J. Michael Major spends his time pulling teeth and tugging at your heartstrings. His is a voice you will not soon forget once you’ve had your first listen.
Author J. Michael Major has been writing his own unique brand of fiction for decades. Having first put pen to paper in high school, he initially focused on tales of science fiction. Major has honed his skills and now writes primarily in the genres of horror, mystery, crime and suspense, often including a mash-up of elements from each category into his work.
His dark and suspenseful tales have appeared in magazines that include Hardboiled, Bare Bone, Pirate Writings, Into the Darkness, Rictus, Outer Darkness and Crossroads. And his short stories have been published in the anthologies Death Grip 3: It Came from the Cinema, New Traditions in Terror and Tales of Mayhem, Volume III.
His recently released, award-winning novel, One Man’s Castle continues to receive numerous rave reviews. And his disturbing tale of a father pushed far beyond the edge of sanity, “A Letter to My Ex” in the bestselling Grey Matter Press anthology SPLATTERLANDS: REAWAKENING THE SPLATTERPUNK REVOLUTION, has left a long-lasting effect on both readers and critics alike.
A resident of our hometown, Major lives with his family outside Chicago where he balances the fear of words with a successful career in dentistry, an altogether different type of horror for some.
We were able to sit down with Major for an interview that sheds some light onto the many dark topics he finds fascinating.
Grey Matter Press (GMP): Michael, thanks for taking some time out of your busy day to chat with us about your work. We greatly appreciate your time. So, on that note, let’s jump right in… You began writing as a teenager but didn’t look into having your stories published until many years later. What was is it that made you decide to give it a try? And why did you wait so long to bring it to the public?
J. Michael Major (JMM): Part of it was that my college freshman English teacher sucked the joy out of writing, and then I got busy with college and dental school. But while many of my dental school classmates went out to Chicago’s Rush Street to drink, I don’t really drink that much and couldn’t afford to anyway. Besides, I’ve always been a loner, so I spent much of my free time at dental school listening to records and reading books from the Science Fiction Book Club, and the SF I read blew my mind and inspired me to start writing again. Which I’m glad I did.
GMP: And we’re very glad you did too, or we might not have been able to enjoy your darkly disturbing work.
You are quite the busy man, one who juggles a successful dental career with raising a family all the while also exploring the dark recesses of your fictional pursuits. You have quite a few personal appearances on your calendar. Do you feel that getting out and meeting readers is beneficial to your writing career?
JMM: Absolutely! What I’ve found is that most people who aren’t friends or family that go to the signings might be interested in the premise of the book, but what sells it is whether or not they like you. The greatest book in the world won’t sell unless people can relate to you. Luckily, I like meeting people, and years of meeting new patients has helped me come out of my shell. If you can show people how approachable you are and make them laugh and realize that you are just like them, then they will be more inclined to buy your book. So the more signings I can do, the better!
GMP: You enjoy writing in the horror, mystery, crime and suspense categories. What is it about these genres that appeal to you?
JMM: It just seems to be where my attention goes. Most of my story ideas come from something I’ve seen on the news coupled with an odd observation or something I’ve read. What happens when these two things are put together? Horror and suspense stories often come from nightmares, and the result is usually a short story because I don’t want to face the situation too long. However, things that piss me off or confuse me turn into mystery and crime, because I want to explore why those issues bother me so much.
GMP: Does your work in dentistry ever inspire your writing?
JMM: You mean inspiration for the horror aspect? 🙂 No, the way that being a dentist inspires me is that I get to meet all kinds of characters, see people in all sorts of moods and the different ways they react to things, hear tons of personal stories (I almost feel like a bartender sometimes), and listen to the way they talk for all kinds of uses in dialog, character construction, background, motivations and self-deceptions, etc.
GMP: If you had the opportunity to become a full-time writer, would you give up being a dentist, or do you enjoy doing both?
