone directly involved in the death with dignity movement, because I didn’t want anyone to feel like they were getting themselves into legal jeopardy by talking to me.

Also, I didn’t want anyone who was considering their own end-of-life decisions to feel like I was exploiting their illnesses for the sake of the book. So where it felt inappropriate to talk to people in person, I relied on secondary sources.

One of themes of the book for me was a consideration about what murder really is and who is a murderer.

Can we define murder based on who is killed and what the motive is? How did you consider and explore that theme in the book?

It’s a good question, and one that I asked myself quite a bit while I was writing this. I leave it an unresolved question in the book, because it’s such a gray area.

One of the aspects of death with dignity that compelled me was that the drugs used in mercy killing are often the same drugs used in capital punishment, which means two people can be killed in the same way and have it considered both compassionate and punitive, depending on the scenario.

The context of death is important.

But the definition of murder can also come down to personal values and biases. If you kill someone in self-defense, you can still think of yourself as a murderer depending on your own morality.

When I was researching the book, a few of the paramedics repeated a saying, “No one dies in an ambulance,” which stems from a law that you need an MD to call a time of death. So there’s some gray area around the difference between biological death and legal death. And if it’s that hard to come up with a tight definition of death, it’s that much harder to come up with a universal definition of murder.

What’s next for you?

The next book is another literary thriller set in the art world, where a mysterious painting surfaces and sparks a blood feud between a rich and poor family. It was inspired by the real world relationship between a German painter named Rudolph Bauer and his primary benefactor, Solomon Guggenheim.

alex dolanWhere can people find you and the book online?

You can find The Euthanist on Amazon here.

Legends, Archaeology And Conspiracy With Thriller Author Dean Crawford

It’s always brilliant to find a new series that contains all the aspects I enjoy in books. Dean Crawford’s Ethan Warner series is super fun so I asked him a little more about what lies behind the stories …

identitymineYour books have aspects of legend, archaeology and conspiracies. What draws you to a particular idea for the books and what’s been fascinating you lately?

I’m always drawn to aspects of the paranormal that have the strongest element of truth to them. It’s not enough for me to hear about a myth or legend and just go write a novel about it. I like hearing about events or experiences that have actual evidence to support them, something tangible that a story can be built around that readers of my book can look up on Google and say: “Hey, that really did happen / exist!”

Mankind’s history is littered with countless examples of the unexplained that demand further research. My Ethan Warner series of novels have explored many of them, from evidence of ancient cultures’ interaction with advanced technology in Covenant and The Nemesis Origin, to extending human longevity in Immortal, time travel in Apocalypse and crypto-zoology in The Chimera Secret.

At the moment, my big fascination is with the ability of science to literally see our thoughts on screens: the technology has been developed in Japan and I’ve used it in my latest novel, The Identity Mine, where a terrorist cell is able to hijack human minds using technology that actually exists today.

You write fast paced thrillers, so what’s your most thrilling experience, for research or just for fun?

Without a doubt, aviation. As a result of research I’ve done on several novels I’m now in the final stages of training for my Private Pilot’s License.

apocalypseHowever for technology research into my novel Apocalypse I studied the world of Virtual Reality, and now I own an Oculus Rift VR headset. The ability to witness worlds that most of us would normally have no access to, such as orbiting the Earth, flying a fighter plane or the space shuttle or driving a Formula 1 car is utterly enthralling.

As a result of staring down at the Earth in VR once and experiencing something almost emotional, it being so realistic, I was compelled to start writing a series of space opera novels ( think Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica etc ).

The Atlantia Series, about a former prison ship populated by an uneasy alliance of soldiers and former convicts fleeing an apocalypse that is spreading across the galaxy, is now five books strong and running well. I really enjoy writing the impossible and making it believable at the same time, and the Atlantia books let me stretch technology to the limit in a universe where anything can happen.

Do you travel for research? What places do you love the most that appear in your books?

I don’t travel for research, as the Internet provides so much research data. I know that a lot of authors like to travel to get a “feel” for places, but I think that part of the art of writing is convincing the reader you’ve been somewhere when in fact you’ve never visited a place. I often get comments from readers lauding my back-street knowledge of one city or another, which is the highest accolade I could expect when I haven’t actually visited those places.

 covenantOne location that has appeared in one of my novels is Pitlochry, Scotland, a place I’ve visited more than once.

