Archive for the ‘ Novels ’ Category

A LITTLE OF EVERYTHING

The latest Written Backwards interview is with John Langan. author of such novels as House of Windows and The Fisherman, as well as numerous fiction collections, including Mr. Gaunt and Other Uneasy EncountersThe Wide, Carnivorous Sky and Other Monstrous Geographiesand his latest Sefira & Other Betrayals. His work can be found in magazines and anthologies all over the world. We discuss a little of everything …

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Michael Bailey: When overhearing people discussing the fiction of John Langan (because I often find myself doing most of the listening and not much of the talking while in crowds), I often hear things like “literary” and “quiet horror.” What do you consider quiet horror, and likewise what do you consider literary?

John Langan: “Quiet horror” is a term I associate with the years surrounding the Splatterpunk movement, when it was thrown up as a more restrained alternative to the work of Skipp & Spector, Schow, etc. At the time, quiet horror was connected to writers such as Charles Grant and Steve Rasnic Tem. If I’m not mistaken, Doug Winter wrote a review essay arguing (compellingly, to my mind) that the apparent differences between the groups were vastly outweighed by their similarities. In the years since then, the term quiet horror has been employed in a less-systematic way in an attempt to identify works of horror in which the emphasis is on atmosphere and subtlety of effect rather than more dramatic narrative moves. Although I haven’t made a systematic study of it, I have the sense that it’s applied to those writers we associate with the classic tradition of the ghost story, with M.R. James or Susan Hill. The problem is, if you read James’s fiction, then you’ll find that there’s a lot of delightfully over-the-top stuff going on. (I also suspect that this more recent use of quiet horror is an attempt to draw a line between it and more cinematically inflected fiction, i.e. zombie narratives.)

As for the word “literary,” it’s one of those that tends to cause all manner of uproar, isn’t it? As I see it, the most important thing to remember about “literary” is that it’s an adjective, not a noun. In other words, it describes a certain set of characteristics that can be applied to any kind of fiction. What those characteristics are may be subject to debate, although I’m reasonably sure they would include attention to character and style. I think it was Nabokov who said that the literary is that which we are always rereading, and I like that definition very much.

MB: In the acknowledgments for your debut novel, House of Windows, you wrote, “This book had a hard time finding a home: the genre people weren’t happy with all the literary stuff; the literary people weren’t happy with all the genre stuff.” Who is your intended audience?

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JL: It used to be that I read everything I wrote to my wife. So while I wrote whatever I did because I wanted to read it, myself, she was my first audience. Then, after our son was born, it became harder to maintain this practice. I still have her in mind as my ideal reader, but these days, I’m also thinking about friends such as Laird Barron, Stephen Graham Jones, and Paul Tremblay. Anytime I write something that these guys like, I know I’ve made contact with the ball.

MB: Who do you write for? Who should anyone write for?

JL: At the risk of being redundant, I write for myself, my wife, my friends, and then anyone who’s willing to pick up the story or book and give it a chance. I’m not sure that there’s a universal answer for the second question—although it would seem to me difficult not to be writing for yourself—but I think you should write for whoever helps you to write. If writing for yourself alone is enough to make that happen, then that’s great. If writing for someone else helps, then that’s fine, too.

MB: Having read The Fisherman, which won the Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in a Novel a few years ago, I would have to say that I would consider it a multitude of things (horror being one of them), but not necessarily any one thing over the other. It’s horror, sure, but it could be considered cosmic horror, or Lovecraftian, or “quiet,” the way Victor LaValle’s wonderful novella The Ballad of Black Tom is a little of each of those things. What do you consider The Fisherman?

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JL: I’m happy to call it a horror novel, but that’s because I subscribe to a big-tent view of horror, in which all manner of narratives can be gathered under its folds. I tend to think that fiction in general is a fundamentally hybrid or mixed art (an idea indebted in no small part to the ideas of the literary critic M.M. Bakhtin), so it seems to me entirely appropriate that all manner of genres and sub-genres should be part of a novel.

MB: Is there a need for genre and sub-genre? I recently read a post by a prolific writer in which he stated (not verbatim) that he doesn’t write horror, or science fiction, or any one thing; he simply writes what he wants to write, and lets other people determine what they want to call it. Do you agree?

JL: From a critical perspective, I don’t see anything wrong with having categories that allow you to point out similarities between different works of literature. From a reader’s perspective, I don’t see anything wrong with having categories that allow you to find books that are similar to those you’ve enjoyed already. And from a writer’s perspective, I don’t see anything wrong with having a tradition to engage with in my work. So I guess as long as the genre category functions in an expansive way, in a way that brings more to the critic / reader / writer, I’m quite happy with it.

MB: I once overheard an editor say that she wished you wrote more often. Your first novel was published in 2009, and your second in 2016. But between that seven-year span you also published two fiction collections: Mr. Gaunt and Other Uneasy Encounters (2008) and The Wide Carnivorous Sky and Other Monstrous Geographies (2013), and co-edited an anthology with Paul Tremblay called Creatures: Thirty Years of Monsters. That’s four books in seven years (five if you count the anthology, which I do, because I know how much work goes into them), which I would say is a good pace. Do you wish you wrote faster, or published more often?

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JL: Over the past several years, I’ve published a reasonable number of stories—as well as, very recently, a third collection of stories. My problem is, in part, that many of those stories have appeared in smaller press publications, which someone who’s read, say, The Fisherman may not necessarily have heard of. But I have enough material for at least another three collections after Sefira, and I’m hoping to do something about that sooner rather than later.

I do, however, wish I were one of those writers who can toss off a novella in a week. In part, my daily process means that I don’t work particularly quickly: I do a lot of revising as I’m writing. I’ve also learned that some works require more time than others to complete, and may need to be put aside for a while. (This was the case with both The Fisherman and Sefira, the title piece in my new collection, both of which took me years to finish.) And while I’ve enjoyed a great deal of success with my writing, it hasn’t been enough to support me and my family, which means I need to work a day job, which cuts into my writing time. In addition, I’ve been reviewing horror and dark fantasy for Locus magazine, which also requires a certain amount of time that would otherwise go to fiction writing.

Moving ahead, I’d like to devote a bit more time to writing longer works, especially novels.

