INTERVIEW WITH JOE MYNHARDT, CRYSTAL LAKE PUBLISHING
I have known Joe Mynhardt for a number of years through mywriterscircle.com a friendly internet site for writers. I remember when Joe’s wife asked me to arrange an internet party worldwide for his birthday through the circle. It was an amazing event and so many people came on line to give their good wishes. Joe has determination. When he says he will do something he does it and throughout the years I have been nothing but impressed with the way he has moved from a hobby writer to owner of Crystal Lake Publishing in South Africa. Joe specialises in publishing and writing horror and as my blog is usually dedicated to romance writers, I felt it was time for a shift in genre this month and provide Joe with a spot of his own right here. I hope you will enjoy this interview and leave some comments for Joe Mynhardt to pick up and read.
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 at age 9, 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 November of 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, editing, or thinking about writing and the genre. I do whatever can make me a better writer, editor and publisher. Yes, that includes acting like an idiot in front of my friends… sometimes – I call it research.
What first attracted you to horror writing?
Growing up, I was lucky enough to have parents who allowed me to watch horror movies and read whatever comics I wanted. So I basically grew up watching movies like Nightmare on Elm street, Friday the 13th, Halloween, Poltergeist, Child’s Play, and a bit of Alfred Hitchcock and Twilight Zone as well. What’s really strange is my own family now don’t understand why I want to write horror. Go figure. Anyway, since then I’ve been extremely interested in whatever classic horror movies or books I could get my hands on, including Stephen King, Ambrose Bierce, Algernon Blackwood, Lovecraft, Poe, Campbell, Howard and many, many more. I’ve got so many favourite authors right now, I couldn’t even begin to mention them
What made all these books, movies and comics so much more educational for me was the fact that I looked at these highly intriguing characters and wondered where they came from. Who invented them? Who drew them and gave them names? Essentially, who gave birth to them?
My ever-growing imagination was also complimented by my need to create. Where that need originated from I have no idea. Since age nine I always wanted to build or invent something. Why horror stories and books? Because horror gives the writer more creative space than any other genre. Anything can happen. And it’s that uncertainty, that fear of the unknown, which makes horror so damn great.
Why do you love this genre?
Since a young boy I’ve always been interested in the supernatural. I loved scary movies. I didn’t care if there weren’t really any monsters creeping around in the dark. It was the possibility that excited me. You put two kids in a dark room with an open closet and each one will imagine their own unique monster.
I’d say the biggest turning point was when I watched Alfred Hitchcock’s Final Escape episode. The twist in the tale story has been my favorite ever since. And let’s not forget The Monkey’s Paw.
As writers we quickly learn what grabs the attention of readers. Things like drama, action, conflict, strong characters, dire situations and an antagonist that wants the exact opposite of your hero. And if you look carefully at these aspects, you’ll see they all play a big role in all stories. Horror is in every genre: losing a loved one is a horrible event; standing on a stage in front of people; being laughed at; losing a fight; being dumped, getting married (just kidding).
Plain and simple, horror stories are exciting. You never know what to expect.
Crystal Lake Publishing has also just published Gary McMahon’s short story collection, Where You Live. McMahon has built up a solid reputation as one of the hottest horror authors around at the moment – how did you secure this coveted collection?
I met Gary through a project we were both involved in at Dark Minds Press (Dark Minds anthology), and he was the first person I invited for Crystal Lake Publishing’s inaugural anthology, For the Night is Dark. He was also the first to accept. I’m a 100% certain that some of the other authors joined the project to share the TOC with him.
We stayed in contact after that, and I’m of course a big fan of his work. He’s already working on The Outsiders with a few other authors, including Simon Bestwick, which will be out in 2014. He also recently wrote an introduction to Fear the Reaper (the 2nd anthology) and I think he was quite impressed with the quality of the book. It was then that he contacted me about republishing a sold out, limited edition book he had published a few years back with Grey Friar Press, including a bunch of new stories, of course.
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. If it’s cricket season, a match can easily take you to 18:00.
