Author Interview | J.H. Moncrieff
Hey lovely lil bookwyrms! Today I’m so excited to bring to you a Q+A that Books and Tea had with J.H. Moncrieff last month.
As J.H. Moncrieff is a star she agreed to doa Q+A with the book club too, so we all worked together to generate questions and had a great time reading her replies too.
Keep reading to find out more about Return to Dyatlov Pass (yes there are a few light spoilers for this book) + her writing process.
Her work has been described by reviewers as early Gillian Flynn with a little Ray Bradbury and Stephen King thrown in for good measure.
She won Harlequin’s search for “the next Gillian Flynn” in 2016. Her first published novella, The Bear Who Wouldn’t Leave, was featured in Samhain’s Childhood Fears collection and stayed on its horror bestsellers list for over a year.
When not writing, she loves exploring the world’s most haunted places, advocating for animal rights, and summoning her inner ninja in muay thai class.
To get free ebooks and a new spooky story every week, go to http://bit.ly/MoncrieffLibrary
How was it writing fiction based on people and an event that actually existed? Were there scenes that were especially difficult to write because of that thought?
The right answer here is clearly yes, but I’m going to take a chance and be honest with you–no, because I was focused on the fiction and those characters. I was very technical when it came to researching details and getting them right, but my empathy was focused on the fictional “people,” which do seem very real to me while I’m writing. In terms of the ill-fated ski-hikers, it was more difficult for me to write the blog post about Dyatlov, because then I was delving into who they were and what happened to them.
In some ways, this comes from my background as a journalist. I’ve had to tell the most tragic, horrible stories without falling apart or losing objectivity. That doesn’t mean I don’t care–if anything, I care too much.
I’m glad I didn’t focus on the real people and their families while I was writing, because it probably would have kept me from telling the story. I would have been worried about offending them, which certainly was never my intention. Now that it’s written and published, I think of the families and cringe, because I’d never want them to feel I was profiting from their pain, or sensationalizing it.
This book was incredibly difficult for me to write in general, because I was right there with the characters, and as you know, it was a dark, cold, grim, scary place to be. To say I dreaded every minute is an understatement. (Except the ending–I enjoyed writing that.)
How did you choose which of the original hikers to tell the opening from, and why did you choose Lyudmila?
Lyudmila always broke my heart. She was so young, and her injuries were the most horrific. I’ve never read her story without wishing I could somehow save her. Still, even though she was the youngest in the group–and a woman (gasp!)–she was one of the last to die. That also makes her interesting, and worth writing about. She was obviously an incredibly strong, resourceful person. I’d love to learn more about how she managed to survive as long as she did.
Did you always intend to go with snowmen as the cause for the deaths or were you considering other theories before?
Here’s where I’m going to pull back the curtain and let you see part of the process readers rarely are privy to…when I pitched the idea to the publisher, Severed Press, they asked me where I planned to go with it. My response? “Where would you like me to go with it?”
“Yetis. Yetis do well for us.”
All right, then! Yetis it is! If I’d had my way, I probably would have gone more towards the government/conspiracy route, because human evil–real evil–is always the most frightening to me. I never would have written about creatures if not for Severed Press, and it’s been an interesting departure from my other novels.
Of course, the real-life photograph and that chilling message, which really was found in one of the tents, fit in beautifully with the fictional situation.
Did you always know what the characters fates would be like (because of parallels) from the start?
And here’s yet another peek behind the curtain. I never know. This will likely make me sound like a freak, but my stories start with an idea. Then, after I’ve mulled it over for a bit, usually not consciously, a character appears–not always at a convenient time–and starts telling the story. What I do mostly feels like taking dictation, and as I get to know the protagonist, they introduce other characters to me.
I did know I wanted the protagonist to be a strong woman, and I wanted some of the expedition members to be Canadian, because Canadians are used to harsh climates, but that’s as far as my conscious control went. (Well, and the yetis, of course–there had to be yetis.) I will say that I figured out the ending much earlier than I usually do, and I was really excited about it. I still think it’s one of, if not the best, endings I’ve ever written.
A member wrote “I especially appreciate the way Steven was written to be extremely hateable, and how he keeps getting a pass. It came from a real “Steven,” I’m convinced. There’s no way the whole “realist/pessimist” conversation didn’t come from experience.” – so was his character traits based on real life experiences?
This question made me smile. Since my process is what it is, I had no idea about Steven either. Whenever I thought I’d finally figured him out, something else would happen to change my mind. Originally, I’d suspected Steven and Nat would end up together, because it eventually became clear they’d be the last survivors. But that clearly was not going to happen. The big surprise was Igor. He was not supposed to make it, but that guy would just not die! When Steven comes back from his expedition near the end and informs Nat that Igor is still alive, my jaw dropped. “WHAT?! How can that be?”
So, while I’m sure I’ve come across aspects of Steven’s personality in real life, he came from the same place Nat and the others did. Is it my subconscious? A muse? Some magic force we don’t have a name for? Who can say, but it definitely feels like magic.
