Author Interview with Simon Strantzas | More2Read
 

Author Interview with Simon Strantzas


 

 

About Simon Strantzas 

 

Simon Strantzas is the author of Nothing is Everything (Undertow Publications, 2018), Burnt Black Suns(Hippocampus Press, 2014), Nightingale Songs (Dark Regions Press, 2011), Cold to the Touch (Tartarus Press, 2009), and Beneath the Surface (Humdrumming, 2008), and is the editor of Aickman’s Heirs(Undertow Publications, 2015), Shadows Edge (Gray Friar Press, 2013), and was the guest editor of The Year’s Best Weird Fiction, Vol. 3 (Undertow Publications, 2016). Collectively, he’s been a finalist for four Shirley Jackson Awards, two British Fantasy Awards, and the World Fantasy Award. His stories have been reprinted in Best New Horror, The Best Horror of the Year, The Year’s Best Weird Fiction and The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror, and published in Nightmare, Cemetery Dance, Postscripts, The Dark, and elsewhere. He lives with his wife in Toronto, Canada. http://strantzas.com

 


 

The Interview with Simon Strantzas

 


 

Lou Pendergrast:

Welcome and thanks for this time to chat on writing.
Congratulations on Black Bequeathments as a finalist for the Shirley Jackson Award, your work published as a chapbook through Dim Shores last year.
What was the inspiration and story behind this story?

 

Simon Strantzas:

I’d written a story a few years earlier called “Doused by Light” for a Weird Noir anthology that never came to be. My instinct at the time was to take a classic noir setup—in this case, the premise of the film D.O.A.—and write something stranger. Afterward, it occurred to me that I might like to write more stories this way, so looked to Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon for another guide. I’m not sure how successful either of the stories are in breaking away from their noir origins, but I like to think I did some interesting things with them. Black Bequeathments had enough juice in it for me that I’ve since started work on a few more stories that take its McGuffin in different directions. Those stories have yet to be finished though, and for all I know may never be.

 

 


 

Lou Pendergrast:

Tell more about your second collection Cold to the Touch ten years now since being published.

 

Simon Strantzas:

Cold To The Touch collected a period of my fiction where I was writing quieter, more oblique stories. I was still carrying the recent influences of the ghost story, both by current practitioners and earlier formative voices like those of the Bensons, Wakefield, de la Mare, and so on. There was some behind the scenes drama with the book and where it was going to be published, but when Tartarus Press eventually brought it to print I couldn’t have been happier. I remain proud of the entire volume. I think it’s particularly strong.

 

Lou Pendergrast:

I would love to learn of a few stories behind the tales in Cold to The Touch, any to share?

 

Simon Strantzas:

There are probably stories behind all of the tales as they were all written at the beginning of my foray into publishing my work. The first story I ever sold was “A Chorus of Yesterdays”, originally submitted under a pen name. I had no idea it had been accepted by the journal because its editor’s emails never arrived. It was only when I saw the table of contents announced and thought “Hey that title sounds familiar” that I realized it had been accepted. By then I’d sold another story elsewhere and that editor dissuaded from using a pen name, so I was able to get things with “A Chorus” corrected before it all went to press. And that, as they say, was that.

There were other firsts in Cold To The Touch as well. “Pinholes in Black Muslin” was my first story nominated for an award, and “The Other Village” the first to appear in a best-of annual. All in all, it was a successful collection. My only disappointment is that one of the originals in the book, “Writing on the Wall”, never got much notice. No one talks about it, which is too bad because it’s still one of my favourites.

 

 


 

LP:

 

I read recently and loved your collection Burnt Black Suns it was published back 2014 by Hippocampus Press. What is the story behind the collection?

 

 

Simon Strantzas:

I try to structure my collections around specific types of horror fiction. So, where the first book was more about city horror, and the second about quiet English horror, with Burnt Black Suns I wanted to tackle stories that were closer to cosmic horror. Keep in mind, the wave of interest in Lovecraft and other “Weird Horror” was still a few years away when I started writing the stories, so I had no idea that when it was published it would arrive just as Weird Fiction was taking off. For me, the goal was only to return to the less oblique stories from my first collection, and perhaps tell some stories about more active characters. It does feel like the collection’s modest success pigeonholed my work for a little while.

 

LP:

What was the seed and inspiration behind the works in this collection By Invisible Hands, Beyond the Banks of the River Seine, and Burnt Black Suns?

