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Nov. 24th, 2015

The Joy of Working Together

I love writing...everything about it. The entire process is a joy to me. Not that I don't have rough days or frustrations, but overall nothing brings me more pleasure.

Typically writing is a solitary pursuit, just me and the page (or the screen as it were in this modern world). Although I never quite feel alone, I have all my characters to keep me company. Not in a schizophrenic way, but when I'm lost in a story the characters have life and are real to me. It's just me and them, sometimes me directing them but often the other way around.

And yet sometimes writing isn't just me and the screen, just me and the characters. Sometimes I am invited to play make-believe with a friend.

What am I talking about? Collaboration, of course. Sometimes two writers can get together to work on a story and create something wholly unique, something that truly neither of them could have produced on their own, a true melding of their talents to create something that is not one or the other but a product of both.

I love to collaborate with other authors. I go into it with no ego, just a desire to have fun. I love to work with authors who have different strengths than I do, so that we can learn from each other and I know personally that I've walked away with every collaboration a better writer for the time I've spent with the others. It's fun to brainstorm together, to see what exciting new directions we both discover during the writing.

Most recently I've been collaborating with the great Aaron Dries (if you haven't tried his stuff, you really must, go here immediately http://www.amazon.com/Aaron-Dries/e/B008GXNU64/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1448403510&sr=8-1). We met earlier this year at the World Horror Convention, hit it off, and he asked if I'd like to work on something together. I said yes immediately but figured it may or may not happen as schedules permitted. Yet shortly after that he ran an idea by me, I gave him my thoughts, and next thing you know, we were in the thick of it.

We came up with a zombie story that I think isn't your average zombie story. Something with a bit more heart and emotional weight. We developed a working relationship unlike any of the other collaborations I've ever done, with me doing a first draft of most chapters then Aaron going back over them to add, delete, embellish, then back to me for my thoughts and any changes I wanted to make. May sound strange, but I found it a rather exciting way to work and I enjoyed it very much.

I recently sent Aaron the final chapter, and he is doing his pass now. We'll do some polishing after that before sending it in for consideration to a publisher that is waiting on it, but the bulk of the work is done.

And I'm a bit sad, maybe sadder than I usually am at the end of a longer work because I'm going to miss the camaraderie, the education, and the fun of working with Aaron. But as always when I collaborate, I'm walking away a better writer for the experience.

I have a couple of solo project all set to go, but I'm always on the lookout for my next collaborative partner.

Oct. 17th, 2015


Last year around this time, Philip Perron contacted me to ask if I might be interested in submitting something to his relatively new publishing company Great Old Ones Publishing. I’ve known Philip for a while, he has helped me promote some of my earlier books with Evil Jester Press, so I was excited by the prospect of working with him in this capacity. And when he said he was open to a short story collection, I jumped at the chance.

Short stories are my passion. At the time I had released 3 collections, and I was eager to do more. I immediately started thinking about what stories I might put together for Great Old Ones, making a list. However, since it was October I was also busy writing Halloween shorts, the way I do every year at this time.

And then it hit me…because it was such a tradition that I write Halloween tales in October, I had a ton of them. I had previously published a short Halloween-themed collection called DARK TREATS that contained just 5 stories. This might be the perfect opportunity to do a more expansive Halloween collection, I thought.

I ran the idea by Philip and he was enthusiastic, so I immediately started gathering my Halloween tales throughout the years. I delved back as far as 1998 for a story I wrote in college, and I knew I would want to include the tales I was writing that year, 2014.

Most of the stories were horror, but I had a few non-horror stories that were more dramatic types of tales, and even one children’s story. The only thing Philip said he didn’t want was outright humor, which did exclude a couple. There were also a few that I thought just weren’t good enough to be included. All told, I ended up with 19 stories I wanted to include.

But as I put them together in the order I wanted them to appear, I got to thinking that maybe I could do a little bit more. What if I loosely connected the pieces with a wrap-around story? I was envisioning a group of people in costume gathering for a Halloween party and a movie marathon, but then the power goes out and they decide instead to sit around and tell each other scary stories to pass the time. And the stories they tell would be the stories of the collection. When I got that idea, I instantly knew how I wanted to end the wrap-around story.

So I finished up the three stories I was writing at the time, added them into the line-up, then commenced on the wrap-around piece. I had so much fun with it, and felt very proud of the manuscript. I thought it really captured my love of the holiday, and even within the narrow theme showcased an eclectic group of stories.

Luckily, Philip agreed and came up with a really cool and Halloweeny cover, and set HALLOWEEN HOUSE OF HORRORS loose on the world this year, almost exactly a year after I first approached him with the idea.

My hope for the collection is for people to settle down on a October night and read the tales, and really get into the spirit of the season. Which is about chills and thrills and fun.

And I hope people have fun with HALLOWEEN HOUSE OF HORRORS.

The collection is available in print and ebook here: http://www.amazon.com/Halloween-House-Horrors-Mark-Gunnells-ebook/dp/B016C4GBS2/ref=la_B005C18L7Q_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1445081748&sr=1-1

Sep. 20th, 2015

How I Define Success

I don't often dispense with the "writerly advice" because...well, I'm just me. I've published a good number books in the small press, but I don't pretend to be an expert or think I'm more successful than I am. And yet that brings me to this bit of advice I feel moved to give.

I was recently musing on the concept of "success." All us writers harbor dreams of making a living at writing, quitting the day job and being full-time authors. There's nothing wrong with that dream, and we should go after it with all our gusto. However, I know some writers for whom that is their sole definition of "success." If they aren't making their primarily living at it, they feel like a failure. I think that's a sad way of looking at it and a total fallacy.

If you are doing what you love, you already have a modicum of success because many people in this life don't. They have it drilled into their minds at an early age that maybe their passion is pointless or worthless and they simply give it up. So if you are still pursuing your passion, you're already on a winning path.

And the fact is that the majority of writers working today do not make a living at it. Does that mean the majority of writers are unsuccessful losers? I don't think so. For me, while I continue to pursue the dream of being a career writer, I am quite happy with my current set-up. A day joy that pays the bills and I don't hate and which allows me time to write. You never want to be stuck in a job that makes you miserable, so my advice is while you chase that dream, find a day job you actually like, and continue writing what you love. That to me is successful.

Now I know some writers who've said that by already considering myself "successful" in my current circumstances that I'm not as serious about writing as they are, or I'm not "on their level." Well, I don't even think in terms of levels, writing isn't a competition, but I'm damn serious about my writing. I just define success differently.

Sep. 6th, 2015

A Collection of Collections

I love novels and novellas, essays and poetry...but my true love--my utmost passion--is short fiction. When I sit down to write, what brings me the most joy is crafting a short story. Not that other literary forms are inherently lesser, it's just a personal preference. It's what inspires me.

Which is why, when I was a younger writer who had yet to sell any of my work, what I dreamed of more than anything else was my own short story collection. Actually, my dream was to have a string of collections.

Easier said than done. I wasn't naive, I knew that the short form was a bit out of fashion, markets were dwindling and many publishers wouldn't even consider collections by any author that wasn't a big name. And even those were harder sells.

But that didn't stop me from dreaming.

In 2009, I published my first book, A LAYMON KIND OF NIGHT. It was a chapbook released by Sideshow Press in a series by four different authors. The other three were novellas, my chapbook collected three short stories. Not exactly a full collection, but I really enjoyed the fact that my first book contained short stories.

After that I started publishing novellas, and I sold a couple of novels. But my goal was still to get some collections out. By this point I had written literally hundreds of shorts.

Sideshow finally gave me my shot, and TALES FROM THE MIDNIGHT SHIFT became my first full-fledged collection. It was first released as a limited hardcover then later as a paperback, and though I was ecstatic about the books that preceded it, I don't think before or since I've ever experienced the kind of joy I felt when I held that collection in my hands for the first time.

