It’s our pleasure to introduce Christine Morgan, author of Spermjackers from Hell and a well-known figure in the world of weird fiction, to our author interview series. She’s set to appear in Silent Motorist Media’s first anthology, Mannequin: Tales of Word Made Flesh, and we consider it an honor that she’s gracing our site with her presence again. Without further ado, here’s Austin James and Christine Morgan:
“Everyone, writer or reader or fan… read. Read a lot. Read a bunch of things…. Words are my toys. Language is like Play-Doh, a complete sensory experience, get into it, the colors, the textures, squish it, sniff it… make whatever you want out of it. Yes, know the rules, but don’t be afraid to bend them and stretch them and even break them when needed.” -Christine Morgan
Austin James: First question: Star Wars or Star Trek?
Christine Morgan: Star Trek.
Surely you kid, you jokester you…
Nope … though Next Gen rather than Original Series.
Wow. I really wasn’t expecting that. What makes it better than Star Wars?
I just like it better … more characters, more interaction, more story and worldbuilding overall.
But less lightsabers.
Well, yeah … but less midichlorians, too.
Ah, straight for the jugular I see. Is that what kind of interview this is gonna be?
Hey, you asked.
Haha fair enough. Switching gears into the writing world, I really love your prose. It’s enchanting. How long have you been writing?
I’ve been the storyteller type as long as I can remember; my toys led complex soap-opera and epic adventure lives even when I was little. In school, when we’d get writing assignments, I was always the one to go off on imaginative stuff, was far more fun to write about talking animals than what we actually did over vacation. So, it was never a specific moment or decision, it just happened organically.
Very cool. Did your schools offer any type of creative writing programs or anything?
Not really, not until Creative Writing as a high school elective (and by then I was the weirdo writing about vampires or troops of Girl Scouts killing people, go figure). I got placed in some of the accelerated programs in elementary school, where they challenged us with tougher reading material, and appreciated that.
So, you’ve always kind of been naturally attracted to creating dark, weird fiction?
Yeah, lifelong interest in mythology, fairy tales, and folklore … very dark and weird stuff there … and my reading tastes tended toward the macabre from an early age. My grandfather had a shelf of horror paperbacks he kept in the garage (I think Grandma didn’t want them in the house) and when we’d visit, I’d sneak out there and read. Lots of nature-run-amok stuff, animals eating people, things like that.
That’s kind of a fun story right there, taking unsanctioned peeks at outlawed literature…
When I was ten, I found this paperback with a shiny silver cover out there, my introduction to Stephen King (The Shining) … one of my aunts told my parents it’d warp me for life and she was right. 🙂 I still have it. Poor book is in bad shape, but I still have it! I also discovered Amityville out there, and The Rats by James Herbert … JAWS … Shaun Hutson’s Slugs … fun stuff!
And that’s the inciting incident, the moment you went dark!
Probably didn’t help that, when I was in junior high, our local library somehow thought Flowers in the Attic by VC Andrews was what passed for YA back then and shelved it with Anne of Green Gables … wow, did we pass THAT one around!
What was the first story you wrote that got published?
My first published piece was a gaming thing in Steve Jackson Games’ Pyramid magazine, about a wacky old alchemist and his shop, to use as a setting for fantasy games. I had a lot of stories online and in webzines back in the late 90’s, but was mostly doing fanfic then and puttering with fantasy novels. My first official pro sale was “Dawn of the Living-Impaired,” to the zombie anthology The Book of All Flesh.
Nice. Was that when you knew you wanted to take writing seriously?
Well, my initial career path life plan thing had been to do what they say you’re supposed to do … major in English, become a teacher, and write … changed my mind to major in Psychology instead, but the writing goal always remained. I’d been gaming since I was 14 and figured for some dumb reason that, although horror was what I liked to READ, fantasy was what I was supposed to WRITE. It took me a while to convince myself I was allowed to try writing horror too, and I’m glad I finally listened.
Do you consider yourself a horror writer, then?
Primarily, and happily; though I can and do write other stuff as well, even that has a tendency to go darker places. I think that’s why the Viking stuff clicked so hard for me … it’s the perfect storm, combining all those elements of fantasy, horror, mythology, etc.
Do you think studying psychology also helped with your writing?
Oh, studying psych definitely helped! I even suspect (though don’t tell the professors) it helped more than having an English major would have done. It’s all about personality and behavior, what makes people do what they do, how they think and react … great for developing characters. Plus, you get all the Jungian stuff about archetypes, which ties right in to myth and folklore.
