10 Questions For... Brian Moreland

Today is an exciting day here at Inside Martin, as I'm able to help celebrate the e-book release of Dead of Winter from horror author extraordinaire, Brian Moreland. While Moreland has enjoyed a tremendous amount of succes as a horror author, success didn't happen for him overnight. He put in thousands of hours of writing and received a lot of rejections from agents and publishers in the beginning. After initially self-publishing his first novel, Shadows in the Mist, and winning a gold medal for Best Horror novel in the 2007 Independent Publishers Awards, Moreland's novel was picked up by Berkely-Penguin/Putnam for a mass paperback deal and re-released in September 2008. And now horror fans can finally read Moreland's much anticipated second novel, Dead of Winter.  So, without further ado, here are 10 questions for Brian Moreland:

1. What would you like readers to know about Dead of Winter?

My latest horror novel is a historical story based partly on true events and an old Algonquin Indian legend that still haunts the Great Lakes tribes to this day. It’s also a detective mystery and even has a couple of love triangles thrown in for fun. The story takes place near the end of the 19th Century at an isolated fur-trading fort deep in the Ontario wilderness. The main character is Inspector Tom Hatcher, a troubled detective from Montreal who had recently captured an infamous serial killer, Gustav Meraux, known as the Cannery Cannibal. Gustav is Jack-the-the-Ripper meets Hannibal Lecter. Even though the cannibal is behind bars, Tom is still haunted from the case, so he decides to move himself and his rebellious teenage son out to the wilderness. At the beginning of the story, Tom has taken a job at Fort Pendleton to solve a case of strange murders that are happening to the fur traders that involve another cannibal, one more savage than Gustav Meraux. Some predator in the woods surrounding the fort is attacking colonists and spreading a gruesome plague—the victims turn into ravenous cannibals with an unending hunger for human flesh. In Tom’s search for answers, he discovers that the Jesuits know something about this plague. My second main character is Father Xavier, an exorcist from Montreal who is ordered by the Vatican to travel to Ontario to help Tom battle the killer causing the outbreak.

2. Who are some writers that have affected your storytelling sensibilities? 

Like most horror writers I’ve met, I was first influenced by Stephen King, because his books dominated the horror market when I was growing up and they were popularized even more by the movies based on King’s fiction. One of the first fiction books I read just for fun was Stephen King’s Night Shift. I devoured every one of those short stories and discovered that reading fiction can be even more fun than watching movies. Stephen King taught me how to create a sense of dread in a scene. He would focus on the details of something that spooked him until he had you spooked too. That’s important in horror fiction. Sometimes you need to slow the tempo down and focus on the darkness until the reader is so curious about what’s lurking beyond that curtain of blackness that they can’t stand it any longer. The two other authors who had the greatest impact were Dean Koontz and Robert McCammon. I discovered their books while in college and learning to write my own fiction. Both were masters at creating loveable characters, scary monsters, complex plots, and high-octane action that propels you to keep turning the pages. I badly wanted to write like them. I wanted readers of my novels to feel the same adrenaline that you feel when you read Dean Koontz or Robert McCammon. I studied their novels like they were textbooks on how to write fiction. I dissected them chapter by chapter, paragraph by paragraph, analyzing exactly how they structured a scene to give me the rush of feelings I was feeling. I also studied their prose, the words they used and added to my arsenal of descriptive words. I emulated both their styles in my early writing until I finally developed my own writing voice. Other notable influences were H.P. Lovecraft, Richard Laymon, and Clive Barker. Now, I study every horror author I write. I’m always learning and honing my craft.

3. Your first novel, Shadows in the Mist, was originally self-published, before eventually being picked up by Berkely-Penguin/Putnam for a mass paperback deal. How did that whole deal come about?

I had written a WWII thriller about the Nazis and the occult that I was passionate about getting published. After years of rejections from literary agents and playing the waiting game, I decided to put the destiny of my writing career into my own hands. So I originally self-published my first novel. I literally formed my own small publishing company. I put a lot of effort into producing a book that would compete in the marketplace. I hired a quality editor to help polish my writing and work out any issues with the plot. I hired a top-notch book cover designer and an award winning illustrator, Les Edwards, to paint the cover. Together my team and I produced a book that book stores would stock. I also got it listed on Amazon and BarnesandNoble.com.

