Scary Castle Ruin

© 2012 Quinotaur Press
All Rights Reserved

Website by:
9from90 Media Design


I don't have any real expertise in marketing trends, but I think I have a fair overall grasp of the supernatural / horror genre through the years. The roots go back into early myths and legends, continue up through medieval tales (many of them cautionary, warning Christians against the devices of Satan), later drama (Doctor Faustus), a spate of lurid Gothic stories and novels in the 19th century, and then a period when some of the best writing appeared—Dracula, the works of M.R. James, Lovecraft, LeFanu, Machen, and others, including well-respected literary writers like Henry James.

After that, things seemed to taper off for outright supernatural fiction, although films stepped into the gap with the Dracula, Frankenstein, Wolf Man, and Mummy movies, and later, the Hammer Studio productions. After World War Two, sci-fi started to hit it big, with some classics that walk the horror line (Richard Matheson's I Am Legend, a lot of Ray Bradbury's stuff), and films that are now icons (Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Night of the Living Dead).

But there weren't any big horror novels during that era (at least that I can think of) until The Exorcist came along in 1971—a huge success both in book and film form, with Stephen King's steamroller popularity right behind it. Like any other business, publishing is quick to jump into a promising market, and before long a spate of new horror was blossoming on bookstore shelves like Deadly Nightshade. This trend was still going pretty strong in the early 80s when I started, and—with my usual razor-sharp business acumen—it never even crossed my mind that the market might become glutted. But by 1990, things had slowed back down, with the market consolidating toward big name bestsellers, and the fringes fading.

Let me be clear: that's far from the only reason my career in the genre (such as it was) crashed and burned. Without doubt, my general shortcomings as a writer figured in, and I think I never really got my finger on the popular pulse; the way I tried to use ancient occult lore just didn't jibe with a widespread taste for more modern fare. That may still be true, and this time I'll have nothing at all to blame but myself, because horror fiction has made a big comeback in the past several years. Anyway, on or about 1990 (this happened so fast it took a few months to sink in), I realized that my alter ego Daniel Rhodes, and the books he'd penned, had gone the way of the dinosaurs.

So I strapped my construction tools back on, this time for close to ten years straight. I wrote during whatever free time I managed to scrape together. Amid a lot more floundering around, I realized that in spite of the horror fadeout, I was still probably best suited for thrillers of some stamp—and also, that mainstream thrillers make up a huge percentage of the overall fiction market.

So I started thinking along those lines, and created a character named Carroll Monks, a San Francisco emergency physician based loosely on my brother Dan, who was a real life ER doc in the Bay Area for many years.

Abandoning the supernatural wasn't at all troublesome, and many elements of writing a thriller carried over, but it was still a new form with different parameters and demands. What with that and the pesky need to make a living (the single best piece of advice I can give any aspiring writer is to be independently wealthy), it took a few years to put together a draft of what became Twice Dying.

Eventually, I got a very lucky break, and here's another indelible when-and-where memory. I was working on a house out of town, several miles up a steep, narrow gravel road in the mountains—hanging a door, on a hot July afternoon. I glanced down at the road below and saw my wife's little white Buick edging into sight. None of us had cell phones then, and she didn't know the phone number at the house and only roughly where it even was, but she figured she could probably spot my truck (a 1968 GMC Suburban that stood out like the Queen Mary, which was what we called it), so she'd come looking for me to tell me that HarperCollins had just made an offer on the book.

That gave me a fresh start, exactly the possibility I'd envisioned when I decided to use the pseudonym—without that, it would have been much more difficult, if not a deal-breaker—and led to another dozen years of writing with a much happier arc.

After Twice Dying, I wrote three more novels featuring Dr. Monks (no relation, by the way, to the character on the TV show Monk). Then I wrote two books set in Montana, where I've lived for forty years. These were much closer to home for me, both geographically and personally. Lone Creek, the first of them, is my favorite of all my writings. I've written one more since then—L.A. Mental—a stand-alone released in September, 2011

Along the way, I was honored by the opportunity to co-author a book with James Patterson—Toys, released earlier in 2011. This is the basis for my slender claim to being a New York Times bestselling author, although I'm acutely aware that its success is because of Jim's vision and reputation, rather than anything I brought to it.

Here's the full list of titles:

"Reads like a cross between Raymond Chandler and Thomas Harris. More Monks, please, Mr. McMahon." (Chicago Tribune)

"Like John Grisham and James Patterson, McMahon excels at moving his plot along; there are no wasted actions, no unnecessary red herrings, (and) the characters are believable. Blood Double is all about movement—the only thing stationary is the reader, likely for the entire length of the book." (BookPage)

TO THE BONE (2003)
"Intelligent, well-crafted entertainment...(with) deft characterizations . . . Horrors and more await us in To The Bone.... It should advance McMahon to the upper ranks of today's crime writers." (Washington Post Book World)

"Creating a believable villain is the hardest work in the artistic world...which makes Neil McMahon's success so stunning.... In McMahon's assured hands, the duel between the rational, scientific doctor and the fascinating, frightening an absolutely riveting read." (Chicago Tribune)

"His finest achievement to date.... Beautifully written.... A natural storyteller, McMahon is sure to appeal to fans of James Crumley and Jim Harrison." (Publishers Weekly—starred review)

"This fine crime novel fairly glows with the big skies, rough country, and outsize characters...a joy to read." (Publishers Weekly)

L.A. MENTAL (2011)
"McMahon's stellar stand-alone offers a cunning technological twist worthy of the late Michael Crichton.... McMahon Bone Pile(Dead Silver) easily makes a science fiction concept plausible in a pulse-pounding read that doesn't sacrifice intelligence for thrills." (Publishers Weekly—starred review)