Ginger Nuts of Horror
Richard Chizmar, Award-Winning Author of A Long December, has edited more than 30 anthologies and his fiction has appeared in dozens of publications, including, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine and The Year’s 25 Finest Crime and Mystery Stories. He has won 2 World Fantasy Awards, 4 International Horror Guild Awards, and the HWA’s Board of Trustees Award.
Chizmar’s work has been translated into many languages. He has appeared at numerous conferences as a writing instructor, guest speaker, panelist, and guest of honor.
Richard is the owner & founder of Cemetery Dance Publications. He is the creator/writer of Stephen King Revisited.
Could you tell the readers a little bit about yourself?
Sure. Just turned fifty-one (or as it’s referred to around here: “old as dirt”). Married with two spirited sons and three dysfunctional dogs. Have lived in Maryland, USA most of my life. Writing stories and Cemetery Dance Publications are the only adult jobs I have ever had.
What do you like to do when you're not writing?
Most of my free time is spent with my family, reading, watching movies, fishing, hiking, exploring, jumping in rain puddles. I’m a lucky man.
Other than the horror genre, what else has been a major influence on your writing?
The most significant influence was growing up in a family of passionate readers. My father was always reading a paperback – usually spy or suspense thrillers – and taking me to the library or used bookstore. My mother read books or magazines every evening on the back porch or in the den. My sisters were always reading. I remember swiping one of my older sister’s paperbacks and being introduced to the racy world of Sidney Sheldon at a very early age. It was…ummm, eye-opening.
I was surrounded by books at an early age, and that helped me to fall in love with reading…which in turn became a love of writing.
The term horror, especially when applied to fiction always carries such heavy connotations. What’s your feeling on the term “horror” and what do you think we can do to break past these assumptions?
I honestly don’t think we will ever break past these assumptions, and that’s okay. Some readers will always look down on horror, just as others will always seek it out. As others have noted before me, “horror” is many things: an emotion, a reaction, a genre, and certainly a label.
It’s up to us as writers to write the stories that matter the most to us, and hopefully those stories find a home in readers’ hearts and minds. Every story in my new book, A Long December, is horrific, but at least half of them could hardly be referred to as horror stories. Some are straight suspense, crime, or even mainstream. In the end, labels like “horror” or “dark fantasy” are all about marketing and kind of silly to worry about.
A lot of good horror movements have arisen as a direct result of the socio/political climate, considering the current state of the world where do you see horror going in the next few years?
Oh boy, good question. I think we’re headed back in time to a lot of genre works about paranoia and Big Brother and politics. Think 1984, The Manchurian Candidate, Capricorn One, Firestarter, Night of the Living Dead, Coma, Slaughterhouse-Five, and on and on.
What are the books and films that helped to define you as an author?
Influential books range from classics such as Lord of the Flies and The Body Snatchers to Stephen King’s IT and Robert McCammon’s Boy’s Life.
On the film side, I’ve always been most affected by movies that focus on suspense and atmosphere and character. I’m talking Hitchcock, DePalma, Carpenter’s Halloween. These are the movies that frightened me the deepest.
What new and upcoming authors do you think we should take notice off?
I’m not certain how new they are, so this might be cheating, but definitely keep an eye on folks like Paul Tremblay, Sarah Lotz, Rio Youers, Glen Krisch, Tom Deady, Lisa Morton, and too many others to list.
How would you describe your writing style?
Stephen King says I write, “clean, no-nonsense prose,” and I think that’s as good a description as any. I’m clearly more of a storyteller than any kind of prose stylist or master plotter. I just try to tell a good, honest story and stay out of the way for the reader.
Are there any reviews of your work, positive or negative that have stayed with you?
To be completely honest, I never really paid much attention to my reviews…until my latest book, A Long December, was published. It had been almost two decades (!) since my last collection of stories, and I admit I was mildly terrified of how the book would be received.
Fortunately, the trade and genre reviews have – so far – been uniformly positive. That’s important for publishers to sell books and always a nice pat on the back for the author. It’s all been a pleasant surprise.
What aspects of writing do you find the most difficult?
Fighting off distractions and keeping the stories fresh. I know it’s a cliché for a writer to say that they write for themself first and foremost, but in my case, it’s entirely true. I tend to write stories that mean something to me in a very personal way. Sometimes, I worry that readers will wonder what the hell I’m going on about – and at times they probably do exactly that – but it’s the only way I know how to approach storytelling.
Is there one subject you would never write about as an author?
Hmmm, I can’t think of any one particular subject I would consciously avoid as a writer. Plenty I have no interest in dealing with, but nothing I would consider taboo or personally off limits.
How important are names to you in your books? Do you choose the names based on liking the way it sounds or the meaning?
It really depends on the story. With some stories, character names are crucial to the storyline or the language and flow of the tale. Other times, not so much.
Writing, is not a static process, how have you developed as a writer over the years?
That’s one of the things I noticed when I sat down and started writing new fiction after almost a decade away. I spent a decent chunk of those ten years writing for film and television, and another chunk writing nothing at all, but I still grew and improved significantly as a prose writer. I just didn’t realize it at the time.
