SFBR: In your book, you say that young children and babies are more receptive to energy, and as an example you cite that up to 61% of children had imaginary friends. Did you have any imaginary friends? How do you feel they may have affected your spiritual journey?
Matthew Krajewski: I actually did not have imaginary friends, but was often visited by otherworldly beings (faeries, angels, etc.) in dreams or sometimes in visions while awake. It affected my spiritual journey since these are very vivid memories for me, but until I started down a unique spiritual path in adulthood, I had not given these experiences the proper credence as signs of being predisposed toward shamanism and mysticism. As a child I didn’t know how to articulate what I had experienced. As an adult I’ve been able to reclaim my magical heritage.
Early in the book, you discuss archetypes that can be used to describe different types of magical people. How would you classify yourself?
I have thought about this a lot because on my new website, www.magicalheritage.com, we will feature a quiz for people to find their potential magical archetype. As I say in the book, I don’t think most people fall neatly into one type, and especially in the quiz we provide it as an introductory tool for people to get pointers on how to explore their magical heritage. I identify as a green person, shaman, and witch, but more than any other archetype would call myself a modern mystic, since I have a certain fire in me that pushes me onward to discover and understand spiritual truth.
What is your Power Animal? How did you first meet it?
I would love to share what my power animal is, but in reading different shamanic texts, shamans are advised against sharing what their Power Animal is lest those with negative intentions are given a direct path to do you harm. As a shaman I work with many different animal spirits though, and some important teachers for me have been Deer and Eagle. Deer taught me to celebrate and not be ashamed of my feminine side, teaching me that it has always been a source of strength in my character. Eagle helped me embrace my role as a leader, and we’ve spent a lot of time together in the clouds.
What is a soul retrieval?
A soul retrieval is a healing performed by a shaman, wherein they journey to the Other Side to find a missing piece of a person’s soul. Pieces of our soul can be splintered off due to traumatic events or just through the process of growing up. A shaman goes to the Other Side to bring those missing pieces back to a person, thus making their energy whole again, and bringing back more health and vitality to a person.
Briefly describe the concept of the “Great Song.”
The “Great Song” is the Celtic version of what appears in most any creation myth worldwide, essentially that the universe was created through sound, and that sound begat matter. It is an interesting notion that parallels science since recently they discovered that the black hole at the center of our galaxy has a distinct note: B flat. Another way to understand this influence of sound is to think of all energy, that underlying principle behind all matter, is sound. Whatever happens, whatever we do, think, or feel, ripples out and affects the energetic universe, forming a symphony of chords that we cannot even being to comprehend. Hence, why it can be understood as the “Great Song” or the energy that runs through all of creation.
One of the lessons is that “God can be seen as all spiritual entities.” What are some of the forms God takes for you?
In whatever form God takes for me, I always have reverence for what I call the Source, or the mysterious, emanating principle of God that can’t be known or named. For me, that is as close as I get to a notion of a Creator God found in major world religions. But I believe that many of the faces we ascribe to God are just reflections of the Source, and are more relatable ways for us to connect to divinity and understand or work with God. In particular I work very actively with Aphrodite, the Goddess of Love. Recently I learned that later in life, King Solomon worshipped a deity comparable to Aphrodite. I also find it very interesting that Lady Gaga just released Artpop with one of the singles being Venus, an ode to Aphrodite, and many of her outlandish outfits of late are Botticelli influenced. I believe that Aphrodite is a deity that is working actively with people right now, to bring back the notion of the divine feminine, and help us more readily work through our hearts.
What is evolved empathy? What are some examples that others may identify with?
Evolved empathy is when we feel the heart energy of others, can feel others in pain or distress, but have no communication or external signals of such a situation. The best way to visualize it is when a mother hears their baby’s cry from across town. They may be many miles away, but will rush home because their child needs them. I’ve experienced evolved empathy time and time again with close friends. Recently I came over to a friend’s house and just felt yucky and overwhelmed with anxiety. We started talking, and he related how anxious he was feeling, and how he just couldn’t shake his blue mood. I didn’t know he was feeling this way, but felt it before he articulated it, I could feel it on the front porch before I even knocked on his door. This is evolved empathy, recognizing that feeling is not necessary cause and effect, feeling is apart of energy, and we can connect to it at any time.
How would you describe the concept of “karma” to someone who has never heard the term before?
In probably the simplest way I can, I would describe karma as the effect of your unique energy signature. Your body, matter itself, is an illusion. What exists, what is actual reality, is energy. Therefore, the feelings you give your energy, how you treat others and the world and that energy, creates a unique energetic signature. In short, it is your karma. How you interact with the world, and treat yourself, creates your unique energy, otherwise known as karma. Therefore, whatever happens to us, good or bad, is a result of our energy or karma.
When did you discover that your magical talents included elementing?
