Charles Tan Interviews Steve Berman

Steve Berman’s anthology Where thy Dark Eye Glances: Queering Edgar Allan Poe is a 2013 Shirley Jackson Awards nominee.

Charles Tan: What made you decide to do a queer anthology on Poe?

Steve Berman: Well, from a practical standpoint, I needed an author with an oeuvre vast, known to casual readers, and with elements of the supernatural or weird. Poe met all three criteria. Also, I remember reading a wonderful passage from Graham Robb’s Strangers: Homosexual Love in the Nineteenth Century that used queer literary theory  to make a convincing argument for Auguste Dupin and his nameless assistant as a gay couple. So I could imagine “queering” many of Poe’s characters, whom were outsiders of society, much like anyone hiding their sexuality would in his time period.

Charles Tan: What was your criteria in selecting the stories for Where they Dark Eye Glances?

Steve Berman: As with all Lethe books, the stories must not leave the reader with a sense of shame over gender or sexual identity. Because Poe is famous for his poetry, I did not require the submissions must be fiction. I hoped for a balance of male and female authors–and, if possible, male and female protagonists.

The real criteria for inclusion was that the author of the piece did not simply change the orientation of one of Poe’s characters from straight to homosexual but either a) made a statment about societal views of the homoerotic is disturbing and queer in the sense of strange and peculiarc or b) changed the orientation of reader expectation. I assumed that my reader would forsee the characters being queer but I truly wanted that same reader to realize that “queering” the tale caused a ripple effect in plot and tone and mood.

Charles Tan: What were the challenges in doing the anthology?

Steve Berman: I did not want too many interpretations of the same story; there was the very real chance I would be sent   five versions of “The Tell-Tale Heart.” Authors must have shared my concern because most of the submissions were based on the less well-known Poe stories and poems–Christopher Barzak’s “For the Applause of Shadows” is based on “William Wilson” and Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s “Variations of Figures Upon the Wall” explores “Ligeia.” I also received some excellent pieces that were beyond the original idea of the book: making Poe himself gay  (Seth Cadin’s “The City and the Stranger”) or the experience of discovering Poe’s writing (Richard Bowes’s “Seven Days of Poe” and Matthew Cheney’s “Lacuna”). So I decided to break the anthology into three parts: Poe the Man; Poe’s Writing; and Reading Poe. I’m really thrilled that this occurred as the end result is a richer book that engages readers more.

Charles Tan Interviews Jonathan Oliver

Jonathan Oliver’s anthology End of the Road is a 2013 Shirley Jackson Awards nominee.

Charles Tan: In your introduction, you mention how the key word you used for End of the Road was weird. What’s the appeal of the weird for you?

Jonathan Oliver: Horror is quite a strong word, and that’s absolutely fine. I’m an enormous horror fan; in genre fiction horror is pretty much my first love. But with horror, you can get a whole set of preconceptions from folks – serials killers, gore, ghosts etc. And those are important parts of the genre, but horror is much broader than that. I do like strong, shocking stories – Adam Nevill’s story ‘Always in Our Hearts’ closes the collection and packs a real punch – but I also like stories that instil unease, that introduce otherworldly, weird elements to the every day. (I’m a huge fan of Ramsey Campbell and Robert Aickman, who are utter masters of this. Melanie and Steve Tem too). With the weird, you can perhaps have a broader palette. But yes, at heart, I think of this and my previous anthologies, as horror anthologies, and celebrating good horror writing shouldn’t be something we shy away from.

Charles Tan: What was your criteria in selecting the stories for End of the Road?

Jonathan Oliver: There were writers I’d wanted to use for a while, but hadn’t had the opportunity yet to do so, writers who were new to me, and writers who I was keen to further champion. The main criteria though was to explore the theme as thoroughly and broadly as possible. So you have great twists on familiar tropes, such as the spectral hitchhiker in Ian Whates’ ‘Without a Hitch’ and the haunted road in Rio Youers’ ‘The Widow’, but then you have stories that take the theme apart and rebuild it into something unusual. So, Sophia McDougall’s ‘Through Wylmere Woods’ is a story about a new road being built, but it’s also about self-discovery and liberation. When putting together a themed anthology, there is always the small fear that stories will overlap in terms of narrative devices and resolutions, but I’m thankful to say that this has never happened to me. I give the writers a brief, sure, but I also encourage them to stretch the brief to breaking point.

