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

Sunday, May 26, 2024

Horror and Beauty in Edgar Rice Burrough's Work: An Interview with Robert Allen Lupton


We have an ongoing series at Black Gate on the topic of “Beauty in Weird Fiction” where we corner an author and query them about their muses and methods to make ‘repulsive things' become ‘attractive to readers.’ Previous subjects have included Darrell SchweitzerAnna Smith SparkCarol Berg, C.S. Friedman, John R. Fultz, and John C. Hocking (whose Conan and the Living Plague novel is finally due out this June 2024, so you should read that too to get psyched).  Anyway, see the full list of interviews at the end of this post.

This interview focuses on the legendary Edgar Rice Burroughs and an aficionado of his work, Robert Allen Lupton. The latter has published an amazing 2000 articles on, the Official Edgar Rice Burroughs Tribute and Weekly Webzine Site. Robert Allen Lupton is also a writer of 200 short stories, four novels, and six collections of adventure fiction, so this forum serves as a great opportunity to learn about past and present storytelling with a touch of horror in it.

Wednesday, January 31, 2024

“The Magical Power of Art” - Foreword and Interview for The Revelations of Zang


The Revelations of Zang by John R. Fultz. The Rogues in the House Podcast (2023). John Molinero cover art.


The Rogues in the House Podcast, publishers of the Sword & Sorcery anthologies A Book of Blades Vol I and Vol II, now bring us a re-release of John R. Fultz's The Revelations of Zang (available now in Kindle, Paperback, and Hardcover). John R. Fultz is no stranger to Black Gate having published in the hardcopy magazine and hosting his Skulls graphic story and two of his short stories on the website. We recently highlighted a 2017 interview with the author on his approach to creating weird worlds that are both beautiful and dark (reposted on Black Gate Dec. 2023). I was honored to provide the Foreword and Interview for the re-release, and provided those here to reveal what you should expect, and why you should read, The Revelations of Zang!

John R. Fultz has a burgeoning library. His published novels include Seven Princes (2012), Seven Kings (2013), and Seven Sorcerers (2013), as well as The Testament of Tall Eagle (2015) and Son of Tall Eagle (2017). His short stories have appeared in Year’s Best Weird Fiction, Weird Tales, Black Gate, Weirdbook, That Is Not Dead, Shattered Shields, Lightspeed, Way of the Wizard, Cthulhu’s Reign, and plenty of other strange places. His story collections include World Beyond Worlds (2021), Darker Than Weird (2023), and The Revelations of Zang (re-released now, 2023)!  Now, we will reveal to you the secret arcana of that last volume...

“The Magical Power of Art” - Foreword and Interview for The Revelations of Zang

The uninitiated may ask: who the hell is Zang? What is s/he going to reveal to me? Well, Zang is not human. It is the larger portion of the ‘Continent,’ a forest mostly; but the land is so rich in character, it might as well be sentient. This foreword reveals what to expect in The Revelations of Zang collection, avoiding spoilers, and it showcases the behind-the-scenes context of the stories and the author’s rich history with creating illustrated and fantastical worlds.

If Karl Edward Wagner rewrote The Worm Ourborus (E.R. Edison, 1922) for fans of The Dark Crystal (Jim Henson, Frank Oz, 1982) you’d get the Zang Cycle experience. It is tough to blend action-packed adventure with weird milieus, with doses of royal intrigue and epic, elder lore. Wagner delivered this well with his Kane character; i.e., in Darkness Weaves (1978), and “Lynortis Reprise (1961). Fultz excels at this too. The Revelations of Zang is an epic fantasy delivered in pulpy bites. All episodes share a single, coherent story-arc; each successive tale unearths a layer of Zang’s history with a single primary protagonist who performs as a lone-wolf or general in a world war. Each sortie radiates heroic-fiction vibes. Indeed, seven of the twelve were written as standalone stories and published in esteemed journals such as Weird Tales and Black Gate print magazines. Each episode delivers a wondrous ‘wow’, so expect twelve climaxes, not one (as one would with a novel).

This collection follows this tradition with seven of its twelve tales published in magazines. Conversely, there are five tales that are only available in the collection and the sequence is greater than the sum of its parts. The pages are saturated with sorcery and fantastical elements, but do not expect classic tropes likes orcs and elves. The creatures here are freshly crafted, often from corpses or alchemical elements. Lending awe to the world’s gods and monsters is Fultz’s style, which portrays them with accessible, poetic flare–descriptions reminiscent of Tanith Lee or Clark Ashton Smith. The pacing is rapid, akin to Michael Moorcock’s Elric tales, who had a knack for creating novels out of his short stories with his Eternal Champion cycles; Sword & Sorcery readers will sense echoes of the Melnibonéans’ adventures as Quill and Taizo, the two main protagonists, journey across the Continent. Incidentally, there are some powerful, ancient jewels herein that reminded me of Elric’s “Jade Man’s Eyes” (1973) journey, or even Kane’s titular Bloodstone adventurehence the call out to The Dark Crystal above. You’ll learn more about the mystery of sacred, divine gems soon enough.

In The Revelations of Zang, Artifice the Quill (writer of the End of Sorcery) and Taizo (a thief of weird renown) are your tour guides, both depicted by cover artist Josh Finney for the first publication of this collection (2013, Fantastic Books). For this 2023 edition from Rogues in the House Podcast, cover artist John Molinero focuses on Quill and beautifully amplifies the demonic conflict the book delivers on. Meta-themes on how art (theater and books) can affect the outcome of warring civilizations are spotlighted–but don’t expect any less bloodshed and horror that one would get while reading Robert E. Howard. As Don Webb notes in his hilarious foreword to Fultz’s Darker Than Weird - Fourteen Tales of Horror (2022) where he terms the Fultzian approach as being a one-two punch combination: “Come for the horror, leave with deeper questions about history and metaphysics”, expect the same from Fultz’s Zang Cycle.

The back cover blurb hints at the deep undercurrents: “The exiled author [Quill]… learns the magical power of art and the art of magical power.” In the opening chapter, the royal sorcerers arrest Artifice the Quill because of his book The End of Sorcery by sending out their Vizarchs (humanoids with silver masks reminiscent of Fultz’s Skulls graphic novel 2010 Black Gate website). Then characters in “The Liberation of Lady Veronique” story explain the power of the written word; first, Veronique explains: “What is the power of a mere fiction that it can inspire such hatred among the powerful and such passion among the powerless”; and Arfos adds later, “The book [The End of Sorcery]… is a tool… to free mens’ minds. To wake them from the false dream woven about their hearts and minds.” Literally, both speak of Quill’s banned tome, but figuratively the fourth wall is breached: by reading The Revelation of Zang we are promised access to arcane secrets.

Well, it would be evil to disclose actual spoilers ahead of the stories, but we can gain a larger appreciation of the muses motivating the tales, and perhaps enjoy the stories even more, knowing context. As I prepared for this Foreword, I took notes with journalistic fervor, reading this collection, and delving into my 2017 interview-with-Fultz and my review of his World Beyond Worlds. Instead of reporting those notes directly, I used that material to craft intense questions and re-interview the author. We’ll have the embodiment of Artifice the Quill, Fultz himself, disclose over a dozen secrets:


 Kent Burles' illustration for Black Gate's presentation of "Return of the Quill" depicts a performance of Artifice the Quill's Glimmer Faire, an event that prepares the City of Narr for a mystical rebirth.

