Stars of Speculative Fiction – Joel A. Sutherland

Today we welcome Joel A. Sutherland, Canadian crime lord and mauler of sharks…

Well Joel, it’s nice to be able to interview you, especially as I can guess at how tight you must be for time, what with you name plastered on every other anthology I see coming out at the moment… how do you manage it?

1. What’s going on with Mr. Sutherland at the moment, what books are on their way out and what new projects have you lined up?

To answer your first question, I manage it by forgetting that I’m so busy. It’s the only way to stay sane. In fact, when you mentioned it just now I began to have some minor heart palpitations, thinking of all my approaching deadlines. Sometimes it pays to have the memory of a goldfish. Ignorance is bliss, and all that.

As for upcoming projects, I’ve got stories included in four anthologies around the corner. “Beached” in The Beast Within, a romance story with humans who turn into sea creatures. “Bark and Bite” in Abaculus 2008, about an undead dog. “Again, Iabrochium” in Robots Beyond, a fantasy about a wizard who combines magic and mechanics to bring back an extinct species. Which species? Google “Iabrochium” to find out! And “The Trees Ran Red” in Northern Haunts, about a sugar shack owner who one morning finds his buckets not filled with maple syrup … but with BLOOD! Sorry, I got a little carried away there.

The big project I’ll be hyping like crazy in the months to come is Frozen Blood, my first full length novel. If you’re a friend of mine, as you are, Mark, you might already be sick of hearing about it, so I’ll keep this brief. It’s an apocalyptic book about a devastating ice storm, filled with ghosts, psychotic family members suffering from cabin fever, and buried secrets that have a way of rearing their ugly heads. They always do. All this between a gorgeous cover by mega-talented Aussie artist Stephen Blundell. It will be available for pre-order on September 28, 2008, and published on December 28 of the same year, by Lachesis Publishing.

Uh oh, that was all my big news. What else are we going to talk about now?

I never tire of hearing about Frozen Blood, and thanks for the pre-order date there, I’ll be sure to get myself a copy!

2. Hitting you with this one rather early so that we can relax a bit afterwards (promise). What is speculative fiction?

I’ll hold you to that promise! It’s a term people use to group horror, science fiction and fantasy. You know, the genres that speculate what may be, the ‘what if’ genres. Tell people you’re a writer and their first question is invariably, “So, what do you write?” I used to answer, “Speculative fiction!” because it was shorter than saying, “Horror, science fiction and fantasy.” (I’m so lazy.) But when you do that their second question is invariably, “What the H E double hockey sticks is speculative fiction?” And then you end up having to explain that it’s horror, science fiction and fantasy anyway, so now I just tell people I write horror, science fiction and fantasy from the get-go.

Furthermore, there’s a long running debate in the fiction world as to whether or not there should be genre classifications at all. I mean, when you boil it down, isn’t all fiction speculative? Of course it is! It’s all make-believe. I think genre terms help put people at ease. They understand them, and can instantly relate to a book or a movie before they’ve read/seen it. People like that. Sometimes I wish I could be surprised a little bit more. I like it when books and movies defy my expectations.


3. As we both know you’ve been doing a stint as an editor recently. How was that and how does it compare to being a writer, which do you prefer?

My wife and I co-edited a book of fast food horror stories, called Fried! Fast Food, Slow Deaths. It was a spur of the moment thing, when a similar anthology folded and we heard people online wondering if they could publish it themselves. I thought, why not? We opened a call for submissions, asked a few contacts if they’d like to write for it, my pal Bret Jordan offered to do the cover art, and eventually sold the project to upstart publisher Graveside Tales. It was one of those rare times in the small press that everything came together, and we encountered very few road blocks. Other than sending out rejection letters, it was a lot of fun. Plus, it was a great learning experience. I’m quite proud of how that book turned out. I’d like to do it again, and I’ve already begun brainstorming some ideas, but I’ll always be a writer before an editor.

