Author Interview: Jessica McHugh

The Books

3983873Jessica McHugh
1. The Sky: The World
2. The Tales of Dominhydor
3. Song of Eidolons
4. A Touch of Scarlet
5. Camelot Lost | See my review
6. Rabbits in the Garden | See my review

Arthur Pendragon’s ascension to High King of Britain lays a doting world at his feet, but when the death of his sister, Morgaine, sends him into a downward spiral of destruction, his sons, Mordred and Amr, emerge from the shadows to assume control of his mind and, eventually, his throne. Camelot Lost delves deeper into the legend of Camelot than ever before, pitting father against son, husband against wife, and brother against sister. The raw qualities of love, war, and the passionate deceptions that inspire them are thoroughly explored through the relationships of the chosen, and for the first time ever, the story of Arthur’s lesser-known son, Amr Pendragon, is finally revealed. Spellbinding in its sensuality and vehemence, Camelot Lost passionately explores a timeless tale and introduces a vivid array of characters and conflicts that are sure to captivate readers and challenge all preconceived notions of the Arthurian legend.

The Interview

1) Hey Jessica! Thanks so much for taking the time to answer my interview questions. Let me start with an easy one: when did you know you wanted to become an author?

-First off, thank you for having me, Majanka!
I always enjoyed making up stories, but I never developed a serious passion for it until I was 19, working in a mall perfume kiosk for 11 hours a day. I hardly sold any perfume, so I spent most of my time reading. I devoured The Vampire Chronicles, The Lord of the Rings, and several other series, but I mostly read short story collections, notably Roald Dahl and HP Lovecraft. I always had a fondness for the macabre twists, and started writing some of my own. A lot of them were derivative, especially of Lovecraft. “I’m interested in crazy stuff, I saw crazy stuff, and now I’m crazy” type stories, but some of them had enough potential to keep me going. Eventually, I started writing “Maladrid” which would become the first book in my “Tales of Dominhydor” fantasy series. I spent hours devising the Dominhydor language as well as the history of the world. Those short stories and “Maladrid” were the sparks that grew into a blazing fire that hasn’t dimmed since.

2) How does the writing process work for you? Does an idea just pop up in your head, and you can start writing from scratch, or do you first write a short summary, or…? And is the writing process pretty much the same with every novel you write, or is it different every time?

-Most of the time, I just get an idea and start writing. But yes, the process varies from novel to novel. I wrote “The Sky: The World” completely out of order while “Rabbits in the Garden” was written straight through without a hint of an outline. “Verses of Villainy”, my historical fiction about Christopher Marlowe, had to be extremely researched before I wrote a single word. Most of the time, I end up writing several chapters before I’m forced to stop and outline, usually because I know what I want to happen in the novel, but only up to a certain point. Then, I stop and think, “Okay, how is this novel going to end and what avenues do I want the characters to explore before they reach the end?”

3) Your first published novel was Camelot Lost. I had the pleasure of reading it, and I must say that I absolutely loved it. Then again, I’ve always been a big fan of the Arthurian Legend. Why did you decide to write about this topic?

-I always loved Arthurian Legend myself, but I kept brushing off the desire to write an Arthurian book because there were already so many. The last thing I wanted was to tell a story that already been told a thousand times. If I was going to write it, I had to find an original hook first. So, I did a little research just to see if it was possible, and I found it on Wikipedia. While researching the character of Mordred, I learned about King Arthur’s rarely mentioned son Amr, and it said something along the lines of “the connection between Mordred and Amr has never been adequately explained”. I remember sitting next to my husband (before he was my husband), reading that statement, and saying, “That’s it. That’s my story.”

4) My favorite character in the legend of King Arthur, not just in your book, but in every book and series I’ve ever read or watched about the subject, is Morgaine/Morgan, Arthur’s “evil” sister. Who is your favorite character in the Arthurian Legend? And who was your favorite character to write about?

-I really love Mordred. But since he’s evil so often in the stories I’d read, I didn’t want that for the character in “Camelot Lost“. In fact, I didn’t want any of my characters to be either evil or good. I wanted everyone to have their moments of good and evil. Even when they’re being “evil”, it’s all so subjective anyway. But since I have such a love for Mordred, I wanted him to feel the love and not just be some mindless brute.

5) How was your first publishing experience? Was it like you had hoped for, and not entirely?

-“Camelot Lost” was a really tough sell. I had been writing non-stop since I was 19, and at 25, I was trying to get published for the first time with a story that had been seemingly done to death. I received rejection after rejection stating that I’d just rewritten “Mists of Avalon”, which is completely untrue, so I figured they didn’t even bother reading it. Eventually, I submitted it to PublishAmerica, which doesn’t have the best reputation as a publisher. However, I found my experience quite pleasant. I did my own editing, which is why there are a few errors sprinkled throughout and I’m not certain the cover really embodies the story, but on the whole, I’m very happy with the book. Plus, I believe having the publishing credit helped me get others stories published.

