The Aphelion Interview:
Aphelion readers are no strangers to the work of Allen Woods. From "The Gift of Life" to
Through the Dark Veil to "Yours Truly" to his current work The Journeyman, Allen Woods
has been appearing in this zine since its first year of existence, influencing many with his
prose style and with his subject matter, particularly that which terrifies those parts of our
psyches that need to be roused from slumber periodically. (To read this older stories, check
out Allen Woods in the Archives section.)
Allen Woods hails from Nashville, Tennessee via Washington, DC and has written short stories and novels of a speculative nature for most of his life. His stories, including the award winning "Riddle of the Jade Eagle", have appeared in Pablo Lennis, Of Unicorns and Space Stations, Art:Mag, Fantasy Worlds, Pegasus, Nuketown, Dubious Matters, and Gotta Write Network Litmag. Allen still fears the dark corners of his room at night, and I've been told that he knows the secret as to why redheads will one day rule the Earth!
Allen had some interesting and informative things to say during the interview, and I hope his words motivates you to look more carefully at his novels and short fiction (it is well worth the effort) as well as to think about horror as a genre.
Q: What originally led you to start writing?
A: I began writing, basically, because I was unemployed. I'd written since I was a child, but a little over two years ago I was at Tower Books with my father, bemoaning the fact that I had no job. He suggested that I try submitting some writing for money. Such an idea had never occurred to me, but I did a little research, recycled some old ideas and stories, and it started from there.
Q: You have some notoriety as a writer of horror. What in particular appeals to you about this genre of writing?
A: Horror is appealing because it leaches energy from our basest emotions. Fear, or the physical responses we feel from fear, are genuinely appealing.
Good horror writing, which is understandably difficult, evokes those emotions and creates lasting impressions. Horror should create emotions that stick with you. They're not always pleasant, but they're life-affirming.
Q: Who would you say are your biggest influences for your writing? Would there be someone your readers might find hard to believe would be an influence on you?
A: From a literary standpoint the greatest influences on my writing are Stephen King, Kurt Vonnegut, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Tolkien. From a personal standpoint, many of my friends, whom I base my characters on, are a tremendous influence.
Q: When and where was your first story published?
A: My first story was published in April of 1997. I'd had essays published in local newspapers for years, but that piece was the first fiction. The story was a great concept, but horribly written. Honestly, I'm surprised anyone ever showed an interest in it, but it's been published twice.
Q: Have you actually sold (for money, I mean LOL) any of your work?
A: I've sold a number of stories for the cold hard cash we all dream about. At least, the cold hard cash we non-professional writers dream about. Never for more than $100, though.
Q: What types of experiences do you draw upon when you are searching for your ideas?
A: The experiences I mostly draw upon for my writing are the emotions I recall from my childhood. Every child has some sense of wonderment born from their imagination. That innate feeling is fundamental to my fantasy writing. Horror, conversely, is drawn from the overblown fears I remember as a child. Anything that still makes my heart throb timorously is a good source.
Q: Would you consider any of your work to be autobiographical in nature?
A: In some ways all my work is autobiographical. Most everything I've written is drawn from personal experience and then taken to the next level. One of my better works, the novel Hazard, is drawn from my own experiences as an academic and my visits through rural Tennessee. Things To Do in a Cemetery When You're Not Dead is based on some bawdy conversations my friends and I have shared. The Light is based on the fear I had that the flickering light from my childhood bedroom contained an evil spirit.
Q: Many people seem to have an innate need to be scared out of their wits from time to time. This seems to have been true throughout history as there is a long and storied collection (in nearly all cultures) of designed specifically to scare. What is the state of horror writing today? In what directions do you see horror writing moving in the future?
A: Horror writing today is stagnant. I know I'm really going out on a limb with that statement, seeing as how everyone in the industry has said something to that effect, but it is true. Stephen King (get well soon!) is not the writer he was before he decided to become a rock star. I've never cared much for Koontz. And McCammon, Rice, etc. simply aren't strong enough to carry the genre alone. The market is saturated with names who really aren't writing that well and building any new interest in the field. Everyone I know who still reads horror reads the old stuff: Poe, Lovecraft, Jackson, pre-It King. Hollywood hasn't helped the genre any, either.
Q: There is an argument in certain film criticism groups that goes like this: While science fiction appears to be experiencing a renaissance on screen, both in film and television, horror seems to be wandering down the same old blind alleys, proffering the same boring slasher flicks, teen scream fests, and other tired cliches. Do you think horror has anything new to offer Hollywood? If so, what?
A: I should warn you that I studied film in school (LOL)! If writing is my first love, then film is my second. Often, it is my first. While I agree that Hollywood has done little to help the genre in recent years, I don't think they've done any favors for sci-fi either. There are, of course, the Star Wars and Star Treks, but have transcended sci-fi to become fundamental parts of our culture. Horror is still strong on television, though, with The X-Files and Millennium as quality examples and the film medium still has great potential. There are hidden gems out there: the original French version of The Vanishing, Suspiria, Evil Dead, and just about anything by Peter Jackson. I'm also eagerly anticipating a film coming out this summer called the Blair Witch Project. The future of horror on film, however, will still be more miss than hit so long as the producers continue to misunderstand the appeal of horror. We aren't frightened by slasher flicks, only momentarily jolted. True horror on film evokes the same emotion we experience when reading the genre. The mis'en scene of Kubrick's The Shining, with the screeching music and enormous hotel hallways, creates an experience that is unforgettable. The juxtaposition of blood across the celluloid in Bram Stoker's Dracula is another example. Until Hollywood learns that cranking up the sound and having the bad guy jump onto the screen doesn't make horror, then the genre will face difficulties.
