I’ve talked about Jennifer Hudock and her work here before. And I told you how she’s hopscotching from blog to blog to promote some of the really cool things she’s working on currently.
Well, I had a chance to talk with her the other day, and it was fun and a little random.
We started talking about her family, and I asked her if she ever self-censored her work knowing that her daughter might read her work (some of her horror is very intense). Her response was very even-minded. “Sometimes I do and sometimes I don’t because she is 15 now. And she watches a lot of horror and she reads a lot of horror. She recently just got into Stephen King and Stephen King’s stuff can be pretty brutal and pretty dark.
“And she’s listened to the Zombie Chronicles, and that’s pretty adult in a lot of places. Mostly when she does have questions about things, it’s a nice medium to open up conversation to get her thinking and talking about more adult subject matter.
“I have censored myself before, and it has nothing to do with her. One of the Zombie Double Shot stories in the Dark Journeys collection had been rejected a few times. Two of the editors rejected it because there was a scene in the beginning of the story when she was talking about how the zombies and their mentality reminded her of a mentally retarded boy she grew up with. I actually grew up with a mentally retarded boy, and I had a scene in there that was sort of reminiscent of my childhood, where he would go and look in people’s windows while they were eating dinner. He was a voyeur and he was watching people eat dinner and eventually they would go and close the curtains like ‘Go home.’ And I had incorporated a scene in the story where she was comparing zombies to this mentally retarded boy she grew up with and wondering how that would affect someone who was mentally retarded if they became a zombie. And they were so offended.
“And I thought about it for a long time, whether or not I should cut that scene out. I didn’t want to offend people; I mean that’s a touchy subject. And for a long time I was like ‘I’m not going to compromise it,’ because I thought it had societal resonance. But I did eventually cut it out because I didn’t want to offend anybody. And sometimes I regret it.”
I wondered if there was anything else in her work that she regretted in changing. Jennifer’s focused on changes she wished she had made to improve her work. “With Goblin Market, I kind of regret not editing it as much as it needed to be done before I started to podcast it. There were a lot of things that I wish I would have added to the story before I started to podcast it that might have made the story a little better. Not as much talking things out, but putting things in or cleaning it up a little bit.”
And then I took the conversation into a random area that interests me. Jennifer Hudock studied English as part of her Undergraduate work, and because I still have the mentality of researching for my MA thesis, I wanted to ask her about her influences in her work. And mostly how any literary criticism she might have studied influences her work. Jennifer talked about her studies with Dr. Steven Witworth and Physiological Literary Criticism. “That was the first literary criticism class that I took after I changed my major [from psychology], and that really impacted the way I approach my characters. I really appreciate the psychology of the mind, and that influences my writing a lot when I’m developing my character and creating situations to put them in.”
(Side note, I’m totally checking up on this type of literary criticism) I started asking more specifics about her actual construction, because I’m a textual critic at heart. I asked about her writing system, and she was very frank. “I write completely by the seat of my pants. I get an idea and I just start going with it, and what comes out is a skeleton of the idea. And once the first draft is done I go back and actually add muscle and flesh to it until it becomes a whole idea. I’ve done National November for the last four years and the only time I’ve finished is when I just wrote it. I’ve tried to plan, and I just can’t. I don’t know why. I do take notes, so I have something to go back and reference.”
And then I asked her where her inspiration comes from (and immediately regretted it, because I already knew the answer because I do actually read her blog and loved this post where she eloquently smacks authors upside their heads for ignoring the Muse).
But then I followed up with the question I was really interested in the answer to and didn’t already know. I asked her about her thoughts on how much of her stories are personal.* “Every single one of my stories has a personal element of some kind. I always try to incorporate a little piece of myself into the story because I feel like the inspiration itself comes from outside sometimes. But in order to create something that other people can relate to, you yourself have to be able to understand how it feels on some level. So there’s always a little personal piece of myself in what I write.