I’ve always been drawn to crystals, flowers, and trees, but was always of the mind that they didn’t have consciousness. As my spiritual path developed over the last couple of years, I realized that all living creatures have energy, and therefore varying degrees of what we would call consciousness. I first experienced powerful elementing after doing a Celtic ritual in the woods with a friend of mine, wherein we were connecting to our mystic past and welcoming back our past lives. As we walked back, a tree started talking to me, and I approached it and started talking back. Ever since then I always experience what I would call energetic background noise of the voices of trees, and just have to focus to bring their voices forward.
Can you describe your first experience with a ghost?
I’ve always had more passive than active experiences with ghosts, in that I can sense when they are there, but have never had direct conversations or visionary experiences with them. I do house blessings for people, where I bless a new home and dispel old energy, and very often will come across spirits that have never quite left the house. One time in particular I saw a little girl in a basement, and knew she had drowned in a flood a long time ago, and just didn’t know where she was or why she was there. In such situations I summon a light to the Other Side and try to guide them to it, so they will leave the house and material reality, and journey deeper into the Other Side and energetic reality.
Do you have a favorite tarot deck? Do you use more than one for different purposes?
I have quite a collection of tarot decks, and I’ve been collecting them for many years. Recently I’ve started looking for antique decks, but they are very hard to find. I am partial to the Wildwood deck since it has a lot of Celtic imagery. I actually just started using the Dali deck because it has some fabulous imagery not found in most decks. Recently I’ve started using the Faery Oracle, a variation on the tarot deck, and draw a card daily to get a message from a faery.
What are some other books you would recommend to people interested in further developing their magical abilities?
I always recommend people start with Awakening to the Spirit World by Sandra Ingerman and Hank Wesselman. It is a primer on beginning shamanism, but can also read as introduction to energetic reality. I also love Wheels of Light by Rosalyn Bruyere, which explains our energetic system through chakras, in particular the root chakra and how to activate it. But this is also why I wrote Modern Magic, I wanted to update the message found in many metaphysical, mystical, or New Age books, and give people a primer on why anything magical works at all, the philosophy or theory behind it. That way they can have more confidence exploring their own magical abilities.
What is one message you want readers to take away from Modern Magic?
That what we think is reality isn’t reality at all. There is a rich world of energy all around us, and we just need to open our hearts to experience it. When we do, we can reclaim our magical heritage, and start truly living in harmony with all life, and all energy, through the energetic superpower that is our heart.
Matthew Krajewski attended Sarah Lawrence College where he studied writing. For the last eight years he has worked in Silicon Valley as a director of product management, but due to magical occurrences in his life, he increasingly turned his attention to writing and spirituality. Matthew is a modern mystic, incorporating diverse magical traditions and modern sensibilities into his spiritual practice. Modern Magic: Reclaiming Your Magical Heritage is his first work on spirituality. He lives in the woods of Aptos, CA with his partner and their dogs.
David Marshall: This interview is in celebration of the publication in English of two sensationally good supernatural thrillers by French author, Sire Cédric. He’s as good as the early Clive Barker, and deserves to be read by everyone who enjoys slightly bloodthirsty horror. It’s been a joy to meet him.
Thanks for agreeing to this interview. When I was young, I thought European authors like Thomas Owen wrote wonderful short stories and novels. I was sad to see the blurb on your paperback editions describe you as “the French Stephen King.” When selling you to the French market, why do the marketers not compare you to some of the great French writers of supernatural and horror?
Sire Cédric: You know, the artist never really has a say in the publicity and marketing! The quote comparing me to Stephen King comes from a French TV host and probably the most famous bookseller in France, Gérard Collard. I, personally, would never, ever, compare myself to such a genius as King. But I’m not going to complain if it helps sell more books in these rather troubled times! Besides, truth be told, Stephen King was one of the very few writers – I could name Clive Barker and Dean Koontz, too – who taught me how to write back when I was a teenager. No doubt about that. If I’m a writer today, it’s largely thanks to their inspiration. My role models were almost always English or American writers except for the French author, Serge Brussolo, whose vision and sense of style were also huge influences in my earlier work.
DM: I’ve seen you compared to Clive Barker and Graham Masterton. Surely you work to develop your own style rather than modeling your writing style on the work of others?
SC: I do, of course. When I started writing as a teenager, I did what most teens do. I imitated the masters. It was fun and the best way to learn the craft. Then, with time, I started to develop my own voice. Writing is a very private activity after all. You spend hours alone with your thoughts, dreams, and feelings, and in some organic way, that all ends up in the pages you write. Since I’m from France – and very proud of this great country – the soul of France and its culture permeates my vision of things. The natural rhythms and articulations of French as a language also influence me. I’m aware of this and try to be as universal as possible in the way I write and when I think of plot ideas.
DM: What attracts you to the supernatural and dark fantasy?
SC: It’s simple. I love it. The fantastique is a wonderful sea of symbols and we all swim in that sea whether we’re awake or asleep and dreaming. It’s all about the collective soul and our individual heritage. When you think about it, this makes my job quite simple. I’m paid to make up stories. So I take a swim in that sea and come back with new ideas – big fishes, like the movie director David Lynch often said. I aim for stories people will come to love. I’m not saying I succeed all the time! But that’s what I’m trying to do. Ever since I was a little boy, the stories I love, the stories that frighten me, the stories that make me think, always use some kind of supernatural or folklore element. That’s what the supernatural is to me. It projects ideas in the flesh, makes sparks of collective dreams.
