From PEN & INK WRITERS JOURNAL #2:
INTERVIEW with JIMMY FOX, author of genealogical mysteries
conduced by Lucinda MacGregor
Jimmy Fox is new to the mystery writers scene and his genealogical mysteries are set in his native state of Louisiana. Fox's successes include winning first prize at a Deep South Writers Conference and third prize for a short story from Mystery Writers of America. His three mysteries with genealogical sleuth, Nick Herald are Deadly Pedigree, Lineages and Lies and Jack Pot Blood. There is plenty of that exotic and steamy Louisiana atmosphere, murder, love and lust, betrayal and a cast of interesting characters.
Q) Did growing up in Louisiana inspire you to become a writer or did you develop an interest in writing about Louisiana after you became a writer?
My inspiration to write blossomed initially from several sources of imaginative nourishment, internal and external. Louisiana was definitely one of the most important external ones, second only to the influence and encouragement of my family. Early on I gained, through observation and instruction, an understanding that Louisiana was somehow different, in good ways and bad. The state was endowed, I realized, with a rich and complex history, great human diversity and potential, and phenomenal natural beauty and abundance; and yet Louisiana was also cursed with certain qualities and attitudes that tended to disgust or titillate outsiders . . . and she was perversely proud of this! Eventually I began to consider the state, her people, her image, as raw clay--or mud--for . . . something, I didn't know what, that my restless imagination should sculpt. I came to regard Louisiana as an allegory depicting virtue and vice sealing a comfortable limited liability partnership of winks and nods so that the entire cast could dance in the mossy bayou moonlight to the ribald rhythm of a jazzy moral pyramid scheme. When at last I had the tools necessary to begin writing seriously, I never for a moment doubted that Louisiana, this demented, marvelous, hypnotic metaphor for life at large, as stage or star or both, would figure prominently in my fiction.
Q) When did you decide to become a writer and how did you work to improve your writing abilities?
Words, ideas, and art were constant companions in my fortunate upbringing. My parents made sure I tasted as many flavors of intellectual activity as I would tolerate. I was a dabbler, a sampler, a bee buzzing from flower to flower, taking a little with me from each brief visit, not knowing where all this varied activity would take me. We traveled a good bit, within Louisiana and beyond, and that served to broaden my horizons. My family, on all sides and for generations, has been entrepreneurial; that spirit of resourcefulness and persistence has animated my slow, arduous climb up the literary ladder.
During my youth we were in broadcasting. There was a phone-booth sized teletype room at the family radio station, soundproofed with ceiling tiles, warm, cozy, well lit, having a door with a square window. The day's headlines hung from the walls. This machine was never at a loss for words. It possessed the power to make any DJ sound brilliant. Sentences and paragraphs and pages of exciting ink miraculously flowed with machine-gun rapidity from the Teletype. I grasped the technical process vaguely, but I had no real understanding of what was involved on the other end, the hands on many keyboards, the minds and skills directing the hands, the gathering of facts, the massive amount of work that had gone into what was streaming so relentlessly from the four-foot high black metal automaton. At these moments, standing on tiptoe, my face pressed against a protective plastic panel to peer at the scrolling paper inside the lectern-like mechanism, I craved that seemingly effortless, automatic creativity.
Though there wasn't a specific epiphany revealing to me my desire to write, you can see that already by my preteen years this urge was struggling to the surface.
Q) What part did your college work play in your development as a writer?
I was probably the billionth young person to have college confirm the wisdom of Hamlet's statement that "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy." The mass of things I had never encountered, both in books and beyond, stunned and challenged me. My undergraduate years at Tulane provided me with a breakneck survey of the wider world of mankind's thought and action. I can date from this intense period my insatiable craving to know more and more, to know everything. To an even greater extent, my graduate years at LSU opened yet more doors for my inquisitive mind. At both schools I established a personal scholarly discipline that has allowed me to continue learning and that has served as the foundation for the daily rigors of the writing life. (Not that I was any great scholar; New Orleans and Baton Rouge offered too many pleasurable distractions.) I developed a self-confidence and began to think that maybe I, too, could make a mark in the realm of letters, though I hadn't yet figured out specifically how to go about that.
I loved New Orleans. With my family I had been there many times before, but wearing the mask of resident and not tourist (we're all tourists somewhere), even if temporarily, was a fine feeling. I instantly considered myself very bohemian and tried my best to live the part. Looking back, I recall an open, easy-spirited, friendly New Orleans, that didn't have the evil beast of atrocious crime lurking in every shadow, as is the case today. Was the city less malevolent then (the early to mid-seventies)? Was I simply too naive to notice the dangers of this big, violent madhouse? Was I insulated by virtue of the relatively protected life as a Tulane student? Probably all of the above. Here I had the invaluable freedom to think and act for myself (admittedly with a net underneath), and to make mistakes (I made plenty then and later).
Throughout these college years, I kept my senses and memory open. I collected impressions, storing them up for the future. I noticed how people acted and spoke and looked. I gained a sense of the way the world works--and sometimes doesn't. What better place than New Orleans and Baton Rouge for that? About this time, convinced of the profundity of my vague insights, I started jotting things down in notebooks.
Q) When did you decide to write novels?
Until a certain point, all of my writing had been either academic or private. That point was sometime in the early eighties. I knew that in order to become a real writer, I had to put my nose to the grindstone. Whatever it was that I wanted to write wasn't going to be magically produced--notwithstanding my fond memories of the Teletype machine and its prolific ways. Fortuitously for me, computers hit the mainstream. I'm a chronic reviser, and I immediately fell in love with typing words on a screen rather than on a piece of paper coated with drying correction fluid. I was working my way up in a television station, writing and producing commercials for local merchants, politicians--whoever--as well as station promotions and public-service messages. There's no substitute for daily writing experience, especially with a deadline.
I decided to try my hand first at short stories, which wasn't a very successful venture at all. But at least I started to learn a bit about the publishing business, the "rules" of the game. Finally, after tremendous effort and many rejections for other stories and a few poems, I managed to get a story published. (I also had a poem published in the Baton Rouge paper's weekend section. Does that count?) It didn't take me long to realize that this huge expenditure of effort for such small returns wasn't the way to hit it big. And hitting it big was--and still is--my ultimate goal.
I've met many writers who've been reading their chosen genre since they could hold a book. That's not my story. I came to mysteries late. The eighties and nineties should be recognized as a "golden age" for television mysteries. That's when I first caught the mystery bug from the mystery series aired on A&E and PBS. Watching an hour or two of "Poirot," "Frost," "Morse," "Sherlock Holmes," "Lovejoy "(especially "Lovejoy"!), "Midsomer Murders," "Miss Marple," or "Nero Wolfe," was for me a terrific tutorial in plotting, dialogue, character development, maintenance of suspense, creation of atmosphere, and scenic description. I confidently said to myself, "Yeah, I can do that." Well, it turned out to be a lot harder than I thought, and even more fun.
Q) Any writers inspire you?
Authors, poets, dramatists, books, and movies that have entertained and perhaps have influenced me: Shakespeare, Fielding's Tom Jones (and the great film with Albert Finney), the Romantic poets, Dickens, Hardy, Yeats, Whitman, Mark Twain, Joyce's Ulysses, well-written historical and sociological works (Durant, Frazer, Campbell, Boorstin, McPherson, Tuchman, Barzun, and others), scientific works written for the nonspecialist, Robertson Davies, Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose, yearly nominees for the Edgar and the Agatha, Star Trek in all its incarnations, "2001: A Space Odyssey," "Blade Runner," "Alien," "Dune, " Kirk Douglas films, Humphrey Bogart films (the PI stories and, on a lighter note, "Sabrina"), Hitchcock films ("Vertigo" and "North by Northwest" especially). This could be a very long answer, so I'll stop here.
Q) Since you have gained some recognition and popularity writing the Louisiana genealogical mysteries, do you plan to continue with them?
Yes, I have many escapades in store for my genealogical sleuth, Nick Herald. Recognition and popularity have been far short of what I envisioned. It's a good thing I don't have to eat on what I make from my novels. Aspiring authors, don't quit your day job! Without a doubt, however, I'm going to keep on writing this series, hoping that I'll get that "big break," which would give me access to editorial services, production, and marketing--and television and movie prospects!--that only the major houses can offer. Would I ever love to be picked up by A&E or some company of that ilk! I can just see myself, on location in New Orleans, sitting in a canvas "Author" chair, beret on my head, megaphone in hand, shouting directions to the actors in an episode of the Nick Herald Louisiana genealogical mysteries . . . then the director promptly orders me to pipe down or leave the set.
I'm convinced there's a tremendous audience out there that hasn't yet discovered my genealogical mysteries. Recently I read (Wall Street Journal, 3/22/04, R4) that MyFamily.com/Ancestry.com has 33 million registered users, 1.5 million of whom are paid subscribers. Hello, Manhattan publishers! Are you listening? Genealogy is taking the world by storm.
As other ideas come up that seem worthwhile, I'll pursue those, too.
Q) Does most of your popularity come from Louisiana readers or outside of the area? What about book reviews, readers, other writers, etc.?
Louisiana readers have been good to me. A heavy publicity schedule for the first novel, Deadly Pedigree, took me to most major towns in the state. The reception was always superb at stores and libraries and book groups and television stations. I believe I succeeded in building a base of fans who have followed my career and continued to buy my two other novels, Lineages and Lies and Jackpot Blood (the latter just released).
I've had generally positive reactions from formal reviewers, in various media. I thought that some reviews should have helped me more than they did; others I was afraid might hurt me worse than they ended up actually doing. There are lots of fascinating and useful websites out there, run by people devoted to reading in general or mysteries in particular; they do a service to the reading public by bringing noteworthy books to the attention of visitors, even if the books aren't exactly what the site's founder likes best. Unfortunately, in this Internet age, a stinker of a review, like a cyber-wart, just won't go away without some radical treatment. I'm leery of soliciting reviews; you never know when some reviewer has an ax to grind, a bad day to exorcise, a score to settle. And professional critics? Well, they get paid to be critical; in general, they're inclined to be dyspeptic and jaded, obligated to express opinions with sensational tartness. Wielding this picayune power over authors, genuinely creative people, sometimes goes to critics' heads. I would rather hear ordinary readers deliver their impressions to other ordinary readers. That said, any reviewer/critic who likes my work and says so publicly is my eternal friend.
More-established writers have been marvelously generous with their time and energy; that comes with the territory, and, in turn, I will continue to do my share for writers when I think I can contribute something positive. Even though it's a sprawling international business, publishing is actually a small world, especially since the advent of the Internet; and it holds in publishing as in other businesses that "what goes around comes around." I must add here that I can't critique your work or set you up with an agent or editor (certainly out of the question in my case: I don't have either), or hand you a golden key to bestsellerdom (I would use it myself if I could find it). I and most writers don't have that kind of time. Besides, your work should be yours, not altered at this early stage to suit someone else's preconceived notion of what sells.
