I am once again delighted to be able to sit down and chat with a special guest; Joe Mynhardt is an author, editor, publisher and all around hard-working guy, who is doing his best to help introduce the world to new authors.
We share a love of horror and enjoy the things that go bump in the night, but don’t worry, we kept this interview away from the shadows… or did we?
To start the ball rolling, why not tell us a little about yourself?
Let’s see, I was born in Walvisbay, Namibia, in 1980. I was pretty much an introverted loner, until I started taking Karate, which really boosted my self-confidence – thank goodness for that. We moved to South Africa in 1992 after Apartheid ended, and now I find myself living the grownup-life in Bloemfontein. I started teaching in 2005 and writing horror in 2008. A lot of doors opened up after that; I guess all the hard work and networking really paid off. I pretty much spend every second of each day writing, reading or thinking about writing. I do whatever can make me a better writer, editor and publisher. Yes, that includes acting like an idiot sometimes – I call it research.
When did you first know that you wanted to be a writer?
Since my days of playing alone in the backyard, I had this weird tendency to want to create things out of almost nothing. It was so frustrating to want to create something and not know what or how. The nice thing about growing up that way is that my imagination now knows no bounds. My parents allowed me to watch Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween and all the Friday the 13th movies, so I grew up a huge horror fan. And I always had a comic book close by. Since I can remember, becoming an author was always a pipe dream, but I had no idea how to get started.
I only decided to really become a writer when I got internet access at home and realized how many online resources there were for writers. Mywriterscircle.com is a great place to start for anyone interested.
Was there any one moment that you can remember where you thought… horror, that’s the genre for me?
I didn’t even waste a second thinking about what genre to write in. I grew up reading, watching and loving horror. Horror has no borders – anything can happen. And it’s that uncertainty, that fear of the unknown, which makes horror so damn great.
The change in the publishing industry has allowed people to experiment much more with mixed genre pieces, and writing books in multiple genres. Do you think this has helped or hindered the industry?
In my view, anything that gets more people writing and reading, is great. With so many online outlets (Amazon, Createspace, Smashwords etc.), writers don’t have to worry so much about where their book should be on a bookstore shelf. Bookstores invented names for the genres, not writers. We write stories, and sometimes those stories want to go wherever they need to go. I can’t tell my imagination, “Sorry, but we’re not allowed to go in that direction.”
But, I’d say stick to one genre in general, because you will let your readers down if you don’t. Lots of writers use pseudonyms so they can write in other genres. My stories are horror, or just plain weird, but there’s always room a bit of romance, comedy and so on.
The main problem is marketing. When a reader looks at a cover, they should know immediately what waits for them inside.
You have had a lot of stories published. Do you still remember the first piece you ever sold?
Definitely. It was in the middle of 2009, after I’d been writing for a few months. I’d won a couple of flash fiction challenges at Mywriterscircle.com, and decided it was time to try my luck with a few markets. I had no idea where to start, until I saw a publisher looking for a few stories on Mywriterscircle. I polished one of my Flash Fiction winning stories and sent it off. A bit of editing was necessary between me and the editor, but the story, ‘Daddy’, ended up being not only my very first published piece, but also my first sale. I think I received about $50, and that’s for a story of about 130 words. Not bad.
Not bad at all. I have never been to Mywriterscircle before. I will have to check it out tonight.
Do you prefer writing short stories, novellas or novels?
Definitely short stories. I enjoy novellas, but they’re a lot of work. I guess that’s why I stay away from novels for now. I’m pretty much an idea factory, so I have to keep pushing out stories. I can’t spend months on a novel. My brain (imagination) just wouldn’t allow it. There are just so many things you can do in a shorter piece. Especially in horror.
Perhaps one day, when I write full-time and start running out of short story ideas, I’ll tackle my first novel.
What sort of characters are your favorite to write?
That’s a tough one. I have to say I have two favorites at the moment. The lonely outcast looking for his place in the world, and the quiet person who ends up surprising people with his hidden talents. I get one hell of a kick out of seeing characters realize their destiny, whether it’s to sacrifice themselves, save countless lives, or even become a serial killer. This is horror, after all.
Would you say you are filled with the stereotypical idiosyncrasies that go with being a writer, or are you one of the sane ones?
