Monthly Archives: August 2016

Poetic Perfection: Interview with Wale Owoade

Welcome back! For this week’s interview, I’m thrilled to spotlight poet Wale Owoade. Wale is the widely published author of numerous poems as well as an interviewer at his site, The Strong Letters.

Recently, Wale and I discussed his genesis and his inspiration as a writer, his work as an interviewer, and his plans for the future.

A couple icebreakers to start: when did you first decide to become a writer, and who are some of your favorite authors?

Wale OwoadeI wrote my first poem in 2010, that was when I was working as a school librarian. I started writing seriously in 2011 when I left the library and moved to Ilorin, North Central Nigeria. I was in love with literature and at that time I was obsessed with the realization that I could ‘create’ my own literature and I kept creating and creating. Today, I am close to completing my undergraduate study of History and International Studies, I think of myself as more of an artist than a writer because I am more interested in writing than being a writer. I write because I love writing and I become sad if I don’t write for a long time. My favourite authors includes Uche Nduka, Ocean Vuong, Sylvia Plath, Pablo Neruda, Tarfia Faizulah, Saeed Jones, Safia Elhillo, Warsan Shire, Phillip B Williams, Meghan Privitello, Fatimah Asghar, Aziza Barnes, Niyi Osundare, Nick Narbutas, Laura M Kaminski, Lauren Camp, Mary McCarthy, Saddiq Dzukogi, David Ishaya Osu, Linda Ashok, Ladan Osman, Gbenga Adesina, Clifton Gachagua, [and] Jumoke Verissimo.

You are a widely published poet with pieces appearing in The Bombay Review, Radar Poetry, and Apogee Journal, among other venues. What subjects serve most often as your inspiration?

My inspirations are my breath, my body, art, poetry, music, violence, grief, life, love, lust, loss, loneliness, death, water, the moon, shadows, books, and I can go on and on. Poetry to me is a sacred art, a conversation between the poet and the universe at large. My inspiration is the world I exist in, a world characterised and defined by natural and artificial elements and events. I see metaphors in everything around me, I see on every face, stories begging to be shared.

I recently read your poem, “After,” in The Indianola Review, and it was truly one of the best works I’ve read in a long time. The language is so stark and evocative, and the images have stayed with me even weeks after my initial reading. What is the story behind this particular piece?

The Indianola ReviewI am glad you liked the poem and I am happy to know it said something to you. The first story behind the poem is that one night, I decided to write and I wrote the poem. The second is that I wrote the poem when I was working on equally ‘dark’ poems for a chapbook manuscript. The third is that the poem is the first from a long break from writing, so I was loaded with metaphors when I sat on my desk. I mostly start writing with a feeling, not a story in mind. ‘After’ was meant to be the last poem of the manuscript I was working on, so it was written like a concluding remark.

In addition to your poetry, you are also an interviewer, with spotlights of authors appearing on your blog, The Strong Letters. What made you want to start this site, which also features book reviews?

I began The Strong Letters in January of this year but I remember that two years ago, I read a book that I fell in love with and I was very much interested in knowing some things about the author, the choice of the language of the book and its style. I searched the web for interviews with the author, I read like three and I was disappointed that the interviews didn’t ask any of the questions I have in mind. I made a mental note that day to start an interview series where I can ask important and ‘strong’ questions. I couldn’t start it until the beginning of this year. I am currently working on creating a dedicated website for the project. I actually look forward to getting very serious with it like I did with EXPOUND. The thing is, I am very much interested in literary activities and I don’t think I can ever stop doing them. Starting from my first project, Artbeat Africa to Black Communion, EXPOUND, and The Strong Letters, the primary reason why I engage myself in this kind of project is because I find joy in doing them.

Out of your published works, do you have a personal favorite?

This is hard. If there is a poem I am happy is out there, it is ‘The Volume of Grief, Love and Music’ on Cordite Poetry Review. My favourite poems are still unpublished and have only been read by one or two people. Let me also add that I am more in love with the poems I have not written.

Where would you like to see your writing career in five years?

In the next five years, I want to be writing.

Where can we find you online?

I have poems in Vinyl, About Place Journal, The Missing Slate, EXPOUND, The Bombay Review, Apogee Journal and several other outlets. I am also on Twitter and on Facebook.

Big thanks to Wale Owoade for being this week’s featured author!