More novels and novellsa followed, but I wanted more collections and decided to take the bull by the horns and start approaching publishers. Pitching has never been something I'm entirely comfortable with, but fortune favors the brave. This resulted in three subsequent collections. A short Halloween themed collection called DARK TREATS with Sideshow; a digital collection called GHOSTS IN THE ATTIC with Bad Moon Books; and most recently WELCOME TO THE GRAVEYARD with Evil Jester Press.

I'm proud of all these collections, feeling that they each represent me as an author and showcase what I can do in the short form. Still, I'm not satisfied and had so many stories I wanted to get out there. And recently, I've had a streak of luck.

Great Old Ones Publishing approached me about doing a book with them and I pitched the idea of another Halloween collection (I write multiple Halloween tales every October, so I have plenty of them), and they'll be releasing HALLOWEEN HOUSE OF HORRORS next month. I also pitched a collection to Sinister Grin, and sometime next year they should be putting out COMPANIONS IN RUIN. Crystal Lake Publishing had an open submission period in which I pitched a collection, they asked to see three of my strongest stories, and now FLOWERS IN A DUMPSTER is due out early next year. And most recently I received a contract for a collection that I'm not as yet able to discuss publicly.

Four collections due out. It makes my head spin, and I couldn't be more delighted. I'll always continue to write novels and novellas, but short fiction will always be at the top of my list. I'm so glad to have found so many wonderful publishers that are open to collections and really nurture and encourage the short story writer.

And hopefully there will be many more collections to follow in the years to come.

Aug. 25th, 2015

Frank Pharaoh Interview

I first encountered Frank Pharaoh (pseudonym for 19-year-old Vicente Garcia) on a horror message board. He seemed like a nice young man with a lot of interests similar to my own. We hit it off and struck up an online friendship. When my Halloween collection, DARK TREATS, was released, Frank reviewed it and was very kind. In particular he had a lot of praise for my short “Treats.” He asked if he could adapt the film for a student project, and I was more than happy to say yes. Recently the film, directed by himself and starring Jordan Toy, was completed. It was a real kick seeing my concept filmed that way, and I’m happy to have Frank sit down with me for this interview.

MAG: I want to start off by asking you some questions about DARK TREATS. You took the concept of my short story and told your own story, almost as if it were a different story set in the same universe as my short. Can you tell us a little about why you went in that direction, and how difficult was it to come up with an original story within an already established framework?

FP: To be honest, your story tells the tale better. For those unaware, your story has a young boy stalked by one of the creatures; my short film has a teenage girl stalked by one. In both versions, there are two “treats”, which, as we learn at the end of both, are really eggs. In both versions, the eggs are initially thrown away, and in both versions the protagonist fights back. So while my version is still your story in spirit, I had to make changes to suit our budget. We didn’t have a child actor, and child actors can’t work late at night anyways. We also had no adult actors—so I very quickly made it “teenage girl home alone for the night”, since Jordan Toy was the film’s only certainty. Her brother in the film is her brother in real life; he had more lines and another scene, but I cut about 95% of his stuff since he rapidly proved that he couldn’t act. (No offense, David.)

As far as coming up with an original story—it wasn’t hard at all! When you really look at it, there’s a ton of plot for a ten-minute short. The whole thing moves so fast that people actually miss important plot points. Since there’s almost no dialogue explaining what’s happening, people always seem to be about a minute behind. (I chose to be almost dialogue free since we had no microphones on set.) A lot of the plot points/scenes Jordan and I made up on set; we were literally designing and creating scenes as we filmed them. There was no official script, just a loose outline I’d written. All the dialogue was ad-libbed, and I’d make up Jordan’s blocking on the spot. While that seems lazy, it was actually a lot of fun to just be freely creative like that. We had so much fun making this!

Probably the only “hard” part we had to deal with was the continuity. Though we only had one location, we shot the film out of order over five days. (One of those days was completely cut from the film, and the other day was just for the opening credits.) It was three solid nights of shooting at Jordan’s house though, usually from 8pm-3am. Because we were shooting out of order and making it up as we along, Jordan was constantly reminding me “remember, I was over there last night. So now I get over here tonight, but what was I doing in between?” To which I’d have to sit and think “Okay, the creature ran over there, and you passed out over there, and we need you over here by this door…” Honestly, the “missing reels” cover up both budget (there’s a missing reel every time the creature moves since it looked so fake) and continuity (the missing reels often skip forward in time, getting Jordan to a new place). The “911 call” scene was actually shot on Halloween night, so that’s cool though. I had to shoot at least one of the film’s scenes on Halloween, since the story takes place on Halloween!

MAG: What can you tell us about Jordan Toy, the actress who plays the lead in the film? She certain gives a spirited performance.

FP: She’s amazing! She’s my best friend, and we’ve always bonded over horror movies. We actually weren’t even really friends in high school—every year she and I would go to Monsterpalooza, a Burbank, CA-based horror convention and Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Hollywood—but other than that, we never hung out or talked. We both had a common friend, but other than those two horror events, we didn’t see each other. I never had a class with her or anything. When you saw us at those events you’d think we were the greatest friends, but we both ran in different cliques socially. Then we graduated and all our friends scattered all over California and the rest of the U.S., and we both found ourselves stuck in our hometown and going to the same community college—so we became best friends by mutual benefit. That sounds completely horrible, but she’s like a sister to me now—and horror has always been the glue keeping us together.

Her performance in the short is probably what I’m most proud of, yet very little of it was because of my direction. She’d never acted before, but she’s just a natural. Because of our love of horror movies, we spoke a language that was very important to my direction—I’d tell her “for this scene, do you remember that one scene from the Halloween remake? Do that.” Or “you know how 70’s horror actresses always have that look on their face? Do that.” She’d take my suggestions and just run with them. Most of the time I’d just be looking at the playback and thinking “wow, I didn’t tell her to do any of that—but it’s all great.” Her little movements, expressions, everything—I have no clue where it came from, but I think everyone who’s seen the short has praised her.

She’s terribly shy about it too—she was so hesitant to record the screams during editing. (All of the screaming was recorded separately in my garage since we filmed in her house/backyard late at night, and I didn’t want her neighbors calling the cops on us.) Even before we started shooting, her acting was both of our main concerns: “Can we pull this off? Are you comfortable with this? Do you think it’ll be good enough?” But she was gangbusters. I’m so proud of her!

MAG: I hear that one of your biggest problems was the creature special effects. Talk to us a little about that, and the creative solutions you came up with.

FP: The creature itself was an animatronic dragon I bought from Toys-R-Us. It was originally fifty bucks—toy prices are ridiculous now—but someone had misplaced it under a twenty buck price tag, and apparently the store has some strange policy wherein the price under the toy is the price you pay, even if it’s wrong. So I got the prop for twenty bucks! I’m not complaining, but I wonder how many people purposefully misplace items to get them cheaper…
Anyways—we cut off some of the dragon’s features (for copyright purposes, hah!) and then covered it in dyed-green latex. We then shaped it a bit, adding some detail. Oh wait—we actually ran out of latex and ended up only covering its head, feet, tail, and some parts of the body. Latex is expensive! This already created problems, since we now could never have a full body shot of the creature. (I solved this issue by shooting the creature’s full shadow. It was really just Jordan’s brother David moving the creature with his hand, but I sped it up in editing to make it look quicker.) The next problem became the animatronics itself—the added weight of the latex made it so that the creature could no longer move properly. It just kind of shook in place. So while shooting the first real scene of the creature attacking Jordan, I said “forget it—we’re just gonna pull a page from Grindhouse and place a ‘missing reel’ insert here. We just can’t film this with this prop and this budget.” So instead of full creature shots, the final short has creature POV shots, creature tail shots, creature shadow shots, and creature close-ups. That toy dragon ended up being the damn shark animatronic from Jaws.