I’m still waiting for my copy of that, I look forward to it!

4. I haven’t finished my review for the first issue of Moreauvia yet but I can go on record here and say that Timberbeasts was my favourite in the magazine. What inspired you to write that?

Wow, thank you, Mark. I’m a little speechless to hear you say that, especially considering the company I share in that issue of the magazine. For a long time now I’ve wanted to write a speculative (there’s that term again) historical fiction novel about Canada’s lumber boom of the 1800s. It’s ripe subject matter for a great fireplace read. Think about it: you’ve got big, strong (and hairy) men, from all the corners of the world, out in the middle of nowhere, swinging axes, battling the elements, developing friendships and rivalries. After a long day felling trees they would gather around their fires to tell stories about werewolves, demons and lake monsters, stories some of the men would have believed to be true. And who knows? Maybe there was some truth in the stories. My novel would go down those supernatural paths…

I had done a lot of research into lumberjacks, or ‘timberbeasts’, as they were also known, when friend Pete Allen of Creative Guy Publishing told me about the Moreauvia project he and Byron Starr were working on. I won’t go into detail about Moreauvia, because I fear I’m already beginning to ramble a bit too much, so I encourage people unfamiliar with it to visit the website for more detail. Basically, it’s a magazine containing stories set in a fictional world in which men and animals are combined, creating a creature known as beastmen. Timberbeasts.

Beastmen, Timberbeasts. Beastmen. Like Homer’s, it took my mind a minute until I saw the connection between those two terms, but finally I did and the story practically wrote itself.

The whole concept is great and your story matches my vision of it perfectly!

5. How important is music to you when you write?

It’s funny you should ask, because I recently discovered the joy in listening to the right music while writing. With the release date quickly approaching, I’ve been working like a mad man (as has my editor, Louise Bohmer, although I guess I should say she’s been working like a mad woman) editing existing scenes and writing entirely new scenes for Frozen Blood. I obviously want to make sure it’s as good as possible before it’s published. I don’t usually listen to music while plugging away, but I happened to put on Radiohead’s In Rainbows the other day, and that album matches the tone and style I’m going for in my book perfectly! Dark, melancholic and haunting. Hopefully my readers will agree that I’ve achieved that.

I’ve also been listening to a lot of Queens of the Stone Age, and The White Stripes and The Raconteurs. That’s not a huge shocker, though, as I’m a big Jack White fan, and his stuff gets played a lot any time I’m near a CD player.

I’ve found it’s helped me to focus — keeps me from feeling the urge to check my email every other minute or play a game or two of hearts.

In Rainbows is a lovely album to be sure! I’m getting more and more interested in this book too!

6. What would your advice be for new and aspiring writers?

My first bit of advice would be to take my advice with a grain of salt. I’m still relatively new and aspiring myself. The old cliche, read lots/write lots, holds a lot of water. But what I’ve found to be incredibly helpful is to be as active in the “writing community” as possible. Whether you’re writing horror, children’s fiction, romance, memoirs, or telephone books, meet as many beginning and established writers as you can, as well as editors and publishers. With so many hanging out on the internet, this is a lot easier to do these days than it used to be. You’ll not only make some great contacts and friends, but you’ll learn a lot from them and they’ll help cure the loneliness that comes from sitting in front of a computer writing all day. But don’t forget to professional and courteous — you don’t want people to remember you for all the wrong reasons.

I definitely agree with the community comments, some wise words there!

7. When you write, are you generally looking for markets to publish to or do you just write and then see if there’s a home out there for them?

Writing for specific markets can act as a great kick start for the imagination. “An anthology of genetically engineered garden gnomes that fight sharks on Mars stories? I can write something for that!” If you had never heard of that project, you might never have thought of writing a story about a genetically engineered gnome that fights sharks on Mars. And that would be a shame. When Permuted Press announced that they were looking for robot stories that blend genres, I immediately knew I wanted to write something for it, and I thought giving fantasy a shot would be fun. That’s how I came up with the idea for “Again, Iabrochium”, about a robotic dragon* on a rampage. If I had to guess I’d say about half of my ideas come from thinking about specific markets.

