Archive for the ‘Interviews’ Category

Rena MasonNote: The following material ran in a recent issue of the Garden State Speculative Fiction Writers quarterly newsletter, which I edit. Here’s the third part of the piece, along with my original introduction. I’ll be running contributions from the other writers who participated in the days ahead.

Several things inspired me to put this project together. But mainly, it’s because I still frequently encounter the tiresome “nerdy boys club” stereotype regarding speculative fiction writers and readers. The widespread perception that our branch of literature is the domain of emotionally and socially stunted man-children who don’t want icky girls in their club unless they happen to be wearing skimpy cosplay outfits at conventions.

I think it’s important that we speculative fiction writers do everything in our power to help dispel that stereotype, and make it clear that women are a major, vital and respected part of our community. So I reached out to a number of prominent woman science fiction, fantasy and horror authors and editors, and invited them to share their perspectives.
Tom Joyce

Rena Mason is the Bram Stoker Award® winning author of “The Evolutionist” and “East End Girls.” A former O.R. nurse, an avid SCUBA diver, world traveler, and longtime fan of horror, sci-fi, science, history, historical fiction, mysteries, and thrillers, she writes to mash up those genres with her experiences in stories that revolve around everyday life. For more information on this author visit her website: renamasonwrites.com

As Robert Heinlein didn’t want to be pigeonholed as a sci-fi author, not all female speculative fiction authors are also writing some form of romance, paranormal or otherwise. With more organizations and companies promoting women, such as Women in Horror Month highlighting women in all aspects of horror, Nightmare Magazine’s “Women Destroy Horror” issue, Eli Roth’s The Crypt app highlighting women in horror, and the Horror Writers Association offering scholarships for women horror writers, along with more women stepping up to support one another in representing the genre rather than using a more popular or more accepted label for their works, women’s roles in the genre can only improve.

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Note: The following material ran in a recent issue of the Garden State Speculative Fiction Writers quarterly newsletter, which I edit. Here’s the second part of the piece, along with my original introduction. I’ll be running contributions from the other writers who participated in the days ahead.

Several things inspired me to put this project together. But mainly, it’s because I still frequently encounter the tiresome “nerdy boys club” stereotype regarding speculative fiction writers and readers. The widespread perception that our branch of literature is the domain of emotionally and socially stunted man-children who don’t want icky girls in their club unless they happen to be wearing skimpy cosplay outfits at conventions.
I think it’s important that we speculative fiction writers do everything in our power to help dispel that stereotype, and make it clear that women are a major, vital and respected part of our community. So I reached out to a number of prominent woman science fiction, fantasy and horror authors and editors, and invited them to share their perspectives.
Tom Joyce

ELLEN DATLOW

Ellen Datlow hard at work in front of her booksEllen Datlow has been editing sf/f/h short fiction for over thirty years. She was fiction editor of OMNI Magazine and SCIFICTION and currently acquires and edits stories for Tor.com. She has edited more than sixty anthologies, including the annual “The Best Horror of the Year,” “Lovecraft’s Monsters,” “Fearful Symmetries,” “Nightmare Carnival,” “The Cutting Room,” and “Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells” (the latter two with Terri Windling).
Forthcoming are “The Doll Collection” and “The Monstrous.”
She’s won multiple World Fantasy Awards, Locus Awards, Hugo Awards, Stoker Awards, International Horror Guild Awards, Shirley Jackson Awards, and the 2012 Il Posto Nero Black Spot Award for Excellence as Best Foreign Editor. Datlow was named recipient of the 2007 Karl Edward Wagner Award, given at the British Fantasy Convention for “outstanding contribution to the genre”; has been honored with the Life Achievement Award given by the Horror Writers Association, in acknowledgment of superior achievement over an entire career, and the World Fantasy Life Achievement Award for 2014, which is presented annually to individuals who have demonstrated outstanding service to the fantasy field.

