DarkEcho Horror
Blowgun by Rick Berry
THOMAS F. MONTELEONE: Just Wanting to Write
"Good" horror is something I haven't read or seen before. I enjoy being shaken or disturbed by a new concept, and most horror is just tired re-treads of the same old shit...I mean how many times do we reinvent Ed Gein, Gacey, and the Count? That's what Borderlands was supposed to be all about-- a new way to examine the idea of what scares us, what disturbs us. -- Thomas F. Monteleone

by Paula Guran
February, 1997 (Originally published by OMNI Online)

Thomas F. Monteleone has published more than 90 short stories in numerous magazines and anthologies. His notorious opinion column, "The Mothers and Fathers Italian Association" started in the near legendary The Horror Show magazine back in the eighties and now appears in Cemetery Dance Magazine

The editor of six anthologies, he is most noted for the four volumes of the acclaimed Borderlands series. With the first Borderlands Monteleone presented dark fiction that avoided "traditional images and symbols" and invited writers "to expand the envelope, to look beyond the usual metaphors." This vision still serves as a paradigm for contemporary or "new" horror as we move into the next century. The anthologies were published in hardcover by Monteleone's limited edition publishing company, Borderlands Press and are available in paperback by White Wolf Publishing.

His twentieth novel, Night of Broken Souls was published this year by Warner. The critically acclaimed The Resurrectionist was published in 1995 following the 1993 Bram Stoker Award-winning novel The Blood of the Lamb. A long-overdue second collection of selected short fiction, Fearful Symmetries, is planned. Dark Stars and Other Illuminations, his first collection, appeared in 1981.

Monteleone has also written for the television series Tales from the Darkside and PBS where his script, Mister Magister, won the Bronze Award for Best Drama at the 1984 International Film and TV Festival of New York. His play, U.F.O.! was produced by the Baltimore Playwrights Festival, and won Best of Show.

Tom plays a mean game of softball, does a great Peter Sellers-as-Professor Closeau imitation and has a pretty fair pair of legs in bermudas. I've seen all three at NeCon, an annual "weekend summer camp for horror writers" in Rhode Island.

Darkecho: Tom, you've been a professional writer since 1972. How and why did you get started?

Monteleone: I knew I wanted to be a writer since I was around 12 yearsold. That was the year I saved up my lawn-mowing money and bought a manual typewriter at Sears. (I was also a great second-baseman and hockey goalie, so I can't say I was all that weird. I just wanted to be a writer.) I read comics and lots of great Ballantine paperbacks, which served as my inspiration. After graduating from college in 1968, I started sending out stories and racked up plenty of rejection slips. Finally sold a story, in 1972, to AMAZING Stories for a penny a word and got a check for $30.00. It was great, and here I am 25 years later making a living at something I dreamed about as a kid.

DarkEcho: From 1972 till now you have seen a lot of changes in publishing and fiction. Can you illumine us with your observations? Predictions?

Monteleone: Yeah, I have seen a lot and a lot of the changes are not so good. Some of my friends who still write a lot of SF or fantasy are having great difficulty selling new books because the market is starting to dry up. The audiences who bought all those SF books and magazines in the prior generations, are not buying those kinds of stories and books anymore. Why should they read it when they can pop in a CD-Rom game and be right in the middle of the adventure? Perhaps we are in the twilight of the word? I hope not. Anyway, it's far better to be writing for an audience that is not so rigorously connected to the interactive gaming, CD-Rom, and video gaming crowd.

Publishing is undergoing vast changes. For instance, fewer people are buying more books; more nonfiction is appearing than fiction; the behemoth chains are beginning to standardize the kinds of books they want to stock and are, in a way, dictating to the publishers what they should buy and publish -- which is the tail wagging the dog and commerce dictating art -- neither of which are very desirable to writers; the small mom-and-pop bookstores cannot compete with the megachains and the chains are crushing them out. This is like Blockbuster blowing out the independent video stores -- and thus dictating what the neighborhood can watch (and of course what they can't watch). Plus there is the scary practice, just now becoming a blip on the screen, of creating a "package" -- the book, the tape, the CD-Rom, the game, the amalgam of the original book and some interactive mongrel. This smacks of grossly crass commercialism and it can't possibly be obtained for all books -- which may mean a lot of books just won't get published if they can't adapt to such a package-deal.

However, I also think the industry is overproducing right now. Way too much product too quickly and routinely. I really don't think it is necessary to pop out so many books every freaking month. Less could, in the long run, be more in terms of quality and market endurance.

DarkEcho: You, like many established writers, seem to chafe at categorization of your work as "horror," "SF," or whatever. You'd just like to be known simply as writers. I agree that "horror" is not such a great label for a field that really includes everything from romantic suspense to thrillers to monsters from beyond and brain-eating zombies. But how do you reach people, especially these days, without a marketing category?

Monteleone: You write stories that interest you and hope that there are enough people out there who agree with you. I have been fighting to get away from categories because I believe they can ultimately be very harmful to your career as a writer. If you don't rise to the top of the genre category, you can be chopped off at the knees at any time. And find your career is in the dumper, permanently.

