Today, I’m pleased to bring you the first edition of “The Third Degree” where I’ll be subjecting authors to grueling interrogations in an effort to discover more about their writing techniques and published work.
victim guest is J.H. Moncrieff, author of the “GhostWriters” series of supernatural suspense books featuring “City of Ghosts,” “The Girl Who Talks to Ghosts,” and “Temple of Ghosts.” Let the grilling commence. Enjoy the interview!
When did you first start writing and what led to your love of writing?
Every writer tends to say this in interviews now, so it’s probably a cliché, but I started writing as soon as I could pick up a crayon and string a sentence together. My first books were picture books – I’ve tended to write for whatever age group I’m in.
I’m an only child, so telling stories was a way to keep myself entertained. My maternal grandfather, a Norwegian, was a natural storyteller, and some of this tendency may have come from him.
Your writing process – do you outline? Do you plot? Do you write your first drafts by hand, dictate it, or straight to keyboard?
My writing process is a bit strange. It begins with an initial idea – usually a “what if?” scenario. In a few days, a character will show up in my mind and begin telling me the story. My job is to write it down, almost like taking dictation. It feels like the character is a real person, separate from myself. I never have any idea where the story is going or how it will end. It’s always a surprise.
Now that I frequently write what others want, the process has changed slightly. Instead of a “what if?” scenario, I’ll think, “Okay, I need a yeti murder mystery. Where should I start?” or “I need the fourth book in the “GhostWriters” series. Where is it set? Where does it start?” and go from there. I’m still dependent on my characters to do the heavy lifting.
I’m a straight-to-keyboard girl. To me, writing a novel is enough work. No need to add extra steps.
What is your editing process?
I used to let first drafts sit for a few months, but I no longer have the luxury of time. Once I’ve finished a novel, I immediately (starting the following day) go through it, catching everything I can. I then send it to my editor and use his notes to do a second draft. There’s usually at least one substantial change in the manuscript, so after incorporating his edits, I’ll send it back to him for another read through. He’ll find something he missed in his first edit, I’ll lose it and yell that this book is never, ever going to be finished, and then I’ll make the final edits and it goes back to him for a proofread.
Do you have any favorite apps/software/technology you use when writing?
I write on either a MacBook Air or a MacBook Pro laptop, using Word for Macs. I do have distraction-blocking software called FOCUS, but one does need to turn it on for it to work.
Who or what inspires you? Where or how do you get your ideas?
Travel always inspires me. I used to get ideas from observing the world around me and asking questions, but now most of my books serve a purpose. For instance, I had to write the third book in my “GhostWriters” series recently [Temple of Ghosts], so I knew who the characters would be, and I knew I wanted to set the story in contemporary Egypt. That was the framework I started with. Once I begin writing, the ideas come as the story unfolds.
Do you have a writing routine or schedule? Any specific rituals? Do you listen to music while you write? If yes, what kind of music?
When I’m writing a new novel, I aim for 2000 words per day, five days a week. I try my best to take weekends off. While I hope to get my words done early, I’m a night owl with a tendency to procrastinate, so that doesn’t always work.
I burn a scented candle as I write, but I can’t listen to music, sadly. I need silence so I can hear my characters. Even instrumental pieces distract me. I really wish I could listen to music – it would probably be less lonely.
What is the best piece of advice you have ever received with regards to writing?
Find your people. It’s easy to get upset over bad reviews, Internet trolls, and rejections, but those people aren’t “your” people and you can’t please everyone. I used to get so depressed when people unsubscribed from my blog/newsletter – I’d ask myself what it was about that particular post that bothered them. Finding your people changes where you put your energy and time. If someone’s already told you they’re not interested in what you do, it’s a lot better to spend your energy on the people who are interested rather than struggling to convert those who aren’t. (And I’m not sure it’s possible to convert those who aren’t.)
More good advice: Do what works for you. Every writer is different, and every writer needs to follow their own process. So this big famous author outlines and writes for five hours at the same time every day – so what? That works for him; what works for YOU?
How would you describe your writing style? Have you won any awards for your work?
I write dark fiction, but there’s always some dry, sarcastic humor in my books and stories. It doesn’t matter what the characters are going through – someone will always find something to laugh about. This is my personality, and I can’t keep it out of my writing no matter how much I try. Also, even if the ending is bleak, I’d like to think my books are hopeful, that there is always at least a spark of things turning out in the end (although not necessarily for the protagonist).
Winning awards was something that used to happen when I was younger. When I was in high school and college, I won everything I entered, which set me up for major disappointment as an adult. I’ve been long-listed and short-listed and given honorable mentions, but never the big prize, so I’ve pretty much given up on them. Entering writing contests is expensive, and I wasn’t seeing a payoff.
