Strange Musings: Interview with Giovanni Valentino

Last week, I wrote about my short story, “Lemonade Séance.” This week, I would like to introduce the editor of the Hysterical Realms anthology, Giovanni Valentino. Giovanni is the founder of Strange Musings Press, which produces a series that spotlights humorous speculative fiction. Between fielding submissions for his latest anthology, Weirder Science, he was kind enough to answer a few questions about what it’s like to balance roles as an editor and a writer and how he got into this crazy literary world in the first place.

A few icebreakers to start: when did you first decide to become a writer?

I guess I’ve always wanted to be a writer but I was held back by my dyslexia. It’s hard to get your vision down on the page when you can’t write a simple note. Now with modern medicine and the wonders of technology, I can express myself in words and get my grand visions into print.

One of the meds I take for depression has the strange side effect of lessening the symptoms of my learning disability. Spell checker helps a little; strangely enough Google is a better spell checker than Microsoft Word. The Microsoft Office function of Speak, which reads your words back to you, helps tremendously. I can’t see the mistakes on the page but I can hear them. Of course, it doesn’t help with homophones, here or hear.

Who are some of your favorite authors?

All the greats in humorous speculative fiction, Douglas Adams, Terry Pratchett and Robert Asprin.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy changed my life. It was great to know that I wasn’t the only one that saw the world in an off kilter way like that. So Don’t Panic and Always remember your Towel.

You’ve written a combination of memoir and genre fiction. How is your process different for each (or do you approach all your writing in a similar way)?

The memoir process is easier in some ways and harder in others. I don’t have to craft things like worlds or characters in memoir pieces but I do have to build a believable narrative. With memoir, that sometimes involves adding things that didn’t really happen or that you’re guessing about to connect up scenes. Sometimes, you have to drop things from the story because life doesn’t happen at a well-timed pace. If it isn’t important to the story you’re telling or it’s breaking the story stride, you might need to leave it out to help things along.

The other thing with memoir is sometimes you’re tempted to leave things out. Some things are too painful to revisit or don’t paint you in the best light. It might be better for you to exclude it but not better for the story. When I wrote “Sometimes, It’s OK to be Nice to People,” a story about my relationship with my grandmother, I struggled over whether I should include a domestic violence scene between my grandfather and myself. I didn’t want to deal with the pain of it but it was important to the story. As I edited the piece, my wife told me she could tell every time I hit that scene. I’d choke up.

How does being an editor affect your writing and vice versa?

One thing about being an editor that helps your writing is you get to see other people make the same mistakes you make in your writing. It’s easier to see these bad habits clearly not working in other people’s stories. You’re not invested in their story like you are invested in yours.

One thing that being a writer and an editor can help with is understanding the process. I am very good at writing a query letter or cover letter because I’ve seen so many of them, both good and bad. Also, I have a better handle on talking with editors because I understand what they go through.

Have you ever considered giving up one to pursue the other full-time, or do you enjoy them both equally?

I like both equally but I’d give up editing in a second to be a full-time writer with a successful epic fantasy series or best-selling humorous science fiction series.

What is it about humorous fantasy and science fiction that made you want to launch the Alternate Hilarities series?

Hysterical RealmsIt was my love for the great humorous, speculative fiction authors that led me down this path. I didn’t want to wait for their next book. I wanted more now. Alternate Hilarities was originally a small press fanzine in the 90s. I produced 6 issues. I gave up after that because printing costs were too high back then and I was losing money.

A few years ago, I was researching self-publishing for a friend. She’d just sold a romance novel to an ePublisher. They didn’t do print editions but they let the author retain the print rights. Between ePublishing in general and the amazing invention of print on demand, self-publishing is very affordable now especially if you can do some of the work yourself. I can’t line edit because of the dyslexia but I can typeset the print edition and eBook. After I helped my friend get her print edition out, I brought Alternate Hilarities back to life.

If forced to choose, which part of the writing process is your favorite: developing characters, plotting the story arc, or establishing setting?

Plotting. It’s what I am best at and I can do it while I’m running. I’ve crafted some complex story lines on a treadmill or running around a track.

I also have strange, heavily detailed dreams. Sometimes, I wake in the morning with a full novel outline in my head. Not all of them are publishable but I can always get a few bits and pieces out of them.

Honestly, I have more novel outlines than I’ll ever have time to write.

Out of your published pieces so far, do you have a personal favorite?

“Mystical Redemption,” which ran on Sorcerous Signals web site in the May 2014 issue as well as the May 2014 print issue of Mystic Signals. I also reran it in Alternate Hilarities 3: Hysterical Realms.

Not only do I think it’s one of my funnier stories but it was the first story I ever wrote for a market. I needed a funny fantasy story for a call to submissions and I racked my brain for an idea. I was watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer at the time and it was the season where Giles ran the magic shop. The shop sold real magic for practitioners and for the tourists. I started thinking about my own experiences in retail and wondering what could go wrong in that situation. My first thought was coupons.

In “Mystical Redemption,” a down-on-his-luck wizard running a similar type of shop runs a coupon in the paper for a “Free Reading”. The ad salesman tries to punch it up by changing it to “Free Summoning”. The troubles starts when another wizard comes in to redeem that coupon.

Any links you’d like to share?

If there is one real life issue I would like to help eliminate, it would be domestic violence. There are some great causes out there to help victims of domestic violence like Vera House. They need your support.

Thanks so much to Giovanni Valentino for being part of this week’s spotlight. Be sure to check out the Strange Musings Press website which features bios and interviews with many more authors!

Happy reading!