DM: Your characters have to face extreme dangers. Do you see danger as a way in which they can seek redemption for past sins, real or imagined?
SC: I love to put my characters in very hard situations. I want to grip the reader’s attention from the very first page and I don’t want to lose it until the last word! There’s no better dynamic than danger and action. I also think a hero’s soul and fate can only truly appear when facing a life and death situation involving something “bigger” than us. Books are written – in my opinion – to tell us larger than life stories.
DM: Congratulations on Of Fever and Blood and The First Blood, the first two in the series featuring Inspector Eva Svärta. What problems did you face in making your leading character an albino woman working as a police officer and profiler?
SC: I didn’t think of the problems to come – there have been quite a few, of course – when I first created the character. Eva Svärta had been in a corner of my mind for quite a while. I loved that woman even before writing the very first line about her. She’s different, that’s what is so important about her. Yet she’s Everywoman. She could never blend into the police force because a part of her is forever wounded, another part of her is intimately linked to evil, and most important of all, she’s a woman with a unique physical appearance. In a society where everyone judges people on their looks, where the media continually reinforce ideas of looking younger, dressing well, etc., I thought she was a great character to explore questions and themes. Even though we all know this style dictatorship enforcing superficial appearances is only there to make us buy more cosmetic products and services, the commercials DO make us dream of being younger, prettier, and thinner than we are, to look like this or that because that’s what the archetypes are. I also wanted a female character because, like it or not, our society is a male-driven, macho, sometimes misogynistic. What interests me when I write a story is to turn situations upside-down. New perspectives emerge. Not always in an obvious way, but in a subtext we can intuitively understand. For instance, at some point in the book, Eva picks up a young barman and brings him to her place to have sex with him. When they are done, she just kicks the guy out. That’s a typical male attitude, right, and a situation millions of girls have experienced. I wanted to show that situation, but the other way around.
DM: Do you find it difficult to strike a balance between the classical elements of a thriller and the use of explicit gore?
SC: Not really. Like most writers – I guess – I just write. I tell the stories I would love to read. The balance comes quite naturally in the process. Since I really love horror, and action, and the chill of supernatural stories, all these elements blend together whenever I write. I find the tropes from the thriller genre very useful to build a fast-paced rhythm, which is what I seek when I read a story. But that’s not a reason to push the limits at all cost. I want the reader to be thrilled, not disgusted. When I was writing The First Blood, for instance, I wrote a very explicit description of a poodle being sacrificed and gutted. It was a rather long, disgusting passage. It made me quite uneasy when I wrote it. And when I read it again the next day, it just made me sick. I deleted the whole piece without a second thought. That’s how I work. I don’t plan. I just try out anything and then keep what’s important to the story to get the feeling right.
DM: Your books are a blend of police procedural and supernatural horror, where ordinary police officers confront the extraordinary. I think your books are stronger because they are grounded in the reality of the police investigation process.
SC: Precisely! That’s one of the reasons why I love the crime genre settings and tropes. They help root the story in our everyday lives. And, of course, I always loved police stories!
DM: The First Blood builds on Eva’s backstory. If she and Alexandre resolve the immediate problems in Dead Ahead, will she go on to investigate unrelated supernatural mysteries?
SC: Dead Ahead is the brand new instalment in the couple’s adventures (so far only available in French). In this third novel, I wanted to turn things upside-down again. For the first time in the series, the reader discovers who the bad guy has been all along – like the reveal in an episode of Columbo – but the cops don’t have a clue yet. This time, the two heroes are not investigating, they become the prey instead. They have to fight for survival, as the predator turns out to be way smarter than them! Eva is pregnant. That makes her a lot weaker. Even her natural talent for empathy doesn’t work anymore. I’m not giving away the ending, of course, but be sure that things are far from being finished yet.
Born in 1974, Sire Cédric lives in Toulouse. He is the author of six novels and two collections of short stories, the borders of thriller and fantasy novel. He was awarded the Masterton for his novel The Child Cemeteries and the Polar Prize (Cognac Festival) for his thriller From Fever and Blood. His books are translated in English, Polish and Turkish.
David Marshall: First a word of thanks for breaking into a busy schedule to answer a few questions. And pleasingly, that, in itself, raises the first question. Given the length of your career and multiple successes, why do you choose to stay so busy?
Mike Resnick: I love what I do. It’s as simple as that. A journalist once asked Picasso what he did for a hobby. He replied, “I paint.” No, said the journalist, that was what he did for a living. What did he do to relax? His answer: “I paint.” Me, I write. And sometimes edit.
DM: Most recently, you’ve returned to editing. Galaxy’s Edge is into its third issue and looking good. How do you juggle time to fit all the different pieces into your life, maintain a happy marriage, and manage stress?
MR: I stress when I’m not writing or editing. Most of my life I’ve gotten by with five or six hours sleep, and certainly that helps. (I should also add that in addition to Galaxy’s Edge magazine, I’m also editing the Stellar Guild line of books.
