Douglas Clegg is more than a workhorse of an author: he’s an excavator of terror and a man who helped revolutionize the art of digital serial novelization. Dedicated since the tender age of eight, Clegg’s produced some highly successful novels and dipped his toes into the pool of cinematic transfers as well.
The man does it all.
In this exclusive interview Douglas touches down on everything from what’s cluttering his book shelves to the words of wisdom he’d share with aspiring authors. A fantastic storyteller with a warm, charismatic attitude, Douglas Clegg is, quite simply, one of the finer authors in the business today.
Matt Molgaard: Tell me what it was that influenced you to pursue writing, and at what point in life did you realize this is what I want to do for a living?
Douglas Clegg: I knew I wanted to be a writer when I was about eight years old. I’d been scribbling stories prior to that, and then at 8, my parents got me a little typewriter and I started typing stories out. I’ve never really stopped.
MM: I’ve got Isis on deck, but it’s going to be a few weeks before I can get to that: give me an idea of what I’m in store for.
DC: Isis is set mostly in Cornwall, dealing with a young woman who tampers with the supernatural. It is what I’d call a quiet gothic tale. Beyond that, I wouldn’t want to give much away.
MM: From the few short stories I’ve thus far been able to read, I detect a really versatile approach. Do you have a general preference in regards to the kind of stories you enjoy writing: monsters, psychological, ghostly works etc?
DC: I approach writing as a form of excavating a story. A story comes to me, interests me, won’t let me go – so I dig it up, clean it up, try to understand what it is I’m seeing. That’s the metaphor of it. The reality is, I just live through the writing of it, and I don’t care what type of story it is or what category it fits into – so long as it’s a story that I want to create and work on.
MM: I don’t typically ask this, but can you recall the first story you wrote, what it was about and how old you were when you wrote it?
DC: I’m not sure if it was the first story I wrote, but I was eight then I wrote a story about my pet mockingbird, which had recently died. I was grieving, and that’s when my parents got the little typewriter that only typed in capital letters, and I typed the story out. It was pretty much an adventure story about the mockingbird, probably influenced by E.B. White.
Half of my life has been devoted to an interest in animals, so a lot of my early stories were about mice and deer and salamanders and even moths and snails.
I don’t think a year went by when I didn’t have a box turtle in the yard, a chameleon or iguana in my bedroom in a terrarium, or frogs or crayfish or a tank of fish in my room. And this has continued into adulthood, with a bit of a menagerie in our home. One of my handful of ambitions was to be a Naturalist, in the way that Dr. Doolittle was, perhaps.
Or be an artist – I grew up in a bit of a family of artists, and my older brother has turned into quite a good artist as time has gone on. It was a pretty creative household, overall.
My first horror story was about St. Patrick’s Day. It was for a school assignment at a school called – interestingly – Sleepy Hollow School. In it, I wrote that the snakes took their revenge on St. Patrick and the people of Dublin, and blood ran in the streets. I’m not sure where that one came from.
MM: As a successful author I’m sure you’re asked for advice from aspiring authors regularly. What is one piece of advice you give to those looking to make a name for themselves in the literary world?
DC: I change this one piece of advice all the time, but the bottom line is: love writing.
If a writer loves the act of writing, of creating a story, of making it come alive through revision and editing and constant learning of craft and technique and psychological insight…that writer will always be there for the story when it arrives. Love writing, and everything else will fall into place.
MM: When you’re not plugging away on new stories, who are you reading?
DC: Right now I’m reading a few things. First, an excellent anthology edited by Roald Dahl of ghost stories. I try to read a short story every day – sometimes, first thing in the morning, before I get out of bed, or else just before going to bed.
Then, I’m also reading a novel by Daniel Waters – a brilliant novelist – that is supposedly for YA, but any A would like it, too: it’s a ghost story called Break My Heart 1,000 Times.
And I just finished a collection of stories by John Collier, whose short story “Thus I Refute Beelzy” had a tremendous impact on me when I was about ten yeears old.
In general, I read a lot of 19th century fiction, too. I’m drawn to it.
MM: There are a lot of “newer” (I know that’s a very relative term) authors out there making noise: Seth Grahame-Smith, Joe Hill, John Everson etc.. Who would you highlight as a legitimately great author?
DC: All of them. Look, “legitimately great” is a heavy term to throw at any living writer. So I won’t do it.
MM: I know you’ve been nominated for a few Bram Stoker Awards, have you picked up the coveted award thus far, and if not, how important is that to you?
DC: My work has won the Stoker, and another award or two. Awards are honors. Being nominated is an honor. Any time peers or a jury of serious readers or critics gives an award, it’s a great moment for a writer.
On the other hand, is it important? Some of my favorite writers never won awards. And what did it matter?
