Interview with Author Simon Strantzas by Brian M. Sammons

April 30, 2018

Simon Strantzas is a Canadian author and editor. He has four collections of his stories available and has edited the anthologies: Shadows Edge, Aickman's Heirs (which won the Shirley Jackson Award in 2015 for Best Edited Anthology in 2015), and The Year's Best Weird Fiction, Volume 3. In addition his work has been cited as an influence for Nic Pizzolatto, who gave us the excellent HBO series (at least the first season was excellent) True Detective.

Brian M. Sammons – Now before authors began to write, they were readers, so what were some of your earliest literary loves? Who inspired you and made you want to keep on reading?

Simon Strantzas—I’ve always read, but I became a reader in my teenage years during the horror boom. As a result, the writers who meant most to me in my formative years were the big names in horror at the time—folks like Barker and Straub. I spread out from there to read some non-supernatural literary fiction like Harvey and Joyce, and dabbled in noir with Hammet and Chandler, and science fiction with Bradbury and Ellison, but my heart was always in horror. Before all that, though, my love of reading was satiated by comicbooks and adventure novels like The Executioner series. Who’s to say which, if any, were the impetus to keep me reading. I think reading itself lies beyond authors themselves and instead is an act of imagination that either sparks or it doesn’t. For me, it sparked.

BMS – What, or whom, are you reading now?

SS—There is so much good material being written currently that it seems impossible to narrow things down. Some of the great books I’ve read in the last few years have come from writers like Adam Nevill, Michael Wehunt, Jon Padgett, Lynda E. Rucker, Nadia Bulkin, Carmen Maria Machado, Kelly Link, and whole host of others. One author I’d single out is Matthew M. Bartlett, whose body of work continues to grow into something fascinating, and I think it’s quite possible one day he’ll end up being an extremely influential figure on the future horror field.

BMS – What is the best thing about being a writer?

SS—Being able to solve creative puzzles and produce something that can affect other people. Writing is like recording one’s dream on a page for someone else to re-experience—it’s thought transference of the best kind—and to hear from readers who have been changed by reading something I’ve written never fails to be surprising and humbling.

BMS – What’s the worst thing about being a writer?

SS—Accepting that, while being a raw emotional nerve makes you uniquely qualified to be a writer, it also makes you terrible at all the things you have to do that don’t involve writing. This includes being present through social media and interacting with strangers whom you always suspect have an unpleasant ulterior motive. This may explain why much of my fiction is about how other people cannot be trusted.

BMS – Any words of advice, or even warnings, you would like to give to beginning authors?

SS—Just be honest with yourself. In all aspects of the work and your life. Just be honest about what you want, and then do everything you can to make those things you want happen. I’ll also add a reminder that no one has time for writing. But if it’s important to you, you’ll make the time, somehow, whether it’s by sleeping less or mowing the lawn less or even, yes, limiting your time on social media.

BMS – If I asked you for three stories or books that would give a reader who is unfamiliar with your work the best representation of you as an author, what would those three be?

SS—I try to tackle the horror genre from different directions, so I don’t know if three pieces can represent me, but some of my favorite stories of my own include “Out of Touch”, “Burnt Black Suns”, and “Drowned Deep Inside of Me”. The first is as good example as any of how I think theme, plot, and character can be interwoven; the second showed me how I could use longer works, like a novella, to expand and communicate my vision; and the third outlines how the fantastic and metaphorical inform my fiction. But ask me tomorrow and I may give you a completely different set of stories.

BMS – I’ve most often seen you referred to as a weird fiction author, do you think that label is accurate and how do you feel about being classified as such?

SS—I don’t have a particular affinity to notion of being a weird fiction author. The term became popular long after I’d settled on classifying these sorts of stories as “horror stories”, so for me I’m a horror author. But I can understand how newer writers who didn’t grow up with the term “horror” might have less of a connection to it, and instead feel some greater affinity to calling their work weird fiction. I’ve stopped caring what kind of writer people think I am—horror, weird, dark fantasy, what have you. I’m a writer who writes like me, whatever that means.

BMS – What is your definition of weird fiction?

