Stuart Conover (SC): Hey there Ken. With a new book out, let’s talk about that first. Could you elaborate on what ‘An Aberrant Mind’ is about?
Ken MacGregor (KM): Certainly. It is comprised of 22 short stories, mostly horror, though one is science fiction and another is a detective story. They vary greatly in length and content, and the only real thread they all share is that they came from my head. Thus the title. Aberrant means different, unusual, unnatural – far from the norm. Each of the tales in this book fits that definition pretty well.
SC: Clearly the focus on why you picked the short stories in this anthology. What would you say your favorite story is within?
KM: I would be hard pressed to pick a favorite. The one that affects me the most is “A Lesson Learned from Archie” – when I read this one aloud at a convention, I cried at the end. My favorite character in the book is Gavin the Werewolf. I liked him so much, I wrote a second story about him which is later in the book. Also, he’s bugging me to write him again, so you may see more of Gavin one of these days.
SC: For your short stories what research do you usually need to do for the various moods and settings?
KM: If I am not already familiar with the subject or setting of my story, I’ll research the hell out of it to make it plausible to my readers. There is nothing more distracting when reading a story and knowing the author got it wrong. Some of the things I write about I’m already intimately familiar with, so little research is needed. Some things, the really out-there things can’t be researched in this world and you just have to make this stuff up.
SC: As your primary focus is short stories what do you feel about working on full length novels or novellas?
KM: I would very much like to work on a longer form. I’ve had a few false starts already and plan to tackle them again at some point. I think a novella is something I could do, and maybe even this year. I’ve been telling myself I want to write a novel by the time I’m fifty (an age that is far too close for comfort), but truthfully the idea scares me badly.
SC: Do you ever get Writer’s Block? If so how do you deal with it?
KM: Sure. I think we all do. I try not to dwell on it. Sometimes, I don’t manage to write anything for days, and the guilt weighs heavy on me. But, then, I’ll sit down at the keyboard and knock out 3,000 words all at once. At which point I breathe a huge sigh of relief that I can still do this. That I didn’t somehow lose the ability altogether. That’s a real fear. Not sure if other writers feel that, but I know I frequently think I’ll no longer be able to write. That it’s a gift that can be taken any time. But, I seem to be okay for now. Knock wood.
SC: Do you write full-time or part-time? (If part-time add in: When do you fit in your writing?)
KM: Part-time. I have a day job, which I really enjoy and two kids. Part-time is the only option.
SC: What are your ambitions for your writing career? What do you have planned for the future?
KM: I would like to keep doing this. I enjoy making stuff up and if people want to read it, I’d love to keep writing. I don’t have a concrete plan in place for the future beyond what I’m already doing. I’ve written a lot in the last couple years and I’ve lucky enough to get a lot of it published. I’ve learned more about writing and the industry than I ever believed there was to learn, and I want to learn more.
SC: What is your ideal writing environment? What helps get you in the mood and mindset for writing? More specifically what does your writing process look like?
KM: I like background noise. Cars going by. Sirens. The screaming laughter of the kids in the playground across the street. Music. I think the ambient noise seeps into my fiction. No TV. No people talking to me. Talking near me is fine, but if they try to engage me, I’ll likely snap at them, which is bad when it’s my wife or my kids. So, I try to avoid that.
SC: Do you have any advice for other writers who are writing in or who want to write in the genre?
KM: Yeah. Lots of things come to mind, like follow the guidelines, learn your editor’s name and use it, format your manuscript properly… But, what’s really important, and I think this applies to all of life and not just writers, is don’t be a dick. Editors and publishers might not remember you if you are pleasant and professional (they might, but they are busy people who read thousands of writers, so don’t count on it), but you better believe they’ll remember you if you’re rude. And, they’ll tell everybody, too. They all know one another. It’s creepy. So, yeah. Don’t be a dick. For real.
SC: What has been your inspiration to write in the horror genre?
KM: I’ve enjoyed horror since I was a kid: movies, books, magazines, action figures. I love a good scare and I think most of us do. Especially if we can get scared in a nice, safe way. Read the news story about the guy with the pickaxe going to town on his mom – as long as we’re not in the same room when it’s really happening, it’s exciting.