MB: What are your writing and / or publishing habits? Do you write when you want to write? Do you set goals?

JL: I try to write every day, with a goal of completing a page a day. When I’m not working a day job, it’s easier to maintain that schedule. In terms of publishing habits, I’ve tried to say yes to every invitation to contribute to an anthology I’ve received. (Which I suppose has cut into my novel writing.) I have immediate goals, usually to have something done on or not too far past the deadline. My long-term goals are a bit more nebulous: I would very much like to complete one hundred stories and ten novels—arbitrary numbers, I know, but ones that help me have some sense of how I’m doing, overall. I think I’m up to around sixty stories, with several more underway; while I have plans for another six novels if I can ever find the time to write them.

MB: You have been a finalist for the International Horror Guild Award, a Bram Stoker Award nominee for Superior Achievement in a Fiction Collection for Mr. Gaunt, and won for your novel The Fisherman, as well as serve on the Board of Directors for the Shirley Jackson Awards. What do awards mean to you, and what do you believe they should mean to other writers?

JL: The recognition an award nomination brings is a fine thing, while an award can certainly make your day. In my case, the Bram Stoker was the award I had first wanted to win, back when I was a teenager and it was created, so while I could not have complained had any of the other writers I was on the ballot with won it, there was a special delight in hearing my name read out on that night.

At their best, awards can shine light on deserving work, leading readers to writers they might not otherwise have encountered. That said, in any award process, there’s always going to be work that is overlooked, that may not come to light until years later. And even if you win an award, you still have sit down to write the next day. So awards should be enjoyed, but not used as the final measure of success—which is, after all, having readers for your work.

CREATOR OF HEROES

The following is an interview with New York Times bestselling author David Morrell, master of the high-action thriller, creator of Rambo, author of such fine novels as First Blood, The Protector, and Murder As a Fine Art. He writes nonfiction, and for comics, and is a mentor to emerging writers and has a passion for protecting wildlife. And his latest collection, Before I Wake, is available June 30th from Subterranean. He’s all over the place, but at this moment he’s at Written Backwards to share a few things. Enjoy!

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The interview [ by Michael Bailey ]:

My first exposure to your work was in the form of a Halloween costume. This was either 1983 or 1984, which means I was either four or five years old when I first met a character by the name of “Rambo” (only knew him by that name) because my older siblings talked about him often. You published the novel First Blood in 1972, and ten years later, in the fall of 1982, the movie debuted (directed by Ted Kotcheff and starring Sylvester Stallone, who also contributed to the screenplay). Back then, movies stayed in theatres much longer, for years even, and First Blood was a huge success, grossing an unheard-of $125.2 million, which, way back when, was a lot of money.

Here’s where the costume comes in. My oldest sister came out of her room the following year (or the next) with fake blood dripping down her face and neck, her long hair tied back with a red ribbon around her forehead, and I believe she wore a tank top and a long black survival knife belted to her waist, the kind with a compass on the hilt (back then, you could wear such weapons in public). “I’m Rambo,” she had said, for Halloween, introducing him to me, and she explained the blood was there because Rambo had apparently jumped off a cliff and into some trees, scraping his face and neck. Let me repeat that I was either four or five years old, so I wasn’t allowed to watch such violent movies. This Rambo guy sounded kinda cool, I thought. And my sister, she’s kinda cool.

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Fast-forward another ten years, and I’m considered old enough to watch the Rambo movie (or perhaps not), and it quickly becomes a favorite. I watch First Blood a couple dozen times, and my older brother and I often play “Rambo” in the backyard, throwing knives at trees, making bows and arrows from fallen branches, scavenging to make forts in trees, crawling on the dirt, always running from something (like in the film). John Rambo becomes part of my childhood, and for the course of about twenty years, I don’t know there’s a book about this Rambo hero of ours.

Fast-forward another ten years, and I start writing fiction, poetry, anything I can think of. I don’t want to be a writer (and hate reading in general, at this time), but for some reason I have to write, like it’s some kind of disease. Sometime around then, I discover there’s a novel version of First Blood (why’d he call it that?), by some guy named David Morrell. And then I find his other books, such as The Brotherhood of the Rose, The Fraternity of the Stone, The Protector, The Naked Edge. I become a constant reader.

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Fast-forward another ten years, and I’m still writing, but seriously. I’m at some kind of boot camp hosted by Borderlands Press, with the likes of Thomas F. Monteleone, Douglas E. Winter, and F. Paul Wilson, and this David Morrell fellow I’ve come to know through his words and through his characters. The creator of Rambo! I’m thinking. The guy who created one of my (and my siblings’) childhood heroes! It’s thirty-something years later, and wouldn’t you know it, the idea behind First Blood is still relevant. My oldest brother, he’s been in the military all this time. He’s my own Rambo. He’s fought in the Iran-Iraq War, the Gulf War, the Iraq War, and countless others, and he’s there during the fall of Saddam Hussein, helps take over the Baghdad Airport and later shows me a picture of him and a few others underneath a sign proclaiming that such a thing would never happen. And each time he returns from war, like many others, he’s perhaps looked down upon.

Fast-forward to the present, and I’m interviewing the creator of Rambo, and so many other incredible characters. And I’m falling in love with new series altogether, such as the Thomas De Quincy series, which starts with Murder As a Fine Art.

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The questions:

Michael Bailey: I promise this will be the only Rambo-related question, but his story is important to me and to so many others, so I must ask: Why do you feel the story of John Rambo is forever-relevant?

David Morrell: It depends on which Rambo we’re talking about. The character in my novel First Blood is furious about what happened to him in Vietnam, whereas the character in the film is a sympathetic victim while the character in the second and third films is jingoistic. Sly told me that in retrospect he wasn’t happy with the treatment of violence in Rambo II and III, which is why he saw the fourth film [Rambo] as his version of a Sam Peckinpah movie. The character was more like the one in my novel. “Wars. Old men start them, young men fight them, and everybody loses,” Rambo says at one point in the fourth film (the director’s-cut DVD amplifies the theatrical version). If we look for a common denominator, I suppose it comes back to the military virtues of courage, honor, loyalty, and sacrifice, which are virtues that everyone, not only those in the military, should emulate. I mention those virtues in my Captain America; The Chosen six-part comic-book series.

