Lee: To start things off, why don’t you tell us a little about yourself and your work as a writer.
R.J.: Well, first I’d like to thank you for interviewing me. I really appreciate the opportunity to talk about my work and my inspirations. I’m Scottish by birth and lived in various parts of the UK until 2010, when my wife and I moved to Ontario, Canada so I could take up an academic position at a university in Toronto. I’ve been writing since my early twenties, but after failing to get anything published, I took an extended hiatus until just a few years ago when I rediscovered my old work. After re-reading my stories, I decided to give writing another go and started again. I got confident enough to submit a few stories at the start of 2016. A few acceptances gave me even more confidence, and I continued to write and submit. Four years later, I’ve had over 100 stories published by about a dozen publishers and magazines.
Lee: Tell us about your latest book, The Plague
R.J.: The Plague is a novella published this summer by Demain Press, as part of their Short Sharp Shocks series. It’s a vampire story, set in an isolated village in early twentieth century Russia. The local doctor and priest notice that some of the children are exhibiting signs of a vampire attack. The doctor and priest resolve to rid the village of this curse, but they know they will have to destroy both the vampire and all the infected children in order to destroy the curse.
Lee: What was your inspiration behind the The Plague?
R.J.: The tale is set in what I called a ‘dry winter’ – a period of unseasonal warmth in late November that happens every few decades. It was the concept of the dry winter that was the inspiration for the story. The idea of a period of unseasonal warmth and humidity bringing disease to an isolated village set me thinking what if a vampire also returned with the dry winter to prey on the villagers – after that, it was just a matter of writing the story.
Lee: Do you have any favorite characters from the book? Which character has been the most fun to write?
R.J.: I’m a scientist, so I tend to be drawn to any scientist or medical characters in my stories. My only recurring character in my work has been Dr. John Lansing and he has appeared in multiple different medical or scientific roles in my stories. Smirnov is the doctor in my story and I think he’s my favorite, although Zankov the priest is a close second. They were both fun to write, trying to balance between their duty to the village and the knowledge that they will have to commit an unspeakable act to do save the villagers.
Lee: What made you decide to become a writer? Was it something you always wanted to do?
R.J.: I’ve always wanted to be a writer, back from when I was a kid. I was brought up to love and appreciate books and it was always a dream of mine to get something published. After 4 years of getting published I now have the confidence to call myself a writer and that is really satisfying. I’m not sure I ever decided to become a writer, not in the sense that I woke up one morning and said “Today, I’m going to become a writer”. It was a series of steps; first writing a few stories, then getting the confidence to submit, the strength to deal with rejections and then dawning realization after a few years and a few publications, that I’d actually become one!
Lee: What book or story would you say inspired you the most?
R.J.: I’ve always been drawn to darker fiction. My favorite fiction genres are science fiction and what could loosely be called horror. I grew up in the late seventies and early eighties, so the go-to authors were Stephen King and James Herbert. My first ‘horror’ book purchase was Salem’s Lot, and it drew me into the world of dark fiction. In terms of inspiration, I don’t think I have a specific book or story. I’ve always read widely, both fiction and non-fiction and draw inspiration from a huge number of sources.
Lee: What is it about writing that makes you want to do it? Do you have a favorite part of the process, such as brainstorming or editing? Or is it something else entirely?
R.J.: I love the feeling of having an idea for a story, then seeing it develop on the page. I love creating characters, scenarios, dialogue. I love the idea of the reader being immersed in a world I created. I don’t have a favorite part or a part I hate – I love writing, editing and creating a polished, final product.
Lee: What do you like to read? Who are some of your favorite authors?
R.J.: I read all sorts, from dark fiction to historical non-fiction. My favorite authors are people like Robert Aikman, M.R. James, Edith Wharton, August Derleth and Basil Copper. As you can probably tell from that list I like to read vintage horror, including Victorian and Edwardian stories. I do read modern horror too, Ramsey Campbell and Brian Keene are two examples, but I prefer vintage tales of Gothic horror.
Lee: What do you like to do when you aren’t writing?
R.J.: My wife and I live on a hobby farm in Ontario and when I’m not writing and working, we’re looking after that. We have some rescue pigs and a kennel of sled dogs. In the winter, we’re usually out training the dogs for various events and races.
Lee: Do you have a specific method you follow when writing? What are some things you need on-hand?
R.J.: The only method I’m consciously aware of it to try to have the full story laid out in my mind before I start writing. Obviously, things will change during the initial version, and then again with subsequent versions and during editing, but I like to have the overview of the beginning, middle and end in my mind before I start.
Lee: What has been the toughest challenge you’ve faced as a writer?
R.J.: My biggest personal challenge is that sometimes I lose momentum on a story and it doesn’t get finished. I have a few stories like that in my ‘in progress’ folder, some of which have been sitting there for over a year. The challenge for me is to reopen those files and get them finished.
Lee: What advice would you give to a new writer?
R.J.: Firstly, if you want to be a writer, you have to write and keep writing on a regular basis. You also have to learn to accept rejection and criticism without taking it personally. You have to spend a ton of time looking for places to publish your work. You have to learn your craft, make sure your characters are believable, and your dialogue flows. Make sure your stories make sense to the reader. Make sure you aren’t assuming the reader will understand what you are trying to say, the story has to be clear. And lastly, get a mentor if you can and a support group if you can’t. I have a few people I can rely on to edit and proof my work and we swap leads on open calls and generally support each other – it’s a great asset and it’s a great comfort to have people you can ask for support and advice.
Find R.J. Meldrum’s ‘The Plague‘ on Amazon HERE
About R.J. Meldrum
Richard J. Meldrum is an author and academic. He specializes in fiction that explores the world through a dark lens. His subject matter ranges from ghosts to serial killers and everything in-between. He has had over a hundred short stories and drabbles published in a variety of anthologies, e-zines and websites. He has had short stories published by Culture Cult Press, Horrified Press, Infernal Clock, Trembling with Fear, Black hare press, Smoking Pen Press, Darkhouse Books, and James Ward Kirk Fiction. His short stories have also been published in The Sirens Call e-zine, the Horror Zine and Drabblez magazine. His novella “The Plague” was recently published by Demain Press. He is a contributor to Pen of the Damned and an Affiliate Member of the Horror Writers Association.