Interview with Douglas Clegg
Shane P. Carr
Shane P. Carr
this issue we managed to track down best-selling horror & dark fantasy
author Douglas Clegg for a quick interview. Mr. Clegg is best known for his
bone-chilling novel The Halloween Man and his anthology The Nightmare
Chronicles; recently he published the dark love story Naomi.
He was more than happy to answer questions in an email interview, and
offer insight regarding his influences and views on writing and publishing.
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer? When did you realize
you had achieved becoming a professional writer?
Clegg: Sometime around
the age of 9, I was a pretty serious little kid in many ways, and figured I'd be
an artist of some sort by the time I was six or seven. I drew and painted a lot.
But just about the age of 9, I was given a typewriter as a present, and then
there was no stopping me. I loved writing stories, and I taught myself to type.
I wrote continuously from about that age onward, but kept most of it to myself.
Regarding being a professional writer, I'm still not sure what that means. I
wrote nonfiction in my early 20s for publication, and then I sat down to write
my first novel at 27 or 28 and finished it, revised it, and sent it out to
publishers. It was bought about a year or so after I sent it out, by Simon &
Schuster and brought out from Pocket Books in 1989, two years after I had turned
in the final draft to my editor. I've written more than a dozen novels
since then, but I think sitting down to write each novel is very much like
writing from scratch again.
What writers do you feel influenced you the most?
Too many to list, but I'll put some of the dead ones down here:
F. Scott Fitzgerald
Ford Madox Ford
Guy de Maupassant
Charles Brockden Browne
What is your educational background in writing? Do you feel a college education
is important for up-and-coming writers?
First, I have to say: I think that for jobs in general, it's good to have
the highest education you can afford and stand. There is some great education to
be had at the university level, as well as some complete b.s. You've got
to discern where the great stuff is, and avoid the lousy stuff. I don't
believe college education is necessarily good for up-and-coming writers -- but
since I wasn't sure if I was one, I'm glad I got a college education.
have a bachelor's degree in English literature from Washington & Lee
University. They had -- back in the late '70s when I went -- a rather strict
curriculum, which primarily emphasized British literature, although I managed to
sneak in some American and Russian, German, Scandinavian, and other world
literatures when I could. I feel that some kind of education in literature
can be good, but my first ten years out of college were basically spent
overcoming the kind of dissection that you feel literature is about when you
study it academically -- and then, now that I'm older, I really appreciate what
I consider to have been a classical education. Knowing Beowulf, having
read Chaucer in the original, discovering Isak Dinesen, who I may never have run
across if I hadn't been in a class, and having taken a very liberal arts area of
study -- including comparative literature, biology, art history, and even the
dreaded physics -- all helped give me a sense of the world I probably would not
have gotten at the age of 22, when I graduated.
I think some writers are naturally creative, which is pretty much what I was,
but are ungrounded in where literature has come from -- and others are already
devouring the classics and developmentally advanced at a young age, which I was
not. So, any education is going to be good. I would guess the worst
kind of college education is where there's no sense of humor about what you're
studying -- the kind of dry education I didn't get, but heard about. I also
studied in England during college, and I have to admit, seeing Shakespeare and
Marlowe done well or interestingly with good actors and great theater companies,
changes the nature of how you feel -- as a young person -- about it.
So, despite the fact that I was depressed through some of college because I
really wanted to be out in the world then, I think it was a good place for me. I
also learned a lot about male bonding, the world of social climbing, and
alcoholism from college, too, which was its own form of education. But it was a
lively campus back then -- Sally Mann, the photographer, worked on campus, and
her mother, a really wonderful soul, ran the campus bookstore; the professors
were hilarious and very warm, or else so cold and off-putting that they made
Bartleby seem like Mr. Personality. It had a really lively literary bent,
that university, and the late James Boatwright helmed the writer's program, of
which there wasn't a lot, but there was, and is, a great literary magazine
called Shenandoah, and a nice arts group in town. I was a co-founder of an
International Film Program, which meant we got to see something other than the
latest blockbuster movie now and then.
was also a place full of southern eccentrics, and the history -- owing to both
Washington and Lee having connections to the school -- added another slant on
the place. I discovered radio and was a morning news deejay there, and have to
admit that I generally enjoyed it. Terry Brooks came out of the law school
there, and Tom Wolfe had his past there, as well, among others. There was
a great book about the university, called The Foreign Student several years ago,
by a French novelist. So I have a great fondness for Washington & Lee
University, and I'm proud to have skated through it and glad to have survived
its outrageously painful exit exam, which was eight hours long, and which all
English majors had to take. It was a unique place, and since it was then an
all-male college, a unique perspective before really getting out into the world.
Okay, having said that: I think, for writers, college is one experience. If a
writer is a voracious reader and hungry for the world, perhaps college is
unnecessary. Certainly I know a lot of people who never went to it who are
exceptional in their work. But I'm glad I went. It also helps when you're
about 22 or 23 and need a job that requires a Bachelor's Degree. If I had
really been a bit more together, I probably would've gone on for a Master's
Degree, mainly because I've always found school is the easiest way to learn
something. In life, it takes years. On the other hand, in life, one might value
the self-education more. Who can say?
