Hello Dark Ones,
Today in the MADHOUSE, I'm pleased to host friend and colleague, Michael Bailey. I met Michael a couple years ago at World Horror, and recently had the pleasure of working with him on Chiral Mad 3, published through Written Backwards. Michael is a stand-up guy, a wonderful editor, and he (and his lovely wife) are even willing to put up with drunk Necon phone calls from me (thanks Gard! ha!).
For those of you who aren't familiar with Bailey, he is the multi-award-winning author of PALINDROME HANNAH, PHOENIX ROSE and PSYCHOTROPIC DRAGON (novels), SCALES AND PETALS and INKBLOTS AND BLOOD SPOTS (short story / poetry collections), and editor of PELLUCID LUNACY and the CHIRAL MAD anthologies. His books have been recognized by the International Book Awards, National Best Book Awards, Independent Publisher Book Awards, the USA News “Best Book” Awards, the London Book Festival, ForeWord Reviews’ Book of the Year, This is Horror Anthology of the Year, the Indie Book Awards, and the Eric Hoffer Award. His short fiction and poetry can be found in anthologies and magazines around the world, including the US, UK, Australia, Sweden and South Africa.
Below, we'll be chatting about Chiral Mad 3 and 4, and learning about the driving force behind his Bram Stoker award-nominated story, "Time is a Face on the Water."
Stephanie M. Wytovich
WYTOVICH: Tell us about the story “Time is a Face on the Water.” What inspired you to write it?
BAILEY: As you drive north from Napa up highway 121, you pass old towns like St. Helena, Calistoga, and eventually Nights Valley (where this is no town, and where we lived for a few years), and as you continue north the trees grow taller, the landscapes greener, the vineyards older, and the wine more expensive. It’s a heavily-geothermal and -volcanic area, with a petrified forest, active geysers, and hot springs (hence the good wine). We were fortunate enough to live in probably one of the most beautiful parts of California, and that’s where this story takes place. Every winter the creek in our backyard would rush and every fall it would trickle, and along the beds grape vines as thick as forearms and older than all of us combined reached skyward and clung to the trees: redwoods, firs, bays, a mix of oaks; and likewise great California Oaks clung to the ground, their branches like arthritic knuckles, their trunks as big as Volkswagen buses, Spanish moss hanging off their branches and to the ground like 80’s rock band hair. But what I will always remember most about this place was the canopy of grapevines above the creek, leaves turning throughout the year from green to yellow to red to brown and eventually falling (waltzing for a bit in the air) before landing in the water, where they’d be carried off in a slow death parade downstream. The creek was where I’d go to relax, to reflect, and it was always like time slowed (or perhaps even stopped). That place would put me in a trance, and that’s where I got the idea for “Time is a Face on the Water,” a story about loss, and about the unforgiving passing of time. The final call for the latest volume of Borderlands also helped. The night before submissions were to be postmarked, I told Kelly I needed to write, and she said okay, and she fell asleep leaning next to me while overnight I cranked out this 5,001-word short story (Tom Monteleone had a strict 5,000-word limit, which I of course had to break; I even typed “5,001 words” on the front page before sending it to him).
WYTOVICH: Can you talk a little bit about your writing process? What do you find is the hardest and easiest part of the craft?
BAILEY: Like the subject of the story mentioned above, time gives me the most trouble. I don’t have a lot of time to write because of my day job (the one that pays the bills), and my commute (where I do most of my reading now via audio books), and of course the anthologies and various book projects I work on here and there for both Written Backwards and Dark RegionsPress. It’s impossible to make time, because time is always there, so it’s a matter of finding and using it wherever and whenever I can, such as the all-night-write-a-thon, or on a weekend where I might find myself alone. I’ll go for months without writing, years even, and then I’ll somehow find time for my own work and will crank out 5,000 or 10,000 or 20,000 words in a matter of days, and then, like most trees in the winter, I’ll go dormant and not produce any leaves/pages for what I consider extremely long periods of time. So I guess the actual writing is the easiest part of the craft for me, and I do it in spurts. I don’t write a lot of fiction, but when I do, readers seem to like it. And I don’t usually spend a lot of time revising or rewriting my own work (I seem to do that much more now as I’m writing, ‘editing on the go’, in other words, perhaps because I spend so much time editing others’ work), so I’ll only take a second or third pass at a story before sending it off, and then I’m done with it.
