Wednesday, October 24, 2012

New in the MADHOUSE: John Edward Lawson

INTERVIEW: John Edward Lawson

• When did you start writing? Why did you pick the genre you write it?

I've always written stories to amuse myself and my friends, and created games, and when I was older I was the dungeon master / storyteller in role playing. On top of that I was lucky enough to be accepted for an accelerated program in intermediate and high school which focused on media and literature. Eventually, at age 25, I threw myself into writing full time. Initially this was in the field of screenwriting, then articles, but over those first couple years fiction and poetry eventually crept in. I've always felt that in the pain of our existence we find truth, so I gravitate to horror, which in turn lends itself to poetry and short fiction.

• Where do you get your ideas from? Do you journal at all?

I used to journal in the beginning, but there are too many ideas and not enough time--I'm better off just going straight to the actual composition if I'm going to be writing at all. I tend to draw motivation from things I dislike, so living in this world I've got no end to concepts. Furthermore, you learn the more you do this the more easily ideas come, the more rapidly things string together in a complete story thread. I usually cannot write fast enough to keep up with the flow of ideas, and when I'm not in a position to write I've grown accustomed to just letting ideas go.

• What's a normal (writing) day like for you?

My words have to fit around family life. Typically I'll get up around three or four in the morning, bang out 1k-3k words depending on the project, then handle correspondence, research, publicity, and editing between errands, managing my son, and cleaning, fixing diner, etc. I also read daily in order to provide blurbs, judge contests, provide critiques for author friends, or evaluate submissions to Raw Dog Screaming Press. I might get to read a published book as leisure reading once every couple months or so.

• Favorite author or book? Who are you currently reading?

Chuck Palahniuk might be my favorite author, still. For my favorite book I'd go with Sylvia Plath's The Collected Poems. I'm preparing to read Pins by Jessica McHugh, and am looking forward to reading Mary Robinette Kowal's trilogy published through Tor. Had to restrain myself because I want to wait until the third is published, or at least close to published, because knowing her writing I will be compelled to read straight to the end without stopping.

• Do you prefer writing poetry or prose? Why one over the other?

My favorite form is the screenplay, but there's no point in it. As for poetry or prose...I like the immediacy of poetry, in terms of completion, and also enjoy being able to play with language as I do not possess a literal mind. On the other hand, you're pretty limited in exploring concepts. I enjoy the prose poem best of all because of that.

• Do you write in silence or with noise (tv, movies, music)?

Music, always. For longer works like novels, screenplays, and novellas I'll have a set list for establishing the mood, the feel for characters and setting. I use this for training myself to slip back into the mindset this way, instead of sitting back down to a work and feeling disjointed, having to rebuild that connection all over again. Usually for short stories and poems there's a particular artist or genre I'll stick with. Strangely when I'm doing Lovecraftian stuff it works best to use dark drum and bass DJs.

• Do you have any weird habits when it comes to writing? Do you type or write longhand?

When I first started writing I 1) had to be hot, and 2) had to be nude. Probably the first time I've said that publicly. I'm fortunate enough to have been doing this 13 years and have trained myself--long ago!--to, at the very least, write with my clothes on. In the early days I was in a reverse situation from my current one, which required composition late at night before going to sleep, without access to a computer. The next day I'd go in to my recording studio and type in my handwritten pages between sessions. Sometimes I'd be doing 15 pages by hand per night. It's more efficient to work on a computer, though, especially considering the typing classes I took in high school.

• Would you consider yourself a Plotter or a Pancer? Why does one work and the other doesn't?

Plotter, now, although I'm not one by nature. I love following the characters as would a reader, and being surprised by what happens next, which should of course be an organic, logical evolution as things build. However...that approach sucks when you're trying to meet the word counts for anthologies and magazines. You need to plot that bad boy out if it needs to happen within a limited amount of space. For longer works, well, if you're doing even experimental novels you have a rough idea of what's happening because you've got characters and something you intend to happen to them. So you know a certain set of things will happen, maybe not when or how, but you've technically got a rough outline. And I've done plenty of that, taking the artsy-fartsy route. Now I'm doing much more commercial novels and there is a very rigid format regarding plot points and pacing, a process I always detested previously, but it's like learning a new poetry form to play with. Turns out I enjoy constructing novels on this grid, which opens up unlimited vistas for emotional devastation. Even just saying those words brings such a huge smile to my face!

• What do you think is the hardest aspect of the craft?

Time is my enemy. There's never enough time. Only a tenth of my concepts will ever be completed. Perhaps that's for the best, though. If it's not good enough to demand my attention with the limited time I've got maybe I shouldn't expect readers to expend their own limited time reading it. I don't know. Here's something real, though: while your words may be immortal you are not. Work. Work harder, and in doing so learn to work faster. Everyone and everything you know endeavors to hinder this process. You can't pay attention to the failures and the rejections and the haters, the dismissive friends and family or the critical authors and instructors and coworkers who would shut you down, turn you away from this field. You also can't pay any attention to the successes, the acceptances and award nominations and fan letters and fellow authors drooling over your work. The only thing that matters is the work itself. Getting it down and getting it out, to rely on yourself and only yourself in this fashion, that's actually the hardest part, and the easiest part because it's addictive. Yet it goes against all our training as children and young adults. We're meant to fit in and take external direction for a limited amount of time each day, but with writing you have to be internally motivated and it never ends.

• Current projects?

