This month, Brave Wings has interviewed Christine Morgan, a prolific author, who, in her own words, “divides her writing time among many genres, from horror to historical, from superheroes to smut, anything in between and combinations thereof.” Her short stories have appeared in dozens of anthologies, and her novels are many. She also edits and is a regular contributor to The Horror Fiction Review.
So, you have a lot of titles out there. You say you write a little of everything but mostly historical and mythological themed horror, dark fantasy, and extreme horror. What has drawn you to these genres?
CM: I got hooked on Greek mythology as a kid, after picking up a book about it at one of those Scholastic Book Fairs. From there, I branched out into exploring others, like Norse, Egyptian, and Maya. I also got into Tolkien (don’t tell, but one of the first things I ever wrote, way back when, was some awful shameless Mary Sue LOTR fanfic). Those all led me into history. As for horror, my grandfather kept a shelf of horror paperbacks out in the garage, and I’d sneak out there to read whenever we’d visit. He liked the nature-run-amok stuff, mostly, when animals attack … but I also found a copy of The Shining out there when I was ten, and I still have it.
Tell us about your latest release.
CM: White Death is a historical horror novel, set in pioneer times. It was inspired by actual events; I read a nonfiction book called The Children’s Blizzard about a surprise terrible storm that hit the Midwest in January of 1888. Learned more about frostbite and hypothermia than I ever wanted to know but was also impressed by the survival and tenacity. And struck by the pathos because so many of the victims were schoolchildren, who’d finally gotten out of their snowbound houses for a day. I wanted to explore all those. I also wanted to add snow monsters because, hey, snow monsters, why not make things even worse? So, in the pioneer settlement of Far Enough, in the Montana territories, the settlers have to deal with uncanny sabretooth-tiger type icy beasts on top of everything else.
What is the hardest part of writing these books?
CM: Usually doing the synopsis. And, for me, endings. I have a hard time ending stories. They often want to continue into sequels or series, or characters will demand their own spin-offs.
Give us an insight into one of your main characters.
CM: Oh, which of them should I pick on?
Is anything in your books based on real life experiences or purely all imagination?
CM: Given the kinds of stuff I write, it’s just as well a lot of it is imagination. The characters, though, the personalities and people, relationships, emotions, reactions, interactions … I draw a lot from my own or observed life experiences. I used my daughter and her friends as inspiration for many of the younger characters. I’ve based some on friends and family, co-workers. I’ve also been fortunate enough to take trips to places such as Norway and the Yucatan, which were immensely inspiring, just to be able to stand there and take it all in.
What have you learned from writing your books?
CM: It sometimes feels like I’ve mostly learned the hard way what not to do, or to know the rules before you break them. When I do my research into historical stuff, for instance, it may be important for ME to know all the details, but that doesn’t mean I need to put it all into the story. It’s a story, not meant to be a lesson or encyclopedia. Though I do understand the urge to show off how much research has been done, it’s too easy to go all Herman Melville and turn an adventure into a whaling how-to manual.
Is there a message in your books that you want readers to grasp?
CM: I just want readers to be entertained, to have fun or be scared, be grossed out, turned on, laugh, cringe, whatever … I want to elicit some sort of emotional reaction, and if somebody happens to learn something along the way, hey, so much the better.
Tell us about the amazing illustrations and artwork for your books.
CM: I am in awe of artists, especially the ones who can take my regular old words and turn them into an image that is like they snapped a photo inside my mind. I’ve been lucky enough to work with, and have publishers who work with, some really talented people. Of all the illustrations, though, my favorite ever is still the one M. Wayne Miller did for my myth-meets-Mythos piece “The Ithiliad,” in World War Cthulu. It’s not often you see Lovecraftian art that’s gorgeous and romantic, but he nailed it. I have a large framed print of that one hanging above my brag shelf.
Will you have a new book coming out soon?
CM: Two, actually! Lakehouse Infernal, a sequel to Edward Lee’s Lucifer’s Lottery, is available for pre-order now from Deadite Press – Lee gave me permission to play with his toys and wrote the introduction; all he asked was to have a cameo in the book; for a guy who writes the sickest stuff, he’s really a big sweetie. The other, a collection, will be coming out this spring from Death’s Head Press. It’s called Dawn of the Living-Impaired and Other Messed-Up Zombie Stories, and is, well, a bunch of zombie stories.
