WORDS FROM THE WISE/PART 6 – MARY TURZILLO

WORDS FROM THE WISE/PART 6 – Mary Turzillo

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WORDS FROM THE WISEWORDS FROM THE WISE
PART 6

(Read and Write)
Mary Turzillo

Writing is a solitary act, but this gives you time to structure your daily regime. Mary Turzillo is a rare gem. She’s won numerous awards (including the prestigious Nebula) and is also a really lovely, thoughtful person – she’ll do right by you, trust me. She’s been good enough to offer some basic guidelines for those novice writers who want to take their fiction to the next level.
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The question posed to each author is – “A young author comes to you seeking advice. They’re riddled with insecurities and completely overwhelmed by the publishing industry. What are your Words from the Wise?”

MT – Write what you love. Have faith that of the millions, maybe billions, of potential readers in the world, some will be thirsty for exactly what you love.

maryWrite every day. Set a goal for yourself: a page, two pages, five pages. Something you can do as a minimum. You grow as a writer by writing. It’s a muscle. Every skill involved in writing, whether plotting, style, characterization, setting, or just being original, is a muscle. You have to grow those muscles.

David Eddings, or maybe Ray Bradbury, or maybe Jerry Pournelle, or maybe Marion Zimmer Bradley is credited with telling novices they should write a million words, then throw them all away. I say, you’ll get better the more you write, but don’t throw away anything. Maybe it’ll seem like crap in five years, but maybe in ten you’ll read it and see genius.

Finish what you write. Sometimes, even for pros, it’s difficult to come up with a satisfying ending, but with practice, plotting will be easier. The ending will be like a distant landmark seen through mist. March steadily toward it.

But if the first ending doesn’t work, try again.mmmmmmmm

Middles are a beast. Just keep feeding your audience titbits of suspense to keep them with you. If you’re bored with the middle, just write enough to get to the ending.

Polish, but accept that no work is ever perfect. At some point, stop revising unless an editor asks for revisions.

Have courage. Subject your work to editorial scrutiny. By that, I mean, find a potential paying market for it, then submit it there. Don’t ever pay to be read. When a story comes back, submit it again. Aim to get a thousand rejection notices.

Read what you love, but also expand your palate. If a book is popular, but you don’t like it, don’t just notice its flaws; ask yourself why it became popular. Learn from what you read. Take notes of clever things writers do.

Have friends. Have friends who are writers, and friends who are not writers.

People who don’t honour your writing time are not your friends.

Writing is a lonely occupation, and writers are prone to depression. Find a physical outlet. Running might work. Martial arts are good. Fencing works for me.

Just write. Every day. Preferably at the same time, maybe when everybody else is asleep. Just . . . write.

December 19, 2015

WORDS FROM THE WISE/PART 5 – NICK MAMATAS

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WORDS FROM THE WISE

WORDS FROM THE WISE

PART 5

(Be Jealous)

Nick Mamatas

Jealousy, reactive or suspiscious, can destroy a person. It can ruin relationships, careers and is generally associated with being weak of character. I imagine that to be a professional writer one would require a certain degree of motivation and resolve, right? To be prolific, to develop your craft, to simply keep up the habit. What’s the source of this hunger? Nick Mamatas thinks it might be a certain kind of jealousy…

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The question posed to each author is – “A young author comes to you seeking advice. They’re riddled with insecurities and completely overwhelmed by the publishing industry. What are your Words from the Wise?”

imagesWriters are almost universally both envious and jealous of one another. Envy, of course, is the state of hungering for what another has. Jealousy, that green-eyed monster, is a fear of loss, or at least of the possibility of losing. Both are species of anxiety. Writers might envy some best-selling writer, or some award a colleague has received, while being jealous of another person’s success somehow serving to eclipse one’s own. Readers can only buy so many books. Better my friend is miserable along with me instead of becoming a success who leaves me behind!

As this column is about a notional young author who is “riddled with insecurities”, I suppose I should advise against envy and jealousy, but such a thing is not possible. A writer who isn’t anxious about something, who isn’t desperate to find out what’s at the end of their own story, is no writer at all. People with no anxieties simply don’t become writers. I am prepared to entertain responses from writers declaring “I have no anxieties!” but only because all the missives would prove my point.

A writer, however, can to a certain extent choose her anxieties. Between envy and jealousy, I recommend jealousy. This is counter-intuitive—wouldn’t envy be better? Wouldn’t young writers be best served by a desperate hunger for shelf space, big checks, awards, and acclaim? I say that envy is destructive; it is the enemy of art. The envious writer will abandon her aesthetic goals to write to fit what she perceives to be commercial imperatives, suck up to all manner of awful people in the hope of winning an award or gaining some publicity, make decisions based on proximity to power rather than ethics or even plain’ ol fellow-feeling for her colleagues. The envious writer is driven by feelings of inferiority, which will never do. A writer, hands on the keyboard, has to feel that she is master of the world. (Even masters practice and struggle, but they don’t feel inferior for doing so.)nick

A jealous writer will be anxious, upset, ever-betrayed by the universe, and ready to spit fire. A jealous writer sees the risks of failure and loss at every turn, feels it in her guts. The world has to pay! “All my fond love thus to I blow to heaven.

