Saturday, February 13, 2010

Post 1117 – Interview with Horror Writer Steve Vernon

January 11, 2010

 

 

 

Steve Vernon and I met at the Elephant and Castle on George Street in downtown Halifax, just past 4:30pm on January 11th, 2010.  It was a very cold night indeed.  It seemed appropriate for two men to talk about ghosts and horror on such an evening, in such an old building.

My thanks to  Steve for his time and his patience.



1. Do you think of yourself as a horror writer, or a writer who chooses to write in the horror genre?


Steve Vernon: Well, I am a horror writer. That's not all I am. I write ghost stories. I write fiction in general. But, I'm very reluctant to say that I'm not a horror writer because I write a fair bit of horror.


Bevboy: OK. Why did you make the distinction between ghost stories and horror?


SV: Well, ghost stories are more connected with folklore. Horror is definitely fiction. It's stories of monsters. It can be a story of a ghost, but when I talk about ghost stories I'm definitely talking about folklore and history and old yarns. DSCF3920


BB: And, when it comes to horror: Any ghost stories would be of a malevolent nature, would you say?


SV: Not necessarily malevolent. But, it would definitely be fictional.

BB: And, ghost stories, as far as you're concerned, are always rooted in folklore, and therefore have some degree of truth associated with them?

SV: Well, you can write a fictional ghost story, and I have; but I'd be strictly talking fiction.






2. Tell me about your first PROFESSIONAL sale.


SV: That happened way back in the mid '80's. It was to a motorcycle magazine, actually. "Hawgs" was the name of the motorcycle magazine. It was one of their early issues. It was sort of a Mad Max tale about a motorcyclist who was living in this post-apocalyptic world. He was riding along on his motorcycle and came along to a bridge. There was a tollgate on the bridge and he had no idea what a toll was. There was a pretty important reason why he couldn't just drive on through: The tollgate was automated and armed. [chuckles]

BB: Fair enough. Was [the story] commissioned by editors, or did you sell it on spec?

SV: Sold on spec. Most of my work has been sold on spec. I write it first and then send it off. It's only been the last few years that I've reached the level where I can call up an editor and say, "OK, I'm going to something", and they say, "Cool. We're willing to buy it."

BB: Getting back to the first sale: You would have realized that there was a magazine called "Hawgs" and you thought, "Well, gosh, maybe I can write a story for these guys?" Or did the story occur to you and you thought, "Well, let's fit it to this market."?

SV: Well, no. I had read in a market listing that there was a market for fiction in this particular motorcycle magazine. Back in the mid '80's, there was a lot more fiction in magazines. These days, if you can pick up a motorcycle magazine, you're just going to see straight articles on motorcycles. Back then, there was fiction in motorcycle magazines. There was fiction in pornography magazines – such as Cavalier. Stephen King got a lot of his early start writing for that market.

BB: I was about to say Stephen King wrote a lot of stories for magazines that aren't even around any more. DSCF3921


SV: I missed that market. I just missed it by a year or two. By the time I was getting into writing, they had gotten out of buying fiction, or I would have thrown stories their way, too, because they paid reasonably well.

BB: Isaac Asimov, for God's sake, used to write for "Adam", I think it was. A lot of these "George and Azazel" stories, he wrote for that magazine.

SV: They paid better than the science fiction magazines did. It was a good sale if you got one of those.

BB: Were you paid by the word for this first professional sale?

SV: Yes. Most short story sales are generally by the word. Most reputable short story sales.

BB: I think I know the answer to this, but how do they compute wordage? They don't literally count [the words]. They figure there are so many words per page. Isn't that how it works?

SV: Originally, that's how they did it, back when we used typewriters. But, now, we have computers. You can just press "word count", and it'll tell you how many words [there are]. So, if you wrote a 7000 word story, you hit the "word count" button, and it would tally it up, and if the editor hit his "word count" button and it tallied the same, he'd pay you by that number.

BB: So, it can be more of a precise amount now, as opposed to some give and take as there was back then?

