At 30, Jessica McHugh has 12 books published.
So quit making excuses and start writing! Actually, before you do that, read her novel “Pins” – a thoughtful coming-of-age story masquerading as a sordid thriller about a crazed killer offing strippers. I reviewed it here.
Also, before you dive back in on your own novel, you might want to read the following interview with Jessica. Maybe you’ll be inspired.
You’re how old? And you have how many books published?
I’m 30 years old, (when I say that, I hear Natalie Wood from “West Side Story” desperate praying “Please let it not be true!”) and I’ve had 12 books published by indie presses in the past 4 years.
How do you manage to get so much writing done?
Obsession — I’m kidding and being sincere here. I love to write and will do so until the day I die, so whether I have time enough in the day doesn’t matter to me. If I want to write, I will write, no matter what. I carry a notebook around in my purse so I can write while I’m waiting in any kind of line, while I’m in the bathroom, even when I’m in gridlocked traffic. If I’m waiting, I’m writing.
Where do you live and what’s your day job?
I live in Frederick, Maryland which is quickly allowing art to consume the rednecky vibe it had when I first moved here. A brilliant creative scene has lurked in the shadows for a few years, and now it really seems to be sneaking into the light. It’s been a wonderful thing to witness.
I currently work at a molecular diagnostics company where I, as my husband puts it, “make good science,” but the truth is, I’d much rather be making good art.
How did you get into writing in the first place?
I’m pretty sure I came out of the womb with a pen in my hand. Sorry, Mom. That must have hurt.
I’ve always loved telling stories and playing make-believe, probably way longer than I should have, but in high school, I was more inclined to poetry. I don’t think I wrote any stories; I was too busy acting them out onstage. When I was nineteen, I’d recently left school, left my boyfriend, and gotten a terrible minimum wage job working 11 hours in a mall perfume kiosk. We didn’t sell much perfume, so there wasn’t much to do but read. I became addicted to the Roald Dahl short story collections during that time and found myself inspired to write some twisted tales of my own. I soon became addicted to my own short stories. After writing a dozen stories or so, I started my first novel, which became the first book in my series, “The Tales of Dominhydor.”
I’d say “the rest is history,” but it was more of a wonderful fantasy that became my reality.
Do you stick exclusively to novels, or do you also do other forms of writing (short stories, etc.)?
I will write in whatever format the story demands. I especially love writing flash fiction, but I also write a lot of shorts and poetry. Plus, my play “Fools call it Fate,” which was produced at the Mobtown Theatre, was named Best New Play of 2011 by Baltimore Broadway World.
Are you drawn to any particular genre? If so, why?
I think I love writing horror most because I’m easily scared. There are so many images that terrify me, so I simply put them in mind and describe them. It’s the only time I can read a horror novel and know that someone out there is more scared of it than I am. If I wrote it, it’s nothing, but if you put the same scene under someone else’s pen, and I’m guaranteed a sleepless night.
What was the inspiration for “Pins?”
“PINS” was inspired by the 7 months I worked as a stripper in West Virginia. In that time, I worked in two different clubs, which were surprisingly different from each other. Luckily, when I moved from one club to the other, some dancer friends came with me. That was another surprise. I never expected to make friends in a strip club, let alone have them make such lasting impressions on me. Much of the book is taken from real-life experiences I had in those clubs, so watch yourself if you want to call something “unrealistic,” reviewers. Except for the murders, most of those incidents happened to me or other girls I knew. However, I heard my share of scary stories involving stripper killers while working, too…often before approaching a sleazy customer with only three teeth to his name. It made for some shaky lap dances, that’s for sure.
Unlike the PINS protagonist, Birdie, I had no problem figuring out why I’d chosen such a profession. As a young, firm, attractive 19 year old, I knew my time as a stripper would be short-lived. I did it because I wanted the story to tell. That was before I’d even started writing seriously — somehow, I just knew the story was there, and whether I wrote it down or not, it would be mine to tell forever. Also, when I’m 90, I get to remember that there was a time when men and women threw money at me for having fun. It’s a good memory to have.
Is there anything about working as a stripper that you think the average person doesn’t understand?
Strippers aren’t being exploited. Customers are. (Well, most strippers aren’t being exploited. There are some who would give their skanky boss a blowjob just so they could get more shifts, but those chicks were idiots.) The truth is that shaking your naked body is nothing when it’s your job. It’s really more of a silly circus act than anything else. Or maybe I was just the weirdo among the bunch who enjoyed the spectacle.
Do you have any other projects in the works right now?
I’m currently working on my “Darla Decker” YA series, a historical fiction novel called “Verses of Villainy,” my horror novella “The Kids of Somerset,” and a slew of short stories. I’m also in the preliminary stages of putting together a one-act festival in Frederick with Improv Queen Laura Stark. So, to answer your question: Yes, a lot. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
What are the best and worst parts about being a writer for you?
I think the worst part is having so much passion for writing and not being able to do it as full-time work — at least, not yet. I feel so close to my dream, yet so far away. But I don’t let it discourage me. I keep writing, keep getting my name out there, and keep believing that one day, if I work really hard, it might just happen for me. Despite dwelling in fictional worlds, I’m a pretty realistic person so I know the odds of “making it” aren’t great, I can’t help but keep working for my inky dreams. When it comes down to it, I guess I’m just a fool in love.
The best parts are everything else. I even enjoy the most annoying parts of editing. If I’m writing, thinking about writing, or talking about writing, I’m the happiest girl you could ever meet. Again, see: Fool in Love