Monday, June 30, 2008

Chalres Tan Interviews Elizabeth Ziemska

The title of your story, "A Murder of Crows", seems a perfect fit and works on many levels. Did you start writing the story with the title in mind or if not, how did you come up with it?

The title of my story, "A Murder of Crows," came to me, almost as a gift, while I was writing the second draft. A friend was telling me about all these wonderful names for groups of animals: a something-of-something, a parliament of owls, a murder of crows--and I had an AHA! moment.

I had wanted to write something about animals turning the tables on humans ever since I read Patricia Highsmith's "Beastly Tales of Animal Murder," particularly "Ming's Biggest Prey," about a Siamese cat that kills her mistress's lover.

What is your writing process like? Did you initially know where the story would take you or was the fable-like style and ending a product of your subconscious?

"A Murder of Crows" began with a scene: a man is burying his wife in the backyard; a tiny lapdog (Chekhov's animal protagonist in "Lady With a Dog") runs out onto the lawn. I sat down to write and the story kind of poured out of me. When I sent the story to David Gates, my first teacher at the Bennington Writing Seminars, he pulled it out of my pile of pale T.C. Boyle imitations, and said "this may not be the sort of story that you want to write, but it may be the sort of story that you do write." Or something like that. Anyway, he helped me get on the road of fantastical fiction.

In the first draft, I had given the story a comic happy ending, but Martha Cooley, my second teacher at Bennington, chastised me for pulling my punches. That's when I realized that the crows would not be able to go on living their happy crow lives after killing the man. So it's Martha's fault that the crows had to die.

How does it feel to be a finalist for the Shirley Jackson Awards? Will we be seeing more fiction from you in the future?

I'm about 2/3 finished with a novel entitled, LIFE CYCLE OF THE STURGEON. It's about Russian history, the concept of the "10th muse," and two women who come to realize that they are mythological creatures.

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Jack Haringa Must Die! reviewed

Following the light-hearted novels of Christopher Moore and Jeff Strand, humor has become an increasingly popular trend in horror fiction. Kaufmann's collection blends Strand and Moore's comedic horror with heady doses of the dark and twisted.....After the first twenty-five pages, I couldn't wipe the smile off my face. Jack Haringa Must Die is easily the most amusing read I've sat down with in ages. If ever I need a text to dissuade me from misplacing my semicolons, or ending a sentence with a preposition, this is it! An overall recommended book from this montage of Haringa's colleagues.

Our fundraising anthology, Jack Haringa Must Die! is now available. Price: $10

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Charles Tan Interviews Glen Hirshberg

What inspired you to write "The Janus Tree"?

As is often the case with me, bits and pieces of the story came from different sources. At the core is my memory of the only actual fist fight I’ve ever had. It occurred in 8th grade, and as in “The Janus Tree,” the thing that made the deepest impression on me wasn’t the completely ridiculous fight but the surprisingly complex personality revealed by the bully I believed I was confronting.

Then there is the astonishing, tragic, fascinating history of Butte, Montana, which really was the richest city in America for a very brief time and is now an environmental disaster area whose inhabitants are still struggling to redefine their hometown decades after the largest mining companies abandoned the region. In my story, I use the name Silver City for Butte. That name actually first appears in a melodramatic but wonderfully colorful and affecting novel called WIDE OPEN TOWN by the Montana writer Myron Brinig, and is meant as an homage of sorts.

Did you have to do a lot of research for the story?

My Silver City is a sort of impressionist’s dream of Butte, and while resemblance is not only inevitable but intentional, the city in the story is my own invention. A number of the historical events mentioned in the story, from the mining laws to the boxers that the narrator researches, are again based on actual events or people. But the formation of this piece came less from pure research than from living in Montana for several years, delving into the incredibly rich past of the whole place, and then letting everything I’d seen and discovered mix itself up with my own memories.

What elements are needed to make a horror story effective? Were you conscious of this when writing "The Janus Tree"?

I don’t believe in any one set of elements that will always make a horror story—or any story, for that matter—effective. For me, each individual piece generates its own set of requirements and poses its own challenges. “The Janus Tree” is driven, I think, partially by the volatile, unpredictable, and increasingly desperate kids at its heart and partially by the scarred and transfigured landscape. Therefore, I devoted much of my writing time on this story to infusing the whole brooding, half-imaginary streets of my Silver City with life. I also tried to give every character the space to develop into layered individuals hopefully capable of seeming disconcerting and sympathetic at the same time.

