Welcome to the five hundred and forty-seventh of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with dark fiction author Steven Miscandlon. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, Steven. Please tell us something about yourself, where you’re based, and how you came to be a writer.
Steven: Hi Morgen. I’m from the west coast of Scotland originally, currently living in exile in the north-east of England. It’ll be a familiar tale to you by now, but yes, ‘I started writing at a very young age ….’ There were various scribblings as a child, and even then they tended toward the horrific. (I definitely remember at least one Dracula story.)
In my late teens and early twenties my first proper works – mainly science fiction – were published in various indie zines. I also used to write reviews and articles for the same publications. When I was twenty-one, I had a story published in ‘West Coast Magazine’ which was, at the time, Scotland’s leading literary journal — it featured ‘up-and-coming’ Scottish writers including the likes of Des Dillon and Irvine Welsh, so I was very happy to be seen in there.
I self-published a collection of my short fiction and poetry, ‘Forever Lost’, in 1994. It received some very nice reviews, from as far afield as Australia (which, in those largely pre-Internet days, felt like quite a big deal).
For years after that, real life kind of got in the way and the writing fell by the wayside. It’s only in the past two or three years that I’ve really started to get back into the swing of things and begun to think of myself as a ‘writer’ again.
Morgen: Nice reviews from Australia is still a big deal. 🙂 What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
Steven: I tend not to think too much about genre. When I released my recent short story collection, ‘Into the Shadows’, I labelled it broadly as ‘dark fiction’. There are a couple of horror stories in there, and one that’s pure sci-fi. Most of the others I suppose fall approximately into what might be considered the dark end of the crime genre.
It’s funny, I have never for a moment considered myself a ‘crime writer’ but, objectively, I guess that’s where many of my stories fit. I’m not really a big reader of crime fiction, but it’s a playing field that lets writers explore dark emotions, threat and peril, vengeance and repercussions – all the things I like in storytelling.
Morgen: Crime’s my favourite and although I’ve just published a chick lit novel, the rest of my writing is quite dark. 🙂 What have you had published to-date? Do you write under a pseudonym?
Steven: In terms of fiction books, just my two short story collections, ‘Forever Lost’ (1994) and ‘Into the Shadows’ (2012). As well as the stories I had published in various magazines in the early nineties, my more recent work has appeared online at venues such as Thrillers, Killers & Chillers and At The Bijou. My short story ‘This is Glasgow’ appeared in the ‘True Brit Grit’ crime anthology in 2012.
I don’t have a pseudonym as such, but I also write non-fiction and have a couple of ebooks out, one about property letting and the other a business management guide. To keep them separate on Amazon etc., I’ve published the non-fiction titles under ‘S. J. Miscandlon’ while the fiction stays under Steven Miscandlon.
Morgen: Easier when it comes to receiving payment. You’ve self-published, what led to you going your own way?
Steven: When I put out ‘Forever Lost’ way back in 1994, self-publishing was pretty much an ‘alternative’ scene, not directly competing with traditional publishing as seems to be the case now. In the early nineties I was involved with quite a few indie zines of various sorts, including publications in the sci-fi, gothic music and poetry scenes.
It’s probably a cliché to compare it with the punk ethos but, yes, there was definitely an alternative, underground vibe to a lot of the publications that were kicking around at the time. I also did some review work back then for a zine that publicised anarchist / counterculture publications, so that gave me an interesting insight into what was out there, and showed me that there were various alternatives to mainstream publishing.
Anyway, my main reason for self-publishing ‘Forever Lost’ then was to give myself full editorial control. I was grateful to all those publications that had printed my work … but once too often I’d seen a story of mine go out with typos (introduced by the editor), dreadful layout or accompanied by a wholly inappropriate graphic or photograph. Self-publishing meant it would look how I wanted it to look. I could be responsible for not only the writing, but also for the layout, the illustrations, everything. Call me a control freak, but that appealed to me.
Fast forward to today, and pretty much the same reasoning still applies. My partner, Julie Morrigan, was first to dip her toe in the ebook market in 2011, and has self-published (to date) two successful novels and three short story collections. Julie previously had a number of non-fiction books published by the traditional route, and together we’ve seen what a frustrating experience that can be. I honestly don’t see self-publishing as the ‘easy option’ for people who can’t get a publishing deal (which some folk seem to write it off as) but rather as a perfectly viable – and in some cases preferable – alternative to traditional publishing.
