An Interview with Jackson Creed

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I was fortunate enough to get an interview with Jackson Creed, author of “Breath” the hottest new dark fiction writer around, and here a few excerpts from it.  The complete interview will be published later this spring.

First things first—tell us what about your life experience compelled you to write.

Ultimately, it’s the result of being a voracious reader growing up, the flashlight under the bedcover, that sort of thing. I was never comfortable without something to read. The ability to transport a reader to those other worlds was something that I admired. I though maybe that was something I could do. I wrote stories in school and beyond, but it wasn’t really until later that I began to see it as a viable option. When that transition happened, it became a vocation. Now it is more about the fact that I can’t not write. It is a compulsion. I’m not quite sure that I’ve sat down to analyse what makes that so.

Nothing reveals more about an author than what their top favorite books are, so what are yours Mr. Creed?

Hum, that’s quite a complex question. I think that your reading patterns evolve as you move through life. I finished The Lord of the Rings in a three day weekend when I was young. I devoured the Mary Renault stuff. I read all of Poe, Blackwood, others. These days I have another perspective on what makes a great and important book and they are legion. I guess there are three that I would single out for the things that I love in storytelling. James Lee Burke’s Joli Blon’s Bounce has one of the most palpable portrayals of evil that I have ever come across. Jonathan Lethem’s Motherless Brooklyn is, to my mind, almost the perfect novel. From the first couple of pages, you get caught up in the protagonist’s thought patterns, riffing on the same things that his Asperger’s drives. Then, and always, there is Gene Wolfe’s Shadow of the Torturer. Wolfe has such a facility for language and character portrayal. Immensely dark, but lyrical. Great books that series.

Breath is a complete reimagining of the traditional vampire tale and just begs for a sequel. Have you begun working on one? If not why? You are planning to do a sequel, aren’t you?

Certainly, I can see Lilith re-emerging. Her hunger is endless. I think Avram, however, has his closure. In the end though, the story is about Lilith, about that original set of myths, so that works. I am not quite ready to build a world around her yet, but I believe it will probably happen soon.

As something of an international man of mystery yourself and world traveler, do you find that your introduction to so many cultures has enabled you to broaden your scope beyond that of those writers who only research differing locales on line and thus miss the direction experience? Certainly your novel “Breath” portrays so many of its locations so well that it seems like the reader is joining in with your main character Avram’s struggle.

I grew up in several different countries and I’ve traveled quite a bit. You can do things virtually, but nothing beats smelling the chemistry in the room, or the city or the country. There are nuances that you can only pick up yourself. All literature is about holding a mirror up to ourselves, whether it comes in the guise of an evil monster or the guy next door. Unless you can gather those pieces of human interaction into your armory, then you are missing something. A writer has to be two things–a reader and an observer. Observation happens on the ground.

• “Breath” delivers a riveting plot woven through with compelling characters. Because you’ve done so well with this novel, will you be staying with the horror genre or are you open to writing in different genres?

I am a bit leery of assigning genres to work. That’s ultimately a marketing device. Yes, the fiction I write is dark, unashamedly so, and horror probably fits Breath, though quiet horror. I write what I write. I don’t consciously restrict myself to a predefined set of genre boundaries. I could see maybe a crime novel, or perhaps a mixing of genres, but I know from experience that the work will take me where it wants to. I do know, however, that all of that work carries shadows within its heart.

