Hold onto your hats, because it’s time for this month’s Interview! For the uninitiated, every month I’ll be interviewing authors and creators about their newest works, their lives, and what influences them. For this month’s interview, I’m speaking with strange story specialist Simon Strantzas!
Hello Simon and welcome! I like to start my interviews off with the world’s toughest simple request: tell us a little bit about yourself! What’s your author origin story?
My origin story is rather mundane, actually. I didn’t originally start out wanting to be a writer. I thought, for a good number of years, I’d be a comic book artist. Then, as I got older, as someone who wrote and drew his own comic. After a failed attempt at selling one I realized I wasn’t all that good at it, and put everything away. During these years I read a lot, and I had a notebook I’d write flash fiction ideas in, but nothing serious. Just before I turned thirty I realized I needed more than a nine-to-five job, and asked myself what it was I really wanted to do. The answer was to write, so I dedicated myself to it and haven’t really stopped since.
Over the course of your career you’ve put out five collections and edited three anthologies. You clearly have an affinity/love for the short story. What draws you to this form?
I like the short story for aesthetic reasons: primarily because it encapsulates and explores a single idea or concept, allowing for the sort of deep dive a poem couldn’t, and the sort of focus novels rarely allow. A short story can be a beautiful crystal in that way, opening a specific dialogue with the reader. But I also like the form for a practical reason: I can start and finish one in a short period of time, which provides the sensation of forward momentum. Whenever I’ve tried writing something longer than a short story, I inevitably feel lost in the weeds at some point, and somewhat stuck in place. The idea of extending that sensation further in an effort to write a novel doesn’t much appeal to me.
And following up with the previous question, I want to talk about the anthologies you’ve edited. Do you enjoy doing that kind of work? And what are some of the challenges of editing?
Do I enjoy editing? Frankly, no. I have no deep love for it. Well, perhaps I should clarify: I enjoy brainstorming the idea for an anthology. I enjoy reading stories written specifically for me, for the anthology I’ve proposed. I enjoy putting together lists of writers not everyone has heard of or yet read and enjoy it when the anthology allows new readers to discover those writers’ work. I enjoy putting the anthology together, finding a rhythm for the story order, and determining how the book will present itself to its readers. And I enjoy seeing people read and like the anthology I’ve assembled, and share that like with others. What I don’t enjoy is the time it takes to do all this, time I could be using to work on my own writing. And I don’t enjoy telling established writers, some of whom are friends, that their work isn’t quite right for the book. I empathize with everyone who gets a rejection, and I dislike being the cause of that. For these reasons, and a few others, I don’t intended to edit any further anthologies. But, as they say, never say never.
A lot of young writers I talk to get discouraged with the grind (sending stories out on submission, etc.) and the constant struggle that is the publishing world. As an editor and writer, do you have any general advice for any writers looking to get published?
The grind will never go away. It’s a constant grind for every writer, no matter how big or famous. The grind just changes as time goes on. But that’s life, isn’t it? Everything is a grind, from cradle to grave. The only question is whether this particular grind is worth it to you to continue suffering. Because you don’t have to, and you probably shouldn’t.
But you’re asking for encouragement, not discouragement. What advice to have to impart? Lots, but for those looking to get published, the biggest mistake I see young writers making is playing it safe and aiming low. Striving to too little. Accepting mediocrity. A writer owes it to her or himself to write the best story they can, and then send that story to the most professional markets that might publish it.
Let’s talk about books for a moment. What’s in your To Be Read pile right now? Any books you’re looking forward to in the future?
My reading has slowed down tremendously this year, but unfortunately my book buying has not followed suit, so my stack of unread books now threatens to topple and crush me beneath its weight. This year so far I have books by Helen Marshall, Nathan Ballingrud, and John Langan to read, and expect books from Paul Tremblay and Brian Evenson over the next few months. And that ignores books from previous years I haven’t had a chance to read yet, like the new Jean Ray collection and books from Lafferty and Enriquez. I’m looking forward to reading all of them at some point before I die, and maybe for a short time afterward.
Last question: where can people find you online?
The best place is Facebook, where I’m the most active and engaged. The next best place is Twitter, where I don’t say much, but I’m often lurking. Otherwise, my blog contains longer thoughts on my own fiction, as well as occasional recommendations for books by other writers. If you’re interested in what I write, that might be the most interesting of the three (though least often updated).
This was a tremendous interview! Thank you Simon! It was a great end to the month of May. If you’re interested in reading more interviews like this one, you can read them here.