Thursday 4 July 2019
Interview with Richard Alan Scott by David Kempf
When did you first become interested in writing?
I have been writing since I learned to do it, at six years old. I wrote a story on our old typewriter called The Zany Zoo-lion. I even did Richard Alan Scott for the byline. That story became the film Madagascar. No, it didn't, and my Mom is the only person who ever read it. But the lion ran away from the zoo and joined the circus. I had a lot of comments on my writing down through the years, and I've talked all about them in a blog on my website. At 20, one of my stories was held for a long long time by Twilight Zone Magazine, but eventually rejected. That was Rod Serling's wife Carol running that. My blog is about how many times I was encouraged but didn't believe it, so we come to age 49 and my resolve to take the business seriously.
How did you get involved in fantasy/horror?
As a kid I was just in love with The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits. I was the baby and had three older brothers. My brothers and I all loved horror and science fiction, and read everything we could. We passed along most of the books in Paperbacks from Hell. Once when I was about seven, my Mom walked into the living room and I was sitting there looking at Playboy. My brothers were a lot older and one of them left it out by accident. I was actually reading a short story by Ian Fleming in there. I had no clue about the naked ladies, hahaha. But she went berserk.
My first book I can remember reading was a Burroughs. We couldn't get enough of that stuff.
Tell us about your first publisher.
I got a story into Ireland's premiere magazine for Horror, SciFi and Fantasy, called Albedo One. One of the editors, Frank Laidlaw, sent me a very long letter about how my submission had woken him from a numbness looking at all the regular submissions. That sent me reeling. There was a stringent set of rules they followed to accept a submission, and one of them was that it had to go through 3 editors and get the okay. My story was called "Stoker's Benefactor" and was about Bram Stoker, who worked as the manager of a theater, having the real Count Dracula coming in to donate money because of his being enchanted with one of their actresses. Well, one of the editors I had to go through was a Stoker expert, and it took me quite a while to make enough changes to get his approval. Of course it then appeared about a year later and I was stoked, stokered I guess, to get my name on the cover. That was about ten years ago. I thought writing is going to be great, and always like this. I've only had about 4 acceptances since then, ugh.
How would you classify the genre you write?
There are so many labels I can't keep up with them. My stories start in a place of complete reality and I work hard to get that right and believable. Then they go off into magical realism or fantasy while trying to stay within the boundaries I set up. I've heard that called slipstream but I am not sure if that's correct. I really have always shot for writing a Twilight Zone or Outer Limits episode as a story. I always have an ending, which I'm sure drives editors crazy, since they all seem to be in love with ambiguity. But I write so that people like me will like it, the sort of working class guy or gal, and no one I know likes that cryptic or ambiguous stuff except other writers. I'm not writing to get their approval. I want the regular schmoe to read my stories or novels and say, "Man that was good. And what a great ending."
Why do you think horror and fantasy books remain so popular?
I think with the baby boomers like me passing on this stuff, it is even more popular. My daughter is a reader and she is not opposed to some paranormal or supernatural elements sneaking in to anything she reads. The main reason it's always been around and will never go away is that we are all fascinated with the unknown part of death. That taps in to the universe and what exactly is out there, the constantly progressing idea of multi-verses, what happens when you die, our unknowns. I started this quest to get closer to the reality of death, and to my surprise, I ended up becoming an Atheist. My search for all of it led me to see that there really is none of it. But it didn't change my enjoyment for the subject. If anything it got stronger. I love shit that takes me all over the place in the human experience.
What inspires your stories?
It's that "what if" which drives, I guess you could say speculative literature. What if Bram Stoker met the real Dracula, and was forced to deal with him. What if Mercy Brown (a Rhode Island legend) was really a vampire and H.P. Lovecraft had to fight her whole family? What if a demon that thrives on tears was born out of the muck during the crucifixion and still haunts Palestine? What if Innsmouth was real and your car broke down there? What if a banshee was real and a man fell in love with her? What if a particular strain of lepers were really visitors from the future to the time of Christ? And so on. If any of your readers find these questions interesting, know that I get very very close but the editors who hold sway ultimately stop you from seeing my work. It's that simple.
What do you think the difference between American horror and British horror is?
We come to an interesting conundrum here. Three of my six sales, and I do mean sales, as in, we give you money, not "placed" at a "for the love" market, happened in the UK. I believe that the people over there are "old school." They grow up with a respect for the classics, the gothic and folklore. It's ingrained in them. They just seem to "get me" and my work more. I believe they respect the writer more, and understand the skills. They don't mind vampires and werewolves and they enjoy your spin on them, they enjoy a great old tale by the fire.
In the USA, everything is a microcosm of the Hollywood ideal. It is a huge popularity contest. It is a party and you are not one of the "cool kids" invited. This could be a national release or something even in your local region. Once you've made it into the cool kids, send whatever you want. They're thrilled to add your name to the same list everyone else has. Oh, I know Josh Malerman, I hang out with him" He's made it to Netflix, you see. Granted there are people who are old school and try to respect your effort, like Ellen Datlow and Tom Monteleone.