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David Morrell with Sylvester Stallone

MB: Movies based on comic book characters are perhaps the most costly but also the most profitable of all movies, with Avengers: Endgame recently grossing over $1.2 billion worldwide over a single weekend, and movies like Black Panther and Captain Marvel and many others making over $1 billion worldwide before their short runs (compared to the long-ago). Movies are only in theatres now for months, yet raking in insane amounts of money. Why are comic book characters such a big part of our lives?

DM: It’s about promotion as much as the characters. After the collapse of the DVD market, Hollywood producers looked elsewhere for revenue. They found it in China and India, where the theatrical-distribution systems were starting to make Hollywood films available in a big way. Comic-book heroes (and characters from films such as Star Wars) are so universally familiar that Oriental audiences recognized them, despite the differences in cultures. In marketing language, these films are “pre-sold.” As the revenue from Oriental audiences increased, studios made more films to satisfy that market. Meanwhile, to use the United States as an example, the binge-watching of television series is so popular that only films with a visceral magnitude motivate families to leave the house as a group. A family of four spends more than a hundred dollars to go to a movie (a low estimate). The impressive CGI effects and the wall-rumbling sound of superhero films aren’t anything they can get at home. The spectacle is the attraction. Marketers have brilliantly convinced families that these are experiences they ought to share, even though the action scenes can be prolonged and repetitive to the point that they’re numbing. That isn’t to say I’m negative about superhero films. I loved the origin films for Wonder Woman and Black Panther, which emphasized characterization as much as spectacle.

MB: Why are we, as people, so in need of superheroes?

DM: It depends on how we define a superhero. Remember that in the 1930s Hitler used elements from Germanic mythology to promote his agenda. For a superhero to appeal to me, that character needs to personify fairness, selflessness, the belief in equality, the protection of the weak, etc. Fortunately those values are what traditional comic books and Hollywood superhero movies represent. In our crisis-ridden culture, we need as many representatives of those values as we can get. I’m reminded that the mass shooter at the film theater in Aurora, Colorado, in 2012 opened fire at an audience watching The Dark Knight Returns. He could have been a villain in the movie. When I wrote my Captain America: The Chosen comic-book series, my theme was that each of us has within us the capacity to be a superhero. In my Spider-Man: Frost two-parter, my theme was the selfless meaning of Spider-Man / Peter Parker’s mantra: “With great power comes great responsibility.”

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MB: It’s not as well-known as some of your other projects, but you have dipped into Marvel comics, writing such series as Captain America: The Chosen (one of my favorite short-run comics of all time, the story you created as relevant as (or perhaps mirroring) that of John Rambo’s, once again making me think of my brother in the military), as well as a two-parter of The Amazing Spider-Man (#700.1 & 700.2), and an issue of Savage Wolverine (#23). The question: How much easier, or more difficult, is comic-writing vs. prose-writing?

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DM: I think of comics as stop-action stories comparable to storyboards for films. The dynamism comes from the jump between panels. One contrast between prose fiction and comics is that in fiction I can use all five senses to try to achieve a feeling of three dimensions whereas in a comic book I’m working in an emphatically visual medium, with limited sound effects that are printed on the page and require the reader to imagine them. Some readers might be surprised that a comic-book writer chooses the number of images per page (a single image or two or four or even eight images on a page) and describes what happens in each of those images. A 22-page comic book might have a script that’s as long as the comic itself. Moreover, what characters say or think needs to be kept to a minimum in favor of letting the images tell the story. I think of each page as a paragraph and try to use the bottom panel on a page to catapult the reader to the top of the next one. Similarly, when a reader turns a page in a physical comic book, I try to have a “reveal” on the page that’s uncovered. My essay about writing Spider-Man: Frost, can be found on the Writing page of my website, www.davidmorrell.net. The essay includes script pages and matching illustrations from artist Klaus Janson and colorist Steve Buccellatto.

MB: If you were given the opportunity, which comic series would you write next?

DM: Probably Batman, because of the psychological implication of caves and bats. He’s a DC character, of course, but I think my contract with Marvel has expired.

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MB: Okay, no more comic-related questions. You are well-known to up-and-coming writers (100% of those I encounter, at least) as a person always willing to offer advice and support, always going above and beyond, such as with your involvement in the Borderlands Press boot camps. Why is it important to help those new to the business?

DM: A couple of reasons. One is that the writing world is contracting. It’s increasingly difficult for beginning writers to get established. I recall the writers who gave me generous advice at the start: William Tenn, Stirling Silliphant, Donald E. Westlake, Brian Garfield, and Lawrence Block, to name some. I also recall how grateful I was. They told me to pay it forward, so that’s what I do. The second reason is that I‘m by nature a teacher. I love sharing information and explaining, which might be another example of paying it forward.

MB: You are also often involved with wildlife rescue, and have a few stories you’ve shared in the past with the wildlife where you live. What first sparked this need to help other animals and why is so important we do so?

DM: I’ve always felt close to animals and nature. One of my most transformative experiences involved living in the Wind River Mountains of Wyoming for 33 days as a member of a Wilderness Expedition course through the National Outdoor Leadership School. That was research for my novel, Testament. I’ve always had my home in small communities with easy access to the countryside. I’m a gardener, especially when it comes to vegetables (and in New Mexico, that’s a task). I see my world as if it’s a Van Gogh painting with the universe’s spirit swirling through everything. The wildlife rescues started four years ago. I live in Santa Fe, near the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. One day I stepped outside and found a mother bobcat with two kittens. She stared into my eyes as powerfully as I’ve ever been looked at. But she wasn’t threatening me. Young and weak, she was pleading for help. I don’t feed wildlife. But I did let her use a copse of trees near my house as a den. I never bothered her. She and the kittens were there every day. Then one night, I heard three shots and knew in my heart that a neighbor had killed her. She never came back. I learned about the New Mexico Wildlife Shelter, who sent someone to teach me how to capture the kittens. I took them to the shelter, learned about its worthy mission, and have supported it since then. Last summer, the director brought a sharp-shinned hawk in a cage. The hawk had been injured but was now healed. I kept the hawk for a day as it became used to the sound and look of my wooded neighborhood. Then I released it. The hawk came back many times after that. On one occasion, it perched on a rain barrel and looked through our kitchen window. For me, that’s like going to church.

