M.E. PROCTOR – With Busy Background–She Prefers Writing Fiction

M.E. Proctor was a freelance journalist for a music magazine and an advertising account executive before becoming a corporate communications advisor. She prefers writing fiction.

She is the author of four dystopian science fiction novels, The Savage Crown Series, and a short story collection, Family and Other Ailments – Crime Stories Close to Home (2023, Wordwooze Publishing).

The first book in her Declan Shaw detective series, Love You Till Tuesday, comes out in August 2024 from Shotgun Honey.

Proctor is a Derringer nominee. Her fiction has appeared in various anthologies and magazines: Vautrin, Stone’s Throw, Mystery Tribune, Black Cat Weekly, Thriller Magazine, and Bristol Noir, among others. Born in Brussels and a long-time Houston resident, she now lives in Livingston, Texas, with her husband, James Lee Proctor, who is also a writer.

Elevator Pitch for Family and Other Ailments: Blood ties, the family we’ve been given, the friends we make, the loves we keep, and those we lose. The twenty-six stories in this collection vacillate on the brink, hovering at the periphery of the possibility of crime. Under a certain light, at an angle, they’re all love stories.

About writing in multiple genres: One of the joys of writing short fiction is genre-hopping. I mostly write crime these days, but I occasionally dip a toe in horror. “Quiet” horror—Stories where everyday life turns into something else and reality starts slipping. A few of these are included in the Family and Other Ailments collection. The dividing line between crime and horror is often blurry. I’m still interested in science fiction and even if I don’t plan to add books to the Savage Crown series, I write short stories when I feel the urge to leave the planet. I think it’s healthy to mix things up. Switching between working on a book and writing short stories keeps things fresh. It’s like varying your workout to exercise different muscles.

The writing process: I’m a short fiction improviser. A story can start with an image, a sentence, or a line of dialogue. I don’t have it all mapped in my head. For example, a girl sits at a window and watches a wasp walk the length of the barrel of the rifle she’s holding. I don’t know who she is or what she’s planning to do. Or what she’s done already. The answers come as the story is being written. No Recoil is one of the pieces in the collection. It starts with the girl and the wasp.

The process is different for a book. I don’t do a real outline, but I have enough of a story idea to start writing a few chapters and get momentum going. Not all the characters are lined up, and the ending is up in the air. After a hundred pages or so, I write a rough storyline: A happens, then B, C, this is character X’s arc, etc. I know where the book is going. The big bullet points are nailed down. Things will still change, especially the finale, and secondary characters might get a bigger role, but I have a handrail I can rely on to avoid getting stuck.

Current projects: A retro-noir novella with a fellow crime writer. I’ve never written in collaboration. It’s an interesting experience. We started with a short story idea, and the manuscript grew bigger. It’s a double POV plot, and we go back and forth between his character and mine. I enjoyed the ping-pong. What if we do this? What happens next, throwing ideas against the wall? We completed a first draft a few weeks ago and are now in the polishing phase. I’ve been obsessing about this project for the past two months, so everything else has been put on the back burner.

Now, I have to work on the very last edits and the preparation for the launch of Love You Till Tuesday, the first book in my Declan Shaw detective series. It comes out in August from publisher Shotgun Honey. There’s more in store for Declan, including a project I started last fall that I feel a strong pull to get back into. The more I write about the guy, the better I know him, and the more time I want to spend with him; a good sign when you plan a series with a recurrent character!

Apart from that, I have short stories in upcoming anthologies and a free Substack newsletter I release every other Thursday – The Roll Top Desk—conversations about books and writing. I’ve been doing it for a year and a half. It’s a nice change of pace from writing fiction.

About writing from the perspective of the opposite sex: A few months ago, I was preparing for a reading, and I expected questions about writing from a female or male point of view. I went through the 26 stories in the collection and counted how many I had on each side. The tally came to thirteen girls/women and twelve boys/guys. One story doesn’t count; it’s a news report.

For me, choosing a main character falls in the same category as deciding to tell the story in first person or third, present or past tense. It’s what feels right for what I want to say. One of the stories in the book Hour of the Bat is inspired by an Edward Hopper painting, Summer Evening. It shows a young couple having a conversation. Looking at it, I knew the story had to be about the girl because of the expression on her face. And it would have to be in first person. It felt natural. I heard her voice.