SEL: Let’s discuss the origins of the Zang Cycle. The story “The Persecution of Artifice the Quill” (Weird Tales #340, 2006) opens the Zang Cycle. In our 2017 interview (link), when asked about your ‘Weird Fiction role models’, we learned this story catalyzed your publishing journey. Witnessing the Zang Cycle, and your portfolio, grow is exhilarating. Please share insights about this catalyst.

JRF: “The Persecution of Artifice the Quill,” which begins this book, was my first professional sale. Not only did the story appear in Weird Tales #340, but I’m pretty sure it got the cover illustration. A dark and menacing piece by the great Les Edwards, which seems to capture the look of the undead Vizarchs chasing after Artifice in his debut story. So, it’s a milestone story for me. I had been trying for many years to sell a story to Weird Tales, so mission accomplished. They bought two more Zang stories before the mag’s management changed, and the next two were not published there after all. Luckily, I moved the Zang series to John O’Neil’s Black Gate, where he published several more stories. About half the stories in The Revelations of Zang were never published outside of its pages—they were new to the volume when it was first released ten years ago. That includes the climactic novella, “Spilling the Blood of the World,” which winds up thematic threads sewn into the first ten stories. I’m forever grateful that I got to be a part of Weird Tales magazine, even if it was only a single story. It opened a gateway to the rest of my career as a writer.

SEL: Is ‘Zang proper’ just the forest, or the whole Continent? I initially interpreted it as the latter, but I wanted to be sure.

JRF: Zang is one half of a mega-continent, and this half is largely dominated by the ancient Zang Forest (hence the name). The other half, Zin, lies beyond the north/south running mountain range known as the Spine. There may be one or more sleeping gods lying beneath those mountains…but no spoilers. Heh-heh. Most of the stories in The Revelations of Zang take place in the Zang area of “The Continent”—but when Artifice travels abroad with the Glimmer Faire, they do a nice tour of the Zin regions. Only one story in Revelations takes place in Zin, and that is “The Bountiful Essence of the Empty Hand.” RoZ focuses mainly on what’s happening in Zang, including the mystical advance and expansion of the Zang Forest. [However, there is one more story set in Zin, “Where the White Lotus Grows,” and it appears in the Worlds Beyond Worlds collection.]

SEL: To follow that, is “Yael of the Strings” (2014, Shattered Shields; 2021, Worlds Beyond Worlds) a Zang Cycle tale?

JRF: Well, it is a tale set in the World of Zang. So is “The Penitence of the Blade” in that same collection. Neither of these Zang tales is related to The Revelations of Zang story-cycle, they simply share the same world or universe. And you could also consider “Where the White Lotus Grows” to be a Zang tale, although it’s set on the other side of the Continent in Zin (as I mentioned above).

SEL:  Sticking with digging into origins, let’s hit on the bonus tale: “The Vintages of Dream” (first published in Black Gate #15, 2011). This twelfth story is the only one not explicitly in chronological order or even part of the canonical Zang Cycle; it is a fun piece that reveals how elements of Zang (i.e., carnivorous flowers, thievery of magical potions, etc.) developed. It is dedicated to Brian McNaughton (Throne of Bones, Word Fantasy Award-winning book, 1997) whom you must have corresponded with. Can you explain your interaction with him?

JRF: I’m sure I’ve told this story before, but let me just say that Brian was a huge fan of this story. After reading his World Fantasy Award-winning collection The Throne of Bones, I became an instant super-fan. At some point I tried to get “Vintages” published but nobody wanted it. I ended up sending it to Brian, and he even called one mag’s publisher and asked them to buy my story. It didn’t work, but I was astounded that he spoke up on my behalf. Brian said my writing reminded him of Robert E. Howard, which was a huge compliment for a young writer just getting started. When you’re first starting out, you run on pure enthusiasm, and a kind word from an established writer can really keep you going. Such was the case with Brian’s championing of “Vintages.” It would be many years later when the story finally saw the light of day in Black Gate. I really wish Brian had lived a few decades longer so he could give us more stories of his wonderfully weird world Seelura. He was a true modern master of the weird tale.

SEL: McNaughton’s Throne of Bones sequence is ostensibly ghoul-focused but has omnipresent themes regarding being-an-abject-person and misunderstood-artist (perhaps offering more depressing versions of your Quill who instead leans toward being an action hero). As an artist yourself, creating protagonists who are also artists, please discuss how you see artists as heroes?

JRF: Great question. Artists ARE heroes. Like heroes, they have fans. Like heroes, they perform feats of wonder, courage, and bravery. My heroes have always been Artists. (Sorry, Cowboys!) With the Zang stories, I wanted to explore the link between Art and Sorcery. I believe that writing IS magic—I teach writing, and I tell my students the same thing—I believe that all art forms have the capability of altering reality in significant ways that we mostly take for granted. Whether it’s a great novel sweeping you away to another world, a film that transports you somewhere you’ve never been, or simply a painting you could stare at all day, Art is a form of magic. It’s no coincidence that when you write, you have to “spell” each word out. It’s no coincidence that wizards “sing” their spells because music is a power all on its own. Writing itself may be the Original Magic, so wizards draw runes and sigils to concentrate their power. In the Zang stories, Artifice transitions from an ivory-tower “scribe” to a wandering playwright whose sorcery manifests in the transformational performances of the Glimmer Faire. I believe in the power of Art to rewrite reality—to make it better—to transcend the mundane, the organic, and the commonplace. To instill wonder, evoke awe, and elevate human existence. Stop me before I get too deep… Heh-heh. I also have to mention that the other “main” protagonist in Revelations is Taizo of Narr, who is not an artist but a smuggler and a thief. At least that’s how he starts…but again, no spoilers.

SEL: McNaughton intentionally avoided making a map for his Seelura milieu; there was no map for the Zang Cycle/Continent in its first two printings, but there was for your Books of the Shaper trilogy. Given your artistic skills and creativity, you are likely to have had one. Did you have a map of the Continent? If so, do you have thoughts on sharing maps for fantasy worlds?

JRF: Nice of you to point that out! I hadn’t realized it, but I guess I did the same thing that Brian did with Seelura: no map. I have this “mental map” of the World of Zang in my head, but I’ve never drawn it out on paper. With the Books of the Shaper trilogy, the publisher (Orbit) asked me if I wanted to do a map for the novels, so I did a rough and they hired a professional artist to do the final version. It looked great. But I don’t think a map is actually needed for Zang. As Brian said of Seelura, the lack of a map keeps the invented world more mysterious. It’s more like wandering through a dark and shimmering dream without any guideposts or direction. I dig that.

"Oblivion Is the Sweetest Wine" introduced the Zang series secondary lead, a clever thief named Taizo. Black Gate magazine commissioned two great interior pieces by Mark Evans to accompany the story. (left) Syyra, Taizo's erstwhile love interest. (right) The catacombs beneath the spider-worshipping city of Ghoth.

SEL: I’m curious about inspirations for the story  “When the Glimmer Faire Came to the City of the Lonely Eye” ( 2013, available online) that involves Quill adventuring with a troupe of powerful, weird actors led by the stage master & sorcerer Mordeau; they venture into a haunted city with lofty goals and the reaction from the crowd/world is beyond epic. Loved this story. The last time I remember a troupe in adventure fiction would be the Grillards featured in James Silke’s Frank Frazetta’s Death Dealer novels (Old Brown John being the stage master); note, the Glimmer Faire is magnitudes more powerful and exciting than the Grillards. Anyway, can you discuss your motivations/muses for creating a theatrical group of heroes?