How much of you is in Ethan Warner? Feel free to give specific examples from books and your life :)

Ethan Warner is, perhaps somewhat surprisingly, not based on me at all. Like Ethan I do have some military experience, having trained with the British Army’s airborne infantry in the Territorial Army as a teenager.

I actually based Ethan on Indiana Jones due to the nature of his go-getting attitude, tenacity and robust nature, and felt that those attributes are what most people would like to see in themselves. People are naturally drawn to uncompromising characters, as they represent the kind of attitude that we might all like to possess but our lives generally do not allow us to display.

I think perhaps Ethan’s open mind toward the paranormal and the unexplained comes from me. Although I’m one hundred per cent a fan of science, which has achieved so much in our world, I do keep one eye on the paranormal and often find that behind the veil of the scientific method there is a surprising amount of interest in such phenomena from scientists too.

Although it’s not explicitly stated in the novels, Ethan is also an atheist, like me. He doesn’t see any value in elevating blind faith above evidence.

What are the themes that keep coming up in your work? What links the series’ together?

fusioncageA strong theme that has developed in my work is that of anti-corporate power. It wasn’t something I consciously thought about before but over time, during research for numerous novels that involved the militarization of technology, I’ve seen considerable evidence for the control of our governments by business interests.

Presidents are bought, literally, their seat in the White House by the major corporations who finance their campaigns. Politicians in all countries are lobbied to ensure that companies who can afford to buy their loyalty continue to make profits, the needs of the ordinary people in the street over-ridden. This is not democracy, nor is it isocracy, it is government by an elite and it’s something that keeps rising to the surface in the books. Ethan Warner and his partner Nicola Lopez often find themselves combating this nefarious rise of the military-industrial complex.

Where are you in the world and what does your writing space look like? Give us a hint of behind the scenes.

I’m fortunate enough to live in Surrey, UK, in one of the most desirable locations in the country. My office is a small one in our home, where I live with my wife and daughter. To be able to run a business with a six-figure turnover from a desk that’s no more than one metre square is a huge thrill for me, and much of that success is down to a willingness on my part to embrace both traditional publishing and the now-huge independent publishing method.

My working day is 8am – 4pm, Monday to Friday, but I also work most evenings too doing cover-designs for my books and paperwork for Fictum Ltd, my own publishing label. I’ve also just started a proper marketing campaign for my books, something I’ve neglected somewhat while building a decent-sized list of independent titles. My latest title, The Identity Mine, is the first to have a planned launch campaign behind it. All the others have launched on word-of-mouth, so I’m eager to see how the book does.

nemesisOn my desk right now is my Oculus Rift Virtual Reality headset, my gaming joystick and throttle ( I’m just a big kid really ), some books for my Pilot’s License exams and my Dead-Fred pen holder. From my office, I can sit and look out across our garden as I dream up the next scene in my books.

What are a few of the books you love and that you’d recommend readers check out?

Since independent publishing became a “thing” I barely get the chance to read as I’m also working so hard, but big favourites of mine include Wilbur Smith’s A Falcon Flies, Tim Willock’s Green River Rising and anything by Michael Crichton.

As I’m settling better into my new publishing schedule I’m hoping to find time again to read books by other authors, particularly more by A.G. Riddle, Nick ( Endi ) Webb, Celina Grace, David Gledhill and others.

dean crawfordWhere can people find you and your books online?





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BritCrime Authors Report From ThrillerFest In New York

This article was first published here on the Britcrime website.

While the BritCrime online festival rocked the UK during the weekend of 11/12 July, several of the participating authors joined the International Thriller Writers’ (ITW) ThrillerFest in New York.

Peter James Simon Toyne J.F. Penn
Simon Toyne, J.F.Penn and Peter James in New York #britcrime

Simon Toyne, SJI Holliday and J.F.Penn attended panels, cocktail parties and seminars with some of the biggest names in thriller and crime who have sold hundreds of millions of books between them.

Here are some interesting tidbits from behind the scenes …

Karin Slaughter interviewed Charlaine Harris, author of the Sookie Stackhouse series which became the TV series True Blood. It was a hilarious session as Charlaine has an infectious giggle and Karin has a sharp wit.