6) I’ve also read and reviewed another one of your novel, Rabbits in the Garden. I loved that book as well and I thought it was pretty brilliant, although it’s an entirely different genre than Camelot Lost. What was your favorite genre to write so far?

-I never actually set out to write any genre. What comes out, comes out, and that’s why so many of my books are completely different shades of speculative fiction: suspense, steampunk, dystopian, epic fantasy, etc. But I do have an affinity for horror. I love writing scenes that terrify me. Dripping blood, sloughing flesh…it’s just fun to write.

7) Rabbits in the Garden is psychological horror about a girl named Avery Norton. Avery’s mother seems odd from the start, but eventually it turns out that she’s actually a cold-blooded murderer. And on top of that, she frames Avery for the murders, which results in the latter having to stay in a mental asylum. Where did you get your inspiration for this book?

-Much of this story came from a dream. It was one of those magical dreams that had a beginning, middle, and end. Except for a few nonsensical events and older Avery being played by Angelina Jolie, the only thing I added was the beginning of a story I started years before. That’s where “Rabbits in the Garden” got it’s true brutality. The story “The Garden” was one I’d abandoned because it was starting to really freak me out, but elements of it really fit with the dream. It was a pretty seamless integration and it really worked. The dream had a 1940s/50s setting, but I chose Martha’s Vineyard because my mom grew up there. I knew I’d be able to get a lot of really cool accounts of life growing on the island.

8 ) Of all the books you wrote so far, which book did you find the most difficult to write? And which one did you find the easiest?

-“Palaplia“, the 3rd book in my “Tales of Dominhydor” series was the hardest to write because I had to do a complete rewrite. I started editing it for publication with Double Dragon eBooks, and a chapter in I had to stop and accept the fact that editing wasn’t going to fix it. I scrapped the entire manuscript, wrote a detailed outline using elements of the original story, and started over.

The easiest one to write was “Song of Eidolons“. The story came organically and everything just fell into place. It was an absolute delight to write, and while there are things I’d elaborate upon in other stories if I had the chance, I wouldn’t change a single thing in “Song of Eidolons“.

9) I really enjoyed both Rabbits in the Garden and Camelot Lost , but if I was forced to choose between either of those, I would have to admit that I liked Camelot Lost best. In my opinion, it’s even more brilliant than Rabbits in the Garden. Now I have a VERY difficult question for you. Of all the books you’ve written so far, which one is your favorite?

-Actually, “Song of Eidolons” is my favorite book. I love the story and characters so much, especially the relationship between Delaney and her grandfather, Dags. Plus, it was incredibly fun connecting the Philosopher’s Stone and the Fountain of Youth using the Mutus Liber, bible verses, etc…

Danny Marble & the Application for Non-Scary Things“, coming from Reliquary Press in September 2011, is a very close second. Especially since my husband did the amazing illustrations.

10) Are you currently working on something? If so, can you tell us something about it?

I’m editing and extending the last book in the Dominhydor series, but I can’t say much about it without giving away huge plot points, so I’ll talk about “PINS” which I’m also working on currently. I started it last year but had to stop to revise the Dominhydor books, and I’m just now getting back to it, which I couldn’t be happier about. I love this story and I’m having an absolute blast writing it. It will be my first book written in the first-person since “A Touch of Scarlet” and it is definitely the most graphic story I’ve ever written as far as language and content. Testing my limits of decency and then bulldozing right over them has been a really exciting experience. I’ve included a blurb below:

Telemarketing is a drag and serving jobs are exhausting. Luckily, strip clubs are always looking for new blood. Eva “Birdie” Finch is fed up with the slim pickings in local employment, and PINS, a gentlemen’s club/ bowling alley, seems to be the only option left. But learning how to strip for strangers isn’t Birdie’s only obstacle, especially when fellow dancers start turning up dead.

From Jessica McHugh, the author of the steampunk adventure The Sky: The World and the psychological thriller Rabbits in the Garden, PINS is certain to titillate as much as terrify with a candid look at a dancer trying to keep her footing on a blood-drenched stage.

It’s definitely been a fun story to write, but I hope my parents never read it. 😉

The Author

Jessica McHugh is an author of speculative fiction that spans the genre from horror and alternate history to epic fantasy. A prolific writer, she has devoted herself to novels, short stories, novellas, and even playwriting. She has had eight books published in three years, including “Song of Eidolons”, “The Sky: The World”, “Rabbits in the Garden”, and the first two installments in her “Tales of Dominhydor” series.
Visit her website.

