INTERVIEW: Michaelbrent Collings – Minion Master, Bestselling Horror, Sci-Fi Author, and a Truly Nice Guy


Michaelbrent Collings is an American horror novelist. He wrote the screenplays for two horror films: Barricade and Darkroom. He has many self-published novels, with two of his books being finalists for the Bram Stoker Award in 2016, and two being finalists for the Whitney Awards in 2014 and 2017.

I met with Michaelbrent in Meridian, Idaho, for a lunch interview and found him to be the opposite of what you might expect. Many images of him are silhouetted, darker, brooding, compounded by the shaved head and beard, certainly the appearance of a horror author. What I found was a genuinely warm human being, both introspective and yet often gregarious, despite a self-professed introverted nature.

He calls the horror genre the ‘genre of hope’ as it externalizes elements of right and wrong. Collings was a construction contract dispute litigator before becoming a writer, and after being rejected by traditional publishers, he self-published Run on Amazon in 2010, where it became a bestselling e-book in multiple genres, despite a lack of marketing. Since then has enjoyed a relatively constant measure of success, but for the meanderings that we discussed during our interview, with a total of 50 books and numerous screenplays, including an internationally-bestselling thriller, fantasy, science fiction, mystery, humor, young adult, and middle-grade works, and even western romance novels under the pen name Angelica Hart.

WG: Michaelbrent, thanks for spending with me today. I’ll jump right in. You wrote your first story at age four. First published at age 15. What was the first story published about?

MbC: Oh, I can’t remember what it was called, but it was in a local newspaper. They were like, we’re doing a Halloween thing…

WG: Was it a horror story?

MbC: Yes, it was. And it was about this grade outside of a town that people used to crash at all the time. So I wrote this story. It was in Thousand Oaks, which everyone called T. O., and this guy crashes because he was sick of the place and tried to leave—it was kind of a weird fantasm, and this old man, whose name is Thadius Orton (T.O), and he represents the spirit of the city. And once you’re there, you’re there. Leaving is why people die on the grade because the city doesn’t want them to go. And I thought there’s no way in hell they’re going to publish this. I mean, this is not like a fluffy…

WG: This is the one you wrote at four.

MbC: No, I was 15. At four, I was writing, the parrot escaped from the cage. But even then, that’s cool with my dad because most dads look at it, and they’re like, it’s so good. And my dad went, ‘Good job. Let’s talk about structure.’ So he really was my best teacher.

WG: Your father was the creative writing professor at Pepperdine University in Malibu. I had his classes. He was always very soft-spoken. I remember that.

MbC: Yeah. [laughing]. When I went to Pepperdine, I worked at the library, and people would find out who my dad was, that he was a creative writing director, and they always had one of two reactions, it was ‘He’s so sweet.’ And I knew they’d never been in his classes because the ones who had, were like, ‘He’s really quiet. And then he murders your papers.’

WG: Exactly. I remember that vividly. You worked in Hollywood. Tell me about Hollywood?

MbC: Hollywood was cool. I mean, it came at a good time. It was propitious.

WG: And you got a Terminator script?

MbC: Yes. I got this Terminator script, and it just was so cool seeing this new thing. And then I just started writing screenplays because I loved them. It wasn’t as though I had dreams to do that. Everyone has dreams of winning the lottery and this would happen, but I wasn’t planning on it, which is why I actually became a lawyer. But I loved writing. And so every night around 10:00 p.m., I’d start writing, and my wife would go to sleep, and I’d write for two, three, four hours, then wake up the next morning at six and start the whole day again. 

And I just loved writing screenplays. And so I did. And one year, I had a bunch of them. And I found out there was this thing called the Nichol Fellowship, a big screenwriting opportunity. And I entered four of my screenplays. All of them got to the semi-finals. And that was really cool because people notice your name, and you get calls. But people noticed my name appearing on the list four times, and I got a buttload of calls. And it was really nice, too, Because I could weed out the schmoozers instantly because they’d call and say, ‘I saw your name. I think your screenplay sounds fantastic.’ And I’d go, ‘Which one?’ And they would have this pause. I would say, ‘All right, we’ll talk.’ I don’t want to shoot anybody down for doing their job.

I landed a manager off that, a great guy named Tariq Jalil, and he was great. We’re still friends. I’ve been friends with all of my ex-representatives. They’re all good people and nice. But he didn’t get anything sold for me, and we parted ways. 

And a couple of years later, this guy just called from one of the studios that we had pitched to, and everyone above him basically got fired. So he’s the new head of this little arm, and the new big boss walked in and said, ‘I want to do a ghost story.’ And because I had kept up with this gentleman—his name’s Richard Lowell—for years only because I thought he was a cool guy. And so he literally had my screenplay sitting on the corner of his desk when his new boss walked in.

