From the Mouth of the Madman
Círculo Lovecraftiano & Horror is pleased to present a new interview for its section “De Boca del Loco” (From the mouth of the madman). In this edition we have the honor of having some insight into the mind of one of the most acclaimed new authors of weird fiction, Mr. Simon Strantzas. Simon is among few other writers that we can consider the revival of horror of our generation. Born in Toronto in 1972, Strantzas has surpassed the horror in a fresh new look that we haven’t read since writers such as King or Barker were his age, that’s why he has created a solid fanbase worldwide not only among readers, but among consolidated writers as well. Mr. S.T. Joshi declared himself a fan of Simon’s work stating he hasn’t read such great weird stories in a long time. Simon has been nominated for the British Fantasy Award and as an editor he won a Shirley Jackson Award for his anthology “Aickman’s Heirs”. So without further ado, lets enjoy some words from… the mouth of the madman.
Círculo Lovecraftiano & Horror: Simon, thanks for the honor of giving the readers in México some of your time. First of all, please tell us how did you get into the world of storytelling, are you the kind of writer who started since you were a teenager, or was it sometime later in your life?
Simon Strantzas: Thank you to the group for having me, and for being interested in my fiction.
I suppose I’ve been interested in storytelling from a very young age—or, at least, always dreaming up different fantasies to inhabit. It wasn’t until I was a teenager, though, that I started dabbling in the written word, and not until I was nearly out of my twenties that I realized writing was how I wanted to make my mark on the world. By that point, I’d spent many years reading contemporary horror writers voraciously and had already graduated to going back to read their influences, so when I finally picked up the pen and seriously began to craft horror stories, I had already established a solid understanding of the genre to draw upon.
CL & H: You are part of a young generation that basically grew up influenced by the horror films of the late 70’s and early 80’s. How much of a mark did this period leave in your work?
SS: I don’t consider myself influenced at all by the horror films I grew up with. The truth is I avoided horror films for most of my childhood because I was acutely terrified of the nightmares they might contain. I didn’t want to subject myself to the experience of pure and utter fright. It was only when I was in my teens that I was made to watch one, and only then that I began to understand horror movies were not at all what I imagined them to be. Horror films, for the most part, are nonsense—cautionary tales disguised with cartoonish violence. Nothing at all nightmarish, and thus I found myself able to watch and appreciate them for their limited aspirations. As I matured and grew more interested in the genre I began to explore some of the nooks and crannies of horror on film and find some actual gems to appreciate, but even then I rarely find the sort of terrors I expected as a child. If I want that now, I turn to the nightmares of David Lynch. I’d say his work has had more of an effect on what I write than all the horror films I’ve watched combined.
CL & H: Do you consider yourself influenced by the media? Do you watch TV regularly or do you prefer to withdraw yourself from the current events?
SS: I typically stay out of real world politics and do my best to stay out of genre politics. When it comes to my fiction, other than the occasional tint of environmentalism, there’s little of current affairs or concerns in my work. Instead, I’m more focused on the personal and psychological. It’s vastly more interesting to me, and I’m vastly better at writing it than I would be at thinly-veiled horror polemics.
But, certainly, I watch television and films and all sorts of media, and they each provide inspiration in unique and unexpected ways. Authors often advise aspiring writers to read more, or to travel more, but I think what they really mean is one should simply learn more. A thirst for knowledge is of utmost importance to a writer, and ingesting media helps to inspire ideas and points of view.
CL & H: I think it might be annoying to make comparisons, especially about people who have already paved their path with originality such as yourself, but in the literature it’s almost unavoidable. When I was recommended your work, a friend of mine said to me “You have to read Beneath the surface! It’s like Palahniuk but supernatural!” How do you feel when your or your colleagues’ works are subjected to comparisons?
SS: Often (such as in this case) I don’t see or understand the comparison, but I’ll happily accept it as a compliment. I recognize that people, as a whole, like categories, and they like to understand a thing by its relation to another thing. It’s only natural, then, to describe one person’s work in the context of another’s. It’s imperfect, of course, as one person’s Palahniuk is not necessarily another person’s, but it helps set the needle. It helps draw an arrow. And, should you like Palahniuk enough to read my book then I consider that a win in all columns. I’m more interested in you reading my work than on how it got in front of you.
CL & H: In the story -eponymous to the name of the book- “Burnt Black Suns”, you achieve a tale loaded with anxiety and despair through the Mexican desert, I must say I haven’t read something so vivid since García Marquez or Rulfo. What inspired you to write Noah’s search, and why did you use this Mexican environment? Have you been here or did you get the inspiration from books or movies?
SS: I’ve never been to Mexico, though I have friends who have, and I asked questions, as well as did some research, to try and paint as accurate a portrayal as I could while still leaving room for fantastic elements. After all, the story doesn’t take place in the real Mexico, but in my fantasy version of the country. But why Mexico? That answer is rather mundane: often I will build a story around an image, and in this case the image that first appeared to me was of a row of piñatas, which I found at the time somewhat sinister. From that seed, the rest of the story grew outward and its setting seemed inevitable. The plot, however, went through a lot of variations before I settled on telling the story of Noah’s journey to find his missing son. For me, writing fiction is writing about relationships, and telling the story of one man’s connection to a missing son, a loving wife, and an angry ex, offered many opportunites to explore different aspects of how relationships work. The story was also my first attempt at a long-form narrative, and though I often joke about how it nearly killed me to write, it did open my eyes to how much I enjoy the novella form.