When did you first consider yourself a writer, or do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
CM: Even as a kid, I was a storyteller. My dolls and toys had very dramatic soap-opera lives. I was also the one in my neighborhood friend group who usually suggested ideas for what to play. In school, whenever we were supposed to be writing in our little journals about what we did that weekend or something, I always preferred to make up stuff about talking animals or fairy tales.
You are an editor as well as a writer. How would you describe your work style for editing as opposed to your work style for writing?
CM: When I write, I edit as I go. When I edit for someone else, I generally will do a preliminary read-through and jot down notes to myself or questions or whatever catches my eye, then go back through for a second pass to make actual suggestions or corrections. I like to give my reasons for suggested changes, too, whether it’s story-related or something with the word use. I’ll give overall general feedback about things I’ve noticed. I really enjoy it, especially on a smaller scale, editing anthologies. I like working with other authors, as long as we can both remember it’s about the story, not our egos.
What techniques and tools do you use to keep yourself organized?
CM: My biggest problem with keeping organized is believing that I already am. I’ve always had a pretty good memory and so will think, “I don’t need to write that down, I’ll remember it.” I really should know better. I come from a long line of list-makers. Once, on a family vacation, my mom had so many different lists of what to pack, she needed a master list of all her lists. So, I have lists of submission calls, and what I’ve sent where when, and my interminable to-do and to-be-read lists. I also leave myself notes, either (in the manuscript like so) or scribbled on a notepad or send myself emails. Sometimes, these notes even make sense when I go back to look at them later.
What is the easiest thing about writing and editing?
CM: I can do it from my couch, in my pajamas, surrounded by cats. Or, anywhere, really. The cartoons that show ‘writers on vacation’ are pretty spot-on; even when we’re not actively doing it, we’re thinking about it, storing ideas away.
How long on average does it take you to write a book?
CM: Well, I’ve successfully completed NaNoWriMo a few times over the years, but my books usually go over 50k anyway, and those ones have needed a lot of follow-up and work after. Probably the quickest overall, from zero to finished draft, was Knight of the Basilisk from my second fantasy trilogy. I knew the beginning, I knew the end, and the middle was this vast blank canvas. I lucked out. It was one of those times the story just takes off and flows. Other times, it’s fits and starts and taking breaks to work on other projects, so it’s hard to say. I’d like to test myself via the Carlton Mellick III method at least once; he isolates in a hotel room with no distractions or responsibilities and does nothing else but write until it’s done.
Are there any occupational hazards to being a novelist?
CM: For ‘occupational,’ I do have a full-time job, but it’s night shift in a residential facility and when things are quiet, I can double dip and do my writing on the company clock. The hazard is the ‘when things are quiet,’ because it’s a toss-up from any given night to night how active it might be. Another hazard, or at least awkward amusement, happens whenever a co-worker finds out I’m a writer and asks what kind of stuff I write. There’s nothing quite like being the author of a book called Spermjackers From Hell to get startled looks from people.
Writing about sex – easy or difficult?
CM: Both. Easy because it’s about the characters, their feelings and passions, their sensations. Difficult because settling on the right words, finding that balance between clinical and crude and ridiculous, is a real challenge. So’s deciding how much play-by-play detail to go into. With ‘action scenes,’ be that action sex or combat, I don’t want precise choreography. I want intensity. I want story and context.
How much impact does your childhood have on your writing?
CM: Oh, a lot. That’s where all those formative influences were, the fairy tales and mythology, the storytelling, the garage shelf full of horror novels, the high drama soap operas of my toys’ lives. I’m still basically doing the same thing. Best part of childhood was freedom to play, unlimited creativity. That’s what writing is to me now.
What has been the toughest criticism given to you as an author? What has been the best compliment?
