Michaelbrent Collings is a bestselling novelist and produced screenwriter. His first produced script, Barricade, was made into a movie starring Eric McCormack of TV’s Will & Grace and Perception, and was released in 2012.
Michaelbrent also wrote the screenplay for Darkroom, a movie starring Kaylee DeFer (Gossip Girl, Red State) and Elisabeth Rohm (Angel, Law & Order, Heroes). Darkroom is currently set for a 2013 release.
As a novelist, Michaelbrent has written numerous bestsellers, including The Colony Saga, Apparition, The Haunted, The Billy Saga, The Loon, Rising Fears, and others. In addition, he has also written dozens of non-fiction articles which have appeared in periodicals on several continents.
Michaelbrent is also a member of the WGA (Writers Guild of America) and the HWA (Horror Writers of America). In addition to selling, optioning, and doing rewrites on screenplays for major Hollywood production companies, he is currently developing several movies and television shows.
Someday he hopes to develop super powers… Or at least get a cool robot arm.
The Michaelbrent Collings Interview
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Books by Michaelbrent Collings
Michaelbrent Collings Transcript
Tim Knox: Hi everyone welcome back in to Interviewing Authors. Michaelbrent Collings is my guest today. Michaelbrent is a bestselling novelist and screenwriter. He’s actually sold a couple of screenplays to Hollywood. We’re going to talk a little bit about that process today.
He’s also the bestseller author of the books Strangers, Darkbound, Apparition, has also written a couple of series and a young adult.
This is a great, great interview, I had such a good time with Michaelbrent. We talked for 45 minutes and I’m pretty sure we’re going to do a part 2. Just a fascinating guy, former lawyer turned full time author, married with a few kids. Most of his work is in the horror genre, but just a fun guy, lot of humor here. So you’re going to enjoy this interview. Michaelbrent Collings is my guest today on Interviewing Authors.
Tim Knox: MichaelBrent, welcome to the program.
MichaelBrent Collings: Thanks. It’s a pleasure to be here.
Tim Knox: It’s a pleasure having you here. Before we get into the meat of it, tell us a little bit about you.
MichaelBrent Collings: Oh golly, well do you want like the personal details because I don’t share those with strangers?
Tim Knox: Whatever you feel comfortable sharing.
MichaelBrent Collings: Personal measurements and how much I bench press and stuff like that. No, I’m a number one bestselling author. I’m a produced screenwriter and a member of the Writers Guild of America, which is kind of the – I hate to say this because it sounds so snobby and I’m just not a snobby guy, but it’s sort of the elite writers group that’s based out of Los Angeles. You have to pay a butt load of money to get in after you’ve already sold a bunch of screenplays and done all that stuff. So I’m a member of them. I’m a member of the Horror Writers Association and I’m one of the top independent horror writers in the United States. I’m just one of those guys that kind of trolls into his office every morning and sits in the dark and writes scary stories.
Tim Knox: What did you do before you became an author?
MichaelBrent Collings: I did even scarier stuff. I was a lawyer.
Tim Knox: Oh my God!
MichaelBrent Collings: Right.
Tim Knox: What did you practice?
MichaelBrent Collings: I was what’s called a construction contract dispute litigator, which is a long way of saying I got involved when huge contractors started pointing fingers at each other.
Tim Knox: Now what made you get out of that and go into writing?
MichaelBrent Collings: I desperately missed my soul. No, I’d always wanted to be a writer and do something like that but I also didn’t want to be like that 40 year old guy who was living in his mom’s basement bringing over women and being like, “Any day, baby. I swear I’m going to make it.” I knew I wanted to have a family and I wanted to be able to support them so I went into law as sort of the last refuge of the incompetent and I just sort of wrote on the side and kept doing that from the hours of 12 to 2 A.M. and eventually started making enough money that I could afford to survive as a writer.
Tim Knox: Had you always wanted to be a writer?
MichaelBrent Collings: Yeah, well it was less want than sort of a genetic predisposition and a doomed to fail that way because my dad was a creative writing director and he’s a novelist. So I went to bed every night listening to the tippy tap of typing in the next room.
Tim Knox: It was kind of ingrained in your brain there, wasn’t it?
MichaelBrent Collings: Yeah, I can remember very vividly I learned to read very early and I wrote my first story when I was about four years old. It was literally a story about a parrot who escaped from his cage. I wrote it in red crayon and that’s the entirety of the story. I just told you the whole thing. My dad kind of took me in hand and sat me down. He was a teacher, a professor, so he graded it. He wasn’t a jerk about it but he kind of explained why the story failed on a structural level and how it needed a better protagonist and more was required than just a cage and a bird and it leaving.
