On The Writing Process, Genre Writing, Fiction, and Publishing
Scott McGregor is a Calgary based writer who specializes in crafting short stories and micro-fiction primarily within the horror genre. Over the last year and half, he has had an impressive 18 short stories published, with 10 forthcoming. With 28 unique publications under his belt, Scott has unique insights into the writing and publishing process, as well as how to navigate the genre writing community.
Scott graciously agreed to share his knowledge, experience, and opinions in the following interview!
1. How would you define what “genre” writing is?
Genre writing is often categorized within fantasy, science fiction, horror, and a few others. They operate in worlds unfamiliar to our own, and they explore scenarios uncommon to the human eye. To boil it down in my own words, I define genre writing as stories that explore the natures of human emotion and conflict by mixing it with elements bizarre, ludicrous, and simply put, unnatural.
2. What genre do you most commonly write for and why? What is it you love about that genre?
The vast majority of my stories, published or not, are typically horror, and I commonly write in this genre for two reasons. One, I revel in reading, watching, and engaging in horror stories. For years, I’ve appreciated what horror strives to accomplish and how it explores some of the dreadful aspects of our existence. Two, writing horror allows me to explore my own fears and paranoias. It lets me express my deepest darkest concerns by blending it with metaphorical, metaphysical, and sometimes cosmic entities.
3. Why do you prefer writing genre fiction as opposed to literary fiction?
I think I’m naturally more tailored to genre fiction than literary fiction. I do enjoy literary fiction, since I’ve written some stories categorized as such, but most concepts and ideas I write for tend to take the shape of something bizarre and uncommon. So, in a way, I almost don’t believe it’s a matter of preference, but that I’m better suited for one over the other.
4. How do you find the best places to submit your work? Are the places you submit classified as literary magazines? Is there any publication body you would recommend others send their work to?
Well, for submitting horror stories, I use two resources to find opportunities: www.horrortree.com and www.darkmarkets.com. These two websites regularly update readers about publishers seeking submissions for appropriate themes and issues. Many of the publishers I submit to are for anthology submissions, but I also submit regularly to magazines and ezines.
If I were to recommend a literary magazine to submit to, I’d say check out FreeFall magazine, a Calgary based publisher. I really appreciate the stories/poetry they put out. For horror, some places to consider would be Apex Magazine, Unnerving Magazine, Dark Moon Digest, Lamplight Magazine, Suspense Magazine, Hellbound Books, Nocturnal Sirens, DBND Publishing, The Macabre Ladies, and Schlock! Webzine.
5. How do you find the time to write/what is your writing schedule like?
When I do write, it tends to be in the late-morning or early-afternoon, and my general rule is to keep working until I’ve hit 1000 words. I don’t always reach this goal, though. My schedule varies in the year. During the summer, I obviously have more time to write, but since I’m still a student, I’m constantly dealing with other commitments. I find the time to write because I make time to write, even if it’s just an hour a day. I also tend to write a lot more when a deadline for a submission is closely approaching.
6. How long do you usually spend writing each piece of fiction and editing it before submitting?
Depends on the submission. Some of my stories I wrote in one draft, submitted, and fortunately got accepted quickly. But others took me months to revise and edit. One story in particular took seven revisions and a dozen rejections before it got accepted. Also, for some stories, I have the beginning, middle, and end figured out before I start writing, which doesn’t take as long, but I also have some stories where I’m figuring out the plot and characters as I’m writing, which takes a bit longer. Each of my flash fiction stories I wrote in a day or two because of the short length, but my longer works, certainly not in a day. Generally, I don’t have a set amount of time it usually takes for a story because each story is different in their own way.
7. Where do you get most of your ideas from?
In a way, I agree with Stephen King’s philosophy about ideas, where he claims, “Good story ideas seem to come quite literally from nowhere, sailing at you right out of the empty sky.” A lot of my ideas stem from my own personal fears, as mentioned prior. For example, a short story of mine called The Harlow Index combines two things I dread; wasps and unemployment. I like to combine a physical fear with a philosophical fear, creating a new tale that serves as an amalgamation of the two. So to answer this question, I think the majority of my ideas are brewed from the dark side of my inner psyche.