Happy reading!

Retro Talent: Interview with Anya Martin

Welcome back! This week, I’m pleased to spotlight the multi-talented Anya Martin. Anya is a writer of fiction, nonfiction, and comics, and she also serves as the associate producer of The Outer Dark.

Recently, Anya and I discussed her inspiration as a writer as well as her many upcoming projects, including Word Horde’s Eternal Frankenstein anthology.

A couple icebreakers to start: when did you first decide to become a writer, and who are some of your favorite authors?

Anya MartinAs a child, I was acting out stories in elaborate pretend games with stuffed animals, little dinosaurs and real-live little girls as long as I can remember. Note: never dolls. They always creeped me out. I drew picture books for my parents, and in elementary school, I was always writing plays—some of which were actually performed. I still thought I’d be a paleontologist or an archaeologist or an astronomer or an actress until high school, when I started realizing I could be a writer as an actual career and embarked on a never-completed epic fantasy novel packed with empowered female characters. Maybe one day I’ll return to it and really up the Weird.

Favorite authors are always tough because it’s a moving feast. Right now I’m reading mostly contemporary Weird authors and there are so many I worry I’ll forget someone egregiously. So I’ll stick to a list of writers who impacted me in my formative writing years and who stuck with me: C.L. Moore, Fritz Leiber, William Hope Hodgson, Philip K. Dick, Ted Sturgeon, Octavia Butler, Isak Dinesen, James Joyce, James Baldwin, Ralph Ellison, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Angela Carter, James Tiptree Jr., Ursula K. LeGuin, James Ellroy, Cormac McCarthy, Jack London, Tove Jansson, Samuel Beckett, Harry Crews, Olaf Stapledon, Margaret Atwood, Toni Morrison, Zora Neale Hurston, Federico García Lorca, Mary Shelley. I’m sure by the time I read this online I’ll be shooting myself for someone crucial I left out.

As a fiction author, a comic book writer, a podcast producer, and a blogger, you have such a fantastically eclectic career! How do you juggle such a wonderful and vast array of roles?

I wonder myself, though I should add my “pay-the-bills job” as a freelance journalist literally ate up all my fiction writing time and energy for many years. In the last few years, I lucked into a steady gig with a major national newspaper writing just one business article a week. Also I had a major life change which kicked me into gear that if I didn’t get serious about fiction, I’d never do it. I’d done some comics work in the ‘90s, but the opportunity to contribute to Womanthology, an amazing all-women comics anthology with about 160 writer and artist contributors, was really the jumpstart of this stage of my writing life. In keeping with the book’s “Heroic” theme, “Stuffed Bunny in Doll-Land,” was based on two of my real-life toys, and I was lucky to collaborate with Mado Pena, a kickass artist based in Barcelona. The summer/fall of 2012 became a kind of rock star jaunt across comic cons, and it was exciting to see all the fan enthusiasm for the project, but ultimately I decided the challenges for women in comics were sadly not commiserate with the pay rates. For now, I’m back to just prose though Mado and I have talked about extending the project into a full graphic novel or an illustrated book. We went so far as to launching a website dedicated to the project, so maybe it’ll happen one day.

The return to fiction gradually led me to discover a new home in the current vibrant Weird fiction community and meeting a lot of great writers including Scott Nicolay, the host of The Outer Dark podcast which features conversations with contemporary Weird and spec-lit writers, as well as publishing news. Scott and I have collaborated on a number of nonfiction endeavors and we share a commitment to promoting diversity in our literary community, so that organically evolved into me taking on my producer role. Scott does the interviews, recording and the audio editing which can be a real challenge in his rural location. I do the beta-listening, show notes, Web design and some big-picture marketing. As for my blog ATLRetro.com, about Atlanta things to do for people stuck in the 20th century (burlesque to rockabilly to classic movies), I still act as overall editor and occasional writer, but it now exists largely thanks to the hard work and dedication of a great managing editor Melanie Crew and writing staff.

You’ve written a great body of work as a short fiction writer. When you were growing up, was there a particular short story that made you think “I want to do that!”?

