Fulvio Sestito talks to Caitlin Malcuit about his start in filmmaking, his knack for special effects, and his experience in making “Beyond the Sky.”
By Caitlin Malcuit
Andy Weir shoots from Mars to the Moon in his latest novel Artemis, introducing us to a wealthy and exclusive lunar colony where Jasmine Bashara works as a porter, struggling to get by. There's not much money to be made in that gig, so Jasmine—“Jazz”—must survive and earn her keep as a smuggler. When a heist too good to pass up unearths a larger conspiracy, Jazz is thrown into the seedy underbelly of the glitzy Artemis.
Weir talked to me about the new and exciting setting for his story, his influences, and imparted some valuable advice for writers navigating the publishing world in the digital age.
Caitlin Malcuit: What is your process for writing a novel, especially the research that goes into science fiction?
Andy Weir: I start with a bunch of research. For me, the science and setting have to be right before I’m willing to work on the story. Once I’m into the actual writing, I set myself a daily word count to shoot for.
CM: Which authors influenced you?
AW: I’m a Gen-Xer, but I grew up reading my father’s sci-fi collection. So, despite my generation, my main influences are the Baby Boomer era authors. My holy trinity are Heinlein, Asimov, and Clarke.
CM: What drew you to setting Artemis on a lunar colony?
AW: I wanted to write a story about the first human settlement off of Earth. And I just really think that’ll be on the Moon. It’s so much close to Earth than any other celestial body. Most importantly, it’s close enough for trade and tourism.
CM: Jazz is certainly driven to survive, as Mark Watney was when he was stranded on Mars, but, given the wealth disparity on Artemis, what inspired you to tackle Jazz’s unique situation?
AW: Well I’ve always had a love of heist stories and crime novels. So I figured why not do a sci-fi heist story?
CM: Are you excited to see where Phil Lord and Chris Miller will take Artemis as they bring it to the screen?
AW: Absolutely! Though it’s still early days yet. I try not to get myself too worked up about it. A lot of things have to go right for a film project to be greenlighted.
CM: What advice do you have for aspiring writers, especially now that NaNoWriMo is in full swing?
- You have to actually write. Daydreaming about the book you’re going to write someday isn’t writing. It’s daydreaming. Open your word processor and start writing.
- Resist the urge to tell friends and family your story. I know it’s hard because you want to talk about it and they’re (sometimes) interested in hearing about it. But it satisfies your need for an audience, which diminishes your motivation to actually write it. Make a rule: The only way for anyone to ever hear about your stories is to read them.
- This is the best time in history to self-publish. There’s no old-boy network between you and your readers. You can self-publish an ebook to major distributors (Amazon, Barnes and Noble, etc.) without any financial risk on your part.
CM: Can you please tell us one random fact about yourself?
AW: I like to do woodworking. It’s a hobby that’s helpful to me to clear my mind when I’m stressed out or when I’m stuck on a plot problem in whatever project I’m on.
By Sean Tuohy
There seems to be no genre that can contain author Maxim Jakubowski. From hardboiled fiction to sci-fi, Jakubowski is a hardworking and skilled writer. Jakubowski’s anthologies are highly praised, and his Mammoth Book of Pulp Fiction was the gateway novel that led me into hardboiled detective fiction.
I got a chance to chat with Jakubowski about his love of writing and what advice he gives to first-time writers.
Sean Tuohy: What authors did you worship growing up?
Maxim Jakubowski: I can't say I worshipped authors. Some I enjoyed more than others and made it a rule to read more of if I liked them. My first big literary “crush” was Jules Verne if only because of his sense of wonder and originality, which probably led to me beginning to write science fiction and fantasy in my teens and beyond.
ST: What attracted you to crime fiction?
MJ: I've always been a lover of popular/genre fiction alongside what may be termed as “mainstream” literature, again because genre must appeal first and foremost to the imagination rather than the senses, and often the fantastic is of more appeal than tales of kitchen sink or social mores. But these days they all coexist happily in my reading menu and my choices are pretty idiosyncratic.
ST: What is your writing process: outline then begin writing or just vomit on the page and see what happens?
