Tonight, I would like to chat with author Rod Marsden about his recent release Disco Evil: Dead Man’s Stand. Rod and I first met years ago when I used to write for his magazines Prohibited Matter and Masque Noir. His magazines have since retired, and now Rod is devoting his writing time to vampires and the nightmares they create.
BARBARA: Did your writing begin with your magazines Masque Noir and Prohibited Matter? What made you interested in writing?
ROD: My interest in writing began with my family trips up north to a fishing village called Iluka. These yearly trips in May, the beginning of the Australian Autumn, were a joyous time. They were a time of exploration. There was bushwalking and swimming. There was fishing and there was reading. I bought my first comic book while on one of these trips and the same is true about the first paperback I read for enjoyment. My dad made an effort to keep us away from television during this time so that we could experience nature and become more of a family. He worked long hours and it was these trips up north that gave us all a chance to reconnect. My parents when they retired moved to Iluka.
I began writing in college for the magazines and newspapers there. Masque Noir and Prohibited Matter were an outlet for the itch. They came around when I had two of the three degrees I would end up with and fewer ways of seeing my writing through to publication. There were other horror titles around I managed to get a piece or two in back in those days. Everyone was struggling.
Writing came naturally. The rewriting did not. High School was not a place to show any real interest in that sort of thing. Even today the way well known novels are gone over in the classroom seems wrong. Just how many people have been turned off reading for enjoyment by high school? Now I think maybe we can count the I-pods and mobile phones in use on the train, every train for a clue.
Anyway, my early heroes were guys like Stan Lee and Gene Colan. Then came Asimov and Silverberg. I was determined either to become a writer or an artist. I toyed for a short period with becoming an actor.
All up, I was a Star Trek fan. When the show and its spin-offs weren’t around I’d gobble up the novels. I would enjoy them on trips up north to see my parents. In my late twenties and early thirties I would head up north with enough Star Trek stuff to choke a horse and whatever else to do with either science fiction or horror I could lay my hands on. Then after consuming other people’s fiction I would sit down and write my own stories. I was also keen on superhero tales and continue to be.
The Buffy series came along and inspired me in a number of ways. I could enjoy the television series with my nieces and nephew. I could give them a Buffy comic book or novel every once in a while as a treat. Buffy took the vampire out of the 19th – early 20th Century mold. This was healthy for the horror genre. I found myself writing vampire stories because of this. All of a sudden vampires became cool again. Twilight might do the same for the present generation of teenagers and uncles. I hope so.
If you are not a writer, it is hard to say what makes one want to write. If you are a writer, no explanation is required. There’s a muse at times. Where she comes from and where she goes I cannot say. All that is clear is that she’s around when I do my best work. God’s influence? Who can say for sure? Being in contact with other writers can stimulate you to write.
BARBARA: Masque Noir and Prohibited Matter enjoyed good reviews during their run. Any thoughts of revisiting magazine publishing?
ROD: No thoughts at all of revisiting the world of magazine publishing. I learnt a lot through my involvement in those magazines and made a lot of friends but I have moved on. Mind you I have kept the friendships. Don Boyd worked with me on the magazines. If he had lived longer we might be reading Don Boyd novels or watching Don Boyd scripted science fiction or horror films.
BARBARA: A lot of your tales revolve around sailing. Does your fishing and other interests provide grist for tales?
ROD: I am keen on travel. I would love to visit the USA again and see more of it. I would love to visit England and the rest of Europe for the first time. Right now I use my mind and my pen to travel. What does this have to do with fishing? Well, when you are fishing you spend a lot of time either at sea or looking out to sea. You can’t help wondering what is over the horizon for you and, of course, the horizon after that. Marco Polo grew up where he could look out to sea and I am betting it was true for Chrisopher Columbus. I sometimes travel up and down the mighty Clarence River in northern New South Wales but in a small boat. The boat is too small to challenge the sea which is beyond the mouth of the river. I am not a sailor. If you are looking for an old salt then Diane Carey who writes the occasional Star Trek novel is your person. I write the very occasional tale of adventure at sea but I am not in her league. Right now I have a niece in London and hope to get some great e-mails from her about her adventures there. It will help me to imagine what it would be like to be in modern London. Someday I hope to be there for real.
