Interview with Brett Alexander Savory by David Niall Wilson

Brett Alexander Savory is the Bram Stoker Award-winning Editor-in-Chief of ChiZine: Treatments of Light and Shade in Words, is a Developmental Editor at Scholastic Canada, has had over 40 stories published, written two novels-In and Down and The Distance Travelled-and writes for Rue Morgue Magazine.

He co-edited an anthology with M. W. Anderson called The Last Pentacle of the Sun: Writings in Support of the West Memphis Three, which was released last year through Arsenal Pulp Press. His latest release is a novella called My Eyes Are Nailed, But Still I See, co-written with David Niall Wilson.

In March 2006, Necro Publications will release signed limited edition hardcover and trade paperback editions of Brett’s dark, comic novel The Distance Travelled.

When he’s not writing, reading, or editing, he plays drums for the southern-tinged hard rock band The Diablo Red, whose debut album, Rojos, was released in late 2005. Recently, Cemetery Dance author and reviewer David Niall Wilson had a chance to chat with Brett about The Distance Traveled, and his writing in general.

DNW: Your novel The Distance Travelled blends surreal, literate fiction with some odd elements . . . tossed pigs, for instance. Can you tell us where the inspiration for this particular novel came from, and what inspired the imagery you chose?

BS: I’m not sure where my fascination with pigs comes from. I suppose it cemented itself in my brain, though, after you and I wrote “That’s SOME Pig!” back in 1998. After that, pigs just seemed to keep popping up in my fiction. They even make a minor appearance in the literary novel I just sold, In and Down.

As for the inspiration for Distance: The obvious answer is that it came from the novelette of the same name, which was published in 2001 by Prime Books. As to where that came from? Your guess is as good as mine. I have a pretty crappy memory, so trying to remember where story ideas come from is usually an exercise in futility. This weird shit just pops into my head and I write it down.

The imagery itself, however, I can be a bit more specific about. I think the whole idea of Hell is pretty ridiculous, so I knew I wanted to create a Hell that was sort of absurd, and yet quite practical in the way it operates. Nothing too mysterious-torture sessions are scheduled, Hell hires people to carry them out, there’s a governing body that oversees things, etc. It’s an exceedingly poorly run version of our world, but a whole lot hotter.

DNW: When choosing a locale for this piece, why did you choose Hell? In other words, do the standard old Christian symbols have deep meaning for you, or could this have as easily been set on the banks of the Styx with three headed pig dogs guarding the way?

BS: Hey, there’s an idea for the sequel! Thanks! 😉

Seriously, though, no, the old Christian symbols don’t hold any meaning for me. I’m agnostic, so religion of all stripes is hard to swallow. Considering how close all religions are in their basic tenets, I think they all might just be manifestations of people’s general loneliness in the universe. A creation to comfort ourselves, bring meaning to our existences. Regarding Christianity, specifically, if there is a God (since I’m agnostic, I don’t rule out the possibility) and he ever did speak to humans regarding his will, his words have been fucked with so often throughout history by people inserting their own desires and biases into them that God only knows-quite literally-what his true intentions might have been.

DNW: Your web site, group, and phenomenon “The Chiaroscuro—Those Who Walk Alone,” has developed into quite the success story. Can you explain how it came to be, and how you brought it from its humble beginnings to one of the highest paying on-line fiction markets, and the only one (to my knowledge) with support from a NYC publisher?

BS: Oh, boy, that’d be a long story! I’ll try to break it down into bite-size chunks, though.

In 1997, a guy named Vanace Fidler and I were discussing online how there was a dearth of good horror sites on the ‘net, so we decided to start one up. I wound up doing all the actual work of building the site, etc., so within a year or so, Vanace kind of drifted out of the picture and I kept going with it. We started out by just having a few short story contests, but then in July of 1999, I launched the first issue of the fiction and poetry arm of the site, ChiZine: Treatments of Light and Shade in Words. We paid 1/2 cent per word and I sold banner ads to small presses and individual authors to cover the costs. We raised it up to 1 cent per word the following year, and then I approached Don D’Auria at Leisure Books about sponsoring us. Within a month or two, Leisure agreed and we were able to raise our rates to 3 cents per word, making us a professional market (back in 2001, anyway)—and I was free to stop hassling people to buy banner ads (a job which I absolutely loathed). That same year, we won the Bram Stoker Award for superior achievement in editing.