WYTOVICH: As a writer, what is your preferred form to tell a story? Why?
BAILEY: I wrote my first novel, Palindrome Hannah, without ever tackling anything shorter, although both that novel and my second, Phoenix Rose, are more nonlinear meta-novels than they are traditional novels, each made up of five interconnecting novelette- or novella-length works. And my third novel, Psychotropic Dragon (still in the works) is basically a novelette wrapped around a novella wrapped around a short novel. So I guess my preferred form is long fiction. Even when I write short fiction lately, I have a difficult time keeping it under 7,500 words, and when I attempt short fiction, it usually ends up closer to the 5,000-word mark or longer. And I usually have poetry buried in the work somewhere; poetry is a great way to write something powerful using fewer words, and I find that fascinating. One compliment I’ve had with my novels is that they can be read in spurts (there’s that word again), each section/part easily read in an hour or so, which I feel is a healthy amount of time to spend reading, and having a book structured this way makes an 80,000 to 100,000-word book seem less daunting, or less prone to be set aside and left forgotten. The reader feels accomplished, perhaps, having read an entire section/part in one sitting. Too many times I’ve gotten into a book, and then have become distracted somehow (life does this to us), the book not picked up again for perhaps weeks, months. And once I find the time to crack the spine again I find myself lost in the story the opposite way a reader should be lost in a story. The world is full of distractions, so the 10,000- to 20,000-word range is perfect for healthy reading, in my opinion … as well as short novels (which, for some reason, are not considered marketable per the current industry standard, which is a bunch of crap). Bookshelves are basically trophy cases for our reading accomplishments, yet how many of our trophies are unwarranted? How many books on our shelves go unread, or unfinished?
WYTOVICH: Who are some of your influences in the genre?
BAILEY: Those who took me in under their wings in the early stages, taught me the rules of flying, and then pushed me out of the tree to see if I’d survive: Thomas F. Moneteleone, F. Paul Wilson, Douglas E. Winter; and those who encourage me to continue flapping: Jack Ketchum, Gary A. Braunbeck, Mort Castle, many others.
WYTOVICH: What is your origin story? What drew you to horror in the first place?
BAILEY: I started reading Edgar Allan Poe when I was thirteen, then moved onto Ray Bradbury, and eventually Michael Crichton. Their work sometimes crossed into horror. Those three, and probably Stephen King, were my gateway drugs into horror. Outside of horror, my drug of choice is David Mitchell; he’s responsible for my interest in writing, and most recently his own works have branched into both science fiction and horror (Cloud Atlas, The Bone Clocks, Slade House).
WYTOVICH: You’re working on the fourth installment of the Chiral Mad series now. Can you talk a little bit about what inspired you with the project in the first place and where you see it going in the future?