The closest thing to an homage in the book was Andrew. I once had an employee named Andrew who became my friend, though we were never as close as Nat and Andrew in the book, and the fictional Andrew is nothing like the real one, aside from being gay, male, an employee, and named Andrew. I may occasionally borrow superficial characteristics of someone I’ve met, or use a name in tribute to someone I care about, but that’s as far as it goes.
In regards to the ending, I think it is safe to say it’s open to interpretation. Whilst Nat survived the pass, do you think the survived Russia? Or ever left? Or do you want that decision to remain totally to the readers?
Nat makes a comeback in my next Severed book, Valley of the Sasquatch, so I think it’s all right for me to say she survived. Though she’s pretty messed up, to put it mildly. To me, there was no question she survived. I was surprised Steven didn’t.
I love endings that are open to interpretation, even though I get grief from some readers over it. I love stories that make me think, and wonder, and ask my friends: “what do you think this meant? What do you think happened?” I can’t stand endings that are wrapped up in a bow. No offense to the huge fans out there–I loved the books too–but that was something that disappointed me about Harry Potter. I didn’t want to know that they never moved on and met or had relationships with people outside their current circle. It took all the imagination out of it. I wish it had been left a little more open.
Wrapped-in-a-bow endings remind me of those cheesy night-time TV dramas, where the bad guy would be about to shoot the cop or detective, but then decided he had about ten minutes to carefully explain how he committed the crime and why. Even though there are yetis in my book, I hope it’s more believable than that. One reviewer complained that there was no explanation of what the creatures were, and I smiled, picturing the yetis stopping, mid-kill, to say in English, “You know what, I have this sudden urge to tell you where I came from and why we’re eating you guys. Do you have ten minutes?”
(There is a prequel that explains what the creatures are and yes, where they came from, in the Hellhole anthology that’s currently nominated for a Stoker Award. Shameless plug, but more for Lee Murray, the awesome editor. I was just a hired gun, and my work has been paid for–royalties go to Lee, and rightly so.)
What genre would be the least likely for you to write or a genre you really don’t see yourself writing in?
I would have said sci-fi, but some people consider this book sci-fi. Or Monsters in Our Wake sci-fi, so what do I know? Probably bizarro fiction, even though that’s more of a sub-genre. My dream is to continue being a working writer, so I won’t close my mind to anything, though I’m not likely to write a military thriller (I was once asked to audition for one–and it turned out the client was James Patterson).
Are you able to tell us about anything exciting you’re working on for this year? Upcoming releases we can keep our eyes open for?
Forest of Ghosts, the latest book in my GhostWriters supernatural suspense series, has just been released. Each book can stand alone, so it doesn’t matter which one you start with. Here’s the blurb:
J.H. Moncrieff’s new release, Forest of Ghosts, was inspired by her real-life experiences in Romania, including Hoia Baciu, the world’s most haunted forest.
Jackson Stone is sick of ghosts. With his love life in shambles, he heads to Romania for a horror writers’ retreat, hoping it will be a break from the supernatural and breathing space from his relationship with medium Kate Carlsson.
But as his fellow writers begin disappearing or losing their minds, he realizes he needs Kate’s help.
When Jackson loses his own memory, Kate’s love is the only thing that can bring him back. But she’s falling for the man responsible for the evil in Romania. A man who claims to be her soul mate. Will this master of wraiths forever break Kate’s bond with Jackson?
Aside from that, Valley of the Sasquatch will hopefully be available in a month or two, Mask of Ghosts, the fifth book in the GhostWriters series, will be released in June, and Those Who Came Before, a story about a man who finds himself in big trouble when everyone but him is brutally murdered on a camping trip, will be released in October by Flame Tree Press.
And my favourite question I like to ask all authors! If you could write a book with anyone, dead or alive, who would it be and why?
This is a tough one, because–as a ghost writer who has co-written books–I’m thinking not just of someone whose work I admire, but someone who would also be a dream to work with. Co-writing isn’t easy–you want someone who will do the work, and someone who isn’t a diva or a control freak.
Part of me is tempted to say Stephen King, so I could write a young woman with agency who doesn’t mysteriously fall for the balding, overweight, middle-aged guy many years her senior and then get killed off once her use as a plot device has expired, but that would be too easy. :)
I think it would be cool to work with Tess Gerritsen, who writes books that are marketed as medical thrillers but that really dance on the line between thriller and horror. I’ve met Tess, and she was so kind, humble, and funny. Not only would our styles mesh, but I could see her being fun to work with as well. Karin Slaughter is another author I’ve met whom I clicked with, and I could see us having a great time coming up with something together.
Otherwise, there’s a writer named Elizabeth Berg whose prose and ways of describing ordinary things make me weep. I’d love to see what she’d do with an idea of mine. And then there’s Toni Morrison…okay, I’ve got to stop!
Thanks so much for reading Return to Dyatlov Pass. I hope you enjoyed it, and I really appreciate the interesting, insightful questions, as well as your support. It means the world to me. I love connecting with readers, so if any of you want to get in touch and talk books or ask more questions, please feel free. My virtual door is always open.
I hope this post was a great time to read I had so much fun getting to collab with J.H. Moncrieff like this and really looking forward to the day I pick up more of her work. This book is what introduced me to the Dyatlov Pass incident and its very interesting to read up about.