I just sort of grew up learning stories and how to tell them. I was a little kid, I was very small and I was not… no woman ever threw up on me just because I walked into a room but I was not like the most devastating looking guy. It was nice to be able to spin a good yarn and tell funny jokes and stuff so it served me in good stead for my dating life.
Tim Knox: Now years later when you took what you had learned and put it into practice, do you remember the first thing that you wrote that you thought hey maybe this is sellable?
MichaelBrent Collings: You know that’s a weird question because I actually wrote something where I got paid when I was like 15. I wrote a story that the newspaper picked up and that was kind of a surprise for a kid, getting a little check in the mail. It was a lot of money. It was like 50 bucks. For a 15 year old 20 years ago I was like, man, I could buy a butt load of candy for this. It was a horror story that they ran in there.
Tim Knox: Was it about a parrot that got out of his cage and killed your father?
MichaelBrent Collings: It was for their Halloween issue and it was about the town and the whole town was evil basically. It was sort of like my worst nightmare. It was a really pleasant town to live in so I turned it on its head. Then I didn’t sell anything else for 20 years so you talk about the staying power to be a professional author. I have literally 10,000 rejection letters and rejection emails accrued and then I started selling things. The first thing that was a big sale was a screenplay, which had a good number of zeros after the first number and then the very next month I sold another screenplay.
So not only did lightning hit but it hit twice and then both of those screenplays were produced, which is even more rare. I can remember sitting in a meeting of the Writers Guild, which again these are people that have to have already sold scripts to studios to get in, and the guy who was lecturing said how many of you have produced screenplays? Probably 40-50% of us raised our hands. Here I had had two produced immediately kind of right off the starting blocks so that enabled me to have a little bit of padding to get out.
Now I’m mostly known for my books and that was a weird trip because the first book I wrote that I kind of wanted to send out was this book called Run. I sent it around to every single publisher probably in the United States, Canada and parts of Mexico. The response came back pretty uniformly, “Dude, if you caught fire we wouldn’t put you out.”
Tim Knox: So it was a standard rejection letter.
MichaelBrent Collings: If I was lucky. So this book kind of just languished and I thought well I’ll keep doing law. Then I heard about this Kindle thing where you could just put your book up on the interweb, which I had realized was just not a passing fad at this point. So I put it out there and I thought at least it’s out there and people can laugh at it publicly instead of just being in my drawer of shame. The first month it sold like six copies and I’m pretty sure my mom bought all six of them. Then six months later it was the number one selling science fiction and horror title on Amazon, not just Kindle title but generally on Amazon and it was in their top 100 selling titles out of all their books and Kindle and everything else. It just became this huge success and that was where I went like hey maybe I can just say screw you to the publishers and just make money on my own.
Tim Knox: Let’s talk about that. How did it go from selling six copies to your mom to being at number one?
MichaelBrent Collings: Well I’d like to say it was because of my mellifluous prose and because I marketed and all that good stuff but the honest answer I’m going to give between you, me, God and whoever’s listening is beats the crap out of me.
Tim Knox: You know what; I hear that so much from authors who have done the same thing. There’s a great book called The Martian by a guy named Andy Weir – same thing. He basically put that book up there just so the people on his blog could download it and then it takes off and he gets a call from Crown. I asked Andy how he did that. “I don’t know.”
MichaelBrent Collings: Literally I kind of put it up in the cloudy ether of the internet and I kind of forgot about it. I would check the rankings every once in a while. You know, I’m an author and every writer in the world is the most bizarre mix of egotism and crippling low self-esteem you’ll ever see. On the one hand I thought well I don’t want to look because I don’t want to see how badly it’s doing and on the other I kind of wanted to see if it was doing well. I hadn’t marketed it at all. I didn’t have a blog. I didn’t have a website. I was just doing my lawyer thing and I looked and one day it was sitting on some of the lower key bestseller lists, because Amazon has like the top genre list like horror and sci-fi and then it’s got horror ghost stories and it’s got horror ghost stories in the haunted house, horror ghost stories in the haunted house with dogs, horror ghost stories in the haunted house with dogs who are lesbians.
Tim Knox: One of my favorite genres.
MichaelBrent Collings: Yeah, right. It can get down to some pretty weird subgenres and mine was sitting on one of those weird subgenre lists but I thought hey that’s cool. I didn’t know what to do. I wasn’t pretending to be a professional author or pretending to be… I was still trying to be not invested in it so I couldn’t be heartbroken over further failure. Then like I said, the next month it just kind of boomed and I was selling literally thousands of copies at a time. It just blew me away. It all went to my head in a way because I made the huge mistake of thinking I can do this again.
