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AHWA chats with Mort Castle

by AHWA

[BT] on cue

[ashamel] Speak of the high priest of wickedness...

[ANW] Marty is the president of the AHWA, if you are not aware already.

[MartyY] Computer's been a bit grouchy tonight...

[MartyY] Hi Mort, welcome to Oz!

[MartyY] Hi folks

[GuestSpeaker] Hello, Marty, and yes, did know of your prezzing AHWA.

[GuestSpeaker] Yeah, Oz has been high up on my list ever since THE SUNDOWNERS film. Robert Mitchum, Deborah Kerr ... don't make 'em like that anymore.

[MartyY] Have you ever paid these shores a visit?

[GuestSpeaker] No, I've not been down your way. Most of my travel has been Europe and the western USA.

[GuestSpeaker] But did check it out and learned I can't drive to see you.

[BT] Do you plan to? I'd love to get my copy of on writing horror signed

[ANW] OK - I would like to welcome and thank Mort Castle for chatting with us today. Also a thank you to Rocky wood for making the initial contact. Hopefully we will get a few more people turn up as the chat progresses. Let's go.

[GuestSpeaker] At the moment, no real travel plans for me, though we are thinking about Poland. Besides, if you have television, who needs to travel anywhere?

[GuestSpeaker] Certainly, let's do this thing. GA

[ANW] OK. How did the guidebook come together? I just purchased a copy of the new edition recently and it is excellent.

[GuestSpeaker] Thanks for the good words. The new book grew, of course, out of the old one. Fortunately, HWA's very active and thoughtful James Lowder talked at length with Writer's Digest" "Time for a new version." WD agreed.

[GuestSpeaker] Needless to say, so did I. Both books were dream projects. When you have that many contributors and not a one of them fails to deliver the goods, it's a splendid experience.

[GuestSpeaker] So, there's the new book, incorporating technologies and sub-genres that didn't exist when the first one came out. GA

[ashamel] We've heard from the last speaker that 'horror' (so described) isn't selling at the moment. Is that a problem?

[GuestSpeaker] No, not really. Poetry isn't selling any too well at the moment. That doesn't mean that people aren't writing poetry--and reading it.

[ANW] I think his thrust was more that if it was called 'horror' it wasn't selling, compared to the same thing under a different name.

[ashamel] Yes. There is an awful lot of enthusiasm still, it seems

[kylaw] I consider horrific poetry to be an underrated field.

[GuestSpeaker] The cycles go up and down--and much of the good horror that is being published today might not be labelled horror--but it certainly is. Just read two of Jay Bonanasinga's wonderful Ulysses Grove books. on the spine: Thriller. At the root -- horror.

[GuestSpeaker] I open up THE NEW YORKER or Granta or TIN HOUSE and I read stories by Charles D'ambrosia, Tim Pratt, or Anthony Doerr.. They are horror stories.

[GuestSpeaker] And editing DOORWAYS, let's see, I'm looking at about 8 to 12 story submissions--a day. GA

[BT] What % of doorway subs are horror?

[GuestSpeaker] Horror is still here. The days of 100,000 books selling because the hype says IN THE TRADITION OF STEPHEN KING, yeah, that's done.

[GuestSpeaker] [BT] What % of doorway subs are horror? Maybe half--maybe more. Then again, I use a pretty loose definition of horror. I have no trouble calling HAMLET a horror story.

[ashamel] I'd go along with that

[MartyY] Shakespeare was a great horror writer

[ashamel] But then, I have annoyed people with my encompassing definitions :-)

[GuestSpeaker] He surely was. So was Mr. Hemingway... A clean well lighted place--and that's the best your can hope for? Tell me that's not horror. GA

[ANW] With Doorways, is there anything specific or something that you are looking for at the moment?

[taliehelene] Hi Mort. It's difficult [for me, anyway] to grasp how big publishing is in the US market... are there a lot of writers with horror [under that name, or not] as their bread-&-butter income?

[GuestSpeaker] There are perhaps 600 fiction writers in the entire USA who can and do earn a decent living writing--fiction, period. Of these, 10% earn 90% of the money. As for the classifications, well, that's marketing, not creating.

[taliehelene] sobering.

[GuestSpeaker] When horror was "hot," Rex Miller and James Ellroy were classed "horror writers." Then it wasn't hot--so they were "crime novelists."

[taliehelene] Obviously, writers with rich enough work can be repackaged into an adjacent genre easily enough anyway...

[ashamel] As a writing teacher, can you get an idea about emerging trends?

[The Goth Reaper] Hi Mort, do you think people sometimes don't read labelled horror because they associate the label with gore rather than suspense and fear?

