Today folks we have an interview with Steve Weddle
, author editor and one of the masterminds behind Needle Magazine
. Folks I highly recommend you click the links throughout this interview they will take you to some of finest websites and fiction on the web.
GNOH – Hi Steve, how are things with you?
Had a bit too muchGeneral Tso’s Chicken so kinda bloaty right now, but things will be fine in abit. Having some coffee.
GNOH –I’ve got to say It is so nice to have another bearded red head in Ginger Nut Towers.
Revlon Color #145 FTW!!
GNOH – Could you please tell the readers a little bitabout yourself?
GNOH – Have you ever been mistaken for Steven E. Wedelauthor of Little Graveyard on the Prairie
SW – Only by terriblynice people working on interview questions.
GNOH – Would you care to let slip one fact about yourselfthat is not widely known? For example Ihave webbed feet.
About my feet? Hmm. OK.I dislike walking. I tend to be over-aggressive when clipping my toenails. It’slike, I know they need to be clipped, but I rarely see them. I see my fingersall the time. Well, not all the time. Like now. I am totally typing thiswithout looking at my fingers. Ha. Take that Mrs. Pederson. Who’s the failurenow, huh? Like I even needed to learn touch-typing. Maybe if you’d spent lesstime yelling at me about learning to type in the tenth grade and more time onyour own life, your husband wouldn’t have left you. What? Too soon?
Anyway, with the toenail clipping, I mean, I’m old. I don’t bend much at all. So it’s like acomplete Herculean effort to get my feet up where I can clip my toenails. AndI’m thinking, heck, I don’t want to do this again anytime soon. So I cut deep.Like when you crack off a corner of the middle toe’s nail and you have to reachdown and peel it out because you’ve cut too deep. And then you’re pulling out abit of blood and flesh and all right from your toe. Yeah, I do that on a coupleof toes every time I cut my toenails. So I’m usually not happy when I have towalk somewhere.
I’d have a catheterinstalled but they’re like $7,000 and they sound painful.
GNOH – As a former English professor, what is the appealof genre fiction to you?
As a former Englishprofessor, not a damn thing. I find good writing appealing. I don’t care oneway or the other for “genre.” I’m sorry. Am I supposed to say something abouthow noir fiction is the only true comment on a crumbling society? Is Faulknercrime fiction? I loved The Reivers. Holy crap that’s a great book. And theband. The Reivers were a great band. Out of Austin, I think. The Reivers in the‘Firefly’ series I didn’t care much for.
Look at what John HornorJacobs, John Rector, Chris F. Holm, and Hilary Davidson are doing. One storymight read like horror. One might read like literature. Maybe another one likecrime fiction. But they the author will have a similar style from piece topiece, a consistent voice of excellence.
I think the term “genre”is helpful for selling books, but it doesn’t do a damn bit of good for readingthem.
By the way, I’ve hadsome coffee. Did I mention that?
GNOH – Have you ever thought about switching to Camomiletea?
I tried that once. Turnsout it lacks caffeine.
GNOH – Would you say the best of genre fiction stands upnext to what many people perceive as proper writing?
I don’t think thatsounds like something I’d say, no. I’d say “good writing will out.” That soundslike something I’d say.
Look at the collegenovel. Whatever they call it. The Camford University style of novel. KingsleyAmis’s LUCKY JIM. John Braine’s “at the Top” books. Seventy-nine percent ofwhat David Lodge has written. All these novels can be put into a neat box ofpost-war university novels. All right. Great. We’ve classified it. You don’thave to be Soren Kierkegaard to know that labelling something is an act ofnegating the thing. Here. This novel is this thing; therefore, it isn’t theseother things. Maybe it makes it easier to market. Maybe it’s helpful to haveDavid Lodge pop up when you’re searching online for Kingsley Amis.
Grouping Christa Faustand Neil Smith and Ray Banks together is so limiting. You need to read thosefolks on their own terms, not based on whether all of the books feature an unfortunateprotagonist. Hell, is Moby-Dick noir?