MJ: Short stories just come out of the blue and are often improvised. Novels less so, and have to be briefly outlined but not over-prepared to the extent that writing becomes boring. The longest and most difficult period is the actual gestation when no writing is being done and it all whirlpools in my mind until I have a fix on the story, the characters and some form of structure, at which point I will actually get to work. On some books that can take years, with others less so. Also, for the past decade all my novels have sold to publishers on outline long before a word was set down on paper, so it became a financial obligation to work that way.
ST: What does the future hold for Maxim Jakubowski?
MJ: Just to keep on writing what I want to write, regardless of market or genre demands. The next two books are a long psychological thriller with several major twists under my principal pen name, which I'd reserved hitherto for my erotica as that market has now collapsed, but I have a “brand” so it makes sense shifting that author name to a neighboring genre, and, the first novel under my own name in four years, a post-apocalyptic thriller that begins as a standard private eye yarn and turns into something rather curious and supernatural as it goes along.
ST: What advice do you give to aspiring writers?
MJ: Don't talk about it, just write it. Read. Live.
ST: Can you tell us one random fact about yourself?
MJ: I once survived a whole weekend on a kilo of potatoes.
To learn more about Maxim Jakubowski, visit his official website.
By Daniel Ford
Author Michael Compton's debut novel Gumshoe hits all our favorite beats: hardboiled private eyes, a fast-paced plot, and a 1940s Hollywood setting.
Compton talked to me recently about how science fiction ignited his passion for reading, his screenwriting career, and the inspiration behind Gumshoe.
Daniel Ford: Did you grow up wanting to become a writer, or was that something that grew organically over time?
Michael Compton: As a kid, I was mostly interested in outdoor stuff—sports, camping, fishing, etc. I actually got a big lecture once from my fifth grade teacher because I told her I didn’t like to read. But in high school I read my first science fiction novel (Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End) and I was hooked. As soon as I got into reading, I started thinking about writing my own stories.
DF: Who were some of your early influences?
MC: In science fiction, it was Clarke, Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, and especially Larry Niven. Later on, I broadened my interests to “literary” writers like Kafka, Camus, and Dostoevsky, and I got into the hardboiled detective genre with writers like Hammett and Chandler.
DF: What is your writing process like? Do you listen to music? Outline?
MC: When I was young and single I had a very set routine of writing every evening while listening to music, but my home and teaching schedules are so variable now that I write more in bursts or when I can. I do outline a lot, especially when it comes to writing screenplays, because I do a lot of collaborative writing, and in collaboration everyone involved needs to know where the story is going.
DF: Does your writing style change when you are writing a screenplay like the one for “Carjacked?” Do you focus more on dialogue when writing a screenplay?
MC: In writing a screenplay, you’re trying to use as few words as possible and convey everything in visual terms. There can’t be any long descriptive passages, and you can’t describe what is going on in the characters’ heads. Plus, there are aspects of style and format that are industry standard, and unless you are Quentin Tarantino, you need to stick to them. I do focus a lot on dialogue, because that’s where you get to have a little fun and maybe show off your wit.
DF: Do you have any screenplays currently in development?
MC: I have several, but my big project right now is a novelization called Inferno 2033 that I am writing in collaboration with my wife Sherry and my friend Allan Walsh. We already have a script, a website, a live-action trailer, and a lot of graphic art. Our target date for publication is July 2016, and we plan to use the novel as a launch pad for a film or TV series, graphic novels, maybe even video games.
DF: What inspired your debut novel Gumshoe?
MC: I’ve been a fan of crime movies, and especially film noir, for years. I’ve also read everything by Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. So Gumshoe is kind of a tribute to the whole hardboiled genre, but with my own spin. I think I’ve written the novel so that anyone can enjoy it, but readers with a knowledge of classic movies and detective fiction will relate to the material on a whole other level.
DF: What draws you to crime fiction? Is it the mystery, the characters, the problem solving?
MC: Whether it’s a book, a movie, or a television series, there is nothing that draws me into a story like mystery and suspense. It’s that sense of wonder, and the desire to find out what happens next, that drives me forward. A story is always a kind of puzzle, I think, and the best fiction bears re-reading, so that you can go back and pick up on all the little details that had greater significance than you realized the first time through. As far as crime fiction, I am drawn to the worldview it represents, in which there is this dark, alternative reality that lurks beneath the surface of everyday life.
