Name: John Manning
Age: 64 (65 on Halloween)
Where are you from: Detroit, Michigan, USA originally; reared everywhere
A little about your self `ie your education Family life etc:
I studied creative writing and journalism in college as part of my communications major, although I am not a college graduate. I’m a military/civil service brat. I spent 12 years in the US Army (Vietnam veteran) where I served in the infantry, personnel, and military intelligence. I am a widower. I live with two of my friends in Houston, Texas. I am the oldest of five siblings: a sister, a half-sister, a half-brother, a stepsister, and two stepbrothers. When I’m not writing or editing, I work as a recruiter for a world wide vacation (NOT time share) company. I also play role play games, attend fan conventions, go to renaissance fairs, travel, read, watch movies, play my bass guitar, and listen to music.
Fiona: Tell us your latest news?
I just submitted a horror anthology entitled What Scares the Boogeyman? to my publisher, Perseid Publishing. It’s a collection of nineteen stories with authors from four countries (the US, Australia, Canada, and Germany) contributing. This past July, Rogues in Hell, a shared world anthology, in which I have a short story (my second in this series) called “Showdown at Brimstone Arsenal,” that’s edited by Janet Morris was released. In October – around Halloween – my short story “Asylum” will appear in Michael H. Hanson’s Sha’Daa III – Pawns.
Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?
My first attempt to write? Actually, it was the success of my first try that made me an addict. I was in the second grade. I had lost my temper (I don’t remember why) and literally rearranged the classroom by overturning desks and throwing books. The teacher sent me to the Vice Principle’s office where I was put in a corner and told to write “I will not lose my temper” until the class period was over. Mr. Somerville’s office was his sixth grade classroom. Writing lines is boring. I heard him assign a writing exercise on “What Christmas Means to Me” in 25 words or less. That sounded like more fun than what I was supposed to be doing, so I did that instead. The only reason I didn’t get into trouble was because my essay was judged as better than what the older children wrote. I’ve been hooked since.
Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
That happened when I was in the seventh grade. Early in the school year the class was assigned to write a short story (I forget the length, maybe 300 words). I wrote one about a prison break. The teacher (and my classmates – we had to read them aloud) liked it so much that all I did that year was write stories. My classmates were stuck studying grammar. I think that was when I knew that I was a writer.
Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?
My first book? Or, my first published book? My first book was The Sword of Kalipan, a fantasy/alternate universe story in which I based the characters on my friends. It made the rounds of ALL of the publishing houses at least three times, but no one shared my enthusiasm for the book. The inspiration for it was probably A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. My first published book, Black Stump Ridge, was actually inspired by a number of emails that my co-author, Forrest Hedrick, and I sent back and forth during our lunch hour and when we were bored. We started by talking about hunting trips and places we liked to go and some we’d like to do together. That evolved into jokingly creating characters and scenes. One day I realized that we had the makings of a good story in our emails. So, I gathered them up and, with input from Forrest, I wrote the novel.
Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style?
I would have to say that my style is very visual. That comes from the way I write my scenes. I have to first picture what is happening or going to happen. Once I know what my characters must face or accomplish, I put myself into the scene (as if I were an invisible person standing in the middle of a room). Once I’m firmly in place, I begin to describe everything I see, feel, hear, taste, and smell. I try to make my action fast and not bog up the story with needless exposition. Some background is necessary, of course, but I don’t like for it to interfere with the story. I write with a relaxed voice.
Fiona: How did you come up with the title?
Truthful answer? I pulled it out of my butt. I needed a fictional place in East Tennessee that still sounded authentic. Black Stump Ridge came to me – I’ll leave it to your imagination as to where I was sitting.
Fiona: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
This is one of my least favorite interview questions because I don’t know that most fiction writers start out to deliver a message. I think the message emerges as the tale unfolds. If my story has a message, I think it is this: running or avoiding or denying one’s past makes one vulnerable to it in the future.
Fiona: How much of the book is realistic?