GNOH – Do you think there will ever come a time thatgenre fiction can haul itself out of the literary gutter?
I think we’re getting toa point where those classifications matter less. Go into a bookstore and lookaround. There’s no section for hardboiled. Nothing for noir. You get “Mystery”and then you’re stuck with the alphabet. Heck, I go look for the next StevenBrust book and I’m looking in the Sci-Fi/Fantasy section. Honestly? Brust nextto Ray Bradbury? How is that helpful? Genre. Feh.
GNOH – Who would you say are your favourite five authorsof all time?
If I’m trying to impresspeople, I’ll say William T. Vollmann and David Foster Wallace. They’re a coupleof authors who are more talked about than read. Oh, add Richard Powers to thatlist. Yeah. I read those while I’m drinking a glass of Macallan and writing outmy monthly donation to the orphanage. Because I am awesome and use interviewsto make people think I am smart. Huzzah, losers.
Seriously, though. Haveyou read Vollmann’s Afghanistan Picture Show? That is some fantastic stuff. Andthe Ice Shirt. Now that was a good book. Heck, maybe it still is. I haven’tpicked it up in years. I need to read Rifles and Fathers and Crows by Vollmann.I really dig that guy. I like the way he writes. Different. Like it cracks intoa part of your head and puts the story there. Gets to be where you’re notprocessing the words on the page. It’s just a different level.
David Foster Wallace’sarticle about cruise ships is possibly the funniest thing I’ve read. I triedreading Broom of the System twice. Couldn’t get into it. I own a copy ofInfinite Jest. It was like a buck at one of those book fairs and I couldn’tpass it up. That book is a thousand pages. Seemed like a smart buy at the time.
Richard Powers. ThatGoldbug Variations was amazing. Have you read that? I dug the genius dudeworking at night in some crummy job and the reference librarian and how thebook moved back into the past with the dude when he was a scientist. I dunno.All that moving around and how the various pieces fit together really struck achord with me. Which makes sense because, you know, Bach.
I’m in love with AnnBeattie’s stories right now. The New Yorker Stories, a recent collection. I’llread one of these in the morning before work and then maybe some Raymond Carverafter dinner. Then I’ll wonder why I’m wasting my time writing when there’s somuch great stuff out there that I’ll never had time to read.
GNOH – Would you say it is important to read anything orshould students strive to read the best that they can?
Hell, no. Don’t justread anything. Holy crap, what is wrong with you? I will rant for three daysevery time I see a grown-up reading young adult. Please please please don’t getme started on that. Everyone argues against me. They say, “It doesn’t matterwhat they read, as long as they’re reading.” Which is complete nonsense. Wouldyou say the same about television? Music? Food? Fill up on a diet of Ho-Hosnacks and Jersey Shore (Do I repeat myself? Very well. (Am I sounding likeWhitman again? Sorry. That was just an accidental Whitman sampler. Sweet,huh?)) and see what kind of society we end up with. No. No.
At my kids’ school, theyhave books that aren’t age appropriate. Like, you don’t want your five-year-oldkid reading about the humpy-humpy, do you? Why do you want aforty-three-year-old mother of three reading about a 120-year-old vampire doingthe humpy-humpy with a teenage girl? It’s horrific. Not just the rape. The writing.Grown-ups need to read grown-up books. If you’re too dumb to read a decentbook, just watch TV.
OK, so I’m partly beingsilly, but, you know, only partly.
GNOH – Writing in one form or another seems to encompassyour whole life, do you ever get bored of writing, or is it a truly a passionfor you?
I write for the samereason I read. I like it. I make connections when I write. I’ll start off witha story, with a set of characters, and things will start to come together. Ienjoy that. The creating art. Hmm. Is it pompous to say I create “art”? Idunno. Whatever it is I create.
When I wrote newspapercolumns, I got the same thrill. The joke-making. The connections.
Writing academic paperswas the only form of writing I despised. You need me to drop a thousand wordson why Faith’s ribbons are pink in that awful Hawthorne story? Really? Can’tyou just read Amy’s paper? She’s telling you the same thing.