MAG: The shooting required a lot of night shooting. How was that?

FP: So many directors hate shooting at night, but I love it. Lighting is a concern—and I know for a fact that many shots in “Treats” are underlit due to my own inexperience—but at the same time, I think you have a lot more control at night. You don’t have the sun constantly in the way of shots, and you can light scenes according to how you want. Day scenes require reflectors and you can only shoot for a certain amount of time before the sun moves and it’s obvious you’re shooting at a different time. But night shoots can shoot all night, and no one would ever know that a story taking place at 10pm was actually shot at 3am. And, especially for a creature-feature, you can hide things in the dark—our creature in the daylight would look like the latex-covered toy it really is. We had to simulate rain too, and in the dark, spraying a couple hoses on Jordan suddenly looks a lot more realistic than it really is.

MAG: Who are some of the filmmakers working today you’d like to work with?

FP: Without a doubt, Colin Trevorrow. He directed this summer’s Jurassic World after only making one short film and one feature, the quirky sci-fi indie Safety Not Guaranteed. Steven Spielberg saw Safety and loved it so much he hired him for Jurassic, and now Kathleen Kennedy (the main producer for the Star Wars franchise) has taken notice of both Safety’s story-telling and Jurassic’s success and hired him for Star Wars Episode 9. He “made it” as a director the way I want to: he made a great, small, low-budget film and had the work speak for itself. Hollywood came to him, not the other way around—he lives in Montana. This speaks volumes to me; it gives me hope for my own future. I’m immensely jealous of him (he’s working on my two favorite franchises!), but have a lot of respect for his talent and work ethic. I met him at the Hollywood midnight premiere of Jurassic World too; he introduced the film, and I got to shake hands and take a picture with him afterwards, right there on Sunset surrounded by tons of fans and cameras at 2am. He was nothing but gracious and kind to the fans, talking to everyone he could. Even his bodyguard was nice! Basically, I wanna be him when I grow up.

MAG: I hear you are going to be subbing TREATS to some film festivals. Tell us a little about that.

FP: What’s funny is that submitting the short to festivals is gonna end up costing more money than making the movie even did. I haven’t decided which festivals to submit too, but I’m already a bit worried at how much it’ll cost. Some festivals will cost more to submit to than making the film cost!
I’m gonna go back and re-edit the entire short in HD though, and there will a couple new lines of dialogue to clear some plot issues up. There might be some new music too, but it’ll be the same film.

MAG: You’re a man with your finger in a lot of pies. I know you’ve experimented with publishing. Is that something you want to pursue more in the future? Perhaps run your own small press sometime?

FP: Definitely, to both questions. Ideally one day I’ll make enough as a director to be able to fund my own small press. My production company is called Creature House Productions; one day I’d love Creature House Publications to be up and running! I’d love to edit anthologies too in the future. I think a main concern in horror fiction right now is a lack of new editors—it’s just the same handful of editors editing every damn anthology that comes out. Some new blood needs to come in.

MAG: I also hear that you will be doing your own podcast. Care to tell us how that came about and what we should expect from it?

FP: I’d been toying with the idea since early this year, since you could do it with no money. Then Project iRadio (a podcast syndicate) announced that they were looking for new podcasts, and I submitted three ideas for approval. They were very interested in two of the three, so we’ve been working on the duo for the past couple months. Jordan Toy is my co-host for both of them—one of them, It Came From Generation Y! compares pulp horror movies to modern horror movies, and will have interviews with filmmakers, writers, people behind the scenes. The hook is its two millennials dissecting genre movies from before they were born! For example, one episode compares The Land That Time Forgot, a campy Doug McClure vehicle from the 70’s, with Jurassic World.

The other, the purposefully mis-spelled The Hauntening, (a bad pun derived from The Conjuring) is gonna be a monthly podcast wherein Jordan and I investigate a different horror location each month. (Someplace haunted, someplace with connections to the genre, someplace with ties to UFO sightings, etc.) Like a horror documentary, but in audio form. Truthfully, both these projects have proven…more time-consuming that I would’ve ever thought, haha! For the former we have to watch two movies before we even record; the latter takes a lot of time and money and research. Gas prices are so crazy in California right now that we’re trying to find places as close as possible to us. We’re building an episode backlog right now so that when we eventually debut both pods, we can stick to a consistent schedule. If Project iRadio doesn’t mind waiting even longer, I’d prefer to debut both of them in early 2016.

MAG: With all your work in film, publishing, writing, what would you say your greatest passion is? What would you focus on if you could only do one thing?

FP: Film for sure, because it enables me to be able to do everything I love. I love writing, so I can write my film. I love photography/cinematography, so I can shoot my film. I love being the leader, so I can direct my film. I love music, so I can score my film. I love advertising, so I promote my film and design it’s poster. Some people, like Tarantino, even publish their scripts, so I could still be involved in publishing too if I wanted too. (Haha.)
Right now the only thing challenging my love of film would be my love of education and teaching. I’m 19, still just barely starting on my career—but if I failed trying to be a director, I’ve long said that I’d be a second-grade teacher. My mom is an elementary school principal, and I actually volunteer at her school and teach a Film Club every Wednesday. It’s so cool—at elementary ages, most kids have never been exposed to the art of film. In my club they’ve made their own film trailers, short films, silent films, learned about acting, film speeds, etc. They really wanna make a claymation short, and I keep trying to explain to them how much work that would be.

People keep telling me to blend the two and become a drama teacher, but I hated high school. Ideally, I’d go off and become a director, make ten films and a good nest egg, and then retire as a teacher.

MAG: What projects can we expect from you in the future? What are you working on now?

FP: I can’t say anything about it yet, but it’s gonna be another adaption. A short horror film based on a story I read recently that clicked visually with me right away like “Treats” did. If all works out with the author, I think it’s gonna be very cool, very modern horror. The author is very respected. I do want to try to focus on adaptions right now, simply because they have built-in fans and promotion—people who read the original work will want to watch the adaption, and the author can help promote the work more than I ever could. I think for someone just starting out like I am, adaptions are as good a place as any to begin.

I’m also finishing up two feature-length scripts, both of which will be done by year’s end. The goal for them is to get an agent and shop them around to studios. One is a straight-up, gory horror flick called Petrichor, and the other is an action/comedy called “3”. Petrichor is like if the Final Destination movies and Jaws and Richard Laymon had a child; “3” has a talking dog, an evil corporation, clones, and genies. (Side story: someone broke into the backyard and stabbed my puppy while nobody was home; while she was recovering I’d hold her in my arms and think to myself ‘If only you could talk, and tell me who did this to you…’ Hence, the origin of my talking dog movie.) Though I predominantly consider myself a horror writer/director, “3” has been ridiculously fun to write so far. It’s a big, explosive, hilarious summer blockbuster waiting to happen.

What I’m most proud of though is a finished script I have called “Teenage Monstrosity”—it’s a short film script that’s completely original, completely my own. I’m dying to make it, but the budget would require at least $1500…which is nothing for a film, but far too expensive for me to self-fund right now! It’s insanely dark, but I think it’s a very smart script with a great revenge-type ending. And the main character is a mermaid! One day I’ll get the money and make it.

MAG: I want to thank you for taking the time to chat with me. You’re a dynamic young man, and what you’ve accomplished at such a young age is very impressive.

Aug. 14th, 2015

Interview with the Man Himself--Joe Lansdale

I first discovered Joe R. Lansdale when I was in college. I started with the first two Drive-In novels then his collection Electric Gumbo. From then on, I collected all his older titles I could find and was always on the lookout for anything new. I consider the man to be one of our greatest living storytellers, and one of my favorite things about his work is the eclectic nature of it. He is a genre unto himself. Horror, mystery, crime, western, bizarro, YA —he does it all, and he does it all well.