MB: As a creator of heroes, what single piece of advice would you share?

DM: If you mean advice about writing, my mantras are, “Be a first rate version of yourself and not a second rate version of another writer.” And “Don’t chase the market. You’ll always see its backside.” But the larger issue is the responsibility that comes with writing in genres that attract more readers than other types of writing. My work emphasizes action and suspense, but underneath there are embedded themes, and they go back to what I mentioned that I felt were the qualities of a superhero: fairness, selflessness, the belief in equality, the protection of the weak, etc. It’s no accident that I wrote three novels and three short stories about protective agents and that one of them is called The Protector.

* For additional writing advice, check out The Successful Novelist: A Lifetime of Lessons About Writing and Publishing, and also his Writing page at www.davidmorrell.net.

A VISIT FROM THE TOOTH FAIRY

The following is an interview with Zoje Stage, author of Baby TeethWhile this was put together prior to StokerCon (a conference run by the Horror Writers Association), I had the opportunity of meeting Zoje at the event. So, without further ado …

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The Interview [ by Michael Bailey ]:

Baby Teeth seemed to have hit the ground running. The cover for the hardback is simple: blank white-ish background, shattered red lollipop, and those two words, which somewhat suggest that yes, this particular book is going to bite. I remember seeing the book for the first time displayed in a local bookstore in Santa Rosa, California, or maybe Petaluma, and it was like one of those presidential portraits that sort of keep staring at you as you pass, not wanting you to pass. The cover as striking as the title. And I remember thinking, Who is Zoje Stage? I didn’t buy the book, then. And I didn’t buy it the next two or three times it wanted me to buy it.

Some backstory: My wife and I have a yearly tradition of getting each other two books for Christmas, ones we’d not typically buy for ourselves; that way, each year, we are each introduced to two new writers minimum. The books I chose for her were, of course, Baby Teeth by Zoje Stage, and Cherry by Nico Walker (which he apparently wrote while in prison … or is still in prison, I don’t know). Both books were debut novels by writers I had never heard of before, and both had dust jackets that were a mix of white and red. They captured my attention in their first few pages (along with the back cover copy). The problem, however (at the time) was that I bought the books for her, as gifts, and the rule we have is that we can’t read them until the other finishes. She’s a slow reader, so this had me a bit worried because the two books (yours in particular) kept haunting, kept calling. Luckily, she breezed through it in a matter of days.

Suddenly I’m reading the book, and doing the same, alternating between chapters from the point of view of little, troubled Hanna, and her mother. Every time I’d finish a chapter, my wife would ask, “Where are you at?” and I’d tell her, and she’d follow it with a smile and say, “Oh, just you wait” and so I’d keep reading. I haven’t read Cherry yet, because she hasn’t yet read it, but I was lucky enough to have read Baby Teeth. It’s a real page-turner. This book is going to do well, I told myself, and This Zoje Stage is going to do well, and before I know it the Bram Stoker Award nominations are announced and Baby Teeth is on the list for Superior Achievement in a First Novel.

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By the time this interview goes live, we will have already met in Grand Rapids, Michigan for StokerCon, hosted by the Horror Writers Association, and perhaps by then you will have taken home one of those heavy haunted house statues. But for now, we are complete strangers, and so I have a few questions as if we haven’t yet already met (like some kind of strange time-travel). That said …

The questions:

Michael Bailey: What made you want to write Baby Teeth, and why do you feel it’s connecting with readers?

Zoje Stage: I’ve long been fascinated by “bad seed” stories. I hate to say it, but sometimes children seem like otherworldly creatures to me, and it can be pretty freaky when you get a bad vibe from a kid in real life (which has happened). While “evil children” is a trope I’ve enjoyed especially in films, I hadn’t found a book that really delved as deep as I wanted to go, and you know what they say: write the book you want to read. I was particularly interested in exploring the dichotomies of such a child, as I do believe that a tiny percentage of the population may be truly psychopathic, but more often children—as highly sensitive beings—are influenced by the world around them. And I also wanted to see a realistic possibility for how a family would ultimately deal with a disturbed child, and there are parents who really have to confront this.

Part of why I think the book is connecting with readers is the dual-sympathy and dual-revulsion they experience with both Hanna and Suzette. Society puts an incredible amount of pressure on mothers, and that aspect is something a lot of people can relate to. And simultaneously, it’s very compelling to explore the inner workings of a child—especially one who is smart but off-kilter. Apparently even parents of the most wonderful children have glimpsed bits of Hanna-like behavior in their little progeny, and I think this has only increased the relatability of the story, as it makes people really ponder nature vs. nurture.

MB: This is your debut novel, but have you written others that are not-yet-published? If so, what can you tell us about those other manuscripts, and if not, how were you able to land this one so gracefully with St. Martin’s Press?

ZS: Baby Teeth was the sixth novel I’d written, and the fifth I’d queried. The first four were Young Adult, with the connective element of being fairly dark, but the genres were all over the place (sci-fi, fantasy, contemporary, and something too weird to classify but inspired by Shirley Jackson). Then I made a startling realization that maybe I wasn’t the best person to be writing YA (for a number of reasons). While Baby Teeth is technically the second of the adult novels I’ve written, I recently did a complete overhaul of that first adult novel—and maybe it will become my third published book? I do not, otherwise, plan to revisit my earliest novels, and have written a few new things since Baby Teeth.

MB: A Bram Stoker Award is for horror. Do you consider Baby Teeth horror? How fine is the line between that genre and thriller, which book publishers seem to be using for dark fiction. That said, how fine is the line between horror and any other genre? Alma Katsu’s The Hunger comes to mind, which is historical fiction, yet recently won an award for westerns and is up for a Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in a Novel.

ZS: The first inkling I had that my book might be considered “horror” was in Aug. 2018—one month after publication—when it showed up on a Bustle list called “15 Horror Books to Pick up If You’ve Already Read Everything by Stephen King” (The Hunger was also on that list). Prior to that it had never occurred to me that my name would ever be mentioned in proximity to Stephen King! But more lists came out, and Baby Teeth ended up on Bloody Disgusting’s “10 Best Books of 2018 for the Horror Fan” and finished in the Goodreads Choice Awards for Horror in the #2 slot, right behind Stephen King. Suffice it to say, I’ve been thinking about the “horror” designation a lot over the last year.