Charles Tan: There’s wider diversity in your list of contributors. Was this a conscious choice on your end and what were the challenges and benefits in doing so?

Jonathan Oliver: Because End of the Road is essentially a collection of strange travel tales, I wanted to give the anthology a bit more of a ‘world genre’ feel than my other anthologies. To help me seek out suitable authors, I asked Lavie Tidhar (champion of world genre fiction, and brilliant author in his own right) to recommend some non-Western genre writers writing in English. This really helped open the collection up, and broaden the definition of the road story. Some of the other authors I was already familiar with and a few I’d worked with a fair bit already. Having a diversity of voices was really important for me in putting together this collection. I wanted to show how broad the church of horror and the weird is and show off why it’s as valid a form of literature than any other.

Charles Tan Interviews Joseph S. Pulver, Sr.

Joseph S. Pulver, Sr.’s anthology The Grimscribe’s Puppets is a 2013 Shirley Jackson Awards nominee.

Charles Tan: What made you decide to do a tribute anthology to Thomas Ligotti?

Joseph S. Pulver, Sr.: I had just finished reading Tom’s The Conspiracy Against the Human Race and had an idea for a story based on it. I ran my idea passed Tom and he kindly gave me permission to write the tale. When my novella, “and this is where I go down in darkness”, was done, Tom said it was a wonderful tribute to him and his work and I began thinking of doing a second tale, that’s when the idea of other writers I admire doing tributes to him hit me. For a couple of days I couldn’t shake wondering what John Langan or Cisco might come up with, so I asked Tom if he was okay with the idea of a tribute to him and he said yes, from there it was simply a matter of which writers to ask.

Charles Tan: What was your criteria in selecting the stories for the book?

Joseph S. Pulver, Sr.: Voice first. Simon Strantzas, Livia Llewellyn, Michael Cisco, Robin Spriggs, Gemma Files, and Kaaron Warren, to name a few, I can never get enough of their work and to have the opportunity to read another tale by them is what fueled my list of invitations. Idea and composition second, but when you’re working with mighty talents like Cisco or Gemma Files or Livia they’re not things that are going to pop up on the radar.

Charles Tan: What were the challenges in editing/publishing The Grimscribe’s Puppets?

Joseph S. Pulver, Sr.: Finding a publisher took almost 2 and a half years, the first five said, great idea, but it won’t sell. After getting the green light for the project from Miskatonic River Press it was smooth sailing (to the last, every writer was a pleasure to work with) until I got to the order of the final ToC and the introduction. The final ToC took a whole week of this one goes here—I think? Maybe? Does it?—and that one has to be there. I can’t recall how many intros I tossed out before settling on the one I used.  

Charles Tan Interviews Jared Shurin

Jared Shurin’s anthology The Book of the Dead is a 2013 Shirley Jackson Awards nominee.

Charles Tan: How did you decide to do an anthology based on Egypt and in partnership with The Egypt Exploration Society?

Jared Shurin: I met John J. Johnston (Vice Chair of the EES and the author of the book’s introduction) at the launch party for one of our earlier anthologies. We were introduced by a friend and I was completely star-struck: an actual Egyptologist! John said something along the lines of “hey, this anthology you’re doing [inspired by Dickens] is neat, why don’t we do one about mummies?”. And like an ancient curse, I held him to it. 

Of course, the EES has a long heritage of involvement in speculative fiction: its co-founder, Amelia Edwards wasn’t just a pioneering Egyptologist, she also wrote some of the great Victorian ghost stories.

Charles Tan: How did The Egypt Exploration Society play a role in the creation of The Book of The Dead?

