Today I have another interview from my friend, Soraya Murillo Hernandez, from Spain. Soraya speaks Spanish, and I only speak English, so our friendship has leaned heavily on technology and Google Translate.
Soraya has so many incredible interviews that I’ve created a category for her work. This time she shares her interview with Tom Monteleone, an American science fiction author and horror fiction author and a five-time winner of the Bram Stoker Award.
Monteleone has been a professional writer since 1972. His first story appeared in Amazing Stories magazine in 1972. He has published more than 100 short stories in numerous magazines and anthologies. His novel, Blood of the Lamb was named a New York Times Notable Book of the Year.
I had the honor of meeting Monteleone at this year’s Borderlands Bootcamp, an intensive writing workshop in Baltimore. He and the other instructors worked over the first two chapters of Bitter Suites, which I hope to release in the next month. Their critiques were spot on and gave me a lot of insight prior to publication.
I recommend Borderlands Bootcamp for those serious about their writing as a career. I’ll be posting more information about the next camp on this blog when applications open again. You can also read more about my BBc experience here.
Soraya—Thank you for granting me the interview.
Tom Monteleone—Of course—I consider it an honor you would be interested in my opinions and questionable wisdoms.
Soraya—You are a writer who gives his opinion of politics, even about drugs. Do you fear losing readers because of that?
Tom Monteleone—I’m not certain I often give opinions that are nakedly political—I am highly skeptical of the efficacy and morality of all politicians—regardless of their party stripes. I have values and perceptions I believe transcend party affiliation that reside in the loftier realms of logic, common sense, and rational thought. I don’t fear losing readers because I never insult any of them by associating them with their politics. I hope I appeal to them more through my logical analyses and my unrelenting sense of humor.
Regarding drugs, I am essentially a libertarian thinker, and as such, I don’t believe individuals should be told by the State what substances they can freely put into their own bodies. USA prohibition of alcohol created a huge black market for liquor, beer, and wine. The same kind of insanity has created the drug cartels. If people want to kill themselves with dangerous substances, they should be allowed to do it. And I have no problem with the State taxing the substances as they do nicotine or alcohol.
Soraya—Your wife Elizabeth is the administrator of Borderlands Press. Your daughter is a writer and editor, you published with her a horror/weird fiction anthology (Borderlands 6) awarded the Bram Stoker Award for best anthology. Are all three of you happy to dedicate part of your lives to the world of literature?
Tom Monteleone—Absolutely yes! We all love the printed word and are voracious readers as well as harsh critical editors. When Elizabeth created the Borderlands Press Writers Boot Camp in 1995, we had no idea it would become such a successful venture that has seen more than 70% of its graduates go on to become professional writers. When our daughter Olivia wanted to learn how to edit an anthology of original fiction, we were so happy to see her pick up the torch and keep our small press moving forward into the future.
Soraya—You have won the Bram Stoker award five times. Are you still excited when you get nominated? What does it mean to you to have garnered those awards?
Tom Monteleone—I am deeply honored to be nominated because it is a statement by my peers—other writers who know how difficult to create a well-crafted original story. And yes, every time I am nominated for an award, I feel the same thrill and hope that maybe I will be judged worthy of the big prize. I have won Stoker awards in four different categories—Novel, Collection, Anthology, and Non-Fiction . . . so to be recognized for doing well in that many areas is certainly gratifying, don’t you think?
And when I was accorded the Horror Writers Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award, I was completely blown away. To be included into the ranks of such genre giants as Ray Bradbury, Richard Matheson, Stephen King, and so many other masters is humbling indeed.
Soraya—Your novel, “The Blood of the Lamb” was awarded with the Stoker award as best novel in 1993 and Notable Book of the Year for the New York Times. For me, is still your best novel. What are your memories of it? Do you have an anecdote of a story while you were writing it?
Tom Monteleone—Many readers have told me that, and it’s both wonderful to hear and also a bit disheartening to think your best work is behind you and that you’ll never write anything as powerful or memorable as something 20-plus years in your rear-view mirror.
