Michelle Pendergrass on The Midnight Diner

Coach’s Midnight Diner recently released its third edition. The author lineup is terrific and includes an eclectic cast, like a seminary professor, a screenwriter, a Pushcart nominee, a Navy officer, an actor from The Fringe, and several “horror” fic veterans. Really, it’s a great group of writers. Plus the cover art rocks! I recently had a chance for a little Q&A with the Diner’s Editor-in-Chief, Michelle Pendergrass.

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MIKE: The Midnight Diner is self described as “a hardboiled genre anthology with a Christian slant.” Your stories specialize in all things weird — horror, paranormal, conspiracy, space aliens, noir, etc. It is not conventional CBA fare. Can you describe in more detail what kinds of stories you’re looking for… and what kinds of stories you’re NOT looking for?

MICHELLE: First, what I don’t want to read…proselytizing. And if your representation of Jesus is out in the back alley demoralizing women and getting blow jobs—you’re also getting that instant rejection.(No. I am not making that up.)

Bottom line, The Midnight Diner loves to see quality stories. That’s on the generic side, though, so I’ll speak for myself (as opposed to speaking for the other editors) when I say that the thing that tops my list is a good character. I need to be drawn in. That’s not to say I need a hook on the first page, but I do need to be invested in someone by page three. After that, you can sell me the story, but without vivid and stunning characterization, I’m out of the game.

To borrow from Stephen King, I love to read stories about “extraordinary” things happening to “ordinary people”. His son, Joe Hill’s collection 20th Century Ghosts is a good example of stories that captivate me.

MIKE: There is much discussion among believers about the label “Christian horror.” Some suggest the two are incompatible, that the term is an oxymoron; others (like the Horror Writers Association) see the Bible as part of a canon of horror. The Diner fits in that netherworld. What’s your take?

MICHELLE: I think some people truly believe the two ideas cannot coexist. And that’s ok. There are books out there being published for that sect. In my lifetime though, I’ve lived through and seen some terrifying events (and people,) and those things leave undeniable scars and worse, powerful and graphic memories. When I read the Bible, I see both the ugly and the beautiful, as exemplified by the cross itself. And I relate to Solomon’s idea that an increase in knowledge only increases sorrow, which I think explains a little about the stories I like to read. I think we’re all meant to have an impact on our sphere of influence and God has intricately woven us together in ways we cannot fathom. I am bound by His hand to those closer to the darker fringe of the fabric.

MIKE: What do you ultimately hope to accomplish with the Midnight Diner? Is this a ministry, a literary endeavor, a celebration of genre — or a combination of all three?

MICHELLE: If I can manage to combine all three, I believe I will have served my purpose with The Diner.

MIKE: This is your first year at the helm of the Diner. Can you tell us about the learning curve, your feelings along the way, and the folks that made things happen.

MICHELLE: The honest truth is without the entire ccPublishing, Relief, and Diner crew, I could have never (not in a million years) have accomplished anything.

My feelings are a still a bit scattered and misplaced because right about the time we were closing submissions for Volume Three, my mom was diagnosed with a brain tumor, had brain surgery, chemo, and within eight weeks she died. I spent almost every one of those days at the hospital with her and while she was napping, I’d read submissions and edit. Confession? I might not have coped near as well had I not been able to occupy myself with the stories. There are a few authors who might never know exactly how they touched my life. But I thank God for every one of them.

The Diner team picked up my slack without even a moment’s hesitation. They took my short and sometimes cold, emotionless emails and understood where I was and the executed the production masterfully. I believe in my heart God was timely in his orchestration of every detail.

MIKE: I love the cover art, Michelle. Talk about that.

MICHELLE: The stunning cover (as well as our new logo) was designed by fabulous Diner alumni, Virginia Hernandez. Coach incorporated the Editor’s Choice stories on the cover of Diner 2 and I wanted see that element continue. Choosing the Editor’s Choice stories was rather difficult because I loved more than three, but when I did finally choose, I called Gina and ran a few ideas by her that included a horse, a timepiece, and the sunflower/starfish zombie and within hours, she sent me a sketch that truly blew me away. We went back and forth a few times, then I sent a rough draft to my editors and Scott Garbacz inverted the image and sent it back. We loved the message that the inverted illustration sent to those looking for a few Easter Eggs in the publication.

MIKE: Perhaps it’s premature, but is a Volume Four in the works? And if so, how can writers begin to gear up?

MICHELLE: Not premature at all! We’re moving The Midnight Diner to WordPress and as soon as that is complete we’ll officially open submissions again for Volume Four. There’s also talk of maybe, possibly doing more than one Volume a year sometime in the future. But that’s a secret.

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Thanks so much, Michelle! And if you’re interested in cutting edge dark fiction with a Christian slant, be sure to snag a copy of the latest Midnight Diner.