8. Who are your influences right now?
Speaking of the devil himself, Stephen King has influenced me tremendously. I started reading his novels back in 2016, and I fell in love with ‘Salem’s Lot, one of my personal favourites. I started reading other horror authors as well, including King’s son, Joe Hill. Another big influence of mine is Robert Kirkman and his The Walking Dead comics. The first time I wrote prose on a regular basis was actually my Walking Dead fanfiction in high school. Looking back on it, the material is quite underwhelming and derivative, but it also taught me how to dedicate time for writing. Lastly, George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series has tremendously influenced me. I started reading those novels back in 2014, right after I graduated high school, and the quality of the characters, world-building, and storytelling are what I strive to reach one day.
9. What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel?
I might be cheating with this answer, considering it’s an entire series and not one novel, but I think The Expanse by James S.A. Corey (pen name for Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck) is the most underrated, under-appreciated, and undervalued book series. The story is on par with A Song of Ice and Fire, if not superior, and it saddens me more readers haven’t picked up this series. Yes, it has a fan-base, and it’s been adapted into a television series, but I firmly believe it hasn’t reached the appreciation it deserves.
10. Does writing energize or exhaust you?
Both. Writing is euphoric. It allows me to express myself, and coming up with story ideas absolutely thrills me. However, there are numerous times I feel mentally exhausted after working on a story, and I feel like I need a few days to recover. Plus, there are times I struggle to figure out a story, which frustrates me, and in turn, exhausts me. It’s a passion I hold dear, but it requires a tremendous amount of effort at the same time.
11. What is the role of research in your writing process?
Research is crucial, especially when writing scenarios and characters I’m unfamiliar with. I can confidently say, at least once, I’ve had to gather some research regarding an aspect within a story of mine. As of now, I’ve signed onto a project called ChronoDracula by Emerald Bay Books, which is a vampire anthology covered in various stages of history. My role in this project is to write two stories set in the Victorian Era, and because I never spent a living moment of my life within this period, research is important.
Probably the most frustrating experience I’ve dealt with regarding research was in my cosmic story, The Next World, set to release next year. Not to get too complicated, but I needed to somehow incorporate the scientific legitimacies of death while also breaking the rules of death in order to execute the story properly. Don’t ask me how I managed that, for even I’m not sure. Overall, don’t skip out on the research process.
12. How do you deal with writing rejection?
The first rejection I received arrived in my inbox sometime in July, 2019. Yes, I did feel disappointed when I read the email, but five minutes later, I moved on and went about my day normally. Currently, not much has changed, except that I don’t waste those five minutes being disappointed anymore. Rejection is part of this industry, and anybody striving to become an author must learn to cope with it. Quite honestly, if you’re someone who’s consistently defensive about your stories and gets offended each time you receive a rejection, publishing is not for you.
Some of the most successful writers in the world have been rejected hundreds of times (such as Stephen King), and if they can overcome this obstacle, why can’t others? However, I’ll admit there have been a few times where I’ve been rejected by publishers I really love, such as Dark Moon Digest or Unnerving Magazine, but it’s never discouraged me to a point where I want to stop writing. So to answer your question, I deal with rejection by accepting rejection is inevitable.
13. Do you feel you’ve found your writing “voice”?
Sort of. When reading my stories, there’s a general voice present that I’m comfortable writing under, but it also depends on the story. All my stories with a third person limited perspective share a common voice. But, sometimes when I’m using the first person perspective, my use of vocabulary, tone, and flow changes, considering the voice of the protagonist takes over. As of now, I’m currently working on a science fiction story with a six-year-old as the narrator, and I haven’t quite figured out the voice for that narration yet. There are multiple aspects to consider. Generally, speaking, I would say I’ve found my writing voice, but I’m also constantly learning in order to improve my voice.
14. What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
A weird quirk of mine is I don’t write my stories’ events in chronological order. If I have a vision for a story, I’ll at times write the middle before I write the beginning, or even more strangely, I’ll save the beginning for last. Never do I write from the beginning sentence after sentence until the story has reached its conclusion. It’s more that I’m slowly writing snippets of the story across different scenes and then weave it together.
I’ve also noticed in a lot of my flash fiction, the characters are put forth in seemingly horrific situations, but they cannot perceive what is happening and treat the scenarios with pure sarcasm. I really enjoy blending elements of humour and horror, creating something scary whilst funny simultaneously.
15. Does a big ego help or hurt writers?
Egotism without a doubt hurts writers. I find it unprofessional, and writers with ginormous egos seem to be under the impression they have nothing to learn anymore. At no point should a writer think they’re above learning new things. From what I’ve learned from some of my mentors, people with big egos are difficult to work with. Additionally, rejection is part of this industry whether people like it or not, and those with big egos will not face rejection well. While I think maintaining confidence is important, writers also need to stay humble.