[GuestSpeaker] But the reality of the business gives you a tremendous freedom--if you don't expect to make a gazillion at the trade, then you can focus on the work. And Zen-like, that can lead to making a gazillion.

[GuestSpeaker] el with gore rather than suspense and fear? You said it, Goth. That's why I was delighted to be read by a bunch of people--at a Christian writing conference. "Oh, you're dealing with questions of ... The human condition"--and not a chainsaw in every chapter. GA

[BT] Apart from teaching, Doorways and other pursuits, what are you working on now as far as your own writing?

[GuestSpeaker] Just finished up the ms. for NEW MOON ON THE WATER. A collection of new and selected stories. Working on a collaboration with the later Jerry Williamson, a dear friend: a Sherlock Holmes novella. (Jerry was the youngest ever fully investor BSI member.)

[GuestSpeaker] Got a major comic book compilation coming out (can't talk yet because of contract issues, but it's nice. ..)

[GuestSpeaker] Fooling a bit with writing for the stage--mainly 'cause I have done so little of that and want to try something new.

[ashamel] Ah, comics. Seem to be big business at the moment

[GuestSpeaker] Very nice that I have hit this point in my life at which I write what I choose to write. GA

[GuestSpeaker] Comics are a big deal, even though very few make a profit just through comics sales. The spin-off stuff ... ah ha. The graphic novels ... now treated like honest to goodness real books. Ah ha. GA

[taliehelene] [ aside - anyone who wants to click through to links regarding Mort's current publishing projects, will find a bunch over at HorrorScope -- http://ozhorrorscope.blogspot.com/2008/05/news-mort-castle-special-guest-in-ahwa_26.html ]

[rockywood] Mort - as a teacher and a mentor to writings - what do you regard as the biggest problem for the newer writer to overcome? Do you see the same mistakes or hurdles over and over?

[GuestSpeaker] - what do you regard as the biggest problem for the newer writer to overcome? Do you see the same mistakes or hurdles over and over? Oh, yeah--and this sounds condescending and all, but... The biggest problem is that beginning writers don't want to take

[GuestSpeaker] the time and make the effort to learn to write.

[rockywood] practice makes perfect? that takes time and effort ...

[GuestSpeaker] I've got an idea! Now it's written down. Now it's publishable. See, it's on my cousin Schmoe's website! I'm a writer now.

[rockywood] for the more serious writers you mentor what issues do you see?

[GuestSpeaker] And unfortunately, we live in a world in which it's all too easy to be deluded and to find others equally deluded so all these deludeds can have a good old. time.

[rockywood] that delusion is not just in writing

[taliehelene] Would you advise emerging writers to focus strictly on seeking paid publication?

[GuestSpeaker] Truth: I am fortunate. The people who are serious seem to get over or avoid that self-delusion. They work at it. They publish. Younger people are reading more widely than I might have expected.

[GuestSpeaker] on seeking paid publication? Not necessarily--but on seeking "real publication," you bet.

[taliehelene] So, reputable literary journals, etc.

[GuestSpeaker] I mean, there are those journals that pay nothing or next to it--but are still prestige. If I'm publishing alongside Jello Biafara or Charles Johnson, I don't need a fat check.

[BT] Any chance of the inside scoop and answering ANW's question: With Doorways, is there anything specific or something that you are looking for at the moment? It could help with "real" publication

[ashamel] I read a really interesting quote by Stephen King once, who said he was really glad he avoided becoming involved in fandom early on. He didn't know if he would get the same discipline as instilled by chasing professional markets.

[GuestSpeaker] Here was a lesson for me. Wrote a story for a lit mag in the 80s. It didn't score. So I sold it to Penthouse for about $2,000.

[GuestSpeaker] With Doorways, is there anything specific or something that you are looking for at the moment? It could help with "real" publication--Sure... I am looking for memorable, not

[GuestSpeaker] merely competent work. Work that Charles Beaumont would be writing were he still around--but straight from your vision and not his.

[GuestSpeaker] I want informed writing. I want to be enveloped by the work and not overly aware of the workmanship.

[GuestSpeaker] Make me see. Make me feel. Shock me. Delight me.

[GuestSpeaker] And spell it right. And buddy up to Strunk and White. GA

[Shane Jiraiya Cummings] Hi Mort. You're keen on obtaining memorable stories for Doorways, but do you feel in your heart of hearts that you've filled every issue with such memorable stories?

[GuestSpeaker] You've filled every issue with such memorable stories? Nah, but we're coming closer.

[Shane Jiraiya Cummings] What are some of the more memorable stories in Doorways worth checking out?