CM: One of the harshest but truest reviews I ever got referred to my “competent but uninspired” fantasy books; that’s part of what encouraged me to go more for horror like I was probably always meant to. I’ve also been called out, and rightfully, of overdoing it on description, sensory stuff, and outrageous purple prose. My response to this was entirely mature and adult, which basically meant I started writing about Vikings and extreme horror, where I could get away with that kind of thing more. I don’t often let myself get discouraged, if I can find a smartass way to turn flaws into strengths. For compliments, simply knowing that someone who doesn’t HAVE to has read and enjoyed something I wrote never fails to astound and make me giddy. Or when other authors, you know, ‘real’ authors, accept and encourage and treat me like an equal, instead of the faffer-abouter my imposter syndrome tells me that I am. Also, the time Wrath James White called me a dirty girl, that was a special moment!
Was there a person in your career who has impacted you the most or who has really made a difference?
CM: So many! If I have to pick just one, though, got to go with my guy, Edward Lee. He reached out to me to thank me for reviewing some of his books, which alone blew me away, and then he started sending me books, referring me to publishers, letting me borrow his toys, giving me feedback on my grosser stuff; these days, he’s got me proofreading for him and helping with his edits, and my next goal is to wheedle my way into doing an actual collaboration.
Which writers inspire you or are your favorites, and what really strikes you about their work?
CM: Lee, again, of course; he has this great way of mixing gross and gonzo crassness with this elevated erudite intelligence, and his Mephistopolis is my favorite fictional setting ever. Earlier on, my inspirations were more Stephen King and John Saul. Lately, though, I’ve come to realize I love anything written with genuine enthusiasm and passion and a sense of fun. Genre doesn’t matter, fiction or non-fiction either; when the author’s having a total blast, I am there. It’s one of the best things about the ‘bizarro’ and ‘extreme’ writers. The stuff they write is so weird, but you can really tell they’re into it and care.
What are the most important attributes to remaining sane as a writer?
CM: Getting it out of your head somehow, whether or not you share it with the world. Write the crazy story. Even if you never do anything with it, write it out, don’t let it fester and gnaw inside your brain. Seek other creative outlets, too, if it helps. I experiment with cooking and baking and do weird crafts. Some general self-care is also good. Sleep, eat, stay hydrated, have at least some sort of social life (I count internet and cats for this). Try not to fret about the haters and trolls and one-star vindictive review givers. Have a thick skin about insults, but not so thick you can’t take legit criticism and advice.
What is it like to work the night shift in a psychiatric treatment facility?
CM: As it happens, I’m at work right now, answering these questions at just past three in the morning. I’m the only one awake in the house, the residents all sleeping. So, it’s one of those lucky quiet nights. Its got its moments, though. The way people think and behave and express themselves has always fascinated me; that’s why I majored in Psych instead of English like we’re ‘supposed’ to. These folks sometimes think and behave and express themselves in very unusual ways, and it’s taught me a lot about seeing things from different perspectives.
Do you admire your own writing?
CM: A fair amount of it, yes, I can read back over it and be all “dang, I’m good!” Or I’ll find a line and be simultaneously impressed and unable to believe I wrote it, like, “where did THAT come from?” I like to think I’ve really hit my stride these past few years, really let myself just let go and not hold back and see where it takes me.
Have you ever hated something you wrote?
CM: I think that goes with the territory, and not just revisiting the early stuff to wince at all the rookie mistakes. The stuff I actively hate during the process, I now see that as a sign something is wrong. I was struggling for ages with a book called Birthright, to the point I hated it and wished I’d never started it and wanted to chuck the whole shebang out the window. Then I realized I was writing it from the wrong point-of-view character, I was trying to write it from the teenage boy’s POV when it should have been from the mom’s. I started over, and that was exactly the problem.
When are you going to write your autobiography?
CM: Egads, do I have to? Can’t I foist that off on my daughter to do as a tell-all when I’m gone? Who’d want to read it, anyway? I’ve already covered most of the good stuff in interviews like this!
Who would play you in a film of your life?
CM: Someone who can do frumpy with occasional shades of strange and sinister. Maybe Kathy Bates?
Do you have any advice for other authors on how to market their books?
CM: Oh, gosh, no, that’s one of the things I’m worst at. Marketing and promotion are not well within my wheelhouse.
What are your thoughts on good/bad reviews?