Heck, I even like payingbills, writing the checks. You owe $78.14 to DirecTV? Cut them a check for$79.31 cents. It’s funny. I don’t know why it’s funny. It just is. Like DanielTosh.
GNOH – You set up Needle Magazine with the rathertalented John Hornor Jacobs in 2010, who first came up with the idea?
I was reading a bunch offolks online and wanted to see those folks on paper. Kieran Shea. HilaryDavidson. Kent Gowran. Jedidiah Ayres. My pal Chad Rohrbacher. All those folks.So I started wondering online why something like that couldn’t be done. A crimefiction magazine in print. Just stories. John liked the idea and we got totalking.
Needle didn’t come aboutbecause someone had an idea. Needle came about because a ton of great crimefiction authors needed homes for their stories and they were unbelievablygenerous with them. Needle didn’t come about because of an idea – it came aboutbecause of an idea.
Geez, I sound like anasshole, don’t I? Well, whatever. That’s how I feel about it. John’s fantasticeye for art and the great stories and the team of folks putting it together –Matt and Naomi and Stephen and Dan – those are the reasons Needle exists.
GNOH – And what is the significance of the title?
Wanted something with apoint, something that gets under your skin, something painful that stilldelivers what you need, what you want. That’s Needle. Sharp writing.
GNOH – How well is the magazine going?
Better than I’d everthought possible. We’ve had huge support from most of the community. Reallygratifying to see folks come together to support great writing.
GNOH – Since its inception you have published a hugenumber of down right brilliant authors and stories, how did you manage to getso much talent between their covers?
With the first issue, Iasked. I said “Here’s the vision.” I sent emails. And only a few people said tosod off. Almost everyone I asked thought it was a great idea. Keep in mind,this is me asking, right? It’s not like it’s Lee Child or Laura Lippmann askingfor stories. It’s just me. People really liked the idea itself. All I did wasask.
And you have to realize,people in the crime fiction community are unbelievably generous.
Let me give you anexample. Last year we ended up in the emergency room with one of our kids.Everything’s fine now, but it wasn’t then. I can’t talk about this withoutfucking crying all over my stupid shirt, so I’ll see how well I can type itout. We’re on the way to the ER. It doesn’t look good. So I go to Twitter,because, shit, I don’t know because, I just did, and I say that we’re going tothe ER and what it’s for and all. And there was just this huge outpouring ofpeople asking how they could help and prayers and hopes and, just all this, Idon’t know, whatever the most positive word you know. “Support” doesn’t seem tobe strong enough. Just all these people, mostly from the crime fiction world,and they’re wanting to help and all. This was in the winter at the front partof the year. Then at the end of the year I’m at NoirCon in Philly and a fewpeople come up and ask how things are, following the ER visit. Recovery andall. And I’m just like, holy crap. You remember that? And there are people whocared, you know? It’s just amazing. I don’t think I’ve ever properly thankedeveryone, but they should know how much it meant.
It’s that kind ofsupport that you get from the crime fiction community.
Your question was howdid we get so much talent between the covers? The answer: I asked for help.
GNOH – Are there any authors, you would like to have inNeedle, who you haven’t managed to secure?
That’s an interestingquestion, which goes to what Needle is about, I think. We’re not looking toelevate the magazine by association. I mean, if you put out a out a collectionand you’ve got Big Names on the cover and maybe a couple of little names,people are going to say, “Hey, this Freddy Fartface must be good because hisstory is next to Dennis Lehane’s and Laura Lippmann’s.”
Which is one way to goand there’s not a damn thing wrong with that. But, honestly, (and I think I’mbeing honest here and not full of crap, but it’s getting harder to tell theolder I get) if Mr. Lehane were to send us a story for Needle, it would have tobe a kick-ass story, just like the other stories we have in the mag.
People don’t read Needlebecause of the Table of Contents. They read it for what comes after that. Theyread it for the stories. Maybe they don’t know who Julie Summerell is, but theyread her story and they want more.