Q) What advice can you give aspiring writers about your early experiences in writing, difficulties to find that first publisher and where did you go from there?
It was shocking to me, but nevertheless true, that in spite of all my schooling, I was not as good at matters of grammar, style, and usage as I wanted to be. I rounded up all of my family's English textbooks I could find and bought more, and spent months, years poring over them. A day doesn't go by that I don't consult these books. Now the Web delivers much of the quality reference material I most often need. You don't want your expert grasp of language to show in an ostentatious way, though. Don't be afraid to break the rules once you've mastered them, if you can pull that off successfully. It's your book (or story or poem), your vision, your career.
Read a lot in your chosen area. Buy or consult at the library the standard guides to publishing (I'm fond of Writer's Market (Writer's Digest Books) and Jeff Herman's Writer's Guide). Go to conferences, general ones or genre specific. Join a local writer's group and a national one. Writers are an interesting bunch. Rubbing elbows with them, beginners and superstars, is a fine way to boost your self-image as a writer. You'll enjoy hearing how their careers got going, ran out of gas, or drove off a cliff.
Write every day; form a routine; feel guilty when you're not writing. Build your inventory as you continue to submit to agents and editors. You will get rejected; you will get bad reviews; you will wish you had never embarked on this silly pursuit. Then a stranger in the grocery store will startle you by asking if you're so-and-so the writer and tell you how much she enjoyed your work. "When is the next one coming out?" You'll abandon your basket and hurry home to get at the keyboard.
Write. I can't emphasize that enough. No one else can do this for you. Too much networking, Internet chatting, and brainstorming at the coffeehouse are counterproductive. Talent isn't enough. In this business, you're nobody until you're somebody, and you can't be somebody as long as you're nobody. To break out of that vicious paradox, you have to write, write, write, push yourself to be better and better. You're an athlete of creativity, on the freshman team, maybe, but you have boundless potential. Like any other specialized profession or pastime, writing requires rigorous training. And soon the real work will seem a cinch compared with the grueling practice.
Master the mysterious rites of the Query Process. Learn how to put together an impressive initial presentation at a distance. If your query package (or letter or e-mail) can hold an agent's or editor's attention for five minutes and then prompt a request for more material, you're doing something right.
Oh, and get lucky. Lucky? It's happened to me a few times, but so far the results have been woefully short-lived. You can't construct a career on unpredictable luck, but you can be ready for it. Who knows, maybe your luck will stick. I've mentioned building your inventory already. (This is just one of the gems of advice my father has given me. I've had incredible support from my family. May you be so . . . lucky.) Polish your work--and your query--over and over again, as if you would have to submit it tomorrow. That may happen. Be prepared for anything. . . . You're at a writers conference breakfast. You reach for the last piece of unappetizing, dry toast. Another hand gets there at the same time. You graciously opt for a Danish instead (which you wanted in the first place). You strike up a conversation with your erstwhile carb competitor and discover she's a publishing big shot. As you finish your coffee and prepare to rush off to your respective sessions, she hands you a card and asks you to send a few chapters to her New York office. That's luck. You have to be ready with something to send as soon as you get home.
Q) Do you go on book tours and assist otherwise with promotion of your books?
I relish promotion and I think I'm pretty good at it. Remember, I was in that business for years, and even before that, by family tradition I had a feel for the retail battleground and the entrepreneurial ethic. The independent little guy like me has to find alternative means of publicity, be more creative than most authors fortunate enough to be associated with big, established publishing houses that lavish substantial advertising funds on new books. I'll try just about anything that doesn't offend my self-respect.
Q) Where do your ideas come from for your novels? And, how difficult is it to research the genealogical material for your novels?
Ideas look for me, I believe. When you're attuned to the seductive whispers of your muse, almost anything can suggest a new fictional twist or detail. Especially at the outset, almost any piece of actuality can be shaved and turned to fit into the jigsaw puzzle of a mystery. It's more a matter of selection, turning off at will that hypersensitivity, saying to myself at some point, "You have enough. Stop collecting elements. Get to work with what you have." There are innumerable things I could write about; the trick is to decide which horse can go the distance. Sometimes small ideas that alone don't seem individually promising click when you put them together. I consider myself an accretive writer: ideas build upon one another until finally they emerge, transformed, from the waters of the creative chaos that is the beginning of every project.
Usually I locate several books and articles that will serve as the factual foundation for my story. I don't design my fiction to portray real events or people. I make up the significant elements of my novels. The driving characters and places you'll find in my books are composites and don't exist in nature. Insofar as anything "real" makes a cameo appearance in my fiction, it is only as stage scenery, which I use to draw the reader further into my imaginary world. I know I've done my job well when readers seek to find out the "real story" about something I've created out of whole cloth.
As for genealogy, I noticed a few years ago that it was becoming extremely
popular, increasingly on the front page of mainstream consciousness. It
so happened that at this precise moment I was trying to decide exactly what
to write. I was personally interested in researching my family history,
but, more important for my writing career, I also saw immediately that genealogy
rendered in an interesting, unique way as mystery fiction, combined with
the allure of Louisiana and New Orleans, would be just the ticket for me.
I threw myself into learning all I could about genealogy. Reading
books, journals, articles; attending seminars and conferences; conducting
actual field work on my own family occupied the ensuing years. I still
carry on these activities.
And everything I do in the way of genealogy feeds the monster I've created. My bulging files hold thousands of clippings and scribblings relating to odd aspects of genealogy that may or may not find their way into future novels.
Q) What are you currently working on for your next book?
In my fourth genealogical mystery, deadly family secrets come a bit too close to home for Nick Herald's taste. Something from Nick's father's past initiates a dangerous domino effect that cascades through time, space, and bloodlines, propelling the narrative from ancient Europe, to revolutionary Mexico, to Gilded Age New Orleans, to Nick's already harried day-to-day affairs. Themes and plots involve dispossessed royalty, heraldry, purloined treasure, World War II, and, of course, present-day murder.
Q) Do you think working as a writer in Louisiana and writing about it is easier or more difficult than living elsewhere and working as a writer?
It helps me to live here and be surrounded by what I like to write about. The guarded details of living in Louisiana probably escape expatriates. I feel that I can more convincingly sketch the fine lines and apply the subtle shadings by being here. Sure, I suppose that if you're phenomenally successful, you can have several homes and come back to Louisiana to recharge your creative batteries. I can assure you I'm not there yet.
Q) Since there are many writers living in Louisiana (most of them in and around New Orleans) have they formed a community of writers? And, are you friends with any writers in Louisiana?
I live a fairly solitary existence. Not much of a joiner, I'm afraid. For those who are more gregarious, I'm certain that there are opportunities to join Louisiana writing groups--though I'm no expert on the subject. There's even a group where I live, the Writers Guild of Central Louisiana, which was kind enough to spotlight me a couple of years back. Certain Louisiana organizations, such as the State Library and most colleges, put on big events that bring writers and the reading public together.
Q) Do you attend or participate in writers conferences or workshops? And, do you think such endeavors are worthwhile for aspiring writers?
Notwithstanding my previous answer, I have, of course, attended several conferences. In spite of myself, I had a blast at almost every one. I wrote a little on the subject of conferences above. Participating in these things can be expensive, but also surprisingly rewarding. For example, at a UL Lafayette conference some years ago (it was USL then), the manuscript of Deadly Pedigree, my first genealogical mystery, took first place. I had submitted it months earlier and had considered my chances so slim that I didn't even plan to go. That defeatist attitude changed in a heartbeat. The great Ernest J. Gaines acted as the final judge and praised the novel highly. Talk about a tremendous morale boost! And prize money to boot! That honor certainly landed my manuscript on the desks of agents and editors, access I wouldn't have had otherwise. Thinking of yourself as a writer is partly autosuggestion, and talking writing for an entire weekend will give a bit more substance to your pose. Sharing tales of triumph and disappointment with other writers is important, too.
Q) Considering that the Louisiana economy is ailing, do you think aspiring writers should relocate outside of the state? And, why do you stay here?
People tell me there are more important things than writing. In my weak moments I find myself nodding in contrite agreement. So if a better paycheck or family obligations call you away, if you're young or frustrated or angry and you've had it up to here with whatever is eating at you, then you must go. But the writer in you will always miss this place. You'll find a way to return, in prose or poetry if not in body.
I have just one word to say to those contemplating an exit: Galatoire's. . . . Seriously, stay! We need you, artists of all kinds. Mardi Gras is great; Bourbon Street is great; fishing and hunting are great; national sports champions are really great. But more than those tourist draws, Louisiana, with its many heritages, its history, mystique, and human potential, through your artistry could become culturally another classical Athens or Rome, another Renaissance London or Paris or Florence, another contemporary New York, Boston, San Francisco, Chicago, Austin, or Miami (my apology if I left your favorite city out). We have an artistic tradition to uphold and enhance, a unique vision, nourished by the rich material of everyday Louisiana life, through which we can discover and impart new things about the larger world and human existence itself, and yet still retain the fascinating identity we've developed over several thousand years, that inimitable interweaving of ethnic strands (American Indian, European, African American, and many others).
Writers, you don't have to leave. With the miraculous aid of the Internet and associated technology, you can be in L.A. or New York, virtually, any moment of the day or night. In my experience, I've been treated honorably by dozens and dozens of agents and editors whom I never met face to face, even though my return address was clearly a medium-sized Louisiana city. And the few scoundrels I've encountered would have been jerks no matter where I was located during our dealings. I understand that you may feel compelled to wait tables or drive a taxi in some entertainment metropolis, pitching your screenplay or novel to every entertainment mogul who happens to straggle into your clutches. That's a fool's errand that should be confined to your very early twenties, in my opinion. Better to stay here in your home state, perfecting your craft, assessing and putting to use the wealth of material surrounding you, making periodic sallies as needed beyond Louisiana's borders.
Why do I really stay? Cold weather doesn't agree with me, and I'm afraid of sharks.
Q) Any final thoughts for this interview?
Thank you for allowing me to ramble on about myself and my work. I
hope that what I've said has helped some of you who are struggling as new
writers or who as yet are dreaming about a wider audience for the stories
you have been called to tell.
Jimmy Fox is an exceptionally talented writer with a good future. Be sure to try his mysteries. Available from Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million.com, Borders.com/Walden Books and iUniverse.
Visit Jummy Fox's website at http://www.jimmyfox.com/
From PEN & INK WRITERS JOURNAL #2:
CINDY VALLAR, Writer
Her Career As A Librarian
conducted by Lucinda MacGregor
Q) What motivated you to become a librarian?
My mother instilled a love of reading in me at an early age. I enjoyed stamping books as a child whenever my class visited the library. In high school I became a library aide where I learned a lot about the inner workings of a library. When a French professor ridiculed me in front of my classmates and made me detest a language I'd loved since elementary school, I changed my major. The college I attended, Towson University in Maryland, offered an undergraduate degree in school library media. It allowed me to combine my love of libraries with education, so I became a librarian.
