Category Archives: Interviews

My interviews with people I find interesting.

Jim Gavin Ramblings

I met Jim Gavin a year and a half ago at Hypericon.  After hanging out for for several hours on Saturday night, I came to the conclusion that he’s opinionated, surly, iconoclastic, irreverent, and acerbic as hell.  I liked him instantly. He’s a throwback to a time when men were still allowed to have balls and didn’t have to be sensitive to everyone’s feelings, although he’ll probably chide me for using the phrase throwback. At that time, he was pitching the idea for Hard Boiled Vampire Killers and seemed a little insecure calling himself a “writer” in the presence of pros like Glen Cook. Recently, HBVK was released by Dark Regions Press, officially making him a professional novelist. While I’m not anointed as the official gatekeeper of the craft, I can assure you that Jim Gavin was a real writer well before the book was released, and he’ll be telling stories for as long as he chooses to sit down and write.

To commemorate the release of Hard Boiled Vampire Killers, here’s his first official interview as a pro:

D. A. Adams:  How did you first get interested in writing?  At what point did you realize you wanted to pursue it as a career?

JIM GAVIN:  Like everyone else in this game, I always enjoyed making up stories and reading books since my early days, and I always wanted to be a writer. I say “always” because there’s no single moment of realization – it’s just there. It does grow over time, starting out small, like telling your mother outrageous lies, and growing until at some point you’re 30 and doing an interview about your latest book! But if I had to pick one single thing, or one moment in time – probably when I was a kid and watched an episode of I can’t remember which show, it was probably “The A-Team” – and I saw Stephen J. Cannell at the end of it, smoking his pipe and writing on his typewriter, and he just THROWS the page up in the air with this look on his face like he’s having the time of his life. Right then I realized that there were people who wrote these stories I watched, and it looked to me like the best job in the world. I could go on, but you’ll have to check out the eulogy I wrote on my blog for that

DA:  Yes, I very much enjoyed your eulogy. I too was a big fan of Cannell’s work, and he had a pretty big effect on many of us who grew up just before the explosion of cable and satellite TV, back when there were only five choices of what to watch.  Okay, so along those same lines, who are your biggest literary influences?

GAVIN:  I hate these lists because they always leave people out. I’m going to presume that by “literary” you meant merely the written word and not just Great Literature. Because otherwise my list would look like a high-school reading list from 1950. In no particular order: Spillane, Bester, Conrad, Greene. Understand I’m deliberately picking ones that highlight areas of my reading interest. There are a ton more authors I could put up here, but short lists are better. I also refuse to put up the usual suspects, so just fill ’em in for me, kind of like how on “Wheel of Fortune” they got tired of people picking the same letters for the final puzzle all the time and just gave them to you and let you pick new ones. Like that.

DA:  Outside of literary terms, who else has influenced you?

GAVIN:  Robert Kirkman is a great writer, I love just about every comic book he’s written except for “Walking Dead”. David Mamet, love his dialogue, it’s realistic and bombastic at the same time, that’s what I shoot for. Peckinpah, Carpenter, and Woo because I keep coming back to their movies and finding new themes and new action beats that inspire me.

DA:  We live in one of the most divisive points in our country’s history. What advice can you offer aspiring writers/artists who feel as if their personal views might be an obstacle or a hindrance to their careers for fear of political backlash?

GAVIN:  I think mixing politics and entertainment is a big mistake. All you do is piss off half the people that might have wanted to read you. Now they won’t because they think you’re an asshole. They may even boycott you, harass you, or even worse. Think about Michael Jordan. No one has a bad thing to say about the guy. Did you know he is a big Democrat donor? He doesn’t like to make it widely known. He says, “Republicans buy shoes, too.” This to me is the right attitude. Politics is corrupting, anyway, if you let it in it starts to turn things towards its own ends and it becomes less about what you wanted to say and writing a fun book or making a cool movie and it turns into scoring points, making propaganda, supporting your cause. It can be very subtle about it, too, so you have to watch yourself, unless that’s what you want to do is be a political operative for a cause. And besides it makes the writing worse. You can cheat, be lazy, because everyone who’s on your side will automatically laugh at your jokes and get what you’re saying and give you a 5-star review on Amazon. Who cares what the other side thinks? They don’t know shit, they’re too dumb to think like we do anyway. Ultimately, you’re a tool, not an artist, and you will discarded when you’re no longer useful, which will be a hell of a lot sooner than the amount of time you could keep writing interesting books.

Now, politics is not the same thing as thoughts that you have about Life, Truth, and the Universe. A lot of things have been politicized already, so it’s tough. Good example would be a book I read recently – Anderson Prunty’s Morning is Dead. Abortion plays a good-sized role in the plot of the book – I don’t want to spoil anything obviously. But the main character sees all these women waiting in line at what is basically an abortion factory and he’s like “that’s terrible”. But at the same time it’s not like the main character immediately joins Operation Rescue… or Planned Parenthood. I wonder if Prunty got any shit for this, actually. I took it as the right way to handle stuff like this. Keep focused on the truth of the matter, I mean the essential, capital-T Truth, not the day-to-day political shit you see on the Daily Show every night. You don’t have to have your characters or your stories be neutral. If it comes from a place of truth, presented without snarkiness or rancor, I think people will listen and respect it for the most part, especially if it’s not identified as a political work. People can spot those right away. The thing is, you have to really have deep thoughts about things, read widely, study the classics, things like that. You have to be able to know when you’re talking about something that transcends politics and when you’re not and you just think you are. I’m sure the guys who wrote all these anti-Iraq war movies thought that was what they were doing, or at least some of them did. But they weren’t, and it showed, and people spotted it and no one went to see the movies except people who already held their political views. Compare that to a movie like “The Hurt Locker”. It’s not “Sands of Iwo Jima”, but it sure as hell ain’t “Platoon”.