JRF: As mentioned previously, I wanted to explore the link between Art and Sorcery. So, when Artifice learns to be a playwright (and simultaneously, a sorcerer), it allowed me to explore how the magical power of Drama can literally change the world. I’ve always been a big fan of Shakespeare, and I’d have to say one of the influences for The Glimmer Faire was A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The parallels are obvious, what with the Woodfolk musicians being part of the troupe. I wish I could remember more about what inspired the Lonely Eye concept, but I think the title came first, then the plot. I can’t recall anything beyond that, except that I wanted this story to really show how the Faire’s performance could work miracles and wonders—how their High Art transforms an entire community. But in my ongoing quest to avoid spoilers, I will say no more. Except this: Right around the same time I came up with the Glimmer Faire concept (2003), I saw an excellent historical-drama film called The Reckoning that sort of confirmed and inspired my approach. It stars Willem Dafoe and Paul Bettany as members of a medieval troupe of traveling actors. Fascinating movie. highly recommend it.

SEL: In your World Beyond Worlds collection, you have a story dedicated to Kung Fu actor David Carridine, “Where the White Lotus Grows” (Monk Punk, 2011), that harmonizes demon-killing with the ambiance of TV series. In the Zang Cycle, “The Bountiful Essence of the Empty Hand” features a culture seemingly inspired by Kung Fu too. Any connection there? Do you have martial art muses?

JRF: Absolutely. I grew up watching Kung Fu in the 70s. Revisited it in the 90s, and eventually collected all three seasons on DVD in the 2000s. Immensely inspiring show, and it introduced my young mind to Eastern philosophy. It’s still one of my all-time favorite TV shows. I do sometimes wonder how different it would have been if Bruce Lee (who co-created the show) had been allowed to play the main role. That went to Carradine instead, but he knocked it out of the park and became one of the biggest TV stars in the world during the 70s. The tragedy is that David walked away from the show after season three, when its popularity was white-hot, and he would never find that kind of widespread audience again. At least not until 2004, when Quentin Tarantino cast him as “Bill” in KILL BILL. But I also love old-school Shaw Brothers Kung Fu films, and many other directors in the genre. The Five Deadly Venoms has always been a favorite, and a few years back I discovered the seminal genius of Come Drink With Me. I could go on and on about martial arts cinema, but I prefer the movies that are set deep in the past. They could very well be fantasy films set in alternate worlds, and they inspire me in that way. In “Bountiful Essence” I got to explore the Zin side of The Continent, and I wanted to explore a culture somewhat akin to the Shaolin monks of ancient China, but not be limited to historical accuracy or concepts. So, the residents of the Invisible City in “Bountiful Essence” are visited by the Glimmer Faire in its tour of the eastern realms. Later, I wanted to explore the fate of Kantoh, one of the monks introduced in “Bountiful Essence,” so I returned to Zin and wrote “Where the White Lotus Grows.” It only seemed right to dedicate the story to David Carradine, since he inspired me at such an early age with his portrayal of Kwai Chang Caine. I love the martial arts films of Zhang Yimou, Ang Lee, and Yang Lu. I also find the show Warrior to be fantastically good and totally inspiring. It’s almost like an answer to my above question since it’s produced by Bruce Lee’s daughter and based on his writings. I can confidently say it’s the best martial arts show since the original Kung Fu, and it’s set in the same time period. Great stuff.

SEL: There seem to be crossovers or tie-ins, such as the Ghothian spiders (that have a dominant focus in “Oblivion Is the Sweetest Wine (Black Gate #12, 2008), but also appear in World Beyond Worlds - ‘Yael of the Strings” (originally published in Shattered Shields (2014)). Less explicitly, the nine Sorcerer Kings and Divine Council of the Zang Cycle seems to resonate with the Seven Sorcerer Kings from the Books of the Shaper trilogy. Does the Zang Cycle spill over to other Fultz Universes?

JRF: No, no—very different concepts, and very different stories. The kings in the novel Seven Kings are not all sorcerers. In fact, only a couple of them are sorcerers if I recall correctly; they are the kings of various nations allied and/or divided by a coming war. That book is a completely different universe, totally unrelated to Zang in any way—except that I wrote both of them. In The Revelations of Zang, there are nine Sorcerer Kings who rule a single city (Narr the Golden) and its surrounding empire. They are “the enemy” of our protagonists because long ago they cast down the Gods of Zang and all their temples, replacing the worship of gods with the worship of themselves. They even refer to themselves as the Divine Council. So, a part of the journey in RoZ is the idea that you can’t really kill the gods, so what if they decide to come back? That’s the kind of thing we call an apocalypse…

SEL: Your Moroquin creatures remind me of fleshy versions of the Garthim (Jim Henson and Frank Oz’s 1982 Dark Crystal movie) which are giant clawed, exoskeletal elite guards/warriors serving the antagonists. Did the Garthim inspire the Moroquin?

JRF: No, but I do enjoy the original Dark Crystal film. At the time there was nothing else like it. I just wanted the Moroquin to be absolutely disgusting brutes—the tools of blind fascism and decadent sorcery. Grotesque and demonic.

SEL: You are an accomplished illustrator. Early in your storytelling career you wrote Primordia for Archaia Studios Press and wrote/illustrated the graphic novel Necromancy/SKULLS, available on Black (table of contents here: link). Have you ever drawn Moroquin, Vizarchs, or anything else for the Zang Cycle? Please discuss how drawing informs your writing now. If you have illustrations, can we share?

JRF: Well, thanks for the kind words, but actually I’m an amateur illustrator. I don’t have the skill to do professional illustration, but I’ve always loved to draw. So, I indulge that fancy sometimes. In the case of Primordia, I got the great Roel Wielinga to draw it and he did an amazing job. In the case of Skulls, that was back when I was trying to break into the comics industry and got tired of artists bailing out on pitches and projects. So, I started drawing and inking myself. I learned a lot from doing that, and I think my inking worked better than my pencils. Later, I re-envisioned that story as a web comic and repurposed it to run at Black Gate. I don’t really draw comics anymore. I’d love to write them, however, if the opportunity arises.

SEL: Any other behind-the-scenes context you’d like to share about the Zang Cycle?

JRF: Just that I’m so grateful that the Rogues in the House Podcast crew have decided to publish this second edition of Revelations of Zang. It’s been out of print for several years, so it will be great to make it available again for new readers. The Rogues also found a terrific artist, John Molinero, to paint a brand-new cover for the new edition. It rocks!

SEL: We hope that this collection can be an entry into published Fultz works, or perhaps future ones. On social media, there was a tease about two new novels called the Scaleborn series. Can you discuss future Fultz endeavors?

JRF: All I can say at this point is that the Scaleborn series is looking for a home, and I’ve got the first two books already completed. I’m hoping it will find a publisher before too much longer.