 

I’ve been editing short science fiction, fantasy, and horror since 1980. When I was promoted from Associate Fiction Editor to Fiction Editor of OMNI Magazine, there was some blowback against me for not emerging from fandom (which was overwhelmingly male and from which most of the sf editors up to that point came). There was some silly talk by a few male writers who criticized the entry of female sf editors into positions of power. These women — again, most of whom did not come out of fandom — were assumed to have had no experience in the genre, although we were all longtime readers of sf/f and we all worked our way up from the bottom.
I’ve been involved more with fantasy and horror than science fiction for a number of years so I’m not as familiar with who is writing what in science fiction these days. But my perception is that fewer writers are writing science fiction at all. Saying that, there are certainly many excellent female writers of science fiction and if a male editor chooses an entire sf anthology with stories only by men it means they just aren’t looking beyond their old boys network comfort zone.

Note: The following material ran in a recent issue of the Garden State Speculative Fiction Writers quarterly newsletter, which I edit. Here’s the first part of the piece, along with my original introduction. I’ll be running contributions from the other writers who participated in the days ahead.

Several things inspired me to put this project together. But mainly, it’s because I still frequently encounter the tiresome “nerdy boys club” stereotype regarding speculative fiction writers and readers. The widespread perception that our branch of literature is the domain of emotionally and socially stunted man-children who don’t want icky girls in their club unless they happen to be wearing skimpy cosplay outfits at conventions.
I think it’s important that we speculative fiction writers do everything in our power to help dispel that stereotype, and make it clear that women are a major, vital and respected part of our community. So I reached out to a number of prominent woman science fiction, fantasy and horror authors and editors, and invited them to share their perspectives.
Tom Joyce

MARY SANGIOVANNI

SangiovanniMary SanGiovanni is the author of 10 horror and thriller books, one of which was nominated for the Bram Stoker Award, as well as numerous short stories. She has a Masters degree in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University, Pittsburgh and teaches English classes at her local college. She is currently a member of The Authors Guild, The International Thriller Writers, and Penn Writers.

I think writers of my generation are in a unique position to have been able to observe first-hand how the industry has changed regarding the prominence of women in the horror field. In movies, we have seen women go from shrieking, fleeing victims to capable and quick-thinking heroines on screen; we have seen more women writing, directing, producing, and filming quality horror. We have seen a broader range of topics explored in horror, taking into account the psychology of fear from both male and female perspectives. And of course, in publishing, there are increasing numbers of women writers offering lasting and canonic works to the body of classic horror literature. These women, in the tradition of great horror writers before them, are stretching and breaking boundaries in the exploration of fear; they are finding new and terrifying ways to look at the world around them. Further, they are writing their work in their own way, not necessarily prone to be imitative of the historically male-dominated approach to horror. I believe it’s an over-simplification to state that works are intrinsically written in a masculine or feminine point of view; I think so much more goes into the crafting of a finely textured, deeply layered story than just a psychology or perspective based on sex or gender. However, I’d venture to say that women and men are often raised to fear different things, and further, to react and respond differently to those fears. This creates a variety of possible ways to present subject matter in a horror story that can be accessed by either men or women. The awareness of this, especially in modern horror fiction, has led to the creation of sophisticated works by both men and women which truly engage a wider audience. Horror is not about the mask that is worn, but the face beneath that mask; the root of fear an audience can understand and identify with is what drives a horror story, not the monster in which that fear is embodied, be it a boogeyman associated with the nightmares of man, or those of women. I believe that women have incorporated this notion into their work in order to overcome the stereotype that women’s horror is “soft” or “not scary.” Their work serves to prove that their own unique perspective of things can be absolutely scary, whether that is in spite of or because that perspective has been generated in a female mind.
My generation has largely been influenced by male horror writers (Stephen King, Clive Barker, Ramsey Campbell, Dean Koontz, etc.) because men dominated the field for decades. I think it’s gratifying to see many new women horror writers listing both men AND women as influences in their own writing. I think that is as validating as anything else, because we, as writers, start out as fans of the genre. We simply want to contribute to the body of literature that inspired and shaped so much of our thoughts and feelings. It’s a powerful thing to know that readers and fans of the genre are reading more widely, taking chances on what in the past would have been dismissed, perhaps, as “fluff,” and finding in women writers’ works some truly frightening and memorable stories. It solidifies the idea that women are, in fact, taking part in continuing the literary tradition that they have so very much enjoyed.
We’ve come a long way from naked nubiles being carried off by buff and scaly monsters or swarmed by lascivious cultists. These stories have their place in the history of horror, as do any stories that speak specifically to a kind of horrific event, but it’s nice to see a broadening of ideas that can be interpreted as “horror” in our field. There is no shortage of emotion or action, deviant or otherwise, for writers to delve into.
I think it’s important to note, when discussing the topic of women horror writers, that true equality comes when writers are judged based solely on the merit of their work — when the time comes that horror writers are not identified first by gender and then by genre, but simply as writers in their field. I think the horror genre benefits from a rich diversity of voices and perspectives, not a narrowing of them. And I am proud and pleased to see that this seems to be the direction in which the horror genre is heading.

