Showing posts with label Interviews. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Interviews. Show all posts

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Janeen Webb - Interview by SE

The Dragon's Child - 2018 
by Janeen Webb


It is not intuitive to seek beauty in art deemed grotesque/weird, but most authors who produce horror/fantasy are usually (a) serious about their craft, and (b) driven my strange muses.  These interviews engage contemporary authors & artists on the theme of  “Beauty in Weird Fiction"  This one features Janeen Webb, award-winning fantasy author and lover of vintage weird fiction. 

Janeen Webb can spin a a fantastic tale for the young-adult (YA) crowd as well as for adult acolytes of  weird-fiction (see below excerpt from "A Pearl Beyond Price" which involves beach sex with Cthulhu-esque tentacles!). She is clearly haunted by Eros, and compelled by a weird-but-beautiful muse. 


Let us learn a bit from her experienced voice & ear. Some of my favorite lines are highlighted by me, SE. You may never look at red roses the same way ever again!

BIO: Janeen Webb is a multiple award-winning author, editor, and critic who has written or edited ten books and over a hundred essays and stories. She is a recipient of the World Fantasy Award, the Peter MacNamara SF Achievement Award, the Australian Aurealis Award, and is a four-time winner of the Ditmar Award. Her short fiction has appeared in a wide range of magazines and anthologies, as well as a number of Best of the Year collections. Her own collection, Death at the Blue Elephant, (Ticonderoga Publications) was shortlisted for the 2015 World Fantasy Award. Her longer fiction includes a series of novels for young adult readers, The Sinbad Chronicles, (HarperCollins, Australia). Her latest book is The Dragon's Child, due for June release from PS Publications. She is also co-editor, with Jack Dann, of the influential Australian anthology Dreaming Down-Under. Janeen has also co-authored several non-fiction works with Andrew Enstice. These include Aliens and Savages; The Fantastic Self; and an annotated new edition of Mackays 1895 scientific romance, The Yellow Wave. Janeen is internationally recognized for her critical work in speculative fiction. Her criticism has appeared in most of major journals and standard reference works, as well as in several collections of scholarly articles published in Australia, the USA, and Europe. She was co-editor of Australian Science Fiction Review, and reviews editor for Eidolon. She holds a PhD in literature from the University of Newcastle. Janeen divides her time between Melbourne and a small farm overlooking the sea near Wilsons Promontory, Australia.

1)      Hearing/reciting Weird Beauty

SE: We were introduced on a panel about “The Eternally Difficult (but Fascinating) Writers ” at the 2016World Fantasy Convention in which you, on the fly/unscripted, recited the poetic introduction to E.R.R. Edison’s 1935 Mistress of Mistress. The following year at the next WFC, you participated in a Lord Dunsany reading. There is no doubt that you hold esteem for aural beauty of weird fiction. Many questions emerge from this: How does listening/reciting help convey beauty? With the rise of audible books, hearing fiction is becoming popular and accessible: any perspective on this?  What works do you like to hear, recited by whom?

JW: I do, indeed, love the beauty of words. We are all hard-wired to respond to the inherent sounds that words on the page represent. The music they make determines how we understand meaning. We know, instinctively, how this works: in everyday situations we listen for clues in tone and delivery, and we react accordingly. Even the most neutral words change meaning according to context: an angry person breaks them into short, sharp shocks; politicians use sound bites that snap their jaws at us; loved ones reassure us with softer, longer phrases. In literature, the pace and patterning of words on the page tells us how to read the text, and it often helps to read it aloud. Some poets, like Gerard Manley Hopkins (one of my favourites), are impossible to appreciate if you don't read them aloud. Hopkins is a good case in point here: his subject matter is often very dark, but the music of his writing is superb. As writers, I think we all strive for nuanced beauty.  

Fantasy writers have always used the music of words to great effect. Tolkien, for example, created whole languages to differentiate his characters: compare the mellifluous, silvery tones of Elvish with the harsher language of the Dwarves and the terrifying sounds of the monosyllables that come out of Mordor.  The point I was making on the WFC panels is that "difficult" writers such as Eddison and Dunsany are worth persevering with for the sheer beauty of their language. Hearing works such as Mistress of Mistresses read aloud changes the way we respond to them, and I think that the relaxed process of engaging with talking books is bringing storytellers closer to their audiences once again. We all grew up listening to stories - why wouldn't we want to keep hearing them?

My choice for which vintage voice actor I like best is Richard Burton: I love his old recording of Dylan Thomas' Under Milk Wood, but my all-time favourite is his narration of H.G. Wells' classic SF novel, The War of the Worlds, for Jeff Wayne's extraordinary 1978 musical version. Burton's reading still makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. I've been driving around listening to it lately because I've just finished writing a new, Australian-flavoured take on War of the Worlds - "Apostles of Mercy" - for an anthology slated for publication towards the end of this year. It was great fun to write.

2)      Erotic Muses

SE: Your collection of weird stories, Death at the Blue Elephant features most every type of tale imaginable: from Lewis Carroll-like fairytales, to contemporary horror (the titular story), to Lovecraftian Mythos, Arthurian legends, historical fantasy, Faustian deals, and Phillip-Dick-like Sci-Fi. Great stuff, with a bent toward mature readers. Especially since most exhibit a dose of eroticism with horrific undertones (i.e., the title story, Niagara Falling, & Red City). Does Eros haunt you? Please discuss blending of beauty/attraction with horror. What scares you? Is it beautiful?