WG: And this was how long after you wrote the screenplay?

MbC: Probably four or five years.

WG: And how long after the fellowship?

MbC: Another two years. And it was surprising Because he’s like, we want you to come in, and I had a contract in my hand the next day.

WG: Wow.

MbC: Yeah. Super fun.

WG: And do you like Hollywood?

MbC: I do. A lot of writers hate it because their work is so important to them, and they’re not flexible. And I understand that mentality, although I disagree. For me, I’m just selling a product, and hopefully, it’s a product that I’m good at and helps people because it’s important to me that I leave the world a little better than I found it. But they’re not my babies. I have four babies at home. So when they came back, and they said, we want to do rewrites, Okay, but, it’s not going to be as good, but this is a really nice check you’re sending me. So I’m happy to do it. And that was nice for them, too, because they didn’t have some writer who was screaming and yelling.

WG: Given all of that, why has your focus been on novels as opposed to screenplays.

MbC: It pays the bills.

WG: So if it turned around tomorrow?

MbC: I’d do it. I always have Hollywood stuff kind of in the fire.

WG: Well, I know from reading your comments in some other interviews that you write with the movie in mind.

MbC: I very typically write them at the same time. So by the time the fans see a book, there’s a screenplay sitting locked and loaded, which is helpful. I was on the phone recently with a Hollywood producer, and they were interested in this property, and I could tell that about halfway through the call. I’m thinking, I already have the screenplay for this because the way they were approaching it was it’s going to cost a lot to develop, and that’s always a problem. And I said, ‘Well, I have a script. I’ll just send that to you.’ And it was like Angels had walked out of heaven.

WG: I read a lot of scripts because I love scripts, too. A good script reads like a good novel—it takes you away.

MbC: I was a reader at Fox Studios for a production company there and also for this other independent production company. I did that for almost two years. And you either say ‘Pass,’ which is a no, thank you, or ‘Recommend’ or ‘Highly recommend.’ And we got paid by the script. So you can tell on the first page that this is going to be I’m earning my money, because even screenwriters who are represented by big agencies would have grammar mistakes, there’d be typos, and even though that doesn’t affect the story, if there’s that low a quality control, you can tell they’re not caring much about it.

WG: Right.

MbC: So the whole time I did that, I think I only said recommend to three screenplays.

WG: That’s not many. I heard that the average reader has a couple of thousand scripts to get through and pretty quickly.

MbC: Yes, but a good screenplay, you do forget you’re reading, and you get sucked into it. It’s even better in a way because a book is so much more of a high-intensity mental process.

WG: Right.

MbC: And for a screenplay to work, that is such an important quality of writing because they are writing for a reader. Ultimately it gets to the screen, but the first person that reads it—the writer has to blow that movie up in that reader’s head. Screenplays are so fun, and I’ll write screenplays forever, even if someone—like an omen in the sky—says Michaelbrent will never sell a screenplay, I like doing it.

WG: Well, you’ve got a lot of success. I’m assuming you’re at a point where basically that is your income.

MbC: Best definition of are you a real writer I ever heard was that you can tell you’re a real writer if the only thing worse than writing is not writing and that’s totally true. My wife can tell when I have a story locked up. She’s like you’re being cranky, you’re not present, and I am deeply in love with my wife. I love my kids. They’re so awesome, so I want to be good to them, and she’ll kick me out to do work Because she’s like, you’re not engaged with us so.

WG: Is that the downside of working at home? I know that I’ll work in the car or take the car somewhere and park and dictate.

MbC: Well, for reality, when I’m researching, I’ll go to places that I’m going to write about. And my wife has to lecture me because I’m not self-aware. She dressed me today. She reminds me to put on my pants in the morning. I’m just not good at self-care. So I will go out, and I drive up to some random place and be like, ‘Can I look around?’ And you can see them be like, ‘No, you’re going to blow us up.’ But it’s funny because as soon as I say, ‘Oh, I’m an author,’ they’re like, ‘He’s harmless. He’s probably incompetent, not very good at life. Let him look around, give him an access pass to the nuclear power plant. He’s not going to do anything important with it.’

WG: [laughs] All right, let’s digress for a minute. Tell me about your girlfriend, Angelica Hart.

MbC: So a couple of years back… Writing is not a law firm job—I’ve had to put my nose to the grindstone at the law firm. You bring it clients, you work hard, you don’t get sued too much, too much, and you’ll be a partner.