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Friday, June 27, 2008

Charles Tan Interviews Jim Shepard

Considering how many books and articles you've listed in your acknowledgments, what's the research process like for you? Do you initially start out knowing these materials will be helpful in your writing or do you simply try to read a lot and realize that they can be mined for stories?

It's really a matter of my reading turning into stories, in that what happens is that I read a lot of weird stuff -- mostly non-fiction -- like a history of plague, or whatever, just out of an interest in the subject, and then some of the details that I encounter continue to seem plangent to me. They give off a little emotional resonance that's simultaneously evocative and mysterious. Details stay with me. And I begin to suspect, or assume, that they're touching on something in my emotional life that I want to further explore. At that point, I begin researching as though writing a story: in other words, looking to fill in the gaps in my knowledge that the narrative requires.

How different is your novel-writing process as opposed to your short-fiction process? What do you think is the strength of the latter?

Novel-writing is much more elaborate and longer-sustained for me, but otherwise it's the same process. But I've recently become more impatient with those aspects of the novel that seem to me like furniture moving: setting things up. I've gotten more attracted lately to the appeal of guerilla tactics, as it were -- get in and get out fast -- no matter how much research I've done.

What were your conscious goals when writing the stories in Like You'd Understand, Anyway?

I just each time wanted to tell a story that held my interest and might hold someone else's, and didn't seem lame, in terms of its emotional complexity.

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Thursday, June 26, 2008

Charles Tan Interviews Nathan Ballingrud

Does your experience as a father have any bearing or impact when you wrote "The Monsters of Heaven"?

In as much as I can't imagine a worse situation than losing your child and knowing you're the one responsible for it, yes. Like many parents, I'm sure, I can't imagine life would be endurable afterwards. Being a parent is the highest responsibility afforded to us. I suspect single parents like myself are particularly sensitive to that. I know I frequently worry about failing her in some fundamental, yet currently invisible, way. The protagonist of this story fails his son on a catastrophic level. To me, it's absolutely the worst thing imaginable, because it brings with it the possibility of the child's continued suffering, and -- possibly even worse -- a sustained, doomed hope for all parties.

But as much as fatherhood impacted this story, I think it was more deeply affected by being a husband. I went through a divorce just before writing the bulk of this story, and that experience was a huge influence. There's nothing like a divorce to make you question your self-worth, and so I sought a kind of catharsis, I think, by writing about a man who was living at the bottom of the barrel, who had failed in his role as a husband and a father in just about every sense. Right or wrong, the means by which many men gauge their own value center around their effectiveness as a family protector, their virility, and their strength. That some or all of these notions may be outdated doesn't change the fact that many still set their scales by them. If these things are lost or undermined, is there any value left? If so, how do you find it? How do you measure it?

"The Monsters of Heaven" uses powerful imagery and juxtaposition. How conscious were you of these elements?

I was very conscious of them. The element of horror fiction I respond to most viscerally is the juxtaposition of horror with beauty. In this I am very much influenced by early Clive Barker. I like to take it a little further, though, and apply it both to characters who might initially seem unsympathetic or even criminal, and to events which taken at face value seem ghastly and unforgivable. In this story specifically, there are two characters whose marriage is dissolving in the wake of their child's disappearance. They want to go on together, ultimately, but in order to do so they must pay a grievous price. Parents have to do this in real life, all the time, on a much smaller scale. Whether it's surrendering custody or simply acknowledging the thousand minor failures in a normal life, they somehow have to come to terms with letting their children down. It's a selfish act that's absolutely necessary for survival.

As for the imagery, well, that's where I have the most fun as a writer. As a reader, I respond to strong, vibrant imagery in a story, maybe more so than to any other sensory detail. Maybe that's because I'm a child of the cinema, or maybe I'm just wired that way. In each of my stories there's usually one image that stands out as a personal favorite, usually because it comes without forethought and signifies that the story has taken on a life of its own; often it's a small detail that doesn't impact the actual narrative at all. In this story it's of the obese man on the tv news stepping out of his house and holding aloft the severed head of an angel. It made me feel like things were happening in the story that were beyond my sphere of influence, and that's always a good feeling.

What was the inspiration behind your story?

