Aphelion Interviews: February, 2004, Dan L. Hollifield

Aphelion Interview with Dan Hollifield

By Claude Hopper

Introduction: I'm here tonight with Aphelion Webzine's humble publisher, Dan Hollifield, at his home in Northeast Georgia. In the spirit of Aphelion's interview section, I'd like to ask Dan some things that we all might want answered. I've made a little list of common questions that I hope he'll answer. I've known Dan for years and it fell to me to be the one to interview him for Aphelion. To set the scene for you readers; Me and Dan are sitting in lawn chairs out in his back yard, watching a bonfire burn in the cool fall air and stars rise against the slowly darkening sky, drinking beer and swapping fishing stories.. I've just had dinner with Dan and his girlfriend Cindy- Dan cooked his special spagetti and his girlfriend of 11 years, Cindy Nelms, made a bushel of appetizers, tons of garlic toast and a huge salad to go with the dinner. There was some wonderful Italian wine to go with the spagetti also, and afterwards more Cold beer than I’ve seen since Uncle Brad’s funeral. I've got to tell you that I am stuffed to the gills. We both have the night off, although Dan has to go in to work overtime tomorrow morning, so just before dark I start asking him the questions off of my list as we both swig our beers and stare into the firelight...

My Questions:

Who are you?

Lord, what a question, Claude. I hope they get better. (Laughs) Who am I? I'm a Joe Average type, really. My family moved around a lot when I was younger, but by the time I was in High School we were farming in Northeast Georgia. Before that I lived in Detroit, Knoxville, Athens... Lots of points between, too. Dad finally bought a farm outside of Danielsville. It might be as much as fifteen miles from Athens, Georgia. We raised soybeans, corn, wheat, oats... stuff like that. My free time was rather full with tractor driving and whatnot. I mostly did my school homework at school. Some of it I slacked off on, but mostly I did enough to earn pretty good grades. I wanted to go into the Air Force after High School, but I wound up going to the University of Georgia instead. I majored in Art, Interior Design actually. But I ran out of money in the beginning of my junior year and went to work in a local factory instead. I wanted to make enough money to go back to school and get a degree. That was over twenty five years ago. Evidently I haven't made enough money yet. (Laughs) I've got a good life now, I can pay my bills and write for fun. Everything isn't wine and roses, but life is treating me better than some folks get.

What got you started writing?

Man! That's a tough one... I guess that it was one long, long weekend that a bunch of friends got snowed-in over at my place. I was shooting my mouth off about how bad a TV show was. I put my foot in my mouth by bragging that I could learn to write better stories than that show. This was in the middle of all of us being stir crazy about then. Well, someone called my bluff. Christie told me to put my money where my mouth was and go ahead and write a better story. She was quite forceful about it. So I tried, and kept trying. And I'm still trying. One day I hope to succeed.

When did you start writing?

Well, I made up stories to act out like plays back when I was really little. That was '64 or so, in Tennessee. The first thing I remember writing was a little skit for 5th Grade Geography class in Athens, Georgia. It was about the mineral wealth of South America, as I recall. Probably influenced by stuff I read in the school library and my textbooks. I think the thing never actually got shown, the other kids I'd asked to act got cold feet. This would have been about '68 or '69. I wound up giving a book report of the stuff I used to research the skit from instead of presenting the skit... I guess I got serious about writing about '84 or so. That's about the time I was getting tired of being a garage musician and wanted to get back to something I could do better, namely making up stories. I've written songs, poems, essays, but I always come back to writing SF stories.

Where do you get all these crazy ideas from?

Sheesh! You name it! Comic books, novels, cartoons, TV shows, stuff I read... I'm 46 and started reading science fiction, fantasy, horror, whatever- as early as I could read. I cut my teeth on Jules Verne before age 9, Jonny Quest, Tom Swift Junior, Popular Science, Reader's Digest, Batman, Doom Patrol, Lost in Space, Popeye, Astroboy, Speed Racer, Arthur C. Clarke, Issiac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Bob Heinlein, Hammer films, Godzilla movies, pulp magazines... I'm a child of the Space Age. LOL! I stir it all together and try and come up with something original. Sometimes I succeed.

Why do you write what you do?

If I didn't write, I'd be in a straight-jacket in a loony bin, somewhere. Writing is a form of mental illness, or addiction. Bob Heinlein has a great quote to that effect in "The Cat Who Walked Through Walls" and I was always struck by how true it is. I write because not writing makes me mean, nasty, and hard to live with. Its like... Oh, something that keeps me from going nuts, or whatever. Without writing something, I get really mean. I'd rather write and be able to be nice to people than not write and be some sarcastic SOB trying to find a way to feel good. I write because I have to. Because not writing is torture.

