The other night, I had a visitor over my house and she’d asked me how I got to writing horror. I told her how it started with Dark Shadows and the Hammer films. Stephen King, among other authors, only fanned the flames, I said, ignoring the fact that my dance with horror began 51 years ago, during a trip to Atlantic City with my mother. Had Mylar balloons existed, Atlantic City would have never happened because the balloons would have shielded my eyes from the sight. But, Mylar balloons didn’t exist, so I was left to face the monster on my own. And I never mentioned anything about Atlantic City to my friend.
After all, this story isn’t the kind of thing I’d tell to the uninitiated. I usually reserve this one for Halloween.
When I was a child, my mother and I used to go to the Italian Village at Atlantic City’s Million Dollar Pier. The Village knew how to make some mean hoagies, and gluten never entered the picture. At the time, there were amusements and goodies such as those booths where you could take four selfies for a buck. One day, they had a pavilion closed with a curtain, seated on a dais. The billboard read, “See live 1000-year-old woman.” That sounded awesome, so I got in line.
The people ahead of me formed a C-shaped ring around an ornate bathtub. Later on, I learned that bathtub was actually a sarcophagus. Further ahead, I made out jet black hair and a shriveled face. The woman had on an ornate vest, but nothing else. I stepped up to get a closer look. Not a woman after all, but a mummified skeleton. I stood there frozen, and the people just kept looking and chatting among themselves, as if they were gathering at a party. Seconds later, she turned her head and raised her arms, extending her hand. At that, I bolted from the pavilion, screaming.
As I got older, I realized that most likely the folks who engineered this constructed machinery and invisible ropes to make the body move. But when you see a dead body look your way, you don’t consider possibilities. You run. For most of my life, thereafter, I’ve had this fear of skeletons—I’d discussed this in previous blogs. I think I worked my way through it; noticed that I have skeletal images for illustrations. I’ve got a real beauty of a skeleton photo in NTD 29. All the same, I rarely buy Halloween balloons. I go with floral shapes and Mylar butterflies.
I’d say this sighting in Atlantic City ignited my fascination with horror. Then I moved on to Dark Shadows and the Hammer films which fueled the flames, followed by Stephen King. Thankfully, my Mylar balloons serve as a moderating influence.
I’m offering two giveaways: A signed copy of Steel Rose and a copy of Night to Dawn 28, to be given to a random commenter during this blog hop. And if you can guess how many Mylar balloons I have, the person with the closest guess will get an eBook copy of Close Liaisons and City of Brotherly Death.
At the bottom of my fascination with zombies, revenants, and evil aliens lies a terror of human skeletons. Every writer fears something, a “demon” that drives their stories. Some people dread the site of fire; for others it’s the Great White. For me, the sight of a skeleton, particularly one with debris on it, will send me burrowing inside a bouquet of Mylar balloons.
Why? I think my dread of skeletons started with my trip to Atlantic City that I described in my Night to Dawn blog. The mummy’s parchment dry skin literally hugged her bones. Not a shred of fat or muscle. My skeleton terror accompanied me everywhere I went.
For example, at age thirty, I underwent three knee surgeries, necessitating frequent visits to an orthopedist’s office, where the skeleton became a teaching tool. But I wasn’t interested in any anatomy lessons. Instead, I covered the bones with my coat, sweater, and sometimes a sheet if one was available. My orthopedist Dr. Hill asked one day why I covered his skeletons. Blushing, I yanked the sheet off the bones. My quick movement jarred the head, causing it to snap off the body, land on the floor, and roll like a bowling ball down the hall.
Dr. Hill stood there and laughed. He wisely sent me to another room for future checkups.
At the time, I went to school at night, and one of the instructors held her class inside an anatomy lab equipped with a human skeleton. Spooked, I draped my coat and scarf over the bones for every lesson. A creative writer, my instructor encouraged me to channel my fear into a horror fiction tale. You’ll find plenty of skeletons in Twilight Healer, Steel Rose, and City of Brotherly Death. Ditto for the sequels to Steel Rose.
So what’s your personal demon? Which monster motivates you to write horror fiction? I look forward to hearing about your experiences.
I’m offering a signed copy of Steel Rose (first prize) and copy of Night to Dawn 26 (second prize) to a random commenter. Overseas winners will receive Starbucks gift cards and PDF copies.
Marge Simon has mastered many talents – poetry, art, editing, short stories, and…cooking. She edits the journal Star*Line. Her collaboration on Vectors: A Week in the Death of a Planet with Charlee Jacob won a Bram Stoker Award in 2008. She has received the Rhysling Award for her poetry, and the James award for her illustrations. When she’s not writing or painting, she enjoys catering to the monsters we know and love and will be happy to share her recipe for Zombie’s Delight. So tonight, I will chat with Marge about her writing and other talents.
BARBARA: That meal you’ve got going is a zombie’s delight. So yes, you’ve got me curious about the recipe.
MARGE: All right, Barbara, Zombie’s Delight is a secret family recipe which I’ve been given permission to reveal only once:
Purchase hand fresh from your local Hand Stand. Make sure it is tender by pinching the skin. A male hand, bone in, is best; some female hands, if adequate, will suffice.