[GuestSpeaker] There were some legacies that I might not have said "Yes" to. There were other stories that I read in my Mort the Compassionate and not Mort as H. Menchken mode.

[GuestSpeaker] We've got a new Bentley Little piece that I like a great deal. A wonderful story by Loreli Buckley called GIRL IN THE ATTIC. We worked with her thru four revisions on that piece and it paid off. Pete Mesling has THE TREE MUMBLERS--and it's brilliant.

[GuestSpeaker] Mike McNichols has a "houdini is dead" story.

[MartyY] I read The Pounding Room by Bentley Little just recently (from Borderlands, the anthology), and that story really stuck in my head.

[GuestSpeaker] I mean, I'm not looking through TOC now--but I'm remembering an image from Pete's story. I'm remembering the final line of McNichols's work. I'm remembering Jeff's killer frogs story from the past issue.

[ashamel] Do you get many writers coming along who have 'written out their demons', and aren't really sure where to go from there?

[GuestSpeaker] written out their demons'--most everyone finds new demons. "Time for the replacement demon." You don't get catharsis with this stuff. The fears are always there. Oh, it might have been different for Kinsella (field of dreams)--who stopped writing novels--

[GuestSpeaker] after getting hit by a car, but...

[The Goth Reaper] Mort, when you write what comes to you first your characters or the plot? I mean do you start writing with characters and let the story develop or do you have a set story in mind and then find the characters?

[GuestSpeaker] Of course, as Hemingway had it, if you're a real writer, you are never sure there'll be another story once you've finished the one you're working on. GA

[kylaw] Speaking of your characters, Mort. Claire Wynkoop from The Strangers...

[ashamel] I guess being hit by a car is an inspiration to some. Probably not to be recommended though :-)

[GuestSpeaker] My writing usually begins with a scene--and I go from there. Not sure if it will be first, last, or middle, but it will be there--unless I toss it. GA

[MartyY] ...and following on from Goth's question, does music direct your scene or does the scene you're about to write dictate the music?

[GuestSpeaker] Claire Wynkoop from The Strangers... Yeah, Claire. I liked her. Think I modelled her somewhat after Jimmy Carter's mother. (BTW, Carter is one fine poet.)

[kylaw] I loved The Strangers. But, how could you kill her halfway through?

[kylaw] That's such a fannish question, I know.

[GuestSpeaker] usually music affects the cadences and pacing of my prose. I never write anything lengthy without an instrument nearby.

[taliehelene] Mort, what do you play?

[kylaw] But I really felt that once she was gone, it was all over for humanity.

[GuestSpeaker] But, how could you kill her halfway through? Hell, if the universe is set up so everybody dies, I have no compunction knocking off someone in fiction. GA

[kylaw] Fair enough.

[ANW] Do you have a disciplined writing schedule? Plus from Talie What instrument do you play?

[GuestSpeaker] over for humanity. Yep--and frankly, that book proved prophetic in ways I didn't want it to. Your next door neighbour is... GA

[ashamel] And are you really a stage hypnotist?

[MartyY] that could be a handy talent with publishers...

[GuestSpeaker] I play anything with strings. Working mostly on dobro these days, but mandolin and fiddle... My writing schedule is much less disciplined than it used to be. But this is the ticket for me: When I write, I write. I don't bs myself that "this is really research. Or.. I am thinking. Or...I need to chart out the city in which these characters live. I write.

[GuestSpeaker] and are you really a stage hypnotist? Used to be. Kicked around all sorts of show biz. Didn't quite make it. GA

[The Goth Reaper] there is no substitute for actually doing the writing hey?

[GuestSpeaker] Interesting, too, how many writers are show bizzy types...

[GuestSpeaker] Jerry Williamson was a big band singer, for heaven's sake. Gary Braunbeck has done more than a little acting.

[GuestSpeaker] no substitute for actually doing the writing hey? EXACTLY.

[GuestSpeaker] And how do you do that? by--doing it.

[MartyY] We have our own Bob Franklin, who writes horror when he's not starring on TV or in movies. He's a comedic actor but his stories are anything but

[GuestSpeaker] own Bob Franklin Not at all surprising. Joe Meno, a fine young American novelist, led the punk band THE PHANTOM THREE.

[The Goth Reaper] Mort, b4 you said you start with a scene and go from there. How long b4 you like to know roughly where its going or is it a blind journey until the end?

[GuestSpeaker] Mentioned Jay Bonansinga: really good harmonica player. The music, the acting, the writing. There is a link.

[BT] That's depressing--I'm tone deaf

[GuestSpeaker] How long b4 you like to know roughly where its going --Great question.