Q) What is library science and what are the different facets of librarianship?
Library science encompasses the study of books and information and how to organize and provide access to them. Many people believe librarians spend their days cataloging books and reading, but we do much more. To become a librarian requires six years of college, a Bachelors Degree and a Masters Degree in Library Science.
Librarians manage and maintain the collection, evaluate and select the materials in the library, provide access to information in a variety of media, work with budgets, catalog books, and assist readers in locating books to read or information to answer questions. Librarians teach patrons how to access information and provide them with the most appropriate resources to answer their questions, regardless of whether that information is inside or outside the library. Librarians instill a love of reading in young children. They provide service to all patrons, including those who either don't speak English or have a disability.
Q) What are some of the different types of libraries? Please explain.
Most librarians specialize within their field. Archivists protect and preserve old documents and books. Cataloguers learn the intricacies of either the Dewey Decimal System or the Library of Congress System to classify materials and to provide subject access to them. Special librarians work in a variety of settings where the library collection is subject specific, such as a medical or law library. Academic librarians work at colleges and university, whereas public librarians provide service to the general public. Others, like me, specialize in school libraries.
Q) How long have libraries existed and what is the oldest library still in existence?
The Sumerians had the earliest libraries. Rather than writing on paper, they stored information on clay tablets, many of which were destroyed. A few survive in museums around the world.
The most famous ancient library was in Alexandria, Egypt. It contained over 500,000 volumes and also had an annex with an additional 43,000 volumes.
Copies of these ancient works were sent throughout the ancient world and it's from those copies that we know the works of ancient writers. A large portion of the library was destroyed during a civil war between Julius Caesar and Pompey the Great. Fire claimed much of the rest.
I don't know which library is the oldest, although that of the Vatican and Oxford University would qualify, as would any of the monasteries that still exist where the monks produced books by hand. The oldest library in continuance existence in the United States is at Harvard.
Q) How are books selected for libraries?
That depends on the type of library and the needs of the people who use that library. For example, a school librarian purchases materials to enrich the school's curriculum. A public library, where many patrons need information on businesses and getting jobs, might have special collections in that area. Librarians use a variety of tools to select materials, including review journals, patron recommendations, and genre-specific directories.
Another key component in the selection process involves the author's reputation and the authoritativeness of his/her knowledge, source material, and writing style. Budgetary constraints also play a significant role in whether a library purchases a resource.
Q) How does a library administration go about starting a special collection? Who makes the decision to start one? And how is a collection maintained?
I can't really answer this because I worked in school libraries, which rarely have special collections. Usually, the librarian in charge of a special collection has a particular knowledge or expertise in the subject area. Where the special collection involves history, then that library may also employ archivists who are adept at handling and preserving old materials.
Q) What types of damage can books suffer and what is done to protect books or to repair damage to books?
Torn pages, worn covers, broken spines, mildew, food and beverage spills, dog-eared pages, etc. Another damage comes from patrons compelled to make notations in the margins. Invisible tape will often repair tears, while books with broken spines or worn covers are sent to binderies for repair.
Climate controls help deter must and mildew. I don't know how to repair this type of damage, but there are books that detail how to do it. During one job interview I had that was a question on the test before the face-to-face interview.
Q) What kinds of different materials are kept in libraries?
Books, periodicals, newspapers, videos, books-on-tape, CDS, toys, Internet access, maps, etc. Almost anything you can think of is found in some library collections.
Q) What books are most often considered for removal from libraries or nonacceptance? (I'm referring to censorship.)
Books that someone finds controversial because of the content. The most frequent objections involve language, religion, sex, stereotypes, race, and politics. Many censorship attempts involve reading materials for children and young adults. Many libraries have written policies that explain how they handle requests to censor materials.
Judy Blume and Stephen King are two authors whose books are frequently banned. Here's a list of other banned books. Four were required reading when I attended high school in the 1970s.
Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
Silas Marner by George Eliot
Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Lord of the Flies by William Golding
Q) Do you think the majority of librarians oppose most censorship regarding the availability of books in libraries?
Absolutely! A librarian provides access to materials without allowing his/her personal prejudices and feelings to influence the choice of materials provided. It's not our job to decide what's best for the patron, but to provide information covering all sides of an issue so that the patron can make an informed choice. That's not to say that at times our life experiences don't creep into our work, but for the most part I believe librarians make a conscious effort to provide all available information.
Q) How do librarians assist anyone with research? (Please elaborate.)
When a patron asks a question, the librarian conducts a reference interview to clarify the exact information the patron needs. Unfortunately, people often don't request what they really want, so we ask questions to make certain we understand what it is they need. Once we know what type of information to look for, librarians often consult The World Book Encyclopedia first because it contains answers to the most frequently asked questions. Librarians always begin their search with general resources and from there consult more specific resources until they find the answer to the patron's query.
Contrary to popular opinion, librarians don't know everything. Instead, we're trained to provide access to knowledge and in today's world we have an overload of information. Librarians can help a patron to evaluate whether a resource is worthwhile and reliable or whether it's trash.
Q) Do you think the Internet (in some ways) has replaced a visit to the library?
On occasion because the Internet is available 24/7 and many people can access it from home, work, or school. Unfortunately, that's not true of libraries.
Q) Do you think the majority of materials that most libraries contain will one day be available on the Internet?
No. A lot of the information available on the Internet isn't reputable or reliable, and few people have the skills or knowledge necessary to make that determination. Librarians do and as society is deluged with more and more information, those who don't know how to find needed quality information will rely on those who do: librarians. The Internet is another tool for accessing information, some of which is quite costly. Libraries have greater buying power than most individuals and therefore, people will continue to need libraries to access information, whether via the Internet or through other media, that would be otherwise inaccessible. Also, libraries will continue to provide access to materials not found on the Internet, especially those materials published prior to when the Internet became a popular way to access information.
Q) How do you think the new Homeland Security measures for libraries will affect the relationship between librarians and the public? (I'm referring to the FBI visiting libraries to see the files of books selected by individuals.)
For the most part I don't see it affecting the relationship between librarians and the public because many librarians are already taking steps to protect patrons' privacy. Rather than maintain records as to what someone borrows, libraries are deleting such records. One result will be that librarians may not readily know a reader's likes and dislikes, but librarians have always maintained that a patron's privacy is key.
Bookstores are also destroying or refusing to keep similar records for the same reason.
Q) Where can anyone read more about libraries and library science?
Checkout the books in the 000s of the library collection. Talk to a librarian. You should also visit these two sites:
The American Library Association - http://www.ala.org
Librarians and Information Science -
Q) What requirements does someone need in seeking a career as a librarian? And would you recommend that anyone become a librarian with today's job market?
A Master's of Library Science from a university or college accredited by the American Library Association. Constant training to maintain skills and to keep abreast of the latest trends and technology. Membership in professional organizations. A love of reading, searching for information, and helping others. Some types of libraries will also require additional education in fields other than library science, such as art, history, education, etc.
Having retired from library work five years ago, I'm not current with the needs in today's job market. Institutions continue to need qualified, trained librarians, but budgetary constraints may limit the number of positions available. If a person also has a speciality or particular expertise that makes their skills more marketable, then they have the edge when interviewing. For example, during my first job I acquired the skills and knowledge to teach computer literacy and run a computer lab. At the time few people had those skills. When I had to look for another position, one of the schools I interviewed with had two part-time positions, one for a librarian and the other to create and teach a computer curriculum. My training and experience allowed me to apply for both positions and turn two part-time positions into a full-time one.
Q) How do you think libraries have changed since its early days, since the eighteen century and how have they changed during the twentieth century? What changes do you predict will happen in the twenty-first century?
Originally only the privileged and rich had access to books, and few women were even taught to read. With the invention of the printing press and the rise of the middle class, more people had the opportunity to read. Early library collections were privately owned and a large percentage of the books in them were of a religious nature. Libraries for businesses and the general public were an outgrowth of the Industrial Age. With more libraries and better communication, libraries can coordinate their holdings and provide access to them through Interlibrary Loan, a program that allows readers in one place to borrow materials from a library in another city, state, or country.
Technology will provide us with a greater access to information, often without us having to leave our homes. Some public libraries have created statewide systems that allow people to request needed materials through the Internet. These libraries hope to eventually deliver the requested items through the mail rather than requiring patrons to pick them up at the library. Libraries will continue to be front-runners in providing access to information through the latest technological advancements. Some public libraries are currently testing various means of providing access to e-books, which will become another important medium for library patrons, just as books-on-tape and CDS have in the past. What will limit the growth of services offered will be economic and budgetary constraints. There may come a time when patrons have to decide how important libraries are to them and whether they're willing to pay to use them or the special services they can offer.
Q) Considering that you have retired, if you had to start all over again, would you still choose to become a librarian and why?
Perhaps, perhaps not. When I was in high school, the guidance counselors and curriculum didn't share all the possible career paths I could choose.
My parents planned for me to go to college, and there was no going against their wishes. Although women's lib was around then, it was still in its infancy, so I didn't pursue professions that women today wouldn't think twice about entering. My tastes and interests have changed over the years, but my thirst for knowledge and love of history remain the same. Perhaps that's one reason why I retired, to pursue other interests, writing and editing.
Editor of Pirates and Privateers: The History of Maritime Piracy
(See interview on this page regarding her writings.)
From SEASCAPES #1:
PIRATE LADY: CINDY VALLAR
conducted by Lucinda MacGregor
Q) How did you develop your interest in pirates?
While in college, I began researching Jean Laffite, a gentleman privateer who played an instrumental role in the Battle of New Orleans. He led a group of pirates, privateers, and smugglers based at Barataria, a three-day journey from New Orleans by pirogue through the bayous of Louisiana. To lend authenticity to my story, I needed to gain knowledge of pirates and how they operated.
When I decided to write full-time, I had to acquire publishing credits
to demonstrate my writing abilities and my ability to meet deadlines.
Suite101.com was looking for editors to write columns on a variety
I submitted an application to write a monthly column on the history of maritime piracy entitled Pirates and Privateers (http://www.suite101.com/welcome.cfm/pirates). They hired me and in March 2000 my first article, Jean Laffite, Enigma and Legend, debuted. (http://www.suite101.com/article.cfm/pirates/33757)
Q) What is your background in writing? How does it relate to your interest in pirates and history?
My initial attempts at writing began in high school where I wrote poetry whenever I got bored in class. The literary magazine published one poem and two others later appeared in collegiate anthologies while I was a senior at Towson University. In college, I watched a television show where Walt Disney introduced Jean Laffite. His description of this enigmatic gentleman intrigued me enough to research Laffites life and eventually led me to work on a novel about him.
