Annie’s Book Stop of Worcester is happy to shine our Author Spotlight on Paul McMahon! Paul’s been a supporter of the store for years and we’re happy to get him two days in a row this October! On Friday, October 23, he is the featured reader for Worcester Storytellers, and then on Saturday, October 24, he will be reading for children (and maybe grown-ups later!) during our Spooooky Storytime!
Thank you so much for joining us, Paul! For those who don’t know your awesomeness yet, can you please tell us briefly a little about yourself and your writing?
My name is Paul McMahon, and I write horror fiction, primarily. I’ve done stints in retail, youth ministry, warehousing, and every aspect of newsletter production, from writing to bulk mailing. I’ve acted on stage and played in a band. My interests vary from the mildly weird to the downright insane (don’t look through my search history if you want to go on thinking of me as a nice guy). Through it all, I’ve had my writing. I’d rather be doing that than just about anything.
Where can people find your work? (Besides ABSW ;)–though they should totally check here first!)
I’ve had stories in a number of anthologies, the out-of-print titles THE DARKEST THIRST and DAMNED NATION, as well as three New England Horror Writers publications: EPITAPHS, WICKED SEASONS, and WICKED TALES, and just had a new story appear in a were-creature anthology titled FLESH LIKE SMOKE. My newest tale is appearing before the end of the year in a superhero-themed collection titled CAPED. I have also been contributing movie reviews to CinemaKnifeFight.com since 2012, where I’m known as “The Distracted Critic.”
I have a personal page on Facebook, but I’ve yet to set up an author page.
What draws you to the particular genre of style that you write? What do you think draws readers to these kinds of books?
I’ve always been drawn to the darkness, the monsters, the villains. Grew up on the Creature Double Feature, and when my parents wouldn’t let me see horror movies in the theater, I found the novelizations and read those. As for why? I don’t know. It’s just how I’m wired. As for why other people read horror? I don’t know that, either. I imagine a good number of them are wired that way, just as I am, though I know a few people who started reading horror after challenging themselves to watch a scary movie or two.
What is your favorite part of being a writer? Of the whole writing and publishing process?
As much as I love selling something and finally holding a printed copy of my work, I am most happy when editing. I love taking something I’ve written and cutting it down, working out the kinks, bringing it in line with my original vision. I always end up with my reference books strewn about the desk, open books piled on open books, more books scattered on the floor about me. From the perspective of Rumpelstiltskin, the spinning straw into gold phase.
What do you consider the most challenging part of the writing process? How do you overcome that?
Unlike most writers I know, the most challenging part for me is writing the first draft. My internal editor always has a lot to gripe about, my internal muse is always manically excited about anything that is NOT writing, my internal grammarian is always wanting to look words up words and rules just to be totally clear on them. In keeping with the Rumpelstiltskin bit, it’s the spinning air into straw that’s always the hardest for me.
Everyone’s got ideas on how to write, but what works for me is carving out a solid block of time–usually two hours–that I will sit and focus on the project at hand. Sometimes I only manage to cobble together three pages, sometimes I can nab twelve or fifteen, but after two hours, I walk away. Oddly enough, having a set time to go do something else is most often enough to get me through. Occasionally, I’ll repeat that process two or three times a day.
Elaborate, huh? Music is far too distracting to me, so I can’t have it around at all while I write. I used to use jazz while editing, but even that pulled at my focus too much. Recently I found the site www.mynoise.net that has a plethora of wonderful background white noise options. Depending on the feel of what I’m writing, I’ve used the tide, distant thunder, the clacking of a train, and the purr of a cat. They also have some creepy tracks developed for D&D players. Just finished the first draft of a story using their Shepherd Tone, which, if you can tolerate it, creates a super suspenseful and creepy aura to write in.
What do you think has been your greatest lesson in the journey thus far?
There are two that I lean on more than any others. The first is to read your writing out loud, no matter what it is. I find tons of word repetitions and accidentally mis-worded phrases I’ve missed when reading quietly. Pretending to perform the work in front of a crowd is very helpful to me. I don’t submit anything until I can read an entire piece without stopping. Anything that makes me pause is something I need to re-word.
The second lesson is to throw your ideas back. Writers are always asked where they get their ideas. The simple answer is that they come from inside. They well up from the depths of your abyss, which is made up of who you are, what you’ve learned, what you’ve witnessed, what you believe. The first ideas you get usually come off the top, from a depth anyone can reach. Same with the second idea, and the third. You want to keep tossing ideas back into your abyss and asking for better ones. Eventually, you get that epiphany of a thought that you just HAVE to write. That’s the one you go with. That’s the one that could only have come out of YOUR depth. The one no one else would think up.
What piece of advice would you want to share with other writers?
Besides the two lessons I already shared, “Have fun.” Enjoy yourself, never lose the wonder.
What else can we expect from you in the near future?
I’m taking my sixth stab at a novel. The five I’ve completed won’t be seeing the light of day anytime soon. Learning curve and all that. This one, though… I think I’ve got something by the tail. Whether it’s a tiger or a slug remains to be seen, but I’m determined to finish it and find out. Other than that, I’m just going to keep writing stories and sending out stories. Plus you can find me twice a month on Cinema Knife Fight.