This week I am blessed with two Viable Paradise interviews in my mail box. The first of these is with Steve Buchheit, a writer with a social conscious as well as an excellent sense of noir. Welcome, Steve!
Tamago: When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
Steve: My standard answer is that I got serious about writing a decade ago, but that's not the whole story. Progressing forward I also am looking back over my life to see the influences and strains of story that I'm putting into my work. My earliest memory of writing is buying a Kodak Brownie at the Gibbsboro School white elephant sale for a dollar. My parents were still together so we had money to buy rolls of film and I started telling stories through the camera. I wrote poetry through high school, but mostly to impress girls. In college I had the option of skipping English classes. Instead I minored in Creative Writing with my writing focus in poetry, but the literature side had a distinct genre bent (my senior paper was on the concepts of God through the writings of Arthur C. Clarke). While I was traveling for Ernst & Young, I tried writing a pastiche of Steven Brust which utterly failed because I didn't have the fire in me. Then about a decade ago I started writing an homage to Glenn Cook and that book kicked my tuchus. That was my come to Jesus moment. I still want to go back and finish that book, but I don't know that I'm completely ready for it.
I took some continuing ed classes at that point and was blessed to have two highly influential instructors. I realized at that time that I had no clue how to tell a story. So I downshifted into short stories to strengthen my skills (note to new writers, short stories and novels have very little in common, but knowing how to tell a story transcends both).
So, while I now realize I've been writing and telling stories all my life, it's really only been a decade since I've been serious about it.
Tamago: Do you feel you have a genre as a writer?
Steve: I don't think I have one standard genre. When I started writing short fiction, I wrote SF, because that's what I read a lot of in the short form. When I started experimenting with fantasy I found my writer's voice became stronger. And when I hit into dark fantasy I could feel the energy flowing into the keyboard. I keep trying experiments into other genres, but it all seems to flow back into fantasy of some sort. The first story I had accepted by a paying market (signed the contract, still haven't been printed, it's a long story) started out as an attempt at literary fiction, but somehow in the middle turned into the Cthulhu horror. I jettisoned the majority of the literary work and focused in on the horror. And that's what sold. I'm sure there's a positive feedback lesson in there somewhere.
Tamago: When I read an excerpt of your work at Viable Paradise, there seemed to be a real influence from the world of noir. What or who are the main influences on your work?
Steve: Of the little TV I watch these days, the majority is TCM which shows old Warner Brothers movies. I think what really got me interested was the screen adaption of Dashiell Hammet's "The Thin Man." The banter between Nick and Nora (Myrna Loy and William Powell, adaption by Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich) drew me in and never let me go. When I decided to write this novel, it was going to be "the novel I threw away." Basically a novel to break that psychological barrier of having a novel fully written. So I choose something that I could have fun with and not care about marketability or any other factors. American detective noirs have a fairly simple plot line and three act structures which seemed to be easy to me (at the time). While going from dark fantasy to noir was fairly easy, I did read a lot of Hammett, Parker, Spillane and Chandler to tweak the voice and get it right.
For my other fiction, my main influences are Ray Bradbury, Douglas Adams, Kelly Link, Steven Brust, Glenn Cook, Neil Gaiman, Ursula K. le Guin, and almost any of the short fiction anthologies edited by Terri Windling and Ellen Datlow.
Tamago: What projects are you working on now?
Steve: I'm editing that noir novel, "Bladesman." I think this will be my last run through before I start flogging it around in public. There's a few short stories I need to rewrite, and I need to get a nature poem out by the end of the month for a contest I like.
Tamago: Readers who visit your blog will not only find information about writing, but will also find a wealth of information about progressive politics and graphic design. Can you talk about either of those?
Steve: Well, the graphic design is easy. I hold a BFA from the University of Akron and have been a professional graphic designer for over two decades. It's more of an avocation than a job, ask any designer that's stayed in it for over five years. You really have to love this work. On the blog I can geek out over things that I see, or rail against the industry when they let me down. I've learned the trick of not critiquing restaurant menus in public or boring my friends by spouting off on typographic or color theory at the drop of a hat. It doesn't mean I don't do it in my head. However, on my blog I get to inflict all that on my unsuspecting readers.
With politics, it's something much deeper. One of my many jobs is that of elected official and my family has been involved with politics as long as I can remember. My journey to progressive politics is a little more convoluted. But it's the idiocy I see (from both sides and from many of those who say they're "outside traditional politics") that really gets my boilers roiling. I'm political by nature, but progressive because I'm observant.
Tamago: What do you hope people will find as the themes in your work?
Steve: Wittiness and the craft of writing. Sometimes that wit can be a quick throw away line from a character, or it can take four chapters to come to fruition. For the craft, I'm told my writing can be very poetical, and I take great pride in that. At VP, Teresa Nielsen Hayden told me I have a unique relationship with the language. I think she meant it as a good thing. If I can ever get a reader to say, "Damn, how did he do that?" I think I'll be very happy.
Tamago: Do you have a dream writing project, one you've always wanted to work on?
Steve: The dream project is the next novel. The one I stopped to get the confidence to finish a novel (the reason why I wrote "Bladesman"). The elevator pitch is "The left behind romantic comedy for those of us who will be left behind." And once I'm done with that, I'm sure the next novel will be the dream project. Isn't that the way this always goes?
Tamago: As a Viable Paradise attendee, do you have any advice to share with future applicants to the program?
Steve: Sleep a lot before you go. Don't rush getting there or leaving. In the evenings hang out with your fellow writers and enjoy yourself. These are all things I learned the hard way. I arrived at VP exhausted, didn't plan in enough days for myself, and spent the first two evenings working on critiques and the writing assignments (until about 4am). I'm a slow reader and writer. It took a conversation with Jim Macdonald where he explained that it wasn't like I was being graded on my work production that allowed me to relax and get out in the evenings. I still worked hard on all the critiques, I felt an obligation to give my best on those.
Tamago: Where do you hope to be with your writing in 5 years?
Steve: Realistically? I hope to just sold the dream project and to be working on the Glenn Cook homage.
Steve, you sound like a very versatile writer, and I'm looking forward to reading not only the dream project, but the rest of your stories as well.