In the bowels of an unassuming, ever-moving funerary parlor, a mortician known as the Operator hides a fearsome machine called the Godwin, rumored to have the ability to resurrect the dead. It runs, like a soul does, on logos: on words. And in exchange for those words—for a client’s life story—the corpse of their choosing might yet walk again. Careful, though. Words bear weight, so one must choose them wisely. Author M. Regan delivers a harrowing and beautiful glimpse into a world filled with desire, darkness, love, and loss.
"The time has come," the Writer said, "To read of many things:
Of sheers and souls and sealing spells, of poisoned herbal tea."
M. Regan has been writing in various capacities for over a decade, with credits ranging from localization work to scholarly reviews, advice columns to short stories. Particularly fascinated by those fears and maladies personified by monsters, she enjoys composing dark fiction and studying supernatural creatures.
Can you, for those who don't know you already, say something about yourself and how you became an author?
Certainly! My name is M. Regan, and I’m a queer author of dark fiction. I’ve been writing for close to twenty years, and in that time have accumulated credits in everything from creative fiction to localized scripts to advice columns to poetry. (Variety is the spice of life, right?) Up to this point, though, the majority of my work has been in short stories, which have appeared in collections from publishers like Flame Tree Press and WatchMojo, as well as on podcasts such as The Wicked Library, Tales to Terrify, and Shadows at the Door. My twitter profile describes me as an aspiring eldritch horror, but between us, it’s more accurate to say that I’m just fond of a certain aesthetic.
As for how I became an author, I suspect it was the usual way: via Faustian contract. Also by writing, I suppose. A lot of writing. And being too stubborn to quit in the face of setbacks and rejections. But mostly because of that contract.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up all over the place! Most of my childhood was spent moving around the continental United States, and then I lived abroad for a good chunk of my twenties. I’m back in America now, and things have calmed down a bit in recent years, but at this point I believe I’ve called about 15 different places home.
If you knew you’d die tomorrow, how would you spend your last day?
After hanging out with my loved ones, I’d dress myself up in something suitably ethereal and find a beautiful place in the forest to lie down and await the inevitable. Save everyone the trouble of tossing me into the woods later. Which, to be clear, is how I’d like my corpse handled. I have widely known feelings about returning to the earth after I die. The other day, one of my coworkers told me she saw an article about organic burial pods and thought of me. I was delighted.
What kind of world ruler would you be?
Benevolent, but incompetent. My reign would later be referred to as proof positive that good intentions pave the way to hell.
What are you passionate about, these days?
If by “passionate about” you mean “hyper-fixated on,” that would be “The Magnus Archives,” a cosmic horror/tragedy podcast produced by Rusty Quill.
When it comes to media, I am— to put it kindly— difficult to please. The flip side of this quirk in my wiring is that when I do fall for something, I fall hard, and remain helplessly in love with it for ages. In TMA’s case, that love began when quarantine did. I discovered the series when searching for something to listen to on my daily walks, and in a testament to what the power of good storytelling can do to help people, it quickly became my reason for getting out of bed in the morning. “The light of my life,” I once called it in a recorded interview. And while I said as much with a wink and a grin, the sentiment is genuine.
As it was for countless others, 2020 was a year of stress, uncertainty, and anxiety for me. 2021 has in many ways been harder. There were days that listening to TMA was the only thing I had to look forward to— the best reason I could think of to keep going. When the finale dropped back in March, I cried for days. (Four and a half days, to be precise. There was a whole grieving process involved.)
After opening my heart to “The Magnus Archives,” I began listening to a bunch of other fantastic podcasts: “Old Gods of Appalachia,” “Death By Dying,” “Thirteen,” and “Victoria’s Lift,” among others. I enjoy (and recommend!) them, too! But nothing makes my brain produce serotonin quite so enthusiastically, nor provides me with quite as much immediate comfort, as turning on an episode of TMA. As the kids say, I’ve got a lot of feels about this series, its creators, and its fandom. They did so much to brighten an incredibly dark time in my life, and I remain indescribably grateful.
What do you do to unwind and relax?
I take walks around my neighborhood and try to befriend the local cats.
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
When I was 13, I think. I wrote before that, and have enjoyed telling stories since I was 4, but I believe 13 is when I began posting stories on the internet, and thus first started receiving feedback. The realization that I had an audience, full of people who were allowing me the chance to entertain them, really flipped a switch in my head.
Do you have a favorite movie?