Both publications exist to get newcomers into print. The Stellar Guild line features a team-up of a superstar and a protégé of his/her own choosing. The magazine runs an average of 5 new stories per issue, all by newcomers and lesser-knowns, plus four or five reprints by major writers whose names basically sell the magazines. Lag times being what they are, I’m putting the seventh issue together as I write this, though only three have appeared.
DM: You’ve written for almost all the different genres — even the Weird West with your current Doc Holliday series. Which is your favorite genre?
MR: Probably science fiction. Well, actually humor – and I’ve been fortunate enough to sell maybe 120 humor stories and close to a dozen funny novels…but even though almost all of them have been disguised as science fiction or fantasy, you can’t make a living writing humor in this field if you’re not an Englishman named Doug or Terry, so I always go back to the serious, award-winning stuff, which I also enjoy. I probably like screenplays least of all, but they pay far and away the best.
DM: In your list of funny English writers you missed Tom Sharpe, but he’s not SF or fantasy. Thinking about the same timeframe in America, did Robert Sheckley make money?
MR: Bob Sheckley couldn’t live on his humorous writing. He made a couple of sales to Hollywood – The 7th Victim which became the not-very-good “The Tenth Victim,” and Immortality, Inc. became the infinitely worse “Freejack”. But one can’t count on frequent movie sales, and while he was writing his comic masterpieces, he was also writing The Game of X and the non-science-fiction, 5-book Stephen Dain series.
DM: I suppose we can all pick out individual American novels that are humorous (e.g. Catch 22, The Princess Bride, A Confederacy of Dunces, etc.). Why do you think “comic novels” have been so few and far between (or posthumous) over the last fifty years or so?
MR: Humorous prose was a respectable endeavor in America in the first half of the 20th Century, when we had Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley, Damon Runyon, John Kendricks Bangs, Thorne Smith, Ring Lardner, and close to a dozen others…but somehow we’ve rarely had more than one humorist at a time for the past 6 decades – except in science fiction. I never thought much of A Confederacy of Dunces, but I do consider Catch-22 the finest American novel of the 20th Century.
I rarely get rejected these past few decades, but when I was starting out I got an answer from a lot of editors that I think most humorists frequently run into. It goes like this, “I laughed my ass off, but humor is so subjective I don’t know if my readers will find it as funny as I did, so we’re going to pass on it.”
DM: Looking back a month or so, you published the second Eli Paxton novel, The Trojan Colt. This is great fun. Tell us a little about it and why there’s such a long gap between the first and the second mystery?
MR: It was plotted in 1991. I offered the first Eli Paxton book to Ace, which was publishing some of my science fiction at the time. They wanted a series and offered a 3-book contract…but it was literally for 20% of what they were paying me for my science fiction. I couldn’t afford to do it at the time, they wouldn’t take just one book as a stand-alone, so I sold it elsewhere. It came out, and I got so busy I didn’t think about mysteries again until my editor at Pyr, where I’d sold over a dozen science fiction books, told me a couple of years ago that they were starting a mystery line called Seventh Street and they had a pretty good editor. So I sent him the first Eli book and an outline for the second, he bought them both, and when I delivered The Trojan Colt I gave him an outline for a third, which he bought.
The subject matter was easy: I’m a horse-racing fanatic. I don’t bet, but I wrote a weekly column on racing for 15 years, and I’m pretty knowledgeable about the sport.
DM: And of course, you’re rushing out the third mystery called Cat on a Cold Tin Roof. Will this involve as much research as the horse business or are you secretly a cat breeder?
MR: No, actually my wife and I bred and exhibited collies from 1968 to 1982. We had 23 champions, almost all of them named after science fiction titles or characters. Anyway, the cat in this book is just the tip of a very complicated iceberg.
DM: I assume the iceberg wouldn’t be connected to the interest in safaris in Africa?
MR: Afraid not. Eli Paxton is a Cincinnati detective. His first book took him to Mexico, and his second takes place almost entirely in Lexington, Kentucky, an hour and a half south. So for this third book, I decided it was time to let him stay in his home town. After all, I live here; someone has to keep the place safe for me
DM: You’re an author who likes to collaborate and do so very successfully — most recently The Cassandra Project with Jack McDevitt has been nominated for awards and is due out in paperback this fall. How do you make each new collaboration work so well?
MR: They don’t all work as smoothly as the one with Jack. That was my first collaborative novel, but I’ve had 52 collaborators on a total of 83 shorter stories. (I know that sounds lazy, but I’ve also done over 200 solo stories.) I began by helping talented beginners get out of the slush pile and into print – and half my collaborators are still beginners. But along the way I found that I enjoyed it, so half my collaborators are skilled, successful writers who are also friends.
DM: I see you have a new series starting next year called “The Dead Enders”. The first novel in the series will be The Fortress in Orion, due late next year. Can you tell us what to expect?
MR: It’s science fiction, basically about a very unlikely espionage team – some human, some not quite – in the far future.
