Bewildering Stories

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First Bewildering Stories Writers’ Conference

panel: Eric S. Brown (organizer and moderator),
with Jason Brannon, Gail Davis and John Grover

First let’s start with a round of introductions, then we’ll move on to the big questions. So here goes.

Jason: I’m a twenty-five year old writer from Mississippi (William Faulkner country). I am the author of four short story collections, two novels, over a hundred short stories, and the co-author of a couple of chapbooks. When I’m not writing, I’m the editor for a webzine called The Haunted and the book reviewer for SpecFicWorld. All in all, the writing gig keeps me pretty busy.

John: I am 32 years old. I live in Taunton, Massachusetts where I get to enjoy the 4 seasons. Right now there is snow and ice all over the place, brrr. I have a 7-yr old yellow lab/wolf hound mix named Lucky who occupies a lot of my time because he’s the biggest baby in the world. During the day I work in a corporate office and at night I write scary stories. I love video games, sci/fi horror movies, reading, hanging with friends who can’t understand how such a nice guy can write such creepy stuff.

Eric: I just turned 28 years old. I have collected comics my whole life and have read more horror and sci-fi than you could imagine. I am happily married and preparing for my 3-year anniversary this summer. As of now, I have no other job than writing and editing. I have been writing for almost two years.

Gail: In the immortal words of the Bare Naked Ladies, “I have a tendency to wear my mind on my sleeve, I have a history of losing my shirt.” I think that really sums it up very well.

How did you get into writing?

Jason: Like a lot of people, I caught the bug in high school. I had an encouraging English teacher who praised my writing and taught me how to shape and mold words so that they created images and feelings for the reader. I owe a lot to him

John: I have been writing since I was in elementary school. It was just something that came naturally. It was a way of expressing my fertile imagination and once I started I just couldn’t stop. It was my way of losing myself in fantasy worlds of my own creation, I just loved creating make believe places, people and, of course, things!

Eric: Being a “fanboy” of the genres and growing up with them, plus my wife kicked my butt and made me try to write the stuff myself.

Gail: You know, I honestly don’t remember. Back in junior high school, I wrote a story, a sort of fan fiction tale that involved several of my friends and the members of some rock band or another. I don’t even remember which one now. It was awful, but it was the start of something that would eventually become an obsession.

What kind of research do you do, and how do you go about it?

Jason: Normally, I don’t do much research at all except maybe to read up on mythologies and folklore. There is some degree of latitude when you’re dealing with horror. There are no hard and fast rules for most monsters. Even the old rules for such mainstays as vampires and werewolves are changing as authors take liberties with the legends. As far as characters are concerned, research can be something as simple as sitting on a bench in the mall and observing human behaviour.

John: Depending on the subject I do most of my research on the Internet. Before the Internet I used to check out books or buy books on the subjects I was interested in. I always do research by talking with people, talking about every day things or about what’s scary to them or about spiritual subjects. Talking with others can be great research.

Eric: I use the web too when needed but honestly I don’t research a lot. I tend to fall back on my own knowledge from all the stuff I have read over the years and just double check things if I am not sure on something.

Do you consider yourself a professional writer and where is the “real” line on that drawn these days?

Jason: “Professional” can be a misleading term. Various writing associations classify it in different ways. I consider myself more of a working writer. I don’t write full-time, but I do write every day, spend hours upon hours honing the craft, and usually get paid for my efforts once the story is complete. To me, getting paid for your writing helps make the distinction. If somebody likes your writing enough to give you money for it, then you’re obviously doing something right.

John: In some ways I do and other ways I don’t. I have a day job so my writing doesn’t support me but I do consider myself serious about my writing. Some consider being professional getting a book published while others think it’s when you can afford to stay home and write. I think it has more to do with attitude and with how you look at your writing. I handle my submissions and my interactions with editors and publishers in a professional manner, I think that makes me a professional. I think the moment you put words on paper, you are a writer.

