PATIENT: JESSICA MCHUGH
When did you start writing? Why did you pick the genre you write it?
I've always been a writer. When I wasn't assigned short stories in school, I was writing poetry or songs. And I always played make-believe, which is essentially the same thing without putting pen to paper. When I was nineteen, I start writing seriously. Even though it was only for myself at that time, I did it every day. And because I worked in a boring perfume kiosk, I wrote all day, too.
As for genre, I love playing around in speculative fiction, but I don't like to stick to a specific branch of spec fic. I may head into a story with a certain genre in mind, but it can easily change-or more often, it blends into other genres that emerge during writing. It all depends in which direction my characters lead me.
Where do you get your ideas from? Do you journal at all?
Inspiration is everywhere. Walking down the street, hanging out with friends, dreaming: all of these things and more can be the impetus for an amazing story. I just live my life and let the ideas find me. I don't journal, but if I have a particularly intriguing dream, I will write it down. My novel "Rabbits in the Garden" came almost entirely from a dream.
What's a normal (writing) day like for you?
As I have a full time job, I have to sneak in my writing time. I write over breakfast and coffee, during my lunch break, in the bathroom, or when I'm simply walking down the hall. Once I get home, I focus on one project for a few hours in my Writing Hut, but since I refuse to allow writing to consume my entire home life, after a few hours in the Hut I come downstairs to hang out with my awesome husband and work on a different project; one that requires a little less concentration.
Favorite author or book? Who are you currently reading?
My favorite author is Ronald Dahl, especially when it comes to his short story collections. I absolutely love his wit and macabre sense of humor. Currently, I'm reading "The Hunt" by Joseph Williams, who is a fellow Post Mortem Press author. I'm really enjoying it so far, but as I read before bed, I hope it doesn't get to scary! Although I'm a horror writer, I get nightmares from other people's horror novels.
Do you prefer writing poetry or prose? Why one over the other?
I prefer writing prose, but I do love writing poetry. I take part in Wireman's Poetry Night every month at a local bar called Cafe Nola, so that encourages me to continue writing new poetry. But if I slip for one month, Wireman is very cool about allowing me to read flash fiction or novel excerpts. I look forward to it every month, being immersed in that wonderful community of writers and musicians. It has been a wonderful addition to my writing life.
Do you write in silence or with noise (TV, movies, music)?
It depends. I can write in the cacophony of bars and restaurants (and often do), but if I'm in my living room with the TV switched on in front of me, I have trouble concentrating. That didn't used to be the case, but as I've gotten older and it's become more appealing to relax after work instead of well...work some more...I find myself choosing to lounge. So, if I'm home, I really need to shut myself in the Writing Hut with only music playing. And it has to have no lyrics, or be in a language I don't understand. I usually opt for opera or the "Epic Soundtrack" station on Pandora.
Do you have any weird habits when it comes to writing? Do you type or write longhand?
I write everything longhand in my garbled language known as "McHughrish." When I have a notebook and pen in hand, I feel akin to my inky forebears. It's more a visceral experience for me, and the words come easier- often to the point where my brain moves faster than my hand and the words blend into each other, hence McHughrish.
Would you consider yourself a Plotter or a Pantser?
For me, it depends on the novel. As each novel is a different animal, each one needs a different approach. How I start depends completely how I feel about the story and main characters before the pen ever touches paper. Most often, I'll write a mini outline of the first few chapters and let the characters lead me through the story from there. There may come a point in the ink fever, usually around halfway, that I stop and say, "Okay, where am I going." Then, I outline until the end.
What do you think is the hardest aspect of the craft?
Time. You have to make time to write, and as you get older, it becomes a lot more difficult. Inspiration is limitless and potential story lines are everywhere. It's time and endurance that run short.
I'm working on a YA series centered on a girl named Darla Decker. The first book "Darla Decker Hates to Wait" about her first year in middle school is complete, but I want to finish writing the second book before I send out any submissions. With that, I'll also be editing my historical fiction "Verses of Villainy" and my alternate history novella "The Maiden Voyage."
How do you balance being an editor and being a writing (Or double jobs, being a mom, etc.)
I balance my full-time job and my writing life by forcing myself. I don't give myself the choice. I wish writing was my full time job, but it's just not possible yet. Until that time, I just have to suck it up and do my best when it comes to both. But when everyone asks me about "my job," I always say I'm an author first.
What do you think people expect from you with your writing? EX: Can they always count on a good gross out?
I think most of my readers expect a least one character they love to hate. I love writing villains and flawed protagonists. It's my job as a writer to make the reader identify and/or feel for every character, and I get a kick out of making the reader twist their ideas about good and evil until a supposed "evil" character becomes one of their favorites.
Advice for aspiring writers?
Write whatever the hell you want. Do it often, and do it with passion. I believe it takes years to find a strong voice and create excellent stories, so start now. I've been writing seriously since I was nineteen years old and didn't attempt to get published until I was twenty-five. It's strange; I didn't even think about publication. All I thought about was writing. I worked a shitty restaurant job where I wrote instead of taking people's orders properly and prayed to be sent home from work so I could get back to writing.
Was I poor? Yes. Did my roommate get pissed at me a lot? Yes. Did I drink too much. Oh yeah. Did I lose a boyfriend in the process. You betcha. But I also created worlds and characters and voices that have helped me becomes a better writer.
Please don't think I'm telling you to mimic what I did. In fact, I hope you don't. But it's so important to have passion and to take the time to learn the craft before throwing yourself into the publishing world. Get used to spending a lot of time in the land of make-believe. Really think about who your characters are and how millions of readers will be able to identify with each one. I know time is difficult to find, but you NEED to find it. Live life, meet people, OBSERVE people, and make your stories rich. To me, passion and time are the most important aspects of writing. To produce good fiction, you need to have both. One alone won't cut it.
Fortunately, I see people do it all the time. I do it. Working mothers do it. People who juggle two jobs do it. If you make a little time every day and you're passionate about writing, your stories will come-and the world will be better for it.
Bio: Jessica McHugh is an author of speculative fiction that spans the genre from horror to alternate history to epic fantasy. A prolific writer, she has devoted herself to novels, short stories, poetry, and play writing. She has had twelve books published in four years, including the bestselling "Rabbits in the Garden," "The Sky: The World" and the gritty coming-of-age-thriller, "PINS." More info on Jessica's speculations and publications can be found at: http://jessicamchughbooks.com/.
"If you dig sex, drugs, and rock-n-bowl, check out my newest novel from Post Mortem Press. A gritty coming-of-age story, PINS follows Eva "Birdie" Finch as she joins the crazy world of stripping in West Virginia. Low-self esteem makes her very nervous about stripping for strangers, but it becomes even harder when her fellow dancers start turning up dead. It's available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, and pretty must all the biggies. You can also find it at: http://www.postmortem-press.com/. Make sure to check out their other books too, especially the newest anthology, "Fear the Abyss." It contains stories by Harlan Ellison, Jack Ketchum, Michael Arnzen, and some other really amazing writers. I have no idea how my story "Extraction" squeaked in. ;) Actually, it's one of my favorites. Check it out! And as always, THINK IN INK!!"