Hmmm, actually I was pretty intimidated by short stories growing up, and for a long time I thought, no, I couldn’t do that and was pretty dissatisfied with my short story attempts. I always thought there wasn’t enough space and I’d be better at novels, plays and movies—any kind of longer form. That being said, from a genre/weird standpoint, C.L. Moore really packed an incredible punch of dread-filled atmosphere, ill-advised romance, monsters and action into her stories. I know girls aren’t supposed to grow up loving monsters, but I preferred them to princes as far back as I can remember. I also liked fairy tales, the darker, disturbing, older versions. And Jirel was a female protagonist more badass than the male action heroes I grew up with such as Conan and Tarzan thanks to my First Fandom dad. Moore’s stories combined all that, so she seemed like she was almost writing for me personally. My dad gave me a copy of “Black God’s Shadow,” which collected all of Moore’s Jirel stories, sometime in my early high school. It’s hard to pick a favorite, but maybe “Black God’s Shadow,” the even darker, weirder sequel to the first Jirel story, “Black God’s Kiss.”

Speaking of short fiction, your story, “The Un-Bride, or No Gods and Marxists,” will be featured in the upcoming Eternal Frankenstein anthology from Word Horde. How did you become involved with the project, and what can you reveal about this particular story?

Eternal FrankensteinI’d placed two stories in Word Horde anthologies (“Sensoria” in Giallo Fantastique and “The Prince of Lyghes” in Cthulhu Fhtagn!) and both those times I just asked editor Ross Lockhart if I could submit, and he thankfully said yes. So I already had a history, but as I recall, this time he asked me while we were talking at a room party at the 2015 NecronomiCon. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein had a big impact on me, and I’m also a big fan of the James Whale Universal movies. As soon as I found out about the project, I knew I wanted to write about Elsa Lanchester and make it a sort of “true”/alt-history story, but honestly I had no idea where the plot would go and if I could pull it off up until January when the deadline loomed ominously. I was reading through Elsa’s autobiography Elsa Lanchester Herself, jotting down odd notes, feeling really stressed about other stuff in my life and worried as Hell. I knew I wanted an opening scene with Elsa, her husband Charles Laughton and James Whale to mirror Mary Shelley, Percy Shelley and Lord Byron in The Bride of Frankenstein, but I wasn’t sure if the action would take place during the filming of the movie or at an earlier point in Elsa’s life.

Then the other stress suddenly lifted, and with it the creative floodgates opened. From then on, the words just seemed to channel through me. I don’t want to give away anything too key, but the three things that really got the plot ticking were an incident with a “Lazarus” frog raised from the dead, her account of children’s electro-shock parties orchestrated by her brother Waldo who would go on to become a famous puppeteer, and the fact that Elsa’s mother, an atheist radical feminist with whom Elsa had a stormy relationship, had been secretary to Eleanor Marx, the daughter of Karl, who committed suicide in 1898. When I read that Elsa’s theater career pretty much launched with an ingénue role as the Larva in the Čapek Brothers’ Insect Play in 1923, that pinpointed the time, including an unnamed “White Russian” lover who also plays a key role in the story. Coincidentally, Jan Svankmajer just completed a successful Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for a movie based on The Insect Play. Soon Elsa was speaking to me, dictating the story as it were. I completed the first draft in about eight days, and ended up with a 11,671-word novelette.

Do you have any rituals as a writer, such as writing at the same time every day or listening to certain music as you work?

I tend to write mostly at night, though once I get deep into a story, I’ll start adding day work time. The way that I write probably isn’t the best for regular productivity. When I am working on a story, I’m very intense about it and that’s all I want to do. I don’t want to do my day job or anything else. This worked well with some stories like “The Un-Bride” or “Old Tsah-Hov” (Cassilda’s Song, Chaosium) which literally moved so quickly I can’t even say how I accomplished them—deadline pressure probably lit a fire under my muse’s ass, too! Both of those and “Resonator Superstar!” (Resonator, Martian Migraine Press) also required a lot of research, so maybe that gave me an extra layer of discipline to work through them machine-like from start to finish.

On the other hand, stories like “The Prince of Lyghes” or “Grass,” a novella I just completed, each took about two years to germinate. I had an overarching idea of what I wanted to convey and in each case, knew the beginning and the conclusion, at least in broad terms. The middles, however, came to me in spurts, with frustrating in-betweens when I tried to write and made very little progress. On the positive side, the longer process led the ends to ferment and evolve with some twists I didn’t expect when I started. With “Grass,” I also took a research trip down to the marshland of the Georgia coast which ended up doubly as a personal journey. As for music, I usually listen to instrumental music—lately jazz and soundtracks—though I may throw on something more melodic or punk rock before I start writing to get into the mood. For “Resonator Superstar,” of course, I listened to a lot of Velvet Underground.