Eric: I honestly don’t know. I have no idea where the line is drawn though places like the HWA claim it is 3 cents a word for your tales. If you go by that, then I am not a Pro in terms of fiction as I have never made more than 2.5 cents but am in non-fiction. I have made as much as, like, 10 cents a word or more writing for papers. In the long run, I guess it only matters what you think of yourself, and selling a book helps, too, regardless of how much your royalties are as long as you can say you are drawing them.

What are your favorite works of classical fiction?

Jason: My reading tends to stray more to the pulp than the classical. However, I do like the mythologies (The Iliad, The Odyssey, Ovid’s Metamorphoses). For my money, though, give me the old masters of horror (Algernon Blackwood, Robert Bloch, Richard Matheson, Lovecraft, August Derleth, Ray Bradbury).

John: I love works by Poe and H.P. Lovecraft. These guys started it all. In my youth I read a lot of classical fiction for school but none made an impression on me more that the authors of horror and suspense. Robert Bloch, Ray Bradbury, Shirley Jackson — I remember their stories vividly from my days in high school.

Eric: Milton and Shakespeare. I grew up on Shakespeare. I LOVE The Tempest and Macbeth and who doesn’t love Hamlet? But in a genre sense, I am going to have to go with H.P. Lovecraft. Bet you saw that coming since I have a cat named after him, huh?

Gail: Without question, Tolkein’s The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings win that one.

What author do you consider a model (or an inspiration)?

Jason: Hands down, Bradbury. His writing is like nothing I’ve ever read from anyone else. The imagination and scope of the work is simply tremendous. Any serious writer that wants to learn about the art of the short story need only look at The October Country and The Martian Chronicles. Those books could easily be retitled Short Story Writing 101.

John: Today of course I look to writers like Stephen King, Dean Koontz and Clive Barker. But the writers I am doing this interview with today really inspire me. As I hear of their own successes and the great things they are doing in their writing I am inspired to keep on writing, keep on striving and be the best I can at what I do. Because of them I realize that it can be done. I can be a success.

Eric: David Drake, David Drake, and David Drake!!! The guy is my hero!! I am totally in love with his work whether it’s his Hammer’s Slammers novel (the high point of all military sci-fi) or the very first tales he ever wrote which were Horror and collected in those old DAW book anthos. I strive to be him in every way. And I pray I will have the success he had when he was 31 too. At either 31 or 32, he was able to do nothing but write full time and make a living at it after being a cab driver and thousands of other odd jobs. Not to say he isn’t smart. He has a law degree too and served in the only independent tank company in Vietnam.

Gail: I know I’m supposed to mention names like Stephen King or Dean Koontz here, but they don’t actually answer the question. Granted, I always keep in mind that King wall-papered his bedroom with rejections before anyone finally took one of his tales, but he wasn’t my inspiration. That would be a woman who is close enough to me to be my sister. Her name is Lisa Wilson and she’s just getting started in the business herself. She’s had a few stories published on the Internet, including one called “Immortal Beloved” which has had ten recommendations for a Stoker. She’s also written one book and is in the process of finishing another. She’s an amazing writer but an even more remarkable woman. Her life is so full, she’s constantly on the go, and yet she’s filled with this obsessive dedication to her writing that just blows me away. If I could be half that committed, I might actually be able to finish my own stories and books. It was Lisa who actually inspired me to put my neck out there and try to sell my own tales.

How did all of you meet and how did your collections together come about?

John: I subbed a story to the web e-zine that Eric was a co-editor on, The Swamp, and that is how I first met him. I began to read some of his stuff on line after that and liked it a lot. I began e-mailing him and we chatted back and forth. Then one day I get a mail from him asking if I’d be interested in writing a story with him. I jumped at the chance. I had always wanted to do a collab with someone. Then he got a better idea, why not do an entire book of our stories together. He asked Jason, a wonderful and professional writer who is fantastic, to be on one of the projects and that’s how I got to know Jason. We put together one book and Eric then introduced me to Gail and the three of us put together another collection and the rest is history.

