Hail the New Madness
Simon Strantzas is the author of two
collections of nightmares and weirdness, Beneath the Surface
and Cold to the Touch,
and is currently working on a third. His work has been selected
multiple times for The
Mammoth Book of Best New Horror (ed. Stephen Jones). In
2009, his work was nominated for the British Fantasy Award.
Tartarus Press, 2009
story from the collection shortlisted for 2009 British Fantasy Award.
How long did it take you to write all the stories in your collection?
Simon Strantzas: The book is a culmination of over six years of writing. It is a sister volume in many ways to my previous book, Beneath the Surface,
as both were written over the same period. Whereas the previous
encompassed the more ontological side of my fiction, this one focuses
on the more psychological. I imagine, though, the two overlaps. But
that doesn't speak much to the length of time it took to write the
individual stories in the collection. That time varied considerably.
Some took no time at all from concept to execution, others took months,
and there is no correlation between the length of tale and length of
TSR: Did you
have a collection in mind when you were writing them?
my work was never at the forefront of my mind. Rather, my goal was to
produce the most affecting fiction I was capable of writing and letting
those works out into the world in any fashion I could. Indeed, at times
I wondered if a collection would prove to be too concentrated -- too
much of my weltanschauung in one spot -- for many to enjoy, and perhaps
it might be best to leave the pieces scattered in the various journals
and books they called home. Thankfully, I put that thought aside and
the decision has proven to be the right one, I think. All that said, it
would be a lie to pretend I didn't dream one day of seeing my dreadful
darlings collected beneath a cover bearing my name.
TSR: How did
you choose which stories to include and in what order?
stories in this book represent the best and most varied of my work.
They also, I think, owe more to the psychological stream of
supernatural fiction. Frankly, I see such a divide in my early work
that it was somewhat easy to split the sister books. Then, all that
needed to be done was arrange the tales I'd selected. That is as much
of an art as writing, I sometimes think. First the book must start
strong, then end strong, and somewhere in the middle tent-pole the
volume. Between those landmarks, one need only pay attention to what
came before and what follows, and, taking care to keep similar themes
or settings or what have you apart, the order for the most part finds
itself. Much as one might do when trapped in a particularly
does the word "story"
mean to you?
for me are more than pieces of entertainment. Though my opinion on the
division between "art" and "entertainment" in fiction has mellowed
somewhat as I spend longer in the field and meet more authors, I must
admit that I still find myself drawn more to strange fiction that seeks
to illuminate than to entertain. I've read a few "how-to" books about
writing, and often they repeat the same mantra: "Write your characters,
let them find their plot, and the theme will reveal itself." Perhaps
this method works for some, but for me, it's backwards. The beauty of
the weird tale is that it allows for metaphor to dominate the narrative
of a tale in a very real way, and this allows one to talk with greater
clarity about issues that other fiction may not be able to tackle --
or, at the very least, tackle as completely.
have a "reader" in mind when you write stories?
I endeavour to write the sorts of stories I'd most enjoy reading.
Beyond that, I write about those concepts I think might be most
interesting to explore while writing. What the reader might want does
not enter the equation at all. I trust readers will come to me on their
own if I treat the work seriously and put thought and energy into
crafting something worth the time to read. So far, I believe this
method is working.
TSR: Is there
anything you'd like to ask someone who has read your collection,
anything at all?
Sometimes I wonder if I'm perhaps a bit to obscure with my work, and at
other times wonder if I'm not obscure enough. But I try to cast those
ideas from my mind and instead concentrate on the job at hand. I don't
want to end up like "Little Chandler", always dreaming of writing but
never stepping up to the plate to do so. Really, the only thing I want
to know from a reader is whether he or she enjoyed the book and why.
TSR: How does it feel knowing that people are buying your book?
I must admit: I enjoy the sensation. Readers whom I've never met or
spoken with before are the most exciting to hear from, especially when
they provide affirmation that the work has merit. Friends and family
cannot be trusted to be as bold or as candid. I wonder sometimes if
those best-selling authors become jaded to the feeling, but for me,
merely seeing my book in the hands of another brings me pleasure. I
like imagining their pure souls are about to be fouled.
TSR: What are
you working on now?
SS: Currently, I am in the midst of writing a third short collection of tales, much in a similar vein as Cold to the Touch.
I hope to have that done by year's end, at which point my twice-delayed
novel will be at the forefront of my attention. I've never attempted
fiction at that length before, so it should prove an interesting -- or
perhaps frightening -- experiment.
TSR: What are
the three most recent short story collections you've read?
start many collections only to put them aside so I might later dip into
them occasionally, so it feels as though this question won't elicit a
fair response. Thus, instead I will mention the last three I've
finished reading: Joel Lane's The Terrible Changes,
Reggie Oliver's Madder Mysteries
and John Llewellyn Probert's Coffin Nails.
All, I might add, worth the time devoted. I firmly believe we are in a
"weird fiction" renaissance, and the quality of these works only
further proves my point. I only hope my book lives up to their