Now, looping back to your first question, I realize that may seem kind of odd, my preference for Star Trek, since Star Wars was so loaded with Jungian aspects, the whole Joseph Campbell hero’s journey blah-de-blah, but … well, there it is. Minds are weird. 😊
Tell me about your books?
My books … my books … all of them? Well, the earliest are fantasy, traditional fantasy in the elves and dragons sense, drawn from gaming campaigns (I know, but it was fun). I have two trilogies of those, plus a six-book series for younger readers that I wrote when the whole Harry Potter craze was taking off. I’m fond of them, but ow, those early ones are about what you’d expect. 😊
Yeah? So, they found little success?
Little success would be one way to put it. The very first fantasy book, when I was young and new and stupid, I fell in with a scam agent/publisher, and it soured me so that I ended up self-pubbing the second and third.
Then what, after the fantasy fiction?
Then I decided to just go for it and try my hand at horror, starting with Black Roses. It’s an incubus story, and the first of what I think of as the Trinity Bay books, all set in the same fictional north-coast California town. Gifted Children, the second, is about creepy kids and science experiments and psychic powers. In the third, Changeling Moon, I bring a couple of rival factions of an ancient shapeshifting race to town (that one’s particularly based on some of my old fanfics, with the serial numbers filed off).
What are your thoughts on self-publishing versus housing a project?
I’ve been glad to see the stigma fall away these past years, though I do admit there sure is a lot of self-pubbed dreck out there, poorly edited and with crappy covers, etc. So, it’s easier than ever for good stuff to get lost in the crowd, but I believe it’s possible to succeed and have seen some savvy authors do pretty well.
So back to your books. At what point did you feel like you were making progress as far as writing quality books and getting them published with “satisfactory” results?
Well, for a while I just stuck with self-pub; my husband at the time was good at the layout and design end of things and enjoyed it, so we did my pirate-themed reality show Tell No Tales, and my purse-snatcher-vs.-assassin thriller called Scoot, and his whole game-world book (that was a biggie!). But I’d also decided to try some small presses again, and luck began turning with His Blood (non-sparkly vampires) and The Horned Ones (cave monsters). Not that I felt anything close to being successful or a “real” writer … hell, even now with some bucket list goals checked off, I still don’t, and probably never will … imposter syndrome is one sly bitch.
Haha true. Since you brought it up, what does your bucket list look like? What things have you already checked off?
Deadite Press was the biggie. I know some authors have the six-figure advance or movie deal or world book tour, but that’s way beyond me … I’ve been such a fan of Deadite, love the extreme horror … being able to join that crazy family is one of the best things that’s ever happened for me. I’ve also gotten to work with Edward Lee (EDWARD-FREAKIN’-LEE), as a proofreader and he lets me play with his toys … my next goal there is to sweet-talk him into an actual collaboration.
I mean, sure, I wouldn’t mind a castle in Scotland like JK Rowling, but who would?
I’m still just surprised whenever anybody who doesn’t HAVE to actually reads my stuff; I may never get over that.
Fair enough. And yeah, I’m a big fan of the stuff Deadite publishes as well. To be honest, I’d want a castle in Transylvania but that’s just me.
I’d be torn … Germany/Austria, or Norway … but Scottish accents …
Let’s be honest, we’d both take a castle in Nebraska at this point.
So how many books have you written and published?
I think for books written, I’m up to about two dozen, some now out of print … that includes the gaming and fantasy stuff too … I’ve also edited and published the Fossil Lake anthology series, which is up to four books now (got put on hold during my latest health mess but I still hope to resume them again eventually).
It’s kind of a long sordid story involving an infamous internet pest … I started off as a contributor, then agreed to help edit, then ended up inheriting / taking over the entire project after the original publisher passed away and her company was dissolved.
Oh wow. But there are four of them, so it sounds like you enjoy it?
The first two didn’t have particular themes, but then I got a little crazy so the third is Unicornado and the fourth is Sharkasaurus … when I do a fifth, I want to call it “Were-What?” and have it be tales of unlikely shapeshifting.
I love reading and editing and working with authors; where I fall down is with the layout, design, technical stuff, so it’s a mixed bag. I’ve edited a couple of other anthologies for small presses and enjoy it a lot, as long as someone else does the ‘hard’ part. 😊
Haha, makes sense. With all the books you’ve written and anthologies you’ve edited, what has been your favorite project?