Charlaine used to do a form of karate as well as weightlifting to help improve her strength. The practice made her feel stronger inside and out and that personal change is something she brings to her books. People can change, but it’s often at great cost.

Kathy Reichs Karin Slaughter
Kathy Reichs, Karin Slaughter #BritCrime

Charlaine doesn’t allow people behind her at book signings, because of a number of weird experiences with fans. Both Karin and Charlaine said that they won’t eat anything fans bake for them. They appreciate the thought but they also have haters who might try to poison them!

When asked what scares her, Charlaine said that the paranormal isn’t a problem at all. Humans are the real monsters because they look normal until you’re alone with them … she did say that those blow up men outside auto retailers really do creep her out though!

Simon Toyne Mark Billingham J.F.Penn
Simon Toyne, Mark Billingham and J.F.Penn #britcrime

Mark Billingham noted in one panel that crime and thriller writers are the “smokers of the literary world.” There’s a kind of gang mentality, we protect each other and we are supportive. We’re also considered by many in the literary community as somehow less important, but Karin Slaughter pointed out that we’re the ones hitting the bestseller lists!

Lee Child with Mark Billingham

Lee Child interviewed Mark in a spotlight session and the two Brits had the crowd in stitches with tales of their respective Birmingham history. Mark talked about his former acting career with an enjoyable stint running around in forests for Maid Marian and Her Merry Men, as well as being the first human actor on Spitting Image. He also revealed a personal story about being a victim of crime and how his own visceral fear is used in his books.

In talking about London as a setting, Mark asked the mainly American audience whether they really wanted to keep London as ‘heritage’ rather than gritty. He explained that it’s a Jekyll and Hyde city with both beauty and darkness. His Tom Thorne crime thrillers explore both sides, always with an edge of humour. Mark also recommended BritCrime author Clare Mackintosh’s new book, I Let You Go, as an example of a fantastic twisted plot.

david morrell britcrime
David Morrell, author of historical crime novel, Inspector of the Dead … and creator of Rambo!

Peter James and Greg Iles talked about how covers rejected by bigger name authors often get handed down to the lesser known. It’s apparently common in the publishing industry. Peter James has hens named after the characters in his Roy Grace novels at his home in the Sussex countryside.

CJ Lyons won the Best eBook Original award for Hard Fall, a Lucy Guardino FBI crime thriller. CJ is a former pediatric ER doctor whose life of crime fiction writing was inspired by meeting a serial killer. Lucy Guardino’s character was inspired by a real life FBI Supervisory Special Agent whose favorite photo of herself was taken when she was eight months pregnant and shooting a Remington pump action shotgun during firearms re-qualifications.

holliday penn cussler
SJI Holliday at the Debut Author breakfast. J.F.Penn with Clive Cussler

Simon Toyne signed advanced reader copies of his upcoming novel, The Searcher at Thrillerfest, as well as taking charge of filming top authors on their writing tips. That video will be out in the next few months so keep an eye out! Simon loves to write at his place in France, an old presbyter, a French priest’s house located on the outskirts of a 13th century bastide, or fortified town. Simon also loves movies. His favorite film is Jaws and in his previous occupation in TV production, he once interviewed Stephen Spielberg. You can watch a video interview with Simon Toyne here on YouTube.

To add to the excitement, SJI Holliday was featured at the Debut Author breakfast and J.F.Penn fulfilled a dream of meeting Clive Cussler!

All in all, it was a fantastic Thrillerfest and today the BritCrime authors return home just a little worse for wear after the celebratory Gala Dinner last night … See you next year!

A Song Of Shadows. An Interview With John Connolly.

I love John Connolly’s Charlie Parker series, and its blend of crime and the supernatural was the major influence for my London Psychic trilogy. I recently met John at Crime in the Court in London (below). I’m a total fan-girl :) I also interviewed John for The Big Thrill July 2015 edition, and include the interview below.

John Connolly with JFPenn
John Connolly with J.F.Penn at Crime in the Court, London. June 2015

John Connolly is the bestselling author of the Charlie Parker mysteries, the Samuel Johnson novels for middle-grade readers, and co-author of the Chronicles of the Invaders plus other works.

His latest book, A SONG OF SHADOWS, is the thirteenth book in the Charlie Parker mystery series.

