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Bewildering Stories

Bewildering Stories Interviews

Gary Clifton

Gary Clifton is a Bewildering Stories Review Editor.
We’re very glad to be able to add his interview to our distinguished list of interviews.

I. Personal Questions

Where do you live, if you don’t mind saying? — My wife, Kay, and I live about fifty miles north of the Dallas County Courthouse in the Celina (rhymes with Salina, Kansas) ISD, a perennial Texas small high-school football powerhouse.

What is your occupation? — For twenty-five years, I was an ATF Agent, got my left eye poked partly out, involuntarily retired, then worked fifteen years for the FBI and a couple of other initials-only agencies by contract. Funny, they never asked me about eyesight. Never.

What advice would you give to a young person going into your line of work? — Don’t.

Has your occupation influenced your writing? — Forty years with with a front-row seat to the greatest show on earth provided a million war stories and scenarios.

What do you do in your spare time (aside from reading BwS stories)? — I make furniture in a little shop out back.

Is there anything Bewildering Stories does particularly well? Of course there’s always room for improvement: is there anything in particular you’d like to see added or changed? — In general, I see it as bullish as opposed to negative. That’s life or death to hack writers.

II. About Reading

Is there anything you’d like to tell BwS authors to do or not do? — As the world’s worst proofreader, I have no dog in that hunt.

What are your favorite and least favorite parts of working as an Editor for Bewildering Stories? — I’m not an editor, only part of the Review Board. I’ve said before, I am no writer and have zero training as such, but I’m pretty good at telling stories at parties.

With BwS, I’m with people who strike me as far better read and diversified than I am. I’ve been servant-class all my life and have no problem holding my tongue when staffers exchange opinions.

I still slush read and will always be uncomfortable criticizing written material I know somebody worked diligently to produce. I remember two different classes where a big-haired old lady taught Hamlet, the apex of my classical training, and I frankly still wonder why anyone would voluntarily read that type of thing.

What would you like readers to learn or gain from what you write? — I don’t know that I have the ability to write anything with a message. Like a nightclub comedian, I’m just thankful for the use of the hall.

How long have you been writing? — I wrote reports for forty years, and they impacted people’s lives and liberties. While on Secret Service duty in the mid-eighties — on the graveyard shift — I wrote a police procedural, Burn, Sugar, Burn (publisher’s title), which sold in national paperback. In keeping with the style of the times, it’s loaded with profanity but is available for a buck or so on several outlets.

Do you have a favourite among your works? — I tend to see much of life as someone’s idea of a comedy and often find humor in situations others might not. Anyone can make up a cop story, but humor takes a different gear.

What’s your favourite book? What’s the last book that you read and really enjoyed? — I grew up behind an African-American beer joint in the Kansas City area, where they played loud music all night with the back door open.

I often made the mile walk to the Carnegie Branch and read until they closed. That amounted to a lot of books. Like a damned-fool kid would do, I gave them my street address. They would not issue a library card to anyone on my street.

I developed the habit of reading history and documentary stuff. As one of those non-intellectuals who often reads the same book more than once, I’ve probably read The Last of the Mohicans fifteen times. I just finished one of the Belote brothers’ works depicting the Okinawa invasion in WWII: Typhoon of Steel.

Who are your favourite authors, and what about their works appeals to you most? — Elmore Leonard, Erskine Caldwell, Louis L’Amour, and a half dozen more whose characters I can see and are of all levels of pretense and depth. Truthfully, can anyone read Hamlet and envision what he looks like? Mel Gibson, maybe?

III. About Writing

Almost every writer is inspired by someone or something else. What inspirations have you found? Where do you get your ideas? — I’ve never considered trying to copy a style, and I have a million ideas, maybe more.

In composing a story, which do you think of first: the plot or the characters? — Always the scenario, then try to fit it into a plot. If you have trouble making up characters, go to WalMart and look around.

Do you ever have a problem with writer’s block? — No. I’ve told many folks who try to write, “If you can’t think of a word to type, then summarize something that didn’t go quite right at a Thanksgiving dinner — a dumb comment or dropped gravy — but the exercise will tend to transition into something else.”

Do you use the Internet or the library to check facts? — You can’t beat the Internet.

What do you consider the most revealing thing you’ve ever written? — I’ve spent over three-quarters of a century being invisible: to the cops or the thugs back in the neighborhood; to the media, when I was playing ball; to many who should have remained silent when I was on the job. I would never let anyone into my head, no matter how hard many have tried.

My life has been a study in luck. I fought seven seasons in the Golden Gloves and came away with headaches but no discernible brain damage. Beyond coming to grips with that, my brain-load of personal weaknesses, fears, secrets, and the like will have to be buried with me when that luck runs out.

I have a flash story, “Psychology on the Fly,” a fictionalized true yarn, which I’ve never submitted because it comes uncomfortably close to how my lame brain actually ticks. It’s a semi-comedy. I guess that’s a reveal.

Do you have any favourite authors at Bewildering Stories? Have you found there any works you’d recommend to a friend? — BwS has a range of folks who’ve cranked out a broad list of pretty good material.

Some authors have said that their parents were supportive of their efforts when young, and some have said they had to sneak around and hide. What was the case with you? — Readin’ and writin’ were pretty much outside my parents’ radar. But my old man stuck around, which was a rarity where half of my childhood friends ended up in the joint.

A kid I knew well, a great athlete, had a dad who is now in about his 55th year in Leavenworth — the military prison, not the civilian one — for murdering an officer while in the Army. Frankly, that and several other similar stories were a pretty good motivator to try to devise a method of getting the hell out of there.

Copyright © 2016 by Gary Clifton

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