Henry Fuseli's The Nightmare - 1781
JW: Does Eros haunt me? Of course, it does. Seth introduced me as a lover of vintage weird, which is pretty accurate: the description immediately makes me think of Fuseli's famous painting of a grotesque creature crouched on the chest of a woman sprawled in sleep - The Nightmare - made real. My own work is like that. I often literalize the metaphors that haunt the modern psyche - as, for example, in the title story "Death at the Blue Elephant", where Death has chosen to manifest as a goth-chic, stalking her ill-fated clients in a trendy cafe-bar. And this avatar of Death is a very naughty girl.

The two great driving forces of literature are Eros and Thanatos, sex and death, and the one begets the other. It could hardly be otherwise. The two are hopelessly entwined. Repulsion is the underside of attraction, and you can't have one without the other. We prettify basic human instincts, but even the most cliched images of romantic love are saturated with darker sexual truths: if you think about it, that gorgeously symbolic bouquet of red roses is actually a bunch of the sexual organs of plants, severed and tied up with ribbons. What you see is just a question of how you choose to look at it, and whether or not you're prepared to peer beyond the rose-colored lenses of convention.

I'm a fan of the metaphysical poets, with their dark insistence on mortality - think of John Donne, posing in his shroud for a sculptor. I'm a fan of the sheer sex-and-death mayhem that characterises Jacobean tragedy. And I'm a fan of Romantic/Gothic sensibility: the erotic haunting of Seth's question is a particularly Gothic concept, encompassing the attraction of the forbidden, most usually embodied in creatures such as vampires - where sexual embrace also enfolds the false immortality of life-in-death. Living forever is attractive, but at what cost? It's a Frankenstein question, and one that increasingly haunts modern medicine.

My stories engage with the emotional truths we don't often care to acknowledge. What scares me most is routine cruelty camouflaged as mundane behaviour: scratch the surface of perceived reality, look into the shadows - you will find the worst abuses delivered with a bureaucratic smile, glossed over by socially acceptable cliches. And if that doesn't scare you, it should.

3)      Self-reflection

SE: Do you find beauty in your weird fiction? Dissect an example.

JW: That's a hard thing to ask a writer to do: the fiction should speak for itself. But the short answer to your question is "yes" - I do find beauty in writing weird fiction. How could I not? Stories are organic things: I'm not sure any writer really knows exactly how they are formed - I am often surprised by the way they twist and turn, sometimes shocked by the decisions my characters make. I'm reluctant to dissect a story, to take it apart, but I can give you a short "weird-but-beautiful" example from a recent one. I've chosen "A Pearl Beyond Price," partly because it won this year's Ditmar Award (Australia's National F&SF Award), and partly because it was written for the 2017 Cthulhu Deep Down Under Anthology, and it doesn't get much weirder than that.

"A Pearl Beyond Price" is a lyrical horror story - a variation on Beauty and the Beast. My inspiration for it was Hokusai's famous woodblock print, "The Dream of the Fisherman's Wife" - I saw the original when the British Museum staged an exhibition of Japanese Shunga a few years ago.

My protagonist is a pearl fisher from a remote coastal settlement, a lonely girl who responds to the overtures of a monster - a telepathic creature from the Cthulhu universe that exists in the deeps of the ocean. I've tried to capture the ecstasy that Hokusai portrays, and combined it with the high weirdness of the Lovecraftian mythos (not that Hokusai's image isn't already strange). You can see how the story reads from this excerpt:
"Michiko reclined against a rocky ledge, marveling at her experience. She knew she had not imagined it the ring that now encircled her finger was proof enough of that. She lolled further back, letting the warm wavelets wash over her quivering limbs. It had been an exhausting dive. She pulled off her bandana, freeing her long black hair to tumble about her naked shoulders, its curling strands mingling with the red and brown sea wrack that swirled about her on the sand. She leaned on one elbow, feeling the kiss of the sun on her face, feeling the salt drying on her exposed skin, feeling her nipples harden in the breeze. Her senses stirred. She was still thinking about the monster, still re-living her strange encounter, a meeting that had been frightening and exhilarating all at once.
And as she lay there, the creature that lived beneath the sea put out a long tentacle to find her again. She accepted its touch, pretending not to notice its questing progress up her white thigh .... "

There's nothing even remotely creepy about this lonely girl abandoning herself to an erotic moment on a secluded beach: it's part of the natural world she inhabits, and she accepts the gift of pleasure the monster offers her in the spirit in which it is given. The true horror of her story only unfolds when a ship arrives, and sailors become entangled in her life. The story asks the eternal question: "which is the true monster?"  In this case, is it the man who attacks Michiko, or the hideous creature who defends her? The idea of the monster as hero runs through a lot of modern fantasy, and this story draws upon it in various twisty ways.

You can read "A Pearl Beyond Price" in Cthulhu Deep Down Under, Vol.1, edited by Steve Proposch, Christopher Sequeira, & Bryce Stevens, (IFWG Publishing Australia, Melbourne, 2017).   Cthulhu Deep Down Under Vol 1 has just won the 2018 Australian Dark Shadows Award  for Best Horror Anthology, and is  available online (link).



4)      Muses and Writer’s block?

SE: Death at the Blue Elephant has explicit call-outs to artists, including “The Sculptor’s Wife” in which a sculptor literally carves his wife from stone, and Blake’s Angel” has a creative writer craft listens to angels sing to overcome writer’s block. Blake also wrote while being naked. For the sake of keeping the interview interesting, can you confirm that you take after Blake? As in: do you listen to angels, somehow, and have ways to overcome writers block?

Death at the Blue Elephant
JW: Writing naked? In this climate? I don't think so. But if you look beyond the inconveniences of physicality, the writing process strips us all bare to the soul, so in that sense, yes, we are all writing naked. William Blake just actualized the metaphor, taking tea naked in the garden with the archangel Gabriel. It's a wonderful image of creativity.