Yes, it's tougher for new writers to get noticed today than it was twenty years ago because fewer people are reading -- it's that simple. Fewer opportunities for new writers means making choices that can haunt you later. Sure, it's easier to break in through a genre category because there are built-in audiences that tend to renew every ten years or so (at least they did before the Digital Revolution). So I guess it's a mug's game after all: Get published in any genre or fashion you can, then fight like hell to extricate yourself from the genre when you outgrow it.

Some people never outgrow it, and seem perfectly happy to be this generation's Poul Anderson or Fritz Leiber. Some people try, but can't escape. The genre thing hangs on a writer's back like a monkey. A monkey? Hell, it's more like a big, blue-assed mandrill . . . !

Dark Echo: How is the new book, Night of Broken Souls, being marketed? Is it "labeled?"

Monteleone: Night of Broken Souls is being marketed as dark suspense, if I am to believe what Warner tells me. It is written in the style of a multiple viewpoint global thriller and not the typical formulaic horror/sf novel, if that's what you mean by "label".

One thing I had to fight for in the original cover design was kind of interesting -- part of the plot examines victims of the Holocaust and the Nazis, and I was kind of shocked to not see a swastika on the cover. This may sound odd, but that little twisted cross sells books. A lot of books. It's like Indiana Jones said: "Nazis... I hate those guys... !" Yeah, him and a whole lot of readers. The Nazis will probably be endlessly fascinating and they are definitely the bad guys we love to hate. I told my publisher that I am trying desperately to reach out to more segments of the reading public, and by putting that swastika on my cover they were going to attract a lot of readers who would never pick up the book otherwise. Sounds pretty simple, pretty reasonable, right?

Nah...I had to lobby long and hard to make it happen. But I'm confident I will be proven right.

Anyway, the book is getting great advance reviews and I expect it to do very well. Tell all your friends to buy it and talk it up.

Darkecho: (Hey, that's what we are doing here, talking it up!) For many of us, they are the definition of what "dark fiction" or "cutting edge" horror is. The stories in them abandon the stereotypical and traditional archetypes of the supernatural. The Borderlands books were "good" horror in my mind. What is "good horror" for you?You edited the Borderlands series of anthologies.

Monteleone: "Good" horror is something I haven't read or seen before. I enjoy being shaken or disturbed by a new concept, and most horror is just tired retreads of the same old shit. Serial killers, ghosts, serial killers, vampires, serial killers, were-animals, serial killers, vampires, and hey, did I mention serial killers? Sure, it's tough to come up with something new, but that's the idea isn't? I mean how many times do we reinvent Ed Gein, Gacey, and the Count? That's what Borderlands was supposed to be all about-- a new way to examine the idea of what scares us, what disturbs us.

DarkEcho: Will there be a fifth in the Borderlands series?

Monteleone: Yeah, eventually. Elizabeth and I have selected lots of stories, but have not had the extra cash to finance the purchase of the stories and the publication of the limited edition. We hope to do it, but have no idea when.

Doing a small limited edition of BL5 is about all any of us can hope for. As I said before, the audience for expensive collectible books is nowhere near the size it was five years ago, and people are tired of buying stuff of subpar quality -- both in content and actual materials. We no longer have a paperback publisher for the Borderlands series. White Wolf simply could not pay an advance large enough to cover the cost of the stories (much less pay for the enormous amounts of time Elizabeth and I spend reading a thousand stories per volume.) We would love to find a new publisher, but they have all told us that despite the years of spectacular reviews, the many award nominations and winners, and the solid reputation of having set a very high standard for original HDF material in the anthology format ... they have told us that anthologies don't sell, the short story is still dead, and all the usual bullshit. We are very proud of the Borderlands series, but it may be over unless the marketplace undergoes some radical changes.

DarkEcho: What about Borderlands Press? Where are you with that?

Monteleone: The press is alive, but not in any vibrant way. The collectible book market is near comatose, and doesn't show many signs of getting better. We are doing a collection of short stories by Whitley Strieber that is really excellent, and a Doug Winter/J.K. Potter project, but after that ...we don't know. It's kinda scary, because we've put our hearts and souls into the press for years and years.

DarkEcho: You mentioned your wife and co-editor, Elizabeth. Anyone who has ever been around the two of you at a con quickly discovers she's not only beautiful and intelligent, she's also a big Monteleone cheerleader. Want to give some credit where it is due?

Monteleone: Elizabeth is my first reader, my proofreader, and my toughest critic. I may be her favorite writer, but that's because she's tough enough to not let me get lazy. She works just as hard as I do to get these books written and I'll always love her for being there for me.

DarkEcho: Where do you see yourself in 2002 after three decades as a writer?

Monteleone:Well when you consider that the average writer in country makes about $6,000 a year, I'd have to say I'd see myself as wildly successful just being able to make a decent living year after year; but honestly, by 2002, I better have a movie produced, some other books under option, and be a hell of a lot closer to the bestseller list. I have a lot of stories that still need to be told, and I'm not into golf or retirement crapola. They will find me one morning with my face down on the keyboard, I hope.

DarkEcho: I hope the bestseller list and the movies come soon, but that kissing that keyboard will take awhile. Thanks, Tom!

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Copyright © 1997 by Paula Guran All Rights Reserved.