‘Tis gone.Arise, black vengeance, from the hollow hell!”
Now you have something to write about. Be jealous.

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WORDS FROM THE WISE/PART 4 – MATTHEW STOKOE

WORDS FROM THE WISE/PART 4 – MATTHEW STOKOE

WORDS FROM THE WISEWORDS FROM THE WISE – MATTHEW STOKOE

PART 4

(Never settle)

Matthew Stokoe

It’s important to know the landscape and to conduct yourself professionally. Like any industry, publishing is a big ugly money-starving motherfucker and you need to know how to survive out there. Be ‘brave’ and ‘insane’; be mindful of frauds, hacks and swindlers, of course – but make sure you never settle for anything less than you deserve (if you’re serious about being a full-time writer that is). Getting ‘in’ though, well, it’s all about who you know…

Matthew Stokoe will give us advice on how to find and promote our niche’…

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The question posed to each author is – “A young author comes to you seeking advice. They’re riddled with insecurities and completely overwhelmed by the publishing industry. What are your Words from the Wise?”

MS – Novice writers all think they’re going to be picked up immediately by a major, by Harper Collins or Random House etc., and that they’re going to get a half-million-dollar advance and start doing TV interviews, maybe sell the film rights to Hollywood. It’s natural. Writing a novel is such a monumental achievement, the writing of it should be enough. Trouble is, it isn’t. This thing you’ve created, this stack of pages, this collection of your own blood and pain and fear and hope, this thing that is so REAL to you, doesn’t really exist until it’s out in the world. Until it’s in the form of a book that others can read.

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You can do this yourself, of course, both in paper format, through companies like Lulu or CreateSpace, or in ebook through Amazon/KDP and multiple others. But you don’t want that. Not when you’ve just finished your first novel. You want the legitimacy, the kudos, the bragging rights, the vindication of having someone else, someone in the publishing industry, an expert in the field no less, deem your book to have meet the secret, subjective and ever-changing criteria that separate the amateur from the professional. You want someone other than yourself, your partner and your granny to shout to the world YOU ARE A WRITER! THIS IS A REAL BOOK!

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So, until you’re forced to rethink this paradigm, you’re left with no choice but to find a publisher. And to do this, unfortunately, you’re almost certainly going to have to get an agent – a process that, in the majority of cases, will provoke suicidal ideation on more than one 3am awakening. I’m not going to tell you how to find one, because I don’t know. Though I have had agents in the past, I don’t now. One thing that I do know is true, though, is that you will be a million miles ahead of the game if you get yourself an “in”. What’s an in? An in is something that everyone else doesn’t have.

(trailer from ‘Dog’, written by Matthew)

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It might be something as banal as having Facebook friended the wife of a literary agent a couple of years back because you liked the pics she posted of the organic wool sweaters she knits. By the time you’ve finished your novel, you alone, then, of all the hundreds (I’m not exaggerating) of writers querying that agent that month will be able to start your email with: “As a friend of your wife and a fellow admirer of handmade woolen outerwear, I wonder if I might take a few minutes of your time….”

Ok, not the best example, but you get the point. Any connection you can make in the world of writing and publishing may, one day, be something you can use to make an agent pay that life-transforming little extra attention to you and respond to your query with those glorious words: “Please provide three sample chapters (double spaced, Time New Roman font, no attachments) at your earliest convenience….”

Two points here. One, it’s actually my personal opinion that social media is next to useless as a marketing tool for an unknown writer or for forming connections with people deep enough for them to bother helping you. You need to do more than just friend people. Two, and pay attention, all agents are not equal. Some are good, honorable, talented, hardworking people. And some… well, they’re just fucking criminally useless. So research them. This is your life we are talking about here. Literally. If you want to be able to support yourself financially, and if you want your books to reach the number of readers they deserve to reach – if you just want to get published, for Christsake – then choosing an agent who is too lazy, uncommitted or inept to sell a book that could otherwise have found a buyer may mean you end up pumping gas for forty years instead of having sexy book-nerds queue up to ask for your phone number at readings.

***

On to publishers. My warning above applies here too. Many, many times more so. Agents don’t generally sign you to long-term exclusive contracts. Publishers do. The starting point for the life of a publishing contract is usually the length of copyright. I say the starting point, because contracts should be open to a certain amount of negotiation and even a novice writer (via his/her agent, of course) should attempt to limit the period during which the publisher has rights to his work. I’ve generally not had too much trouble whittling things down to around 7 – 10 years. If things go well with the publisher you can always extend your agreement. But if it should happen that the publisher is no longer promoting or effectively selling your book you’ll at least have the opportunity to take your work back and start selling it yourself.

