Creatures, Symbiosis, and Writing Smarter:
An Interview with Mark McLaughlin
The prolific (yet producer of quality works) Stoker Award-winning author and poet Mark McLaughlin generously shared some of his time to speak with me about writing, collaboration (with his talented partner Michael Sheehan Jr.), AI, and his love of cats.
I'd very much like to know more about your writing process, Mark. What is it that inspires you to start a work, and how long does it take you?
I make an observation in life, or learn about an interesting science fact, and pretty soon the idea evolves into a story. If it’s a short tale, the first draft may take several days, and then I’ll take a couple more days to polish it up. I’ve written novels in as short a time as a few months.
Everything I write is summarised first: I create an initial outline of the entire work, and also generate profiles of the major characters and descriptions of the settings. I then scatter that information throughout the work where it fits best. I don’t just drop in huge slabs of exposition. Though I don’t use drawings of the settings or characters within the work, I still create those
drawings for my own future reference, to ensure consistency.
There will be surprises and revelations placed strategically throughout the story, so I make sure that I foreshadow surprises and twists in advance, so it doesn’t seem like big developments are coming out of nowhere.
I often put altered aspects of my actual existence into my fiction. I change the names and locales, but many of the plots and scenarios are inspired by pivotal moments that have helped to direct my life. I know no Artificial Intelligence writing programme could ever replace me, because those programmes haven’t lived my life. They haven’t experienced the highs and lows and challenges and triumphs that have shaped my personality.
Well-spoken in re the AI—the idea of books being written by computer explains why it can be difficult to find something decent, outside of your work, to read.
A computer would have no personal experience to add to the mix. At best, the computer could talk about the time it blew a fuse, or needed to have some circuits replaced!
Do you use pen and paper, computer, laptop, typewriter? Do you work alone or in coffee shops?
I used to write stories in notebooks while sitting in coffee shops, before the pandemic. Now I write on my laptop at home, and take some time every now and then to create sketches—for future reference.
When I was very young, I learned to type on a huge cast-iron typewriter that I found in the attic of our old farm-house. I had to clean and lubricate it whenever I used it because the keys kept sticking. Laptops have since taken over my writing life. I can’t remember the last time I used an actual typewriter.
Do you work in silence or to music?
If I am drawing something or creating artwork on my laptop with Photoshop, I can listen to music or even half-watch a TV show or movie online or on a DVD. I think people would be surprised by the music I like. Most of it is high-energy dance music. If I am watching a program while I work, I like vintage horror movies or documentaries.
Do you keep a pad on your bedside stand, or rely on memory?
I always have a pen and paper within reach, in case I want to jot down a quick note. Inspiration can come to me at any given moment ‒ even when cooking dinner.
It seems some of the best things will spark when you're not in a position to write them down, such as making meatballs or washing the dishes. How do you keep hold of an idea if this happens? Or might you agree with the writer whose name escapes me who claimed that if an idea is worth keeping, he wouldn't forget it?
If a good idea comes to me, I always take a moment to write it down. I treat my writing like business, so I’m always taking notes and keeping up with my to-do lists.
Interesting that your novels Human Doll and Injectables both have been published at a time when people seem confused about whether the television and/or cinema are screens, or mirrors.
People do love watching screens these days. Human Doll concerns a protagonist who’s a star with two TV shows, so I suppose TV addicts could relate to that plotline. Injectables has plenty of monsters, and that’s just as good as any horror movie.
Annikin is a beautiful puss. Is a love of cats part of what drew you to H.P. Lovecraft? Whose middle name is Welsh, by the way.
I grew up on a large dairy farm with more than 40 cats, so cats have always been part of my life. I also grew up reading H.P. Lovecraft, so both cats and Lovecraft were part of my formative years.
Lovecraft's influence can appear in the most unlikely of places, such as 2014's True Detective (series 1) which mentions Carcosa. How would you define a work as being Lovecraftian?