Sane? Yes. Normal? Not quite. I am a bit on the weird side, since I’m always lost in my thoughts, travelling through distant, imaginary worlds. I think I’m pretty normal, but my friends, family and wife just chuckle when I try to persuade them otherwise. I don’t really care. As long as I can keep writing and creating, I’ll be happy.
I have to say, I’m a pretty decent guy for someone who wants to write horror. To my surprise, I found out that most horror writers are amazingly friendly people. I guess we get all our frustrations out on paper before going out into the world. Perhaps it’s a good thing we spend so much time on our own.
I would be inclined to agree with you on that one.
Which writers were your biggest influences when you were younger?
I wasn’t a huge reader growing up. I actually struggled to sit still long enough to read anything other than a comic. I was however a big fan of stories, be it movies, comics or whatever forms they came in. I can’t recall seeing a lot of short story collections in libraries back them. I was, however, a massive Asterix and Tintin fan.
I eventually got hooked on Stephen King, thanks to my sister. IT was the very first King book I read, and except for Dracula, it was also the thickest book I ever took on. I especially enjoyed weird stories like the Twilight Zone episodes, and Hitchcock Presents played a very big role in my love for horror and all things dark.
Are you a plotter or a pantser?
Not sure if all writers experience this, but for me each story needs to be approached differently. It’s like the octopus circling the corked bottle until it finally finds a way in, or a rock climber approaching a mountain. Sometimes I need lots of planning, sometimes I just have to write, and other times I write different scenes every day until the story fits together like pieces of a puzzle.
Do you like to do all of your research upfront, or do you sit and write, then mark the areas that need more specialized attention for the second run through.
I have the apparent weakness of wanting to edit when I write, but I’ll never stop to do research. I’ll just highlight whatever I’m not certain of in red and continue. Next time I go online, I’ll sort out whatever needs to be double checked.
When it comes to writing, do you have a set schedule that you like to follow, or are you a free spirit?
I write whenever my schedule allows it. I’m a teacher living on the school premises, in a small flat below the hostel, so time is a bit limited. I normally write between 3pm and 5pm each day, then another hour or so in the evening. I do tend to regularly change my writing schedule or the order in which I do things, especially weekends and holidays, just to keep things from getting monotonous. I don’t want writing and editing to become a chore.
How does the working day look like for Joe Mynhardt?
Okay. I get up at 6:24am, breakfast bell rings at 6:45. Because I live at the school where I work, I walk to school in under a minute – awesome. I get to school at 7 but only start teaching at 7:40. School comes out at 13:40, so I rush to get lunch, then greet my wife and dogs, as well as change clothes, before going to sport at 14:00 (what a rush). I coach soccer and cricket, depending on the season.
After hours of standing, marking, arguing and solving problems, I finally go home at around 15:30. Some days I come out a bit earlier. I do my best to put on my writer or editor hat as fast as possible, so I can get some work done before my wife comes back from work at 5. Believe it or not, the hostel serves dinner at 5pm as well.
Then, on three nights a week, I’ll sit in study hall from 6 to 7:20. After that I get a bit more writing done, and hopefully I’ll be done by 8pm so I can watch some TV or read.
Then I hit the sack at 10:30.
All this happens on a good day. On a crap day I’ll have a cricket match till 5, or I’ll have to drive around and do errands. I normally leave errands for Fridays, but things just don’t always go according to plan. Some nights – like tonight – I only leave my laptop at around 10pm.
Editing – Pleasure or Pain?
It’s different for each story. Every good story has a hard part I need to crack through, and for some stories it occurs during the writing process while in others it’s definitely during the editing phase. I try not to think about it. I just keep the final product in mind and plough forth.
I tend to celebrate quite a bit when a first draft is done, so editing doesn’t seem to bother me as much as it used to. It’s where the magic happens. The only problem with editing is rereading the same story over and over.
If you could pick any one of your characters come to come to life, which one would it be?
Jasper, from the title story in my Lost in the Dark collection.
Although he was just a side-character in the story, Jasper ended up being the hero and giving a couple of bad folks what they deserved. He has a lot of mystique surrounding him, and he also has a couple of curious talents. He’s a travelling collector of oddities, who’s capable of reading people’s destinies, amongst other things. I really feel, as did most of the readers, that Jasper really needs his own story. I’d also really like to meet him myself.
To be a writer you need to be a reader. Do you agree?
Definitely. There’s no way around this. Unless of course you’re writing screenplays, but even then it’s always wise to know what’s being written and read throughout the world.