Fear. Plain and simple. When I write horror stories I write them because something scares the bejesus out of me. I'm not talking about monsters, of course. Monsters are just the pulpy element that makes the story fun to write and, I hope, to read. I'm talking about losing your family, bankruptcy, illness, powerlessness ... the things that we're all vulnerable to. I'm not afraid of serial killers, for pete's sake; I'm afraid of being inadequate. If written well and honestly, I believe horror stories exploring these more mundane fears can be as scary and disturbing as anything the genre has to offer.

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The Lottery

"The morning of June 27th was clear and sunny, with the fresh warmth of a full-summer day; the flowers were blossoming profusely and the grass was richly green."

So opens "The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson, first published in The New Yorker (which you could purchase for 20 cents) 60 years ago today, June 26th, 1948.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Charles Tan Interviews Sarah Monette

What do you think will readers find most appealing in The Bone Key?

Well, I think it depends on the reader. Many readers find Booth an extremely appealing and sympathetic protagonist; others enjoy the prose style or the ghost stories just as ghost stories. I know that for me, what keeps me writing stories about Booth is the combination of this very articulate but shy and fearful narrator with the kind of classic ghost stories that I can maneuver him into.

In the collection, the story is narrated from the point of view of Booth. When you wrote the first Booth story, did you know it'll lead you to all these different stories?

No, I had no idea. I expected "Bringing Helena Back" to be a one-off experiment. But then I had an idea for another story about the same character, and then another . . . and well, now there are twelve of them (all either published or in press), and I'm working on the thirteenth, fourteenth, and maybe fifteenth.

How have the authors M.R. James and H.P. Lovecraft influenced your work and how did you make your own fiction distinct from theirs?

I love both James and Lovecraft quite madly, Lovecraft for the sheer lush lunacy of his imagination, James for his ability to write highly intellectual, sesquipedalian, decorous prose which nevertheless scares the living daylights out of the reader. I love the way they work by indirection and implication: that they can scare you without wading through blood up to their knees. Where I differ from them, the reason that my stories are more than just pastiches, is that I'm interested in the psychology of haunting--and the psychology of my poor hapless characters. So there's another layer to my stories that mostly Lovecraft and James weren't interested in.

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Sunday, June 22, 2008

Charles Tan Interviews Ellen Datlow

In your opinion, what are the strengths of an unthemed horror anthology? Do you prefer working in a themed or unthemed anthology, at least when it comes to horror?

From the reader’s POV it means that she can approach the anthology with no expectations and can be constantly surprised by each story.

From the editor’s POV, initially at least, anything goes. Instead of worrying that a submission fits the theme she can just enjoy the first flush of submissions. Eventually of course, the acceptance window narrows whatever type of anthology one is editing. You begin to notice patterns and perhaps push for different kinds of stories. At the end of the process the narrowing goes even further and one becomes very picky about what to include.

I enjoy both. I’ve mostly worked on themed anthologies, only relatively recently editing unthemed anthologies in any subgenre of the fantastic. When I edit a theme anthology, I try to expand that theme as broadly as possible which keeps it fresh for me, and hopefully for my readers. If anything, editing an anthology on a theme perceived as “stale” is a challenge, which is why I loved editing my two vampirism anthologies: Blood is Not Enough and A Whisper of Blood.

What was your criteria for accepting stories in Inferno?

First of all, most of the submissions were commissioned, that is, I approached the writers whose work I admire and want to publish, as always leaving some room for serendipity (via word of mouth). I was looking for fresh approaches to horror and a variety of types of horror stories from the quietly disturbing to the visceral. But most importantly, I picked the stories I loved and knew I’d enjoy reading and rereading.

What do you think are the advantages of short horror fiction (as opposed to novels)?

I think that short horror fiction is usually a better form for horror, especially supernatural horror fiction. I’ve said this many times and will repeat it. It’s much easier for a reader to suspend her disbelief in the supernatural for the length of a story up to novella than for an entire novel length piece of work. And of course, in short horror fiction you can experience a short sharp shock which is impossible in a novel. Third, short stories are more convenient to read if you have limited time. I only bring novels to read on long trips. I just don’t have the time to read them otherwise (of course, that might be because I’m constantly reading short stories for various original and reprint anthologies).

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Thursday, June 19, 2008

Charles Tan Interviews M. Rickert

What was the inspiration for "Holiday"?

