Charles Tan Interviews Scott Edelman

Scott Edelman

Hi! Thanks for agreeing to do the interview. What’s the appeal of zombies–and horror–to you?

I love horror for the same reasons I love science fiction and fantasy — because it allows me to break free of writing only of the things that are and escape into the world of things that could only exist in dream. It also gives me access to metaphors that non-fantastic literature cannot, and allows me to explore the human condition in ways unavailable in mimetic fiction. And also — it’s fun!

But as for the special appeal of zombies — because the zombie is a blank slate, there is no metaphor the zombie cannot inhabit. It’s a universal conceit. And the zombie also happens to be the most frightening of the monsters, because that mindlessness, that lack of self, is an aspect we all fear. If we live long enough, we will all become somewhat zombielike, our personhood gone. So zombies are chilling to me in a way vampires could never be.

Did your previous experience working in comics have any impact in the way you write short fiction? What are your influences for your zombie stories?

I wrote many short comic book scripts for such titles as House of Mystery, House of Secrets, Secrets of Haunted House, and other DC horror titles, trying my best to channel the great stories written by my betters in the EC comics of the ’50s. And one thing they taught me was an economy of plotting. There’s no room for fat in 5- and 6-page stories. And while they were helpful in the beginning of my short story career, it was something I needed to break away from as I matured, because art shouldn’t necessarily move in a direct line from A to B to C.

How did PS Publishing end up publishing your collection? How did you decide on the order of the stories in the book?

When I realized that I’d achieved critical mass in my zombie fiction — that is, I’d written so many stories of the undead that I had enough for a collection — I went looking for a home for such a project. And the wonderful Pete Crowther, who has been so good to me over the years — between magazines and anthologies, he’s bought more of my stories than any other editor — said he’d publish my collection as long as I wrote a new story to entice potential purchasers who might have already read all the other stories. That story, “What Will Come After,” which became the title story of the collection, will be reprinted in Steve Jones’ Best New Horror later this year.

I’m extremely grateful that Pete suggested a new story, because “What Will Come After” turned out to be one of my most powerful pieces.  What I didn’t realize when writing it — though I should have — was that it will become more and more difficult for me to read as time goes on. I wrote it when both of my parents and my mother-in-law were alive, though in the context of the story, they’re all dead.

When I first read it aloud at Readercon, all three were still alive, yet I had trouble not losing it at the ending. The next time I read it, at World Horror in Burbank, my father had passed, and my voice cracked and I had trouble keeping it together during the section that mentioned his death. Now my mother-in-law is also gone.  I can only imagine what it will be like to read it next. And then there’s my mother, still alive, but she, too, will go someday …

So I’ve set myself up for quite a few emotional experiences in the future. I don’t know whether I’ll be up to them.

 

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Charles Tan Interviews Lou Anders and Jonathan Strahan

Lou Anders and Jonathan Strahan

Hi! Thanks for agreeing to do the interview. What’s the appeal of sword and sorcery for you and what made you decide to edit an anthology devoted to such a sub-genre?

Lou Anders: I grew up on sword & sorcery and was a much more avid reader of S&S than of epic fantasy. I started with the sword and planet of Edgar Rice Burroughs and quickly worked my way into Michael Moorcock, Robert E. Howard, and Fritz Leiber. I’ve largely ignored the big epic fantasies as a reader and have always gravitated more to the grittier, more personal, character-driven tales of S&S. In the last few years, it seemed like not only was there a resurgence of S&S, but also a melding of S&S sensibilities with epic fantasy scale narratives, that if we were both going to do it, we shouldn’t do it separately but should combine our forces.

Jonathan Strahan: I think the appeal of swords and sorcery is that it’s one of the purest forms of adventure fiction we have left. It focusses on characters in perilous circumstances taking direct, physical action to remedy problems that are often and dark and mysterious.  What’s not to love?

The reason I was looking to edit a swords and sorcery anthology was that I could see that there seemed to be something new, or at least energetic, happening in fantasy. Stories were appearing that were either true swords and sorcery (in the pages of Black Gate for example) or that strongly featured elements of swords and sorcery (books like Steven Erikson’s Malazan Empire novels, Joe Abercrombie’s work, and so on). I thought it would be fun to edit a book that would explore what was happening.

What did you end up co-editing the book together? What was the collaboration process like?

LA: I wanted to explore this aforementioned resurgence of swords & sorcery and its blending with the epic. It turned out that Jonathan was observing much the same thing as I was. I don’t remember who approached who first, but it was at the World Fantasy Convention in Saratoga Springs (J, correct me if I’m wrong), and we realized that rather than publish competing anthologies, we should combine our forces and do a book together.

JS: Lou tells the story well: we’d come to the same conclusions independently, and in a bar at a convention somewhere (I think we discussed it in Saratoga Springs, but perhaps really progressed it in Calgary) we mentioned our plans to one another. I remember thinking I really didn’t want to compete with a book from Lou, whose work I admire greatly, so I suggested we team up. Lou was amenable, and things went incredibly smoothly. We sketched out the proposal, sold the book, and then worked hand-in-hand with Diana Gill to bring it to fruition.