16. Do you believe in writer’s block?
Yes, in fact, writer’s block is the bane of my existence. On multiple occasions, I went to the library hoping to sit down and get my story down on the page, only to sit there for 2-3 hours having written less than a paragraph. There’s times I have a clear idea for a story in my mind, but the words don’t flow. That being said, there are ways to overcome writer’s block. Whenever a deadline is approaching, the sheer pressure of not getting my story in somehow smacks writer’s block in the face, and I start pumping out my ideas naturally. So, I think setting a kind of deadline for yourself can be beneficial, at least with my experience.
17. What’s the most difficult thing about writing characters from the opposite sex?
Personally, I don’t find it difficult to do so. If you ask me, both men and women come in a variety of different personalities and backgrounds, and by that measure, there is no fixed way to write a men and women. Ultimately, I believe men and women are more similar than they are different. About half the stories I write focus on a female protagonist, and I’m certainly not going to stop. I still remember a criticism I received from one of my early creative writing classes where I wrote in the perspective of a female, where a fellow student wrote, “Women don’t act this way.” All due respect to that student, but who’re you to presume how women should act?
18. Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym?
When I was younger I thought about it, more because I thought it might be cool to have a second name in the shadows. Professionally speaking, on the other hand, I’m unlikely to write under a pseudonym. When I write a story and it gets published, I want my family, friends, and colleagues to know I actually wrote it. I’m also told publishers don’t particularly like when writers operate under a pseudonym because it makes marketing and promotion more difficult.
19. What is your advice for new and aspiring writers?
Firstly, patience is a virtue. Writing isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon. Don’t expect to crack your way into the publishing industry quick, for sometimes it can take years or decades to reach. Secondly, stay dedicated. Write a lot, read a lot, edit a lot, and submit a lot. Those who persist and work to their goals are the ones to remember and truly appreciate. In the words of Hiruma, “Talent can take you far; Hardwork can take you anywhere.” Thirdly, don’t fear failure. Some of the most successful people in the world failed their way to reach the positions they’re in, and for writers, it’s no different. With each failure, a new lesson can be learned. Not to be a Star Wars fanboy, but in the words of Yoda, “The greatest teacher, failure is.”
(And a piece of side advice, try writing flash fiction! It can really teach you how to edit and trim down your work).
20. What is the biggest obstacle to your writing? What do you think is the biggest obstacle most writers face?
The biggest obstacle I find myself returning to is asking if my story is unique enough by itself. Horror can be a very repetitive and tedious genre. Several core aspects have been exhausted time and time again, and I always fear that I’m writing something that’s been done too many times.
In regards to what obstacle I think most writers will face, well, weirdly enough, I think the biggest obstacle is for writers to actually write. This might sound strange, but after going to university for years, in a program filled with individuals who strive to become authors one day, few of them write regularly. Writing requires commitment, dedication, and practice, yet most people who call themselves writers don’t write that much. So, to any prospecting writers out there who are reading this, GET TO WRITING!!!
21. Are there any resources you go back to again and again as a writer?
Thesaurus.com is my best friend. Seriously, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve written a sentence, put some brackets around a particular word, and then said, “This isn’t the exact word I want to use, but I’ll find the real word later,” and then use thesaurus. Somehow, whenever I use thesaurus, my eye immediately catches the word I was actually looking for this whole time and I immediately incorporate it. So yes, I definitely use a resource I return to time and time again. Thesaurus is a magical entity, perhaps the greatest human innovation ever established.
22. What is a question you wished people asked you, and what would your answer to that question be?
Haha I’m pretty shocked people are asking me questions to begin with! One question I wished people asked me is, has there ever been a point where I’ve considered quitting writing altogether. My answer to my own question is, hell freaking no. I don’t care if it brings me success or not, I don’t care what sort of job I’ll be working, and I don’t care how much money I’ll be making. No matter what, the writing isn’t going anywhere, and from this day until the day I die, I will continue to write.
Bonus: What is your favourite quote about writing?
“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.”
- Stephen King
Check out Scott's latest publications for this month in the following anthologies!
Scott McGregor is a Canadian writer based in Calgary, whose fiction has appeared in Hellbound Books, DBND Publishing, The Macabre Ladies, Thurston Howl, and many others. He is also a student at Mount Royal University, currently finishing up his last year of English and Sociology studies. His upcoming honours thesis will explore Marxism in literature and the future of Historical Materialism. You can reach him at www.scottmcgregorwrites.com and on Twitter @ScottMSays.