SV: Exactly.







3. People who don't write for a living, think writers have it easy. You sit around the house all day, drink coffee, dash off something. Tell me about some of the realities of being a writer.


SV: Well, one of the realities right off is: Most writers I know, including myself, have a day job. I do not write for a living. I make, I would estimate, about a quarter of my yearly income from my writing. But, you still have to have a day job. Most writers I know still have to have day jobs. It's a very hard go. It's not a lucrative business. Don't be fooled by writers like Stephen King, who, I won't say they got lucky, but make the trick work. It's a very hard way to make a living.

BB: Yes. I'm not sure what other word there is than "luck". Stephen King is talented, and his book happened to reach the right editor at the right time.

SV: There will always be an element of luck, of timing, and you have to have a good story. But, it's an unpredictable business.

BB: Period.

SV: Period! [chuckles]






4. Are you a member of the Writers’ Federation of Nova Scotia (WFNS)? What does it do, and is it worthwhile being a member?


SV: I'm a member of the Writers' Federation. I've been a member for a lot of years. DSCF3922 For one thing: It's a terrific network just to meet other writers. You have to realize: Writing is a very solitary business. I go home. I sit by my computer. I write. I'll email people or I'll talk to people on message boards, on forums. I do the Facebook now – I guess you're not alive if you don't do the Facebook. But, other than that, it's not a job where you can go to the lunch room and hang with the other writers. You need a network. You need a base. And the Writer's Federation brings writers together.


The other side of things is that they help me with my income. As a member of the Writer's Federation, I've written to a certain level of professionalism that I qualify to be a member of the Writer's Council, which allows me access to The Writers In The School Program. Every year, I go to many different schools across the Maritimes. I present on storytelling and on writing. That's directly through The Writer's Federation. I'm paid an honourarium for that work. It is a part of my writing income. In addition to just being a real cool way to get kids worked up about writing, about words, about stories, it's something that needs to be done. It's work that needs to be done. You need to reach the children out there.

BB: How did you get worked up over writing?


SV: Well, I always say I grew up in the woods of Northern Ontario. I didn't grow up IN the woods; it was a little town. There was a railroad track [that went] through it. It was a railroad junction, a little town called Capreol - about twenty miles north of Sudbury. I mostly spent my time going off to walk in the woods. I'd wander for miles and miles and miles. I'd hike out in the woods. I'd build cabins. I'd climb hills. Back then, I called them "mountains" [chuckles]. This was Northern Ontario, so they weren't anything but hills. So, I didn't have a lot of people to talk to. I think I learned to talk in my head.

Now there are two ways talking in your head can come out: You can stand on a street corner and talk to yourself. and they might arrest you for that. Or, you can learn to be a writer, so you can take the words that are in your head and bring them out. I think I learned how to write before I learned how to talk.

BB: All right. You mentioned that you learned to write. In order to learn to write, correct me if I'm wrong, but you must have an innate ability to write to begin with.

SV: You have to have a passion for it. Writing is something I'll do regardless. I'll just sit down, and I'll write a story. If I'm not writing one, I'm thinking about writing one.






5. Name five writers whose work you greatly admire.


SV: I do admire Hemingway. I like his short work. That's a little hoity toity for some folks.


I enjoy Stephen King's work, his early stuff, up until his fifth of sixth book. "Salem's Lot". "Cujo". I don't really like his later stuff.

BB: It's hard to get into.

SV: He's getting a little windy. He seems to take too long to say anything. I like to cut to the chase, get to the story. Let's take this on a ride here, not a saunter.

For poets: Milton Acorn. Bukowski.


Brian Keene.


BB: I have a couple of his books.


SV: Joe Lansdale. I really enjoy his work. And Stephen Hunter. DSCF3923


BB: Oh, the Bob Lee Swagger books?


SV: I love them.


BB: I've only read "Point of Impact" so far, but there's this whole universe of Bob Lee Swagger and his dad Earl.


