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Bewildering Stories

Bewildering Stories Interviews

Bill Prindle

Bill Prindle is a Bewildering Stories Associate 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?

I live just outside of Boston, but I spend a lot of time wandering within short stories, novels, and in my own writing. Sometimes it takes a couple of beers for me to re-establish my link to reality.

Where do you think you might like to live either in reality or in your imagination?

I really like that time in the morning when I’m not fully awake and I’m not asleep. The ideas I have then are almost always crystal clear and uncluttered by daily noise. Wherever that is, I like being there. As for reality, if I could, I’d divide my time between Ireland and Italy.

What is your occupation? What do you do in real life?

In real life, I am a full-time writer. Before that, I was a waiter, community organizer, English teacher, graphic designer, art director, sometime writer, producer, and marketing director, in that order.

What advice would you give to a young person going into your line of work?

The literature on how to write is abundant. I’ve read a lot of it and it’s all useful, one way or another. John Gardner is a great place to start. For writing, I recommend writing stuff that you love to write. If you get energy back from writing it, you’re doing the right thing.

How did you come in contact with Bewildering Stories?

I found Bewildering Stories via Duotrope. I was hoping that, with such a name, it might be a bit like the pulps of the twenties, thirties, forties and so on, magazines in which many, many writers (King, Ellison, Asimov, Leonard, et alia) worked on their writing, found their voices, and built their audiences. I don’t know if BwS conceives of itself as such a publication, but for my purposes, it’s worked out pretty well.

Is there anything BwS does particularly well? Of course there’s always room for improvement: is there anything in particular you’d like to see added or changed?

BwS displays a great generosity of spirit toward writers that is immensely helpful and encouraging. For a writer at any stage of his or her development, encountering such generosity is crucial.

What do you do in your spare time (aside from reading BwS stories)?

Spare time is spent reading mostly fiction, reading about writing, practicing magic tricks, planning trips, and watching way too much television: Game of Thrones, Homeland, Orphan Black, Mad Men, The Sopranos, Amy Schumer.

II. About Reading

Is there anything you’d like to tell BwS authors to do or not do?

No matter how alien or bizarre the world you’re creating, it had better provide your reader with some sense of conflict or tension on the first page or your readers may not want to put in the effort of learning a new vocabulary just to understand your story.

What are your favorite and least favorite parts of working as an Editor for Bewildering Stories?

I’ve been in a lot of writer’s workshops, so reading submissions to Bewildering Stories feels very familiar. I try to honor how hard the writer has worked on the piece, try to figure out the intent of the story, and then judge it first by how well it succeeds on its own terms. All of this is very enjoyable for me, and I learn about what works and what doesn’t work in my own writing from reading other’s work. There’s little I don’t enjoy about the process.

What’s your favorite book? What’s the last book that you read and really enjoyed?

I am currently reading, rereading, and enjoying the Collected Short Stories of John O’Hara, hardly a contemporary author. But O’Hara was a master of dialogue and many more contemporary writers went to school on his stories. The stories are often moving, deftly detailed, and though dated, no more so than Chekhov or Turgenev, to whom I would compare O’Hara.

For a more contemporary author, I’ve read Charles Baxter’s story collections and love them. One author I come back to over and over again, is John Collier, whose stories were often picked up by Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Twilight Zone. His stories are short, end with a delightful twist, and glitter like the point of a stiletto.

If you could be any character (other than one of your own) from a book or movie, who would it be? Why?

I really like characters who don’t say much but whose character is revealed through small gestures and hints and spare dialogue. Characters who don’t say much are often the most powerful, and that attribute seems to attract my attention.

At least once a year, I watch the movie Bullitt with Steve McQueen, mostly for the car chase and because I once owned a Mustang GT, but also because he doesn’t say much and doesn’t have to. Characters who get their own back are always favorites of mine.

If you could invite any other writer to dinner, whom would ask? Feel free to choose from any time or place.

I’d like to have dinner with Mark Twain. A great writer, a funny man, a sharp observer, a superb storyteller, and he liked smoking cigars and drinking, which I enjoy as well. Many writers are not that interesting in person. They spend all their time alone and clearly that’s how they prefer to be. But Twain was gregarious and talkative and had something valuable to say.

III. About Writing

How long have you been writing?

I always wanted to write, particularly from the time I discovered my mother’s typewriter in fifth grade. I wrote a story about a monster that was part alligator and part gorilla. I hadn’t yet taken physiology and didn’t know this was genetically impossible, although these days, who knows? I loved the way the words looked typed on the page.

Wrote a humor column in high school. Wrote a lot in college and took a fiction writing course in which I got a well-deserved C. As a teacher and even as a graphic designer, I wrote a lot and then, as a producer, I wrote songs, speeches, scripts, jingles, and poems. But not fiction per se.

That kicked in some years ago when I sent a story I’d written to my former 7th grade English teacher, with whom I’d stayed in touch. He liked it and said he wished I’d chosen to be a writer because he thought I’d be a good one. I was between jobs, so I took him up on his challenge and haven’t stopped writing fiction since.

What made you want to start writing?

I wanted to write stories like the ones I enjoyed, ones with a nice twist at the end that might either be funny or give you a chill.

Do you have a favorite among your works? Of your titles at BwS, which one you would recommend first to someone who hasn’t read you yet?

One of the first stories I wrote is “Mr. Beelzy’s Trick” and I think that to date, it’s one of my best.

Do you have a favorite character in your own stories? In some other writer’s?

