Tuesday, March 8, 2016

AMONG THE STACKS: John McNee


Since beginning The Gal, I have been HONORED to interview quite a few awesome authors, and today I get to name one of my favorites: THE Mr. John McNee.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Hey, John.  Welcome to The Gal.  Tell us a little bit about yourself.

John McNee:
I'm a Scottish writer of horror stories, most of them short, most of them bloody, published in a number of anthologies.  I'm also creator of the bio-mechanical sludge-city of Grudgehaven and the author of Grudge Punk, a collection of short stories detailing the lives and deaths of its gruesome inhabitants.  Prince of Nightmares, about a hotel which guarantees bad dreams, is my first horror novel, published this past January.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What are five things most people don't know about you?

John McNee:
  1. I play piano.
  2. I won't eat mayonnaise.
  3. It took seven attempts before I passed my driving test.
  4. I look pretty good in a bowler hat and would wear one too if it was socially acceptable.
  5. Moths really freak me out (especially the Australian Privet Hawk moth).
The Gal in the Blue Mask:
I had to go look that up and find out what it was.  For those of y'all as curious as me:



Okay, moving on... What is the first book you remember reading?

John McNee:
The Tiger Who Came to Tea by Judith Kerr.  I remember it being a great book, but I haven't read it in a while.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What are you reading now?

John McNee:
Welcome to Night Vale by Joseph Fink.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What made you decide you want to write?  When did you begin writing?

John McNee:
I don't know if it was ever a conscious choice.  I started writing when I was four years old and I've never really stopped.  I don't remember making the decision.  I think I've always had stories in my head that I wanted to tell.  And if I don't write them down, I don't forget them.  They just rattle around in my head, taking up space, keeping me awake at night.  It could be that putting them down on paper's the only way to stay sane (relatively).

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Do you have a special place you like to write?

John McNee:
I wish I did.  I write sitting in a broken desk chair at a broken computer desk in the corner of my bedroom.  I'd like to say I had a mahogany desk in a study lined with bookcases, but... maybe one day.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Do you have any quirks or processes that you go through when you write?

John McNee:
I like lots of tea and music.  I get most of my writing done late at night.  My most productive time is between midnight and 6am.  I guess that's a quirk.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Is there anything about writing you find most challenging?

John McNee:
Everything.  But especially getting started.  Turning off the TV, walking away from the piano, closing down the web browser, and actually putting some words on the page.  I find that tough.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What books have most inspired you?  Who are some authors that have inspired your writing style?

John McNee:
I'd mark out The October Country by Ray Bradbury and Clive Barker's Books of Blood as my two biggest inspirations.  And Skin by Kathe Koja was the first novel I read as an adult that showed me just how different a genre novel could be.  Bradbury, Barker, and Koja all inform my more poetic moments, but for the main part, my writing style is fairly economical and owes more to crime writers like Raymond Chandler and David Goodis.  Especially Goodis.  I think.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What do you think makes a good story?

John McNee:
A good ending.  A snappy beginning, good characters, and an engaging plot all help, but for a story to linger in the memory, it needs to stick the landing.  I believe that's especially important in horror and all too often ignored.  I don't start writing a story unless I know how it ends.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What does it take for you to love a character?  How do you utilize that when creating your characters?

John McNee:
For me to love a character, they have to have a clear voice.  I need to buy that they have a distinct personality.  It may sound like a cheap trick, but one way I've tried to ensure this in my writing is by giving my characters accents.  In a story set in a hotel that's quite easy to do.  Victor Teversham, in my original draft, was an Englishman, but he felt very thinly drawn.  It was only when I made him Australian that I began to hear him speak with his own voice and all his sadness, anger and regret started to make its way onto the page.  In future, I know I'll have to find more nuanced ways of achieving the same result, but in any case, I like a diverse cast - a good mix of the sexes, different ages, different ethnicities.  It helps keep the characters defined in my head, stops their voices overlapping.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Which, of all your characters, do you think is the most like you?

John McNee:
It may sound odd, but I don't really identify personally with any of my characters.  Maybe that's just wishful thinking.  I'm sure they're all a bit like me on some level.  In the case of Prince of Nightmares, I'd probably have to go with Heinrich, the professional sadist.  He's a bit of an odd duck, but he's a genial sort and doesn't really wish anyone any non-consensual harm.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Are you turned off by a bad cover?  To what degree were you involved in creating your book covers?

John McNee:
I don't understand how any author or publisher could expect anyone to be interested in reading their book if it has a lousy cover.  One of the best things about small presses is that, for the most part, they really do give covers the care and attention they require.  In the cases of both Grudge Punk and Prince of Nightmares, the publishers asked me for ideas and passed these on on to the artists who produced absolutely stunning work.  For me, that process is one of the very best parts of getting a book published.  And, for Prince of Nightmares, I actually suggested artist Olga Noes, who I first met in a bar in Tennessee, for the gig.  And she just knocked it out of the park.  It really harkens back to the bold imagery of the classic horror covers of old and I love it.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What have you learned creating your books?

John McNee:
The English language doesn't have anywhere near enough words for "blood."

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What has been the hardest scene for you to write so far?

John McNee:
In Prince of Nightmares, probably the first time Victor's left alone in his hotel room.  I think dramatic, emotional, or action-packed scenes are much easier to write than the quiet moments in between.  You need moments like that for the story to work, but you risk losing the reader if they're just boring.  The hard part is making those parts of the story work as quiet moments while also being engaging.  It's a real struggle.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What makes your books different from others out there in this genre?