DF: The crime genre has certain built-in tropes that can deter some writers from taking the plunge. How did you ensure that your tale was original?
MC: All I can say is that I play with the genre, that the “built-in tropes” are very much part of the story. To say more would be to give too much away.
DF: How much of yourself—and the people you have daily interactions with—did you put into your main characters in the book? How do you develop your characters in general?
MC: I tend to create a lot of smart-alecky characters, and that is certainly a reflection on me and the kind of people I hang around with. But the most gifted writers are the ones who can create characters outside of themselves—different sex, age, race, belief system, etc. I can’t write anything unless I find a voice in which to tell it, and that’s how I approach character. If I can find a character’s voice it gives me at least a starting point from which I can render a fleshed-out person on the page—hopefully one that can surprise me.
DF: When you finished your first draft, did you know you had something good, or did you have to go through multiple rounds of edits to realize you had something you felt comfortable taking to readers?
MC: If I’m not convinced it’s good before I finish the first draft, I will put it aside and move on to something else. If inspiration strikes, I’ll come back to it, but if not I’ll let it go. There are too many stories to write to get bogged down on something that isn’t working. But feedback is important. What I think is brilliant almost always needs more work, and what I am most unsure of is sometimes the work that most resonates with readers.
DF: Now that you have your first book under your belt, what’s next?
MC: Gumshoe was originally a film script, and so was Inferno, and I have several other scripts that I think will work as novels, so that is where I am right now. Several of my scripts—as well as a couple of other novel ideas—focus on teenagers, so I’m thinking of jumping into the Young Adult market. I feel like I need to do more reading in that genre, though, before I’ll be truly comfortable with it.
DF: What’s your advice to aspiring authors?
MC: Lose the ego, or at least learn how to suppress it. If you can’t take criticism, and you aren’t always looking to improve, you should do the world a favor and stop writing.
DF: What is one random fact about yourself?
MC: My dogs and cats are all strays my wife and I have taken in. A portion of all our book sales goes to animal rescue and spay/neuter programs.
By Sean Tuohy
This Friday, the world will come together and try to save stranded astronaut Mark Watney from the Red Planet.
Andy Weir’s best-selling novel, The Martian, comes to life on Oct. 2 with famed director Ridley Scott behind the camera and Matt Damon in front of it. I was able to catch up with Weir to discuss the movie.
Sean Tuohy: When you first sat down to write The Martian did you ever think it would become Hollywood film?
Andy Weir: No, I had no idea it would even have mainstream appeal.
ST: What were your first thoughts after seeing the film? What struck you the most?
AW: I’m so happy! It's an incredible film. My favorite part was the visuals. You can't really describe a landscape in a book. You can try, but it doesn't really come across. Usually it ends up being a few really boring paragraphs. But in a visual medium, you can really show the sheer beauty of the environment, and Ridley really gave us an experience. We get to see Mars in all its glory.
ST: Matt Damon plays Mark Watney in the film. What do you think he brought to role?
AW: He absolutely nailed the character. The way he talks, his body language, everything.
ST: How did you feel the first time you saw the ads and movie posters for the movie?
AW: It was really exciting!
ST: What is next for Andy Weir?
AW: I’m working on my next book now. It's a more traditional sci-fi novel with aliens, faster-than-light travel, etc.
To learn more about Andy Weir and The Martian, listen to our podcast with the author:
By Sean Tuohy
Jack Campbell is the true commander of military science fiction with his award-winning The Lost Fleet thriller series. The interstellar series follows Alliance Captain Jack Geary, who uses his knowledge and wits to command his fleet of ships through enemy space. Using his past experience as a navel officer and his love of true adventure, Campbell takes us through the inner workings of a commanding officer's mindset during edge-of-your-seat battles.
Campbell answered a few of my questions about the fleet, his characters, and the stresses of the writing craft.
Sean Tuohy: When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
Jack Campbell: I was very young, probably about 8 years old, when I first tried writing. I covered big sheets of paper with large letters, trying to tell a story about what we had done that summer. For years after that, I kept my stories in my head, but finally began writing them down again in high school. The less said of those efforts the better. Then came the Navy, which left little time for things like writing. But as I prepared to retire from the Navy, I finally started writing seriously after decades of thinking about it.