Prep hand with garlic salt. Boil five minutes on medium heat. Drain juice, put aside.
Place in large kettle. Combine 2 cups chopped celery, 1/2 cup diced liverwurst, 6 used bandages (preferably gauze), 1/3 cup toenail clippings, 1 egg, slightly beaten, 5 cups watery plasma, 2 tbsp. Saki, 1 cup wallpaper paste. Pour over hand. Cover. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. You’ll know when it has the right consistency. Remove from heat. Chill one hour. Pour or scrape into baking pan. Bake at 350 degrees for about 3-5 hours, or until the aroma becomes overwhelming.
Serve warm with the au jus you set aside and probably forgot about.
BARBARA: Moving onto writing – I noticed you used your own illustrations for Vectors as you did with Artist of Antithesis. Many publishers prefer to assign their own cover art to their books. How did you approach the publisher about using your own?
MARGE: In both cases you mention, the editor/publisher knew I was/am an artist. In fact, I’ve never had a problem with providing cover art for my collections. As fate may bring luck, I’ve also illustrated five Bram Stoker winners. But I don’t for a minute think that it was on the strength of my art that the publication won.
BARBARA: How did collaborating work out for you and Charlee Jacob during your work on Vectors? What are the advantages and disadvantages of collaboration?
MARGE: Here’s how it happened. Charlee had written a series of poems about an apocalyptic virus that went global, infecting every mortal on this planet. In May of 2007, she invited me to join her as a kindred voice in this collection, as I have written numerous poems along the same lines.
Problems with collaborations? Charlee and I had no problems between us. If you want me to make this more exciting, Charlee and I had crazed fits and vowed to never to speak to each other again. I refused to change a single word, and so did she. But that isn’t so.
BARBARA: From what I’ve seen in Night to Dawn, you wear several hats: illustrator, poet, and fiction writer. Which one do you like best?
MARGE: I like them all. I also wear an editor’s hat (for Star*Line, digest for the SF Poetry Association). Then there is my TV talk show: DEADLY SURVIVORS and my Food Channel show: DYING TO EAT.
Oh, as for the other hats–I love multitasking. I’m happiest having something going in all departments.
BARBARA: I notice that you’ve collaborated with other artists for the Night to Dawn illustrations. How does collaborating work for illustrations, especially if you and the other artist live miles apart?
MARGE: Cathy Buburuz (Saskatchewan, Canada) and I “met” thanks to ETOU magazine, about 1989. I was so intrigued by a cover she did, I had to get acquainted. We started collaborating long distance snail mail in the 90’s. I thought her excellent designs would work well with my (then) stylized pen/ink line and vice versa. She agreed, and for about a decade, we continued to work on art–mostly dark fantasy. She would send me about five or more unfinished compositions or vice versa. Cathy marketed our collaborations both in the USA and abroad. It was a wonderful experience, which continues with our work that she still has available.
Today, you don’t need to wait weeks to do collaborations, thanks to the Internet. I can’t think of anyone else that I’ve collaborated with in a long time, and I don’t do digital art, though I now use Photoshop for enhancing my paintings/illustrations.
BARBARA: What has been the most challenging part of the writing/illustration process?
MARGE: Leaping off very small buildings (outhouses) to get attention on U-Tube. Singing shocking songs in London Square. Pointing at my own paintings/book display, saying, “OMG!!”
Seriously, “challenging” is a personal word for me. I challenge myself. I know what I think I can do. Sometimes it’s a nice surprise. Other times, I see I’ve gone over the top and need to scrap it.
Writing a novel would be a real challenge for me. But I’ve always tended to write flash fiction–that’s a fun challenge. A book would be too much like work, and besides, I’ve a short attention span. (That is my excuse, anyway!)
BARBARA: When did you first get into writing? Where did you get your first credit?
MARGE: If you mean professionally, that’s hard to say. I’d guess somewhere in the mid-80’s. Which makes me old enough to be a witch. My first big (to me) credit was Bradley Strahan’s Visions, Black Buzzard Press. It was an all SF theme, and I’d never written a SF poem until that time –never even heard of one. Wrote one anyway. He took it. After that, I got into Amazing Stories with poetry. Around the same time, I started doing pen/ink stylized art –mostly dark which was well-accepted. My style and media are constantly evolving; I prefer watercolor with oil or watercolor pencils nowadays.
BARBARA: Which contemporary authors would you recommend to readers who love dark fantasy?
MARGE: Peter Beagle, Harlan Ellison, Charles Beaumont, Ted Sturgeon, Kurt Vonnegut, Bruce Boston, Gene O’Neill, Stephen King, Elizabeth Massie, Cormac McCarthy, to name a few writers of dark sf and fantasy. I know this may be contradictory, considering my recipe and lifestyle, but horror per se doesn’t appeal to me.
BARBARA: What do you believe the future holds for dark fantasy and supernatural thrillers? Will ebooks replace paperbacks, do you think?
MARGE: Don’t know. But as for what I hope–NO. A book is to be held and cradled, if you will. A book can be laid down on a surface where you know what it is by the cover and then you pick it up and start reading it again. You can have a personal relationship while reading it. A book has its own smell. It gives you secrets.
BARBARA: What advice would you give to aspiring authors and illustrators?
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.