Bottom line is, avoid this crap unless you want to make writing a hell of a lot harder for yourself. Work up to it as a goal. Because the consequences of failure can be bad if you’re not prepared to accept them. Like Larry Correia, he doesn’t give a crap that people know about his politics,  he thinks the hate mail is funny and figures that people who disagree with him wouldn’t buy his books anyway.

DA:  Switching gears, what drew you to vampires?

GAVIN:  Mostly because I wanted to write more stories about what life is like when you keep a nocturnal schedule, I’d been thinking about that a lot at the time since I’d left my job and was back to a more normal schedule, how different my life had been. And then that shook around in my head with other ideas, like how I wanted to do a story about a vampire hunter because I’ve rarely been happy with them in movies or TV. So initially it was just because if you’re up all night and sleep during the day you automatically think “vampires”. But then as I thought about it more, I began to appreciate the possibilities, how they essentially hold up a mirror to humanity. The vampire has no reflection because he is the reflection. He has to copy us exactly to blend in with us because that’s what parasites do – they’re not predators in the classic sense. But due to their own nature, the fact that they are essentially un-human, it ends up being like a song played on a piano that’s out of tune, or a dubbed movie. It’s not quite right.

Also, I was tired of vampires stepping out into the light a little too much. Now, before I go down this path I should start by saying that I started HBVK 5 or 6 years ago, right after I moved to Atlanta. So I’m not just jumping on the bandwagon with this now – HBVK was a trunk novel for years before a series of events that led to me being here. In short I thought this before it was cool to think this, heh heh. I never liked all these stories where the vampire is a good guy, and he drinks cow blood or whatever. Or no one is a good guy and it’s all about vampires fighting other vampires and they have a weird vampire society and a funky vampire language. Apparently stories about badass vampire hunters that hunt and kill the living dead were cliche. Except they weren’t, all this crap out there now is the cliche, it’s old and I’m sick of people acting like it is new, different, and edgy.

And I like the rules. Vampires in western and eastern cultures tend to have a lot of rules that other supernatural creatures don’t. I think that’s cool, it makes for interesting possibilities depending on which ones you keep for your story. Most of these other beasties, all you hear is how to kill them. Can a werewolf enter a church? Is there something that repels zombies? Apparently no one gives a shit. Again I think this is because of how connected they are to humanity and to society – they have their own rules they have to obey that seem arbitrary and dumb to us. Vampires without those rules don’t make sense and smack of teenage fantasy – well, don’t get me started on that.

DA:  Do you have a specific writing process and/or ritual that you use?

GAVIN:  Not really in the sense of “I must have/do this before/while/after writing”. I have patterns I fall into, though. I’ll usually pour a short drink and read what I wrote over last, picking out the spelling errors, making different word choices. by the time I get to the end I’m usually ready to continue the story. It helps a lot if I have some music to listen to that’s the “theme music” for whatever I’m working on – very often part of my inspiration for a story is a particular song. That was the case with HBVK. Other than that I keep it simple, just try to write as much as I can as often as I can, shooting for every day, just getting words on a page. It’s hard for me to take seriously the people who have their special writing hat and their special writing corner or whatever. The more pro a writer is, the less you hear about that kind of stuff, and I think there’s a reason for that. Process-wise, I just start at the beginning and write until I get to the end. Sometimes if I’m having trouble I will skip ahead to the scene I REALLY want to write, and then go back and fill it in. I don’t use outlines or storyboard or anything like that while I’m writing. Then, when I’m working on another draft, I will start thinking about concepts in the book, themes, threads I may have forgotten about, stuff like that. The first draft for me is basically almost like automatic writing. I don’t sit there and think about “How best does this express the book’s themes?” when I’m writing about, say,  my hero kung-fu fighting a bunch of dudes. I find those later and then work on bringing those things out and hopefully making them coherent thoughts that give the writing some depth without being preachy or annoying. I really surprise myself sometimes with the stuff I come up with! Like with Edmund Ma, I just wanted to create a character who it was believable would be sort of a kung-fu neophyte who gets introduced to this world so we can follow him and discover it for ourselves. And I ended up writing a story through him about what it’s like to finally decide to be a grown-up, leave your childhood and all that stuff behind, become a man. Ty was just supposed to be a classic hard-drinking private eye, but a vampire hunter instead. Then on his way home he started wandering around so that he had an excuse not to go back to his apartment because his girlfriend would be there, and it turned out it was because his girlfriend was a vampire. Stuff like that is why I don’t mess with process, I don’t fetishize it either, I just respect it. I think it sounds a little silly and pretentious to say things like, “I just follow my characters around”, but King said that so I guess that makes it okay, and it’s what I do most of the time.

DA:  Realistically, where would you like your career to be in five to ten years?

