~~~~ Why I Write What I do ~~~~
In 1952, when I was eleven, I sat in a theater watching “The War of the Worlds.” When the scene came in which three men were left alone with a smoldering meteor that started to unscrew, I got scared to death. What was in that meteor? What would it look like and do? It took all my courage to stay in my seat and not run.
Originally I wanted (implausibly) to be an opera star, but I think that movie, plus others like “Them!” and “The Thing,” influenced me to follow a more gruesome path. Also, I became addicted to horror comics such as “Tales From The Crypt.” Around this time, a friend introduced me to Ray Bradbury and Richard Matheson, and I quickly devoured “The Martian Chronicles,” “The Illustrated Man,” “I Am Legend,” and “The Shrinking Man.” These books lived inside me, fired my imagination. I’ll never forget the episode in “Chronicles” in which Earthmen discover a town on Mars with all their dead loved ones WAITING FOR THEM.
Besides enjoying such movies, comics, and books, I received Poe’s collected works from a family friend. Even better, was a birthday gift–a year’s subscription to “Amazing”!
|Looking back, I find it’s not easy to determine just when my psychic twig received its first weird bent. Much earlier, when I was seven, I loved to turn the lights out, go to bed early, and listen to “The Shadow” and other programs on the radio. In the dark, my imagination swept me along in ways that even later TV shows like “Thriller” couldn’t match. Who knows, perhaps my original ‘warping’ took place listening to such eerie tales, or even earlier–in the womb! Oddly, while I liked creepy books, I went through stages when I read primarily other genres. First it was mysteries, especially those by Ellery Queen. Then in my early teens, I read enough westerns to die of lead poisoning. It’s not always easy to look back and trace a clear path to the present, perhaps because there isn’t one. But one thing I always did like to do was write. As a little kid, I scribbled stories and drew cartoon panels in crayon rather than go out to play. Later, I crafted a never-ending novel with a fistfight every ten pages. Nope, “The Twisted Years” wasn’t about a psychopath but a gunslinger with a tough childhood. I still remember that masterful first sentence: “Jeff Stancher didn’t pay any attention to the Abilene stage as it bumped and rattled into town.”
While I liked to write, I didn’t know what I wanted to do for a living. My father, a lawyer, insisted I be practical. Yes, he thought I had a knack for writing, but one didn’t count on making a living that way. As a student, I was lazy and lousy. Somehow, my father got me into Hiram College where I belatedly learned to take notes and study. I majored in Political Science with a vague idea of becoming a lawyer, and graduated in three years. After that I attended Western Reserve Law School. Soon, bored by classes, I stayed away, writing stories and reading things like Mill’s “On Liberty.” Then one day I sold all my law books and hopped a bus to New Orleans, a “romantic” destination where I wrote bad stories in a cheap, $8 a week room and slung hamburgers for a buck an hour.Cut to the future. I returned to Hiram, took some English courses, then received an M.A. and a Ph.D. from Kent State in English, my dissertation being written on William Faulkner. What a background for a horror writer, right?
After teaching in Canada for three years, I found myself out of work. I landed a job at a Southern black college where, at the age of thirty-nine, I completed my first novel, “Down From Oz,” in 1980. It reveals how our educational system, which is a long way down from beautiful Oz, fails minority students, and it ultimately cost me two jobs and rattled away like the skeleton it was in my closet for years. Though it won McPherson & Company’s First Book Award, the publisher wanted a different title because he thought “Down” was a downer. So we settled on “The Best Laugh Last,” which ain’t as good.
In 1982 I was hired by Norfolk State University and moved to Virginia with my wife Jane and two kids. And here, my life changed forever, for I discovered SPWAO and the small press. For two decades I’d collected umpteen rejection slips by submitting stuff to blueblood magazines like The New Yorker and The Sewanee Review. Now I learned there were other, spikier magazines whose editors actually gave you feedback. If you were unendingly persistent (and I was!), you could serve an apprenticeship and polish your craft.
Soon, I finally began to see what my true direction was, and in years to come, I sold H/SF/F fiction (and a little poetry) to over 150 magazines, including Iniquities, Weird Tales, The Horror Show, Aboriginal SF, Cemetery Dance, Terminal Fright, The Blood Review, New Blood, Starshore, Galaxy, Offworld, Figment, Nova SF, and Yankee. My fiction can also be found in such places as “Hot Blood,” #’s 6 and 8 (erotic horror), Whitley Strieber’s “Aliens” (where a high roller in Las Vegas takes an unplanned galactic journey), “A Horror Story A Day: 365 Scary Stories,” and “Treachery and Treason.” My imagination just seems to be strange or askew. Even a space-opera novel which I published with Mundania Press, “Beyond Those Distant Stars,” contains a sinister, godlike menace. I suppose it’s not surprising that one of my stories killed five magazines that accepted it.