My next challenge was that I was an unknown author. So I was persistent about getting the book out to reviewers to expand my audience. I did a small book tour and hired a publicist to get me into newspapers. I also got friends with large email lists to send out email blasts, telling their friends to go out and buy my book. The campaign was a success. Shortly after I launched the book, Shadows in the Mist hit #1 on Amazon.com’s Bestselling Mysteries & Thrillers list. At that time, the DaVinci Code was #4. I believe that was due to aggressive pre-pub marketing and an eye-catching cover. I entered the book in the 2007 Independent Publisher Book Awards. It won a gold medal for Best Horror Novel. All of these successes led to me getting a literary agent and she pitched my book to Berkley/Penguin. They bought the rights and my novel went from being a self-published trade paperback to a mass-market paperback stocked in stores across the nation. Selling my book to a large New York based publisher was my ultimate goal all along. It really changed the game for me.

4. What methods and strategies have you employed in order to promote both yourself as an author, as well Dead of Winter?

I’m a very aggressive marketer. Unless you are a proven bestseller, publishers will only do so much to promote an author, often no marketing at all. I’m fortunate that my new publisher Samhain Horror is getting me lots of reviews and posting my cover in magazine ads and on horror fan sites. In any case, it is still up to the author to self-promote if you want to have success in the book business. I believe that the key to getting your book noticed is your book cover needs to be seen in several places—blogs, magazines, newspapers, social media sites, and your own website. I’ve contacted well over 50 book reviewers and bloggers to get my book reviewed and to line up interviews. I’ve also lined up a few radio show interviews to reach a wider audience. All that is great for exposure, but books still sell mostly from word of mouth. So, I think it’s most important to make and maintain personal connections with readers and fans. I use many forms of social media, including Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, Redroom, and Shelfari. I also attend sci-fi, fantasy, and horror conventions so I can meet readers face to face. Next January, when the paperback version of Dead of Winter releases, I plan to do a local book tour and do several signings at book stores and libraries. It takes awhile to build up a following, but I believe if you are committed to writing quality books and are willing to promote yourself in multiple ways you can have a successful career as an author.

5. Writing a book is such a complex exercise that I imagine no two authors do it exactly the same. Can you summarize your process for me?

Sure, Martin, I always start with an idea and jot down notes and character sketches. I also love research, so I’ll collect articles and photos surrounding a subject matter that I’m curious about. My first two books have been historical-based, so I’ve read multiple books about the time period. For my first novel, Shadows in the Mist, I read all I could about World War II and the Nazis and the occult. With Dead of Winter, I read all I could about the spiritual monsters of Algonquin Indian legends and about cannibalism, which was prevalent among the isolated tribes and colonies that had to endure long winters with little to no food. When I come upon a story idea based on history, I have a voracious appetite for doing research.

As far the writing process goes, I might write a one-page outline, but generally it all changes once I start writing the story. I definitely do my best writing on the fly. I’m always discovering new details about the characters as I journey along with them. I rarely know how the book is going to end. Sometimes I steer the story, but mostly I allow my characters to completely take over and see where they take the story. There are often plot twists that completely surprise me. After I’ve written a 100 pages or more and I’ve gotten to know my characters, I’ll write a chapter-by-chapter outline so I can have a bird’s-eye view of the story and keep on track of where it’s going. The second act of a novel can go way off course if a writer doesn’t widen the lens every now and then. So after the first 100 pages I continually go back and forth between losing myself in a scene and then reviewing my outline. My outlines are every chapter summarized down to one paragraph. This allows me to observe the flow of the scenes and adjust them for pace and emotional impact. With multiple character subplots happening at the same time, I’m constantly changing the sequence of the scenes so that they build to a climax. I think of my subplots as if they are trains moving down a track toward a catastrophic collision. Outlining helps me get the timing down just right. The outline also helps me work out issues in the story line and smooth out my twists and turns.

The most fun comes after I’ve written the first draft—which is still really rough—and I start the revision phase. I’ll rewrite the book for months, adding more details to scenes, fleshing out my characters, punching up the dialogue, and tightening the action so that the scenes are taut. I also get a lot of new ideas on how to best unfold the mystery. Then I go back to scenes and add details in that set up a revelation or plot twist that happens later on. I’m also a perfectionist when I write. When a character says something or does something I constantly ask myself, does this ring true? Would my character really go into that dark house where the killer is hiding? Would she run from the beast or would she hunker down and fight it? Everything I write must be as believable as I can make it. In the revision stage I’ll rewrite and edit each chapter a dozen times or more until it just flows the way I like it. This extra work has paid off, because the editors of my first two books had very minor changes. I also learned a trick to ratcheting up the tension and pace. In the final 100 pages, as I’m building toward the ultimate climax, I write shorter and shorter scenes that are mostly action.

6. Dead of Winter is being published by Samhain Publishing under the editorial guidance of Don D'Auria. How did you enjoy working them?

