I hate injustice especially when it is disguised as fair play. At the time I was looking for inspiration to start a new book a news report on television caught my attention. A new wave of political correctness was in the planning stage. Political correctness, especially in the office, bugs me. Hence the giant praying mantis menacing a computer jockey on the cover of Desk Job. Like Lewis Carroll and Terry Pratchett, I use symbolism and metaphor to reveal the darker, weirder and more fascinating elements of life as I know it. Fear created by censorship inspired by political correctness is at the heart of why the office where Desk Job mainly takes place is so dysfunction. I have worked in offices not far removed from the office in my novel.
I do most of my rough first draft writing on the train. I edit at home on my P.C. Since I do a lot of travelling for my current job as a researcher for public transportation, this works out fine.
I don’t expect to get everything right with the first draft. If I did then I suspect the work, whether short story or novel, would lack inspiration and the kind of flavor that makes for a good read. It is okay to let your id free to play with ideas in the early stages of any kind of writing. You can edit out the accrued garbage in subsequent drafts. Also the ending you originally have in mind is often not the ending you arrive at. You get to know and develop your characters as you write and this can result in your muse finding a more suitable if not a more fun conclusion.
I get my ideas from life. I always have pen and paper handy when I’m travelling. You never know who you are going to meet on the train or how they will inspire you. I also read a lot. I try to get in a couple of factual books a year along with the novels I absorb. Even a bad author can teach you something about writing. There’s the question of why you have decided that he or she isn’t very good.
I have a novel in mind that will deal with a common fear. A man has just won a fortune but his past is about to catch up to him. Will it be flight or fight? It’s presently titled Cold Water Conscience. No plans to imbue it with fantasy elements like my other novels. It will be stark and compelling.
Rod Marsden was born in Sydney, Australia. He has three degrees; all related to writing and to history. His stories have been published in Australia, England, Russia and the USA. He has worked in the American anthology Cats Do it Better. Many of his short stories have been published in Night to Dawn magazine. Undead Reb Down Under and Other Vampire Stories is a collection of his short fiction on vampirism. His novel Disco Evil: Dead Man’s Stand is his first venture into the vampire novel. Ghost Dance is his first undertaking into dark fantasy involving a quest. Desk Job is a first in that it is his salute to Lewis Carroll and it is also his initial surrealist novel. He is no stranger to controversy and much of his writing is purposely as well as purposefully politically incorrect. He prefers truth and integrity over the lies and half-truths we are so often inundated with. Thus his work has a certain honesty about the times we are living in that may not be found elsewhere.
Set in the offices of a big Sydney business concern of the 1990s, Desk Job by former Masque Noir editor, Rod Marsden, reads like staring through a hothouse window at a weird menagerie of mismatched captive fauna.
Among the exotic and nightmarish metaphors for office “types” – such as praying mantises (women of “a certain age” out for blood at a sniff of male impropriety), dung beetles (sycophants to the mantises), hawks (upwardly mobile managers), caterpillars (semi-comatose top brass), mules (disregarded drudges), and butterflies (pretty young do-nothings) and their older, drabber moth counterparts – real human souls live-out daily drama in this infernal inversion of Alice’s Wonderland. Animal behavior is controlled by the government-imposed political correctness dictates of the period. No one dares infringe on the rights of a “protected species.” On the other hand, it’s open season on the native wildlife. Tensions mount. Fear, paranoia, and madness ensue until one employee is murdered by another while most are too busy watching their own backs to notice. It’s the kind of mess you’d need a psychic investigator to work out.
Enter Sarah Hollingsworth, who’s seen it all already in a dream. She can read people’s minds to present the reader with psychological profiles and biographical insights into the group of characters under the microscope. (She even interviews the victim!) This lets her give the kind of nonjudgmental overview that keeps things nicely in balance and stops the reader (and some of the characters) from totally losing the plot. She also provides a few surprises along the way with her own interaction among the forces of the mystical realm.
It’s a testament to Rod Marsden’s easy style that the whole unfolding kaleidoscope of animal imagery, social comment and dark fantasy reads with a page-turning immediacy gripped until a satisfactory conclusion is reached. (Not so much a Whodunnit, this, as a Whydunnit.)
But, the conclusion is not the end of the book. What Marsden does with the remaining third is to literalize the previously metaphorical types as living dream creatures, in a totally fantastical code section reflecting back the Lewis Carroll motifs from a new perspective. Sarah here ventures through an interdimensional portal, like Alice’s looking glass, to interact with real mantises and beetles and a Queen of Hearts who wants to psych out the office workers via computer consoles and hand-mirror getaways. A fast and furious fantasy adventure follows – ensuring the novel achieves a flying finish.
Sandwiched in between the episodic close-ups on specific cases in part one, collected quotes from contemporary Australian books on office psychology provide a Greek chorus to the developing drama. These interludes continue as a unifying factor through the second part. Here, the lika-lika bird (every sentence starts with “like a…”) rears her gorgeously plumaged head. She’s still young and uncorrupted, prior to landing that fatal office job. Her outside view is refreshingly alternative. There is also the graffiti-spraying mall rat, destined to become a mule, or even a hawk someday.
It is difficult to encapsulate in a brief review the complex interplay of fantastical dream situations, figuratively-represented actuality and actualized fantasy contained in Desk Job. Odd magical moments come to mind, such as the vision of several “brown-nose” dung beetles lining up to boil themselves in a cauldron because of the praying mantis they worship like soup. There’s also the annoying whistling delivery man who appears at the office every so often, and is perfunctorily assaulted by a member of staff. Then, there are the cats which periodically pop through mirrors or get their tails pulled by startled mortals. Particularly amusing is the scene near the end of lika-lika birds all crowding around one such hand-mirror, convinced that the cat which just appeared was cleverly programmed in by the manufacturers. I can just see them haunting all the shops in Sydney asking for the mirrors with the pop-out cats!
Does that make sense? Not maybe on the face of things, but, in the context of this curiously individual and delightfully engaging novel, it makes perfect sense. If you don’t believe me, I recommend you take a psychic trip through the portal of its covers and experience it for yourself. Desk Job is a book with “Read Me” written all over it.
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.