Morgen: Self-publishing definitely has a better name for itself these days and most authors who’ve gone that route (myself included) have sought agents (or publishers) and realised this suits them (for now :)). Do you have a favourite of your books or characters? If any of your books were made into films, who would you have as the leading actor/s?
Steven: Funnily enough, the characters I’ve probably had most fun writing feature in an as-yet unpublished story. A bunch of villains who’ve just done a bank job together, including Basher Bazhenov, Fingers Bob, Italian Tony and Bullshit Billy. For some reason, in my head Fingers Bob is played by Michael Keating (the guy who portrayed Vila in Blake’s 7).
Morgen: Michael Keating’s brilliant, good choice. Did you choose the titles / covers of your books? How important do you think they are?
Steven: Book covers always have been, and probably always will be, of the utmost importance. They provide the visual hook that can draw a reader to investigate an author they don’t know. That’s no less true with ebooks. I actually design book covers on a freelance basis (http://stevenmiscandlonbookdesign.weebly.com/portfolio.html) so produced my own cover for ‘Into the Shadows’.
Morgen: It’s very striking. 🙂 Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Steven: I fully recognise the value of rewriting and editing your own work … but for the most part my writing arrives more or less fully-formed. I think that’s because I tend to write in my head, and only commit it to paper once I know what’s what. I might note down key phrases or descriptions in the interim, but I find that once the story has been written, I rarely make major changes to it other than the odd word tweak here and there.
Morgen: I’m generally the same, although I’m doing a novel for NaNoWriMo which is quite unstructured at the moment. I’m only 10,000 words in so a long way to go and I don’t usually plot but I do wonder whether a bit more than a page of scribbles would have been useful this time. 🙂 What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person? Have you ever tried second person?
Steven: I’m very much a first person kinda guy. I think it gives an emotional immediacy that’s a bit harder to impart in third person. We all go through our lives with this internal monologue running in our heads, and first person is a great tool for showing that our thoughts and feelings are often at odds with what is going on around us.
I’m not a fan of second person. I’ve seen it used quite well, but because it’s such an unusual style I think it pretty much always comes across as something that’s been done as a writing exercise, rather than a story that came out that way naturally.
Morgen: I love using second person but only for short pieces. It’s very tiring to read and write so a novel would have to be something special in that point of view. So you write short stories, how about poetry or non-fiction?
Steven: Short stories are my thing. I love them. My favourite books growing up tended to be horror story anthologies, and I still rank the likes of M. R. James, H. P. Lovecraft and Ambrose Bierce among my favourite writers. Another of my favourites is Philip K. Dick, but again it’s his shorter stories rather than his novels that I’m drawn to.
To be honest, I don’t have a great deal of interest in writing anything longer. Some people see that as the natural progression for a writer – from shorts to novels – but I much prefer the short story format.
I haven’t written any poetry for years, but it did used to be part of my repertoire. In my early twenties I had pieces published in a few poetry anthologies and magazines (including Storm Constantine’s dark fantasy magazine ‘Visionary Tongue’).
I do write non-fiction – that’s my day job. At the moment I’m a staff writer for a health and fitness magazine, write blogs about European insurance regulation for a consultancy, and write product and company profiles for a range of engineering and science websites. I’ve written for corporate clients in all sorts of fields, from financial services and property developers through to a weight loss clinic and a martial arts film review site.
Morgen: What’s your favourite favourite aspect of your writing life?
Steven: My favourite part has to be playing with words. I mean, they’re great, aren’t they? There’s nothing quite like lining up just the right words in just the right order to give you a sense of satisfaction.
Morgen: Absolutely. It’s mine too. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Steven: My advice to aspiring writers would be: ‘Never give too much credence to people who like to give advice to aspiring writers.’ There seem to be a lot of folk out there whose purpose in life is to tell other writers what they should and (more often) shouldn’t do in order to be a successful writer; how to write great characters, how to convey emotion, how to write realistic dialogue, how to use foreshadowing, how to beat writer’s block, and so on and so forth. This advice, all too often, is being regurgitated by people who have no real credibility or success as writers themselves. The Internet is awash with people who claim to be ‘experts’ – and most of them are nothing of the sort.