Now that I’m done gushing, I have to say I was beyond ecstatic when Mr. Lansdale agreed to let me interview him for my little blog. It is quite an honor, and without further ado, we’ll get to what everyone came here for…

MAG: First of all, let me thank you for taking the time to talk with me. One thing I want to attempt with this interview is to ask you about some works that I don’t see you asked about much in other interviews. So in that spirit, I’m going to start out by asking you about an odd, obscure work—Duck Footed. This is a short story released as a chapbook from Subterranean Press about ten years ago. One thing that strikes me about the piece is that it has a lot to say about religion, specifically the way people twist religion into something nasty and harmful, and yet the outrageous and almost silly nature of the story results in it not feeling overly preachy, which in essence makes the message even more effective. Was that your intention going in, or was it you just having fun with no thought toward message?

JRL: You nailed it completely. I'm not fond of religion in general, though not personally against anyone choosing to be religious. Just don't try and force it on me. The sort of religious knot heads who use it to justify everything in the world from racism to sexism, to homophobia, to just plain meanness. Religion as of recent on the Islamic side has been used by the ISIS to justify rape in the name of god. I for one understand they are extremist, but religion in general seems to me a justification for most anything. But yeah, in this case, and that hasn't always been the case, I used a light-hearted story to speak about something than can be a lot less light-hearted. Religious extremism.

I wrote that story for a friend of mine, Ardath Mayhar, and unfortunately near forgotten author of some fine novels and short stories. She lived just outside of Nacogdoches, and we were friends for nearly forty years. She died a few years back. Great lady and a neglected author. THE WORLD ENDS AT HICKORY HOLLOW might be one to check out, and there are a couple of collections of short stories. Start there if you're interested. Unfortunately, most of her books are publish on demand, and not enough people know about her to demand her. She sold a lot in the eighties and nineties, especially. (Ardath Mayhar's work can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/Ardath-Mayhar/e/B001HPJ4EU/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1439590642&sr=8-1)

MAG: I'll have to look her up. One of my favorite novels you’ve written is Sunset and Sawdust. One of the most effective parts of that story for me was your characterization of Sunset. She comes across as a very realistic portrayal of a strong woman. Not a Xena-type warrior, but a woman with foibles and weaknesses, fear and uncertainty, but also a streak of steel that always has her striving to do the right thing. In fact, many of your women characters have this steel. Does this come from women you’ve known in your own life?

JRL: It does. My mother, in many ways, seemed like a kind pushover, but people were mistaking kindness and generosity and a positive spirit for weakness. At the core, she and my father, were two of the strongest willed, toughest people I have ever known. My mother was actually made to have been born in more recent times. She was ahead of her time on many ideas and issues, and only the time in which she was born held her back from being able to bring her full creativity to bloom. She was a painter of some skill, and had tremendous ideas about design, and so on. So, she was one. Also, a lot of women I have known in my life have been that way. Ardath Mayhar once again comes to mind. My daughter is an amazing woman. Strong and resilient and brave. (Lansdale's daughter Kasey is a talented country singer, check out her website here: http://kaseylansdale.com/ You can also visit her YouTube page: https://www.youtube.com/user/kaseylansdale And )

MAG: Staying with Sunset and Sawdust for a moment, did you meet any resistance writing what is basically a period crime novel with a female protagonist?

JRL: I don't remember any. I was able to do pretty much what I wanted. Well, exactly what I wanted. On female leads in novels, and film, you do hear now and then that if a novel fails it's because of a female protagonist, but if it succeeds, it's because of a female protagonist. None of it makes any sense. It succeeds or it doesn't, and sometimes works that deserve to succeed fail, and works that are awful succeed.

MAG: You’ve also created a gay protagonist with Leonard Pine in your Hap and Leonard series. As a gay man myself, I’ve always been impressed by how realistic Leonard comes across. You’ve said (and I’m paraphrasing) that when it comes to characterization, giving a man a limp isn’t characterization, but how he feels about the limp and how it affects his life is. In that vein, making a character gay isn’t characterization but how he feels about it and how it affects his life is. Some writers tell you a character is gay at the onset and that’s it, it has no real impact on their lives. Conversely, others make it so that it’s the character’s only focus and personality trait. With Leonard, his sexuality is a real part of who he is, but it doesn’t define him either. It’s a balance that makes him feel very authentic. Have you received much feedback from the gay community on the character?

JRL: I have received nothing but positive feed back from the gay community on Leonard. I love that guy. Gay people like straight people come in all stripes. Hap and Leonard are my two favorite characters of all time. I like that one is straight and one is gay, and they differ politically, and in many other ways, but their brotherhood trumps all else.

MAG: Speaking of Hap and Leonard, I know you recently spent some time on the set of the TV series Sundance is making from the first novel, Savage Season. This isn’t your first adaption, but since you’ve lived with Hap and Leonard longer than any other characters you’ve created, what was it like to see them finally coming to life for the screen and did you feel more protective toward those characters than others from earlier adaptions?

JRL: I really did feel protective, but when you sell a property to film, you only have so much say. I was allowed a lot. I love the director Jim Mickle like a nephew and the main script writer, and actor, Nick Damici like a brother. I say what I think, which may not always be what they want to hear, but then again, neither has to listen. They have been very good with me, however, and I did become an executive producer, and not in title only.

MAG: I want to ask you a couple of questions about Lost Echoes. I think it’s a great book that is compelling and exciting, and it is plot-wise perhaps your most commercial. The concept of the man who gets psychic glimpses of the past through sounds is quite unique and in the hands of a less adept writer could have come across as a gimmick, but you sold it a hundred percent. It is so unique in fact that I’m just curious where that idea came from?

JRL: My very good friend, and I love him like a brother, Terrill Lee Lankford, was doing a signing in Houston, and he ended up through a snafu with an extra hotel room. I was visiting and he offered me the spare room. I took it. I didn't realize that the window was open behind the curtain, and all night I heard cars on the highway, voices, and I thought: What if what I'm hearing are people's thoughts. And then I thought, no. What if I'm hearing the sounds of the past, the rattling in those trucks of living human beings bumping up against the sides of their cars, and that the sound this makes reveals the past. Hidden events in sound. If you hear a door close, and at some point in time someone had been violently thrown against that door, maybe you get the whole event in your head, if you have a special kind of a ability. And my character had that ability due to a childhood health problem. I called it audiochronology. The past captured in sound. It would be as if the past entered into objects, remained there until something caused an audio event, which in turn was then detected and visualized by the person with the ability to do that. Anyway, thanks to my brother Lee for giving me that room to stay in, and thanks to me for being stupid and not realizing the window was open. I had a very miserable night, but a very profitable result. I wrote the novel quickly, started it as soon as I got home. It has it's fans, but for some reason, it's been mostly ignored.

MAG: That really is a shame, because people are missing out on a truly gripping story. That novel also has a lot about martial arts in it, and how it can be used as a healing instrument. I know you are experienced in martial arts, and your love for it shines through in Lost Echoes. Do you still practice, and how much of a role does martial arts play in your life today?

JRL: I still practice and I still teach. I do have some injuries, which keeps me from doing certain things, martial arts and exercise wise, but on the whole they are minor. I teach one private class a week, do the occasional seminar and teach at our annual camp here in Nacogdoches. Camp Lansdale it's called. I have been doing martial arts in some form for 53 years, and created the system of Shen Chuan over twenty years ago. Me and the system have been recognized by the United States Martial Arts Hall of Fame as well as the International Martial Arts Hall of Fame.