But even 7 – 10 years is a long time to have to suffer a publisher who does not perform as you would have them perform. So it behooves the novice writer to choose wisely. I opened this piece mentioning Harper Collins, Random House etc. And this is where, in your imagination, as you slog your way through your tenth rewrite, you’ll no doubt see yourself starting your publisher quest. But this may not be the best thing for you or your book. There is no point submitting your work to a publisher who simply does not publish the kind of book you’ve written. All that’s going to happen is you’re going to get a gut-freezingly demotivating rejection letter. And you’re going to get plenty of those anyhow from publishers who do publish your type of book. Finding the right publisher is your agent’s job. His knowledge of what all the various publishers are looking for is why he charges his 15%, and this knowledge is one of the things you should look for when choosing him or her.

By the way, the other two important things to consider about an agent are the number and strength of his personal connections to key players in the publishing industry; and his knowledge of contracts. Unless you’re a contract lawyer yourself, you’ll rely on this knowledge to protect you from unfair or disadvantageous clauses in your publishing contract (it’s not unheard of, though, for an agent to hand this off to an attorney).

Now, it may be that the major publisher you daydreamed about as you wrote your book, after being approached by your agent, actually does accept your book. Great! Congratulations. But what if that doesn’t happen? Because, you know, there’s a really, really, really good chance it won’t. Well, this is when you start working your way through all the other publishers out there. But don’t despair. It could be a good thing to be published by a smaller publisher – you may get more attention from them and, if you don’t write mainstream literature, they may be able to better target a niche audience for you.

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A few paragraphs back I suggested the new writer to choose their publisher wisely. This is sound, obvious, common sense advice. The only problem is, that for a lot of writers, even writers who have published a book before, it can turn out to be meaningless. Because, after having spent two years, three years, five years writing your novel, and then another year finding an agent and then maybe another two years looking unsuccessfully for a publisher (and this timeline is by no means unrealistic), when someone does finally say yes it will seem, and understandably so, that you and your agent have succeeded in locating the only company on the planet who is willing to take a punt on your book.

When this happens, then no matter how good or bad the publisher, it’ll feel like you have very little choice indeed – either to go with them, or to spend another unknown number of years checking your inbox twenty times a day for emails from your agent.
I suspect the majority of writers will grasp at the immediately available straw. And, who knows, it may turn out okay. You get your book into print. You can start legitimately telling people you’re an author. And maybe the book will take off and the publisher will actually be good enough to pay you your royalties. But if things don’t turn out okay, they you’re a long time stuck with someone else controlling this beautiful thing that you poured so much of yourself into. To see what you’ve created, what you know is a good book, what you know should have made you successful, being mismanaged to the point where you get nothing back from it beyond a few copies to show your friends…. Well, that’s the kind of thing that can end up destroying a writer.

***

So how do you make the decision? How do you decide whether to go with what appears at the time to be your only option, or to hang tight until some point in the future when a more enlightened publisher – maybe – enters the market? Well, that’s something you’ll have to figure out on your own – there are just too many variables and it’s too personal a choice. But here’s something to think about….

Publishing is about money. Editors and publishers love to crap on about art and culture and giving society a voice, and reflecting the zeitgeist, etc., etc. But underneath everything, publishing (and agenting, too, in fact) is a business, and businesses exist for one reason and one reason only – to make money. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting at all that you force your writing to conform to this dollar-driven ethos. But when you understand that the publishing business is, when considered broadly, nationally, globally, as impersonal and resource hungry as a car manufacturer or an industrial-scale food producer, you’ll understand why, if you don’t write stories about vampires, teen lovers or safely conventional middle-aged detectives, it is so fucking hard to get published.

indexPublishers want to publish good work, of course. They don’t set out to publish shit. But more than wanting to publish good work, they want to publish work that sells.
And this means you have to decide what kind of writer you want to be. If you want to sell a shitload of copies, get flown around the world, bank six- and seven-figure advances, then write the kind of stuff the big publishers want and be happy doing it and be happy spending the money.

But if you don’t want to write that kind of stuff, if writing is more to you than just cobbling together a darn good tale, if you want to talk about things that aren’t ordinarily talked about, say things that challenge the majority, that champion the minority, that call bullshit on all the bland gutless hacks who make sure their wallets are firmly in their back pockets each time they sit down to write, then be that kind of writer. Be that kind of writer. Because somewhere in the world, at some point in time, your book will be needed. Not to wile away an hour or two before sleep, not to pass a holiday weekend lying on the beach, but to show someone, some other lonely, lost, hurting human being that they are not alone. And even if it is only one person, and even if that person lives on the other side of the planet, it is enough. It is enough, when they turn the last page and set down your book, that they find their life forever changed because of what they have just read. Because of what you have written.