I recently wrote a story about a talking cat named Fred who befriends a young woman recovering from being jilted. Fred is independent, of course, as all cats appear to be, but he’s tough, funny, wise, laconic, and sympathetic, not unlike some of the detectives in noir novels.

As for a character in another writer’s work, that’s a tough call. I recently reread a Shirley Jackson story entitled “What a Thought!” about a woman who is undecided whether to play cards with her husband, go to a movie, or smash him over the head with a heavy glass ashtray. She’s a character who’s difficult to forget.

Almost every writer is inspired by someone or something else. What inspirations have you found? Where do you get your ideas?

I find inspiration everywhere. That doesn’t mean everything that attracts my attention turns into a story, but what I encounter day-to-day often turns into an idea that might become a story, such as those short news articles, usually the bizarre little items that fill out a news page.

I’ve gotten great story ideas from dreams, overheard remarks, free writing, and odd situations. There’s a book about writing called What If? and that question often precedes an idea I might have.

One word of advice: as soon as you have the idea, write it down and don’t use abbreviations and keywords that you think will bring back the whole idea later because they won’t. You won’t have the slightest idea what you meant.

Case in point: a famous writer had never tried marijuana but had heard it might have a powerful effect on his imagination. He smoked a few joints, got extremely high, and staggered off to bed, but just before falling asleep, he experienced a vision so intense, so beautiful and revelatory, that he jotted it down on a pad of paper before passing out. He awoke the next morning, suddenly remembered his vision and that he’d written it down. With great anticipation, he picked up the pad and read: “This room smalls funny.”

In composing a story, which do you think of first: the plot or the characters?

Both plot and characters seem to arrive together. Not plot so much as a situation that calls for a certain kind of character and then I speculate on what might happen to him/her.

I have a lot of trouble with plot, and am a fan of the techniques Charles Baxter uses to keep his stories moving. Give an interesting character a big enough problem and the plot may well take care of itself.

What do you consider the strangest thing you’ve ever written?

I wrote a story about a guy who is convinced that he and a woman with whom he worked years ago, had been in love but, because of where they were in their lives, they never acted on their feelings and became lovers. When he contacts her many years later, she has no memory of who he is. He’s left wondering if he’s gone mad and if so, how long has he been like this. It’s not a new plot. John Cheever’s very creepy story “The Swimmer” has a similar set-up, but for me, being inside this guy’s mind for as long as I worked on the story was very unsettling.

What do you consider the most revealing thing you’ve ever written?

Oddly enough, whenever I finish a story that seems to have some merit, I take a step back from it and realize that although characters have no resemblance to anything in my life, their conflicts, crises, disappointments, and in some cases, successes are autobiographical. How? you ask. Never mind, says I.

Most writers have a particular audience in mind, although it may change from one work to the next. Who are your audiences? For whom do you write?

I suppose one of my problems as a writer is that I don’t seem to have a specific audience in mind. But, I also have a clear memory of myself as an eleven- or twelve-year old, a reluctant reader at best, until I read a ghost story or horror story or humorously bizarre tale. Those are the stories that got me interested in reading. Although I don’t write for adolescents, I may be writing for the latent adolescent lurking in many adults.

What would you like readers to learn or gain from what you write? — Enjoyment.

Where do you write?

I have my grandfather’s colonial-era desk set up in my basement, near a window that overlooks a dense wood. The two main distractions of refrigerator and television not handy, but unfortunately, that worst of all distractions, the Internet, is all too available.

When do you write: at set times or as the mood moves you?

Mid-morning seems to be my starting point, but I can write just about any time except after dark. I’ve tried waiting for the mood to move me and discovered that is a formula for endless procrastination.

Some writers say they have to write a certain amount every day. Do you do set a quota?

I used a quota system to finish a rough draft of a novel and it worked. For short stories, when I’ve written at least a few good scenes and moved the story forward, that usually seems to be enough. It might be anywhere from two pages to six or seven. I’ve also discovered that if I take a break and come back to the story, I can write a few more pages.

Do you ever have a problem with writer’s block? If so, can you offer other writers tips on how to deal with it?

I write a lot of different stuff in addition to stories. Even writing longish emails to distant friends is a useful exercise for me. I’ve also used prompts from books on writing, and those have worked. I have also fought my way through a scene or two, knowing that what I was writing was not good, but when I’ve come back to it the next day, I discover that it’s often not as bad as I first thought.

If you’re really blocked, write something else. I just read about a poet who was blocked and ended up writing postcards to a friend, which were later collected as a volume of poetry.

I have a friend who is a good writer, but spends far too much time talking about all the different possibilities for her work. As a result, she becomes overwhelmed with possibilities and stops writing entirely.

My advice is: Write anything, and something will eventually happen. And if you really can’t write anything at all, then maybe you’re not a writer and is that so bad?

Do you use the Internet or the library to check facts?

I use the Internet for checking a certain level of factuality, but if more is required, I go to more authoritative sources. My first readers also tend to catch my factual errors.

Does anyone else proofread or critique your work?

When I’m taking writing classes at Grub Street in Boston, my classmates provide very helpful critiques. Otherwise, it’s been hit-and-miss for me to find a reliable source of feedback. At the moment, I’m looking for a good writing group.

Some authors have started writing later in life. If that’s the case with you, what brought you to writing rather than to some other activity?

I came to writing fiction later in life, but for most of my working life, I’ve had to write a lot and generally it had to be at a high level. I’ve been involved in creative work for the last thirty years, so the transition from creating films, videos, and written pieces to writing fiction made sense for me. I long ago made the discovery that I like working hard on creating something from scratch and having a visible, often tangible result at the end.

Copyright © 2016 by Bill Prindle

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