Some time ago, I laid out the advantages of using Lulu versus Createspace. And my biggest beef with Createspace was not being able to use my credit card. Well, at last I found my way through the labyrinth of ordering functions, enough to order a proof. Createspace has made peace with my credit card, and when I got the proof of Cold War Heroes, I found that the proof looked decent enough for a bookstore. So the assumption followed that I could go ahead and run all my future NTD magazines through Createspace. Not quite.
I’ve already run NTD 20 through Lulu, and got a lot of nice compliments about the issue. So with the PDF generated by Lulu’s software, I proceeded to upload on Createspace. You see, any book run through Createspace software will automatically go on Amazon. But Createspace wasn’t crazy about handling 8.5 x 11 books. You can’t do 8.5 x 11 books for premium distribution on Createspace like you can with Lulu.
No biggie there, until I got a memo from Createspace informing that the PDF wasn’t viable. NTD always has a print label on the spine, the way many perfect bound magazines do. The print had to come off of the spine, said Createspace. Also on my book reviews, I needed to add two additional places where the books reviewed are available. I don’t have the Acrobat software needed to change the spine. I could make the changes on the inside file on my Word 2007, save it to PDF and use that.
Ah, but with Lightning Source, Lulu, and Createspace, it isn’t enough to use a PDF. The fonts have to be embedded a certain way for the file to pass muster. Lulu will convert your word files to PDF so that you’ve got a file that meets that requirement.
Does that mean I’m firing Createspace? Not necessarily. But I can’t use it for NTD unless I’m willing to forego print on the spine. Maybe I’m having a hard time with change.
I am turning more to eBook distribution: namely Kindle, the Nook, Smashwords, and a new company www.xinxii.com, a European distributor of eBooks. The eBooks look promising, and more people are buying them. But there is a lot to be said for the feel of a print book.
I would like to hear from you about your experiences using Createspace’s software, and your thoughts on the future of eBooks.
I never thought I would blog about my balloon collection, but as the cliche goes, never say never. Today was an unusual day for grocery trips. I went to a different supermarket, one that didn’t tempt me to buy balloons. More bad weather was coming our way, so I concentrated on buying supplies. I decided to check out the dollar discount store to see if I could buy some of the things needed for less. The dollar discount had a huge array of paper products, everything costing $1.00 each. Since birthdays are coming up for people I care about, I headed down the gift aisle for wrapping paper and cards.
That was when the balloon trees nailed me.
Actually, the courtship began as soon as I walked in. Balloon trees filled with bright reds, silver, and Valentine messages swarmed toward me. The individual balloons there, plenty of them at that, didn’t tempt me so much, but they might have if the balloon trees hadn’t overwhelmed me. There were so many, they literally ran wild. Even the storekeeper couldn’t contain them. Each tree boasts six smaller foil balloons, plus one large one. It could be a Valentine frog or bear. I went with the frog because of its pretty shade of green. Total: seven balloons for $8.00.
I had to sit my passenger seat flat to fit the balloons in the car. They threatened to break loose, so I shut the door fast. Later, after I’d gone to the supermarket and came back, I noticed balloon ribbons sticking out between the door and floorboard.
Why a balloon tree? Perhaps I am celebrating Alien Worlds, the book that I collaborated with Tom Johnson. Newly released, it will be available on Amazon in a few weeks. Maybe I was thinking of giving a couple to Mike for his birthday, and I will. Maybe it’s just because I love balloons so much and couldn’t resist the call of the wild.
A lot of writers (I know I did) have groaned over the frustration of rejected submissions. What catches an editor’s eye? What are publishers and readers looking for? And so tonight, I will be chatting with SDP editor Cathy Buburuz. Cathy has been sending poetry, fiction, and art to Night to Dawn since I became editor in 2004. Her work has appeared in magazines across the USA, Canada, Australia, England, Romania, Japan, Yugoslavia, and other countries. Along with her horror writing and illustration, she edits Champagne Shivers and other magazines for Sam’s Dot Publishing. Cathy’s got some interesting insights on the industry, so let’s hear what she has to say.
