Sunday, July 28, 2013

5 Questions with John Shirley

The amazing and prolific John Shirley is a novelist, screenwriter, television writer, songwriter and author of numerous story collections. In other words, he is one busy guy! He is a past Guest of Honor at a World Horror Convention and won the Bram Stoker Award for his story collection Black Butterflies. His screenplays include The Crow and he has written teleplays for Poltergeist: The Legacy, Deep Space Nine and other shows. His novels include Demons (Del Rey Books, latest edition 2012), the A Song Called Youth trilogy (Warner Books, Prime Books published the omnibus in 2012), BioShock: Rapture (Tor 2012), and Everything is Broken (Prime Books, 2012). His newest books are New Taboos from PM Press (2013) and Doyle After Death from HarperCollins (2013). His two-CD album of songs, Broken Mirror Glass, was recently released from Black October Records. He has written eighteen song lyrics recorded by The Blue Oyster Cult. And that's just the tip of the iceberg! Read John's answers to my five questions below.

1 – What’s your latest book about?

Here's the jacket copy from HarperCollins/Witness: "From award-winning author John Shirley comes an inventive whodunit featuring the master of mysteries, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. When Nicholas Fogg, an unsuccessful private investigator, dies on the job he learns that the afterlife is not what he expected. Disappointed, but not too surprised to find himself in the very dead town of Garden Rest, he befriends the famous Arthur Conan Doyle to crack a case from beyond the grave and solve the ultimate riddle: Is it possible to be murdered if you are already dead?

(Joel's note - Doyle After Death comes out October 29th, 2013)

2 – Who’s your favorite author and/or what’s your favorite book?

No one favorite. My opinion is, if a person has one favorite of either, they don't read much. I suppose Patrick O'Brian is close to my favorite. His Audrey/Maturin novels (which inspired the movie Master And Commander). Conan Doyle is a favorite. Roger Zelazny is another. Jack Vance. John LeCarre.

3 – What’s your favorite aspect of writing?

Being done and feeling I wrote well is my favorite aspect. It takes all I have to give to write and it's quite painful and stressful. Occasionally if things are flowing well, I enjoy the process more, and I do like when I have a chance to include humor. My stuff can be pretty grim but sometimes I make myself laugh, and that feels good. I like knowing, too, that I've written something that resonates with real life. "Yes, that's how things look in life"; and when I've come up with an original idea or something that feels a bit insightful. Those things give satisfaction.

I also like royalty checks and getting good reviews.

4 – Any good anecdotes about being a writer?

It feels good when I meet rock musicians who've read my writing, and tell me they like it, since I'm a fan of their work. Donald Roeser (Blue Oyster Cult), Howard Kaylan (The Turtles, the Mothers of Invention)... But anecdotes... not exactly. I will just say that if I go to a bar or all night cafe late at night, and listen in what people say, or talk to them, and meet interesting characters, they find their way into my writing.

5 – What was the most helpful writing advice you’ve ever received?

Read a lot, in different genres, different areas. That was good advice, from, I think, Damon Knight. Read your own fiction as if you were a stranger reading it. That I got in Clarion. "Shirley, rewrite your stuff more, you're too sloppy." That I got thirty years ago from Bruce Sterling. William Gibson told me to "interrogate" the writing while revising. An essay by Samuel Delany advised writers to make a mental picture of a scene and then describe it, with the details that feel like they're part of tone and mood and story. All that was good advice. I do think there's good advice on developing description in a book I used to teach writing at, Reading like a Writer by Francine Prose.

(Joel's note - make sure to check out John's web page Dark Echo.)

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