DM: Sincerest thanks for your time. It’s been a joy talking with you.
David Marshall: I should start by thanking you for taking the time to talk with me, and congratulate you on the publication of The Secret of Abdu El Yezdi, a terrific new book in the Burton/Swinburne series, and the imminent arrival of children in your family.
Although classification is a terrible game to play, how would you describe the Burton/Swinburne novels in genre terms?
Mark Hodder: Science fiction. Science fantasy. Honestly, how they’re classified doesn’t concern me. It determines where in a bookshop the novels sit, how they are marketed, and how effectively they’ll reach an audience that’ll most appreciate them … which obviously also determines what money I earn from my work. But if money was my motive, I’d have carried on as a copywriter, and if I wanted to work in a marketing department, that’s where I’d be. Having been involved in the commercial world for so many years, I now have little taste or patience for it, so prefer to leave it to the experts when it comes to classifying my stuff.
DM: In choosing Sir Richard Burton as the primary series character, were you consciously building on To Your Scattered Bodies Go by Philip Jose Farmer?
MH: Building on it, no. Was I influenced by it in my decision to use Burton? Yes. It was Farmer’s work that instilled in me a life-long fascination with Burton, and which also encouraged me to be audacious in my use of historical characters.
DM: Do you feel free to simply use the names of historical characters (there are no copyright restrictions) or do you try to fit real people into the stories without too many changes?
MH: With Burton and Swinburne I’ve selected certain aspects of their real characters and have tried to remain true to them, but obviously this process of selection means that my take is wide of the truth. It’s dramatic license. Both were exceedingly complex in real life, and while this might make for interesting biographical novels, that’s not what I am aiming for with the series.
DM: The majority of the characters in your books are striving to strike a balance between leadership roles which can require them to think and act unconventionally, and the need to conform to the prevailing cultural expectations (except for the species in The Red Sun Also Rises, which is like the Hokas (courtesy of Poul Anderson and Gordon Dickson) and involuntarily adopts other people’s cultures (the ultimate in cultural imperialism at work). Dynamic societies benefit from having a core of people who do not fit in, who shape those around them. Is adaptability not an overrated quality?
MH: If you’re suggesting that society is made dynamic by a core of people who do not adapt to the status quo, then I agree with you. However, that doesn’t mean that this core of “misfits” isn’t adaptable by nature. I’d suggest quite the opposite. They are people who adapt to new knowledge and to the consequences of new technologies and unanticipated events. Change is inevitable, both at a cultural and individual level, but a great many people and institutions do not want to embrace it. Those that do, those who adapt themselves to incorporate the new, they are the ones who alter the status quo. Adaptation is the heart of the evolutionary process.
DM: One way of characterizing the series would be to see the actions of the major characters as being in defense of “empires.”
MH: Defense? That’s the opposite of what I intend! Surely the brutality depicted in Expedition to the Mountains of the Moon can’t be seen as a defense? Don’t I repeatedly have Burton doubting the wisdom of empire building? Don’t I show that empires are founded on the suppression of the masses for the benefit of an elite? Aren’t my London streets teeming with the poor and downtrodden? Certainly, in The Secret of Abdu El Yezdi, you’ll see a more explicit damning of imperialism.
DM: Hmmm. Looking at history, the most “successful” social models have all been oligarchical with an elite in control of the masses. No matter what you might signal as an author, Burton is the King’s agent and, as such, is committed to protecting the interests of the Empire. Although you have individuals and groups who might want to disturb the status quo, your major characters are defending the institutions of oppression both locally and abroad.
MH: Burton has been tasked with protecting the interests of the empire but, as the story progresses, what he perceives as its interests aren’t necessarily in agreement with what his employers think. We’ve already seen a hint of this in his encounter with an ancient Palmerston in Expedition to the Mountains of the Moon. Burton is being exposed to a context that is unavailable to the king or the government. He is seeing history as a vast process. He is witnessing Time at work on the human species. And he’s also seeing how political decisions taken with reference only to current circumstances can have unpleasant ramifications as Time develops the consequences. You say that by virtue of his commission he’s “committed” to protecting the interests of the empire. In actual history, the real Burton was notoriously individualistic in his interpretation of his various commissions. It got him into a lot of trouble. “My” Burton is similarly unorthodox.
DM: The first three in the series are actually quite strongly political (as is A Red Sun Also Rises). Why have you decided to make The Secret of Abdu El Yezdi a more conventional “adventure” novel?
MH: the Secret of Abdu El Yezdi/returns the focus to Burton, to his character. The politics are still there/ but they take a back seat because I wanted to add more depth to my central protagonist. This in preparation for what’s to come … which will certainly see a return of political content. In The Secret of Abdu El Yezdi, the political seeds are sown. In the fifth novel, The Return of the Discontinued Man, they blossom.
DM: Thematically in The Secret of Abdu El Yezdi you seem to be suggesting that “things” only happen when the time is right. One interpretation of this would be that time itself has an agenda, that it is surviving shocks to its systems and evolving towards a particular outcome.