I submitted Baby Teeth to my agent as a suspense novel, and so far as I know my publisher marketed it as psychological suspense. But since then I’ve heard it referred to as a thriller, domestic suspense, psychological thriller, and horror. I’ve been told by many, many readers—a large portion of them via social media—that Baby Teeth was the “creepiest” thing they’ve ever read. I’ve had readers report that the book gave them nightmares, or that they couldn’t read it at night, or while their young children were in the house … And that’s when I came to understand that Baby Teeth is a horror novel because it scares readers. It’s that simple. From the publishing world’s perspective each genre may mean a very specific thing, but from a reader’s perspective a “horror” novel is one that scares them—and I really can’t argue with that reasoning.

MB: The bio on your website states that “Zoje Stage is a former filmmaker with a penchant for the dark and suspenseful.” What can you share about your film-making experience, and why the move to fiction writing?

ZS: My storytelling goal with film was actually quite similar to what it is with novels: to create realistic stories with well-developed characters who were in odd situations. Film had been my passion for decades, but ultimately it was not a truly viable way for me to be my “best” creative self. It took me a long time to realize that, as it was a dream I wanted very badly, but I had to concede, as time went on, that I was not making the kind of progress I wanted to make, and my health and finances were becoming bigger and bigger obstacles. It’s also possible that I was intimidated by the prospect of writing novels, and it wasn’t until I was able to see the correlations between directing a film and writing a book that I felt ready give it a try.

As a DIY indie filmmaker (forever dreaming of a budget that never materialized), I basically wore all the hats: writing, directing, producing, shooting, acting, editing, etc. Early in the process, I realized that a novelist also wears many hats. The writer of a novel “directs” the reader’s attention toward what she wants them to see and know. She develops and performs all of the roles. In addition to being the production designer, the novelist stages all the scenes, and sets the mood. Each chapter of a book is like a sequence in a film, written, directed, and edited … But the big game changer? I didn’t need to secure locations or props, or upgrade or rent equipment, or beg friends for help in front of or behind the camera. I didn’t need more money to write a book, and I could realistically aspire—with sufficient practice—to “wear all the hats” with some degree of competence.

I found there were things I could do with novels I couldn’t do with film—like exploring thoughts and language—but my background in film and theatre proved to be extremely transferable. And somehow, in spite of living in a society that prefers “watching” over “reading,” from my perspective there are more opportunities for a book than a film, and room for more kinds of stories. One of the unexpected thrills of being published is the “presence” of my book in the world, and the chance for readers to keep discovering it. The publishing industry may not be perfect, but it’s a world away from the film industry and I’ll never go back.

MB: Do you also write short fiction, or do you tend to stick to longer works (asking for a friend)?

ZS: I have a weird relationship with short fiction (similar to my weird relationship with short films). With both, I’ve had the sense that I need a longer format to produce better work. There was a time when I wrote a ton of speculative short fiction and tried—and failed—to get it published. I haven’t written short fiction in years, although I do have a writing “to do” list that includes a couple short story ideas. Will I ever write them?

MB: To see if we can predict the future, what are your goals for attending StokerCon? Who are you most excited to meet? Do you have any predictions for the other award categories? For the last five years, during the award ceremony, I have circled who I think will win prior to everything starting, and then underline those that actually win; I think last year was my best, something like 90% correct.

ZS: I’ve never been to any sort of writing convention so I’m excited to see what it’s all about and hang out with so many writers. It’s a little funny that I have to travel to Michigan to meet “local” author J.D. Barker—especially since he invited me to participate in a local panel discussion taking place a week after StokerCon—but I’m definitely looking forward to meeting him. As a debut author I still feel very new to publishing (am I even qualified to be on a panel? LOL), so I’m hoping to glean info from more experienced authors. I’m also looking forward to meeting some folks whom I currently only know in an online capacity.

As far as predictions … There are only a few categories I’ll even wade into, as I am way behind on reading all the nominees. Needless to say, the nominees represent a standard of excellence and they are all worthy of winning. But here are a few guesses:

Superior Achievement in a Novel: Paul Tremblay, The Cabin at the End of the World

Superior Achievement in a Fiction Collection: Gabino Iglesias, Coyote Songs

Superior Achievement in a Screenplay: Eric Heisserer, Bird Box

MB: After all the baby teeth have fallen out, what’s next?

ZS: I have multiple things in the works, though the only one with a definite home at the moment is my next novel, Wonderland: On the cusp of winter, a hardcore artsy New York City family moves to a place not quite on the map in the Adirondacks, and begins to experience bizarre and extreme weather. Being so out of their element, they aren’t sure at first if it’s just the influence of global warming, or some sort of haunting, or the decline of their sanity … But the situation becomes life threatening.

I also hope to find good publishing homes for My UnderSlumberBumbleBeast—the children’s book within Baby Teeth—and a short novel I refer to as a Wary Tale, which is a Fairy Tale for adults. And I have two other novels in various stages of completion.

PSYCHOTROPIC DRAGON, AND OTHER THINGS …

I will be incredibly busy over the next few months (already have been), so I thought I’d post about my current projects. In other words, you won’t hear from me in a long while (perhaps months, maybe not until summer). I have a lot of stuff on my plate, in various stages of development, so what follows is a summarized run-down.

Why am I so busy? I have been taking on editing and book design projects for clients, proofreading, editing and copyediting for Independent Legions Publishing, and have recently taken on a part-time role as Developmental Editor for New Degree Press to help new writers bring their books to life (and you can add “ghostwriting” to my resume ). Meanwhile, I am trying to finish a science fiction thriller called Seen in Distant Stars, and writing fiction and nonfiction to perhaps make a few sales and help pay the bills.

So here goes …



PSYCHOTROPIC DRAGON

This is a composite novel that’s been “in the works” since 2009 (yes, ten years!). Many have been waiting patiently for this book, and hopefully the wait won’t be much longer because I consider the manuscript done. Word-count is a little under 90,000.