Tim Knox: What was the book about? It was in the horror genre. What was it about?
MichaelBrent Collings: It was this horror sci-fi. It actually was number two on their thriller list too. It was kind of a cross genre piece. It’s about this guy who lives his whole life in a little town in Colorado and he goes off to fight in one of the Gulf Wars and he sees a guy blown up there to smithereens. He comes back afterwards dealing with some issues and he becomes the school teacher at the little high school. This new girl rolls into town and he sees her dad and it’s the same guy who he saw blown up 10 years ago who has not aged a day in addition to not being dead. He starts asking around to see if people know who this new family is and every one of his family and friends that he asks immediately tries to kill him. By the end of the day basically he’s on the run from the entire town of people that he’s grown up with. He has to figure out what the mystery is and survive and all that good stuff. It’s kind of a fun little piece.
Tim Knox: That’s a great story. I’ve got to go back and read this. So this really takes off on Kindle. What did you do next?
MichaelBrent Collings: I kept working as a lawyer. As much as I want to say I was a badass writer… I’m risk adverse; that’s why I became a lawyer in the first place. A couple of months later was when I sold the screenplays and I left law. I wrote another series of books and none of them were very popular. They did a little bit of business and some of the people that had picked up on Run were very clearly checking out the other books but this was where I had my kind of rude awakening where I was not Stephen King or Dean Koontz or some guy that could just put his name up and people would go, “Holy crap, it’s Michaelbrent!” and buy everything.
I started learning about marketing and putting together a quality website and about the fact that if I was going to self-publish it was kind of cool because it meant that I got to do everything and make sure it was pleasing to me but it kind of sucked because I had to do everything.
Tim Knox: Don’t you think that’s a rude awakening for a lot of authors to realize that just writing the book is really a small part of the equation? You actually have to become a marketer and a webmaster and all this other stuff.
MichaelBrent Collings: Oh yeah, I mean listen, I don’t sleep very much. My whole life I’ve slept maybe four or five hours a night because I’m just put together that way. It was nice in one respect because my wife goes to bed and I can either lay there hating her because she’s asleep or I can do something.
While she was in bed I would either be writing a book or teaching myself web coding, HTML and CSS and all that good stuff, which is what I did and I put together my own website which looked very much like a GeoCities website. It was full of purple and sparkles. That was my first website. It was weird because I was kind of feeling my way along learning all this stuff by myself. It’s not like anybody publishes a ‘here’s how to make a living as a writer in the Kindle world or the world of self-publishing’. I mean there are people that pretend to but it’s all a load of crap because the reality is if you put 100 writers against the wall and go down and say how did you make it, how did you make it, how did you make it?
These are guys and gals making a living – they’re all going to have a different road that they took and a different path. The way I tell people is it’s sort of like losing weight. There are some tried and true principles like eat less, exercise more but when you get down to the nitty-gritty everybody’s different and everybody’s going to take a different road to that success.
Tim Knox: Right, exactly. I’ve interviewed probably three dozen authors and a lot of them have gone the same road you have. They’ve gone to Kindle and it really took off for them. Every one of them has a different story on how they did it. Some really had no idea but then some others like a Russell Blake, who is just really prolific; he knew exactly what he was doing. It was all methodical and he went with the more is better. He would publish a book every 4-6 weeks. The guy’s just a machine. Everyone has a different story; you’re right. So you had the one book that was a success. You wrote the screenplays. Let’s talk a little about that for just a minute. How did you get interested in writing screenplays?
MichaelBrent Collings: I was in high school and one day we’re sitting in English class and we had a really great English teacher who understood kind of the purpose of English for high school students, which in my opinion should not be to make them hate English. It should be to make them enjoy reading and enjoy writing. His theory was if you bring a book to class and you think it’s bitchin’, he’ll let you read it. One day this student brought a bound copy of the screenplay for Terminator 2.
I had seen that movie and thought it was awesome and everybody in my group had. This screenplay, which was the production copy which is a little different than a first draft; it’s got numbered scenes and it’s got director’s notes. There were little quirky details that I didn’t understand at the time but it hit me eventually and I read it. I was just floored because this was a way of writing that I had never seen before and yet it was very familiar in certain ways. Screenplays are very sparse. They’re very carefully written.
In a novel you have 100,000 words and you can misplace a word here and there. You can bobble a little. You can wax rhapsodic and it’s okay because you have 100,000 words and if you mess up a little bit or if you misuse something here and there you’ve got a little bit of room for error. With a screenplay you’ve got 90 pages to 120 and it’s a lot of white space.