BARBARA: A lot of writers take the leap from short story writer to novelist. What prompted your interest in vampires?
ROD: Yes, a lot of writers do start off with the short story and work their way to the novel. The short story is a great place to start and also to go back to. It is where you learn your discipline. My interest in vampires began with both the old Universal monster movies and the British Hammer series of horror flicks. Then horror seemed to lose its grip on the public. American authors like Stephen King, who first made a name for himself in a British short story horror series, came to the fore. The zombie movies made out of Hollywood in the late ’60s to the mid-’70s also helped. Day of the Dead and Dawn of the Dead did a lot to perk up interest.
I have always had an interest in vampires but after a while I really didn’t want to deal with the sort that dresses for the opera and would stand out like a sore thumb just about anywhere in modern society.
Romero was one director who broke with this trend. Steven King with Salem’s Lot also made a break.
Then along came the Buffy television series. In this show vampires could come from all walks of life and the same could be said for demons. It opened my eyes to the possibilities as it did other writers.
All up, vampires are very human monsters and I would say that is what really makes them scary. If the writer is good, we see our reflections in their glistening fangs. What we see we may not always like. Writing about very human monsters is a way I can comment about the society I grew up in and the society I am living in now. I do this in my book of short vampire stories and in my novel Disco Evil: Dead Man’s Stand.
BARBARA: What are the most challenging parts of the creative process?
ROD: The most challenging part of the writing process is the blank page or, for you writers who are wed to your computers, the blank screen. You have plenty to say but where to begin? The best answer is to make a start. If this start doesn’t look to you like a good beginning it might become chapter two or it might end up in the trash. Either way you have to start and keep going until you find your feet. Having a plot in mind or on paper helps. Don’t expect the ending to be the one you originally came up with. As your characters develop so will the plot and so will the ending.
The second most challenging part of the writing process is the character that won’t do what you need him or her to do in order for the plot to work. You have a nagging feeling in the back of your mind telling you that this character is out of place or you want them to do something they are never, ever likely to do and if you don’t come up with a good reason for them doing it then you better find some other character to say the words or do the deed. Oh, and it is a good sign when you do have one of your fictional characters so strong in character they will kick up a stink if you treat them bad.
The third most challenging part of the writing process is often finding the time for both the writing and the re-writing. There are teachers who only tackle the novel once they have retired from teaching.
The next most challenging part of the wrting process is finding a good editor. Writers always need good editors.
The last most challenging part of the writing process is finding someone interested in you as a writer and interested in your latest effort. They have to be interested enough to put your stuff out there. They will be taking a chance, sure, even if you look good, even if you are good, even if you are great.
BARBARA: How do you feel about Stephen King and other horror authors?
ROD: Stephen King is good in a number of areas of fiction but he has specialized in horror over the years. Like Hitchcock and Stan Lee he does occasionally appear in movies based on his writing. King’s books on the art of writing are well worth reading.
Lyn McConchie, a New Zealand writer, has been an inspiration. She writes mostly in the pulp style though her Farm Daze series of humorous books on farm life are wonderful. By pulp style I mean like the writers who wrote for the pulp magazines when they were popular. Also like the Star Trek authors. Over the years she has turned her hand to every genre including horror. She is even in the process of putting out a Western novel. She is someone to be admired. And, yes, I do see myself as someone also writing in the pulp tradition.
I grew up on Robert E. Howard whose prose is much more colorful than my own. He is best known for creating Conan the Barbarian and also Red Sonja. He wrote some horror short stories and he did come out of the pulps.
Tom and Ginger Johnson mostly write adventure stories but delve into horror. They keep the ideas and the ideals of pulp alive in the USA.
Terry Pratchett is not strictly speaking a horror writer. He does, however, use the elements of horror in his Disc World novels. There are Igors, Golems, Vampires, Werewolves,and two versions of the Grim Reaper romping around. I enjoy the way he uses the tried and true elements of horror to poke fun at modern society.
BARBARA: How do you feel the economy will affect the book industry?