But if you are brave enough, or insane enough to write this way, don’t expect a big advance and a contract with a major publisher. It might be safe not to expect even to earn a living. I’m not saying it can’t happen – there are a handful of notable cases that prove it can – it’s just that…….it probably won’t.

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WORDS FROM THE WISE/PART 3 – JEFF NOON

WORDS FROM THE WISE/PART 3 – JEFF NOON

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WORDS FROM THE WISE

WORDS FROM THE WISE

PART 3

(Stand out)

Jeff Noon

So you can write. You got published. How to you go from small indie magazines to the higher paying genre markets?

It’s not easy. You’ll have to develop a voice, nurture it and, above all else – STAND OUT! Jeff Noon, please take the stage…

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The question posed to each author is – “A young author comes to you seeking advice. They’re riddled with insecurities and completely overwhelmed by the publishing industry. What are your Words from the Wise?”

The publishing industry has changed so much since my first book came out, because of digital processing. It’s tempting to go down that pathway; I did, when I came back to novel writing after a few years away. I regret it now, and wish I’d gone with a more traditional publisher. So I think that’s the first decision to make for any new, aspiring writer: do I want my book to come out through traditional channels, in paper, or am I happy to just see my work online. I’m aware that at my age, the digital realm seems less substantial than paper, and I can’t really answer for younger people who have grown up in the digital age.Jeff NoonBut if you fancy doing it yourself online, well, the world is yours. The trouble is, how do I get my book to stand out from the thousands that are being published in the virtual medium? It’s so difficult. I would say this: make your book as different as possible, give it a unique viewpoint or style or subject matter, anything to make it stand out from the crowd. You’re waving your flag in a field full of flags: make sure it’s colourful! If you fancy the old find way of finding an agent, and a proper publisher, well the same virtues of yesteryear apply: they’re looking for three things, preferably in combination, a good story, complex characters, and an interesting but clear style. And to create those you need to work! And work, and work! Keep writing, keep sending things off, to agents, publishers, short stories sites, anthologies, anywhere. There’s a new breed of independent publishers coming up now, who work in both paper and online; they’re usually run by one man or woman, and they’re very enterprising. I have two books coming out next year with one such: Spectral Press. It’s perfect for the more experimental side of my writing.

https://youtu.be/oeYVy7Qz71I

So, there are avenues, if you seek them out. I will finish on the point I made earlier: be different. Find your own style and subject matter through experimentation, hone it, keep working at it. And hopefully one day someone will recognise your worth, and publish your work. Good luck!

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WORDS FROM THE WISE/PART 2 – PETER EMSHWILLER

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WORDS FROM THE WISE

WORDS FROM THE WISE

PART 2

(Finish)

Peter Emshwiller

Let’s call a spade a spade – getting your writing published is hard. Being a successful writer is even harder (trust me, I know!). And, ok, let’s say, you do carve out a career for yourself… how do you make that all elusive step to the next plateau? – the plateau where all the full-time writers of the world are sitting in their mansions, their fans salivating in anticipation over each new release as they throw cash at pigeons on their forecourts instead of breadcrumbs…yes, well, you get the idea. I’ve decided to run a series of interviews with well-established writers to offer guidance to young budding creative types. I’m hoping they’ll share their own insecurities and offer an insight into how they got to where they are today.

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The question posed to each author is – “A young author comes to you seeking advice. They’re riddled with insecurities and completely overwhelmed by the publishing industry. What are your Words from the Wise?”

Peter – Your question is a great one. And a tough one. The first thing I always pass on to young writers (and also to creaky old folks my age who are new at writing) is that the most important thing to do is finish. Sounds silly, but finish. Just finish. Finish that novel about that ex who stole both your heart and your silverware. Finish that screenplay about space llamas. Finish that short story about zombie gerbils. Finish that epic poem about the sentient foot fungus.

I’ve had new writers come to me and say, “Well you’re a REAL writer because you’ve had novels published by a real publishing house.” I tell them, “No. That’s was as much about luck as anything. What makes a person a ‘real’ writer is finishing.”peter

I run into folks all the time who’ve got half finished screenplays in their trunk or half done novels on their hard drive. In my humble opinion what makes someone a “real” writer (if there even IS such a thing) is getting to the end. That, to me, is what separates the amateur from the pro. Getting published can be a roll of the dice; as much about timing and connections and random luck as it is about talent and the quality of the work. But finishing? That’s on you. Get to the words “THE END” in your first draft, and you’re a winner. Then it’s all about honing and tweaking and rewriting, and, of course, trying to get the damn thing in the hands of an agent and a publisher. (A whole ‘nother challenge.)