SV: Pick up "Hot Springs" or "Pale Horse Riding". Both of those are just awesome. Now, "Pale Horse" is sort of a "Magnificent Seven". One of the Swaggers has a buddy who's caught in a prison camp, old-time Cool Hand Luke style. Out in the dark, deep swamp. It runs by its own rules, and nobody can get to it: It's that deep into the swamps. So, Swagger rides up with seven gunslingers. It's old school. It's like "Seven Samurai", the "The Magnificent Seven".


BB: I have read "Point of Impact". There's a website that suggests the order in which you should read the Swagger books. I want to stick to that, because they form a cohesive story. In "Point of Impact", they talk about how Earl Swagger died. Then, eventually, that novel came out. They keep alluding to other [events].


SV: What helps for me is I buy my books, a lot of them, at used bookstores. I don't have any control over the order I buy them in. I've learned to adapt. [chuckles]


BB: Where do you buy most of your used books?

SV: Oh, pretty near any used bookstore in town. I go to "The United Bookstore" [on Barrington Street]. I go to "Back Pages" [on Queen Street]. I go to "John Doull's" [also on Barrington].

BB: Can you find anything in John Doull's bookstore?

SV: Oh, yes.

BB: I keep thinking I'll go in there and they won't see me for two weeks because I'll be crushed under an avalanche of books.

SV: [chuckles] It's a different sort of bookstore. But, I'm comfortable with the mess. I kind of like going in there.

BB: Do you ever see yourself going into the e-book route? Not in terms of writing, but in terms of buying one of those readers and downloading a book?

SV: I am interested in that. I'm waiting to see how it shakes down. There's a half dozen different types [of ebook readers] out there at least.


BB: If not more.DSCF3924


SV: I don't want to get caught in the whole vhs/beta trap. I don't want to buy one and find it goes extinct.


BB: And they are expensive enough that you don't want to waste your money.

SV: They're going to come down [in price] because they're getting popular. They're going to settle.

BB: There was a big demand for them at Christmas time. Demand exceeded supply there for a while.

SV: Well, the Kindle seems to be really looking like something to watch for. The Sony Reader? That's been around for a while. That's pretty good. I think I'd prefer the Kindle.

BB: It looks like fun, doesn't it?

SV: It does. I've seen one in action. My poor old bookshelves would truly appreciate something electronic because I've got so many books. I've got them on shelves. I've got them on the floor.


BB: You should see my house! I have a whole room upstairs. It's supposed to be a bedroom. No room for a bed in there. It's all full of books. My fiancé is not happy with me.


SV: Well, you can tell her she married a reader. Or, she has to know that that's part of the package. You're not going to change. I'm pretty certain. I've organized mine a little better. I've culled a bit. But it's never going to look like a library. It's always going to look like a hoard.






6. I first met you in 1996 at Wolfcon. You have probably attended many such conventions. Why have science fiction/comics/horror conventions not consistently caught on in Nova Scotia? There hasn't been one here in years (but there'll be one here in the Fall, I know).


SV: Yes. Halcon is coming back. Halcon was, I believe, the first convention that I attended. That was 100 years ago. That was a long time ago.

Why haven't they caught on? Well, we don't have a very large population base to draw from. Living here, you seem like there's all kinds of people. Living in Halifax: "All, there's all kinds of people". But, when you compare it to Toronto or New York or some other bigger place--- when you go to Ontario, they have half a dozen different conventions go on every year, at least. Big ones. They just have a bigger population base. You have to be able to be able to draw numbers of people in through the doors. People who pay admission. People who pay enough to support it to turn it into a viable operation. So, other than that, it's just not going to happen.

I feel bad about that because I'd love conventions like that. There's one that goes on in Newfoundland. "Sci-Fi on the Rock", I think they call it.

BB: I never heard of it before.


SV: Steve Vernon B It's in its fourth year. They've been putting it on regularly.


BB: Have you been?


SV: No. Newfoundland, I've never been. Every other province, but not Newfoundland. Not yet. One of these days.