GAVIN:  In 5 years or so I’d like to have at least 5 published books of whatever length, movie options bought on at least one of those, have written or be working on a comic book project, have a mass market deal or be within striking distance of one, have an agent. I’d at least like to know a hell of a lot more people, and have some more great memories.

DA:  Do you have any upcoming appearances at conventions?

GAVIN:  I’ll be at WorldHorrorCon 2011 in Austin, TX. Other than that I may do more, I don’t know all the good cons to go to yet and which ones I’ll be able to make. I’d like to make Hypericon again, NECon sounds interesting … I’d do a con every month if I could. All I can say is watch the blog.

DA:  Now that Hard Boiled Vampire Killers is out, do you have any more projects forthcoming?

GAVIN:  Yes, I have a novella coming out next year and launching at WHC, with Dark Regions Press, part of their new novella series. It’s called Arena of the Wolf and it’s about a trucker werewolf who gets captured and forced to perform in a rodeo where they use werewolves instead of broncos or bulls. It’s sort of like Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia meets Convoy with some Carlos Castaneda elements to it, and a classic 70s country music soundtrack. I think people will really dig it, I had a lot of fun writing it and I think it shows. I wanted it to have a real grindhouse/exploitation movie feel to it and I think that comes through on the page.

DA:  How can your fans find you?

GAVIN:  www.jimgavin.net is my blog, it also has links to all my other social networking sites. The official fan page is where I post all announcements so be sure to sign up for that on Facebook.

DA:  Any parting thoughts?

GAVIN:  Thanks for the interview. Also thanks to everyone who helped make this book happen, and most of all to those who have already bought it and who have yet to buy it, hell, even thanks to those who steal it off the internet because they want to read it. It took a lot of work but I still feel lucky to be where I am right now.

Billy Tackett Ramblings

Billy Tackett has been dubbed “The Creepiest Artist in America,” and it’s not just because he grew up in Kentucky.  In addition to being creepy, he’s also pretty damn talented.  Wherever he goes, he’s followed by hoards of moaning, drooling, shuffling fans, but he’s much more than just a zombie artist.

Here is our interview:

D. A. Adams:  What is your first memory of painting, and then when did you realize that you wanted to be a professional?

BILLY TACKETT: I’ve always drawn but the realization that I was different happened around the age of 11 or so. And then it was because everybody started telling me I was good. To me it was just what I did. I’m not sure what really happened around that time, it could have been that my skills took a great leap or that I started putting my art out there more. I’m leaning towards the latter because I recently found a book I had as a kid in which I had attempted to recreate the front cover inside the front cover. And it wasn’t too bad!

During my teenage years I started seeing all this great album art from groups like Iron Maiden and Megadeth as well as book covers like Lumley’s Necroscope series and it clicked; People actually get paid to do cool stuff like this! That somewhere out there there’s somebody that will hand over cash to draw the same stuff I was drawing at the time. And it was a little after that time that I also realized that drawing was quite possibly the only thing I was good at so I really had no choice.

An author and screenwriter by the name of J. Neil Schulman gave me my first opportunity as an illustrator doing covers for his company Pulpless back in 1999. I haven’t looked back!

DA:  What kinds of materials do you use, and why did you choose them?

BILLY: I have given most traditional mediums a try at some point in my career. I have pretty much settled in on oils, pencil and ink. I also use Photoshop a little but that is primarily for design work and a few specialty projects. I think as an artist you really don’t choose the medium but that it chooses you. I feel as though I had fumbled around trying different things for years and finally got the nerve to give oils a try. I should have tried them years earlier! It all just clicked. I feel as though each piece of art is a problem to be solved. If one chooses to use watercolors to solve the problem it requires a certain mindset whereas if one chooses oils as the means to solve the problem the approach is different and so on. For the problem to be solved successfully the medium must match the artist’s mind. I know it’s pretty esoteric stuff but it’s really the only way I can explain the connection I feel with some mediums and not others.

DA:  Can you describe your creative process from the moment of inspiration to the completed piece?  On average, how long do you spend on a piece?

BILLY: Since I do a lot of commissioned illustrations the inspiration usually comes from a brainstorming session with the client and sometimes the ideas just hit me and sometimes the ideas are like pulling teeth! Once the idea has been established I’ll do a really rough sketch exactly as I see it in my head without giving it much thought. I’ll take the idea and ask myself  how I can take this and make it interesting. Moving stuff around, zooming in, cropping, creative lighting, more action, less action etc. After I’ve gathered all my reference photos I’ll do a semi-finished drawing, scan it and then transfer it to the actual size I’ll be rendering it. The semi-finished drawing allows me to work out any problems I hadn’t thought of in the rough sketch phase. From there I’ll either complete the drawing or I’ll begin painting. And the entire time the creative process is a fluid thing. I can’t let myself get attached to one part of the piece because as I move along I may have to alter it or remove it if necessary.

DA:  Some of your most popular pieces involve taking iconic images from Americana and re-imagining them through a Zombie filter.  Where did the inspiration for that motif come from?  Was there a specific moment when you began doing that or was it a gradual process?

BILLY: The original piece, the black & white ink rendering of Zombie Sam which can be seen all over the internet now, was originally done for a publication called Fleshrot which was an anthology style graphic novel type book. I really don’t know where the idea came from. I just needed a one page zombie image and I probably just thought it was cool. It became pretty popular and I Zombie Sam would be a good candidate for my new found oil painting skills. He was completed for my very first convention appearance. After a few shows his popularity had grown so much that I decided a companion would be a good idea. Thus was the birth of Fannie the Flesheater, my zombified Rosie the Riveter. And the I decided to do another. Since I’m very patriotic I decided to stick with the American theme came up with the name Dead White & Blue. With the positive reactions the paintings have been getting I don’t think I’ll stop anytime soon!