 

Simon Strantzas:

Both “By Invisible Hands” and “Beyond the Banks of the River Seine” were written for projects edited by the late Joe Pulver, Sr. The first was for his Ligotti tribute, The Grimscribe’s Puppets, and the second for his Chambers tribute, A Season in Carcosa. In both cases I took what I thought were the most interesting aspects of each authors work and did my best to filter those through my own sensibilities. The novella, “Burnt Black Suns”, was born from an attempt to write something out of order with the hope when I was done that it would all work fine in order. That sadly wasn’t the case. It took a lot more effort than I was prepared for to get it to finally work. However, going through the exercise showed me how I might approach writing longer works in the future, so it remains a pivotal story for me.

 

Purchase Burnt Black Suns from Amazon U.S.A & U.K 


 

LP:

Take me back to your writing beginnings.
When you decided to seriously start crafting your first short story. What are your memories of that?

 

Simon Strantzas:

I have always imagined stories in one form or another. Some were private fantasies, some were abandoned comic books, and some yes were even prose stories. But I never seriously committed to any of it. Not for many years. In fact, it wasn’t until I was almost out of my twenties that I realized I had a creative hole in my life that needed filling, and decided that writing short stories would be the best way to do so. So, I dedicated myself to it in a way I hadn’t before. I wrote as much as I could on my own until I reached a point where I didn’t think I could learn anything more, then found some writing classes to attend that I hoped would teach me the rest. What I gained instead was the confidence to start sending my work out to magazines and journals.

 


 

LP:

Which tale or tales you are most content with crafting from beginnings of writing to present?

 

Simon Strantzas:

My favourite story, in the that sense, would be “Out of Touch”, which first appeared in an issue of Cemetery Dance magazine (#64). That story for the first time found, I think, the perfect balance of theme, plot, and character. Nailing all three is harder than it looks.

 

LP:

Thats sounds interesting will have to read it.
Tell more about the seed and inspiration behind it.

 

Simon Strantzas:

“Out of Touch” started as part of a different story I was writing. Halfway through I realized I had been trying to stitch together two different ideas that didn’t fit. So, I split them apart and wrote each as a separate story. “Out of Touch” was the more successful of the two.

 


 

LP:

How has your location Canada and your realm influenced your writing.

 

Simon Strantzas:

I think Canada plays a large part in my fiction, so much so that it’s hard to see the full scope of it. Also important was my suburban upbringing, which has been the setting for a lot of my stories, and likely explains the persistent thread of the city as other in my writing.

 

 

LP:

How do you think this Canadian landscape and the history affects the authors and writers from this region?

 

Simon Strantzas:

I’ll leave that to better minds to fully explore, but I’d argue the tie to nature is a strong component of Canada’s cultural identity, much more so on the whole than in other western countries. We just have so much of it relative to how few people live here. That vast landscape leaves us feeling both strongly connected to the land, but also somewhat dwarfed by it and lost.

 


 

LP:

When, where, and with what do you do your writing?

 

Simon Strantzas:

Nowadays, my writing is done on a laptop while sitting in an old armchair. My most productive time of day is mid-morning to mid-afternoon. However, I typically do the bulk of my writing in the evenings due to the various interruptions of life. Depending on what I’m working on, I may switch to a desk for editing. I aim for a thousand words a day, but I don’t berate myself for missing that goal. The key is to remain involved with the piece every day, even if it means only adding a few sentences or correcting a few words.

 


 

LP:

What do you hope to communicate and have the reader experience with your writings?

 

Simon Strantzas:

What I hope the reader takes away varies depending on my mood and my age. I don’t aim so much for fear as I do a sense of otherworldliness and perhaps awe. My horror stories aim to make readers reconsider their notions of the world they consider real, and wonder what might lie beyond its borders. I also hope that some readers find something in the work that inspires them the way the writers I’ve read and loved have inspired me. That’s the best I can hope for.

 


 

LP:

What writing advice would you share with aspiring novelists and short story writers?

 

Simon Strantzas:

The older I get, the less confident I am that there is any advice worth giving. Anything that’s true is either trite or common sense, and if it isn’t already evident then writing is probably not the field for you. I suppose the best I can muster is treat the work seriously, both in terms of how you interact with editors and peers, and in how you actually write. Be dedicated and focused, set time aside for it, learn what works and what doesn’t. Understand grammar and punctuation. Don’t expect anyone to fix your problems. And grow a thick skin, thicker than you think you need. Thicker than is probably possible. And if it stops being fun, it’s okay to do something else.