The main protagonist of my detective books is male. His name popped into my head before I knew what he was doing for a living and what nettles I would drag him through. Declan Shaw was born on my back porch one Labor Day weekend out of the blue. Where the name came from is a mystery (the only Declan I know is Elvis Costello/Declan MacManus). When I stepped in his shoes, I gave him some of my personality traits and added a scoop of attitude and restlessness. To make sure I get the masculine vibe right, all my beta readers are guys. The first and toughest reviewer is my husband. A couple of times, he told me: A man would never say that. I think I got it now.

Favorite author: More than one, as my bookshelves and the library on my e-reader will confirm. It’s a hard choice, but I’ll pick Georges Simenon. I grew up with his books all over the house. Lots of books, the man was insanely prolific. I’ve always been a fast reader, consuming the novels by the pound. My admiration for his work has only increased with time. His writing is deceptively simple. It looks effortless, basic almost, but he catches characters with one line, sometimes with a single word. He’s so good at finding the fault line in mundane situations, the unease behind the appearances. A family at a dinner table, a couple that’s been married a long time, the simmering resentment, the weight of silence, all the things that are not said between lines of dialogue. It’s brilliant.

How do our readers contact you:
I’m on Facebook – Martine Elise Proctor – https://www.facebook.com/martine.proctor
Substack is a good option, too, at The Roll Top Desk – https://meproctor.substack.com
And there’s a contact button on my website: https://www.shawmystery.com
All the format options for the short story collection, Family and Other Ailments, are here:
https://books2read.com/u/3Lx0v5
The science fiction series and all the anthologies are on my Author page on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/stores/M.E.-Proctor/author/B009JE9JWI/allbooks

Groups:
Facebook:
Short Mystery Fiction Society: https://www.facebook.com/groups/608752359277585
Crime Fiction Writers: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1307945053456724
Criminally Good Reads: https://www.facebook.com/groups/5356552667708259
Thriller, Mystery and Suspense Writers: https://www.facebook.com/groups/290472645391267
Sisters In Crime: https://sistersincrime.tradewing.com/community
On LinkedIn:
Fiction Writers Group: https://www.linkedin.com/groups/12178764/
Writers and Illustrators Circle: https://www.linkedin.com/groups/3723330/
Detective Fiction Writer’s Group: https://www.linkedin.com/groups/4911106/

15 Comments

  1. John Schembra

    Quite a diverse writing style, and background! Interesting point about writing from the prospective of the opposite sex. I’ve found that challenging, to put it simply!

    Reply
    • Martine Proctor

      I often have that conversation with male writers. Some are a bit nervous about it. I believe in finding the empathy and then asking beta readers to comment. If it sounds wrong, they’ll tell you!

      Reply
  2. Pamela Ruth Meyer

    Martine, I was interested in your discussion of writing from the perspective of one’s opposite sex. I have less access to beta readers who are male.
    I wonder, though, if the majority of one’s readers are female, maybe those female readers would enjoy a male character’s perspective that FEELS like what THEY (as women) envision or hope for. What do you and George think?

    Reply
    • Martine Proctor

      I’m guilty of putting in some of my male protagonists attitudes or behaviors that appeal to me (even if I don’t write romance!). I have to be careful about being “too cuddly”, but once the guys start acting and speaking in the stories, they pretty much do their own thing. My male beta readers find very little to criticize, so I guess I channeled them properly. After all we live and work together. It isn’t another species 🙂

      Reply
    • George Cramer

      My debut novel, The Mona Lisa Sisters, was primarily from a woman’s POV. Once I got into the swing of it, it was a hoot. I was lucky to have four or five lady friends read as I went along. With only a few suggestions and much support, I was off to the races.

      Once published, not one woman reader complained about the POV.

      So, those sitting on the fence, give it a try.

      Reply
  3. Rhonda Blackhurst

    Like Michael, I like the visual of the wasp on the rifle barrel. Even she did fire the gun before the stroll–the visual was enjoyable. As a mystery novelist, I’ve just recently (the past couple of years) tried my hand at shorter fiction. It’s far more difficult than I thought it would be but helps tighten up my novels. I look forward to reading yours.

    Reply
    • Martine Proctor

      Thank you, Rhonda. Yes, short fiction teaches you to go for the essential. It’s a different rhythm though. There’s a lot of intensity in short fiction, in a book, relaxation is needed. That tightness cannot be sustained without fatigue over 85,000 words.