[taliehelene] Interesting, too, how many writers are show bizzy types... --- writing is a performance, an improvisation -- so it makes sense.

[rockywood] Believe me Stephen King is a tone deaf singer (not too bad a guitarist tho)

[GuestSpeaker] I don't impose time limits on myself anymore for a short piece. Those happen when they will happen. Novels, well, I haven't undertaken a new novel in a while, but I put down as much as I need to to know I want to spend a long time in that world--and then

[kylaw] It's an improvisation you get to perfect.

[GuestSpeaker] comes a detailed outline.

[GuestSpeaker] Not to worry about Tone Deaf. Bill Wantling, a great post-beat poet, loved music, sang his head off while working, played bad mandolin sometimes--and couldn't carry a tune if you strapped it to his back with velcro. GA

[MartyY] So you prefer writing shorts to novels?

[GuestSpeaker] shorts to novels. Definitely prefer shorts. Have discovered that's my calling. But also back off from novels because I still fear 'em: they're so damned big. And I don't know that I can ever attain the kind of precision I have hit in several stories:

[GuestSpeaker] every word in the right place.

[BT] Best piece of advice for ending a short?

[GuestSpeaker] Of course, I was fortunate. I had a great training ground for short stories. Cavalier, the men's mags, romance mags--then the web killed those guys.

[GuestSpeaker] Best piece of advice for ending a short? Great question.

[GuestSpeaker] I like "ending must be inevitable and unpredictable." For models, Updike's A&P or Barker's IN THE HILLS, THE CITIES.

[rockywood] I'm sorry guys I have to head off - early mtg in the am. Mort thx so much for your time - hope to see you soon, perhaps Stokers in LAX next year ?

[Shane Jiraiya Cummings] Mort, what do you see as the current strengths and weaknesses of the Horror Writers Association? And what lessons can we take from HWA and apply to the Australian HWA?

[GuestSpeaker] Sounds good, Rocky. See you, we do hope.

[GuestSpeaker] The great strength for any such group--and I've been HWA since there was an HWA--is that it reminds you you are not alone.

[The Goth Reaper] Endings must be inevitable and unpredictable - that's great advice but not always easy to achieve but something to strive for and be aware of.

[GuestSpeaker] The weaknesses--well, any organization brings in people who have their own weaknesses--and that can screw up the scene for a while with that--but so what? Change is the only constant for everything.

[GuestSpeaker] Truth, a WHC or HWA gathering--and it does feel like family--and man, it's the rare one of us who could make it without some support system.

[MartyY] That's so true

[Shane Jiraiya Cummings] It's good to know the camaraderie in the US is similar to Australia - do you think there's a sense of 'horror is in the gutter, so we horror writers need to band together'? Is this a good or bad thing?

[GuestSpeaker] Think about the people here right now: Isn't it grand to know you have this "writing thing" in common with 'em, that you are not the lonely petunia in the onion patch--and that someone out there wants to find a superb metaphor and is busting brain cells

[ANW] OK. That is an hour. Mort, if you would like to keep going I am sure we can keep asking you questions...

[GuestSpeaker] writers need to band together'? It might be in the gutter--but no organization per se can lift it out of there.

[GuestSpeaker] What I would think, however, is that you might wish to attract some "mainstream writers who have horror overtones" in their writing to the organization--simply because --

[GuestSpeaker] Hey, it doesn't hurt that Joyce Carol Oates and Harlan Ellison are in ON WRITING HORROR. That puts the book on the shelves of real libraries where real people go.

[GuestSpeaker] sure we can keep asking you questions... Today is good for me. Feel free to ask. GA

[MartyY] Names sell. And attract attention, right?

[BT] names raise the profile

[GuestSpeaker] Yes. And names who are known to the general audience give the "approval cachet" to the gang.

[MartyY] Ah yes.

[GuestSpeaker] That Jack Dann has an academic following as well as a s-f readership doesn't hurt a thing, does it--for making s-f legit it the minds of the world.

[GuestSpeaker] You know, when David Morrell, "Rambo's Dad," lets it be known that his PhD is on the work of John Barth, it doesn't hurt the thriller or horror field any--

[MartyY] There's such a game to play. Writing seems like only part of the puzzle. Maybe claiming to dislike horror is the popular thing to do now.

[GuestSpeaker] so definitely attracting and keeping "respected names" to the organization cannot do anything but be a plus.

[GuestSpeaker] Maybe claiming to dislike horror is the popular thing to do now--sure, and that is part of the cycle, too.

[taliehelene] I think building relationships with people across publishing -- across the arts -- not only is it good for horror, but no one is *only* a horror writer. It's important to present your work in other contexts. Good writing is good writing, etc, etc.

