In 2017, international bestselling horror author Michaelbrent Collings started a Western Romance series under the pen name Angelica Hart. He had been about to quit writing altogether (he had published horror, thriller, scifi, fantasy, YA, MG, and mystery) but author friends he respected persuaded him to try Western Romance. This is Part 2 of a two-part series. Read Part 1 here.
Q. This book I am reading right now (Not All Cowboys are Cruel)…how did you prepare to write it?
A. I prepared to write it the same way I prepare everything else: I read a bunch of the genre, watch movies in that field, then walk around in a circle mumbling to myself while my brain barfs up ideas. Then I write the ideas down. With Western Romance, I knew I wanted:
a) MEN. Like, many, cool, gun-slinging types who walked into town and brought Hell or Heaven with them. Black hats and white.
b) WOMEN. I have tremendous respect bordering on awe for the important women in my life, and I think men write them badly because they either idealize them or demonize them. So I wanted the women of the books to be heroes, but also to be capable of being frightened, battered, bruised. Women are the REAL heroes of a good Western Romance. The men come in to save them from the dastardly, mustache-twirling villain, but the REAL salvation comes when the women realize the power they have held all along.
Q. No kidding. That scene with Tilly, and she pulls down her collar to show her scars…
A. Yeah, Tilly’s emblematic of that. She’s so broken she doesn’t realize that the fact is she’s not broken at all. Not really. She’s just been TOLD she is so long that she believes it, and forgets (for a time) how to tap into her strength… and how to recognize the strengths she has exhibited all along.
Q. Wait, you mean Grace?
A. And yes, I meant Grace. I suck at names. Which I told you before we started. It’s not just real people – I can’t remember even the people I FRICKING INVENTED.
Q. Ha ha, you’ve only written what, like 500 books?
A.I think it’s 40. A few haven’t been published yet, but I think that’s the total now.
Another thing I wanted… c) Some funny characters. Some romance suffers from too much melodrama, not enough other emotion. I love funny characters, the ones who snivel or are snippy in an amusing way. Love love LOVE them.
Q. Yeah, your side ones are funny. Do you write a list of characters and then write the story? Do you outline?
A. The WR (Western Romance) books are short, and I like “pantsing” with them. I’ll have a general idea of a pair of damaged characters (my REAL WOMAN hero and my REAL MAN hero), and a general idea of where I want them to end up… but not much more than that. It’s fun figuring out how to get them from a to b.
Q. I love that rescue scene. I have a craft question I am almost afraid to ask…
A. Ask away.
Q. Did you write those first few chapters in one shot? Because the interplay of everything was so compelling. I couldn’t see the author’s hand in it.
A. I honestly don’t remember, but it’s likely. I tend to write in spurts of 2000 words to upward of 20,000 (when I’m up against a deadline), so the chunk you read is probably the chunk I wrote in that sitting. ;o)
Q. I knew exactly what Grace was and what Matthew was. Did you when you started?
A. NO! I mean, again, I knew the general outlines of what KIND of people they would be. But I tend to hear about the characters in those books as the audience does. My subconscious is constantly at work, so by the time it shares an idea it’s already got the next few steps worked out, but my conscious mind is often surprised…. particularly as I realize how I want a story to end and say, “Oh, I better go back and layer in that clue or that backstory,” then realize I took care of it already, right at the beginning of the book.
I’m an audience as much as the reader is. That’s how I know I’m doing a good job, sometimes: if I start giggling or pump my fist or scream, “YEAH!” as I write.
Q. So this pen name…Angelica Hart. You kind of explained to me about choosing to write as a woman. Well, under a woman’s pen name anyway.
A. Yeah. Everyone who said, “You should write romance!” followed it up with, “But not, you know, as YOU. Because who wants romance from a GUY? Especially a guy known for books with titles like THE HAUNTED or APPARITION or TWISTED?” So Angelica Hart was born.
Q. Do you regret it? As in, would you do it as Angelica again? Now that you know what you know?
A. Yeah. It is tough to be different people. I recently outed myself, and explained that I was going to put her name on the cover, but I’m listed as one of the authors on the Amazon page, and I write down who I really am in the About the Author section of each book.
It’s a happy medium. Hopefully newcomers won’t be put off by a dude’s name, but will like the book enough that when they read the About the Author they’ll go, “Well, I guess it’s all right. He’s a guy, but we forgive him.”
Q. Yeah, I saw that. I’m gonna be nosy and feel free to decline… What kind of income did you see from writing what you did before and writing the westerns?
A. Oof. The Westerns made about as much as the other stuff when I started them, but neither was doing great. Again, a lot of “life” stuff was happening, and my focus was really all over the place more than it had ever been. So it was a rough couple of years, and the WR was right in the middle of that. As of now, it’s not my bread and butter. But I like doing it and a lot of this job isn’t about a big hit, it’s about a hundred little streams of income that add up over time.