Chris F. Holm’s “TheHitter” (Needle, Summer 2010) was selected for Otto Penzler’s Best AmericanMystery Stories and was up for a number of awards, including the Anthony. Thisisn’t because of his name or his rugged good looks. That was a fabulous story.The story Jedidiah Ayres had in the first Needle was phenomenal. I still getemails about it. Those were the first two “long” stories we ran in themagazine. And people fell in love with them. Not because of who wrote them, butbecause of what the authors wrote.
So are there any authorswe haven’t had in that I’d like to have in? No. We’re not out here collectingtrophies to say “Needle published Richard Stark.”
Now, we come to thisnext issue in which we’re thrilled to have a previously unpublished story byGil Brewer. We’re running that not because most pulp fans know and loveBrewer’s work, but because the story is great fun. I was approached about thestory, read it, dug it, and we went from there. I didn’t go hunting for GilBrewer’s head, if you see what I mean.
I love the work of RayBanks. We talked about running his novel, which we did not because puttingRay’s name on the cover means that more people will pick up the mag anddiscover authors they might not otherwise see. Well, OK, not ONLY for thatreason. We’re running his novel because it’s a blast and the idea ofserializing this novel was just amazing.
Are there authors I’veread outside of Needle and loved? Heck, yeah. Would I dig seeing something oftheirs written for us and then considering whether it fits? You bet.
But keep in mind howNeedle started. I am a selfish guy. I wanted to read Kent Gowran in print.Sandra Seamans. Kieran Shea. That’s what I talked about with John HornorJacobs, with everyone, when Needle started. You can read Lawrence Block all over. And Laura Lippmann.
The further along Needlegets, the more you see of these Needle authors. Not because of Needle, butbecause they’re on the cusp of being everywhere. They’re writing great stories.Look at Chris F. Holm, for example. He’s in Needle. He’s in Alfred Hitchock. InEllery Queen. He’s been working his ass off for years and the story in Needleis just one example of the great work he can do. He’s such a big shot now hewon’t even return my calls. Just wait until his Dead Harvest novel comes out.Now that I’m thinking about it, maybe the idea of big names might work afterall.
Needle Magazine: Wepublished Chris F. Holm.
GNOH – And on the flip side how much dross did you haveto wade through as well?
We get quite a fewsubmissions. Many of them are rejected because they’re not crime fiction, notwhat we’re after. We’ve gotten great sci-fi stuff and a couple of wildsword-and-sorcery submissions. Mostly folks seem to be trying to do their best.Of course, yeah, we do get a bunch of stories from people who can email, butcan’t write.
GNOH – I’ve got toadmit, that you have caused me to feel embarrassed and guilty at the sametime. I can’t believe I had never heardof Ray Banks, an author who lives in my home town until I had read his work youpublished. On the flip side you and Johnhave cost me a fortune by introducing me to authors I have never previouslyread. Do you try and maintain a balance betweenrelatively unknown authors and more well known ones?
I think I once said thatwe do. Like we want to showcase the rookies and the veterans. Now, I just lookfor the best stories. If it happens we have a mix of folks, that’s fine. What Iwant is a mix of voices but a consistency of quality, if that makes sense.
GNOH – Who would you say are your favourite authors thathave appeared in needle magazine? My topthree are Ray Banks, Kent Gowran and Dave Zeltserman.
You can’t go wrong withthose three – or any three from Needle.
GNOH – Can you let us in on any secrets of who you havelined up for any future issues?
Well, you probablyalready know that the serialized Ray Banks novel is set to finish in the Fall2011 issue. That one also has a previously unpublished Gil Brewer story. Thewinter issue isn’t finalized, but has some great stuff from Chris LaTray, NikKorpon, Kent Gowran, Loren Eaton, BV Lawson and a number of others.
GNOH – Have you started to produce it e-book format yet?
No. Shut up.
GNOH – Not a fan of e-books? It costs me more in shipping charges, than itdoes to actually buy the magazine? I’m atight arsed Scotsman, and this makes Jimmy sad
Yeah, it’s a pisser,ain’t it? But you’re not paying attention. Needle was born because we neededthese authors in print. These authors whose stories have appeared at Beat to aPulp, Thuglit, Plots with Guns, A Twist of Noir, and elsewhere. You shouldn’thave to sit at your computer to read Kent Gowran, right? You should be able totake that guy onto your back porch if you want. Keep Neil Smith in a basket inthe bathroom.