BAILEY: The goal was for Chiral Mad 3 to end the series; that of course was after not fulfilling a promise to never do sequels, thanks to Chiral Mad 2. I thought, Let’s go out big with this series, get this third and final volume illustrated throughout by someone like Glenn Chadbourne (who ended up creating 45 illustrations total), get some incredibly heavy hitters like Stephen King involved, and have poetry as well, and Chuck Palahniuk can do the freaking introduction, even. Let’s make this thing incredible. Let’s end this series on a high-note! And for a while, I thought that’s exactly what I did with the book. I couldn’t be more proud of how Chiral Mad 3 turned out. It’s the most beautiful book I’ve created to-date. And then the world started splitting. People started taking sides on various matters, some topics important, some not so important. Mudslingers everywhere, it seemed. The bizarro community, the science fiction community, the horror community … all these virtual “writing communities” (a term as non-important as “genre” in reality) shooting hate around like Nerf darts in some kind of social network mass-war-amongst-ourselves, when what the world really needs is cohesiveness, people working together to move forward (and all that kumbaya), a collaboration of minds. So then I thought, Crap. And then I thought, Chiral Mad 4 could be completely collaborative. If people wanted this book to happen, I felt they’d have to work together to make it happen, and since it would be a fourth volume in the series: What if the anthology had 4 short stories, 4 novelettes, 4 novellas, and 4 graphic adaptations: all collaborations? I eventually decided the editing should be collaborative as well, and invited Lucy A. Snyder as co-editor. Together we’ve made it our goal to make Chiral Mad 4 the most diversely incredible anthology imaginable. And now the submissions are piling in. All over the world, writers and artists working together, collaborations that may have never happened otherwise. If anything, we’ve called a giant “time-out” for a while so everyone can pick up their Nerf darts (whether to be put away or readied for battle is unclear at this point). Will the series end with this fourth volume? I don’t know. Maybe the series will continue to evolve over time, getting better and better. Maybe the world will continue to evolve, and do the same.
WYTOVICH: Chiral Mad 3 has also been nominated for the Bram Stoker award and this particular book featured both prose and poetry. What made you decide to include both forms? What did you like best about the project, or perhaps, what surprised you most while editing it?
BAILEY: I’m a fan of poetry, although I’m not sure if 1) I’m any good at writing it, or 2) I’m good at recognizing whether or not poetry is good. My own two collections, Scales and Petals, and Inkblots and Blood Spots, feature both fiction and poetry. Am I any good? I don’t know. I just write poetry because it sometimes wants out of me. All of my poetry is mathematically structured. Is that a thing? I’m not sure of that, either. I don’t know all the rules. Are there even rules? My goal is to create something powerful with minimal words, and I guess that’s what I look for when I read poetry for anthologies, and I guess this makes me have certain tastes. I’m not a critic, by any means, but I’ve been told by others with apparently exceptional taste that the poetry within Chiral Mad 3 is rather good, as well as the poetry included in You, Human. The science-fiction anthology Qualia Nous contained only one poem by Marge Simon, which ended up winning a Rhysling Award that year from the Science Fiction Poetry Association (SFPA), so perhaps I have good taste in poetry after all. The poetry guidelines for Chiral Mad 3 were unique. The request was for two poems from each contributor, which I eventually structured throughout the book so they’d mirror each other in the Table of Contents, each poem placed so the contents went story/poem/story/poem/story, thus making the entire book chiral in structure. What I liked best about the project was perhaps the flow this created when reading the book cover to cover, and the fact that most of the poetry I received came from fiction writers, not necessarily known for their poetry. I think the anthology turned out beautifully, but that’s just my opinion, my taste. Chiral Mad 4 will not contain poetry, and neither will my next collection, The Impossible Weight of Life (mostly long fiction), but that won’t stop me from including poetry in the future.
WYTOVICH: What’s sitting in your TBR pile these days?
BAILEY: I’ve read so many novels this last year that I’ve cleared off my TBR pile completely, but I have some catch-up to do on books that have waited on the FTBR (future TBR) pile for a while now, and have now graduated to TBR. These include Raymond Carver’s collection What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, Ransom Rigg’s Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (a book, like many others, that I had started, set aside, and hadn’t returned to yet), re-reading George Orwell’s 1984, Neil Gaiman’s collections, Fragile Things and Trigger Warnings (two other books I’ve stopped and need to re-start), John Ajvide Lindqvist’s Harbor, and J. Lincoln Fenn’s Poe (since I loved Dead Souls). The rest of my new TBR is filled with works not yet published. Gene O’Neill and I are going go see Kim Stanley Robinson for his release of New York 2140, which is a massive 624-page novel about a futuristic New York City, so I’ll be adding that to my pile as well.
WYTOVICH: Where do you think the horror genre is presently sitting at in the market? What do you think the next big trend is going to be?