Marriage and my career as a school librarian put that novel on hold until I began working in a school for severely emotionally challenged teenagers. To relieve the stress I resumed working on the Laffite novel, but the story and characters wouldnt gel, so I started another manuscript. In 2002 NovelBooks, Inc. (http://www.novelbooksinc.com/) published my debut novel, THE SCOTTISH THISTLE.
Historical events are the main focus of my novels, but I intertwine them with love stories. THE SCOTTISH THISTLE tells the story of Scotlands Rising of 1745 when Bonnie Prince Charlie attempted to regain the British throne for the Royal House of Stuart. Forced to wed, Rory MacGregor and Duncan Cameron participate in the Rising in different ways while combating prejudice and intrigue that threaten to destroy their tenuous marriage. THE REBEL AND THE SPY, my current work-in-progress, centers on Jean Laffite and the Baratarians during the War of 1812. Alexine, Laffites younger sister, tangles with Lucas, the cousin of William Claiborne, the Governor of Louisiana whos keen on destroying the Laffites.
Q) How did your profession as a librarian come into play with your interests?
Being a librarian allows me to explore any topic that interests me anytime I want. It gives me an edge in doing research because of my training in how to do effective searches for information. I also know how to evaluate resources as to their accuracy and reliability.
Q) Why did you become a writer? How difficult was it breaking into the field of writing?
Ive been fairly lucky in breaking into the field of writing, but it does require work. In part my success stems from choosing not to follow traditional paths (such as getting an agent and trying to get published by a traditional publisher). When applying to become a Suite Editor, I chose a topic thats difficult to find reliable information on a subject, but also one familiar to people of all ages. I believe writing Pirates and Privateers established my reputation as an author and allowed me to amass my initial reader base, which I then used to promote my other writings.
Thats not to say I havent encountered roadblocks and pitfalls along the way. I have, but I learned from my mistakes and tried again. I dont quit. Ive made friends and contacts around the world and they help me spread the word about what I write. I also read about how to promote and treat my writing as a business, because once your first novels published, its success or failure depends on you.
Q) You have an outstanding website. It is extremely informative, entertaining, and well designed. What motivated you to develop your website (particularly the area devoted to pirates)?
Web sites are a promotional tool for authors. As I worked to develop Thistles & Pirates (http://www.cindyvallar.com), I realized I had a variety of information to offer readers and writers besides just promoting what I write. Some of those items, such as the bibliographies and favorite research links, stem from my twenty years of library work.
The pirate section of my web site (http://www.cindyvallar.com/pirates.html) consisted originally of links to my column at Suite101.com. When they encountered financial problems, there was a chance that all my work would disappear. Since I knew how valuable the information was for readers and visitors, I decided to create a mirror site within my own web site where people can access the same information found at Pirates and Privateers (http://www.suite101.com/welcome.cfm/pirates). One difference between the two sites is that its easier for me to keep my own pages up-to-date than for me to check every article Ive written at Suite101.com. Also, I include more graphics than youll find at Pirates & Privateers. My most recent article, however, is only accessible at Suite101.com.
While maintaining a duplicate set of everything found at Pirates & Privateers requires extra time and effort, it allows me to include items not permissible at Suite101.com. Now that I review pirate books, I keep the more involved reviews at Suite101.com and link to them at Thistles & Pirates. This allows visitors to use both resources.
Q) What has the response been to your website, and what are your future plans for the site?
Response to my web site is positive and almost everyone finds something to interest him or her, such as the photographs that compliment my book or the pirate articles. When people write me about the web site, I add their comments to my reviews.
I dont really have set plans for the future of my web site. I add to it as I find items I think would interest others. Eventually, I will add to the Jean Laffite pages once that book is published. Ill develop other pages that compliment future books as needed. In fact, the page on Historical Fiction vs. History (http://www.cindyvallar.com/histfic.html) is a recent addition and stems from the passage Andrew M. Greeley wrote in the afterword of one of his novels that I read.
Q) Do you think pirate fiction will always be popular and why? What is their popularity compared to other types of fiction?
Pirate fiction allows readers to step away from the societal restraints we encounter in our everyday lives. The thrill and adventure appeal to us without requiring us to relinquish our safety nets. I explore this further in an article entitled The Lure of Piracy Reality vs. Romanticism. (http://www.cindyvallar.com/romanticism.html)
I cant say how their popularity compares to other fiction. I believe what a person reads is subjective and depends on his or her tastes and life experiences. It also depends on what publishers believe the public wants, even if its not a true indicator of what people like to read.
Q) What time in history was pirate activity at its peak, and what was the impact on history?
The peak of pirate activity came during the first three decades of the
eighteenth century. This period is known as the Golden Age of Piracy.
When you think of pirates, these are the ones that come to mind.
They include Blackbeard, Anne Bonny and Mary Read, and many more. The ultimate impact on history is that their raids on maritime commerce eventually led nations to enact laws that outlawed piracy and privateering. Although piracy remains a problem even today, it no longer garners the attention it did in the past. If youd like to know more about pirates of this era, my columns in March and April will highlight the pirates of the Golden Age of Piracy.
Q) How much historical material is available about pirates? How does it help with writing historical fiction?
A lot of historical information is available on pirates, but its not always accurate. Primary accounts of trials provide the best resource for factual information, as do other first-hand accounts by pirates and their victims. These, however, are rare. The more one reads about pirates, the more one acquires a general understanding of what piracy entails. You also learn who and what are the best resources to consult for background and details.
Q) Who were some of the most notable pirates, how did they choose that life, and what were their motivations?
Blackbeard, Anne Bonny and Mary Read, Cheng I Sao, LOllonais, and William Kidd are just a few notable pirates. Those portrayed in novels and films are perhaps the better known.
Pirates became pirates for many reasons. Some sought the promise of wealth. Some had no choice either join or die. Many began their maritime careers as privateers, respectable mariners who preyed on enemy commerce during war, or naval personnel. When the war ended, however, they lost their means of legal livelihood, leaving them the choice of turning outlaw or starving to death. Some escaped the harsh brutality of serving in the navy or under the command of sadistic sea captains.
Piracy allotted them freedoms they didnt have in regular society. They were their own bosses. They looked out for their own. In essence they were the forerunners of a democratic society. They instituted an early form of health insurance.
Q) What books have you written about pirates?
Im currently working on THE REBEL AND THE SPY, a novel about Jean Laffite and the War of 1812.
Q) What books projects are you working on and will they include pirates?
Q) Who are some of the popular writers of pirates in fiction and nonfiction?
Im not necessarily familiar with the most popular writers of fictional pirates as I read more factual books than novels. The ones listed here are from my collection of pirate books. If youd like a more comprehensive list of pirate books in English, I recommend a visit to Larry Voyers Piratical Bibliography (http://voyer.crosswinds.net/).
Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
Captain Blood by Rafael Sabatini
Angel in the Rigging by Erika Nau
The Sweet Trade by Elizabeth Garrett
Dead Mans Chest by Roger L. Johnson
The Witch from the Sea by Lisa Jensen
The Deadly Lady of Madagascar by Frank G. Slaughter
Captain Mary, Buccaneer by Jacqueline Church Simonds
Blackbirder by James L. Nelson
The Buccaneers by Iain Lawrence
Under the Black Flag by David Cordingly
Bold in Her Breeches edited by Jo Stanley
A General History of the Pyrates by Daniel Defoe (sometimes listed as Captain Johnson)
Dangerous Waters by John S. Burnett
Jolly Roger with an Uzi by Jack A. Gottschalk and Brian P. Flanagan
Pirate by Richard Platt
The Pirate Hunter by Richard Zacks
The History of Pirates by Angus Konstam
Pirates: Terror on the High Seas from the Caribbean to the South China Sea
Pirates and Privateers of the Caribbean by Jenifer Marx
Q) How frequently has the giant sea monster or the mermaid been used in pirate tales?
I dont know how often these appear in pirate tales. They are very common in maritime tales, though. The pirate fiction I read tends to portray pirates in a more historically accurate vein, so these arent present in them.
Q) How realistic or romanticized are the portrayals of pirates in film and literature?
The early depictions of pirates in literature didnt glamorize pirates. They were cruel villains. The myth of piracy and the romanticism began in the early 1800s when Lord Byrons Corsair became a wronged hero who had Robin Hood characteristics. Sabatinis Captain Blood made them romantic heroes. Most pirate films tend toward romanticized portrayals and often lack historical accuracy. If youd like to read a more in-depth look at this aspect of piracy, read my article The Lure of Piracy, which I mentioned in a previous answer.
Q) What are some of the most notable battles involving pirates?
I suppose the most notable is the one that ended with Blackbeards beheading, but pirates didnt operate in this manner. Their successes came when they swooped down on unsuspecting prey, raided the ship, and then left as quickly as they appeared. The battle scenes depicted in pirate films rarely happened. Pirates wanted the ship and its cargo. To participate in battles endangered what they sought so they were more apt not to fire unless given no other choice.
Q) How structurally sound were the pirate ships? Do any of these ships still exist? What about replicas?
How sound they were depended on their age and how well kept they were. If ships werent careened often, then they became slow and their hulls rotted. Im not aware of any pirate ship from the past that exists intact today, although several shipwrecks have been found. The most notable are The Whydah, which was Black Sam Bellamys ship, and Queen Annes Revenge, Blackbeards flagship. Some pirate re-enactors have acquired wooden sailing ships that have become pirate ships, but I dont have firsthand knowledge of these. Youd probably learn more about replicas by visiting No Quarter Given (http://www.noquartergiven.net/).
Q) What important pirate treasures have been discovered and where?
Im not aware of any pirate treasures having been discovered unless you count the remains of The Whydah and Queen Annes Revenge. The artifacts uncovered are treasures themselves, but of a historical nature rather than a monetary one. Buried treasure is more a myth than a reality. Most pirates squandered the money they acquired.
Q) Discuss some of your interests outside of pirates such as books you have written, and your writer's critiquing service.
THE SCOTTISH THISTLE is the only published novel Ive written. In addition to working on THE REBEL AND THE SPY, Im currently researching a book set in western Kansas during the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl.
When Im not working on my novels, I write articles for my piracy column. I also have two newsletters for my readers one devoted to my writing in general and the other specifically to pirates. Occasionally I also write articles on the craft of writing and researching. I review historical novels, pirate books, and history books for several venues. I teach online courses about piracy and Scottish history and culture. I also maintain my web site, Thistles & Pirates (http://www.cindyvallar.com).
I spent many years editing student papers, newspaper articles, and yearbook copy while I was a librarian. Ive also participated in critique groups. Using my education and acquired knowledge, I applied to Wings Press as a copyeditor and editor of their historical and contemporary romances and romantic suspense novels. After critiquing novels for several friends and other authors, I decided to open my own critique service (http://www.cindyvallar.com/critiques.html) where I offer to copyedit, edit, or critique novels for authors.