Your latest book, A SONG OF SHADOWS, weaves European history into a string of murders in Maine, all while Charlie Parker recovers from devastating injuries.

How much of the story is based on historical truth? Why did this particular aspect of Nazi history interest you?

My eye had simply been caught by the ongoing attempts of the United States to extradite an alleged former Nazi named Hans Breyer to Europe to face war crimes charges. (Breyer died last year just before he could be extradited.) I began to wonder how many of these men and women were left, and how seriously the hunt for them was being taken.

Out of that research came a lot of surprising details about just how little energy the Allies invested in bringing these people to trial, and how the British and American authorities protected them, mainly in order to milk them for intelligence about the Soviets. I found it fascinating, and just hoped that readers would find it fascinating too.

It then turned out to be very topical because just as the book came out Oskar Gröning, the “bookkeeper of Auschwitz,” went on trial, and I suppose that the seventieth anniversary of the liberation of the concentration camps also reminded people of what had taken place in them.

I suppose I was also aware that it’s really hard to find anything new to say about the Nazis and the Holocaust, so in that sense I was a bit reluctant to take on the subject. Yet those old men and women nagged at me, and their cases found a resonance in one of the recurring questions in the Parker books: are we defined only by the wrongs that we do, and are some wrongs so terrible that they cannot be forgiven?

All the Charlie Parker books have a supernatural edge, which is what keeps me as a reader coming back. Where do your ideas about the supernatural come from? How do they fit with your own beliefs?

The supernatural elements in the books drew the greatest amount of criticism early in my career, and they still make the more conservative elements in the genre uneasy. I like the fact that Americans call crime novels “mysteries,” and the roots of the word “mystery” are themselves supernatural. A mystery was a truth that could only be revealed through divine revelation.

In a similar vein, I’ve always liked William Gaddis’s quotation from the novel JR: “You get justice in the next world, in this world, you have the law.” But mystery fiction has always been uneasy about the difference between law and justice. It does not accept that justice should be left for the next world, and that we should be content with imperfect legal systems in this one. If you take Gaddis’s view to the extreme, it implies the existence of both a moral universe and an entity governing it that is capable of dispensing justice. If we call that entity “God,” then there may also be a “Not-God.”

So I suppose the Parker novels take this idea and run with it: notions of justice, of morality, of retribution, and of redemption. I keep coming back to that word because if, like me, you come from a Judaeo-Christian background—I’m a bad Catholic—then “redemption” comes freighted with a certain spiritual baggage.

Your “good guys,” Charlie, Louis and Angel, might be perceived as “bad” in many ways. But the bad guys are always worse. How do the notions of good and evil fit into your characters? Can even the worst of them be redeemed?

I don’t think Parker, Louis and Angel are “bad.” As is remarked in one of the novels, they’re on the side of the angels, even if the angels aren’t sure that this is an entirely positive development. They are prepared to compromise themselves morally to achieve certain ends, and Parker in particular is aware of the potential cost of such compromises, but it comes back to that earlier question: are we defined only by actions that might be perceived as negative, or how bad do such actions have to be before they define us in that way?

I don’t believe that most people are evil. Selfish, yes. Fearful. Angry. Deluded. All those may result in evil acts being committed, but very few people set out actively to do evil. As someone once said, everyone has his reasons. For me, the use of terms like “evil” or “monster” is, for the most part, the equivalent of shrugging one’s shoulders and walking away. It’s a failure, or an unwillingness, to attempt to understand, and without understanding there can be no change. But the books do suggest that very, very occasionally, we may encounter acts or individuals so depraved as to suggest a deeper, darker well is being drawn upon.

The Charlie Parker books are set in the U.S., but you’re Irish and live in Dublin. How does Ireland emerge in your writing, even if it’s camouflaged?

I suspect it emerges through a fascination with folklore and the uncanny, and a comfort with letting rationalism—which is the basis of detective fiction—blend into anti-rationalism, which is the basis of supernatural fiction. I see them as complementary, rather than the antithesis of each other. I think, too, that the process of hybridization interests me, the possibility of creating or enhancing new sub-genres.

US Song of ShadowsI love classic mystery fiction, but that doesn’t mean that the genre should be set in aspic somewhere between the birth of Sherlock Holmes and the death of Poirot.