I do my best to put on my publisher’s hat as fast as possible, so I can get some work done before my wife comes back from work at 17:00. Believe it or not, the hostel serves dinner at 5pm, as well.
Then, on two nights a week, I’ll sit in study hall for an hour, helping the kids with their homework. After that I get a bit more work done. I try to finish by 21:00 every evening, but it’s not always possible.
Then we either watch an episode of a series, or I read or listen to an audio book before going to be at 22:30.
All this happens on a good day. On a crap day 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.
For those who might not know, once a book is accepted by Crystal Lake, approximately how long does it take for it to be published?
The big publishers can take up to three years, but they take on way too many titles, and have too many people working on one project, anyway.
There are a lot of factors that come into play. For example, some books require a rewrite in certain areas. Since the authors I use in anthologies are highly sought after, I give them 6 months to write their contributions; they have a lot of other deadlines to cope with. After that it takes about 2 months to edit the anthology, then I might need to send it to someone who’s writing an introduction. I also need a month or two to send out ARC’s for pre-launch reviews that I’ll use during the launch.
Somewhere in there the cover needs to be made, eBook and paperback formatting, scheduling a successful launch or blog tour and so on.
So I prefer about 9 months per project.
What we can expect from Crystal Lake Publishing in 2014?
Except for a surprise novella (which will then be combined into a collection later the year), there are quite a few books already lined up:
William Meikle’s Samurai and Other Stories.
The Outsiders (a Lovecraftian, shared-world anthology).
A yet to be named non-fiction eBook that’ll guide horror writers in the right direction, written by a host of horror authors.
Tales From the Lake Vol.1.
Children of the Grave (a zombie, shared-world, choose your own adventure collection, where each author writes a different direction).
And if everything goes well and things aren’t too hectic, I’ll be able to finish my second collection by the end of 2014, but it’ll probably only be out early 2015.
The second Tales From the Lake horror writing competition.
But you never know what opportunities will come along. I always leave a bit of room in case something big comes knocking. You see, always be ready when opportunity comes knocking.
Do you prefer all out gore or psychological chills?
Definitely psychological chills. Without the psychological manipulation of a decent writer, the gore bits would mean absolutely nothing. No one would care about the character. With today’s special effects in movies, people have been a bit desensitised. That’s why some writers now feel they have to go overboard with gore scenes. Look back at the older movies, remember how they never actually showed the monster eat the victim. They just zoomed in on his approach and faded to black. Still scared the hell out of me and everyone who watched it. Why, because we cared about those people. The writer made us care. But, don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing better than a perfectly timed bit of gore that makes you go, “Awesome!”
A great approach is to show the carnage the ‘monster’ or whoever has done, without actually showing him or it until the very end. That way you have the chills and the gore. There are great stories with only the psychological horror, but too many of them in a row tends to weaken a collection, in my opinion.
I tend to put a lot of gore into a story where the bad guy finally gets what he deserves. In the title story of my Lost in the Dark collection, I have a bad guy who gets the tendons behind his knees, ankles and arms severed (even his eyelids), then he gets tied to a tree and torn apart by wild animals. The timing was perfect, because by then the reader despises him for all the horrible things he had done, things much worse than what happened to him, and it made me go, “Awesome!”
What considerations to you take when it comes to cover art? Do you leave it up to the author or artist or do you take full control?
Most of the covers come either from a picture I had in my mind, or a part from a story in the collection. Artists Ben Baldwin likes to read a few stories to get the feel of the book. But when it comes to an author’s collection, I connect the author with Ben and they work it out amongst them. Ben knows what I like and I have 100% faith that he’ll create another masterpiece. From the start he’s always been able to bring the picture in my mind to life.
My initial love of books started with book covers. I’m a big fan of covers, whether it’s vinyl covers or DVD covers.
I’m a big fan of emotionally impactful covers. Covers that you can stare at for days. Every time the reader picks up the book, they’ll first stare at the cover before paging on. If you can make someone feel let’s say anger, fear, awe, curiosity or unease when they look at a cover, you’ve already set the mood for a great book.
Some of the covers might remind you of a childhood fear, or perhaps make you realise that you’re scared of something and you never realised it.
