Novelist, poet and short story writer Christopher Conlon is the author of the debut psychological thriller, Midnight On Mourn Street, just released by Earthling Publications and described as a "masterfully moving tale" by Booklist. Conlon's work has appeared on numerous publications such as Poets & Writers, America, Filmfax, Poet Lore, The Long Story, and Tennessee Williams Annual Review, as well as in such anthologies as Masques V and September 11, 2001: American Writers Respond. I recently had the pleasure of reviewing his novel for Blogcritics, and found it a haunting, beautifully written work.
Thanks for being here today, Christopher. When did you decide you wanted to become an author?
I never decided I wanted to be an author – to be honest, I’m not sure what an “author” is. It sounds stuffy and pedantic to me – I picture someone wearing a smoking jacket, pipe in hand, looking a bit like Somerset Maugham. No, I never wanted to be an author – I wanted to write. There’s a difference.
Were you an avid reader as a child? What type of books did you enjoy reading?
Oh my God, yes. And I still am. I started with the usual people kids find first – Edgar Allan Poe, Arthur Conan Doyle, Jack London. Mystery and adventure classics. Poetry, too, started for me then, with Poe – “Annabel Lee” was my first favorite poem. Eventually I found my way to science fiction and horror with people like Charles Beaumont, Richard Matheson, Ray Bradbury, Clifford D. Simak. Oh, and I must have read every Alfred Hitchcock anthology ever published. I loved those kinds of stories. Still do.
Tell us a bit about your latest book.
Midnight on Mourn Street is a short novel, what might be called “psychological suspense,” focusing on the relationship of a middle-aged man and the teenaged runaway he meets one rainy night. They seem to be strangers to each other, but in fact the young girl knows exactly who he is, and she pushes her way into his life with a very specific, destructive agenda. The slow revealing of the secrets of these people — and how they are connected to each other — is what drives the story forward. I’m happy to be able to say that the early reviews have been mostly excellent – Booklist has called the book a “masterfully moving tale” and a “top-drawer first novel.” That’s a little embarrassing for me to quote, but there it is.
From the moment you conceived the idea for the story, to the published book, how long did it take?
That’s a good question. Hmmmm. I believe that the answer is about ten years. You see, I wrote an earlier version of the manuscript back in about 1997, 1998. It wasn’t bad. It had an agent for a while, and there were a couple of nibbles from publishers, but in the end nobody bought it. I eventually retired the thing to a desk drawer, and ultimately to my basement – that final stop of all failed projects! For years I thought nothing about the novel; I all but forgot I ever wrote it. But a couple of years ago I began to have some success in dark fiction – an anthology I edited, Poe’s Lighthouse, came out in 2006, along with a little collection of my gothic stories, Thundershowers at Dusk. I wanted to capitalize on the little bit of attention I was getting as a result of these projects, and I knew that the thing to do was to get a novel out – but I had no novel, especially not one in the suspense or horror genres, which was where my reputation was growing. But then I remembered that failed manuscript from the 1990s and realized that, though I hadn’t written it as a “genre” novel, it certainly had the elements of a suspense story.
Well, I dug it up and read it straight through – which was both a gratifying and a humbling experience. Gratifying because, you know, it was pretty good, really. But humbling because I could see obvious mistakes I’d made – mistakes I was unable to recognize back then. The language was wrong – the book was overwritten. The structure was sometimes wonky. Parts were repetitive. So I took most of a summer and completely overhauled the book, using the original manuscript as a template but rewriting it completely, from first word to last.
When writing, what themes do you feel passionate about?
I don’t feel passionate about themes, which arise organically from the subject matter and which a writer is better off not thinking about at all. What I feel passionate about are characters. I get terribly wrapped up in them, in their lives, their troubles, their aspirations. I suspect all writers do. Flaubert claimed to do all his novel-writing in a state of cold objectivity, but I’ve never believed him. “I am Madame Bovary,” he said—well, he must have cared quite a lot about her to identify himself with her in that way. No, I’m emotionally invested as I write. Very much so. Revision, now, that’s another story – in revision it really is best to be objective.
Do you have an agent? How was your experience in searching for one?
I’ve had four agents over the years, all of them hard-working, honest, non-fee-charging men and women who never managed to sell a single word I ever wrote. Maybe once a writer is worth something monetarily an agent might be useful to negotiate contracts and such, but for small fry like me, agents are useless – or at least they have been for me. I find it best to talk to editors and publishers myself. Friends who are writers can be helpful too – Gary Braunbeck, who wrote In Silent Graves and several other well-regarded horror novels, was invaluable in helping get Mourn Street published, talking it up to people, pushing it wherever he could, because he believed in it. He was a far more effective agent for me than any of my actual agents have been.
Have you ever suffered from writer’s block?
No. Never. I don’t even know what that is, really. Now, I go long periods — many months, in fact — when I write nothing at all, but that’s not writer’s block; that's simply my natural rhythm. I’m not a crank-it-out kind of writer. I only write when I feel I have something that’s ready to write. It’s perfectly okay with me if I don’t write a word for half a year. It always comes back. And when the story or novel or poem is ready for me, well, I’m ready for it too.
Do you have a website/blog where readers may learn more about you and your work?
That would be www.christopherconlon.com. Cruise on by!
Do you have another book on the works? Would you like to tell readers about your current or future projects?
Well, I have another editing project forthcoming – another fiction anthology. Titled He Is Legend: An Anthology Celebrating Richard Matheson, it features original stories by some of the biggest names in horror, mystery, and suspense, including Stephen King. (Yes, that Stephen King.) The book is due out from Gauntlet Press in February 2009. As for my own writing, I’ve finished another short novel, A Matrix of Angels – I have no idea who, if anyone, will publish it. I’m shopping around my fourth poetry collection, Starkweather Dreams, as well. And I’m beginning work on a stage adaptation of Midnight on Mourn Street – a small professional theater in the Washington, D.C., area, where I live, has agreed to give the script a staged reading. Beyond that, who knows?
Good luck with all your projects, Christopher!