Out of your published works, do you have a personal favorite?

Obviously each story has a special place in my heart, but yes, there’s one that has an extra sweet spot –“A Girl and Her Dog.” I’ve been fortunate to share my life with several generations of dogs, and collies in particular. Pets become friends and family members with a bond of unconditional love that’s rarely achieved among humans, so their loss can be devastating. This story was my weird way of addressing that contrast between human and dog love. It’s also a female perspective, which most of my stories come from. The title is not an explicit play on Harlan Ellison’s famous story which was made into a movie, but rather my way of saying “A Girl and Her Dog” is completely different. I had trouble placing the story for a while, I think because editors had trouble seeing the horror in it—though other writers and readers seemed to have no such trouble. I am grateful to Jordan Krall for publishing it in the second issue of Xnoybis, the Weird fiction journal published by his Dunhams Manor Press, which came out last December.

Where can we find you online?

You can keep up with my fiction at www.anyamartin.com, find The Outer Dark at This Is Horror, and check out my blog about 20th century things to do in Atlanta at www.ATLRetro.com. Thank you very much for your interest in my work and interviewing me.

Big thanks to Anya Martin for being part of this week’s author interview series! Also, keep an eye out for Anya’s new story forthcoming in the second issue of Mantid Magazine!

Happy reading!

A Perfect Daymare: Interview with Kenya Moss-Dyme

Welcome back! For this week’s interview, I’m thrilled to spotlight author Kenya Moss-Dyme. Kenya is the amazing writer behind many short stories and novels, including A Good Wife, Daymares, and Prey for Me.

Recently, Kenya and I discussed her inspiration as a writer, her upcoming releases, and her invaluable tips on time management.

A couple icebreakers to start: when did you first decide to become a writer, and who were some of your inspirations?

Kenya Moss-DymeI know this is a common response in our world but I actually have been writing since I was a child. I wrote my first “book” in the 4th grade, so I was about 9. My school district would have a Scholastic Writing Contest each year with winners at every grade level. I won with my book about a cricket that dreamed of becoming an astronaut. The story was insightful, thrilling and really made adolescent readers question the meaning of life and their place in the universe. But seriously, it had the honor of being bound inside of a cover made of construction paper and illustrated with crayon, then placed in the library for students to check out. I wrote a few more warm and fuzzy stories after that, stuff about kids doing what kids do. But I didn’t get really excited about anything I wrote until Patchwork, my first full length story that I wrote at age 21. I typed it on a typewriter (gasp) over a few days at work, mailed it (in an envelope) to my now retired and eternally favorite teacher Marla Jackson, and she praised it; that did it for me.

I started out years ago with the usual favorites, Poe, Bloch, King, Koontz, Saul, Campbell, McCammon – see the pattern? There wasn’t much horror widely available or promoted by authors who looked like me, which was concerning because here I am devouring it but getting the message that the horror market was dominated by white males. Then somewhere around my early teens, I discovered not only Shirley Jackson and Anne Rice, but also Octavia Butler and I went….oooh. I also read books by Toni Morrison, J. California Cooper and Edwidge Danticat; not horror, but they create characters that follow you around for years after you’ve closed the book.

Since I’ve joined the indie author community, I’ve become familiar with so many outstanding writers that may not get the numbers of the big guys but their work is just as affecting. I always encourage readers to check out the indie authors of whichever genre you follow, because there’s tremendous talent out there waiting to join your list of favorite authors!

With a number of books already available and several more forthcoming, you are an incredibly prolific writer! What helps you to stay inspired as a writer, and what tips can you offer for other writers on time management?

Thank you! I keep a running spreadsheet of all of my story ideas and titles, so I never lose any of my “soup starters”, as Author Mya Lairis calls them. I have far more titles than I have completed stories to match, but I jot everything down, along with a loose synopsis, thoughts about the characters and the plot. I may not return to actually begin writing the story until months later, but I often draw on this list when I’m trying to create a short story to submit to submissions calls.  Sometimes, just reading the ideas alone can be inspiring.  My tip is to definitely write down everything! Either tap it into an app on your phone or speak it into a voice recorder, but find a way to save your ideas. You may not be writing chapters but every piece moves you closer to the finish line of your story.