BARBARA: You wear several hats – editor, illustrator, fiction writer, and poet. Do you have any one favourite?
CATHY: I don’t have a favourite task and I’ve always enjoyed that luxury of going from one creative project to another. Doing all four keeps things fresh and interesting. To me, all four are meaningful and fulfilling forms of creativity, but it’s the writing of fiction that helps me work off the anger and frustrations associated with the aches and pains of our society and everyday life.
Right here in my hometown there was a news story about a man who beat his toddler to death for touching the family’s television. The story stayed with me far too long and writing was a way to deal with it. I wanted to draw attention to the problem and promote the idea that as parents we need to pay more attention to our children, our own little world, and the world around us. We often forget how important love and kindness are to a child and how easily they can fall prey to sly monsters that single them out because they’re starved for affection, or even a little attention. This thought resulted in my story Jesus God in Heaven, about a little girl who falls victim to the least expected villain. The story has seen publication no less than six times in three different countries, so I have to believe it succeeds in its intent and purpose which is to make a solid connection and to awaken readers’ emotions.
I don’t always write with a serious goal or purpose in mind. Most times I write for the natural high that it brings. When you’re on a roll with a great idea, it’s an unequalled magic, a thing that has a way of blocking out all else, taking you to places you wouldn’t otherwise explore.
BARBARA: Some folks say Stephen’s King’s writing has changed since his accident. I beg to differ, although I couldn’t get into the Dark Tower Series like the others. In particular, I enjoyed Duma Key. What say you?
CATHY: Stephen King’s earlier novels were his most impressive, and his short story collections were outstanding. His sense of humour and his ability to connect with readers through convincing fiction are his charm. I loved Carrie, Salem’s Lot, Misery, and Dolores Claiborne, and I thought Nightshift, Skeleton Crew, Nightmares & Dreamscapes, and Everything’s Eventual were fantastic. King writes for the common man and in doing so he’s gained the world as his audience because, when you cut it to the bone, we’re all emotional beings faced with everyday decisions and dilemmas that could change the course of our lives in a flash.
My first experience with Stephen King was a well worn copy of Salem’s Lot, probably read by a dozen others before I discovered it. I own a lot of his books, and movies based on his books, and I still enjoy going back to these year after year. The movie Stand by Me (based on his short story, The Body) is among my favourites. In so many ways, that story reflected my own childhood and the things that were going on in my head at the time. I loved Dolores Claiborne for its high level of believability and the authenticity of its characters. King’s characters are always memorable.
Years ago, Inscriptions held a poetry contest. To enter, all you had to do was submit a poem by e-mail about Stephen King. My short tribute won the contest and netted me the prizes, $50 and a hardcover copy of King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. Needless to say, I was thrilled to have won because I enjoyed that book immensely. The poem that won went something like this:
Ink is blood
the thought, an artery
as psychotic razors
slash his creativity
gushing a story
on a winter white page.
Do I admire the man and his work? Most definitely.
Am I awestruck by every word he has ever written? No, I am not.
For a writer to please every reader 100% of the time is an impossible, unattainable task, simply because we all have different tastes in fiction and in writing styles. Still, when you look at the man’s career, it’d be impossible to deny that he’s done an amazing job, is envied by many, and ultimately deserves respect.
BARBARA: The economy has hurt paperback sales in the USA. Have you noticed any of this in Canada?
CATHY: Chapters is my favourite Canadian bookstore because you can enjoy a Starbucks coffee while cruising its many bookshelves for the latest releases. There’s something special about the aroma of coffee in a bookstore. Whether it’s the sale of books or the sale of coffee, or a combination of the two, this phenomenal bookstore has survived despite the challenges. I can’t deny that the cover price of a book is downright depressing sometimes, but a book is a unique form of entertainment, a journey, an often intimate experience between writer and reader that opens minds, changes minds, and expands minds. To me, it’s worth the price of admission.
Despite harsh economic times, book lovers continue to read. The only difference now is that more and more used books are being traded or sold, and that’s having a negative impact on sales of new books. More and more avid readers are turning to garage sales, yard sales, flea markets, libraries and used bookstores to fill the need.