CadiganSorry about the long absence. I was backed up putting together the quarterly newsletter for the Garden State Speculative Fiction Writers, and I just went through a bout of the flu. That’s the bad news. The good news is there’s a lot of material from the newsletter that I figure I could run here. Just need to get permission from the editor, and … Oh right. I’m the editor. Well, OK then. Here’s a very good interviewer with Robb Cadigan, author of “Phoenixville Rising.” Since the newsletter is for a writers group, the emphasis is on the practicalities of the writing business. But even if you’re not a writer, I hope you find it interesting.

 

Interview With Author Robb Cadigan

by Tom Joyce

Editor’s Note: Author Robb Cadigan was recently spotlighted in “Poets & Writers” magazine’s feature, “The Savvy Self-Publisher,” for his efforts publishing and promoting his novel “Phoenixville Rising.” He agreed to an interview with “The Speculator” about self-publishing strategies.
T.J.

Q: Could you tell us something about your background, and about “Phoenixville Rising?”

A: For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a writer. As a kid, I thought I would grow up to write and illustrate comic books. My love of reading and writing definitely came from DC Comics and an obsession with Batman.
I went to Bucknell University to study English and Creative Writing. But when it came time to get a job, I didn’t know anyone who actually had a career as a novelist. I had no role models for that path. So I headed for the next closest form of fiction: advertising.
For thirteen years or so, I worked in marketing and broadcasting at QVC and helped to build the shopping channel into the world’s most profitable television network. Although I enjoyed my career at QVC, I was still writing fiction during any spare time I could find. In fact, sometime around 2000, I took a sabbatical from QVC to finish a novel. I ended up getting an agent with that novel and, although that manuscript never sold to a publisher, the agent gave me the confidence to get serious about following my dream of being a full-time writer.
“Phoenixville Rising” came about when my wife and I moved to Phoenixville, Pa. After we decided that this small town was the place we would raise our family, I started to investigate the history of the place my kids would call their hometown. It really started just as a hobby to learn more about local history. But writers are always filling the well. And the more I discovered about this little town, the more the story of “Phoenixville Rising” started to take shape in my mind.
I actually wrote the first version of “Phoenixville Rising”  more than ten years ago. My agent loved it and shopped it around, but again there were no takers. It’s a tough book to market, because it’s cross-genre: it’s a coming-of-age tale, with a crime story and historical romance woven through it. The original version even had a ghost story in there. Sales departments at big publishers had a hard time with it. So after it got rejected, I put it in a drawer and went back to working on my craft. My objective is always to become a better writer.
About two years ago, I took the manuscript out of the drawer and rewrote it into the book it is today. And by the time the novel made it through the rewrite, I was happy to see the world of publishing had drastically changed …

Q: Why did you decide to self-publish?

A: I had a top literary agent and navigated the rough waters of traditional publishing for years. We received some of the “nicest” rejections letters around, but sadly no takers for my work. I just put my head down and kept working, trying to get better at the craft, (more…)

Gerry LaFeminaI recently reviewed poet Gerry LaFemina’s debut novel “Clamor” for Chamber of the Bizarre. Drawing on his own background in the punk scene, Gerry crafted a complex portrait of a middle-aged punk rocker that I found refreshingly free of the kind of clichés you usually find in stories about musicians. Gerry agreed to talk a little bit about his personal history with punk, and about “Clamor.”

