MJ Preston is a horror author and artist living in Canada. He has written about everything from native monsters hunting in modern-day, with his straight horror, The Equinox, to mind-controlling, bone-eating aliens, in the epic, Acadia Event, and now he’s taking you into the mind of the darkest monster of them all. The serial killer, in his latest project, The Highwayman Series. From book One, the titular Highwayman, and now, Book Two, titled Four, MJ Preston pulls no punches as he introduces us to serial murder as it really is, dark, ugly, horrific, and deadly.
MJ is an intelligent man with great taste in horror. We spoke of writing, real-life horror, and unique curses.
NTK: Welcome to Chilling Chat, MJ. Thank you for joining me today.
MJP: Thank you for having me.
NTK: How old were you when you first discovered horror?
MJP: I think that would be around four. I’m not sure how I heard about Frankenstein and Dracula, just as long as I’d been cognizant of my surroundings, I’ve gravitated toward everything horror and monster related. I loved the old horror comics and even sent away for the six-foot real life Frankenstein monster which turned out to be a poster. I joined the club early on.
NTK: Is Frankenstein’s Monster your favorite monster? What monster do you think is the scariest?
MJP: Frankenstein’s monster was definitely my favorite. Frankenstein was the first real book I tackled while reading as a preteen. I identified with these creatures in that they were outsiders, which at times I found myself in different peer groups. And how can you not love the monster? He is a metaphor for our failings and even today we don’t heed the message. Scariest monster for me would be the Devil himself. Raised in an Irish Catholic family, I have family members who really believe in Prince of Darkness. He’s most frightening for me, because he comes with a smile, and has haunted my dreams for over four decades.
NTK: What is your favorite horror film?
MJP: I would have to say that John Carpenter’s adaption of The Thing. I went to that movie in 1982 with a bunch of buddies in British Columbia. We lived out in the burbs and had a small cinema, so all five of us piled into a car and drove to Vancouver to see it. All the way there I listened to them harangue me, THIS BETTER BE GOOD. Three hours later we walked out in awe. John Carpenter’s masterpiece of psychological terror. Kurt Russel’s finest hour.
NTK: What is your favorite horror TV show?
MJP: Now I am going to date myself. I still love Kolchak: The Night Stalker. And all the kids are saying, “Who?” To which I reply, “Greatest creature a week show ever!” They had robots, vampires, Wendigos and how could you not love Darren McGavin as Kolchak, in his cheap straw newsman hat, slightly off white suit and sneakers. It was a great show, but I was sucker for them all, The Twilight Zone, Night Gallery, even then there was so much great writing.
NTK: What is your favorite horror novel?
MJP: My favorite horror novel is the apocalyptic Swan Song by the brilliant, Robert R. McCammon. It was the second novel, I discovered by this author, who I think is a rare gem in the world of horror. McCammon tells a different version of the apocalypse, substituting nuclear holocaust for Pandemic and I think that resonated with me more that King’s The Stand, which I also loved but not as much. Sorry, Steve.
NTK: (Laughs.) Is McCammon your favorite author? Which author has influenced you most?
MJP: I’m what they call a reader with a wandering eye. I’d say at the moment John Sandford is my favorite author, but McCammon would be my favorite horror author, because he’s a southern boy with a big imagination that include anything from three-arm mutant P.I.s to Vampire Bikers. As to what author has influenced me most, I can’t say that any one writer has influenced me. Every book I read leaves some sort of an impression and I’d need a long list to fill that order. King, McCammon, Sandford, Steel, Connelly, Shelley, Stoker, etc. They all influence me.
NTK: What inspires you to write?
MJP: It’s a sickness really. I am a voyeur of sorts. You won’t catch me peeking in people’s windows at night, because I can’t run worth a spit. I kid… I think writers are at their core, voyeurs of this nutty world that surrounds us. I will study the faintest smile or grimace in a stranger and store it somewhere in the filing cabinet in the back of my mind for later use. Does that sound pompous? Okay. Here’s what inspires me. A simple question. “What if?”