Who are your favorite authors?
There are only two authors I will buy every new release from John Douglas, who helped bring profiling to the FBI, and Joanne Fluke, who writes a cozy culinary mystery series. Fluke isn’t necessarily my favorite author, but her books are comfort food for the brain. I also love Elizabeth Berg, Stephen King, and Hunter Shea.
Sadly, I don’t read a lot of dark fiction. I’ve struggled to find great horror books, and psychological suspense (which I love) is often predictable or has the most ridiculous twist endings. Most of the horror I read is true crime, and I read a lot of it. I also love travel and food memoirs and biographies.
What scares you? Do you believe in ghosts, demons, etc.? Where is the scariest place you have been?
Death, illness, and old age scare me. Alzheimer’s is terrifying. Being attacked or having someone break into my home and hurt my animals.
It’s hard for me to say I believe in ghosts, even though I’ve had several experiences that are impossible to explain otherwise. Demons, no, but I did interview a man who claims to have sold his soul to the devil, and as ludicrous as that might sound, I believe him. I don’t personally believe in that sort of thing, but I believe him. Sometimes I find this stuff very hard to reconcile.
The scariest place I’ve ever been is Poveglia, which is considered the world’s most haunted island. I don’t get spooked easily, but I was terrified the entire time I was there. There’s something weird going on in Poveglia, and the abandoned asylum and burial grounds add to the creepiness. Would I go there again, though? Hell yeah!
What genre would you say fits your writing best? Horror? Mystery? Supernatural? Suspense? How do you manage to blend all these elements so well?
The GhostWriters series is supernatural suspense, but it definitely has elements of mystery and horror. “Monsters in Our Wake” and “The Bear Who Wouldn’t Leave” are horror. I don’t intentionally set out to blend genres, but I love great horror, mystery, and suspense, so it makes sense that I would gravitate toward them when I write.
Describe the “GhostWriters” series of books to anyone who has not read them.
Think X-Files set in exotic locations, with an ordinary dude and a medium instead of FBI agents. Jackson and Kate have to solve a different supernatural mystery in every book. So far, they’ve traveled to China, Italy, and Egypt.
You visited Fengdu (the Chinese ghost city), Poveglia Island in Italy, and Egypt for the “GhostWriters” books, but what came first, the trip or the idea for the story?
The trips came first. My experience in Fengdu helped me come up with the concept for the first book, “City of Ghosts,” which was written as a stand-alone. I didn’t have any clue it would become a series. After visiting Poveglia, I had to write about it. I went to Egypt to research another series set in ancient Egypt, but after being there, I really wanted to write about contemporary Egypt as well. So I set “Temple of Ghosts” there.
How important are the names you use? How did you choose Jackson Stone and Kate Carlsson?
Good question. Jackson chose his own name. As for Kate, I’ve always loved that name, and I deliberately chose a Scandinavian last name for her. If you read my books, you’ll find Scandinavian “Easter eggs” hidden in all of them – a tribute to my heritage. “Monsters in Our Wake” is packed with them. I’m both Norwegian and Swedish on my mother’s side.
What do you have in store for Jackson and Kate? What other projects are you working on at the moment?
The fourth book in the “GhostWriters” series will come out in October, in time for Halloween, and this time, the readers will get to decide where they go! I’ll release the poll soon and see what happens. There will also be a Christmas novella, which I’m hoping will be lighter and more fun because Kate and Jacks need a break. In June, the first book in my new ancient Egyptian series will be released. Those who read “Temple of Ghosts” will already be familiar with Eden, the modern-day Egyptologist who ends up traveling to the time of King Tutankhamun. In February or March, Severed Press will publish “Dead of Winter,” a murder mystery set in Russia’s Ural Mountains that may or may not involve yetis. Currently, I’m finishing a book for Flame Tree Press that I hope editor Don D’Auria will love. The best way to describe it right now is as a new twist on the ol’ “Indian graveyard” trope, which I’ve always found intriguing.
Thank you so much for being the first author to get “The Third Degree,” J.H. I hope the experience wasn’t too painful. I’m looking forward to reading your new releases throughout the year.
About The Author
J.H. Moncrieff’s work has been described by reviewers as early Gillian Flynn with a little Ray Bradbury and Stephen King thrown in for good measure. She won Harlequin’s search for “the next Gillian Flynn” in 2016. Her first published novella, “The Bear Who Wouldn’t Leave,” was featured in Samhain’s “Childhood Fears” collection and stayed on its horror bestsellers list for over a year. When not writing, she loves exploring the world’s most haunted places, advocating for animal rights, and summoning her inner ninja in Muay Thai class.
To get free ebooks and a new spooky story every week, visit http://bit.ly/MoncrieffLibrary.