Quite a bit, actually. My descriptions of driving through the Smoky Mountains are based on where my family lived and visits that I made. The dialect is pretty close to the way the people speak. Granny is the term used for the wise woman who served as healer, herbalist, midwife, and pretty much whatever the people in the “holler” needed. I did a lot of research on the Cherokee belief system (it’s not a religion as there are no gods), customs, and language. Everything presented is authentic. The Legend of Red Bear, however, is not. Red Bear was based on – believe it or not – a little red Teddy bear I had at the time. I created that legend using authentic Cherokee stories as templates. The pagan ceremony cited is loosely based on my own time as a practicing Wiccan. The residence hotel in the first part of the book is based on a place I was living, even the room at one point.
Fiona: Are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
I think that could be said of any fiction work. A writer has to pull bits and pieces from his/her life experiences to spin a believable tale. Otherwise, it would have no substance. I think Fred, my main character, has elements of me, as do some of his friends. As to events, no, I’ve never been beat up in a Cherokee biker bar, worked a ritual with a Cherokee Medicine Woman, or fought a shape-changing creature from before the Ice Age.
Fiona: What books have most influenced your life most?
The Bible; I Will Fear No Evil and Time Enough for Love, both by Robert A. Heinlein
Fiona: If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?
Robert A. Heinlein
Fiona: What book are you reading now? I just finished reading The Lion of Cairo by Scott Oden and am currently readingThink and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill.
Fiona: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?
Actually, there are more than I can list here. Many of them write in the Heroes in Hell series and are featured in What Scares the Boogeyman? And, the list keeps growing, so forgive me if I don’t mention names.
Fiona: What are your current projects?
I’m working on a sequel to Black Stump Ridge called Levi. I’m also writing a novel called Walkabout in Hell, a spinoff from the Heroes in Hell series featuring Monty Montgomery, the central character from my short stories “Disclaimer” (Lawyers in Hell) and “Showdown at Brimstone Arsenal” (Rogues in Hell). My third novel, currently being re-written, is Fear the Reaper, a vampire novel. Now that What Scares the Boogeyman? is with the publisher, I’m editing my second anthology, Terror by Gaslight. A third anthology, this time heroic fantasy, is in the planning stages. I have to finish a short story for the next Hell book, Dreamers in Hell and the second half of my gaming column, The Polyhedral Universe, that I write for Zauberspiegel, a German fantasy webzine.
Fiona: Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members. Well, for me, God is a given.
Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?
At long last I can say yes to that question.
Fiona: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
I think I would do a better job of proofing the prepublished copy. I missed about four typos that really bothered me when I was doing the readings. Other than that, no. Although not a commercial success (most first novels aren’t), it has surprised me with its critical success. It placed in the top ten (tenth) in the Editors & Preditors readers’ poll for best new horror novels in 2011. It was also considered for a Nebula Award. Although it didn’t make the final ballot, it was placed on the Nebula Recommended Reading List in the modern dark fantasy category.
Fiona: Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
As I said earlier, it came from when I was in the second grade being punished.
Fiona: Can you share a little of your current work with us?
Sure. I’ll give you a snippet of my short story, “Breaking Up is Hard to Do” from What Scares the Boogeyman? This story is based on something that happened to me. I hope it’s not too long.
Mark Edwards stared unseeing at the computer screen. His email inbox displayed several messages, most of them unopened. He didn’t need to read them to know what they said. All were filled with sympathy for his loss. Words that were meant to comfort him, like the ones in the dog-eared Bible lying open on his desk, but nothing that he cared to see.
Although the monitor glowed brightly before him all he saw was Joanna’s face as he told her it was over – that final, horrible scene with her begging for one more chance as he stood cold and aloof denying every plea, every tearful entreaty. Over and over it played – an accusatory film clip. And, each replay deepened his guilt.
I shouldn’t have done it. If I hadn’t broken up with her, maybe none of this would have happened.