I critique the first chapter of a work for free so potential clients see how I work and what I look for when I critique their novels. A copyedit of a work means I check grammar, punctuation, spelling, and search for logic errors. I charge $3 per each 1000 words for this service. A full edit/critique includes a copyedit but also covers what works vs. what doesnt, where to flesh out scenes and characters, where to delete too much information, etc. I charge $6 per each 1000 words for a critique.
While my expertise lies in historical novels, Ive critiqued fantasy and contemporary stories as well as non-fiction. Some of the books Ive edited have gone on to win awards. I include recommendations from other authors on my web page for potential clients.
Q) What advice would you give to any wannabe writer of pirate tales?
Do your research. Check and double-check your facts. Never let history interfere with the story. Never stop dreaming!
Editor of Pirates and Privateers: The History of Maritime Piracy
E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org - Thistles & Pirates:
From PEN & INK WRITERS JOURNAL #2:
STEPHEN DUNCOMBE, WRITER
author of Notes from Underground: Zines and the Politics of Alternative Culture and more
conducted by Lucinda MacGregor
BIO: Stephen Duncombe is the ex-editor of Primary Documents, a zine of historical primary sources as well as the author of Notes from Underground: Zines and the Politics of Alternative Culture and the editor of the Cultural Resistance Reader. He teaches the history and politics of Media and Culture at the Gallatin School of New York University.
DUNCOMBE: Wow. That's one hell of an interview. I'm not sure I'll do your questions justice but here are some of my thoughts.
Q) Your book is undoubtedly the definitive work on zine culture. What motivated you to write it?
Two things. One, I was looking for a topic for a dissertation I needed to write -- I received my Ph.D. in sociology from the City University of New York -- and zines seemed the perfect topic: interesting, readable, rich in meaning . . . and, above all, fun (The last is important as you have to spend years researching and writing a dissertation). This dissertation later became my book.
The second motivation, and probably the more important one, was my desire to explore the two great loves of my life: underground culture and radical politics. Zines were a lens through which to look at the intertwining strands.
Q) In your book you discuss the background of a typical zinester. What is it and how do you draw your conclusions?
What it is is this: young, (often formerly) middle class, white and part of an underground scene of some sort. In other words: the same population who has made up bohemia for the past 150 years. Thus said there are many exceptions to this rule: some of my favorites are by older writers,
Non-white writers, even non-bohemian writers.
I came to this conclusion by gleaning what I could out of the personal statements of the thousands of zines I read and interviewing nearly 50 zine writers and asking them about their experience with the zine writers they knew.
Q) Please elaborate regarding your statement, "Zines are speaking to and for an underground culture."
Zines speak for an underground culture in that this is what their subject matter is: literature, music, obsessions, feelings and what-have-you that are usually neglected by mainstream, commercial culture. They speak to this culture in that participants in these underground cultures use zines to communicate with one another.
Q) How does radicalization in the zine underground thrive while mainstream America carries on in its morass of conformity?
Good god, that's a question. The long answer is my book (or read Malcolm Cowley, Tom Frank or David Brooks). The short answer is that consumer culture thrives on cultural dissent: it is "the other" which makes up new trends and new markets and new products. In addition, I have this suspicion that we, in this country, lead bifurcated lives. We quite easily divorce our fantasy lives from our everyday actions. This is true if whether your fantasy life is shoot-em up games or bohemianism.
Q) What type of zines are generally popular in small press and what is the range of diversity in zines? (NOTE: Part of Question 18 asks about popular zines but in your answer please discuss zines from a somewhat different perspective.)
That's the beauty of zines -- they are about EVERYTHING. Since zines are, above all, personal expressions of their creator's passions, they are as diverse as their creators.
Q) You comment that mainstream America and the "powers that be" do not perceive the zine underground as a threat and instead the Media makes use of promoting zine culture as one more thing to profit from. Surely they perceive the zine underground as a threat and promote it only to dilute it and make it ineffective as a tool of the zinesters, since once it becomes mainstream it will effectively kill the zine underground? You mention that the "powers that be" have worked hard to convince the masses that "there is no alternative" to "the current system." Surely that is further proof that they have every intention of diluting zine culture in any and every way possible? Some would say that the profit they could derive from incorporating zine culture is more important than ultimately destroying it. It seems that it is more of a class thing and the "powers that be" cannot leave it well enough alone. They cannot tolerate anything that might give power to the people and work as a true form of democracy. Anything that might in any way pose a threat to the elite powers of the U.S., will not be tolerated for long. Your comments?
I don't think zines are a threat. I think they could be a threat if people applied the Do-It-Yourself ethic of zines to other spheres of their life like politics. But zines in themselves -- like underground culture writ large -- is not a challenge if it stays purely cultural. Why the mainstream, commercial culture co-opted zines had less to do with them as a threat than the possibility that zines would provide a good marketing opportunity; a way to sell products.
Q) How are zines put together from scratch? Discuss the different methods used from the origins of small press up to the present. And, how has the push toward turning a strictly DIY project into a more commercial endeavor with desktop publishing altered zine culture? Surely though it has somewhat made zines more acceptable to mainstream culture, at the same time it has worked to destroy the original spirit in which zines are created? Another words, for zines to remain pure should zine publishers (the "zine purists") maintain the old methods of production, the old formats of originality and not seek promoting their zines in mainstream culture? Or, perhaps a middle ground could be achieved? Comments?
I've never been one for purity. When you keep an aesthetic solely because it is "zine like" you've fetishized it -- turned it into a product itself.
Q) You comment that zinesters would be horrified to be labeled as "bohemian." Why?
Because it's such a 19th Century term. No one - including myself -- likes to think that they've come before.
Q) Is the "weblog" just another version of a webpage or webzine? Explain the differences, if any.
I think it's very similar. What's lost on the web is the small insular world -- or network -- of zine exchange. Anything on the web is more democratic: it is open to anyone with a computer and web access. This is good. But what also gets lost in the process are the thick set of values that those "in the know" possess and share.
Q) While the Internet is great for democratizing and bringing people from everywhere together, does it not also isolate them in some respects since it promotes people sitting at their computers locked away in their houses as opposed to being outside and participating in closer contact with other people? Or, is that balanced out by the fact that they encounter people from everywhere on the net as opposed to only one's own neighborhood or one's town if not on the net?
Better to sit in front of an interactive computer than to sit in front of a one-way TV -- which is probably what most people were doing.
Q) In stating that underground culture is not what it used to be in cities across America since rents have gone up tremendously and cafes have mostly been replaced by the likes of Starbucks, do zines fill that void? How about the Internet? Elaborate on both.
I think media like zines or the Internet have filled the void -- creating a "virtual bohemia."
Q) Regarding your statement that, "As individuals, zinesters may be losers in the game of American meritocracy . . . ," please explain. Surely it does not matter to many diehard zinesters? Comments? (I for one have never cared how mainstream America perceives me. If I did, I could never have carried on as someone outside the mainstream my entire life. I have been committed to small press for 20 years now and that is all I do and will ever do. I only care about how I perceive me. I have always identified the mainstream, and in particular the "powers that be," as very much like the seed pods in "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" so you can well imagine what a negative opinion I have of them.) Comments?
Exactly -- it the glorification of the term "losers." That is: understanding that being a "loser" in the eyes of a society you disdain is in fact being a winner in your own eyes and those who you respect.
Q) You comment about how perzine writers go against the grain by choosing not to wait for approval from the big publishers to be accepted for publication. They simply publish their own journals. Surely as part of a real democracy the people should have the right to express themselves freely in any manner as long as it does not physically hurt someone? Care to elaborate?
I agree -- and so far they have not revoked this right of ours in the Constitution. Yet.
Q) You state that "stressing the personal is a way of seizing authority. It's a way for zinesters to assert that they have the right to think and write about the stuff they are passionate about . . .
Personalization is the work of individuals who don't have a void that matters in public discussions about culture and politics saying: Yes I do matter, that is what I believe, this idea of mine." You further state that citizens in colonial times could become involved in the political realm whereas today that is not possible. And that is the case because the "powers that be" see themselves as the only ones fit to rule so they will not tolerate the little guy interfering in their control over America. Therefore ordinary Americans are alienated from the system and they are discouraged from participating--the "powers that be" insure that the attitude prevails against it. Since you are convinced that is the case, surely then the "powers that be" are the enemies of the people?
You said it better than I could.
Q) You comment that "zines are the products of individual dissenters." Well, how much does that empower them? How effective is their influence on mainstream society as compared with a revolution? Elaborate please.
Individuals do have a certain power. As individuals they can be examples of a principled or rebellious life. "Bearing Witness" is what Christians call this. Revolutions are also made up of individuals, both as organizers and as participants. But, and this is an important but, individuals, as long as they stay isolated, don't change anything. Look at the Unabomber.
Q) You make the claim that zines help free the publishers from interacting in person and that the publishers are recognized only by what they publish. Then what about the network of zinesters who get together across the country and elsewhere either in coffee shops (that still exist) night clubs, scifi & horror and small press cons. Surely they develop some social skills to interact while participating in such activities? Or, does that not count since they are not interacting in the mainstream?
No doubt zinesters do congregate in person and socialize -- but I think what is unique about communication like zines (or on-line interaction) is that it allows people who are awkward in face to face interaction an alternative medium though which to shine, that is: a way to express "who they really are" as opposed to who they appear to be in person.
Q) You state that zinesters are similar to politicians in that they present themselves as they want the public to perceive them. Is that not true of everyone in society? Is it not a fundamental human trait? In every form of human interaction people present themselves to each other as they want to be perceived. It is akin to a salesperson making a sale. No matter how much some individuals might attempt to be natural and not try to sell themselves, somehow they manage to do it anyway. It is in the nature of human kind to do so. Comments?
Yes: I think we all perform ourselves. Zinewriters may be more (or less in the case of their search for authenticity) honest about this than the rest of us.
Q) How has zine culture been changed by the ability to publish online? What is the percentage of zines online as opposed to zines only in print? As a zine publisher I do both and I know there are many others like me. How do they fit in the picture? Also, what are the more popular types of zines currently available?
I actually don't know. See # 26
Q) I know that when I started publishing zines I was mainly a hobbyist. Previously I maintained correspondence for many years with more than 200 pen pals as a hobby. Now I have become much more political and I am beginning to take on that adversarial intent that you talk about in your book. Do you think politically-tinged zines have more substance and make more of a difference than zines published as a hobby?
Good question. I can answer that two ways. Personally, I like it when people discuss politics. I think when people debate the merits of capitalism vs. socialism or participatory democracy vs. representative democracy that democracy is advanced further than when people have a heated exchange over Pez dispensers.
On the other hand, as I stated before, I believe that it is the act of creating ideas and taking communication into your own hands -- saying: "this is something I can do" -- that is the most important politics of zines.
Q) Please explain how zinesters stand up to and oppose the prevailing attitude in American society you describe in your book:
"One of the seductive pleasures of living in a consumer society is the ability to surround yourself with enough pleasure-producing commodities that nagging questions about the nature of real freedom, real choice, and the social cost of defining these things in purely consumerist ways--disappear."
