For this Phobia Friday, I would like to welcome Richard Salter, writer and editor of the upcoming World Collider from Nightscape Press.
1. Your story in the Phobophobia anthology is about Lygophobia – the fear of dark. What was the original inspiration for this or were there a number of sources that you drew upon?
I was scared of the dark until I was about ten years old. I had a nightlight until that age, but more than that I had to have the landing light on outside my room too. My father would forever be turning it off and after he was gone I would scamper out of bed and turn it back on again. The darkness from the doorway was just as scary to me as being in the dark. Eventually I convinced myself that nothing was going to happen and I could turn the lights off.
It wasn’t hard to recall that sense of dread, and that need to ensure there were no monsters hiding in the shadows. It was never something that could be classed as a phobia, but it was certainly something I could draw upon.
2. What do you fear? Tell me about your own phobias.
Nothing gives me panic attacks or makes me want to pass out, but as I get older I find myself less and less able to cope with confined spaces. The idea of spelunking makes me go cold with dread. I had a hard time with that episode of House where the cranky doctor crawls beneath the wreckage of a collapsed building to reach a trapped survivor. I can use an elevator with no issue so day to day it rarely bothers me, but sometimes I’ll think of a situation where I might get trapped and be unable to move, and I can’t help but shudder.
I recently drew on that fear to try and make my writing more visceral. My story for Dean Drinkel’s A-Z Cities of Death features the resurrected dead burying the living in a cemetery as revenge for what was done to them. Being trapped in a wooden casket six feet under, alive but with no chance of escape – yeah that about wraps it up for my sanity…
3. Your protagonist, Frank, does something reprehensible in the story but you still manage to retain the reader’s empathy for him despite this – why did you choose this approach over a more black-white/right-wrong portrayal?
The story hinges on his remorse for what he has done. It is a terrible thing, and I don’t expect every reader to have even some sympathy for his plight. I risked having the reader cheer at what happens to him in the end. But I also find it fascinating to explore how someone can completely cross the line and then spend the rest of their life trying to crawl back again.
4. Joe’s unrepentant attitude is suggested to be derived from his father and he manipulates Frank through peer pressure – what’s your take on how families and wider society help to perpetuate this kind of abuse?
The key difference between Frank and Joe is conscience, in that Joe doesn’t have one. I think if you’ve never been brought up to understand the consequences of your actions, and all you’ve known is violence and neglect, then you are bound to repeat this behaviour in some form or other.
I believe it can provide an explanation but not an excuse. Everyone has a decision to make at some point in their lives: do I cross that line? Do I continue the cycle or break it here.
My own father never physically abused me. But he was a terrible father. He did his duty to his family of feeding and sheltering us, but offered no nurturing or hint of fatherly love. I don’t pretend to know what it’s like to endure years of abuse at the hands of a parent – but I know what it feels like when one of your parents is emotionally neglectful. Thankfully my mother is nothing like him, so she is my role model when it comes to my own kids. Still, I’ve made the conscious decision to not treat my own kids like my father treated me.
5. I’m interested as to why you decided to have Marie extort money from Frank and Joe – was this done purely to drive the story towards its conclusion or were there deeper motives at work for this?
In a short story, you don’t have a lot of room to develop secondary characters. Rather than focus on the victim, my story focused on the culprit, so there wasn’t the time to go into much detail with Marie. I was very careful not to paint her as a helpless victim. She sees a way to make a profit from what has happened to her and she takes it. I don’t blame her! So yes it was partly to drive the plot, partly to avoid having to involve the police in the story, but also to show that Marie has resolve and strength and is determined to make them pay for what they’ve done.
6. You have sold over twenty short stories – what is it that appeals to you about the form? And do you think that speculative fiction works well with it because of the scope of experimentation and pushing boundaries?
I hate not finishing anything I start, so for me short stories are far less daunting than novels, and far less of a commitment. The opportunities for getting short stories published are more numerous than for longer works, and you don’t need an agent to make sales, just some determination, patience and persistence.
That’s what appeals from a practical standpoint, but absolutely it allows for more experimentation. If the core idea behind a novel falls flat, then the entire book is ruined. But for an anthology, there are plenty of other stories to enjoy if one doesn’t work – and that’s less pressure on each writer and thus promotes more risk taking.
7. What would you say are some of the pros and cons of being an editor and a writer for an anthology respectively?
Less money is the obvious disadvantage for everyone. Anthologies are great opportunities to learn and get some exposure and experience, but making a living from short stories is a thing of the past.
As an editor though, I love this process and I love getting to work with some seriously talented folks, who inspire me to raise my own game and delight me with their ideas.
Writing a novel can be a lonely experience but writing for an anthology is anything but, especially when the stories need to work together. Our World’s Collider writers’ group is overflowing with in-jokes and silliness, and it’s great fun. I’ve made some terrific friends through doing this and there haven’t been any falling outs, which is amazing when you think about it.
8. Tell more about how the World’s Collider anthology came about?
After I did Short Trips: Transmissions for Big Finish, I wanted to do a follow up but the BBC revoked the Doctor Who short story license and that door was closed.
I still wanted to do another anthology, so I started thinking of an original idea for linking stories together, since the concept of a shared world anthology really appealed to me.
Then I read an article about the supposed dangers of the Large Hadron Collider, and the last line resonated with me. It was something along the lines of how unlikely it was that turning on the LHC would result in a hole opening up and dragons coming through. That was all I needed.
The anthology itself doesn’t have any dragons, but instead tells the story of a terrible accident at the LHC that blows a huge hole in the planet, through which pour unimaginable horrors. Over time, these invading monsters, gasses, entities, screams and other terrors bring humanity to the brink of extinction.
The book has an overarching plot that grew organically out of the story submissions. It’s more layered and complex than anything I could come up with on my own! And the stories are great in their own right too. It’s hard bloody work getting everything to fit together, but I really believe the result will be worth it.
9. Tell me about one of the other stories in Phobophobia that you enjoyed and why?
I’ve not had time to read them all, but I love Simon Kurt Unsworth’s story. It’s hard to identify what makes fear of evil spirits a phobia, since I think we’d all be pretty terrified, but Simon’s tale is creepy and clever.
I’ve enjoyed the others I’ve read too. I really need to find more time to finish the rest!
10. So what does 2012 hold for Richard Salter? Any last words?
2011 was an amazing year for my writing career. Unfortunately at the end of the year I also started a very demanding job, so my writing time has crashed drastically. I say “unfortunately” in terms of the hours it requires me to work; I know I am extremely fortunate to have a job especially given the current economic situation. But it’s terrible for my writing, and it can be frustrating because I’m bursting with ideas and projects I want to work on, but I just don’t have time for them all.
2012 has been pretty good so far though, I’ve had stories appear in Horror For Good and the Gotrek and Felix anthology for the Warhammer series, and later this year my Machine of Death 2 story will finally see the light of day. This was going to be the year I wrote my first (remotely publishable) novel, and I still want that to be the case, and I’ve got at least two more anthology projects I want to get started on as soon as possible.
I don’t really need to sleep, right?
Thank you, Richard!
Phobophobia is available at the following links:
To find out more about Richard, please visit his website: www.richardsalter.com
To find out more about the World’s Collider anthology, please visit Nightscape Press