Here's a short interview I did with horror author Michaelbrent Collings about the themes in his fiction and why readers are so fascinated with darkness. Watch the video below or here on YouTube. There's also a transcript below the video.
Transcript of interview
J.F. Penn: Hi everyone I am thriller author JF Penn and today I am here with Michaelbrent Collings. Hi Michaelbrent.
Michaelbrent Collings: Hi how are you?
J.F. Penn: I'm super, so I wondered about your fiction. What are the themes? Because you have got so many books.
What are the themes that keep coming up in your work? The things that obsess you and keep coming up in your work?
Michaelbrent Collings: I write a lot about families and I write a lot about loss.
I've experienced losses in my own family, so it's stuff I think about a lot. And I also write a lot about grace and I'm not talking necessarily about a specific liturgical religious grace but just the sense that, although it can be that but just the sense that there is something greater than us and if we allow it, can lift us up you know?
And sometimes that thing is another human being, sometimes that thing is just our sense of self worth that finally shows up at an opportune time. I'm just fascinated by the concept of becoming more than we have been and that's part of the reason I write horror because it takes away everything that we were and leaves only what we truly are.
It allows that thing to grow or to fade depending on if we are worthy to the parameters of the story. I like this idea that people when they are beaten down, when they are horribly mutilated physically, mentally, emotionally, they can find it within themselves to rise again. That's definitely a theme that comes up over and over in my books
J.F. Penn: Why do you think people read horror? Why are people so fascinated with the darkness?
Michaelbrent Collings: Well because its awesome! It's fun.
There is silly horror which is again the two teens that go canoodle in the forest and a man comes after them with the lawn equipment. That's just kind of silly and you can go in there and count limbs flying off or whatever. That's for twelve-year-olds who are still obsessed with boobs and blood.
And then there is the greater stuff that I think we really reach out to because horror is a metaphor for larger realities. It can talk about capital G good, and capital E evil and we've all met that person who is just an A-hole at the bank and won't help us and that's just a wanker. That's somebody who is a twit, you know?
But then there are people out there you know Adolf Hitler, big old E…Evil and those people determine the fates of millions and billions of people. When we are looking at horror we are looking at these bigger pictures that allow us to say not only is there a huge a thing out there that's of interest and of import because it hits me, but as small as I am, I can still change the course of some of that for good.
Horror is populated by people. Just normal people who come up against just an extraordinary power for ill and they face it. Sometimes they succeed and sometimes they don't but it gives each of us, it's like a dark superhero movie, where we can stand up and deliver our best shot against the forces of evil vicariously through the characters. And in doing, so I think that is very cathartic for a lot of us who have crappy days from time to time.
J.F. Penn: You have faith and you have supernatural elements in your books. How do you walk the line between being overtly religious and keeping a story going?
Michaelbrent Collings: I recognize the fact that most people in the United States and across the world are religious people.
I think that a lot of writers write secularized books about metaphysical themes and that's very hard to reconcile those two things. Whereas a lot of my people are religious and it's not that they're standing up there preaching but they are Lutheran and that is part of there day to day life, you know they are Methodist and it's part of who they are.
And in doing that I can layer in supernatural elements affecting people of faith without ever once standing up and going “Here my missionary pamphlet for the Methodist Church on First Street” because that is not my goal. That is a whole different kind of literature for good or for ill. And that is not what I am doing.
But what I am doing is saying that most people are spiritual, that is what they will use to describe themselves. They have a sense that there is something beyond what we can see and when you tap into that you can very easily have a bad guy that represents real ills in the world.
And you can either say, “Here is how you defeat the bad guy on a mundane mortal level” or “He can't be defeated, but here is how we don't let him creep into us.” And both of those are valuable for people and they're not. You can sit there and say “Here is what I want to preach with this book. Then you've written a crappy, crappy horror novel, or you can say, “Here is a really bitchin' story and here are the themes that allow entry into that”
So my book Strangers is about this family locked in their house and they can't get out, and there's a killer that wants to have some ‘alone time' with them and on one level, that's it. That's fun – but it's also about the secrets we keep from people. It's also about the fact that we have got this fragmented society with social media where we reach out to people in Denmark or Great Britain but what's my neighbor's name? Beats the heck out of me, you know? So you can have these really interesting themes come in but I think they should serve the story instead of the other way around.
J.F. Penn: No, I definitely agree. Now I wondered who do you read for fun? Who are your influences as well in the genre?
Michaelbrent Collings: Well my influences were Stephen King and Dean Koontz.
My father was a world renown critic of both of those guys and I, of course, find periodically with Dean Koontz he is one of the nicest people ever in the human race. So he is just a great person as well as a great writer. Then aside from those two, Orson Scott Card, Isaac Asimov, Piers Anthony. I mean a whole list of people.
Some are very pulp writers and some are very literary and I'm always writing, reading five or six books at a time. It's just kind of limited by the amount of tank space on my toilets because that's where I read these days, because I have kids and they think that everything is a team sport, so that is my little tiny office now.
“What are you doing dad?”
“I'm going the bathroom.”
“Been in the for an hour and half.”
“I'm going to the bathroom. Leave me alone.”
But I read a lot of history. I love reading about Abraham Lincoln. I love reading about World War II because it was such a turning point in human history. I think it was the last war where there was a 100% bad guy and a 100% good guy. The two groups kind of lined up along those really black and white lines and it's such an interesting period to read for that reason. I am one of the most schizophrenic readers in the entire universe and if you looked at my bookshelf or pulled up the queue on my Kindle or my Nook, you would go, “This guy has mental health problems.”
J.F. Penn: Do you have any recommendations for female horror writers?
Michaelbrent Collings: I do, Mercedes Yardly is really good. She has got, they hard to explain. They are kind of haunting, is the best way I would explain it. She is also somebody who is very spiritual in her life. It bleeds into her writing and again there is nothing that, stands up and says “And now you have to believe like this.” But it just gives it sort of that deeper sense that there is not only the smaller play being run out of the page but there is this larger scheme that is happening as well. I think that makes it more interesting. She is somebody that I would recommend.
Rena Mason, just won the Stoker Award this last weekend for a short story and she is very good. She has written some really fun stuff and now I am about to embarrassed because one of the huge problems I have is remembering current names. If it is an author who died or who is about to die I am much better remembering them.
J.F. Penn: Well that is a good start that's brilliant.
Where can people find you and your books online?
Michaelbrent Collings: My website is Michaelbrentcollings.com but I am really easy to find just type my name. Although there is an underwear model whose name is Michael space Brent. So if you type it in and you get this devastating dude with no clothes, that is not me, but Michaelbrentcollings.com or just type Michaelbrent on your Amazon browser or Barnes & Noble or wherever
J.F. Penn: Fantastic, thanks so much for your time. That was brilliant.
Michaelbrent Collings: Thank you
If you enjoyed this interview and would like more of Michaelbrent, there's a longer interview focused on the writing side of things here.
Here's my review of Michaelbrent's This Darkness Light on Goodreads:
This starts off like a fast paced thriller. John wakes up in a hospital with no memory and people are trying to kill him. A nurse, Serafina, helps him and they go on the run from government agents who will stop at nothing to destroy those in the way. Cue high body count and fight scenes … awesome 🙂
But then the dead start to morph into monsters and a thick fog begins to roll over the country, governments go silent as millions die from a horrific disease spread by the carriers … will John and Serafina be able to stop the end from coming? Will Isaiah, the haunted priest who hunts them, reconcile to his own demons?
A super fast-paced book that spirals from thriller into post-apocalyptic horror. Great fun!