I always find it funny when someone says they want to be a writer, but they don’t like reading. If you love something, you’d better love all of it.
What are you currently reading?
Tales of the weak and the wounded by Gary McMahon. I’m a huge McMahon fan, and it’s a real privilege to work with him on several projects this year.
After that I’ve got Brian Hodge’s Picking the Bones and Stephen King’s IT waiting for me. I last read IT when I was in primary school, so I think it’s about time for the nightmare to begin again.
I believe that to be successful, reading outside of the your chosen genre is crucial, because you learn more about the craft that way. Is this something you would agree with?
I definitely agree. But do I do it? Not really. I like to read a non-fiction book every now and then. I’ll even read a mystery or thriller, something inspirational like Life of Pi, but that’s about it. I stay far away from Romance and most Drama stories. There’s enough drama in horror stories, and most of them have some degree of romance in them, anyway; writers tend to use it for sexual tension or making the readers care more for the characters.
Can you write multiple projects at once?
Unfortunately, yes. It’s not a wise thing to do, I know. This is especially true when stories are written in different voices. You’ll always find me writing a short story while planning another, while also working on a novella and editing a bunch of other stories for myself or other writers.
Let’s talk a little about Crystal Lake Publishing. I don’t think I need to ask where the name came from, right?
I’m so psyched with the name. As I said earlier, I grew up watching movies like Friday the 13th, but not only does the name relate to horror, it also sounds professional enough to be used in any genre. Although I am only publishing horror at the moment, I have plans to publish suspense, mystery, thriller, fantasy and eventually sci-fi in the long run. But only short stories.
The short story is certainly making a comeback, which I think is a great thing, as I can see you do too.
What made you decide to get involved with this side of the business?
I just love working with other writers. It’s one of the best perks of being more than just a writer. Sport injuries also hinder me from sitting hours and hours behind a computer, so it’s pretty cool that I can now work according to my own schedule. Plus, my main goal in life is to create, whether it’s a book written solely by me, or an idea that becomes a great book, like the many anthologies I’m publishing this year. I wish I could tell you how amazing the stories are I’ve read and edited so far. It’s pretty awesome to be able to read top-notch stories months before the world gets to see it – to be part of such an amazing process with other writers. Writing tends to get lonely, but compiling an anthology is pretty damn cool.
You are a writer, publisher and editor, three very different hats. Which one fits you the best?
I’d have to say publisher. I’ll never stop writing my own stories, but there’s just no greater reward than working with other writers. I do my best to promote their work, or push them to become better writers by teaming them up or even against other writers.
For instance, I’m starting a Writer vs. Writer series later this year where two (or perhaps three) novellas written by different writers will be published in one book. It won’t be a real competition, but you know each writer will want to outdo the other, thereby pushing their limits, focusing on their strengths and improving their weaknesses. It will also introduce readers to other writers they might enjoy.
So later this year, I’ll contact a chosen writer and ask him who he’d like to challenge. Just imagine the possibilities.
I like the sound of that. It sounds like a great way to use competition to create great fiction. I shall certainly keep my eyes peeled for it.
You work on an invitation only submission basis. What was the reasoning behind this decision?
Although I do have a bunch of editors and artists I’m always contacting and asking for second opinions, I’m the only one running this. I really don’t have the time to read submissions. And with the rates I’m planning on paying in a year or two, I’ll be swarmed with submissions. Perhaps one day, if I’m able to write full-time, I’ll do one submission type anthology per year.
Invitation only submissions also allow me to keep writing my own work. I also need time to read, so I can keep updated with the current horror and authors out there. Believe me, I’ve met some of the coolest, most hardworking guys you’ll ever meet since I started Crystal Lake Publishing.
Do you think that the doors will open in the future or is the relationship between you and the writers you work with the key to long-term success?
As long as I keep the writers and readers happy, I’m happy. More money will of course mean more projects and better pay for writers, as well as better distribution and marketing.
I have to say, I’d love to move out of this hostel and eventually quit teaching, but that would just be the cherry on the zombie cake. Which ever way it turns out. I’ll never stop doing this – I have to share the amazing array of authors and stories out there with the world.
For those interested in reading more of Joe’s work, you can grab his short story collection ‘Lost in the Dark’ now at Amazon.
Stay tuned for a second interview with Joe where we will talk ghosts and paranormal activities.