How did Aphelion come about?

Oh. Well, I fell into it, really. I started off submitting stories to Dragon's Lair Webzine. I talked the zine up big on the DALnet chatrooms I visited and in e-mails because it was a great zine. Forget the fact that the pubisher, Roger, liked my stories. LOL! Well, I got some new writers and a host of new readers through my chatting, so Roger made me Assistant Editor of Dragon's Lair. Big ego boost! That continued for a couple of years and then Roger got discouraged and shut down the Lair website. I begged him to reconsider, but he was adamant. In order to get the rest of the chapters of the Lair's serialized stories online, I would have to start my own zine. Thus, Aphelion was born: January 27th, 1997. A day that will live in SF history, LOL!

Who were your influences?

I'll give you a list, later. (Laughs) Oh, Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, Tom Swift Sr. & Jr., Doc Savage, comic books; Charlton, DC, Marvel, and Classics Illustrated. Dick Tracy, Lil' Abner, Space Ghost, the Addams Family cartoons and TV shows. '50s-to-modern SF/Fantasy/Horror movies. Rod Stewart, Led Zepplin, Clarke, Asimov, Heinlein, Bradbury, Godzilla, Swift, Defoe, Doyle, Moorcock, Andre Norton, H. Beam Piper, Keith Laumer, Harry Harrison, Fred Saberhagen, E.E. Smith, Cordwainer Smith, L. Neil Smith, Lovecraft, Larry Niven, Simon Hawke, Dr. Who TV shows and books, Alan Dean Foster, James White, Yes, Hawkwind... Everybody. I've read over 30,000 books in my lifetime so far. That and movies and TV and music and history... Everything is an influence. I own over 3000 Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Horror paperbacks and probably 500 or more hardbacks. Pick one off my shelves and I can probably point to a line or phrase in one of my stories that's a direct quote. Stuff from my life is an influence too. My motorcycle wreck, that I draw and paint, that I'm a gun nut, farming, inventing, partying, college, work... Everything winds up in a story eventually.

What's next for you?

I just finished up a Mare Inebrium story called "Redshift Sue Sings the Blues" which was published in the November '03 issue of Aphelion and I've got a clear slate ready to begin the Reever story "Immortality Factor" which is a murder mystery of sorts. Its been in pre-production for six years now. But its time to get serious about it. I'll have to watch a few Dirty Harry movies in order to get the correct feel for the Reever character. Gonna be hard, but I'll make myself watch those movies, LOL!

When is your next story due out?

God only knows. So far they each seem to take a year, no matter how long they are. Winter of 2004, maybe?

Where do you go from here?

Back into the house to go to the bathroom and get another drink. You want one? OK, be right back.

Why do you keep publishing Aphelion?

Everybody gotta have a hobby... Because I love it, because it helps get new writers started. Because Aphelion has helped at least a dozen people get pro contracts. Aphelion is more than a labor of love, it performs a service. It gives beginning writers feedback that they need to become better writers. And it allows writers to put their work in front an audience for criticism as well as to let the Publishing Agents that surf the internet troll for new tallent. Aphelion's staff do all the real work, I just foot the bill. Aphelion is an endless, thankless, overwhelming, life-destroying obsession that I'm proud to have infected the Aphelion staff with. Like Herpies, there is no cure for being an Aphelion Staff member or contributing writer, but with treatment you can live a normal life. LOL!

How do you keep sane?

Define "sane," bub. I just try and stay functional. I've had decades to adjust to the fact that I think about far different things than my neighbor does. I'm odd, but I'm harmless... Well, mostly harmless...

What do you read for pleasure?

Everything I can. From the latest news highlights to the oldest dinosaur bones. I read everything from current news, to archeology reports- from the space age to the stone age. If it is knowledge, I want it in my head. I read like most people breathe. Without stopping for anything. LOL!

What do you look for in a story?

A story for Aphelion? Action, adventure, wild concepts, and really good proofreading! LOL! No, seriously, I look for good stories. Well written stories that will be fun for Aphelion's audience to read.

When did you start doing reviews?

In late 1997. Bjorn Lynne sent me a music CD and asked me to review it. Then Alan Cole sent me a book and Bjorn sent me a CD of music composed for Alan's novels. After that, word seemed to get around. Now I get music to review, books, e-books, TV shows, movies... Its great, but its something else that I fell into by accident.

