This week Paul has self published an e-book collection of short horror, dark fantasy and bizarro fiction entitled "The Man Who Could Not Climb Stairs and Other Stories", available at Amazon for Kindle.
As I have been friends with Paul for over ten years now--I credit him partly, among others, with kicking my butt back on to the writing road--I took the opportunity to ask him a few questions about his writing influences, career and the book.
You've been a freaky tyke as long as I've known you, and you've often told me – gleefully – that your experiences growing up on a Kaikoura farm had some influence on your ebil ovahlord thinking. What was your introduction to all things dark?
When I was 7 years old our old black and white TV blew up during the opening credits of Space 1999. We didn't get another set until I was 11. So I had four years on a farm without television. Growing up on a farm you see life in the raw. Nothing is censored. So I had a clear understanding of the facility of life and the inherent brutality of it from a very young age.
My father is a zoologist and marine biologist and my mother is a physiotherapist. We had thousands of books in our house but my favourite was the 'Encyclopaedia of Forensic Medicine'. It had the most fascinating black and white plates of dead bodies. Hundreds of case studies of things like a baby in India that had its skull chewed open by rats as it lay sleeping in its crib. People who had been burned, strangled, shot, eaten, sliced, raped, skewered, flayed, disembowel and otherwise suffered horrific and fatal injuries. It never bothered me.
What really did bother me was a "kids" book called 'The House of Evil and Other Stories.' It presented 'true' stories of horror and it gave me nightmares. Everything from the Mothman to the Vampire of Groglin Grange were told in exquisite detail. Because these stories were presented as factual, scientific reports, and yet they were about monsters and the supernatural - it terrified me. It wasn't until many years later that I read the Groglin Grange story again and found out that it is an old English folktale and not a true story in any sense of the word.
When did you think 'hey, I could give that a crack'?
I started writing about the same time our TV died. I got in trouble at school for filling an exercise book with the first chapters of a novel - and then being punished because it went unfinished. I've never had a lot of time for formal learning and have a real lack of respect for authority. So writing about people and events that are outside the normal constraints of authority is a good outlet for that.
In my late teens I wrote a novel, it was the mandatory awful, and got rejected a lot. One editor had the decency to tell me just how bad it was. So I stopped writing for about 10 years after that. It wasn't until about 10 years ago that I seriously started honing my writing. First with short stories, getting some published and getting lots of feedback on what skills I needed to learn to write well enough to be published.
You're a big fan of tabletop, collectible card, and video gaming. How have these influenced your writing?
I'm a big fan of any interactive media, be it card or video games, role-playing sessions or even a good book. Anything that lets you shape the story to your own ends is hugely entertaining. Film and television stories are great, but they are passive media. The story happens in front of you. Games allow you to inject your own creativity into the outcome.
Playing in a group gives you the shared experience of story telling and I find it an excellent opportunity to work on my creative skills. In a table-top RPG for example the action takes place entirely in the player's heads. If you can't create a sense of wonder and excitement and challenge in that shared environment - you can't expect to be able to do the same with a written story.
You've been published at PseudoPod and various horror venues. Tell me about your first publishing success and other publications you're proud of.
My first publishing success was in a school magazine when I was 13. I went to boarding school and it was a lot like Lord Of The Flies. The first story of my collection, 'After Lights Out' draws on those experiences. Except in those days we were whipped with a cane for any breach of the rules. I should write more about boarding school life but the truth may be too offensive.
Since I started writing again my first success was 'The Birth', also included in my short story collection. It was for a magazine called 'The Willows' that published fiction in the vein of Poe, Lovecraft and Blackwood, hence the name.
Pseudopod was my first paid short story publication. The audio version of 'Why I Hate Cake' (ed: I was treated to the recounting of this happening long before it became a story. Bleurgh) did very well in their download stats and came at a time when I was submitting a lot of stories to a range of different magazines and anthologies. They went on to publish 'The Ashen Thing' for me as well.