JMM: No, I wouldn’t ever want to give up being a dentist, because I honestly enjoy being a dentist and I know that I am helping people make their lives better and healthier. Being both a dentist AND a writer is all I’ve ever wanted to be since I was ten years old. I want to do both for as long as I can.
GMP: Your story, “A Letter to My Ex” that appears in our SPLATTERLANDS anthology is a story that many say will stick with them for some time to come. And everyone wants to know what inspired you to write this piece about a vengeful ex-husband?
JMM: The honest answer is that I wrote it because I didn’t want to be a hypocrite. I originally came up with the idea more than a decade ago, when a number of divorcing parents were murdering their own children just so the other couldn’t get custody. But it was such a horrendous concept that I refused to write it. Then later, when a writer friend of mine said that she wanted to write a deep, emotional book, I told her that in order to do so she would have to write outside her comfort zone and deal with issues she would normally avoid. And when the SPLATTERLANDS opportunity arrived, I realized I would be a hypocrite if I didn’t write the one story that existed outside my own comfort zone.
But what could possibly make a father do what he did in the story? That motivation was found in the amazingly researched non-fiction book Loving Men, Respecting Women by Tim Goldich. Among other injustices, it cites numerous cases where divorce attorneys have falsely accused and literally destroyed the lives of many husbands and fathers because of their no-holds-barred-winner-takes-everything attitude. So the story is both about the horror of what is currently happening in our divorce courts with the horror of what could happen if someone was pushed too far.
GMP: And a very effective treatment of both concepts, we might add. Immediately the piece struck us with its multi-dimensional approach to addressing some very important aspects of our modern culture. As a relatively young publishing entity, we were honored to be able to bring such messaging to your readers.
So, moving onto the a topic that’s a bit lighter… If you could take three books with you before being stranded on a deserted island, which would you choose, and why?
JMM: Oh my, that is a very difficult question, because I rarely read a book twice. There are just so many out there that I want to read as many as I can. But if I had to pick three, I would choose: The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster, because it is one of my favorite books from my childhood that I enjoyed even more as an adult for all the wordplay; Lord of the Flies, by William Golding, because of all the layers of symbolism and good versus evil; and War and Peace, by Leo Tolstoy, because, let’s face it, if I’m going to be stranded on a deserted island, I’m going to need a BIG book, and this might be the only way I’ll get around to reading it.
GMP: Your novel, One Man’s Castle, has received some great reviews and recently picked up a writing award. Congratulations! What is the novel about?
JMM: Thank you! Yes, I was extremely thrilled and honored when One Man’s Castle won the Lovey Readers Choice Award for Best First Novel. A sort of Death Wish meets The Fugitive concept, the novel asks: Is a man a serial killer if he only kills the burglars who break into his home? And what if one of them is the man who had murdered the homeowner’s wife and was now returning to kill him? After the homeowner, Walter, leaves town to tell his wife’s family that her murder has been avenged, the bodies of all the burglars are discovered in his crawlspace. The cops assume that he is a new (John Wayne) Gacy, while Walter, now a wanted man on the run, feels he has only given the proper justice that the legal system failed to provide before.
GMP: We sense a theme here… In both “A Letter to My Ex” and One Man’s Castle you explore the concepts of right vs. wrong and how that outcome is affected by our legal system.
JMM: I want readers to see both sides of the story and root for both the cops and Walter—and to wonder if someone killed their loved one and they thought they could get away with it, what would they do? One thing that many readers tell me they enjoy so much is how I keep twisting the plot, always surprising them by never allowing the reader to take any scene for granted. Though Walter’s story ends with this novel, I’m working on the next book with the same detectives. As well as a couple more short stories.
GMP: We definitely look forward to reading what you come up with next. Again, thank you for taking the time to talk to us about your work.
You can find out more about J. Michael Major at his biography on our website. Or visit his website. And make sure to follow him on Twitter at @MajorWriter or connect with him with a LIKE of his Facebook page.