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First, thank you so much for joining us here at TopShelf for this exclusive interview. In February this year, you celebrated the release of Four, the second novel in your acclaimed The Highwayman series. After readers devoured Book 1, Highwayman, in this blended Horror-Crime Thriller series in 2019, you didn't keep them waiting long for what turned out to be an inspired and successful second installment. How was the release of Four different than any of your previous releases, if at all? Did anything surprise you about this release? 

The novel Four was started before its predecessor, Highwayman. Back in 2015, I was working on two potential novels, Four and Acadia Event. Having just gotten back from the north, the arctic landscape still fresh in my mind, the novel Acadia Event took priority. I had just come back from an eight-week adventure running the world's longest ice road.  I needed to capture that magic while it was still fresh in my mind. So Four got shelved. Before that time, I thought it would be my third novel. Highwayman was only supposed to be a promotional giveaway, but after I got through the first draft of that somewhat bloated novella, I knew it was going to have to be a novel. As a result, Four got shelved again. It was probably the best thing that could have happened because this led me to work on it as a piece of a much larger project. That shift and refocus changed the original storyline in Four, along with spawning and migrating a large cast of interesting new characters. 

The release of Four in a short time after Highwayman was a bit of sadomasochism on my part. I felt I needed to get the book out there. I put myself on a self-imposed deadline. I had a couple of reasons, and the first might sound patronizing, but I owed that much to the readers kind enough to support my craft and buy Highwayman. My readers are important to me; they are the whole reason I do this. Also, these two books are companions to the same story, making timing important. We live in a binge world. People don't like waiting, so I did my best to accommodate that. The experience was a marathon, I shut down all social media, got up sometimes at 4 AM, and I wrote every day. I lived, breathed, and ate Four, and even in the madness of that self-inflicted deadline, it was an enjoyable book to write.

The release of FOUR was different than previous publications because I was getting messages about Highwayman. People were saying that they enjoyed Highwayman and were asking when the second book would be out. When you write a standalone novel, people aren't asking, "What is Lance going to do next? Will Lonnie Perkins be back? What happened to Halsey's wife? Who are 'the four?'" It surprised me, even scared me a little. The feedback so far has been great, and that is pretty cool in my book.

Readers have hailed Four as "…straight from the gut…" (Amazon Reviewer), "…a chilling, heart-pounding, and thrilling conclusion to the story of the Highwayman killer…" (Book Sirens), "…another exceptionally fine novel by a master story weaver…" (Grady Harp, Amazon Top 50 Reviewer), and the perfect read "…if you're a fan of Stephen King" (Amazon Reviewer). Such high praise rolling in for your latest novel begs the question: Will there be future books in The Highwayman series or any future reappearances of characters in offshoot series?

To answer your first question, yes, there is a new Highwayman book in the works now. As long people keep reading, I'll keep the series going. I hope that it will be a very adaptable series with interchanging characters and storylines. I have two or three more books to add, but it's too early to speculate. 

What inspired The Highwayman series? 

Throughout my life, I have had a strange fascination with true crime. Before this series, I wrote two books, which were essentially monster books. The serial killer is the most frightening of all because they are real. In answering your first question, I gave you a thumbnail sketch of how that morphed from a book into a series. Still, from a personal perspective, it came in the form of a bunch of small epiphanies that ended in, "I know, I could do another book with Lonnie Perkins as the lead." Or "What about a book that takes place over five hours?" Something pulse-pounding that doesn't give you a chance to catch your breath. Just go!

How much research did you perform when taking the "playing field" from the United States to Bucharest, Romania through the scope of this series?

Never enough is the short answer. I never made it over to Bucharest, but would like to go someday in the future. After the business of travel restrictions between countries becomes a reality again. The alternative was to take my research online and use every available tool at my disposal. There are many things to consider when writing a crime thriller, research is crucial, and even if you think you got everything right, you didn't. There's always somebody out to kick your butt. Beyond Bucharest, the research I did was into 1000's of unlogged hours. Reading everything, watching everything, consulting with true-crime authors, and talking to police both online and in bizarre phone calls with the preface, "I'm a writer, and I got a peculiar question for you about how a body is handled when it's been submerged." Other elements in research have included my extensive travel and knowledge of America's interstate and secondary highways. As a long haul trucker, I've been almost everywhere the highwayman has been.

Did you know Highwayman would have a sequel in Four when you wrote the first book of the series? 