John McNee:
I've yet to write a story about a zombie, a werewolf, a vampire, or any of the Old Ones.  Nothing against any of them, but I prefer my monsters to be my own.  And I work hard at making them original.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
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)?

John McNee:
Again, the title is something I usually have in place before I even begin writing the story.  And I'll check to make sure nobody else has published anything under it.  In the case of Prince of Nightmares, the title occurred to me first, then I was just left with the task of coming up with a story to fit it (which took some considerable time).

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What makes you feel more fulfilled: Writing a novel or writing a short story?

John McNee:
It depends on the story.  Obviously, on a base level, it's a lot more satisfying to check your word count and see you've written 50,000 rather than 5,000.  But writing 5,000 words can be just as exhausting depending on the story you're trying to tell.  Fulfillment comes from knowing you've got the story on the page as close to the vision in your head as it's ever going to get.  Whether it's a novel or a short story doesn't really matter.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Tell us a little bit about your books, your target audience, and what you would like readers to take away from your stories.

John McNee:
I like to tell stories about horrifying things happening to strange characters in unusual places.  My target audience are people who are looking for good, bloody horror fiction that takes itself seriously, and who genuinely appreciate a little nightmare fuel.  Hopefully there are a few twisted images in my work that'll linger in the mind.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Can you tell us about some of the deleted scenes/stuff that got left out of your work?

John McNee:
There were two chapters at the start of Prince of Nightmares that were meant to serve as introductions to Gia and Heinrich, the other important guests in the hotel, prior to their arrival.  Gia's focused on the last night of her performance in a ballet, simulating the skin being flayed from her body.  Heinrich's found him at home with a client, a woman he wrapped in barbed wire and then ordered to walk from one corner of the room to another.  They were fun little scenes and I liked them, but ultimately they slowed down the plot and took the focus off Victor, so they had to go.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What is in your "trunk"?  (Everyone has a book or project, which doesn't necessarily have to be book related, that they have put aside for a 'rainy day' or for when they have extra time.  Do you have one?)

John McNee:
Well, for the last few months I'd actually been preparing an extreme horror novel that was going to be about a massacre at a heavy metal show.  That's no joke.  I was really exited about it and was working on the first chapter when the attack in Paris happened.  After that, the project was a little soured in my mind, so I've put it away for now.  I may come back to it in time.  I still think it has potential, but... not right now.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What can we expect from you in the future?

John McNee:
I can confirm that a full-blown sequel to Grudge Punk is on its way.  I've completed the second draft and I'm just waiting on news from the publishers.  And I'd like to get a few more short stories out in the world before moving on to my next horror novel, so that's what I'm working on right now.

The Gal in the Mask:
Where can we find you?  (You know, STaLKeR links.)

John McNee:

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
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?

John McNee:
Thanks to you for having me.  The most important thing for me is that my work reaches and is read by the people who really connect with it.  And the best thing those readers can do for me is to let other people know this stuff is out there.  However people want to do that, whether it's with reviews, tweets or by accosting random strangers at bus stops, it all helps.  And, if any other bloggers out there fancy having me round for a virtual tea and interview/guest post, etc, please feel free to get in touch.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Thanks for stopping by!!  It's been an absolute pleasure.  
            By the way... I do that - accost random strangers at bus stops.  There's four that have Prince of Nightmares bookmarks. :)  Make sure you let me know more about this Grudge Punk 2.  This is definitely something I need in my life.


About the author:
John McNee is a writer of strange and disturbing horror stories, published in a variety of strange and disturbing anthologies.  He is also the author of Grudge Punk, probably the only dieselpunk-bizarro-horror-noir anthology around.  His first novel, Prince of Nightmares, was published in January of this year by Blood Bound Books.  He lives on the west coast of Scotland, where he works "in magazines."

About the books:
Grudgehaven: "A city lost to the darkness, where acid rain drums on a hundred thousand corrugated iron rooftops and cold, mechanized eyeballs squint out of every filth-smeared window."
            From the twisted mind of author John McNee come nine tales of brutality and betrayal from a city like no other.
            A granite detective has a date with destiny at a motel made of flesh.  A severed hand is on a desperate mission to ruin somebody's evening.  While a mob war reaches its bloody climax, the Mayor is up to his neck in dead prostitutes.  And Clockwork Joe?  He just wants to be a real boy.
            Bizarro Press proudly presents the latest in dieselpunk-bizarro-horror-noir.  This... is GrudgePunk.

Welcome to the Ballador Country House Hotel.  Nestled in the highlands of Scotland, it is unlike any other lodging.  Guests can expect wonderful scenery, gourmet food, and horrifying nightmares - guaranteed.  Daring travelers pay thousands to stay within the Ballador's infamous rooms because of the vivid and frightening dreams the accommodations inspire.
            Before Josephine Teversham committed suicide, she made a reservation at the hotel for her husband, Australian magnate Victor Teversham.  Once he arrived at the hotel, Victor finds himself the target of terrifying forces, revealing the nightmares and their purpose to be more strange, personal, and deadly than anyone could have guessed.

2 comments:

Charlene said...

I was just telling someone what a GREAT book The October Country by Ray Bradbury is. :)

Great interview, Meghan and John!

Meghan H said...

I was excited to see him use that in an answer as well. It's one of my favorite Bradbury books.

And thank you, Char. :)