The Scribbler is pleased to do a series of guest appearances in conjunction with Creative Edge Publicity of Saskatchewan, Canada. (See below for more of Creative Edge)
This month’s guest is MJ Preston.
-- Grady Harp of the SAN FRANCISCO REVIEW OF BOOKS has this to say about him:
MR. Preston has agreed to a 4Q Interview and is sharing an excerpt from his work.
M.J. Preston’s debut novel: THE EQUINOX, published in 2012, was a quarterfinalist in the Amazon Breakthrough Awards and rated a solid straight horror novel by a reviewer at Publisher’s Weekly. His second novel: ACADIA EVENT, published in 2015, was inspired by his time running the world's longest ice road, as an ice road trucker, in Canada’s Northwest Territories. It was recently re-released with his publisher, WildBlue Press. His third novel, and new series: HIGHWAYMAN, a thriller, was published July 02, 2019, with WildBlue Press. He has also published scores of short stories in anthologies around the world. In addition to writing, MJ is an artist and an amateur photographer. The sequel to Highwayman, titled: FOUR, is now available for purchase and is getting great reviews. He resides in Alberta, Canada, with his wife, Stormy, and beagles, Jake and Milo.
4Q: As stated on your website, you’ve “always had an interest in true-crime and the enigma of serial murder.” How has this become the basis for your novels?
MJP: Well, my first novel, The Equinox,
had a serial killer in it, although that part of the story was tied to supernatural events. I’ve always had this fascination with monsters. That’s why my first two novels were about monsters. But beyond the mythos, there are real monsters out there who walk among us. Predators who hunt and kill other people, and who are often not seen as a threat. They come from all walks, drifters, truckers, law students, and even cops. I find these monsters more terrifying than any other because you don’t see them coming. They move among the masses, unseen, unknown, and, if encountered, lethal. I think it was inevitable that I would find myself writing about this subject, it fascinated me for as long as I can remember. But it isn’t just killers, but the FBI agents, state cops, and local law enforcement leave me equally intrigued. Hunting a serial killer takes patience, dogged detective work, and having the longevity to persevere. I have so much respect for law enforcement who are dedicated to the hunting and apprehension of these killers.
4Q: Please tell us about the Highwayman Series.
MJP: The series opens with a story that spans the companion books,
Highwayman and Four. It is about the rise of a serial killer named Lance Belanger, from his early beginnings to his obsession to be the most prolific and notorious serial killer of all time. They call the killer “Highwayman” because the bodies keep popping up in different states, along or near major interstates and U.S. routes. All are incapacitated by a puncture wound to the spine, all dismembered in the same fashion, cut up into five pieces, and staged like a starfish. Parallel to this, the story follows the roles of two FBI investigators, special agents Lewis Ash and Dave Maxwell, in their eight-year pursuit of the elusive killer.
Future books in the series will tell different stories, but drawing from the original cast of characters and adding new ones as well. I’ve got three more Highwayman books floating in the grey matter, waiting for me to let them out.
4Q: In your opinion, what makes a story great?
MJP: Characters, plot, the ability of a writer to make you laugh, weep, angry, or
even repulse. I believe a story should affect you in some way. When I think back to some of the books I’ve read over the years and key things still ring inside my head from time to time. As an example, the novel, Bad Blood by John Sandford has a scene in it where four Minnesota state investigators are driving to raid a farm of armed polygamists. Sharing the same bag of Cheez Doodles, they are debating who of the four has had the weirdest case. One of them remarks that Virgil Flowers has, by far, had the weirdest case on the weird-o-meter. What was the case? I guess you’ll have to read the book, but I tell you this. It was a great scene, building to inevitable conflict, injecting black humor, and ignoring that there might be danger ahead. It was so well written that I felt like I was in the car with them. I could see the dashboard lights shining blue-white on their faces. I could hear the crunch of the cheezies. If you can do that for a reader, you’re doing it the right way.
4Q: As well as the Highwayman series mentioned above, you’ve penned two stand-alone novels, The Equinox and The Acadia Event. Can you give our reader a brief synopsis of each?
MJP: The Equinox is a story of revenge and redemption. After Chocktee half-breed, Daniel Blackbird inadvertently frees a Skinwalker from a ritual circle, it kills his grandfather and sets out into the modern world to hunt and feed. The Skinwalker can take any animal or human form, but it is a grotesque beast that must dine on the organs of its victims. After hunting it for over a decade, Blackbird tracks it to a small prairie town in Manitoba where on the eve of the Fall Equinox worlds and cultures collide as the streets run red with blood.