ROD: The book industry was crippled by the goods and services tax when it was introduced in Australia some time ago. Now we have a severe downturn in the economy which is worldwide. I believe there will always be books around. Whether or not they will be books worth the time and trouble of reading is another matter. Whether or not there will always be chances out there for new authors is also another matter.
BARBARA: Tell me about some of your writers’ forums.
ROD: I have been involved with writers on Facebook, YouTube and Myspace. I have had fun on Twitter. I have been involved with World Fiction Writers which can boast of having quite a few talented writers under their belt.
BARBARA: If there was one piece of advice you could give an aspiring novelist, what would that be?
ROD: Work with the short story for a while. You are more likely to have a short story published than a novel and it is a good exercise in story construction and brevity. Get to know other writers in your area and overseas. Some writers I have been corresponding with for 30 years.
BARBARA: Where may people order copies of your books?
ROD: My books may be purchased through www.amazon.com and www.bloodredshadows.com. The novel Disco Evil: Dead Man’s Stand is available as an ebook as well as a paperback.
Tonight, I am honored to talk with prolific author Sharon Maria Bidwell, who hails from Britain. Her latest, Nights in Pink Satin, has just been released as of June 19. She writes in slipstream, romance, horror, gothic, cross-genre, and other genres. Though she is best known for her longer works, her short stories have appeared in many magazines, including Sam’s Dot Publishing, Night to Dawn, Roadworks, Epiphany Magazine, and others. Her secret to success? She takes the bull by the horns and writes away…
BARBARA: Congratulations on your new release, Nights in Pink Satin. Tell me a little about your book.
SHARON: NIPS (as I’ve taken to calling it) is the story of Vincent, a vampire, who is as old as the hills and essentially bored. He fills his time with little diverting pleasures such as the annual ball for which he’s seeking a new coffin. When he assumes a female vampire has placed an order for a pink coffin lining he mistakenly breaks into the home of a young gay vampire called Martin. Martin is so painfully lonely that at first you think he’ll be a pushover for any attention that Vincent bestows on him but like most of us there’s a moment when we’ll speak up for ourselves. Vincent’s in for a few surprises. Vincent is also lonely but he’s not aware of it in quite the same way as Martin is and yet the meeting changes his awareness. The result makes for an interesting, humourous, and quirky love story.
If anyone is interested, I have to thank fellow British author, Fiona Glass, for drawing my attention to a news story of an abandoned coffin. As you can see from the news article, the lining looked rather “pink”. It was the spark for my idea. You’ll also notice it’s quite an old piece of news. I just didn’t have time to finish it until this year: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/norfolk/6590769.stm
BARBARA: How do your readers react to your writing in diverse genres?
SHARON: I’d have to say I receive mixed reactions. There are readers who will focus on one aspect of my work and there are some who want to hear about all the things I do, even if they don’t always read it. They may try a story out of their “comfort zone” and so far (fingers crossed), I’ve always received a favourable response when they do. I don’t expect every reader to like or even show an interest in everything I do. I don’t expect a reader of my gay romances to read a heterosexual romance (or menage) or vice versa, and I don’t expect them to seek out my darker stories.
I can’t and won’t say I’ve been “sidetracked” by the romance genre (although I also write various sub-genres within that category) because that makes it sound as if I perceive it to be something I’m doing until something better comes along. I’m saying that because I think early on a couple of mistaken individuals made that assumption. I’m as surprised as anyone to be writing what I’m writing but I’m delightfully surprised, and while I’ve many GLBT titles to date, I do hope to write more het titles too (I have another due later this year). I also hope to get back to writing some of my darker stories (although I believe some of my romances can be darker and deeper than some readers expect).
If I could write exactly the way I wanted to write, I’d do exactly what I’m doing now…I’d just be able to clone myself and have about three avenues of writing open to me on a regular basis. The problem is finding time for them all and there are moments when life itself interferes.
BARBARA: What motivated you to begin writing?
SHARON: Love of books. Life. I didn’t have an easy childhood. It can’t be easy when one parent suffers ill-heath and my mother had many personal and physical problems, yet one of my earliest memories is of her reading to me. I still have many of those books. She even taught me to read where my school failed but that’s a longer story. Books were always my friends. They never let me down. Books enabled me to live through so many adventures, several lifetimes in one. I think to be a full-time writer would be the best job in the world, even though like any job you have your good and bad days. Anyone who doesn’t think writing is work has it wrong.