But as long as I can remember, I wanted to write stories.
ST: You were a naval officer for many years. Did this have any effect on your writing process?
JC: Perhaps not the process so much as the content and the art. I wrote a lot during my time in the service, mostly official things like assessments and analysis and reports. I learned to edit other people's work, which taught me how to edit my own. And I experienced so many different things, and met so many different people in so many different places, all of which contributed to what I could put into stories. The experiences that I gained, the things that I learned, made my writing immensely better. I also learned to stick with something until I finished it, and to try other approaches when my first attempts failed. Perhaps most importantly, I had to do and learn a lot of things that I never would have chosen to do. It's the things I learned that I wouldn't have chosen to learn that may be the most important.
ST: What led you to writing science fiction/military science fiction?
JC: My earliest reading was in things like history and juvenile biographies and mythology. One day I stumbled across The Mastermind of Mars in the school library and was amazed that someone had created a completely new history and new people and new myths in an imagined world. This was in the days when sci-fi ruled compared to fantasy, so I started reading more and more sci-fi. There were some brilliant writers, people like Andre Norton, Poul Anderson, and Leigh Brackett, who made me want to write stories like them. I'll never be as good with words as Poul Anderson, and I can only aspire to be as good with ideas as people like Andre Norton, but I wanted to try. And since my interests in history and biography often tended to military topics, and mythology is often about battles of various kinds, that led to an interest in using sci-fi to examine how future battles might be different from now, and how some things might not change no matter how much time elapses. My own Navy career had a lot of influence on my writing about military topics. It's what I know.
ST: The Lost Fleet is one of the best science fiction series currently, where did this story come from?
JC: Thank you! In one sense, the story is the culmination of my writing to date, the end result of what I have learned about telling stories. But the two big aspects of The Lost Fleet were years in the process of development.
Some time ago, another writer who worked in the “Star Trek” universe asked some of us other writers if a long retreat scenario was possible in “Star Trek.” We all agreed that it wasn't, because of the way “Star Trek” handled things like faster-than-light travel. Someone would either get away immediately or they would be trapped. But the question got me to thinking about whether a long retreat in space could work both as a story and as something that made sense in terms of the technology and everything else. The classic example (in every sense of the word) of a long retreat story is Xenophon's March of the 10,000. Could I use that example in a new way? That idea just sat there in my head for years while I waited for some ideas to try out the concept.
Another idea had also been sitting in my mind for some time, this one concerning a common myth in human cultures. That myth is the one about the sleeping hero, some ancient champion who is not dead, but is instead sleeping, and would awaken when most needed. In the West, the most well-known example of this is King Arthur. There is general agreement that these myths are based on real people, actual champions who had done important things in life, but whose accomplishments had been greatly inflated after their deaths. I couldn't help wondering what it would be like for such a person if they somehow did awaken long after their own time, only to learn that they were now thought to be some superhero who was supposed to save the day.
At some point, I realized that the two ideas fit together perfectly. The trapped fleet and the legendary hero who could save it. The hero was not the hero of the legend, but he had to try to be that person, because if he couldn't manage it, the fleet and the people who believed in him would be destroyed. That became the saga of The Lost Fleet and Black Jack Geary.
ST: Captain "Black Jack" Geary is a fantastic hero and strong leader. Is he based on anyone from your time in military?
JC: Geary is partly a composite of some of the best leaders I worked with, commanders like Captain Richard Hayes and Admiral Cathal Flynn. But he also has characteristics drawn from some historical figures such as George Washington and Joan of Arc. He isn't superhuman, and that defines him more than anything. He is human, as flawed as anyone, but he refuses to use his authority to his personal benefit, he won't reach for the power he could easily have, he does not consider himself special, and he has a strong moral center. He also has the strength of character to act decisively, to not give up, and to not reject advice from others. I tried to have Geary embody what Clausewitz (On War) described as both the first and the second kinds of courage; the first kind to act bravely in battle, and the second kind to do the right things off of the battlefield. As Clausewitz noted, the second kind of courage can be more important than the first.