You can even look forward to Dead White & Blue graphic novel later this year as well as other cool merchandise.

DA:  Who are your biggest artistic influences?

BILLY: Artistically speaking Norman Rockwell, horror artist Basil Gogos, Marvel cover artist Bob Larkin, legendary Gene Colan and Jack Kirby, pulp fiction artist Norman Saunders, Iron Maiden’s Derek Riggs and the one and only Bob Eggleton.

DA:  Outside of art, what else has influenced and/or inspired you?

BILLY: The spoof magazines Mad, Cracked & Crazy, old horror flicks (especially low budget ones!), 70’s comic books, 70s and 80s rock n roll, and cartoons. When I think back these are what comes to mind first.  I think the Mad Magazine type publications is where my sense of humor came from. I never realized until recently that my Dead White & Blue series draws direct inspiration from this form of literature and art.

DA:  You spend a lot of time on the Con circuit.  Can you describe what a Con weekend means to you?  What’s your favorite aspect of fandom and what could you live without?

BILLY:  A con weekend is stressful. The week before we have to get prints and other merchandise re-stocked and get the van packed and travel reservations confirmed. Actual travel is pretty good. My wife Heather usually sleeps and I always have an audio book to listen to. Then we get there, usually late, and we have to set up. Our display and inventory keeps getting bigger and bigger as does the set up headaches. After that it’s great everything’s great. Always meeting interesting people. We’ve been doing this so much that now it seems no matter what show, no matter what city we’re always meeting up with old friends. Getting to hang out after hours is quite possibly my favorite time of the show.

I think my favorite aspect of fandom and my least favorite aspect is the same thing. Our society seems to be so fad oriented that it’s hard to find anyone that is truly into one or two things. We are very ADD and we’re always on the look out for that next big sparkly thing to latch on to. But I meet so many people that are so passionate about one or two things, be it as general as zombies or sci-fi or as specific as Star Trek or X-men, and they love what they love so much. And talking to them is amazing because this passion shows through. It’s hard to find that sparkle in peoples eyes out on the streets.

On the flip side of that coin people can get so wrapped up in their own little corner of fandom that they can miss out on a lot of other cool stuff. Or worse, they may regard everything else as irrelevant and silly. I have had people at horror cons dismiss me because I don’t have a lot of fan art from horror movies. Or at sci-fi/fantasy shows they may think that I do only zombies and refuse to see all the other types of art I do.

Fandom passion: good. Fandom closed mindedness: bad.

DA:  Any final thoughts you’d like to share with your fans?  How can people find you and your work online?

BILLY:  I’d just like to thank you guys for digging my stuff. I’m very blessed that I can do what I love and make a living out of it. And that’s because of you zombie-lovin’ freaks out there!

My website is www.billytackett.com. I’m on Facebook, Twitter and all that nerdy stuff. Links to that are on my homepage. That’s where you can also find the listing of where we’ll be for the rest of the year. We’ve been given the opportunity to be guests at shows in Toronto and Seattle later this year so that will give us the opportunity to zombify whole new groups of folks! And keep your eyes peeled for my book For The Love Of Monsters that will be available in a couple months.

Andy Deane Ramblings

For my readers who aren’t familiar with him, Andy Deane is the lead singer of Bella Morte and author of The Sticks.

Here is our interview:

D. A. Adams:  How old were you when you first got involved with music?  Can you remember what the original allure was?

Andy Deane:  Well, if you want to go all the way back to me doing a shitty job of applying make-up to try and look like my favorite guy in KISS, Gene Simmons, I’ll say five or six.  My mom sang all the time when I was a kid as did the rest of the family on her side. So, I was just surrounded by it from the time I understood what music was.  Singing was natural to me, something I assumed everyone did.

DA:  Can you describe your creative process for music?

Andy:  A melody will jump into my head for no reason at all at the oddest times.  Like, an idea for a ballad will strike me while I’m walking down the frozen food aisle at the grocery store. I don’t know why the hell it happens, but I guess I’m glad it does.  Once I get back to my studio I often start by laying down some simple chords set to a loop and build on that foundation until I finish the song.  I write most of my vocal melodies by singing nonsense in a stream of conscience fashion, then apply words to what I come up with.

DA:  How was developing a solo project different from playing with your band?

Andy:  Things happen a lot faster when I’m flying solo as The Rain Within.  I write the song and add the vocals, record it as I go.  As a band, we collaborate, so sometimes I’ll wait for Tony to write his guitar line before I solidify what I’m doing vocally.  And the recording process requires a lot of coordinating schedules and such.  There are advantages to both methods.  I love being surprised by a new riff or drum beat one of the guys in Bella Morte will deliver, sometimes forcing me out of my comfort zone.  I’ve probably added an octave to my range over the years because of it.

DA:  You’ve stated that you started writing novels just to pass the time while touring with the band, but what made you choose writing as opposed to say photography or painting?