An author can be a super big success one moment and have no readers the next. I knew a very successful author who sold millions of books in the 80s, and we were talking—such a nice guy—and he wanted to break into screenwriting. So I said, you should get this service. It’s $50 for six months. And he goes, ‘I can’t afford that.’ And I thought, wow, this is a weird industry because he was up there with Stephen King when he was writing his on-fire stuff.

And we went through a bad dry spell ourselves. And I’m wondering what do I do? Trying to pivot, because people see me as a thriller writer or a horror writer, but I’m just a storyteller. And a bunch of my writer friends are like, do romance. There’s so much money in romance. So I wrote Western romance, and I did it partly as a monetary decision and partly because Westerns are fun. I love Man from Snowy River. Return to the Man from Snowy River. My grandpa would make me watch John Wayne movies until the end of time.

WG: But how was it as a writer, though?

MbC: It was super fun, it was profitable, it was good. I just knew men don’t sell in romance, so I made a pen name, Angelica Hart. It got us through that point. My home base is horror, and it’s not because I’m in love with horror, it’s because that’s what sells the most. I do love horror, but I love all kinds of stories. Western romance is fun, and it was good during its time, and it made us some money. Part of the reason I quit was because it was strenuous being Angelica Hart—I would get 40-year-old divorcees emailing me about their terrible husband. Everybody with a penis needs to burn in hell. It was not my intent to have this happen. But for some women, it became like, ‘Oh, she understands me.’ And I felt bad because you either say, well, I do have a penis, and then they’re mad at you, or you lie to them, and you feel like crap all the time. So I came out of the closet as Angelica after five months. Five books.

WG: What happened then?

MbC: Nothing. I had moved on to other stuff. And that’s something you’ve got to be able to do if you’re going to be any good.

WG: Any comments about it?

MbC: No, not a one. Now, I’m sure the women that felt betrayed just put me on their block list.

WG: That’s interesting. I got a bunch of quotes that you’ve reportedly said. They’re great quotes, and I’m going to reuse them, but I have to read them to you so you can confirm them.

MbC: Okay.

WG: If you’re doing your job at page one, they’ve forgotten about the cover blurb, and they’re just all-in on your book.

MbC: I like that one. And I’ll say yes even if I didn’t say them if they’re smart-sounding. I only say two or three smart things a year. So you dig back as far as you got to?

WG: I went through about six or seven different interviews, but what I try to look for is—I don’t want to keep rehashing the same thing. What I want on the page is to show you, your personality—the books speak for themselves.

MbC: I’m always so delighted when I get a new question.

WG: I try, but it doesn’t always work. You think in movie terms. We already covered that. The reader is actually buying the book description, and I really agree with you that it’s one of the hardest things to do well. And of course, I know about your Fiverr gig doing that for people. Are you getting a response on it?

MbC: I’m actually turning down work a lot if I’m just too busy at the time.

[Editor note: Michaelbrent offers book logline descriptions on Fiverr. You can find him at]

WG: Do you find it easy to come out with descriptions, or is it just that you know how to hone in on the key bullet points that really make it work?

MbC: A little bit of both? I did one in 20 minutes, and for another one, I spent 3 hours because the way they had written it, their information to me, wasn’t tremendously clear. And I could kind of tell they wanted me to read the whole book.

WG: You tried to find a traditional publisher for two years. Now you’ve got all these books. You obviously have a measure of success. Have you any interest in traditional publishing now?

MbC: I would, and I’m actually going to have a phone call with one very large agency soon. I know going in, they’re going to want me to give up all these rights in exchange for less money. So my kind of litmus is will you pay me upfront more than I would have made over the life of the novel? Sure. I’ll go in on it with you. But every time I’ve taken a chance on an outside group, they have used a shotgun method, and I’m just one more pellet against the wall. Still, I’d work with just about anybody in the right situation.

WG: But do you find, at this point in your career, any value in traditional publishing?

MbC: So the value, if I ever did, would be, number one, the advance, by which I mean, again, it’s got to be sure money coming in. Let’s say I look at my book and say this book will probably make me $35,000, which doesn’t sound like a lot to people who are thinking Hollywood blockbusters, but most writers would give their left (body part of your choice) for that. So if they’re going to pay me $36,000, I’m in and I care very little about the rest of it. So that has to be there. The other advantage, of course, is they’ve got extended reach. I get reviewed by Publishers Weekly and some pretty big places, but I’m not a sure thing. Right now, I’m just lucky that they’ll do that for an indie.

WG: But you’ve got a quantity that says you’re not a one-shot wonder.