#Weird Beauty Interviews on Black Gate

  15. John R Fultz  BEAUTIFUL DARK WORLDS: AN INTERVIEW WITH JOHN R. FULTZ (2023 report of 2017 interview)
  16. John R Fultz “The Magical Power of Art” – Foreword and Interview for The Revelations of Zang (2024 Interview)
  17. interviews prior 2018 (i.e., with Janet E. Morris, Richard Lee Byers, Aliya Whitely …and many more) are on S.E. Lindberg’s website

S.E. Lindberg is a Managing Editor at Black Gate, regularly reviewing books and interviewing authors on the topic of “Beauty & Art in Weird-Fantasy Fiction.” He is also the lead moderator of the Goodreads Sword & Sorcery Group and an intern for Tales from the Magician’s Skull magazine. As for crafting stories, he has contributed six entries across Perseid Press’s Heroes in Hell and Heroika series, has an entry in Weirdbook Annual #3: Zombies  He independently publishes novels under the banner Dyscrasia Fiction; short stories of Dyscrasia Fiction have appeared in WhetstoneSwords & Sorcery online magazine, Rogues In the House Podcast’s A Book of Blades Vol I and Vol II, DMR’s Terra Incognita, and the 9th issue of Tales From the Magician’s Skull. For several years he has played leading organizational roles for the Gen Con Writers’ Symposium.


Sunday, May 21, 2023



We have an ongoing series at Black Gate on the topic of “Beauty in Weird Fiction” where we corner an author and query them about their muses and methods to make ‘repulsive’ things ‘attractive to readers.’ Previous subjects have included Darrell SchweitzerAnna Smith SparkCarol BergStephen LeighJason Ray Carney, and John C. Hocking (see the full list at the end of this post).

Inspired by the release of Nightborn: Coldfire Rising (July 2023, see Black Gate’s review for more information), we are delighted to interview C.S. Freidman!  Since the late 1990’s she has established herself as a master of dark fantasy and science fiction, being a John W. Campbell award finalist and author of the highly acclaimed Coldfire trilogy and This Alien Shore (New York Times Notable Book of the Year 1998).

Let’s learn about C. S. Friedman’s muses & fears, her experience with art, and tease a future TV series!

SEL: Tell us about your fascination with Human vs Alien Colonization, and the struggle over shared souls/minds/psyches. That foundation resonates across This Alien ShoreThe Madness Season (the Tyr’s gestalt-mind), the Coldfire series (via the ethereal fae), and the Magister Trilogy (consumable souls!).

CSF: Science fiction and fantasy offer an opportunity for us to step outside of our normal human perspective, questioning things we normally take for granted. What better vehicle could there be for this than to have humans confront a non-human being or force?  Or to have two souls battle over a single identity?  Such stories invite us to question what ‘identity’ really means, and whether the assumptions we make about the world are rooted in some kind of universal reality, or are simply a human construct.

One of my favorite creations is the first story I decided to publish, which wound up being chapter 11 in my first book, In Conquest Born.  Stranded on an alien world, a human telepath is forced to seek mental communion with an alien race.  In doing so, she must surrender her human identity, because the manner in which these aliens perceive the world is not something a human psyche can comprehend. One must see reality through their eyes to understand them.  That is a repeated theme in my work.

One of my favorite stories that someone else wrote was published many years ago in Asimov’s SF magazine.  It was Nancy Kress’s “A Delicate Shade of Kipley.” It takes place on a world where constant fog makes everything appear gray, so that the entire world is drained of color. The humans who landed there desperately hunger for color and treasure the few colorful pictures of Earth that they have managed to salvage.  To their child who was born there, however, the grey world has its own kind of beauty, and she relishes fine gradations of gray as her parents once relished the brilliant colors of a rainbow. (“A Delicate Shade of Kipley” can be found in Isaac Asimov: Science Fiction Masterpieces)

Jeszika Le Vye’s cover for Nightborn prominently features the fae even more so than the striking trilogy covers by Whelan (more on those below); we learn in the novella Dominion (bundled with Nightborn) that the fae has colors (to those blessed to see them). The alien energy seems to be both muse and nightmare, and we’d love to learn your take on them. Do you envision your own nightmares and muses this way?

No, my nightmares are much more mundane. The most terrifying ones involve the American Health Care system 😊.

The fae is described: Earth-fae is a luminescent blue, dark fae the intense purplish glow of a UV lamp, solar fae gold.  One of the opening scenes in Jaggonath takes place when an earthquake hits, and the wards on buildings pulse with visible blue power.  The fae is beautiful and energizing and terrifying, all at once.

I was thrilled to find some pictures of bioluminescent ocean waves while I was working on Nightborn. No doubt my cry of “Oh my God, it’s the fae!” could be heard for miles. The eerie beauty of rippling blue light as it ebbed and flowed with the waves was mesmerizing, and that will be my image of it forever, now that I have found those videos (here’s a link to sample them).

The Coldfire Series, cover art by Michael Whelan

What scares you? Is it beautiful?

“I was afraid that if I became a happier person I would not be able to write dark fiction” — C.S. Friedman

What scares me most is the darkness in my own soul, the capacity for depression that can cause me to sabotage my own life and undermine my own spirit. The only thing positive I will say about it is that I drew upon my experience with depression in my early books when I depicted psychological darkness.  In fact, I recall when I was first diagnosed and offered anti-depressants, I was afraid that if I became a happier person I would not be able to write dark fiction.  And it is harder now, to be sure.

There is a song by the band Renaissance, Black Flame. It tells the story of someone struggling against inner darkness, in powerfully evocative poetry.  For me it has always reflected that terrible inner seduction, the darkness that can drive a human soul to lose sight of its path, and ultimately destroy itself. Here is the song on Youtube, and here are the lyrics.

Here is another piece they did in which psychological darkness becomes hauntingly beautiful.  (A radio contest declared it “the most depressing song ever.”). I believe the original music is by Bach.

There is a dark beauty in such songs, and I hope in my writing.

Do you detect beauty in art/fiction that appears to be repulsive (weird/ horror)? Any advice for writers on how to strike the right balance to keep readers engaged?

What is beauty?  Is it something that is “pretty?” or a deeper, more visceral quality? Classically beautiful things transfix us, but we will also stop at the site of a road accident, mesmerized by its horror. Against our will, we want to see it.

Gerald Tarrant is the essence of human beauty, described as nearly angelic in appearance. When he walks through a room, everyone notices him, and women are magnetically drawn to him. But it is the horror of that appearance being wedded to pure evil that makes us want to read about him — that makes it impossible for us to look away.  It is when the nature of something horrific fascinates us that we cannot turn our eyes away, no matter how much we want to.

“… it is the horror of that appearance being wedded to pure evil that makes us want to read about [Tarrant].” – C. S. Friedman

Fashion Muse: You were formerly trained in Costume Design [link]), creating for professional theater, PBS, and all sorts of productions; you even were a lecturer on the topic for years. Do you still dabble in fashion arts, and how does that influence your prose and/or character design?

Not really. I was in an abusive job situation for 13 years and I burned out pretty badly. Knowledge of aesthetic principles and fashion history inform my descriptions, of course, but I have left that field behind in favor of writing and teaching. Sometimes I miss it, but what I miss is the pleasure I originally took in it, not what it became. There are too many bad memories now. I sew when I have to, not for pleasure.

What other muses inspire you (i.e., for your bead jewelry [link]), and does that creativity spill over to writing?

I took up glasswork because it was different from my writing, using different parts of the brain, explorations of color and texture rather than language.  It speaks to a different side of my creativity, which is why I enjoy it.

Do you identify with your protagonists?

No, and sometimes I feel like I am unique among writers in not having a personal connection to my characters. I have been on writing panels where writers talk about how they talk to their characters, or sense what their characters want to do…I just write them. They are my creations. I relate to them as I would relate to clay I was molding into a sculpture, or glass I was wrapping around a mandrel. I am deeply invested in them as creations, but not as people.