Many years ago I wrote a poem that revolved around the idea of a young beauty queen child having been killed by her parents. On several occasions I set aside this particular poem to be included in a submission packet, or I thought I did, but when I checked the packet prior to sending it out, that particular poem would be missing, though it always showed up later. Rather than focus on whether the strange disappearance and reappearance of this poem was caused by a trickster ghost or a subconscious act on my part, I thought about what I knew for sure. Eventually, I decided it was unethical for me to suggest that this child was killed by her parents when I had nothing to base the assumption on other than gossip. I tucked the poem into the “Do Not Send” file where it was soon joined by all the poetry I ever wrote because I discovered that I am not a poet, though that is another story, for another cup of tea.

When I assembled my short stories I realized that I had written, over the years, many that featured dead or missing children. The publication of my collection seemed a good time to break free of that theme and move on to others. I issued myself an edict. No more dead children stories.

Then she came back. I don’t often have ideas for stories; they generally come to me as voices. I’ll just sit down and start writing, sometimes several pages in different voices until one sticks. This day, I wrote, “She says her name is Holiday, but I know she is lying.” Then I wrote a few more lines, realized what it was about, folded it up, tucked it into a desk drawer and tried to forget about it (her).

It stayed there for a long time, until, after a cross country move, I came across the haunted paragraph and, desperate for something to write, gave myself permission to write one more, final, dead child story. But before I did, I needed to do some research. I read every book our local library has on this particular case, including the one written by her parents. In the end, I have no idea who killed her. I thought I’d have a hunch, but I don’t.

I wrote “Holiday” for the dead kids. Not just the famous ones, but the others as well, the kids whose skin color correlates with less news coverage, those whose names we don’t remember. I’m not happy with the ending of this story, but I’m not happy with the beginning of it either. It’s that kind of story.

What for you is more terrifying: the story wherein the horror is internal or external? How has this influenced your writing?

What terrifies me most is the inner beast, the unspoken thoughts, the secret deeds, the unbearable legacy of damage humans have done to each other, the way we pretend none of it has occurred, or if we admit that it has, it is an anomaly, an enigma, a strange crack in the perfect world, when, in fact, the bad things we do to each other defines us.

Humans have the ability to consider existence, time, and space. That so many, in the light of this potential for creation, choose destruction instead, terrifies me. This is why I write horror the way I do. When I have met the monster, its name has always been Human.

Were there any elements of the story that scare you in real life (i.e clowns, ghosts, criminals)?

I’m not afraid of snakes, even rattlers, even when I almost stepped on one, or spiders, though I do prefer they stay outside, or lightening, or bears but once, when I was hiking alone in the high Sierras, a man passed me going the other way on the trail and he sent a shiver down my spine that I remember all these years later. I thought, at the time, how happy I was that there was a group of German tourists hiking not far behind me. That’s what I’m scared of most of all, the stranger whose proximity turns my blood to ice, and, most especially, the one who doesn’t, but should.

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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Charles Tan Interviews Christopher Fowler

You've been writing for a long time and never seem to tire writing about horror. What's the appeal of the genre for you?

I think horror and horrified amusement are a natural reactions to the modern world. No lives are ever certain, and this uncertainty makes us fearful. I always think of Ms Jackson herself as someone who wrote more about uncertainty and why we should be afraid than what we should be afraid of. As times change our fears change, so there's always something new to write about. And it's cathartic to dissect your fears in public.

When writing stories that combine horror and humor, do you initially plan these out or do you find that the latter is merely an extension of the former? How effective a tool has humor been for you?

A sense of humor is a key tool in my survival kit. Some stories naturally suggest a humorous approach (as in my story 'The Night Museum' in 'Old Devil Moon' - written, I should point out, long before a similarly titled movie). There are some subjects that would lose strength if they weren't taken seriously. But humor can be used to make a point. I wrote a story called 'Night After Night Of The Living Dead' that used humor to set up an unexpectedly serous ending.

Were there any particular aspects of horror that you attempted to nurture when writing the stories in Old Devil Moon?

Each collection I write allows me to try new angles, and 'Old Devil Moon' gave me a chance to test some types of story I'd never tackled before. Being gruesome is easy. It's harder to create a tale that leave behind a disturbing feeling, a ghost-trace of something that lingers. I also wanted to take several stories in entirely unexpected directions, but wanted to mix them with other more conventional tales, so that the reader would come away from the collection with the sense of having experienced many different aspects of the horror story, both traditional and experimental. I think it's the most varied collection I've yet written. One day I hope I'll be able to put all my most extreme and unusual stories in one big 'Best Of' anthology!