Ursula Le Guin once said that "those who refuse to believe in dragons are often eaten by them - from the inside." It's the same with angels. And all the creatures from all the mythologies that speak to us in the depths of our souls. Refuse to listen to them at your peril - they'll eat you alive.

Writer's block is a tricky thing. It seems to happen when the story isn't holding together, or when I'm not! But I'm always working on multiple projects, so my way of dealing with it is to put the piece aside and work on something else until I figure out what the problem is. Sometimes this takes quite a while - one of my YA protagonists was stuck in a swamp on the Nile delta for ages till I found a way to get her out again. I'm sure she was pleased to move on - I certainly was.

I'm one of those authors who doesn't write in a straight line from beginning to end - I often write dramatic sequences, or tease out subplots, then stitch all the pieces together later - I always know how my stories will end, but rarely how they'll get there, so  I just work away at different bits until the thing comes clear. Or not. Not everything works. Some things end up in the "maybe later, maybe never" file. It's the nature of the writing beast.

5)      New Works

SE: Your Novella, The Dragon's Child, is slated for release about now (June 2018 via PS Australia). Please tell us about it.

JW: I really enjoyed writing The Dragon's Child. Here's what it says on the cover:

Meet the shapeshifting dragons of Hong Kong. Adept at passing for human, they are the kind of dragons you'd find at a Gatsby party - charming, sophisticated, glamorous, outrageously wealthy - and utterly ruthless. Nothing, it seems, can challenge their privileged lives - until Lady Feng leaves one of her eggs to be raised by human foster parents in a remote mountain village. The dragon child hatches. Born with dragon power, raised with human emotion, this child is trouble. And his powers are growing...


PS Publishing have made this a fabulous hardcover package: beautiful cover art by Greg Bridges, wonderful design and layout by Michael Smith - even the endpapers are golden dragon scales. I've never looked so good in print! Thanks, guys.


The Dragon's Child - 2018 by Janeen Webb
The Dragon's Child is a seriously different take on the eternal struggle between humanity and dragon kind.  I've moved the age-old conflict from the battlefield to the board room. A cave full of glittering treasure is just so old fashioned: why would modern dragons bother collecting mere gold and gems if they can own banks and casinos? Or control multinational corporations? Our current international trade structure of perpetual wealth creation is a dragon's dream - and clearly, the Dragons are in control, guarding their positions as jealously as they ever protected their ancient hoards. I like the idea that all the cold-blooded monetary decisions are being made by actual reptiles - it makes a certain sense, don't you think? And the humans don't even know they are there - how could we? Compared with dragons, humans are such a short-lived species, and our greed makes us so very vulnerable to flattery, bribery, corruption, and judiciously applied blackmail.

My shapeshifting Hong Kong business dragons are a fusion of east and west, a mix of myth and fable and fairytale for the modern world. And they are gorgeous! If Faberge's exquisitely crafted eggs were to hatch, my dragons are what would emerge: the child of the title is Gold-Jade, his sister is Ruby-Gold, his cousin is Amethyst-Jade, and so on. The matriarch of the dynasty, the eminently despisable Lady Feng, is pure gold, scales and eyes; but her breeding partner is the Jade-Ruby dragon, a huge male with jade green scales and a ruby red underbelly. You get the idea: they are beautiful, and deadly. The Dragon's Child is a story of revenge, greed, and retribution - a deliberate blend of fable and dynastic thriller. And yes, I have already written a second book: A Dynasty of Dragons (currently with my agent). The next one is already haunting me, waiting to hatch. Dragons are such demanding creatures!

The Dragon's Child is available online at: www.pspublishing.co.uk

You can read a sneak preview at: http://www.pspublishing.co.uk/blog/2018/05/14/sneak-peek-extract-the-dragons-child-by-janeen-webb/ 

6)      Artistic Team

SE: Writing is often thought of as a solo art, unlike movie production which requires a team and in which “creative differences” often plagues production. You and Jack Dann seemed to partner well and gather awards, especially for anthologies on dreaming: i.e.,  Dreaming Down Under and Dreaming in the Dark.  What’s your take on creating solo art versus team projects, and shared muses?

JW: We all have that image in our minds, don't we? The romantic figure of the lonely writer
toiling away alone, penning a masterpiece in a cobwebbed garret. But writing is a collaborative art. A writer requires a whole complex process of editing, printing, distribution and so on to reach an audience - there are a lot of people involved in getting a book out. It's not always a comfortable experience for the writer - Samuel R Delaney famously remarked that the role of an editor was to insert microdisimprovements in the text - but nevertheless, the process is there. The advent of Indie publishing circumvents some of the steps for some writers, but the physical issues of printing, distribution, and so on still require the involvement of others. And we shouldn't forget the huge army of IT professionals who create and provide the platforms that make possible our e-books and online presence.

Most of my collaborative works have been non-fiction: I've co-authored several books with fellow literary historian Andrew Enstice. For me, collaboration on non-fiction is much less confronting than co-writing fiction because it allows a certain distance between the writer and the subject matter. Collaboration on anthologies works in much the same way, in that the editors are collecting and weaving together the stories of other writers, and so they have space to step back from the works themselves. My collaboration with Jack Dann on the ground-breaking Dreaming Down-Under anthology was a huge undertaking, but our combination of skills proved very successful - we won a lot of awards, and kick-started a lot of Australian careers - so it's something we can be proud of. (The Dreaming of the title refers to the idea that writing and reading fiction is a kind of waking dream.)
  