The Magister Series – cover art by John Jude Palencar

Let’s talk about covers & how artists depict your characters via illustrations. Gerald Tarrant was famously adapted in the Michael Whelan cover for the Coldfire trilogy) and Kamala from the Magister Series depicted by the renowned John Jude Palencar. Traditionally, authors have no say in the cover art design, but I’m curious about your experience. Did the costume designer in you have any influence or comment on those?

I have been permitted to offer input into my covers, to varying degrees. This is something that evolved over time. I studied graphic art in college, and of course I spent years as a theatrical designer, so I have enough understanding of graphic design to offer meaningful input, and I have always understood that the purpose of a cover is to help market the book. Over time, my editor learned that I could offer meaningful suggestions in that context, so I have been allowed to do so.

Any current or future endeavors we can pitch? More Coldfire? In August 2022, Deadline reported The Coldfire Trilogy may become a TV series; also according to Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist, you have plans for another Coldfire novella will be focused on Gerald Tarrant bringing faith to his world, even as darkness begins to take root within his own soul.

The most exciting news right now is my novel Nightbornwhich is coming out in July. It tells the story of the founding of Erna and mankind’s discovery of the fae, and is one of the most intense things I have ever written. That volume will also include Dominion, a novella dealing with Tarrant’s transformation from a simple creature of the night into the Hunter. Both are compelling works that I know Coldfire fans will enjoy, but also accessible to new readers.

And yes, we are attempting to market a TV series based on Coldfire, so fingers are crossed on that. I want to see the fae in visual media!  The next novel will probably be in my Outworlds series (This Alien Shore, etc.) but I am considering shorter works in the Coldfire series.  There are so many interesting time periods and events in Ernan history!  I am working on a timeline that will enable me to offer many different stories, all in the context of the greater setting. It’s all very exciting, and the enthusiasm my fans have shown for all my Coldfire stories has been downright inspiring.

“And yes, we are attempting to market a TV series based on Coldfire, so fingers are crossed on that. I want to see the fae in visual media! ” – C. S. Friedman

Lots of updates are forthcoming! How do we stay in touch with the latest?

Please join me on Facebook, and/or Patreon for news, essays, project excerpts, and of course conversations with my readers.

C.S. Friedman

An acknowledged master of dark fantasy and science fiction alike, C.S. Friedman is a John W. Campbell award finalist, and the author of the highly acclaimed Coldfire trilogyThis Alien Shore (New York Times Notable Book of the Year 1998), In Conquest Born, The Madness Season, The Wilding, The Magister Trilogy, and the Dreamwalker series. Friedman worked for twenty years as a professional costume designer, but retired from that career in 1996 to focus on her writing. She lives in Virginia, and can be contacted via her website, www.csfriedman.comFacebook, or Patreon.

#Weird Beauty Interviews on Black Gate

  14. S. Friedman. Beauty and Nightmares on Aliens Worlds  2023
  15. interviews prior 2018 (i.e., with John R. Fultz, Janet E. Morris, Richard Lee Byers, Aliya Whitely …and many more) are on S.E. Lindberg’s website

Thursday, August 25, 2022

Joe Bonadonna - Interview by SE

We have an ongoing series at Black Gate on the topic of “Beauty in Weird Fiction.” Usually we corner an author and query them about their muses and ways to make ‘repulsive’ things ‘attractive to readers.’ Previous subjects have included Darrell SchweitzerAnna Smith SparkCarol BergStephen LeighJason Ray Carney, and John C Hocking. (See the full list at the end of this post).

I’m excited to corner Joe Bonadonna this round. When his Dorgo character grilled/interviewed me in 2017, the questioning began with:

Who the Hell are You?

JB: Who in the Nine Circles of Hell do you think I am? Quasimodo? Doctor Frankenstein? You mean you don’t know who I am? Have you never heard of me? Why, I’m famous the world over! Joe Bonadonna, I am. (I could never settle on a pen name, so I stuck with the name I was given at birth.)

[Aside by SE: To clarify, he often writes about Quasimodo and Dr. Frankenstein for Janet E. Morris’s Heroes in Hell series (Perseid Press). Here’s Joe Bonadona’s official Bio.]

Joe Bonadonna is the author of the heroic fantasies Mad Shadows — Book One: The Weird Tales of Dorgo the Dowser (winner of the 2017 Golden Book Readers’ Choice Award for Fantasy); Mad Shadows — Book Two: The Order of the Serpent; the space opera Three Against The Stars and its sequel, the sword and planet space adventure, The MechMen of Canis-9; and the sword & sorcery pirate novel, Waters of Darkness, in collaboration with David C. Smith. With co-writer Erika M Szabo, he penned Three Ghosts in a Black Pumpkin (winner of the 2017 Golden Books Judge’s Choice Award for Children’s Fantasy), and its sequel, The Power of the Sapphire Wand. He also has stories appearing in: Azieran: Artifacts and Relics; Savage Realms Monthly (March 2022); Griots 2: Sisters of the SpearHeroika I: Dragon Eaters; Poets in Hell; Doctors in Hell; Pirates in Hell; Lovers in Hell; Mystics in Hell; and the forthcoming Liars in Hell; Sinbad: The New Voyages, Volume 4Unbreakable Ink; the shared-world anthology Sha’Daa: Toys, in collaboration with author Shebat Legion; and with David C. Smith for the shared-universe anthology, The Lost Empire of Sol.

In addition to his fiction, Joe has written numerous articles, book reviews and author interviews for us, Black Gate online magazine. Visit his Amazon Author’s page or his Facebook author’s page, called Bonadonna’s Bookshelf.

Dorgo… it is Time to Grill You! Or Am I Grilling Joe? Tough to Tell, Since Dorgo Feels like a Natural Extension of You.  Supernatural, Dark Fantasy Rarely Feels so Fun as it Does in the MAD SHADOW Series. Tell us Your Approach to Making Dark-Worlds Fun to Explore.

Dorgo is on holiday, so you’re grilling me. I hope I turn out well-done. Dorgo is indeed an extension of myself; my better half, you can say. His voice is my voice, his sarcasm and sense of humor are my own. I’ve read very little fantasy written in first-person, so I took a page from Raymond Chandler’s notebook and wrote all but one Dorgo tale in first-person. First-person allows me to make his stories more personal and, hopefully, more universal. Speaking to your question about how the “Supernatural, dark fantasy rarely feels so fun as it does in the Mad Shadow Series,” I must first thank you for that. I approach my writing the same way I approached writing music, which is much the same as Bruce Springsteen often composes: I toss everything I’ve ever heard, seen, read and experienced into a blender, crank it up and create what I hope is my own unique concoction.

I try to make it fun because my favorite books, those that inspired me or just simply entertained me, were and still are fun to read. From The Hobbit to Lord of the Rings, from de Camp’s The Tritonian Ring to Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and Grey Mouser series, I had fun reading those. And it was so much fun to discover Robert E. Howard’s “The People of the Black Circle” and all his other Conan stories, not to mention King Kull and Solomon Kane. Stories and storytelling should be fun to read and write. If not, they’re like dry textbooks or novels where the authors spend more time preaching their own personal gospel than they do trying to entertain. As the Boss sang, “We learned more in a three-minute record, babe, than we ever learned in school.” And that’s the truth. Fiction can be educational, in its own way. You learn by reading.