BARBARA: What advice would you give writers hoping to get into Sam’s Dot Publishing’s books and magazines?
CATHY: All it takes is a well written story that’s in harmony with each publication’s guidelines.
It’s important for writers to know that an editor can read just a few paragraphs of your story and know whether or not you’ve bothered to read the guidelines, whether or not you’re a professional or an amateur. The opening paragraphs of your story send signals about whether or not you’re serious about your craft, or whether you’re just another wannabe. The great thing about Sam’s Dot Publishing is that we take pride in publishing stories and art by new and upcoming writers as well as the seasoned pros, but you have to be willing to perfect your manuscript, to work with us on it if it needs work. If your manuscript needs a major rewrite, chances are we’ll decline it, not because we don’t want to help, but because we believe it’s your responsibility to learn the rules of good writing and submission beforehand, and our time is just as valuable as yours.
BARBARA: I notice a lot of writers/illustrators promote their work through www.cafeshops.com. How does that work for you?
CATHY: I believe that self-promotion that could fill an ocean is the key to success.
If you type your name into a search engine and only about a hundred web pages come up, you’ve failed miserably in online promotion. Getting your name and your product all over cyberspace is time-consuming but it can be done. Work toward a presence on as many websites as possible, preferably reputable websites that have their origins in several different countries. If your work is leaving an impression on those who experience it, typing your name into a search engine will help you locate those comments. Although reviewers are fast becoming a rarity, they can be found, but searches do take time. Not so long ago, there were many more science fiction, fantasy and horror magazines with review columns – even entire magazines dedicated to reviews – but the world is ever-changing and good reviewers are few.
If you’re an illustrator, focus on what counts. Paint, market, and sell. If you sell your art on products, strive for representation by many different companies and galleries, preferably those who take advertising and promotion of their artists seriously.
If you’re a writer, the same applies. Write, market, and sell. Seek out reputable publishers who go the extra mile to promote the work of their contributors.
If you’re an editor, you have to take the time to comment on manuscripts and work with potential contributors to perfect their craft so that you can produce a noteworthy and memorable publication.
There are hundreds of writers out there who relentlessly market the same old manuscript to dozens of editors, sometimes simultaneously, instead of admitting to themselves that their manuscript needs work before it will sell. The only way they’re going to know that is if the editor they submit to makes the decision to offer an honest assessment of the manuscript, even if that honesty comes in the form of a single sentence. Don’t look at it as rejection; look at it as constructive criticism. When an editor takes the time to point out the problems with your manuscript, learn from that. Do not continue to make the same mistakes over and over ’til death do us part.
BARBARA: Could you talk a little about Sam’s Dot Publishing (SDP) and its current projects?
CATHY: Sam’s Dot Publishing (SDP) is owned and operated by Tyree Campbell, who took over all responsibilities and changed the company name when James B. Baker of ProMart Publishing passed away. Mr. Baker had many admirable goals, but the one that meant the most to him was to publish and promote new talent. Mr. Campbell has carried on in this tradition and has expanded the numbers and the kinds of publications produced each year. He publishes upcoming artists and writers alongside the pros. We have several editors on staff, and we take pride in the publications we produce. The novels, anthologies, and magazines have in recent years progressed to perfect bound publications, most with full colour covers. I’m responsible for the editing of Champagne Shivers, Expressions, the Potter’s Field anthologies, and the Side Show 2: Tales of the Big Top and the Bizarre anthologies.
Our publications are sold in the electronic store on the SDP website, in a couple of brick and mortar bookstores, and in The Genre Mall. Mr. Campbell also travels across the USA each summer to promote and sell SDP publications at many conventions.
BARBARA: Where do you see the publishing industry five years from now? Do you think e-book sales will outrun those of paperbacks?
CATHY: I love paperbacks. I don’t read e-books. I’ve paid $35+ for a book written by someone whose work I admire, yet I decline the generosity when writers and publishers offer free e-books. In my line of work I spend anywhere from six to fourteen hours a day looking at a computer screen, so a paperback will always win me over. And for the record, that goes for review copies as well; especially review copies.