MH: I’m happy you spotted that. It’s the core of this second trilogy!
DM: Which does rather imply the question whether we’re looking at a new natural law. So, just as nature is said to abhor a vacuum, does time abhor divisions between groups of people? It would be ironic if the only way to dismantle nationalism and the jingoism it engenders was to provoke a major war.
MH: If by “major war” you mean WWIII, I don’t foresee it happening. Information is the new battlefield. I do believe that evolution (which is a process of Time) is pushing the human race toward new social structures, and it’s the loss of the old that is causing angst and defensive aggression. Again, we come to the notion of adaptability. The loss of certain social structures is not the same as the loss of cultural identity but many fear that it is. People need to better adapt to the transparency that information technology offers. Cultural identity must learn to establish itself as a mode of communication. National borders must become conceptual borders within the information network … freely crossed, no checkpoints, everyone welcome, you exist where you want at the time it feels appropriate. Terrorism will be replaced by propaganda bombs. Skirmishes will be fought as exchanges of opinion. The real enemy will be perceived as those who seek to control or manipulate the flow of words and sounds and images.
DM: At my advanced age, I can afford a blasé attitude as to the prospect of major conflict. I’m currently watching the development of real tension in the South China Sea. I hope you’re right and the world can restrict conflict to the cyber/digital realm. All of which leaves me to thank you once again for your time. This has been fun.
Mark Hodder is an English steampunk author currently living in Spain. His steampunk trilogy, Burton & Swinburne, opened with The Strange Affair of Spring-Heeled Jack which went on to win the 2010 Philip K. Dick Award.
I’m one of these guys who’s always made a living from words, written and spoken. I guess I started off conventional. Training as a lawyer, I combined tenure as a professor with some private practice. Except, in moments when no one was watching, I was broadcasting, acting and writing, always under stage names and pseudonyms so my two worlds wouldn’t meet up. Later, I set up my own business consultancy and ran a small press. Now I’m retired, I can look back on a life misspent, always doing stuff that was interesting and never getting too caught up in the career development rut. Except I’m just as busy. I still pick up consultancy work when something interesting comes along, I’m paid for about a million words of fiction and nonfiction a year, and continue writing for my own amusement. Someone told me staying active keeps the brain going longer. So this is the plan for immortality. I’m very conscientious. If I plan enough work to last me into next year, I’ll be around to do it.
You can read him regularly on his blog: http://opionator.wordpress.com
‘Vicki Abelson’s Women Who Write?’, I said, ‘What’s that?’ And after I quieted the dog from barking because Daddy is talking to The Invisible People again, I started Googling. Eventually I found some YouTube clips of Vicki’s past Women Who Write events, and I was equally engaged, intrigued, and delighted.
While it is demonstrably true that there has never been an entertainment or media industry more adaptable to challenges than book publishing, it has, after all, thrived in the face of theatre, vaudeville, daily newspapers, magazines, movies, radio, television, and now the Internet, It is always a business under challenge and seeking an audience for its product. Once one actually starts reading for pleasure, of course one is hooked; but that is a hard hook to bait after the joy of words has been drummed out of the soul by undertaker–like school teachers who rip the living breath out of Keats, Dickens and Fitzgerald in the quest for test-able questions. Ugh. Read? I’d rather you tear my lips off.
So Vicki’s series of authors invited into her home, and speaking to an audience of 50 or 60 women (it’s a very nice house and I am, indeed, sucking up for an invite) struck me as an excellent way of getting writers over with the public. A little food, a little wine, a little chat, a little more wine and these 60 women are going to tell at least 10 friends each about the wonderful time they had with, say, Fred Willard reading from his screenplay, and that, in turn, creates a buzz. Well, so did the wine, but that’s not my point. And actually, there is no wine at Vicki’s events. The intoxication is cerebral, not physical.
What? Oh you noticed that Fred Willard isn’t a woman? Well aren’t we the observant one! We’ll get back to that, trust. Now stop interrupting, I’m on a roll here.
I messaged Vicki and said effectively that, ‘You know you’re doing an incredible service to publishing and authors–having people into your home to personally interact with writers is worth a thousand Barnes and Noble book signings, and as a professional book reviewer, thank you for continuing my employment.’ Those may not have been the exact words, but you weren’t there so what the hell do you know, buster?
Anyway, I was flattered and touched that Vicki Abelson was flattered and touched, so after we had each confirmed each other’s wisdom and perspicacity, I decided that Women Who Write deserved a column. Which you are reading. In case you hadn’t noticed. Hi there!
I asked Vicki ten questions, as transcribed below:
Hubert O’Hearn: When did Women Who Write get started?
Vicki Abelson: Tuesday September 23, 2008.
HO: Why did you start it?
VA: I had just started the second draft of what I was calling my first novel, Don’ t Jump (I’ve since altered that to fictionalized memoir, which is more factual), I wanted to hear it, to read it aloud, and workshop it into a play. I was fairly new in LA and had no idea how to get stage time to do so. At 413 pages, doing a few random minutes here and there would have taken decades. My wise editor, David Tabatsky, suggested I find a restaurant with a private room, invite other writers and local mommies, eat lunch and read.