MbC: Which is why they’ll look at me. And that’s why Publishers Weekly has reviewed numerous of my books, and I’ve never had to pay for that, which a lot of Indies do. I just let everyone know I’ve got it, and I get a request. But if I’m Scholastic, if they want my book reviewed by Publishers Weekly, it’s going to get reviewed. If they decide they need me on NPR, I’ll be on NPR. So the benefit is just extended reach and a team.

WG-Now you have to hassle with somebody’s vision of a cover.

MbC: I do my own covers. I had trouble for a while, as I tried to quit several years back to the four people I thought would care. And I immediately got all these phone calls and emails from really big authors who basically said, ‘we want you to stay, not because you’re the best writer that’s ever been born, but just because you’re a nice person. So what can we do?’ And the biggest thing that everyone said first was your cover sucks. And they did because I grew up in the Wild West days of Kindle, where you could be a learning impaired five-year-old on Microsoft Paint, and it’s fine. But one of the things I did to rebrand was I literally put myself through the most grueling two-month course on Photoshop and image manipulation and graphic design. And I’ve gotten recognition for the covers alone. So I’m like, “hooray,” and they sell the books. And again, that’s what I care about.

WG: You have a Patreon. Is it worth it?

MbC: Yeah. When these big authors reached out to me, I was really touched. My mom always tells me to be nice to people–things I learned in kindergarten. But it really hit me as I had really gone out of my way to be an enjoyable presence, and it mattered. And so is Patreon worth it? It’s far from being the most lucrative thing I do, more of a good give-back PR. I connect with people; they feel like they’re supporting me because not every month is a feast. Even when you get to a certain level, the money can run out. No more is coming until next month. And you’ve got to deal with that. So it is helpful to have a little stop-gap. It’s not like I’m a massive presence, but I respond to those fans more often. I used to email every single fan. I stopped doing that about two years ago because it was eating up 3 hours every day. But if you’re on Patreon, I’ll respond to you if you’re on the upper levels.

MbC: One of the things I did when Covid started and I talked to the fans I was like, ‘Hey, times are really hard. So we’re putting all my books on sale for $0.99’ and that I can decide to do. And that’s just to get them into the hands of people who are struggling. And we did that for over a year and a half. Patreon likes to have a tiered structure. I changed mine. Now it’s just you give what you can; you get whatever is there. So if you’re given $20 a month, you get exactly the same as the $2 a month person. And it’s an honor code. I hope that people who have a little extra will kick in a little extra. You don’t have to have these little subcategories because I thought that was a lot of work. Especially for an introvert. Every interaction I have costs me significant energy. So knowing that Patreon people are real supportive.

WG: You’re very outgoing, though.

MbC: We have a lot of mental health issues in my family, and there’s Autism Spectrum Disorder in there. And I’m not saying I’m on that spectrum at all, but I have some of the signs—my psychiatrist has been like, you’re really close sometimes. And so, for example, eye contact is really hard for me. I practice. My wife says I’m off-putting sometimes because the only way I could learn to do it is I pick one of my eyes and stare at one of their eyes. So I’ve been looking at you with my right eye to your right eye this whole conversation. And it gives me a rule. I focus better with rules.

But when I get home from a Comic-Con, or when I go home after this interview, I’m not working. I’m going to sit and play a mindless video game for an hour to recoup. So I’m a hard introvert. But I’ve learned to fake it.

WG: You keep going. Push yourself.

MbC: You have to keep going. I think that’s a super important thing for authors because this is a high-impact career. It’s not easy. I have the job security of a crack whore.

WG: You know, that is the quote I want to use.

MbC: I’m doing something today, and I’m making money today, but tomorrow I might not be attractive anymore or whatever. My drug preference of choice may not be available. Amazon could roll over and say, we’re not doing Kindle—economic times, people.

It was a big, huge deal for me when the economy shut down at the beginning of Covid. And I always tell the story because it’s really a pick-me-up. Everybody kind of agrees. The world is getting scarier. It’s getting harder to navigate interpersonal relationships. There’s a lot of darkness out there, but for my wife and my kids, Covid hits and everything shuts down. My fans, my feed, and people are losing jobs left and right. I’m not Stephen King, okay. I don’t have $100 million sitting in my pocket, but I hadn’t lost my job because who would I quit to, really? My wife? She just says, ‘No, you’re not fired. You’re working today.’ But we all huddled together. I was so proud of my kids because I said, I have an idea. It’s going to involve some sacrifice. We will not be doing some of the fun things we hope to do. But I want to put my books all on sale for ninety-nine cents. And the way Amazon’s structure is, that meant I was taking a 90% royalty cut per book. But we did it because we wanted to help.