SC: Who are your three favorite authors or books that you would recommend to readers of your work?
KM: Neil Gaiman, Gillian Flynn, and Stephen King. Go read everything they’ve written. They’re astounding.
SC: As a writer with children, do you feel it is ever a struggle to balance your family and writing time?
KM: Constantly. But, I spend a lot of time with my kids, and I love watching them learn things and figure out what life is about. I protect my children from the more adult stuff I write, but I’ve written children’s stories too, and my kids love it when I read those aloud.
SC: Do you have any other information for my readers who may be interested in finding out more about you or your writing?
I have a bunch of stuff on Amazon and Goodreads (all the same stuff, really) and I blog once in a while at ken-macgregor.com. I also want to let readers know that I’m always happy to field questions or comments. Visit my website or my Facebook author page and say ‘hi’. Thanks.
You heard him ladies and gentlemen, stalk away!
An Excerpt from Ken MacGregor’s An Aberrant Mind…
Carl woke up hungry. He rolled out of bed and into the shower, stale smoke and beer sweat sluicing off him and down the drain. As he dried off, the church in the next block rang the bell, as it did every hour. He counted them. Ten. He felt each one like a blow to the head.
“I am never drinking again,” Carl mumbled. It was his mantra.
Carl lurched out the front door; the sunshine lancing into his brain as he hustled to put on the sunglasses. Avoiding human contact, he made his way to Max’s Deli. His stomach craved bread, and his brain coffee. Thank god ten am was a slow time for Max. Early mornings and around lunchtime, it got very loud in there. Max himself was at the counter. He looked up and beamed.
“Mr. Carl!” Max always used “Mr.” or “Ms.” with his customers’ first names. It was oddly endearing. Carl gave Max a weak smile and ordered a large coffee and an everything bagel.
“So sorry, Mr. Carl,” Max said, regret clear on his face. “We had to 86 the everything bagels. Garlic and onion we still have; that’s as close as it gets. I give you the coffee for free, to make up for it, okay?”
“No, no,” Carl said. “Garlic is fine. I’ll pay for the coffee. Things run out. It happens. Don’t worry about it.”
“Thank you,” Max grinned. He yelled to the kitchen. “Drop a garlic! You want cream cheese and lox with that?” Carl’s stomach did a backflip when it heard cream cheese, but lox would be good. He ordered it that way and sat down on the cushioned bench, sipping the too-hot coffee in the to-go cup.
“Order up!” Carl’s head whipped around; he had been woolgathering, and the movement hurt him. Wincing, he got up, paid and left the deli, coffee and bagel in tow. A tiny wisp of steam rose from the sipping oval in the lid. This time, he remembered to wear his shades before he got outside.
Carl found an empty wooden bench in the park nearby. He sat down, set his cup next to him, making sure it was level and wouldn’t tip over. He opened the bag, removed the bagel; the lox were wrapped separately. Carl pulled the halves of the warm, crispy bagel apart and slid the pink fish inside. He brought the food to his mouth and took a bite.
When it hit his taste buds, he was shocked. Carl had never tasted anything so good! Ravenous, he wolfed down the rest. Carl sat there, stunned for a moment. That was delicious.
Mechanically, he lifted the coffee to his lips and drank some. It was cold.
The church bells down the street rang once. One o’clock? How could that be? He had been sitting there for two-and-a-half hours. Carl shifted his weight, and realized both legs and his butt had fallen asleep. The pins and needles were excruciating. But they were nothing compared to what came next.
Carl’s stomach clenched. He doubled over. It felt like a spear was in his gut, a big one. The pain migrated. It went lower. The pressure was awful and intense. Carl lifted his shirt to look at himself. Something was pushing against his abdomen. He could see it, bulging under his skin. Watching and feeling it move inside him made him puke. He lurched to the side, but a lot of it got on him.
The thing inside Carl moved again and the pain almost made him pass out. He fell to the ground, writhing, groaning. He was distantly aware of a voice nearby. A man was talking to Carl, asking him if he needed help, if he needed a doctor.
“Get it outta me!” It was all he could manage. The stranger put a hand on Carl’s shoulder. His other hand pulled out a cell phone and dialed 911.