Andy:  I never started painting because I suck at it.  Really, I got to third grade and my talent as a visual artist slammed on the brakes and hasn’t budged.  Even my stick figures look like refried dogshit.  As for photography, I just never took an interest in it.  Writing was, like music, something I’ve loved since I was young.  I’ve been writing short stories for as long as I can remember, and my dad was called in to speak with the school guidance counselor in 1st, 9th and 12th grade due to their content.  I tell you, teachers do not like hearing about humans being carved up, that’s for damn sure.  My first novel, The Sticks, started as a short story and just kept growing as I’d kill time in the van traveling from city to city.

DA:  Since music is typically a collaborative effort and writing is primarily a solitary endeavor (just the writing, not the editing and publishing), can you explain the difference in your creative process for writing your novels?

Andy:  You know, writing a novel was the first artistic endeavor I ever undertook completely on my own, and I think the process is what got me wanting to record a solo album.  But yeah, the two are very different.  With writing, aside from my editor there’s no one I have to cooperate with on a tough decision.  What comes out of my head goes onto paper and that’s the end of the discussion.  Bella Morte doesn’t release a song until all the members are happy with it, so sometimes you’ll lose a battle about where a song should go or what chords should make up the chorus.

DA:  What’s it like to juggle success in such vastly different media?

Andy:  I would consider it much more of a struggle if I were only doing one or the other.  My bands give me an outlet for my books and a group of fans who want to read it based on their interest in my music.  It works the other way too.  I don’t know that The Sticks would have sold so well was it not for word spreading so quickly through the Bella Morte fanbase.  The fans read and liked it, and told their friends about it.

DA:  Whether we’re discussing music, writing, or life in general, who are your biggest influences?

Andy:  My dad has had the biggest influence on me.  He’s a great guy, and the hardest worker I’ve ever known.  He gave me a lot of freedom as a kid, let me choose my own path.  Makes you wonder what the hell he was thinking. (grins)

DA:  I can honestly say that you are one of the most friendly, most down to earth people I’ve met, yet at the same time, also one of the most vivacious and charismatic.  How do you manage that balance?

Andy:  It’s a unique concoction of exfoliating creams and crack cocaine.  Ha!  But really, I’m just myself.  I’ve never tried to be anyone I’m not, and I don’t seem to have the ability to tone down my behavior for anything.  I guess I just feel lucky.  I’m not rich, but I’m getting paid to make music and write stories.  That’s pretty damn awesome if you ask me, and I’m thankful as hell to the folks out there who’ve made it possible.

DA:  What’s your most memorable moment from your career so far?  How did that experience affect you?

Andy:  Well, one time when the band was on tour in Salt Lake City we stopped in to Wendy’s for a bite to eat.  One of the guys went to the bathroom, came out red-faced and laughing, told me I needed to go take a look.  Long story short, what I saw in that bathroom will forever be branded on my memory. A severely obese man stood before, covered, literally, from head to toe in his own feces, wearing nothing but a pair of sneakers.  This scene will absolutely appear in one of my upcoming novels.  Absolutely.  Ahem.  Aside from that, stepping onto stage for the first time in Europe was a big deal, a true feeling of accomplishment.  Holding a Bella Morte CD in my hand for the first time.  Receiving my first printed copy of The Sticks.  And then there are the bad times that are so meaningful in retrospect, like when our van broke down in the middle of the desert and we had to scramble to find a way out of a seemingly hopeless situation to get to the next show.  It was scary, but we kept one another’s spirits up, and I don’t think we’ll ever stop laughing about it now that it’s behind us.  It’s times like that that show you who your real friends are.

DA:  What would you like your fans to know about you as a person?

Andy:  That I’m a normal dude.  That I’m approachable.

DA:  Any parting thoughts?

Andy:  Well, since we’re both Steelers fans, let’s hope for a 7th title this season!  Also, I’ve got several releases coming out this year:  Thunderstorm Books is releasing my novella The Third House this spring and my novel All the Darkness in the World in the fall.  I’ve got a solo album under the name “The Rain Within” hitting stores this summer and a new Bella Morte album coming this fall.  Everyone reading this needs all of these things. Desperately.

DA:  How can your fans find you?

Andy:  My website is AndyDeane.net, my twitter account can be found at twitter.com/Andy_Deane.  Or they can do a search for me on Facebook.  Also, I am often spotted at Taco Bell franchises around the country between noon and one, and five and six.

www.thirdaxe.com

Stephen Zimmer Ramblings

The following is an interview with author, filmmaker, and all-around good person, Stephen Zimmer.  He is the author of The Rising Dawn Saga and Fires in Eden series and contributor for Seventh Star Blog.

D. A. Adams:  What first got you into storytelling? What was the allure?

STEPHEN ZIMMER:  Storytelling has been with me since my mom first read me The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings trilogy aloud, a chapter or so a night, when I was about 7. I’ve always tilted towards fantasy, in the movies and television that I’ve gravitated towards, as well as the books I have been drawn to.

The allure is to immerse myself in fantastical worlds, and to depart Mundania (with a nod to Piers Anthony on that word!). I’ve never thought that the world that we live in is “it”, and loads of mystics and theoretical physicists agree with me on that notion! Fantasy gives me the best chance to explore wild and wonderful worlds in this life, and storytelling provides a medium to craft some of these adventures into something that I can share with others. What are we waiting for? Let’s go!

DA: Outside of literary or film influences, what has shaped your artistic vision more than anything?