BARBARA: What do you find most challenging about the writing process?
SHARON: What springs to mind is time. Just finding the time. The truth is most writers have at least a part-time if not full-time job and even if you don’t there’s everyday life, family and friends to consider. Maybe that’s not the dream everyone wants to hear of but it’s the truth. Writing is a solitary pursuit and sometimes it’s difficult to be solitary, especially if it doesn’t come naturally to you.
What’s difficult about the process itself? I’d have to say waiting for or seeking out that one thing that makes a story special. I’m not even going to pretend that I manage to do that every time. You can take any plot and break it down into basics, but there’s got to be “something” that clicks into place, that changes a story that has been written a million times before and turns it into someting that will stick in a reader’s mind, make it memorable, even haunting. Not all stories can or even need to do this but they are the ones readers will keep for a lifetime.
BARBARA: What books would you recommend to aspiring writers?
SHARON: Ah…now you’re asking me to give away all my secrets. LOL. Hmm…oh god, you really are! I wouldn’t buy most of the ‘how to write’ books out there…or, to put it another way, do be selective. They can be entertaining and most have “something” to offer but you’ll read an awful lot of books to glean very little information from each. I’m not saying they’re worthless but there comes a point when you have to accept that’s time you can spend writing.
I’d tell every aspiring author that they may think they understand punctuation and grammar but check they really do know what they’re talking about. I’d recommend “Eats, Shoots & Leaves” by Lynne Truss. You’ve probably heard all about this book but really, everyone should read this because if nothing else, it highlights the woefully poor attitude to the subject. If you think a publisher never turned down a story owing to terrible punctuation and grammar, think again! A few errors can be overlooked — it’s what editors, line editors, and proofers are there for — but if a writer displays a lack of care and disinterest in how they present their work, many publishers notice. Penguin produce a good punctuation guide and another good book I’ve recently come across is “My Grammar and I (or should that be me)” by Caroline Taggart and J.A.Wines. If you really can’t stomach the convoluted methods of learning grammar that applied in my grandmother’s day (and really who can?) then this is a lighthearted educational way to look at an old approach that works. Even so, I’m not going to pretend to be a punctuation or grammar expert. The one thing I excelled in at school was spelling but I’m not going to pretend I never put a comma in the wrong place. The damn things just love to slip in when you’re not looking.
For plotting, if you can find a copy (which was difficult last time I searched) check out “Plot & Structure” by James Scott Bell. The fact is stories do follow patterns, and even if you want to break the patterns up, recreate the universe as we know it, like any rule you wish to break, it’s best to know exactly what the rule is in order to know how best to break it. I haven’t read many books on personal success stories. However, I did find “Sometimes the Magic Works” by Terry Brooks very entertaining, and to contradict something I said above, if you wish to specialise in a particular subject, be it for example, poetry, children’s books, or crime, I would look for a “how-to” book focusing on that specific genre. Learn your market. Learn how to research.
BARBARA: I know a few writers who are also illustrators, and on your website, you mentioned an interest in drawing. Have you explored that interest?
SHARON: Only as a way to relax, and alas, I get little time for it these days and I am woefully out of practice. I have been playing around a little with illustrating in case I ever decide to self-publish something, but that’s mostly with digital programmes. We moved last year and I’ve been knocking down a dilapidated garage. Don’t laugh. Yes, I’ve actually been wielding a sledgehammer! The plan is to have a summerhouse put up in its place very soon and as well as a place to enjoy the garden, read, write, and entertain, I want to use it as space for drawing. My father died a couple of years ago and left an entire art course. I want to follow that coursework. With drawing even more than writing, I can forget what day it is, and even how much time is passing. Nothing else exists apart from the project in front of you. You forget all your worries. I’m thinking that maybe I don’t manage that so often with writing because there’s a certain amount of “worry” involved in that kind of creation. The drawing is really just for me. The writing is for sharing.
BARBARA: How would you define slipstream writing?