Gail: I sent a story, two of them, actually, to Eric and he rejected both of them. He said the second one wasn’t “cosmic” enough for him or he would have taken it. I saw that as a challenge, sat down and wrote “The Essential.” I sent it to him and, again, he sent me a rejection. Then changed his mind, gave me a few pointers on the tale and finally published it for me at The Swamp. It was through him that I met Jason and John. I was badgered into joining in with the collections (and I’m glad I was!). Eric can be relentless. ;)

Eric: Well, I guess Gail and John have answered how we all met, so I will tell you a bit how I met Jason Brannon; and I believe John forgot to mention that he, Jason, and myself have not only done the Double Dragon collection together but also the chapbooks Dark Karma and Bad Mojo (due out April 15th from Undaunted Press). Anyway, I just kept seeing Jason’s name everywhere. We both had tales at Alternate Realities together, in Sinisteria # 1, the print magazine Black Petals, etc., etc. It was like we were following each other without knowing it. I read his stuff and loved it. I found out he edited The Haunted and sent him a tale. He accepted it right off and later on took two more, then made me the book reviewer for his webzine!!!! We talked a lot and became fast friends. The next thing you know, we were writing together. We sold a tale to Eternal Night at 2 cents a word and then the book idea just kind of fell into place. Right now, we are even thinking of trying to work on a comic book script together

Jason: I’m the editor of a webzine called The Haunted. That’s where I first met John and Eric. I accepted stories by both of them, became good friends through e-mail, and jumped at the chance to work with them on a few projects when they invited me into the group.

Was it tough to sell these collections? And do you have any advice for newer authors on getting a book published?

Gail: I’ll have to let Eric and Jason field the first part of that one, I had very little to do with the actual selling. My advice to new authors, however, is simple: Never give up. I know it sounds cliche but it was my refusal to let Eric win that got me in. Editors are picky things, each and every one of them has their own little quirks that make the life of a writer hell. The trick is not to take it personally, but to keep trying until you find the right editor. By all means, yes, if an editor offers a few bits of advice that don’t totally wreck the tale you sent him/her, take advantage of them. They can only make the story better. One thing you never do, though, is compromise the tale you’ve written. If you hit on an editor who tells you to rewrite your entire tale and do this, do that, do the other... find another editor. Only when you believe in your work enough to fight for it will you be able to make progress with it.

Jason: It really wasn’t tough to sell Spacestations and Graveyards. I was already established with Double Dragon and knew the quality of their books. The toughest part of the whole process was collaborating on various aspects of the submission through e-mail. I know at times when we were in the thick of it, it wasn’t unusual to get ten or fifteen e-mails from Eric and John about ideas, potential titles, changes that needed to be made, etc. It would have been so much easier if we were all in the same room throwing out ideas. Geography, however, kept that from happening. All in all, though, I think things turned out rather well. We managed to land a chapbook deal and a contract for a short-story collection for our efforts.

John: Never give up. It took a while to sell the collections. The publishing word is very competitive and extremely volatile. But it can happen, you just need to be persistence and take chances. You’ll never know until you try.

Eric: Indeed, it is tough to sell anything these days. Too many writers, too few markets that pay. I can honestly say I never thought I would have a book, much less two. It goes to show that anyone can do it if they try.

So when are these books coming out? And how can your fans order them?

Jason: Our chapbook Bad Mojo will be released at the World Horror Convention in April by Undaunted Press. The most likely way to order a copy will be through or Project Pulp. Spacestations and Graveyards will be available in May/June of 2003 from Double Dragon Books. along with a host of other e-book distributors will carry the title as well.

John: Spacestations and Graveyards and Poisoned Graves are both being published by Double Dragon Publishing and will be available in the Summer of 2003. They will be available in various online book stores or through DDP’s website.

Eric: Jason and John said it all.

The Internet has changed a lot of things, and now there are more authors than ever before. Do you feel that a writer can become known through writing for “e-zines” and does being published in venues like this help ones career?

Jason: Although I have had quite a bit published on line, the money and the readership isn’t there yet. Of course there are exceptions (like Stephen King’s Ride the Bullet), but people still haven’t totally bought into e-books and on-line magazines. Print is still the preferred format. In my opinion, the biggest advantage to on-line publishing is the potential exposure you can get. It certainly allows you to get your name out. People may not know anything you’ve written, but the name might sound familiar to them. After a while, if you’ve been featured in fifty webzines, the name starts to stick.