ZIMMER:  Dreams. Literally. I am fortunate to have very vivid, powerful dreams on a very regular basis, some incredibly life-like. The things that I experience and see in them often inspires me artistically, and really has had an impact on me. I look forward to adventures when I sleep, believe it or not! I’m fascinated by consciousness, and feel that it is a true unexplored frontier!

DA: Where would you like to be in five years in terms of your career?

ZIMMER:   I would like to have a nice timber A-frame high on a mountain close to the mountain where D.A. Adams’ woodland retreat is located, so we can hang out more often, go fishing, discuss the finer points of rock music, etc.!

Seriously, I would like to have the first 4 or 5 titles out in both The Rising Dawn Saga and Fires in Eden series, continuing a year-round appearance schedule. I would also like to have a release or two out in the horror genre, and perhaps some short stories in some quality anthologies, or maybe even a themed collection of short stories that I’ve done.

On the film side of things, I would like to be making modestly budgeted independent features, most hopefully in the fantasy genre. 1 feature a year would be great.  Between film and books, I hope to do just well enough that I can make a living just from my endeavors in these areas.

DA: When I was a naïve college student, my friends and I would discuss creating the literary movement of our generation. Now, as small-press and independent writers, you and I are part of a movement away from the New York epicenter. How do you see this movement evolving over the next generation or two?

ZIMMER:  It is a brave new world in many respects. The barriers are falling down in some ways, especially with eBooks. However, as with music, it could result in a deluge of releases, and make it a little more difficult to get your work noticed, reviewed, or seen. I take it one day at a time, as there are so many unpredictable factors that have yet to play out fully. Will eBooks really overtake print, or will they co-exist? What effect will piracy have on eBooks? Without bookstores, who is going to be hosting reading clubs, advocating new authors, exposing new authors via readings, etc.  in a digital world? The word of mouth that occurs between people at bookstores, browsing the fantasy sections, etc. can’t be underestimated.

Overall, I would have to say that there is going to be an upswing in credibility regarding small press and independent authors, and the accessibility is going to increase in a digital world, but exposure and promotion are going to be very, very difficult if the music and film worlds indicate anything. My heart goes out to talented, seriously-minded independent rock bands that are in an ocean of bands putting out mp3’s everywhere, who have declining options for live clubs, radio, independent music stores etc. It is harder than ever to be heard and talked about, and I hope that it doesn’t become similarly difficult for authors to be read/reviewed/exposed.

DA: What would like your readers to know about you?

ZIMMER:  I wish they could see just how immensely dedicated I am to my work and to them. From the time spent writing and researching, to setting up as active of an appearance schedule as possible, so that the folks that enjoy my work can visit with me in person easier, I really value my readers and want to give them the best work and support that I possibly can. They are my friends, as they enable me to do what I love to do. If they commit to reading my series, I must return that commitment 10 fold on my end to give every aspect of being an author a 150% effort, as they deserve nothing less. Without readers, authors are pretty useless!

DA: We’ve discussed in private conversations the financial strain of being a “new” writer.  Do feel like this struggle has had a positive or a negative effect on your creativity?

ZIMMER:  I have to say that financial strain is mostly not a positive thing, but it does have its uses. Having to pull a late night drive after an event so that you can save on a hotel room is something that I wish I didn’t have to do, for one example of a negative. I wish I could take advantage of every promotional opportunity I encounter. But having thin resources does discipline you and makes you a better planner, I believe. I can see improvement in my planning in just the past couple of years, and am getting more out of the money I allocate out of my pocket to sustain my activities, appearances, etc.

DA: You and I met on the Con-circuit. Do you enjoy Con weekends?  If so, what do you find most fascinating about fandom?

ZIMMER:  I really do enjoy Con weekends! It’s my kind of crowd for sure! I love everything about it, the atmosphere, the new friends you meet (like you), the unpredictability, the learning (even when you are on a panel, you learn from the audience!), and so much more. I always hate that melancholy feeling that hits at the end of a con, when dealers are breaking their tables down, and attendees are rolling their luggage out.  It is really its own world, and it’s a wonderful one. The thing that fascinates me the most is that there is a real sense of community and “we’re in this together” mentality that resonates through fantasy/sci-fi/horror related Cons.

Also, I do not see the provincialism that plagues other writing circles, in other genres. The fantasy/sci-fi/horror writers really do help each other out and pull for each other, at least from what I’ve seen. (and in doing so, they push everyone higher, as JFK said, “a rising tide lifts all ships”)

DA: Any parting thoughts?

ZIMMER:  I really encourage people to give small press/independent authors and publishers a chance. Obviously, I’m a little biased, being a small press author myself, but there is a very logical and objective reason as well. The major publishers are shrinking and paring down their rosters, a trend that has resulted in many mid-list authors that are now working with small press outlets. Additionally, as the big publisher’s rosters are smaller and their schedules tighten, they are not as likely to take big chances with releases unless they can really project some success according to an established model. This means that small press is where a lot of the risk-taking and ground-breaking in the genre is truly occurring nowadays. The quality of writing is most certainly there in the small press world, as anyone who has read, to name just a few examples, Jackie Gamber, Lettie Prell, Elizabeth Donald, H. David Blalock, TammyJo Eckart, or D.A. Adams can attest!