Acadia Event is a science fiction/horror inspired by my time as an ice road trucker. It follows Marty Croft, a man forced to retrieve stolen diamonds from a mine. Along the way, he gets detoured, along with a bunch of truckers, when an alien force launches an invasion. Sounds crazy, I know, but it’s a fun novel that could probably only be adapted to the screen by someone like James Cameron. It’s an action-packed, scary, gory, sometimes funny, sexy, story, told on the world’s longest ice road. To date, it’s my longest novel, over 600 pages, but it reads like 300.
4Q: Can you tell us your favorite authors?
MJP: John Sandford, James Lee Burke, and Michael Connelly are in the top three. They all write mystery and police procedural in a recurring series. I think Sandford and Connelly are responsible for me penning the Highwayman series. As for Burke, he is a literary icon. Burke’s words are poetry. I also dig, Robert R. McCammon, Stephen King, the late great Tom Clancy. And I really love the indies like Gene O’Neill, B.E. Scully, Gregory L. Norris, and Kyle Rader. I have so many authors I love, but there is only so much room, so I’ll leave it there.
4Q: What’s next for MJ Preston, the author?
MJP: Well, the Highwayman series isn’t finished yet. This story has concluded, but there are other characters and new criminals to consider. I’ve started another Highwayman book, and we’ll see where that leads us.
4Q: Anything else you’d like to share with us?
MJP: I guess I would like to finish by saying that this thing I do is a shared endeavor. I write for pleasure, but I also write with the reader in mind. When you write something with recurring characters, it’s a different world. I think a lot about readers, not in the sense of vanity, but when I’m getting ready to tell a new story. You want readers to like the tale you weave, you hope that through your words and upon the pages which they are printed, you make a connection.
It’s what every writer strives for. What I will continue to do as long a life affords and the readership is there. Thanks to them.
Thank you for having me.
**It’s a real treat having you as a guest MJ.
An Excerpt from FOUR: Book Two in the Highwayman Series
(Copyright is held by the author. Used with permission)
Chapter 1 – Datcu Effect
2 November 2008
Andrei Gusa was in a holding cell usually reserved for state witnesses who needed protection from the Romanian mafia. In Gusa’s case, it was the Vladimirsku family or, for short, the “Vlad family.”
The Vlads had ties with criminal elements all over the world and were the most feared family in the country, invested in every facet of illegal activity: drugs, extortion, prostitution, pornography, human trafficking, and murder. The Vlads rubbed shoulders with the worst of the worst.
When Gusa was arrested, they, the Vlads, immediately dispatched one of their lawyers to meet with him. Gusa said nothing to authorities. Doing so was suicide. As far as incrimination went, he considered his options. The mainframe had imploded, so they had nothing there, and his backups were stored in a safe place known only to him. There was no evidence linking him to the “Vlad family,” but that didn’t mean he was safe. He was anything but safe.
Andrei Gusa had become a liability.
His cell opened mid-morning, and a tall, gaunt-looking guard said in Romanian, “Prisoner, stand up.”
“Turn around, face the wall, hands behind your back.”
Gusa turned around. The guard stepped in behind him, stinking of cheap aftershave, and slid a chain through the loops of his prison coveralls. There was a click. Then a voice from behind the cheap smelling guard snapped. “Ține-ți ochii la prizonier!” which meant, “Keep your eyes to the wall, prisoner.”
“Almost done,” the first guard said.
“Where are you taking me?” Gusa asked.
“To meet your lawyer.” The guard hooked cuffs around his wrists and they clicked. “Prisoner, turn around.”
He was led down a dimly lit corridor to an interview room. Gusa knew his jailers were as corrupt as the men they incarcerated. At any moment, he expected to be pushed into a room and feel the cold steel of a gun barrel behind his ear.
Every step―every breath, every thudding beat of his heart-felt like his last. They marched him bent over at the waist, yanking his cuffed hands upward, putting stress on his shoulder blades. He saw only floor, and knew if he turned his eyes left or right, they would hit him with a baton.
Keys jangled, then they were inserted, and there was a mechanical click to his rear right. The door creaked on its hinges and he was told, “Prisoner back up and turn right.”