Psychotropic Dragon (ARC) - Cover

Why “composite” and why the long wait? Well, it’s part short novel, part novella, part novelette, includes a few children’s fables throughout, and four illustrators have been involved with its development over the last ten years (48 illustrations total!). I should also mention  John Skipp played an early part in this thing coming together, as well as my three amigos: Thomas F. Monteleone, F. Paul Wilson, and Douglas E. Winter.

So, where does it stand, then, this beautiful whatever-it-is?

My agent is busy shopping this monster. With a little luck and patience, perhaps it will sell (which could mean a while longer before it finds print). We have high hopes, though, so we’re aiming high. It’s worth the wait (I promise), and while the book works on its own, Psychotropic Dragon has many tie-ins to my other works, most notably the two previous composite novels, Palindrome Hannah and Phoenix RoseOther tie-ins include the novelette Our Children, Our Teachers, the children’s book Ensoand various work from Inkblots and Blood Spots.

The cover image above is from an “Advance Reader Copy” I created to make it easier for pre-readers to grasp the overall concept, and to perhaps gain a few more blurbs for promotion. This image has kept the project going, always on my mind.

One of my first pre-readers (and originally a collaborator, believe it or not) was Dallas Mayr, aka Jack Ketchum; while he couldn’t contribute to the fiction, when all was said and done, he offered a generous cover blurb instead. He loved this thing almost as much as I do: “Addictive, scary, and at times, mind-blowing.” Can’t ask for much better than that, right? Other collaborators have been in talks, but eventually I decided to finish this thing on my own, at least in terms of the text.

The illustrators? Ty Scheuerman worked on early concepts, Daniele Serra on illustrations for the novelette and spot-pieces throughout, Glenn Chadborne on the novella, and L.A. Spooner on the short novel and fables. Insane, right? Whether or not the illustrations (48!) will make it into the final product is yet to be determined, but here are a few teasers (section titles and visuals). Let’s just say this book is wild! No matter what, Psychotropic Dragon will someday have a “special edition,” which will include everything.

ORIGINAL CONCEPTS (Ty Scheuerman):

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SOMNAMBULISM / I SUMMON LAMBS (novelette / Daniele Serra):

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A ROSE / AROSE (novella / Glen Chadbourne):

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DRAKEIN (short novel / L.A. Spooner):

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As for the fables, they are titled ECLOSE, SCARLET HOURGLASS, ACHERONTIA ATROPOS, and APODEMUS. And a few of the other chapters connecting all this insanity: THE BEGINNING OF THE END, DEATH’S-HEAD, LIFE-MAGICENSŌand THE END OF THE BEGINNING. Like I mentioned before, this book is something wild!

Soon (haven’t I said that before?) …



SEVEN MINUTES

This book, which was recently trimmed from 100,000 words to 80,000 words, is the strongest thing I’ve ever written, and happens to be nonfiction. I’ll be reading a seven-minute chapter (called “Seven Minutes”) at StokerCon in May. Advance Reader / Burn After Reading copies are currently making the rounds while my agent shops this one around the nonfiction market (although nonfiction is something new for both of us).

Seven Minutes (ARC) - Cover.jpg

I wrote the manuscript in 23 days (most pages on an old Royal typewriter, about 75,000 words). 23 days happens to be how long the Tubbs fire burned (the setting for this book), and how long my cat Bram went missing (the end of the fire and the day he was found, one in the same), and so I made that my goal: to finish an entire book in under a month! The third draft was completed on day 23, the first anniversary of the day the Tubbs fire was finally extinguished, the day Bram was found.

The book is about the fire that took our home and many others (somewhere around 5,600 from the Tubbs fire alone), changing our lives (and many others’) forever. The book is structured like a therapy session. It contains poetry and lots of hard truths, with the narrative bouncing from first-person to first-person collective to second-person.

This one is close to the heart.


THE IMPOSSIBLE WEIGHT OF LIFE

This would be fiction collection number three (roughly 90,000 words, so lengthier than my previous collections), and will feature short fiction, long fiction, and a few poems (one quite long). Three of the stories have been nominated for the Bram Stoker Awards*, and most of the others have found their way into anthologies over the last few years. Most are autobiographical, in one way or another, and most were written during my recovery from Loss of Bilateral Labyrinthine Function.

My agent is shopping this one around as well (yes, I have her very busy), but here’s a teaser of its tentative contents:

“Time is a Face on the Water”*
“Speaking Cursive”
“The Long White Line”
“Möbius”
“Cartwheels” (poem)
“Hourglass”
“Ghosts of Calistoga”
“Darkroom” (novelette)
“Fade to Black”
“The Fire” (poem)
“The Other Side of Semicolons”
“SAD Face” (novelette)
“Essential Oils”
“Gave”
“A Murmuration of Souls”
“Fragments of Br_an”
“I Will Be the Reflection Until the End”*
“Shades of Red” (poem)
“Our Children, Our Teachers”* (novelette)


PRISMS:

This is an anthology I co-edited with Darren Speegle, to be release soon through PS Publishing. Expect more information on release dates and pre-ordering and whatnot as soon as its available. We’re hoping for a 2019 release date, if all the stars align. This is not the cover, but a mock-up I created during early development:

PRISMS_COVER_tease.jpg

And here is the official Table of Contents (and word counts). Yes, this book will be something incredible:

“We Come in Threes” – B.E. Scully (4,200)
“The Girl with Black Fingers” – Roberta Lannes (4,400)
“The Shimmering Wall” – Brian Evenson (4,300)
“The Birth of Venus” – Ian Watson (7,400)
“Fifty Super-Sad Mad Dog Sui-Homicidal Self-Sibs, All in a Leaky Tin Can Head” – Paul Di Filippo (3,500)
“Encore for an Empty Sky” – Lynda Rucker (6,700)
“Saudade” – Richard Thomas (3,900)
“There Is Nothing Lost” – Erinn L Kemper (5,200)
“The Motel Business” – Michael Marshall Smith (4,900)
“The Gearbox” – Paul Meloy (6,100)
“District to Cervix: The Time Before We Were Born” – Tlotlo Tsamaase (8,500)
“Here Today and Gone Tomorrow” – Chaz Brenchley (5,400)
“Daylight Robbery” – Anna Taborska (5,400)
“The Secrets of My Prison House” – J. Lincoln Fenn (4,600)
“A Luta Continua” – Nadia Bulkin (7,200)
“I Shall but Love Thee Better” – Scott Edelman (10,500)


MISCREATIONS: GODS, MONSTROSITIES & OTHER HORRORS:

This is an anthology I am currently co-editing with the always wonderful Doug Murano, to be released through Written Backwards. Expect this one in early 2020. Here is a glimpse of what we’re thinking for the cover. Follow along here!