Skip ahead a couple of years and—due to increased traffic and a growing reputation for publishing quality material—we got the nod from Leisure to increase our rates to 5 cents per word, again matching the current pro-market level. We were nominated again for a 2004 Stoker, received a big jump in traffic, and raised our rates to 7 cents per word, which is where we are today.

DNW: Everyone asks this, but it’s relevant. Who are the major influences on your writing? Broadening this further from the usual what writers influenced you, I’d add other media into the mix, music, movie, television, anything you think was formative.

BS:

BOOKS: Stephen King, Clive Barker, Edgar Allan Poe, H. P. Lovecraft, Chuck Palahniuk, Mark Z. Danielewski, Craig Davidson, Jonathan Carroll, Neil Gaiman, Philip Nutman, China Miéville, Iain Banks, Ray Bradbury, George Orwell, Brian Lumley, and some chimp named David Niall Wilson. 😉

MUSIC: Thievery Corporation, Slipknot, Slayer, Black Sabbath, Lynyrd Skynyrd, My Dying Bride, Bjork, Harry Connick Jr., Henry Rollins, The Misfits, Bad Religion, Type O Negative, Lamb of God, Meshuggah, etc. (I sometimes name stories after cool bands or song titles.)

MOVIES: Halloween, Fight Club, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, anything by David Lynch, The Fog (the original), The Evil Dead films, Romero’s Dead films, Fulci’s Zombi, Top Secret, Kairo (creepiest fucking film ever), Cemetery Man, Battle Royale, Pulp Fiction, Dead Alive, Reservoir Dogs, Texas Chainsaw Massacre (the original), etc.

DNW: I know you work as an editor, and have been responsible for kid’s books involving underwear…how has your education and working in the field influenced your fiction?

BS: Not much, I don’t think. If anything, it makes me want to write the opposite of what I work on all day. ‘Cause there’s not much bloodshed, creepy moments, or absurd hilarity in Scholastic titles!

DNW: The Distance Travelled started life as a novelette, if memory serves. What was the journey from beginning to Necro?

BS: I originally placed the novelette with Steve Savile’s Imaginary Worlds Press. When Sean Wallace took over Steve’s operations and renamed the press Prime, I left the book there and Sean put it out in 2001. I then expanded the story to novel length, shopped it around to various houses until it finally found a home in 2005 with Dave Barnett at Necro Publications.

DNW: Any tips picked up along the way—lessons learned?

BS: Know your market! If a house hasn’t published any horror-comedies in the past, odds are they’re not going to start with yours.

DNW: Did you prefer it at the shorter length, or did it find its own as a novel?

I really prefer it at novel length. I added several more characters to the mix and that’s what really brought the environment and the story to life, in my mind.

DNW: Your wife is a talented poet and author in her own right. How do the two of you cope with / share / involve yourselves in one another’s creative careers? Do you play off of one another creatively, or is it hard—success at different times, and different levels?

BS: We don’t write the same kind of stuff at all, so it’s kept quite separate: she mostly writes poetry; I write prose (haven’t written a poem since 1998). So there’s no competition, which I think is a good thing. We like each other’s work and are very supportive of what the other is doing, so overall it’s a healthy balance, I think. When something great happens with respect to one of our careers, the other is hooting and hollering about it as much as the one whose career got the boost.

DNW: I know you play in a band, along with the day job and the writing. What sort of influences do you tend toward musically, and how does your musical career parallel your writing career—or does it?

BS: See above for musical influences. As for how the two careers parallel each other, there’s the aforementioned naming of stories after cool song titles, but other than that it’s pretty separate. I don’t write any of the lyrics for Diablo Red, so my presence isn’t felt there at all. I’m strictly the drummer.

DNW: You chose an El Camino for your unlikely heroes to travel about in, what’s up with that? Is this a dream car of yours, or is it symbolic in some way?

