Welcome to my second author spotlight of March! Today’s interview is with J.H. Moncrieff. She’s a versatile writer with a background in both fiction and journalism who’s also an editor and a publicist. Her new novel, “The Bear Who Wouldn’t Leave,” about a little boy and a teddy bear that’s more than it seems, will be released through Samhain Publishing in May.
Over the weekend, Ms. Moncrieff was kind enough to answer a few of my horror-loving questions.
A few icebreakers to start: when did you first decide to become a writer, and who are some of your favorite authors?
I decided I wanted to be a novelist when I was five years old. My first stories were a series of picture books about a family of fish who lived in terror of a bear who somehow stalked them under the ocean (probably because the only stencils I had left were of a fish and a bear). I wrote books throughout my youth and adolescence. I was convinced I was going to beat Gordon Korman’s record of getting published at fourteen, but sadly, I had no idea how to submit my work to a publisher when I was in elementary school. The will was definitely there, though.
Some of my favorite authors are Stephen King, Gillian Flynn, Nicholas Evans, Barbara Kingsolver, Arthur Conan Doyle, John Douglas, Ann Rule, and Elizabeth Berg.
In addition to your fiction, you’ve had an extensive career as a journalist. Did you always know you wanted to write fiction, and how has your background in journalism dovetailed with the horror genre?
Even though I knew from a very young age that I wanted to be a novelist, I was raised in a practical family. I thought it would be a great idea to learn a writing trade that could pay the bills while I worked on getting a novel published, and that’s how I became a journalist. In college, I learned advertising, journalism, and public relations, along with television and radio broadcasting. I didn’t expect to like journalism as much as I did, but I took to it right away. I seem to have a gift for getting people to tell me their stories.
Most of my horror revolves around the evil that exists in people, so journalism gave me plenty of chilling examples. I’ll never forget the neighborhood that stayed awake all night to keep their homes from falling prey to an arsonist, or the mother whose baby was stolen from her. Most of the horror I read is true crime. Journalism also taught me how to be a full-time working writer, and to treat writing as a business.
The concept of an evil item that plagues a protagonist has roots way back in some of the original gothic fiction. What stories, if any, served as your inspiration for “The Bear Who Wouldn’t Leave”? And did you draw on any of your own childhood fears during the writing process?
I’ve always loved stories of cursed toys—I think they’re particularly disturbing because toys are supposed to bring children joy or comfort. When writing my book, I was remembering the “Talking Tina” episode of the old Twilight Zone series, and of course Stephen King’s “The Monkey,” but in the case of my story, you don’t know if the bear is truly evil, or if Josh’s actions dictate how the bear treats him.
When I was a kid, my dad gave me a stuffed panda that had been his when he was little. It was an ugly thing, very stiff, with a crazed snarl on its face. It gave me the creeps. I certainly had it in mind when I wrote “The Bear Who Wouldn’t Leave.”
What advice do you have for other writers out there?
Read a lot, write a lot, and submit your work. Submit, submit, submit. I’ve met so many talented writers who never send their work to anyone. And never give up. I’ve had some setbacks that stopped me from submitting my work for a long time, and I regret those lost years now. I’ve read posts from other writers saying that persistence and talent is not enough—you need luck too. And that may be true, but the more often you’re putting yourself out there, the greater your chances of “getting lucky,” so to speak.
I’ve been approached by quite a few people who would like to write a book but have never actually read books. I can’t overstate how important reading is if you want to be an author. Otherwise, it’s like saying you want to get in the NBA without ever playing a game of basketball.
Other than readying for the release of “The Bear Who Wouldn’t Leave,” what projects are you currently working on?
I’m working on a new twist on the sea monster story, and a series of horror novels set in ancient Egypt. I’m forever suffering from “too many ideas, not enough time.”
Thanks to Ms. Moncrieff for participating in this week’s author spotlight! You can find her at www.jhmoncrieff.com where she regularly posts about weird travel, unsolved mysteries, and other oddities. “The Bear Who Wouldn’t Leave” is available now for preorder.