Ginger Nuts of Horror
MJ Gardner is a web developer by day, who lays in bed at night and wonders, what if....? The result is fantasy, horror and science fiction stories that are mostly (but not all) dark.
MJ currently lives in Windsor, ON, Canada with her partner of 14 years, two cats, and her son.
Could you tell the readers a little bit about yourself?
I have an M.A. in English, and I am a programmer by day. As a student I won writing awards, but then life interfered. I call it field research. I picked up my pen again (so to speak) with serious intent a few years ago.
I live in Windsor, Ontario, Canada with my partner and two cats.
What do you like to do when you're not writing?
When I am not writing and not working I like to read, to cook and to remodel/redecorate. I love browsing in thrift stores and antique shops because everything has a story. I have been known to drag furniture home from the alley and refinish it. True to my name, I also garden.
Other than horror, what other things have been a major influence on your writing?
Life. People. TV. Movies. The stories other people tell you. Everything, in short. It all gets thrown in the food processor of my brain, broken down into little bits, and then I pick and choose what to assemble into something new.
Do you prefer the term Horror, Weird Fiction or Dark Fiction?
A lot of people think of horror as monsters, gore, and screaming. I like Dark Fiction because it encompasses a broader swath of writing and cross-genre work. Good horror can be anything from creepy to downright terrifying, but it can also make you laugh, make you think, and give you a warm fuzzy feeling of kinship with monsters and misfits.
Who are some of your favourite authors?
Charlotte Bronte, because she knew you didn’t need to be a monster to be monstrous.
S.J. Rozan, because she makes me care about her characters, and she can drop a beautiful turn of phrase.
Haruki Murakami, because no one makes weird believable like he does.
James Hynes, because he is wickedly funny, and I think I have met some of his characters.
John Linqvist, because he makes it all so real.
Yoko Ogawa, for the subtle way she makes nudges you into fright.
What is your all-time favourite horror novel, and film?
My favourite horror novel is The Lecturer's Tale by Jim Hynes, largely for the dark humour. Publish and Perish, followed by The Kings of Infinite Space are also great works of noir humour.
My favourite film is the Ginger Snaps trilogy. Partly because it is great to see something set in Canada (not just filmed here), partly because it has badass heroines, and partly because the horror involves making difficult choices, like whether to kill your sister or become a werewolf. Also, Tatiana Maslany is amazing in the second movie.
How would you describe your writing style?
I have been told it’s like watching a movie, which makes sense. When I write I see the story unfolding in my head. I write down what I see. Lately I have been trying to get inside my characters' heads a bit more.
Are there any reviews of your work, positive or negative that have stayed with you?
I had an editor nastily reject two stories I had submitted as poorly written and unbelievable. I was crushed. Shortly after, one of them ("Starry-Eyed") was accepted by Mad Scientist Journal and the editor there said she loved it. The other story is still sitting is a drawer.
What aspects of writing to do you find the most difficult?
Other than finding the time and self-marketing? The mechanical scenes where you need to get from highpoint A to highpoint B, although I often find I do my best writing in those parts because I am focused more on the writing (as a craft) than on the action.
Is there one subject you would never write about as an author? What is it?
I prefer to never say never. If I find something that I am shying away from, that is a reason to take a good hard look at it. If I'm frightened, other people will be too.
If you could kill off any character from any other book who would you choose and how would they die?
I can’t say that I would. It’s good to have characters to really hate. They are usually the most interesting ones.
I take it back. Jar Jar Binks could be boiled up as a stew and served at an Ewok feast.
What do you think makes a good story?
1) That I care about the characters—otherwise I won’t get past the first few chapters
2) That the ending is satisfying
3) That I didn’t see the ending coming.
I suppose fourth is decent writing—not great writing, but decent. A good story can carry mediocre writing, but it's hard for even the most beautiful writing to carry a mediocre story.
How important are names to you in your books? Do you choose the names based on liking the way it sounds or the meaning?
I focus more on the names when I am writing something funny. I have a story I have been kicking around forever (characters in search of a plot) about lesbian space pirates names Hyundai Elantra and Noma Moonrays.
I chose Joe for a character's name in Evelyn's Journal, and the sequel Joe Vampire because someone had commented that vampires always have exotic names.