Q: If you were given complete control over its production, what horror story (of your own, or another writer's) would you most like to bring to the screen? Why? What would you do that would make it stand out from genre films in the past?
A: That's difficult to answer. Initially, I would say I want to do Stephen King's The Stand the right way. That would be difficult to transfer to film, but I think it's possible. It's really such a touching, yet engrossing story. King's ability to make us empathize with Harold is remarkable and didn't translate at all in the television version. I actually worked on the outline to adapt Vurt for the screen, but gave it up when I couldn't determine who owned the film rights or whether or not it had been optioned. Vurt would make a remarkable film. Lastly, The Blackgod would make an excellent fantasy film. I can't remember the last good fantasy film I saw, but Blackgod has such a riveting, multi-faceted storyline that I think it could engross audiences, appealing to their intelligence.
Q: Horror, science fiction, and fantasy all by their very nature plumb the depths of the fantastic and unexpected, yet the world around us is changing very quickly, seemingly charging through new territory and providing discoveries faster than many writers can keep up. How do you see these genres dealing with and flourishing in the "brave new worlds" to come?
A: Science fiction is the only genre that has to change with the times. Fantasy is rooted in the past and horror, while some authors like Crichton have adapted to science-horror, is based on a feeling. Sci-fi is the only genre where the changing world really dictates that writing, because so much of what the golden-age writers speculated on have come true, must evolve. The readers are always eager for a new idea, or taking the theory to the next level. That eagerness makes it difficult to keep up with the changing genre, but it's not impossible. Unlike horror, I think that sci-fi is undergoing a renaissance of great young writers who have adapted. Neal Stephenson, Kim Stanley Robinson, and Raphael Carter. These are great writers! Jeff Noon is remarkable. Vurt was one of the few books I've read in the last few years that kept me awake at night because I was determined to finish it. *And while I'm talking about great young writers, I'd feel remiss if I left out J. Gregory Keyes. Simply put, he is the best fantasy writer working today and that's after only three books!
Q: How do you feel about the world of electronic publishing?
A: My feelings about electronic publishing are mixed. The Internet is such an exciting medium that I'm excited that it provides a larger audience for writers who would otherwise not have it. It has also created something of an online community among the writers and publishers. But this phenomenon is a double-edged sword. There are some people publishing writing on the net that have no business doing so. And there are also occasions where I have felt abandoned by that online community I was once a part of.
Q: How did you first discover Aphelion?
A: I first discovered Aphelion by accident. It was the summer of 1997, I think, and there really wasn't the plethora of online zines that are available now. But Aphelion stood out immediately as a quality, professional site.
Q: A few issues back, you published a story in Aphelion called "Yours Truly". Not very long after this, an anonymous posting was placed in the Lettercol claiming that the piece was plagiarized from another horror story called "Jerusalem's Lot" by Stephen King. As we suspected, an investigation by the staff revealed similarities but nothing more than might be expected for stories from similar genres. As a writer, as someone who puts, to a certain extent, their heart and soul out for the world to see, how do you deal with those types of accusations?
A: How do I deal with those type of accusations? Usually, I ignore them. In fact, that's what I initially did, but my friends convinced me that I should respond to my accuser publically. That is the problem with the Internet that I already mentioned. It's such a wide-open community that sometimes voices that should not be heard are heard. Overall, I was very disappointed, by the online community in general. Almost nobody came to my defense, except for the editors of Aphelion, and even their defense seemed half-hearted and somewhat late. Granted, I understand that they were caught in the middle and had to be somewhat objective, but I wondered what happened to all the other writers and editors of other zines whom I had built relationships with? Where were they? nobody stepped forward to say that this anonymous accuser was wrong and that was disappointing. especially since I felt like "Yours Truly" was such a good story. The controversy seemed to overshadow the quality of the writing.
Q: What do you see yourself doing with your writing in the future?
A: I'm not sure at this point. My disappointment with online publishing has forced me to pursue the paper medium and even in that area I have been slacking. I recently started a new, challenging job and writing has taken aback seat. Overall, though, my writing has become more and more lengthy. I've strayed away from the short format and begun to focus on more human issues: homophobia, fear, racism. I do hope to continue publishing on the Web in the near future, though. I'm currently attempting to edit a prolix science fiction epic (read: 300,000+ words) that I have worked on for the past three years.
Q: Your bio indicates that you are a member of the HWA. What is the HWA? What does this organization do?
A: HWA is the Horror Writers Association of America. I recently decided not to renew my membership, but it is a quality organization for anyone interested in horror writing. They are the premiere organization with membership including just about every published author you've heard of.
Q: If you could offer any one piece of advice to an author who is just starting out, what would it be?
A: Write, write, write! Then after you write some more, submit. after youget the inevitable rejection, write!