Book Review: Camelot Lost by Jessica Bonito

3983873Title: Camelot Lost
Author: Jessica Bonito
Genre: Medieval Fiction, Fantasy, Arthurian Legend
Publisher: PublishAmerica
Publication Date: July 28th 2008
Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository | Author Website
Rating: 5 stars
Review copy provided by the author.

Arthur Pendragon’s ascension to High King of Britain lays a doting world at his feet, but when the death of his sister, Morgaine, sends him into a downward spiral of destruction, his sons, Mordred and Amr, emerge from the shadows to assume control of his mind and, eventually, his throne. Camelot Lost delves deeper into the legend of Camelot than ever before, pitting father against son, husband against wife, and brother against sister. The raw qualities of love, war, and the passionate deceptions that inspire them are thoroughly explored through the relationships of the chosen, and for the first time ever, the story of Arthur’s lesser-known son, Amr Pendragon, is finally revealed. Spellbinding in its sensuality and vehemence, Camelot Lost passionately explores a timeless tale and introduces a vivid array of characters and conflicts that are sure to captivate readers and challenge all preconceived notions of the Arthurian legend.

I already read and reviewed one book by Jessica McHugh before, a psychological horror novel called Rabbits in the Garden, and I loved it. After finishing reading that, I immediately asked her if I could read another one of her novels, namely Camelot Lost, because I love Arthurian Legend, and I loved Jessica’s work, so I thought: those two things mixed together? That can’t possibly go wrong. Turns out I was absolutely right. In all honesty, this book was probably even better than I initially expected. Because I thought it was so incredibly good, I had a difficult time writing this review. It’s a lot easier to write reviews about books you don’t like than about books you think are absolutely fabulous. There are only so many words in the English language to say something is amazing. Well, I think Camelot Lost really is amazing. Jessica McHugh isn’t just an extraordinary talented psychological horror author, she’s also pretty brilliant at writing medieval fiction. I, for one, am very impressed.

Read my review for Rabbits in the Garden.

Camelot Lost begins by retelling us the Arthurian Legend we’ve come to know and love, but from a very original point of view, and a unique narrator’s voice. And then, just when you begin to think that you know which direction this book is headed, it starts its own spin-off, puts the spotlight on characters all too often over-looked in other books and television series, and brings a refreshing, exciting and at times utmost surprising take on the story of Camelot, King Arthur and the Isle of Avalon.

With Britain lying in ruins, the old wizard Merlyn pays a visit to Uther, the brother of the current king, and predicts to him that he is the future savior of Camelot. Urged by the words of the wise man, Uther claims the throne and reunites all the banners of Britain under one man: Uther Pendragon. Overwhelmed with ambition and confident that he is the sole savior of Britain, Uther is a ruthless and troublesome man, who only really loved one person: his wife, Igraine. He feels little for his daughter Morgaine, safely hidden away on the Isle of Avalon to learn the ways of becoming a priestess, or for his younger son, Arthur, destined to be king one day. Little does the Pendragon know however that Merlyn has started to train Arthur, and has told the young boy that Uther’s days of power will soon be over. After Uther dies, it is Arthur who becomes the new savior of Britain. While taking up Camelot as his main residence, and being a strong promotor of justice and equality, Arthur’s future is looking bright.

That is, if he ever gets over the feelings he has for a certain priestess from Avalon who brought him the magical sword of Excalibur. Totally and completely in love with this peculiar woman, Arthur barely even notices his own wife, Guinivere. Little does he know that this strange priestess from Avalon is in fact his very own sister, Morgaine. When they finally found out, many years later, the damage is collosal. Morgaine has already given birth to her and Arthur’s child, Amr. And then she tricks him into her bed once more, causing Arthur to banish her from court, and Morgaine returning back to Avalon, where she gives birth to Mordred, her second son. Then she succums to an illness so grave that it keeps her in a delusional state for plenty of years.

Mordred, a grown man now, returns to Camelot to set things straight. He reconciles with his father, King Arthur, and tells him the devastating news of Morgaine’s death. Arthur is prone to an overwhelming sadness and locks himself up day and night, feeling the guilt of his actions as he turned against the only woman he ever truly loved. With the true king going mad, Mordred has every opportunity to do what he was ordered to: to put Arthur out of the way, and to become the true savior of Britain. Aided by his brother Amr, Mordred is determined to take the titel of the Pendragon and to destroy his very own father. But will he succeed?