There have to be grotesque monsters (preferably tentacled, but not absolutely required), and they should come from another planet or dimension. Nyarlathotep is an exception, looks-wise, in that he can appear as an attractive human. But he is also a shape-shifter, and his actual appearance is completely monstrous. Also, he can hold up his end of the conversation, so he’s smarter than the average Lovecraftian creature. Maybe he’s only smarter when he’s sporting his clever human brain…. Anyone who wants to write Lovecraftian fiction should have read a lot of Cthulhu Mythos stories. You can’t just throw a squid, snake, or a frog in a story and call it ‘Lovecraftian.’
Your favourite movies/documentaries? Some think vintage means 2000. Which, frighteningly, was 23 years ago.
I actually prefer the personality and complexity of vintage works. I love old Universal horror movies from the ‘30s and ‘40’s, and I also love old drive-in movies and cheap cheesy flicks from the ‘70s. I enjoy movies with giant monsters in them, like most of the classic Godzilla movies. I also love old giallo movies – Italian suspense movies that are full of atmosphere, mystery, and menace.
How did you meet Michael Sheehan, Jr.?
I started talking to him at a bar, many years ago. He was standing alone by the fish tank. We haven’t stopped talking ever since! We both have Irish last names, but neither of us is completely Irish. I’m part Irish, French, Greek, and Turkish,
and he’s part Irish, Italian, and Filipino. That casual encounter by the fish tank led to a deep relationship that has lasted for 13 years and counting.
When you are collaborating on a project, how do you work together? Does it start by tossing ideas back and forth?
We talk about a story’s concepts, and as you said, we toss the ideas back and forth until the story is finished. I do the actual writing, but he comes up with a lot of interesting plot twists.
Any plans for branching out into, say, writing a musical or a play?
Years ago, I wrote a couple plays that were produced locally, but I eventually decided that I liked writing stories and books more than plays. I have no musical ability, so you probably won’t be seeing any musicals from me. Michael has no musical or theatrical aspirations.
So A Cthulhu Line isn't in the works. For those wondering, how do you pronounce ‘Cthulhu’?
I pronounce it Cuh-THU-Loo.
Do you think your books would make good movie adaptations? Any ideas on actors? Directors?
My three novels would all make great movies. They all feature strong characters and dramatic plotlines.
In Injectables, Mother Sharps performs incredible cosmetic procedures in her unlicensed clinic in the town of Innsmouth, using three injectable solutions. She charges bargain rates and her clients are delighted with the results. But, more is happening at the clinic than people realize. Her injectable solutions are linked to the Miskatonic region's most disturbing secrets. The novel combines and continues concepts found in the H.P. Lovecraft stories, ‘The Shadow Over Innsmouth,’ ‘At the Mountains of Madness’, and ‘Herbert West—Reanimator’.
And very successfully, I might add, as I'm currently reading Injectables, a most enjoyable page-turner. Perhaps because the fantasy elements are well-grounded in 'science' that sounds authentic. And because Lovecraft, along with 'Bitter' Ambrose Bierce, was my first love in horror literature.
In The Hell Next Door, Miles Cooper is surprised when workers in three moving vans drop off expensive furniture at the empty house across the lane. One item is a huge black door with a beautiful face carved on one side and the image of a skull on the other. So begins an adventure that takes Miles to Hell and back.
In the Hell dimension, Miles encounters the legendary demons Asmodeus, Pazuzu, and Lilith, and learns what really happens to the souls of the dead. He befriends the angel Paxton and the demon Berath, and with their help, they fight a threat that could easily destroy the mortal world.
In Human Doll, beautiful cast members and special guests from two TV shows are being killed in bizarre ways. One show is a medical reality show and the other is a talent competition for drag queens. The performers are appalled by the deaths of their friends, and some wonder if they should quit working with the shows. Even if they did, would they still be marked for death?
Male model December Storm frequently appears as a special guest on both shows. The media calls December a ‘human doll’ because he regularly receives procedures to enhance his looks. December knows that he needs to beware, since he might be the next beautiful person to die. To learn the identity of the killer, he calls upon the assistance of his best friend, an avant-garde artist with an incredible grasp of futuristic technology.