      Reply
  4. Donna

    Although some already congratulate you i just want to do the same thing congrats I am also a staving writer lol

    Reply
  5. Michael A. Black

    Excellent interview and cogent writing advice, Ms. Proctor. I loved he image of the wasp walking on the rifle barrel. Now that would be a true test of a sniper’s moxie. Best of luck to you on your new one.

    Reply
    • Martine Proctor

      Thank you, Michael. I don’t like wasps 🙂 – if you read the story, you’ll know that the girl fired the gun before the wasp took a stroll…. does it make a difference?

      Reply
  6. Jim Guigli

    I love Martine’s writing. And, she was kind enough to grant me a blurb about one of my short stories.

    Reply
  7. Jacqueline Seewald

    Congratulations on your new novel! Wishing you much success.

    Reply

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LENORE HART – A GOOD HORROR STORY

Lenore Hart is the author of eight novels and editor of the fantastic fiction anthology series The Night Bazaar. A Shirley Jackson Award finalist, she’s also published short stories in fantasy magazines and literary journals. She’s been a recipient of grants, awards, and writing fellowships from the NEA and arts organizations in Florida, Virginia, Ireland, and Germany. Her work has been featured on “Voice of America” radio and the PBS-TV series “Writer to Writer.” She teaches at The Ossabaw Island Writers Retreat. Her most recent release is The Night Bazaar London: Ten Tales of Forbidden Wishes and Dangerous Desires. (Northampton House Press, Dec.)

“A good horror has its place in literature.” – Thomas Hardy (Tess of the D’Urbervilles)

Mr. Hardy, how right you were. I write novels in horror and several other genres: historical, literary, contemporary, horror, and dark fantasy. I’m also the editor of a fantastic fiction anthology series called The Night Bazaar. Some writers consider it odd not to specialize, much less mix several genres in one work. I see no contradiction. Reality is certainly tinged with horror at times – from the personal sort to horrific events on the world stage. And, as a category, horror has been ubiquitous in both genre and literary works, including gothic works by 19th-century authors revered in the literary canon. The genre persists and travels well.

I began my writing career decades ago, tired of passive female characters in plots (mostly) conceived by men: warm bodies who said little and screamed much, hoping for rescue by a male protagonist. I first wrote gothic fiction to create the female heroes I’d wanted to read.

I expected this choice to be questioned, but hadn’t expected to be reviled or verbally abused. But one such encounter in the mid-1990s occurred at a crowded booksellers’ conference in Atlanta. I was talking to the owner of a regional press about my first novel, which was set in Florida, where he was based. “Oh, horror. I never read it. I wouldn’t tolerate it in my office. It’s not literature but despicable junk. Morally reprehensible,” he concluded, smirking at others in the booth.

I was suddenly conscious of the people around me, a silent, complicit audience to his contempt and intended shaming. I briefly doubted the wisdom of my choice.

But he’d said, I never read it. Then how could he intelligently judge? He wasn’t merely  being sanctimonious but reveling in ignorance of the entire genre. Did he also consider Edgar Allan Poe’s works’ morally reprehensible’? Was Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, one of the purest examples of gothic fiction ever written, really ‘despicable junk’? If so, then Shakespeare, Mary Shelley, Sheridan Le Fanu, Ambrose Bierce, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Shirley Jackson must also be simply genre hacks posing as literati.

Is some genre work slipshod? Sure. As are some so-called ‘literary novels.’ I should’ve said, “Novels of horror, fantasy science fiction, or any other genre can be, and often are endowed with the same craftsmanship as ‘fine’ literature.” Over the years, this has remained the case in works by such writers as Vincent LaValle (The Changeling), Stephen Graham Jones (The Only Good Indians), and Jess Kidd (The Night Ship). But I was new to publishing back then, unsure of myself, and simply departed, fuming.

Reticence is no longer the default, though – for me or for horror. Several aspects of the new ascendance of the genre are thrilling. For one, it’s been widely recognized as not just worthy and legitimate but a desirable part of the literary conversation – as should’ve been the case all along. Also, delightful is the merging over the last few years of horror with some of my own lifelong interests – myths, folktales, and fairytales – in the currently popular subgenre of Folk Horror. Those themes are timeless. Every possible plot and character type inhabits these dreamlike, compelling, archetypal stories, whatever culture they originate from.