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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Charles Tan Interviews Peter Crowther

Not a lot of mainstream publishers are in the business of publishing stand-alone novellas. What made the company decide to publish novellas?

Publishing standalone novellas was the raison d'etre of the company when I started it back in 1998. The novella (20,000 to 40,000 words) is, for me, the perfect length with which to develop characters. It's not as brief as the short story but it can still be read easily in one sitting. Our first four novella-length books appeared in the summer of 1999, our entire output for that year: in 2000 we published five more, again as our entire output. Last year, we managed to put out some thirty books, mainly novellas but also including full-length novels, collections, anthologies and four issues of our digest magazine, Postscripts. But I still consider the novella to be our 'bread-and-butter' work.

I'm impressed with the diversity of authors under your wing. What's your criteria for picking up others? Do the authors approach your company, you seek them out, or both?

Right now we have a big inventory so we're not really considering unsolicited material for our book-lines . . . though we still happily look at stories for Postscripts. But, of course, every now and again, an author will email us with an interesting outline of something he or she has written and we'll ask them to let us see it. That happened with the Dead Earth book by Justice and Wilbanks. But mainly we approach the authors we'd like to see something from and ask them to try us with a novella -- those authors can be household names or complete newcomers: I'm pleased to say our customers seem to trust us now and, generally speaking, they buy the titles from the newcomers almost as readily as the ones from the Big Guns. I guess there's a perceived quality in our output and that's a wonderful feeling. We believe it's there, naturally, but it's what the punters think that counts in the long run.

What's the appeal of genre fiction for you?

I grew up reading science fiction and horror -- it's the best material in which to lose oneself. But that's not to say I don't enjoy other areas of literature: I love Richard Ford's work (Rock Springs is one of the all-time great short story collections); Avery Corman's The Old Neighborhood, John Irving's The Cider House Rules and Ford's The Sportswriter are three of my Desert Island Books (and I'd be hard-pressed to decide which of John Updike's Rabbit quartet should be included as a fourth . . . and then, as a fifth, Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird); I adore reading Robert B. Parker's Spenser novels (almost a guilty pleasure!) and I loved William Least Heat-Moon's Blue Highways, Max Shulman's Dobie Gillis stories, Hemingway's, John Cheever's, Ed Gorman's and Daphne DuMaurier's short stories ('The Killers', 'The Swimmer', 'Render Unto Caesar' and 'The Birds' respectively are exemplars of the short-form) and so on. And I also feverishly devour old comicbooks (most usually those from DC -- particularly their Strange Adventures and Mystery In Space titles). But horror and SF is where my heart lies and, though I've loved and championed the work -- both novel-length and short story -- of many writers, there are two authors who, for me, take the cake: Ray Bradbury and Stephen King. Bradbury's novel Something Wicked This Way Comes says all there is to say about the relationship between a boy and his father: it should be available on prescription. By the same token, his Dandelion Wine (which we're particularly pleased to have re-published recently . . . with a wonderful Intro from King himself -- both of my heroes between two covers!) . . . that book can still bring tears to my eyes more than thirty years since I first read it (and I've read parts of it many many times in between).

And Stephen King . . . well, his work is maligned almost as much as it's revered -- go figure. Those early King titles have still not been surpassed, his mid-period work (notably the harrowing Pet Sematary) takes some beating and even much of his recent work shows an artist still able to flick all the switches when he really wants to. But it's King's ability to document the minutiae of American Small-town Life that will be what he's best remembered for over the years and, yes, the centuries to come. He's the Mark Twain and the Homer of his generation. And I don't make such claims lightly. Go re-read 'Salem's Lot -- it looks like a book about vampires but it's much much more. And his 'Hearts In Atlantis' segment of the book of that title is, along with Connie Willis's 'The Winds from Marble Arch', one of the all-time best novellas/short novels -- 'Atlantis' should have netted King the Pulitzer, in my book, but the self-appointed cognoscenti and the literati know best, of course (a pox on both their houses, say I).

Our fundraising anthology, Jack Haringa Must Die! is now available. Price: $10

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Charles Tan Interviews Zoran Zivkovic

What made you decide to use the format presented in 12 Collections?

Many prose books of mine share that format. Ursula LeGuin called it a "mosaic-novel": A whole that is bigger than the mere sum of its constituent parts. An amalgam, not just a conglomerate. I find the term quite appropriate. The stones my literary mosaics are made of can be read and, hopefully, enjoyed, individually, but their true meaning emerges only when seen in entirety of the big picture. This is particularly evident in "Twelve Collections": The final, twelfth collector collects collections, as if giving a frame to the picture...

