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One-on-one with horror thriller writer Brandon Massey

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He's baaaaack.

Considered among today's top horror thriller writers in the game, Gold Pen award-winning author Brandon Massey returns with his newest thriller, IN THE DARK.

Massey is the author of nine novels of horror and suspense and a trailblazer within the horror genre.

At a time when few commercially successful horror writers of color existed, the critically acclaimed author's eerie tales resonated with readers of all ethnicities and caused the literary world to stand up and take notice.

His latest thriller lives up to that legacy.

Q: After a brief hiatus, you've returned with IN THE DARK which centers on a young family who've found their ideal home only to receive an ominous warning from a stranger to vacate the property within three days—or else. What an eerie hook. How did that concept come about?

A: I actually got the initial idea from a horror film by Sam Raimi that came out in 2009 called DRAG ME TO HELL. It’s about a loan officer at a bank who declines to give a mortgage extension to an old Gypsy woman—and the Gypsy gains retribution by placing a terrible curse on the bank employee.

That movie got me thinking about all the crazy things that happened in the real estate market over the past few years—subprime loans, mortgage fraud, and the like—and how I could build a story around a set of characters who are in opposition because they’ve all got a legitimate claim. The family has a mortgage on this home; the old man, the former owner, says he was conned out of the property. Who is right? All of them are, and it’s a battle of wills to find out who will win.

Oh, and in the meantime, the old man isn’t quite who he appears to be, and there are plenty of secrets buried within the house, too.

Q: 'Drag Me' happens to be one of my absolute favorite horror movies. How long did it take to write/research IN THE DARK? Did you use an outline, or start with a general concept and see what unfolded?

A: It took about ten months to write IN THE DARK. I started with a fairly detailed outline, as I tend to do, and in the course of writing the story, the narrative went in some unexpected directions. I always welcome this because it means I’m peeling back deeper layers of the characters and learning what motivates them.

Q: Nowadays marketing and promoting a new book falls heavily upon the author. I read that you're not really into a lot of self-promotion through constant Facebook-ing, Tweeting, and status updates. Do you find that keeping up with social media outlets can sometimes become more of a hindrance than a help?

A: Outside of the basics—updating my website, sending out my e-mail newsletter, and posting release announcements on Facebook and Twitter—I’m not convinced that spending dozens of hours and lots of money toward self-promotion really pays off. My time is better spent writing the best book I can possibly craft. A good book inspires word of mouth. An expensive promotional campaign can’t force readers to buy a bad book.

Q: What's an average day like for you as a family man and author? What are your writing habits?

A: I write in the mornings, while the rest of the household is asleep. I like to get a solid two hours completed before I go off to my day job in the IT industry. I write every day except Sunday.

Q: IN THE DARK is your ninth novel to date. You started out by self-publishing your first book, THUNDERLAND, which later grabbed the attention of an agent and publisher. After having been self-published, traditionally published (Dafina Books, Pinnacle) and now self-published again (by choice), what's your current perspective on traditional vs. self-publishing, and what advice do you have for writers who are trying to decide which is best for them?

A: I think there are pros and cons to both paths that you have to consider. Traditional publishing offers the advantages of turning over some of the non-writing functions—proofreading, cover design, typesetting, distribution—to others. But you lose control of your book and earn less profit per sale.

Self-publishing, of course, means that you are responsible for everything. You have to either wear a lot of different hats or pay someone to do the things you don’t want to do. But you keep full control of your rights and earn a substantially greater profit on every unit sold.

My current focus is on self-publishing my work, but I’m not opposed to doing a traditional deal again, so long as the terms are agreeable. I won’t ever allow myself to be locked into a rigid book contract again. Even if I published traditionally I would need to retain the flexibility to self-publish whenever I wanted.

Q: What do you think about the quality of the burgeoning number of self-pubbed books hitting the market?

A: I think readers have learned to separate the wheat from the chaff. They are quick to bury a poorly written book under a mountain of bad reviews. So I don’t think quality control is a major issue.

Q: Where do you see the future of publishing in the next five to 10 years?

A: I think you’ll continue to see traditional publishers working to find ways to maintain their relevance. Signing with a NY publisher still has prestige, in the eyes of many writers, even those who were doing well independently. So I think these publishers (and they have been doing this already) will keep combing the lists of successful self-published authors and trying to entice these writers into the fold.

On the flip side, I think you’ll continue to see authors who were traditionally published stepping out and testing the waters of the indie pub world. The money and the creative freedom are too alluring to ignore. So writers will be playing both sides.

Q: A recent article in the Huffington Post made book marketing predictions for 2014 and identified a growing trend where authors produce shorter, more frequent content (books)rather than one or two longer works a yearas a means of constantly staying engaged with readers and bringing more attention to their entire body of work. What are your thoughts about that?

A: I think it’s a valid observation. The wealthiest writer in the world, according to Forbes Magazine, is James Patterson. He published over a dozen books in 2013 alone. Clearly readers are willing to buy more than one book a year by their favorite authors, as long as the quality is still there.

Q: I read that you have no plans to deviate from the horror/suspense genre. What do you think about authors who "write to the market" or write to suit trends?

A: Usually it’s a mistake. By the time you’ve written a book that capitalizes on a trend, the trend has probably passed already. A writer would need to be extremely fast to turn out a book quickly enough to ride a market wave. It’s certainly possible but I don’t think that’s the sort of career that most novelists would want. We get into this business because we want to tell stories—our stories. It’s important to be aware of market trends, but better in the long run to focus on crafting works that share your unique voice.

Q: What is the single best thing a writer can do to improve upon their craft?

A: Write more. You get better with practice.

Q: What can we expect from Brandon Massey in the coming months, years?

A: More thrillers, more horror novels. I’m working on a book right now that I plan to publish next Spring, and I’ve got notes in progress for the next two books beyond that one. Readers can stay up to date by visiting my site at www.brandonmassey.com and signing up for my e-mail newsletter.

Kevin Don Porter is a CBS Local contributor and the author of OVER THE EDGE and MISSING—two mysteries available on Amazon.com. Visit his website at www.kevindonporter.com. Friend him on Facebook and Goodreads, and follow him on Twitter: @kevindonporter.

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