Christopher Rico Ramblings

The following is an interview with the artist Christopher Rico.  His works stirs something deep inside me and engages me on both primal and etherial levels.  He’s also a very dear friend:

D. A. Adams – You began your career as a sculptor. Can you describe how you evolved into becoming a painter?

CHRISTOPHER RICO – In those early years, I was using a lot of found materials and playing with all kinds of mediums; copper, aluminum, cloth and driftwood from the [Mississippi] river, because my studio was so close and I would take long walks with my dog down there. I mean, I made things that hung out in space, but they were still essentially paintings. At that time, I skated the line between painting and sculpture. I wasn’t really interested in making things that were freestanding in space, – I wanted to make the space. I didn’t know what I was doing to be perfectly honest, but I have always been attracted to industrial materials and their connotations when used by artists.

I got a few gigs as a set designer; -I had spent time in the theatre in high school and college so it was a natural world for me. I guess I’ve always learned best by doing, and the more I worked in space, -you know, the more I made things to inhabit space, I realized that my concerns were just so much more about playing with surface and people’s perception of the two-dimensional. I felt as though I could say what I wanted to say, or at least explore more fully what was interesting to me through painting. It really just evolved organically.

I think my paintings are somewhat sculptural. I generally use deep stretcher bars, so the paintings come off the wall more than usual. Also, I really try to see the painting from all points in a room and not just head-on. I think we can’t always make the kind of art we think we should make, only the kind that we are meant to. So with that in mind, I think I was always a painter.

DA – Can you explain your process of painting with your hands? How did you come to use this technique?

RICO – When I decided to start painting I tried using artists’ brushes. It just felt so forced. I had been embracing this world of industrial /trade materials and techniques and somehow using these small little brushes just seemed so precious. The first attempts were disasters. So I went out and bought a bunch of house painter brushes; angles and flats and 4” wide brushes and just went crazy. The feeling of gesture was so much more immediate and real to me with the larger brushes.

I decided to go to graduate school and after many failed attempts to get in I took a couple of years of undergraduate art classes. When all that was over I experimented with the artists’ brushes again, -bought myself some really nice ones. I had obviously developed technique and had some formal training but I still felt stiff using those brushes.

I remember I read “The Road” by Cormac McCarthy, and as a new parent it just freaked me the hell out. I walked into the studio the day I finished the book and grabbed a painting I had been working on for some time and just started flinging black paint at it. Hurling it really. Then I threw the empty can at it, then jars full of terp and finally I just rushed the thing and started smearing the surface with my hands. That painting now reminds me Gerhard Richter’s work, but it was really important for me developmentally. The evolution was slow, it came in ebbs and flows, but by the time I got to the St. Teresa Suite earlier this year, I was already just pouring and rubbing with rags.

I was also painting a lot with my daughters and of course using finger-paints. I would just sit back and watch them and how they approached picture making. I just kept thinking how free they seemed. I tried it on some little post card sized canvas boards in the studio and things just sort of took off.

I feel really intimate with the materials, like how I felt all those years ago when I spent days burnishing my copper surfaces with a wire brush attached to a drill. Watching things react and occur, it’s really magical.

DA – What is your definition of “abstract” art?

RICO – I really dislike that term. The only thing worse is “non-representational.” I am really influenced by jazz music. I like it because it’s essentially a non-narrative form of music; each note is largely based on the previous one. The artists of the 50’s and early 60’s in New York were there when all this music was being made, and they saw it and heard it and were out in it. I think if there is an American-type painting, something really created here, then that is Abstract Expressionism.

I guess I distinguish abstraction in painting from abstract painting. Picasso certainly was abstracting his figures and forms, so was Cezanne for that matter. All painting is to a certain degree abstract. The more one tries to create the illusion of verisimilitude the more technical and abstract it really is, – the more it is really about the materials and not the subject. If you look at somebody like Vermeer for example, if you take his work in stages and look at a painting in its initial phase, he’s just laying down abstract forms that suggest the eventual composition. If you get the chance to see someone paint in the “Old Master’s style”, their paintings look like nothing for so long before the final skeins of detail and depth appear.

I’m steeped in JMW Turner. A lot of people consider that abstract painting, I don’t know, I don’t think he did. I respond to what is going on in the moment on the surface with the materials. I’m not trying to represent a subject or describe a situation or person through fashioning its likeness. Rather, I’m exploring conditions and perceptions and attempting to dip into a collective ethos, -explore mythological imagery. The Forest and the Sea paintings really blew that wide open for me and I think so much of that is scale.

DA – You came to parenthood relatively late in life. How have your daughters changed you, not only as a person, but as an artist?

RICO – Absolutely they have and continue to change me. For one thing, there is the connection to the world and to society that I’ve never really felt. That’s a broad feeling and a big change. But they teach me and I think they keep me honest in my art. I respect their freedom, their abandon in making pictures. I mean, they are obviously not trained, so they don’t possess the ability to discern and then take action based on those perceptions. (That’s why, -no, your kid couldn’t paint what I paint, and neither could mine for that matter, even though it may appear child-like). I feel like I have to preserve the confidence and freedom they feel now. That’s part of my job.

Also, and you know this because we’ve so often spoke of it. Also, looking into their eyes for the first time just made my resolve to not only continue to be an artist but to become successful at it, all that much stronger. It’s scary, wondering about paying for college and weddings and life, but I understood in that moment that this is what I am. This is my Way and I have to be true to that no matter how hard the road is. I want them to see my life as having integrity. I want to show them that they can follow their true path in life once they find it.