Where are your stories archived online?

http://aphelion-webzine.com/mystories/ is the URL for my story archive. I even keep works in progress there, but I don't post the URL unless I'm far enough along to make reader comments worthwhile.

Why haven't you quit your day job?

Because no one has been willing to pay me to write for a living. As soon as I get a good solid offer I can depend on, I'll quit the factory. The bills come first, you know?

How do you cope with seeing other Aphelion writers get published, but not you?

You hadda ask... Next question.

Seriously, some dozen people have turned pro after appearing in Aphelion- And that’s just the ones that we know about. Yet you still haven’t sold anything yourself. What’s up with that?

I’m not submitting anything right now. I’m writing what I want to write, telling the stories that I want to tell, with no restrictions on me other than that I write them. That’s a kind of freedom, but it doesn’t earn money. I’m learning to write, just like everyone else in Aphelion’s Archives. Writing for the pro zines take a bit of “learning to write what they want” whereas Aphelion allows me to write whatever I want. I’m still a student. I’m not ready for the big leagues. I do wish that my stories would generate more comments in the Lettercol so I’d know what I was getting right and what was wrong. No one seems to want to say anything, though.

Why is that, do you think?

Maybe they think that because I’m the almighty Publisher, I’ll do something nasty to them if they don’t stroke my ego. As if! I have absolutely no control over a story being published in Aphelion unless one or more of the section editors requests it. Except for Mare Inebrium stories, of course. I personally handle all Mare stories. But everything else is Cary, Jeff, Ralph, McCamy, and Rob’s territory. I put everything up the way that the editors send it to me, unless they specifically ask me for approval on something questionable. Usually its a case of “is there too much cussing in this one for Aphelion’s younger readers?” Or too racy a love scene, or too much violence, or in one case a homosexual rape scene-- Oh wait! That one was back when I ran the zine alone. I’m sorry, the staff never asked me to approve that one at all. It was the writer that queried me before submitting it. My appologies to the staff for that goof.


Well what?

Did you approve the rape scene for the story?

Didn’t you read the zine back then?

This is for the record, quit dodging the bullett.

OK, yes, I did approve the rape scene appearing in the story. But I did put an “Adult Content” warning on the story link. Aphelion was much smaller then, and the readership was almost entirely adult at the time. I think that adults would be able to see that the rape established the villan as a character, to be seen as an evil person. One who, later on in the story, got the punishment that any rapist deserves- the victim killed him. There were very few kids on the internet in those days. I wouldn’t be able to make the decision the same way now without expecting complaints. I have to plan for more children to be reading Aphelion nowadays.

So you do censor Aphelion?

That’s a rude way of putting it, Claude. I don’t think of it as censorship. I think of it as my responsibility to Aphelion’s readers not to publish material that goes too far beyond the bounds of good taste or like that. Not just racy sex scenes, but excessive violence or excessive cussing. This isn’t “Penthouse Forum” I’m running here, you know? The “Adult Content” flag is the best defence I can use to publish a well-written-yet-possibly-offensive-to-some story. I want Aphelion to be able to publish really good stories, and if that means that there has to be some stuff expressly for late-teen and beyond, then that’s the way its going to be. If a story isn’t good, then no amount of adult material is going to get Aphelion to publish it. Aphelion is supposed to stand for good reading. LOL!

And kid-friendly?

Well, I was really young when I started reading... I hope that there are other young readers out there that find stuff that they like on Aphelion. And we have been an official part of some school projects. A gradeschool class in Australia and a Junior College class in the northeast US both used Aphelion as part of their creative writing classwork. Aphelion has attracted almost as many teen writers as it has adult writers, at least in the early years, and I expect that the readership is about 20% schoolkids- even nowadays. But the other 80% that are adults need good stories too. I hope that there’s been a good ballance struck over the years.

So where do you go from here? What’s next in your future?

Well, I gotta go put another log on the fire, go take a leak, and get another beer.

Smart-alek. LOL! Seriously, where is your writing future headed? What are your plans?

Ah, I plan to keep writing short stories until I write well enough to finish my early attempts at novels- or write brand new novels -and then start submitting stuff for sale again. It’d help if I got some comments about my stories. Its like living in a vaccuum- I never hear anything and no one can hear me scream! LOL!

At least you can still laugh about it.

Yeah, while there’s life, there’s hope.

Do you think of Aphelion as a success or a failure?