I have mitigated the possible truth of that by telling myself the high concept of that novel was one of those once-in-a-lifetime ideas. I mean, come on, I wrote a religious thriller many years before anyone ever used the words “code” and “DaVinci” in the same sentence. And I did it way better.
As far as anecdotes regarding the book, I can tell you it was optioned by Bruckheimer films and while they never made the movie, they kept renewing the option for more than fourteen years, and I made a lot of money every eighteen months on the renewal date. It’s been translated into fifteen languages and stayed in print in paperback for almost twenty years. It still sells well as an eBook, and I am very satisfied with the run that novel enjoyed.
Soraya—In your novel, The Blood of the Lamb, Father Peter Carenza has issues with organized religion. How does that reflect your personal views on the same subject?
Tom Monteleone—Issues of faith and organized religion have always interested and fascinated me. On many levels. I grew up in an Italian family wherein my father was a deeply spiritual and moral person, who immersed himself in the Catholic Church. He was a Knight of Columbus, a member of the Holy Name Society, an usher at our parish church, and even counted the collection money every Sunday at the church rectory.
I attended a Jesuit high school which afforded me a challenging classical education. Enduring four years of Latin and the sciences, I learned the art of critical thinking. The Jesuits were all highly educated themselves and one of the things I learned from
them was to always ask the next question.
I became infused with an insatiable curiosity about the world around me. When one achieves even a rudimentary grasp of the complexity and vastness of not just our single galaxy but the seemingly limitless number of other galaxies in the universe, it becomes hard to attach one’s belief to such a small and myopic view of a Creator or God.
Our explanations of why we are here and who we are and who (or what) actually cares about us just don’t make a lot of sense to me. And even though “The Blood of the Lamb” is couched in the familiar trappings of traditional faith, I think one of the reasons I was able to write it was my need to examine the essence of what religion might be to so many of us.
Certainly, my intent was never to disparage the Church or its members, but merely to pose a few possibilities that may encourage my readers to ponder the mysteries that we are.
Soraya—Your Nocturnia Chronicles are for a wider age-range of readers than much of your other work. What were the factors that made you want to include younger readers?
Tom Monteleone—To be honest, I had never consciously decided to write a series of novels for younger readers. The Nocturnia Chronicles came about, if not by accident, at least in some oblique sense.
Let me explain: about twelve years ago F. Paul Wilson and I were approached by a visionary group who were putting together a cable TV channel called The Horror Channel (they had even trademarked the name so no other entities could usurp their name, usage, or presence.) Their model was the highly successful Sci-Fi Channel (now called SyFy) and they were interested in developing some original programming, which is why they asked Paul and me if we would be interested in creating a half-hour cartoon that would be the horror-equivalent of the science fiction cartoon, Futurama.
Paul and Iiked the proposition and the challenge to make it happen and we spent next year or so creating a show called Nocturnia that would be set up to run clever riffs on all the tropes and icons in the horror genre—in the tradition of Futurama. We had some good fun along the way, and eventually ended up with at least one entire season of episodes plotted out—along with a bunch of wonky characters and settings.
For a variety of reasons The Horror Channel never became a cable TV reality, leaving Paul and me with a whole world of material and no place for it. We stashed it in our file drawers and computer folders where it remained for years until one afternoon we were sitting at a horror convention hotel bar and one of us asked the question of what we could possibly do with all that work we’d done on Nocturnia.
And then one of us (can’t remember who . . .) came up with the idea of writing a trilogy of novels for readers aged 9 – 12 (sometimes called “tweener fiction” as opposed to true YA). We agreed it was a good idea and over the following three years we collaborated on the books. The final volume of the trilogy, “The Silent Ones,” was recently published in hardcover, and we are now marketing it for a trade paperback package.
Soraya—”The Time Connection” has been compared to some of Robert A. Heinlein’s work. Has he had an influence on your work?