MAG: The first collection I read by you was Electric Gumbo, which contains a lot of your most popular short fiction, but it also has a few nonfiction pieces about your love of B-movies and the drive-in theater. I responded strongly to these as someone who grew up after the drive-in era who always had a romantic notion of the experience and regretted never getting to attend a movie at a drive-in. “Hell Through a Windshield” really fed that. A few years after reading the piece, I discovered that a small town in the next state, but within reasonable driving distance, still had an operational drive-in and I’ve been several times and enjoyed the experience as much as I thought I would. All this rambling is leading to the question, when is the last time you were able to attend a drive-in? If recently, do you still enjoy the experience?

JRL: You know, it's been years. In the 70s. We had one down from out house, and my wife and I went there frequently. It was cheap. We also took our kids when they were little. I didn't want to bring kids to an inside show, as they would annoy everyone, and I know I hate that. But you could take them to the drive in. Mostly they slept or our oldest played in the back of the car. It was fun. Neither kid remembers the drive in, but our daughter Kasey recently went to one up North. She saw Ant Man. She enjoyed the experience.

MAG: You wrote a Batman novel called Captured by the Engines. Though it is a Caped Crusader story, the plot that incorporates Native American mythology and cars was both clever and very Lansdale with is combination of disparate elements. How free were you to develop your own unique plot, and did Warner Books have any concern that the plot was too outrageous?

JRL: I don't remember any concern or interference. I had fun, and no one complained.

MAG: You have a very close-knit family, and you’ve worked with your wife and kids on various projects. I just wondered, do you seek their advice or thoughts when you have a work in progress?

JRL: No. I don't ask for advice when I'm writing. I'll figure it out. It works best for me that way. Collaborations, of course, are different. I find them harder, as you're trying to please two people, not just yourself. I have fun doing it in other ways, but it's not the same. I always think one person can do better than two. I don't subscribe to two heads are better than one. In film it's different to some degree, but still, there's usually way too many cooks in the soup in film. Still, now and then, especially with family, it's fun to do.

MAG: I recently finished Paradise Sky, which I think ranks as one of your best. I know you’ve said you have been wanting to write this novel for many years. If you had written it when you initially had the inspiration, do you think it would have been a different book from the one you ultimately delivered?

JRL: I think it would have been very similar, but I think it wouldn't have had the depth I was able to bring to it, so I think the delay worked.

MAG: A selfish question here, do you think you’ll do any books in the future about the Nat Loving character?

JRL: I don't know. My books sort of arrive on their own, like relatives you like but didn't know were coming. Some become long term house guests. Others just drop by and say hi. Nat has been with me longer than any character I've created, even though he just recently showed up in two short stories, BLACK HAT JACK, and then PARADISE SKY. He could turn up in the yard at any time.

MAG: Some authors once they find success in the novel tend to stop writing short stories. This is not the case with you, which pleases me to no end since I’m a huge lover of the short form. Do you find short stories and novels present different challenges for the writer, and what keeps bringing you back to the short form?

JRL: I adore short stories. Novels as well, but short stories are my favorite. I like that I can be so diverse and move between this idea and another, and you can experiment more with them. I slow down on them sometimes, but usually I write a lot of them. In the 90s I think I wrote less than before, or after. But it comes and goes in waves. I seem to be pulling back on them slightly now, but only slightly. I've written 9 this year already, as well as a novel, and half of another novel. I have so many ideas, and not enough time. The ones I wrote were mostly short, and most were about Hap when he was younger. Some include Leonard. Those came quickly, and I have two more started. I wrote a horror story as well, and Kasey and I are about to start a horror tale. My son and I are writing a screenplay.

MAG: Well, I just want to say that this has been a real pleasure and a thrill. Not only are you a talented author, you’re also a true gentleman. I look forward to more stories from you in the future.

JRL: Thank you so much.

Joe Lansdale has a website that is updated frequently and features a free short story every week: http://www.joerlansdale.com/
His work is also available on Amazon and at Barnes & Noble:

Aug. 9th, 2015

A Real Treat

I originally met Vicente Garcia on a horror message board. We share a love of many of the same books and movies and developed something of a friendship. Vicente is a dynamic young man with a lot of ambition and talent and his finger in a lot of pies.

He reviewed my Halloween collection, DARK TREATS, when it was released and was particularly enthusiastic about my short story "Treats." He started talking to me early on about making the story into a short film. I told him he had my blessing, but honestly didn't really think anything would ever come of it. Not because I doubted him, but because it seemed unthinkable anyone would really want to film something I made up.

But Vicente was true to his word, and made a really fun little film. To be fair, this isn't my story, but it takes the concept of my story--unwrapped candies that are tossed in the trash but which turn out to be eggs that hatch some mutant creatures that attack--and weaves his own story around that concept. My story was about a single mother and her son, whereas his is about a teenage girl home alone. And the end of his film brings fruition to something I only suggest in the story.

Vicente didn't have much of a budget, and he had some issues figuring out the effects on such a small budget, but he gave the story an 80s B horror movie kind of vibe that even weaves its way into the music. I think it's a lot of fun, and makes me smile. I won't lie, part of me was hoping to see "BASED ON THE STORY BY MARK ALLAN GUNNELLS" in the credits, but hey, like I said, he just used my concept as a jumping off point.

Here is the film, hope you enjoy:

Vicente also has a little behind the scenes footage from the filming, so I'm going to include that as well:

I want to thank Vicente for thinking enough of the story to make his own version of it. It was a real joy for me.

Jul. 25th, 2015

Jason Sizemore Exposes Himself

Jason Sizemore and I share something in common. Social awkwardness. While Jason has largely overcome it, I’m still working on it. Which explains why the first time I met Jason face to face at WHC in Atlanta (after having been friends with him online for years, and the man even published one of my books) I just stood there like an idiot, shifting from one foot to the other like I had to go to the bathroom, thinking, “I should be saying something right now, making chitchat, you know, acting like a normal person.” Instead I think I made a few one to two word comments then scurried away like the socially inept freak I am.

To his credit, Jason doesn’t hold it against me.

But that’s not the only credit Jason has. In addition to being the founder of the well-respected (and deservedly so) Apex Publications, he’s a talented writer in his own right. His most recent work is the memoir For Exposure: The Life and Times of a Small Press Publisher, which details how he came to found Apex and build it into what it is today. The book is entertaining as hell, full of warmth and wit and charm.

Jason was kind enough to allow me to interview him for my little blog. So let’s get right to it.

MAG: For Exposure offers a unique and illuminating insight into the creation and running of a small press. What initially gave you the idea to write it?

JS: This is one of those situations where I would like to claim a brilliant insight. But credit where credit is due, the idea was pitched by the Joseph-Beth Booksellers marketing brain Patricia Murphy. She and I were talking after the completion of one of my workshops and asked me if Apex would be releasing anything special to celebrate its tenth anniversary. She tossed out the idea of a “personal memoir.”

Because I’m a bland, boring fellow, the idea transformed into an “Apex Memoir.” The rest is glorious history!

MAG: When you committed to writing the book, was there any one specific story that leapt out to you and made you think, “Oh yeah, that one definitely has to go in”?

JS: The honey baked ham. It’s so wild, so weird, and so sexy that not including it would have been a crime. Although the circumstances around the ham were probably a crime.

MAG: You’ve written fiction before, but did you find undergoing a lengthy nonfiction work like this provided unique challenges? Were you at all intimidated by the prospect?

JS: I found it to be easier than writing fiction. Creative nonfiction has always come easily to me (in relative terms). For Exposure is similar to creative nonfiction, except it has large kernels of truth embedded that form the nucleus of the work.

I did discover that doing a proper oral history is a challenge. Originally, the final chapter was going to be an oral history by some talented and funny people. But I had trouble making it interesting and presenting proper jumping points for my historians. I ditched the history for footnotes. In the end, I think the book is better for it. Yes another one of those serendipitous straw-to-gold situations I often encounter.