BB: Will you attend Halcon this year?


SV: Well, I haven't been invited, because I don't necessarily write science fiction. They're looking for science fiction writers.

BB: I'm sure they could bend the rules for horror? I mean, you're a genre writer. What's wrong with [having you be invited to Halcon]?

SV: Well, I'm certain I could wheedle my way in, but I've got a couple more books that I hope to have come out in the next year or so that should raise me to the level where I will be a bit more in demand. People will call me to conventions and such. Right now, the books that I'm known for in the Maritimes -- the ghost story collections -- those sell like the devil. Those are very cool, very entertaining, but not necessarily a convention-drawing card.






7. What professional work of yours are you the most proud of?DSCF3925


SV: I'm very pleased with how "Maritime Monsters" turned out, my very first children's picture book. That just came out this September, 2009. It's selling well. It hasn't received a lot of exposure. There were very few reviews – although we received a tremendous review in the January issue of CM. I wasn't interviewed for the book – either on radio or television – an I usually am. It slipped under the radar somehow. [For] all my ghost story collections, I was on the radio, I was in the newspaper, I was on the tv. This one just sort of slipped under the radar. But, I think it's going to have long-term legs. I think it will sell a lot better.

And, I'm very pleased with a book that I've turned into Nimbus that they're just looking at right now. It's my first Young Adult novel – entitled Deeper. It doesn't have anything to do with ghosts, but it does have a connection with a lot of my work. I'm trying to branch out.




8. Have you ever sold a story or a novel to an editor and had it published without any major changes?


SV: [With] the first ghost story collection I released, "Haunted Harbours", there was an awful lot of editing. The second book I released, through Nimbus, "Wicked Woods", very little editing. It was because I paid attention to what they told me the first time around.


There's always editing; you're not going to get away from it. You have to be careful if you're an up-and-coming writer, not to start believing in your own p.r. too much and thinking, "OK, my words are sacred. You can't mess with them." Because editors know what they're talking about, as a rule.

There was all kinds of editing going with "Maritime Monsters". It was a children's book. It's very hard to write a children's book. You have to pare your words down. You have to hit hard. You have to hit fast. You can't beat around the bush, if you're talking to kids. They want the story. They want to get right to it. There was only one place where the editor came to me and said, "Can you change this?" I said, "No." But, everything else, I changed. The editor said, "Change it." I said, "Good.". We changed it; let's get this book out there.

BB: I'm curious to know what kind of editorial interjections were made.

SV: For a novel, continuity and voice are very big. It is very easy to slip from voice in the middle of a 300 page novel. It is very easy to slip continuity. You have your hero walk in, fire his gun six times, walk a little further and then fire again without reloading. The editor's going to pick that up and say, "Hey, wait a minute. Shouldn't you put something in here: 'He stopped to reload'?" That's a silly example. I don't have too many guns in my storytelling. But continuity is a big one.

BB: Do you want to go on record and say they have made the published work worse? Or, has it always been an improvement?

SV: I have learned an awful lot from my editors I've become a better writer just in the last few years.

BB: Do you want to identify who they are? Share their names?

SV: Well, there have been different editors for each of my books. I wouldn't want to single one out. But, definitely, my editors at Nimbus and at the other publishers that I write for, as a rule, they help.

Now, I have met a couple of editors, especially working for smaller outfits, that don't necessarily know what they're talking about, because editing is like writing: You don't have to necessarily have to have any kind of degree to hang a sign on yourself and say, "OK, I'm an editor. I'm a writer." It's the same deal. There's a lot of people out there who say they're writers. They can't necessarily write. You don't get a degree for this. I know there are college programs out there, but as a rule, the only degree you have is: How often have you been published, and how often have people paid you money? Have professionals valued your work and said, Steve Vernon C "OK, here's an advance. We think you're worth it." If you're not getting paid for it, where are you measuring your scale?


I meet a lot of writers who say, "I just write for the fun of it." There's nothing wrong with that. But, it's hard work to get it out to the market and sell it.