|Ask me why I write horror/dark fantasy, and I’ll say I do it because life itself is horror. Health and happiness are anomalies. Either nature or circumstance is always trying to kill or maim you, as when my wife developed breast cancer. (She’s fine now, thank you.) I love all kinds of horror, from splatterpunk to erotic to psychological to Lovecraftian supernatural. In general, I think subtle, suggestive horror that is ambiguous and open to interpretation, is the best. But hey, I’m not proud, and will be glad to gross you out if necessary. I do like to write about religion. “The Last Snowman,” for example, appeared in Iniquities and features a young boy who fights Satan in order to save the world.|
|In the past, I was the editor of Norfolk State’s litmag, The Rhetorician, as well as a contributing editor/reviewer of horror poetry for John Betancourt’s horror news magazine. For two years, from 1998-1999, I was also Chairman of the Board of HWA (Horror Writers Association) and the editor of Horror Magazine, plus an editor for Dark Regions. My pet project, an anthology of virtual-reality fiction, was published by Dark Regions Press. In 1992 I finally bought a PC and later got online (my internet address is firstname.lastname@example.org). I’ve sold electronically to Through The Corridor, Radius, Chiaroscuro, At The Brink of Madness, Peridot Books, Winedark Sea, Alexandria Digital Literature, Outside, and many others in the past twenty-plus years, including publishers such as MuseItUp Publishing, which has published eight of my books so far.Getting a computer in 1992, incidentally, completely changed the way I wrote. I no longer do it on a yellow legal pad while lying in bed, but type directly onto my monitor. Partly as a result of joining the computer generation, I became an active member of HWA and SFWA, and have been a guest at both Sci-Con and Balticon. For two years (1998-1999), as I mentioned, I was Chairman of the Board of HWA (Horror Writers Association). A supporter of free expression, I’ve published articles on censorship in Gauntlet. I’m also a believer in writer’s groups, as long as they involve objective criticism rather than mutual back-slapping. From 1989 until 2009, I was a member of one that met every two weeks, and I sold dozens of stories and a few novels as a result. Occasionally, I’ve collaborated with friends. One story, “Through The Corridor,” has seven other authors!Where am I going creatively? Since the 1990’s my interests have turned more toward science fiction, speculative fiction, and fantasy, and I’ve come to see science fiction or speculative fiction as the vastest genre or field, one that contains and transcends all the others, including mainstream and ‘literary.” If I have an overriding, persistent theme, it is transformation, the process of one thing or being becoming something else, often at a transcendental, even cosmic level. For example, see my story, ”More Stately Mansions” (published in Galaxy, in my collection from Dark Regions Press, and revised for MuseItUp Publishing), and ”The Blue of Her Hair, the Gold of Her Eyes,” (published in LC-39 and revised for MuseItUp Publishing).Another change is that my fiction has become more international, a trend I owe at least partly to my sister Mona. In 1994, we visited the Isle of Man, Italy, France, and England. Awed by the Sistine Chapel, I wrote ”A Spark from God’s Finger,” a story about an American art teacher in Rome who has a vision that he’s the reincarnation of Michelangelo. I also plan a short story about Venice. I’ve published stories that take place in 19th and 25th century Nigeria (part of a novel, “A Senseless Act of Beauty” published by Crossroad Press), in the New Hebrides in 1946, and in Nauru, sometime in the past. Perhaps it will be Russia next, or I’ll cook up my own dark country.|
THIS IS MY MAN CAVE AT HOME, AND . . . I have to be honest. It was taken a few years ago, and today I have a much better computer and a twenty-four inch screen. Plus, all my MIU (MuseItUp Publishing) and other covers are on the wall behind the screen. But it’s mine, all mine! I rule here! Not only that, it’s just as cluttered as it’s always been. I just need to get a better, up-to-date photo which shows the highlights in my silver, thinning hair.
As for my writing routine, I wish I could say I get up in the morning, write from 9 to 12, break for an hour for lunch, write from 1 to 4, etc. The truth is, I write hard and long when I have a hot project I’m committed to and often obsessed by. When I don’t, I often lie fallow. In other words, I have irregular habits. However, if I continually incubated or generated great concepts and ideas, I’d probably write eight hours or more almost every day and would have little time for anything else.
Perhaps it’s better I’m not so creative.
Before desk top computers came along, I wrote and revised in pen or pencil on yellow legal pads. Now I make it all up out of my head on the computer and revise that way, too. I’m sure if I had to write a story in longhand, I could do it. I just haven’t done it in a long time.
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