|A Conversation With Rick Klaw|
|An interview with Jayme Lynn Blaschke|
| November 2003 |
Geek Confidential is your new book out from Monkeybrain. That's certainly an unusual title -- what's the significance?
To be a geek is to be an expert at something, to be good at something better than the normal person. Here I am revealing behind-the-scenes stuff of bookselling, the publishing world, other little weird, geek things. There's science fiction, mysteries, even westerns in there. It was also a play upon the pulp titles of the 50s -- P.I. Confidential, that kind of thing. And that's where the cover came from too, to go with that.
So I said, "You know, I've got this book, a collection of essays, and it's all finished."
He said, "Well, send it to me."
I did, and a month later we had contracts and the whole thing figured out.
I had met Rodger Turner -- Rodger being the editor of SFSite -- in Corpus Christi, at the World Fantasy Convention. At the time, I was writing a column for Book People, a bookstore I used to work for. I guess six months later, Charles de Lint was in town doing a book signing, and he mentioned Rodger told him to say hello. I said, "Wow! I didn't know Rodger remembered me."
It was funny, because I'd just been thinking about pitching the idea of doing a column for someone. I emailed Rodger at SFSite, and said, "Rodger, I'd like to do some work for you."
He said, "Well, this is how we do reviews..."
I said, "I really don't like doing reviews." And I don't. I much prefer opinion pieces as opposed to reviews. I mean, look at my book -- a small percentage of it is reviews as opposed to essays.
Rodger said, "Well, actually, I've been wanting somebody who works in a bookstore to write a column about the inner workings of a bookstore." And that's how it came about.
For about two years I stayed true to form. You know, behind the scenes. But after that I've just kind of gone wherever I want. Rodger informed me that my column was one of the most popular things on the site. That's when we decided I could probably do other things... to branch it out.
My mother -- we would sit down to dinner and we always talked about politics. Very early on I was a baseball fan, and so was my mother, so we would debate baseball topics. When I signed my mother's copy of Geek Confidential I said something along the lines of, "All those years of hearing my opinions for free, and all you got out of it was a lousy free book of my opinions."
As I got older, it just blossomed. But it definitely started with my mother encouraging me to speak my mind.
I'll probably write a baseball something or another, perhaps a baseball history, because I love it too much not to. I'd like to write a pop-culture history of gorillas.
When I sit down to write my columns, I think about it, and just start composing. I discuss it with my wife, Brandy, what I'm going to write about, but I don't plan out the next three months. I just don't think that way.
Joe and I had this idea for a book. We wanted to do a book, a graphic novel anthology, with top-name horror, fantasy, and science fiction writers. We had people like Robert Bloch, Poppy Z. Brite, Roger Zelazny, Howard Waldrop, Nancy Collins... it just goes on. But nobody would take us seriously. At the time we were pitching it, comics were really hot. When we first started, it was in the early 90s and nobody would listen. They said it couldn't be done.
I knew this guy, Ben Ostrander. I'd been selling books to Ben for years in bookstores, and we had become friends. I knew Ben had some money and was looking for a career change, so I pitched the idea to him of doing Weird Business. He thought it was a great idea and formed Mojo Press. I actually ended up editing the first four Mojo Press books, which were Creature Features, Weird Business, The Tell-Tale Heart and the 30th anniversary edition of Behold the Man before I became an official part of Mojo. It was at that point that I became an employee of Mojo, on the payroll and everything. But technically, I guess I'm a co-founder because I was there at the beginning. There wasn't much I wasn't involved in.
When we did Weird Business, there weren't any graphic novels in bookstores. I don't know if it's a direct result of Weird Business or not, but I think it opened people's eyes. That you could do this. It was one of the first graphic novels marketed with bookstores in mind -- or produced with bookstores in mind. There was not an intent to put this in comic book shops. The intent was to sell it in bookstores. Comic books shops were a secondary market.
Behold the Man is another significant book. If for nothing else, it introduced John Picacio to the world. John would go on to become a fairly well-known cover artist -- who also did the cover to Geek Confidential. Behold the Man was John's first opportunity to do book and cover design.
Behold the Man is one of the seminal, very important, science fiction stories. The Mojo edition was the first time that the book was ever treated with the respect it really deserved. Let's be honest: All the versions of Behold the Man before that one were butt ugly. Okay? They're ugly books! Unlike his predecessors, John nailed it. He produced a magnificent cover without any Christian symbolism on it, and he still captured the feeling of the book. We got Jonathan Carroll to write a wonderful introduction to it, we reprinted the novella -- the original novella as opposed to the novel -- and Moorcock wrote a fantastic afterword, talking about what happened with the death threats, being banned, the failed movie and all kinds of stuff.