The Real Jay Caselberg

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 Empties Cover

  by Jaime A. Geraldi Your writing has been embraced by book lovers of all genres across the globe. When an idea for a story is born, do you think of the fans and construct the tale aimed specifically towards their interests? Or do you let the characters do the talking for you and hope for the best? JC: As every writer should, I write from what happens in the recesses of my head rather than tailoring it to a particular audience. I write what I write, and if people enjoy or relate to it, then that’s all to the good. From time to time, there might be an anthology call and I will write to a theme accordingly, but that’s around the only stricture. I think that’s why you see my work ranging across a number of genres and even mainstream, or mixes of one or two of them. Most of my stuff is pretty dark, but that’s just the way I think. It’s not in your face dark, but more subtle and the implications might creep up on you. It appears that you had quite a vast interest in academics varying from biochemistry to psychology. Did any of your studies play a major role in any of your short stories or novels? JC: So, way back when, I had illusions of going into medicine. Partly family pressure, partly other things, but circumstance conspired to make that not an option, and thank goodness; I would make a terrible doctor. Then for a while there was acting, but writing was always there in the background. Biochem was not for me and then parapsychology was really interesting, though a very hard road. I sort of meandered through my academic career until I stumbled upon what would become my major line of research and study, the History and Philosophy of Science. Concentrating on the way truth is constructed and the influence of its context and belief systems was fascinating to me. Ultimately, though, it was all practice for putting together a large number of words in a structured and properly researched way. I will do quite a bit of research up front for a book or a story. As a serious world renowned traveler, is it easy to find a way to keep your mind open accepting the diverse cultures and languages while you’re trying to keep your senses sharp to absorb the new and amazing surroundings as well?  JC: Hmm, an interesting question. Yes, I travel a lot for day job things. It’s funny, but it gets to a point where everything is different so everything is the same. Yes, there are cultural differences, there are variations in setting, but you can draw parallels from one place to another. If you are in these places for work, then it’s pretty much airport, office, hotel and that’s about it. There are some opportunities for sightseeing, but most of it is pretty whirlwind. Of course, I also believe that there’s an osmotic process that works when you are embedded into these environments and they all become part of what you are and so, as a result, end up somehow on the page when you sit down to write. Is there one city or country that you haven’t been to that may be on your bucket list or near future? JC: Guatemala, but not right at the moment. Deeply interested in the Mayan ruins in the region. I started writing a Mayan mythos YA fantasy, but have not yet found the impetus to take it forward. I did a lot of research for that, but maybe I have to see the things to kick me into action on that one. Many budding writers always seem to admit that they have trouble finding the time to silence the voices in their head and actually get their chaotic thoughts on paper. What words of wisdom can you offer, and as such a busy man yourself, how do you seem to push aside your hectic schedule to actually write these award-winning tales? JC: Every writer works in a different way. I for example start with a concept, or a phrase, and then it may be days, weeks or months before I sit down to put pen to paper. And yes, it quite often starts with pen and paper. By the time my…I don’t know what you’d call it…subconscious…I refer to it as the lizard brain, has processed everything in background and I’m ready…I can’t explain it, somehow, I just know it’s time, and I sit down and write, and then it comes out in a flood. Others tend to be meticulous plotters. I can’t do that. I like the words to surprise me. Best advice though is sit down and write. Doesn’t matter about the voices or where you are or when you are, just sit down and write. When I’m truly on a run, I tend to get up really early around 5:00 and work for a couple of hours every day. It’s  amazing how much you can produce on that schedule. Do you read as much as you write? If so, do you prefer old-fashioned paperbacks or hardcovers, or have you been swept away by the e-reader nation also? JC: I read voraciously and across multiple genres. My Kindle saved my life. It’s perfect for travel. I usually have three or four books on the go at any one time. The psychological horror, EMPTIES is your latest novel. The thrilling plot left me on the very edge of my seat! As you’re writing riveting and mysterious books such as this, do you plan on picking readers’ brains and leaving their mouths agape? Or, is this just a gift that comes naturally to you?  JC: Heh. This is always the way I would like to leave readers. I like to screw with their thought processes, perhaps challenge their preconceptions and their own versions of their own realities. If something you read doesn’t challenge you in some way, then I’m not sure it’s done its job, unless you are looking at pure escapism, but then that’s a challenge to normality as well.  You have confessed that La Jeune Martyre by Paul Delaroche is your favorite painting which not only currently is displayed in the Louvre Museum in Paris, but also in your home as well above your workspace. There is no question that it is an exquisite piece. Does this work of art withhold any sentimental value to you, and has it been an inspiration for your determination to write?