Also, do you not see this attitude as damaging to maintaining any ethical
and sensible value system?
Surely it is in the nature of the American capitalistic system to promote unethical behavior such as the business practices of corporations?
I think corporations are not unethical but a-ethical. That is: they don't think about ethics, only profit and returns. In that zinesters think about the question of what is it to live an authentic life they are engaging in an ethical discussion which is sorely needed in this country.
Q) How do the recent revisions in online copyright law effect zine publishing?
Don't know -- my guess is that zines are too small fish to go after.
Thankfully, as these laws are destroying creativity in other forums like music, book publishing and so on.
Q) Discuss how zine culture developed going back to the beginning. (NOTE: You could include zines such as penny dreadfuls and pulp zines or if you prefer you could start with the alternative political zines in the 1960's. I would like to see mention of both but I will leave it up to you to decide how you want to approach that question or what direction you want the interview to go.)
That's a loooooong question to answer. You'll have to pull that out of my book.
Q) What are some of your favorite zines (previously published or still in publication)?
Probably my all-time favorite was Dishwasher. A zine about a guy bumming around the country washing dishes. It was beautifully written, singularly obsessive and revealingly personal -- everything a great zine should be.
Q) You discuss anthropologist, Mary Douglas, and her views regarding how zinesters consider individualism very important and how they hate the rules of mainstream society, that it motivates them in writing and producing their zines, and that it is a way to organize their opposition to the world at large. Yet you think this situation is not without its problems. Comments? (NOTE: Please keep in mind that you might want to rethink your stance considering the current political climate in America.) Also, do you still think that zines are only a method of political catharsis and that the zine underground is only a form of rebellion against the insensitive mainstream? From your comments you obviously think that the angst of zine culture hurts any influence it has as an important protest movement against the "powers that be," that if the enemy no longer presents a problem then the zine culture movement would no longer have a reason to continue.
In light of the impressive protests against the WTO and IMF and World Bank I would rethink some of this. Most of the young people I come into contact with in direct action protest organizing come out of an underground cultural milieu. So obviously there has been some sort of leap from pure cultural rebellion to acting it out in the streets. Bravo, I say.
I'm glad you bring up the current political climate. It is much more repressive and fearful of difference than the Clinton era, or even the Reagan/Bush I era before that. We do not have to worry about rebellion being co-opted today as much as being harassed and jailed for it. My guess is that this sort of mass conformity will result in a vibrant underground culture again -- I just hope that this underground keeps its hands in politics as well.
Q) How do you think the current ultra conservative political climate and Homeland Security will change the Internet and zines online as well as zines in print? Do you think politically there are similarities to the McCarthy era of the 1950's? How far do you think the current administration will go with censorship and invasion of privacy? And, will there be any serious liberal opposition? Do you think it will radicalize the left-wing in America? How will it affect the future of zine culture?
Q) Do you plan to write any more books about zines?
Nope. One of the sad things about writing a book about something is that you spend so much time with that thing that when you are done writing you are also done with whatever you wrote about. It's sort of like how it is painful to walk down the street you once lived on; or visit your ex-lover. However, I do come across a zine and sit down to read it every once in a while, and every time I do I'm still struck by the creative life that they express.
Q) Any final comments about zines or whatever?
I hope some of this was useful Lucinda.
From NIGHTSHADE #2:
DEL STONE JR., WRITER
conducted by Lucinda MacGregor
Del Stone Jr. is a professional science fiction/horror writer. He is known primarily for his work in the contemporary horror field, but has also published science fiction. Del's stories, poetry and scripts have appeared in publications such as Amazing Stories, Eldritch Tales, and Bantam-Spectra's Full Spectrum.
His short fiction has been published in The Year's Best Horror Stories XXII; Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine; the Pocket Books anthology More Phobias; the Barnes & Noble anthologies 100 Wicked Little Witch Stories, Horrors! 365 Scary Stories, and 100 Astounding Little Alien Stories; the HWA anthology Psychos; and other short fiction venues, like Blood Muse and Sex Macabre. He has also been published Del's comic book debut was in the Clive Barker series of books, Hellraiser, published by Marvel/Epic. He has also published stories in Penthouse Comix, and worked with artist Dave Dorman on many projects, including the illustrated novella "Roadkill," a short story for the Andrew Vachss anthology Underground from Dark Horse, an ashcan titled "December" for Hero Illustrated, and several of Dorman's Wasted Lands novellas and comics. Del's novel, Dead Heat, won the 1996 International Horror Guild's award for best first novel and was a runner-up for the Bram Stoker Award. Del has also been a semifinalist for the Nebula and Writers of the Future awards. His stories have appeared in anthologies that have won the Bram Stoker Award and the World Fantasy Award.
Del works for a newspaper, where he is the assistant managing editor. He has won numerous awards for his work, and in 1986 was named Florida's best columnist in his circulation division by the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors. He is active in the community. He also participates in book signings and awareness campaigns, and is a guest on local television and radio programs.
As an addendum, Del is single, bowls, plays tennis, can tie the stem of a cocktail cherry in a knot with his tongue, and carries a permanent scar on his chest after having been shot there with a paint ball gun. He's 47, but doesn't look a day over 74. He lives in Fort Walton Beach, Florida.
Q) What motivated you to write in both the horror and science fiction genres? And, what do you mostly write--stories, novels, articles, reviews, comix, etc.?
I think horror and SF have a lot in common, hence the "speculative fiction" umbrella term the industry applies to a work of fiction that seems to fit one of the genres. They both deal with elements of the unreal, and usually some quality of menace is present. Sometimes the synthesis is so seamless you can't decide if a story is horror or science fiction "Alien" comes to mind. While the setting was SF, the story itself was horror, through and through. I like tales that appeal to a modern sensibility so it's usually necessary to include SF elements. I think Michael Crichton pulls this off rather well, as does Stephen King, Dennis Etchison, and Dan Simmons. And I think the traditional symbols for evil the devil, vampires, werewolves, and so forth have been done to death, hence my quest for "new monsters" that best represent our current anxieties. But ultimately what decides it for me is the story's theme is it better served by a horror or science fiction context? And of course the market itself is a factor. What kind of story is the editor looking for? And do I want to write that kind of story?
Most of my published work consists of short stories. I've published a single novel, and three or four comic book stories. I've also published several novellas, and even poetry (which is very bad by the way). But by and large the vast majority of my work is in the short story form.
Q) Since your novel, Dead Heat, won the 1996 International Horror Guild Award, and you have been nominated for other works, how does that influence you as a writer? Another words, do you feel pressure to work harder at your craft?
I'll be honest the lure of awards is powerful. I think all writers want to win an award, if for no other reason than to help in the marketing of their work.
In the mid-1990s I became swept up in an effort to win one. I campaigned shamelessly for my stories. I was very disappointed when my story "The Googleplex Comes and Goes" didn't make the final ballot for the Nebula, though later I learned the anthology had won a World Fantasy Award. The International Horror Guild award for Dead Heat came as a total shock I didn't know it had been nominated, and found out by way of an e-mail after the final vote had been taken. An incident finally corrected my attitude about awards.
I had asked another author to read and possibly recommend one of my stories for a Stoker Award. He read it and declined to recommend it. This really pissed me off, because I had read and recommended one of his works. This "vote trading" is not in the spirit of the award-choosing process but many, many authors do it, and though I'm ashamed to admit it, I confess to the crime now. The story made the preliminary ballot anyway and had the second-highest vote total. Plus, it was up for an IHG award. So I assumed it would make the final ballot for the Stoker. Well, it didn't. I became very, very cynical about the process and decided to abandon organizations like the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America and the Horror Writers Association. It wasn't until later, when I realized what a destructive effect this award greed was exerting on my work and my character, that I rejoined those organizations. But I no longer campaign for my stories, and I no longer recommend other works. I need to concentrate on my writing, not finagling ways to win awards!
I can't say the quest for an award has influenced my writing. I always try to do the very best job possible. If the story wins an award, great. If not, I still get the ultimate satisfaction of liking the story myself, and having an editor like it enough to pay me for it.
Q) How do you manage to write for a newspaper and work on all of your other writing projects?
Ha! It's difficult. I compartmentalize. I write a regular column for a journalism magazine, a Web serial, a weekly newspaper column, occasional feature stories for the newspaper, occasional op-ed pieces for other journalism publications, plus my fiction. Usually what I'll do is assign myself the task and a deadline "This week you must write the piece for the magazine" then assign myself a new task once the former is complete.
Q) What are some of your favorite stories (or other works) that you have written?
Poetry I wrote a poem called "No. 1: Boogeyman" that was published in Amazing Stories. I really liked that poem. It was a very clever piece. Poetry is not my strong suit.
Short stories "Googleplex" will always be one of my favorites. It represented my first attempt to write "personal" fiction stories that reflected my emotional state. Prior to that I merely tried to simulate the feelings. It finally occurred to me that my own desires and fears were fodder enough for a trove of fiction, and I had the advantage of depth and context; I was already experiencing these things and knew what they felt like. I'm also fond of a story I wrote for a Nancy Kilpatrick anthology. The story was called "Homosexulus," about a predatory gay entity that uses lonely men to bring it victims. I had exactly one week to write the story, and on the day Nancy called to invite me to submit, a hurricane was hitting. So I was under a lot of pressure. But I got fan mail for the story, and when I see a review of that anthology online, invariably my story is listed as one of the author's favorites.
Novellas The guys at Space & Time were kind enough to publish my novella "In the Leaves of Grass," which is a very personal and touching story, I think. Also, the upcoming The Uninvited is a very exciting adventure tale I hope people will like as much as I do.
Novel What can I say? Dead Heat is it. I thought parts of it were very good. A story about a rational zombie is harder to write than you may think. Since mortality is no longer an issue, the zombie's perspective on reality is completely alien or at least it should be.
Comics I thought my story for Hellraiser was pretty good. It was a metaphor for birth. I'm not sure anyone picked up on the subtext.
Q) What type of themes in horror and science fiction do you prefer?
I like stories that deal with characters who are trying to find meaning in the world. And I always try to introduce an element of hope so much of horror and SF is apocalyptic and dystopian. It's more of a challenge to show a person, even under the most horrific circumstances, trying to do what's right because he believes in the redeeming power of good.
Q) How difficult was it for you to launch your career as a writer?
It was damn difficult. The physical process of preparing a manuscript for submission was incredibly labor-intensive and time-consuming. Worse, I had no concept of what makes a story a story. So the learning curve, for me, at least, was steep. My first published work of fiction appeared in my college newspaper, where I "won" a contest. First prize was $10. That was in 1976. It was nine more years before I'd sell another piece of fiction, this to an insurance underwriter's magazine. The pay was not bad -- $135. Then in 1989 I sold the poem to Amazing, and in 1992 I sold the story to Full Spectrum 4 and the script to Marvel Comics.