BARBARA: Your illustrations have drawn many compliments from NTD readers. What do you find most enjoyable about the work in process? The most challenging?
CATHY: All art is a challenge for me, simply because I’m one of the slowest artists on the planet. It takes me two to five hours to design a piece of filler art, and a minimum of ten hours to complete a full page artwork. For some, art comes easy. For me, it does not. I’m hard on myself as an artist and because I have a deep love for the physical aspects of drawing, I never want the painting to end.
I’m not as flexible as most artists, nor am I as talented, and it just blows me away when I receive a compliment, a kind review, a fan letter, or someone actually takes the time to hunt me down to ask if they can buy one of my originals. The truth be known, the reason why I became an artist in the first place was because I dared to send a small piece of filler art to an editor and he published it on his cover. That editor changed my life because he gave me the confidence to continue, to experiment, and to submit more of my work to other publications. American artist Marge Simon saw that very first cover and invited me to collaborate with her. At the time, she was the most published artist I was aware of – she’d won great recognition and awards for her art and her cartoons – so I was as nervous as hell about working with her. I gave collaboration a shot. I loved it, and I learned from it. Over the years I’ve worked on art collaborations with more than a dozen artists and illustrators, and I’ll always be grateful for that experience because it served as an education in its purist form.
BARBARA: Could you describe what a typical work day is like?
CATHY: My typical work day is spent multi-tasking. One day never resembles another. I chose to work on what I’m interested in at the time, what my mood or creative energy dictates, and the job I feel I’m best suited for on any given day. I might spend three or four hours reading and responding to submissions to my projects or spend an hour researching potential markets for my own work and my online monthly newsletter, Expressions. Every now and then, to give my work variety, I take on a private job editing a novel or a chapbook.
I tend to do artwork during the day because I prefer natural light. I write the majority of my stories, poems, and reviews in the evening because that just happens to be the time when I’m the most creative and productive, and it’s also a time when the phone or the doorbell is less likely to ring. When I need a break, I wander out into my flower garden and pull weeds or water the lawn, or go on facebook to play a few rounds of Word Twist or to learn more about what other creative people are working on. To dump the junk in my head, I read a good book or magazine, watch a movie or an episode of North of 60, Bones,Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, or CSI Las Vegas.
No matter what I’m working on, I like to take breaks every three or four hours. The only exception to that rule is when the writing is going well. I never stop writing when the words are coming faster than I can type them. I’ve also been known to dive out of bed at five in the morning because of an idea I fear losing. I’ve also been known to work until six in the morning because I’m on a roll.
I seem to thrive on maximum overload so, in an effort to hang on to my own sanity and stay grounded, I try to spend as much down time as possible with my family, and I always shoot for one to three short vacations each year.
BARBARA: Which forums would you recommend to authors hoping to promote their work? Any other advice?
CATHY: I choose forums that suit my particular wants and needs, places where my levels of privacy and comfort aren’t in jeopardy, a forum that feels like home. While I believe that a writer can’t spend too much time on promotion, I think writers have to allot a fair amount of time to their craft. In fact, most of us work so long and hard at our chosen professions, we wish we had more time for self-promotion. There are those of us who would much rather work on an illustration, a short story, or a novel than tackle the chore of marketing and promoting ourselves.
Still, I’d have to say that the absolute best form of self-promotion is publication. The more you’re published in reputable books and magazines, the wider your audience, and the more likely you’ll be acknowledged as someone who’s serious about their craft.
It certainly doesn’t hurt to remember that readers don’t admire you because you’ve had 500 or 600 illustrations, poems or stories published. The reality is, truckloads of crap are published each year. Readers admire writers simply because they enjoyed their work, they could relate to it, and it lit an emotion in them.
It’ll always be quality, not quantity that counts most in this business. If you can accomplish both of these simultaneously, you’ve more than done your job.
Tonight, I will be chatting with Author Denyse Bridger, whose tales and characters have enchanted many readers. A prolifice writer, she has penned close to 400+ short stories and novellas. Her dark fantasy works have earned her Eppie finalist in 2006; finalist for 2008 Prix Aurora Award, Book Lovers Cover Best Book Award (2009) and others. So let’s hear what Denyse has to say about her creative genus and methods to her success.