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JC: I just like the mix of beauty and darkness. The shadowy figure in the background, the tragedy, the beauty of the sacrifice, it’s all there. I have sat in front of this piece in the Louvre (it’s quite large) and simply marveled. Do you currently have any works in progress that you can share with us? JC: I am currently in the final stages of a new novel called The Memory Box where I spend time exploring the way we modify our own memories of the way things happened and distort them to fit our own perceptions of ourselves. It also plays with the idea that a town or a city may have its own collective consciousness or set of memories and that they help to shape our actions as well. I’m also playing with a couple of other concepts and I expect those to turn into some pen on paper really very soon. Of course, another short story is always likely to pop out at any time, so keep watching.  

Interview with Costi Gurgu

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by Jaime A. Geraldi

RECIPEARIUM is now published by White Cat Publications in English. This will bring many more book lovers involved into your diverse past, present and future works. You have graciously accepted numerous awards for your extraordinary writing. What are your hopes and aspirations regarding this new release?

First of all, this new release will bring Recipearium to the English speaking market, which is quite a big aspiration in itself. And through Recipearium I hope to open the hearts of North American readers to the rest of my fiction as well as to Romanian Speculative Fiction in general.

And second of all, I hope to win a few more awards. :)

Were you concerned that your voice or the storyline would change due to the translation? 

I didn’t do a straightforward translation; more like a re-write in English. And I do know that my voice changed with it; though hopefully not significantly. As for the storyline, it pretty much stayed the same, though I had to re-plot some scenes to make them more suitable to the North-American market. And there’s also an extra section at the end that will only be in the English version.

Some have said that RECIPEARIUM is the “new weird”. Most Sci-Fi novels are the pure essence of strange. What makes this tale different from the rest?

Several publishers told me that they hadn’t read anything like it, and therefore they couldn’t compare it to any other book. Yes, at first I wanted to thank them because they practically told me it really was an original novel, but only later I realized that they meant they wouldn’t know how to market it and sell it. They didn’t even know if it would sell, because nobody has sold something similar before.

When I signed the contract in Romania, my Romanian publisher also didn’t know how to market it. So, my editor decided to write and talk about it like any other book and completely ignored that one thing that made it different. He hoped that when the readers discovered it, they would already be hooked and therefore it would be too late for them to freeze in awe. J

It paid off. The story proved a success. Not only because of the awards and the numerous reviews but mostly because of the satisfied readers. One literary critic said in his Short History of Romanian Speculative Fiction that Recipearium is:  “the peak of weirdness in Romanian speculative fiction. Wrongfully judged and received by editors, some critics and some fans as a work of fantasy when for the following reasoning it is science fiction (…) Dare to contradict me, especially under new weird banner!”

So, as a conclusion, I won’t tell you what makes it different from the rest. I want my readers to discover it for themselves. And I promise you it’s not the kind of surprise that goes BANG! It creeps on you slowly.

Most readers already have established a wild imagination thanks to authors like you. How do you plan on conquering North America and win over this gigantic fan base as opposed to the Romanians who are already large supporters of your work?

Ideally, Recipearium is going to open a sea of possibilities for readers and authors alike. By knowingly breaking some hard rules in my novel with a compelling story that works, I will draw readers to crave for more.

My work introduces a European feel and mood to North American values and approaches. European Speculative Fiction is strange and different to North American readers. So, what I’ve done with some of my new stories is to bring Romanian subjects and themes to the American readership in a way that they can focus on the new ideas and mythologies in a style and structure they are familiar with.

I understand you have lived in several countries including Romania, England, and most recently Canada. How does your experience dwelling in dissimilar continents striving to adapt to different cultures serve as an inspiration to your novels?

The truth is that every new experience has been a cultural shock. Only by living and working in a country or in a city long enough, can you really immerse yourself in the local life. A very different experience than being a tourist.

I thought this applied only to me as I moved from a former Communist country to a Western society, England. But after three years in England, my movement to Canada hasn’t been as easy as I thought. English speaking country, yet so different from England in almost every aspect. I always blamed myself for having had a different background.

And then a Canadian friend of mine moved to England for a new job. His first message from there was an exasperated one; he shared that he finally understood how I felt coming to a different country and speaking a different language.

“What do you mean, different language?” I asked him. “You’re from Canada; you speak English.”