When I was writing my very first book, I had absolutely no prospects for getting it published but I plodded away at in anyway. Halfway through I got stuck and had a huge amount of trouble finishing. So I wrote something on the front cover of my legal pad clipboard in big black letters with a sharpie pen (yes, I wrote the first draft in longhand, crazy as that sounds these days). I wrote: “Make It Crap. Fix It Later.” Seeing that every time I sat down to write helped a lot. You’ll note I didn’t write, “It’s Okay If It’s Crap, You Can Fix It Later,” or, “Don’t Worry if It Isn’t Perfect, You Can Rewrite It.” I wrote, “MAKE IT CRAP. Fix it later.” I gave myself permission to go ahead and write a totally awful first draft. A horrible mess of a first draft. Just to get to the end. It was incredibly freeing.

And when I was done with that “crap” first draft, I’d have a lump of clay to work with when I rewrote it.

As for navigating the troubled waters of the publishing business nowadays, I fear I might not be much help. Because of the changes in technology, the industry is in the middle of huge transitions, so it’s hard to say what the right move is. The only advice that still holds true, I think, is the classic one: to just keep sending your stuff out, no matter how many rejections you get. Send and send and send. Be tenacious. And do what you can to connect one way or another with agents and editors at various events so that, when you send your manuscript (or fungus poem) to them, you can write, “it was a great pleasure to meet you when we both peed in the bathroom at unicorn-con,” in your cover letter. Those kinds of “we met briefly” connections actually make a huge difference.

And, of course, in between sending your stuff out over and over again, write new stuff. Don’t ever stop writing stuff. And, most importantly, finish it all. Finish. Finish. Finish. Get to “THE END.”

 

WORDS FROM THE WISE/PART 1 – LAIRD BARRON

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WORDS FROM THE WISE

WORDS FROM THE WISE

PART 1

Laird Barron

Let’s call a spade a spade – getting your writing published is hard. Being a successful writer is even harder (trust me, I know!). And, ok, let’s say, you do carve out a career for yourself… how do you make that all elusive step to the next plateau? – the plateau where all the full-time writers of the world are sitting in their mansions, their fans salivating in anticipation over each new release as they throw cash at pigeons on their forecourts instead of breadcrumbs…yes, well, you get the idea. I’ve decided to run a series of interviews with well-established writers to offer guidance to young budding creative types. I’m hoping they’ll share their own insecurities and offer an insight into how they got to where they are today.

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The question posed to each author is – “A young author comes to you seeking advice. They’re riddled with insecurities and completely overwhelmed by the publishing industry. What are your Words from the Wise?”

Laird – To new writers, and especially to young writers: expect resistance. I am in my forties. I’ve written since I was five. I know one thing if I know anything.

They will try to stop you.

Resistance to artistic aspiration is typical. In general, people aren’t going to leap onboard your dream train. It’s cute for a teenager to talk of becoming a novelist, or a poet. The gloss is tarnished once you travel beyond the solar system of middling youth and into young adulthood. If it has not already begun, it will begin. If it has begun, it will now begin in earnest. People will gently, or not so gently, undermine your artistic endeavors. How will you pay off your loans? How will you pay off a mortgage? How will you afford a family? What will become of you?

Grow up. Get real. It’s for your own good. We love you. Stop, just stop.laird pic

They will attempt to subvert you. They will attempt to cajole and coerce you. They will roll their eyes and shake their heads and talk about you in hushed tones of mourning. When you pursue the dream of being an author, people always mourn you. They will bargain with you. They will read your words and pronounce you No Hemingway, no Jackson, no McCarthy. They will probably be correct in this latter judgment. It doesn’t matter. Hemingway was no Faulkner, Jackson was no Shelley, McCarthy is no Steinbeck. None of them were Shakespeare. Be sure they were told this or something like this and by someone who loved them, wanted the best for them.

Print is dead. Publishing is dead. No one reads. We love you. So stop.

They’ll do anything to blunt your progress, to deflect your trajectory. They’ll offer you a raise at the sausage plant. They’ll marry you, knock you up, or get knocked up. They’ll send you down the trail behind a team of huskies. They’ll jail you. Drug you. Withhold love. Punish you. Blast your mind with a 24 hour news cycle and infinite cartoons on the Cartoon Network. They will guilt you for the hours you spend apart, writing, dreaming. The most insidious of them will publish you, review you, praise or condemn you, encourage you to rest on your laurels or to simply quit, the world is better off without you, because you’ve made it, or because you never will. And so they say, Stop. Quit. We love you. Come back to us, don’t leave us here.

They will do anything to stop you. Remember. They love you. You have to be ready for that.

Interview with John Wisniewski

Last year I received an e-mail from a pretty respected young journalist called John Wisniewski who wrote for The Los Angeles Review of Books and the Small Press Book Review. He said he was interested in conducting an interview with me to discuss any upcoming projects etc. I was, obviously, very excited and flattered to have been contacted by an industry pro and was looking forward to a bit of cool high-profile publicity. Turns out John was really nice and I enjoyed talking to him.
Unfortunately, the interview was never published, for what reason I don’t know. Most of the things spoken about have since become out of date, the projects I mentioned have come and gone – but I feel like I gave some interesting answers to John’s more general questions.
Our last communication was in January this year, so it looks like it’ll never see the light of day, which is sad. I doubt any respected publication would be interested in moth-eaten dialogue with an unknown writer like me either.
So anyway, i’ve decided to publish our discussion here, hope you enjoy (and thanks again John) –
CHRIS
1) When did you begin writing short stories? When and where were they published?
 