 


 

LP:

Way back in your introduction to Year’s Best Weird Fiction, Vol. 3, you talked about weird and horror, and new wave authors.
Tell me more about the weird and it’s faces and place in fiction.

 

Simon Strantzas:

Everyone has their own definition of what Weird fiction is, which makes it hard to talk about. For me, it’s just another name for fiction that crosses genre boundaries (what we used to call slipstream or interstitial fiction). It’s blurry fiction, and I think a strong argument can be made that it’s progressive fiction, insofar as it’s the bleeding edge of genre, taking on aspects not typically found in, for example, horror, and those aspects are only considered “weird” for as long as those aspects are unusual. Once they are subsumed by the body of the genre, Weird fiction must transform into something else, something bleeding edge again. Frankly, I’m no big fan of the term, but that’s because I grew up in a time where we didn’t use it. I’m sure younger readers and writers, those who came of age outside the Horror Boom, have fewer issues with it.

 

 

LP:

You said in that intro that you did not want to bore the reader with stories on Michael Kelly and how invaluable he is, but I give you opportunity to bore the reader please and tell me more.

 

Simon Strantzas:

In context of that introduction, I meant Michael did so much of the heavy lifting for that series, acting as the first reader for everything that came his way, that it’s impossible to imagine how the series would have worked without him. But, in general, Michael’s a fantastic editor who knows exactly what he likes and want he wants from what he reads. And unlike someone like me his tastes are broad and cover a large swath of the horror genre. If there’s a book you wonder about, he’s probably already read it and knows if it’s any good. I’d argue there may be no other editor in the field at any level as well read as him. It’s a crime the Year’s Best Weird Fiction series is not only over, but that it didn’t get him attention from the major mass market publishers.

 


 

LP:

 

Robert Aickman, H.P. Lovecraft, Thomas Ligotti, and Robert W. Chambers how have they influenced you? What aspects of their works you love in style, structure and characters.

 

Simon Strantzas:

Style, structure, characters…these aren’t the things I take from my favourite writers’ stories. Instead, what take away is how these works make me feel, and I attempt to replicate that feeling in the stories I write. There is something about Lovecraft’s cosmicism that appeals to me, sure, and Ligotti’s distrust of humanity, but by in large no single stories from them influence my story telling.

 


 

LP:

Your books you would pick up again to read and have picked up many times before. What are they and what aspects of the novel you love?

 

Simon Strantzas:

I love no aspects of the novel, which is one of the reasons I don’t write them. I am also not a big re-reader—there are only a handful of books I’ve read more than once, and there isn’t a grand reason that unites them. I was simply stricken with the desire to return to them once more. This rather short list includes Barker’s THE GREAT & SECRET SHOW, Harris’s THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, Klein’s DARK GODS, and Evenson’s A COLLAPSE OF HORSES.

 

 


 

LP:

Which books, old or new, would be your recommended reading?

 

Simon Strantzas:

Joyce Caroll Oates’s HAUNTED
Alice Munro’s RUNAWAY
Patricia Highsmith’s  THE TALENTED MR RIPLEY
Camilla Grudova’s  THE DOLL’S ALPHABET

 

 


 

LP:

A novel, how is that coming along? What you hope for it to contain and communicate?

 

Simon Strantzas:

When I first started writing, I would answer this common question by saying: “No novels. Never.” After a few years I started to consider the idea and changed my answer to: “No novels. But never say never.” I’ve since come to better understand what I’m doing and what my goals are for my writing, so now my answer is: “No novels. Never.”

 


 

LP:

Anything in the future for the reader to look forward to being published?

 

Simon Strantzas:

I have a three or four stories due this year in various anthologies. I hesitate to name any of them though because there have been so many delays due to the pandemic it’s hard to know when we’ll see anything. Other than that, all my projects are in various stages of completion and it would be too early to mention them. Instead, let me urge interested readers to pick up my latest collection, NOTHING IS EVERYTHING, direct from Undertow Publications. It’s quite different from the collections I’ve published before and I’d go so far as to say it’s the best of them. The book is strange and uncanny and what it lacks in scares in makes up for in disquiet. I’m really excited for people to read and enjoy it.

 


 

 


 

Lou Pendergrast:

Thank you for your precious time to sit and share on writing.

 

Simon Strantzas:

Thank you!

 



 

Reviewed by Lou Pendergrast on 11 April 2021