He did, finding himself standing in the doorway, seeing only more scarred concrete which led into a room. The pressure on his arms loosened, the stress on his shoulder blades relaxing. “Prisoner, stand straight up!”
He did. Sitting at a table was the man who had arrested him, Inspector Datcu. Gusa was marched to the table and seated.
“Good morning, Andrei Gusa.” Inspector Datcu wore the same charcoal suit as the day he had arrested Gusa, but the matching hat was on the table.
Gusa asked, “Why am I here? Where is my lawyer?”
Inspector Datcu grinned. “The Vladimirskus’ lawyer is waiting to see you. I thought we might have a little chat first.”
Gusa grunted, “Fuck yourself. I want my lawyer.”
The inspector frowned. “Okay, but first…” He reached into a briefcase and produced a photo. “Take a look at this.” He slid it across the table and spun it around.
Andrei looked down.
The photo was color, the subject quite clear. It was a man, naked from the waist down. He had been knelt, bent over a radiator, and tied. His black and white striped jumpsuit had been cut away from the waist down. His feet had been cut off and lay on their sides. But that was not the worst. His legs were soaked in blood. Not from the amputation, but from the sodomy performed by repeated thrusts of a prison blade taped to a broomstick. Gusa knew this because the assaulting weapon still protruded from the man’s buttocks. Gusa closed his eyes, not wanting to look.
“I believe you know Mikolai Annikov?”
Gusa turned away but said nothing.
“This happened about three hours after he met with his lawyer. The same lawyer who is sitting in the waiting area downstairs.” Inspector Datcu removed a second photo from his briefcase and slid it across the table. “I believe you know Teodora Berić.”
Gusa looked at the photo and recoiled.
Teodora Berić had suffered a similar fate.
“The Croatian Policija recovered her body in a warehouse outside Dubrovnik, Croatia.” Datcu sighed. “They probably would not have found her so quickly if they had not been tipped off.” Datcu looked directly into Gusa’s eyes. “I believe the tip came directly from the people who did this. What do you think?”
Gusa shook his head.
“You know what else I think?” Datcu said. “I think that if you do not cooperate, we will not be able to protect you.”
Gusa brought his eyes up to meet Datcu. “You think you can protect me?”
“No, probably not. And why would I want to? You exploit children for money.” Datcu stood up, producing another piece of paper from his pocket. He said, “After you meet with your lawyer, you are being transferred to the Penitenciarul in Giurgiu.” Datcu gathered up the photos and the transfer, placing them into his briefcase. He turned and walked to the doorway.
“Wait,” Gusa said. “I have information, but I want assurances.”
Datcu turned around. “Okay, you talk and perhaps…”
“No, I have information. I also have evidence, but I will not simply turn it over.” Gusa did not trust Datcu or any of the Romanian police. If he provided them with information, they would throw him to the wolves.
“So, you don’t want to see the lawyer?”
“I want to be moved to a safe location.”
“That is a lot to ask for nothing, Andrei Gusa.”
“Okay, I will give you a name as a show of good faith.”
Datcu pulled out a notepad, thumbed through it. “I do not know this name. Is he French?”
“Contact the FBI. Tell them you have information on the Highwayman case. Tell them I know who he is.”
“Once you have done this, I want a government lawyer here to draft a contract of protection and immunity,” Gusa said.
Datcu looked at the two guards and waved them out into the hall. “Take him back to his cell. He is not to be mixed with the other prisoners. I will hold both of you responsible if anything happens to this man. Do you understand?”
“Yes, Inspector,” said the gaunt-looking guard.
The other nodded. “Yes.”
“Keep him safe.”
Thank you, MJ, for being our featured guest this week. It’s been a pleasure getting to know you a bit better.
For you readers interested in discovering more about MJ Preston and his novels, please follow these links:
MJ Preston’s web site https://mjpreston.net/
Amazon Page: https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B005JTQMZY
WildBlue Press: https://wildbluepress.com/highwayman-book-1-mj-preston-horror/
Creative Edge is a dynamic Publicity Company based in Saskatchewan. Founder and co-Owner Mickey Mikkelson made this statement:
Creative Edge specializes in elevating the public profile of authors and artists through such means as (but not limited to) book signings, presentations (libraries, schools, conferences, businesses, etc.), involvement in applicable events, media interviews (including podcasts and print media), and soliciting of reviews from influential reviewers and bloggers.