By then I had become more skillful as a writer and sold a number of stories throughout the 90s. But I have a collection of thousands of rejection slips.
Q) Since you are published frequently in small press how has it helped or influenced you as a writer?
The small press is immensely helpful to up and coming writers. It is like the farm team system professional baseball uses to groom future players. It gives writers the opportunity to develop good work habits meeting deadlines, dealing with editors and accepting rejection. It allows writers to see their names in print, thereby providing an essential encouragement. It also allows them to add credits to their cover letters, which may or may not help in a professional sale. Sometimes professional editors will spot new talent in the small press. And in some cases, the stories in small press are worthy of professional publication. I published a story in the small press magazine Crossroads that was later reprinted in Karl Edward Wagner's The Year's Best Horror Stories XXII. And sometimes it even works the other way a story I couldn't get published in the pros or the small press was later accepted at Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine.
Q) Do small, medium, or academic presses offer many opportunities to the new writer? Also, what does Publishing On Demand have to offer?
Literary and academic magazines do offer opportunities to new writers, though they are fairly rigorous in their requirements and the writing is typically different. For a literary publication a writer must concentrate on prose style, subtext and characterization. For a commercial publication, plot is much more important. I try to walk the line between both those worlds. As Dan Simmons has said, it's entirely possible to write good, quality fiction that contains many of the elements of "literature" without sacrificing story.
Print on demand is an interesting development, recently enabled by advances in publishing technology. A considerable anti-POD bias exists, as it's perceived to be a form of vanity press. Not only that, but POD doesn't offer the promotion and distribution opportunities that a conventional publisher such as Bantam or Penguin/Putnam offer (though the POD industry would argue it does). But some professional writers are starting to embrace POD as a means of exerting total control over their work. The trick, of course, is getting readers to buy your book, and in that respect the current pros who are taking the POD route have a distinct advantage over new writers in that they've already established their names as writers, which is a tremendous selling point. I'm not sure how it's all going to play out, but I suspect some means of evaluating the "worth" of a book a POD bestseller's list, or an endorsement from some respected authority in the book world will become necessary to make POD a financially viable alternative for the working writer.
Q) How do you think the big publishing companies in New York City have changed during the past fifty years and how has that shaped the field of writing?
A lot of things have changed in the industry over the past 50 years. Editors are no longer the red-pencil types they once were. Publishing houses don't promote as enthusiastically as they once did. By concentrating on blockbuster books, the industry is squeezing out the mid-list writer. The emergence of property dynasties such as Star Wars, Star Trek and Alien has homogenized the genres (but at the same time has provided a lot of writers with well-paying jobs). Themed anthologies have appeared, but at the same time the short story seems to be disappearing as an art form. E-books and online booksellers have stolen business from brick-and-mortar bookstores, which are also under attack from chain bookstores.
These chains and online booksellers exert tremendous power over what is bought and displayed. Mergers within the industry have probably reduced the diversity of the fiction field. And the dwindling distribution arena has consolidated much power with entities like Ingram and Diamond.
I don't know how it's all going to sort out, but I suspect ways around the choke points will be found.
Business any business operates like an ecosystem undergoing evolution. I heard a biologist in a televised documentary once say, "Wherever there's something to eat, there's something to eat it." New modes of fiction will emerge, and new ways of marketing and distributing that fiction will spring into existence. The market for escapism is simply too big to be dominated by a few corporate entities.
Q) Who are some of your favorite writers and why? How have they influenced you?
Oh gosh, I have a zillion favorite writers. Andre Norton is a terrific storyteller. Ben Bova turned me on to science fiction. Ray Bradbury showed me how prose can make a difference in the telling of a story. Dan Simmons writes with such authority and compassion. Dennis Etchison is a great storyteller and stylist he wrote the scariest story of all time for me, "They Only Come Out at Night." Stephen King taught me the importance of speaking the same language as my readers. Neal Stephenson forces me to think. P.J. O'Rourke possesses an incredible intellect, yet he can still be hilarious. Carl Hiassen is funny, powerful, and honest. And William Shirer was unparalleled in logic and clarity. Finally, Joseph Heller. What a terrific writer!
Q) What are some of your upcoming projects?
My next published work will be a short story in the Penguin/Putnam anthology "Live Without a Net," edited by Lou Anders who by the way is one of the smartest and funniest people I've ever met. He's got some heavy hitters in the book, and I understand it's supposed to be a cutting-edge anthology, possibly a landmark book, the way "Dangerous Visions" changed SF in the 1960s and the Full Spectrum series of anthologies in the 80s and 90s. A short film by Clark Parkhurst, based on my story in "Live Without a Net," is in the works as I write this.
Later in 2003 will be my short novel The Uninvited from Dave Dorman's imprint, Rolling Thunder Graphics. It'll feature some kick-ass paintings by artist Jon Foster. Next year Rolling Thunder will issue a compilation of my Web serial "A Thousand Angry Teeth" and "How to Skin a Jack."
I also expect the anthology I'm editing for my writing group, "The Parasitorium: Terrors Within" to appear in print possibly in late 2003 or early 2004.
In the misty, far-flung future I hope the novel I'm currently working
on, Tidal Pools, will see mass market paperback
publication. We'll see.
Q) Talk about living in Florida (one of my favorite areas of the country--I lived there). Have you written much about Florida or use it to add atmosphere to some of your stories?
I'm working on two novels at the moment and both are set in Florida, on the seashore (well, the Gulf Coast).
And I have at least one more novel in the concept stage that will be set in Florida. The Sunshine State is beginning to rival California as a desirable place to live, work, and be creative. And it is acquiring that undefinable element of style, or fashion, that makes places like California, New York City, and Paris attractive to creators. I live in a town right on the coast, and there's a definite beach culture here. Plus, my part of Florida the panhandle is relatively unknown outside the region, so that gives me a leg up on the Curiosity Factor. As a setting, it'll seem new and different to readers.
Q) (My lucky number! I like to tempt fate.) Any parting words of wisdom for writer wannabes?
Remember that writing is a business. Your success or failure will depend largely on your professionalism.
Work very hard at making your current story the best you've ever written. Format your work in proper manuscript style. Understand that editors are harried, harassed, and besieged, so make their jobs easier by satisfying their guidelines and doing what they ask you to do. Meet deadlines. Be courteous. Fulfill your obligations. Groom regular work habits. Keep your stories in circulation. Do not take rejection personally.
And finally, never, ever give up!
From NIGHTSHADE #1:
KEALAN-PATRICK BURKE, author of RAVENOUS GHOSTS and other works
conducted by Jason Brannon
Kealan-Patrick Burke was born in Ireland but now lives in Ohio.
He is a prolific writer. His short stories have been published
in a variety of zines: Alternate
Realities, Alternate Species,
Dark Moon Rising,
Deviant Minds, Quantum
Muse, Rogue Worlds,
The Place of Reason,
Wicked Hollow, and many others. He also
had stories published in various anthologies: Brimstone
Turnpike, Fangoria's Frightful
Fiction, Fresh Blood,
Midnight Rose, Quietly
Taverns of the Dead,
The Book of Final Flesh,
The Fear Within, The
Night Has Teeth, Vicious Shivers,
etc. Burke has a short collection, Ravenous
Ghosts, recently published. He has served as editor of
Sinisteria and edited the
Hour of Pain anthology.
Shadowland -- http://groups.msn.com/Shadowland
Jason Brannon is another prolific writer. His stories have
been published in Black Petals,
Bloody Muse, Dark
Realms, Electric Wine,
The Edge: Tales of Suspense,
The Witching Hour,
Twilight Showcase, and many more. His
stories have been included in the anthology Space Stations
and Graveyards. Five Days on the Banks of
the Acheron and Puzzles in
Flesh are Brannon's short story collections and
Rusty Nails is his first novel. He also
edits The Haunted (online).
Brannon lives in Mississippi.
The Official Website of Jason Brannon -- http://www.angelfire.com/rant/puzzles/
Q) You are both a talented writer and editor. Which one is more satisfying--cranking out a great new story or finding out that one of your personal heroes is willing to contribute a story to your anthology? Also, do you see yourself gravitating more toward one or the other in the future?
I think there's a different kind of satisfaction associated with both posts. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't doing cartwheels when Charles L. Grant (who is my literary idol) agreed to do a story for Taverns of the Dead, or that did even more daring acrobatics when the story actually arrived in my inbox but I engaged in a similar ritual this morning when I finished revisions on my latest short story. The first short story in a long while, actually. So, I think there are different pleasures and different disappointments with both. Whereas a writer has to deal with rejection, an editor has the unenviable task of dealing out that rejection, chasing publishers for money etc. Both jobs can be heartbreaking.
If it came down to choosing between writing and editing, writing would no-contest. I am a writer, first and foremost. To be honest, I can't remember how the hell I got into this editing gig in the first place.
Q) You've got a new short story collection coming out soon called Ravenous Ghosts. What can you tell us about the book? Are there any background stories associated with any of the stories contained within that might be of interest?
The book sports a stunning cover by popular artist Mike Bohatch, a foreword by Jack Cady (another hero of mine) and an afterward by Gary Braunbeck. It gathers together fourteen of my best stories from the past three years, and two more written especially for the book. 3F Publishing (http://www.3fpublishing.com) will be releasing the book over the next couple of weeks (all going well.)
There are anecdotes to accompany the stories within the book itself. I've always been a fan of short story collections which feature the author's thoughts on the story, so it was only natural that I should do something similar. There are some funny stories in there, and some not-so-funny. For example, one of the stories was written as a long but well-meaning insult (is there such a thing?) to a magazine which appeared to be confused as to the type of genre they wanted submissions to be in. To my surprise, the magazine promptly bought the story. If only all such insults were as well received.
Q) What is the craziest e-mail you've ever gotten from a fan?
I received an e-mail from a German reader back in 2001, who confessed his love for "the story about the snake who talks and the cat with one eye." He wanted my permission to post the story on his website. I might have given it to him if I had known what on earth he was referring to.
Q) According to a lot of people in the horror genre, you're considered to be one of the high-profile guys in the "up-and-coming" ranks. Where do you see yourself in five years?
To be honest I don't see myself as "up-and-coming." With a market as narrow as horror/dark fantasy is these days, I think anyone who persists in writing in it for more than a year is probably considered "up-and-coming." I'm just thrilled to be able to put together books I want to see out there. Not only that, but to be able to consort with your childhood heroes is a little bit magical too.
When I start getting invites to Random House anthologies or my grocery list gets optioned by HBO, maybe then I'll consider myself up-and-coming.
Q) I saw on the Dark Vesper site where the Malevolent Music anthology is now defunct. What happened to that particular project?
That's a long and ugly story that I'll wait to tell you over a beer sometime. Suffice it to say, I was sad to have to put Malevolent Music to sleep, but one of the things you have to learn, and learn quickly if you want to be any kind of editor, is that promises don't mean jack-shit and there is no such thing as a sure thing.