I have a full-time career so I’m always bemoaning the lack of time for writing, but I have a file of story ideas that might be worth some money in certain circles, lol.  When I get overwhelmed with the technical stuff from my day job and the inspiration for my story won’t come, I just scroll through my files and think to myself, “I kinda rock….”  Then I’m okay for a while, lol.

Your work often delves into aspects of horror and dark fantasy. Have you always been a fan of these genres, or did you develop a love for macabre and strange literature over time?

A Good WifeI have always preferred entertainment that leans toward the darker side of life! Even as a child, I was the one checking out the school library books about witches, ghouls and warlocks, while my classmates were looking for stories about princesses and…horses. Okay, I did read a couple of books about horses too, Black Beauty was like a must-read back in the 70s. But I didn’t enjoy that as much as I did the books about haunted houses and mythology. We didn’t have a lot of options back then and everything had to be rather “gentle terror”. I envy the kids of today who have such a wide range of YA themes to choose from!

But yes, I write the type of things I like to read. I remember reading the book, Magic, by William Goldman, late 70s. It was about a ventriloquist being tortured and bullied by his dummy – which was, of course, his own descent into madness – but it was so wild and insane for me to read at that time.  The subsequent movie paled in comparison. Magic is still up there with my earliest memories of allowing a book to scare me silly and loving every minute of it.

What is your favorite part of the writing process, and do you have any rituals as a writer (e.g. listening to music or writing at a certain time every day)?

I’m probably one of the few authors who cannot have any background noise when I’m writing! I can’t listen to music or I’ll be singing and chair dancing; if the television is on, my brain is listening over there when it should be moving my fingertips. I’ve found that I write best when I’m in complete silence. Of course, I can do what they call “sprints” if I’m in a noisy environment but what I write won’t be nearly as usable as what I create if I have silence.

My favorite part is outlining because I get to do a sort of brain dump. I like being able to sketch out where I want the story to go, pick out plot holes and disconnects, then fill them in, deciding how everything should link together. I spend a lot of time planning before I actually start writing, it helps with character and story development and that’s a HUGE thing for me. I’m probably guilty of overwriting characters but I have to have them fully fleshed out in order to make the readers see what I see.

As a horror and dark fantasy writer, what do you hope to see in the future for these genres?

More recognition and respeck – and spell it just like that – RESPECK, lol. I’m really loving all of the cons taking place across the country. With the success of franchises like The Walking Dead, there’s a whole new wave of zombie fans – and that’s a beautiful thing to be a part of. In particular, TWD not only attracted viewers, but people who prefer their horror in print have devoured the comic series, as well, and all of that interest has certainly boosted recognition of our genre.

What upcoming projects are you working on?

I’ve got several works in progress but the most pressing at the moment is my zombie apocalyptic novel set in Detroit of the future. I’m excited about it because it’s about more than just the dead rising. It’s got themes of a government conspiracy, gentrification, and even a love story amidst the biting. My most ambitious project yet! That will be my next release and then I’m pushing for a Halloween release of Daymares 2, because….Halloween.

Huge thanks to Kenya Moss-Dyme for being part of this week’s author interview series! Find her online at her website as well as Facebook and Twitter.

Happy reading!

Nightly Horror: Interview with CM Muller

Welcome back! For this week’s author interview, I’m thrilled to feature CM Muller. CM is an accomplished dark fiction author as well as the editor of the esteemed Nightscript series, an annual anthology which focuses on strange tales.

Recently, CM and I discussed the genesis of Nightscript as well as what he has planned for his own fiction career.

A couple icebreakers to start: when did you first decide to become a writer, and who are some of your favorite authors?