I believe the film writing helped my prose be more concise and economical and clear. I think it helped me create better dialogue. I also think the time off helped in other ways. I became a better observer of people and life in general. All the books I read during that time period also contributed. I wasn’t putting pen to paper to create new fiction, but I was improving. Every day. Suffice to say, this all came as a nice surprise to me when I started writing fiction again.
What tools do you feel are must-haves for writers?
Patience. Thick skin. Being stubborn as hell. Having absolutely no sense of entitlement. Also, the wisdom to know you have to be a constant reader in order to be a decent writer. Finally, the ability to observe the world around you and decide what is important enough to write about.
What is the best piece of advice you ever received with regards to your writing?
Don’t try to make every story a blockbuster of plot or a rollercoaster of action or layered with deep, mythical significance. Just write the stories that mean something to you, no matter how small those stories may seem to be. Be honest and brave, and the stories will mean something to readers, too.
To many writers, the characters they write become like children, who is your favourite child, and who is your least favourite to write for and why?
No least favorites, but I really enjoy writing about characters that remind me of childhood friends and adventures. I remember everything from back in those days, and it’s always fun to step into the time machine and travel back in time.
I also really enjoy writing about two recurring characters, a pair of cranky police detectives named Frank and Ben. A couple of stories featuring these guys appear in A Long December, and I just published a third in a fine anthology of Halloween tales edited by Mark Parker called Dark Hallows II.
What piece of your own work are you most proud of?
Today my answer is “A Long December,” the title novella from my new collection or “Heroes,” a short story I wrote long ago about my father. Ask me next week and my answer might be different.
And are there any that you would like to forget about?
Oh, lots of them from the early days! Really bad stuff, but they helped me get better. They were part of the “process,” and for that, I am very grateful for their existence.
For those who haven’t read any of your books, which of your books do you think best represents your work and why?
Definitely the new one, A Long December. It collects 35 short stories from over twenty years of writing. More than 150,000 words of fiction and 8,000 words of autobiographical Story Notes. I think it represents the best work I have done.
Do you have a favorite line or passage from your work, and would you like to share it with us?
Probably the opening or closing sections to “Heroes” or the final words of “Midnight Promises” or “The Silence of Sorrow.”
Or maybe these words from “A Long December”:
And I remembered the night, just the two of us sitting out back on the deck, watching a meteor shower, when he put his beer down and turned to me and said:
"Don’t ever lie to yourself, Bobby. People lie to themselves all the time. To survive. To get by. But you look those people in the eye -- even the toughest of the bunch -- and you ask them, 'What do you think about when you see a shooting star in the night sky? Better yet, who do you think about?' Because that right there is their truth, and in that moment even they can't deny it. Maybe the saddest thing of all is those same people are usually the ones who stop watching stars that fall from the sky. They learn to just turn away from the magic."
It was beautiful and poetic and maybe the wisest thing anyone had ever said to me.
And none of it was real.
Can you tell us about your latest book, and can you tell us about what you are working on next?
Darkness Whispers is next up and shipping in a couple of weeks from Scarlet Galleon Publications. It’s a collaborative novella with Brian Freeman, illustrated by Jill Bauman, and it’s a lot of fun. A throwback horror tale limited to only 500 signed and numbered copies, and it’s already sold out upon publication. Brian and I plan to get it into print soon as an eBook and paperback edition.
Also, coming next month from SST Publications, is Heroes, which reprints the original short story, plus the short film script (co-written with John Schaech), as well a brand new Introduction (Chizmar) and Afterword (Schaech), photos from the film set, and a comic adaptation of the story.
If you could erase one horror cliché what would be your choice?
It was all a dream!
What was the last great book you read, and what was the last book that disappointed you?
Last great book was an unpublished manuscript by a very well known author (who I can’t name quite yet; contracts haven’t been signed). It’s terrific and Cemetery Dance plans to publish it in early 2018.
Haven’t had a disappointment in awhile; I’m on a good streak!
What's the one question you wish you would get asked but never do? And what would be the answer?
What would you be doing for a living if you weren’t writing and publishing?
Answer: I’d be a fifty-one-year-old centerfielder for the Baltimore Orioles.
You can read more about A Long December, in an exclusive news feature here
In 1996, Richard Chizmar’s debut short story collection, Midnight Promises, was a finalist for the World Fantasy Award. Publishers Weekly called it “a sterling collection” while singling out “The Silence of Sorrow” as “an understated masterpiece.”
Two years later, Subterranean Press published a mini-collection from Chizmar entitled Monsters and Other Stories. In his introduction, acclaimed genre critic Edward Bryant said, “When all is said and done, this book should leave you in utter silence, giving you time and opportunity to contemplate what you just read. Tough storytelling from a tough writer; but a writer who is not calloused. Chizmar possesses a finely honed gift of empathy. With utter grace and loving kindness he’ll put you right inside the life (and soul) of the monster.”
Now, nearly two decades later, Chizmar assembles thirty-five stories, including a previously-unpublished novella, and presents us with A Long December. This massive new collection features more than 150,000 words of Chizmar’s very best short fiction and includes 8,000 words of autobiographical Story Notes.
Eerie, suspenseful, poignant, the stories in A Long December range from horror to suspense, crime to dark fantasy, mainstream to mystery.