Hello folks, it’s been awhile, work and real life managed to force it’s way in past the front door. But enough about me, today we have an interview with Richard Salter. Richard has
written over twenty published short stories and a entire USB-drive full of horrible unpublished ones, as well as being the editor of a Dr Who: Short Trips, and one of this years most anticipated anthologies Worlds Collider.
Hi Richard , how are things with you?
Good thanks, except for the whole tired and stressed thing but other than that, good.
Can you please give the readers a little bit of background information on your good self?
I can do that, certainly. I’m a British born writer and editor living in Canada. As a writer I’ve sold more than twenty short stories in the twenty-odd years I’ve been working at this, and ten of those were last year. I edit anthologies too. My latest, World’s Collider, is coming out July 10th. I’m trying to get a novel going at the same time. By day I’m a software project manager and I’m also a husband, father to two small kids and a dog-owner. So I keep busy…
As an Englishman living in Canada, does not being afraid of the dark, make you feel like a king in a land of weirdoes?
I don’t have to feel like a king. I am a king. Seriously if you sound British over here they all assume you’re royalty.
And not having that extra bone in your hand must make buying gloves really difficult?
I get my gloves imported from the UK. I get through a lot since I have to burn each pair every time I finish burying a body.
In five words describe yourself
Insecure, overworked, patient, impatient, tenacious.
And in five words describe the person you aspire to be?
Making a living from writing!
You hold down a full time job, whilst also bringing up a family, how do you balance a writing career with these?
Well I don’t really. My job (project manager for a telco software vendor) is very demanding and will often spill over into evenings and weekends. Young kids (two boys, 5 and 2) are very demanding too and will often spill over whatever they happen to be eating at the time.
Finding time to write is a serious challenge, and when you’re feeling pretty drained after a tough day at work it’s hard to get your brain sufficiently engaged to get any writing done. Since I started this new job last November, my output has dropped like a stone. It’s frustrating because I really want to build on the successes of last year and there just isn’t time to pursue all these possibilities. So these days I have to be very selective in what projects I will take on.
Why horror, what is it about the genre that holds your appeal?
I’ve not been writing horror for very long so I’m no expert in the field. My first loves are SF and fantasy, but I’ve always loved ghost stories and count a few horror movies as my favourites in any genre. I’ve not read a lot in the field so I’m looking for recommendations!
And what is it about the genre that you dislike?
Same as with any genre really. I dislike the stuff that’s formulaic and obvious, or just plain dumb as a brick. People will say they enjoyed something because “I turned my brain off” and just had fun. I get that and it can be fun, but I vastly prefer a story that engages my mind and my imagination and surprises me.
Who would you say has been the biggest influence on you and your writing?
Douglas Adams and Kurt Vonnegut. I don’t write like either of them (I wish!) but I love their work and how they played with structure and expectations, and were constantly full of surprises.
If you could give any book to someone who doesn’t read horror, in an attempt to change their mind, what book would you choose, and why?
I should be asking you that question! I would recommend to fantasy readers that they give Fairie Tale by Raymond E Feist a go. I read all of Feist’s fantasy novels in my late teens, and picked this title up assuming it would be more of the same. While it borrows from fantasy, it’s a very scary, chilling book and a good way to bridge the genres.
Can you remember what first motivated you to start writing, and has your motivation changed over the years?
I’ve always loved telling stories and those stories have had ghosts, spaceships or wizards (and sometimes all three) in them since I was at primary school. The desire to tell stories has always been my motivation. As I got older that matured into a dream of writing for a living. So that’s my motivation now, to make a living from doing what I love to do. Not because I want to be rich and famous, though that would be nice, but so I can spend my working hours each day doing something that I love to do without losing my house, and hopefully entertain some folks along the way.
And how would you describe your writing style?
Efficient, I guess, though that doesn’t make it sound super exciting. I hate bogging down my writing in endless descriptions of things people encounter every day. If it’s something unusual or made up, I’ll take the time to describe it, but I’m not going to spend three pages describing a lamp post. I try to get to the point and not waffle.
How do you go about the writing process? Are you a plotter or do you go with the flow?
For short stories I will plot if the editor wants to see an outline first, but if not then I’ll usually work out what’s going to happen in my head and then sit down and write it. When I plot stuff I do it in way too much detail, so for shorts I may as well just write the whole story.
For novels I plot to a crazy degree. I go into far too much detail and then have to pare it down to essentials if I’m going to share it with anyone to get opinions. I (or others) catch a lot of issues at the plotting stage, though ultimately it means all I write is a synopsis and never write the bloody book!