“Oh, no. I can barely understand them and they ask me to repeat myself continuously as my accent is too hard for them. My accent!!!” he replied.

With every new experience that I suffered and enjoyed, it has become more clear to me how it should be for those characters in SF&F stories who move to different planets, parallel worlds, foreign kingdoms or fantastic realms. Unless they’re there only for a week of sightseeing (which won’t make the book very interesting), the moving to a new place heroes should undergo the cultural shock born in the transition from their world to the new one.

Even if they moved to a colony of their homeland, the differences between the realms should be significant enough (as seen in the different cultures of England and its former colonies) to make the hero struggle to adapt.

Once you begin to develop a character or concentrate on world-building, do you find it to be a challenge to mold them into what is needed to direct the plot? Or, do you let the individuals take over and pave the way?

I always needed to plan a little. Lately though, I discovered I need even more planning. I’m now a firm believer that the main plot needs to be planned from the beginning.

But then, when I do my world-building, there are certain unforeseen aspects of the new world I create that dictate changes into my initial planning. They would add new dimensions to my plot, because a new world is always full of its own stories and facts that I need to weave into my main plot.

Same thing happens when I write my characters. Sometimes I’m well into my story and one of my characters proves to be more stubborn than me and takes my story into a new direction because she’s a bit different than I first conceived her, or because she’s evolved differently than I thought she would.

It’s good to plan from the beginning, but then the writer needs to follow the characters’ natural evolution, as well as melt the new world’s discovery into the main plot.

You have once been quoted to say that the reality is different between European and American genre writing. Could you explain or be more specific?

Sure. In my opinion there are two major differences.

The first one is of perception. In Europe we read fiction works by writers from over seventy countries from all around the world. That is over seventy different cultures in which their authors write stories without worrying that maybe a foreign reader would not understand a certain social, political or cultural event, or a certain attitude, habit or tradition.

Yes, maybe the South American characters act according to a different code of social conduct than Romanians, or maybe French characters’ attitude is strange for a Bulgarian reader, or Chinese motivations are weird to Greeks. But if the story or the characters are gripping enough, all those things don’t stop us from getting the underlying concept from the context and we just keep reading.

The stories we read can take place in real cities or villages from different and unfamiliar parts of the world. Usually the European writer doesn’t care that his readers may have never been in his city and he keeps telling the story as if all his readers are his co-nationals, or even his neighbours.

We embrace the exotic, the foreign, the strange, the unknown… the alien.

American editors have rejected translating huge names from European speculative fiction because they’re considered too strange and not easily understood by North American readers. Because the North American readership has read only North American genre writers for the past fifty years and they wouldn’t accept something different than an American way of perceiving reality and interpreting information. Something that may be too far from the North American system of values.

“But they’re readers of Science Fiction! I mean, they read Science Fiction or Fantasy because they want to be transported to different worlds. You mean that the American readers better understand a story happening on a strange planet or in the underworld, but they will find it difficult to follow a story happening in Bruges, or Warsaw?” I replied.

North American editors don’t appear to have that confidence in their readers. I, on the other hand, have that confidence. It has been proven to me over and over again, that the true SF&F reader, European or North American, is thirsty for new and exotic, and strange, and alien.

The second aspect is technical. It’s about the writing techniques, the story structure, the point of view approach, and so on. It’s an aspect I will not detail here. Suffice to say that while in North America a writer is supposed to write according to a certain and more strict system of technical rules if she’s to be accepted by professional markets, in Europe the editors don’t care if the writer abides by the rules or breaks them, as long as it’s good writing and the readers want more of that author.

Are there any more ideas or works in progress that we can look forward to?

Definitely. Many more.

I’m actually about to finish my first movie script. It’s a Sci-Fi Political Thriller loosely based on one of my novellas. It will certainly be a blockbuster. :)

And I just finished another novel. A Science Fiction novel with some traces of humor. It will have a lighter touch than Recipearium and it will be my first attempt at humor.