MAG: One thing that really stands out to me about the book is the abundance of humor. Some of the tales, such as your run-ins with Hickory Adams, the “ham incident” as I’ll call it, and your proximity to the Carnival Barker, are naturally funny, but you even managed to infused tales of food poisoning and kidney stones with wit. Did you find looking back at these stories you were able to laugh about them now? Did time and distance ease the pain, so to speak?

JS: Pain and humor come from the same emotional core. A common maxim is “I’d cry if I wasn’t laugh.” It’s kind of like that, especially with the kidney stones episode and food poisoning episodes.

Since I’m anything but normal, most interactions I have with people strike me as odd or funny in one way or another. Hickory Adams, the ham, the Carnival Barker…are highlights through my life goggles.

MAG: You describe yourself as a “geek”, so one geek to another, what were your favorite horror and sci-fi movies/books growing up?

JS: For horror, it all started with Alien. For non-scary science fiction, Star Wars (duh, what else?!) I was a huge book geek from an early age. I read nearly every book in the small library collection of Big Creek Elementary. My favorites then were the genre books such as A Wrinkle in Time and Jack Tales.

MAG: Did you read many genre magazines before starting Apex? If so, what were some of your favorites?

JS: I wasn’t a regular reader of genre magazine, but I definitely had read my share of them. I leaned toward publications that were a little bit off the straight and narrow. Weird Tales and F&SF were the two ‘large’ zines I read that occasionally offered strange fiction. I liked a couple of DIY saddle-stitched publications such as Say… (edited by Christopher Rowe and Gwenda Bond) and Electric Velocipede (edited by John Klima) that are, sadly, no longer around.

MAG: For Exposure really illustrates just how much of a family the speculative community can be. How much of a part would you say your friendships and partnerships with other writers and publishers have played in your success?

JS: It’s obviously played a huge role. Very few occupations are solitary efforts. One guy with a tin can bailing water out of a boat won’t keep you from sinking in a storm. A team of people with tin cans might keep you alive. I’m lucky to have a lot of people willing to bail.

MAG: One very clever and enjoyable device employed in the book is allowing folks that feature in your stories to make “rebuttals”, providing their memories of the events you describe. How did that idea come about?

JS: Ah…now I do get to claim a brilliant insight! Because the book is so much about those people who love Apex and those who have dedicated so much time and work into making Apex a success, I wanted to give them a voice in the narrative. My first idea was unremarkable—ask certain people to contribute essays about their Apex experiences—but didn’t fit with the tone of the book.

Then my beta readers started to (understandably) wonder how I was making all this stuff up. It occurred to me that everybody would ask the same question. Fortunately, a lot of my experiences are with talented authors like Geoffrey Girard, Sara M. Harvey, and Maurice Broaddus. I asked them if they would like to write their side of the stories I would tell about them.

To quote one of the rebuttal authors: “You’re giving me an opportunity to call you to task AND to make fun of you? Hell yes!”

MAG: Some of the rebuttals called into question the veracity of your accounts. Which story would you say had the greatest variance?

JS: I’m pleased that on a whole, the accounts match mine to some degree. Girard’s rebuttal varies the greatest…I don’t know what the dude was smoking when he wrote it. I can say with 100% certainty that we did not have a Zuni doll named “He Who Kills” at any of our Apex room parties.

MAG: You’ve been making the promotional rounds, and I know you’ve shared some tales that didn’t make it in the book. Are there any that you consider too outrageous to share anywhere? If so, can we expect an Unrated and Uncut version of the book somewhere down the road?

JS: There are countless tales that I can’t share in a book. Reader incredulity would soar off the charts. I would be fielding calls from the FBI. An uncut version is not in the works.

MAG: Does your family ever attend conventions with you? And were any of the stories in the book new to them?

JS: My wife’s interests lie in the field of software development, not publishing. My kids love the publishing stuff I do, but they’re still young to spend four days with genre fans.

MAG: What’s on the horizon for Apex? Any particular upcoming releases you want to tease us with?

JS: I’m really proud of the upcoming The Apex Book of World SF: Volume 4. You see zines and publishers receiving praise for translating the occasional fiction or doing a ‘groundbreaking’ anthology highlighting non-English authors. I can’t help but think “Big deal, we’ve been doing it since 2009.”

Of course, I’m delighted that more non-English spec-fic is finding its way to the United States. I love the voice and styles of work produced from non-English speaking countries.

MAG: Well, I just want to say that I thoroughly enjoyed the book, and think anyone who reads it will love it. Thanks for taking the time to talk with me, and I wish you continued success.

Visit Jason Sizemore's website here: http://jason-sizemore.com/2015/03/17/for-exposure-the-life-and-times-of-a-small-press-publisher/

For Exposure can be purchased here http://www.amazon.com/Exposure-Times-Small-Press-Publisher/dp/1937009300/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1437866965&sr=8-1&keywords=For+Exposure+Jason+Sizemore&pebp=1437866981941&perid=1G5R1800238V7YR9RZNJ or here http://www.apexbookcompany.com/collections/all-books/products/for-exposure-the-life-and-times-of-a-small-press-publisher.

Jul. 1st, 2015

Interview with Aaron Dries

My first introduction to Aaron Dries was on Facebook, the way so many of us connect these days. He seemed a nice enough fellow, and I eventually decided to try one of his works. I picked up his debut novel House of Sighs for my Kindle…and that was it, instant fan! I then got to meet Aaron in person, and found him to be funny and charming and just an all around nice guy…and that was it, instant friend!

I’m happy to get to interview Aaron for my blog, because I think he has massive talent and a very bright future in the genre. More people should be reading him.

So Aaron, I know there’s a pretty interesting story behind the writing and selling of your first novel, House of Sighs. Why don’t you tell the folks at home about it?

A: Well, as they say, a story is best begun at the start. So let’s go back to when I was a pizza delivery boy. In that kind of job you come to know the regulars, some of whom you know by name, others just by face, and yet seeing them in the night’s crowd were a genuine perk. I had this one woman who I would deliver to every Friday. She had two young children. I never saw a husband. Week after week they got the same order: vegetarian pizzas. So many times I thought to myself, hey, she’s treating the kids, but she’s obviously conscientious enough to order something moderately healthy. They knew me by name. I came to know them. “Aaron’s here!” I’d hear from behind the door… Well, one day, the deliveries stopped coming. That woman killed her two children with a shotgun and then turned the gun on herself.

This incident shook me to my core. They were eventually buried in the same plot, which coincidentally was right next to where my grandfather was buried. What made this seemingly sane, polite, and generous woman do something so heinous? It was like she sucked all the answers out of my universe, leaving behind only questions. And those questions lead to a short screenplay called Placebo.

I shot that screenplay for my major work at University and it was extremely well received. It won top prizes at a number of festivals, sent me to the AFI awards, landed me future filmmaking gigs, and got me a full time job as a video editor/cameraman. My lecturer still teaches the short in her Video Production class; that humbles me greatly. The screenplay for Placebo is going to be released in Crystal Lake Publishing’s upcoming Horror 202: The Silver Screen later this year, which I’m excited about.

But my obsession with what happens behind closed doors, about the inexplicable violence people do to innocent people lingered on. I couldn’t shake it. These questions had me like a fever. I may have initially thought I was done with these themes, but as it turned out, they were not done with me. This coincided with another peculiar event.