Collaboration between writers on creative manuscripts is a different thing, and the process is not always immediately apparent to the reader - a good case in point would be Ezra Pound's silent editing of TS Eliot's The Wasteland to produce the poem in its final form. But when there are two (or more) writers overtly working on fiction together, when we all have skin in the game, things can get very gnarly! I'm a relative newcomer to writing fiction, and I'd only published a couple of stories before I tried a collaboration with Jack Dann: it was OMNI Magazine's Keith Ferrell who suggested we write together for his Japanese Futures anthology. Jack enjoys collaborating: he has published a lot of co-authored works, and he's amazingly good at it. But for me it was an incredibly steep learning curve. The stories were very successful - "Niagara Falling" is still being reprinted - but we were barely on speaking terms by the time we'd finished it. A case, perhaps, of angst creating art, but at the time I felt it wasn't for me, and I went back to writing solo fiction.

Years later, I'm only just trying fictional collaboration again, but in a very different way. Under the guidance of Clio, muse of history, I've been working with Andrew Enstice once more - this time on a counterfactual history in novel form, The City of the Sun, where the facts are true, but the outcomes are different. This is history with a twist, a story of a world that might have been if we had persevered with solar energy - which was perfectly possible, given that successful solar-powered steam engines were invented in the 1870s (and the biggest solar array in the world was built in Egypt in 1913 - just in time to be destroyed in World War I). So: do things really have to be as they are? Of course not. City of the Sun is a future you'll wish we'd had. Stay tuned...

And so, when all's said and done, my take on solo versus team art is positive. It's always challenging to write with another author, and that, ultimately, is a productive - if sometimes painful - process for all concerned. I'm sticking with it.

7)      Other Arts

SE: Beyond writing, do you practice other arts (music, drawing, etc.)? If so, can we share any examples online (mp3’s, images, etc.). Otherwise, can you discuss other art/artists that inspire you?

JW: Gardening! One of my current passions is landscape gardening - another collaborative art. I have a 4 acre garden in a stunning part of the world, so I have plenty to work with: I've been planting for wildlife as well as for visual and seasonal effect, and I now co-habit with an extraordinary diversity of birds and animals. Apart from occasional territorial disputes - I've needed, for example, to establish firm boundaries with my resident wombat - things are reasonably harmonious.

[SE Sidebar: there is an interesting/disturbing connection between gardening and the analogy above for bouquets of severed genitalia! Further inquiry has revealed that JW grows a formal rose garden and keeps a vase on her desk for her beautiful victims--to inspire writing.]

Gardening is a four-dimensional art form, truly existing in a space-time continuum. It draws on three dimensional physical space to be created and understood, it involves all the senses, but it also requires the fourth dimension - time. Gardens are never fixed: they change constantly, they mature, and the creator must plan for future growth as well as for seasonality.

In that sense, gardening is very like writing: the author creates the blueprint from which stories may emerge into the world.  A bulb - say a tulip or a daffodil - is a storage matrix for a set of coded DNA instructions which lie dormant until the right circumstances are met - soil, water, season, etc -  at which point a plant can emerge and flower before it dies back to dormancy. In much the same way, printed words on a page exist physically, but they are only ever symbolic representations, the DNA matrix of meaning from which a reader can construct the story - the words lie dormant until the reader decodes them, at which point the story comes alive for the time it is being read or heard. It can exist, unread, for unlimited time, and bloom afresh when it is rediscovered and read anew.

Gosh! I think I've just created a new literary theory: "Bulb Theory". That was unexpected. I wonder if it will catch on?



8)    SE: You have a love for travelling – do you follow any geographic muse?

JW: I love airports - and docks, and railway stations - all the places that give me a sense of going somewhere new. But how to choose from all those exotic possibilities scrolling down the departure screens? Being of a literary turn of mind, I follow the stories: I often set out to track down the physical locations embedded in myths, legends and folktales. I've been learning how to read landscape - it's surprisingly complex.

I travel around with my rather battered paperback copy of the Penguin Atlas of the Ancient World, invaluable for identifying what places used to be called. How else, for example, could a traveller guess that Halicarnassus (site of the Necropolis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World) is now the Turkish tourist resort of Bodrum? The issues are not always just a case of re-naming - geography also changes over time, as for example, the old port city of Ephesus (where the ruins of the famous Temple of Artemis still stand) is now several miles inland. Still, it was fun to follow Odysseus's route from Troy to Ithaca: the distances between the islands are surprisingly short - at least from an Australian perspective.

Like most travellers, I delight in the opportunities that sometimes just pop up - I accepted serendipitous invitations that led me into the ruins of King Minos' palace on Crete, into Charlemagne's tomb in Aachen, Germany, and into Philip of Macedon's tomb outside Thessaloniki; I've stayed in Kafka's room in Vienna, and in Dorothy Parker's Algonquin Hotel in New York; I've visited the Seven Sleepers Den in rural Turkey and the  cave of Brahma high up in the Himalayas, near Kulu. But the best finds are not always quite so hard to get to: I was absolutely delighted to track down Thomas the Rhymer's famous crossroads near the Roman hill fort of Trimontium in the Scottish lowlands, to dine in the pub at Queensferry on the Firth of Forth where Robert Louis Stevenson wrote Kidnapped, and to walk the hills of Thomas Hardy's Wessex, novel in hand.

I hope to keep following the literary muse for a long time yet: I have such a lot to learn.


9) SE: Any comments on your Sinbad series (I have a Sword & Sorcery following too)  

JW: My Young Adult series, The Sinbad Chronicles (HarperCollins) begins when Cynthia Lee Mariner, a girl who loves windsurfing, finds a strange bottle on the shore of Redhead Beach and releases a gorgeous genie - King Sinbad - who grants her the traditional three wishes. The first book, Sailing to Atlantis,  takes us firstly to the magic isles, where Sinbad frees the very grumpy magic carpet who becomes Cyn's trusted companion on her journeys to Atlantis and Xanadu. The second book, The Silken Road to Samarkand, follows Cyn's hair raising adventures as she journeys with Carpet to Circe's Island to rescue her friend Megan, before they follow the fabled Silk Road to the ancient city of Samarkand.