In your opinion, has sword and sorcery been evolving and adapting for today’s readers?

LA: I think that sword and sorcery has evolved in several key ways. First, it has evolved in line with the field itself, which is to say, rich complex character-oriented stories are the order of the day, and S&S has grown along with the rest of the field. This has produced novels like Scott Lynch’s The Lies of Locke Lamora and James Enge’s The Wolf Age, which are rich, dense narratives that could each contain in their pages multiple numbers of the shorter novels that comprised S&S in its heyday. Secondly, the definition of what constitutes S&S has grown and evolved. There are those who would like to limit the genre to imitations of Robert E. Howard, but I feel strongly that to do so would be to declare S&S dead and its modern practitioners merely purveyors of pastiche. So in growing beyond the constraints of naked barbarians plundering strange temples, you get broader works like Glen Cooke’s Black Company series, with its grunts eye view of soldiers in the service of a (dark?) lord, or Saladin Ahmed’s tales of Doctor Adoulla Makhslood, a “ghul hunter” in an Islamic-inspired secondary world whose personal piety might see him disqualified as “true S&S” by those who feel that greedy self-interest is a prerequisite of a sword and sorcery protagonist. Finally, you get the “post George R R Martin” epic fantasy narratives, which take epic fantasy’s larger-scope focus on kingdoms in conflict and apply a “sword and sorcery sensibility” to its morally gray cast. While these narratives aren’t technically S&S, they couldn’t exist without the thesis-synthesis of epic and S&S and are therefore the children of S&S if not S&S themselves. And finally, and perhaps most controversially, I”m not sure if the profusion of urban fantasy today, with its narratives of young, bare-bellied and  tattooed woman fighting demons and vampires and ghosts (often with swords!)  doesn’t owe just a tiny bit to C.L. Moore’s Jirel of Joiry. Even if it doesn’t, the recent trend in urban fantasy to move its tropes to historical settings may see a new type of S&S evolve, though whether its readers or S&S’s core readership will recognize it as such remains to be seen.

JS: I think it has evolved and adapted. There have been keepers of the flame like Black Gate who have ensured that quality swords and sorcery existed in the world, but writers like Scott Lynch, Joe Abercrombie, and even George Martin have broadened its palette, bringing in richer, more complex characters; more nuanced politics and so on. It’s moved into the real world.  It still has a long way to go, but it is happening, and I like to think the Swords and Dark Magic has played a part in it.

 

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Charles Tan interviews Al Sarrantonio

Al Sarrantonio

Hi! Thanks for agreeing to do the interview. You’ve edited several anthologies across various genres. What was your impetus for creating a “not-tied-to-one-genre” anthology?

That’s an easy one.  After deliberately doing three genre-specific anthologies in a row — 999 (horror), REDSHIFT (sf) and FLIGHTS (fantasy) the only thing left was to jump into a rainbow anthology.  When Neil Gaiman and I decided to edit STORIES, it was with the specific idea that the stories would come first, the genres second.

How did you end up co-editing the anthology with Neil Gaiman? What was the collaboration process like?

Co-editing is easy.  One of us finds a story, passes it by the other editor, and the thumbs up or down ensues.   It’s no different than if there’s a single editor.  Actually, it can be more fun, because one of us can stumble on something the other one never would.  Neil found Kat Howard, whose first published story was in STORIES, and in a million years I wouldn’t have found her wonderful piece.

What’s the appeal of the short story format for you? What are its advantages, whether it’s writing one or crafting an anthology like Stories?

The death knell for the short story has been tolling for almost a hundred years.  The form ain’t going away, and for a simple reason: it’s a fantastic way to tell a story in a one-sitting way.  What reader can resist a well-told tale, no matter what the length?  And now that e-readers are upon us, I think the form has been given another shot in the arm.  As for writing them, I’ve always thought of it like catching lightning in a bottle.  I love the constriction of the form, the dilution of energy to a point — every word counts.  It’s extended poetry without meter.  I love that!

 

 

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Charles Tan interviews Kate Bernheimer

Kate Bernheimer

Hi! Thanks for agreeing to do the interview. What’s the appeal of fairy tales for you?

Fairy tales are possibility spaces; they create new openings, fresh ways of considering the world.  Fairy tales cross false boundaries of genre and time and belong to no one. They practice free love, lending themselves to all sorts of readers and writers.To me, they’re sublime.

What was your criteria in selecting the stories and contributors for your My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me: Forty New Fairy Tales?