CM: Since one of my side-gigs has been as a regular contributor to The Horror Fiction Review for some fifteen years, I am all in favor of reviews either way, so long as they’re honest. I like to know what resonated with the reader personally, good or bad. What worked and what didn’t. What affected them and their reading experience, and how. Must admit, I have gotten quite a kick out of some of the bad reviews for Spermjackers From Hell. One accused me of clearly not knowing what a succubus was, which, to me, says that reader basically missed the entire point of the book.
Which social network works best for you?
CM: I’m mostly just on Facebook. I have Twitter, but still don’t much know how to use it. Many of the others, I’ve heard of but not yet tinkered with. I’m not the most tech-savvy of people.
Any tips on what to do and what not to do?
CM: For me, what to do always comes back to just having fun. Whatever you’re doing, try to enjoy it, the process and experience as much as the results, the journey as much as the destination, etc. Even challenges can be fun. As for what not to do, don’t be caught up by negatives and limitations. Whether external ones from other people, or internal ones courtesy of our own jerk brains. I often think of a line from one of the Hitchhiker’s Guide books, about flying … how, if someone says you can’t possibly be doing that, it’s vitally important NOT to listen to them or they will suddenly be right.
You’ve gone through a harrowing ordeal with cancer and are still struggling to pay for surgeries. Can you tell us about that?
CM: Yeah, that was an unwelcome surprise a couple years ago. It’s my second go-round with cancer, actually. Had thyroid cancer in college, got that removed, drank radioactive iodine, been on medication ever since, still no super powers. THAT one, I had some warning because of family predisposition. This most recent business, I was having face pains and my doctor thought it might be trigeminal neuralgia, a nerve disorder, but then the scans turned up a big mass in my right sinus that turned out to be cancer. Since then, I’ve had several surgeries for removal and reconstruction, which have also involved harvesting bone and tissue from other parts of my body. I’ve got some wicked scars on my lower leg (that one looks like a shark bite) and left arm (zombie bite, I tell people), and of course my face. Also did eight weeks of radiation therapy, and the side effects from that were, hands down, the WORST time of my life. Plus, a low-blood-pressure disorder that sent me on ambulance rides three different times within a week. My job, thankfully, has some insurance, but not everything was covered. Even with donations to a Go Fund Me from several wonderful, generous people, I’m still some fourteen grand in debt (mostly because some of it involved my upper jaw, teeth, and the roof of my mouth, and the dental prosthetic hardware wasn’t deemed a covered medical necessity). They aren’t finished fixing my face yet, even; I’ve got another procedure coming up in a couple weeks. I’ve been open about it online, mostly because it helps me feel better to talk about it, but I’ve also heard since that reading about my struggles have helped others who are going through their own.
How do you relax?
CM: I’m a big believer in naps, more so now after the surgeries than ever. I nap, I cook and bake and do crafts, I spend time with my kitties. I binge-watch Netflix shows, cooking shows, documentaries. I have a weakness for creature-features and cheesy disaster movies.
Who are your heroes?
CM: Oddly, or perhaps not, my heroes have usually been villains. When my friends wanted to be Disney princesses, I wanted to be Maleficent. I saw heroism as a reactive role, villainy as an active one, because without the villain taking action, the hero doesn’t have anything to do. Besides, they dress better and get the better lines. I admire many strong, clever women from history, like Eleanor of Aquitaine, and the Viking lady Aud the Deep-Minded.
What is your greatest fear?
CM: I’m a walking bundle of phobias, but my greatest, deepest, most dreaded personal fear is losing the ability to think and communicate. I lost most of my ability to talk for a year and a half thanks to the surgeries (but tell me again, insurance companies, how having an upper jaw and roof of mouth aren’t medical necessities!), and during some of it was barely able to read or write or type, and that was horrible. I could be a brain in a jar, as long as it was a nice jar hooked up to a computer, as long as I could still think and communicate and create.
Your proudest achievement?
CM: Raised an awesome daughter of whom I’m amazingly proud. She’s in grad school now, doing stage management and prop design, a theater geek who’s into horror and musicals and live-action haunted houses. She’s also a published author (sold her first story at age fourteen) and aspiring playwright.
If your friends or family members were asked to pick three character traits that describe you, what would they say?
CM: Clever, creative, deranged.
What are three positive character traits you don’t have?
CM: Not tech-savvy, not athletic, not a physical risk-taker.
If you could be anywhere in the world right now, where would you be?