I began writing shortly after i dropped out of university, roughly around 18 or 19 I think? I was a tremendously angsty person back then too (all Smiths t-shirts and floppy hair) – on top of my predisposition for self-inflicted misery, I also felt a bit aimless in my life in general. It was only a matter of time till the proverbial hit the fan.
 
Having been simultaneously dumped by my girlfriend and then dumped out of uni i tried my hand at something different creatively, something positive and expressive instead of just moping about like a stick in the mud and hating on everything. 
 
I had always loved reading, but art was my main passion growing up. I didn’t really write short stories as a young kid – i always read, but never wrote. Then a cataclysmic sequence of  events put this writing notion in motion. That was 7 years ago and I haven’t picked up a paint brush or a drawing pad since…
 
 
 
2) Whom are a few writers who are influential to you, Chris?
 
I think there are some pretty obvious writers who’ve influenced my writing. Philip.K.Dick, Kathy Acker, William Burroughs, Samuel.R.Delaney, Ray Bradbury, Alasdair Grey, Charles Bukowski – all writers i’ve had stages of obsession with. You’ll notice too that there isn’t a big science fiction influence apart from Dick and Delaney. While I do love SF i do tend to take my composition and technique from more literary writers (not that i think sci-fi can’t be literary).
 
Lately i’ve rekindled my real love for classic European writers. I’ve returned to the authors who I enjoyed during my time studying at university, the writers I read when I should have been reading stuff on the actual curriculum. I’m thinking people like Tolstoy, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Arthur Koestler and Leopold Von Sacher Masoch. There’s something about about their approach to prose that appeals to me. It might even be down to something being lost in translation, but the style seems more experimental, obscure somehow. It’s something I try to emulate in my own writing, that sense of ‘the other’. 
 
 
3) Your stories present us with characters who live in a world of their own-perhaps in post-apocalyptic future-how do you create this world for the reader?
 
 
I like the idea of everyone perceiving the world in their own way. For example, some people like the servility and ignorance that the Slave State provides – where one person finds it oppressive another might be relieved to be in captivity. Usually I create these worlds in a few different ways, depending on the character’s perspective. I do describe the squalor and nastiness of each city within the Slave State, (the urban decay, the sinister high rises), but it can be achieved through alienation techniques too. I might use a non-linear narrative or be deliberately obtuse in my language to project a sense of isolation and futility. I might deconstruct the entire story and give the novel some self-awareness, most of my books know they’re books and often admit as much. I want every city in the Slave zone to feel unstable, like it WANTS to hurt you…
 
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4) Do Sci-fi readers enjoy your writing?
 
I think some of them do. People who read a lot of space opera stuff tend to be less enamored with my work or my title as an SF author. There’s a lot of Dickian elements to my stories, so I think people who appreciated what PKD was doing will certainly getwhat i’m trying to do. There’s still loads of aliens and intergalactic conquest going on too though.
 
5) Could you tell us about any upcoming projects, Chris?
 
Sure! I have a few things in the pipeline at the moment. There’s my next novel, my magnum opus, ‘The Dissolving Zinc Theater’, which is in the early editing stages at Villipede. It’s a book i’m very excited about, not just because it found a really terrific publisher, but also because I think it’s probably the best thing i’ve ever written. I took my time with this, tried to make something that would be lasting and seem important, whether I’ve achieved that remains to be seen. In my opinion though it’s a definite turning point in my development as a writer. 
 
I also just signed a new contract with Bizarro Pulp Press and Journalstone to publish a novel called ‘Rattled by the Rush’ – my third book with BPP – so that’s also exciting. It should hopefully be with us by summer 2015, but could be later or earlier (you know how it is in the publishing industry!). 
 
I’m slowly working on issue 3 of Imperial Youth Review as well as a comic book with Phil Differ called ‘The New Animal Liberation Front’ AND an anthology book of writers who’ll be expanding on my Slave State mythos. We already have Rhys Hughes and a few other crackers geared up for that one. 
 
 
Busy, busy, busy!
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6) What are you doing when not writing, Chris?
 
When i’m not writing or editing, i’m working at my day-job (assistant librarian) – or i’m thinking about writing. When I was younger my interests were more art and music based and trying to figure out a way to make something good come of those things, but i do my best to focus on one preoccupation at a time (recently its all been about the writing). I still have a long way to go refining my craft, but i believe the only way to reach that level of proficiency is to write as much as possible. Of course when i’m NOT sitting down putting stuff together I do keep myself busy. I enjoy reading, traipsing around Ayrshire with my girlfriend, drawing, playing music, going to the cinema – occasionally i exercise or watch football.
 