When you write, what comes first, plot or characters? And which dictates the other more?
It varies. I usually start with an idea and very rough character archetypes, and I work out how my storyline is going to make it to the ending and what traits that means the characters will need to have. Then I’ll go flesh out the characters as I put meat on the plot bones, and I’ll often find a case where a character is trending in a direction that no longer fits the plot framework. If I like the character, I’ll work out a different route to the ending that allows me to make it work but also feels right for that character and ensures believable change for them along the way. If I feel the character could be made more interesting, I’ll change aspects of him or her to fit the existing plot. Often it’s a balance of the two.
Do you work exclusively on one book at a time or do you have multiple projects on the go?
Typically I’ll be working on multiple projects at once. More recently though I’ve only had time to concentrate on one thing at a time. Still, editing an anthology tends to involve bursts of activity and then waiting, so in the meantime I’ll be working on a short story or plotting another novel that I’ll never actually write.
Do you have any rituals that you go through when you write, or when you finish a manuscript?
No, none. I’m not superstitious or religious at all, so there’s nothing I have to do before sitting down to write or else I won’t be able to type a word. Afterwards I might enjoy a glass of wine and decompress with a movie, but I wouldn’t call it a ritual.
And how do you keep yourself motivated as a writer?
By the hope that one day i’ll be able to give up the day job and write full time. To do what I love and get paid for it, that would be a dream come true. To have enough people read and enjoy my stories so that I can keep writing them.
I first came across your writing with L is for Lygophobia in Dean M Drinkel’s Phobophobia, looking around your website, you seem to have your tongue firmly in your cheek, yet this story deals with a very dark and serious subject. What inspired you to take such a dark route?
The tongue-in-cheek thing is how I cope with self-promotion. I have that English thing where I find it very hard to sell myself. I’d rather sit in the corner and quietly write than go tell people they should buy my book. So by making the site light hearted and poking fun at myself, I’m trying to balance out all the self-aggrandizing.
When I’m writing fiction though, I find comedy the hardest thing to do. I’m much more comfortable delving into dark subject matter, which is odd because it’s the opposite of what I’m like.
Were you ever concerned that despite what he had done, you may have made Frank a bit too sympathetic?
Yes, very much so. I didn’t want to trivialize what he did, and I didn’t want the reader to think he was forgiven. Does he get what he deserves? Maybe, maybe not. But I wanted the reader to ask themselves, has this man suffered enough for his crimes, especially when he acknowledges them? So I tried hard to make him more human than monster, with this huge shadow of regret, without turning his crime into a “youthful indiscretion”.
So far, all your published work has been in the short story form, can we expect a novel from you anytime soon?
Oh I hope so. It’s all a question of finding the time. But I have several novels plotted out, just waiting for me to be brave enough to get started and commit to finishing.
Out of all of your published short stories, which one are you the most proud of?
In terms of how proud I am of what it accomplished, I’d say my Machine of Death 2 story, which beat out 2,000 other submissions for a coveted slot. That was a huge thrill.
But in terms of the story I’m most proud of, I’d go with Yestermorrow, my story in Solaris Rising. It was a hugely complex piece to plan out and write, with every character living each day in a different order to everyone else, it became a monster to put together. But the end result has had terrific reviews and so I’m guessing it works! Pretty proud of making it into that anthology alongside those other writers too…
As well as writing short stories, you have also edited one of the Dr Who Short Trips anthologies. I take it you are a fan of the Dr.
A huge fan. It’s been my favourite thing for as long as I can remember. There’s really nothing else like it in terms of flexibility of the format.
If you had the power to bring any incarnation of the Dr and any companion together, who would you go for?
Probably the fifth Doctor with Donna. I think they’d drive each other nuts, but in a good way.
How did you get involved with the anthology?
Short Trips? Well I’d been trying to convince the powers that be to let me edit a Doctor Who anthology all the way back to the Virgin Decalog years. When I came to Canada I got involved with the Doctor Who Information Network (http://www.dwin.org) and I started coediting their fiction zine, Myth Makers. Sure it was fan fiction but we treated it like a pro venture. Meanwhile I started getting commissions to write stories for the Big Finish Short Trips range, including one edited by the range editor. I pitched him some ideas for anthologies and sent him copies of Myth Makers as an audition piece. He must have liked what he saw because he commissioned me to do Transmissions (originally called Messages).
Do you have a favourite story from it?
Officially it’s Richard Wright’s story, Lonely, which I chose to represent Transmissions in the very last Short Trips collection, which was a best of all the previous volumes in the series. I chose it for two reasons. First it’s a great story, and secondly I knew it would stand out from all the others in that anthology because of its unique format.