MISCREATIONS - Mock CoveR

As always, expect an incredible anthology! The first two story acceptances:

“Brains” – Ramsey Campbell
“Resurrection Points” – Usman T. Malik


Things I’ve written lately:

“A Bouquet of Flowers” (2,000 words, nonfiction)
“Oll Korrect” (3,500 words, fiction)
“Emergence of the Colorless – Exordium to Conclusio” (6,200 words, fiction)
“L’appel du Vide” (in progress, fiction)

Things I’ve read lately (and enjoyed), and things I am currently reading (and enjoying):

There There by Tommy Orange
Baby Teeth
 by Zoje Stage
Inspection by Josh Malerman
The Hunger by Alma Katsu

That’s about it for now …

2018 BRAM STOKER AWARDS® FINAL BALLOT

The Horror Writers Association recently announced the final ballot for the 2018 Bram Stoker Awards®. I am happy to report that my novelette Our Children, Our Teachers is nominated for Superior Achievement in Long Fiction. You can read it for free here!

My work has appeared on the preliminary ballot twelve times over recent years, and on the final ballot seven, and it’s always a shock. I took home the statue for The Library of the Dead as editor back in 2015, so my fingers are crossed this year to bring home a statue for my own fiction.

Kudos to everyone who made the cut. 2018 was a spectacular year, book-wise / story-wise. I’ve had a few already ask what stuff of mine has been nominated in the past, so here you go. The complete list of the Horror Writers Association’s final ballot follows.

  • Superior Achievement in Short Fiction, “Fireman / Primal Tongue” (2013)
  • Superior Achievement in an Anthology, Qualia Nous (2014)
  • Superior Achievement in an Anthology, The Library of the Dead (2015)
  • Superior Achievement in an Anthology, Chiral Mad 3 (2016)
  • Superior Achievement in Short Fiction, “Time is a Face on the Water” (2016)
  • Superior Achievement in Short Fiction, “I Will Be the Reflection Until the End” (2017)
  • Superior Achievement in Long Fiction, Our Children, Our Teachers (2018)

 

Superior Achievement in a Novel

The Hunger – Alma Katsu

Glimpse – Jonathan Maberry

Unbury Carol – Josh Malerman

Dracul  – Dacre Stoker and J.D. Barker

The Cabin at the End of the World  – Paul Tremblay

 

Superior Achievement in a First Novel

What Should Be Wild – Julia Fine

I Am the River – T.E. Grau

The Rust Maidens – Gwendolyn Kiste

Baby Teeth – Zoje Stage

The Moore House – Tony Tremblay

 

Superior Achievement in a Young Adult Novel

Dread Nation – Justina Ireland

Sawkill Girls – Claire Legrand 

Broken Lands – Jonathan Maberry

The Night Weaver – Monique Snyman

The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein – Kiersten White

 

Superior Achievement in a Graphic Novel

Abbott – Saladin Ahmed 

Moonshine Vol. 2: Misery Train – Brian Azzarello

Bone Parish – Cullen Bunn

Destroyer – Victor LaValle 

Monstress Volume 3: Haven – Marjorie Liu

 

Superior Achievement in Long Fiction

Our Children, Our Teachers – Michael Bailey

You Are Released – Joe Hill

Dead Lovers on Each Blade, Hung – Usman T. Malik

The Devil’s Throat  – Rena Mason

Bitter Suites – Angela Yuriko Smith

 

Superior Achievement in Short Fiction

“Mutter” – Jess Landry

“Dead End Town” – Lee Murray

“Glove Box” – Annie Neugebauer

“A Winter’s Tale” – John F.D. Taff

“And in Her Eyes the City Drowned” – Kyla Lee Ward

 

Superior Achievement in a Fiction Collection

Spectral Evidence – Gemma Files

That Which Grows Wild  – Eric J. Guignard

Coyote Songs  – Gabino Iglesias

Garden of Eldritch Delights  – Lucy A. Snyder

Dark and Distant Voices: A Story Collection – Tim Waggoner

 

Superior Achievement in a Screenplay

Hereditary – Ari Aster

The Haunting of Hill House: The Bent-Neck Lady, Episode 01:05 – Meredith Averill

Annihilation – Alex Garland

Bird Box – Eric Heisserer 

A Quiet Place – Bryan Woods, Scott Beck and John Krasinski

 

Superior Achievement in an Anthology

A New York State of Fright: Horror Stories from the Empire State – James Chambers, April Grey and Robert Masterson 

The Devil and the Deep: Horror Stories of the Sea – Ellen Datlow

A World of Horror – Eric J. Guignard

Hellhole: An Anthology of Subterranean Terror – Lee Murray

Lost Highways: Dark Fictions from the Road – Alexander D. Ward

 

Superior Achievement in Non-Fiction

Horror Express – John Connolly

The Howling: Studies in the Horror Film  – Lee Gambin

We Don’t Go Back: A Watcher’s Guide to Folk Horror – Howard David Ingham

It’s Alive: Bringing Your Nightmares to Life – Joe Mynhardt and Eugene Johnson

Uncovering Stranger Things: Essays on Eighties Nostalgia, Cynicism and Innocence in the Series – Kevin J. Wetmore Jr.

 

Superior Achievement in a Poetry Collection

Artifacts – Bruce Boston

Bleeding Saffron – David E. Cowen 

Witches – Donna Lynch

War – Marge Simon and Alessandro Manzetti  

The Devil’s Dreamland – Sara Tantlinger  

 

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PALINDROME HANNAH – NOW AVAILABLE AS AN AUDIO BOOK

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Palindrome Hannah, the debut composite novel by Michael Bailey, is now available as an audio book. You can find it on Audible, Amazon, and iTunes. Narrated by the wonderful Lawrence Alexander. Give it a listen!