As you might have gathered from my small (but rather descriptive, although it barely mentions half of the book) synopsis above, Camelot Lost starts with the Arthurian Legend we’re all pretty familiar with. King Uther Pendragon falls madly in love with a woman called Igraine, a love so pure and so utterly overwhelming that he devotes his entire life to her, and is unable to care even about his own children. Then we see Arthur’s rise to kingsip with the help of Merlyn, and how he gets hold of the most powerful sword in the history of powerful swords: Excalibur. He meets his sister Morgaine but, unaware that she’s actually his sister, he falls utterly and completely in love with her. Then babies get born, and Morgaine gets banished. Although that’s the familiar part, Jessica McHugh has such an authentic and original writing voice, that it doesn’t sound familiar at all. Sure, you might know the basic plotline, but the author manages to put some very surprising twists and turns here and there. Plus, the way she sketches her characters make this book feel very innovative and refreshing as well. But more about that later.

Let me first talk about the second part of the novel, where Jessica McHugh goes into an entirely new direction, and creates her own spin-off for how the story of Camelot should have ended. We see mystery and intrigue, revenge and ambition, loyalty and suffering; all these raw and honest emotions, passing by as the story continues. Focusing on Mordred as a nice primary character and shedding a new light on the characters of King Arthur and Queen Guinivere, the author manages to give her own original view on how King Arthur and his beloved Camelot eventually perished. It is innovative, refreshing and highly entertaining. I find that it’s sometimes even more difficult to take a story everyone knows and turn it into your own, adding your own unique voice to it and your own little plot twists, than to make an entire story from scratch. Jessica McHugh really does succeed in turning the well-known Arthurian Legend into her own story. It feels familiar and new at the same time, and that is exactly what I was hoping for.

My all-time favorite character in the Arthurian Legend, from the first time I read it as a child (in one of those dusty old classic looking books my father used to collect, filled with difficult worlds, but luckily for me, some pictures as well) is Morgaine of the Lady. When I read Mists of Avalon about four years ago, I learnt a different side of Lady Morgaine, a less darker side (she was portrayed as quite the villain in the first Arthurian books I read) and I loved her all the more for it. Now, while reading Camelot Lost, I was actually confronted with a side of Morgaine that is not dark, evil or vindictive at all. We don’t meet her as the scary and powerful Lady of the Lake here, although that is her title still, but we see her as a star-crossed lover, as a loving and caring woman towards her children, as the tragic priestess who died from lovesickness, as the girl who happened to fall in love with her own brother. I didn’t think that I could like this character even more than I already did, but Jessica McHugh proved me wrong.

That said, the other characters are sublime as well. I wasn’t fond of Guinivere while she was with Arthur – but then again, I’ve never really liked her. I have to be honest and say that I did start to like her by the time the second half of the book began, and Arthur had begun his descent into madness. I prefer her as a real, intelligent and strong person she is in Camelot Lost rather than the whiny version I’ve come across way too many times before. And King Arthur…thank god that he’s finally lost his one-dimensional personality! One of the many complains I had about Arthurian stories before, was the fact that King Arthur, albeit being the main character, was always portrayed as a one-dimensional character, without a lot of emotions. Yes, he’s honest and just, but that’s basically all there was to him. In Camelot Lost, I met a King Arthur who was driven by a lot of emotions, and not just the desire to do the right thing. He was straight-forward, passionate, ambitious, righteous, doubtful at times and confident at others, and an actual, genuine person with actual, genuine emotions. It makes him all the more interesting.

I could go on and describe all the other characters in detail, but that would make this review far too long and way too detailed. Let me conclude by saying that Jessica McHugh manages to turn all her characters into multi-facetted human beings rather than simply names on paper. The most intriguing, original and interesting thing about her characterization though is that no character she mentions is one hundred percent good or one hundred percent bad, and that’s what I think is the strongest point in this book. No one is ever really good or really evil. We’re all made of Yin and Yang, of good things and bad things, and book characters should make no exceptions of that. We can be caring and loving, but ruthless and reckless at the same time. We can be headstrong and determined one day, but weak and humble the next. We are made of contradictions, as are the characters we are introduced to in this book, and it makes them all the more entertaining, and all the more loveable.

The writing style is fabulous. I’m intrigued by how authentic the narrator’s voice in, and by how easy it was for me to be completely overwhelmed by this story. The descriptions are beautiful, the dailogue witty and inventive. The story kept me glued to my chair from page one, and left me breathless by the end of it. The plot is fast-paced, action-packed and surprisingly original. Can I make it anymore obvious to all of you that I absolutely, undeniably loved this book?

If you’re a fan of the Arthurian Legend or medieval fiction in general, than you definetly should get yourself a copy of Camelot Lost. With its intriguing setting, original plotline, beautiful narrative and outstanding characterization, it is certainly a must-read.