Q. So if an author were trying to choose a genre to go into, which one would you recommend to break into profitably? Being that you have been in several.
A. No way to predict that. If you’re talking movies, then hands-down, do horror – it’s big, it’s profitable, and it’s cheap to make. No one’s going to buy THE AVENGERS PART 4 from an unknown author, but they’ll risk a few million on GET OUT or HALLOWEEN. But with books… each market is so different, and each has pluses and minuses. Horror is a smaller pool than thrillers or fantasy, for example, but that also means there are income caps for the former and problems getting lost in the crowd for the latter. Pluses and minuses.
Q. Yeah, I see that. Which one was easier for you to write, horror or WR?
A. I get asked that a lot – and about fantasy, and thrillers, and whatever-all-else. The answer: <shrugs>. Each one has its own challenges, its own payoffs. They’re all STORIES, though. They’re all about a guy or a girl who wants something, what they’re willing to do to get it, and what gets in their way.
Stories are great. I do stories, and though I’m best known for horror, I’ve never thought of myself as a “horror author.” I’m just a guy who tells stories. And some of them make you cry and some make you laugh and some make you fall in love. And if I’ve REALLY done my job, the best of them will do a bit of all that.
Q. So are you back to writing horror now? Or something else?
A. Right now I’m writing a horror novel called TERMINAL. Then there’s another Baxter Romance done called For Love of the Brave that’s just waiting for a final edit and a cover. Then a YA mystery. Seriously, I think Amazon’s AI probably gets nervous sweats every time I start a new project.
Q. Just think…you could be juggling 6 pen names by now.
A. Pen names: yeah, no. I’m happy being Michaelbrent. It also makes me giggle, because in the “Customers Also Bought” section of my WR has ONE horror title in there, always… and vice-versa.
Q. How often were you releasing the WR?
A. I was releasing the WR one every month or two for the first ones, then the thing with being two people got too complicated and I shelved them for nearly a year. Now… I dunno, I’ll probably do a few a year.
I have enough people in my head as it is; no need to get even MORE complicateder (that’s a real word, trust me, don’t look it up it’s rare) by pretending to BE some of them.
Q. Do you have a nickname?
A. No nickname, really. I go by “Michaelbrent” – not because I have a gold stick up my butt, but because there are dozens of Michaels in my family. This way I know who’s yelling at ME, as opposed to someone else. Also, it lets me hang up on telemarketers, since they’re the only ones that call me Michael or Mike.
Q. LOL. I am looking at the time. And wanted to wrap up so you are all fresh and dewy for LTUE. Is that tomorrow?
A. Glad to wrap up. Still gotta do some writing tonight. Sale on THE HAUNTED tomorrow (only 99 cents!) that I’ve gotta do marketing stuff for, and then I’m doing a buncha other stuff tomorrow. Yikes. Then LTUE on Thursday-Saturday.
Q. Ah, okay. I sure appreciate your time Michaelbrent. You’ve been so kind. Just one more question…
A. You are very welcome! It was a pleasure. Hit me.
Q. What would be your advice to someone who wants life balance while still being a successful author?
A. AH-HAHAHAHAHA! Oh wait, that was serious? ;o)
Q. Noooooo. I don’t like that answer. LOL
A. In all seriousness: I was a partner at a Los Angeles law firm. And everything you’ve heard about that, and about the hours they work is TRUE. And I work three times harder as a writer than I ever did as a lawyer.
Q. So it’s an impossible dream? * sniff * Well, it was either that question, or what can a writer do to level up? But I didn’t want you to lecture me about newsletters. Or marketing.
A. What a writer can do to level up: WRITE. Write and write and write. Your first million words will suck. Your second million will be okay. The third million… now you’re cookin! But you gotta write those first millions. And that’s fun, too, and enables you to figure out what is actually working it so you can replicate it over time and not have a one-hit career. That’s no fun.
So write and write, and keep your ears out. Every time you hear of an author you like who did something on advertising, or showed up on a podcast, do a spot of research. Learn about it. You talk about leveling up: it’s a lot easier to do with a walkthrough, so pay attention to the people you respect, and mimic what they’re doing.
It won’t all work for you, but it’s a heckuva lot more effective than just casting wide nets of ignorance or simply typing “How can I be a writer?” into Google.
Q. Yes. That makes sense. Thanks so much. I hope to chat with you again another time.
A. My pleasure! I hope this was interesting and fun for you and your readers. Keep on with the reading, keep on with the writing. It’s hard, but don’t let the complaints keep you away… it’s hard, it’s scary, it’s weird, it’s irregular… but it’s also a joy.