What Screams May Come: John Urbancik’s STALE REALITY

banner What Screams May Come by Rick Hipson

photo of author John Urbancik
John Urbancik

Stale Reality by John Urbancik
Dark Fluidity (March 26th, 2024)

The Synopsis

“What happens is, the world, everything we know, this thing we call Reality, it exists in our heads. It doesn’t really exist. And someone decided they didn’t like Reality. Or maybe not that they didn’t like it, but they wanted to try another. They wanted it so hard, Reality changed, and now we’re in their head. Not our own. See, their Reality shifted, and in it, you don’t exist. You just got left over.” Welcome to Kevin Nichols’ new Reality.

(Interview conducted by Rick Hipson)

CEMETERY DANCE: John, 2024 is quickly shaping up to be a very good year to be a fan of your work. Starting with your planned release, what inspired you to tackle the daunting task of revisiting your previous publications? Why now?

JOHN URBANCIK: No particular reason. When the idea to audit my own books struck, it was hard to ignore. So, I didn’t. I started by realizing a few of them never had an e-book release, then realized a couple never even made it to paperback.

Can we assume you are re-releasing them in the order they were originally published?

That would be a bad assumption. There’s no order to this. They’re the ones I want and need to do.

I found it interesting when you mentioned earlier to me that some of your books came across as obvious early works of a writer still honing his craft, while there was at least one which still impressed you all these years later. Can you explain in further detail what you meant by this discovery, and how you feel about it?

Breath of the Moon, for example, is my second published novel. I wrote the original first draft in 1996 or 97! There was a later first draft when I completely re-did it. But you can see I haven’t learned everything about who I was yet. But you can also see all the things that will lead me to who I’ve become. On the other hand, Stale Reality, written about ten years later, shows me as a much more confident and capable writer. In the earlier books, I was telling a story. In later books, I’m creating the world around the story and everything that goes inside it.

Did you tend to edit, expand, polish, or otherwise revise the books which you plan to get back out into the wilds? 

I didn’t do a lot of editing, no, but I did do another proofread of each, cleaning up language in some places, eliminating some of the awkward kinds of mistakes I made as a younger writer, but nothing major and nothing content-wise. In some cases, this meant changing a single comma in ten pages. In some places, however, it’s surprising how many typos still managed to get through back whenever it was that they were first done. Not enough to throw a person completely from the story, I don’t think, but I tend to be a perfectionist.

If there is anything you could go back and tell that version of you who wrote those first few books before he set about publishing them, would advise or warning would you have offered? 

No. The things I’ve learned and experienced, I had to learn and experience in exactly the ways I did because otherwise I might never have become who I am. If anything, I’d give me winning lottery numbers.

Getting to the meat of what you’re doing now, I understand Stale Reality is next up for re-release and one you’re still able to look at with pride for how well it turned out. What sort of changes, if any, can readers of the original expect from this new edition?

Don’t misunderstand me: I’m proud of all of them. But with Stale Reality, I realize I’ve become more of who I really am. Firing on all cylinders. All the changes I made are minor fixes, nothing that impacts the story in any way. By this time in my writing life, I’m beginning to see the connections I’ve always been making between my stories. There’s a cameo from The Wandering Reverend, previously seen in the novella Beneath Midnight (and yeah, that will be coming out soon, too) and another re-released novel, Once Upon a Time in Midnight.

John, when I read the synopsis for Stale Reality, at least the one from 2016, I couldn’t help but smile and think, yup, this sounds like a signature Urbancik tale. The book seems rife with aspects of wonder and explores the possibility that the day-to-day reality we experience may not be real at all. What draws you to view the world with such a scope for possibilities? I’d love to know your early inspiration and inclinations for what has become your signature viewpoint in storytelling.

I’ve always been fascinated with the idea of parallel worlds and alternative dimensions. I was probably introduced to the concept by DC Comics’ Crisis on Infinite Earths, which came out back in the ’80s when I was a teenager. I’d had the idea for this book a few years earlier, but knew I wasn’t ready to write it. I needed a solid place of where, and I didn’t have it. I might have been born in New York City, but I didn’t know that city well enough to use it in this way. And Orlando, to me, just wasn’t interesting enough for it. Then I moved to Sydney for a few years. I didn’t really think about it then, but as soon as I left I regretted the choice and wished I could go back. In a way, this book was a way of extending my visit to Australia.

