Welcome to another of our ongoing series of author interviews. With EDF’s 1 year anniversary party coming up, we found that we had so much news that to report it here would take away from our interview, so look for a special news post on Sunday the 17th!
Today’s author is your typical jack of all trades. Well-educated in the literary arts, Nicholas Ozment has tackled genre fiction, poetry, non-fiction, and even movie reviews! His story, “The Only Difference Between Men and Boys” aired on July 21st and was immediately recommended to several social networking sites. By the end of the day over 5000 people had read it. Mr. Ozment graciously agreed to follow up on his popular story with an interview, which we are pleased to present below.
Interview with Nicholas Ozment
EDF: What should people expect when they see a story with your byline under it?
NO: Well, I was born a coal-miner’s daughter. Wait, what?
It’s safe to say they won’t know what to expect. Expect anything, except to be bored. The writers I like best, I have no idea where they’re taking me, but they make me want to go along for the ride. One reader commented on my last EDF story: “I almost expected some sort of murderous horror-story ending, but the ending was actually quite poignant.” He’s obviously familiar with some of my other work.
Frederic S. Durbin, on his wonderful Weblog “Life as a Writer of Fantasy Fiction,” recently described my work this way: “Nicholas Ozment has been called a ‘Mark Twain for our times'”“if Mark Twain had had an even darker, more twisted side, and more of a penchant for ghosts and things that snarl in the night.”
EDF: Your submissions to Every Day Fiction have always been quirky and surreal, and yet they have their own internal logic. There’s a fine line between what works and what doesn’t–how do you distinguish?
NO: Well, you’ve seen some of my rejected submissions that didn’t quite work. So sometimes it’s the editors who help one distinguish.
I’m drawn toward the fantastic, so much of my work tends to have, at the least, some supernatural element. But it’s almost always with an eye to illuminating and enriching the every-day, finding the magic (or the horror) in the mundane. The strangest, most bizarre stories hopefully leave the reader with a sense of how strange this life, this world we live in, really is. As C.S. Lewis wonderfully put it: “[The reader of fantasy] does not despise real woods because he has read of enchanted woods: The reading makes all real woods a little enchanted.” Or, in the case of my stories, the reader may hesitate a moment and wonder what might be crouching behind the shower curtain when he or she goes to use the toilet”¦The reading makes all real bathrooms a little haunted.
About finding the internal logic of a story”¦One of my personal favorites (“The Wrong Blue,” which was re-titled “‘Hellhound’ by Robert Johnson” for a themed anthology that””alas””never saw the light of day) started out as a ghost story. My perceptive first readers pointed out that I didn’t really need the ghosts in that one. So now it’s a ghost story without ghosts. And it’s much better”¦though, in general, stories are better with ghosts. Or golems. Or shambling things that should not be.
EDF: You’ve written in a variety of difference genres, including a non-fiction essay called “Gandalf’s Staff, Prospero’s Books: The Ethics of Magic in Tolkien and Shakespeare.” What are some of the major differences between approaching a fiction project and tackling non-fiction?
NO: With the non-fiction you can’t make up quotes. That aside, my being at heart a fiction writer””a storyteller””informs everything I do. Take the books of Jon Krakauer: they’re well-researched non-fiction, but they draw you in and read like engrossing novels. Even when I’m writing a scholarly essay, I try to find the narrative in it. Like the girl in A LITTLE PRINCESS said: “Everything’s a story.”
EDF: You’ve been known to review the occasional movie for Down in the Cellar. Do you find that analyzing movies has helped you in your own writing?
NO: Absolutely. I took a FILM AND FICTION seminar in grad school, and I’ve assistant-taught APPROACHES TO FILM, so I’ve thought about this a lot. Obviously there are things a written text can do that film cannot and vice versa, but narrative is narrative. Right now I’m reading STORY by Robert McKee, and though it’s for screenwriters, much of what he says is applicable to all media.
Here’s an important lesson I wish more writers would internalize. Since I review exclusively horror films for DOWN IN THE CELLAR, I more often than not see protagonists on the screen who are flat, unsympathetic, just plain unbelievable. Meat for the chopping block. It’s bad when the audience, instead of identifying with the characters in peril, are rooting for which annoying character they want to die first. The first rule of good horror, which Stephen King iterated way back in 1982 in DANSE MACABRE, is that the audience should identify with and root for the protagonists. If the scriptwriter/director/actors accomplish that, their job is more than half done. Then we’ll truly feel frightened along with the characters, because we care about them. And yes, that’s directly applicable to prose fiction. Make interesting characters who live and breathe, so your readers give a damn about what happens to them.
EDF: You’ve recently published a podcast of your story, “Trefalgar the Giant and the Ape-Men of Haunted Wood” at Clone Pod. Do you write your stories with readings in mind? Have you ever altered a story so that it sounds better read aloud?
NO: Hmm. Four of my stories have been podcast now, although I’ve never written a story specifically for that market. In fact, everything I’ve ever written has been “altered so that it sounds better read aloud” because I always read them aloud to myself (and sometimes to my wife) in revision. I was a professional stage actor for a couple years before I went into teaching, so I suppose I also bring that sensitivity to how the words on the page sound when they are spoken. I might write the most articulate, poetic piece of dialogue: if, when I read it aloud, it doesn’t sound like what the character would say””if it sounds like the author waxing poetic–I change it, muss it up.
EDF: What has been your best moment as a writer so far? Your worst?
NO: Best: Being in WEIRD TALES. They’ve run five of my poems over the past decade, and every time I get giddy, thinking that in some small, humble way I’m in the company of Lovecraft , Howard, Bradbury, Leiber (and Tennessee Williams””they published his first story!), not to mention great contemporary writers like Moorcock, Tanith Lee, and Thomas Ligotti. (Wait, I just mentioned them. That’s an odd phrase, isn’t it, “not to mention, ” which is always followed by a mention. I’m sorry, I must have ADD, which I think stands for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons.)
Worst: This is an ongoing one”¦I get about half to three-fourths of a novel written and then just run out of steam, get side-tracked or excited about something else. I’ve done this four or five times. I’m a six-inning novelist: I’ve got to work on my closing game.
EDF: What is next for you as a writer?
NO: Getting one of those novels finished!
EDF: Thank you for your time.