My Interview with JOSEPH MULAK!
Thank you for meeting with me today. I was privileged enough to interview you back in July 2014, so it will be fun to catch up with you again, my friend!
1. I always kick off my interviews with the same question. Therefore, please tell us how you’d describe yourself?
Short, bald, and ugly. Oh, that probably isn’t what you’re looking for. Well, I live in Northern Ontario (that’s in Canada, for the geographically challenged). I’m married and have five kids. Well, four biological kids and one step-son. Three of my kids are teenagers, so I no longer have any hair. Oh yeah…and I’m a writer, which is why you’re interviewing me, I guess.
2. I know you really found your love of reading through The Hardy Boy Mysteries by Franklin W. Dixon. These books, along with the Nancy Drew books by Carolyn Keene, were had a huge impact on readers of my generation, as well as that of our parents. In this set of questions, I would like to ask you about this book series, and other authors and books that inspired you to both read and write.
· What was so fascinating about The Hardy Boys that you were hooked? Was it the writing style, the stories, or something else?
o The initial fascination was the fact that they were there. My uncle had given my brother a bunch of the old Hardy Boy books. The blue hardcover ones. There was a set of about 55, I think. My uncle had 30 or 40 of them and gave them to my brother. He’s never been much of a reader, so they sat on a shelf in his room.
o I always liked to read. I’m not sure where that came from. I don’t remember ever seeing either of my parents reading when I was kid (though Mom reads a lot of mysteries these days).
o I started swiping the books from my brother’s room, one at a time. I think he knew, but he didn’t care. He had no interest in reading them anyway. But those books were my first foray into fiction that I remember and it was the first time I ever thought about writing my own stories.
· These books are primarily crime mysteries. How did you get interested in the horror genre?
o Probably because I am a sick and twisted individual that should be in a psychiatric hospital. The irony there is that I used to work in one.
o Actually, it’s my mother’s fault. She was the president of the North Bay Literacy Council for a few years. They would raise money with book sales. So one day, she comes home from one of these sales with Stephen King’s The Dead Zone. She hands it to me saying, “I know you like mysteries. I think Stephen King writes mysteries.” This was no surprise. My mother was never a very good judge of what her kids should be watching or reading. We had to have her banned from the video store because she would bring home movies based on who was on the cover. That’s how I ended up watching Red Heat when I was six. “It has Jim Belushi in it. It must be a comedy.” Anyway, I devoured the book, then went looking for more of King’s work.
o I would get books from the library, and the librarian noticed I was only borrowing King books. So she started to make recommendations. She told me I should read Clive Barker, Ramsey Campbell, Dean Koontz, and Frank Defelitta (I think that’s how you spell it). So I started borrowing their books as well.
o I couldn’t get enough horror fiction. I even started sneaking horror movies into the house or watching them at friends’ houses, since they were forbidden in our home. Kind of weird when you think about it, since my mother is pretty much responsible for my love of horror.
· I know Stephen King, and his book, The Dead Zone, was a huge inspiration. What about him and this novel made them important to you?
o I’m not sure. I loved the story. And reading Stephen King is where I learned characterization. That was a big thing about King’s books. His characters just came alive. Protagonists, villains, even the guy who had one scene then died. None of them were cardboard cutouts, and that was one thing I really loved about his work. His endings sucked though. I actually haven’t read anything by King in the last 20 years because I still haven’t forgiven him for the ending to The Stand.
· Are there other authors or books you feel helped to build your thirst for reading, or influenced your writing in any way?
o How much space do I have? I mentioned Barker and Campbell. Those guys were huge influences on me.
o Barker for imagination. I’m not even sure you could categorize him as a horror writer. His fiction is just so imaginative and I think that really encouraged me to think outside the box when it comes to stories. Don’t just do what everyone else is doing.
o Campbell taught me that you can write a good horror story without tons of violence and gore. Then I found Edward Lee and Wrath James White and they taught me the opposite. You can write stories that are over the top violent and sexual and still find a publisher and a market for your writing. That’s probably why my writing is so all over the place.
o I’ve had so many different influences that are extreme opposites of each other. Pretty much every writer I read influences me in some way. Some personal favourites right now are J.A. Konrath, Michael Wiley, and Brian Knight (especially his Butch Quick stories). I’m reading a lot of crime fiction right now.
3. I read you started writing when you were around 15 years old, and you published your first book in 2009. I would like to target this topic in the next set of questions.