BB: How about bloggers like me? I don't do this for any kind of money. I do this because I want to and I find meeting you guys interesting, and I like to express myself. Is there a place for that?

SV: Well, I know you're a techie. You've told me you work in I.T., so electrons must sing through your blood. You must have some kind of headcount on that site.

BB: I do.

SV: You do. You know for yourself a lot of people line up to read your stuff.

BB: I wish. But I have days when a lot of people read [my posts], yes.

SV: So, you're reaching the public. And you're not doing what you're doing for pay. It's a blog. It's very hard to sell a blog. There are blogs out that people get paid for, but it's not a huge market. And, if you're going to sell your blog, you have to be able to say, "I have a million readers, right now, who always come to my door, who get up every morning and read my blog". You have to bring your own market with you.

BB: I have about 30 every day.

SV: Bloggers like you help get my word out, because every person who says - "Steve Vernon! I have to check his stuff out." - is probably going to come across it on a blog like yours. That's valuable to me.

BB: And, things like podcasts. You and I both listen to the Pod of Horror with Mark Justice. I think it's great. I just wish he did them more often. They come out sporadically sometimes.

SV: He's a radio deejay. I'm not sure where he is. He does it professionally, so his podcasts are almost like more work. It's like, if you were a warehouse worker, and somebody said, "Well, you should come move furniture for fun". Well, I do this all day. I don't want to do it again.

BB: Maybe that's why they're not coming out as much as I'd like, because they are work. They sound so professional compared to most podcasts. He's just really good at it.

SV: He's got a great broadcasting voice. The man's built for radio. He's a great guy, too.

BB: I follow him on twitter. That's about my dealings with him there.

SV: He was an editor for one anthology that just came out: "Appalachian Winter Haunts".


BB: That was the one with Santa Claus as a skeleton or something?


SV: You've got it. Weird, sort-of green Santa Claus with icicles coming down off his nose. appalachianholidayhauntingscover I wrote a story for that. He contacted me and said, "Steve, I want to have you in this." It was all Appalachian-based ghost stories centred originally around Christmas, but then he decided to branch out to Winter so they could sell it all Winter, not just wait for the Christmas season.


BB: Where could I get a copy of that? Through the Horror Mall?


SV: Through the Horror Mall. Through the publisher. But, you go to my website; I have a link to it.

BB: And I’m happy to link to your website!

SV: Just Google Steve Vernon and you’ll find me. It's one of those Eastlink ones. I can never remember it.

BB: For about 10 dollars, you can buy your own domain name.

SV: I can buy a domain name, but I still can't get it under Eastlink, unless I want to pay more. They'd call it a business site. If I bring my own name, automatically it steps it into a different pay [rate]. I'm broke. [chuckles]

BB: I have a blog, and it's free. But, I was able to transfer the contents of the blog into Bevboysblog.com .







9. What type of computer do you use for your writing? What word processor do you use? Do you print your stories out and mail them to an editor the old-fashioned way, or do you use e-mail nowadays?


SV: What sort of computer do I have?

BB: Windows-based?

SV: Yes. I started writing, back in the mid '80's, by hand. I wrote my first novel in pen, on looseleaf. About 300 pages, 5 drafts. By hand. It was a Harlequin romance. Somebody had told me that if you learn to write Harlequin romances, you can get rich. Now, I didn't read Harlequin romances much. I don't care for them. But, I thought, "OK. I can write them." So, I wrote one, and it stunk. And, it didn't sell. But, I learned a lot from the experience.

And, then I bought a typewriter. I used a typewriter for a few years. I stepped up to an IBM 286, which I had for 10 or 15 years. Since then, I moved up. These days, I use a standard Windows, a very basic printer. An HP....

BB: Is it a bubble jet? Or a laser?

SV: No. It's just an inkjet.

BB: And what word processor do you use?

SV: Just Word. I'm not a techie. I use what's basic, and what works. Because I'm not going to do anything fancy. I need something that will take down words.