There are some folks who, by fantasy or by belief, consider the reality the world presents us all with is simply an idea which exists inside of a much larger scale framework of being. Although this is a constant exploration within your work, do you have any considerations about our universally understood reality that you have strong convictions about you don’t mind sharing with us?

I have the greatest belief in the mystery of it all. We don’t know, we may never know, but we can explore all the possibilities, whether theologically, spiritually, or through our fiction. Whether this is all a simulation, an alternative reality, or a dream, none of that changes the core of who I am and who you are. I do believe, however, that in in a small town in Illinois, I accidentally walked through a door under an awning that said Magic, and entered this reality instead of the one where I’d lived before.

John, you’ve stated this before to me and others, that when it comes to your craft, you aim more to draw a sense of wonder than a sense of terror, even in some of your more horrific stories. What are the chances you might ever consider veering from your usual approach and surprise us all — and you, no doubt — with a story that casts away that sense of wonder for all-out terror?

It happens sometimes in my short work. But I don’t know how to play in a single sandbox at a time, so I incorporate parts of all of it almost every time. Almost nothing I’ve written, even the stuff that pre-dates my first novel, was ever purely one thing or another. The real world doesn’t make those distinctions. I don’t see why I should. Even now, I’m working on the follow-up to my first novel, Sins of Blood and Stone, which was probably more horror than anything else I’ve ever done, but I don’t seem to have it in me — maybe I lack the will, the desire — to keep wonder and terror completely apart.

Getting back to Stale Reality, how closely does it represent your current viewpoints compared to simply exploring those viewpoints? 

I’ve always thought Reality was somewhat slippery. Problem is, it’s all colored by our perceptions, and therefore maybe not so solid a thing as we would like to believe.

And to piggyback off that, how much fun did you have diving back into this one?

Oh yeah. It was a thrill, to see how much I’d grown from the first two novels until this one, and still see the seeds of what I was still to become.

When you consider how your readership has likely grown and expanded since you first started out, when it comes to requesting old titles, are there any considerations you find you have to give to the marketing of them as compared to new titles, such as any benefits verse added challenges?

I don’t push in the same way. Stale Reality is one of several books being re-released, either with new covers or because they’d never been in paperback, but it’s all leading to a brand new, never before seen novel, The Secret History of the Palace Theater — and it’s a little bit surprising, even to me, how many little callbacks I make to my older work.

What do you say to new fans of your work who might be a bit intimidated by the volume of books coming out and already available for them to read? Where should they start and in what order do you tell them to read in to get the best introduction to the dark and wonderous world of John Urbancik?

Start with what appeals to you, the concepts that reach into your head, the locations you want to know more about. Everyone should start somewhere different. If you want something short, light, and fun, go with The Night Carnival. If you’d prefer to play in the story itself, try to find your way through over 130 possible endings to Choose Your Doom. If you want short little daily stories for a month at a time, pick up any of the InkStains volumes.

And as far as Stale Reality goes, what wonders can readers old and new expect to be found that they may not be expecting? 

If you’ve never read it, you’ll be surprised that it’s got more elements of science fiction that most of my work, though I treat all of that — even the quantum mechanics — as fantasy. If you’ve read others of my books, you might enjoy a cameo from a character from my Midnight stories. It may be the most brutal story I’ve ever written. And I will someday soon be working on its sequel.

Lastly, what does the rest of the year hold for you that you’re most looking forward to both personally, and creatively?

It’s a busy year. After Stale Reality, we’ll get re-releases of the novel The Corpse and the Girl from Miami and the novella Beneath Midnight — which includes a cameo from a Brian Keene novel that I still can’t believe I included — and in June, my first new novel in several years, The Secret History of the Palace Theater, which proves I cannot keep my hands in a single genre at any time. It pulls in from the bizarre, the mythical, the magical, and the cosmic. I’m super proud of it and cannot wait until everyone can get their hands on it.

After that, I intend to finish that Sins follow-up, and start releasing the rest of the InkStains volumes (only 15 of 36 have been released so far). I’ve also started working on another new novel, a follow-up to something that hasn’t even been published, so I guess I’ll be working on those, too.

Thanks so much, John. We look forward to it all!

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