The only stuff you can write is stuff that’s going to actually going to be on the screen. I was reading going this is incredible. It’s incredibly dense, it’s very sparse, very carefully written and I realized it was almost like poetry in a certain respect which is something else I’d gained an appreciation for through my father because he was a poetry teacher as well. So I was just fascinated by it and I started writing screenplays. Of course the early ones were just horrifically bad, which is part of the process.
Just to sort of sidetrack on that for a second, what’s discouraging for a lot of new writers is they write their first book and they want it to be like Harry Potter and somebody has to stand there and tell them this is crap. They don’t understand that that’s okay. A metaphor I like to use is if you think about like an Olympic gold-medalist pole vaulter. I do not know a lot of those who pole vaulted out of their mother’s vagina.
Tim Knox: Very few.
MichaelBrent Collings: They come out and they’re just sort of limp piles of pudding that poop and eat and sleep and that’s all they’re good for. Eventually they roll over and then they crawl and then they walk and then they run. It’s this huge process to get to that gold medal. Every part of it is actually wonderful and every part of it builds upon the previous parts. So when you write that first novel and it’s crap, that’s a wonderful thing because it’s going to teach you how to be less crappy your second novel.
Those people that come right out of the gate, those rare people that come right out of the gate and write a brilliant and amazing first novel almost without fail they stop writing good stuff after that because they don’t know how or they just fold up shop and disappear. If you want to be a writer with longevity, with a career that lasts for years and decades which is very hard to do, you want to write books that are good and that you understand why they’re good so that you can replicate that success.
Tim Knox: I think that’s an incredible point. Authors, just like you said, a lot of them will write that first book. They’re firmly convinced that man this is the Gospel and then when it doesn’t sell they get discouraged and they go away. I think it’s a great way of weeding out. When you do have that rare author that hits it the first time, it’s rare that they ever live up to that first book.
MichaelBrent Collings: Yeah it really is. I mean I wrote probably 20-30 scripts before I sold my first one and I wrote easily a million words before I wrote Run and started making money with it. I wrote another 20 books before I was making regular income that would support my family in a way that did not involve copious amounts of Ramen.
Tim Knox: You’re a big believer in the 10,000 hour theory.
MichaelBrent Collings: Oh yeah and I know a lot of successful writers. I know Brandon Mull, I know James Dasher, I know Larry Correia, I know a lot of really high-end good sellers. I’ve talked to Dean Koontz a number of times. Without fail every single one that’s really kind of made it to the top of that pile has essentially treated their writing career like a PhD program both in seriousness and in terms of time they’ve put in to learn their craft.
That’s something else that makes sense. If you think about it, you go to a doctor and he’s giving you an examination. He’s got that rubber glove that’s all oiled up and he’s sitting there getting ready to poke you and you go, “So what medical school did you go to?” And he says, “You know I never did but I went to a doctor once and he sucked so I thought I can do better than this.” Man you run for the hills. That is not a doctor you want taking care of you. A lot of writers – that’s exactly the attitude they bring to their craft.
You want a doctor that you look at him and say, “What medical school did you go to?” “I went to Johns Hopkins”… or some other major med school. “How long you been in practice?” “I was at a residency at this other place. I interned at this other great place and I’ve been here for 10 years.” So he knows butt loads of stuff. If you want to be a great writer I firmly believe you need that kind of experience as a writer as well. Spend 12 years learning how to write.
Tim Knox: Yeah, those who stick with it.
MichaelBrent Collings: Yeah and it’s hard.
Tim Knox: So writing a screenplay, you gave it a few tries and you finally came up with one. What was the screenplay that sold first?
MichaelBrent Collings: The first one that sold was called Barricade and it took five years to sell.
Tim Knox: Did you do that through an agent?
MichaelBrent Collings: No, what I did was I entered the Nicholl Fellowships, which is probably the biggest and most prestigious screenwriting competition in the world. They get many, many thousands of entries every year. I entered a number of screenplays one year and I had four of them get to the quarter-finals and semi-finals which nobody had ever done before. So my phone started ringing and I started getting meetings with people and all that good stuff. One of the studios was interested in Barricade. I sent it over to them. They read it. It just wasn’t sort of in their corporate culture at the time.
The guy that I met with really loved it and he turned out put it on his desk and left it there. For my part I emailed or called him every six months like clockwork, not to be a stalker but just emailed and said, “Hey Richie, hope you’re doing well. Peace out.” Just to kind of stay on top of his mind. Four or five years later the entire upper echelon of that company got fired by the parent company and the new Vice President, the creative director walks into my friend and says we’re going to make a ghost story.