BB: But, you would have had to buy Word? Unless the computer came with it.

SV: Well, I bought it through PC Medic. It was like a bulk package. It came with a word processing program. It came with virus protection, and different things like that.

Let's see. Do I send through email? Oh, God, yes! I love email. When I started, it was through the mail. I used to have to go to a stamp collecting store to buy mint United States stamps. He would bring them in, and he would sell them to fellows like me who were looking for return postage, because you used to have to send an SASE [Self-Addressed, Stamped Envelope]. I sold mostly to American markets, so I had to have American stamps. Now, I pop it in the email and fire it off. I hear back from the editor a day later, depending on the market. That's terrific.

When you mailed, you wouldn't know if you'd hear from [the editor] six months from now.

BB: You would hope that he got it at all.

SV: Yes. Now, you still run into that. You can't help it in the writing business. You'll get editors you won't hear back from for six months. But, if he can get right back to you, it's very easy for him to get right back to you, through the email.

BB: Do you, what's the term, multiply submit? You submit [a story] to more than one publication at once?

SV: No. That can work out bad for you. I don't submit the same story to different people at the same time. I might get somebody that says, "I'll buy that." I might get two offers to buy it. Then, all of a sudden, I have to say, "You know..." . You can end up looking stupid. You can end up looking unprofessional. If you get caught, it doesn't look good.

BB: Well, if you submit a story to Editor X over here, and it takes him six months to get back to you Yea or Nay, your story has been tied up for six months, [time] you could have spent submitting it to [Editor] B or C. Right? DSCF3926


SV: Well, especially with email, submission is the least bit of the process. Ideally, if I've got a story that's tied up for six months, I'm not thinking about it, because I'm working on something else. If you get caught up on waiting for something to come back, you've missed the point. You're supposed to be writing something new.

BB: Sure. Have you ever written a story, and submitted it, and then completely forgotten about it because it took them so long to get back to you?

SV: Yes.

BB: It has happened?

SV: Not often, but there's been a couple. Richard Chizmar, who was my editor at Cemetery Dance, was buying my stuff since the mid '80's. He'd bought this one story of mine. It was a time in my life when everything fell apart. I went through a divorce. I let go of everything. I went off on a long distance trip across Canada. Hitch-hiked to BC; worked out in the woods. I was blowing off steam. For a while, you couldn't reach me. I was travelling too fast. It wasn't that I was homeless; I was just moving too fast.

I came home something like 2 years after I last talked to him. I got connected with him. He said, "Golly, Steve. I've been waiting to get hold of you. I knew you'd call me sooner or later." He had two cheques sitting for me,.because one of my stories had been printed, and reprinted in three different anthologies. He had this big fat old cheque. He sent it to me. He didn't have to do that. I didn't know about it. But, he wants to work with me again. He's working with me right now on a 4 author collection of 4 Weird West novellas that should be coming out sometime in 2010. I'd imagine, late 2010. It's called "Four Rode Out" It'll be pretty good.

Richard was also kind enough to write a splendid introduction to my upcoming collection of short fiction – “Do-overs and Detours” – coming out in the summer of 2010 from Dark Regions Press.

BB: Do you have any control over where your work is sold? If you sell it to Cemetery Dance, do they have the right to sell it to an anthology down the road?

SV: Well, these were all Cemetery Dance anthologies. It was The Best of Cemetery Dance that came out in paperback. Then, he released a combined volume in hardcover. It was sort of The Best of Cemetery Dance, Deluxe. That counted as two different sales. And, then, he reprinted it in something else. There was a translation of it, and it went to other country; I can't remember what.

BB: And you get paid for the translation?

SV: I get paid a certain amount for that, too, yes. It's still my work. It's a new market.

BB: Interesting. I always wondered about that. Because, the translator would get a fee as well.

SV: That's correct.

BB: But, if an editor who liked the work that appeared in Cemetery Dance that you did, wants to reprint that story in his own anthology, he would contact you? Do you have a literary agent?