Tom Monteleone—I was a big fan/reader of Heinein when I was in my “formative years” and I think Starship Troopers still holds up as a great SF novel. Heinlein’s greater body of short stories is largely wonderful stuff–full of lots of groundbreaking concepts and extrapolations. But I can honestly say I never consciously tried to emulate his work (the way I did with writers such as Bradbury, Zelazny, Ellison, and Sturgeon).
As I matured as a writer, I think I recognized the clarity and the directness of Heinlein’s language and his “plain-style” technique, and probably incorporated it into what evolved into my own narrative voice. That said, I’d like to sit down at the bar and have a few manhattans with the reviewer or critic who compared my second novel (The Time
Connection) to some of Heinlein’s work. That’s like saying Boxcar Willie reminded somebody of John Lennon.
Soraya—Now it is very easy to self-publish a book, which is why there are a lot of new writers. That makes me ask: should everyone who publishes their own book be considered a writer? What do you think?
Tom Monteleone—Great question. Not sure it will get a great answer . . . but let’s try this. I represent a very unique generation of writers—people who began writing in the Analogue Era and will eventually end in the Digital Era. I witnessed an unimagined revolution the way words were not only written, but transformed into typeset pages and ultimately printed and distributed to readers—either on paper or online.
The digitization of writing and publishing has removed many of the filters (impediments
or barriers may be better terms) that served for centuries to screen out the amateurs from those who would eventually become professionals. For a very long time, writers had to create each draft of their work by hand—a time consuming process that demanded discipline and dedication.
When a final draft was eventually completed, the work was then mailed off to the desk of a potential editor / publisher. From that point, a writer could wait many, many months before getting a response from even a lower-level gatekeeper (like a slush-pile reader) without any realistic expectation that a truly responsible editor ever saw his or her work.
In the early eighties, word processing and personal computers and desktop printers changed all that. No more cutting and pasting of actual typescript pages, no more re-typing of entire books. As we lurched into the new century, many editors and publishers were beginning to accept (from established pros, at least) PDF files of their writers’ books instead of printed-out pages (storage being a consideration).
But there were still more innovations that would change the world of publishing—P.O.D. (print-on-demand) became commonplace with the replacement of the the offset printing
press with digital printers. This meant a writer could print as few as 1-10 copies of his book or any number upwards—in hardcover or paperback.
This also meant that anyone could be a “published” writer because they had a computer on their desk and a few extra dollars in their pocket to make it happen. I say all this as preamble to my answer to your original question (are self-published writers really writers?): and I have to say in the majority of cases—no, they are not.
They are amateurs who have not endured the vetting processes, the multiple layers of screening that separates the real from the wannabe. But my opinion does not mean all that much.
Being a capitalist, I believe the marketplace will be the final arbiter or who is a real professional (that is, making money at his/her craft) and who is merely a poseur. The greatest vote any of us has is the one residing in our wallets and purses and bank accounts. When we select something that merits our cash, we have placed value and status upon it. The marketplace will ultimately decide who is a real pro and who is not.
Soraya—In “Night of Broken Souls” you explore reincarnation and the Holocaust, both delicate topics to handle. Did you feel hesitation to touch on those topics and fear reader backlash?
Tom Monteleone—Oddly enough, I felt no trepidation or lack of confidence in examining those themes while writing that novel. I had previously handled the idea of the possibility of vast changes taking place after the millennium in the Christian weltanschaung, and figured it would be an acceptable challenge to view the new century through the lens of the Jewish perspective as well.
My only reluctance to use the Holocaust as a narrative device was my fear that it had been overused, overdone already. I didn’t want to rely on material that was already familiar and lacking in the sufficient drama and terror it deserved.
As far as the concept of reincarnation, it’s one of those phenomena that seems to make utterly no sense to me, yet presents researchers with documented experiences that defy explanation. I figured it remained fertile ground for some original storytelling. The novel received a majority of positive reviews and very few accusations of me committing the crime of “cultural appropriation”(which is total bullshit anyway). There is no global mandate keeping me from focusing upon the nuances of any aspect of the human experience.
Soraya—Who does Tom Monteleone read? Which book are you never tired of?