I just let my imagination run free and try to rein it in when something I really like strikes me as usable. My work, no matter what the genre, is a merging of everything I know and like. It’s no secret that Dorgo was inspired by Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe, as well as by Fritz Leiber’s work; comedy often played a huge role in Leiber’s stories, especially in his wonderful Lean Times in Lankhmar. In fact, if not for that story and a few others, I might not have written my two most light-hearted tales of Dorgo the Dowser, from the first volume: The Secret of Andaro’s Daughter and The Moonstones of Sor Lunarum, which can be read for free, right here. Although there is plenty of darkness, murder, magic, and weirdness to go around, the comedic situations and what laughs come from the characters, their dialogue and their antics, make these two of my favorite stories. I also give credit to David C. Smith and Ted (T.C.) Rypel for being the first of my “mentors” and for helping me whip that first volume into shape.

[SE aside; I’ve reviewed all the Dorgo Books (Book 3 most recently on Black Gate).  I described the first two as Mystery for the Horror Fan; Cozy Gothic Noir... they’re a great mashup of Horror/Fantasy/Film Noir. In Television terms, this would appeal to fans of the X-filesSupernatural, or Grim. Being a collection of tales, each serves as an episode. Expect: necromancy, mythological creatures — especially the hybrid horned creatures (satyrs, minotaur, etc.), pitted against our protagonist who is motivated to set things right (and make enough money to eat… and perhaps a sustained glance at a beautiful woman).]

You Have a Knack for Making Weird/Dark Fantasy Accessible to Adults and YA via Collaborating with Authors (i.e., David C. Smith and Erika M. Szabo). Fill us In on How You Write for Such a Broad Audience with Other Authors.

There really isn’t much to “fill in.” Most writers know that adult and YA audiences can be drawn into any sort of genre, if the characters are engaging and the storyline exciting. JK Rowling succeeded in that with her Harry Potter series, and certainly Tolkien, as well as Frank L. Baum and Lewis Carrol, Mark Twain and Charles Dickens, to name a handful of authors. They wrote for everyone. Take Waters of Darkness, for instance. David Smith and I knew what we wanted to write, knew what to do and how to write it, and without consciously thinking about it, we just wrote what we wanted to write. Personally, I aim for a wide audience. I don’t write sex scenes for my own work, although I have done some “ghost writing” in that area for a few friends. I don’t go for excessive “foul language,” either. Too often that can destroy the suspension of disbelief.

As for the two children’s books, I had an idea for the first one, but no idea how to go about it. Erika M. Szabo, who has written a boatload of children’s books, took me by the hand and guided me along the way. We chose universal themes and characters we felt our readers could relate to. We used humor and a sense of adventure, too. We added subtle lessons for kids, as well. She reined me in on the action scenes, keeping me from going my usual, bloody and body-strewn way. She told me what we could say and what we could not say in a children’s book. We had a lot of fun writing the first book, and I learned a lot: keep it G-rated or PG-13, at most. We had so much fun, in fact, that Erika came up with the idea for the second book, and we ran with it. The key, for me was creating a world of magic and wonder, and letting our imaginations run free. As with David, Erika and I concentrated on telling good, solid and fun stories, doing our best to write something that was as unique as we could make it.

There really isn’t much more I can tell you. We just wrote the stories we wanted to tell, wrote them the way we wanted to tell them, and kept our audiences in mind at all times. We just wrote or overwrote, in many cases, and then started whittling away during the editing process. I usually write much more than I use: better to write something that is not needed, than it is to need something that hasn’t been written. I don’t believe in padding a story with unnecessary world-building and description. Describe what’s important to the plot: what can be done in three pages can often be done better in three paragraphs. In this, learning how to write screenplays is a most valuable tool.

That’s all I got. All I can tell you.

Going with the Theme that You Make Dark Fantasy Accessible, Let’s Talk About Having Fun in Hell!

You’ve been writing for the Heroes in Hell series for a long time (that’s the satirical, dark fantasy that explores the juxtaposition of deceased people across time)!  Your Doctors in Hell short story “Hell on a Technicality” is hilarious. A death panel (including Aristotle and da Vinci) convenes to discuss the nature of the soul and body in the preposterous case of Doctor Victor Frankenstein, who has had his brain switched with his creature Adam’s. So now Victor’s mind finds itself in his creation’s body… and vice versa. How else better to discuss the nature of a soul in hell then to work out this mess. The death panel erupts into an outrageous furor.  You have recurring characters of Victor Frankenstein and his creature-creation, as well as Quasimodo. Tell us why you teamed up with these hellions and your approach.

Thank you. I tried to make that story both hilarious and meaningful. The death panel evolved out of the dark-comedy “Undertaker’s Holiday” (originally titled “The Undertaker Takes a Holiday,” a play on the play and film, Death Takes a Holiday) Shebat Legion and I co-wrote for Poets in Hell, which also featured my first story for the series, “We the Furious,” or WTF, as Janet Morris’ husband Christopher called it. Shebat and I came up with the idea for a fandom convention in Hell — InfernoCon. Of course, as in all cons, there’s a panel discussion. Now, knowing that Doctors in Hell was the next volume in the series, Shebat and I created a panel of doctors, as a sort of prelude. But Janet wanted us to use poets, so I changed the characters. I later recreated the panel of doctors for “Hell on a Technicality” and thought it would be a riot to have their egos get in the way of what they were trying to decide: if Adam Frankenstein and Galatea, two damned souls who were not sired by men and born of women did, indeed, have souls.

It was Janet who, knowing my love of movies, suggested I write about Victor and Adam. She also suggested I reboot the Hellywood film industry first created by Bill Kerby back in the original series, in the 1980s. (Kerby wrote the screenplay for Bette Midler’s The Rose.) So hence, my storyline for “The Pirates of Penance,” featured in Pirates in Hell. Anyway, while doing research, I discovered that there was a Doctor Johann Konrad Dippel, an alchemist and a vivisectionist obsessed with reanimating the dead. He was born in Castle Frankenstein and was practicing medicine in Geneva, Switzerland when Mary and Percy Shelley, Lord Byron, and Doctor John Polidori were travelling through there. Aha! No doubt Dippel inspired the creation of Victor Frankenstein. So, my using a fictional character, which is allowed, was justified by there being a real-life counterpart.

While I pretty much stick with Mary Shelley’s novel, I use Colin Clive and Boris Karloff as “role models” for Victor and his Creature. Deciding that Doctor Frankenstein needed a hunchback assistant in keeping with the films, I looked no further than Quasimodo, the Hunchback of Notre Dame. Doing research on Hugo’s novel, I discovered that around 2002 or so, workmen doing some remodeling at Notre Dame Cathedral knocked down a wall and discovered a small room which contained the bones of a hunchback. I also read that there was, indeed, a similar bell ringer of Notre Dame during Hugo’s lifetime, and he possibly knew the hunchback. While I use Quasimodo and his King of Fools persona for comic relief, I also endeavor to infuse him with pathos and humanity. I use Charles Laughton as my role model. Thus, I get to write about two beloved films, Frankenstein and The Hunchback of Notre Dame. My approach is to have them interact more as a father and son, with Victor playing the eccentric, often hysterical and somewhat mad father-figure, and Quasimodo as the hapless, lovesick, innocent and childlike son. I think the two characters make a wonderful team, and I have fun with both of them.


How do You Define Beauty in Art/Fiction that Appears to be Repulsive (Weird/ Horror)?