The rest of the time is all a panicky blur worrying about the rent, job prospects, worrying about children and family, about animal welfare, about LIFE in general and all the other things that elude my control…
 
 
7) Could you tell us about writing “Last Exit to Interzone”, Chris? was William S.Burroughs an inspiration while writing?
 
 ‘Last Exit to Interzone’ was written as a direct ode to William Burroughs and Hubert Selby Jr. Both writers have influenced me greatly and i’m often told their prose style permeates my own work – or at least i TRY my best to emulate their sense of the macabre. ‘Last Exit to Interzone’ was a fun book to work on actually and probably the least stressful to write and develop(I actually wrote it specifically for Jordan Krall’s Black Dharma Press – an imprint of Dynatox Ministries). In fact, I don’t think you can buy it anymore given that it was released as a limited edition chapbook. 
 
The idea came simply from my own fascination with both writers, so i was able to draw from existing knowledge. I think they’re both really interesting people as well as interesting writers. Most folk already know about Burroughs insidious habits and I wanted to play on the myth behind the man a bit, make him a really twisted, malevolent character. Conversely, Hubert Selby Jr had a warmer reputation, i think he was more an everyman, a blue collar grafter –  he was certainly less formally educated than Burroughs. 
 
Both ‘Naked Lunch’ and ‘Last Exit to Brooklyn’ were hugely important for me growing up. Burroughs and Selby shared a unique and dark handling of the American dream (much like Bukowski), but were intrinsically different people in their personal lives. I wanted to see what would happen when these two people met….
 
8) Do readers find your writing to be unusual and original? What kind of reactions and feedback do you receive from critics, and readers?
 
Like anything that’s a projection of extreme circumstances, my books garner a mix of responses. Some people are really quite disgusted by how unusual and almost willfully ugly the world i’ve created is; a world of depression viruses and nihilism and detestable bloody characters. I get the negative reactions towards my work, i do (that is to say I expect it). 
 
People, generally, I think, are merely looking for distraction, something that’ll take their mind off of the various agonies of life. They want characters you can root for and situations they can relate to. They want catharsis. They want a reminder that everything is going to be ok. I can’t do that. No one can make that promise (that’s a job for a different ‘type’ of writer)
 
I’m stubborn in my own way. I have only ever written what I wanted to write. I don’t doubt that I will continue to write what comes naturally. A friend once asked me why I didn’t try and write a more accessible book, a YA novel or something? I’d get way more exposure, more fans, more kudos, etc…
 
Couldn’t do it – that’s the short answer!
 
Conversely, people who like my books do tend to find me at least halfway original. People who enjoy dark transgressive fiction or something a bit different will appreciate what i’m trying to do. I actually want to be completely unapologetic. You know, there are things in this world that get me so frustrated and sad and angry, The Slave State is all that negative emotion compressed – and the thing is, the thing that actually puts people off the most, is that the stories ARE relatable. 
 

I certainly don’t censor myself and I won’t go with a publisher who would try to censor me. 

Slave Stories blogpost with Gregory Norris

The prolific Gregory Norris has kindly posted about the Slave State anthology on his blog! There are some great insights from John Palisano, Violet LeVoit,Simon Marshall-Jones, Roger Lovelace, Love Kölle, Seb Doubinsky, Richard Thomas and Gio Clairval on how they wrote their slave stories. A great read!

BEHOLD! SLAVE STORIES: Scenes From the Slave State

We’re all slaves to something — loves, lusts, chemicals, memories, obligations, history.  For a long while, I’ve jokingly said that I’m a slave to my Muse, that rugged, unshaven taskmaster who, for a decade now, has resembled a certain lieutenant colonel from the lost city of the Ancients but in recent weeks has taken on the guise of a former Deputy Sheriff tasked with the unenviable responsibility of saving the world.

Simon Marshall-Jones on “Shatterdemalion”: “I suppose, like most creative people (and writers and artists in particular), the inspiration for stories or images can be found anywhere. In this instance, the springboard for my Slave State story is two-fold, a concatenation (or, perhaps, a collision) of two influences — the very human need for spiritual salvation, and the darker end of the mystical pool from which ‘saviours’ appear to surface on a regular basis. Desperate people are malleable; provide them with promises of an end to their existential sufferings and a reward for their endurance, and they will gather. The aromatic honey of that desperation will often bring the worst type of the charlatan to it: unscrupulous monsters willing to denude those who have already suffered enough for their own personal gain, and in the process subverting the definition of what it means to be human itself. The saviour here is a cipher of that erosion of the soul such charlatans enact. The title came to me whilst travelling on a bus — a combination of tatterdemalion (a person wearing ragged or tattered clothing) and people whose lives have been unknowingly shattered. Hope you enjoy it!”