These books have been out of print for a while now (though a few are still available) but I've had so many requests about "what happens next" that I've just written a third book, Flying to Babylon. I'm hoping this will mean the full trilogy will be available, but I don't have a publisher for it yet. Fingers crossed.






Answers Copyright Janeen Webb, June 2018.


Monday, September 18, 2017

John R. Fultz Interview by S.E. Lindberg

It is not intuitive to seek beauty in art deemed grotesque/weird, but most authors who produce horror/fantasy actually are usually (a) serious about their craft, and (b) driven by strange muses.  These interviews engage contemporary authors & artists on the theme of "Art & Beauty in Weird/Fantasy Fiction."

This one features weird fiction author John R. Fultz, who is a sorcerer in his own right [being an illustrator too!].  Learn about his past graphic necromancy (SKULLS) and his future releases (Veneration... and Son of Tall Eagle)!



John R. Fultz - Interview

SEL) Who the Hell are you anyway?   

JRF: My name is John R. Fultz, and I'm a storyteller. My latest novel, THE TESTAMENT OF TALL EAGLE, is available now from Ragnarok Publications, and a sequel called SON OF TALL EAGLE is set for release in June 2018. My “Books of the Shaper” trilogy includes the novels SEVEN PRINCES, SEVEN KINGS, and SEVEN SORCERERS (Orbit/Hachette). THE REVELATIONS OF ZANG (01Publishing/FantasticBooks) collects 12 dark fantasy tales set in the magical World of Zang. I live in the North Bay Area, California, but I'm originally from Kentucky. My short fiction has appeared in anthologies such as YEAR'S BEST WEIRD FICTION, SHATTERED SHIELDS, THE WAY OF THE WIZARD, CTHULHU'S REIGN, THE BOOK OF CTHULHU II, THAT IS NOT DEAD, and DEEPEST, DARKEST EDEN: NEW TALES OF HYPERBOREA. I've also had stories in magazines such as BLACK GATE, WEIRD TALES, WEIRDBOOK, LIGHTSPEED, and SPACE & TIME. I've written comics for Boom Studios' ZOMBIE TALES and CTHULHU TALES. My graphic novel of epic fantasy PRIMORDIA (illustrated by the great Roel Wielinga) was published by Archaia Comics in an "ultimate hardcover edition" in 2012. 

SEL #1 Weird Role Models: Your author notes, blogs, and Facebook posts all mark your reverence for weird fiction writers such as Clark Ashton Smith (1893- 1961) and Darrell Schweitzer. CAS was one of Lovecraft and Howard’s pen pals and compatriots in Weird Tales; and Darrell Schweitzer has been a flagship short story “weirdo” (compliment) for decades going. Can you discuss how their short-story methods & tales have informed your novel-length works?

JRF: I started out writing short stories like most novelists. There are a few who go straight to novels, but I think they’re a rare breed. I started writing fiction seriously in college thanks to two factors:

  1.  My creative writing classes forced me to create new stories with actual deadlines—and I discovered the workshopping process of how writers share stories and provide useful feedback to one another. 
  2. The Terminus version of WEIRD TALES magazine was going strong at that time under the editorship of Darrell Schweitzer and George Scithers—who won a World Fantasy Award during their tenure on the mag.

 I would read new and back issues of WT and be crazy-inspired by them at the same time I was reading Robert Silverberg’s WORLDS OF WONDER and discovering the great sci-fi writers such as Aldiss, Kuttner, and Vance. There was also a great anthology I acquired at the time called WEIRD TALES: THE MAGAZINE THAT NEVER DIES, edited by Marvin Kaye, and it turned me on to some of the best stuff in the magazine’s long history (including my first Tanith Lee tale, “The Sombrus Tower”). I started workshopping my “weird” stories in class, then sending them to WEIRD TALES. I got rejected again and again, but I always got terrific feedback from Darrell. He wrote personalized rejections with actual advice on how to make the writing better. I had never met this man in person, but I could tell he really cared and wanted to see me succeed. 

Cut to 15 years later and I finally managed to write a story worthy of publication—Darrell was impressed and wanted to buy it for WEIRD TALES. I hadn’t submitted every single year, but for a decade-and-a-half I’d been trying to crack this market because I loved WEIRD TALES above all other fiction mags. This was in early 2004 when I finally succeeded with a story called “The Persecution of Artifice the Quill” (WT #340, 2005). It was my first and only appearance in the magazine, but it set me on the path to writing and selling more stories. I did sell two more stories to Darrell and George before the magazine came under new management and my stories were quickly forgotten. Luckily, I found a new home for my best stories at BLACK GATE magazine, where John O’Neill had become the new “editor to impress.” After a few years of hustling short stories here and there, and eventually completing my first complete story-cycle (i.e. THE REVELATIONS OF ZANG), I was ready to move on to writing novels. Again, Darrell encouraged me in this wholeheartedly from afar. Reading WT had turned me on to writers like Tanith Lee, Thomas Ligotti, Lord Dunsany, H.P. Lovecraft, and others. Discovering Tanith Lee was a thunderbolt moment for me—I started seeking out her books whenever possible. My favorite is probably DEATH’S MASTER, but she wrote so many masterpieces.