I'm happy to be working on a collaborative novel which serves as a sequel of sorts to "Herbert West--Reanimator." That's still in its early stages. Beyond that I'm finishing off the Sin Conductor novel, which is a sort of postmodernist erotic horror I've been building and rebuilding for a decade. After that I'm preparing for the Year of Rage Part 2. The Year of Rage is something I did to establish myself early in my career. Basically I set out to complete a poem, story, or chapter every day for a year. It was so successful--and I started racking up so many publishing credits--that I decided to increase the challenge level about halfway through. To do so I decided to not only complete a piece every day, but also submit something every day. This time around I think I'll aim for 10 poems a day. Not easy stuff either, maybe double acrostic pantoums featuring multiple rhyme schemes and the like. Right now you're likely thinking, "Yeah, 3,650 poems in a single year. That sounds legit, bro!" Anyway, the Year of Rage 2 will begin in November. Of course I've got submissions brewing for five or six anthologies, so wish me luck there! For editorial projects I'm lucky enough to co-edit the Miseducation of the Writer anthology with Chesya Burke and Maurice Broaddus. It is a collection of essays by authors of color from across the spectrum of speculative fiction, to be published by Guide Dog Books. In other nonfiction my column with Inveterate Media Junkies is about to launch, in which I'll be profiling both authors and publishers who are defining what course contemporary literature will take. I have much bigger project in the works as well, one that will require some international travel to complete, but it's all a bit too secret to divulge more info at this point.

• How do you balance being an editor and being a writer?

Being an editor certainly helps advance your craft as a writer. When you are divorced emotionally from the material it can be easier to dissect things at the line level, or in terms of plot development, character development. You become a student of what works or doesn't work in these manuscripts. It is time consuming, and does not feel nearly so rewarding as completing or publishing a work of your own. The best money I've made in this business has been in freelance editing, though, so it's a trade off. Overall I try to restrict the amount of editing I'll commit to, because doing too much limits my own creative efforts, and trying to edit when you've got that frustration bearing down on you can make it difficult to stay professional--and unfortunately in many projects any semblance of professionalism rests entirely on you, not the client. The most common pitfall of the author-editor is attempting to make the work of others conform to your own sense of aesthetics or artistic ideals. When reading manuscripts I'm always mindful of what the author's intent is, and try to help them achieve that.

• What do you think people expect from you with your writing? EX: Can they always count on a good gross out?

Hmm. Once upon a time I was the "bad boy," but since 2004 I've endeavored to work without profanity, explicit violence, or explicit sex. For the most part I've been successful. Doing so forces me to get inventive if I hope to elicit nausea, nightmares, and a general need to distance oneself from the human race. So people seem to expect unusual concepts, and not only are accepting of the fact I'll deliver something different than I have previously, but they expect it. In this way I'm incredibly lucky, as so many authors are painted into a corner creatively.

• Advice for aspiring writers?

Nobody sits around saying, "Wow, that was so UNDER the top I loved it!" Go for it. No matter how ridiculous it seems, or impossible. You know that little voice telling you to give up? It'll always be there; it's a part of your mortality. Cultivate all the other voices, your characters. Let them be vibrant and alive enough to drown out your mortality. Oh, and just because writing is a solitary field that doesn't mean you should sit in your house forever, or your coffee shop. Go to all the conferences and events you can. Get involved. Network. The best way to do this is to be an editor of some sort, as you're building your publishing career and networking simultaneously. And stop listening to advice from authors like me. Just do it, and don't stop. Keep it up long enough and you'll be one of "the people" in the scene, as it's all just a battle of attrition.

List of publications:

New Mosque City
Last Burn in Hell

Lawson vs. LaValley (with Dustin LaValley)
Discouraging at Best
Pocket Full of Loose Razorblades

The Troublesome Amputee
The Plague Factory
The Horrible
The Scars are Complimentary

Illustrated Books:
A Child’s Guide to Death (with Dustin LaValley, Darin Malfi, and Mark Sullivan)

As Editor:
Tempting Disaster
Sick: An Anthology of Illness
Of Flesh and Hunger: Tales of the Ultimate Taboo

Novelettes & Novellas:
The Non-Duality of Elanoir (in Death to the Brothers Grimm!)
The Curious Urologist (in Ice Picks: Most Chilling Tales From the Ice Plaza)
Truth in Ruins (in the Bizarro Starter Kit: Orange)
Jagged Desire (in Demonology: Grammaticus Daemonium)

Author bio:

John Edward Lawson has published nine books, seven chapbooks, and over five hundred works in anthologies, magazines, and literary journals worldwide. He is a winner of the Fiction International Emerging Writers Competition, and has been a finalist for the Stoker Award and Wonderland Award. Other nominations include the Dwarf Stars Award, the Pushcart Prize, and the Rhysling Award. As a freelance editor he has worked for Raw Dog Screaming Press, Double Dragon Publishing, and National Lampoon, has edited seven anthologies, and served as editor-in-chief for The Dream People literary journal. He lives near Washington, DC with his wife and son.

Check him out on Twitter: @bizarroguy
Check him out on Facebook


  1. Thank you kindly for doing the interview! And for the padding on the walls. I was worried you'd stick me in one of those rooms with the bare, leaky walls and broken lights...

  2. John, what an awesome resume for such a young guy!! Impressive bibliography, too.

    And, let me just say that we totally need to write a screenplay together!!

    Thanks for bringing John to us, Steph!

    :) Heidi