BS: Not a dream car, no, but certainly the type of car in which I saw my weird and disheveled gang of characters. I’m not sure where I got the idea to use the Camino, except that it’s a tough car, you know? It’s seen as a badass set of wheels. Sure, I could’ve gone with a Mustang or something like that, but the Camino has that big open bed in back, so Tom China, the 11-foot HellRat in the story had a way of getting around with the rest of the characters. *laughs*

DNW: Your earlier writing tended to be much darker, more violent and shocking. Have you shifted mental gears, and will the shifting continue? Where do you see your writing now, and then, again in five years? In other words, do you have a plan?

BS: Yeah, I’ve certainly eased off on the blood and guts-though Distance was written before I started easing away from it, so there’s plenty of carnage in this book. I think what happened is that I sort of exhausted all of my really brutal ideas early on, then subtler ideas started coming to me, instead. Still dark—I can’t seem to get away from that aspect, and I don’t think I really want to-but not necessarily violent. I started writing more surreal pieces. Definitely more Lynchian in nature.

Of course, I can’t know where my writing will be in five years, but I suspect I’ll keep treading this slipstream line I’m on right now. Maybe when I’ve exhausted all of those ideas, I’ll have to move to mainstream literary novels. And then right into Harlequin-style romances! Heh. Okay, if I ever do that, you all have permission to shoot me in the face. Seriously.

As for a plan? Hell, no. I have a vague idea of what direction I want my career to go, so I publish with houses that I hope will help me down that path, but I have no Grand Scheme.

DNW: Finally, in order to sum this up, and to give you a chance to say all the things you wanted to say had I not led you about with oddball questions…here’s a convoluted, catch-all question. Are there any things you’d like readers to know about The Distance Travelled that weren’t carried here?

BS: It’s funny! It’s carnage-filled! It’s introspective! It’s adventurous! It’s heart-warming! And Christopher Moore says this about it!:

“A completely unique take on life in hell. Snappy dialog and a bizarre backdrop set this adventure tale apart from the pack.” — Christopher Moore

Are you saying Christopher Moore’s wrong? Are you?? I should think not. Go thee forth and purchase:

From the publisher: http://necropublications.com/titles/distance.htm

From Shocklines (hardcover): http://store.yahoo.com/shocklines/ditrbybralsa.html

From Shocklines (trade paperback): http://store.yahoo.com/shocklines/ditrbybralsa1.html

DNW: What’s next for you? Upcoming projects?

BS: After Distance, there’s the trade paperback release of my and David Niall Wilson’s My Eyes Are Nailed, But Still I See in December 2006 from Delirium Books. Then in 2007, my deeply weird literary novel In and Down will be released (can’t give details on the publisher until contracts are signed). Also in 2007, Delirium will publish my first short story collection, The Time Between Lights.

As for projects I’m currently working on, there’s my third novel, Running Beneath the Skin, a comic-book adaptation of The Distance Travelled with artist Homeros Gilani, and a dark YA novel called The Soul Projectionists.

Interview with Elizabeth Monteleone about the Borderlands Boot Camp

Interview with Elizabeth Monteleone about the Borderlands Boot Camp

Borderlands Boot CampCD: What inspired you to start the Borderlands Boot Camp?

EM: One day whilst Tom and I were reading the slush pile, I made the coment that so many of these writers could benefit from going to “something like a writers boot camp.” An intense weekend to get the kinks out–because so many of them are so close to being good writers, they just need to work out the kinks. Some people write good dialogue but stink at plot and vice versa etc.

He looked at me and said why don’t you do it?

CD: How do you decide which instructors to invite?

EM: I’m very fortunate to know many successful writers. I’ll send an e-mail and voila! I’ve got my instructors. I have people like the GREAT Richard Chizmar–he’ll be coming back soon–I have Elizabeth Massie, Jack Ketchum, Doug Clegg, David Morrell and of course the two writers that are not allowed to get burned out–Tom Monteleone and F. Paul Wilson. Being an instructor is a lot of work. They make notes on every story, and end up line-editing them as well.

CD: You have a very limited number of slots for participants. How do you determine whether an applicant is appropriate for the Boot Camp?

