1) Q: Why did you decide to write these scary, suspenseful stories?
A: Some of my most vivid childhood memories revolve around going to Saturday matinees with my mother. My mom, an avid lover of horror flicks, would bring me along to these creature-features with her, and I loved them. Would get scared, would think about those monsters for days afterward–but always with a delicious shiver. (I loved being scared, as crazy as that may sound to the uninitiated.)
Anyway, I became addicted to that adrenaline rush that you get when you’re watching a horror movie, or reading a chilling novel. And when I got serious about writing, I was drawn to create these kind of stories, to experience that rush and share it with others.
There are so many misconceptions out there about people who choose to write or read horror stories. The typical assumption is that I must be psychotic, weird, or otherwise mentally damaged. Have to be, in order to come up with this stuff, right?
Hate to bust your bubble, but the answer is no. I’m an ordinary guy. The people I know who write these things for a living are rather ordinary–even plain–too.
But we all have VERY vivid imaginations, heh-heh.
Bottom line: It’s as simple and innocent as loving roller-coasters. I regard my own stories as roller-coasters–constructed with ink and paper instead of speeding passenger cars and looping iron tracks.
2) Q: Where do you get your ideas?
A: I get them from a website: greatstoryideas.com. Just visit the site, do a search on genre, and you’ll be presented with a ton of excellent ideas that will be easy to turn into books and movies.
Umm, I’m kidding.
The truth is, it’s always been easy for me to get story ideas. I’ve never had writer’s block. I don’t have any particular method for generating ideas. Really, I don’t. I read a lot (all kinds of books and magazines and newspapers), watch movies, and most of all, try to get out and experience different things in the “real world.” So I suppose that, by doing all of these things, I am constantly feeding potential story ideas and characters to my subconscious mind. Whenever I sit down to write, I can have an idea for a story in a matter of minutes. And I’ve already compiled vast files of story ideas and plot snippets that I’ve yet to write. Probably enough stuff for the next ten years, at least.
But you know the hard part? It isn’t coming up with an idea. It’s growing that seed of an idea into a good book. Building the story into a coherent whole, constructing the characters, unearthing the theme. That’s the challenge that keeps my days (and sometimes, nights) interesting.
3) Q: How did you get started writing?
A: I started writing when I was in high school–my junior year. That’s when everyone loves to ask you what you plan to do with your life. I’d been a lifelong reader, and it was always in the back of my mind that I would one day write stories of my own. So I began to tell people, “I’m going to be a writer.”
The announcement was met by raised eyebrows and mutterings of, “That boy better get him a real job, talking that nonsense ’bout writing books!”
I think the fact that so few people believed that I could do this actually FUELED my drive to succeed. I threw myself into writing, spending hours scribbling in notebooks and plucking on my typewriter (before I had a computer, folks).
When I was nineteen, fresh from dropping out of college at Illinois State (long story there) I started the book that became THUNDERLAND. Wrote the entire first draft in a month, sitting at my grandma’s kitchen table.
I was proud, elated. But the book, little did I know, was an absolute mess.
The journey from that first scribbled draft to the award-winning novel that is now sold in stores across the country could fill another book. Maybe I’ll detail it in my memoirs one day.
For now, I’ll give you the condensed version: I got hundreds of rejection letters from agents and editors, probably revised the book fifty times, self-published it, drove across the country hand-selling copies wherever I could, got a little buzz going over a period of years, and finally landed an agent, and shortly after that, snagged a contract with Kensington, a New York publisher.
It probably took you less than ten seconds to read that last paragraph. Well, the journey took me TEN years.
If you’re an aspiring writer, marinate on that for a min. TEN YEARS. So if you’ve been writing for five years and haven’t had your big break yet–settle in, stay patient, keep working. It might take a while.
But I believe that if you’re serious about making it in writing–or anything you truly love–you won’t quit. EVER.
Because there is a light at the end of the tunnel. And if you’re going about things the right way, trust me, it’s not a train. 🙂
4) Q: How long does it take you to write a book?
A: These days, about nine months. I’ve always been a methodical kind of guy, so I’ve come up with a system that I use to manage each project. Seems to work for me. But everyone is different. I know writers who’ve written books in less than a month; others take three years. It justdepends on the individual writer.
5) Q: Who are your favorite authors?
A: As you would expect, Stephen King and Dean Koontz are long-time favorites. I also enjoy a long list of others: Tananarive Due, Steven Barnes, Octavia Butler, Walter Mosley, Richard Laymon, Robert McCammon, Jonathan Kellerman–I could go on for days. Although horror and suspense fiction is my favorite genre, I’ll pick up sci-fi, family drama, mystery–anything that piques my interest.
6) Q: Do you write under a pen name?
A: No. I’ve heard that “Brandon Massey” is a good writer’s name, whatever that means, and so people sometimes think it’s a pseudonym. It’s not. It’s my real name.
Now, will I EVER write under a pen name? Maybe . . . 🙂
7) Q: Do you ever plan to write something outside of the horror/suspense genre?
A: I hear this question all the time, and it annoys me a little. I have to wonder: Does anyone ever ask Terry McMillan, for example, “Terry, you know, these girlfriend books are great, but when are you going to write a vampire novel?” I doubt it.