For human beings, it seems, a bit of fright is pleasurable. Aristotle claimed we could get fear out of our systems by indulging in it safely through the arts. This may be partly why horror’s popularity persists, but it’s more complicated. As children, we experienced fear and mystery daily, inhabiting a world we did not comprehend. One built to a larger scale than we could cope with, run by strange, sometimes threatening ogres called adults. We existed at the mercy of everything and everyone: the neighbor’s growling dog and needle-wielding nurses. The darkness in the closet and under the bed. Aware of our helplessness and the frequent, patronizing refusal of adults to help or even listen. No wonder children identify with the protagonists in scary stories!

I read at adult level by age nine, and my parents were not nearly as vigilant as those of today. Also, a Saturday afternoon horror double-feature was at a nearby rococo hole-in-the-wall called the Vogue Theater. Sometimes, I went with my little sister, at others with two boys from the neighborhood who were competing for my affection. I sat in the middle, and each held one of my hands while giant grasshoppers, leech women, or triffids loomed between the worn red velvet curtains.

At home, though, I read scary fiction in solitude. I craved the barely-glimpsed terrors of an ancient manor in a Poe story, the unseen but horribly perceived presence of ghosts in Shirley Jackson’s novels. Not the bloody, ham-handed slasher plots or the laughably obvious monsters in poorly crafted paperbacks. The stories that captivated me didn’t bludgeon their audience. Instead, they lulled the reader into a sense of safe but pleasurable anticipation, stretching taut nerves until they sang, then allowing one to emerge unscathed after savoring strong emotions and impossible fears without risk.

The most vivid, well-crafted chills have always been delivered by authors who mostly keep the horror just offstage, wisely understanding they could never create anything to outdo their readers’ personal ideas of ultimate terror. Often, they isolate the protagonist, physically or psychologically, much the way a child dwells alone in an oversized world, his warnings or cries falling on deaf ears. How much more satisfying it feels to get a handle on this fear later, after having already read and viewed it, experiencing intense dread for a limited time, yet emerging unscathed.

When I was nine, I liked being scared. Many decades later, I still do – by a well-crafted book or film. It’s cathartic. Far less frightening than the all-too-real threats of climate change, endless wars, and economic doom.

Horror fiction will endure, challenging us to safely consider the unthinkable, venture from our comfort zones, and challenge our preconceptions. There, we can confront and face down our greatest fears and yet survive. The horror authors will survive as well because readers will always need them.
I belong to the writers’ organizations below and, in some cases, serve on their boards:

The Connecticut Poetry Society
The European Writers Council
North Florida Writers
The Historical Novel Society
The Horror Writers Association
The Irish Copyright Licensing Agency (managerial board)
The Irish Writers Centre
The Irish Writers Union (executive board)
Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America
Society of Authors (Ireland)
Virginia Center for the Creative Arts (Fellow, member of Boxwood Collective)

AMAZON
Trade paperback: https://www.amazon.com/Night-Bazaar-London-Forbidden-Dangerous/dp/1950668223/ref=sr_1_1?qid=1703701296&refinements=p_27%3ALenore+Hart&s=books&sr=1-1

Kindle: https://www.amazon.com/Night-Bazaar-London-Forbidden-Dangerous-ebook/dp/B0CPW5SDVR/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1703701868&sr=1-1

B&NPaperback: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/book/1144471075?ean=9781950668229
eBook:https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/book/1144471075?ean=2940185963500

KOBO eBook: https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/the-night-bazaar-london

INDIEBOUND/BOOKSHOP Trade paperback: https://bookshop.org/p/books/the-night-bazaar-london-ten-tales-of-forbidden-wishes-and-dangerous-desires-lenore-hart/20980323?ean=9781950668229

 

 

 

4 Comments

  1. Michael A. Black

    Good thoughtful essay, Lenore. I agree, good writing is good writing, no matter what the genre. I just finished a novel in which I had Ambrose Bierce as a character. I remember reading “The Damned Thing” as a youngster and it scared the bejesus outta me. Congratulations on winning the Shirley Jackson Award and best of luck to you.

    Reply
    • Lenore Hart

      Thanks, Michael. Bierce should make a great character!

      Reply
  2. G.M. Malliet

    Love Shirley Jackson stories. Congrats on such a prestigious award.

    Reply
    • Lenore Hart

      Thanks! She’s definitely one of my writing heroes. That made it even more exciting.

      Reply

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