EM: This is a tough one because I’ve had some participants who have been published and have started to make a name for themselves. We accept these published “grunts” because I understand what it’s like to work in a room by yourself with no feedback. I watch my husband do it every day. In addition, I read for F. Paul Wilson and Tom Monteleone. If these guys need readers…the newer writers certainly do. Plus, the published grunts have more experience and really add to the critique sessions. The rest? Well that’s a little more intangible. Their stories have to make me react in some positive way. Basically, I accept applicants whom I think can be put on the right track with valid input and honest criticism. I don’t believe you can teach talent…but if you have it, this boot camp can develop it and make it grow.

CD: What kind of feedback have you received from participants?

EM: At the end of every boot camp I give the grunts an evaluation sheet. I want it to be anonymous because I want them to be completely honest. I don’t want anyone to worry about telling me the truth and fearing retribution and never being included in a Borderlands Book. (If you write a good story, we’ll buy it trust me–we buy stories from people we don’t like–more often than you’d imagine!)

We’ve now planned three and they’ve all been SPECTACULAR! Not one complaint about the program. Think about it….it’s very intense setting: small groups interacting with really experienced writers. They not only talk the talk, they walk the walk!

CD: Who are the instructors for the next Boot Camp?

EM: F. Paul Wilson, Doug Clegg, Tom Tessier, Steve Spruill, Thomas F. Monteleone, Doug Winter

CD: When is the next Boot Camp?

EM: August 5-7 at Towson State University in Towson, Maryland.

Each instructor will get his own classroom.

And although the experience gained at the Boot Camp is priceless . . . . we had to put a price on it: $500

The University has also made their “apartment” housing available. For an additional $50 per night, grunts get private accommodations and all meals. Much, much better deal than staying at a hotel, don’t you think?

CD: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

EM: Did I mention that the Winter Session is split into two tracks: Novel and Short Fiction? Well, it is–with 20 grunts in each group. The Summer Session is for 36 grunts–all Short Fiction.

Interview Between Geoff Cooper and Brian Keene (2005)

Interview Between Geoff Cooper and Brian Keene (2005)

To the casual observer, Geoff Cooper and Brian Keene’s relationship is an odd one. Cooper was best man in Keene’s wedding, and Keene is godfather to Cooper’s child. They’ve collaborated together a number of times, on everything from short stories to Jobs In Hell. Yet despite this, the two seem more like best adversaries than best friends. They constantly bicker and argue, and seem to know exactly which buttons to push on the other.

Many, including the staff here at Cemetery Dance, are surprised that they haven’t killed each other yet.

Case in point: We asked them to talk to each other about their upcoming collaborative novella, and this is what happened…

Brian Keene: Coop, are you as sick as I am of people thinking we’re joined at the hip?

Geoff Cooper: Hells yes.

Keene: Then why are we doing this?

Coop: Because Rich still has those photos.

Keene: @$#&ing blackmailer…

Coop: No kidding. I KNEW we should have been more careful with the whole hooker/trout thing….

Keene: That thing with the hooker was your idea, @$#&head.

Coop: Once again, I get blamed for something you did. Anyway, let’s get these @$#&ing questions done before he comes up with some more photos.

Keene: Good idea.

Coop: Of course it is. I thought of it.

Keene: How do you feel your writing has changed since the days of 4X4 and BUM PISS & OTHER CITY SCENTS?

Coop: It’s become readable. How is this novella different from your previous works? Will it alienate fans of THE RISING, TERMINAL, and CITY OF THE DEAD?

Keene: It’s different in that we have two and a half months to write the @$#&ing thing. But no, I don’t think it will alienate my readers. They’ve seen me collaborate with you before, and they’ve liked the results. How about fans of your Brackard’s Point mythos? Do you think they’ll mind me playing in their sandbox?

Coop: I doubt those who are familiar with Brackard’s Point will mind at all. It’s a new Brackard’s Point story—and those don’t come around too often. Besides, I’m right here. I won’t permit you to screw it up. I’ve seen message board threads about how one of us is going to wind up killing the other before this is all over, and I admit, there’s a few valid arguments in there: we’re both egomaniacs, for one—though in completely different ways—and neither of us are exactly known for passivity or softening things up in order to spare someone else’s feelings. Okay, the last may apply to me more than you.

Keene: Oh kettle, thou art black.

Coop: Whatever. What’s your take on such speculations?