My editor at Penguin, John Siciliano, was amazing to work with because he pretty much gave me free reign—of course we talked a lot about what we wanted the book to feel like but then he sent me free in the fairy-tale woods (or to the wolves!).  The criteria were many—often they felt, at midnight, like a crazy puzzle I had to and never could solve. I wanted the collection to convince the National Book Foundation to remove their stated exclusion, in the National Book Award rules, of fairy-tale retellings.  I wanted the stories—the bulk of them written upon invitation by me—to break the stereotypes about fairy tales as princess-gets-married stories and turn new readers on to its great incredibly adaptive techniques. I wanted to satisfy those readers who already knew and loved fairy tales well.  I wanted to make a humpty dumpty of a book that would seem at once thrilling and incomplete. I wanted stories that created momentum for fairy tales—one of the criteria was that the book feel like a beginning. I wanted very much that there would be something for everyone in the collection. Most of all I needed to try to include work that would inspire readers to read more fairy tales however I could. We need more people to read the old versions and cut the clichés. The book quickly grew to 600+ manuscript pages, and I just had to stop; I get letters nearly each day from authors hoping to be in the next collection I do. This means they’re reading fairy tales—so I think that my criteria were met.

You have a vast repertoire, whether it’s writing fiction in various mediums and nonfiction. What’s the appeal of editing an anthology for you and what kind of satisfaction does it stimulate in you?

I just deleted most of an answer in progress by accident, but the remains sort of makes a nice answer: “Ogres and bliss.”  All of the work that I do comes through the lens of a practicing fairy-tale author—whether it’s writing a trilogy of novels for grown ups, a children’s book, the text for a comic, an essay, or an introduction to an art book or one of my own edited books.  The medium, that is, is constant: the medium is fairy tales. Editing an anthology—which means soliciting new work from all sorts of strangers—is a beast, but a beast that I love and the work of it is an essential part of the fairy-tale tradition.  Ogres and bliss. I get  to read all these new fairy-tale works and talk to writers about fairy tales and read and research the old fairy tales and then all of this absolutely terrifies and enchants me when I turn to my own writing.  I find nothing more satisfying or surprising than the fact that I get to communicate with the medium of fairy tales as my mode of employment. It’s like a gigantic séance each day with different guests at the table.  It’s like living in the unfinished Shirley Jackson novel Come Along with Me.

 

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Charles Tan interviews Alden Bell

Alden Bell

Hi! Thanks for agreeing to do the interview. What motivated you to write The Reapers Are the Angels, especially considering how different it is compared to your first published novel?

I’ve always been a huge fan of the supernatural genre in general and zombie movies in particular.  When I was growing up I couldn’t get enough of Stephen King, Peter Straub, H.P. Lovecraft.  And, in fact, I remember reading Shirley Jackson’s WE HAVE ALWAYS LIVED IN THE CASTLE when my freshman high school teacher recommended it to me.  She pulled it off her shelf and said, “Here, just read the first paragraph.  You won’t be able to stop.”  And she was right.  Later on, through college and grad school, I spent most of my time reading more canonical literature, but I always held a special place in my heart for the books I grew up with.  So after my first book was published (a novel about prep school girls in contemporary New York), I decided I wanted to try my hand at the Dawn of the Dead type stories I always loved.  But I was determined to do it in a way that didn’t sacrifice style for plot (because I think I’m much more of a stylist than a plotter).  I tried to find that delicate balance between the “literary” and the “genre” that Shirley Jackson herself effects so beautifully.  It was a thrilling challenge.

In your opinion, what is it about the concept of zombies that makes it relevant and interesting for today’s readers?

A lot of people think zombies (and apocalyptic literature in general) represent a cultural fear of the world crashing down around you–and so they see an appropriate connection between the rise in popularity of zombies and the threat of war or the collapse of banks or other wobblings of society.  Personally, it seems to me that there’s just as much optimism in zombie stories as there is pessimism.  There’s something almost ecstatic about the idea of wiping the slate of American society clean and starting over.  Zombie literature takes us back to the beginnings of the country: times of settlers in dangerous wildernesses, frontier towns, the formation of new laws, new and self-crafted ideals.  No matter what the zombie story, there always seem to be moments of authentic joy when the protagonists find themselves the only consumers in a shopping mall that is entirely their own, or the only people riding the rides in an empty amusement park.  Take the poster for the recent series The Walking Dead: a man riding down an empty freeway on a horse.  Yes, society has collapsed, but that is a man who is setting out to build a new one–from scratch.

What challenges did you have to overcome over the course of writing the book?

One of the things I was most worried about while writing Reapers was the southern dialect of the characters.  I was raised in California and have lived in New York for the past couple decades.  I adore the south, but I’ve only visited there on a few occasions.  So, to be honest, I have no business writing authentic southern dialect.  This fact crippled me for a while, but then I made a determination: I wasn’t going to write authentic southern dialect.  Instead, I would write stylized southern dialect.  I would write a hodge-podge pidgin gathered from the books I love by people like Faulkner and Hurston and Twain and William Gay and Tom Franklin.  The great thing about fiction is that it doesn’t have the same obligations to realism that journalism does.  The language of Reapers doesn’t claim to be accurate to any local tongue, because the book doesn’t take place in any real place.  It takes place in a stylized world that borrows equal parts from reality and imagination.

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