· Why did you decide to move from a writer to a published author?
o That was the decision of editors around the world rather than mine. I have been collecting rejection letters since I was 15. Finally, I wrote something someone thought was worth publishing.
o It was kind of a fluke really. I found an e-zine that was looking for zombie stories. They did monthly themed issues. I knew nothing about zombies, since I didn’t read much zombie fiction, and I had no ideas. So I mentioned that I was looking for an original zombie idea. The write, Bryan Smith, jokingly said, “A guy walks into a restaurant. He eats so much, he dies. When he wakes up, he’s too full to eat anybody.” My response was that it was the stupidest idea I’d ever heard and I might as write a story about a guy who wakes up as a zombie and goes home and reads the paper. Then I thought, “I bet I could turn that into a story.” So I did.
o It was called, “As in Life, So in Death.” It had a very brief run in the e-zine, then I self-published it a few years ago (maybe 4 or 5) as an ebook. That didn’t last long. It was a really bad story, at least the writing was. I cringed every time I read a passage from it, so I took it off the market and haven’t thought about it since.
o I published my second story about a month after the first was published and I thought I’d made it and it was only going to get easier. Boy, was I wrong.
Ø Why did you choose this pathway?
§ I think, “I didn’t choose this path, it chose me,” is the stock response here. It’s actually not far from the truth.
§ Once I started writing, I couldn’t stop. It was a great way for me to release my frustration.
§ The first short story I remember writing that I thought was decent was about my jealousy over my girlfriend still having a thing for her ex. I was 16 or so when I wrote it. I got to stab the guy in the story. Very cathartic.
· Is there something you know today about writing or publishing that you wish you had known then? If so, what is it, and how do you think it would have made a difference for you?
o Just how hard it is to break into traditional publishing. When I first started out, there was no CreateSpace and if you wanted to self-publish (which was called vanity publishing back then, and it was frowned upon by everyone who wasn’t involved in it) you had to shell out thousands of dollars. If you wanted to be published, traditional publishing was your only option, and it’s not easy to get acceptance letters from those guys. But I also didn’t know about agents back then either.
o I sent a manuscript to Random House when I was 15 or 16. I had no idea I couldn’t just send it to them without an agent. So, a lot of trial and error. I don’t know if it would have made a difference, except that I would have gone a different route. I would have sent my work to an agent rather than a publisher.
o I also would have written more short stories back then too. Get more of a publishing history before trying to publish novels. I didn’t start writing short stories until my late twenties.
· What do you feel is the hardest aspect of writing, and why?
o Not procrastinating. I tend to get up in the morning and think I should start working on my new book. But first I need a cigarette. Then I need a coffee. Then I need to check my email, and Facebook, and Twitter, and I forgot to watch that Game of Thrones episode last night, I should watch that before I get too far behind, oh and the dishes from last night never got washed, better get on that…and so it goes.
· What do you think is the most difficult aspect of publishing, and why?
o Marketing. I suck at promoting myself. I have a hard time telling people how awesomely wonderful my work is. That’s why I wanted a publisher rather than going the self-publishing route…I need help with telling people how talented I am and how truly marvelous my books are.
4. Let’s talk about the industry of literature. There are so many layers to it, and I find it is interesting to see what other authors think about it.
· I know you are a blogger. What encouraged you to start a blog?
o Same reason everyone starts one, I guess. I have an opinion and I think other people care about it.
Ø How do you feel a writer can benefit from maintaining a blog?
§ If you write about a subject people are interested in, they’ll find your blog. If they like your blog, they’ll check out your work.
Ø Are there any drawbacks from having a blog, and if so, what are they? Why do you feel these have a negative impact, at least, where you are concerned?
§ If you’re too opinionated, you’re going to alienate people. Let’s say you have a blog about how great Trump is. Well, there’s a whole section of people that won’t read your work based on the fact that you like Trump. Same thing if you write a blog supporting the Democrats. You’ll alienate republicans.
§ Most people can’t separate the artist from their art. They don’t like the person who wrote the book, so they won’t read the book. I’m guilty of it too. That’s why I don’t listen to Nickelback. It’s also why I tend to shy away from talking about certain topics in my blog.
o I give beta readers a doc file, if that’s what you mean. And I do it because I want to make sure something doesn’t suck too bad before I send it out.
Ø What benefits do you think beta readers offer?
§ They catch what I miss. They point out typos, inconsistencies in story or character, tell me if I didn’t develop characters too much.
§ They’re a necessity for any writer.
§ The trick is finding good ones. Too often I get feedback like, “I liked it,” which doesn’t tell me anything about how I can make the story better.