Richie, who is still holding Barricade on his desk because, A, he loved it and, B, I put it in the legwork to remain his friend. He was a cool guy so I wasn’t just like trying to be a user. He literally just hands the guy the scripts and says I’ve got one. A week later I had a signed contract with them.
Tim Knox: Wow, so gee an overnight success took how many years?
MichaelBrent Collings: Oh well five years just for that script. If you count from the first time I put pen to paper to then it was 30 years.
Tim Knox: So this was a ghost story. What was it about?
MichaelBrent Collings: It was about a dad… well a lot of my stories revolve around families, partially because I understand them and partially because I think they’re more powerful than two nubile teenagers who go to the forest to bang. So it’s about a family that loses its mother in a tragic manner. It’s nothing big. She just kind of slips and died. She dies one night so the dad takes his kids off to a vacation one Christmas night to sort of heal. The mom follows them.
It was a fun script to write because there’s this very serious sense of dread overlaid with the question why is this happening? It’s very clearly laid out that the mom loves… it’s a loving family so why would this ghost be threatening them and basically their life kind of shrinks. They’ve got this beautiful cabin and they’re playing in the snow and bit by bit they’re pushed closer and closer until their only place they can be is inside this cabin. They finally literally nail themselves inside to try and escape the threats that are out there, which is why it’s called Barricade.
Tim Knox: Wow, sounds interesting. Was it produced?
MichaelBrent Collings: Yeah it was turned into a movie and like most Hollywood movies, you know, I sold it and this is the hard thing about screenplays. If you’ve got a book, even if you’re published by a major publishing house, you sell them the rights but they don’t change things without your permission. You work with an editor and there’s three people involved basically. It’s like you, the editor and the cover artist. If you’re making the movie you sell them the rights and they can change anything they want at that point because they own it outright. Then there are 1,000 people who stick their fingers into it.
Tim Knox: Which was a Stephen King issue. He hated that.
MichaelBrent Collings: So you see a lot of bad movies and you think how could this stinker have gotten made? Sometimes it’s a stinker that was a stinker from the beginning but a lot of the time it’s somebody showed up and didn’t do a good job and that effect snowballed and rolled down the whole cast and crew. I mean if somebody shows up from craft services without the right kind of gummy bears they can mess up a whole day of shooting.
Tim Knox: Just puts everybody in a bad mood.
MichaelBrent Collings: It really does. So it’s like one little piece can go awry. All that is to say I went in and I watched the screener for Barricade because I was supposed to do the DVD extras and they wanted me to watch the movie first so I wouldn’t sound like an idiot. I watched it and I come out and all these producers are kind of looking at me and waiting for me to render my opinion and I’m thinking I like these guys, I want to work with them again, their check cleared, I hated it.
Tim Knox: How painful was that?
MichaelBrent Collings: It was terrible but then they laughed and let me off the hook. They said there’s problems with it, it’s not your fault and it turned out that exactly what happened. Some people changed the script first of all. Second of all there was a particular small unit on the shoot that messed up and it just screwed up a lot of story elements. Because of the mess-up they kind of had to jump around and jerry-rig some things. They had to hire a very well-known and prestigious editor apparently is what I understand. They don’t tell the writers a lot in Hollywood. What I understand is they had to hire a follow on editor to recut it to kind of salvage something of it.
Tim Knox: Did you learn anything the first time? You sold another one, right?
MichaelBrent Collings: Yeah I did and what I learned is once it’s out the door just give it up, man.
Tim Knox: Cash the check and go on.
MichaelBrent Collings: Feed my children.
Tim Knox: Let’s get back to your books because you have since then become a bestselling author. Let’s talk about what you’re doing now. The Colony – I love that series. There were so many zombie stories out there but I think your work really stands out. Talk about when you decided to write a zombie book. Nowadays everybody’s writing frickin’ zombie books. Yours are different though. Talk about how you decided to do things a little differently when it came to your zombies and the story over all.
MichaelBrent Collings: A couple differences – first of all, I’ve liked zombies forever. I mean I watched Night of the Living Dead when I was very young and my dad… and everybody says, “I liked it before it was cool.” It’s part of the hipster thing. My dad was a world renowned Stephen King expert. He has written a dozen books on Stephen King. Horror was part of what I grew up with so not only did I hear the tippy tap of typing but I also heard periodic screaming because my dad would be watching some freaky movie.
So I just grew up with a lot of horror related stuff. I don’t want to say I grew up with horror but I grew up with a lot of horror related stuff in my life. I watched a lot of these zombie movies and a lot of these scary things growing up and I always thought zombies were really cool. So I decided I wanted to write a zombie book but there were a couple of things that bothered me about zombies. Number one was it seemed like there were some key elements of zombies that had been missed out on.