A spooky thing about names in Evelyn's Journal: I did not use names of real people on purpose, but since I wrote the first draft in the late 1990s I have met people with the same names as my characters, including a married couple whose names rhymed. The villain's name, Alistair Simms, is the name of an actor, and I am sure I had never heard it before someone pointed that out to me.
How do you think you’ve evolved creatively?
I used to be a pantser—just sit down and write. Now I need an ending before I start so I know where I am going. The middle can be pantsed, but the beginning and end has to be plotted.
What tools do you feel are must-haves for writers?
I like a word processor (Google Docs or Word), and I use the internet for my thesaurus, dictionary, atlas, encyclopedia, and other research. I need a real keyboard and a good chair. Diet cola and pizza is a plus.
But really, the only tools you need are some way to get the words down on paper (physical or virtual). Writing happens in your head.
What is the best piece of advice you ever received from another author?
From Stephen King's Danse Macabre, that all stories start out as "what if?" It opens up infinite possibilities and dismisses the critic (internal or external) who likes to say "that would never happen."
My own best piece of advice is to never throw away anything you write. Keep it. You might want it again, it might be useful, and if you trash it, it will seem brilliant in retrospect and you will mourn its loss.
How do you market your work? What avenues have you found to work best for your genre?
I have found this to be an uphill battle. I was following all the advice about using social media to connect with followers, but that is like filling a bathtub with a teaspoon. An online presence is a necessity—you want to be there if people are looking for you or your work—but social media accounts and a website will not bring people to you. Those things need to be promoted themselves to succeed.
Who is your favourite character from your book and why?
My favourite character is Joe, because he's so genuine and laid back. He's kind, even though he's struggling.
How about the least favourite character? What makes them less appealing to you?
My least favourite character is Clara. I really hate neediness and spinelessness. I wrote her that way to make her both pitiable and unlikeable.
Fame, fortune, or respect?
Yes! In that order.
What piece of your own work are you most proud of?
An unpublished novella called "Dry Leaves." I get choked up reading it aloud because I care about the characters and the horrible things that happen to them.
And are there any that you would like to forget about?
Everything I wrote as a teenager, pretty much.
For those who haven’t read any of your books, what book of yours do you think best represents your work and why?
Since I only have one book published at the point in time, I can’t really answer that. I'm not sure I've written it yet, but Evelyn's Journal comes close. Most of my heroes and heroines are quiet outsiders with a sarcastic wit.
Can you tell us about your last book, and can you tell us about what you are working on next?
I have a novel doing the rounds of publishers and agents called Into the Darkness, about an undead possessive husband and his young widow.
I am actively working on the sequel to Evelyn's Journal, called Joe Vampire. It follows Evelyn's boyfriend Joe, his struggles with addiction, and his decision whether or not to join Evelyn as a vampire.
If you could erase one horror cliché what would be your choice?
The scantily clad woman screaming as the monster/villain attacks/chases her (usually in high heels). I find it disturbing that sexiness and violence are conflated and presented as entertainment.
Which fictional character would be your perfect neighbour, and who would be your nightmare neighbour?
Best neighbour: Dr. Who. Forget borrowing a cup of sugar, you could go back in time and not lock your keys in the car.
Worst neighbor: Roderick Usher. He would bring down property values.
What do you think of the current state of the genre?
I read an article in the Guardian recently about how Horror doesn't have any great new literary writers like SciFi and crime. I don’t think that's true. First of all, see my list of favourite authors above. Also, I see calls for "literary horror." It’s not all slashers and tired old repeats of Dracula, the Wolfman, and Frankenstein.
What was the last great book you read, and what was the last book that disappointed you?
The most recent thing to keep me glued to my Kindle was Linqvist's Handling the Undead. I am not a fan of zombies, but his take on them was unique.
The book that disappointed me most was Diane Setterfield's Bellman & Black. It's beautifully written, it has everything a good novel should, but the ending was predictable. I think it was more disappointing because I loved her first book, The Thirteenth Tale, which was anything but predicable.
What's the one question you wish you would get asked but never do? And what would be the answer?
Q: The advance we are giving you is so big we'll need to pay it out in installments. Is that okay?
A: That will be fine.
It's cold and dark and Evelyn is in the morgue. In a drawer. She doesn't know how she got there, and Tammi, the morgue attendant who hustles her out into the night, doesn’t have time to answer questions.
Evelyn has been robbed of the gift of immortality her absent lover promised her, and plunged instead, alone, into the night-time world of the vampire, where she must learn to survive alone.