CL & H: Your characters seem to be common people who happen to experience the scariest, most chaotic situations, are you frightened at the thought of one day waking up and finding yourself trapped in a Simon Strantzas kind of story?
SS: On the contrary, I live every day inside that kind of a story. Or, at least, I find myself viewing reality through that pair of glasses. The stories I write about explore my own innate suspicion that the world is not as it seems, so they are simply concretizing a vision I already see. Or, at least, imagine I see. But I don’t fear the literal realization of my stories, as I don’t believe in such supernaturality. Instead, I fear the despair and heart-rending my characters deal with on a regular basis. I fear those aspects of existence that would make me less than I’d like to be. My characters are not people to emulate, and sometimes I feel closer to being one of them than a balanced rational adult.
CL & H: Weird Fiction or Weird Horror seem to be 2 styles that have resurfaced lately but there is a little bit of elitism among the fans of them, is horror becoming something “hipster”? What is your take on when some readers seem to belittle others for being “poser” horror fans and such?
SS: Whoa-boy. This is usually how I get into the most trouble with other contemporary weird and horror writers. There has been disagreements for a long time about what the words “horror” and “weird” mean and how they can and should be applied. And I’ve gone on record a number of times with my options about it—most publicly in my introduction to YEAR’S BEST WERID FICTION #3, the anthology I co-edited last year for Undertow Publications. But since then I’ve gone through some reconsidering and I’ve reached the conclusion that I no longer care to tell anyone what is and isn’t weird fiction and what is or isn’t horror. It’s largely irrelevant; all that matters is the work. I have my own opinions, and will continue to do so, and am happy to discuss them privately with anyone, but I’m out of the pronouncement business. All that said, the idea of “poser” horror fans is absolutely ludicrous. One is either a fan or isn’t, and the only person who gets to make that distinction is that person. No one else. Horror is a broad field, and no two people are going to like the same things. That doesn’t mean they aren’t both still fans. There’s no such an animal as the “poser”, especially in horror fandom. Why on Earth would anyone want to pose as a fan of a genre that’s so maligned?
CL & H: How does it feel to read the reviews about your work coming from such important writers like Straub or Ligotti?
SS: Marvelously surreal, and dreamlike. And grossly intimidating.
CL & H: I know this might be a trite question but usually the readers want to know where all the strange and crazy situations the horror and fiction writers talk about come from, so… do you believe in the supernatural?
SS: No, I don’t. Despite what I might have implied previously, I’m wholly 100% grounded in what we perceive as rational physical reality. However, I’m quite interested the notion of a world where that isn’t the case, and what it would mean. To put it another way, I don’t believe in other realities, but I like to imagine what it would be like if I were wrong. Most of my fiction springs from this idea, though where exactly my stories originate is far less interesting. The truth of writing is that most writers aren’t stricken very often by bolts of ingenuity from above. Instead, writing is often just putting words on a page and seeing what happens. Sometimes the meandering leads nowhere, but often something interesting emerges, whether it’s a snippet of conversation, or an image, or a turn of phrase. Just as often one finds other items floating in the ether—an article from a magazine, an anecdote from a friend—and incorporates them into the narrative, changing it in something interesting. Writers are magpies, attracted to anything that’s shiny, and given enough time those shiny pieces will fuse into something worth exploring. Strange ideas and crazy situations just happen along the way.
CL & H: Looking back, did you ever imagine you’d be in the distinguished place you are now? and also, you started writing in your late 20’s early 30’s. What were you planning back then to do as a job for the rest of your life?
SS: I don’t know how distinguished I am. I certainly don’t feel distinguished. That said, I’ve achieved many things that would have seemed impossible to me when I was younger, and I try to keep that in mind during those times the muse isn’t talking to me as she should. I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished, and look forward to trying to accomplish more while I’m still able. Regarding the rest of my life, I never went into writing horror fiction harboring any illusions; I never expected it to become my only job for the rest of my life, and I certainly haven’t been proven wrong yet. So, as something I do around other work, it has lived up to and exceeded my expectations thus far. I don’t expect to be stopping any time soon.
CL & H: Tell us something about Simon Strantzas that nobody knows.
SS: In a number of interviews and pieces written about me over the years, it’s been remarked that not a lot of personal information about me exists on the internet because I tend to be considered a private person. Even my Facebook pages and blog rarely mention anyone or anything not horror-related. There are many reasons for this, but none I’ll go into. After all, one doesn’t remain private by telling the world things about them that nobody knows.
CL & H: Do you have any final words for your mexican fans in the Círculo Lovecraftiano & Horror?
SS: Only that I’m very happy to have written something that resonates with anyone, including members of this group, and I thank each and every one of you for taking the time to read my work and discuss it with others.
And this was another edition just for you our beloved readers from the Círculo Lovecraftiano & Horror, thanks again to Simon Strantzas and if you havent read his stories, then check his official site in the link attached below. All his works are small masterpieces that will haunt your dreams in ways you haven’t imagine!!! See you in the next edition of “From the mouth of the Madman”