When we were preparing Behold the Man, the proofreader corrected a Bible verse, edited some quotes from the Bible.
Michael looks at it and goes, "She corrected these Bible verses?"
"Yeah, Mike. They're wrong."
Michael looked it up, and it had been wrong in every edition. Every edition of Behold the Man before that had the wrong Bible verses, so we got to put "With the author's corrected text" on the book because nobody'd ever noticed! [laughing]
Dead Heat by Del Stone won the International Horror Guild award for best first novel. It had one of my favorite quotes ever about a book -- Ed Bryant said it was, "Possibly the greatest zombie biker novel ever!" Wow!
It's hard to narrow down, because they all have personal meaning. I don't look at any of the Mojo books and go, "God, that was awful!" There was The Blueberry Saga, working with Moebius. There was all this kind of stuff. I'm real proud of my work with Mojo.
The packaging for Michael Moorcock's Tales from the Texas Woods -- not that it's bad, but Ben and I, for some reason, thought it'd be really clever to put the Elric on the back cover and the Masked Buckaroo on the front. It's Elric vs. the Masked Buckaroo. It's an Elric western, the lead story in the book, which is a collection of Moorcock short stories. For some stupid reason we thought we should put the Masked Buckaroo on the cover and Elric on the back. I don't know what the hell we were thinking. So that wasn't a real bright move.
Overall, I think that Mojo was a little bit ahead of its time. We were a little aggressive. We probably should've published a little bit slower and gotten into prose much faster. Should've seen that comics weren't working the way we thought, that we were way ahead of the curve on the graphic novels.
I moved to Austin in 1987 and I started working at Bookstop, which was a small bookstore chain. He was a regular customer in the store, and this was about the time Deserted Cities of the Heart came out. Lew and I would talk. We became friends and as a matter of fact, he taught me how to write a comic book script.
He taught me how, and then I wrote a Twilight Zone-type script, like most writers do early in their careers. I showed it to him, and Lew said, "This is great!" So I promptly didn't write anything for the next six months. I was 19 or 20 at the time. I was like, "Oh my god! This guy's great, and he likes my stuff?" Typical.
I sat around and waited. The story's done. No big deal. I call every once in a while and we touch base. I send in a couple of proposals but nothing ever happens. We're now getting into October. Comics are solicited three months ahead of time, and I open up the catalogue. And there it is: Twilight Zone, Christmas issue, and my story's the cover story. I don't have a contract -- they don't have my script! It's a 15-page story, and they don't have my script, nothing!
So I call my editor, and I said, "What's up?"
She said, "Oh, yeah. We need your home address so we can FedEx the contracts to you. Oh, and it's for $30 a page."
Excuse me? They'd told me it was going to be $50 when I sold it to them, but I was okay with that. "Wait a minute. $30 a page? But you told me it was going to be $50. As a matter of fact, the first time you told me it was going to be $100!"
"Well, yeah, I know I told you it was $50, but we've re-evaluated the finances and we don't know if we can afford $50 a page."
"I don't think I can do it for $30 a page."
"Well, why not?"
"Because you told me it was going to be $50."
The editor's hemming and hawing. "Well, I need to talk to the publisher." I hang up the phone, and she calls me back a couple hours later, "He won't budge."
"Well, I guess you're not having my story." And I'm thinking, They have it solicited!
Less than an hour later I get a call from Tony Caputo of Now Comics -- publishers of The Twilight Zone. "You know what? We're going to publish this story, and you're going to take the $30 a page! Or you're not going to get your story published!"
"Well, I guess I'm not going to get the story published, am I?" And it never came out. The Christmas issue was never published. And that's what happened to my Twilight Zone story.
I learned early on that you should stick up for your guns. The sad part is that a good friend of mine, Mark London Williams -- who I refer to in the book, the writer of Danger Boy -- his first published prose story was going to be in the same issue of The Twilight Zone with me. He did get paid, though, and they paid him months before. Mark didn't feel too bad, but he did wonder, "Man, what'd you do?" [laughing]
He gave me advice on editing. Always tell people the bad things first and finish with the good, so that everyone feels good when it's finished. Don't sugar-coat things. It doesn't help. That sort of thing. He was also in my first anthology, which had the title Omnibus: Modern Perversity. Don't ask me, I don't know what the hell I was thinking. It's an awful title. That was my first anthology, with Blackbird, and he was in it. Through him, I sorta met Joe Lansdale.
