May 7, 2015

Some Days You Get the Bear, Some Days the Bear Gets You: an interview with J.H. Moncrieff, author "The Bear Who Wouldn't Leave"

J.H. Moncrieff: Raised in the far north, amid Jack London’s world of dog sleds and dark winters, J.H. Moncrieff has been a professional writer all of her adult life.

During her years as a journalist, she tracked down snipers and canoed through crocodile-infested waters. She has published hundreds of articles in national and international magazines and newspapers.

When she’s not writing, J.H. loves to travel to exotic locations, advocate for animal rights, and muay thai kickbox. She’s an avid reader of many different genres, including thrillers, suspense, true crime, memoirs, cookbooks, women’s fiction, and horror. (

Gef: : Where did you get the inspiration for The Bear Who Wouldn't Leave?

J. H.: I’ve always loved stories about haunted or cursed toys, because toys are supposed to bring joy and/our comfort to a child. The idea that something you love and trust could harm you is chilling. From The Twilight’s Zone’s Talking Tina to Stephen King’s The Monkey and even Annabelle…those stories have always given me the shivers.

I was also exploring the idea that our reactions to things inform our experience. For example, say you’re afraid of big dogs. Whenever you see one, you run away screaming. The chances that a big dog is going to view you as prey and run after you are greatly increased. Is the bear in the book truly evil, or is he just reacting to Josh’s treatment of him? That is the question.

Gef: Was there anything from your years in journalism that you applied to writing fiction? I imagine making a deadline must be old hat for you.

J. H.: I’m lost without deadlines. If I’m not given one, I have to make my own. Journalism has taught me how to get to the point, how to write powerful sentences, how to research, how to network and put myself in someone else’s shoes, and how to treat writing like a business. All of those skills have served me well. Since I’m quoting people all the time, it’s probably improved my dialogue-writing skills too.

Gef: Dolls can certainly be creepy, but teddy bears? They're so cuddly. Alright, Teddy Ruxpin was hellspawn, I grant you that. But what toy(s) creeped you out as a child?

J. H.: How about the Snuggle Fabric Softener Bear? Brr…talk about creepy! My dad gave me a teddy bear that used to be his when he was a kid, and it was just like Edgar in my book…stiff as a board, with a snarl on its face. That bear was spooky—I never liked it.

My friends and I were also terrified of E.T. toys. With their leathery skin, big eyes, and glowing heart, they were pretty disturbing…especially at night. And those My Buddy dolls that looked like Chucky.

Gef: How intensive did the research get for you on this tale, or were you spurred on more by pure imagination than anything else? What little tricks have you picked up with approaching the research phase of writing?

J. H.: This one came from pure imagination, but I’ve written a few novels that were research intensive. I rely on experts, both for fact checking and for the research itself. I’ve also learned that, if one isn’t careful, research can become a way of procrastinating. While I’m writing, I’ll highlight passages that need more research and come back to them when I’ve finished the first draft.

Gef: When it comes to horror, where have your greatest influences come from?

J. H.: It’s almost a clichĂ©, but definitely Stephen King. He’s an exceptional storyteller who lures you into his world so skilfully that you can’t put down one of his books until it’s finished. I’ve lost many nights to Stephen King. I also really like Susan Hill, who wrote The Woman in Black, and Daphe du Maurier’s Rebecca. The great majority of the horror I read is actually true crime, and John Douglas is a master. He was one of the FBI’s first profilers, and I’ll buy every book he writes the second it’s released.

Gef: What do you consider to be the strength or saving grace of the horror genre?

J. H.: It’s one of the few genres that can be completely unpredictable. In a romance or fantasy, the hero or heroine must triumph. Most books are required to have happy endings, but in a horror novel, you really don’t know if anyone is going to survive. That gives the genre its power. When done well, horror can make you take a deeper look at the things you fear and why you fear them.

Gef: What's the worst piece of writing advice you ever received? Or what piece of writing advice do you wish would just go away?

J. H.: One of the worst pieces of advice I ever received was to develop a writing career that would support me while I was trying to get a novel published. As much as I’ve loved journalism, it has definitely held me back—it’s extremely difficult to write books when you’re already writing articles for hours everyday. I wish I had become a psychologist, which was my dream “until I get published” career in high school, or had pursued something where I’d get to work with animals.

I also wish people would quit saying things like, “Writers write,” and “Writers have to write every single day.” That’s not everyone’s style, and when I was swamped with journalism assignments and didn’t have time to write fiction, those so-called “rules” just made me feel worse.

Gef: What kind of guilty pleasures do you have when it comes to books or movies or whatnot?

J. H.: My guilty pleasures are on the lighter side. I do love horror movies and books, but they don’t make me feel guilty! I secretly love cozy mysteries (especially the Joanne Fluke “Murder She Baked” series), well-written “chick lit,” Archie comics, true crime paperbacks, and the original 90210. Whenever I’m having a bad day, I like to go back to that California beach, where the women wore scrunchies, men had mullets, and all problems were solved in 45 minutes or less. Plus, Ian Ziering (Steve) and Jason Priestley (Brandon) are wonderful guys in real life. I support their work whenever I can.

Gef: What projects are you cooking up that folks can expect in the near future, and how can folks keep up with your shenanigans?

J. H.: I’m currently working on a new twist on the sea-monster myth, and a horror series set in ancient Egypt (talk about research!). I’ve written a few horror and psychological suspense novels that I’m submitting to editors and agents this year, so I hope something will come of that. The best way to keep up with me is through my website, You can get a free e-book by signing up for my newsletter, and email me through the website or follow me on Facebook and Twitter.


  1. Hi J.H. It turns out we have quite a bit in common here. I worked in advertising in the newspaper industry for years and was advised by a journalist not to venture into journalism if I wanted to write creatively. I'm also a closet Joanne Fluke fan and, among my favourite dark fiction authors are Susan Hill and Daphne du Maurier. Stephen King is, naturally, right up there at the top. I'm also currently writing a horror involving (although not set in) ancient Egypt! I loved The Bear Who Wouldn't Leave. That was one seriously bad panda!

    1. Thanks so much for commenting, Catherine! I knew you were fabulous, but I didn't realize we had so much in common. Did you know "The Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder" was recently made into a TV movie? It's supposedly on YouTube, but I haven't checked it out yet.

  2. I love your eclectic reading list. I can't wait to see what you can do next.

    1. Thanks, Elle! I read pretty much everything, including cookbooks. I even have some writer friends who have persuaded me to read romance, something I never thought I'd do. *cough cough *

  3. Great interview! I liked what you said about not having to write every day. Most good plans build in some variation of the 80/20 rule, on the premise that you'll succeed if you stick with it 80% of the time. The hard part is learning to not beat yourself up over the remaining 20%. It's cool that it works with writing, too.

    It sounds like you've had some amazing experiences. Congrats on the new book!

    1. Thanks so much for commenting, Chris! I've definitely had times in my life when I just couldn't write fiction, for a number of different reasons. Whenever I'm not writing, I already feel guilty about it, so reading that I'm not a "real" writer on top of everything certainly never helped.

      Harper Lee went decades between books, and I don't think anyone would dare suggest she isn't a writer.

  4. Yeah, thanks for stopping by the blog, J.H. And best of luck with the Bear's success.

    1. Thanks so much, Gef! I really enjoyed doing the interview with you, and it's an honour to be featured on your blog.