If Human Doll became a movie, it would fit as a continuation of the giallo genre of films. Classic giallos include Bay of Blood, Blood and Black Lace, and Deep Red. Giallos usually feature a mysterious gloved murderer who kills in unique ways, and in that respect, Human Doll would be no exception.
I have no specific directors or performers in mind, just so long as the director is a genius and the performers are all gorgeous and entrancing!
May I ask if there are any upcoming horror writers you'd recommend?
Of course, I’d recommend the always effervescent Marni Scofidio! And I’d recommend my talented friends, James Ferace, Denise Dumars, and Daniel Charles Wild. I tend to think of Daniel as my son, even though we’re not related. He’s been my protégé for years. He’s a graphic designer and caricature artist who has also written several books.
I do like your titles: I remember your zine from many years ago, The Brood of Sycorax, which one reader thought was called The Brood of Cigarettes. Which comes first, the title or the idea? Has there ever been a work where the title was really difficult to find?
My background is in marketing, so coming up with names for my projects is easy to me. Sometimes the title comes first, but usually the basic story comes first, followed by a title that fits the plot and is compelling. I’ve written some stories with fairly long titles, but I try to keep my book titles short and memorable.
I wish you and Michael all further success, in fact, complete world domination! I also hope to see your work dramatised in the near future so there will be something great to watch, too often missing from streaming sites who I think must be using AI to write their screenplays. Thank you for your time and for an enjoyable and informative interview.
All of Mark and Michael's books are available on Amazon
has been writing about monsters for most of his life. He also works in the fields of marketing and public relations, His works have appeared in hundreds of magazines, websites, and anthologies worldwide. Many of his stories fit within the literary tradition of H.P. Lovecraft, Robert W. Chambers, and Robert Bloch. Mark is the author of the novels Human Doll, The Hell Next Door, and Injectables.
Mark is also the author of many fiction collections, including the huge Kindle collection from Wildside Press, The Weird World Of Mark McLaughlin Megapack®. Other collections include Empress Of The Living Dead, Dimension Of Monsters, Umbra Sapiens, Midnight Pet Show, The Spiderweb Tree, Urban Monsters, Best Little Witch-House In Arkham, and Hideous Faces, Beautiful Skulls.
In addition to his works of fiction, Mark also has written many poetry collections, including Crushed Velvet, Embrace of the Internet Witch, The Arrival of Our New Master, and Professor Lagungo’s Exotic Artifacts & Assorted Mystic Collectibles: Increased Inventory.
Mark is the co-author, with Rain Graves and David Niall Wilson, of The Gossamer Eye, which won the 2002 Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in Poetry.
Michael Sheehan, Jr.
has been collaborating with Mark on dark fantasy stories for more than 12 years. Lovecraftian collections co-written by McLaughlin and Michael Sheehan, Jr. include The Wrath of Nyarlathotep, Weird Worship, Horrors & Abominations, Nightmares & Tentacles, The House of the Ocelot, The Prisoner of Carcosa, and City of Living Shadows.
What critics and colleagues have said about Mark McLaughlin's work over the years:
‘In the most devious manner, McLaughlin's stories achieve a high degree of demonism by perpetuating a sinister ‘humor’ at the gallows of the human comedy.’ – Thomas Ligotti
‘Listen up. Noel Coward is back. Salvador Dali is back. Dylan Thomas is back. And they're all rolled into one in the shape of Mark McLaughlin who writes stories that are wonderfully witty, surrealistic and ineffably strange. Absolutely fabulous... If your palette is jaded, come to the feast that is Mark McLaughlin.’ – Simon Clark
‘McLaughlin's tales are laugh-out-loud assaults on consensus reality.’ – Paul Di Filippo, Asimov's
(About the novel Human Doll) ‘Indeed, this clever novel skewers the artificial, plastic surgery addiction in particular, set in the equally artificial world of “reality” television.’ – G. Stanton
‘Reading Mark McLaughlin is a little like stepping out of the door of an airplane in mid flight. The view is pretty amazing, but the shock of impact may do you in... gruesome, funny and touching. Top that: anybody...’ – Matthew Nadelhaft, Tangent