Q: Could you talk a little bit about your background, and your involvement with punk rock?

A: I started going to punk shows when I was 14/15. I was an outer boro kid—a Staten Islander—and didn’t really fit in with my peers. I had access to a lot of counter culture music from my older sister, mostly Zappa and Neil Young and the Dead, as a kid, but it wasn’t my music. I discovered the Ramones and Bowie and the Clash when I was about 13 and then Kraut, a band from New York, on MTV (was it the Basement Tapes?) at a friend’s house. Then it was onward to the Dead Kennedys and Bad Brains, etc. I joined my first band with that same friend when I was 15, but really didn’t do anything as a hardcore musician until I was 16 and founded Expletive Deleted. We eventually played with a ton of great bands, starting with our first show ever, opening for Suicidal Tendencies at CBGB.

Q: What drew you to punk rock in the first place?

A: I didn’t fit in anywhere. I was one of the few kids at my school whose parents were divorced. I loved books and music and just kind of had my own private life. Punk allowed me to reject mainstream values in an environment where rejection was not only accepted but encouraged. It felt safe at a time when I was looking for safety. That said, it didn’t take me long to realize the inherent limitations of punk as a cultural philosophy—nihilism was never my bag, nor was conforming even to a brand of non-conformity.

 

Q: What inspired the book, and what were you trying to accomplish?

A: “Clamor” started at a family party: I was looking at my older sister and brother and tried to imagine what it would be like to turn the volume of our personalities up to 11 as it were. I mean, those characters aren’t us in the least, but that’s how it started. Then I had to think what was going on. I don’t write with an outline or an agenda. Once I figured out that the father had died, I had some sense that this was a kind of Prodigal Son story, but that’s not enough to go on

What’s funny to me is that one of the most interesting characters in the book, for me, is Jessica — Johnny’s niece. She didn’t even exist as an idea when I first started writing. That’s all it took.

 

Q: Is there anything about the punk rock scene that you consider to be widely unknown or misunderstood?

A: When I was shopping the book I had one agent ask me to make it more “punk rock” — by which he said he wanted “more heroin or cocaine and some more sex.” I wanted to avoid these clichés. I was much more interested in the family dynamic that exists. This is a family drama. The drugs, the fighting, all that, that’s a very young take on punk. The fact is when punks survive into their thirties and forties, their concerns are adult concerns — paying the bills, raising the kids, living a life. Touring, writing new music, maybe some sort of secondary income source, all of that is real. Being a punk musician is a job at that point.

 

Q: Do you have any new projects in the works?

A: Always. I’m working on the fourth draft of a new, untitled novel. I’m playing around with a few short stories, and maybe I’ll eventually have another story collection. But it always comes back to the poems. I’m working on a new book of poems that is tentatively titled “The Story of Ash” but that’s still at least another year from being finished. My first book of essays on poetry, “Palpable Magic,” comes out in early 2015. And musically I’m working with a band called The Downstrokes.

 

 

Alex SeguraAlex Segura’s debut novel, “Silent City,” recently redefined Florida noir. Alex agreed to answer a few questions for “Chamber of the Bizarre.”

Q: Can you give us some background about yourself?

A: Happy to! I’m a comic book publicist by day, crime writer by night. My first novel, “Silent City,” came out late last year from Codorus Press. It’s a noir tale set in modern day Miami and features washed up journalist Pete Fernandez as he’s swept up by the search for a missing woman, which involves a much deeper — and deadlier — underworld conspiracy. When not writing crime novels, I write comics — mainly at Archie — and spend time with my wife and cats. I live in New York.

Q: What inspired “Silent City?”