“Oh god! Oh my fucking god!” Carl ripped at his belt buckle, tore it open. He pulled his pants down as fast as he could. The bystander backpedaled, worried that this man might be crazy.
Carl bucked off the ground, screaming. Blood flecks flew out of his anus and the other man gasped and backed even further away. Carl’s whole body went rigid. He screamed once more and passed out.
The other man approached Carl, morbid curiosity forcing him to look. There on the ground lay a blood-covered lump. It was round, bumpy and looked too big to have been passed by a human being. The man looked closer, leaning in.
“What the hell,” he said. He recognized it. A bagel. A bagel that had been chewed and swallowed. Somehow, it had put itself back together inside this poor bastard’s stomach and forced its way out. “Jesus.”
Sirens approached the park, followed closely by police and an ambulance. The man told them what happened, nodding when they looked at him like he was crazy.
“I know what it sounds like,” he said. “But, that’s what happened. I’m not going to make something up just ‘cause the truth sounds crazy.”
He tried to show them the bagel, but it was gone. Of course it was.
The EMTs loaded Carl into the ambulance. Before the doors closed, the man heard one of the EMTs shout, “He’s flatlining!”
The man looked at the blood on the ground. There was a lot of it. Still no sign of the bagel. He shook his head. Maybe I’m losing it, he thought.
Then, he saw it.
The bagel was sitting on the bench, next to paper cup with a plastic lid. The lumpy circle of toasted dough was still wet with blood, but there seemed to be less of it. How did it get there? What the hell is going on?
He took a step toward the bench, never taking his eyes off the bagel. He squatted in front of the bench, leaned in for a closer look.
The bagel moved. The man flinched, but stayed where he was. He couldn’t take his eyes off the thing. It moved again, a little. The man watched, fascinated. He was pretty sure no one had ever seen anything like this. The bagel was inching its way across the bench in his direction. The whole event was surreal and captivating. The man noted that it left a trail of blood on the wood and wondered how long the bagel would take to reach the edge.
Then, Bang! It flew into his face, covering his nose and mouth. He couldn’t breathe: garlic and another man’s blood and feces filling his nostrils. He pried at it with his fingers, but it was already forcing itself into him, filling his throat and sinuses.
The man choked and gagged and clawed at his nose and mouth; he had time to think, Well, this is a stupid and absurd way to die. Then he was gone.
Max looked up as the bells on the door chimed. He grinned.
“Ms. Jessica!” he gave her a friendly wave. “So nice to see you.”
“Thanks, Max,” Jessica Saunders said. “Do you have any sesame bagels left?”
“Oh no,” Max said, full of regret. “I’m so sorry. We only have garlic left.”
“Okay,” she said. “I’ll take one of those. Toasted with lox, please.”
ABERRANT is defined as unusual, abnormal or different. The stories in this book not only differ from most of what you read, but also wildly from each other. A retired school teacher takes on an elder god and his minion; a werewolf picks fights with sea creatures; a neighbor’s lawn may be eating people. Twenty-two stories: scary, funny, weird and different.
In these pages, you will find darkness and fear, revulsion and terror. Mixed with it, however is quite a bit of humor. Sometimes both happen at the same time. So, open it up, join Jim as he fights off zombies with a potato cannon; witness the bloodbath reunion of the first man and his homicidal son; enjoy the monsters, the demons and the deranged.
A word of warning, though: you may never eat a bagel with lox again.
Available for purchase at:
ABOUT THE AUTHOR – Ken MacGregor’s work has appeared in over fifty anthologies, magazines and podcasts. Ken is a member of The Great Lakes Association of Horror Writers and an Affiliate member of HWA. You can find Ken on Amazon, Goodreads, Facebook, and at ken-macgregor.com. Ken’s the kind of guy that, if he found himself stranded somewhere with you, would probably eat you to survive. Ken hopes you enjoyed the stories in this collection and that you sleep just a little less well because of them. Ken lives in Michigan with his family and two unstable cats.
Sirens Call Publications will be giving away digital copies of An Aberrant Mind by Ken MacGregor to 5 (five) lucky winners! Follow the link to enter for your chance to win!