SHARON: Difficult to define. LOL. It’s writing that slips around the edges of and takes from a variety of genres, containing elements of more than one or even many.
BARBARA: How did you make the transition from short story to novel writing?
SHARON: It was actually sort of the other way around. I always wanted to write novels and plunged straight into them but none ever pleased me. I’ve since realised I needed to learn the craft of writing first in order to support my storytelling ability. I seldom wrote short stories. I think I felt as my father did that no sooner had he got into them than they were finished. Then I decided to take a creative writing course. Because of the nature of the course, I had to submit shorter work and my emphasis changed to short stories. I would recommend every writer to write short stories. The process teaches you how to be concise with your writing, how to characterise swiftly, how to make a story more vibrant. You stretch this process out somewhat when writing a novel but you learn so much from writing short stories and even grow to appreciate them more. A good short story can haunt you as much as any novel can. I don’t think I would have ever written a publishable novel if it hadn’t been for writing short stories.
BARBARA: What advice would you give aspiring writers about time management?
SHARON: I am NOT the person to ask. I wish someone could teach me. The internet is a blessing and curse as it can be terribly distracting. I try to write before I check email etc but then I can’t write because I’m wondering if I have email. Then I’ll see to that only to think “I’ll just pop into that forum…or drop a good friend a line…or maybe I ought to do a bit of promo…or I could see what books I could add to my towering to-be-read pile.” I struggle with time and my worst trait is procrastination, although once I get caught up in a story I can type for hours, forget to eat or drink, and come away from the keyboard feeling physically and mentally shattered.
BARBARA: Where may someone purchase print or ebook copies of your works?
SHARON: My longer works are in ebook formats from my publishers and I’d prefer readers to purchase from the official sites:
A couple of my titles are available on Amazon’s Kindle. If you see any listed elsewhere they’ve probably been pirated. Please don’t purchase from pirates or take part in file sharing. It’s illegal and the writer receives nothing. My short stories are mostly in small press magazines available from individual outlets.
Tom Johnson has published over thirty books with publishers like Filament Books, Altus Press, and now Night to Dawn Books. Characters like the Black Ghost and Masked Avenger has provided grist for his pulp fiction, and Tom has drawn on his experiences in the Army as well. Tom and his wife Ginger helped edit the Fading Shadows magazines and Tales of Mask & Mayhem. Their efforts on keeping pulp alive earned them the Lamont award in 1991, and in 2005, Johnson became among Preditors & Editors’ top ten finalists for Jur: a Story of Pre-Dawn Earth. During the past year, he has created a new science fiction series with Pangaea: Eden’s Planet, and now his sequel, Pangaea: Eden’s Children. His upcoming SF novel, Tunnel through Space, will come out later this summer.
BARBARA CUSTER: When did you first begin writing?
TOM JOHNSON: I was a Desk Sergeant for the Army MPs in France when I first started writing fiction, sometime around 1964 or ’65. On slow nights, when there wasn’t much activity going on, I got awfully bored while my units were out on patrol, and I enjoyed working out plots and creating characters, then coming up with situations to move the stories along. Unfortunately, I never pursued my interest in writing until after Vietnam. In 1970, I wrote the first two novels in the Jur series in long hand, and hired a professional typist to put the first one into manuscript form. But when the first novel didn’t sell right away, I left the second one in long hand and that’s where they stayed for thirty years.
BARBARA CUSTER: How did your experiences in Vietnam affect your writing process?
TOM JOHNSON: I think the jungles of Vietnam inspired me more than anything. The setting was perfect for an action adventure novel; and we had a few real adventures ourselves over there! Every day was a story, and for anyone as impressionable as me, I could see dinosaurs or ancient civilizations everywhere I looked. When I returned to the States, I had to put my stories on paper. Those lonely nights back in France resurfaced, and I remembered some of those plots and characters I had created, and before I knew it, the stories began unraveling as fast as my pen could move across the page.
BARBARA CUSTER: You enjoyed a great run on Echoes, Detective Mystery Stories, and your other magazines. Do you have any back copies available?