The color purple recurs repeatedly in 12 Collections. What is the significance of the color purple?

It is the pivotal leitmotif of my mosaic-novel. As the author I am not entitled, of course, to interpret my own book, but I guess it wouldn't be improper if I tell you that "the color purple" has strong intertextual references to a number of capital works of the contemporary world literature — certain novels of Umberto Eco, Orhan Pamuk, Milan Kundera, Haruki Murakami...

What are the elements that comprise a good story? How conscious are you of these elements when writing?

There are many elements that comprise a good story. It takes two long semesters to teach my students about them. (I am a creative writing professor at the Faculty of Philology of the University of Belgrade.) But if I had to determine the greatest virtue a work of prose should aim to, I would say it's the impeccable internal harmony. Use only as many words as required. No more, no less. Add or take one, and the beauty isn't perfect any more...

I am quite unconscious of these elements when writing. Fortunately, my subconscious, the very source of my creative imagination, is very much aware and in control of them...

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Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Charles Tan Interviews Conrad Williams

What made you decide to write The Scalding Rooms?

I had written a novella set in that universe in 2001 and had always intended to return to write a sequel. I wanted to write more about the Mowers, and felt they could have a more prominent role. I also wanted to write about a father and his relationship with his child. I had become a father in 2002 and this was pretty much the first thing I wrote about that father/son axis.

Butchery and the slaughter house seems to be a recurring theme. What made you cling to this idea and did you have to do a lot of research?

I read a book by Eric Schlosser called 'Fast Food Nation'. There's a jaw-dropping sequence in that about abattoir accidents. I thought it would make for a great setting, a slaughterhouse that was filled with broken tools and broken men. The Schlosser book and a number of articles and documentaries on abattoirs really stoked my imagination. It's a pretty grim subject. I take much more care to find out the provenance of the meat I eat these days...

Did you determine early on that The Scalding Rooms would be a novella or did you simply write until it was finished? How do you determine the length your fiction will be?

I set out to write a novella, and to this end I had a main idea for the story, and one or two sub-strands. For a novel I usually find I come up with three central elements and any number of offshoots. That said, I would happily have written a novel if the story had demanded to be taken into that sort of territory. But I think, generally, ideas suggest themselves to you in the form they end up as. I'm working on some ideas now that I hope will go towards a novel set in Howling Mile. I've had some very good reaction for the two books so far. I think it's time to go large.

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Monday, June 9, 2008

Charles Tan Interviews Christopher Golden

How did you end up collaborating with Mike Mignola? Can you describe what the writing process was like?

Mike and I have known each other for years, and speak fairly often. For ages, I'd heard details from him about a "vampire graphic novel" he planned to write. Out of the blue one day, he phoned me up and said he had come to the conclusion that he wouldn't ever have the time to do it, and would I like to write it as a novel. Of course I said yes. Mike sent me his notes and outline, which I revised, filling holes and adding sequences, fleshing out characters. Once we had agreed on the story, I set about writing. Every twenty pages or so I would send him the work in progress and we'd go over it on the phone, making changes, debating the fine points. There were places where he had specific visions he was passionate about, and I wanted to make sure he got precisely what he wanted, while in other places I pursued my own instincts. But the end result is very much a combination of our sensibilities and interests.

Did the artwork always come first (and how did it influence your writing) or were there instances where your prose affected the way Mignola illustrated the book?

Actually, other than a few sample drawings Mike did for the publisher when we were in the process of selling it, the illustrations were always done AFTER. Once a certain segment of the book had been completed, Mike would go and do illustrations for that section. We had talked about a number of different ways of approaching the art, but in the end Mike was determined that the illustrations should provide a counterpoint, a punctuation of sorts. Most illustrated novels feature art that is simply--though often beautifully--a repetition of the information in the text. Mike wanted most of the art in Baltimore to add emphasis and atmosphere, to work in tandem with the text instead of just presenting the events or ideas in a different medium.

What do you think will readers find appealing in Baltimore?

