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DarkEcho Horror
Blowgun by Rick Berry
Interview
NOT INDIFFERENT TO GARY BRAUNBECK
by Paula Guran

First appeared in
DarkEcho: 08.10.00 [V.7 #29]

If you are an avid savvy horror reader, you've probably run across Gary Braunbeck's name and short stories in a variety of the usual places. In fact, he's something of a "model" genre writer. His first fiction appearance came in the early 80s in Crispin Burnham's ELDRITCH TALES. He continued placing stories in small press publications while working various jobs over the years -- carny "stick," dog groomer, bartender, waiter, several stints as a janitor, habilitation supervisor for developmentally disabled adults, as an actor and musician. His first pro-rate sale came in 1985, to Alan Rodgers at TWILIGHT ZONE'S NIGHT CRY. He sold NC three more stories before the magazine's demise. J. N. Williamson secured the writer an invite to a Greenberg anthology, PHANTOMS -- which led to more antho sales. In 1987, Rich Chizmar asked him for a story to the "then-still-fresh-faced magazine CEMETERY DANCE."

He's been writing full-time since about 1994, has sold somewhere in the neighborhood of 170 stories, as well as three collections, including THINGS LEFT BEHIND (which was nominated for both the HWA Stoker and the International Horror Guild Award for Outstanding Collection of the Year). He's also done two tie-in novels, TIME WAS: Isaac Asimov's I-BOTS (co-written with Steve Perry) and IN HOLLOW HOUSES, the first novel in the new DARK MATTER series from Wizards of the Coast Books.

Gary BraunbeckSo here's a guy with a damned good -- and well-deserved -- rep as a short fiction writer who has pretty much done everything "they" used to tell young writers to do to "earn" himself a novel contract with a major New York house. So why is his first novel, THE INDIFFERENCE OF HEAVEN , (okay, TECHNICALLY it is not his first novel, but it *is* his first solo, non-media tie-in novel, that's his all his start to finish) coming out from Obsidian, a small press? "I chose to publish INDIFFERENCE in the small press because I didn't think NY publishers would go for something that doesn't fall into any one particular genre. The small press has always been the place where experimentation is encouraged and wild chances are taken -- who else but the small press would dare publish something like the recent, amazing ZOTHIQUE anthology, or THE ALCHEMY OF LOVE, the IMAGINATION FULLY DILATED series, Caitlin Kiernan's superb new short story collection, or hardcover reissues of classics by Matheson, Nolan, and Johnson? Sure, NY publishers might show interest and pony up the bucks after something like Brian McNaughton's THE THRONE OF BONES wins a ton of awards and sells out its print run, but if Brian had tried marketing that stunning book to NY publishers first, I think it probably would not have seen the light of publication....I'm in no way a small press elitist, I would *love* for THINGS or INDIFFERENCE to be picked up for a mass-market edition. I just firmly believe that neither [my book nor McNaughton's THRONE] could have been originally published anywhere *but* the small press."

coverBraunbeck considers himself primarily a writer of short stories, so why should readers try his novel? "I think that THE INDIFFERENCE OF HEAVEN is probably the best possible example not only of *what* I write, but how. I've always loved the structure of the fairy tale -- as well as the almost-vindictive morality inherent in the form -- and sat out to see if I could sustain that kind of corner-of-the-eye-something's-not-quite-right feeling for the length of a book; at the same time, because of the central image of the book (Russian *matryoshka*-- nesting -- dolls), the story's structure demanded that things *not* unfold in a traditional, chronological order. A lot of people have said some very nice things about the structure of the story, and I wish I could take credit for all of it, but I can't: this was a case of the story dictating to me the manner in which it must be told.

"That aside, I think readers already familiar with my work will enjoy the book because it deals in greater depths with themes I've explored in my short fiction -- most notably loneliness, grief, the incapacity to express genuine emotion, and child abuse. As far as this last goes, THE INDIFFERENCE OF HEAVEN is the final piece in a quartet of works that began with the novella 'Some Touch of Pity,' continued through the recent CEMETERY DANCE serial 'Mr. Hands', and will conclude when I find a home for a recently- completed short novel entitled PRODIGAL BLUES.