Do you think books encompassing different genres have helped or hindered the industry?
That’s a catch 22 situation.
On one hand, 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 then you have to keep marketing in mind when you write a book. You need to know who your target readers are. So sometimes you have to pull your characters back a bit and keep the ending as well as the genre in mind. When a reader looks at a cover, they should know immediately what waits for them inside.
I’d say stick to one genre in general, because you will let your readers down if you don’t, but nothing stops you from adding romantic subplots, fantasy worlds or a funny character. Your horror book will be so much better for it if you do.
Otherwise, write different genres under a pseudonym. I write and read horror and thriller stories, or just plain weird and dark, but there’s always room a bit of romance, comedy and so on. I’m actually working with an author on an erotic horror novella for 2014, with a lot of twisted humor in there for extra fun.
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 the forum. 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 for it, and that’s for a story of about 130 words. Not bad.
I was pretty hooked after that.
Do you prefer writing and publishing short stories, novellas or novels?
For now I prefer short stories and novellas. I’m not able to fully represent a novel yet. I can’t offer authors an advance or the massive advertising budget a novel requires. This company is still young, so I’m sure we’ll get there some day.
I also read more short stories as well, since they’re just what someone with a little bit of time in need of entertainment looks for.
What sort of characters do you like to read about?
That’s a tough one. I have to say I have three favorites at the moment. The lonely outcast looking for a place in the world, the quiet person who ends up surprising people with his hidden talents, and the poor soul who has lost everything and doesn’t know where to turn. 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 an artistic person, or are 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’m happy.
Sometimes I just ignore the real life around me. It sucks a bit, because then people think I don’t care.
You should see how crazy I get when I’m tired. Put on some Iron Maiden and you’ll see a completely different side of me.
I used to think I was a pretty decent guy for someone who wants to write horror. To my surprise, I found out that most horror writers are amazingly nice people. I guess we get all our frustrations out on paper before going out into the world and doing something stupid. Perhaps it’s a good thing we spend so much time on our own.
Which writers were your biggest influences growing up?
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 loved going to the library, mostly for looking at covers, reading back page blurbs and, of course, for Asterix and Tintin.
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 as a youngster.
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 and twisted.
My biggest influence will still have to be Dracula.
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 face. 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.
In the end, I like to plot, but most of it will just be short notes of scene ideas. Everything comes together in my mind and then I start writing.
Do you like to do all of your research upfront, or write till the very end?
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 and editing, do you have a set schedule that you like to follow?
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/edit 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.
These days publishing, marketing and just running Crystal Lake Publishing is taking most of my time. I hate making authors wait, so I try to reply the same day.
When it comes to the invite-only anthologies you’re known to put together, are there any surprises and/or co-incidental similarities in theme that come about?
Surprisingly not. Each story is just so unique in its approach and symbolism. You see, I like to study writers and their work, then I bring a bunch of them together, a bunch I’ll know will not only fit nicely together, but bring out the best in each other.
Once the stories are submitted I’ll work with the authors to sharpen the story, and if I do ever find any similarities are will not benefit the collection, we’ll work on it together till everything evens out nicely.
Once I invite an author to an anthology, he/she is 95% guaranteed to be in that anthology. There will probably be a first someday, where an author and I will agree that the story isn’t going to work. Not all authors are easy to work with.
Where can we find Crystal Lake Publishing on the internet?
Check out our website: http://www.crystallakepub.com/
Follow us on Twitter: https://twitter.com/crystallakepub
Chat with us on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/Crystallakepublishing
All our books can also be found on Goodreads.
And of course Amazon. But instead of barraging you with links, it might be better to just visit our books page. If you click on the book covers, you’ll find out more about each book, or you can just click on the Amazon buttons to follow the universal links straight to your country’s Amazon outlet.
I’m also very approachable, so don’t hesitate to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’ll add you to the mailing list (which goes out with every new release), and if you’re an author, be sure to send me a bio and links to (or examples of) your work. I might just contact you for a project in the future.
I wish Joe Mynhardt every success with his publishing venture and hope we shall be seeing more of Crystal Lake Publishing in the future.