Project Itoh’s “The Empire of Corpses” ranks highly in my mind. So does Yōjirō Takita’s “Departures.” I have watched that movie a dozen times, and it never fails to leave me sobbing. I also really enjoy showing Travis Betz’s “Lo” to people who have never seen it before. For the most part, though, I prefer series to movies, as they tend to allow more character development. (Also, they’re shorter. I get distracted and antsy fairly quick.)
What literary pilgrimages have you gone on?
While I was living in Japan, another author friend and I made a pilgrimage to Ishiyama-dera, the temple at which Murasaki Shikibu allegedly began writing the world’s first novel, The Tale of Genji. It was raining that day, and almost no one else was there, so the grounds were empty, lush, and absolutely spectacular. I still have a collage of the trip hanging on my wall.
What inspired you to write this book?
An explicit answer to this question would, unfortunately, be full of spoilers! But I will say that 21 Grams was originally conceived as a single novelette, rather than the “three novelettes in a trench coat” that it became. I wrote part one back in 2017, when I first began turning around ideas of gender identity, and what they might mean in relation to the soul. That was all I intended to tackle, but the Operator continued to haunt my mind. I wondered about the stories of other customers who had strapped themselves into the Godwin. Ultimately, those ponderings resulted in parts two and three.
Can you tell us a little bit about the characters in 21 Grams?
Manon Bramley, Zel Perrimon, and Pastor Douglas Elliot are vastly different characters who have led vastly different lives in vastly different time periods. And yet, they all end up in the Operator’s funerary parlor, willing to exchange their souls in the hopes of resurrecting the dead. I think that’s all I can say without giving away major plot elements!
Where did you come up with the names in the story?
After deciding on a character’s “core trait,” as it were, I searched the internet for names with that particular meaning.
What did you enjoy most about writing this book?
The combination of challenges and freedom that its format provided. Each segment stands alone, connected only by the Operator and their resurrection machine, the Godwin. This afforded me the opportunity to attack an assortment of divergent ideas, and I’d like to think I took full advantage of that. However, I was also very cognizant of the fact that I would be forced to answer questions that I didn’t want to if each story followed the same arc. (Not to mention how boring that would be.) I decided I’d counter that issue by never allowing the Godwin to work the same way twice. It took a decent amount of brainstorming to figure out how to manage that, but it was fun! And I’m pleased with the results.
Did you learn anything during the writing of your recent book?
I learned a lot about myself. As I mentioned before, the first part of the book deals explicitly with gender identity and dysphoria, and writing it played an integral part in my own journey of self-discovery.
How did you come up with the name of this book?
In 1907, a physician named Duncan MacDougall published a study entitled “the 21 gram experiment.” In it, he postulated that the human soul weighs roughly 21 grams, based on the changes in body mass that he recorded before and after six of his patients died. While the study was rejected by the scientific community at large, the idea of a 21 gram soul has lingered in pop culture, and serves as one of the foundational bits of lore on which the whole of my book was built.
If you could spend time with a character from your book, who would it be? And what would you do during that day?
The Operator. We have similar tastes in music, so we’d probably jam out. Take tea. Maybe I could convince them to tell me a story or two of their own.
Do your characters seem to hijack the story, or do you feel like you have the reigns?
My characters tend to be the hijacking sort. Which is just as well, since they often have a better idea of where the story is going than I do.
Convince us your book is a must read.
Hey, you! Yes, you! Do you like gothic literature? Do you want more queer characters on your shelves? Do you enjoy mentally grappling with the moral and the metaphysical, while having more questions asked than answered? Do you really, really love quotations? Then boy howdy, have I got a book for you!
Have you written any other books that are not published?
A few, yes. I do hope they’ll see the light of day.
If your book had a candle, what scent would it be?
It would smell very subtly of white stargazer lily.
What are your top 10 favorite books?
1-4) The Bartimaeus Sequence by Jonathan Stroud
5-6) GOTH and Black Fairy Tale by Otuichi
7-9) Arc of a Scythe trilogy by Neil Shusterman
10) Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett
What book do you think everyone should read?
One of my friends has called it my “life’s mission” to make everyone I meet read The Bartimaeus Sequence by Jonathan Stroud, and she is not wrong. I consider it a crime against all that is literary that more people don’t love this series. It is hilarious. It is heartbreaking. It tackles big questions, and pulls no punches when it comes to delivering answers. Please— I am begging you to put aside Harry Potter and pick up this series, instead.
What kind of research do you do before you begin writing a book?
I tend to do most of my research mid-writing, to be honest. I’m usually not sure what information I need until I’ve run headlong into my own lack of knowledge, or have tripped in a hole that a fact ought to fill. It doesn’t help, either, that my memory’s not great. Even if I take notes—and I do! I swear!— I often forget details I’ve looked up unless they’re fresh in my mind.