*I apologize to the people who wasted time earlier Googling “Iabrochium” to discover its meaning, instead of simply reading the whole interview to see me blurt it out.

Heh, a gnome that fights sharks on Mars? I think I have something around here…

8. Who got you started, who inspired you to write and who inspires you now?
I used to attend a writer’s group for people writing children’s fiction. When asked the same question on the first day I explained that when I was very young my oldest brother wrote and illustrated a few picture books for school about Sandro the Super Cat (don’t ask me where he got the name from), a kitten who did amazing things like belting a home run in the bottom of the ninth — two out, full count, bases loaded, naturally — to win the game. It wasn’t long before I was writing and illustrating my own picture books, about Bo Jackson the Super Dog (no need to ask where I got that name from), a puppy who did amazing things like, well, you get the idea. The writing bug bit me at a young age, and once I learned the definition of plagiarism, I was on my way. (That story got a lot of Oohs and Awws from the predominantly female writer’s group, but now that my focus has switched to horror, I haven’t told it since. I wonder why.)
These days, I write mostly with my wife in mind. Colleen is a voracious reader, so she doesn’t begrudge me too much when I shove one of my stories under her nose. It takes her roughly a minute and a half to read something that took me months to perfect.
It’s also important, of course, to write for yourself. So much self-doubt, criticism and challenges go along with writing, that if you don’t enjoy the process, you’re not going to last long.

Bo Jackson the Super Dog eh?

9. What’s your biggest fear as a writer?

I’m not terribly afraid that the ideas will stop coming. My mind races every time I go for a walk, drive for a while alone, or lie down to sleep, and I often have more ideas than time to get them down on paper. I guess my biggest fear would be that no one reads my writing. As I recently heard author Kim Paffenroth say, if you don’t care whether or not your books find an audience, you might as well just keep a journal. I’ve gained so much entertainment from reading other people’s books and stories, and I’d be thrilled if people get the same satisfaction from my work.


10. Last but not least, if you’re editing an anthology and money is no object, who would be the five authors you would commission to write a new story for it?

Now that’s a fun question! Except limiting it to five, that’s just mean. Okay, first, I’d say George R R Martin, my favourite author. Second, J.K. Rowling — who surely wouldn’t hurt sales — on the condition her story is outside of the Harry Potter universe (I’m eager to see what else she’s got in the tank). Third, another sales-clincher, Stephen King, because his short stories are so varied, he could write for any genre. Fourth, the series I’m most smitten by right now is the Temeraire dragon books, so Naomi Novik gets a green light. And finally, let’s add a little Canadian content and throw YA author Kenneth Oppel into the mix (no offence to Margaret Atwood).
Sorry, but I’m going to cheat a little and list five authors I’d commission if death weren’t an object. I’ll keep it brief and let them speak for themselves.

1. Ernest Hemingway
2. J.R.R. Tolkien
3. Douglas Adams
4. Aldous Huxley
5. Kurt Vonnegut

Oh a sneaky last five eh? I like it!

Thank you so much for taking the time to be interviewed by myself and I wish you all the success with Frozen Blood and all your other future projects!

Thanks for having me, Mark, and for the kind words. Good luck with all your upcoming projects as well. As busy as I am, your work ethic makes me feel guilty for wasting time on activities like sleeping and eating.


About Mark S. Deniz

English teacher, writer, editor, publisher, reviewer and blogger. Founder of publishing company, Morrigan Books and imprint, Gilgamesh Press and editor-in-chief for review site, Beyond Fiction. Also cycles, plays floorball, listens to lots and lots of music, reads a ton of books and tries to fit in some TV, film and writing too. View all posts by Mark S. Deniz

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