Keene: My take? Our significant others are best friends. We live minutes from each other. We seem to spend a lot of time together. If we haven’t killed each other yet—be it at the bookstore or the shooting range or on a double date to the movies, then I don’t reckon we’ll kill each other while in the process of writing a story. Will we fight and argue? Sure. But we fight and argue all the time, anyway. We’ll probably fight and argue before the end of this interview. Case in point—you are wrong about 28 DAYS LATER.

Coop: Oh, come ON! 28 DAYS LATER was a piece of crap. I’ve seen the DEAD movies, read THE STAND and BLOOD CRAZY, so I’ve already read—or saw—all the movie’s good parts. Why, then, did I need to see this idiocy? Oh, that’s right—because you thought it would be, and I quote, “something cool to do with the girls.” I STILL want that hour and a half of my life back, pal.

Keene: I’m serious. Quit @$#&ing around. I think the truth is that both of us are happier when we’re writing, even when we’re forced to give up some of our creative control to a collaborator. I guess the speculations out there are based more on a public persona than who we really are behind the keyboard. We’re not exactly angry young men anymore.

Coop: No, not exactly. You’re middle-aged. I’m still angry.

Keene: You total monkey@$#&er. You’re middle-aged, too, @$#&hole. And you’re so not angry—these days you whine, rather than rage.

Coop: Newsflash @$#&head: you’re four years older than me, Mr. Grey-And-Balding Hypochondriac. I’ve still got a few years before I pass into that pasture, and when I DO, I’ll still have more hair on my head than you.

Keene: Certainly more hair on your ass.

Coop: Even if it does go grey overnight, I won’t be dying it. The only reason you don’t dye your beard anymore is because Matt Warner busted you at one of your readings, and that was only last year.

Keene: It was two years ago!

Coop: Mike, Mikey, and I hid your beard dye right before your wedding, and we knew about it from the 2001 WHC in Sea-Tac, because we saw it there. You had to get all prettied up for your adoring fans. Now I may be creeping up on middle age, but remember: you’re always going to be older than me, so get over yourself.

Brian: I may be older, but I’m also cuter. Ask your girlfriend.

Coop: Cuter? Not for nothing, but you’ve got a BROW RIDGE, you mother@$#&ing Neanderthal. And this bit about me whining? Oh, please. Ain’t THAT the pot calling the kettle black. You’ve got more whines than the Bible’s got psalms. Let’s go over a few of them, shall we? You: “Oh, I’ve got cancer of the lip. Cancer of the colon, cancer of the eyelid, cancer of the nostril… I’m constipated, I’m codependent, I’m manic-depressive… I’m going into therapy, I’m going on a pill, I’m going insane… I hear voices, I see dead people, my cat is telling me what to do, I think my dog hates me, I think my dog is listening to the cat, I think the cat sees dead people…” And these were only from the last three days! I might be a neurotic freakshow, but WHINE? Get out of my sight with THAT kind of noise.

Brian: At least I’ve got something to @$#&ing whine about, @$#&head. “Oh woe is me. I am Coop. My existence is my own bane, and the world is black because of it. Look how angry and moody I am! Look at me, @$#& it! Everyone hates me and that pisses me off, because nobody hates me more than myself.” Ya know, Coop, it’s always surprised me that you listen to metal, because you’re a @$#&ing poster-child for every black-wearing, Morrissey-listening, poetry-scrawling-in-little-notebook, suicidal mother@$#&er out there.

Coop: You’re putting words in my mouth.

Keene: So? You put words in my mouth, too, @$#head.

Coop: I’ve never used the word “bane” unless referring to LORD FOUL’S. What I HAVE said is “Everything sucks all the time.” So if you’re going to attempt to quote me, get it correct. Furthermore, I don’t think everyone hates me.

Keene: Yes you do.

Coop: Some do, sure, but I’m okay with that because last I checked I wasn’t out to win a popularity contest. I’m fairly certain the Morrissey you referred to is some band, but I can’t recall ever hearing anything by them. You, however, seem to be familiar enough with them to try and use it as a rip on me, so your entire argument becomes suspect. So @$#& you.