BARBARA: I understand you’ve partnered with Branscombe Richmond to write motorcycle adventures (modern-day Westerns). How is that going, and how does it feel writing in a different genre?
DENYSE: This isn’t really a different genre for me, I’ve been in love with traditional Westerns for most of my life, so it’s relatively smooth to take the adventure and mindset, and project it forward to the 21st century. As Branscombe said when he proposed this, just replace horses with motorcycles and go from there. It’s working beautifully!
BARBARA: I see you’re working on a tale set in Italy. I’ve been there myself and find it a perfect atmosphere for romance. Have you gone there for your research/ How do you research other settings?
DENYSE: I have not been to Italy, but again we’re talking about something that has been an on-going love affair for me virtually my entire life. There is something so perfect about this country, the culture, and the amazing spirit of the people of Italia. They embody romance on all levels, with their passion for art, and love, and ‘la dolce vita! I hope one day to visit this dream place, so hopefully one day I can sit on a balcony in Sorrento, look out at the Bay of Naples, and write the magic. I can’t think of anything more wonderful than that. For the moment, I use pictures, read many books, rent DVDs, and drive my Italian friends crazy with questions that they graciously answer for me.
BARBARA: What do you see in the future for e-books versus paperbacks?
DENYSE: I think the e-market is slowly expanding and becoming more legitimate in the world of books, but there will always be a special kind of attachment to books that you can hold in your hands and touch. For me, I’ve been reading my whole life, and there is nothing quite like the feel of paper and texture in your hands as you settle in to escape to a different world. My first major release was absolute magic to me, to touch it and see it stacked on the table at the launch, walk into stores and see it on the shelf. It’s a feeling that can’t be captured with eBooks, honestly.
It is a general consensus that eBooks are the future of our industry, and it makes sense. Environmentally it’s logical, and from the traveler’s standpoint, it’s amazing. You can take your eReader and carry a hundred books in your hand, and you don’t have to worry about the weight limit from the airline!!
BARBARA: I’ve heard that “horror” has become a taboo label, and people are now calling it dark fantasy or supernatural thriller. What are your feelings on that?
DENYSE: Horror conjures up such negative images, maybe it’s not such a bad thing that the label has become somewhat taboo. Not all dark fantasy is about blood and gore, and that tends to be what people think of when they see the word horror, something that will terrify and sicken in some ways. There’s a brutality to the genre’s subconscious in many people’s minds, and that may be why many authors want a different classification. I think if you are writing supernatural beings, etc., that there is in most cases a redeeming humanity to those characters, and for that reason alone many authors don’t want it called horror. Because it’s not meant to inspire fear but emotional empathy. Horror brings to mind the cinematic kind of mindless violence that makes many stomachs turn, Friday the 13th, Halloween, Chainsaw, things of that nature. I’d rather be thought of as a dark fantasy author than a horror writer, and perhaps many others feel the same way.
BARBARA: What would you recommend for an aspiring author to hone their writing?
DENYSE: Write. Ultimately, that’s the best training there is. Persevere, and keep learning with each piece you write. Don’t listen to your friends and family, listen to what other authors have to say, and what editors have to say. Accept that there is no such thing as a perfect book, just the best book you can produce at the time that you write it. Once it’s done, leave it, take what you’ve learned from it, and make the next one better for what you’ve taken from the experience. If you constantly revisit old books and tweak and work them, you’ll never discover the new adventures that are waiting to be told. None of us are so good that we can’t benefit from honest and constructive opinion. You have to learn to take what works for you, and benefits you, and leave the rest behind. Bad reviews are a way of life, because there is no such thing as a book that is universally brilliant to every person who reads it. Accept that early and you’ll be a much happier author!
BARBARA: What is the once piece of advice you would give to authors trying to market their books?
