Jennifer McMahon Interview: May 10th 2017

Vermont Horror Writer Interview: 
Jennifer McMahon

Hello Everyone, 

Sorry for the hiatus from blogging this week, the real world just caught up to me and I realized that I needed to focus more on the aspects in my personal life than Blogging. I have completed my second year at university and just came home for a few days on Tuesday-Sunday to see family before my research begins on Monday. That being said, the lovely Jennifer McMahon's newest novel Burntown just released and I had the pleasure of speaking her about the writing process and Burtown on Wednesday afternoon. For those of you who do not know who Ms. McMahon is, I will link her website below so you can read about her novels and where she is hosting events. 

Who is Jennifer?
This biography was taken directly from McMahon's website: 
"I was born in 1968 and grew up in my grandmother’s house in suburban Connecticut, where I was convinced a ghost named Virgil lived in the attic. I wrote my first short story in third grade. I graduated with a BA from Goddard College in 1991 and then studied poetry for a year in the MFA in Writing Program at Vermont College. A poem turned into a story, which turned into a novel, and I decided to take some time to think about whether I wanted to write poetry or fiction. After bouncing around the country, I wound up back in Vermont, living in a cabin with no electricity, running water, or phone with my partner, Drea, while we built our own house. Over the years, I have been a house painter, farm worker, paste-up artist, Easter Bunny, pizza delivery person, homeless shelter staff member, and counselor for adults and kids with mental illness — I quit my last real job in 2000 to work on writing full time. In 2004, I gave birth to our daughter, Zella. These days, we’re living in an old Victorian in Montpelier, Vermont. Some neighbors think it looks like the Addams family house, which brings me immense pleasure."

The following are some interesting portions of our conversation on Wednesday, I hope you all enjoy this and if you have not yet given her works a try I implore you to do so very soon!


Jennifer McMahon and I at The North Branch Cafe, Vermont
- Me/Wil (same person): Where do you get your inspiration for your stories, and why do you think that Vermont lends itself to your style of writing? 

-McMahon: "I get my inspiration from everywhere, I have inspiration from everything around me. I get a lot of inspiration from dreams, I keep a notebook on the side of my bed and I write down all my dreams every morning; quite a few of my books have atleast scenes if not whole story arcs that were inspired by dreams. My brain is an idea factory I feel like... Vermont is just, I love it here so I came here to go to college in the late eighties and never really left; I mean I left for short periods but I always came back. I feel because I am not a native Vermonter, I am a flatlander that gives me this outsider status so I can pick up on things that I might not necessarily pick up on if I had grown up here. I love playing with the idea that we live in this beautiful idyllic place, but what if things aren't like they seem... I try to set my books in other places sometimes, but they always seem to come back to Vermont (chuckling)... Each book is based in a fictional town that I create, and each time I have to make a map for the town... Because I want to get the details right."

-Wil: Creating towns for these novels, do you just pull inspiration from all the towns you have been in all over the state?

-McMahon: "I do, and I also spend a lot of time looking at maps. Especially when I am creating maps for my books, I also visit physical towns for inspiration. Burntown is different than every other novel I have written, in that it is set in a small rundown mill town instead of the rural woods of Vermont... I spent a lot of time in New Hampshire, Manchester New Hampshire looking at the ways the mills shaped the "city" and also what happened once they went away... In my next book part of it is set in a bog, so this summer my plan is to go bog hopping in Vermont to gather information on the setting."

-Wil: I noticed when you are writing you often have multi-layered timelines going on, especially with Winter People, how do you keep everything straight in your mind?

-McMahon: "I tend to write chunks of each timeline sort of all together, you know if I am stuck in the early 1900's timeline I will write a whole bunch of that out and then I will divide it up into chunks and go back and forth later. I have to be careful, for example in that book I have two timelines going on which I need to keep separate story arcs and make sure it is not too jarring to go back and forth between the two, because I do not want to lose the reader. I keep lots of notes, I have timelines going on, I have lots of charts, even then when I write my first draft it is always a terrible mess... Every single time I write a book I print out my copy and I lay it all out chapter by chapter all over the floor of my house and then I move things around, like doing a giant collage almost. Only when the story is laying all about the house do I really start to understand what the book is going to look like. Once it is finally in a collage on the floor I then will make outlines and timelines to find the missing pieces and put everything together again." 

-Wil: When you were starting to write, was there a specific turning point in which you knew you wanted to write for a living, or was it something you always did and it morphed into something larger?

-McMahon: "I started writing in third grade. I wrote my first short story then about a haunted meatball, and I was hooked from that moment on. It was this magical thing where I got to create this universe and make anything happen, including having a meatball be glowing green and haunted and haunting the little boy who was trying to eat him. It was magic! My teacher gave me good feedback and recommended that I take a writing class that summer and I loved it. I predominantly wrote poetry previously, I studied poetry at Goddard college. My poems grew into something that was more complex where I was trying to tell stories and they were getting longer and turning into prose poems, one day I was working on one and it just kept growing. That turned into a novel."

-Wil: I know a lot of authors actually project themselves into their works along with those around them, is this something that you do?

-McMahon: " I never do it intentionally, there are definitely little pieces of me in all of my characters and probably little pieces of people I know whether it be a person I see at the grocery store, or a dear friend. But I never base a character on anyone I know in real life."

-Wil: With Burntown, now that you are going around and doing a lot of tour stops and readings, how do you stay excited about a book while you are on tour?

-McMahon: " It is pretty easy for me to get excited, and be excited about my work. But honestly I finish a book and it goes into the world of editing and production and in the mean time I am writing a whole new book that I am working on. When a book comes out I am going on tour but my head has this new story in it, I have to stop working on the new book and reread the touring book. When rereading I get excited again about my books and am able to talk about them and remember the details... I love going out on tour and meeting people, though it is a little stressful."

-Wil: With Burntown, if you could pitch it to someone in one sentence, how would you describe it?
Jennifer McMahon's Newest Novel

-McMahon: "It's about a young woman who is homeless and has been on the streets for four years, she has been accused of murder and finds herself on the run from the police and the real killer; she must look into the secrets of her own past to save herself."

-Wil: With the character Necco in Burntown, is there any reason why she has this as a nickname?

-McMahon: " Eva (Necco) goes through and event called The Great Flood, her mother tells her the story of the flood, Her mother also tells her that when she woke up from the flood she had a head injury and her mother was so happy to see that she was okay and asked her if there was anything that she could get Eva, and Eva responded Necco Wafer Candy because they are her favorite candy. From this point on they reinvent themselves with new names and go on the run."

-Wil: Thank you for coming out here and chatting with me this afternoon, your books bring the strangeness of Vermont to life.

Ms.McMahon was kind enough to bring a signed copy of her new novel Burntown for me to giveaway in this post. If this book is anything like her previous books it will blow you away with her quality of writing and the amount of subtle unease that she is able to weave into the story will keep you up late into the evening. To enter this giveaway you must: 
  • Leave a comment saying that you want to enter, and your favorite book or a book you would recommend to people. 
  • Be atleast 16 with parental permission to give your address as I will need to ship this item to you. 
  • Tweet me/follow me @Komondor70 that you want to be entered in the giveaway. 
The winner will be drawn/announced on Twitter and contacted on Saturday May the 20th, and your prize will be shipped on Monday May 22nd. 


Happy Reading!


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