The cult section of the literary world

Show Me Your Shelves: Jessica McHugh

I can’t remember when I “met” Jessica McHugh online, but her good attitude, constant hustle, and sense of humor made her one of those folks I like keeping in touch with despite the fact that we’ve never shared a beer. In a nutshell, Jessica’s one of those cool writers who make the indie scene a pleasure. She takes care of her own work constantly, but still finds time to share the love with her “inky cohorts.” In any case, all that taking care of business has lead to a few books in different genres, and one of them is perfect for the crowd that usually drops by Bizarro Central. Check out what she had to say.

GI: Who are you and what role do books play in your life?

JM: I’m a chick who will never stop playing make-believe. As hard as it can be generating unique plots, as poor as I am, as stressful as deadlines are, as slumped and swamp-assy as I get sitting in a computer chair for ten hours, I’m eternally, unapologetically, head-over-heels in love with writing. It’s the most fun work ever, and you better believe my swampass is going to explore as many parts of the playground as possible.

You can probably gather that books are essential to my overall well-being and happiness. Whether I’m playing make-believe in my own worlds or giving myself over to someone else’s creations, I need books for entertainment and education—in and outside of my career. That being said, I tend to read slowly these days due to overall exhaustion and lack of time. I think a lot of writers get shamed for not reading enough—and that “enough,” of course, is based on another person’s reading speed and timetable. But I submit that you just have to read as much as you can. It’s great if “as much as you can” means you read five novels a month. It’s great if it means you read one novel a month. It’s great if you take a few months to read a short story anthology filled with a variety of tales and writers. As long as you’re making an effort, the books will forgive you. Books are cool like that.

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GI: You write everything. Do you change magic hats to painlessly switch genres? Do you sacrifice mythological beings in order to write funny stuff, eat a sandwich, and then write about bad things?

JM: I’m afraid I’m somewhat ignorant when it comes to this answer. I don’t know how it happens. I don’t who or what flips the switch. I just know it happens when I need it to, and as long as I keep paying the Goblin Lord in enchanted chocolate doubloons, everything will be just fine.

Or maybe it’s because I trained myself to switch projects/genres/POVs, just like I trained myself to write in various locations and noise levels. When I decide it’s time to put away the young adult novel for a while and write some seriously fucked up horror, my brain usually obeys because I’ve conditioned it to do so. But there are exceptions. Occasionally, I’ll hit mental blocks when I’m switching genres, so I find it helps to change my physical location. I’ll move from my Writing Hut to the living room or to a restaurant—any place that changes the scenery, clears my head, and prepares me to embark on this new journey.

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GI: You seem to have the social media platform thing down. Any tips for newbies? Words of advice for folks who invite me to their release party in Manila on a Tuesday night? How much time do you usually invest on your online presence? Are the days of the secretive Pynchon-esque figure officially over?

JM: I hear pretty frequently that I’m adept at social media, but honestly, I’m just being my normal annoying self. Readers have always wanted to be friendly with their favorite authors, to know what makes them tick instead of merely assuming from their fiction, and social media provides us with that opportunity. I’m just taking advantage of that desire and my natural ability to be a loudmouth. Personally, I think writers need to let down their walls—or bust them to rubble, actually—to infuse their characters with honest thoughts and emotions. Doing that ensured that I no longer have a filter when I write (though I screw the filter back in place when it comes to editing), so I often don’t filter myself online or in person, either. It can get me into trouble, no doubt, but I think I come off okay most of the time. There are definitely people who hate pretty much everything about me, especially my fondness for using the word “cunt,” but I’m learning to ignore those hateful comments. When it comes down to it, I’ve never been that secretive about my personal life, and I’ll admit my proclivity to being a bit of an attention whore, so I’m naturally comfortable being an open book to my readers.

So…tips? Be yourself. That’s what people want, and being yourself is healthy for you, too! If you’re shy or scared to be so unguarded online, tell your followers that. We all have different personalities, different truths and stories to convey, which is what makes this such a magical time to create and share your art with the world. Being honest about your fears and doubts, celebrating your accomplishments, owning up to your mistakes, or encouraging your fellow artists might be outside of your comfort zone, but I swear to you, those anxieties are nothing compared to the joy you feel when people tell you something you wrote or posted had a positive effect on their lives.

Obviously, there are lines you shouldn’t cross on social media, and there are things you can do to make sure your posts/links get seen, but a lot of that is trial and error. It just takes time and effort, like everything else in the writing world.

Oh, and I can’t deny that a part of me would love to disappear with a typewriter and a case of wine and spend my days writing novel after novel in solitude. But I think I’d survive about six months before I cracked. I’d definitely need someone to step in and tell me it’s time to shower and rejoin society.

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GI: If the house is burning down and you have to run out only with the books you can carry, which books make it?

JM: If I’m being logical, I guess I’d have to grab the least replaceable books. So I’d gather all my work-in-progress stuff, then I’d scoop up my autographed Peter S. Beagle books because they’re all in one place. But if there’s a damn fire, I doubt I’d be thinking very logically, so I’d probably only get away with “Zombie Butts from Uranus.” It’s a classic in its own right, I suppose.

GI: What’s The Green Kangaroos about and why should weird lit lovers get to the clicking and buy a copy as soon as they’re done reading this?

JM: “The Green Kangaroos” is a filthy fun adventure through the world an unremorseful drug addict named Perry Samson. Perry would like nothing more than for his concerned family to ditch their concern so he can continue shooting atlys into his balls, but they can’t let him do that when there are rehab avenues not yet explored. One such avenue is the Sunny Daye Institute, which begins Perry and his family down a perilous, and possibly deceptive, road to recovery that takes them from 2099 Baltimore to Antarctica and into the fantastically horrid nature of addiction itself.

This novel from Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing was the most fun writing experience of my life so far. I don’t know if it was playing a first person male character, that Perry himself was so delightful disgusting, or because of the dazzling genre goulash this book became, but crafting “The Green Kangaroos” felt like a joyride in stolen car—if said car was rusted and smelled like rotten hotdog water. It was revolting, but it was freeing. This book also served as a way for me to forgive the trespasses made by an addict in my own life, so even though it’s not a direct representation of those events, it will always be close to my heart because of my past. I didn’t expect it, but “The Green Kangaroos” quickly became my favorite world in the McHughniverse.

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Gabino Iglesias is a writer, journalist, and book reviewer living in Austin, TX. He’s the author of Gutmouth, Hungry Darkness, and a few other things no one will ever read. You can find him on Twitter at@Gabino_Iglesias

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