Tell us a little about yourself.
JM: Let’s see, I was born in Walvisbay, Namibia, in 1980. I was pretty much an introverted loner, until I started taking Karate at age 9, which really boosted my self-confidence – thank goodness for that. We moved to South Africa in 1992 after Apartheid ended, and now I find myself living the grownup-life in Bloemfontein. I started teaching in 2005 and writing horror in November of 2008. A lot of doors opened up after that; I guess all the hard work and networking really paid off. I pretty much spend every second of each day writing, reading, editing, or thinking about writing and the genre. I do whatever can make me a better writer, editor and publisher. Yes, that includes acting like an idiot in front of my friends… sometimes – I call it research.
MW: So what is it that draws you to the horror genre?
JM: Since a young boy I’ve always been interested in the supernatural. I loved scary movies. I didn’t care if there weren’t really any monsters creeping around in the dark. It was the possibility that excited me. You put two kids in a dark room with an open closet and each one will imagine their own unique monster.
I’d say the biggest turning point was when I watched Alfred Hitchcock’s Final Escape episode. The twist in the tale story has been my favorite ever since. And let’s not forget The Monkey’s Paw.
As writers we quickly learn what grabs the attention of readers. Things like drama, action, conflict, strong characters, dire situations and an antagonist that wants the exact opposite of your hero. And if you look carefully at these aspects, you’ll see they all play a big role in all stories. Horror is in every genre: losing a loved one is a horrible event; standing on a stage in front of people; being laughed at; losing a fight; being dumped, getting married (just kidding).
Plain and simple, horror stories are exciting. You never know what to expect.
MW: What first attracted you to horror writing?
JM: Growing up, I was lucky enough to have parents who allowed me to watch horror movies and read whatever comics I wanted. So I basically grew up watching movies like Nightmare on Elm street, Friday the 13th, Halloween, Poltergeist, Child’s Play, and a bit of Alfred Hitchcock and Twilight Zone as well. What’s really strange is my own family now don’t understand why I want to write horror. Go figure. Anyway, since then I’ve been extremely interested in whatever classic horror movies or books I could get my hands on, including Stephen King, Ambrose Bierce, Algernon Blackwood, Lovecraft, Poe, Campbell, Howard and many, many more. I’ve got so many favourite authors right now, I couldn’t even begin to mention them
What made all these books, movies and comics so much more educational for me was the fact that I looked at these highly intriguing characters and wondered where they came from. Who invented them? Who drew them and gave them names? Essentially, who gave birth to them?
My ever-growing imagination was also complimented by my need to create. Where that need originated from I have no idea. Since age nine I always wanted to build or invent something. Why horror stories and books? Because horror gives the writer more creative space than any other genre. Anything can happen. And it’s that uncertainty, that fear of the unknown, which makes horror so damn great.
MW: Which writers were your biggest influences growing up?
JM: I wasn’t a huge reader growing up. I actually struggled to sit still long enough to read anything other than a comic. I was however a big fan of stories, be it movies, comics or whatever forms they came in. I can’t recall seeing a lot of short story collections in libraries back them. I loved going to the library, mostly for looking at covers, reading back page blurbs and, of course, for Asterix and Tintin.
I eventually got hooked on Stephen King, thanks to my sister. IT was the very first King book I read, and except for Dracula, it was also the thickest book I ever took on as a youngster.
I especially enjoyed weird stories like the Twilight Zone episodes, and Hitchcock Presents played a very big role in my love for horror and all things dark and twisted.
My biggest influence will still have to be Dracula.
Do you prefer all out gore or psychological chills?
JM: Definitely psychological chills. Without the psychological manipulation of a decent writer, the gore bits would mean absolutely nothing. No one would care about the character. With today’s special effects in movies, people have been a bit desensitised. That’s why some writers now feel they have to go overboard with gore scenes. Look back at the older movies, remember how they never actually showed the monster eat the victim. They just zoomed in on his approach and faded to black. Still scared the hell out of me and everyone who watched it. Why, because we cared about those people. The writer made us care. But, don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing better than a perfectly timed bit of gore that makes you go, “Awesome!”
A great approach is to show the carnage the ‘monster’ or whoever has done, without actually showing him or it until the very end. That way you have the chills and the gore. There are great stories with only the psychological horror, but too many of them in a row tends to weaken a collection, in my opinion.
I tend to put a lot of gore into a story where the bad guy finally gets what he deserves. In the title story of my Lost in the Dark collection, I have a bad guy who gets the tendons behind his knees, ankles and arms severed (even his eyelids), then he gets tied to a tree and torn apart by wild animals. The timing was perfect, because by then the reader despises him for all the horrible things he had done, things much worse than what happened to him, and it made me go, “Awesome!”
MW: You are a writer, publisher and editor, three very different hats. Which one fits you best?
