written by: Zanne Lamb-Hunt
Jessica McHugh, the youngest of three, grew up in Hampstead, Md. in Carroll County. She loved being in nature and surrounded by the woods. She also enjoyed reading and using her imagination.
Jessica attended Frostburg to pursue theater. It didn’t work out as planned. She reveals that she spent more time on a new relationship with a boy than she did on her studies. “It’s kind of a tale as old as time.” She attended a few more schools before deciding to call it quits.
She candidly admits, “My parents don’t have all the money in the world and I was wasting it.” She recalls “kind of floating aimlessly” in her twenties until her passion for writing took over.
Today, she enjoys spending time with her friends — singing, karaoke, hanging out and watching movies and writing. In fact, she’s such a prolific writer that she’s had 16 books published in just 6 years! Now, that’s passion!
“I’m always writing,” said Jessica. “Always!”
Jessica’s View On The Benefit Of Books
Her passion for the written word comes through loud and clear as Jessica shares what books are all about to her. “There are so many cool aspects of language. The way you can put it together. The way you can create rhythm, dance and music with words.”
She continues, ” Even the way you put the words on the page — the formatting — has a certain kind of art and beauty to it. There are so many kinds of artistic aspects to writing, in general.”
Jessica always drafts her own books in pen on paper. “I think that writing with pen and paper gives you this visceral sense that you don’t get when you’re just telling a story aloud.
“For me, there’s something about putting ink on a page that is somewhere between writing and painting. Watching the page come alive with words that sometimes you don’t even know what they mean or what you’re trying to say until you get it all out on the paper.”
“It’s something you get with writing that you don’t necessarily get with other forms of communication. Especially pen and paper.”
You’ve Got To Get Down With Horror!
“As far as genres, you’ve got to get down with horror! Horror is my favorite! And, I’m somebody who actually does not love scary movies. I’m scared really easily. I have horrible nightmares.”
Jessica knows how to generate a good scare. “Everybody has experienced some variation of horror. There are so many different shades of horror. It’s not just blood and guts and jump-scares.”
She adds, “You have so much psychological horror. There’s stuff between being scared of heights, being scared of spiders, getting stabbed — your first date is horror.
“That transitions into my Young Adult (YA) series, too. My Darla Decker books are so much fun to write. But, there are horror aspects to that, too. What’s more horrifying than being a twelve-year-old girl?”
The Path To Becoming A Published Author
At 19, Jessica was working at a perfume kiosk in the Cranberry Mall. “I was working for eleven hours a day, just selling perfume. I was making minimum wage.”
Walden Books was close by and she headed there every day to select a new book. “I got into short story anthologies and collections. One of my favorites is Skin by Roald Dahl. I just love his short stories. They’re so twisted and macabre — like great little Twilight Zone episodes.”
She was also reading works like The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien and the horror fiction of H.P. Lovecraft. “I had all of these horror, macabre, fantasy elements swirling around in my brain.” It was time to take a stab at creating her own.
“They were not really any good. But, they were a jumping off point.” Jessica continues, “I started writing a fantasy novel where I tried to invent a language and created a brand new world.”
As for the kiosk job, “I stopped selling perfume, basically.” Customers were put on hold when Jessica’s creative writing was in progress. “I really just spent my entire day at work writing. I just never stopped.
“At this point, I didn’t know if it was ever going to turn into a career. I really wasn’t even thinking about it. I wasn’t thinking about publication or anything. I just fell in love with writing and didn’t want to stop — ever — no matter what.”
Jessica’s Works Picked Up By Several Small Presses
With the exception of one self-published book, all of her works are published by small presses with each one covering particular genres. Post Mortem Press publishes her books on horror, though “not really anything too crazy.”
Jessica’s bizarro sci-fi novel and an erotic horror novel have been published by Perpetual Motion. Evolved Publishing handles the Darla Decker Diaries YA series. And, it doesn’t end there.
Raw Dog Screaming Press is set to publish another novel next year. “I just work with so many different publishers because I have a lot of different stories inside me and not one publisher can handle all of me.”