Against his will, Mark’s hand moved the mouse across the pad. On the screen the cursor scrolled down until it reached an email he’d read before – read too many times before. Dorothy Fletcher. Joanna’s mother. He hesitated, and then clicked the button. Immediately the screen filled with the message that had sent his world crashing around him.
Mark. I hate to be the bearer of such terrible news. David and
I are still having trouble dealing with it ourselves. I know that
you and Joanna are no longer together although we (Joanna,
David, and me) hoped that the two of you would reconcile. This
morning Joanna was found dead in that little sports car he loved.
The police believe, although it’s still being investigated, that she was
attacked in the parking lot as she was headed for her car. She was
brutally beaten. She suffered numerous head injuries and what they
called defensive injuries to her arms and hands. Evidently she fought
her attacker but was not strong enough to get away. The body won’t
be released to us until the coroner finishes his investigation. Once that
happens, we will have her cremated and her ashes scattered. There
will be no memorial service. I am so sorry that you have to find out this
way. Perhaps if you two had worked things out, this wouldn’t have
happened. We don’t blame you for her death. Please don’t think that.
We just wish things had been different. Dorothy.
The image blurred as tears filled his eyes. Of course she blamed him. How could she not, when he blamed himself? Wasn’t he the one who did the breaking up? Didn’t he decide to end the life they’d shared for the past nine years? Hadn’t he pushed – no shoved – the first domino that ended in this horrible design?
He closed the email and picked up a tumbler of whiskey and ice from where it sat next to the keyboard. The cubes rattled discordantly against the glass. As he raised the drink to his lips, he glanced at the tiny numbers in the bottom corner of the screen Midnight. The witching hour. As he swallowed, a new message appeared above the list of unopened emails. He glanced at the sender’s name. The whiskey caught in the back of his throat. His cough sprayed the keyboard and screen with amber droplets.
JoannaFletcher227. The subject line read simply: Help.
It was her user name. Almost. The 227 was wrong. She used 35 after her name. It had to be a joke. Someone was playing a sick, twisted game. He moved the cursor to the message and then stopped. He knew he should delete it, but he couldn’t seem to make his hand move the mouse any further. He clicked the button and the message opened. There was only one line.
dark here where are you
He carefully set the glass back on the desk. With one hand, he pulled the keyboard closer; with the other, he moved the cursor to REPLY and pressed the button. Ignoring the whiskey drops on the keys, he typed:
Who are you? Why are you doing this?
As he stared at the words, an icy ball of fear and dread formed in his stomach. He hit SEND and then sat back to wait for the reply, if any. He sipped at his drink while he waited. Two questions played tag in his mind.
Who was at the far end? Why did they want to do something so horrible?
Mark went to the kitchen to refresh his drink. He considered adding an ice cube and then decided against it. Better to have it strong enough to kill the pain – or, at least, to deaden it some. Nothing was going to take it away. Not completely. Probably not ever.
He sipped his drink and then headed back to his office. Setting the glass on a coaster, he slid the office chair forward and sat down. As he expected there was another email from JoannaFletcher227 at the top of the list. A mix of emotion slowly grew within him as he stared at the sender line – dread at what it might contain and anger that some unknown person would be so cruel. After a long moment, he opened it.
dark here where are you
Anger overcame dread as he leaned forward, clicked REPLY, and began to type.
Listen you sick bastard. I don’t find this a bit funny. I find this cruel and in poor taste. If you’re trying to scare me by pretending to be Joanna’s ghost, give it up. I don’t think they have internet in the beyond. She’s dead. Leave me alone.
He clicked on the SEND button and sat back. He jerked the glass from the table, ignoring the liquid that sloshed over the back of his hand, and drank deeply. He stared at the screen as time crept. Just as he thought it was over, that whoever it was had finished their game, a new message appeared. Dreading what it contained, he positioned the cursor and clicked the mouse.
dark here cuddlecat where are you im scared
The cold in his belly spread throughout his body. Cuddlecat. That was Joanna’s pillow name for him – something no one knew but she and Mark. It couldn’t be one of her friends. She had none. That was a big part of the problem. She had built her entire world around him until the weight of it suffocated him.