NTK: (Laughs.) Do you allow your characters free will? Or do you plan their every move?
MJP: You mean I get a say? Up until recent publication of The Highwayman Series, I never wrote a recurring character and therefore never got comfortable with where they were going until we got there. I don’t outline, I write by the seat of my pants and when I take on a project I just keep going until it’s over. I don’t preplan anything, which can be frustrating, but a bonus of that is this: I get to be the first one at the scene of the crime and it is as new to me as it will be to you. And that’s cool.
NTK: That is cool! Do you have a favorite character among those you’ve written?
MJP: Yeah, I probably got fifteen, but I’ll narrow it down. The Equinox – Old Jake Toomey, Chocktee Elder, Veteran, scare of nothing. Acadia Event – Big Garney Wilson, based a real character from my Ice Trucking Days. The Highwayman Series Book 1 & 2. Detective Lonnie Perkins. (Perk) A skinny drink of water from Louisville, Kentucky. I’ll leave it there or I will go on all night and there will be restraining orders. (Laughs.)
NTK: Did any of your real life experiences make it into your books?
MJP: Well, my second book, Acadia Event was largely autobiographical minus the Irish gangsters and bone eating aliens. I drove the north as an ice trucker just south of the arctic circle for three seasons. Everything I saw there, twisting curtains of the northern lights to a giant white wolf stalking the tundra found its way into Acadia Event. My fears and trepidation about driving a loaded fuel truck up some of the most dangerous roads in the world went into the book. Protagonist, Marty Croft, is pretty much me, when he’s not being muscled by gangsters or saving the world from bone eating aliens. Lucky Bastard.
NTK: Any strange stories from your years as a soldier?
MJP: I think there has always been a soldier’s presence. In Equinox, one of the local cops, nicknamed Oddball, is an Afghanistan Veteran. In Acadia Event, two central characters are soldiers and some of the story reaches back to those days. Even in Highwayman, there is a soldier. My family has served in the military all the way back to my Irish roots in the 1200’s. My great-great-great (not sure how many greats) grandfather was Jenico Preston. Check Wiki. He put down the Irish Rebellion. My son is a soldier, my nephew was, my brother. My family has always served. Someday, I hope that service is no longer needed, and peace becomes achievable. So, yeah, they get the nod, and experiences always find their way in whether through personal reflection or other sources.
NTK: What is your favorite curse word?
MJP: Favorite curse word? Hmmm. I was a soldier for 12 years, drove a truck for over 20 years. Somewhere in that cesspool of poetry, I’ve been threatened with someone using my eye socket as device of sexual pleasure. I’ve been told where the best part of me ran down. I’ve heard stuff that would make truckers cringe. My favorite curse word is the one that starts a fight. But I’m a grandfather, so I’ll keep it clean, and besides, I got nothing left for the swear jar. If that isn’t good enough read my books. But honest, I’m outta dough.
NTK: (Laughs.) Do you have a favorite curse?
MJP: Well the curse of Wendigo sickness is a favorite. Wendigo sickness or madness comes upon a people when they indulge in the practice of cannibalism. The stories from the indigenous people of North America are absolutely enthralling. Roughly 35 miles from where I am giving this interview, Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta, a native guide and trapper named Swift Runner was hung in the late 1800’s after he butchered his entire family and ate them. His defense was Wendigo madness. Stories like this inspired my first novel, The Equinox and another horror story called “Black Mountain Harvest.”
NTK: That’s awesome! What does the future hold for you, MJ? What works do Horror Addicts have to look forward to?
MJP: A new Highwayman book will be coming. After that, I’m going back and writing a juicy horror novel chock full of monsters. Titles are TBA. Whether I’m writing about mythical monsters, invading aliens or the most terrifying monsters of all, serial killers, I will always be immersed in the darkness. Its where all the cool readers and writers and filmmakers hang.
NTK: MJ, you’re a really fun interview. Thank you for chatting with me.
MJP: Thank you for having me.