Tom Monteleone—Early on, I encountered the works of Ayn Rand, and became a ready convert to her world view. I found her novel “The Fountainhead” a brilliant celebration of the power and grandeur of the individual who believes in his or her unique vision of the world.
While still at university, I discovered “Atlas Shrugged” and have since re-read it at least 5 times. It is a preachy, didactic tome, bit it brims over with the belief in the power of the individual as opposed to the supposedly superior wisdom of the state, and the need for a nod to the “greater good”—that mythical ideal that equality is somehow the ultimate measuring stick of us all.
It is, as I am prone to say, bullshit—plain and simple. I know I am smarter and more accomplished than most of my fellows. For me to imagine or accept that I am no more adept or talented than anyone else is simply absurd. But I digress.
Other writers and their works of which I never tire include Ray Bradbury, Ambrose Bierce, Hemingway, Theodore Sturgeon, Clifford Simak, Poe, Lovecraft, and even my best pal, F. Paul Wilson (I have re-read his Adversary Cycle twice and it remains a staggering six-volume brilliant piece of work).
Soraya—In your novel, “Night Train,” much of the book is set in the New York subways. How familiar are you with that underground world in your life?
Tom Monteleone—I still feel good about that early horror novel I write during the hey-day of paperback-original eighties horror. My family is originally from New York—after my grandfather came to the United States alone at the age of fifteen—and I have been comfortable and familiar with its subways since I was a young boy.
But before attempting to accurately portray and convey the utter weirdness of the NYC underground (which included its subway system), I knew I would need to spend some time researching and verifying some of the stranger aspects of the many levels and anomalies which lay beneath the streets of New York.
I actually set up interviews and tours with NY employees of the Sewer, Transit, and Power departments of the city, and was surprised to find so many reps of those city government divisions willing to meet with me and show me their worlds layered beneath New York.
I say this only to emphasize that all the background information regarding the underground world of New York I employed in “Night Train” had been fact-checked for accuracy. It was important for me to write a novel that employed an accurate depiction of what lay beneath the streets of the city.
Soraya—What did a great writer like yourself taught his children?
Tom Monteleone—I think the best way any of us, as parents, can teach their children is by example and lifestyle—rather than preaching and lecturing and hectoring. Elizabeth, my wife of almost 30 years, and I always hoped that our daughter would eventually take notice and appreciation of the way we’d conducted our lives.
We never held regular jobs, choosing instead to live by our wits—running a small press, selling what we wrote or edited, and trusting in our abilities to be able to produce something the marketplace would want to acquire. But I think the most important thing I’ve been able to impart to my son, Damon, and my daughter, Olivia, is to never abandon their dreams that carry them through life. Never lose that power to dream of things greater than yourself.
I have spent my life operating under the basic assumption that anything I really wanted to accomplish lay with my grasp. I always believed nothing was out there that could ever stop me from my goal.
When I was 21 ears old and no one knew my name, I knew I would sell my short stories and eventually my books. I knew I would succeed because I refused to believe I was capable of failure. If that sounds like bullshit . . . well, that’s just too bad, ‘cause it’s true.
I’ve lived my life with this simple driving dictum: failure is not an option. And that’s the message I hope I’ve pounded into the heads of my beautiful children.
Soraya—Thank you for your answers.
Tom Monteleone—Hey, are you kidding me? I am so honored that you wanted to do this interview in the first place. I hope your readers enjoy it on the most basic of levels. All I ask is that you seek me out on amazon and sample my work. Adios!
From Soraya Murillo Hernandez: I am an early reader, I started reading very soon and I was interested in terror, I liked to look for monsters and ghosts in the stories. Then I knew that the greatest terror came from humans. I am a book reviewer in Spain, I do it free to help its authors to know their works.
Soy una lectora precoz, comencé muy pronto a leer y me interese por el terror, me gustaba buscar monstruos y fantasmas en las historias. Luego supe que el mayor terror venia de los humanos . Soy reseñadora de libros en España, lo hago gratis para ayudar a sus autores a conocer sus obras.