John: I truly believe so. I think it can get your name recognized and noticed by those who would normally not read your work. I’ve been read all over the world because of the Internet and it’s great to get feedback from people in Canada, England, and Australia. I think that e-books and on-line stories are the wave of the future. More and more are discovering this fun and inexpensive and also instant way of reading and getting scared. I have been approached by editors for projects, by agents who want to represent me and other great things all because of the Internet. Who knows, one day electronic books may replace actual books. You never know.

Gail: Of course it can. There are probably more people surfing the Internet than actually reading magazines and such. In a single day, if ten people happen upon your tale and like it, that’s ten more people who point to it and tell their friends, “Go read that story!” The Internet can be a very useful tale for a writer, in a lot of different ways.

Eric: Yeah, what they said.

Why do you write, and what do you enjoy most in doing it?

Jason: I write because I enjoy it. There’s nothing more satisfying than sitting down with an idea and seeing it through to fruition. Well, nothing more satisfying except finishing the story and then getting paid for it.

John: I just love creating worlds and characters that are totally from my imagination and convincing others they are real. It’s the way I can touch a reader, make them cringe with the willies, give them a tingle on their spine or have them feel pity when a character loses their life or their soul as the case may be. For me it’s about showing the reader things that make them think or wonder. Showing them worlds that are strange and beautiful. I think it’s a blast.

Eric: In a sense, I guess I am trying to give something back to the genres that helped me get through growing up in the home I did and hey, it’s fun, and I get paid every now and then. : )

Where do you see yourself in ten years?

Jason: Hopefully with a few mass-market paperbacks on the shelves.

John: I hope that my writing blossoms into something I can be proud of and I hope to be doing exactly what I want to be doing — writing for pleasure, writing for profit.

Eric: God knows, I want to be the next David Drake! But I really have no idea. I just hope that I am still at it and maybe to have sold another book or two.

Do you have any other stuff coming out this year that you would like to share with our readers?

Jason: My 2nd short story collection, Five Days on the Banks of the Acheron is available now from Double Dragon Books (www.double My first novel, Rusty Nails, will be released soon by The Fiction Works ( There are too many magazine and anthology sales to mention. Anybody interested can check out my website:

John: I am involved in some anthology projects that will be come out this year. Look for short stories of mine in The Fear Within anthology, Of Flesh and Hunger anthology, Vicious Shivers anthology; and also I have an agent who is hoping to get my e-book Shadow Tales, a collection of 15 short stories into print. I have various short works coming out in print magazine and I am hoping to come out with a couple of more surprises this year — a few books I am putting together on my own.

Eric: I have print tales set for Blood Moon Rising # 15, Between the Kisses # 3, Black Satellite # 4, a tale in the anthology Of Flesh and Hunger alongside John, three tales due out in the U.K. print zine Dark Angel Rising (one of these is a collab with Gail), a tale in Lunatic Chameleon this April, and best of all, a tale in The Edge: Tales of Suspense, this May. It was a magazine that I always wanted to be in that has a fairly large distribution working with more “name” authors. Plus a bunch of stuff on-line like at Penumbric this June. I am also preparing for some signings in Sylva and Asheville, NC this April. I love to do signings and am greatly looking forward to these for Bad Mojo. It’s always great to make the local papers even if it is only a paragraph or two blurb about the event. The book stores down here do great press releases that always make at least two papers sometimes as many as four, plus their own newsletters.

What is your proudest moment as an author?

Jason: Holding the book in your hands for the first time and then signing it for a fan.

John: My first cash sale and the day the two collections I produced with my co-authors and friends here got accepted for publication.

Eric: No idea! My first acceptance ever (to the print magazine Burning Sky), the books with my co-authors, having a book at all, having one of my articles make the front page of a 15,000-copy newspaper, my first signing, just being published, being recommended for best horror short of 2002 in the P&E awards. No idea. Maybe it’s still coming.

Gail: That would be the day my copies of “Wicked Hollow” arrived in the mail and I got to see my name in print for the first time. That was the moment I finally knew I wasn’t just some wanna-be. I was actually there. I’m not a well-known author at this point, I may never be, but at least I had that one moment in time when I flew.