A:I got into crime fiction in my early 20s, somewhat late. I read the classics — Chandler, Hammett and so on, but it was a copy of George Pelecanos’s excellent “A Firing Offense” that showed me that you could have a very flawed and relatable protagonist. It opened up a world of possibilities for me, not only in terms of what I could read, but also got me thinking about maybe writing myself. I point to Pelecanos, Dennis Lehane’s “Darkness, Take My Hand,” Laura Lippman’s Tess Monaghan books, Lawrence Block’s Matt Scudder stories and Ellroy’s LA Quartet as the books from modern writers that made me think about possibly doing this myself. I should also note that I’m continually motivated and driven to keep at this by the work of other great writers, like Megan Abbott, Greg Rucka, Michael Connelly, Kelly Braffet, Reed Farrel Coleman and many more.

Q: Who are some of your influences, and how do you think they played out in the story?

A: Like I listed above, Pelecanos, Lippman, Lehane, Ellroy, Lawrence Block and older authors like Chandler, Jim Thompson and Ross MacDonald were huge influences. Pelecanos, Block and Lehane show up mostly in Pete — he’s definitely a distant cousin of Nick Stefanos, Matt Scudder and Patrick Kenzie, though there’s some Tess Monaghan in there, too. I think I learned a lot about mood from people like Chandler and Thompson, with Ellroy really showing me how important a role setting can play in a story. Which isn’t to say my book does anything in the same galaxy as these authors, but they definitely inspired and motivated me to be better, which I’m eternally grateful for.

Q: Why do you think Miami has proven so attractive to crime fiction writers?

A: It’s tropical, sexy, beautiful but with a dark and dangerous underbelly. It’s the perfect contrast — a beachfront paradise that houses the most dangerous criminals and killers. It’s full of possibilities, and can cover a wide range of genres even in mystery fiction — from hardboiled detective novels like John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee books to the funnier Carl Hiaasen stuff to Vicki Hendricks’s underrated, disturbingly dark and amazing “Miami Purity.”

Q: Was there anything distinctive you were trying to bring to a Miami-set crime novel that you feel other writers may have missed?

A: I think so. I think that was a big reason I wanted to set the Pete books in Miami. I felt like so many authors had done NY stories already that it’d be silly of me to take a stab at that out of the gate. I also had just moved to New York, so I didn’t feel as comfortable writing about it. Miami was my home and I felt like I knew it pretty well. I also didn’t feel like my Miami had shown up much in fiction — the suburban sprawl, the nooks and crannies I remember exploring as a kid. Those were fertile ground for me.

Q: What do you think makes for a good crime thriller?

 A: I think it starts with a good character — and the feeling of risk and potential threat. I’m drawn to characters that evolve. One series I really love are the Moe Prager books by Reed Farrel Coleman. They focus on an ex-NY cop who becomes a private eye. But each book pushes him forward — some even jump five years into the future, so you always have a new set of circumstances that are still true to the character. Good crime books keep readers on their toes while shining a light on society’s own problems. I feel like crime fiction can be the most socially conscious — because crime and criminals really show the cracks in the system and where government and society have failed. So, I guess I like my hardboiled stories to have some kind of message, too.

Q: Do you have anything in the works?

A: I’m hoping to have news on my second Pete novel, “Down the Darkest Street,” soon. I’ve got a few short stories in the works and my most recent Archie issue, #659, hit this month with #660 following in October. Keeping busy!

DickI believe I’ve mentioned on this blog before that I edit the quarterly newsletter, called “The Speculator,” for the writers’ group Garden State Speculative Fiction Writers. I like to include an interview in each issue. For the September issue, I had the opportunity to interview Dick DeBartolo — one of Mad Magazine’s most prominent writers and a childhood hero of mine.  (For more about my life-long fandom of Mad, read here.) Needless to say, I was thrilled. Here’s the story that ran in the newsletter. Since The Speculator is for and about writers, much of the emphasis is on the craft and business of writing. But even if you’re not a writer, I hope you’ll find it interesting. And I’d like to thank my good friend Doug for helping make contact with Dick. Doug, give me a shout if you ever need a kidney.

 

“Mad’s Maddest Writer” Dick DeBartolo on Writing Parody

By Tom Joyce

As you might guess from my membership in this group, and my editorship of this newsletter, I’m a big fan of speculative fiction. So don’t take the following statement as a dis.

Speculative fiction lends itself to parody.