Jeez, that’s a tough question to answer, Seth. I’m not even sure I can put my thoughts on this into words. I guess the best way is for me to go back to my childhood. Horror films never frightened me. I was always fascinated by and sympathetic to the “monsters.” I understood them. I wanted to be one of them. I always found a beauty and poetry in the best of the old Universal Classic Monsters, in the “grotesqueries” of characters and creatures like Frankenstein, The Wolfman, The Phantom of the Opera, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, etc.

In spite of having grown up and hung out with hundreds of kids, I always felt somewhat of an outsider, never quite fitting in. I never even once considered myself cute or handsome; I saw myself as being part of the gallery of the grotesque. In fact, back in 1970, when I was a young hippy and got my first apartment, my landlady’s kids called me Halloween Mask Man, a sobriquet I embraced. I even wrote a poem and later put it to music: Halloween Man. I was proud of that title. The “creatures” in, let’s say, H.P. Lovecraft’s stories, have a beauty all their own: yes, they are weird and repulsive, but that does not turn me off. I find it all intriguing and, in its own way, quite attractive. Take the metamorph from Alien. So ugly, it’s beautiful in its shape and design. An intriguing lifeform.

Like many kids, I loved and still love dinosaurs, dragons, aliens and mythological creatures. I like centaurs and minotaurs, mutants and monsters of all sorts, for example, and I see the beauty in even the evil ones. Even Medusa I find beautiful in her ugliness; knowing her backstory, her history, generates sympathy in me. She was cursed by Athena, and her transformation into a gorgon is what made her evil. I feature Medusa in a new story I’m working on for Janet Morris’ Heroes in Hell series, and I portray her as aristocratic, heroic, noble and honorable, and of great inner, soulful beauty. She is not the monster history has made her out to be: that’s all a lie.

Understanding the repulsive is to see their beauty, to see beyond their physical appearance and even come to like them. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. What I consider repulsive, with no redeeming qualities such as beauty, is what we have in the real world: racists and rapists, haters and murderers, people who lack compassion and tolerance and understanding, people who lack kindness, courtesy and manners. People who have no sense of honor and loyalty. People filled with hate for what they don’t understand and thus fear — fear of “the other” I guess all this is the best answer I can give you.

Do You Find Beauty in Your Weird Fiction? Dissect an Example.

Well, I really don’t consider myself a writer of “weird fiction.” Certainly, there are plenty of elements of the weird, of horror, in my stories. It’s difficult to cite and dissect any one example. My human characters are often the weird ones, the ugly ones. Let’s go with my Dorgo the Dowser tale from Mad Shadows-Book 2: The Order of the Serpent — “The Girl Who Loved Ghouls.” This features a witch, what I call one of the Wikku, who lost a son when he was a little boy, and now she’s become the surrogate mother and protector of a small tribe of ghouls, who are an endangered species.

The ghouls are friendly and noble; they pose no threat to the living. Now, there’s a nobleman with an Oedipus complex who, for his own political agenda, is framing the ghouls for a series of murders he is responsible for. He and his men are racist, violent men who find torture and murder to be their daily bread. He’s allied himself with a lost clan of semi-human cannibals who escaped to Dorgo’s world when their own world was in its final death throes. They are an ugly and repulsive race that is having breeding problems, and are thus dying out. This nobleman has promised them “fresh blood” in order for them to propagate and keep their race alive: namely, by giving Dorgo to their queen, with whom she will mate and produce a new breed of her species.

But these creatures are in no way as ugly or repulsive as the nobleman and his four murderous, racist henchmen. As I often write about, human beings are the monsters — i.e. Doctor Frankenstein is the real monster, not the innocent Creature he created, then ignored and abandoned, thus destroying its childlike innocence, which turned it into a thing bent on revenge.

The beauty in my story comes from the ghouls, from their kind hearts and pure souls: they are an intelligent species who just happen to feed on the dead, and not a pack of mindless, savage beasts. They are, to put a slight religious spin on it, God’s innocent creatures. They are the real heroes of this tale.

What Scares You? Is it Beautiful?

No, it’s not beautiful. What scares me is people. Books and films have never scared me; they are fiction and therefore not real. Reality scares me. War and violence. Look at what’s going on in our country today and across the globe. Ugliness, blind hatred, intolerance, misogyny, racism, violence. People can be seen as beautiful in their physical appearance. But far too often, it’s all superficial: beauty may be skin-deep, but ugliness goes to the bone. Their hearts and souls are ugly and repulsive. Kindness and compassion are fading from our world. Maybe it’s just my inborn cynicism talking, but that’s how I feel and what I fear. I’ll say no more on this lest I climb upon my soapbox and bore you and your readers to death.

Does any Formal Training or Experience Motivate your Writing?

No formal training, really, other than writing classes and such. I mean, I was “trained” to be a printer and a musician by trade and avocation. But my imagination and my experiences are what motivate me. Experiences of all kinds: my family and our history, the people I meet, the relationships forged or broken, friendships and love affairs, the movies I watch, the books I read, the music I listen to. All these provide motivation as well as inspiration. I often take movie titles or song titles and write my own stories to fit. I will even do a wordplay on a title. Take the Heroes in Hell series, for instance. In Pirates in Hell, I have a story called “The Pirates of Penance.” For Lovers in Hell, I wrote a macabre love story filled with gallows humor that I called “Withering Blights.”

For Liars in Hell, I titled my story “Hell’s Bells.” I also played with a variation on “dragon’s hoard” for Janet Morris’ Heroika: Dragon Eaters — and titled my story “The Dragon’s Horde.” For the final story in my Mad Shadows – Book 1: The Weird Tales of Dorgo the Dowser, I “gakked” (stole) the title from an old Robert Mitchum western called Blood on the Moon, because I thought it fitting for my werewolf tale and did not want to destroy the mystery by having “werewolf” or “wolfman” in the title. (Well, I guess I just destroyed the mystery!) Life experiences are always part of my stories, whether obvious to the people who know me, or subtly portrayed; there’s a lot in the subtext. One can find inspiration and motivation in every facet of life, which I know is just preaching to the choir of writers and other artists.


Discuss Cinematic Writing! What are Some of Your All-Time Favorite Films and TV Shows?

Ah, another tough one to answer, simply by virtue of the question having many answers and opening up many windows. I always try to avoid picking favorites, the way parents avoid naming a favorite son or daughter. So, if you don’t mind, I’ll skip the “favorites” part of this interview; God only knows, I’m going to be long-winded. There a handful of films from the 1930s which have inspired me: Frankenstein (1931), King Kong (1933), Beau Geste, and Gunga Din. Later films, such as The Vikings and The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (both from 1950), Spartacus and Jason and The Argonauts (both from 1960 or so) influenced me, of course. And there is something of Ray Harryhausen in just about all my stories.

I would like to mention Alfred Hitchcock, however. Having read a biography on the master, I was struck by his discussion and explanation of the “McGuffin.” This is the device around which most of his films revolve. It doesn’t matter whether the McGuffin is microfilm, wine bottles filled with uranium or some other artifact, relic or whatever. What matters are the characters, what each of them will do, to what lengths they will go to in order to get their hands on the McGuffin: sell it, keep it, destroy it, use it in some fashion. It’s the study of these characters and their actions. This is also how Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon works: the falcon isn’t really important, in and of itself, the story is all about the characters who are itching to get their hands on it. Stories are about characters, about people. You can have the most ingenious plot ever devised by mortal man or woman, but if you don’t have solid, realistic and engaging characters, all you have is a plot in search of a story.