Do you see writing as a career?
In terms of how seriously I take it, yes. But I’ve learned that it doesn’t take much for writing to go from “cathartic” to “an emotional drain.” For me, at least. Having a different occupation, one wholly disconnected from writing, gives me a chance to “fill my cup,” as it were. I also suspect that the stress of being financially dependent on selling stories would be detrimental to the quality of my work. So in that regard, no: I don’t see writing as my career. Nor do I want it to be. Not right now, anyway.
Do you read yourself? If so, what is your favorite genre?
I love dark fiction in all its iterations, but have a soft spot for the gothic. Themes of obsession, devotion, revenge— monstrous humans and humane monsters, with the shards of broken taboos scattered beneath their feet. Give me horrible things twisted into something beautiful.
Do you prefer to write in silence or with noise? Why?
Silence if possible, but since it’s usually not, the comforting white noise of RainyMoods. I need to be able to hear my own thoughts if I’m to get them down on paper.
Pen or typewriter or computer?
Computer, all day every day. I absolutely loathe writing long-hand (it hurts!), and I am embarrassingly dependent on spellcheck.
What made you want to become an author and do you feel it was the right decision?
I made my start, as it were, in fanfiction. This was years and years ago, when I was a young teen. Back then, I lived for the reviews I found in my inbox: messages from lovely people who said lovely things about how my work had made their day lovelier. I derived— and still derive— so much joy from the opportunity to entertain people.
Anyway, one day, when I was a slightly older teen, I received an exceptionally special review. It was in response to a story I’d posted about a character who had a chronic illness. Without going into too much detail, this reviewer shared with me that a friend of theirs had recently been diagnosed with the same illness, and that reading my fic helped and inspired their friend like nothing else had. I was a crying mess by the time I reached the end of that email. I saved a copy of it for years.
It was on that day it occurred to me that I could potentially reach more people— and thus, help more people— if I authored original work. Stories unburdened by the need of lore or prerequisite knowledge. So I tried. Tried without great success, granted, until I was in my twenties, but hey— we got there!
As for whether I made the right decision… I think so. Because for all that has changed about me and my writing, the one thing that hasn’t is my goal. My aim isn’t to become famous or to make millions: I just want to entertain people. I want to help make their day lovelier. I want to make them think, make them feel, make them see the world in a new way; I want to provide a needed moment of escape, or some small reason to smile. If I can do that for at least one person, then that’s enough to justify this path I’m on.
What advice would you give new authors?
Don’t take rejections personally. Whether you are a reader or a writer, the most wonderful and the most frustrating thing about creative writing is that it is subjective. There are works I consider masterpieces that I know other people despise, and books that are universally acclaimed that I absolutely do not understand the appeal of. And that’s okay. All of that is okay. Not every story is intended for everybody, and your work will inevitably fall into the hands of someone it is not right for— especially if you are actively submitting it to different places. Don’t let that get you down. Consider advice, make edits, keep going.
Oh— and get yourself a sticker chart, if you like stickers! I’ve got a “2021: 100 Rejections Challenge” sticker chart on my closet door. I’ve earned 52 stickers so far this year! Trying feels more like an accomplishment, I’ve found, when there are stickers involved.
Describe your writing style.
One of my friends recently called my style “avant garde,” which I appreciated. Usually, I just call it “purple.” Given the thematic nature of my work, I tend to lean more towards the flowery and the poetic. (Probably doesn’t help that I love finding and using antiquated adjectives.) I worry sometimes that people will think me pretentious because of this, but I promise I’m not. I’m a dork. And when not writing for professional purposes, a serial emoji-user. I want everything I say to be followed by a matte heart or a doodle of sparkles. In real life, too. That’d be brilliant.
What is your writing process? For instance,do you do an outline first? Do you do the chapters first?
It usually begins with an idea striking me at the most inopportune moment possible, such as when I’m trying to sleep or in the middle of work. I used to scribble these ideas down on scrap paper, but these days I’m more likely to be carrying my phone than a notepad, so usually I end up emailing myself. Later, when I have time, I’ll transfer that email to the bottom of a word document and write the story on top of it, deleting bits of my notes (or adding to them) as I go.
What are common traps for aspiring writers?
Listening to the wrong people. The internet is a loud place. Everyone on it has opinions. But not all of those opinions are created equally, or come from good, constructive sources. Take the time to learn who can (and should) be ignored. And remember, you’re never going to please everyone. Just try your best to be your best!