[GuestSpeaker] I've said this before, but ... Are you a horror writer? Uh, do you read horror? Yes? Then I am a horror writer. Or are you a literary writer...

[BT] You mentioned Strunk & White earlier. Are there other resource books you would suggest? Apart from ON WRITING HORROR of course. I've already got that one.

[GuestSpeaker] Good writing is good writing, etc, etc. Exactly, T--and the pigeonholing is for the marketing dept. Or for the minimum wage earner who needs to be guided in placing your book on a particular shelf. GA

[ANW] Back to short stories, what sets apart a story that would get accepted in a paying mag from getting published in a full pro rate paying mag. Is it worth writing for anthologies that only pay $25.00

[GuestSpeaker] Books for writers. ON WRITING: A MEMOIR OF THE CRAFT--King's superb how to and confessional. HOW TO READ LITERATURE like A COLLEGE PROFESSOR--Thomas Foster.

[GuestSpeaker] STORY AND STRUCTURE, LAWRENCE PERRINE.

[GuestSpeaker] reading like a writer--Francine Prose.

[GuestSpeaker] Is it worth writing for anthologies that only pay $25.00 Sometimes...

[BT] excellent - thanks

[GuestSpeaker] If the anthology is the "right" anthology. If it is strictly Joe Who Thinks He is a writer is NOW an Editor--If it is the "here's your upfront $20--but be sure to buy 12 books..."

[GuestSpeaker] But some years back, Graham Masterton (wonderful elegant prose) did a SCARE CARE charity anthology--and got all kinds of freebies from big names and no names.

[GuestSpeaker] Just be careful. Never try to publish in any publication you wouldn't be proud to be in. Never try to publish ... "Well, they take goddamned anything. I can knock their socks off..."

[GuestSpeaker] Does that make sense? GA

[ANW] Yes it does, thank you

[The Goth Reaper] Mort any advice for the editing process with short stories?

[BT] Along the lines of Goth's question: What's your thoughts on crit groups?

[GuestSpeaker] Short stories--Yes, cut, cut, cut. Cut some more. I'm seeing so many stories that are meant to be 1,500 words--but have 3,000 words on the page. You don't need a minimalist style to make every word count. Read Hemingway. Strunk and White--cut, cut, cut.

[GuestSpeaker] crit groups? Can be excellent--if a) it's not the blind leading the vision impaired leading the deluded; b) it's got a protocol in place to prevent "I'm here to savage you thereby boosting my own ego; c) it is established that each person fully owns his

[The Goth Reaper] How can u tell if crit group advice is correct? I mean advice is great but you want to be sure you’re not accepting bad advice, right?

[GuestSpeaker] own work. (Thank you for your feedback, but my midget basketball player protagonist will not become a cantor in synagogue--because that is not MY story."

[GuestSpeaker] you’re not accepting bad advice, right? That's why you need a "first among equals" to facilitate... Or dare I say it, a teacher?

[GuestSpeaker] And that's why this teacher doesn't permit his students for the first six weeks or so to express an opinion of anyone's work--including their own.

[ANW] good advice.

[ashamel] :-)

[GuestSpeaker] But then, with some models of good writing in the head, and a common language of lit talk... All right, the crit group can be grand.

[GuestSpeaker] Make sense?

[The Goth Reaper] yep

[BT] Do you suggest crit groups be writers of similar genres or is it better to have a mix?

[ANW] It is getting late. 11pm for most people here.

[taliehelene] I'm going to have to take my leave -- I have deadlines (and hopes of getting to bed before 2am).

[GuestSpeaker] writers of similar genres or is it better to have a mix? Just as Talie said, it's about good writing. That's the goal. The lines between genres are so often lines that don't exist. Is Gabaldon's THE OUTLANDER a romance? Historical novel? Time Travel s-f/f

[The Goth Reaper] mort, thanks 4 the words of wisdom

[GuestSpeaker] Most welcome.

[ANW] A big thank you to Mort Castle for chatting with us. A transcript of this chat should be available soon.

[GuestSpeaker] This was great fun. Thanks for asking me.

[BT] Thanks Mort, very insightful

[taliehelene] Yeah, I'm tapped out of questions. Thanks for joining us for the chat.

[MartyY] Thanks Mort, it's be wonderful chatting to you

[ashamel] Thanks!

[GuestSpeaker] and now, off to sleep some more!

[GuestSpeaker] onward...

[The Goth Reaper] goodnight & thanks

[ashamel] perchance to dream

[ANW] Thank you

Document Created: 29th May, 2008 | Last Updated: 1st June, 2008