I was traveling with a friend of mine from my home town in rural New South Wales, Australia to Sydney. We were actually going to a Neil Gaiman signing. Man, what a great day — to a point. My friend and I caught a Greyhound bus there and back, and it was on the return journey that something weird happened to me. There was this man (who, I kid you not, was a dead ringer for Sideshow Bob from The Simpsons) was sitting half way further down the bus from where we were in the back seat. For one reason or another (probably because I thought it was cool to do so) I was wearing a tie. Sideshow Bob kept on looking over his shoulder and glancing at us. No, scratch that. Me. This went on for about an hour, those glares of his growing more and more agitated. He eventually stood up, ran down the aisle, and snatched me out of my seat by my tie. “You think your so fucking cool with your fucking tie, you faggot!” he screamed. At which point he went on to accuse me of throwing ice cubes at the back of his head the entire trip. “Don’t deny it! You and your stupid tie!” I was frozen. My senses screamed at me to defend myself but I was just too shocked to do anything. Thankfully my friend came to the rescue and rescued Sideshow Bob off me, calling out for the driver to pull over immediately, which he did. The driver threatened to kick the man off right there and then in the middle of nowhere. But he didn’t. Sideshow Bob had to sit in the front seat within eyesight of the driver, like a scolded school boy. I hardly muttered a word the rest of the trip, my tie knotted tight under the collar of my shirt.

These two events, the man on the bus and the woman who killed her children, collided in my mind and became House of Sighs, which in and of itself was an extension of Placebo.

I didn’t write the book straight away. My husband-to-be and I went backpacking for three years (with one year of work in Canada). We were somewhere in the States when desperate for some R’n’R (not to mention some respite from the heat) we ventured into a Borders Bookstore. I grabbed a bunch of magazines off the shelf to browse through, including Rue Morgue Magazine. There I saw an advertisement for the Fresh Blood writing contest, which was being run by Rue Morgue/ChiZine Publications/and Leisure Books. The competition was for first time novelists to submit a completed manuscript, with ten contestants selected by (then) Leisure editor / industry heavyweight Don D’Auri whom would then go through elimination rounds based on public voting. Crikey, I thought. Sounds merciless. That was, of course, assuming I could make the deadline: in three months. I was determined. Using borrowed laptops, hostel and library computers all through the States, Europe, and South-East Asia I wrote the damn thing. I submitted it on the cut off date. It was literally down to the wire.

Despite the gods, I made it into the top ten. The winner would receive a limited edition hardcover release through ChiZine and a mass market paperback release through Dorchester. Did I stand a chance? I pushed on. Month after month. It was gruelling. But it toughened me up. I learned a hell of a lot. I rewrote all the way through. It was insane. And worth it. I won! But — here’s the catch. The moment I won, Dorchester went bust and my editor and confidant Don was let go from Leisure. The hardcover came out, but the paperback was in development hell.

A year passed. We kept on backpacking. But it was a year spent revising the manuscript as well as writing my second novel. The Fallen Boys. Don, it turns out, became the editor at Samhain Horror where he was hoping to build up a new line. I sent him The Fallen Boys. He recognised my name straight away and read the book in a day. He emailed me and said, “Aaron, this is great, but before I go any further, I just want to know … what ever happened with House of Sighs? Did it ever find a wide paperback release.” I told him no. He asked to read the revised manuscript. 24 hours later he got back to me. “Aaron, it’s better than I even remembered. I’m officially accepting both novels. Expect two contracts to come through within the next day.” Don lived up to his word, and the rest, as they say, is history.

I know you shoot all your book trailers yourself. What are the particular joys you find in filmmaking?

A: Ever since I was a kid I wanted to be a film director. In the third grade I attempted to remake Jurassic Park with all of my classmates, some of whom would be dressed up in lizard-esque costumes made by my grandmother. I had toys. I had props. I had it all set to go. But then my cast, the clever little things, told me they wanted to get paid. Sadly, my lunch money could only stretch so far. But I had the storytelling bug. My parents got the family a video camera for Christmas. My brothers and I made home made films week after week. I literally thought myself the language of film at a young age by doing it, that and watching every film I could get my grubby little hands on. I always had a love for horror. I remember a parent of a friend of mine saying, “oh, he’ll grow out of it.” I knew I wouldn’t. My storytelling urges only became stronger, and were further sparked by, of all things, censorship. The dreaded R (restricted) rating on the boxes of all those movies I was dying to watch at my local video store. The covers were so enticing … Dawn of the Dead. Martin. The Omen. The Exorcist. A Nightmare on Elm Street. What were the stories behind the pictures? My imagination ran wild. I think that’s where I strengthened that horror storytelling muscle in my brain.

I studied film at University, worked in the television industry for a while, and all the while wrote screenplays. I continued making short films, racked up some more awards both in Australia and abroad. But travel stepped in, and I found my one true passion: exploring planet Earth. Film took the back seat for a while, and writing novels replaced it. This way I could be director, actor, producer, casting agent, and writer — and it didn’t cost a thing! I still love film though, and I will direct a feature one day, I guarantee it. Making my own book trailers is just a little something I do to keep my toes in the water. I love it. They’ve been well received and have even played in film festivals. I think they’re a cool marketing tool. And they were all made with virtually no money. A bit of creativity can go a long, long way. Shoot within your budget, not over it; use your imagination; tell a story succinctly. That’s the key to decent book trailers. I don’t think many people get that, though. Most are godawful. I’m proud of mine. House of Sighs was shot in my hometown (which was where the book was set, albeit thinly-veiled). The Fallen Boys was shot in both my living room and on a short trip I took to Seattle — I ducked out to North Bend, Washington State, where Twin Peaks was shot, and snuck some footage there. A Place For Sinners was shot on a holiday to Thailand and supplementary insert shots were grabbed at the Thai cultural food festival in my local city.

So far you’ve published three novels and one novella with Samhain. What has been the best part of your experience working with them?

A: Without a doubt the best part is working with Don D’Auria. He’s got an innate instinct for what’s hot and what’s not. He builds authors as well as promotes established gurus. It also helps that he’s a great guy, whom I finally managed to meet at World Horror Con in Atlanta this year. The man is elusive though — like the gopher from Caddyshack. He’s there and then BANG gone, popping up in another room. I almost had to tackle him to the ground. We caught up, and discussing the industry, plans, and pitches face-to-face was every bit as delightful as our email exchanges had been for the past five years. In addition to Don’s support, I love that royalties come on time, and that they encourage authors to be heavily involved in the creation of cover art.

You’ve had a few short stories appear in anthologies. Do you work in the short form much, and what is the likelihood of us ever seeing a Dries collection?

A: Hmmm. A collection is something I’d certainly be up for once I build up my catalogue. I’ve got a new short story, Love Amongst the Red Back Spiders coming out later this year in Tales from the Lake Volume 2. I’m stoked for that. I read the story at WHC to a live audience and the feedback was great. I’m working on more short stories at the moment too, so hopefully they find a home. I’ve had short-form work published over the years, some of which holds up well. I’d certainly love to release a collection someday. And of course, there are novellas in the works too, for those who want a little more meat on their bones.

What is your favorite type of scene to write? Dialogue, action, description, etc.?

A: That’s a hard one! My favourite part of the entire process is when two random ideas that have been floating around in my head like near-abandoned space ships suddenly veer close to one another, flirt with each other’s gravitational pull, and then suddenly dock! I love it when things click like that. I rarely think one idea on its own is enough to make me commit to writing.

But in terms of what kind of scenes I like to write … well, I do love the mechanics of description. I love looking for the beat and syntax, the natural rhythm of the sentence, the paragraph, the page. I like introducing some kind of emotional element in the initial stages that triggers a reader’s gratification in the final moments (this can be in the narrative itself, or just within the confines of a chapter — though often I attempt for both). Dialogue can be really fun though, especially when the characters just go off on their own and take care of things for you.

You’re also a talented artist. Have you ever done illustrations or covers for another author? If not, would you?

A: That’s very kind of you to say, Mark. I’ve drawn since I was a kid. I did art for hire work at University, plus paid storyboards here and there, but not really illustrations or covers. I certainly would though. And all going to plan, interior illustrations may be appearing in a couple of upcoming anthologies. Fingers crossed!

Of your published works, which was your favorite to write? Maybe not even the one you consider the best, but the experience that was the most satisfying.