Unofficially there’s a whole bunch of them 🙂 If I absolutely had to pick one, it would likely be Kelly Hale’s Nettles, which featured the Doctor trying to help but ultimately making things worse and being oblivious to the fact. I adore Kelly’s writing. There’s levels to it that make it so compelling. Her style is not for everyone – and some complained this story was too downbeat for Doctor Who. I wouldn’t hesitate to commission it again if I had to start over.
Let’s talk about you new anthology, World’s Collider? What was the inspiration for this anthology?
I read an article back before the LHC was switched on that explained why it was unlikely to cause the end of the world. It ended with the assurance that there would be no dragons released into our world as a result of the experiments. So I started thinking, if not dragons then what? And that’s where the idea came from, for an anthology of stories where each tale dealt with something different coming through the rift and terrorising humanity. It occurred to me that if every story had to set up the LHC accident and start from scratch each time, the result was going to be rather repetitive.
And that’s where the shared world idea came from. What if each story built on the ones that came before to create a common narrative?
Are you afraid of modern science?
No, but I’m afraid of what’s being done with amazing scientific discoveries by the big corporations who seem only interested in profit. While everyone else is worried about terrorist attacks from external threats, I worry about what companies like Monsanto are doing to our food supply. The chemicals and toxins in our food and in plastics, etc, all around us are killing us, and it’s only going to get worse. I sound like a raving nut job but it doesn’t take long to find some very scary information from credible sources. Just Google BL toxins and BPAs and have fun trying to sleep tonight. This stuff is way scarier than anything I could come up with in a horror novel because it’s real and nobody is stopping it.
Ok I’ll get off my soapbox now.
For an anthology it’s rather unusual in that there is a common narrative flowing through the stories. Does this mean that the anthology reads as a novel, is there introduction, a middle and a climax to it?
Yes to all those questions. It’s very much a novel written by multiple authors and there are threads, characters and plotlines that run the entire length of the book. In the early stages, I didn’t really expect to come out with a cohesive novel with a beginning, middle and end, but that’s certainly what we’ve ended up with. I always wanted to have recurring characters and some kind of plot resolution at the end, but the end result has greatly exceeded my hopes and expectations.
I should add that I didn’t just come up with a plot for a novel and then assign chapters to different writers. The process worked the other way around. Dozens of writers pitched their ideas and I selected the best ones, including many that had elements I could use in the other stories to build a common narrative.
Writers had to be flexible in terms of adding in common characters or adapting their ideas to fit with the ongoing storyline. But I think we’ve strived to maintain the original core of each story as it was originally envisaged so that they all read like short stories in themselves.
Did having a common narrative make it harder to put together?
Much much harder. A lot of work goes into any anthology even if the stories are connected only by a common genre. But when you’re trying to make them all fit together into one storyline, it can quickly become a nightmare.
And how much free range did you give each of the authors with their stories?
It varied. A few stories add colour to this world and don’t contribute that much to the ongoing storyline, so those writers had the most freedom. Others were “seed” stories, meaning that some aspect of them I wanted to incorporate into the narrative, so those folks weren’t asked to change that much. Others still had good ideas that I adapted to fit with the others, so those writers had to take on a fair number of changes. And then there were special commissions, who took a specific brief from me and spun it into a story. Those last ones doubtless had the least free reign and the toughest job, especially Steven Savile who I think was ready to kill me during the writing of the final story when I had to change a couple of elements around that weren’t working. Full credit to Steven, who broke his arm mid-story and had to enlist help from the awesome Steve Lockley. The story is fantastic, so I think it was worth it in the end. Steven may disagree…
How did you go about selecting the authors for the book? Was it invitational or did you go down the open submissions route?
I had an open call for story outlines. It was important to have a pool of ideas to choose from so I could pick the best ideas that also seemed to fit well together. I asked for outlines because I didn’t want people spending a lot of their time writing a full story only to have me ask them to change half of it. Plus with an anthology as specific as this, anyone I rejected might have had a hard time placing the story elsewhere.
And how did you go about selecting the running order?
That was an evolving process. As the overall storyline took shape, I had a feel for the order of stories. Some were obviously set at a certain point after or during the initial disaster while a few I had to ask the writer to change the timeframe before they wrote their story.
You have managed to get some big names involved in it, folk like Steven Savile, Simon Kurt Unsworth, Jonathan Green, and Richard Wright, as well as a host of new names, was it important for you to go with this mix?