Working with Don has been a blast and a dream come true. I’ve always wanted to work with an editor who loves reading horror as much as I do, and Don D’Auria is a true legend who has edited for many of my favorite authors—Brian Keene, Richard Laymon, Ronald Malfi, and Jack Ketchum, to name a few. Don knows horror and I completely trust his opinions when he makes suggestions on how to make my novels even better.

Samhain Publishing has also been wonderful. After I signed my book deal, I was contacted by a Samhain staff member who said he would be my “liaison.” He gave me a warm welcome and said if I had any questions about my contract or the publisher to contact him and he would be more than happy to answer my questions. You don’t get that kind of treatment with large publishers, not unless you’re Stephen King or James Patterson. Samhain treats their authors like members of the family and that’s refreshing.

The editing process with Don went smooth with very little work on my part. It took me less than a day to correct the minor edits that he suggested. I even got to share my ideas for the cover design and was happy with the cover the in-house designers came up with.

7. What drove you to write Dead of Winter?

Complete madness! Seriously, while I was researching for my next novel idea, I came upon an old Indian legend about a mysterious supernatural creature that was a campfire tale spoken among the Algonquin tribes of the Great Lakes region of Canada, Michigan, and Minnesota back in the 1700s and 1800s. Something about this legend struck a chord with me. Then I discovered in my research that many of the tribes believed the creature was real and every winter people would disappear in the woods. The tribes actually migrated to stay out of its hunting grounds. They formed ceremonial dances to keep the evil away. Then as I read more about the legend, I discovered some unexplained cases reported by the Jesuit missionaries and the fur traders who lived among the Indians. All of these historical facts were like catching lightning in a bottle for my imagination. I played around with some plot ideas and a cast of characters and the story formed quite naturally. At first I tried writing half the book in current day and flashing back to scenes from 1870, but the historical chapters were much more interesting and enjoyable to write. After a brainstorming session with my agent, we decided the novel might work best if I set the entire story in 1870. Once I got a firm idea of my cast of characters and created two worlds—one inside Fort Pendleton and the other at Montreal—I had so much fun writing the story that I was driven to keep writing until I reached the end. Writing is easy when the story inspires you. 

8. Where do you see your writing career five years from now?

In five years, I’m a full-time author. I’m writing new fiction daily and publishing more novels, novellas, and short stories. I have at least a dozen novels selling in multiple languages around the world. I’m enjoying a steady residual income from royalties and new book deals. At least a couple of my books have been made into movies. (I dream big.) I attend all the major Horror cons and Comic cons and have fun meeting fans and fellow authors. I also lead at least one writer’s retreat a year to some place exotic like Costa Rica or Santa Fe. My writing career is pure joy because I now have the financial means to write fiction every day for as long as I choose.

9. What are you currently working on?

I’m over 300 pages into my third horror novel, which is currently titled The Devil's Womb. This one is about three brothers who travel up to British Columbia, Canada where their father vanished in a haunted rain forest while on some top-secret expedition. This novel has some wicked monsters in it. Stay tuned for The Devil's Womb some time in 2012. I’m also mentally sketching out a novella that was inspired from this novel, plus I’ve got a list of short story ideas to flesh out. I’ve got plenty of new stories and characters in my head waiting for their turn to come life in a book.

10. What advice would you give to an aspiring author who hopes to see their work published one day? 

Be persistent and never give up. Ignore all rejections. Ignore all the people who tell you you’ll never get published. Ignore critics who pick your writing apart. Ignore your own inner critic and doubting voice. Push through your writer’s block, knowing that you can always get back into the flow. Creativity is abundant, you just have to learn how to tap into the Source. And make time for writing. Treat writing as if it’s your profession even if you’re not getting paid to do it yet. Ask your friends and family to support you and encourage you to keep writing. I’ve had to deal with all these challenges that a writer faces, and you have to be tenacious and persistent and believe in yourself at every roadblock. Think of criticism as feedback and get more than one opinion. If one person says they don’t like something you’ve written, that might just be a difference of opinion. If five people point out the same issue—like I couldn’t connect with your main character—use that information to improve your writing. Keep learning the craft. Read books on how to write, develop characters, edit, get an agent, how to publish, and how to sell and market books. Take writers workshops. Hang out with fellow writers and successful authors and talk about writing and the business of being an author. To reach your publishing goals, you have to want to be a published author more than anything. You have to have passion and drive, and above all, tenacity. Because this is not one of those careers that’s just handed to you. Every author you see who has multiple published books had to work very hard to get where they are. While it does take hard work, time, and devotion, the rewards can be highly rewarding.

And there you have it. I'd like to thank Brian Moreland for being so generous with his time. If you want to learn more about him, you can visit BrianMoreland.com and you can also follow him  on Twitter. For those creative writers out there, you can visit Moreland's blog: Coaching for Writers.