Keene: Now who’s whining? I swear to God—you’ve got more whine than Jesus Christ himself. “Waaa, I don’t have time to write. Waaa, I don’t get any sleep.” You can’t write? Too bad. Turn off the fucking History Channel and turn on your computer. What? Oh, that’s right—you’ve got a permanent game of Civilization III running on your computer. Can’t sleep? Boo-mother@$#&ing-hoo. Try drinking decaf, mother@$#&er. Newsflash, Cooper–you are NOT Foamy the @$#&ing squirrel, no matter how much you wish it were otherwise.

Coop: Okay, bud… YOU have your demon-spawn godchild running around like a Rhesus on acid all day long and tell me how you’re doing after two weeks—let alone two years—with regards to sleep and productivity.

Keene: Next time, wear a rubber.

Coop: And I haven’t played CIV III in months. You @$#&ing drama queen.

Keene: DRAMA QUEEN? @$#& you. Watch yourself, buddy, or I’ll tell everybody that you secretly own every Stryper album ever made.

Coop: Ha! You think they’ll believe that? Especially after you publicly admitted to your appreciation for Winger, Kix, and Journey?

Keene: I’m not the one with the Xanadu Official Motion Picture Soundtrack in his basement.

Coop: And you ever tell ANYBODY about that, I’ll tell them about the one place on your body where you still HAVE hair.

Keene: Okay, truce. Now, let’s get back to this interview.

Coop: Yes. Have some.

Keene: Okay. Let’s pretend—pretend, mind you—that there’s somebody out there, a loyal Cemetery Dance customer perhaps, who has not yet had the pleasure of reading our work. What reason can you give them to order this still untitled and unfinished novella? Why should they give it a try, especially after your abhorrent behavior in this interview?

Coop: I’d say there are a few good reasons to order this. The strict limitation of the hardcovers, for one. Only enough are being printed to cover the pre-orders, so it’s not like there’s going to be many on the aftermarket. To get a hardcover of our last collaborative effort, “Wild Kingdom,” (from 4X4) a reader might spend upwards of $500 on eBay. (Yes, that’s five hundred dollars. No, I am not kidding.). It’s a safe assumption that the aftermarket price of this novella will be far above what CD is asking for it—and you get a boatload of coupons also. Financially, it’s a no-brainer.

Keene: I agree. But what about the story itself?

Coop: It’s solid. While it is true that I’m biased in saying so—obviously—and it is still incomplete, I can tell you it’s got that which CD customers have come to expect over the years: dark crime-ish elements coupled with the supernatural, and the supernatural elements that ARE involved are not stock-horror items. No zombies, no werewolves, vampires, haunted houses, any of that. Your average small-press reader likes a new method, provided that method WORKS, and I’m certain that which we’re going to do in here will work. I’m putting my name on the thing, so it’d better. I know there are a LOT of CD customers that wouldn’t know us if we bit them on the nose, but I don’t think they’re going to be disappointed, is what I’m saying. Our regular readers will need less convincing, but they won’t be let down, either.

Keene: I hope they don’t shy away simply because it’s a collaboration. I’ve collaborated with you, Mike, Mikey, Tim Lebbon, and others, and you’ve collaborated with most of the same. I’ve always felt that, in the case of you and I, we force each other to do our best work, simply because of the antagonistic nature of the collaboration itself.

Coop: Some collaborations have a noticeable split where one author breaks and the other takes over. Many readers find this annoying. As with “Wild Kingdom,” this new one will have no such split. How it works with us is like this: Brian writes a scene. I re-write it, give it a nudge in the direction it’s supposed to go (and if there’s any question about this, we discuss it), then turn him loose again. With me doing all the re-writes, there’s no jarring break as in other collaborations, so it’s easier on the reader. We both wind up having our say, and though we may come close to blows during the process, the end result is worth the price of admission. At least, I think so.

Keene: I do, too. And all joking around and arguing aside, at the end of the day, we both give our best as a result, because we respect the reader—and we respect each other. Wouldn’t you agree?

Coop: Yeah, I respect you. Now go to the store and get me a pack of smokes, @$#&head.

Keene: @$#& you. Want to go to the range and shoot things?

Coop: @$#& it. Why not? We can work on the novella later.