HO: Why did you decide to hold it in your home?
VA: At first I sought a venue. It was problematic for a number of reasons. Noise and distractions for one. Or is that two? Plus, I was going to have to guarantee approx 25 women who would pay $25 for lunch each month. That felt like an awful lot of pressure. I was in a book club that met at a friend’s home periodically… she had a comfortable living room with lots of seating. I asked if she’d be willing to host my mid-day soirees. She generously agreed. I’m not sure I ever would’ve gotten started otherwise. I had a big empty living room that sat four. Almost all of our furniture is still in New York. The first three salons were held at her home. The last of three was almost canceled the night before the event when our hostess wasn’t sure she’d be home. I considered bagging the whole thing after that. Asking someone to be available for my thing every month was too much to ask, and having to depend upon someone else’s schedule was too much stress for me. I asked a local church if I could borrow some chairs and moved it to my house in January of 2009. That’s when the magic started.
HO: Who was the first writer to appear? How’d that go?
VA: Erika Schickel and Kathleen Wilhoite were scheduled. I found out the day before the salon that Kathleen was on hold for an acting gig, I’d been planning it for a couple of months and was kind of panicked, but it was great. We had a potluck brunch, food is a major element to Women Who Write. Breaking bread breaks barriers. Ericka read from her You’re Not The Boss of Me, and I read the prologue and first chapter of Don’t Jump. Twenty-five women attended (ironically). We had a fantastic, provocative discussion following the readings. That became a mainstay, topics borne from the art…shared, unplanned “coincidences.” On a whim, I wrote a recap that evening and sent it off to those that attended and those that couldn’t make it. They also became a mainstay.
HO: It’s Women Who Write, but it’s not just women. When did you decide to let the boys play too and why?
VA: Soon after moving it to my house, Facebook friend, Tom Bergeron, announced his upcoming book, I’m Hosting as Fast as I Can!: Zen and the Art of Staying Sane in Hollywood. I sent him a note wishing he could read for us. He said he’d wear a dress. On the spot, I decided that because I’d made the rules, I could break them. Tom was willing, there was no way I wasn’t going to seize that opportunity. Because we were having a man, I decided why not two or three? I reached out to Evan Handler, red hot with Sex and The City and Californication and his memoir, It’s Only Temporary: The Good News and the Bad News of Being Alive, he agreed. And then TV writer and comedian, Ron ZImmerman reached out to me. Tom read his book for the first time to us the day it dropped. And, we got the “R” rated version. It was a brilliant day. I thought at the time that I’d have men once or twice a year. Little did I know that incredible male authors and performers would avail themselves to us often and in abundance. The audience, however, has remained women only, until this past August, when we ventured north to The Henry Miller Memorial Library in Big Sur, at the invitation of Michael Nesmith. At his urging to take some risks and grow the thing, we did it in the expansive great outdoors, with boys in attendance, and it felt still, remarkably like home.
HO: You’ve also had ‘non-traditional’ writers like songwriters and screenwriters appear. What was your thinking behind expanding the tent as it were?
VA: Just shy of two years in, Lori Lieberman wrote to me to inquire if I’d consider her reading her poetry or song lyrics. When I realized that she’d penned Killing Me Softly, I asked her to sing it and another song of her choice. She did, in New York in July 2009. (For the first three years, I held the salon twice a year in Manhattan.) Lori’s performance was thrilling. Opening with music set a new tone. When I returned to LA in the fall, Lori came to the salon to be a woman amongst the women. I wanted the LA women to experience what we had in New York. With her permission, I asked a neighbor if we could borrow a guitar. Lori opened and killed again. We haven’t had a Women Who Write without opening with music, since.
Angelica Page Torn was the first to read from a screenplay of a film that she had written and starred in that was about to premier. Academy Award Nominee, Michael O”Keefe, another Facebook friend, had a book of poetry about to drop, when he agreed to read. Women Who Write is not just great writing, it’s also great performances, and that factors greatly into who I book. Great writing stands on its own when read, reading aloud requires another skill set, to do it effectively. Personality is also essential. Following the musical performance and readings we have discussion, on topics that are borne from the art. It’s provocative, profound and transformative for the audience and the writers.
HO: I doubt if you’re making a nickel off this. Why do you keep doing it?
VA: It cost me money for the first three years. And, I gave out swag every month, courtesy of WWW guardian angel, Rick Smolke of Quick Impressions in Chicago. Out of necessity, in the last few months, I started to pre-sell tickets. I’d much rather have the money come from sponsors or grants.
HO: I’ll never ask you who was the ‘best’ guest, because you won’t answer that, nor should you. That demeans everyone else. But who surprised you? Who made you think, “Holy sh!t, I knew you were good, but I didn’t know you were THAT good.”