Its a success far beyond my wildest dreams. Aphelion wasn’t a plan, it was an accident that wound up being nurtured. And now its something I can be proud of. I’ve made an impact on the world. Maybe it is a small impact, but I don’t think so. Aphelion has been going for six years, starting on seven, and has spawned at least three other e-zines as Aphelion writers learned and grew. We’ve helped over a dozen writers and at least one artist turn pro after having been featured in Aphelion. I’ve been sent tons of great books to read for book reviews, some neat music CDs, even the pilot episodes for some TV shows! Aphelion is linked to by all the major search engines and thousands of other websites. We've been favorably compared to Amazon.com and Project Gutenberg, got favorable reviews on lots of creative writing websites, and one writer even had his Aphelion story later turned into an award winning independent film. And on top of that, month after month I get to read the best amateur fiction to grace any publication on the planet. Success? Aphelion is beginning to look like the Holy Grail of amateur writing e-zines.

Holy Grail, huh? And what is the airspeed velocity of a fully-laden swallow?

44.8 MPH for the European Swallow, carrying it’s full load. 56.724 MPH for the larger African Swallow, carrying an even heaver load.

How do you figure that?

Well, when you’re the Publisher, you have to know these things.

Arrogant ass.

Thank you, Claude. Let’s wrap this up. I’m getting tired of talking.

OK, one last question. Do you have any regrets?

About Aphelion, or just anything at all?


Anything... Yeah, I have one regret, but its personal. Has nothing to do with writing.

What is it?

No, that’s private. I will not be pushed, filed, indexed, briefed, de-briefed, or numbered. My life is my own.

“The Prisoner.”

You’re as bad as I am. OK, I regret that I don't have any children. Satisfied? Come on, let’s call it a night. I can show you some video tapes that will explain me better than I could.

Oh yeah? What tapes?

“5th Element,” “Rocky Horror,” “Phantom of the Paradise,” “Day the Earth Stood Still,” the original “Thing From Another World,” “Virtuosity,” the Dr. Who TV shows, "Buckaroo Bonzai," "Big Trouble in Little China," "8th Man," Trek, Lost in Space, the Alien Nation TV show, the Invaders, “The One,” “Dark City,” and “Forbidden Planet.” No one can understand me unless they watch those TV shows and movies. And reading H. Beam Piper, Tom Swift Jr. and Jules Verne books wouldn’t hurt, either. Come on, let’s go inside. The fire is about dead and I have to go to work tomorrow."

After that, we went inside and the three of us watched movies until the wee hours. Sometime late the next morning, I left for home with a pounding hangover. Cindy was up bustling around the house getting things done. Dan had left for work hours earlier- without a hangover, he told me later, even though he drank me under the table that night. I never heard a sound when he got up and left that morning. He's like that sometimes- quieter than Batman when he wants to be...

Dan, Cindy, thank you for the great meal and the good time that night, the use of the couch later on when I passed out, the coffee & aspirin the next day, and the chance to write this article. Bless you both.

Claude Hopper

Aphelion Webzine -- Reporter At Large

Copyright 2004 by Claude Hopper

Bio, E-mail, and URL: Claude Hopper is a life-long resident of Danielsville, Ga. and has been hanging out with Dan Hollifield since Dan's family first moved to that part of Georgia. Claude has half of several degrees from the University of Georgia, but kept changing majors short of completing any course. His hobbies are hunting, fishing, camping, drinking, dancing, chasing single women, quantam physics, time travel, Irish Whiskey, Southern Rock music, judging wet t-shirt contests, writing SF stories on pizza resturant napkins, beer, designing nuclear reactors on post-it-notes, working overtime, and re-reading Frank Herbert's "Dune" of which novel he hopes to write the definitive essay, one of these centuries.

Claude Hopper can be e-mailed at this link, for now. He is moving again and Dan is letting him shift his incoming mail to the Aphelion website. This is temporary and subject to change without notice. The old Hotmail address is no longer valid.

Claude Hopper's Webpage: "I'm between webpages at the moment since I'm changing ISPs again. I'll tell Dan when I have a new one up. He'll post it as soon as I let him know what the new URL wil be. Right now I'm living out of my Mom's house and my van while I look for a new house, and e-mailing through cybercafe's and the Library since Mom doesn't like telephones and thinks computers are sinful..." (Just as a clue: Claude's Mom also believes that space exploration is the work of the Anti-Christ, that Nixon killed JFK, that Rap music excuses racism, and that Jim Baker was framed. Needless to say, Claude and his Mom don't get along that well- Dan)

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