They are constantly showcasing new writers. In the trenches there are a lot of very nice people who are editing, but they can't resist it. They have to get those same names in there, and you're out. You can come and set up chairs but you aren't invited to the party. And now with the political correctness off the rails, many people have a say, that should have nothing to do with writing. Writing is raw and comes from inside you. You can't change every other word to suit the
I may very well go down as a name in England before anyone here will publish me. and as a reader I am more interested in the next Stephen Volk or Tim Lebbon, to be honest.
What are your favorite horror books?
Well Salem's Lot and Ghost Story had a huge effect on me, especially since I was a kid when I read them. Then the Exorcist came along and blew me out of the water as they say. We were Catholic and we were believers so nothing since has scared the shit out of me like those three. Also, I've read and seen everything horror. When everyone goes gaga over someone's book, I always feel like, were these readers just born? It's the same old same old. It always comes back to who do they want to be seen to drool over. I am in the search for a book that will please me to no end. And it's why I write, to please myself. If I had to name someone now, it would be Michael Faber and Lynda E. Rucker. They hit me on a certain level I can't get. These anthologies people put out are a dime a dozen. Do they get bought and read outside of the circle of friends? Who knows?
What are some of your favorite horror movies?
The Exorcist, Halloween, Jaws. I like things A-24 has been doing like A Ghost Story, Ex Machina. Under the Skin has been my favorite genre fair in years. I'm a Universal and Hammer kid, through and through. I like Danny Boyle and Alex Garland's Sunshine. I love The Wicker Man and Kill List. I thought The Witch was the most perfect film since The Shining.
What do you consider your greatest accomplishment as an author?
For now, it just has to be that I have not given up on my dream to appear in the top magazines and to have my novel traditionally published by one of the big publishers. I do not share table space with the cool kids at conventions yet.
Also, just finishing a novel with the size and scope I wanted for myself. That encouraged me.
Do you have any advice for new writers?
I've often said I would never, because I am just some regular schmoe who grew up in a project and right outside that project. Personally I don't subscribe to much in the way of advice, because I break it all anyway. Jack Haringa and Nick Mamatas were my initial guardian angels.
"...the idea that giving away stories (i.e. for the love and non-paying markets) to websites in exchange for exposure will actually help one's career. Those who neither write well nor publish well are...staples of ...online forums and the shadowy fringes of many writers' conventions, and their advice ...is useless." Jack Haringa, Writers Workshop of Horror, 2009 Woodland Press, ed. Michael Knost, article, The Agnotology of Horror. or Lies the Internet Told You
"What do these days off matter...If the novel sells and is well-received, taking days off is, by definition, a successful strategy for writing a novel." Nick Mamatas, Starve Better: Surviving the Endless Horror of the Writing Life, 2011 Apex Publications
I know two women here in New England, one who has at least 40 credits in her Bio, which appears on her book. I checked them. They are all non-paying but for one which proffered her $5 to $10. To me, that is a fraudulent Bio that gives the appearance of professional success, when it is precisely the opposite. Another lady of my acquaintance once boasted, "Nominated for a Pushcart Prize." She had hoped we'd forgotten that the nominating entity was a website run by her best friend, for which she had also done work.
This is fraud, and it is a reflection on your integrity, and hurts other serious, professionally paid writers.
What is your opinion of the new self-publishing trend?
In accordance with all I've stated above, RUBBISH, which gluts the market for those with serious ambitions and skills. And if your "Independent Publisher" is your best friend, well, you are not far from self-published.
What are your current projects?
A literary novel for which I may swallow my pride and seek out an independent who doesn't know me from Adam, because I consider it a side project.
And a huge trilogy about psychics and Russians and a down and out family with some inconvenient gifts.
Please in your own words, write a paragraph about yourself & your work.
I have about twenty short stories and one novel, meticulously researched and written, waiting for homes that will care for them. I had a thirty year career in the professional theater and I am a member of the Actors Equity Association.
I am 62 years old and I started writing seriously at about 49. I think I am cool, though I have a bad heart and diabetes and every allergy you can imagine. I have very little stamina. When my wife says "Let's go upstairs and make love," I have to reply, "It's either one or the other."
Nevertheless my mind is all there, lol. I think I can write up there with anyone half my age.
I described my work above and my ambitions for it. I really don't begrudge anyone for whatever they want to do with their work, it just isn't for me. So don't be upset, I'd say the same if we were talking one-on-one.
I love movies and books and music, though it's tough to find good cinema amidst the absolute dredge of remakes and sequels. There is very little original work in Hollywood. That's why I wait for Christopher Nolan and Refn and Von Trier and Lynch and the like, and some newbies like Villeneuve and Robert Eggers.
I challenge my fellow writers to aim for the public arena, with real pro editors and publishers, and top paying markets. If I die having never been discovered, I'll know I reached for the top.
Check out Richard's site at https://richardalanscott.com