There were some things that could make them even scarier, one of which is it seems to me that once you figure out you can shoot them in the head they ain’t that scary even more.
Tim Knox: You know, just get a big damn sword. It’s been proven, come on.
MichaelBrent Collings: A sword in one arm and a big old shot gun in the other and you’re pretty good to go. Stay away from large groups. It can’t be that difficult. So one of the differences with my zombies is you wound them in the head and they just go bug nuts crazy.
Tim Knox: It just pisses them off.
MichaelBrent Collings: Yeah it makes them absolutely bonkers. They’ve got some other really serious differences that I don’t want to get too much into because it’d be a sort of spoiler but they are evolving rapidly. They are going from sort of mindless beings to evolving a rudimentary and then a not so rudimentary intelligence, which also makes them very frightening. It’s one thing to sort of be followed by this, uhhh, groaning dumb thing and it’s another to be hunted.
Tim Knox: That’s one of my gripes with things like The Walking Dead. You can hear them coming, they can’t run that fast. I can’t even watch the show anymore. I’m reading the first Colony book and I’m really looking forward to it. You’re doing things differently. Let’s talk about The Colony because it is a series. You’re how many books in?
MichaelBrent Collings: I’m working on the 5th one right now.
Tim Knox: When you first started that book did you know it was going to be a series?
MichaelBrent Collings: No and the reason I turned it into a series/serial or whatever you want to call it, because the books are short, but what happened is I do an outline for most of my books and it’s very spare; it’s under a page. Usually it’s 15 points and I can tell kind of how many pages it’s going to take me to get from point A to point B, point B to point C and it’s going to be 400 pages for the whole thing. Well in the case of The Colony I had 250 pages and I had almost gotten to point B. At that point I went I don’t think I can keep my fans. At this point I actually do have fans. I don’t think I can keep them happy for the next year waiting for this big honkin’ piece of work that could possibly kill them under the weight of the electrons on their Kindle. I decided, I talked to my wife… well I shouldn’t say I decided. I talked to my wife and she said release it in chunks and she’s the boss of the family so that’s what I did.
Tim Knox: How many pages are typically in each one?
MichaelBrent Collings: So far it’s been between 200 and 250 pretty much.
Tim Knox: Which is still a good size.
MichaelBrent Collings: It’s decent. The first book is $0.99. It’s the whole crack addict’s motto of here’s the cheap first hit and then I’ll get you hooked. Some of them are longer. This 5th volume is probably going to be a bit longer. It’s just been a really weird ride because the stories evolved. Even as I write it, it’s going in very different places. I know where it’s going to end up but the road it’s taken has blew me away. I actually write in different public locations.
I try and stay out of my wife’s hair as much as possible because I’m a horrible person to live with. So I go to these public places and I’ll be sitting in the corner just cackling like a mad man as sort of weird things happen. One of the only consistent things is that the people in this book are good, and that’s another difference because most zombie stories eventually get away from the zombies and they turn into a story about like the rapey guy next door who really wants to come over and kill us and they’re very nihilistic and pessimistic stories about why humanity is ending and why it deserves it. Most of the people I know are actually – I hate to say it to sound boring, but they’re kind of good people.
Tim Knox: They wouldn’t become homicidal maniacs in the apocalypse.
MichaelBrent Collings: Yeah I mean some of them, like me, I’d probably fold up and start crying but I don’t know that I’d go out and actively murder somebody for their women or their food, or at least I hope I wouldn’t. So this book is populated with genuinely good folks that are trying to help each other. In fact one person in the beginning of the first book, the main character, his whole thing for the first book is to try and find his family. This total stranger says, “Let’s go,” and he’s like, “why are you helping me?” and she says it’s the right thing to do. The way she says it, it’s like well you’re an idiot. Those are the people that I know and so I really wanted to write a story about the end of the world with those people.
Tim Knox: Do you see the series ending any day?
MichaelBrent Collings: It’s got at least another two to three more books. Speaking of changes, another thing I wrote today and I went oh crap, because it might be longer now.
Tim Knox: There’s an old saying – as long as they’re selling….
MichaelBrent Collings: Yeah and that’s a commercial reality for self-publishing. There’s a series that I started called Hooked and it’s a story that sort of retells Peter Pan and in this version Peter Pan is a vampire. He is a villain and he has come to kill or to turn Wendy’s great-great-great-granddaughter and the only thing that can save her is Captain Hook, who is a vampire killer sworn to protect Wendy’s line. I really liked the book and every single person who has read it has gone nuts over it and I’ve gotten a huge numbers of emails saying when are you going to write another book about these sets of characters, because I left it open for a sequel. The answer is I can’t afford to do it because it just didn’t sell well enough. I mean it sold okay but there’s other things that are far more profitable and because I’m a huge whore I have to spend my time making money.
