Vision: A Resource for Writers
Lazette Gifford, Editor
Vision@sff.net
Holly Lisle's Vision

An Interview with Douglas Clegg

By: Shane P. Carr 

2001, Shane P. Carr 

For 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. 

 

Vision:   When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer? When did you  realize you had achieved becoming a professional writer?

Doug 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.  

Vision: What writers do you feel influenced you the most? 

Doug Clegg: Too many to list, but I'll put some of the dead ones down here: 

Shirley Jackson
Nathaniel Hawthorne
Herman Melville
William Shakespeare
Mary Shelley
Ernest Hemingway
F. Scott Fitzgerald
Ford Madox Ford
Arthur Machen
M.R. James
H.P. Lovecraft
Virginia Woolf
Isak Dinesen
Marcel Proust
Guy de Maupassant
Fyodor Dostoevsky
Henrik Ibsen
Geoffrey Chaucer
E.M. Forster
Beatrix Potter
Christopher Marlowe
Charles Brockden Browne
Jane Austen
E.B. White

Vision:   What is your educational background in writing? Do you feel a college education is important for up-and-coming writers?

Doug Clegg:   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.

I 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. 

Basically, 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.

It 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 seeking publication?

Doug Clegg:  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.

Vision:  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 so vividly.

Doug Clegg:  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?

Doug Clegg:  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?

Doug Clegg:   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?

2001, 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 DouglasClegg-subscribe@yahoogroups.com ) -- 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?

Doug Clegg:  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 members?

Doug Clegg:  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. It’s much appreciated...and Holly thanks you for being a fan...it was a great ego boost for her.

Doug Clegg:   I am a huge fan of Holly's.

Vision:  I know she appreciates it. Thanks again Doug.

Watch for Douglas Clegg’s forthcoming book The Infinite, available September 18, 2001 from Leisure Books. Also look for Naomi, available now in paperback, from Leisure Books.

Fans can also subscribe to the Douglas Clegg newsletter at:

DouglasClegg-subscribe@yahoogroups.com or visit the Doug’s web site at http://www.DouglasClegg.com