Think of the works of speculative fiction that simultaneously serve as genre parodies and great stories in themselves. The writing of Douglas Adams, Christopher Moore and Terry Pratchett immediately come to mind. For further examples, you could go as far back as Fritz Leiber’s classic Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories, or head to your local multiplex and watch “Guardians of the Galaxy.”

So I thought it might be helpful for us as writers to get some insights from a parody writer. As luck would have it, I got to speak to one of the all-time greats.

Dick DeBartolo is one of Mad Magazine’s most prominent and prolific writers, having contributed to the magazine since the early 1960s. He specialized in the magazine’s movie and TV satires, which were always my favorite part of the magazine.

Dick also hosts a wonderful netcast about gadgets and technology called Giz Wiz, which is available on TWIT.tv. He’s a regular guest on segment on ABC News Now, and was recently interviewed on the public radio program Studio 360 (which is available online). He is also the author of “Good Days and Mad: A Hysterical Tour Behind the Scenes at Mad Magazine.”

Dick asked that the interview take the form of a phone conversation, rather than responding to e-mailed questions. So I’ll have to do some paraphrasing, as I wasn’t able to write down everything verbatim. But it’s worth it, because I’ve been a fan of Mad since I was a kid, and being able to talk to Dick made my week, month and year. As an added bonus, Dick turned out to be every bit as funny, charming and flat-out cool as I could have hoped.

So here’s the gist of what Dick and I talked about:

Dick said that he naturally gravitated toward movie and TV satires. And the bad movies were a lot easier to satirize.

“The more serious the movie was and the more pretentious it was, the more fun it was to make fun of it,” he said.

TV satires were more difficult, because they were more of a time commitment. He’d have to watch five or six episodes to get a feel for the show’s approach and its characters.

Unlike the movie satires, which would follow the plot of the source material, he would have to construct his own plots for the TV satires. That could yield some interesting results. When he wrote the satire for the campy science fiction TV series “Lost in Space,” he placed the characters on a planet with giant vegetation. Not long after, he encountered series star June Lockhart on the set of the game show Match Game, where he was also a writer. She jokingly asked him if the magazine had spies on its staff, because the plot of his parody mirrored one of an upcoming episode.

His propensity for making fun of movies meant that he was rarely invited to previews, but that was fine by him. He preferred seeing movies with audiences so he could take note of the scenes that got the biggest reactions from the crowd, and be sure to reference them in the satires.

He was apparently doing something right. No less a luminary than Roger Ebert once told Dick that he learned how to criticize movies through Mad’s dissection of them.

Here are Dick’s insights on:

TECHNIQUES FOR PARODY

— Your intended audience should be familiar with the source material. When you’re riffing off something, it helps if they get the references.

— Dick is a big fan of what he calls “The Rule of Three” for satire. You have two references to something normal to establish a pattern and set up the punchline, then deliver that punchline on the third reference.

For example: “Is this rocket going to make it to the moon?”

“Yes. We’re using the highest octane fuel, the most powerful engine, and a big bottle of Mentos and Coke.”

— Running gags can be very effective. Try to find a hook within the context of the story, and keep non-sequiturs to a minimum. For example, in his parody of “The Poseiden Adventure” about a capsized ocean liner, Dick made a running gag out of the characters’ linguistic confusion over “up” vs. “down,” which got more absurd and funny as the story progressed. (“I’m seasick. I think I’m gonna throw down.”)

MAD MAGAZINE

The magazine was initially very male-oriented, for boys in the 10-through-15-year-old range. Initially, the magazine only satirized G-rated movies. Now its approach is more inclusive. He also describes it as “rougher” than it used to be, with edgier humor.

“When it came out, it was the only thing like it,” Dick said. “Now that’s all changed. Mad is like a mirror of society.”

SELF-PROMOTION FOR WRITERS

“The Web is where it’s at,” Dick said “You can do so much with no money.”

Where social media is concerned, Google Plus users tend to be more interested in serious, straightforward information. Facebook and Twitter users gravitate toward the “silly stuff.”

“Make yourself a valuable information source on the Internet,” Dick advises. “You get followers. Follow your followers.”