We’ve talked about ane-antho for Needle, but there doesn’t seem to be a gaping need for that. Youwant a Nigel Bird story on your Nook? Buy his own collection. Send him somecash, you know? You can get tons of these stories in the authors’ owncollections. That’s a great way to support them. Frank Bill has Crimes InSouthern Indiana out. In e-book. Go buy that. Keith Rawson is out with a newebook collection from Snubnose Press. Go buy that. It’s called The Chaos WeKnow. David Cranmer’s Cash book. You want to read Needle authors in e-bookform, you can.
We have talked aboutretro-e-publishing Needle issues, but you have to look at authors’ rights. Theygranted us a one-time print use. Now, if I want to re-publish that in e-bookform, would everyone be happy with that? I email 50 people and ask if we can dothat? Then we work out a set of contracts and royalty splits? What if Iapproach only some of the authors and do a “Best Of” e-book antho from 2010Needles? How is that fair to authors who aren’t included? The whole point wasto get these authors on paper and into the hands of readers.
And let’s be clear aboutthis. Needle Magazine is a shit-ton of work to put together. Worth everysecond, of course. But John works like mad to lay out that puppy. And Matt andStephen and Naomi and Dan reading and proofing and voting yay or nay and allthat they do. The problem in working with those folks is that they’re too niceto say “no.” And they have their own jobs and their own writing. Of course, ofcourse, of course, we love getting the stories together because we love thesestories and want to share them with everyone. Love. Love. We want to create thebest collection we can.
See, Needle is really ahold-in-your-hands magazine. The amazing work John Hornor Jacobs does increating such a great looking magazine is great on paper.
I know the overseasshipping costs are atrocious and we continue to look into this. We may switchprinters soon. We’re looking at options, since we want these authors to be readby as many people as possible.
For now, if you wantSophie Littlefield or Hilary Davidson or Ray Banks in e-form, download theirbooks.
GNOH – You are also the co-editor of Discount Noir, canyou tell us about this collection?
That People of Walmartsite was going around the internet and some of us on the Twitters said it wouldbe a great idea for some flash stories. Patti Abbott was really doing someswell flash hosting at the time and so I hit her up about it. I think that’show it happened. Anyway, Patti and I got to chatting about it and emailed fromfolks about the idea and posted the challenge and eventually we ended up with aton of great stories. So we talked about collecting them and the world’s bestagent, Stacia Decker, took the job on. She sold the collection to UntreedReads, who got the book together and published it. That book contains some ofmy favourite flash pieces in the world. Sophie Littlefield, Bill Crider, JT Ellison,Laura Benedict, John McFetridge, Toni McGee Causey. Just on and on.
Honestly, that book cametogether because Patti worked so hard getting it together and Stacia pushed itand all the authors spending their time and energy putting the awesome to paper.If you like the book, you’ve got all those people to thank for it.
GNOH – Let’s talk about your writing now. How would you describe your writing style? Does
your background in poetry influence how you write fiction?
I’ve been told it does.I don’t think people sit down to write giving much consideration to theirinfluences, though, right? I mean, you build up all this stuff as you go alongand it just sorta seeps into you, like stale dishwater into a sponge. Wait, myinfluences aren’t stale dishwater. Like angels’ tears into a kitchen sponge.Feh. Whatever.
So when I’ve read abunch of Richard Hugo and James Welch and that lot. And Stanley Kunitz. AndGary Snyder. Anne Sexton. Marianne Moore. I know, right? Figure that out. Anyway,so reading those voices makes a difference. The images. The phrasings. And Ithink that sort of thing influences my fiction.
Let’s come at thisanother way.