I was 40 years old when I became a daddy. So I hit middle age and new parenthood at the same time. It was intense.

DA – Speaking of age, you and I share the experience of being so-called late-bloomers. How have age and experience contributed to your artistic vision?

RICO – People love to talk about Mozart. It’s a compelling narrative, especially in our culture when young people make it really big. Some do. Some have meteoric rises to fame and fortune and their genius is easily seen and summarily exploited. But for every story of someone under 30 changing the world or achieving historical status, there are as many if not more stories of people who find themselves at a crossroads later in life and take the path less traveled.

I could site a bunch of examples: Barnett Newman, Rothko, Louise Nevelson. But I feel like that would be justifying something that doesn’t need to be justified. By art world standards, I’m actually still fairly young. I’m not worried about it.

I think one difference in being older is simply that I’ve lived. I don’t hang on approval, nor am I crushed by rejection. I’ve gone out and gone crazy and been in trouble and won and lost and loved and hurt and so nobody can take anything from me. My work is mature, even though I haven’t been doing it very long. I think maturity can produce mature work. I see that in your writing now as opposed to the writing you were doing when we met in college. That was good writing, but what you’re doing now is really on a whole different level. We both took time off, in a way we’re just starting. But now the whole of our lives is behind our art. So yes, I guess that contributes quite a bit.

DA – You were raised an Air Force brat. Can you explain how living in numerous states contributes to your art?

RICO – Air Force and then Army. I don’t know, it’s like being part of a tribe. Military kids can spot each other in crowds. Most people grow up in one or two places, -at least they used to. My life was uncommon at that time in this country. I kept having to adapt: every 2 or 3 years a new place, a new school, always the new kid. I think I built a very rich internal life and that still manifests itself in my work.

I spent a lot of time in my room, drawing and reading. I found Dali very early on in life; -he was very accessible to me as a young boy. Art was also a way to navigate constantly changing social situations. I could draw pictures for people in class and then they would like me or not beat me up or give me pot or whatever. I could whip out a copy of an album cover or comic book character in a couple of minutes, so people thought I was cool and talented. But it was boring; I always felt there was something else.

My parents and I didn’t know about fancy art schools. I ended up at a big state university and failed 2-D because the first time I had to get up and present a project I just freaked out and left class and never went back. I was really shy and couldn’t stand being in front of people. I was so used to being alone. I still like the studio because of its solitude.

DA – We’ve had conversations about your disappointment at not being accepted into an MFA program when you made the decision to pursue art seriously. Now that you’ve been productive for many years and are building a solid reputation, has that disappointment dissipated or morphed into something else?

RICO – It will always sting I guess. That feeling of not being “good enough” and feeling rejected by what I perceived as my peers. But I have developed by leaps and bounds on my own. My work doesn’t suffer for lack of that paper. Nobody cares at this point. Sure, I think I get passed over sometimes for not having a degree, but I can’t say it has hurt my career as an artist. I’m selling work, I have a great studio, and I balance work and family. I don’t have tens of thousands of dollars worth of debt cutting into my sales and in truth I never wanted to be a professor. It all worked out just fine.

People sometimes see my work for the first time and ask where I went to school, like it’s a given. So that tells me that I’m on a professional level. Some day I’ll pick up an honorary degree and that will be just as good if not better.

DA – As a “self-educated” artist, can you share some of your artistic influences?

RICO – Modrian, who by the way was also “self-educated.” Turner, as I said. Pollock, we’re all influenced by Pollock; he’s our Picasso, -you have to overcome him. Rothko, Still, Blake, the Spaniards like Velázquez, Goya, I love the painterly-ness of those surfaces. New stuff all the time, Schnabel is actually a big one.

I also read a lot of artists’ writings. So there are artists whose writings influence me, you know, their ideas, even if the work doesn’t thrill me. Frank Stella, for sure. Motherwell, -though I like his work very much, his writing is out of this world. Recently Tworkov.

DA – Outside of visual art, who are your other major influences?

RICO – I’m a fanatic about quotes. I consume movies. I read a lot of history. You could say that I am a student of greatness. So anyone who has been great, that’s an influence. Lots of people for very different reasons but the common thread is greatness. Not always fame or monetary success either. I am really interested in people who changed things.

DA – When we were young students, painfully naive and full of ourselves, we used to discuss creating our own literary movement. Now that we are older, somewhat wiser, and a little more humble, what do you see as our opportunity to leave behind as our artistic movement?

RICO – I want to make significant work that future artists will respond to, perhaps even contend with. Honestly, that’s it. Truly significant work. If other things come with that, fine. Those things are not what drive me. The world of painting is changing right now. I think I am really a part of that tide because I’ve stuck to my guns and followed my vision through the past decade. I just happen to be in that space right now because I never left it. I think we make our own luck. But who knows, right?

DA – Any final thoughts you want to share?

RICO – Trust your visions. Work like hell. Treat other people like you would like to be treated. Don’t deny yourself success because of false modesty or the misguided belief that poverty is noble. Go to the studio. Inspiration is great, but highly overrated. Lots of people have great ideas, but few realize them. Never be afraid to ask; sometimes the answer will be “no” but it will certainly be that if you don’t ask. I’ve been surprised at how much people have been wiling to do for me, -often for free, simply because I asked.