Oh, I hate those kinds of questions … it’s like being asked which is your favorite kid (though, only having one kid, I can dodge that one … except for when we used to tease her about her “attic sister” … anyway!).
I’m so very proud of The Raven’s Table, my Viking collection … that I managed enough Viking stories to put it together, that I was able to get a blurb from an expert I admire, that the book turned out just so damn gorgeous. I’m delighted with Spermjackers From Hell, my Deadite debut, so trashy and tacky. White Death, my pioneer blizzard book inspired by an actual historical event, came out on audio from just the most amazing reader. But right now, the biggie has got to be the upcoming Lakehouse Infernal (also from Deadite), because Edward-freakin’-LEE granted me permission to do a sequel to his Lucifer’s Lottery and writing it was the most fun I’ve ever had.
Wow, that’s really cool!
His only request was that he got to have a cameo in it, though I may have gone a bit further than just cameo; he turned out to be a fun character, and Lee himself really got a kick out of it.
Nice, looking forward to it! When does it release?
Not gotten the official release date yet, but 2019, possibly around Spring Break because that’s when the story’s set.
While we’re on the topic, what else can we look forward to seeing from you in the near future? I already know about a couple anthologies (including a dragon-themed anthology discussed in a previous SMM interview that I’m shamelessly plugging here), but what else?
Yes, I’ve got stories in several upcoming anthologies (Lovecraftian and such) … I’ve recently found homes for a zombie collection and a steampunkish collection … I’m currently working on a deep-sea chompy-chomp extreme horror to submit to Deadite, and my sister will strangle me if I don’t mention plans for a Murder Girls sequel.
Sounds like you’ve been busy. Do you have a routine or anything that you follow to stay both creative and productive?
I work overnights at a residential psych facility, so I do most of my writing there when things are quiet … the unpredictability of the job does make keeping a strict routine difficult, so I’m not one of those who can do X words a day or X hours a day diligently. I take what I can get when I can get it in terms of productivity. For the creative side of things, I’ve always got several ideas brewing at various stages, and even when I’m not writing, I’m reading and reviewing and doing edits and stuff like that. So, one way or another, it’s all words all the time. Health permitting. The past couple years have made things a little rough in that regard. But I keep pushing through!
Great way to make life work for you! Does your boss know that you do this, or are you also juggling a sense of secrecy with all this?
Nah, they know … that’s why I stay on the night shift … they’ve tried now and then to get me to do other shifts or advance in the agency to something other than residential, but I’m open about it … I want my night shifts and quiet down time so I can write. And, given it’s hard to cover that shift anyway, they don’t really complain. As long as I get my regular duties done and am there as needed for the residents.
Makes sense. Win/win.
I do, though, downplay a bit about WHAT I write … don’t mention certain titles, etc.
Hah, yeah that’s probably wise. So earlier you mentioned that White Death is out in audiobook. What’s your experience with that been like?
My only previous experience with audiobooks (besides listening to them on long drives, of which I am a big fan) was recording Black Roses myself with an indie audiobook producer way back years ago … fun experience, a little weird, taught me the hard way how sometimes we use words we’ve only seen in print and never heard aloud … to this day, I don’t know for sure how “cupola” is pronounced.
With White Death, the reader — Matt Godfrey, and he is excellent! — approached me, and I was just blown away by his work. There are a lot of characters in that book, a lot of accents and voices, and he nailed ’em all beautifully. He also tackled the most traumatic scene I’ve ever written, brief and sparse though it was, just tore my guts out to write and to read, and … yeah … he nailed it.
So what else? Anything in particular you want to talk about? Shameless plugs? Spoilers? Words of general wisdom?
Oh, just to urge people to read. Everyone, writer or reader or fan … read. Read a lot. Read a bunch of things. I see too many authors mention not reading within their genre for fear of being derivative or polluting their own work … or not reading outside their genre because of some snobbery or another … that seems so strange to me. Words are my toys. Language is like Play-Doh, a complete sensory experience, get into it, the colors, the textures, squish it, sniff it (okay maybe don’t taste it, yick, that was a cruel life-lesson to learn), make whatever you want out of it. Yes, know the rules, but don’t be afraid to bend them and stretch them and even break them when needed. Most of all, have fun!
Austin James writes obscure and uncomfortable fiction.