I'd like to think they'll enjoy it because its unique. To my knowledge, there's literally nothing else like it. We approached it through our love of the gothics, keeping Stoker and Shelley very much in mind, but also Melville and Poe and a million folk tales and legends we've read. On the other hand, we wanted to make sure the language was accessible for modern readers who might find some classic gothic lit a bit daunting. Beyond that, there's a definite human commentary in the story, though I'll leave that for others to parse. And, of course, readers are also treated to an amazing cover and over 150 interior illustrations by one of the great artists of our time. Mignola is a true original.

Our fundraising anthology, Jack Haringa Must Die! is now available. Price: $10

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Charles Tan Interviews Barbara and Christopher Roden

What in your opinion sets At Ease with the Dead apart from other horror anthologies?

One thing that sets it apart is the fact that since Ash-Tree is a small press doing limited editions, we have the freedom to include any authors we please, without the constraint of a marketing department telling us that we need to include certain 'big names' in order to ensure sales. This means that we're free to choose the best of the stories submitted to us, whether they're by established authors or new writers. We also choose not to 'theme' our anthologies, which gives writers the freedom to write what they choose, in a variety of styles. And since we are not necessarily looking for 'horror', we're able to include a wider variety of supernatural/macabre/weird fiction.

What was the editing process like? How did both of you decide which stories made it to the anthology and which didn't?

The editing process was time-consuming, because we both read every story submitted and jot down our thoughts on whether or not we think it should be on a final list for consideration. At Ease With the Dead is our fourth anthology, and the previous two received award nominations, while its immediate predecessor, Acquainted With the Night, won IHG and World Fantasy awards. Given that precedent, we knew that the stories we chose for At Ease With the Dead had to live up to those in the previous books, which meant that we already had a certain benchmark in place. While the process of submitting for our anthologies is somewhat open, in that word of mouth gets round, the majority of the stories were submitted by writers whom we'd invited to take part.

As far as deciding which stories were included goes, we have both read enough work in the genre over the years that we know what we like, and which stories are sufficiently original or thought-provoking that we want to include them. On the rare occasions when one of us particularly likes a story and the other doesn't, we talk the matter over, but the fact that one of us sufficiently likes the story enough to want to include it usually wins out.

What were your criteria for what constitutes a good horror story?

Basically, if the story is well written, and incorporates the supernatural enough that it moves us in some way - either because it is frightening, or because it illuminates something about human nature - then we're happy to put it on our final list. If a story stays in the mind after the last page has been read, then we feel it warrants serious consideration. Above all, however, it has to be well written and well considered, with an indication that the 'horror' genre means more to the writer than just a chance to go for the gross-out.

Our fundraising anthology, Jack Haringa Must Die! is now available. Price: $10.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Charles Tan Interviews Carrie Laben

Where did the idea for "Something in the Mermaid Way" originate?

It's based on a true story - in a sense. I was reading Jan Bondeson's The Feejee Mermaid and Other Essays in Natural and Unnatural History (an excellent book, by the way) and found an illustration of a mermaid in a German museum that according to the caption was made from a human fetus and a fish tail. There was no explanation in the text, so of course I started wondering how the heck that could happen. What circumstances could possibly exist in which it would be preferable to use a fetus rather than a monkey?

Is "Something in the Mermaid Way" your first professional story sale? What does it feel like to get published--and have your story nominated for the Shirley Jackson Awards?

It is my first pro sale - I had a couple of pieces show up in small zines along the way, but this feels very different. I'm not ashamed to admit that I'm enjoying the attention immensely. Working with Nick Mamatas and the other folks at Clarkesworld has also been wonderful - they run a tight ship there.

I've been a bit surprised by the praise that the story has gotten - before I started submitting it, I was worried that people would find it gratuitous, or think it was all about the shock value. Of course I fantasized about being nominated for awards, but I assumed that would come much later. Now I just have to move on to fantasizing about winning awards, I guess.

What is your writing process like and what was the biggest challenge?

"Something in the Mermaid Way" was actually written fairly atypically for me, in that I wrote the first draft in one sitting, edited it in one sitting, and submitted it right away. Usually I have to let stories steep for some time before I'm happy with them (although given the results, maybe I should try the lightening-fast approach more often!) The biggest problem for me is letting stories go. I don't mind rejections, but I'm a huge perfectionist and if I let a story go out and notice even a tiny flaw later I'm very embarrassed. This is good up to a point, but it slows me down when I take it to extremes, especially when I'm working on longer projects. I'm trying to finish a novel right now and it's taking far too long, because there's always something that I could go over one more time.

Our fundraising anthology, Jack Haringa Must Die! is now available. Price: $10.