CM MullerUp until 11th grade I had zero interest in reading and writing. Sports and television dominated my early years, though I must say that programs such as Tales From the Darkside and Monsters held great appeal. Thinking back on it now, I suppose that’s the reason I decided to withdraw a copy of Cujo from my school library, and in turn rabidly consume that rough beast. Thus began what is certainly one of the grandest addictions of all: reading. King, Barker, McCammon, and a host of other authors became my mainstays until college flip-flopped my sensibilities and found me focusing on more “lit’ry” folks: Carver, O’Connor, Faulkner, to name but a few. Writing followed a similar track, in that I attempted to mimic stories I was reading at the time. It was only about a decade after graduating from college that I renewed my vows, as it were, with horror; or, in this case, “weird fiction.” I credit Mark Samuels and Simon Strantzas as being the prime movers who lured me back to my roots. Their work spoke to my more mature self, and I immediately set about writing stories “in a similar vein”—a dozen or more of which are now aging respectfully in a file folder marked “Never to See the Light of Day.” As far as favorite writers are concerned, I would say that as well as each of the above, I might also include Shirley Jackson, Terry Lamsley, Caitlín R. Kiernan, Thomas Tryon, Livia Llewellyn—but really, such a list could go on and on, and change on a weekly basis. (I’m also a diehard sci-fi fan, though we’ll save that for another day.)

Your short fiction has appeared in a number of fantastic venues, including Shadows & Tall Trees, The Yellow Booke, and Strange Aeons. What is your typical process for writing a short story? How long does it usually take to complete a story, and how many revisions does a story undergo before you submit it to publishers?

For the story which appeared in Shadows & Tall Trees, entitled “Vrangr,” I lost count how many pass-throughs I made. More than thirty and less than sixty, perhaps, but I guess such nitpickiness paid off. It’s still hard for me to believe that I made it into that esteemed publication: another important springboard, to be sure. My process as a whole has morphed considerably over the years. Currently, I compose my first drafts with black pen and yellow legal pad (and, yes, it must be yellow). From there I input those sloppy words into a digital file and spend the next two to however-many months editing, letting the story recuperate, editing some more, perhaps edging “that which is deemed a failure” toward the trash icon before being re-inspired, editing some more, and then finally passing it on to an old college friend who is always my first reader. So, yeah, it’s kind of a ritual, with lots and lots of time spent trying to get a piece as right as I can. The most exhilarating part of the process, for me, is that first handwritten draft and subsequent near-completed story where things start to flow and shine. The in-between? Well, I guess that just depends on the day. A lot of self doubt comes into play, but with continued persistence I almost always break through that wall. I used to compose my first drafts on a manual typewriter (which is a lovely and different process altogether) and lately I’ve considered returning to that antiquated mode. While no means a Luddite, I do believe there is something to be said about immersing oneself in the “old ways.”

The first volume of Nightscript was a huge success in 2015, and the second volume will arrive this fall. What inspired you to start an anthology series that focuses on ‘strange tales’?

The impetus for such an endeavor rests almost entirely on Michael Kelly’s announcement (back in 2014) that Shadows & Tall Trees would be going on indefinite hiatus. That was devastating news to a lot of folks, so I figured why not give it a go. There’s that old Bradbury quote about leaping off a cliff and building your wings on the way down, which is certainly what I had in mind when originally announcing the anthology via social media (and, believe me, I considered scrapping the idea numerous times before clicking the “post” button). I felt confident I could pull the production part of it off, as I’ve had experience with layout and design and book construction in general, but I wasn’t as self-assured as to how the anthology would be received. I needn’t have worried, however. The success of the volume has exceeded my expectations, thanks to a host of gracious individuals whom I can never thank enough. I hate to use that old cliche about the stars aligning and whatnot, but the timing could not have been better for putting out such a volume. It was, of course, a lot of work, but also a labor of love from beginning to end. I might also add, nostalgically, that the anthology shares, in more ways than one, the crooked path of own my writing. To wit: I released a single issue zine back in 1990 bearing the Nightscript moniker, which contained half as many stories and was printed on a Xerox machine. We’ve come a long way, N and I.

NightscriptContinuing with the theme of strange tales, do you remember the first story you read that could be classified as “weird fiction”? Was that the start of your love for all things weird, or did your fascination for unusual fiction grow more slowly over time?

The one which comes most readily to mind is H.P. Lovecraft’s “Cool Air.” Both story and, later, Night Gallery episode, greatly inspired me. Going back to that Xerox machine I mentioned above, I should also add that I was employed at the very print shop where Nightscript came into being, and during the course of working there I became acquainted with a repeat customer who shared a mutual interest in Lovecraft. He had an almost encyclopedic knowledge of the HPL universe, as well as the “weird circle” with whom he associated—most notably, at least to me, Minnesota natives Donald Wandrei and Carl Jacobi. Anyway, to make a long story short, I was invited to attend a meeting of a writing club whose sole focus was “weird fiction,” and from there I became friends with numerous like-minded individuals. So, yes, as much as King and Lovecraft have slipped from the pinnacle they once held in my writerly life, I cannot deny their significant influence. They were the springboards which launched me into the pages of many another author—in other words, that grand domino effect of readerly discover which continues to this day.