Yes absolutely. It’s not a calculated thing, first and foremost it’s about the stories and everyone had to pitch an idea (with the exception of Steven Savile and Dave Hutchinson who I approached). I turned down some big names in favour of unknowns in a couple of cases simply because I liked one idea more than another, or I saw more potential crossovers with other stories I was considering. In the end though, I’m delighted with the mix of established writers and newer talent. It’s always good to have those big names to draw in an audience, but it’s equally important for an anthology to feature new voices and hopefully launch a few careers. I know that many of my fresh faces are already finding success elsewhere too, and anything I can do to help that process I will happily do. And for the reader it’s cool too, to discover a writer you’ve never heard of before but will be looking out for in future.
Can you tell us about any of the stories in the anthology, or would that be giving too much away?
Well that’s tough. Let’s go with something general. Some of the stories are set around the rift edge, some are set in the UK. We’ve got one in North Africa, others in the US and Canada. The stories cover a ten year period from before the LHC disaster and onwards. The book has a hero and a villain, and that’s really all I can say.
What do you enjoy the most, writing, or editing?
I am first and foremost a writer and when the words are flowing and everything’s going great it’s a fantastic experience. When you’re trying to get started on a new project it’s absolute agony! But I’m a weird kind of writer in that I quite like plotting out stories and I like editing them. I like editing more if it’s not my own stuff I’m editing, but I’m not too bad at polishing something that’s a bit rough around the edges, or refocusing a story that would be even more amazing if it did this rather than that… I love working with other writers too, but if I’m forced to answer the question then the answer is writing.
What special talents do you need to become a good editor?
That’s tough to answer as I don’t think of myself having special anything. I do think you have to be able to have the kind of mind that is both organised and creative at the same time. It’s vital that you keep track of each story carefully or you’ll end up sending a writer the same comments twice or, worse, contradictory information, which drives them nuts. You need to have the kind of mind that is pedantic and can’t resist the urge to correct a typo whenever you see one, whether it’s in a book, a newspaper or on the Internet (this way madness lies).
You need to be a good communicator and manage your writers, while making them feel valued and part of a team. Diplomacy and tact is vital when talking to a writer about things that aren’t working. And most importantly you need to have an eye for what makes a good yarn, and how a story can be improved without assuming you could have done a better job of writing it yourself. In other words, help a writer achieve their vision of a story without imposing your own vision upon them.
That’s what a good editor needs I think. I don’t know if I have any of those skills but the best editors I’ve worked with demonstrate them in spades.
Has editing this and Short Trips, given you more of an insight into your own writing?
Not so much the writing, but it’s given me a better appreciation of the role of a good editor and how important it is. A lot of self-published titles skip the editor stage, as well as proofreading and copy editing in many cases, and they suffer greatly as a result.
The book is published by Nightscape Press, who are a brand new publishing house, what was it about Nightscape Press, that made you decide to go with them?
When I decided not to proceed with the original publisher (before any contracts were signed I should add) I actually started talking with a well respected small press who were very receptive to the idea of taking on the anthology. Meanwhile, the newly formed Nightscape approached me. I’d seen how Bob and Mark conducted themselves with Horror For Good and I was impressed with them. Mark I already knew from writing for his Bigfoot Tales.
In the end what won me over was their enthusiasm, their ideas and their respect for writers. It also helps that they totally get what makes World’s Collider something unique – they saw its potential and offered me a good home for the anthology and a better deal for the writers than with the original publisher. So far, no regrets!
In what formats is the book going to be published, and do you have a date for its release?
The book is coming out on July 10th and will be available in trade paperback and Kindle ebook at least. Hopefully in all other formats at some point too. Words can’t express the joy I will feel when I hold a printed copy in my hands. I may cry a little.
As well as this book, you also have a story in their Horror for Good anthology. Can you tell us about your story?
It’s a time travel story with a horror twist, told in the form of a journal. More than that I can’t say.
Who else is in the anthology?
It’s an amazing lineup and I’m thrilled and humbled to be a part of it. For me it’s like a sampler of some of the very best writers in the horror genre today, and once World’s Collider is put to bed I’m going to devour every story in this book, including the stories by Laird Barron, Joe R. Lansdale, Jeff Strand, Joe McKinney, Ramsey Campbell, Jack Ketchum, and F. Paul Wilson.
Thanks for popping over for a chat Richard, I’m really looking forward to reading World’s Collider, it sounds like a fun read. Do you have any final words for the readers?
Well firstly, thanks for having me, and secondly, if any if your readers can recommend a get rich quick scheme that actually works so I can quit the dayjob and write full time, I’d love to hear from them. Alternatively, anyone who has perfected cloning technology is also encouraged to get in touch.