BAILEY: Despite the fact that “genre” is simply a bookstore label, horror is on the rise—if we must have a label for it. I don’t consider myself a horror writer, yet some people do; I don’t consider myself on the rise (not by far), but some people do. I just write what I need to write and publish whenever and wherever I can; some things dark, some not-so-dark, some not even speculative. Maybe someday I’ll do well enough with all this book stuff to no longer need that day job and can write/edit/publish fulltime, but it’s not going to happen anytime soon (unless there’s an agent out there willing to shop me some sort of multi-book deal with a publisher … anyone?), and if such a thing ever happens, my stuff will most likely not be marketed as “horror” at all. I read over a hundred “horror” novels last year, and half-read/skimmed-through a hundred more; nearly all were from small or mid-size publishers, and only a handful from imprints of large publishers. Horror is thriving in small and mid-size press (mostly small, and marketed as horror), and a very small portion of these leak into big press (albeit not marketed as horror). Authors like Sarah Pinborough are making bestseller lists, Stephen King is still cranking out books each year (perhaps he’s still considered horror, I don’t know), even collaborating with non-relatives, people like Richard Chizmar of Cemetery Dance (a publisher that screams horror). Authors like Michael Marshall Smith and Josh Malerman are getting six-figure, multi-book deals, and rightfully so. More “horror” writers need to leak into big publishers’ hands this way, and I believe that’s the trend we’ll see. That said, and to beat a dead horse once again: these writers, and their books, will not be marketed as horror. Other than that, look for a rise in standalone novellas from small and mid-size presses, and more collaborative projects in all forms.
WYTOVICH: What can your readers look forward to on the horizon?
BAILEY: Besides the projects mentioned in this interview, readers can look forward to a few long fiction pieces of mine popping up in anthologies here and there (to be kept in secret at this time, unfortunately). For fans of dark science fiction, I’m currently co-editing an anthology with Darren Speegle called Adam’s Ladder, to be published later this year by Dark Regions Press. If I can somehow find the time, I’d like to finish my fourth novel, Seen in Distant Stars, which is a literary/soft science fiction thriller that deals with SIDS (an acronym of the title) and stars disappearing from the night sky. I think this will be an incredibly powerful and moving novel, and more mainstream than anything I’ve written before. I also hope to have some exciting Psychotropic Dragon news soon, although I can announce the meta-novel will have three illustrators for each of its three parts: Daniele Serra (novelette), Glenn Chadbourne (novella), and Ty Scheueruman (short novel). Other books I’m working on at Written Backwards include Yes Trespassing, the debut fiction collection by Erik T. Johnson, and The Far Future, book four of The Cal Wild Chronicles by Gene O’Neill (finally wrapping up that multi-book project). I’ve also hinted online about a nonfiction book simply called Book, with a completely generic cover, like generic packaging from the 80’s. And last but not least, hopefully my readers can look forward to me having an agent. Anyone? Anyone? I’m throwing out gold bars here! There’s gotta be an agent looking for gold bars reading this interview, right?
WYTOVICH: If you could give one piece of advice to writers as an editor, what would it be?
BAILEY: I’ll give four. 1) Read (and understand) guidelines before submitting your work. For example, Chiral Mad 4 is looking for collaborative works (written by more than one person) in the ranges of 5,000 words, 10,000 words, and 20,000 words, as well as graphic adaptations up to 10 pages in length. Please do not send solo-authored flash fiction pieces, complete novels, short story collections, 150,000-word space operas, 1,800-word stories written by you (but it was your wife’s idea, really, so it’s collaborative, right?), or your friend had this really cool idea and you wrote the entire thing and you’re unsure if you should put his name on there as co-author (you shouldn’t), three or four or five stories all at once (hoping we have time to read them all and will pick the best one out of the litter) all written only by you, or stories that meet the guidelines but actually don’t because the story was written by you and your fake pen-name. Yes, I’ve seen all of these things so far with Chiral Mad 4 submissions and have to weed them out; 2) Write the most beautiful words you are capable of writing; 3) Learn the art of self-editing and keep chiseling away until there’s nothing left but the good stuff; and 4) Read at a ratio of at least a hundred or more words than you write.