"For those not familiar with my work, I think INDIFFERENCE will be a terrific introduction to my style and themes. I think (hope/pray) that readers will find the book compelling, terrifying, and thought-provoking. know I'm damned proud of it...I had the feeling that I had just written something that I was *meant* to write, something that is uniquely my own take on some familiar tropes in horror, fantasy, and magic realism...[I]f you forget genre and simply tell the story in the way it needs to be told, you'll end up with something you can be proud of and that readers will enjoy."

covers He's hesitant to offer advice to neophyte writers simply because he feels --even after being at it for several years -- he's still learning himself. "I *will* tell you, however, the one cardinal rule that I hold *myself* to, and that is: Forget Genre. I cannot sit down and say to myself, "I'm going to write a 'horror' story," because if I do, I will -- consciously or not -- feel compelled to use overly-familiar tropes, even if they're not needed. So I decide that I want to write a story about a ghost, period. If from there it becomes horrific, fine; if it turns into a light fantasy, that's great, too; hell, one ghost story I wrote ("Mail-Order Annie," which appeared in CAT CRIMES THROUGH TIME) turned into a Western, and is one of the most atmospheric tales I've done in years. If I had decided that I was going to write it as a horror story, or an sf story, or dark fantasy, or what-have-you, when I sat down to work, I would have wound up grafting genre-specific elements into the story that had no business being there. I decide on the character and the theme of a story first, then I write the story in the manner in which it tells me it needs to be written. And I Forget Genre. Whether or not I always succeed is up to the readers, not me."

Braunbeck's got two more short story collections coming out soon: SORTIES, CATHEXES, AND PERSONAL EFFECTS, a CD-Rom collection from Lone Wolf Publications, (late this summer) and ESCAPING PURGATORY: FABLES IN WORDS AND PICTURES (co-written with Alan M. Clark) is due out early next year. IN HOLLOW HOUSES was just released from WoftC/TSR, and February of 2001 will see the release of erotic horror novel THIS FLESH UNKNOWN, from Foggy Windows Books. Short stories are coming up in CIVIL WAR FANTASTIC, CAT CRIMES GOES TO COURT, MURDER MOST CONFEDERATE, HEAT, VILLAINS VICTORIOUS, *Tenebres,* and about a dozen others. He's looking for a publisher for PRODIGAL BLUES, and is currently working on a new novel based on his story "Safe".

The author's Web site includes short stories, an excerpt from THE INDIFFERENCE OF HEAVEN, and other goodies.

BOOK REVIEW

THE INDIFFERENCE OF HEAVEN
Gary Braunbeck
Obsidian Press $29/ 314p.
ISBN: 1-891480-05-7

Once upon a time on a Halloween night a man loses both his wife and unborn child with sudden finality. His despair and grief are compounded when the body of his daughter is stolen by a hideously "masked" madman who speaks of the indifference of heaven. Maybe. Whatever you perceive as the reality of the story -- is there reality inherent in fiction? -- will not be the same reality you find at the end of this moving and original novel. THE INDIFFERENCE OF HEAVEN more than compensates for a few flaws with its courageous and ambitious exploration of the meaning of love. Employing both harsh hyperrealism and majestic mythic fantasy, the novel swoops and soars in and out of philosophy, theology, and the very meaning of time and life. At one point the protagonist understands "...no imagined childhood bogeyman could have prepared him for facing something this sacred, for sacred it must have been, as anything so mythic and extreme and unimaginable, must be sacred. It was both terrifying and compelling, a thing beyond All Things..." Ecstasy is a glimpse of the infinite; horror is its full disclosure -- THE INDIFFERENCE OF HEAVEN is an indelible experience that balances between the two.

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Copyright © 2000 by Paula Guran All Rights Reserved.