Thursday, May 30, 2013
Simon Strantzas
By OFW Editor: Michael Keyton
Published: March 25, 2013

Accomplishment: Simon Strantzas is the author of the critically-acclaimed Cold to the Touch (Tartarus Press, 2009), a collection of thirteen tales of the strange and supernatural. His first collection, Beneath the Surface (reprinted by Dark Regions Press, 2010), has been called "one of the most important debut short story collections in the genre". Strantzas's stories have appeared in The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror, The Year's Best Dark Fantasy & Horror, Cemetery Dance, and Postscripts. In 2009, his work was nominated for the British Fantasy Award for Best Short Fiction. His third collection, Nightingale Songs, is now available from Dark Regions Press.

Has a book every made you angry. If so, which one?

I often get angry at the books I read. Time is a precious resource, and when I feel an author has failed at one of the fundamental imperatives of writing — that is to try — I get angry. Angry at myself, usually, for spending my time on such a book. Writing is like any job, and it's easy to fall into a routine, take the short-cuts when they present themselves, but the reader always knows. The reader can sense when something is being "phoned in".

Only once, however, have I literally thrown a book across the room. Many years ago I made the mistake of reading Jeffrey Deaver's "The Bone Collector", and encountered a scene so preposterous I could not contain my anger any longer. I must admit, it felt good to hurl the book across the room. And, no, I did not finish it.

Is self publishing the new 'slush-pile’?

We live in a constant state of transition. Everywhere around us, technology is wreaking havoc on what we once held as true. Paradigms are shifting, monumental changes are happening, and in many ways we are all simply trying to hang on and not get bulldozed by it. Thanks to the power of the home computer and the internet, we've seen democratization in nearly all of the arts — one no longer needs vast amounts of capital to make a film, or release music, or publish a book. The barriers have fallen, and we have no idea what the future holds for any of it. All we are certain of is the old way of doing things is dying, if not already dead.

So, it's clear that self-publishing films, or music, or books, is only going to become more viable going forward, and though I agree with the notion that we need editors and more established voices as filters to tell us what's good and what is a waste of time, I find myself wondering why I don't hear these same arguments about the musician releasing his or her own music independently, or the filmmaker posting his or her latest creation online. Why are books so special? My attitude about writing has softened to some degree as the years have progressed. I'm now convinced that everything finds the audience that it deserves, and that no piece of work is more or less deserving of existing. If the work will appeal to readers, let it be published so eventually the readers will find it.

This is not to say that all writing is equal, and that some work isn't objectively better than others, only that even sub-par work may appeal to certain readers, and if those readers get something from it and enjoy it, who am I to say it shouldn't see the light of day? After all, readers of sub-par work, if robbed of the chance to read such pieces, won't simply move on to that better fiction. If better fiction appealed to them, they would already be reading it. No, these readers will simply move on from reading anything at all.

All the above said, as democratization of writing and publishing continues, we will even more that even need to rely on critical voices to help us navigate the flood of options. For this reason, larger publishing houses and other forums will still be required — like a search engine for the mass of pages on the internet, these sources will help future readers find what is objectively worth finding.

So, is self-publishing the new slush pile? Perhaps not yet, but soon.

What are you currently reading?

I'm neck-deep in S. T. Joshi's Unutterable Horror, Volume 2. In hindsight, I realize I made a significant error beginning Volume 2 before reading Volume 1. I was primarily interested in reading about the era that I'm most familiar with, that I lived partially through, yet Joshi's criteria and central premise for the volumes is only laid out fully in the first. To grasp what Joshi is trying to do with the set, I think it's important to begin at the beginning.

As for the books themselves: simply marvellous. Joshi is not a dry writer, and though one may not agree with some or most of his opinions, there is no fear here that there won't be opinions, and it's those opinions that breathe life into the history lesson.

After I'm done with the book, I have a number of short story collections to which I'm eager to return.

Are you ever afraid that one day you will stop enjoying writing?

No, I don't think so. I certainly fear one day I'll have nothing left to say, but I don't think I shall ever tire of writing. Well, I suppose that's in some ways untrue. Writing is a lot of work, and often I'd rather simply relax in front of the television or a good book. But I also know that there is little like the feeling of creation when immersed in it, and the joy that comes later from having written is well worth the energy expended. I don't foresee ever tiring of wanting my fiction read, of sharing it with strangers. I simply want to inspire readers as my favourite authors continue to inspire me. I want to be another link in that great chain.

Are you pessimistic or optimistic about the future – and why?

I suppose it depends on your definitions of the terms. I see the future as much of the same as we already have, just intensified. The world has simply become too small, and a small few corporations are on their way to controlling most of everything. The heterogeneous publishing landscape we grew up with will continue to wither, and with it, likely too the love of reading. Schools don't seem to be teaching it, and there are too many other distractions in this world. Long term, reading need to be revitalized somehow, but I'm not sure what the answer is.

Yet there is the argument in the case of horror fiction that horror belongs in the small independent presses, and when it is published by the larger outfits, when it is dragged into the sunlight and exposed, horror has a tendency to wither and die. True, serious horror fiction, it's argued, can't be written for wide-appeal — too few want to experience anything beyond a mindless read, Instead, horror needs to focus on that small subset who enjoy the dark, who can appreciate the beauty therein. Horror needs the shadows, and should stick to them. If what it holds is of interest to people, the people will find it.

Is there an over-arching moral theme in your work, if so what?

There are certainly over-aching themes in my work, but moral themes are not something I concern myself with. When faced with the decision as to whether or not to follow a story where it takes me even if that place is opposite my own morals and beliefs, I will inevitably choose to follow. The story itself is the truth, not my reaction to it. So, yes, there have been tales that promote viewpoints that I don't not agree with, and I assume readers will be able to make up their own minds whether that viewpoint is legitimate or not.

That said, I can't promise with any confidence my own morality does not inform my fiction. It is, after all, my fiction, from my pen, drawn from my mind. Everything I write is filtered imperceptibly through my own sensibilities, and whether it's turning the camera away from something I don't hold to, or turning it toward that thing, either way my own beliefs likely affect my work. How please then, am I, that I cannot see it?

How would you like to be remembered?

Being remembered is a funny thing. It's an aspiration of many, this idea that their name will outlive them, that they will leave some sort of legacy. I suppose I would like the same, but only as an incidental. What I aspire to is less leaving that sort of mark on the genre, and more about achieving that same level of my literary influences. As we grow, our views on what it means to be a Writer solidify, based on those writers whom we look up to, those writers that inspire us to pick up the pen. I'm much the same — I have a fixed notion of what a Writer must be, based solely on those writers I read in the past, and my only goal, my true goal, is to one day write well enough that my work can stand next to theirs. That one day seems to be distant, and if I understand it right, I will never feel as though I belong, but nonetheless I try. For without trying, what else is there?

Death, I thought. Maybe Jake had stopped trying. Sheri picked up on my mood.

"Cold to the touch," she said.

"He was, " I said.

No, I'm talking about Simon's book Cold to the touch - and then there's Beneath the surface and Nightingale Songs.

Nightingale Songs. The hottest nightclub this side of LA - and Jake's favourite haunt...before he took to haunting.

My face lit up and I knew I had that silly grin on my face. Sheri smiled too, like she knew what was going on in my mind. She leant over Mr. Strantzas.  "Thank you, Simon, you've been one heck of a guest."

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