You’ve said that writers are like magpies, picking out interesting things from the world and storing them up for stories. What’s fascinating you at the moment?

Well, I’m writing the next Parker book, and I want it to have a strong folkloric element, but I may have to invent my own piece of folklore for it to work. Then again, isn’t that what folklore is about? We imagine, we create, and it becomes part of an ongoing tale. I’m always quite pleased when someone reads my books and has trouble spotting what’s real, and what’s made up. When that happens, I like to think that I’ve done my job right.

You can find A Song of Shadows and all the other Charlie Parker books on Amazon and all bookstores.

Magic And Occult Las Vegas. The Daniel Faust Series By Craig Schaefer

I recently discovered the Daniel Faust series by Craig Schaefer, fantastic books about magic and the occult set in Las Vegas long way downwhich I highly recommend. Today I interview Craig about his writing.

Where did the idea for Daniel Faust come from? Do you enjoy magic yourself?

I’ve been a lifelong fan of both horror and crime fiction, especially the works of Elmore Leonard and Donald E. Westlake/Richard Stark. The Daniel Faust series grew out of an urge to blend those genres, much like chocolate and peanut butter. The results have been satisfyingly tasty so far.

I saw Harry Blackstone, Jr. perform when I was a child, and it kindled a lifelong love of the magical arts. A well-done illusion is a drama in miniature, a story with rising peaks, mystery and surprise. (I dabble in sleight-of-hand myself, but I’ve never been good enough to perform — unless that performance is in front of good friends, preferably after a few glasses of wine.)

Why Las Vegas? What is it about the city that made you want to set the books there primarily?

Because it’s a beautiful fake. The tourist parts of Vegas are a carefully, precisely engineered façade, and the average casino is a testament to the power of psychological warfare: they’re literally designed to disorient you and skew your sense of time and redemption songscale, to make it easier to part you from your money. For a series that hinges on deception, lies, and the art of the con, it’s the most natural setting in the world.

That, and the stark class divide. You can walk out of Crystals, lined with boutiques where nothing has a price tag and they bring you champagne while you browse, and pass the homeless panhandlers on the skybridge outside. Money is everywhere, money is everything, and it flows in obscene amounts or it doesn’t flow at all. In other words, the perfect stomping-grounds for Faust and his gang.

Why do you love the supernatural/occult world? What draws us as writers and readers to the darker side?

There’s a certain romance to it, isn’t there? The idea of these vast, unseen mysteries and horrors, lurking just beyond the veil of the everyday world — and with one slip, one step to the side, you could find yourself among them. There’s fear, but there’s the promise of adventure, too. It certainly makes an argument with the boss or the bill for a broken-down car seem less scary by comparison.

There’s also the implicit promise that if horrors are real, there’s also a way to beat them. Demons can be banished, curses can be broken. That’s reassuring, in a world where we’re confronted with very real evils on a daily basis and so many of them seem so insurmountable.

living endWhat are the themes that keep coming up in your writing? What obsesses you? 

According to the TVTropes page for the Faust series, the universal characteristics of my novels are dominant women and gourmet food. I’d like to think I’m a bit deeper than that, but no promises.

Devotion fascinates me. What drives a person to take up another’s banner, and give their all for a leader or a cause, even to the degree that this devotion becomes the core of who they are? I’m also enthralled with questions of power (what people do to get it, what they do with it, and how it changes them), and, in relation, themes of dominance and submission.

I’m also drawn to the concept of taboo: how some acts or boundaries can somehow both allure and frighten us at the same time. What happens to people who break taboos, and are they left stronger or weaker for it? Lastly, a great deal of my writing touches on the bonds of friendship and family (by blood, or by choice), and — embarrassing to admit, for a cynic — how anything is possible, when people put aside their differences and work together.

plain dealing villainAlso I write about food.

The books have some great fight scenes and explosions, definitely a thriller element. What’s the most exciting thing you’ve done? 

Non-research-related, probably scuba diving in Key West and the Cayman Islands. It helped that my instructor was a former Navy SEAL who regularly ensured I was ready for emergencies by, among other things, cutting off my air supply without warning. By the time he was done with me, I felt ready for anything. Book-research-related, I’d say it was the Haitian Vodou ritual a friendly mambo invited me to; it wasn’t quite as dramatic as the magic in my books — no ghostly apparitions or walls of fire — but it was an experience that stayed with me for some time.

craig schaeferWhat does your writing room/setup look like?

