By Sean Tuohy
Justin Macumber is a writer who is never at rest.
Between writing his next critically acclaimed story and producing his 7-year-old podcast, “The Dead Robot Society,” Macumber is constantly on the move.
I was lucky enough to chat with Macumber between projects about his writing style, the podcast, and what the future holds for him.
Sean Tuohy: When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
Justin Macumber: It didn't hit me until high school that writing was something I might be good at. I was taking freshman English, and my teacher, Mrs. Rose, complimented my poetry highly. I don't write poems anymore, but those compliments stuck with me, empowering me to take my writing to longer forms.
ST: Who your early writing influences?
JM: Stephen King and Robert Heinlein. King has such an easy, casual style to his writing that greatly appeals to me. I also love that he's an author who doesn't let himself be stuck in one genre niche. Heinlein showed me that science fiction should be about the people, with the science a backdrop and supporting aspect.
ST: How did 'The Dead Robots Society" come to be?
JM: I'd been listening to podcasts since before they were called that, and I loved the idea of independently produced radio type shows sent to people via the Internet. I searched high and low for a topic I thought I could speak to that wasn't already well covered. At the same time, I was beginning to take my writing more seriously. Somehow one hit the other, and thus was born “The Dead Robots' Society” podcast, a show made by a bunch of aspiring writers for other aspiring writers. Now, over seven years later, we're still going strong, and we've dropped the "aspiring" aspect. Writers write, no other qualifier needed.
ST: What is your writing process like?
JM: A total mess. Usually I outline the story before I get started on it, but my latest work is being written completely by the seat of my pants. Why the change? I wish I knew. I just go with it, honestly. This one feels self-propelled. Once I have the first draft finished I go back through it and edit for story problems. After that it goes to beta readers so they can look for any issues I missed or didn't know existed. Once I have their notes back I do a third draft with their ideas in mind. Only then do I do a fourth draft for grammar, punctuation, and spelling problems. No use doing that until you're basically done with it. Then I sent it to my publisher to see if it's something they'll want. If so, great! If not, I either consider another publisher or put it out myself.
ST: Which do you find more difficult to write a short story or novel?
JM: They're really both the same, just one word after another. Short stories are hard because you don't have a lot of room for secondary plots or character moments, but novels can be difficult because you can lost in the world and end up wasting time on chapters or scenes you ultimately don't need. But, if you put a gun to my head, I'd say novels, if only because the length multiplies potential issues.
ST: What does the future hold for Justin Macumber?
JM: Too much! Right now I'm writing a sequel of sorts to my first horror novel Still Water, and after that I'll get back to a prequel to my debut novel Haywire. Once those two are done I'd like to finish my Born Of Fire trilogy that I've been writing for Crescent Moon Press. After that...who knows? I have several novel ideas in mind, all in different genres or combinations of genres.
ST: What advice do you give to other writers?
JM: First, be okay with sucking. All first drafts should suck. Just get the story out of your head and onto a page or monitor. Turn that turd into a diamond in later drafts. Secondly, don't get feedback from family or friends. They love you. You don't want that. You want honesty. Find beta readers who will tell you the truth. Love the truth, even when it hurts. Lastly, be savage in your edits. The phrase "kill your darlings" is a cliché amongst writers for a reason. If a word, a sentence, or even an entire chapter doesn't push forward the story and/or develop characters meaningfully, get rid of it. Don't love your own words so much you can't delete them. Words tell your story, but they also get in the way. Learn to know which words are doing which.
ST: Can you tell us one random fact about yourself?
JM: I'm a massive video game player. I know as a writer I'm supposed to read all the time, but I spend more time with a controller in my hands than I do with a book. And, it's been good for me, in that it's been an endless source of inspiration and ideas. Haywire never would have been written had it not been for “Mass Effect” causing me to ask myself questions about soldiers and their supplies. Still Water was directly inspired by Silent Hill. Video games have become amazing storytelling devices that also happen to look great and play well, and I encourage all writers to try them out.