VA: My mind’s been blown more times than I can say. Across the board, the talent has been stunning. Every month, we say “this was the best,” and every month we mean it. There’s always an element of magic. I think the women bring out the best in everyone. Carl Reiner did more than two hours for us and said it was one of the greatest shows of his career. It was an absolute Love Fest. Harry Hamlin was a huge surprise. He is the sexiest man alive. Breathtaking. He was such a good sport, a brilliant, forward-thinking activist. Steven Weber was amongst our most gifted readers. His piece on his date with Ann Colter was a finely crafted tour de force not soon to be forgotten. MacKenzie Phillips had the room in empathetic tears. She was vulnerable and generous with her heart. We had so much fun with Robert Morse, one of the sweetest men ever. Not to mention, one of the most talented. Phil Rosenthal killed us. Hysterical! Taylor Negron was a revelation…I had no idea the depth of his talent as a writer and a performer. Michael Nesmith, performing for the first time in a long time, previewed his then upcoming UK solo tour for us, with his band, in full production, and treated us to spoken word intros for each song, written specifically for the occasion. It was a completely unexpected, mind-blowing treat.
Now I want to go through the list and tell you what was special and wonderful about every one of our readers. Because they all were. Every single one of them. Except for… never mind. KIDDING!
HO: Who would you love to get for Women Who Write that you haven’t got so far?
VA: Anne Lamont is a dream. Traveling Mercies is one of my favorite books. Stephen King. His On Writing is my bible. I just connected with Da Chen. I’m thrilled that he’s agreed to read. Tina Fey. I’m reading Bossypants now, laughing out loud at every other line. I’ve been working on Micky Dolenz for two years to sing and read. Janis Ian. Marianne Williamson. Dr. Drew. Keith Richards, what a book! What a life. I lean to those who tell a personal story. Gifted writing is a thrill to read, but not necessarily to have read. I seek those who reveal themselves and who know how to do so effectively. Women Who Write is a grand entertainment and sharing of deep truths. The grand trilogy of dreams: Garry Shandling, Albert Brooks, and Steve Martin. I shan’t rest until I get them to my living room. And then there’s Larry David. Sigh.
HO: Last – and I want to get YOU over too kid – tell me about your writing, what you’ve done, what you’re working on. Don’t get modest on me!
VA: I started out as an actress, segued to comedian, and then became a rock promoter and publicist. I left the business to have children. While pregnant, I started writing;a screenplay first. Buried in a drawer somewhere. Post-911, in the midst of personal trauma, I began writing Don’t Jump. Initially, I called it a novel. I now own that it’s a fictionalized memoir. It was never my intention to take anyone down. I had a journey I was burning to document. A women’s quest to find her place and purpose amidst sex, drugs, rock n’ roll, and celebrity. An inside look from an outsider. No one will know where I took liberties. I intend that as a protection for all my characters. I took no such liberties with Andi’s internal journey. Every thought, every feeling is genuine.
I had a publishing contract with a small publisher that came and went, twice, from neglect. Another publisher is reading it now. We’ll see where that leads. I’ve been sitting on a completed manuscript for too long. After four years of reading it aloud, I’m ready to let go. I can’t wait to get it out there.
I write for Huffington Post, although I’ve yet to submit the last piece I had approved ages ago. It’s hard for me to justify writing without financial compensation, but the benefits of having my pieces as the lead stories in their sections, making the Huff Po front page each time have been enormous. I’m grateful for the opportunity.
I optioned a music reality show to Telepictures a few years ago and shot a pilot pitch for a half-hour comedy where Women Who Write is the show within the show. It chronicles my ongoing quest to get guests and find love while parenting two teenagers. I constantly embarrass them, and myself, personally and professionally. I co-wrote a dramedy, about pot addiction and the road to recovery, that I still have faith in. And then, of course, there’s Vicki Abelson’s Women Who Write. Shortlisted for Oprah’s OWN; I’m still not sure why we’re not on there.
As whack as it sounds, I do much of my daily writing on The Facebook. I found my voice there, and continue to cultivate it on a daily basis. Almost all of the readers that have graced my living room, I approached on FB. It’s a powerful networking vehicle, as well as an extraordinary connector of humanity. I’ve made innumerable friendships that have come off the wall and enrich my life, daily. I documented, and was comforted through, the passing of my father, share the exploits of my amazing kids, promote my work and that of those I admire and respect, give voice to just about every thought and feeling I have, and through daily practice, have learned to say it my way. I’m an acquired taste, uncensored and snarky. I love The Facebook. I love LA. I’m as shallow as a puddle.
And that is Vicki Abelson. Now, all you kids out there who read my stuff know that I’m not afraid to make The Big Calls because that’s the way I roll. I sincerely believe that the Pulitzers, American Book Awards, etc., miss out on something. All the big award banquets concentrate on the authors because, you know, it’s amusing watching them get drunk in public. But the readers get left out and without readers all we writers may as well be Emily Dickinson and sew our works tight shut in little silk throw pillows.
Now I’m no Pulitzer committee, but I’m not exactly Johnny Blogspot either. When I put out my Books of the Year list in another weeks or two, I’m naming my New Author of the Year category for Vicki Abelson. She deserves much more, but that’s the least I can do.
Be seeing you.