Max Malone (’14), has been busy since graduating from Finlandia University with a degree in English. He’s held a number of jobs including being a tutor, a survey drafter and fiber designer, content producer and creative writer. In 2018, Malone graduated from Kansas State University with a Master of Arts in English Language and Literature. He has written numerous episodes for the renowned fictional horror podcast, the NoSleep Podcast, and also recently wrote two 15-episode seasons of Sabrina the Teenage Witch for Chat Fiction on the YARN app. Currently, Malone is a content producer at AppFolio, Inc. in Goleta, Calif. Below is an interview conducted by Marketing Director, Olivia Myers, on Malone’s experiences since graduation.
Where are you from originally and how did you come to be at Finlandia for English?
I’m originally from Iron Mountain, Mich., so I grew up two hours south of the Houghton/Hancock area. After graduating high school in 2011, I enrolled at Finlandia as an Art & Design major, hoping to one day be an illustrator. A semester into the program, though, I began to question if I really wanted to do art as a job someday or if I was just a dedicated hobbyist. Ultimately, I decided that I fell into the latter category and decided to switch majors.
I’d already met a few of the denizens of the Suomi College of Arts & Sciences by that point and they encouraged me to give majoring in English a chance. In the end, I did, and it stuck!
After graduation, what kind of jobs did you apply for and take? When did you determine you wanted to go to graduate school?
After graduating from Finlandia, I applied for a tutoring position at the university and basically whatever other local jobs I could find. I got a position as the graveyard shift Front Desk attendant at the Magnuson Copper Crown – a job I was overly enthusiastic about at the time because Timo Koskinen once told me that Faulkner had worked a similar job while writing As I Lay Dying. I spent many nights there writing my first horror stories, video chatting with other writers, and taking the occasional 4am sauna before deciding to move back home to Iron Mountain and pursue a more career-oriented job.
In Iron Mountain, I started working at a cable construction company, first as a Desktop Survey Drafter drawing up cost-benefit analyses for cable projects and, later, as a Fiber Designer actually plotting those projects with drafting software. It was fun to work a job so clearly out of my wheelhouse, and even more fun to get good at it, but I always knew I wanted to continue my education. Luckily for me, I had some wonderful connections from Finlandia – William Knoblauch, Mark Lounibos, Richard Gee, Lauri Anderson, Timo Koskinen, and Christine O’Neil to name a few – who were kind enough to help me shape that formless desire for further education into a concrete plan for attending graduate school.
After a little over a year of working for the company, I gave up my job and moved halfway across the country to Kansas where I attended Kansas State University’s Master of Arts program for English.
Can you talk about your grad school experience and how Finlandia helped prepare you for it?
To be honest, graduate school is a lot like undergrad, albeit with a greater level of responsibility, more coursework, and some added teaching duties. The flipside to the added pressure is that you also have a greater wealth of resources at your disposal – especially when it comes to funding for conferences and research travel – and you get to dedicate your time to gaining a deeper understanding of whatever specific area of focus you want to become a true expert in.
Finlandia prepared me for this by helping me form the kernel of interest that would eventually become my Creative Writing focus, and by providing me with mentors who took a truly active approach toward my studies by always encouraging me to read more, write more, and learn more whenever possible.
You’ve had a vast array of jobs/positions that include publishing, technical documentation, tutoring, marketing, and even creative writing? Which experiences have been your favorite and why?
I’m sure most people would expect me to emphatically say that creative writing has been my favorite job since every writer’s dream is to write what they like and still make enough money to put food on the table, but freelance creative writing was a difficult gig to break into and even more difficult to maintain a steady supply of – even with the help of online marketplaces.
It might be kind of a lame answer, but I think that any jobs where I’ve had the chance to learn a new style of writing, or tinker with a new program, or mix my writing skills with other skills I’ve cultivated have been my favorites. The best work experiences have been the ones where I’ve been able to continue learning on the job, and I’m happy to say that that’s been my experience with most of the jobs I’ve worked.
Can you talk about the experience of having your short stories published on the NoSleep Podcast? Can you also provide a link to the ones that have been published?
I will always have an enormous amount of respect and gratitude for the folks at the NoSleep Podcast and for what they continue to do for amateur horror authors by performing their stories online. When I first started writing, I was just posting scary stories on Reddit and hoping that someone would read them. The showrunner of the NoSleep Podcast, David Cummings, reached out to me personally and asked if he could produce a rendition of a story I’d written called “Radio Silence” and I agreed immediately. At the time, I didn’t know that I was going to get paid, nor did I know that the NoSleep Podcast was going to go on to become the monolith in the online horror community that it has – I was just thrilled someone had read something I’d written and seen enough value in it to want to share it.