MM: Correct me if I’m wrong, but Naomi was actually the first sponsored e-series to hit the net right
DC: Yep. It was sponsored because I wanted to get paid for it even though I was letting readers pick it up in serial form for free. This was in early 1999, and no other writer had come out of New York publishing to do this. Since this, it’s happened a lot. Being first, Naomi – and I – got a lot of attention. This surprised me because it was a very small endeavor on my part, but it created some huge ripples in the world of writing.
Since then, tons of writers have done this, but back then, nobody had. Even Stephen King’s early foray into serial e-publishing – The Plant – hadn’t come out yet.
MM: What was that experience like? Releasing a story in periodical chapters/segments isn’t exactly new these days, but to be the first to actually take that approach… tell me a little bit about that process… how rewarding was that, and do you feel as though you helped launch a trend?
DC: It was fun. I loved it. I wrote the novel in weekly installments and sent them out. I was surprised by how enjoyable it was. As much as I liked writing the novel, it was a different feeling than I have with most of my fiction, because I revised as I went, chapter-by-chapter, rather than do several major drafts of the entire thing.
The best part was that I got to hear from readers directly, after each episode.
MM: Now, your story Bad Karma actually received a cinematic transfer correct? Did you adapt the screenplay for that, and, in general, how does it feel to see one of your stories hit the screen?
DC: I didn’t have anything to do with the movie, other than write the novel on which it was based. It was picked up, and has a great performance from Patsy Kensit in it, but in general it’s not a very good movie. From what I heard later, someone in control of it pretty much rushed it through.
Even with this movie being not-so-good, it was still fun to see the structure of my story on the screen – despite ridiculous aspects of the film-making.
Yet, it also made me realize that, with Hollywood, you take the money and run. You hope that whomever makes the movie has the ambition to make a really good movie, but the truth is, a lot of the time the reason for a bad movie is: someone in control just didn’t care enough about the audience to make a good film.
MM: Do you have any other stories/novels that have been optioned for film?
DC: Yes, some of the others. They go in and out of option at times. At various times, The Attraction, The Hour Before Dark, Dark of the Eye, The Children’s Hour, and some of the others have been optioned.
I’ve always wanted to see a movie version of my novella, Purity, made. Hasn’t happened yet, but got close at one point. Isis got close, too, but hasn’t happened yet.
MM: If you had to choose one single story as your absolute favorite work of fiction, what would it be?
DC: Do you mean from my fiction or from someone else’s?
If from someone else’s, I’d say that Guy de Maupassant’s story, “Love” — it gets me every time I’ve read it.
If from my own fiction, I’d say there’s no absolute favorite of mine, but I have several favorites: Neverland, Isis, Mordred Bastard Son, Purity, The Hour Before Dark, The Priest of Blood, and a few recent novelette and novellas I’ve been writing lately that aren’t yet out – Dinner with the Cannibal Sisters, The Marriage of Figaro, Madame Guillotine’s Phantasmagoria, and the novel I’m finishing up now – The Innocents at the Museum of Antiquities.
I’ve written about 28 or 29 novels, novellas, novelettes – and another 50 short stories, so I don’t think it’s going overboard to mention just under a dozen as favorites. The reason they’re favorites is because of how much I loved writing them and how I feel they’ve held up or seem to exist for me when I revisit them.
MM: For someone who has never read any of your work, what story would you point them towards as an introduction?
DC: I see my work as varied. I’ve never wanted to write one type of novel or story only; so I couldn’t point to one. I think novellas like Isis, The Words, or Purity are good places to start – they’re short enough but strong enough as stories for a reader to decide if it’s worth seeking out the novels like The Hour Before Dark and The Children’s Hour.
MM: So tell me, what is next for you?
DC: I mentioned those novellas and the novel above. I’m moving more and more into the territory of the dark fable – and my novel The Innocents at the Museum of Antiquities is nearly finished, after working on it for a couple of years. I see my fiction as evolving, and I just go where it goes.
But of course that’s a lie – I determine it, but part of the madness of writing is believing in the life of the story itself.
MM: And, before I let you go, is there anything you’d like to say to those who’ve supported you throughout your career?
DC: Thank you, of course. I would write even if no one read my fiction, but I’d go a little mad from that – I never feel that a novel or story is complete until someone’s read it.
If you happen to be unfamiliar with Clegg’s work, I’d recommend clearing a little time to examine his fiction. Personally, I read a single short: Where Flies Are Born, and I found myself completely hooked. Douglas’s writing style is both welcoming and horribly chilling.
This is a talent well worth seeking out, but ultimately, that’s a decision you, the horror fan, must make for yourself (I highly recommend it). Visit the man’s website, and prepare to be blown away by a library of captivating chills.