Tim Knox: There are so many hours in the day. Don’t you often wonder though, because that is a great story, do you wonder why that didn’t sell as well? Is it because you built up a particular fan base with these other books and that’s what they’ve come to expect from you?
MichaelBrent Collings: I think some of it’s that and some of it might be that the main character is Wendy’s great-great-great-whatever-granddaughter and so that might be weird for people. I know there’s this sexist aversion to reading male characters written by women and vice versa so that might play into it but it’s sort of like Run making all this money in the beginning. I have no idea. If there was some formula behind it, writing would be a Bachelor of Science and it would be more boring. Fewer people would want to do it and it would make more money.
Tim Knox: Let’s talk a little about your process because you mentioned that you get away from the house to do your writing. Do you write on a schedule? Do you write every day? Do you have a minimum page count that you try to achieve? What do you do?
MichaelBrent Collings: I do write just about every day. My theory of writing is a little different than most people and it’s very helpful I think. A lot of writers, particularly beginning writers, get very stressed and agonize about writer’s block. I have never once suffered from writer’s block and the reason is I believe it’s a fiction. If you’re going to be a professional writer you have to write. If you talk to a CPA they’re not allowed to go, “I have CPA block today. I’m not feeling it, boss.” “I’ve got sewage management block. I just can’t process this poop today, boss.” They’d get fired. If you’re going to be a professional writer you can’t afford to just sit back and have a crappy day.
Now what you can do is understand the fact that writing is different than typing. A lot of people get hung up on typing as their method of writing. They think if I haven’t achieved 500, 1,000, whatever words a day, I’ve got writer’s block. There’s some days where I recognize I need to think. I need to recharge my creative juices. On those days I will walk around the block and mumble to myself. I will go and watch a cheesy action movie. I won’t watch it just with my brain turned off; I’ll watch it looking for cool explosions that might make their way in a better way into one of my books or interesting character moments or, you know, I’ll be watching and reading and doing things with a creative mindset that don’t involve banging away on the keys. Those are legitimate writing days.
Tim Knox: I think that’s a great point. Writing isn’t just banging on keys. A lot of things happen before you sit down at the computer.
MichaelBrent Collings: Yeah. That being said, I kind of bifurcate my time so I’ll work in the morning. I get up at 6 and I’m usually typing by 6:15 and I’ll work until 10 or 11. I usually hit 5,000 or 6,000 words and then I go work out because, you know, this body didn’t happen by accident.
Tim Knox: My body did happen by accident.
MichaelBrent Collings: That’s why we all hate you. You’re that beautiful beach body that’s like I don’t work out. So, you know, I’ll work out and then I’ll either go back to typing or if I’m done with that part of the day I’ll make my wife’s life a living hell by sticking around or I’ll do some marketing or I’ll do some cover designing. That’s the nice thing about being self-published. There’s always other stuff to do so if I’m kind of tired of the push of putting words on the page, I can design a cover or I can send out emails to bloggers or I can try and think of something funny and/or useful to say on my fan page on Facebook. There’s a million things I can do to occupy an 8 or 10 hour day and feel productive and feel like I’ve earned my daily bread.
Tim Knox: That was one thing I was going to ask you about. You’ve got some great covers. Did you design all those?
MichaelBrent Collings: Yeah.
Tim Knox: Look at you, a little bit of a designer in the old author here – great covers. You have a lot of really good books in the horror genre but you have also written a fantasy series in the Young Adult genre, The Billy Saga.
MichaelBrent Collings: Yeah.
Tim Knox: What was that like?
MichaelBrent Collings: Well my wife one day walked in, and I have to preface this with like my wife is so far out of my league. She’s beautiful, scorching hot and she’s smart and talented. She’s better than me. So she walks in one day and she says, “Honey, I love your books but if you don’t write something that I can read without turning on all the lights and putting the cops on speed dial I will divorce you.” Being as how she is out of my league and the chances of my finding something like that again are very slim, I took her at her word and I went to her bookshelf and she likes these Young Adult fantasies. She’s got Harry Potter and she’s got Fablehaven and all of that stuff. I wrote her the first book, called Billy: Messenger of Powers as a birthday present. It’s about this boy who was kind of based on me in high school – just this little kid that exists to get stuffed in lockers and he finds out that there’s this war going on between sort of wizards – they’re called Powers – all around him and it’s going to be stopped someday by the prophesied return of somebody called the White King and before that happens there has to be a messenger who will come and find these weapons of power and it’s very possible that he is the prophesied messenger and so he becomes the focal point of these two warring factions. It’s a cute little story with wit and adventure and a lot of fun magic. It becomes, because I wrote it, progressively more serious and darker as the series progresses.