So I got to ask, since you are all creators of Horror, what are your favorite Horror films and/or books?

Jason: Hell House by Richard Matheson is right up there. I really like the old episodes of The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits. In the Dark by Richard Laymon is one of my favorite books too.

John: I loved the movies: The Exorcist, Carrie, Halloween, The Fog and Jeepers Creepers. Some of my favorite books are Stephen King’s Skeleton Crew, Clive Barker’s Books Of Blood, Dean Koontz’s The Bad Place.

Eric: In film, I really enjoy stuff like Dario Argento’s work and that of Lucio Fulci. My fave film is Dawn of the Dead without question. I watch a lot of B stuff like Dog Soliders and would have to go with Signs as the best horror flick of last year. In fiction, I like Robert McCammon, Greg F. Gifune, and David Drake. Dan Simmons is great too.

Gail: I love vampire books and movies. Anne Rice’s Interview With the Vampire (the book) and Bram Stoker’s Dracula (the movie) are both amazing creations, beautiful and tragic in their own sense. I also enjoyed the books It and The Stand by Stephen King and Tim Burton’s movie, Sleepy Hollow.

Do you feel organizations like the HWA really help writers get started and are they still helpful to you now?

Jason: Being a member of the HWA hasn’t really done anything useful for me. I can’t see that membership has contributed to my writing successes at all. Hard work and perseverance is responsible for that. Any markets they announce I can usually find on a market page somewhere. The message board, however, is kind of handy as it allows you to get your name out there in front of your peers. Other than that it’s just another way to spend $65.

John: I think it’s great for new writers and definitely still helps me now. It’s a great place to network, to learn from other writers and professionals, to keep updated in the field and make some great friends.

Eric: I think they do help a lot but they can’t make you a writer or published. That’s something you have to do for yourself.

Do people look at you strangely when you tell them you are a writer and what did you feel when you sold your first story to be published?

Jason: At first people do look at you strangely. They think “Sure, he’s a novelist. He’s pulling my leg. I sing songs in the shower. That makes me a singer.” But then you show them copies of your books and most of them are usually impressed and interested.

John: Most people are fascinated with the fact that I write, and think it’s very cool. They almost always ask me for something to read — then there is no escape! I was ecstatic when I sold my first story. There is no better feeling then to get recognition for something that you created, something that came from your sweat and soul. It’s a great feeling.

Eric: YES!!!! When the Novel and Short Story Writers’ Market guide came out this year, a ton of teachers and wanna-be authors from my wife’s school saw my name. For some reason this really pushed them over the edge. They had always treated me odd and went on about me and tried to get me to lecture to the kids before when I visited the school but now they are worse. I don’t go to the school any more with my wife. It really freaks me out. And it “ain’t” much better elsewhere locally. I get attacked in Wal-mart and even gas stations by people who want to be “writers” asking my advice. I don’t deserve that kind of stuff yet!!!!! It really bugs me sometimes and I never know what to say. Plus there are others, since I live in the “Bible belt,” who hate that I write horror.

Gail: I still haven’t reached the point where I answer with “I’m a writer.” When people ask me what I do, so I can’t answer that part of it. As to what I felt when I was first published, there are no words to describe it. You know that feeling you get when something really incredible happens to you and your chest gets tighter and tighter until you just have to make some sort of noise or explode? That’s it.

And finally, if there was one thing you could blame all your success on as a writer, what would it be?

Jason: There would be two things actually. One would be my mother for teaching me to read before I was two years old. The other would be my wife for not letting me quit when the stack of rejection slips got too high.

John: My disturbed mind. I ask questions that no one else seems to. I think of the strangest things sometimes and people always ask where do you get your ideas and I just say I don’t know — they just sort of come to me, I was thinking what if. They just kind of smile politely and walk away quietly.

Eric: My wife, David Drake, The Fantastic Four and Stan Lee, and the great people I have met in the industry. So that’s more than one, shoot me, ok?

Gail: Eric. ;)

Copyright © 2003 by Eric S. Brown