Roger Lovelace on “Wax Worx”: “I’ve always wanted to write a story with the idea of setting it in a wax museum. This goes back to my love for old horror movies. The vintage Universal logo with the plane circling the globe was my late night North Star. When my good friend, fellow writer and sometimes co-conspirator Gio Clairval suggested I submit a piece for consideration, I immediately dropped what I was doing and churned out a story. I was familiar with Chris Kelso’s work and wanted a chance at being a part of this project. Chris’s response was positive, but he was looking for something different. I picked back up the as yet untitled wax museum story and molded it into something that I hoped would fit into this exotic, dark world he had created. I saw the Wax Worx as a pit inside an already stygian world. It is a place entered through a fractured revolving door. A haven revealed to be worse than the polluted city surrounding it. Marie Antoinette is a stained adult toy and Marco a misshapen Caligula of a moldy kingdom of ages. Did I have fun writing about masochistic pimps, cardboard torture and ‘happy’ trash? You bet.”

Violet LeVoit on “To Imagine Disaster is to Invoke the Same”:  “Despite all my efforts to the contrary, I am irrevocably American in character, and the way that most often manifests in my behavior is a slavish desire to believe in contemporary mythologies. We Americans enjoy self-delusions about clean slates and new frontiers: California dreaming, what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, the synthetic rebirth of Times Square as a corporate-funded simulacra of itself. But despite all the churches in the Bible Belt promising a fresh start after being born again, the South is still where the bodies are buried, literally and figuratively. The tumult rises to the surface every now and again, as it just did, messily, in my hometown of Baltimore a few weeks ago, and sinks back down into the sweetly perfumed mire. I wanted a story that could span those two polar truths about the American South while addressing the Disneyland impulse for newer and better ersatz experiences, while also still staying humble in light of how the contrast between antebellum gentility and bloody secrets isn’t new territory for writers. To that end, I paid homage to those who had gone before me with a title that sounded like it could have come out of Flannery O’Connor.”

READ MORE AT GREGORY’S BLOG – HERE

SLAVE STORIES IS HERE!

The Slave State anthology is finally here! One of the best experiences I’ve ever had, working with some wonderful writers and artists, backed by a brilliant publisher (Kate Jonez’s Omnium Gatherum) – this is truly the definitive collection of stories set in the Slave State.

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Laura Lee Bahr, John Langan, Mary A. Turzillo, Simon Marshall-Jones, Gary J Shipley, Ian Welke, Philip Differ, Mick Clocherty, Mitchel Rose, Gio Clairval,Hal Duncan, Kris Saknussemm, Richard Thomas, Spike Marlowe, Violet LeVoit, Rhys Hughes, Michael Faun, Love Kölle, Dave McWilliam, Beckett Warren, Tony Yanick, Preston Grassmann, Andrew Hook, Seb Doubinsky,Andrew Coulthard, Clive Tern, Roger Lovelace, Gregory Norris, John Palisanoand stunning art from Shane Swank, Ter-Jaiden Wray, Robert Thomas Baumer and Dario D’alatri

A taster story ‘Street Level’ by James Sposato will be up on The Speculative Bookshop website tomorrow. It’s also a cracker and ideal for the uninitiatedSSimage

 

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Terence, Mephisto & Viscera Eyes cover reveal!

The new cover for my next Bizarro Pulp Press book, ‘Terence, Mephisto & Viscera Eyes’ by Jim Agpalza! Nine bizarre, disturbing and sometimes heart-warming science fiction stories from the gutters of the Slave State! Cannot wait for this one!! It’s my second (and hopefully not my last book) with this amazing publisher Thanks Vincenzo Bilof!!

P.S – I’m still using public libraries till Thursday, so if you’ve E-mailed me on here, i’m not ignoring you!!

 

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P.P.S – ‘This is NOT an Anthology’ STILL hasn’t gone to amazon, but i don’t envisage it being much longer…

http://bizarropulppress.com/

 

Bizarro Pulp Press announces ‘Terence, Mephisto & Viscera Eyes’, a brand new collection of 9 science fiction stories from Chris Kelso, all set within the oppressive Slave State; a place where dogs grow tired of their lovesick masters and compose novels for benign publishers, a place where love and murder are equally important to the development of young men, where everyone is a slave to their minds and to their hearts.

 

What folks are saying about Kelso 

“Kelso’s prose is excellent and memorable” 

– BestScienceFictionStories.com

 ‘Someday soon people are going to be naming him as one of their own influences. He’s worth checking out.’ 

– INTERZONE magazine 

“Chris Kelso’s books often featuring terrible people being eaten alive by a Just-as-Cruel universe, cities that are picked apart in the manner of sky burials by invisible vultures and excellent prose…” 

Albedo One

“Reading Kelso is like sticking your head in a blender but retaining consciousness: a joy ride.” 

– Fur-Lined Ghetto

Nine new, previously unpublished science fiction stories from the galaxies biggest nihilist…

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