Q) You write and edit full-time. Describe what a typical work day is like for those of us who still hit the 9 to 5.
Well, I get up at dawn, cycle 4-5 miles. Have breakfast. Check e-mail. Write from 9-11. If I have a copy-editing project going (I copy-edit for various publishing houses and writers -- it's my bread-and-butter) that will take up the next few hours. At about 3, I work on whatever anthology I'm running, make calls, faxes, etc. 5-7 is a blur (writing, editing.). 8 onwards is family time.
Q) What is your proudest moment as a writer?
Yikes, that's a tough one. I could name anything from writing my very first story when I was eight years old to getting my first story published (Writings magazine in Ireland, 1990), or having my mother read one of my stories and giving me a great blurb ("Stephen King has nothing on you, boy") right when I needed it. There are too many to mention. Every time I finish a story, I'm proud of myself. Every time a story is published and read, and appreciated, I'm proud of myself as a writer. Every time something I wrote scares my wife, I'm proud to be a horror writer.
Q) How about naming a few guilty pleasures (books, movies, music) that we might not typically associate with a horror writer?
Books? I went through a phase when all I could read were John Grisham,
Phillip Margolin and Scott Turow novels. My all-time favorite novel,
however, is To Kill a Mockingbird. A
close second would be The Grapes of Wrath.
Movies? Hmm. One of my favorite movies is Disney's "The Emperor's New Groove." I think I've watched it about a dozen times. I have rather a weakness for Disney movies. Can't wait to see "Treasure Planet."
Music? I'm a hard rock fan. I like Korn, Puddle of Mudd, Soundgarden etc. Nothing guilty to admit about that except maybe that I listen to a bit of Nora Jones on the side. (blush)
Q) Let's assume that I'm just getting introduced to the horror genre. Who should I read in your opinion? Give us a Horror 101 primer.
Horrorwise: Peter Straub's Ghost Story, King's Salem's Lot, anything by Bradbury, Matheson, Arthur Machen, M. R. James, Bloch or Leiber. Also, just because you wish to write horror does not mean you should read horror exclusively. I would encourage newcomers to read the classics in every genre and not to confine their tastes to the dark stuff. As I mentioned above, To Kill a Mockingbird, is a tremendous book. More recently, Andre Dubois's House of Sand and Fog is an exercise in literary brilliance. If you want to be a writer, genre is unimportant as far as reading goes at least. There are valuable tricks and lessons to be found in the pages of (ugh) romance novels, thrillers, comedies, mysteries, dramas. Well, maybe not romance (kidding).
From PEN & INK WRITERS JOURNAL #2:
INTERVIEW with Monette Louise Bebow-Reinhard, author of the first "Bonanza" novel
conducted by Lucinda MacGregor
Monette Louise Bebow-Reinhard found her niche as a history writer, and
pursued, with her love of
"Bonanza, " the right to sell her novel, Felling of the Sons, taking three years to get permission from the series creator, David Dortort. She was finally successful when he approved of a movie script she had written for the 'new generation' series he was proposing. Felling of the Sons led to her first agent, who is now handling her second novel, Journal of an Undead, a supernatural romance thriller. "Journal from the Grave," based on this book, is also agented, along with other movie scripts, and this second agent also handles her fantasy anthology, Grimms Modern Fairy Tales, which she penned using her grandmother's maiden name.
She is now going for her master's in ethnohistory, and finds a deep satisfaction in studying cultures in history, and designing fiction using real places and people. She's using her master's to finish three nonfiction books. She is married with three grown college-student children, and her husband runs the family golf course, along with his position as town chairman. Outside of writing, Bebow-Reinhard's special passion is the theater, both acting and directing.
Q) How did you develop your interest in writing?
I think I've always been a writer. I still remember writing a cave story when I was only 6-8 years old. I used to get myself to sleep at night when I was only six by writing stories in my head. But in high school I was more focused on acting, although writing was still my second love. I was chosen to write and present one of the graduation speeches, for instance. But real life does tend to intrude, jobs, marriage, children. Still, I wrote a screenplay based on my favorite novel, and contacted the author, around 1976. I still have the script, but lost his letter of response. My 'real' writing career started when I was a temporary secretary at a verrrry boring job. I can't stand being bored, so I started writing short stories and never stopped. That was in 1979. My first published story was in 1983 and I've had limited successes ever since. Becoming a history writer in 1990 meant more time spent doing research, leaving less time to write. And then there's having three kids -- and still acting. And working. Etc.etc. I have a problem focusing!
Q) What motivated you to write a novel based on the "Bonanza" television series?
I've loved that series since I was 6 years old, when it first aired. Many of the stories I wrote in my head were based on those characters, who became nearly as real as my own family. Guess why I had three kids?!?
But I stopped watching the show in 1965 (character Adam left) and then didn't see it again until 1989. At that time I was developing a series of short stories about an Undead, Arabus Drake, and with the influence of "Bonanza," I started placing Arabus in historical events around the world -- for instance, did you know a vampire helped create the automobile? "Bonanza" the series, in its first few years, especially, took real historic events and put the Cartwrights into them. There's so much history out there to play with. I started to enjoy writing, and then, just for fun, starting writing "Bonanza" short stories. One of those short stories became too big, and became a novel, a novel I loved so I had to find a way to get permission to get it published.
Q) Some writers have gained huge popularity writing vampire novels and later distanced themselves from the label of horror writer. If your upcoming vampire novel, Journal of the Undead, is a big success would you consider writing more horror novels or would you
prefer not to be labeled a horror writer?
I think one of the reasons Arabus Drake is having a hard time finding an audience is because I'm a spiritual writer more than a horror writer. People tell me it isn't scary enough. I'm looking for an audience that gets off on 'reality,' and so the fear in reading Arabus is that what happened to him can happen to anyone. He is also set to 'redefine' the vampire by the very nature of making him 'real.' I'm fascinated by undeath and did tons of research to develop him. I also have a series of short stories about an Indian vampire who seeks revenge for his people -- again, I feel this is spiritual more than horror. I write for people who seek real meaning in what they read, who want the reading experience to stay with them, but in a positive way. Yes, there are frightening elements to my work, but I can never see myself being pegged a horror writer.
Q) What inspired your vampire novel?
I had a dream. No, seriously! I had this dream a few months after my youngest was born, and it stayed with me, and I started writing about Arabus Drake -- the name just came to me, too. Then I decided that if he was cast in a movie, he'd be Armand Assante. The dream was very erotic, by the way, there's a bit of that in these works, as well. Journal of an Undead has a number of erotic scenes. It's the first in a series of novels about him, and this one centers on his quest for love as a walking corpse. Not easy to find!
Q) How does your background in ethnohistory play a part in your writing?
While I was going for my BA in history, I discovered how interesting people were when grouped in their individual settings -- within their cultures, especially in prehistory. One of my favorite projects is establishing where the Aztecs came from, tracing them up into the U.S. and Chacoamerican cultures. What's interesting is that when you study people in history, which is what ethnohistory is, you find out how much alike we all are, regardless of our cultures. And there's a certain fascination with tracing back cultures to the very beginning, to find out where our human beginnings came from. It's like a life project for me.
Another book I hope to write is called, When Women Ruled, because both animals and early humans are/were matriarchal in nature. This is why I say my writing is very spiritual, because I like to look into the roots of what makes us human, the very base center of our souls is what I search for in my writing.
Q) In what ways is your modern version of Grimms Fairy Tales different from the original (assuming there is more connection than in name only)?
It's true my grandmother was a Grimm, so I write it using her name. At first this was going to be a collection all written by me, but then I realized that the original Grimms compiled more than wrote, so I started looking around for stories that I could include that weren't just by me. The original series could also be called ethnohistorical -- these were compiled in Germany in the 1800s but were probably much older, and put these stories together for the peasant class, as escapism, to help them deal with their dreams and desires of being rich while knowing it could probably never happen. In my series, I focus on the kinds of dreams that young people have today, the problems they face, the negatives in our society, and try to infuse a kind of 'moral guideline' by which to live -- without letting them be aware that this is what they're getting, of course!
The stories are mostly good fun, with supernatural elements and twisted endings, with people who 'learn a lesson,' and often too late -- and again, most of the stories are quite spiritual. And a few are historical -- three are about vampires!
Q) What subjects do you cover in your upcoming nonfiction books?
One traces the cultural breakdowns in Mesoamerica and Chacoamerica (Arizona/New Mexico cultural prehistory, for the most part), to find out where the Aztecs might have come from. I hope to include a look at the vast trading network of the U.S. to show how interconnected these early cultures were. Another is the 22-year saga of a great-uncle who was in the Civil War and Indian Wars from 1862-1884. I'm also writing the history of a small town that will show the evolution of cultures in a single landscape starting in the Ice Age.
And then there's the new "Bonanza" novel, which will feature elements of the Civil War that will be great controversy, surrounding Lincoln and slavery. David Dortort, series creator, has approved the idea, being a big Civil War buff himself. I also hope to write the quintessential Reincarnation book that will show, among other things, how rebirth is at work in our lives whether we like it or not!
Q) How did you develop your special interest in the theatre and does it influence your writing or did the writing interest develop first?
I am very grateful to my years of theater work for helping me to write better dialog in my movie scripts. I still try to get on stage whenever I have the time, but now, going to grad school, it's a little tougher. I started in 7th grade, won a small drama scholarship in high school, went to the local college for a year with major in Drama, but due to the sex-perverted head of the department, I felt I wasn't 'ready' for Hollywood -- and became a secretary instead. In 1984 I helped form a local community theater group that's still going today.
They do say if you want to write scripts, or plays, be in a couple of productions, at least. I've also directed, and that gives me an eye for how to write visually. Very handy for a screenwriter.
Q) What advice would you give aspiring writers regarding writing techniques and marketing their works?
Oh, I could sure use help marketing! I think the biggest mistake I've made was being too patient! Ha! I never thought I'd say that. But really, we shouldn't wait around for a single publisher/editor/agent to say yes. We should query a million places at once, and then if we get 20,000 yeses, ask/advise that it is a simultaneous submission. Getting your writing accepted is very subjective. I've sat around and waited for a single no before trying somewhere else, and that just means the writing career takes that much longer.
My other problem has been in sending stuff off too fast without letting
it wait for another edit. I rarely get something written right the first
time. Once I did -- I made $72 on an article that took 10 minutes to
But that doesn't happen near enough.
Q) Any last comments?
To budding screenwriters -- be very very cautious about what script contests you enter. Make sure they have as a prize the publicity that a screenwriter needs to get their script notice. It helps if the contest has been around awhile, because you can check to see how they've promoted their winners in the past. You might have a better chance with a new contest, but be sure to keep all material about that contest, about what they promise for you, so you can let them know, if you win, what you expect. I've had some miserable experiences, that eventually I'll get around to writing about.
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