SS—What is any genre, really? It’s a loose set of boundaries setup to classify stories, but the weird is best described as fiction that crosses boundaries, so how can it be defined? If forced, I suppose weird fiction is an interstitial sort of fiction that derives its inspiration from the entire spectrum of speculative fiction at once. But it’s my opinion that the boundaries between genres have been disintegrating in all forms of media, and thus a genre that uniquely describes this cross-media work is short sighted. It’s not a genre; it’s in fact everything. Everything is becoming weird fiction. The world is weird fiction. If you doubt it, turn on the television and watch the news for a little while.

BMS – In addition to writing, you’ve put on the editor’s hat a few times to do some really good anthologies. What got you started down that road?

SS—Hubris, mostly. The notion that other people were trying it, so I might like to try it, too. A desire to ensure books I wanted to read actually existed in the world, and since no one else was doing them the only way to make them happen was to do them myself.

BMS – What is your take on what makes a good editor and what makes a bad one?

SS—I feel a good editor does more than compile. Instead, she or he should build a book with a flow and a vision and make sure it’s clearly executed and communicated. It’s more work than it appears to be, and a number of editors, especially in the small press, don’t seem to fully grasp that. It’s more than simply picking your favorite authors and asking them to write stories. This is why, often, one reads an anthology and feels it’s all over the place—just a mass of disparate, disconnected tales. The editor likely lacked a vision for the final product, or was unwilling to make the choices necessary to achieve it.

BMS – Do you prefer writing or editing (or the other way around) and why?

SS—I like portions of editing—primarily discovering writers and bringing them to readers’ attention—but I dislike the work it involves because I’d much rather be working on my own fiction. It’s where my heart lies. Editing is something I sort of blindly stumbled into and almost immediately started trying to stumble back out of. It’s not my passion, and I think if one is do something as involved as editing, it should be a passion—if not for your sake, then for the sake of the authors you’re presenting.

BMS – Let’s get to what you’ve had published through Dark Regions Press. You’ve done three collections with DRP, what can you tell us about them?

SS—Dark Regions republished my first two collections, BENEATH THE SURFACE and COLD TO THE TOUCH. The former was my first book, published for six weeks before the original press went out of business, and then later rescued by Dark Regions. It’s stories are inspired by writers like Thomas Ligotti and Fritz Leiber. The latter book was originally published by Tartarus Press, and finds its inspiration in the works of Robert Aickman, Ramsey Campbell, and Charles Grant. After those two books, an original collection for Dark Regions, NIGHTINGALE SONGS, followed. This book has a more contemporary sensibility, I think, and shows the first signs in my work of where I was attempting to meld the different strains of the genre I worked in into a single cohesive mode. Of these three volumes, the first is sadly out of print, but the other two are still available. Oh, and, of course, we can’t forget the upcoming deluxe edition of my latest, BURNT BLACK SUNS. However, I believe all copies of that sold out during the pre-order phase.

BMS – It’s clear you have a love for the short story format, what about it is most challenging?

SS—Short stories are often thought of as training wheels for novel writing, but they’re their own unique beast; more akin to poetry than the novel, because in the poem a writer must condense a larger thought into something small. The short story gives more room, and allows for a great sense of narrative, but it still needs to be diamond-cut and precise—there is no room for excess or meandering. The short story explores one key theme, and everything must work in concert to express it. The novel, on the other hand, has room to juggle multiple themes and arcs and weave them together into a greater whole. I wouldn’t say one medium is more challenging than the other, but I will say that short stories often require a great amount of concentration over a short period of time, and the room for error is much smaller.

BMS – Can you share any info on what you’re working on now?

SS—I’ve just finished my new collection of short stories, NOTHING IS EVERYTHING, for Undertow Publications. It’s due later in 2018 and contains ten stories, six of which have never been published before. There’s not much I want to say about it at the moment, other than I hope readers find it unexpected and thought provoking. I think it’s by far the best book I’ve written.

BMS – What is the best way for people to learn more about you and your work?

SS—Visiting my website and blog will provide a good update on my projects. Visiting me on Facebook will provide a good update on my thoughts about horror, the weird, and all associated speculative fiction. I’m on Twitter, too, but I’m far less active there.

BMS – Thanks again for taking the time to talk with me today.

SS—It was my absolute pleasure!

Simon Strantzas is the author of four short story collections, including Burnt Black Suns from Hippocampus Press (2014). His fiction has appeared in The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror, Best Horror of the Year, and The Year's Best Dark Fantasy & Horror, and has been nominated for the British Fantasy and Shirley Jackson Award. He resides in Toronto, Canada.