CM: Since it’s pretty cold in here tonight, a sunny sandy beach sounds pretty good. But a hot tub in front of a fireplace in a warm log-walled longhouse sounds even better.
What is your favorite book and why?
CM: Impossible to pick! Way too many choices, way too many ways in which different ones are favorites for different reasons!
What’s the best movie you’ve seen in the last year?
CM: I don’t get out much, so it’s mostly catching up on movies later for me. Recently did watch The Favourite, and that was excellent, lavish and gorgeous.
What would you do if you won the lottery?
CM: Share the wealth like whoa. Take care of my family. Repay all those who’ve helped and supported me. Provide health insurance for my artistic-field friends. Finance projects and conventions. Give my daughter the opportunity to pursue her dreams without having to hold down a day job. Start an annual grant for writers. Adopt a bunch of rescue cats. Buy a house with an epic kitchen. Pay off the medical debts. Quit my job. Go on a cruise. That kind of stuff.
What is your favorite memory from childhood?
CM: My dad worked for Lockheed, and every year when I was a kid there’d be Lockheed Night at Disneyland. The park would be open after hours only to Lockheed employees and their families and invited friends, but all the rides and attractions would be running. We had the whole place to ourselves, comparatively speaking. No lines, no crowds. Could go on Pirates of the Caribbean or the Haunted Mansion over and over without waiting, just run right back from the exit and do it again. That was seriously awesome. The first time I went to Disneyland during normal daylight operating hours, wow, ugh, what a difference!
What is your favorite motivational phrase?
CM: My crafter’s version of “fake it ‘til you make it” is “glue it ‘til it do it.”
What advice would you give to your younger self?
CM: Oh, kiddo, don’t get hung up on stuff like ‘should’ and ‘supposed to’ … don’t dim your light or stifle your weirdness because someone else can’t handle it … don’t dumb yourself down to make someone else feel better about themselves … they’re responsible for their own feelings, they can manage their own emotions and problems … it is NOT all on you, no matter how much they might try and foist it on you.
Do you laugh at your own jokes?
CM: Only when they’re funny.
What makes you cry?
CM: Unexpected gestures of kindness, tenderness, gratitude, and generosity. Wildlife documentaries where the cub/pup/kit doesn’t make it. That scene in Titanic with the old couple on their bed.
What makes you laugh?
CM: Puns and clever wordplay, silly animal videos, British comedy.
What’s the loveliest thing you have ever seen?
CM: Fjords in Norway and Glacier Bay in Alaska for sheer scenery; my scared rehab kitty Micha trusting me enough to roll and show her fluffy tummy; my daughter’s honest delighted eye-sparkling grin.
What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
CM: Can’t say it enough … let go, relax, have FUN!
Thank you very much for taking part in this interview!
CM: Thanks for having me, for the good questions, and letting me ramble!
To purchase Christine’s books, visit her Amazon author page.
Read an excerpt from Lakehouse Infernal, her newest release.
Connect with Christine on social media:
Contact Christine via email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Christine Morgan grew up in the high deserts of southern California and headed north as soon as she was able, in search of water and trees. She found both in the foggy coastal redwoods, attending Humboldt State University. Five years later, plus a Bachelor of Arts degree (psychology) and minus a thyroid (cancer), she moved further north yet and settled in the Seattle area.
That shiny new degree landed her a night shift entry level job in a residential psychiatric treatment facility. After twenty-odd — very odd! — years, she’s still doing pretty much the same job, just at a different facility, and as of late 2015, in a different city and state.
The long overnights play havoc with her sleep schedule, but they offer her ample time to write on the company clock. So, in a sense, her hourly rate is not too shabby when you think about it.
Christine relocated to Portland, Oregon. In 2017, she underwent surgery and radiation treatment for maxillary sinus cancer. In 2018, she’s still recovering and undergoing reconstructive procedures to put her face back together.
Her daughter Rebecca (aka Becca and sometimes Bex) sold her own first story at the age of fourteen. She recently graduated from college, having majored in stage management and dramatic writing.
Christine’s current household consists mostly of books and cats. Viewing habits include documentaries (history, travel, nature), cooking shows, disaster movies, and British comedy. Christine has also been known to make weird crafts with her hot glue gun.