ST: The Lost Stars is a spin-off series from The Lost Fleet but from the point of view Syndic; what lead you to write this series and what challenges did you find writing from the Syndic's point of view?
JC: Two factors led to the creation of The Lost Stars. The first was that many readers had asked to know more about the enemy in The Lost Fleet books. I had tried to make it clear that the Syndics were not evil clones, but rather people of varying quality, even though all fought for a bad cause. Readers wanted to hear more about that, about the society that spawned the bad guys. The second factor was because I had originally planned The Lost Fleet to be only six books. But as the original series wound to a conclusion, there was a lot of demand for more books. There were plenty of things to write about, but I was worried about growing stale, about becoming worn out writing about the same characters. The Lost Stars was designed to give me something fresh to work with in the same universe, and even with storylines that intertwined with the continuing The Lost Fleet stories. Very different people facing very different challenges, and all of them seeing the universe in very different ways than Geary and his companions did. That has helped me keep The Lost Fleet: Beyond the Frontier books fresh as well.
The main challenge when writing from the Syndic point of view was to keep in mind that what they believed made sense to them. What they did was either (to them) justified, or necessary to survive. These are all people who have done some terrible things, but some of them had to be characters that readers would find sympathetic. They genuinely don't know or understand other ways of doing things.
Some of them want to do things differently, but have to learn how. And they have to live with themselves for what they have done. To some, that is no problem. To others, it is a major struggle.
ST: What is your writing process? Do you have any special rituals you have to do before you begin writing?
JC: The only special ritual is probably the same one shared by most writers—procrastinate by any means possible (I knew one writer who went to the dentist rather than work on a project). Beyond that, I need to be in the right mental zone. In classical terms, I need my muse to be present and active. If that inspiration isn't present, I have to try to get it active by whatever works. Maybe music, maybe playing short games, maybe doing some unrelated research or reading, maybe watching something. My muse (like most, I guess) cannot be forced to come on command. She has to be allowed to approach on her own terms while I'm thinking about other things.
ST: What advice would you give to up-and-coming writers?
JC: First, read. Anything and everything. Second, write. Don't just think about it, don't just focus on one project. Write and write and write. Then submit what you write. Don't keep messing with it forever, changing a few words here and there or dropping a comma. Send it off to someone. Aside from that, I think it is a good idea to visit local conventions where an aspiring writer can meet established, experienced writers who are usually more than willing to offer advice and will talk on panels about various aspects of writing and publishing. But at the end of the day there is no substitute for simply writing and writing some more.
ST: Can you please tell us one random fact about yourself?
JC: I was the armorer on the U.S. Naval Academy fencing team for four years.
To learn more about Jack Campbell, visit his official website.
By Sean Tuohy
All writers want to set a tone and want to set themselves apart from the crowd.
Few do it well. Some barely pull it off. Others fail completely.
Author S. Craig Zahler succeeds spectacularly and puts miles between himself and other writers with his grim tone and no-holds-barred approach to writing. Zahler hit the scene hard with his debut novel A Congregation of Jackals, which was twice-nominated for awards and highly praised. His screenplay “The Brigands of Rattleborge” was ranked number one on the highly regarded The Black List.
With stories raging from western, crime, and sci-fi, Zahler proves that hard work and believing in your story is what makes a great writer. Zalher spoke with Writer's Bone about his daily writing process, gave us a glimpse of what’s to come, and allowed us a chance to see inside the mind of a true writer.
Sean Tuohy: When did you know you were a writer? Was it something you knew from birth or did you discover it later in life?
S. Craig Zahler: I have always been creatively inclined, but as a kid, I thought of myself as visual artist (comic book artist was a goal for me, as were animator and director), though yes, I did write some weird fiction even then.
When I went to Tisch/NYU in the early 1990s, in addition to not coming into contact with women, I studied animation, film, film history, music, directing, and cinematography rather than writing, though there were some perfunctory courses that showed me formulas I then quickly (and thankfully) forgot.
I think one of the major reasons that I enjoy writing so much and have had some success in this field is because it does not require me to be collaborative and it allows me to make things up as I go rather than plan everything and try to convince people of my instincts. Additionally, getting better at writing requires effort, discipline, imagination, a critical mind, and a strong fondness for fiction rather than money, fancy equipment, and financiers.
ST: Recently on Writer's Bone a contributor expressed some self-doubt about identifying as a writer, despite a lifetime of writing. Have you experienced doubt as a writer? Have you always felt comfortable calling yourself a writer or was it something you grew into with each milestone of success as a writer?
SCZ: Anybody who writes is a writer, but for me, the term in the traditional sense has a professional connotation that is connected to generating revenue from writing—having people pay to read my work. Prior to making a living as a novelist and screenwriter, I wrote a lot of music criticism (for Metal Maniacs and some ‘zines), and although I was paid for a lot of this, I did not classify myself as a writer since my vocations at the time were as a cook, and to a lesser degree, a cinematographer. I’d say, “I write for a metal magazine,” but not, “I’m a writer,” even though I had written a massive, still unpublished two book fantasy series called Slaves of Uzrehan’be (which was me splitting the difference between Clark Ashton Smith weirdness and George RR Martin gray morality), and some plays (two of which I directed), and six screenplays, and a ton of music criticism. But this writing felt like I was trying to crack “being a writer” rather the actually “being a writer.”
When I got a three-picture deal with Warner Brothers and writing became my full time job, I felt comfortable saying, “I’m a writer.” This felt far more accurate on the day that I sold my novel, A Congregation of Jackals to Don D’Auria at Dorchester.
As far as doubt, I have always believed in my abilities, but less so the industries of publishing and filmmaking to which I sell (or attempt to sell) my material.
ST: A Congregation of Jackals was a somber and thrilling debut novel; how long did you work on the project?
SCZ: Thanks for the kind word regarding the book. I wrote A Congregation of Jackals in three and half months, including all of the revisions other than the tiny ones that I did with the publisher that took only a few days.
ST: What is your writing process like?
SCZ: My process is to have a general direction for the story—doors to which I am guiding the main characters. Then, I get in the mind of the protagonist and proceed toward those doors.
While I do this, I try to surprise myself every single day. An important thing for me is to limit the amount of words that I am allowed to type in a day to about 1,100 so that I never chase myself into a corner or plot on autopilot. If it’s all flowing too quickly, too naturally, I feel it’s too easy and has probably been done before and will not contain enough distinct invention. I’m usually surprised by which characters live and which die in my fiction.
ST: Do you have any special rituals that you have to perform before or after a new project?
SCZ: Certainly. I write seven days a week until the story is done. I do this lying down on my stomach in bed, like I’m sliding into home plate.
I write my allotment of words for the day, revise this chunk twice, and then leave it alone for the most part until I finish the whole piece (which I write in order from beginning to end, making occasional adjustments).
Usually, after two or three hours of work, I reward myself with my “morning” coffee, which is at about 5 or 6 p.m., since I usually wake up around 2:30 p.m. Then, after I have finished my writing (and completed my daily workout), I put on my “saving music,” which is a song selected as the daily reward for completing the day’s work. I tend to keep one song per project, so each book or script has its own theme. “Blood Red Skies” by Judas Priest was the song I listened to every day while writing A Congregation of Jackals. Marvin Gaye’s “Trouble Man” is what I am listening today when I finish working on my new book. Usually it’s soul music or heavy metal, which are my two favorite kinds of music, followed closely by progressive rock. The Persuaders, Nate Dogg, Ritual, Altars of Oblivion, Tavares, Ennio Morricone have all provided me with saving music.
ST: What project are you the most proud of?
SCZ: This is a tough question, since I am very critical, and although I am proud of all of my books and albums—they survived my personal process of brutal nitpicking so I can now stand behind them—of my 48 completed pieces (six novels, 37 scripts, and five albums) different pieces have different elements of which I am most proud.
I think my horror western Wraiths of the Broken Land is my most vividly written and intense piece, though it is way too dark for many readers and so comes with that caveat. My science fiction book Corpus Chrome, Inc. is my most imaginative and emotional book experience. It plays to emotional aspects that are very meaningful to me specifically, and is less gratifying in normal narrative ways than most of my tough guy material (i.e. the crime and western stuff).
In terms of my music, I’m very proud of my recent “Realmbuilder” album, “Blue Flame Cavalry,” which made some important year-end best of lists for the first time. (This is doomy epic metal, influenced by stuff like Manilla Road, Thin Lizzy, Manowar, Reverend Bizarre, Summoning, Blue Oyster Cult, and Cirith Ungol).
As for unpublished works, there is a novella/script called Hug Chickenpenny: The Panegyric of an Anomalous Child as Told in Twenty-Seven Chapters that is very, very dear to me and gets the strongest emotional reaction of all my unpublished work.
ST: You combine grim noir and the west in your works very well; where did this fascination come from and what, if any, core similarities do you believe these two genres share?
SCZ: I think classical crime and traditional westerns are historically very different, since the earlier are generally urban experiences, often heavy on colorful language and plotting, and the latter are more adventurous and expansive types of tales in which a group of people are dealing with civilization in the wild. Though yes, there are many exceptions to these distinctions.
Some of my favorite film noirs ever like “Gun Crazy” (directed by the master, Joseph H. Lewis), “Nightfall” (directed by the amazing Jacques Tourneur, based on a David Goodis book) do both things, but something like “The Big Combo” (also directed by the master, JH Lewis) or “The Sweet Smell of Success” (probably my favorite script ever) lack the adventure component.
With the exceptions of my comedy material, I try to make everything that I write vivid and atmospheric, whether it is a crime, science fiction, horror, or western piece. I did not set out to write a “noir western” with A Congregation of Jackals, but a western in which the feelings of dread and unease and remorse were there throughout. For a lot of people, this heaviness translates to “noir,” especially since I did not make A Congregation of Jackals a vicious horror western the way I did with Wraiths of the Broken Land.
My upcoming book Mean Business on North Ganson Street is noir/crime, though it certainly has some of what I like about classical westerns is in there too, especially the idea of a man defining himself and imposing his morals upon others in a wild terrain.
ST: Do you have any upcoming projects that you can tell us about?
SCZ: My science fiction novel Corpus Chrome, Inc. was recently released by Raw Dog Screaming Press. It is very weird science fiction that is more character focused than is typical for the genre. At the risk of seeming like a self-aggrandizing jackass, I’d recommend it to fans of authors like Ted Chiang, M. John Harrison, Phillip K. Dick, Gene Wolfe, and Ursula K. Le Guin. There is no specific work by any of these genre luminaries that mine actually resembles, but like a lot of these authors’ books, Corpus Chrome, Inc. explores sociological themes, identity, the arts, and the limitations of the human body and mind…and is not at all traditional sci-fi.
I’d also like to mention Mean Business on North Ganson Street, which will be coming out from Thomas Dunne/St. Martin’s Press in September. It offers the smoothest and most enjoyable reading experience of all of my books, and it definitely contains all my sharpest dialogue to date.
In film, I hope to get my movie “Bone Tomahawk” off the ground, but this is a slow process with dozens of variables that I can’t control. It is heartening that two years later, Kurt Russell, Richard Jenkins, Jennifer Carpenter, and Peter Sarsaard are all still on board!
And I am currently in a creative back and forth process with Park Chan-wook, who intends to direct my western script, “The Brigands of Rattleborge,” which is shaping up to finally get made by him and the producers of “Zodiac” and “Wolf of Wall Street,” which are certainly amongst the very best pictures to get through the Hollywood system in recent years.
ST: What advice would you provide to up and coming writers?
SCZ: Finish your work and show it to people. Sitting on an unfinished book or script is as bad as not writing it at all—actually worse, since you’ve spent time doing stuff for no reason unless you consider yourself the only important audience or do it for therapeutic reasons.
Be critical of your own work, but don’t strive for perfection, since it’s unattainable. I limit the amount of time I allow myself to revise my books and scripts or else I would tweak them forever (and consequently, write a fraction as much material). Set limits and deadlines and stick to them. Sometimes it helps to tell other people what your deadlines are so that you can’t alter them.
ST: What is one random fact about yourself?
SCZ: A lot of my favorite authors started in or mainly wrote for the pulps: David Goodis, Clark Ashton Smith, H.P. Lovecraft, Norvell W. Page, Donald Wandrei, Max Brand, Robert E. Howard, Elmore Leonard, Isaac Asimov, Phillip K. Dick, and Arthur C. Clarke.