Ø Do you ever act as a beta reader? Why, or why not?
§ Absolutely. I know how much help my own beta readers have given me and I feel it would be selfish if I didn’t give back to others in the same way.
§ Plus, I know what most authors look for in a beta reader, so I feel like I can be very helpful to them and their story.
§ Plus, it’s a real treat when I get to read stories by some of my favourite authors before they’re published. It’s a good feeling.
· What makes you pick up a book, and read it? Is it strictly genre, or do you think covers and blurbs matter? Why, or why not?
o I read a lot of genres, so that really has nothing to do with it. I read horror, fantasy, mystery, crime, mainstream, etc.
o A lot of it has to do with whose name is on the cover. If it’s Jonathan Janz or J.A. Konrath, there’s a good chance I’m buying the book without even reading the back.
o Or, if the back cover synopsis really intrigues me.
o Sometimes I pick up a book based on recommendations, but not too much these days. Most recommendations I get are for authors that you have to have been living on a deserted island for thirty years to not have heard of them. “Have you ever heard of James Patterson?” Really?
· What turns you off to a book?
o When it doesn’t buy me dinner first.
Ø Have you ever NOT finished a book you’ve started reading? If yes, why?
§ Rarely. A recent example would be a friend of mine’s book I tried to read. Made it less than a quarter of the way through. The book was good, but there were tons of grammar and spelling mistakes. I know most of us end up with a few errors that weren’t caught during editing, but this one had several per page and it was too distracting.
§ The crappy thing was it wasn’t entirely my friend’s fault. The publisher decided to put the book out, knowing those mistakes were there. Some publishers have no scruples in that regard. You live and learn in this business.
· Do you care about reviews? Do they impact your book select or alter your writing choices/style in anyway? Why, or why not?
o I think all writers care about reviews at least a little. Even the ones who say they don’t. I have one 1-star review so far because someone didn’t like the level of violence in my short story collection, Haunted Whispers. Probably my fault for putting one of the most disturbing stories near the beginning. The guy admitted in the review he didn’t make it past the second story. I was upset at first, but after a good cry and some psychotherapy, I’m over it now.
Ø Do you write reviews, and if so, do you have any rules you use when doing so? For example, some people will only give 1 – 3 – 5 stars while others won’t write any under 3-stars.
§ I write reviews on my blog on occasion. Especially when it’s a book I really enjoyed. There are authors I like to promote when I can, either because they’re friends or I just really enjoy their work. So when I read something new by them and like it, I try to give them a shoutout.
Ø Will you review a book you dislike? Why, or why not?
§ I tend not to. Partly because I can’t be bothered and partly because I know a lot of the people whose books I read (most of them are online friends, but I still consider them friends) and I don’t want to hurt people’s feelings.
§ If I think there’s really something wrong with the book (like my friend’s I talked about earlier) I’ll message them privately rather than publish the book’s shortcoming’s for all to read.
5. What can we expect to see from you over the coming year?
I have no idea, to be honest.
I did have a short story called “Ghost of the North” submitted and I thought a good chance of it getting published in an anthology I was invited to submit to. But the editor left over a dispute with the publisher and, since he’s a friend and I felt he was in the right, I had his back and pulled the story. So I have no idea if it will see the light of day.
I have another story called “In The Hands of an Angry God” out on submission right now and still waiting to hear back. I’m not sure if anything I’m working on right now will be out before the end of the year. Depends on how fast I work, I guess.
· Do you maintain an annual writing strategy or do you sort of “wing it”, based on the characters and stories that dominate your mind?
o Usually I wing it and write what comes into my head, but I’ve developed a bit of a plan for a few projects I have going on right now. I skipped ahead to the next question, so I’ll talk about those projects then.
· What is your current WIP?
o I have a few things on the go. Two short stories at the moment. Possibly a third, if I decide to rework my older story, I Was A Teenage Redneck Zombie From Outerspace, to fit the guidelines of an anthology. I like the concept of that story and I love the humour in it. It’s been sitting on my hard drive for a long time and I’d like to finally use it for something.
o I do have a novel planned soon. I’ve been working out the details in my head for a few years now. It’s going to be a kind of ghost story. I just haven’t started writing because I’ve been focusing on short stories the last few years, plus I went back to college so that took up a lot of my time. I think it’s about time to get another novel written, so that’s most likely going to be the next one.
Thanks again. I really enjoyed hanging out, and I am sure my readers are excited to check out your books. Take care, and much success!