A: That one’s easy. The Fallen Boys. By the time I’d come around to writing it I’d learned so damn much by going through the gruelling Fresh Blood contest. Month by month those peer and public eliminations etched into my brains the tools of my future trade, most learned through mistakes. The Fallen Boys just flowed out of me. On top of that, the novel featured subject matter that really angered me (internet bullying, the violation of children, people using religion as an excuse to get away with criminal acts), and that anger is evident on every page.

I hear you like to scare your husband sometimes, all in good fun. Can you share some of your best scares?

A: Crikey. That’s a loaded question. I’ve done it all. I’ve leapt out from behind doors, from under beds, over couches, through windows. I don’t know why I do it. I know he’ll only get the shits with me. But we both end up laughing about it afterwards. I think it’s really healthy — an opinion I know he does not share! Hahaha. He hates it. Also, he’s not a horror fan, but he does read the first draft of every novel. That actually works out great for me. Because he doesn’t fall for genre trappings, I’m forced to entertain him on a character-based level first, which only strengthens the book as a whole. But when the literary shit hits the fan, he will often write on the manuscript things like, “are you sure this is necessary”, or “you’ve gone too far.” Those suggestions I always leave untouched. I was actually lucky enough to in the same room as him when he was editing A Place for Sinners. He came to a particular scene I knew he was coming close to. The sequence in question completely changes everything that came before it, which was all a very long, dread-infused set up. I mean, it goes suddenly bonkers! I was on the bed with a book in hand, but was secretly peering at him reading on. And then BAM. He twirls around on his swivel chair and yells at me, “you did not just do that, you sick fuck.” That’s love, folks.

That’s love.

What is your favorite movie and book from childhood?

A: Film-wise from childhood is easy. The Wizard of Oz. I know every damn word. There are also a number of Oz references in all of my novels. When it comes to books … I really loved anything by R.L. Stine. I wasn’t a big reader in my early primary years, believe it or not. Goosebumps and Fear Street changed that. I’m an extraordinarily proud Second Generation Stiner, a sentiment I’ve told the man himself.

One thing that strikes me about your work is how unpredictable it is, how I can never quite guess where the story is going because you always throw some serious curveballs. Is that something you plan out meticulously, or does that just happen organically as you plot a story?

A: I think most people would say to you that it can either only be meticulous or entirely organic. For me, honestly, it’s both. My initial plotting is organic. I never really know how a book will end. I do sense the direction I want to go in, and that’s often an unexpected direction. But you can’t just cheat a reader into misdirection. It shows. A good curve ball must feel organic, though I’ll tell you, pulling it off is phenomenally meticulous. Anything less just does not do. For me, anyway. If there’s one thing I’m proud of with my novels, it’s that people think they’re unpredictable, that they say it’s impossible to tell what direction they’ll go in or how it will end. I’m very rarely caught off guard. So I’m writing these plot mechanics to satisfy the urge I have myself as a reader, I guess. It’s often about character though, about the suspension of disbelief, about timing. I love juggling all of those balls (and more) in the air at the same time. I think my organic/meticulous balance is best evidenced by The Fallen Boys. I defy readers to guess how that one will wrap up. And whilst I worked so damn hard at the jigsaw puzzle narrative of that one, not even I truly knew the resolution until I put my fingers to the keyboard.

You spent a lot of time in America recently, and I hear you visited the locations of some classic horror films. Can you tell us a little about that?

A: Dear world. You don’t have to listen to the travel guides if you don’t want to. You don’t have to listen to your boring aunt telling you where to go. Make your journey your own. Tailor it to your interests. Yes, I love to see some of the big sights, but I love seeing random things that only I would enjoy even more. So on my last trip to the States I went to some filming locations from A Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween, and Phantasm. The trip before that I scoured Texas for locations from The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. I also dragged my poor husband through the most random places in Maine on a DIY Stephen King tour, which included visiting the approximate locations of towns that didn’t technically exist. I had a ball — though Maine does have mosquitos that would give the Australian variety a fair run for their money!

What can you tell us about current works in progress?

A: I’ve got a number of projects in the works, and of course, I’ve got more stored in the bank. I’ll be writing full time for a while, which will give me the opportunity to get a lot of these images and characters down on paper. I’m about a third of the way through a new novel, Lady Guillotine — the first in a projected trilogy. I’ve got two novellas in development, and a new idea that I’m aching to make happen. Expect more short stories here and there, too. Down the track I’d like to adapt a story of mine called Daddy into a short film. And finally, more as an experiment than anything else (although who knows?), I’m going to be adapting at least one of my novels into a feature screenplay sometime late this year. Busy times, indeed.

Where do you hope your career to be in ten years?

A: Crikey. I’ve got no idea! I just want to be healthy and happy. That’s all I ever want, really. Career-wise, I’d like to be more prolific, I guess. I’d love to get another few limited edition hardcovers out there, too. And yes … within ten years … yes. I want to tackle film full on.

Anything I haven’t covered you’re just dying to let people know?

A: Um. I think that’s about it. I’m so very honoured to be here, really. I’m a big fan of your work, Mark.

Thank you so much, Aaron, for taking the time to drop by my little blog and answer my questions. You’re a hell of a talented guy, and I predict big things for you in the future.

You can find Aaron's work on his Amazon page http://www.amazon.com/Aaron-Dries/e/B008GXNU64/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1435745524&sr=8-1 and visit his website at http://www.aarondries.com/.

Jun. 15th, 2015

Some Love for 4 the Love

There's been a lot of buzz going around the horror community about how horrible for the love and token markets are, how it hurts the publishing business, how they will publish anything and don't care about quality, and how the writers who publish in them are either talentless or have no respect for themselves or the worth of their work.

Well, I'm here to give a counter-argument, based upon my own experience.

When I was first starting out in publishing, I published a lot in the for the love and token markets, contributor copies or 5 to 10 dollars a pop. I was quite happy to be publishing in those markets, and I learned a lot. And because of that, I take exception to the point of being offended to the public shaming authors are giving newcomers who are publishing in these markets. I think there are a lot of fallacies being spread.

For starters, the idea that the people who run for the love or token markets don't care about quality and will just publish anything, thus polluting the market with substandard fiction. My personal experience did not find that to be the case at all. Are there bad for the love and token markets? Sure, just as there are pro markets that aren't that great or writer-friendly. You do you research and find the good ones.

Who did I meet in those markets? I met people who were passionate about horror and fantasy fiction, who wanted to put great stories out there, and who were willing to put in the work to help upcoming writers develop their talent and voices. They weren't just accepting anything and publishing as is. They were selective and worked with authors they accepted to make the stories the best they could be.

I received invaluable experience working one-on-one with editors that I could not have gotten at that point from the larger markets. It exposed me to extensive notes, line edits, and I learned how to communicate with editors, how to revise and strengthen my work. These are skills that I put to good use to break into larger markets down the road.

There's also the assumption that those who publish in these markets don't value their work because they aren't getting "paid" for it. Well, that all depends on how you define "payment." I think there are many ways to get paid for a story beyond just cash in my hand. When I was working with those markets, I was paid in experience, I was paid in the one-on-one time with editors, I was paid in the education I got that helped me with the larger markets. I would never have published the books I have without that start, without the knowledge I gleaned from the for the love and token markets.

That doesn't mean I think everyone should go that route. I'm not so arrogant as to think everyone needs to follow the path I did. But arrogance is what I'm seeing in some of the posts about these markets, and the shaming of writers who do follow that route. It's like what they call "slut shaming"...call it "exposure shaming." If you as a writer don't like those markets, don't publish in them. Even give your reasons why you don't like them. But what I'm seeing is writers telling others if they do publish in them that they are stupid and doing something horrible and ruining all that is good and holy! That bothers me.

Because I know from my own experience that those markets and the people who run them can help a writer who is so inclined to grow and develop and become a stronger writer. That's a payment worth more than 10 cents per word, if you ask me.

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