Fiona: Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing? Maintaining continuity.
Fiona: Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
Robert A. Heinlein. He created strong, believable characters you really cared about. He also was a pioneer in that he introduced love – in all of its aspects – to science fiction.
Fiona: Do you have to travel much concerning your book(s)?
I’ve done some, but not a lot.
Fiona: Who designed the covers?
I chose the cover art for Black Stump Ridge but the rest was designed by iUniverse, the company that published it. I chose the cover art for What Scares the Boogeyman? Perseid Publishing will do the rest. Janet Morris was responsible for the covers to the Hell books.
Fiona: What was the hardest part of writing your book?
Probably doing the research to make sure I had the facts straight. I’m a stickler for accuracy in fiction. Sounds like an oxymoron, I know, but it’s true. If you are using something from the real world, get it right. For example, there is a well-known horror writer (no names) who used cars in some of his books. Primarily, he used Chrysler products – but he had a bad habit of putting General Motors engines in them. To most, that was probably not a big deal, but I’m from Detroit and I grew up around cars, especially street racing and drag racing. The errors always jarred me from the mood, making it hard to maintain the suspension of disbelief so necessary for fiction.
Fiona: Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
That almost sounds like a trick question, such as “Have you stopped beating your wife?” If I say no, I sound arrogant, but it’s hard to quantify a yes. I’m glad I get to think about this, that it’s not a live interview. The dead air would be deafening. Yes, I’d have to say I did learn something: I learned to never give up on my dream. I’ve wanted to be a published writer for most of my life and it’s finally happened. It certainly wasn’t easy. I walked away from it many times, but in the end I couldn’t stay away. Finally, it happened.
Fiona: Do you have any advice for other writers?
As both an editor and a writer, yes, I do. 1. Learn how to write sentences and to spell. Spell checking programs can only do so much. 2. Learn basic grammar. 3. Unless it’s a part of your story, NEVER use text slang (such as lol, ttyl, bff, btw, and so forth). 4. Unless it’s conducted by an established, published writer, avoid creative writing courses and workshops. Many are held by frustrated English majors who condemn anything that isn’t mainstream. 5. Write. Write. Write. And, write some more. 6. Be patient. Although it’s the rage, avoid the temptation of electronic publishing – especially self-publishing – until you’ve have something in print. Most readers, writers, and editors do not take stories produced that way as serious. 7. Find an honest, reliable proofreader to go over your manuscript – as many times as it takes – one who is not afraid to tell you the truth. The kind words of good friends and loving family members do more to delay a writer’s career than anything else I can think of. 8. NEVER GIVE UP YOUR DREAM.
Fiona: Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
Yes. Although I can honestly say I don’t know many of you, I love each and every one of you, whether you bought the books or got them for free. I write partly because I cannot NOT write. I also write, however, to entertain you, to take you to another place away from this sordid world – at least for a little while. If I succeed in that, then it’s all worthwhile. Without you, dear readers, finishing a book is an empty accomplishment.
Fiona: If you were not a writer what else would you like to have done ?
I’m not sure there’s much left to do that I haven’t done. I’ve been a soldier; a paramedic; a teacher; a businessman. I’ve acted, directed, built sets, worked lights, and stage managed live theater. I’ve danced onstage. I’ve helped produce a movie. I’ve been a part of more rock bands than I can name. I’ve dug ditches and worked as a plumber. I’ve raced cars, built engines, and been part of a pit crew. I’m friends with actors, writers, and artists. I’ve painted – and sold – original art work. So, I just can’t think of anything I haven’t already been, not that I want to do, at any rate.
Fiona: Do you have a blog/website? if so what is it?
No. I have an author’s page on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/author/manningjohn