And we thought we’ll do it for a week or two, and then rent becomes an issue, the mortgage, whatever it is. And it went on for a year and a half, and it was because everyone just saw that I cared. And I got tons of emails saying, I hate all of the kinds of books you write, but I just bought all of them today. And I’m sending some to my friends who do like this kind of stuff because they just wanted somebody out there who wasn’t looking down and shaking their head, but looking at them going, hey, you’re awesome. And so we did that. And there’s a lot of good out there. The darkness is a blanket.

WG: How does that affect things on social media?

MbC: My dad was always my best writing teacher. The wisest thing I think he ever said to me was discussing important things on social media is like teaching rocket science with bumper stickers. And he’s right. For some reason, many of us have accepted the idea that our world needs to be communicable in sound bites. It’s not. And even as an ex-lawyer, I rarely opine on matters of law because it’s no longer my expertise.

WG: So that raises the question. Why did you quit law?

MbC: I didn’t. No. So what happened was my wife got very sick, and she had some serious, serious health issues, and I had just been made partner. I worked hard, I brought in some clients, and I didn’t screw up too often. And so they made me partner. And then my wife went downhill, and I was essentially working part-time, and I was an equity partner, so they couldn’t fire me. But they did call me into a room and say, we would like to invite you to divest yourself of your shares, which is a firing. You can’t stick around like that. It’s going to be hell. And I don’t blame them for it. I wasn’t putting in the hours. My focus was on my wife. 

But it was a rough couple of years, and that’s part of why I did this. The screenwriting was so propitious because I sold a screenplay right at that time. And that’s what got us through the next two years. And that’s also when I started writing on Kindle. I had published a book, but I had free time because I was jobless, and I wanted a job. I never wanted to be a struggling artist because my focus has always been on my family. And so, as soon as I became a struggling artist, I just tried to get out of it. But that was right around the time in California, everyone realized that lawyers are horrible, and no one wanted to hire one anymore. I was just floating around. I’m like, well, I’ll look for jobs. What I tell people is I have always lied for a living. The difference is that when you’re a writer, people enjoy paying you for it. And that’s no joke. I tried to be ethical as a lawyer, and I’m buying my soul back on an installment plan. So there you go.

WG: Any advice for new authors that have some ability?

MbC: Well, first of all, however much ability you have. Write? Nowadays, people get trapped in this marketing idea. And marketing is incredibly important, and it falls on the author more and more, whether you’re traditional or indie. But even if you’re a great marketer, you write your book, make a billion dollars, and you don’t have a second book. The pace of life is such that you will be forgotten. I wrote a dozen books before I started making any real money. I wrote 30 before it was regular good money. I wrote 20 screenplays before I sold one. So the first thing is always write.

The second thing I would tell young writers is really be kind. You cannot control whether you are the most successful, whatever that means. The success is baloney. It’s the end of an ever-temporal, ever-running away rainbow. So you can’t control whether you have the nicest car, the nicest house, the prettiest wife, the nicest wife, the smartest, whatever. You can’t control any of that, but you can say before any interaction, I’m going to walk in there, I’m going to be professional, and I’m going to be the kindest person in the room. You’ll fail at that sometimes. 

Those are achievable goals, and those matter, because, again, my career was about to end. And what kept it from ending wasn’t my talent. I had a baseline of talent. The people were just calling to support me. They were like, we like you, we like your kids, we like your wife. And the nice life product for a writer. If you’re nice to people, they tell you everything. And I don’t mean that in a creepy, weird way, but I genuinely like people. So being interested in people makes you number one, more interesting to them. And that also allows you greater depth as an author. It allows you more character options as well. Again, you’re going to reach a certain threshold if you stick with it. You can’t be an island. It’s not a solitary process. I work far harder as a writer than I did as a partner in the law firm.

The third piece of advice to any starting writer, make sure you have a good support group. And that can be a spouse or a friend or a brother or sister or whatever. But that person has to love you enough to support you when you are failing and love you so much that they tell you when you are wrong. Yeah, that’s important because most writers really want someone to tell them they’re Shakespeare. And my wife, she’ll say, ‘this part is not working.’

WG: All right. What’s the best part of the process?

MbC: Definitely writing ‘The End.’ Just being done. I usually have about 6 hours of ‘Oh yeah!’

WG: Worst part of the process?

MbC: Everything else. I don’t know that I’d say worst. Hardest for me is interacting with people because I’m an introvert. But it’s not a bad thing. It’s a good thing. I die without it. And I’ve written close to 50 books. And anyone who tells you you’re not a real writer, that’s a person that you don’t listen to because their interest isn’t really your profession. It’s your self-esteem. And how dare they?

WG: This was great. Thank you for spending time with me today.

MbC: Thank you.




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