It takes a special kind of guy or gal to whip up a good ol’ horror tale. Not only do you have to be a solid wordsmith, but you also have to happen to be just a liiitle, uh, off. The good kind of off, though- the type that can see a regular, everyday scenario and contort it into a nightmare. The kind of person who can bring an inanimate object to life or plop a giant monster into the center of a ho hum body of water.
Ladies and gentlemen, Shaun Meeks is exactly that good kind of “off” I’m talking about.
If I were to compile a list of “People You Should Know” in the horror literary world, Shaun would rank pretty high up there. You can’t ignore the laundry list of credits on his Amazon page and the work speaks for itself. Meeks sprays to all corners of the horror field when he’s writing, whether it be about monsters, the horror within or the supernatural.
Meeks doesn’t conform to the stereotypical writing schedules so many of us read about from our favorite authors. He writes when the mood hits and doesn’t press for a word count. The work flows most organically that way for Meeks and who can argue with that considering the results? The man puts out some of the most entertaining genre reads out there.
Recently, I had the pleasure of chatting with Mr. Meeks and got into the head of a gentleman you are sure to want to keep an eye (or two) on.
MANGLED MATTERS: Growing up, what were you reading and watching that was shaping you into the horror fan you are today?
SHAUN MEEKS: I think the first things were EC Comics, Eerie, and Creepy. Some of those creeped me out so much, gave me all kinds of nightmares, yet made me want more. I’d already been reading Marvel and DC stuff at the time, but I remember going to a comic book shop called The Dragon Lady and finding some of those horror comics and right away I was addicted. Those comics eventually led me to authors like Stephen King, Ray Bradbury and other horror writers for sure.
With movies though, it started with a TV station that used to air old horror movies from the ‘50s after school. I’d rush home to watch old Hammer films, I Was a Teenage Frankenstein, and Them. They also started to air old episodes of The Twilight Zone, and it was really that show that I feel really had me hooked on horror. There were other movies and shows too; Tales from the Dark Side, Night of the Creeps, Dawn on the Dead, John Carpenter’s The Thing, Re-Animator and Basket Case to name a few. I was lucky my older brother was a huge horror nut too and was able to rent and borrow some of the craziest things.
MM: You’ve got a very strong story-telling presence in your family. Was there a specific person or people who were especially encouraging in your early years to push you to do what you love?
SM: My dad was a native storyteller for years, but when I first started to write, he told me it’s nearly impossible to have any sort of success as one, so I nearly gave up. It was my brother who really pushed me towards this. He wrote a lot, but later on turned more towards art as a way to express himself. His stuff has always been more twisted than mine, but his stories did spark something in me. Then, when I was in the fourth grade, I’d just watched The Hills Have Eyes 2 and wrote a story that was inspired by one scene in particular. My brother loved it and told me I should be a writer, even though the story was about him and his friends being weird cannibal vampires storing bodies in our basement. A few years later I wrote a longer version of it and handed it into my teacher, Mrs. A., who beamed about the potential I had and told me to pursue a career in writing no matter what anyone else said. It stuck with me, and even though it took me years to send out a story to a publisher, I never forgot her words.
MM: You’ve credited Bradbury with being an early influence on you. What other authors hold a special place in your creepy heart?
SM: I’d have to say Stephen King tops the pile. I know it’s kind of a cliché, but it’s just the way it is. I grew up in the late 70’s and 80’s. King was everywhere. I’d see his books at the corner store and in the mall, see commercials for his movies and it’s all I wanted to read for the longest time. I was reading The Shining in fourth grade for a book report and was sent to the office. My teacher at the time told me the book was a bad influence on me and I would spread it around to others. It only made me want to read more King.
Others, both from that time and contemporary writers who continue to influence me and hold a special place, are Elmore Leonard, Clive Barker, Joe R. Lansdale, Tim Lebbon, Chuck Palahniuk, Shirley Jackson, Jack Ketchum, Philip K. Dick, and Caitlin R. Kiernan. There are so many writers I admire and respect.
MM: We share the same writing style, in that some stories begin with just a speck of an idea, maybe a quote you think up, perhaps a very thin plot, but they all grow organically. You don’t block out an entire story before it’s actually written. I wonder then, too, if you are the type to have pockets full of scrap paper with ideas on it and notebooks all over the house like I do? Haha
SM: I have a drawer at home, a binder in my backpack and a locker full of bits and pieces of ideas. Some are more fleshed out; others are just a line I want to open a story with. On my laptop, I have fifty-six works in progress that are a page or less, ideas of a story that hasn’t fully come to me yet, but I needed to start writing it. Good thing I don’t have OCD, or my organized mess would be the end of me.
There is one exception to the rule though. The Dillon the Monster Dick series has a bit of an outline. It’s vague, but I wanted to make sure there was an actual series I could flesh out of this with a major story arc I could uncover over the series. So even though I don’t know exactly how each book in the series will go, I know key points in each one and where the series will end. That was important to me.
MM: How often do you write? Do you have a set schedule for writing? Perhaps a word count goal each day?
SM: I don’t have a schedule or a word count limit. I write when I can and do as much as my mind, time and hands allow. I’ve gone weeks without writing, and then knock out five or six short stories shortly thereafter. When I’m writing a novel, it’s a bit different. I sit down when I get a chance, write a scene until it’s either done, or it starts to feel like it’ll get stale if I keep going. I’ve sat down and done as little as 500 words and as many as 10,000 words in one go. When I was writing Shutdown, I tried to do the 2500 words a day, but ended up deleting that entire draft because too much of it sounded forced. When I read over the script, it sounded and felt boring. It just didn’t sound like me at all. When I started to rewrite it, I only wrote until I didn’t want to anymore, and it sounded better. So, I decided to only write for as long as I want. 500 words is better than no words, and if I can’t write today, there’s always tomorrow. That could change one day, but for now, I just write when the mood hits.