Jared Shurin: John and the EES were fantastic partners. At the beginning, we discovered that there hadn’t been an anthology of original mummy fiction in… well… at least seventy years, and possibly longer. Which made The Book of the Dead even more important to us.

John has, of course, spent years studying mummies in popular and literary culture. I wanted to make sure that The Book of the Dead understood and reflected the proud – if slightly neglected – tradition of this wonderful monster, and John was incredibly helpful in bringing me up to speed. The reading list he assigned me, plus a few small additions of my own, helped formed the basis of The Book of the Dead’s companion volume, Unearthed.

The EES also provided much-needed expertise, as they reviewed the stories for accuracy. They gave us a lot of free rein, of course – as this was speculative fiction – but we wanted to make sure that, where we were relying on facts and figures and names and real things, we were using them correctly.

Beyond that, the EES were supportive every single step of the way – letting us use their offices as a temporary headquarters for wrapping and sealing the books; even teaching me enough about hieroglyphs to design the cover. The limited edition came wrapped in muslin, with a ‘stamp’ that we made from the seal of the EES. I think the most nervous moment for all of us came when we were making the cast.

Charles Tan: What was your criteria for selecting the stories in the book?

Jared Shurin: The mummy really is a forgotten ‘monster’, and I wanted to re-establish it the way it deserved: as a literary device with depth, flexibility and contemporary relevance. The stories needed to reflect all that a mummy could be: a mindless, devouring creature, a symbol of an ancient empire (and all the class and social weight that carries), an icon of timeless love and romance, a discussion of death and the role of mourning, a symbol of the struggle between heritage and colonialism, and even as an object – the mummy itself as a treasure of value. There aren’t many monsters that have this sort of versatility, and the purpose of The Book of the Dead is to capture the range.

Also: fun. It is easy to rationalise a lot of worthiness into The Book of the Dead, but it really was born in excitement. The stories needed to come from that same place of joyous enthusiasm: mummies can be many things, as long as they’re not dry. (Well, except for actual mummies. Else they get messy.)

Charles Tan Interviews Kit Reed

Kit Reed’s collection The Story Until Now is a 2013 Shirley Jackson Awards nominee.

Charles Tan: What was your criteria in selecting the stories for The Story Until Now?

Kit Reed: I’m easily bored, and don’t want readers to get bored. I’m kind of pathological about it. When I assemble a collection, I do it by feel; it’s like rearranging furniture. You put everything down on the floor and move things around until it feels right; it’s hard to explain. With this one, I was determined to put as much– no, to put more weight on the new stuff than the oldies but goodies because for Pete’s sake, I grew up. I love that people still talk about “The Wait,”  the last story in the book and the first I got paid for, but I’m more excited to know what they think  of”The Legend of Troop 13 ,” which came out in Asimov’s in January of ’13. Like, I’d like to think I’ve grown a little bit since then. So there was that, and there was me discovering that I have a series of obsessions that prevail: war is one, mother/daughter clashes is another, and… and… So they’re loosely grouped, UN-chronological but weirdly organized, in my weird OCD kind of way..

Charles Tan: You’ve been writing stories for more than five decades, and I don’t think you limit yourself to any particular genre. For you, how has your writing evolved/changed over the years (if at all?)?

Kit Reed: Again, I have a pathological fear of getting bored. Genre can be a trap, if you let it. Or it can liberate you. For me, it’s a, “what else can you do?” kind of thing. The stories have gotten denser, technically more complicated, ergo harder to write. I used to be able to write a Kit Reed story in a week. Now it takes weeks, sometimes months, to get a story right.

Charles Tan: What is it about the short story format that appeals to you and keeps you returning to it, whether as a writer or as a reader?

Kit Reed: Partly it’s a way to come down off a novel, and it’s definitely a way to shift gears. Sometimes the stories turn out to be sketches for a novel, but I never know that at the time. Plus, if you fall on your ass you haven’t wasted years,  the way you can when you get hung up on a novel, it’s only a matter of weeks.