I might not have stuck to it without Darrell’s encouragement across all those years of rejected stories. I wouldn’t have trusted his advice so much if I didn’t love his work so much. All Schweitzer fans know this already, but he’s one of the greatest living fantasy writers, and a real master of the short story form. His novel MASK OF THE SORCERER ranks with any of the genre’s greatest works, but he’s most comfortable writing short stories. I’m the opposite—I feel way more comfortable writing novels, but I still have to crank out a short story now and then. I should mention that I had grown up a fan of Robert E. Howard and Clark Ashton Smith, having discovered their work at the age of 9 or 10 in both comics and paperbacks. This was years before I came across WEIRD TALES. I used to scan every used bookstore I found for Clark Ashton Smith books, which weren’t always easy to find. This was in Kentucky where I grew up. Now, ironically, I live about an hour’s drive from Auburn, California, where Smith wrote most of those amazing stories and poems. If anything, my discovering WEIRD TALES in college only solidified, enhanced, and expanded my tastes in the fantasy and horror genres, at a time when I was also imbibing the history of science fiction via Silverberg, Ellison, and a new bloke named William Gibson. NEUROMANCER was another thunderbolt.




SEL #2) The Art of Shaping: Books of the Shaper trilogy is accessible, epic, weird fantasy: it’s sorcery is based on “shaping.” Please describe how shaping works and describe the “craft/art” behind the sorcery.

JRF: Actually, that’s a common misperception. In The Shaper Trilogy, there is only one “Shaper” and his name is Iardu. He’s a sorcerer of great power and a rather mysterious figure who haunts and “shapes” the history of mankind. He may be far more than that as well, but I don’t want to give any spoilers. The sorcery in these books isn’t confined to any one “system”—I believe magic and sorcery should be kept somewhat mysterious, lying just beyond the layman’s ability to understand. I mean if you could really understand magic then it wouldn’t be magic, would it? It would be science, where everything is laid out in formulae and based on empirical evidence. Magic/Sorcery should be the opposite of that—a dance with dark forces beyond the ken of men; a manipulation of reality and its obscure forces through the power of transcendent language; the mind-over-matter redistribution of atom, molecule, and form by sheer willpower alone. 

Magic and Sorcery in the Shaper Trilogy is all of these things and more. Over the course of the series we see at least three different characters go through “training” periods where they learn the art of sorcery—and each person’s journey is completely different. One unsavory fellow uses blood and shadows to invoke necromancy, another uses naked intent to rearrange the existing patterns of reality itself, and one uses an ancient language of power that can be spoken without sound. There are also entities in the novel who are simply cosmic in nature, so that magic and sorcery is their very lifeblood, creatures of concentrated power who fade and diminish over time into something resembling mortal forms. Often these transfigured cosmic beings forget their true nature as they are swept up in the dream of the living world. So there’s a lot of magic in the Shaper Trilogy, and a lot of different kinds of magic. I used to tell people the trilogy is “way more sorcery than sword.” ‘Cause that’s the way (uh-huh, uh-huh) I like it.


SEL #3)    Happy Horror: I’ve reviewed your short story in Weirdbook#35 “The Man Who Murders Happiness” as being poignant and disturbing (in a good way)! There is a fine line between creating repulsive and pleasant horror. Please discuss how you balance walking that tight rope.

JRF: I mainly work in the fantasy field. However, sometimes I’m inspired to go “full horror” or explore science-fiction concepts. Usually in the case of horror I’m channeling some kind of anxiety or emotional issue—writing horror can be a catharsis—and it can say interesting things that you could never express aloud in simple declaratives. It can peek around the edge of reality and look right into the rusted bloody gears that turn the guts of the world. In the case of “The Man Who Murders Happiness,” I wrote that in the latter part of 2016 when it felt like the world was sliding into darkness. We’re all forced to weather that darkness with all its conflict, hatred, hypocrisy, and incivility. We’re living out that old Chinese curse: “May you live in interesting times.” On top of all this, our leaders have conned us into an Endless War. That’s one of the most terrifying concepts in all of human experience—a war that never ends is literal insanity—and yet our society has bought into it as the new “normal.” 

So my feelings that I was watching the world go mad emerged in that story—it’s brutal, it’s dark, but it echoes the world today. One cannot dwell in existential misery forever, and writing horror stories can be even more liberating than reading them. I think I’ll always dip into horror now and then, even though fantasy remains my first love. Some people are appalled by the horror in my fantasies, but what can I say? I like it dark. The more darkness you have, the brighter the light shines against it.


SEL #4)     What beauty is in any of your weird works?  

JRF: Wow, that’s probably a question for my readers rather than myself. However, I can tell you what I hope comes across as beautiful. In the Shaper Trilogy, I wrote in a lyrical style heavy with imagery. A lot of people have complimented the extraordinary visuals in those books. Others have complained that I “describe too much,” which I’ve never been able to wrap my head around. When you’re reading fantasy, you should be taking in fantastic images—there should be an immersion into the “other”—a descent into the atmosphere of the unreal to the point that it takes on a reality of its own. If you don’t want descriptions of fantastic settings, environments, and locations, you might as well be reading a contemporary crime novel, or any other non-fantasy genre. 

I never have and still don’t enjoy fantasy that doesn’t provide me with fantastic imagery. As Mark Lanegan of the Screaming Trees once sang: “Show me fantastic lands…” I remember a reviewer who said that I was “Trying to write like Clark Ashton Smith,” but this person had never spoken to me, nor had any real idea what I was trying to do. I was only trying to write like myself, so that’s exactly what I did. A lot of modern fantasy—most of it—is written in a rather mundane contemporary style that fails to evoke the fantastic at all. In SEVEN PRINCES and its two sequels I aimed for a timeless style using language neither wholly dated nor wholly modern. The best fantasies and  historical dramas are told in simple, timeless language. It’s a very hard line to walk, and I did the best I could at it. Everything you write is a snapshot of where you are as a writer at that specific moment in time. A writer’s style also evolves over time and from project to project.