MM: When you write, do you prefer silence or music? If so, what do you find yourself listening to most when you get to work?
SM: I need noise to write. Some days I’ll have the TV going, just to have something on, but normally it’s music. When it is music, I like to make a soundtrack for the story or novel I’m writing. When I wrote Shutdown, it was a lot of Slayer and Killswitch Engage. For a newer novel I finished, it was Beastie Boys, Bad Brains, and Wu Tang. When I was writing stories for a new collection in the works called Blood on the Ground: Tales of Southern Discomfort, it was CCR, Primus, Down and Johnny Cash. Normally for just a short story, though, it’ll be some old school punk or thrash.
MM: Tell us about your Dillon the Monster Dick series.
SM: Most people laugh when they hear the series name, because it brings to mind something else entirely. I love that, and even mention it often in the series. The Dillon the Monster Dick series focuses on a monster hunter/detective named Dillon. He works for an organization that police our realm and keep things off our planet that aren’t supposed to be here. Most of these creatures, demons and spirits come to Earth through weak points in our realm, transporting only their essence here and leaving their bodies behind. They possess or use multiple inanimate objects to make up new bodies for them here. Some are made up of old rage; others take over a dead animal, or piles of rotted leaves. However they look, it’s up to Dillon to find them and send them back where they came from.
When I first started the Dillon series, it was a short story called The Undergarment Eater. It was fun, and by the time I finished it, I realized I wanted to write more about him. The original story was in the third person, but since I wanted Dillon to have a real voice, and the stories to have more of a noir vibe, I switched them over to the first person. IFWG Publishing picked up the series right away and the first book is called The Gate at Lake Drive. The second book, due out this year, is called Earthbound and Down, with the third book, Altered Gate, in the works. There will be three to four other books in the series, and maybe a few short stories here and there.
MM: As an author, do you have a preference between writing short stories and novels? What are the pros and cons of each medium?
SM: I think I prefer short stories overall. There’s something so fun about taking an idea, just a blip of a scene, and making an entire story around it with a beginning, a middle, and an end. I can sit down at my laptop, write an opening sentence and a few hours later I have a 5,000 word story done. You just can’t do that with a novel. The down side is, not as many people are likely to read it, it’s hard to find a place for the story, especially if it doesn’t fall between 3000-5000 words and even if you do find a home, you’re not going to pay your bills with that kind of money. A short story will pay anywhere from $10 to $150 in most markets, but way too many places expect you to give your story to them for free, or for “exposure”. Exposure doesn’t buy me a coffee.
I do like novel writing, though. Being able to expand on a world, to really breathe life in to characters and give them a background story, but they are more labor intensive. Not to mention, you have to edit them way more carefully. Not just for bad grammar and spelling, but continuity. How many times have I been reading over something I wrote and found I messed up the time of day, spelling of names or other little things. With a short story it’s a lot easier to remember minute details than with a 100,000 word novel.
There’s also the submission for novels that’s killer. Most places tell you “no simultaneous submissions”, but take anywhere from six months to a year to get back to you. And if they don’t accept it, that’s a long time to wait to see a book you worked so hard on, not to see the light of day. You can’t blame the publisher for taking so long either. You send in a short story that’s 5000 words, that’s one thing. A manuscript that’s twenty times as long, it’s going to take longer, but I’m an impatient person when it comes to these things. (laughs)
MM: We’ve all been hit with it. Writer’s block. What do you do to combat this nasty mental hurdle when it hits?
SM: I rarely have writer’s block. The closest thing I get to it, is just not being in the mood to write. The longest I’ve ever gone without writing anything at all is a week, but I just read and watch movies to inspire my imagination to start ticking again. My go to is The Twilight Zone. In December of 2016, I didn’t want to write anything, so I started to marathon the show. A week later, I finished the first 50 pages of my new novel and wrote three short stories. It’s what works for me.
MM: When it comes to editing, how long do you let a chapter or piece sit before you get to chopping down?
SM: Short stories I only wait a day or two. If it gets rejected though, I will let it sit a month and then look at it again and see if it needs more editing.
When it comes to novels, I let it sit longer. Maymon, I wrote it and didn’t look at it for two months, which is the minimum for novels. Another one I finished 6 months ago, I still haven’t touched it. I also prefer to write an entire book before I ever go in and edit it. Once I do, I then send it out to 2-4 beta readers to make sure it makes sense to them more than anything. I wrote it, so I can follow along no problem. I need to make sure other readers can make sense out of my madness.
MM: Do you let anyone proof-read your work or read it to gauge how they like it before you submit a piece?
SM: I used to let my partner read a lot of my work before I’d send it out. She’d read and give editing advice, but that all ended with a story I wrote called Body Bag. It’s a zombie erotica story and it was not very tame. That was the last one she looked over for me, which is too bad, because she’s really good at it. I also used to send stories to my brother, but as I’m a little verbose and tend to write quite a bit, I didn’t want to overwhelm him with my stuff. Now, I go over my own short stories, but use beta readers for novels and short story collections.
MM: What are you currently working on?
SM: I’m currently working on book three of the Dillon series, Altered Gate, and a new weird western novel called Desolate. Aside from that, I’m also working on eleven short stories, a new novella called Heaven is Calling, as well as finishing up a mini collection called Blood on the Ground, and a full collection for 2018 called Miriam and other stories. I always have a lot on the go so if I’m just not feeling a certain story that day, it’s easy to work on something else.