I also wrote a second story in the Recipearium universe. It’s called The Lost Tribe and it’s my second attempt at developing this world farther. The first attempt was the short story Secret Recipes published in 2013 in the anthology Tesseracts Seventeen. Secret Recipes happens exactly before the beginning of the events in the novel.

Right now I’m working on my first time travel story that I think will bring a new direction for this kind of stories. It is a subject that has fascinated me since I first read in 1978 The Overlords of War by Gerard Klein, an unusual time travel story that has certainly given a new direction to French Science Fiction in general, back in the seventies. With my story, time travel will become the new hot trend in the years to come. Just watch for it!

An Interview with the One and Only Cat Rambo

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You have a penned a plethora of published short stories and have authored more than several books with two up and coming this year including, Twelve Clockwork Angels and A Cavern Ripe with Dreams. Can you give us a sneak peek as to what to expect?

Right now, I’m finishing up a rewrite of a novel that is the first of a fantasy trilogy set in the fantasy city I have written a number of short stories in, Tabat. This year, I have stories coming out in a number of anthologies, including Beyond the Sun, Glitter and Mayhem, and By Faerie Light, as well as several in magazines, like Daily Science Fiction.

As a former tarot card reader, is the occult something you dabble with frequently, and does it help spark creative thought for your stories?

I use tarot cards mainly as a meditative device. I tend not to be particularly superstitious, but I do believe that I am part of a larger organism, the universe, and so I try to listen for any signals it might be sending me, particularly any interesting story ideas. Most professional fortune-telling seems pretty scam like to me.

I understand you travel alot. With numerous events you plan to attend in the upcoming year across the country and overseas, do you carry a lucky talisman to keep bad vibes away while you’re not at home in the Pacific Northwest?

I usually have a small stuffed animal to keep me company. I don’t know that it’s particularly lucky, but it gives me someone to talk to when alone in the hotel room.

Amongst journalism, book reviewing and editing, game writing is also another talent of yours. Will there be any new and exciting games about to debut soon?

My husband, who is a software developer, and I have talked about several possible mobile games. However, that’s on the back burner right now while I finish up this novel. :-)

Blogging has become very popular over the past few years and I have also noted that you are an active blogger yourself. Wearing so many different hats must take up most of your free time. What do you do to help you prioritize and organize, and what helps you wind down to recharge your batteries?

I tried to track my time. In the class on creating an online presence for writers that I teach, prioritizing and tracking time are two of the ways that I suggest in order to avoid spending all one’s time on social media. One of the problems of being a writer is the constant daily illusion of requests for blurbs, assistance with volunteer projects, advice, etc. I have, written on my office whiteboard, “it’s okay to say no.” That is pretty important.

As far as recharging goes, I try to walk four or five miles each day. I also work in my mother’s garden. Gardening reminds me to slow down and let things continue at their own pace. You can’t hurry growth.

Teaching online classes about publishing, editing and book reviewing must be rewarding. Have you received any recent praise from your students, and do you have any tips to keep focused?

I get really nice notes from students all the time, but a lot of the validation for the classes comes in the form of student success. I’m sharing a table of contents with former students in several upcoming projects, and that pleases me enormously. I asked students to mail me their success stories, and I love hearing about them. I’ve had a student accepted to Clarion West for the last two years, and I expect great things from both of them.

Staying focused is a perennial problem for me. Lists are a good way to manage it, as long as they don’t have so many items on them that you feel as though you are drowning in a sea of work items. In the latter case I’ve learned to go through and jettison the really unimportant items.

One of your most current works, Near and Far features short stories, some in the near future and some in the far future. In your opinion, how close do you think the 21st century has evolved towards creating advanced inventions and technology, as to what we believed would or wouldn’t occur years ago?

I am constantly amazed by new advances in science. It seems to me speculative fiction writers are good at extrapolating future technology, but the really good ones figure out how society will change in reaction to that technology. Take the Internet, for example, or mobile devices. I think the technology was anticipated, but not many of us realized what it might do to dinner conversation. I was at a restaurant the other day where everyone at the table was checking their phone. I don’t think anyone realized how ubiquitous that behavior would become.

Thank you again for your time. I wish you lots of luck and continued success!

Interview by Jaime Geraldi