My next project, TESTAMENT OF TALL EAGLE, was written in a very different style—a first-person narrative told in the voice of a native American from the late 1700s (yet whose mind had been expanded by magical means, thus enhancing his vocabulary and awareness). Right now I have a “big weird fantasy” novel making the rounds, and it’s written in yet another style. It combines fantasy, horror, sci-fi, weird, and a few other genres to create something unlike any of my previous books. For me, style isn’t a fixed quality, it’s an ongoing natural process of growth and experimentation.

Your question brings up the ideal of “beauty”—it can be found in fantastic realms and the language that evokes them—but it’s also found in certain characters and their journeys. For example, some readers find the love story between Tall Eagle and White Fawn a beautiful thing in TESTAMENT OF TALL EAGLE. Also, language itself can be beautiful, and I always expect the most beautiful language when I’m reading fantasy (as opposed to other genres). Usually my writing attempts to create beauty in the form of strange, fantastic, and otherworldly environments—an immersion into imaginary realms with genuine colors, shapes, and textures. Sometimes, though, it’s finding the fantastic qualities of the mundane world that creates beauty. I’ll take it wherever I can find it.


SEL #5) Fine Arts: CAS was a poet, illustrator, and sculptor; many others interviewed by S.E. have other artistic talents beyond writing.  Do you practice other arts? If so can we share them (i.e., images of fine or graphic art) or mp3s (of music). Likewise, can you discuss how art can from one medium can inform/inspire another?

JRF: Yes, my first goal in life was to be a comic book artist—which I decided in the late 70s at about the age of 6 or 7. So drawing was my first love. HOW TO DRAW COMICS THE MARVEL WAY was my Bible for a while. Then in high school I quit comics and took up the electric guitar. I’ve been playing guitar since I was 15 and played in a few bands in the early 90s—mostly heavy rock with a psychedelic edge. I’ve always had a passion for the Blues as well. I re-discovered my comic art beginnings in ’99 when I started drawing my own dark fantasy comic, NECROMANCY. I worked on that for two years before realizing I was much better at writing than penciling. Eventually I wrote the graphic novel PRIMORDIA for Archaia Studios Press and a couple of 8-page stories for Mark Waid when he was editor at Boom! Studios. Music today is still a major part of my life—I listen to it every day, and I make special playlists when I’m writing. Most of my favorite bands these days are European bands from the stoner/doom scene—but I’m always discovering great new American bands too. They’re out there—you just have to go looking for them these days. Rock ain’t dead, but nobody’s getting rich playing it anymore. Corporate rock, however, is truly dead—and m-m-my generation killed it. That means people are playing rock and roll because they love it and they can’t live without it. (Shout-out to my buddy Jon Davis of CONAN!)

[SIDEBAR: John R. Fultz self-published a graphic novel NECROMANCY, which years later he revised into an online comic called SKULLS (published at BlackGate.com].  Here are the Quick Links:

SEL #6) Writing Styles: In an October 24th 1930 letter to Lovecraft, CAS described his strategy of using aesthetics to heighten the reading experience of his weird works (quote below). As much as I adore CAS’s works, they are a bit dense and less digestible than yours.  What is your take on writing styles and conveying emotion?  
“My own conscious ideal has been to delude the reader into accepting an impossibility, or series of impossibilities, by means of a sort of verbal black magic, in the achievement of which I make use of prose-rhythm, metaphor, simile, tone-color, counter-point, and other stylistic resources, like a sort of incantation. You attain a black magic, perhaps unconsciously, in your pursuit of corroborative detail and verisimilitude. But I fear that I don't always attain verisimilitude in my pursuit of magic! However, I sometimes suspect that the wholly unconscious elements in writing (or other art) are by far the most important.” – CAS 1930. 
JRF: Well, as I stated above I think style isn’t a fixed quotient—at least not for me. It’s an ongoing evolution of thought, process, and expression. One thing I can tell you is that you simply can’t write like CAS these days—people don’t have the patience for highly ornate language—they want easily digestible chunks of prose. But most of my favorite writers have basically said “Screw that! That’s not how I write!” I adore the work of R. Scott Bakker, for example, but some people can’t read him because his prose is “too dense.” Likewise with Tolkien—who all self-respecting fantasy fans should have read—but many people come to the genre and skip right over Tolkien. I remember friends of mine saying the Tolkien’s writing was “boring” or “it moves too slow.” I remember complaints of Tolkien describing what kinds of flowers grew alongside the road. What the hell--? If that’s what the writer needs to complete his or her vision, then by all means put it in there! If you want easily-digestible prose, you’ll have to limit yourself and miss a lot of amazing books/stories. 

It’s okay that writing CHALLENGES the reader sometimes—I read LORD OF THE RINGS when I was in third grade and let me tell you I was challenged by it. I remember reading John Brunner’s “The Things That Are Gods” in Lin Carter’s YEAR’S BEST FANTASY #6 when I was ten. I couldn’t understand it at all. A quarter-century later I read the story and realized its genius. I had to seek out every other Traveler In Black story that Brunner wrote. Luckily they were collected in THE COMPLEAT TRAVELER IN BLACK, and they are amazing. Dense language, fantastical in every way, and built on a foundation of cosmic mystery. Definitely not written for the 10-year-old fantasy fan. At that age I was digging Carter’s Thongor of Lemuria stories in that very same collection. Thongor was kid-friendly with simple language and Conan-esque context, whereas Brunner’s story was in a whole other class: it was legitimate “literature of the fantastic.” 