I’m actually between writing rooms right now, staying with a friend while my new house is under construction, so mostly I work at the cluttered end of a dining-room table. I’m in Joliet, a Chicago suburb most famous for being the setting for the classic movie “The Blues Brothers” (in fact, I’m a stone’s throw from the walls of the Joliet Correctional Center, which today is largely used for television and movie shoots).

Once I can move into my new place, I’ll have a dedicated writing-room with space for my reference shelves, assorted inspirational curiosities, and virtual-reality gear (because every writer has to take a break sometime…)

Where can people find you and your books online?

My home on the web is

Writing The Darkness With Michaelbrent Collings

Here’s a short interview I did with horror author Michaelbrent Collings about the themes in his fiction and why readers are so fascinated with darkness. Watch the video below or here on YouTube. There’s also a transcript below the video.

Transcript of interview

J.F. Penn: Hi everyone I am thriller author JF Penn and today I am here with Michaelbrent Collings. Hi Michaelbrent.

Michaelbrent Collings: Hi how are you?

J.F. Penn: I’m super, so I wondered about your fiction. What are the themes? Because you have got so many books.

What are the themes that keep coming up in your work? The things that obsess you and keep coming up in your work?

Michaelbrent Collings: I write a lot about families and I write a lot about loss.

I’ve experienced losses in my own family, so it’s stuff I think about a lot. And I also write a lot about grace and I’m not talking necessarily about a specific liturgical religious grace but just the sense that, although it can be that but just the sense that there is something greater than us and if we allow it, can lift us up you know?

And sometimes that thing is another human being, sometimes that thing is just our sense of self worth that finally shows up at an opportune time. I’m just fascinated by the concept of becoming more than we have been and that’s part of the reason I write horror because it takes away everything that we were and leaves only what we truly are.

It allows that thing to grow or to fade depending on if we are worthy to the parameters of the story. I like this idea that people when they are beaten down, when they are horribly mutilated physically, mentally, emotionally, they can find it within themselves to rise again. That’s definitely a theme that comes up over and over in my books

J.F. Penn: Why do you think people read horror? Why are people so fascinated with the darkness?

Michaelbrent Collings: Well because its awesome! It’s fun.

There is silly horror which is again the two teens that go canoodle in the forest and a man comes after them with the lawn equipment. That’s just kind of silly and you can go in there and count limbs flying off or whatever. That’s for twelve-year-olds who are still obsessed with boobs and blood.

And then there is the greater stuff that I think we really reach out to because horror is a metaphor for larger realities. It can talk about capital G good, and capital E evil and we’ve all met that person who is just an A-hole at the bank and won’t help us and that’s just a wanker. That’s somebody who is a twit, you know?

But then there are people out there you know Adolf Hitler, big old E…Evil and those people determine the fates of millions and billions of people. When we are looking at horror we are looking at these bigger pictures that allow us to say not only is there a huge a thing out there that’s of interest and of import because it hits me, but as small as I am, I can still change the course of some of that for good.

Horror is populated by people. Just normal people who come up against just an extraordinary power for ill and they face it. Sometimes they succeed and sometimes they don’t but it gives each of us, it’s like a dark superhero movie, where we can stand up and deliver our best shot against the forces of evil vicariously through the characters. And in doing, so I think that is very cathartic for a lot of us who have crappy days from time to time.

J.F. Penn: You have faith and you have supernatural elements in your books. How do you walk the line between being overtly religious and keeping a story going?

Michaelbrent Collings: I recognize the fact that most people in the United States and across the world are religious people.

I think that a lot of writers write secularized books about metaphysical themes and that’s very hard to reconcile those two things. Whereas a lot of my people are religious and it’s not that they’re standing up there preaching but they are Lutheran and that is part of there day to day life, you know they are Methodist and it’s part of who they are.

And in doing that I can layer in supernatural elements affecting people of faith without ever once standing up and going “Here my missionary pamphlet for the Methodist Church on First Street” because that is not my goal. That is a whole different kind of literature for good or for ill. And that is not what I am doing.