"Why didn't you ever tell me about him? This book is great!" I was going to the Dallas Fantasy Fair, and Joe was going to be there. Shiner told me, "Tell Joe that you're a friend of mine, and that he should talk to you."
I was at the Dallas Fantasy Fair -- it was one of my first shows as a professional, and they had these professional suites where all the pros could go and hang out, drink some beer -- and I go up to Joe. "Mr. Lansdale, Lewis Shiner told me to tell you 'Hi,' that I'm a friend of his and you need to talk to me."
First he corrected me, and said, "It's Joe," because he hates being called Mr. Lansdale. From there we started talking, and we became friends.
While at an Aggiecon, I asked Joe Lansdale if he'd like to do a story for my anthology, Creature Features. It was really ballsy of me, because I had no money. It was a big shock when he went, "Yeah sure. What do you want?"
He did an original story for Creature Features, and all the other kids are going, "Gosh! I'll get an original Joe Lansdale if I just ask?" I think it may have been his last one! [laughing] I doubt he's done a free story since then. I don't know what overtook him or whatever, but he did it.
Over the course of that story, Joe and I started talking over the phone, and before you know it, we were talking like once a week on the phone. I'd get the phone bill, and my wife's yelling at me, "Would you stop talking to Joe so much?" Because we'll talk for hours about bullshit! We talk about everything.
He and I started talking about Captain Marvel. I discovered something which I think most people realize when they're friends with professional writers: they like to talk about other things. They don't want to talk about their writing all the time -- everybody likes to talk about their writing occasionally. They want to talk about politics, they want to talk about what they're reading, they want to talk about the movies. They want to talk about whatever.
Shiner, Moorcock and Lansdale had a profound influence on my writing and editing careers. I've been told before that my non-fiction is a lot like Lansdale in some ways with the colloquialisms and the speedy way which it reads. I learned a lot about editing from Moorcock, and writing, too. Joe and Mike have probably taught me more about how to deal with professionals and how to deal with companies. What you can be expected to put up with. You know, to this day I still call them when I do something, "Did I do that okay?" Because they're both models to follow. They're both very successful. They've both made their own way by being who they are.
It was a very brief period. I mean, Mojo was only around for five years. We did 18 Mojo books in five years. That's an incredible pace for a small press.
I've edited 17 books, four or five anthologies and then Geek Confidential -- I've always had control with the covers. It was like, "Okay, this is the way I want the cover to be, and this is it. There isn't another choice." I'd talk to the artist, but it was going to be pretty close to what I wanted. I was the man in charge. On Geek Confidential, I was lucky because John Picacio did it. John and I have worked together many times before and we're good friends. When I emailed John some suggestions, he emailed me back. "Rick, can you go through some of these pulp art books" -- because he knew we both had the same books -- "list the page numbers with covers you like." Great! I went through them and with the list I had another suggestion. "Of course, I'd like to have a gorilla on the cover."
John writes back, "Well, duh!" [laughing] So, I didn't have to explain that!
John gave me several design sketches, but I would've been a winner with any of them. That's one of the advantages of the small press, because as a writer and an editor, you have much more control over the final product. Nobody's sitting there telling you can't do this or that. At Mojo, we didn't have a marketing team. No small press has a marketing team. Do you think Golden Gryphon has a marketing team? They're probably doing what we did at Mojo Press -- they lick their finger and stick it out in the wind! "Huh! Yeah, that'll work!" You go out and you do what you think is best.
When Ben and I started Mojo Press, we were real neophytes. We did not know what we were doing. We both learned a lot. A lot of it comes out in my columns. I've talked about publishing and good cover design. I think I talk about in there with the story about White Wolf -- aw, hell, read the book! I had a little run in with the art director of White Wolf at a science fiction convention. It's in the book!
Jayme Lynn Blaschke graduated from Texas A&M University with a degree in journalism. He writes science fiction and fantasy as well as related non-fiction, and serves as fiction editor for RevolutionSF.com. A collected volume of his speculative fiction interviews, Cosmosis, is due out from the University of Nebraska Press in 2004. His website can be found at http://www.exoticdeer.org/jayme.html
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