Anyone who says “I’m a fantasy fan” should also be able to read and enjoy the work of Lord Dunsany. If you read his beautiful prose and complain about his language, than you’re a lazy reader. Sorry, mate. Go read one of those bland mass-market fantasies that sell so well—lord knows there are plenty of them. My ideal way to write fantasy is to use a blend of timeless and contemporary language free of anachronisms. Yet when it comes to sci-fi, horror, and weird fiction, I tend to write in far more contemporary language. Short stories are kind of like experiments where I can play with language, style, and ideas, freed from the greater demands of a cohesive novel.


SEL #7) Art vs. the Artist? Is there a character that you most empathize with or reflects you [King D’zan perhaps (I’m implying you know necromancy)]?
JRF: Not really—although back when I was writing the Shaper Trilogy I suppose I identified most with Lyrilan—a scholar-prince who later becomes a deadly sorcerer. When we meet him in SEVEN PRINCES, he is obsessed with chronicling important events in the book that he’s writing; his brother Tyro is a military commander and his polar opposite. I don’t have a brother, although I am as obsessed with books and writing as Prince Lyrilan ever was.


SEL #8) Weird Muses: Are you driven to escape or capture elements of beauty/horror? In any interview with Gail Z Martin, you offer a geography (California) as being a general inspiration for writing. But when it comes to the weird & horrific, I suspect you draw from other sources. Are you haunted?

JRF: Ha-ha! I suppose all writers are “haunted” to a degree. As I cruise through my late 40s, my biggest goal has been to enjoy life and learn to appreciate every moment. I remember my 20s when I was a “raging youth”—rock guitar gave me a way to rebel and to express my righteous anger at the world. In my 30s I was too busy trying to get my life together to rage against much of anything—but I did turn my life around when I got a teaching degree at 35. Teaching has been the best decision of my life, and my success in that career has enabled me to pursue all of the success I’ve had in writing. I usually write my novels in the summer when I’m not teaching—although the “idea work” continues year-round.

California’s natural beauty does inspire me every single day—and rain inspires me to a tremendous degree. We only get rain in the winter out here, so that’s my favorite season. Finding beauty in the arts—music, film, theatre, literature, always inspires me too. I think great works of art naturally inspire others. Watching a David Lynch movie, for example, inspires the hell out of me every time. When it comes to horrific subjects, I’m not inspired by beauty but by ugliness. Beauty and wonder inspire me to write fantasy, but anxiety and dread inspire me to write horror. If I’m haunted it’s only by the same creeping sense of mortality that haunts everyone in their late 40s. You know you only have so much time left, so you start cutting out the bullshit and focusing on things that really matter. Like enjoying life for what it is—not for the dream you always wished it was.


SEL #9) Sword and Sorcery: Being influenced by REH, it is no surprise that you like heroic adventure.  Can you discuss your upcoming new story-cycle beginning with a tale called "The Veneration of Evil in the Kingdom of Ancient Lies”?
JRF: Oh, yes. “Veneration” is slated for an issue of WEIRDBOOK coming sometime after the October Annual. A while back I was feeling a bit “lost at sea”—it was a transitional period and those can be tough—also general anxiety about the direction in which society was heading. I don’t like to get on a “high horse” or try to sound “holier-than-thou,” but it seems these days that we may have lost our way as a society both morally and spiritually. We are a nation consumed by falsehoods, division, violence, addiction, an increasingly militarized existence, and a culturally fragmented population. I found myself wondering if we had simply forgotten what “good” was and started revering  “evil” instead. Then I found myself thinking how that would make a great fantasy story: an ancient society where evil had long ago replaced goodness and the general populace were too oblivious to see it. How long could such a confused, self-defeating society survive? That became the seed from which grew the story of a conniving poet-thief and his dirty deal with one of the wizards who built this sinister society. The story’s setting is akin to a Eurasian Bronze Age city-state, yet more fantastical in nature. Once I had a lead character to explore, that’s when the real plotting began. Plot is character, character is plot. I don’t want to say anything more about the story for fear of spoilers, but I will reveal that there’s a bitchin’ flying carpet involved.


SEL #10) Cover Art: Son of Tall Eagle, a sequel to Testament of Tall Eagle, is due out in paperback next year (May 2018 Ragnarok). Would love to hear your input on the series. Alex Raspad’s cover art is very engaging. Authors are usually solitary artists; relying on another artist to realize your world is element of beauty/horror in the publication industry. Did you have a chance to work directly with him on these? How did that process go?

JRF: I’m extremely fortunate to have Alex Raspad doing the TALL EAGLE covers—and I owe it all to Ragnarok Publications. They “discovered” Alex—who is a Russian artist—and commissioned several covers from him. I knew when I wrote the second book that we had to have another Raspad cover. I was also lucky that the folks at Ragnarok worked with me very closely on the first cover—I wrote a very detailed description which was passed on to Alex; he did a preliminary rough to show us, then make a couple of tweaks at my suggestion. The result was his gorgeous TESTAMENT OF TALL EAGLE cover: White Fawn’s face floating in the sunset behind Tall Eagle as he flies in search of her. For the SON OF TALL EAGLE cover I also wrote a detailed description and did a very rough sketch. Alex took that and ran with it, once again knocking it out of the park. 

I was also fortunate that Orbit Books hired the brilliant Richard Anderson to do covers for the Shaper books, also based on nothing more than my written descriptions. My favorite of those covers is SEVEN SORCERERS, which I believe is also the best book in the series—as the third book of any trilogy should be. You have to deliver bigtime in the third book, otherwise what’s the point? While the Books of the Shaper were designed to be a self-contained trilogy, I have no specific number of books in mind for the TALL EAGLE series. The TALL EAGLE novels can also be read in any order—each one is a new entry point.

Art by John R Fultz - Conclusion to SKULLS online comic