I'm proud of all my publishing successes. I still get rejections, but I keep submitting to a range of markets with a range of stories. Appearing in two separate anthologies: 'Leaves of Blood' by Altair Australia which included 'In The Weeds', and 'Satirica' [Amazon] edited by Dudgeon which had some fantastic stories in it and I was very pleased to see 'The Ambassador Of Hate' standing up there with some of my favourite speculative fiction authors.
You have had your novel Tankbread on the slush pile with a major publishing house. I know 'don't count your chickens' and all that, but tell me about the process of getting the novel to where it is today and where it stands with the publisher. Also, who, or what, is tankbread?
Tankbread started one day when I was walking home from work and the opening line, 'The Asian across from me is tearing long spaghetti like chunks out of his girlfriend's neck with his teeth. He chews her like gum.' That and the mental image of a hairless and roasted Chihuahua covered in some kind of orange glaze snarling.
It was originally intended as a short story. I wrote what became the first couple of chapters and then realised that this was a novel. There was a 2000 AD comic story about a man who worked in a clone factory. He tended these the cloned humans who had no consciousness. He treated them like the meat they were, until one day, one of them squeezed his hand. That was the final piece of inspiration for the post-apocalyptic zombie story. An outlaw courier escapes from intelligent zombie overlords with a Tankbread girl who holds the secret to saving humanity from extinction at the hands of the zombie hordes.
Tankbread is the name they give to the people who are artificially grown in tanks and fed to the zombies. Of course everyone knows they aren't sentient or even really human... right? It's set in Australia and was submitted to Angry Robot as part of their open slush pile experiment. The first draft of the manuscript made it through the initial round, they requested the full book, and it was rejected after months of consideration.
More recently it was considered by Steam Press, a New Zealand based spec-fic publisher, who were very excited by it. They gave some very constructive feedback and requested changes and clarifications of certain aspects of the story. So currently Tankbread is being professional edited, following that I'll do re-writes, incorporate as many of the requested changes as I think the story needs and then re-submit it to Steam Press for further consideration. Hopefully that will lead to it being published sometime in 2012. Otherwise, there is always self-publishing again.
What was the genesis of your short story collection "The Man Who Could Not Climb Stairs and Other Stories" and what influenced you to have a crack at self publishing?
Writers know that the question is not where do we get our ideas from, but where do we put them all? Hundreds of them, like gaping mawed chicks, all ugly and pin-feathered and begging for attention.
This particular collection grew from the realisation that I had a library of stories to share. Only five of the 21 stories in the collection have been previously published. About 10 of the remaining stories have been rejected by various editors over the years and the rest are completely new.
I decided to self-publish because it is possible now to do that in an effective way. No regular publisher wants to invest in a short story collection by a relatively unknown writer. Stephen King gets his short story collections published because he could get a $6 million advance on a shopping list if he was going to write it.
The e-book revolution and channels like Amazon's Createspace and Kindle Direct Publishing make it easy to publish. So it was a no brainer to go that route for this collection. Also I had made a deal with myself that I would have a book published by my 40th birthday, and that is at the end of November this year. So time was running out. I have about half a second collection waiting to be edited as well as some new stories that are doing the rounds for editors. Depending on those outcomes, they will either be included in my second collection, or published in other markets.
The title story started out as a story for a themed collection I was going to write called 'Tales From The Bell Club'. That is now going to be published by Knight Watch Press, with myself and Shawn Riddle as editors. 'Tales From The Bell Club' is open for submissions of stories of 'personal horror' now.
Finally: Romero, Zombie, or Raimi, and why?
Running zombies are not real zombies. The true horror of a zombie is that they will not stop. They will keep coming at you no matter what you do. You can run, but you will tire. A zombie will never stop. A zombie doesn't need to do anything except follow you until you run out of places to run to. Then they are going to slowly eat your face off. The 'Dawn of The Dead' remake was really disappointing in that they introduced running zombies to Romero's vision. Fortunately Romero has never succumbed to this canon shift. The Infected in 28 days later are not zombies, they can run because they are infected humans. As such they are also completely freakin' terrifying.
Yes, the zombies in Tankbread are the slow moving type. Even the intelligent ones.
"The Man Who Could Not Climb Stairs and Other Stories" by Paul Mannering is available at Amazon for Kindle now.