TOM JOHNSON: Yes, Echoes ran from 1982 until we retired in 2004; 100 issues in magazine form, then another 57 issues as a newsletter. In 1995, we started a string of fiction magazines, which included Detective Mystery Stories and others. I think we published over 300 issues of the fiction magazines, and probably had a hundred writers and a dozen artists contributing to the titles. We started a trend that is still going today, although the quality of the publications has improved greatly since the advent of POD (publish on demand) technology. When we retired, we stored a lot of back issues, and occasionally still sell copies.
BARBARA CUSTER: How did you come up with the idea for your Pangaea tales?
TOM JOHNSON: In the Jur novels, there is an ancient civilization called the Gen-sis, or First Ones, that existed with the dinosaurs. However, with Jur, the stories centered around people from the twenty-first century accidentally falling through time portals and finding themselves in the Jurassic Period. But I never really explained who this ancient civilization was, or where they come from. Pangaea begins sixty million years before the Jurassic Period, and tells the story of the First Ones. So, though Pangaea and Jur are connected in that respect, they are two different series; one following the First Ones, the other following people from our own time who encounter the Gen-sis.
BARBARA CUSTER: What do you find most difficult about your work-in-progress?
TOM JOHNSON: That’s easy. Wordage. When I studied in school, we were taught to use all the little helpers available to a writer: adverbs, adjectives, and a lot of passive voice. Today, publishers and editors want shorter sentences, tighter, and less little helpers. Absolutely no passive voice. So, for someone coming from a period when it was all right to use them, to a period in which they are avoided like the plague, Iâ€™ve got to add more story in shorter sentences. Sometimes, it is completely alien to me.
BARBARA CUSTER: What do you enjoy most about the creative process?
TOM JOHNSON: Creating characters and plots. I won’t start a story until I have the plot, and I must be happy with my characters in order for the story to work. I want them to be real, not just names on paper. They become someone I know, someone I can connect to. Basically, they are my friends. No matter how flowery the language of the story, if your characters don’t feel real, you won’t pull the reader into the adventure.
BARBARA CUSTER: Your “soul stealer” short stories have gone well for NTD and now for your anthology Blood Moons and Nightscapes. Where did you get your idea for these tales?
TOM JOHNSON: As an accident investigator in law enforcement, as well as a soldier in Vietnam, I saw violent death. A car slams head on into a tree, and what’s left of the driver and passengers can be scrapped off the windshield. Maybe there was a baby, or young child in the front seat. Or a bullet bows a soldier’s face half off or worse. Death can come when we don’t expect it, and it may be very violent. I would like to think that there are angels or soul stealers out there, who could help those victims meet that sudden, violent death and cross over. That’s why I created the soul stealer stories, I think.
BARBARA CUSTER: Tell the readers about your latest release.
TOM JOHNSON: Pangaea: Eden’s Children is the sequel to last year’s Pangaea: Eden’s Planet. In Eden’s Planet, a rocket ship from 2023 crashes back to Earth after going through a time warp in space. But the planet they land on is Earth 250 million years in the past, known as the Permian Period, sixty million years before the dinosaurs. However, there are terrible reptiles and other denizens in this period just as awesome as T-Rex. Plus, the crew is aware of a coming catastrophe that will wipe out all living creatures in this period. The story is about their survival. Then, in Eden’s Children, I had to fast forward the scene sixty million years, when the descendants of that rocket ship have resettled the Earth, and the problems they are facing. Pangaea, by the way, refers to the super continent, before it broke apart to form the continents that we are familiar with today. Imagine a world with one continent and one ocean. That was Pangaea, the world as it was then.
BARBARA CUSTER: What advice would you give to a person trying to get their short story / novel published?
TOM JOHNSON: Never give up. It was 32 years from the time I wrote my first novel in 1970 to when it was finally published in 2002. Since then, I’ve written seven fiction novels and numerous anthologies of short stories, as well as nonfiction books. All published. So if your heart is really into writing, then stick with it. The greatest reward is not in the money you make, but the pleasure of creating something others will enjoy. Write every day, as the experience will improve your abilities. And read the current genre of books you prefer, so you will know what the publishers are looking for. But above all, unless your aim is that of becoming a writer-for-hire, don’t compromise your goals just for the sake of being published. Write what YOU are interested in, not what someone else wants you to write.