But what I am doing is saying that most people are spiritual, that is what they will use to describe themselves. They have a sense that there is something beyond what we can see and when you tap into that you can very easily have a bad guy that represents real ills in the world.

And you can either say, “Here is how you defeat the bad guy on a mundane mortal level” or “He can’t be defeated, but here is how we don’t let him creep into us.” And both of those are valuable for people and they’re not. You can sit there and say “Here is what I want to preach with this book. Then you’ve written a crappy, crappy horror novel, or you can say, “Here is a really bitchin’ story and here are the themes that allow entry into that”

So my book Strangers is about this family locked in their house and they can’t get out, and there’s a killer that wants to have some ‘alone time’ with them and on one level, that’s it. That’s fun – but it’s also about the secrets we keep from people. It’s also about the fact that we have got this fragmented society with social media where we reach out to people in Denmark or Great Britain but what’s my neighbor’s name? Beats the heck out of me, you know? So you can have these really interesting themes come in but I think they should serve the story instead of the other way around.

J.F. Penn: No, I definitely agree. Now I wondered who do you read for fun? Who are your influences as well in the genre?

Michaelbrent Collings: Well my influences were Stephen King and Dean Koontz.

My father was a world renown critic of both of those guys and I, of course, find periodically with Dean Koontz he is one of the nicest people ever in the human race. So he is just a great person as well as a great writer. Then aside from those two, Orson Scott Card, Isaac Asimov, Piers Anthony. I mean a whole list of people.

Some are very pulp writers and some are very literary and I’m always writing, reading five or six books at a time. It’s just kind of limited by the amount of tank space on my toilets because that’s where I read these days, because I have kids and they think that everything is a team sport, so that is my little tiny office now.

“What are you doing dad?”
“I’m going the bathroom.”
“Been in the for an hour and half.”
“I’m going to the bathroom. Leave me alone.”

But I read a lot of history. I love reading about Abraham Lincoln. I love reading about World War II because it was such a turning point in human history. I think it was the last war where there was a 100% bad guy and a 100% good guy. The two groups kind of lined up along those really black and white lines and it’s such an interesting period to read for that reason. I am one of the most schizophrenic readers in the entire universe and if you looked at my bookshelf or pulled up the queue on my Kindle or my Nook, you would go, “This guy has mental health problems.”

J.F. Penn: Do you have any recommendations for female horror writers?

Michaelbrent Collings: I do, Mercedes Yardly is really good. She has got, they hard to explain. They are kind of haunting, is the best way I would explain it. She is also somebody who is very spiritual in her life. It bleeds into her writing and again there is nothing that, stands up and says “And now you have to believe like this.” But it just gives it sort of that deeper sense that there is not only the smaller play being run out of the page but there is this larger scheme that is happening as well. I think that makes it more interesting. She is somebody that I would recommend.

Rena Mason, just won the Stoker Award this last weekend for a short story and she is very good. She has written some really fun stuff and now I am about to embarrassed because one of the huge problems I have is remembering current names. If it is an author who died or who is about to die I am much better remembering them.

J.F. Penn: Well that is a good start that’s brilliant.

Where can people find you and your books online?

Michaelbrent Collings: My website is but I am really easy to find just type my name. Although there is an underwear model whose name is Michael space Brent. So if you type it in and you get this devastating dude with no clothes, that is not me, but or just type Michaelbrent on your Amazon browser or Barnes & Noble or wherever

J.F. Penn: Fantastic, thanks so much for your time. That was brilliant.

Michaelbrent Collings: Thank you

If you enjoyed this interview and would like more of Michaelbrent, there’s a longer interview focused on the writing side of things here.

this darkness lightHere’s my review of Michaelbrent’s This Darkness Light on Goodreads:

This starts off like a fast paced thriller. John wakes up in a hospital with no memory and people are trying to kill him. A nurse, Serafina, helps him and they go on the run from government agents who will stop at nothing to destroy those in the way. Cue high body count and fight scenes … awesome :)

But then the dead start to morph into monsters and a thick fog begins to roll over the country, governments go silent as millions die from a horrific disease spread by the carriers … will John and Serafina be able to stop the end from coming? Will Isaiah, the haunted priest who hunts them, reconcile to his own demons?
A super fast-paced book that spirals from thriller into post-apocalyptic horror. Great fun!