Jessica’s Biggest Challenge Of Becoming An Author
She quickly offers up, “Redefining what success means to me. This is not a very lucrative business to be in. It’s a lot of hard work. Even though I’m a full-time writer, I have to have part-time jobs to supplement that income. I still need to eat.”
She points to the fact that she’s a happy, productive person who spends a lot of her time “giving that spark and inspiration to other people.” And, that’s worth a lot.
“Success doesn’t hinge on money all the time. If you can do what you love and get through it with a smile even when you’re pushed up against deadlines and feel like you’re losing your mind…
“At the end of the day, if you’re happy, that’s success to me. I have been incredibly lucky to be filled with joy and love and just altogether happiness for this strange world I have created.”
Advice Jessica Would Give Herself If She Could Go Back In Time
“It’s tough. Logically, I should tell myself not to quit my full-time job and write full-time. I didn’t think it would be easy but it’s a lot harder than I thought it would be.”
“Maybe I wish that I had more confidence to get into publishing a lot earlier. Jessica started writing when she was nineteen but she didn’t try to be published until she reached twenty-five. “But, I also needed those years to suffer, indulge and find my voice.
“I feel like that’s something that a lot of new writers don’t take the time to do. You really need to go deep and find out who you are as a writer and what makes you stand apart from the gajillion of other writers in the world that are published every day.”
Jessica’s Making A Difference Through Writetopia Lab
Jessica works for a group called Writetopia Lab. “It’s an amazing community of writers and instructors. I work with kids from eight to eighteen. I do creative writing workshops. I’m very fortunate to be able to do this because I don’t have a teaching background.
“There are so many kids today that don’t feel like they have a voice — that their opinions don’t matter. It’s crazy. With the internet and how much you can get your feelings and your stories out there, kids are really being stifled.
“Maybe they’re writing horror and their teacher is telling them not to. Or their parents are telling them not to. That’s when I come in.”
She tells them, “Yes, write horror. If you want to write something gory, write something gory.”
It means something. “There’s something inside of that child that they’re trying to get out. There’s a reason they’re writing horror and it doesn’t mean they’re crazy and it doesn’t mean they hate their parents.”
What does it mean? “It means they’re a kid and they have feelings and they want to get them out. Sometimes, the easiest way to do that is to spill your soul all over the paper whether it’s a good story or not.
“I spend so much time with these kids and they really inspire me and I’m trying to inspire them. Seeing how scared they are sometimes just to be open and honest, even when it’s a fictional story, is just so bizarre to me.
“I don’t think that they’re being nurtured enough in school today, as far as creativity. That’s why something like Writetopia Lab is so valuable. Everyone’s story matters, no matter what it is.”
Jessica Is Not Giving Up Her Spotify
There’s no way. “I could not live without Spotify. It’s my constant inspiration. I always have music going. I mostly listen to instrumental music when I’m editing.
“I also play instrumental music during my writing workshops and it’s everything from classical to Italian horror soundtracks. I also have playlists for many of my stories.”
Jessica Shares One Of Her Favorite Quotes
[It is not enough to have this globe or a certain time. I will have thousands of globes and all time. — Walt Whitman, A Song of Joys]
“I’ve never been satisfied with just being a normal chick in Maryland going to work, coming home — lather, rinse, repeat. That’s just never been my jam.
“I’ve always lived in my crazy imagination, in different worlds and stuff and always wanted to be anywhere else than where I was. I want all globes. I want all time.”
Jessica found the key. “The way that I do that is by writing fiction. I have created so many different worlds and so many different characters with personalities and experiences.”
“I’ve written silly stuff. I’ve written serious stuff. I’ve channeled so much of my own frustration and joy into these characters. The McHughniverse is a wildly crazy, diverse wonderful place.”
And, it’s a place you can visit! All of Jessica McHugh’s books are available on Amazon. Novels – short stories – poetry. She also has a play that’s available to produce and showcase in your own theater. Browse and make your selections today!
Content Provided by Frederick Advice Givers Podcast Episode #069: Eric Verdi Interviews Jessica McHugh