SV: I have never had an agent.

BB: People work with you directly?

SV: Yes.

BB: Or Belinda, I suppose.

SV: No. Me.

BB: So, if this person over here wants to reprint your story, he has to know how to contact you directly.

SV: That's correct.

BB: Presumably, the editor at Cemetery Dance would pass your contact information...

SV: He can get it through Cemetery Dance. He can get it through The Horror Writers' Association; I was a member for several years. He can get it through the Writers' Federation; they've got links to me.

BB: Or Google "Steve Vernon"?

SV: Yes. Google "Steve Vernon". It will take you right to my website.




10. What is your ultimate goal as a writer?


SV: I would love to make enough to just write for a living. Every year, I make a bit more. Especially with regional markets like Nimbus, where they keep my older books still on the market. "Haunted Harbours" haunted_harbours_1 is still out there for sale. So, every year I get two royalty cheques that come to me for four different books. When I write another Nimbus book, there'll be 5 Nimbus books. Each year, they sell a few more. It adds up, bit by bit. That would be my eventual goal: I would love to write for a living. Don't know if I'll get there, but that's where I'm pointed.


BB: Would it be easier if you were living in the United States, or Ontario, or any kind of a bigger market? Would you find it easier to make a living from writing? Because we're in Nova Scotia, and it's more difficult to attract a market.

SV: Well, if you can adapt yourself to the Nova Scotia market. Right now, I've got a solid toe hold in Nimbus. They know my stuff. They know it sells. If I call them up, they're ready to work with me. That's not always something you can find in a bigger market. Nimbus will do a lot for me that a larger publisher might not do, because I'm a big fish in a small pond. I'm not the biggest fish.

BB: You have a little bit of ... I don't want to say "clout", but you have some influence, maybe?

SV: Well, "Halifax Haunts" sold almost 3000 copies in its first Summer. That's huge for a regional [book]. Somebody told me once that if you sell 5000 copies of a Canadian book, you're into bestsellerdom in Canada. Now, in the U.S., 5000 is peanuts. It's nothing.

BB: How many copies has that Appalachian book sold? Do you know? That's regional as well.

SV: Yes. It's regional. I don't know the publisher. I don't know how well they market it. If they get it out to a lot of bookstores in the Appalachian states, it probably does similar numbers: Several thousand. But I kinda think it's just sold a few hundred, at a guess. I don't know the publisher that well. They hired me second hand. They hired Mark Justice, the editor, who then hired me. I'm just a lowboy on the totem pole.

BB: You were paid so many cents per word or whatever?

SV: Exactly. It was a work-for-hire. There aren't going to be any royalties from that book for me.. Just: "Here's your money. Go away."

BB: But, do you own that story? It's still your story, right?

SV: Certainly.

BB: And you can re-sell it to anybody else you want to?

SV: After a certain amount of time. When you sign the contract, they'll say, "Don't re-sell this for six months, or eight months, or a year".

BB: Whatever the term is.


SV: Yes. I have one contract that I've signed that makes me hold those stories with that publisher for 5 years. wicked_woods_1


BB: But, in return, they made it worth your while not to balk about that, I hope.


SV: Well, I signed it. I went along with it. It's a different case every time. Every contract has a little clause in there that is going to be different than the other contracts.


BB: How about something like: You can't take that story and adapt it into a screenplay? Would that count toward not re-selling it, because you're re-formatting it as a screenplay?

SV: That would be re-formatting, yes. It would definitely be something different.

BB: And you would be allowed to do that, if you wanted to?

SV: Exactly, yes. I've always wanted to write screenplays. I have dabbled with it. But that's a whole different market.

BB: Or a stage play?


SV: A stage play is something I'm seriously looking at. I'd love to do something with my ghost stories. I can see that working. gypsy_blood_1


BB: OK. Any nibbles you want to tell me about? You haven't sold it to anybody?