The NoSleep Podcast was the first venue to ever pay me for my writing, and it’s been home to a host of extremely talented voice actors and producers and musicians and writers that I’ve had the good fortune to rub shoulders with, so it holds a very special place in my heart. If you’d like to hear the stories of mine that they’ve so kindly produced, you can find them using the following links:
- Season 5, Episode 1: “Radio Silence”
- Season 5, Episode 4: “Flight 370”
- Season 5, Episode 6: “The Splash”
- Season 5, Episode 24: “Midnight in the Pendulum House”
- Season 6, Episode 1: “The Strange Death of Arthur Warden”
- Season 6, Episode 5: “One Night, in Slawson Furnace”
- Season 11, Episode 25: “The Family Strega”
Why write for podcasts as opposed to print?
There’s a few reasons I tend to publish via podcast rather than print. The biggest one is that I find a podcast rendition usually elevates a story. The folks at the NoSleep Podcast, for example, have taken my stories and turned them into full-fledged radio plays with soundtracks and sound effects and voice actors. Those stories have taken on a larger and more complex life than they ever would on a page, and they’ve also become part of a greater, evolving whole as the anthology series, itself, continues to grow.
Other reasons include seeing podcasts as being a more accessible medium with a lower barrier to entry when compared to reading an anthology or collection of texts, podcasts being a fashionable medium in the current social climate, and podcasts tending to be a better paying market than their print counterparts. Beyond this, I just have a sweet spot for podcasts because my first-ever paid publication was through a one. Podcasts saw value in my art, so, in return, I recognize the value in their art too.
You’ve also written Chat Fiction for the YARN app. How did that opportunity come about and what’s that experience been like?
Back in 2018, when Netflix was gearing up to release their new Chilling Adventures of Sabrina show, I saw an ad on a freelance marketplace seeking an author to write some licensed Sabrina the Teenage Witch content for an app. They wanted somebody who had knowledge about the Sabrina comics and experience in writing horror fiction. I ticked both boxes, so I submitted a proposal for the job even though I thought it was a longshot. A representative from the company saw my proposal and enthusiastically accepted it, so I got the job.
Writing Chat Fiction was probably the most Millennial experience of my life. The gimmick is that everything is told through characters texting each other, and the reader is watching on as a sort of voyeuristic third party. So, it’s kind of like writing a play, except people are going to be reading the script, and the script is filled with acronyms, emojis, and timestamps instead of staging instructions.
I ended up writing a 15-episode season of Sabrina the Teenage Witch Chat Fiction where Sabrina saves Greendale from one of H.P. Lovecraft’s deities, Dagon, and a second 15-episode season where she faces off against a worm-like body snatcher before the project was finished. In the business of commercial horror writing, it doesn’t get much more fun than that!
How has COVID-19 impacted your work, if at all?
I’ve been very fortunate when it comes to COVID and how it has affected my work. I was hired for my current technical writing job during the early stages of our country’s pandemic response, and I only worked in the office for two weeks before switching to working from home. Luckily, I am no stranger to being productive from the comfort of my own house thanks to my previous work experiences as a freelance writer and an online tutor. Despite the pandemic, I’ve been able to flourish professionally, and I don’t think that would’ve been as possible if it weren’t for my English degree and the unique experiences it’s opened up for me.
Looking back, what’s one piece of advice you could give to yourself during your senior year of college?
I would’ve told myself to not lose steam. When graduation was closing in, it was so easy to let Senioritis take over and to just become complacent with the work I was creating and the admittedly low level of effort I was putting into my courses. It had been a busy few years, and I just wanted to coast out to the end.
Looking back, though, I wish I’d finished my degree with more of a flourish. Everything I did in that final year ended up forming the bedrock of my grad school experience, and while it was serviceable for getting me into grad school and helping me figure out what I wanted to do, I think the work that I did my senior year of undergrad could’ve used a little more commitment. So, if you’re nearing graduation, don’t let up yet! You’ll have plenty of time to do that when you’re actually done. Until then, push through!
Alright, now looking forward, what are you hopeful for in the future regarding your career?
Professionally speaking, I’m most hopeful for continued opportunities to mix my writing skills with other skills I’ve spent years developing on my own. The part of me that wanted to be in Art & Design never died – I just learned that I was a better designer than I was an artist – so I have been trying to rope in more opportunities for graphic design and typography when I can in my work. I’ve also taken to teaching myself a smattering of coding languages with the intended end goal of eventually being a UI/UX Designer.
I think that now, more than ever, is a time in history where young people can take a bunch of disparate things they enjoy doing and produce a dream job with real value through mixing them. You just have to want to do it and know how to leverage what is probably the single greatest tool a lifelong learner could ever ask for – Google.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Thanks for reading! If you want to talk horror or podcast writing or what the world is like post-graduation-from-college with me, feel free to drop me a line via Twitter @maxwell_irl.
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