Whenever this question is posed, I get the feeling that the questioner is not quite pleased with what I’ve chosen to write. That they wish I would turn my talents elsewhere. Well, I’ll be honest with you: Don’t count on that ever happening.
I write what I love to read. I write the stories that I feel I was born to tell. That’s all I can do–that’s all ANY sincere writer can do. We tell the stories that grab us at the time, the stories that keep us awake at night, the stories that we MUST write.
If I were to write a relationship/drama/street novel because I’ve decided that, “Hey, readers want this, so I’m going to write one and sell a million copies even though I don’t really want to write this thing,” that would be artistic dishonesty. Selling out. And I won’t do that.
Now, of course, I don’t know what the future holds. I don’t know where life and my imagination will take me. Ten years from now I might be writing family sagas. Who knows?
But I WILL promise you that I’ll only write the stories that I’m passionate about. What an old-fashioned idea, huh? Writing the stuff you’re passionate about, not writing for easy money. But to my way of thinking, writing well is so hard that it doesn’t make sense to pursue it unless you can write what you really want to write.
(8) Q: I’m an aspiring writer. Can you read my short story/novel and tell me what you think?
A: I wish I could, but limited time simply doesn’t make it possible for me to personally read the work of everyone who asks me.
9) Q: I’m trying to get a literary agent. What should I do?
A: There’s a standard procedure to follow. Finish your book first. (This seems obvious to me, but I can’t tell you how many people I’ve met who are obsessed with finding an agent for the book that they’ve yet to even write).
Then, compose a query letter, and send it to at least ten agents that your research leads you to believe will be open to reading your work.
Where do you do this research? I’d start with a literary agent directory that Writers Digest Books publishes. They update it annually. It contains listings for hundreds of agencies: how to contact them, and the kind of material in which they’re interested, and so forth.
Chances are, if you’ve done your homework, at least one of the agents will respond positively to your query letter and ask to see the complete manuscript.
Then your book has to stand on its own merits. So it needs to be as good as possible before you ever send it out.
A few more bits of advice: Be professional. Don’t whine if someone rejects your book, don’t wallow in misery. They rejected your book–not YOU. Keep moving.
Learn the business of publishing. Free information is everywhere, right here on the Internet. There is no excuse for not knowing the basics. No one is going to spoon-feed information to you. (For instance, sending an email to a professional writer asking, “How do I copyright my novel?” is only going to brand you as someone who was too lazy to do five minutes of research. Not impressive, and not likely to entice someone to want to help you.) Do the legwork on your own to learn the biz!
Keep writing. You should always be working on a new book, even while a previous one is making the rounds of the agents or publishers. You must stay focused. It’s the only way to build momentum.
Don’t quit. Ever.
10) Q: Will any movies based on your books ever be filmed?
I sure hope so. I have a film agent who is actively shopping movie rights to my works, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed that something will develop soon. Whenever it does, I’ll post the news on the website.
11) Q: Are you ever going to write a sequel to any of your books?
A: No sequel plans are currently in the works, but one never knows. 🙂
12) Q: What do you do when you aren’t writing?
A: I love to read, of course. I love movies–especially action flicks. I enjoy playing with my dog, a yellow Lab. Hanging out with my family and friends. Working out. Surfing the web. Watching sports, especially pro basketball and football. Visiting cafes throughout the city–I’m a coffee addict. 🙂
In other words, I have an ordinary life. There is very little glamour associated with being a writer, and to be honest, I prefer the simple things anyway. A casual dinner with friends or a quiet evening spent reading a good book sounds like a great time to me.
13) Q: I’ve heard you referred to as the “Black Stephen King.” How do you feel about that?
A: First, let me say this: I’m a big Stephen King fan. I’ve read a lot of his books, respect his tremendous contribution to the genre (and pop culture, in general), and know that his work has had a powerful influence on my own development as a writer.
But I’m not trying to be Stephen King. I’m quite comfortable as Brandon Massey.
Furthermore, it disturbs me when we see a black artist, and slap a label on him describing him as being the “black version” of a white artist–as if he can’t possibly be recognized on his own merit. Like when people were calling Spike Lee the “black Woody Allen.” You may or may not like Lee’s films, but why does he have to be the “black version” of anyone? Why can’t he simply be “Spike Lee?”
I realize that calling me the “Black Stephen King” is usually intended as a compliment, and that’s great. I love compliments. 🙂
But I prefer to be known simply as “Brandon Massey.”
14) Q: Do you do ever book signings? Will you come to my city?
A: I used to do a lot of signings. I’ve had to cut back on my travel, due to the need to write more books, faster. 🙂 But I will continue to do signings, when possible. I’ll post the details of the signings on this website and in my Talespinner newsletter.
15) Q: Do you really read and answer your own email? Or do you have a personal assistant who does that stuff?
A: Yes, I answer my own email. Always have and always will, unless it becomes completely overwhelming. I really like to know what my readers are thinking about my work (the good and the bad). You guys have made it possible for me to make a living doing what I love–the least I can do is read your feedbackand take the time to respond.
Now, I may not always respond as quickly as I’d like–tight deadlines can create a time crunch–but unless you are being just flat-out nasty and hypercritical about my work, or are asking me a bunch of questions that I’ve already answered here (hint, hint) I WILL write you back.