Vision: You have gained considerable
success through e-publishing. What are your feelings on e-publishing as opposed
to print publishing? Do you feel it is a good medium for beginning writers
First off, I love print and e-publishing. Print is a wonderful way to
make a living and have books out there in the world and gain credibility as a
writer. But e-publishing is beginning to move into those areas as well,
and I've certainly enjoyed pushing the envelope a bit in the e-end of things.
To your question about e-publishing being a good medium for beginning writers to
seek publication, I'd say no, sometimes, and yes, sometimes. And that sounds
crazy, since I've done well with e-publishing. But if a writer wants to
make a living, you have to go where someone pays you decently, and I know of few
e-publishers who pay at all, let alone decently, particularly with the beginning
writer. However, having said that, e-books and Print-On-Demand books are making
it viable for writers to self-publish, and, if the writer is willing to promote
and market her or his work, make some money.
For self-education, I see nothing wrong with publishing online, and getting
critiques, either. Let me tell you, when I was in informal writing groups,
those critiques can be tough. But it was quite a group -- in one
incarnation, Sheryl Anderson, now producer and writer for the tv show Charmed,
and Don Mancini, who wrote all the Child's Play movies, were in the group. I
grew up with or knew a lot of people, when I was young, all of whom seemed to
have a great deal of talent for writing fiction or movies. That can be tough
going when you're just trying to learn and develop at your own pace,
but it really makes you get smart.
It's tough to get published, no matter where you are with your so-called writing
career. So, anything that helps -- including electronic formats and POD -- is
great for writers.
I just finished reading Naomi and I thought The Nightmare Chronicles was
a brilliant way of doing an anthology. In each I noticed you display your
characters' emotions incredibly well. How do you get inside each of your
characters' heads to empathize so well? It is a talent few writers can pull off
I make the story or novel come to life for me. It's a kind of insanity,
and I just go there -- it's sort of a flow state, I guess. And then, when it
happens, it feels like I'm composing with words, not manually thinking of
writing, but that it's somehow coming through my hands from someone other than
me. It's not mystical -- I think it's just a way of focusing the imagination to
such an extent that for the short periods of time in the day when I need to
write the story, I'm "there." Thanks for the compliments. The
hardest part in all this is making sure that the life of the story comes through
in the translation of words.
Vision: The common question
...Where do you get your story ideas? Or more accurately, how do you tell which
ideas can grow into stories?
They just do. Basically, if they don't, they don't; if they do,
eventually, a novel or story comes out. A few of my novels, like Naomi
and Bad Karma, I knew were stories I basically was going to live in from
the moment the first images came to me. Others took a bit longer. You Come
When I Call You took nearly 12 years to complete itself, with me feeling
like I was in prison the whole time.
Vision: Your current novels are
classified as horror. Do you plan to write in any other genre in the future?
I don't actually think about genre at all. I write what I write, and
sometimes it's horror -- most of the time -- but I usually see my novels as love
stories. Sometimes it's my love for the world; sometimes it's a character's love
for another character; and sometimes it's my love for a place. Then the
stories arise or get excavated from this mess in my head, and voila -- it's a
horror novel. I've certainly worked on stories that are more fantasy and more
suspense than horror, and I'm open to writing any story that captures my
imagination. Basically, my retreat, my special place, in life, is in
storytelling, and I really enjoy it, and can sort of move away from regular
life, which I find limiting in many ways, and into "story." It's
a good thing I get paid for it, or else I'd probably be living in the street,
scratching stories out on the sidewalk.
Vision: Speaking of the future, what
can your fans expect next from you?
from Leisure Books as their first hardcover ever. I'm pretty excited about it,
and I'll be touring bookstores in various parts of the country to promote it.
I'm also going to be launching a new e-serial from my newsletter list sometime
in the fall (to subscribe, send an email to DouglasCleggfirstname.lastname@example.org
) -- to be
announced, but it will be slightly different than a contemporary horror novel.
More fantasy-oriented to some extent, although decidedly dark fantasy. And I'm
working on a novel for Tor, as well as revising my novel for Leisure Books for
2002, called The Hour Before Dark.
Vision: As you know Holly's community
is for aspiring writers. If you could offer one piece of writing advice to them,
what would it be?
I say this a lot, but aspiring writers need to remember it: Publication
is not the goal. Writing a good story that comes to life is the goal.
Publication is a symptom that you may have reached that goal.
Vision: In the Forward Motion
community we have daily writing exercises to help spark the imagination. Is
there any particular exercise you use to spark the mind that I can offer our
Well, literally, exercise: I've discovered that a long walk or a good
bike ride can really get both the circulation and the imagination going.
Other than that, my mind just seems to spark by itself. Sometimes, I wish I
could stop it.
Vision: Thanks again for agreeing to the
interview. Its much appreciated...and Holly thanks you for being a fan...it
was a great ego boost for her.
I am a huge fan of Holly's.
I know she appreciates it. Thanks again Doug.
for Douglas Cleggs forthcoming book The Infinite, available
September 18, 2001 from Leisure Books. Also look for Naomi, available
now in paperback, from Leisure Books.
can also subscribe to the Douglas Clegg newsletter at:
or visit the Dougs web site at http://www.DouglasClegg.com