You currently reside in St. Paul, Minnesota. When crafting a setting for your fiction, do you find yourself inspired by the place you live, or do you tend to take the bulk of your inspiration elsewhere?

As much as the city inspires me, I find even more inspiration in rural settings, particularly back country roads which invariably lead to abandoned farmhouses and derelict barns, to forgotten cemeteries, fields of corn, deep woods. I need merely hop in my vehicle and head out for a leisurely stroll through these hidden places, and without fail I am inspired anew. “Vrangr” certainly takes its inspiration from such an impulse. The interesting thing about such a dynamic, however, is that I’m not entirely certain I could live in the country. I enjoy the “chaos” of the city, or in my case the city suburbs. There’s the comfort of the local coffeehouse, the library down the way, the used bookstore within biking distance. Creature comforts which I need to keep close. Though, who knows: perhaps in the waning years my comfort level will shift and I’ll find myself in a cabin in the woods.

Other than Nightscript, what projects can we expect from you in the next year?

I have a new story, entitled “Diary of an Illness,” which is due to appear in Weirdbook #33 this autumn. And, yes, as you mentioned: Nightscript II will be released in grand October and will contain 21 “strange and darksome tales.” Why 21? We’ll leave that to the discerning reader. Looking ahead to 2017, I’ve been tinkering with the idea of releasing a collection of stories, but knowing me, this pipe dream might very well extend into 2018 or beyond. I love the idea of trying my hand at a novel, but as the proud parent of two rambunctious boys, I have relegated myself (at least for now) to the production of short stories and, of course, ushering in new volumes of said anthology.

Where can we find you online?

My blog—www.chthonicmatter.wordpress.com—contains, perhaps most importantly, information pertaining to Nightscript. To prospective authors, I should also like to mention that my next open reading period is slated for January 2017, and I’m already itching to read the deluge of new submissions. The visitor to Chthonic Matter will also find links to the various venues which have somehow been moved to publish my weird wares, online or in print. It’s certainly a great time to be crafting strange tales. I can only hope that such a “renaissance” will continue for many years to come, and that more venues such as Nightscript will creep forth from the shadows.

Big thanks to CM Muller for being part of this week’s author interview series. Look for the second volume of Nightscript this fall!

Happy reading!

Sanitarium Inmate: Interview with Ian Sputnik

For this week’s author interview, I’m pleased to spotlight Ian Sputnik. Ian is the author of numerous short stories as well as a member of the Sanitarium Magazine Faculty, also known as the coolest group of slush pile readers out there.

Last month, Ian and I discussed his inspiration as a writer as well as what he’s learned from his time as a first reader at Sanitarium.

A couple icebreakers to start: when did you first decide to become a writer, and who are some of your favorite authors?

I never made the conscious decision to be, or attempt to be, a writer. I always enjoyed writing stories at school and in college but I didn’t continue with it after leaving full-time education. Work and everyday life conspired against me by taking up all my time. One night I couldn’t sleep. Rather than addle my brain with the talentless late-night TV that was on offer, I decided to sit at my computer desk and type out a little piece that had been rattling around in my head. By about 3.00am I’d finished the first draft. My wife read it next morning and asked if I was going to submit it. It had never really crossed my mind to do so, but I thought there would be nothing to lose. After looking up some publications on Google, I sent it out. I cannot even begin to explain how it felt to receive an acceptance and publishing contract from Sanitarium Magazine. To say that I was ecstatic and somewhat surprised would be an understatement. I thought I’d be content with getting one story published but, after a while, I needed to know that the first piece wasn’t just a fluke. That was a little under two years ago. My eighth piece has recently been published and I’m hungry for more. My work has appeared in Sanitarium Magazine, Morpheus Tales and DevolutionZ. Proof, if any were needed, that you are never too old to start writing.

When I was young the authors that first grabbed my attention were Stephen King, because of his excellent talent for slowly building up tension within a story; James Herbert, for his knack of writing roller coaster pieces that speed along at a hundred miles an hour and drag you along for the ride; [and] Clive Barker, because his books of blood were instrumental in stoking my love for short horror stories.