Morgen: Great advice, thank you. Is there a word, phrase or quote you like?
Steven: The quote that springs to mind is: ‘The quickest way to do many things is to do only one thing at a time.’ According to the Internet, that one comes from motivational speaker Christopher Westra. But then, what would the Internet know?
Morgen: More than me on some things, thankfully. 🙂 Are you involved in anything else writing-related other than actual writing or marketing of your writing?
Steven: I also edit and proofread (http://www.mlwritingservices.co.uk/services-for-authors.html), and have worked on a freelance basis with self-publishing authors, small presses and major publishing houses. I find editing other writers’ work – both fiction and non-fiction – extremely enjoyable, and have worked on some great projects recently, including the revised edition of Horace Silver’s cult crime novel ‘Judas Pig’ and a high-profile UNESCO publication for HarperCollins.
Morgen: What do you do when you’re not writing? Any hobbies or party tricks? 🙂
Steven: I enjoy photography. My photos have appeared in some pretty outlandish places, from a French book on street performance and dance, to a UK parliamentary campaign group’s presentation on Scottish gang culture.
Morgen: Since I’ve been doing the covers for my books (which I love doing, I can see why you do it professionally) it’s made me look at photography differently; the composition, leaving space for the title, name etc. Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how valuable do you find them?
Steven: I’m on Facebook, but more for the banter than for the marketing. I use LinkedIn, which by turns I find interesting and frustrating. I signed up for Twitter recently, but I’m still not sure exactly what it’s for. I don’t think I could go so far as to describe any of them as ‘valuable’.
Morgen: Ah yes, LinkedIn, probably how we met. Where can we find out about you and your writing?
Steven: I have a website at http://www.intotheshadows.co.uk (still a bit of a work in progress) and my Amazon author page is here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Steven-Miscandlon/e/B0086VWC5G
Morgen: Thank you very much, Steven.
I then invited Steven to include an extract of his writing and this is from the short story ‘Hard Landing’:
The space in the middle of the building is a pit, an abyss, a well. Not the kind of well you draw water up from, but the kind you fall down into. Nietzsche said something about looking into the abyss; that it looks back at you. I disagree. I think it’s more likely that you’ll fall in. Or that someone will push you in.
I flick my cigarette over the side, watch the still-glowing tip tumble down into the darkness. A wisp of smoke lingers in the air, like a bitter memory. Anyone watching that casual action would see a cool, calm demeanour. A stone cold killer, ice in his veins. But it’s not like that, not on the inside. Nerves of steel? Sure, but only if that steel is a badly tuned guitar string, plucked and still resonating its greasy, uneasy tone.
My nerves are shredded, my stomach in knots. Because the reality is, if you’ve just killed a man, that’s how you feel. It might not show on the surface, but underneath it churns. I can see the look on his face, still — not fear, not exactly. More … surprise. Yeah, that’s it. Surprise that I was pushing him over a tenth-floor balustrade into the abyss. Like, despite the fact that I’d chased him up here, he still hadn’t known what was coming. Hadn’t expected me to knock away his hands as he’d grasped frantically at my lapels in a desperate attempt to cling onto dear life. Too late, buddy. Too late.
And a synopsis of ‘Into the Shadows’…
Murders and violence. Dark shadows and darker deeds.
Would you rent a flat whose last occupant was a murderous cannibal?
How would you deal with a dead body washed up on the beach?
Do you know whether what you see around you is even real?
‘Into the Shadows’ collects ten of Steven Miscandlon’s short stories written and published between 1993 and 2012, covering a range of genres from crime and horror to science fiction.
‘Into the Shadows’ contains violence, cruelty and adult language.
Steven Miscandlon cut his writing teeth with various independent magazines in the early nineties, and by the age of twenty-one had been published in ‘West Coast Magazine’, the leading Scottish literary journal which helped launch the careers of writers such as Irvine Welsh.
His self-published collection of short stories and poetry, ‘Forever Lost’, was released in 1994, and received positive reviews in the UK and internationally. More recently, Steven’s short stories have been published online at venues such as Thrillers, Killers & Chillers and At The Bijou. His short story ‘This is Glasgow’ was featured in the British crime anthology ‘True Brit Grit’.
His latest release, ‘Into the Shadows’, collects a number of stories written and published over the past twenty years, in genres ranging from crime and horror to science fiction.
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