Tim Knox: That’s what I was going to ask you. Did you have to hold back a little bit?
MichaelBrent Collings: No, I mean I respect kids. I have kids and they are capable of a great deal. You have to approach them in a different way. If you’re going to talk about 9/11 you don’t talk to it to a kid the same way as you do an adult. We talk about stranger danger with kids who are three years old and that implies you got to talk to them about somebody carrying them away and doing bad things to them. When I was writing Billy, the first one was very lighthearted and very fun and then Billy 2 got a lot more serious and Billy 3 is just dark and difficult because he has grown and he has to experience these difficult things because the whole world is at stake. I think that books are more valuable to kids if they teach lessons. I’m in awe. One of my favorite kids’ writers of all time is Hans Christian Andersen. He infused every one of his stories not just with a sense of wonder but also with this sort of melancholy, which I think is valuable because while happy endings are great and I love them; I mean I go to these action movies and I’m all about the X-Men and the good guys win and the bad guys are vanquished. I love those but I think the ones that live in our hearts and are valuable are the sort of melancholy ones, the ones that are a little bit mixed because that’s the way life is. The stories that are like that are something we can base our lives off of and say, okay, this is real strength and this is something that will help me when I face a dark day knowing that it’s not going to end in total brightness. There will still be clouds lurking at the end of the sky but the sunlight will come again.
Tim Knox: That was really the progression of the Harry Potter books. They started off when they were younger a little bit lighthearted, some humor in it and just got darker and darker and darker as they grew older.
MichaelBrent Collings: Yeah and part of that too is you’ve got to figure that if you have an audience that’s reading these things they’re going to grow up. I wrote the Billy Books, I was very lax with them. I wrote the first one and I started getting emails, when are you going to write the next one? I said it will be out next year and the next year people are going where is the frickin’ book that you promised? I’m like well probably next year. So it took like the whole four years instead of two.
Tim Knox: So what are you working on now?
MichaelBrent Collings: I’m working on Colony 5 which should be finished in about a month, he said after saying he totally sucks at deadlines. After that I will probably be working on a book about an angel who is bringing the end of the world.
Tim Knox: Oh okay. Any plans to ever step out of the horror genre? How about a nice romance?
MichaelBrent Collings: I do all sorts of different writing. I mean Mr. Gray, which is one of my books, is a thriller. There’s no horror in it at all. Like I said, the Billy books are pretty straight fantasy. What I do is I do a non-horror and then a horror, a non-horror and then a horror because my core fan base kind of demands that I do horror. My screenplays are all over the place; I just happened to have sold two horrors but I’ve written historical epics and I’ve written action comedies and I’ve written all over the place. That being said, I will never write two genres – one is pornography and that’s just simply because I think it hurts the world and I don’t want to be part of it, and the other is romance. It’s not because I look down on it or I hate people that read it. It’s just because I sincerely adore my wife. I live a romance and I write in part for the same reason I read and watch movies and that’s to escape. I have no desire to escape something I already have.
Tim Knox: You are just buttering up the wife in this interview, man.
MichaelBrent Collings: I have to at every chance I get because I know by the end of the day I’m going to screw up and at least this way I can point to an interview and be like, but baby.
Tim Knox: I said you were hot. I said you were out of my league. MichaelBrent Collings, this has been excellent. We could keep going on and on and on. We may have to do a part two because I feel like we’ve got so much other ground to cover. MichaelBrent Collings – prolific author of horror, zombies, some Young Adult. How can folks find out more about you?
MichaelBrent Collings: The easiest way is probably just to type in MichaelBrent. My first name is all one word and so there’s only one of me in the whole universe. If you type in MichaelBrent on Google you’ll get taken to my Amazon page, to my website and to my IMDB page. Now there is a guy named Michael-space-Brent who’s an underwear model so if you see dazzlingly attractive pictures, those are not me. My website is MichaelBrentCollings.com and you can just type in MichaelBrent on Amazon or go to, like I said, IMDB if you’re curious about my movies. I’m very simple to find.
Tim Knox: Very good. We’ll also put links off of our website. MichaelBrent, this has been great. I do believe we’ll have to schedule a part two.
MichaelBrent Collings: That’d be awesome. I’d love it.
Tim Knox: We’re not done here, sir. Talk to you soon.
MichaelBrent Collings: Alright, buddy.