You and I met through our work on the Sanitarium Magazine slush pile. What do you think the most important thing you’ve learned as a first reader of fiction submissions, and do you think reading slush has made you a more astute reader and/or better writer?

Statistically, what struck me was just how many submissions are out there for relatively few places in a publication. This means the rejection rates are extremely high. I quickly came to realize that the opinions and scores that I made about each piece could, and would, influence the editor’s decision. This is a massive responsibility. If my first piece had not been published I’m not sure that I would have carried on writing, therefore a submitter getting a rejection could influence their decision on whether to continue or give up. It also taught me the importance of simple things, like formatting. Creating a good first impression by a well formatted piece that contains important information, such as word count, contact details etc. will ultimately make your submission look more professional. I now know how vital it is to read the submissions guidelines for each publication and wish all submitters did; they can vary, so it is worth checking before submitting. The thing that I noticed about reading subs is it is much easier to spot mistakes in other people’s work than it is your own. My main bugbears are constantly introducing a character by his/her name, when it is blatantly obvious who the author of the piece is writing about. Using the same words over and over again rather than inserting a synonym really annoys me. This is just pure laziness and makes for a tedious read. I have been guilty of both of these crimes in the past. Reading submissions has showed me the error of my ways. Weak endings are also irritating, especially when the submission is a long one. You feel somewhat cheated, having spent a lot of time trawling through a piece to then have it ruined by a lousy concluding paragraph. I tend to already have the end firmly in mind before I start writing a story. It’s a method that, so far, seems to work for me.

Sanitarium Magazine 46Being a slush pile reader has also rekindled my love of reading again, and not just submissions. I’d become so lazy that even a crossword seemed like a novel to me. I hope being a slush pile reader has made me a better writer, but I’m probably not in a position to judge that. No matter how many lessons I take away from the experience, I will always be the typo king of the literary world.

The greatest benefit that I personally obtained from being in the reviewers team was being introduced to the other team members. I have been on the receiving end of some great advice regarding writing and have also had some really kind messages of support. It was also really useful to find out those feelings of insecurity and lack of self-belief in your own work is a common trait amongst writers. I never knew this until I starting communicating with other authors. The team ‘The Faculty’ as Sanitarium Magazine call it, is made up of authors with different levels of achievement and not one of them is elitist in any way, shape or form. They are supportive of fellow writers and I’m not sure where I would be now without them. This seems to be a common trait within the horror fraternity and I’ve no idea if writers from other genres are so supportive of each other, though I hope they are.

If forced to choose, which part of the writing process is your favorite: drafting new ideas, crafting the first draft, or editing a story?

Each part of the construction is rewarding in its own way. Also, each part can be torturous as well. If the words are flowing well, then the first draft is my favourite bit. If I get an attack of word-blindness, then it is akin to beating my head against a wall. Those occasions, when even the simplest of words eludes me, are enough to send me over the edge. Editing is a slow and laborious process, although the moment you finish the feeling of achievement is immense. I have a little paperback notebook that I keep with me, especially when I am commuting between home and work. This is for scribbling random thoughts and story ideas when they come to me. I have long since learned my lesson by mistakenly thinking I would remember these without writing them down. I’m sure I’ve lost at least half a dozen potentially good ideas by not making a note of them.

Where would you like to see your career in five years?

Five years is a long way off, but ideally I’d like to have written novellas or even novels. The step from short stories to novels is a daunting one in my eyes, so I’ll just have to see where the road takes me. Maybe I’ll find that short pieces is where my destiny lies and just carry along that route.

What projects are you currently working on?

I’m hoping to publish my own anthology in the next couple of years. A collection of my short stories and poetry. To publish a book that is entirely filled with my own work would mean the world to me. Unfortunately it takes a hell of a lot of short pieces to fill the pages of a book, so best I start getting my head down and get writing.

The other thing I have to work on is a website. I bought the domain name iansputnik.com a while ago and have been researching other writers’ (including yours) websites to see which kind of layout I like the look of the most. Once I know exactly which format appeals the most to me, I will set about designing mine.

Big thanks to Ian Sputnik for being part of this week’s author interview! Find him online at his newly updated website as well as on Twitter.

Happy reading!