“You can write about something that you know nothing about. I mean obviously with writing fantasy, it’s not real. It’s not something we can experience and understand. Something like “Faeries Kiss” or Goblin Market, something like that happening is not even possible on so many levels. But to take the characters and infuse real emotion and real feeling into them makes it something you can relate to. Maybe the scenario itself is completely outlandish and unreal, but if you can relate to it through the characters it becomes something you can relate to through the characters.
“To draw off both Goblin Market and “Faeries Kiss,” as an example, I grew up not knowing who my father was. So both of those stories have an element where the characters have a bit of resent in them for not having their fathers in their life anymore. In Goblin Market, Meredith’s resentment is because her father left her alone with her sister and all that weight and responsibility. And in “Faeries Kiss,” the boy’s father died, and there’s all that resentment with his mother because it’s her fault in a way, and you kind of feel like when you’re a kid. I could relate to that on a personal level, not knowing my father as a child. I had a lot of issues with my mom, like it was her fault. That’s terrible, and I can see that now as an adult, but it has nothing to do with your parents.”
After this really insightful discussion about what makes stories personal and good to read, I transitioned randomly to what drew Jennifer Hudock to horror and dark fantasy. And I learned that her mom read a lot of Stephen King and similar works. “I read a lot of stuff like that. And when I was five, I had a paranormal experience, and that sort of stuck with me the rest of my life. And it drove me to read more about paranormal things. As I was learning to read, I would go to the library and I would always wind up in the paranormal section of the library checking out books about unexplained haunting and ghosts when I was in elementary school. And I would hear my mom talk about what she was reading and how much it scared her. One of my favorite stories my mom tells is when she was reading Salem’s Lot and it being cold and rainy. She was alone in the house, and my dad wasn’t home and she wasn’t expecting him to come home and he came home early. And it scared her so badly she threw the book at him, and I remember thinking ‘That’s awesome!’ So I started to read Stephen Kind because she was reading him, and one of the first books I read was Salem’s Lot. And I remember being so terrified of that book, and we were just talking about it the other day, and I know if I go back and read it, it won’t scare me on that same level. But being scared like that, I found that so intriguing I wanted to scare other people.”
Jennifer told me that she read Salem’s Lot when she was about 12, and read a lot of fantasy, and the Dragon Land series when she was around 14 or 15. And she likes the fantasy, but feels like a lot of times the stories are too cute. “I know a lot of times they kind of reflect societal elements.”
Which is interesting, and we talked for awhile about how societal elements creep in, whether we recognize them or not. Sometimes authors begin with an intentional comment, but readers will find other elements as well. And sometimes the stories show the social reflection. But the reflection is there regardless of the author’s intent. “I don’t intentionally [incorporate societal elements], but on the other hand, there’s no way to say you don’t intentionally do it because we’re a part of society.”
Then we talked a bit about why she’s publishing the Dark Journey’s collection. Some of the stories have been published before, but others have been shopped around. She even pulled a story from consideration when she started self-publishing the Dark Journeys collection. “I really liked these stories and I wanted to share them with people.” The fact that they were sitting with her, not being read, was not what she wanted for her stories. When she thought through it, she figured out that if she sold the stories herself, she would make the same amount of money over time if she sold it.
So Jennifer will collect the set of short stories and sell them with a bonus story. Dark Journeys will have 13 stories when Jennifer sells it as a collection. She will also clean and polish Goblin Market and sell it in text form. Both Dark Journeys and Goblin Market will be available through Amazon and Smashwords. Goblin Market may even be printed (I would love this!). The place to keep up to date on both Dark Journeys and Goblin Market is Jennifer’s website. You’ll also want to keep an eye on Running Down the Moon (the next novel she’s already working on), and the two charity collections she’s editing, which she’s working on over the summer.
*The question of how much of an author’s personal life/personality ends up in their work is one of my favorite discussions in English studies and the focus of most of my MA thesis. You can check out my thoughts on it there, and see why this part of the conversation was one of my favorites.