Given how it was written, I think the real question should be, "Did you know FOUR would have a prequel that would turn it into a sequel?" And the answer to that is, No, Four was supposed to be a standalone book? It was a strange way to write a book, but out of that chaos, a series was born, and I'm happy with that.

What draws you to writing Crime Thrillers and Horror? Have you always been a fan of the genres? 

Horror has always attracted me. I remember reading Robert McCammon's book, Mystery Walk, back in the mid-'80s and being blown away not only by the story but the characters. McCammon paints gray into a father who is a Klan member in the south. I was writing lots of shorts at this time and had ambitions of a first novel, thinking that I would always gravitate to the horror genre. But as my reading expanded, I suddenly found myself drawn to crime thrillers and mysteries.

Who are your favorite Horror authors? Thriller authors? 

Gosh, there are so many. Stephen King used to be at the top of that list. There was a time that I could say I had read pretty much everything the man wrote. But the horror world is a smorgasbord of outstanding storytellers. I've already mentioned McCammon, but there are so many others. Like, Jack Ketchum, Ramsey Campbell, and then there's writer's that crossover from thriller writers like Joe R. Lansdale, who moves between the genres, sometimes adding supernatural elements, like in his series, Hap and Leonard. 

When it comes to the crime thriller, I'd have to say that John Sanford is at the top of my list. I love his style and characters, from Lucas Davenport to Virgil Flowers. I have become intimate with those characters because he keeps drawing me back. I also like Michael Connelly for different reasons. His Harry Bosch books are always entertaining.  Then there is the brilliance of James Lee Burke, with David Robichaud of the New Iberia Police in Louisiana. James Burke's use of the English language in writing is nothing less than awe-inspiring. His characters are loveable, funny, sad. If you've read James Lee Burke, you'll know what I mean. If you haven't, you should. I could go on for hours about the writers I have read and enjoyed, but not all of them come from big publishing companies.  I think of outstanding authors, like Gene O'Neill, who has written everything from mystery to environmental apocalyptic. There's Gregory L. Norris, B.E. Scully, Craig DiLouie, and I could go on and on. There is no short answer to this question. A sad aspect of my life, as a writer and a reader, is the reality that I will not have enough time to explore everything book that draws my interest.

You also have short stories published in multiple anthologies since 2013. What is your favorite thing about writing short stories? Which do you prefer to write: short stories or novels? 

I usually write short stories when I'm between novel projects. I have always loved the short story, but novels, although time-consuming, come easier these days. I think my short story abilities were far more imaginative when I was younger, and the gray matter was a little fluid than today.

Tell us about your writing process on a typical writing day for you.

I am an early morning writer. I rise when it is still dark, and most people are sleeping, around five a.m. I usually meditate in my hot tub before getting down to it. While there, I listen to music on my earbuds and begin getting in the mindset of storytelling, thinking about plot, characters, and scenes, like floating puzzle pieces that come together. Then I head down to my office and fire up the computer and get down to it. Arousing my muse, the bastard he is, involves touching my fingers to the keyboard and waiting for the messages from the other side. Or the folks with the straight jacket.

Finally, for anyone wanting to dip their toes into the deep pool of Thrillers, Crime Thrillers, Murder Mysteries, and dark fiction genres, such as you have, what would you say are the top three things every good Thriller needs to capture its readers the way you've captured yours with The Highwayman series?

I don't know if there's any single thing or if it is collective to all writers. The elements of a good novel are the ingredients that you put into the story. Research is an essential element. If you don't know what you are talking about, it doesn't take long for readers to notice. They aren't stupid, and a writer should never take readers for granted. You are inviting them to spend hours with your work. Therefore the characters must be believable and possess a congeniality or malevolence. The story itself must be inviting, flow in the direction of conclusion, and offer the reader some reward. Be it escape, excitement, joy, laughter, or even fear and loathing. 

The truth is this. If you're serious about writing and believe in yourself, then do it. Remember, you are your first reader, plugging along, unknowing of where it will take you. So, ask yourself this: Did you enjoy the story? Do you think others will? Ardent readers are waiting to devour something new and exciting. That could be your work. Write the damn thing!

Thanks again for joining us for this interview! 

Thank you. Here is a list if links about me and my work.

My name is MJ Preston

I write Horror, Syfy, and Crime Thrillers.

Come and find me!

Website – http://mjpreston.net

Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/mj.preston.9

LinkedIn - linkedin.com/in/mj-preston-477a07179

Twitter - https://twitter.com/MJPreston1

Blog - http://authormjpreston.blogspot.com/

Amazon Page - http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B005JTQMZY