SV: I haven't approached anybody. I haven't even written it. But, I've put some thought into it. I only have so much time. I have to focus. Right now, I'm working in one direction. If I try to work in too many directions at once, I'm not going to get anywhere too fast.





11. For a given short story, is there such a thing as a typical time it takes to write one?


SV: No.halifax_haunts_1


BB: It can take you a week. It can take you two weeks. It can take you a year.


SV: I'm working on one right now that I've been hammering at for two weeks. I should have finished it sooner. It usually doesn't take that long.


BB: How do you know when you're done? You can tinker with it until the end of time if you want to.

SV: Well, it's like painting a picture. Sooner or later you say, "Well, I've put enough coats of paint on that", or , "I've tinkered with it enough." You just stop. You have to. You could dabble with it. You could tinker with it. You could pick [at] it. You could mess around with it, for a long time.

Fiction stories: It's a product. I'm a fiction factory. I'm going to put the product out and sell it. I don't want to think about myself as an artist. I put a lot of creativity into what I do. I put a lot of work into it. But it's business, too. I pride myself on, if an editor comes to me and says, "OK, I want it by this date", I hit my deadlines.

BB: I'm not sure what kind of lead-time you're given. Would it be a few months, potentially? He wouldn't say, "I want it next Tuesday."

SV: He might. I've had that. More for articles, because I do non-fiction as well. I write interviews and sell them, actually.

BB: With whom?

SV: With Cemetery Dance. I've just finished an interview for them with a fella named Maurice Broaddus I've only read his name. Cemetery Dance emailed me and said, "We want an interview with this fellow, and will you take it on and can you have it to us early January?" They didn't give me a date; they just said "early January". So, I emailed him and said, "Send me some of your stuff to read." I read his stuff, get an idea what he's like. Research it. Look into past interviews. Come up with a list of questions. He sends me the answers. I turn that into Cemetery Dance. maritime_monsters_1


I've actually been fortunate enough to interview Neil Gaiman.


BB: Oh, my God. Lucky you!


SV: Over the telephone. It was awesome. He was a dream interview. The man just talked. He talked for about an hour and a half.

BB: And you have to go through transcribing that, and editing it?

SV: I had the little socket that you plug the telephone [into]. It wasn't even one of those fancy electric ones. It was a socket like you stick in a window, like a suction cup. And one of those big old shoebox tape recorders.

BB: Nothing like this, huh? [points to digital voice recorder]

SV: No. You've got ritzy stuff.

BB: My gosh. So, you go through all the effort of transcribing it. How do you approach editing a transcription? When I transcribe this, I don't think of it as my place to re-write what you say. I think it's my place to reflect what you say. Unless you say something three times in a row.

SV: Yes. That's pretty well what you're looking for. Now, you might decide, "We've only got room for 15 questions. He answered 17 questions." So, you just tick 2 off.

BB: But, other than that: You edit out false starts. Or, "What I really meant to say was..." You edit those out. But other than that, pretty much what your subject says.

SV: Yes. It's an interview. You're supposed to take it... not exactly verbatim, but you strive for verbatim.

BB: That's what I do with these interviews. I learn this stuff as I go along.






Wrap Up:



BB: Steve Vernon, we've flown through these questions. It's five after six already. I thank you for your time, sir. This has been a wonderfully educational moment for me. I thank you for coming here tonight. Steve Vernon A


SV: It was my pleasure. I had a good time.


BB: Tell all your friends, all of your writer friends, about Bevboy's Blog. I mostly interview radio people, but I would love to branch out to writers, especailly fiction writers.

SV: I'll post it on my Facebook. There are a few Nova Scotia writers who follow that.

BB: And, if you have some horror writer friends in the States, I'll talk to them, too. I know it's hard to get your work out there.

Thank you once again.

Keep your eyes peeled here for a special Steve Vernon give away!

 



2 comments:

Sheila said...

I googled him. Great blog, I'll look for his books.

Les Muise said...

WOW! Now that's a long interview... great read & I've known Steve to see for years ... thanks