You have written articles for Black Gate wherein you describes how cinema informs your style.  Prior/in-addition-to writing, you were a rock guitarist, songwriter, and even a board member of the Chicago Screenwriter’s Network. You compose as if you write for the camera, and your mind has been influenced by the masters.

Yes, and I’ve also written another article for Black Gate on my cinematic inspirations — Celluloid Heroes, which will pretty much give your readers the whole picture, no pun intended.

Terrible Inspirations: Can You Discuss How Writing Fiction can be Used to Explore? Heal? How Does One Approach Revisiting Tragedy in Art?

The haunting dedication to Mad Shadows I sets the stage for the themes of many of these stories: the dedication was extended to your parents and to “Mary Ellen Pettenon and the other 91 children and 3 nuns who became angles too soon in the Our Lady of Angels School Fire, December 1, 1958.” I learned soon after that you are a long time Chicagoan, who was in the same school system and if your birthday was a few months different, you would have been in the building that caught fire. In the book, we learn early on that Dorgo is an orphan, and many of the plots/character-motivations are based on family ties.

Yes, my date of birth “saved me.” I was down the street in one of the two houses that were used for kindergarten and three first-grade classes. However, if the dice had landed a different way, I might have been in the fourth first-grade class that was on the main floor of the building that burned down. I was lucky, and I was blessed. As far as Dorgo being an orphan is concerned . . . I did not know any orphans when I was a kid. Sure, I knew kids who had no mother or father, but I did not encounter any orphans until I was out of high school. Charles Dickens was the inspiration for my making Dorgo an orphan. It just felt right. I think being in an orphanage and then running away at the age of fifteen to become a mercenary is what widened his worldview, what made him an enlightened soul without one racist or prejudiced, bigoted bone in his body. He is the embodiment of what I strive to be, the angel of my better nature, so to speak.

[Aside by SE: Joe’s first story to appear in Heroes in Hell (“We The Furious,” in Poets in Hell), he placed the kid who started the OLA school fire in Hell, although he did not refer to him by name, just his actions].

As for how writing fiction can be used to explore and heal, and revisiting tragedy in art goes . . . I offer no advice, can’t tell anyone how to approach it. You just do it: you write what you know, what you feel, what you’ve experienced and how it affected you. There is a scene where one of Dorgo’s companions holds the hand of a dying man. After the man passes, the companion, a young, good-natured youth, looks at Dorgo and says that he was holding his mother’s hand when she died, and that’s how I witnessed my own mother’s death. Writing that helped me move pass that dark moment in 2001. In my The Man Who Loved Puppets, Dorgo has to save a group of children whose souls had been stolen. They were still alive, but just barely, and had this witch’s plot to resurrect her dead sister come to fruition, those children would have died.

To make it more personal, one of the kids, a little girl, was the daughter of one of Dorgo’s friends and former lovers. The little girl is based on Dave Smith’s daughter Lily, who was about four or five at the time: I used her mannerisms and the way she talked, her personality, to infuse my character with life. All that evolved out of that tragedy of my childhood, when I was six years old and learned that not just old people die, kids can die, too. The loss of an ailing father in my Blood on the Moon echoes the loss of my own father, who died of cancer in 1999. Just writing those scenes was a catharsis, a way for me to come to terms, after so many years, with the deaths of my parents, both of whom always believed in my writing gift and also supported and encouraged me in anything and everything I wanted to try, to do. I was extremely blessed with the parents given to me. I could not have picked two better parents, two decent and loving parents, had I been given the choice.

I explored my beliefs, my Catholic upbringing, my thoughts and ideas about God, faith and religion in Mad Shadows – Book 3: The Heroes of Echo Gate. Faith in God, and the absence or loss of that faith are at the heart of the novel. We learn all about Dorgo’s faith and how he views Life and a Higher Being. While he remains steadfast in his beliefs, he does have questions and doubts. In one scene, set the night before the first battle begins, he has a long discussion with a chaplain who had once been a mercenary. I feel this scene is one of the more insightful and heartfelt scenes in the story, as it conveys my own personal belief system, my own doubts, my own questions and theories. As I always tell people: I do not write for the head; I have no great knowledge or wisdom to impart, and nothing I can say has not already been said by others more skilled and wiser than I. I am not that ego-driven or presumptuous to think I can change anyone’s minds. I write not to make you think, I write to make you feel. I write for the heart.

Any Current or Future Endeavors We Can Pitch?

Well, in a story I’m working on for a future Heroes in Hell volume, I borrowed the title from an old war movie, “From Hell to Eternity.” But having signed an NDA (a Non-Disclosure Agreement), that’s all I can say about it. I also have a new Dorgo story in the works that I call “Rainbow Demon,” which was inspired by a song by Uriah Heep. I would very much like to do a fourth and final volume of Dorgo the Dowser tales: Mad Shadows – Book 4: The Return of Dorgo the Dowser, which follows closely on the heels of book three, The Heroes of Echo Gate, and Dorgo’s return home after the battle which is a huge part of that book.

I think a “quartet” of novels is enough: I don’t want to lose the magic of Dorgo’s stories; I don’t want him or his adventures to grow stale and repetitious, which happens with so many series. As you know, the first volume consisted of six separate adventures linked together by Dorgo and some recurring characters. Volume two is more of a novel — three novellas tied together by theme and certain plot elements that all come together in the last story. Book three is a three-part novel. If I do a fourth volume, I would return to the format of the first: six or seven separate adventures, ending where I started.

I’d also like to do a sequel to David C. Smith’s and my Waters of Darkness, and we have discussed it. Another dark, old-school, action-packed but character-driven Sword and Sorcery tale. However, we haven’t been able to come up with a good storyline, and Dave is busy with other projects, and I won’t do it alone. I have a prologue of sorts written for a second sequel to the two children’s Heroic Fantasies I co-authored with Erika M. Szabo, but again — no storyline that pleases us both has emerged.

Now, I’ve always wanted to do a Sword and Sorcery version of John Wayne’s Red River, which is about a cattle drive. I’ve got a title, “The Goblin Herd,” and it will feature a new character, Thibron the Skulker, who was first introduced in my story, “The Vampire Tree,” which was published in Savage Realms Monthly, in March 2022. I have a few characters lined up and I’m taking notes. The hard part is coming up with the incidents involved because, while inspired by Red River, I do not want to use the same plot. I have another Thibron tale in mind, set around a pair of strange jewels called “The Eyes of Bipty,” but that’s all I have, thus far. Other than that, and writing the occasional article for Black Gate, that’s about it. Real life situations, the things one must attend to, take up a lot of my time.

I hope to keep writing for Heroes in Hell for as long as I can. Writing for that series is very hard work, but it’s also so much fun and so rewarding. Janet Morris forces me to “up my game,” to stretch my boundaries, to break out of my box, and I think my stories for her are among the best I’ve written, not only in plot and characterization, but in prose style, as well. And the best part is, as long as we (the other writers and I) stick to the arc she gives us and follow the rules of Hell, almost anything goes. Our imaginations are free to run wild. Janet has become a major influence, and a wonderful teacher and mentor to me, and my writing has improved under her guidance.

So, that’s it, Seth. I’ve run out of words. But I do want to thank you for this wonderful opportunity to express myself. It’s been fun, a real pleasure and an honor. You rock!

You Rock, Joe! Long live Dorgo!


#Weird Beauty Interviews at Black Gate

  13. interviews prior 2018 (i.e., with John R. Fultz, Janet E. Morris, Richard Lee Byers, Aliya Whitely …and many more) are on S.E. Lindberg’s website