This year I’ve beenworking on a short story collection called Country Hardball. I’ve set thestories all in this area I grew up in, an area I’ve spent my life thinking andwriting about. As I’m thinking of stories for the area, ways to show the lifethere, I start thinking about poems I wrote for my MFA thesis back at LSU. Apoem about kids and a spooklight. About a carnival that came to town. About alittle league baseball game. And I realized that I wrote those poems twentyyears ago as rough drafts for this collection. It’s weird how it all came together,that I wrote those poems just to get to these stories.
GNOH – You have on yourwebsite a section for your Alex Jackson and Roy Alison novels, but a search onAmazon doesn’t show any novels up, what’s the story behind that?
I wrote two Alex Jacksonmysteries. We got some good response on the first one, though we haven’t closedon anything. I set all that aside to work on the Roy Alison, which has turnedinto this collection.
GNOH – Can you tell us about those novels?
Alex Jackson is asmart-ass who gets his face beaten in now and again. In the first one, a girlhe had a crush on in high school comes to ask for help finding her missingfather. In the second one, Alex’s best friend is charged with killing astripper. I’ve got a couple thousand words in that character, so it has beengreat to work through that narrative. That first Alex Jackson book is the oneStacia Decker called me about, asked what else I had. I said that I had ahundred more books even better. She knew I was full of crap, but agreed to workwith me anyway.
GNOH – Are you more comfortable writing short storiesover novels?
If writing iscomfortable, you’re doing it wrong.
I’ll write a section ofa novel or story and it takes everything I can muster, you know? Like takingout a cheese slicer and just working it back and forth across my chest until Iget to the raw gunk inside. It’s awful.
I can’t write a storylike I’m filling out a Mad Libs. Put the conflict here. Add in a dark secret.Produce a love interest. Create an obstacle for your protagonist. Some folkscan do that. And some folks do that and then add in that extra something thattakes it to the next level. All of that is damned hard work, of course. It’sjust not the work I want to do.
I don’t think aboutwhether I’m writing a novel or a short story. I just write the story.
GNOH – A lot of your short stories feature OscarMartello, what is the appeal of this character for you?
I have anger issues.
GNOH – Do the stories form a complete narrative storythat builds on previous ones or are they
completely separate stories?
Oscar? Yeah, there’s anarrative in there. He’s working for some, um, business people and wants out ofthe business. So he gets out. Then his son is killed and he’s pulled back in.Then he finds out it was a set-up. Then he tries to find out what happened. Hethinks he knows, but then he finds out it’s a bigger conspiracy than he’dthought. I have pieces of the narrative all over the place. In the DiscountNoir book. Beat to A Pulp. Crimefactory. Terminal Damage, the first Do SomeDamage collection. Many flash fiction challenges. Dan O’Shea – fantastic writer– puts the audio treatment to Oscar over at http://danielboshea.wordpress.com/.
I have a substantialpiece of the story I need to release at some point. Once I have some time, I’llget back to Oscar. He’s popular.
GNOH – What are you working on right now?
Country Hardball. “TheRavine” is the first Roy Alison I wrote. It appears in First Shift,
theCrimefactory anthology that just came out. There’s also a story from thatuniverse in D*cked, the Dick Cheney book the Greg Bardsley put together.
I want to play with it abit more, pull through a couple of threads. These stories take place insouthwest Arkansas and northwest Louisiana. I’m looking at a community of folkshit hard by the economy, people who get laid off from the mill and have to getcreative about paying their mortgages, getting their prescriptions filled.
The collection alsocontains “Purple Hulls,” “Champion,” and a few other stories people might haveseen via super secret emails. In “Purple Hulls,” Roy Alison and his grandmothershell peas for a while before he leaves to do something he thinks will help her.It won’t. In “Champion,” a broken-down father has to get his son’s walkingstick back from bullies who have taken it. These aren’t yourrace-around-the-globe stories in which a handsome guy thwarts an internationalterror plot. These are people getting fired from the grocery store, people whocan’t pass a soda machine without checking the coin return for a Godsend. Thesearen’t the saviors of the universe. These are the heroes I grew up with. And itbreaks my crappy little heart to write about them.
The collection is calledCountry Hardball.