Enter a cruel palindrome world: a symmetric place where disturbing situations displace the common; where good acts transmute to evil ones; where windows and mirrors are interchangeable. Within, characters influence each other through macabre arrangements of involuntary happenstance, and learn the inevitability of coincidence. A segmented story of a mother and daughter intertwines the others. This hidden sixth story, assembled from the five separate narratives, uncovers the sad life of a child who carries a palindrome name, and her struggling teenage mother. With five stories heading one direction, and Hannah traveling the opposite, the story unfolds like a palindrome. A puzzle within a puzzle.

See the book trailer!

Also available in trade paperback for $14.95, or eBook for $6.95. Fiction; 334 pages; 8×5 format; illustrations by Michael Ian Bateson.

SCIENCE FICTION EBOOK SALE!

$1.99 sci-fi sale
The following eBooks are on sale in the US and UK from February 1st through the 8th: Qualia Nous (anthology), Adam’s Ladder (anthology), and Other Music (novel by Marc Levinthal). For cheap, snag the following:
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$1.99 in the US, and £1.99 in the UK.

A literary blend of science fiction and horror, Qualia Nous contains short stories, novelettes, and poetry from established authors and newcomers from around the world.

  • “0-1” (Introduction) by Michael Bailey
  • “The Vaporization Enthalpy of a Peculiar Pakistani Family” by Usman T. Malik (winner of the Bram Stoker Award for short fiction)
  • “The Shaking Man” by Gene O’Neill
  • “Dyscrasia” by Ashlee Scheuerman
  • “The Rondelium Girl of Rue Marseilles” by Emily B. Cataneo
  • “The Angel Chaser” by Erik T. Johnson
  • “Psychic Shock” by Ian Shoebridge
  • “Peppermint Tea in Electronic Limbo” by D.J. Cockburn
  • “Second Chance” by John R. Little
  • “The Effigies of Tamber Square” by Jon Michael Kelley
  • “Shades of Naught” by Lori Michelle
  • “The Price of Faces” by James Chambers
  • “Simulacrum” by Jason V Brock
  • “Shutdown” (poem) by Marge Simon
  • “Lead Me to Multiplicity” by Peter Hagelslag
  • “Cataldo’s Copy” by Christian A. Larsen
  • “The Neighborhood Has a Barbecue” by Max Booth III
  • “Tomorrow’s Femme” (poem) by Marge Simon
  • “The Jenny Store” by Richard Thomas
  • “Night Guard” by Erinn L. Kemper
  • “A New Man” by William F. Nolan
  • “Voyeur” by John Everson
  • “Kilroy Wasn’t There” by Pat R. Steiner
  • “In the Nothing-Space, I Am What You Made Me” by Paul Michael Anderson
  • “Dura Mater” by Lucy A. Snyder
  • “Ruminations” by Rena Mason (winner of the Bram Stoker Award for short fiction)
  • “Good and Faithful Servant” by Thomas F. Monteleone
  • “Twelve Kilos” by Patrick Freivald
  • “Breathe You In Me” by Mason Bundschuh
  • “18P37-C, After Andrea Was Arrested” by Elizabeth Massie
  • “No Fixed Address” by Gary A. Braunbeck

Winner of the Benjamin Franklin Award, and nominated for the Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in an Anthology. Due to contractual obligations / limitations, the eBook edition does not contain “The Jaunt” by Stephen King. Also available in trade paperback for $14.95. Fiction / poetry; 448 pages; 9×6 format.

Adam's Ladder - Cover

$1.99 in the US, and £1.99 in the UK.

The future of humankind as an ever-changing organism is a subject of much debate. Where is our evolutionary path leading? Will the next rung take the form of mental transcendence, will it set humankind on a course toward divinity, or will this uncertain path involve a dark and terrible reversion? Co-editors Michael Bailey and Darren Speegle present eighteen tales that explore the course of evolution, written by some of the best literary minds in the fields of science fiction and horror.

  • “Ch-Ch-Changes” by Chaz Brenchley
  • “Filigree, Minotaur, Cyanide, Bloom” by Damien Angelica Walters
  • “How He Helped” by Ramsey Campbell
  • “Spirits” by Gene O’Neill
  • “The Mythic Hero Most Likely to Squeeze a Stone” by B.E. Scully
  • “My Father, Dr. Frankenstein” by John Langan
  • “Undersound” by Mark Morris
  • “A Laughing Matter” by Erinn L. Kemper
  • “The Serile” by Paul Meloy
  • “Eyes of the Beholders” by Lisa Morton
  • “Strings” by Tim Lebbon
  • “Sliced Bread” by Jeffrey Thomas
  • “I Will Be the Making of You” by Rena Mason
  • “Nameless Citizen” by Brian Evenson
  • “Painting the Burning Fence” by Roberta Lannes
  • “Pity This Busy Monster Not” by Scott Edelman
  • “An End to Perpetual Motion” by Mark Samuels
  • “Swift to Chase” by Laird Barron

Finalist for the Foreword Reviews Book of the Year / IndieFAB. Also available in trade paperback for $14.95. Fiction; 304 pages; 9×6 format.

Other Music - Cover (2nd Edition)

eBook on sale for only $1.99 in the US, and £1.99 in the UK.

With the discovery of the Thompson Corridors, the universe has been opened up, connecting humankind with a vast network of sentient species. Xenosociologist Jesse Suzuki, a nanotech-rejuvenated “oldster,” has joined the forced exodus of the newly young, mandated by law to ship out through the Corridors after his 80th birthday. Jesse finds his way to Eastlink, a sprawling human habitat orbiting Shjodathz, home to a race of regenerating beings who maintain direct memory of all their past incarnations. While studying the Shjodathí and their planetary biomachine guardian Kedel, he discovers a strange anomaly within the AI’s mind that leads him on a perilous, mind-blowing adventure.

The debut solo novel by Marc Levinthal is also available in trade paperback for $12.95. Fiction; 182 pages; 9×6 format; cover artwork by George C. Cotronis; introduction by John Skipp; interior artwork by Michael Bailey.