DENYSE: Take your time and find the right publisher for your book. There is always a niche for what you create, and sometimes a smaller specialized publisher is a better fit than a big publisher, especially early in the writer’s career. So, take advantage of the internet resources and libraries, see where you think your book would find the best editorial acceptance, and fit with the catalog and reputation of the press. It wouldn’t make sense to submit a fantasy tale to a romance publisher, or a thriller to a children’s press, so make sure you’ve chosen well and appropriately.
Once you’ve found the right publisher, you have to then be prepared to be your own biggest cheerleader. The promotion and saleability of your book is in your hands, really. It’s a major job and requires dedication and a lot of time and work, so you have to be prepared to put in a lot more hours than you may realize. It’s a competitive market, and authors abound, so you will be one of many people vying for a reader’s hard-earned dollars and interest/time. Make it worth their time, and they will be loyal and supportive of all you do. Give them a shoddy product and it doesn’t matter if your second effort is worthy of a Pulitzer, you’ve already lost the audience. Treat your readers with respect, and they will never desert you.
BARBARA: I found your “coming soon” attractions intriguing. In particular The House of Secrets. When will this book become available?
DENYSE: With a little luck this book will be available next Spring. There is one more story to finish from the group of contributing authors, then I have to write my part of the tale. Ideally, it will all flow into one smooth, connected story. The Italian title is ‘La Casa di Segreti. And the idea is one that has been in my mind for a couple of years. When I made the decision to propose it to a group of authors, and turn it into an anthology of different voices, they were amazing, and very detailed in their research and dedicated to making the whole thing dovetail nicely. I’m very proud of what they’ve done, and I think readers are going to enjoy a really wonderful book!
BARBARA: Here in the USA, the economy has had a big impact on the way publishing is done. People seem to favor e-books because they are cheaper. Are you noticing this in Canada also?
DENYSE: I really don’t know if there’s been as much impact on the Canadian market, because the stats here show that people are buying more print books than ever, so whether that also means more eBooks, I really couldn’t say with any reasonable certainty.
BARBARA: You’ve been very prolific with your tales. How many hours a day do you spend at the keyboard, and where do you get your energy to keep going?
DENYSE: I tend to spend approx. 12-14 hours a day at work, interrupted by breaks of course. And real-life, which tends some days to make the days turn into 16 hours!! Seriously, I do spend a lot of time dedicated to either writing, or doing all the things that have become part of the process and are now routine. The promotional posts, blogs, guests, coordinating it all takes time and energy. If you maintain a MySpace, or FaceBook page, those things also eat into the time. It’s all become part of the day to day routine, though, and at the end of it, if I get a few hours of actually writing time in, and see some progress made on a story, then I consider the day a success!
BARBARA: Which book won the Best Book Award, your latest?
DENYSE: Yes, the latest release, Whom Gods Have Favored. It won Best Book Cover in the month of May, and the cover is rather stunning and eye-catching. It was also nominated for The Covey Award in June, so that cover alone is getting lots of attention! I’ve been fortunate, really. This isn’t the first time a book of mine has been in the running for an award. My fantasy novel was a finalist on the ballot for the very prestigious Aurora Award here in Canada. Another erotic contemporary was a finalist for an Eppie; I have won Fan Quality Awards for my early fan fiction, and an international poetry award. My first professional contract was won in a competition, and I haven’t looked back since. Just as my first original fantasy tale was voted Best in Issue in the Reader’s Choice poll for the magazine it was featured in. I’ve been very lucky to have my work recognized and appreciated in this way. Just as I’ve been extremely blessed by the excellent reviews for virtually everything I’ve written.
One of the thing I was most proud of was being asked to be the feature in Sable Grey Magazine, which debuted in February. It was an honor to be part of something so widely read by so many readers. Sable is a wonderful and talented lady, and her friendship is an added bonus to a great professional introduction.
Thanks very much, Barbara, for having me as your guest. I’ll look forward to chatting with your readers, and answering any questions they may have. I hope they’ll drop by my website too. There are lots of fun things on the Freebies page and the Extras! Plus, I co-own a magazine of my own, designed for Readers of Romance. That’s on the links page, Sensual Treats Magazine. All in all, I keep pretty busy!!
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.
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.