JM: I’d have to say publisher. I’ll never stop writing my own stories, but there’s just no greater reward than working with others. I’m a pretty good editor. I still have lot to learn and experience to gain, but I have a very sharp eye when it comes to mistakes.
With the publishing, I’m a lot more driven and fulfilled. I do my best to promote their work, or push them to become better writers by teaming them up with other writers. The authors tend to push themselves when they share a TOC such other big-name authors, focusing on their strengths and improving their weaknesses. That’s another reason why I love anthologies so much, it introduces readers to other writers they might enjoy.
What made you decide to get involved with the publishing side of the business?
JM: I just love working with other writers. It’s one of the best perks of being more than just a writer.
Also, sport injuries hinder me from sitting hours and hours behind a computer, so it’s pretty cool that I can now work according to my own schedule; although it’s still pretty hectic.
Plus, my main goal in life is to create, whether it’s a book written solely by me, or an idea that becomes a great book. I can’t begin to describe the amazing stories I’ve read and edited so far. It’s pretty awesome to be able to read top notch stories months before the world gets to see it – to be part of such an amazing process with other writers. Writing tends to get lonely, but compiling an anthology or working with an author and the cover artists is pretty damn cool.
MW: Crystal Lake Publishing started in August 2012, and has gone on to launch quite a few books since then. Was the response from the public positive from the start?
JM: Definitely. I think it was a combination of timing and knowing the right people. I published my own book (Lost in the Dark) first, just as a tester to sort out any kinks before taking on other authors. I’d rather screw up my own book, and then learn from my mistakes. It was quite the learning curve.
I chatted with Ben Baldwin about doing a cover, who I met through a project with my friends over at Dark Minds Press. I commissioned Ben to make the cover of my book and the next book, which would be an anthology.
I played it smart, and only started filling the TOC once I could show the authors the cover. Authors love nice covers. I then posted the cover on Facebook and continued to invite authors, adding them onto the ever-growing TOC, right there on Facebook where everyone could see it. I quickly received messages from authors I actually wanted to invite anyway, asking if I’d consider their work. I couldn’t stop smiling.
After For the Night is Dark, I contacted Daniel I. Russell about doing a collection of his own. And things just picked up from there. I knew that, although it came down to quality, I had to put in the hours and really push to get a few titles out within the first year or so. Nobody takes a publisher with only two titles very serious.
So I spent a lot of time studying the market and learning more and more about publishing and marketing (still busy), but it’s a combination of a lot of strategies, contacts and effort that helped launch this company.
MW: Why should people read Crystal Lake’s work?
JM: Straight answer, because I enjoy reading every story I’ve published. I’m a horror fan, but mostly a fan of stories. Whether the story comes in the form of a book, comic, movie, series, play or even a song doesn’t matter. So I write and therefor publish what I would like to read. I’m not naïve enough to believe there are no people out there like me. Lots of people enjoy the same stories I do, and the better I become at the craft of writing and editing, the better I can bring all these stories to life.
I’m actually just happy just to see people reading more. I don’t shy away from promoting other indie publishers or great authors, no matter where they’re published. A lot of my best friends are publishers.
MW: One upcoming project that I have a small involvement in is your ebook non-fiction project Horror 101. What can you tell us about that?
JM: What started out as a small EBook project, meant to be given to newsletter subscribers, ended up ballooning into a multi-author venture into professional career advice. I've seen a lot of authors celebrate small successes on forums and Social Media, only to see them lose speed a few months later. It's like they don't know what to do after they have their first successes. Other authors come to a point where they need to expand or change their course, but they don't know what options are available to them.
And that's what Horror 101 is all about.
This book is loaded with 4 types of articles: a few on what horror writing is or should be; a few on getting the work done; some offering career advice by those who've been in the field most of their lives; and the main body of the book: articles about many different avenues available to horror authors, from working on articles to comic books, screenplays, podcasts, reviews, publishing, editing, self-publishing, audiobooks... the list goes on. And the talent in this book goes all the way up to Graham Masterton, Jack Ketchum, Ramsey Campbell and Edward Lee, along with an introduction by Mort Castle.
MW: What else we can expect from Crystal Lake Publishing in 2014?
JM: Except for a surprise novella (which will then be combined into a collection later the year), there are quite a few books already lined up:
William Meikle’s Samurai and Other Stories.
The Outsiders (a Lovecraftian, shared-world anthology).
Horror 101, as mentioned above
Tales From the Lake Vol.1.
Children of the Grave (a zombie, shared-world, choose your own adventure collection, where each author writes a different direction).
And if everything goes well and things aren’t too hectic, I’ll be able to finish my second collection by the end of 2014, but it’ll probably only be out early 2015.
The second Tales From the Lake horror writing competition.
But you never know what opportunities will come along. I always leave a bit of room in case something big comes knocking. You see, always be ready when opportunity comes knocking.
MW: Thanks for your time, Joe, much appreciated. If this has piqued your interest, Crystal Lake Publishing can be found online in the following places: