Posts Tagged ‘John R. Fultz’

Cthulhu’s Reign: Talking with John R. Fultz

August 14, 2010

This April saw the release of a new book certain to delight fans of H.P. Lovecraft and his Cthulhu Mythos stories. Edited by Darrell Schweitzer and published by DAW Books, Inc., the anthology is called Cthulhu’s Reign and includes stories by Ian Watson, Don Webb, Mike Allen, Ken Asamatsu, Will Murray, Matt Cardin, Darrell Schweitzer, John R. Fultz, John Langan, Jay Lake, Gregory Frost, Brian Stableford, Laird Barron, Richard A. Lupoff, and Fred Chappell. Cthulhu Mythos stories as Lovecraft wrote them (though he never used the term “Cthulhu Mythos”) foreshadow a time when the Great Old Ones — unspeakably monstrous beings that descended from the stars in a primordial age and are now sleeping in the deep places of the Earth and beneath the sea — will awaken, arise, and make the world their own. In Lovecraft’s tales, we catch glimpses of the cosmic horror in secretive cults, isolated New England towns (redolent with rotting gambrel roofs and moldering crypts), ancient dusty tomes, and strange human-monster hybrids who are the firstfruits of horrors to come.

Lovecraft’s stories look ahead to this time “when the stars are right” and “the Earth will be wiped clean.” For the most part, very few of the multitude of writers who have added to the Mythos in the years since Lovecraft have tackled the question of what the world will be like after sunken R’lyeh rises from ocean depths and Cthulhu begins his squamous reign. (A noteworthy exception is Neil Gaiman’s story “A Study in Emerald” in his collection Fragile Things, which presents a most unique take on Sherlock Holmes and the royal families of the world.)

This anthology steps into the breach. As its title suggests, the stories take us to a world in which Cthulhu is no longer sleeping.

One of the writers, John R. Fultz, graciously agreed to answer my interview questions here. (You may recall that he chatted with us on this blog in November of last year, in the post called “Pen and Sorcery: An Interview with John R. Fultz.”)

My apologies for some slight redundancies: I sent John all the questions first, and in a few cases his earlier answers partially address later questions. I didn’t want to alter what he actually said, so everything is presented here in full. (Just so you know the instances of repetition are not a case of my not listening!)

1. First of all, the table of contents of this anthology reads like a hall of fame. Every writer here is a recognizable name in the industry; many of them have been hugely successful and have produced award-winning fiction for years. How did you feel when Darrell Schweitzer asked you to contribute a tale?

 
I was totally honored by the chance to be in this book. Darrell mentioned it and wasn’t sure if he had any more room for additional stories, so I wrote one that wasn’t terribly long. It was the story itself that drew his final “Yes.” If I had written something he didn’t feel was good enough for the book, I know he would have told me. So I was elated when he accepted “This Is How the World Ends.” This is such a great anthology, I’m really proud of it.  
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

2. Most of your previous work has been fantasy, not horror. How far back does your interest in Lovecraft’s Cthulhu stories go? [I was drawn to the books in about 5th or 6th grade by the delightfully horrendous covers on the paperbacks in our family's bookstore.] Can you remember how you first encountered them and what your reaction was?
 

 

I don’t recall reading my first Lovecraft tale, but I believe the first HPL book I ever read was THE DOOM THAT CAME TO SARNATH AND OTHER STORIES. Followed by THE DREAM-QUEST OF UNKNOWN KADATH. I’m talking about the Del Rey Lovecraft series with the amazing Michael Whelan covers (see attached images). I’m not sure exactly which one came first, but a friend of mine in high school was reading these and recommended them. It was the exquisitely creepy cover art that got my interest. And when I read stories such as “The Doom that Came to Sarnath,” “The Other Gods,” “Polaris,” “Ex Oblivione,” and the beautiful “Quest of Iranon,” I became an instant fan. They were fantasies unlike anything else I had experienced at the time: lyrical, poetic, full of brilliant images and mythic grandeur, with a current of subtle horror reminiscent of the best dreams and nightmares.
 
That’s when I started looking for anything by Lovecraft…and that lead me to THE DREAM-QUEST collection. “The Dream-Quest of Uknown Kadath” absolutely blew my mind, and that book also featured the magnificent stories “Celephais,” “The White Ship,” “The Silver Key,” and the stunning “Through the Gates of the Silver Key.” Lovecraft’s cycle of “Dunsanian” or “Dreamlands” stories remain my favorites of all his works. Some purists decry that part of his body of work as less exceptional than his more “pure” horror…but I disagree. Another terrific thing about these stories is that they led me to the spectacular fantasy work of Lord Dunsany, who was one of Lovecraft’s literary heroes (and with good reason). Some see these tales as Lovecraft simply “trying to be Dunsany,” but I see them as a vital part of Lovecraft’s output…and even though they are fantasy they are laced with the elements of cosmic horror that infuse the rest of his work.
 
So my HPL fanhood began with these two books, but led me to the other books in the series, all bearing gorgeous Michael Whelan covers: THE TOMB AND OTHER TALES and AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS AND OTHER TALES OF TERROR. Finally, during my first year of college (’87-’88) I discovered August Derleth’s THE TRAIL OF CTHULHU, which entertained me to no end. It was a perfect blend of pulp adventure and Lovecraft fiction. I remember really enjoying this story of Professor Laban Shrewsbury and his colleagues seeking out the Black Island where Cthulhu was soon to rise. Still, when it comes to Lovecraft, nothing beats the stories in those first two collections for me…although “At the Mountains of Madness” is also a favorite.
[Fred here: "The Quest of Iranon" was a big influence on my story "The Place of Roots" (Fantasy & Science Fiction, February 2001). I was also enchanted with Lord Dunsany as a teenager. But I must confess I have never really delved into Lovecraft's "Dunsanian" or "Dreamlands" stories. I think I've read pretty much everything else of his, and my favorites are the "witchy" New England stories, with the secret attic rooms, the impossible angles, the swamps full of croaking frogs, and the people that are not quite people. I love how, rare as the forbidden Necronomicon is, copies seem to turn up everywhere, just when some innocent character is enjoying too much sanity. Oh -- and for me, the Michael Whelan covers are beautiful, but they represent the Lovecraft of my twenties and thirties. The Lovecraft I devoured in my childhood had the Great Old covers -- the incomparable Gervasio Gallardo and some other artists whose names I never knew. I wish I had those books here so I could scan the covers and offer glimpses!]
 
 3. Reading “This Is How the World Ends,” I was deeply impressed that you were able to tell a story in a contemporary voice, a modern setting, that also felt quite true to Lovecraft’s intentions and sensibilities. Did your editor give you any specific guidelines concerning what your tale should or should not be?
 
No, Darrell simply told me the “hook” of the anthology, i.e. that it involved stories set after Cthulhu and the Old Ones rose up to reclaim the earth (or “wipe it clean” as the case may be). From there I was free to pursue my own Lovecraftian muse. Darrell is one of fantasy’s Truly Great Editors, and that’s what truly great editors do — they get out of the way and let writers write. I decided to go in a very survivalist, post-apocalyptian vein. I didn’t want the typical scholars trudging through libraries or detectives tracking cultists. I wanted to see how an “Average Joe” would survive when these preposterous space-gods started crushing humanity into pulp. My initial thought was “Sort of like TERMINATOR with giant monsters instead of robots…”
[Fred here: It's excellent that your character was meant to be an "Average Joe," and his name actually is "Joe"!]
 
 4. And in a related question: was there some back-and-forth between you and the editor as you revised your story? Did he ask for changes, or did he pretty much trust you all to produce polished stories on your own?
 
Darrell handled all his editing on a case-by-case basis. I had no knowledge of his process with other writers. But most of them were people he invited to participate, so knowing Darrell I’m pretty sure he didn’t mess with their writing processes very much. Again, the sign of a terrific editor. In the case of my finished story, he didn’t ask for a single change as far as I remember. Of course, he’s been a fiction mentor for me for many, many years, so over the course of our friendship he’s taught me how to write the best possible story I can. We’ve known each other for over twenty years, although we didn’t meet face-to-face until a few years ago at the 2006 WorldCon (where he actually introduced me to Harlan Ellison!…I was dumbstruck.).
 
5. When you set out to write this story, were there any particular aspects of Lovecraft’s vision and style that you wanted to maintain or perhaps explore further? Was there a specific quote or passage that you kept before you as a guide? And, without giving away your plot, is there a dimension to the vision that you added, that is uniquely your own? What is the John Fultzness of this story?
 
Ha! “Fultzness”…I love that, Fred. Let’s see…the aspect that I wanted to explore was the sheer monstrosity of HPL’s creations…I wanted to dive deep into “monster tale” territory and let the blood and slime fly. In this I was probably inspired by Mike Mignola’s terrific HELLBOY and B.P.R.D. comics — which are very Lovecraftian and visually brilliant. Many of the other authors went into the depths of sheer “strangeness”…exploring the metaphysical, cosmic, and spiritual side of Cthulhu’s Reign…but I chose to take a more direct route to horror. This was a conscious choice…I wanted it to feel almost like a western. I did do some research about what HPL said would actually happen when the Old Ones returned and took back the planet, then I let my imagination run wild. If I added anything that is uniquely my own, it might be that I filtered my twelve years as a Californian into the story. I wanted to write a “West Coast Cthulhu Apocalypse Western Survivalist Horror Tale.” I guess I did that. If I did it all over, I might go in a more metaphysical or cosmic direction…but I still like the way this story flies in the face of all that phantasmal stuff by staying “down to earth” until the final scene.
[Fred here: That's fascinating! Lovecraft's stories are mainly focused on the East, on New England. You took things out West, and yes, as I read the story, I noticed how Californian it is. I was thinking, "I'll bet he's actually been to all these places."]
 
 6. Lovecraft wrote his stories in the 1920s-’30s. Since that time, generations of writers have produced an uncountable number of Cthulhu Mythos tales, some faithful to Lovecraft’s vision, some horrendously not so. If one adds in the fiction more generally influenced by the originals, the number of Lovecraft-inspired stories increases exponentially. There are Lovecraft scholars who have written dissertations on him; there are lifelong fans who know every detail of his stories — and you knew such people would read this anthology. Given all that, was it daunting to write a Cthulhu Mythos story? Did it come easily? How did you set about the task?
 
Actually, it did come rather easily because I didn’t really think of it as a “Cthulhu Mythos” story…I thought of it more as a Survivalist Horror story with Western elements…and of course, Lovecraft elements. This is one reason I wanted a protagonist who was as far removed from the Cthulhu Mythos as possible…not a professor, or occultist, or other typical Lovecraftian character. Just an average, everyday American (albeit, a war vet), who has to deal with a World Gone Mad. Once I had a firm handle on my character, Joe, the story began to write itself. The driving theme was SURVIVAL. That is Joe’s goal throughout the entire story…how do you survive in a world that is essentially un-survivable? This story is the answer to that question.
 
7. Your protagonist is a military veteran, a man who has known loss and disillusionment, but he’s a determined survivor. (He’s quite different from the typical protagonists Lovecraft chose!) Was that a conscious deliberation on your part, or did that character just come to you whole cloth from the beginning?
 
Yes, very conscious choice, as I described above. Since I wanted to explore the concept of SURVIVAL, I needed a protagonist who literally knew how to survive. Those brave men and women who go fight their countries’ battles know all about surviving in a world gone to hell. So a vet seemed a natural choice for the soft-spoken “badass” that I needed for this story. Joe was inspired to a large degree by some of the farmers I encountered in the San Joaquin Valley (central California’s “salad bowl”), which ironically reminded me of the farmers I had known back in my native state Kentucky. Farmers are tough folk…a farmer who is also a veteran…that is someone who will survive. Remember that old Hank Williams Jr. song “A Country Boy Can Survive”? That could actually be the theme song of this story. I’ll remember that when it’s optioned as a movie. :)
[Fred here: Your Joe is certainly no pale young man given to bouts of melancholy and inclined to sit up far into the night poring over eldritch texts.]
 
8. Somewhat related (and this is more of an observation than a question): in Lovecraft’s tales, the conflict is almost never physical. It’s a battle against gradually-awakening, often unwanted awareness. The character goes to an unfamiliar place, uncovers information (willingly or unwillingly), and the knowledge comes at a terrible cost. In your story, there’s no “uncovering of forbidden knowledge” to be done. There’s no need for a copy of the Necronomicon. The Old Ones are back, and their presence is unmissable. The conflict becomes, at least on the surface, very physical. (Your story doesn’t stop at the surface, though.) Any thoughts on this? (Again, I haven’t given you a question to answer . . . so you’re entitled to say “Yes, Chris Farley, I remember that. Yes, I liked it.”)
 
Chris Farley reference! Nice…
 
Your observation is spot-on. I wanted to write a story that would defy all that “forbidden knowledge” and “esoteric mysteries” rigamarole and take a more direct route. I mean, after all, this is a world where A GIANT SQUID-GOD FROM SPACE HAS RISEN FROM THE OCEAN AND CONQUERED THE WORLD! There aren’t many mysteries left at this point! When terrors lurk in the shadows and awful secrets are learned from ancient tomes, you are in Lovecraft territory…but in this anthology all bets are off. CTHULHU has won. It doesn’t matter what you do…what you know…you’re in the same boat as every other shlub. So even though some of the other stories in CR really boggled my mind, I’m glad my story was more of a knuckle sandwich than a terrifying thought.
 
9. Your editor, Darrell Schweitzer, is a living treasure of our genre(s) [fantasy and horror]. He coedited Weird Tales for years and won a World Fantasy Award for it. He’s written and edited a very long shelf-load of amazing books and given us “about three hundred short stories, hundreds of essays, reviews, and poems” (I’m quoting from the bio notes). He even writes Cthulhu limericks and will recite them if provoked. For all this, in my firsthand experience, he’s always willing to talk to “the little guy,” to encourage the relatively unknown writer. What was it like working with him?
 
I love Darrell. He is an unsung genius. I don’t say this because he’s a friend of mine. I knew it before I ever met him. Back in ’89 when I picked up a copy of WEIRD TALES and read his story “The Mysteries of the Faceless King” I became an instant fan. I set out searching for any stories of his I could find. Every one of his story collections is full of timeless, glimmering prose jewels. Like Clark Ashton Smith and Robert E. Howard, he’s also an amazing poet…which is probably why his prose is so lyrical and engaging. I consider him one of the Greatest Living Fantasy Writers, although he gets more attention for his critical/essayist/editor role. Anyone who takes the time to explore his back catalog of story collections and read MASK OF THE SORCERER will see what I’m talking about. He’s an author that EVERY fantasy fan should be reading.
 
As you mentioned, in addition to being a literary genius, Darrell is also one of the nicest guys you could ever meet. His sense of humor is staggering…he may be the biggest Three Stooges fan I ever met. And he really knows how to give writing advice that works. I started sending story submissions to WEIRD TALES many years before I was ready to be published…I was a sophomore at the University of Kentucky, writing fantasy tales in my Creative Writing class and sending them to WT. Darrell always gave me the greatest responses and told me how to improve my writing, unlike most other rejections I got early in life, which were basically just form letters. Darrell was extremely encouraging to me as a young writer…which meant a lot to me because he was already one of my favorite writers. And still is. I knew that, someday, if I could only write a story that was good enough for Darrell Schweitzer, I could call myself a Writer. That day finally came in early 2004 when he accepted my story “The Persecution of Artifice the Quill” for WEIRD TALES. It appeared in WT #340. Until that time I had only really been published in small-press mags.
[Fred here: About Darrell's sense of humor: I remember talking with him at a very late hour at a World Fantasy Con, and from his pocket he pulled a collection of rare, ancient coins and explained that he was a "dealer in bargain-rate antiquities."]
 
10. I don’t think there are many who would dispute the claim (I’m quoting Mr. Schweitzer here, in his introduction) that “Lovecraft (1890-1937) was the greatest writer of weird and horrific fiction in English in the 20th century.” Why do you think Lovecraft’s impact has been so enormous? What is his appeal? Why do you think he’s still being read, when so many writers from the pulp era have become historical footnotes?
 
Who can say why an author truly achieves immortality? It might be the sheer quality of his work. It might be the cult-like devotion of his fans and readers (and all their work to preserve his legacy). I do think the appeal of Lovecraft’s fiction is a universal one…fear being the oldest emotion…and the power of his writing is so great that it rises above outdated diction, verbiage, and style. Just like the work of Edgar Allen Poe does. It’s the STORIES that are so good, we don’t mind the “old-fashioned” style in which they are told. With Lovecraft, as with many other fantasy/horror authors, that antiquated style is actually part of the charm. I also think his appeal lies in how he merged fantasy and horror in unique and expansive ways that opened new doors for other writers. Howard and Smith were so inspired by HPL’s stories, they started writing tales set in his universe! That tells you something right there.
 
11. Although your story is gruesome and horrific (as a Cthulhu story ought to be), your language often reads like poetry — descriptive, vivid, and understated, leaving much to the reader’s imagination. To quote: “. . . something big as the moon crawled out of the ocean.” It amazes me that a mere half-sentence can be at once beautiful and terrifying. And this part: “A single day and all the major cities . . . gone.” I couldn’t help hearing an echo of Plato’s description of how Atlantis was destroyed in “a single day and night of misfortune.” Do you have any thoughts about the relationship of poetry to tales of the strange and terrible?
 
Oh, definitely. Most of my favorite writers (especially fantasy and horror writers) were also poets. Poetry is the bare distillation of words…the sheer essence of words themselves…it requires a mastery of imagery and word choice. Every word matters MORE because there are so few of them. Even a long poem has waaay less words than a short story. Poetry cuts right to the heart of what makes fantasy and horror work: effective imagery and the joy of language. I never considered myself a poet…but I try to achieve a lyrical quality in my prose. The fact that I wrote songs for many, many years does help, songs and poetry being closely related. But I think it’s more a matter of being aware of metaphor, simile, and figurative language. Using those well is far more effective than throwing in a bunch of adjectives. It’s all about creating images in your reader’s mind by appealing to the five senses…as well as the spiritual sensations. Robert E. Howard was a terrific poet, and Clark Ashton Smith (despite his tremendous verbosity) was as well. Their stories sing with lyrical imagery that brings their fantasies to life. So there is definitely a link between prose and poetry, especially in the realm of weird/fantastic fiction.
[Fred here: This reminds me that John has also written a series of excellent articles on the craft of writing fantasy. His blog is in my blogroll over there at the right. Click on that, and you'll get to his blog; from there, I think you can find links to the Black Gate website where his articles are.]
 
12. Do you have a favorite among Lovecraft’s stories? [I would be hard pressed to choose just one, though I think I could single out four or five. Is that an oxymoron, "singling" out "four or five"?]
 
That is tough. I think I would have to choose “The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath.” It’s sort of the crown jewel of his “Dunsanian/Dreamlands” stories…which are my favorite HPL tales.
[Fred here: For atmosphere, I love "The Shadow Over Innsmouth," "The Dunwich Horror," and "The Dreams in the Witch-House." I believe "The Strange High House in the Mist" completely supersedes genre and should be included in the English lit survey texts used in colleges and universities. My #1 favorite HPL story just might be "The Shunned House," because in a way it encapsulates the cosmic horror of Lovecraft much as John 3:16 encapsulates the Gospel.]
 
13. Finally, what’s next for John R. Fultz? What’s out, what’s coming out, and can you give any hints about what you’re working on? I believe your epic fantasy graphic novel Primordia is due for release in a complete, remastered, beautiful edition very soon. Would you care to tell readers why they should rush out and get it, and where to do so?
 
The PRIMORDIA graphic novel is a “stone-age faerie tale” written by me, beautifully drawn by Roel Wielinga, colored by Joel Chua, and published by Archaia Comics. It is truly a feast for the eyes, and anyone who likes epic fantasy will dig the story. It combines everything I’ve ever loved about fantasy in the comics medium…and the hardcover includes a new short story from me called “The Tale of the Dawn Child,” as well as a lot of other extras.
 
I have a really cool wizard story called “The Thirteen Texts of Arthyria” coming up in THE WAY OF THE WIZARD, an anthology coming in November from Prime Books. This one will be packed with “big-name” fantasy writers like Neil Gaiman and George R.R. Martin, to name a couple.
 
My story “The Vintages of Dream” should be appearing in the very next issue of BLACK GATE, and I have a new tale called “The Gnomes of Carrick County” slated for an upcoming issue of SPACE AND TIME.
[Quick interruption from Fred: My story "World's End" should be in that very same issue of Black Gate, so everyone: that's the issue to get, this fall, BG #15!]
 
This October LIGHTSPEED, the new online science-fiction magazine from John Joseph Adams, will be featuring my sci-fi/horror story “The Taste of Starlight.” It is the most disturbing and horrific thing I’ve ever written…just in time for Halloween. Can’t wait!
 
I’m currently working on a novel that blends high fantasy with Native American adventure fiction to create something that is neither. Tentative title: THE LIFE AND DREAMS OF TALL EAGLE.
 
John, thank you so much for your time and for agreeing to do this interview!
 
Thanks, Fred!
This is Fred again: for those of you who are wondering how to pronounce “Cthulhu”: I remember reading Lovecraft’s specific explanation. It must have been in one of his letters, though I don’t remember which one or to whom. He explained that it was meant to be a representation of a name produced by a physical speech mechanism not even remotely human. It’s a use of our alphabet to approximate an utterly alien utteration. That being said, Lovecraft pronounced it by saying “Kluh-loo,” two syllables, with the first being extremely guttural. Just pretend you’re a colossal squid from space, and say what feels natural.
There is also a Lovecraft-based movie that those who appreciate his fiction should know about. In 2005, the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society released a labor of love . . . and craft, heh, heh (25 cents to the Pun Fund) . . . called The Call of Cthulhu, a film version of his story by that title, which is one of the three key stories for understanding the Cthulhu Mythos (the other two being The Dunwich Horror and The Shadow Over Innsmouth). What sets this movie apart and makes it rise (like sunken R’lyeh) over the morass of mostly poor attempts to bring Lovecraft tales to the screen is that the filmmakers took great pains to create a movie that might have been made in Lovecraft’s day. It’s silent and black-and-white, very carefully made to look like a vintage relic of the early thirties — yet behind the grainy, authentically-primitive presentation are state-of-the-art techniques. A bunch of people worked really hard, knowing what moviemakers know now, to produce a stark, haunting 47-minute movie that looks for all the world like it was made then. And this, I truly believe, is the way to bring Lovecraft’s Mythos to a visual medium. This is the HPL Historical Society, so they’re sensitive to what his stories are supposed to feel like, what is important about them, and what oughtn’t to be sacrificed. There are abundant special features in full color, which are every bit as much fun as the movie itself. I am a discriminating buyer of DVDs: I try to buy only ones that I’m pretty sure I’ll watch again and again. And I consider this one to be a good investment.
By the way, you’ve gotta love the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society’s motto: Ludo Fore Putavimus. They claim that’s Latin for “We Thought It Would Be Fun.”

Crow Apocalypse

January 8, 2010

I’m back. I guess I took a little Christmas/New Year sabbatical from blogging there, and I think it’s been restful. [True story: when I was a kid, for awhile I thought the word "sabbatical" meant the wild, unholy rituals that witches have at midnight in desolate places. So when I'd hear this or that person was "on sabbatical" or "took a sabbatical," I would think, "Ooh--I thought s/he was Christian" and "Is that something you can declare in public?!"] I’m actually eager to be back on the blogging scene.

First, before I forget, I want to put in a plug here for my friend John R. Fultz. I’ve read some of his stories and know he is an excellent writer of speculative fiction, and he’s a great and gracious moderator of panel discussions. [See the interview with him in a previous entry on this blog.] He has a new dark fantasy comic called SKULLS up on Black Gate‘s website:

http://www.blackgate.com

SKULLS, I’m told, will be updated weekly–every Wednesday–so let’s all check it out! John, is there any recent news on the release of your graphic novel Primordia? I, for one, am “waiting with my neck stretched out,” as the Japanese expression goes.

So, you ask, what have I been up to? During my Christmas holidays, mainly I’ve been working hard on the revisions of my book The Sacred Woods. I was blessed to have some excellent feedback from test readers and from my dedicated and outstanding agent Eddie. So I made myself a master list of changes I wanted to make, and I’ve been working through that list, crossing off things with great satisfaction when I get them taken care of. I think I am just a day or two away from being able to send the manuscript back to Eddie, and I hope he’ll agree that it’s ready to start submitting. It is absolutely true what they say in all the workshops and writing trade magazines: nothing comes out perfect the first time. Leave it for a few months, get some feedback from readers, and your book or story can be improved in dozens of ways. What I’ve been producing these days on The Sacred Woods is very much like the Extended Editions of The Lord of the Rings movies. All the good things that were there to begin with, plus some extra, enriching material. I hope these revisions are making the difference between “pretty darn good” and “out of the park home run.” Heh, heh. It’s my blog, so I’m allowed to have delusions of grandeur here.

This past week also marked the passing of a very dear friend:

Dave (white) and Uni (brown-and-black)

Dave the cat passed away on January 5th. Although he officially belonged to some close friends of mine, we all agreed that he was essentially my cat. He and I were closer than he and his owners were. Because I was on Christmas break, I was able to spend his last few days with him almost constantly. I camped out on the floor next to him, did my revision work at a nearby table, and I was right beside him when he finally passed from this life. He was a truly good cat.

Dave and Uni

Dave and Uni

Anyway, here’s a report on something amazing I saw on December 14th.

It was a Monday morning, and the forecast was for inclement weather (the default of Niigata — I’ve often said that if I were going to write a memoir of Niigata life, the title would be Inclement). So instead of riding my bicycle to the university, I set out walking to the bus, about a 25-minute walk from my apartment. The jet black of a winter night was slowly paling as I locked my door and tramped toward the river. As I crossed Chitose Great Bridge, the sun peered over the horizon behind me. The sky there burst into red flame. (“Red sky at morning, sailors take warning.”) Ahead of me, the sky was dark gray and ominous.

As I crossed over the Shinano River and left the bridge, I froze in my tracks. Above the first main intersection, the power lines were packed with huge black crows, shoulder-to-shoulder, wing-to-wing. I turned my head to right and left. This is no exaggeration: as far as I could see to both sides, about a kilometer in each direction, the rows of crows were unbroken. I was stunned. This was no mere flock of crows: this was more crows than I’d ever seen in my life, all here at once, wing-to-wing on these power lines above me. They cried out in waves of sound that rolled along that vast length, a cold RRAWWK that passed from bird to bird in the way that thunder resounds along the horizon.

I stood on tiptoe and craned my neck, trying to see the end of them, but there was no end: to my left, they stretched to Daiichi High School and beyond. To my right, they seemed to go all the way to City Hall. I paused for a long while gazing up into those glittering black eyes, listening to the rolling waves of their unmusical cries.

When I ducked beneath them and continued on my way, I halted in my tracks again. It wasn’t just one set of power lines. A block later, the next set was equally laden with crows. Again, they stretched from horizon to horizon, with no more than an inch or two between the glistening black bodies. Some wheeled in flight, looking for open places on which to alight.

My gaze jumped ahead. A third set of power lines was thick with crows. And a fourth. I kid you not, the thought that came to my mind was: Is this it? Is this the day it all ends? Does the Lord come back in the clouds? It really and truly looked like something from a movie, something that would be accomplished with CGI imaging. If I weren’t seeing it with my own eyes, I would have thought it looked fake.

And here’s a bizarre detail: on each set of poles, there were six lines, but the crows invariably chose to congregate on just three of them. Three occupied, three unoccupied. I have no idea what that meant.

Since it’s now January 9th, obviously the world didn’t end. But if you were wondering where all the crows in your neighborhood were in mid-December, I think they were at CrowCon in Niigata. I wonder if the con featured a panel discussion on the role of humans in history and literature. Perhaps the panelists debated the issue of whether humans are sometime-allies of crows, or whether they’re simply the ambulatory, unripe stage of delectable carrion.

Quoth the human: “Nevermore!”

Lest this post end on a dark note, here’s another historical photo courtesy of our friend Chris:

Oh, dear. I must have been in about 6th grade. My acne is beginning to blossom. I'm wearing the World's Best Sweater Ever. Mom looks like a startled forest animal. (This is a very unflattering picture of her.) Dad looks disgruntled.

I’m back, and the fun never stops. See you again soon!

Pen and Sorcery: An Interview with John R. Fultz

November 27, 2009

Welcome to our second author interview! I’ve recently been reading some stories that combine brilliant invention with skillful pacing, deftly-drawn characters, and the most beautifully-evoked worlds of wonder I’ve encountered in some time. I remember when I was eight or nine years old and saw The Golden Voyage of Sinbad at a matinee one summer day — and loved it so much I saw it again within a week — and read the novelization — and then went on to seek out and read Arabian Nights, which was where, my parents explained, Sinbad came from. These stories I’ve been reading this week have taken me back to those times. The visceral wonder we feel when immersed in stories tends to diminish as we go through life. But these tales have allowed me to be nine years old again — what higher praise can there be for a fantasy story? But don’t let my talk of childhood fancy-flights mislead you: there are depths to these stories as well: thrills to satisfy a reader’s inner child, richness to satisfy a reader’s inner adult — there’s plenty there for both.

The author is John R. Fultz. He writes fiction for Weird Tales and Black Gate, and has written for comic books such as Zombie Tales and Cthulhu Tales; and his graphic novel of epic fantasy, Primordia,  will be released in hardcover sometime during the next several months. A much-shortened form of his bibliography is as follows:

“The Persecution of Artifice the Quill” — Weird Tales #340

“When the Glimmer Faire Came to the City of the Lonely Eye” — forthcoming in Black Gate

“Return of the Quill” — Black Gate #13

“The Vintages of Dream” — forthcoming in Black Gate

“Oblivion Is the Sweetest Wine” — Black Gate #12

Unquestionably, this is a long interview. I looked carefully for things I might cut, but in the end, I”m offering the whole thing because it’s all worthwhile. If it’s too much to read in one sitting, by all means, come back to it — make a week-long excursion of it — but do read the whole thing sooner or later: you’ll be glad you did.

Instead of tagging each question with the traditional “FSD,” I’m leaving them numbered so that you can easily find your place again if you take a break. Without further ado, then, I give you John R. Fultz, sorcerer of the pen. . . .

 

 

1. Readers of this blog always seem eager for lists of books they should be reading. I know “fantasy” is a broad and diverse field, but are there a few books/authors that you think anyone interested in fantasy absolutely should read?

 

Man, I love giving recommendations for fantasy readers. As you can imagine, I have my own list of All-Time Greats. Everybody has read Tolkien, so I’ll skip that (but SILMARILLION is my favorite). I think any person who loves fantasy should definitely seek out and read:

 - Tanith Lee’s TALES OF THE FLAT EARTH series  (One of the most beautiful and lyrical series of books ever written. Lee is the Queen of Fantasy and her books are sheer fantasy perfection.) I also recommend her VENUS series, and her latest epic THE LIONWOLF trilogy.

- Lord Dunsany’s THE KING OF ELFLAND’S DAUGHTER, and any of his short stories (Dunsany really was a wizard with a quill pen…his writing is breathtakingly gorgeous.)

- Clark Ashton Smith’s ZOTHIQUE, HYPERBOREA, and POSIEDONIS tales (CAS was the master of Dark Fantasy before that term was even invented—such a combination of wild imagination, dark/weird sensibilities, and sheer poetic brilliance of style.)

- Darrell Schweitzer’s MASK OF THE SORCERER and its sequel THE BOOK OF SEKENRE (Darrell is one of fantasy’s best kept secrets…true geniuses are often overlooked and this is the case with Schweitzer…his writing IS sorcery…he weaves a spell about his readers that you’ll never want to break.) I also recommend any of his collections such as WE ARE ALL LEGENDS, NIGHTSCAPES, and REFUGEES FROM AN IMAGINARY COUNTRY, etc.

- A. A. Attanasio’s THE DRAGON AND THE UNICORN, and its many sequels (A retelling of the Merlin/Arthur mythos that is unlike anything ever written about these characters. A.A.A. has a way of opening the universe and making you understand how magic really DOES work, all while mesmerizing you with the mythic power of his narrative.)

- Brian McNaughton’s THRONE OF BONES (McNaughton was a genius of weird fiction—this book is to ghouls what DRACULA was to vampires. The strange, ghoul-haunted word of Seelura he created will linger in your mind long after you finish this one.)

- R. Scott Bakker’s PRINCE OF NOTHING trilogy…including THE DARKNESS THAT COMES BEFORE, THE WARRIOR-PROPHET, and  THE THOUSAND-FOLD THOUGHT. (Bakker has reinvented the Epic Fantasy and done it in a way that isn’t a thinly veiled version of Tolkien’s work. He is a philosopher by trade, and the metaphysical aspects of his fiction are woven with a blood-and-guts earthiness that creates a fantasy epic somewhere between David Carradine’s KUNG FU and Frank Herbert’s DUNE, as filtered through ARABIAN NIGHTS. These books are exactly what you’re looking for if you’re tired of business-as-usual fantasy series.)

- Robert Silverberg’s NIGHTWINGS is one of the greatest fantasies ever written as well, even though you might call it science-fantasy. Full of brilliant imagination, wild spectacle, and transformational wisdom, it is the kind of book you never get tired of re-reading.

- I recommend any of Thomas Ligotti’s books (the greatest living horror writer in the world), and most of William Gibson’s books (Yeah, he’s sci-fi, but he’s just such a damn good writer it doesn’t matter.)

- A year or so ago, I finally gave in and discovered the genius of George R.R. Martin’s A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE series. I couldn’t believe it was as good as all the hype! But it is. He is a master of character, and he makes you fall in love when he wants, makes you hate when he wants, and always makes you want to see what happens next with his cast of all-too-human heroes and villains. Very realistic take on medieval fantasy that uses a less-is-more approach with magic.

- Jeff VanderMeer’s AMBERGRIS series is one of  the best things to come along in the last five years or so. CITY OF SAINTS AND MADMEN, SHRIEK: AND AFTERWORD, and the just-released FINCH offer a fresh new take on the weird-fantasy genre that straddles the line between fantasy and horror (and a few other genres as well). Brilliant stuff.

 I’ll stop here or else I’ll never finish… :-)

 

2. Your work that I’ve read is fantasy in the grand tradition of such writers as Clark Ashton Smith, the pre-Tolkien mode that calls to mind the exotic flavor of Arabian Nights. What is it about such settings (deserts and opulent, decadent walled cities — and the moldering crypts beneath them) that appeals to you?
 

Good question, Fred! There are a few influences that led me back to that pre-Tolkien mode of fantasy, as you call it. One was of course Robert E. Howard’s CONAN and KULL tales (I prefer the KULL tales, but love them both.) I grew up reading this stuff in both novel and comic book formats. Another was Edgar Rice Burroughs’ MARTIAN TALES series…the John Carter of Mars books.  I grew up in the 1970s, which was a Golden Age for fantasy, and particularly for “sword-and-sorcery” fiction. Later I discovered Clark Ashton Smith’s tales of lost kingdoms such as Zothique, Hyperborea, and Posiedonis, and I couldn’t get enough of his writing.

There’s just something so intriguing about the “lost world” concept. Think about the ages of pre-history that are now lost to us. How many empires, kingdoms, and nations existed in the dim eons of earth that we will NEVER know about? I also buy into the concept of inherited racial memories, to a point, as well as the concept of Reincarnation. I believe I was an inhabitant of Atlantis, possibly during the time it sank beneath the waves. I’ve always had dreams and lurking fears of colossal tidal waves, and I’m very mistrustful of the ocean and its wrath. I also believe I was at one time (or many times) a citizen of the Roman Empire. I’m simply fascinated by the Ancient World…the parts of it we know about, and even moreso the parts we will never know about.

When I discovered Tanith Lee’s TALES FROM THE FLAT EARTH, it opened an amazing doorway for my imagination. She set her tales in a “time when the earth was still flat.” The laws of the universe were very different…the gods were ethereal beings who cared nothing for man, and the demons were more like beautiful demigods who went around seducing mortals and causing strife. Her characters in this series are so mythic and primordial—they tap into the archetypal consciousness. I think all really good fantasy taps that ancient wisdom that lies inside our consciousness, often buried so deep it is never consciously acknowledged.

Reading Tanith Lee (which began with a dog-eared copy of DEATH’S MASTER I stumbled across in a used bookstore in Lexington, Kentucky) made me want to focus on a broader and more ancient scope than your typical “medieval England” type of story. Also, I came to the realization that nobody can ever be Tolkien, so why should anyone try? I’d rather go back into the murky haze of primordial existence and create my own kingdoms from ancient models and myths. And do something new with them, of course. Always try to do something new with them.

All fantasy writers create new worlds, so in the end you are drawing from various sources real and unreal. Why look at the whole of history and pre-history and stop at the medieval ages? Keep looking back and you’ll find way more bizarre epochs to explore and utilize as you craft your own fantasy milieu. Sometimes you can look forward, too…but that’s another question.

3. Have you ever set a story in the popular medieval British Isles-type milieu? If not, or not many, did you make a conscious decision to avoid that sort of setting?
 

As mentioned in the previous answer, I’m much more drawn to the Greco-Roman inspired settting, or the Ancient World type of environment. Not to say I won’t ever write something set on the British Isles, or my version of it. But I feel that has been done so much, and so well, that there’s really no need for me to do it. I’ll read Tolkien and Attanasio instead. :-)

4. For me, stories almost always grow out of place — a cave, an overgrown garden, a huge vehicle of some sort, a rural community, a barn — and the story reveals itself from there. How does it work for you? Where does a story idea usually begin?
 

It varies from story to story. That’s the mystical, exciting part of writing—when the idea first blossoms in your mind…a little sprig taking root in the fertile soil of IdeaSpace. Sometimes I’m inspired by a piece of art, or a setting, or a stray line I’ve read somewhere. I’ll take inspiration wherever I can get it. But I can tell you when I have a story, and where I always look when I’m moving forward: Characters. For me, stories begin and end with Characters. Alan Moore said something that really struck a chord with me, so I’ll paraphrase his wisdom: When you drop well-defined characters into a well-defined setting and let them run like rats in a maze, doing whatever they would naturally do…you have a plot. Especially when you have very different characters with contrasting goals and interests.

I think a LOT about my setting…as most fantasy writers have to. But I think a lot about my characters as well. The characters are going to be my readers’ link to this fictional world, and so they become my link as well. I never worry about “What will happen next?” because I just ask my character. The rule I follow is: Characters always behave according to their inherent natures. Just like real people. You can usually predict what your friends or family members will do in any given situation—because you know them so well. That’s how you have to know your characters.

One of my joys in writing is when my characters come into conflict with each other. Maybe it’s because conflict is the very heart of all Drama. Or maybe it’s me working out subconscious/emotional conflicts that I can’t handle on a conscious level. Whatever…it doesn’t really matter, but all characters are extensions of the writer’s psyche. Put them in a box and let them play. But make sure it’s a fascinatingly designed box! So I always come back to character. Keep in mind that your setting in itself can be a character as well…some settings make demands on characters that they cannot ignore.

When I have the basic idea for a story—which can come from anywhere—it “floats” there until I come up with a character (or characters).Once I have them, the idea starts to really grow and blossom, and before you know it I have a story ready to be written.

5. You’re an amazingly productive writer. Can you tell us something about your process? How does writing fit in around your full-time day job? When and where do you get it done? Do you write first drafts by hand or on a keyboard? Do you seek any input before you send things out?
 

Well, I go through productive periods and non-productive like everyone else. One thing I like to tell people (including my students) is that “Not Writing is a very important part of Writing.” I mean, the first thing you have to do before you write something is THINK about it. Thinking isn’t actually writing…but then again it IS. I think, therefore I write. :-)

I teach English for a living, and right now I’m teaching 8th grade level in the Bay Area. During the regular teaching year there is precious little time for writing. However, that doesn’t stop me from thinking! I try to keep my mind open for good ideas. They never spoil. Some writers carry ideas around for years before they turn them into stories or novels. The great thing about being a teacher, though, is that I get summers off to focus on my writing. Not to mention extended vacations over the winter holidays, and a Spring Break. There are assorted 3- and 4-day weekends during the year as well. These are the times when you’ll find me hitting the keyboard and getting my writing done.

Sometimes, though, I get inspired and nothing can stop me. For example, after attending this year’s WORLD FANTASY CONVENTION (my first ever), I came home so inspired that I’ve hammered out three new stories this month. While teaching! I’ve never done that before, so either I’m getting better or I’m just hella-inspired. Now, when the holidays hit I usually go back to Kentucky and visit relatives and friends—that’s a time when I won’t get any writing done either because it’s all about airports, highways, and the usual Yuletide celebrations. Which are great—it’s nice to have a couple weeks at the end of every year to “unplug” and just enjoy life for a little while. Again, those times can birth a bunch of new ideas, though, so I’m always ready.

Sometimes an idea will come to me and I’ll pull out my cell-phone, which has a recorder function, and speak the “nugget” of my idea right into my phone recorder. I’m like Dale Cooper on TWIN PEAKS speaking his thoughts to Diane. I might make two or three more “Messages to Self” before I put something on paper.

I think of ideas as “seeds”—let them grow in the mind until I just can’t stand it anymore. Then I’ve got to get it out of me. That’s when I sit down and hit the keyboard. Sometimes I’ll write longhand notes first—but whenever I can I prefer to just go right to the keyboard. I may write a page or several pages of notes—the Prewriting Process—before I actually write the first line of a story. I see the First Line as a gateway. Once I decide on what I think the “perfect” first line will be, I can “enter” the story-world completely. But I can’t start typing the story itself until I’ve figured out what the opening sentence will be in my head. A good opening sentence always leads you on to more good sentences.

Sometimes I finish the story in a single sitting. Those are great blasts of inspiration, but also the results of much mental planning beforehand. Once I know what the END is going to be, I can start the story. Sometimes I have only a general idea of the end, and other times I know EXACTLY what the ending will be. Sometimes I write out a bullet-list of events (i.e. Plot Points), and other times I keep it all in my head…a “general direction” rather than a plan, to use Bradbury’s terminology.

For longer stories, I’ll write them in shifts. But I usually can’t concentrate on much else until my current “project” is done. I always stop at natural breaks in the story…I’ll keep typing until I’m physically exhausted because I have to reach a good “resting place” before I can stop. Then I’ll come back the next day and finish it.

Writing novels is a whole different challenge from writing short stories. If you have a few weeks or months to build up momentum, you can really dive into it. That was the case with me last summer when I wrote SEVEN PRINCES. I had a general direction, but I wanted the characters to determine what actually happened from chapter to chapter. This was a new approach for me—with previous long-form works I always outlined them. This time, I wanted to let the characters and their world “breathe.” I knew where it was all heading, but not how I would get there. But the characters led the way, and often surprised me on the journey. Part of novel writing is being able to TRUST your writer’s instinct, your subconscious creator, if you will, to not lead you astray. My point of view is that if you follow the characters first and foremost, you’ll never write yourself into a corner. Realize that the characters are living these stories, you’re just chronicling.

I know that sounds like madness, but all writers are mad to a degree. But it’s a wonderful, joyous madness! Hahahahahahahah!

Someone said writing a short story is like walking a tightrope from beginning to end. Whereas writing a novel is like balancing SEVERAL things on tightropes and guiding them all toward the same ending. That’s a valid analogy. Writing short stories gives you a short-term thrill of completion, and you can really explore big, madcap ideas…just let your imagination soar. With a novel, you have to create a set of parameters, or story rules, and stick to them. That’s the thing about building momentum–the faster you go the harder it is to change course. So make sure you’re heading in the right direction. The way I do that is by following my characters, wherever they lead me.

There is always some kind of plan. Even if it’s all in mind (for shorter pieces), or a few lines of plot points, or a complete loose outline. Outlines inevitably change once you start to write, and often they become irrelevant when you’re in the middle of the story…but that’s okay because they give you what you need: a direction in which to travel.

With my SEVEN PRINCES novel, I had a general idea of where things were headed, but I consciously planned out only one chapter at a time. It was like strolling through fog, only able to see the next step or two ahead of me. My characters calling to me from somewhere in the mist, and me trusting they would lead me where we all needed to be. They did.

6. Descriptions, dialogue, action sequences, exposition of background. . . . Do you have a favorite part of a story to write? How about a least favorite?

My favorite part of a story to write is usually one of two things: Dialogue or  Mystical/Magical/Surreal moments. In long-form works (longer stories or a novel) I relish exchanges of dialogue. It’s where my characters come to life and express themselves, and I really enjoy letting them interact and seeing where a scene takes me. It’s great when they surprise you, or when you write some dialogue and go back later and say “Damn, I don’t remember writing that at all!” The character was in charge; you were just transcribing.

My other favorite part of writing a story probably explains why I like fantastic fiction so much. I love writing pieces/scenes/sequences where “normal” reality is abandoned and the characters are caught in a mystical experience such as a dream-state, a spell of sorcery, an invasion of the “other,” or visions of surreal enlightenment. In short, I love to warp reality. I can’t really do that too well in my terrestrial life—but in my fiction I can twist the fabric of existence. My goal is always to create a unique experience for the reader. When I read Darrell Schweitzer’s sorcery sequences, they often take me to a trance-state, something like transcendental meditation. He literally boggles my mind! This is why I tell people that Darrell’s writing IS sorcery. A. A. Attanasio can do that as well, but he makes the most fantastical magic event seem as natural as a summer rain. Tanith Lee can transport me with the sheer beauty of her prose imagery, as can Clark Ashton Smith and Lord Dunsany. On the darker side, nobody warps readers’ consciousness like the Master, Thomas Ligotti. Once again, it’s like a spell has been cast, and you’re experiencing something that goes beyond simple eye-to-brain cognition. It’s like LSD without taking drugs. I love writing scenes that transcend mundane reality. I may not be as effective at it as those authors I mentioned, but they are my role models for doing this in my own fiction. Of course, there are many other authors who weave such spells on their readers, but these are just a few of my favorites. In short—I want to mess with your mind, dude! :-)
 

7. Can you tell us about your revision process? How much editing do you do?
 

When I’m involved with crafting a story I’m constantly editing it. Write, edit, write, edit. I’ll “spot-edit” continuously, in between extended bouts of writing the actual prose. I “live with” the story for a day or a few days, and things “pop out” at me—things I have to fix, or things I forgot to put in, or things that need to be changed for consistency. Later, after the story is finished and I’ve taken some time away (usually less than 24 hours), I’ll go back and do a Complete Edit. That’s where I read the entire story onscreen and cut/add anything that needs to be fixed, smoothed out, or altered. I always try to cut myself mercilessly. Any word, phrase, or sentence is expendable in order to achieve the overall effect of The Story.

For me, the most difficult part of stories is perfecting the opening. I detest a boring or “blah”opening. I usually don’t read stories unless they grab me in the first paragraph. Who’s got the time for that anyway? I’ve got a lot of stuff to read! So I usually go over and over and over my opening paragraph (s), trying to make it absolutely perfect. The opening sequence of a story should be as precise and effective as a well-written poem. Every word counts. And since editors usually judge your stories by their openings, you have to show them you’ve “got it” right there in the first one to two paragraphs. I’m the same with songs on the radio—I can tell from the opening, or the first few bars, if I’m going to sit through that song. The “lead” of a story should be a grabber; that’s my philosophy. So I obsess over my opening paragraphs to excess. It seems to work!

8. Your roots are rural Midwestern, like mine, but most recently you’re a Californian. How has region affected your writing? How about geography?


Yeah, I grew up in Kentucky, lived in Chicago for a little while, and I’ve been a Californian since 1998. The first nine years out here was in Southern California—Orange County. This month marks my two-year anniversary of moving north to the Bay Area. California on the whole has been incredibly inspiring to me. It has definitely affected my writing in many ways. California has elements of all climates and peoples here. It has amazing history. Most of all it has an appreciation for the creative arts that the Midwestern environment seems to have in short supply. For example, if you say “Hey, I want to be a writer” in Kentucky, people will generally tell you to “Get a real job—you can’t make a living as a writer.” They’re more practical. The same goes for music, and other creative endeavors. On the other hand, if you tell someone in California you want to be a writer, they will automatically take you seriously and ask what you’re working on (or what you’ve written). Out here the business of entertainment and creativity is a real, economic power. People take writers and artists seriously the way they never did when I was a boy growing up in Kentucky. And there’s a reason for that: There simply aren’t that many opportunities for artists in that part of the country. If you want to be a writer, you really need to go to California or New York. Of course there are exceptions, but Cali is motion pictures and New York is publishing. And those two worlds are inseparably intertwined. The creative climate of California is what I enjoy most. People here are very impractical—in a good way!

9. Has there been a proudest moment in your writing career so far?
 

I think it was when I sold my first short story to WEIRD TALES, back in early 2004. The story was “The Persecution of Artifice the Quill,” and it ran in WT #340, which came out in ’05. I had literally been trying to sell stories to WT for fifteen years! Back in college, when I took creative writing courses, I used to read the Schweitzer/Scithers version of WEIRD TALES and I sent off stories to them. Darrell always wrote me the most insightful rejections. Every few years I’d try again, and I got better by little increments. It’s funny—when I was writing “The Persecution of Artifice the Quill” I just knew somehow that this was the story that would finally get me into WEIRD TALES. And it was. I had always said “If I can sell a story to Darrell, I will have figured out how to write.” Because we’re talking about an editor who won a World Fantasy Award for his editing—not to mention one of the leading scholars/reviewers in the fantasy/horror genre.

Selling that first story inspired me to keep writing short stories, and I ended up selling two more Artifice stories to WT, then I started selling to BLACK GATE. Along the way, I got my graphic novel PRIMORDIA published as well, then sold some other comics scripts. Earlier this year I sold my first non-fantasy story to SPACE & TIME Magazine. It was a contemporary weird-horror story called “Behind the Eyes.” It was another milestone because I’ve never wanted to write ONLY fantasy. Fantasy will always be my first love, but I do write other things as the inspiration strikes.

10. Can you remember your earliest attempt at writing, perhaps when you were very young? What, if anything, was the common link with what you’re writing now, as an adult?
 

When I was in 7th grade I wrote a story about a knight who refuses to listen to everyone at court when they tell him NOT to go fight a dragon that is terrorizing the land. The young knight, full of arrogance and hungry for glory, goes out and assaults the dragon in its cave. The last line of the story reveals that the knight was promptly killed and devoured by the dragon. The point being that he should have listened to his elders and let the damn dragon alone. My English teacher liked the story so much that she read it to the entire class one day. That must have been a turning point in my life. It gave me something to be proud of when I really needed it. It validated my interest in writing, as well as in fantasy fiction. It might be the first time I ever thought of myself as a “writer.” In my own career as a teacher I love recognizing and encouraging young writers. I guess I’m paying it forward. Thank you, Mrs. Kimberlaine!

11. Is there a particular element or aspect that you think the best fantasy stories have? As a reader, what do you read for?
 

A sense of wonder. That’s it for me. I’m stealing the words of the great Robert Silverberg, but it’s so true. Whether I’m reading fantasy, sci-fi, or horror, I want a sense of wonder, something strange, beyond the mundane, something incredible and impossible coming to life inside my imagination. In college I read Silverberg’s WORLDS OF WONDER, which was a guide to writing science fiction and fantasy, but also included amazing stories from classic writers like Damon Knight, Henry Kuttner, Jack Vance, and Brian Aldiss. It was huge influence on me, and responsible for my writing a post-apocalyptic sci-fi novel in longhand during the course of my last two years of college. It wasn’t particularly good, but terrific fun, and I proved to myself that I could do it. One of the things Silverberg talks about in that book is the “sense of wonder” that sci-fi and fantasy stories should have. I couldn’t say it any better.

The other element that is so important is good characters. If you can’t relate to the characters, you’re not going to enjoy the story. Silverberg is a master at infusing a sense of wonder with believable characters who seem real, even in the depths of impossible realities.

Thirdly, a writer’s style means a lot to me. Tanith Lee’s fiction reads like sex feels. It’s superb. Lyrical, poetic, full of images that stun the mind and thrill the soul. Clark Ashton Smith and Thomas Ligotti do the same thing, but with a much darker mood. It’s all about creating fantastic imagery that evokes that crucial sense of wonder.

12. Is there a map of the world in which your Zang Cycle is set? Do you write with a map spread out beside you, or is a map even necessary?
 

The map of the Zang Continent exists only in my mind, but it’s pretty well formed there. I took a cue from Brian McNaughton, who believed that if he drew a map for his Seelura Cycle (in THRONE OF BONES), it might rob his creation of all its mystery and wonder. So there is no physical Zang map.

However, I DID create a map for my novel SEVEN PRINCES. The characters therein are lords and ladies of several lands, some of which are a thousand miles apart. There are also the movements of armies and travelling individuals to consider. So I created a map and constantly continued to revise it as I wrote the novel. I’ve learned from this that maps are WAY more important to fantasy novels than to cycles of loosely-related short stories that share the same world.

13. The use of magic is a central aspect of your stories, much moreso than the use of swords. Is that a fair statement? What are the challenges of writing about magic and characters who are sorcerers?
 

Yes. Some people call some of my stories “sword and sorcery,” but I came up with the term “pen and sorcery” because Artifice the Quill, main character of the Zang stories, isn’t a warrior—he’s a writer! He starts out as a novelist and evolves into a traveling playwright. The conceit is that he is learning a form of sorcery that reveals itself through his performances…a great metaphor for how Art can change the world. The series of Artifice tales explores the concept of Sorcery as Art, and Art as Sorcery.

I’ve always thought wizards/sorcerers/magicians were way more interesting than sword-swinging warriors. I’d rather see two sorcerers have a duel than two swordsmen. The possibilities are endless with magic and sorcery…Moorcock’s Elric of Melnibone is so exciting and enduring because he combines the best attributes of the warrior/swordsman archetype with the best of the sorcerer/magician figure.

However, any kind of character can be compelling if it is well written. Some of George R. R. Martin’s characters are practically powerless, but yet they are ultimately fascinating. Maybe my preference for magical characters goes back to my quest for the “sense of wonder” I spoke about. At the same time, Jeffrey Ford pointed out at the WFC how you can find magic in the real world; it exists all around you in the winds and movements of birds among the clouds, etc. The world of nature is the ultimate magic. He has a good point. Attanasio is the only fantasy writer I’ve read who manages to combine Nature and Sorcery to the point that the mundane world and supernatural world are ONE AND THE SAME. That’s why everyone should seek out and read THE DRAGON AND THE UNICORN, to see how he pulls this off.

I don’t really like the term “sword-and-sorcery” when it’s applied to my fiction. I don’t like limits. There are other authors whose work gets labeled like this, and for most of them it’s not fair because they have way more going on than S&S would imply.

We had a great panel about writing sorcerer/magician characters at the WFC. One thing we all agreed on: You have to give your sorcerers limits of some kind. But that’s not hard to do because as I pointed out, simply HAVING sorcerous/magical power is going to cause a whole host of problems. It’s also interesting to note that most of literature’s sorcerer/magician characters end up as tragic figures…all their cosmic power does them no good in the end. Elric, Merlin, Drusas Achamian (from the PRINCE OF NOTHING series)…even Gandalf doesn’t live a particularly happy existence in LotR.

I think Sorcerers and Magicians and Wizards have an immortal mystique about them, and that’s what makes them such great characters to write and read. They know things…sometimes terrible things…they are the keepers of the universe’s darkest mysteries.

14. Imagine that, about 170 years from now, you’re being discussed by a panel at the World Fantasy Convention. “John Fultz was a writer who ______.” What would you like to be remembered for?

Oh, wow, I can’t think of how to answer this without sounding like a jerk. :-) It’s a nice image though. I certainly hope my works survive me…

15. Is there anything we haven’t covered that you’d like to add?

Let’s see: Right now I’ve got two stories coming up in future issues of BLACK GATE, and a post-apocalyptic horror tale in the forthcoming DAW anthology CTHULHU’S REIGN. You can also pre-order the PRIMORDIA hardcover at Amazon.com, but I’m not sure exactly when it will be released.

Thanks, Fred!

Thank you, John!


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