Thursday, June 10, 2010

[Interview: 2 of 2] M. A. Walters

In an earlier interview, science fiction, horror novelist and short story writer, M. A. Walters talked about his collection of short stories, A Flourish of Damage and other Tales (Sonar4 Publications, 2010).

M. A. Walters now talks about the influences he draws on as a writer:

How would you describe the writing you are doing?

I would say it’s a mix. I think I jump across genre lines pretty freely. I think most of my current work is a combination of science fiction, horror, and speculative fiction.

I kind of have to think the writer Nina M. Osier for that. She writes in the sci-fi genre and seemed to think it might be a good fit for me. She is a good teacher. Also, she was subtle. I felt it was OK to try on the genre and it was a great fit.

Who is your target audience?

I try and be inclusive on purpose. For example, I try and write strong, interesting and flawed characters that will appeal to many personalities.

I try and hook the reader and keep them moving. I want them both entertained and challenged.

People have told me that I write strong and interesting women. Which is funny to me because women are still a mystery to me. I thought it a stupid notion to cut out half the world’s population by only writing for men. For example, women are quickly discovering science fiction today. They are joining the sciences and I think they offer some intuitive wisdom even there in the hard sciences. They have been solidly in the horror realm for a good while, since what, Mary Shelley, which is horror but also an early sci-fi theme.

I hope my work appeals across genres and across gender. For example, Jian, the lead character in the first book of the Minders series is a very strong, powerful and complex women. She really ended up being the lead. I did not plan it that way at all. She took over but made the book better for doing so.

Of course, the same applies for the male characters. I mention women because I’ve gone out of my way to include them in the sf genre by looking at them as potential readers.

If you just want a good adventure story, I think you will want to give my work a look. If you are a horror, sf, or speculative reader, the same also.

I attempt to be inclusive. I think, even a mystery or thriller reader would enjoy some of my work. At least I’d like to think so.

Which authors influenced you most?

The truth is ... and this is what I think makes my work a bit unique ... a lot of my influences come from outside my genre.

I see the influence of some surrealistic poets, for one, in the way I string sentences together and sometimes unusual word combinations and the way I piece environment together.

For me, environment is the biggest character in a story. I learned that from F. Herbert.

As for the others, these are people I’ve not read for a long time but the poetry and internal world is still there. Writers like Paul Bowels, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and Pablo Neruda. They all wrote the interior world very well. At the same time, their eyes were piercing, in the awake sense. You could see through their eyes, in new ways, the ordinary world.

It’s strange, but there is poetry in every thing if seen very clearly. There are violent explosive episodes in my work, but there is an odd poetry and beauty there also. Perhaps because so much is at stake in those moments. I want the reader to feel that. I want them to be tense and uncomfortable.

There is a fight scene in the "Rocks Beneath" and there is so much at stake in that moment, the whole book has been driving you there as the tension mounts. You are so invested in the character by that time and more than just the life of those two individuals is at stake. After a friend read that passage, he said he was exhausted and that he hated one of the characters. Actually hated them.

That meant I had succeeded in my venture.

It was the biggest compliment I’ve received thus far.

The point is, I really did not discover my genre until about 10 years ago. Friends tried to get me to read the Ring Series, Tolkien’s work. I said, "Isn’t that for kids, like teen stories?"

One day, I picked it up and was completely pulled in, completely sucked in and I never looked back. That’s a good point on horror writing, I think.

Throughout Tolkien’s work you see the influences that haunted him from World War I: the trench warfare is there; the deep friendships and the harshness; the senseless death ... I’ve heard others say this also. I think it is true and a very strong feature of his work.

From there I discovered Frank Herbert’s Dune, and later the work that continued through Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson.

Lovecraft is also there in some work. Like in "After the Fall, the Remnant". Which is outlined to continue and become a full novel, perhaps my next.

I think I need a break from the Minders.

Bradbury, he was a man so far ahead of his time. And he could be so nostalgic and sensitive, and yet far out front ahead of his era. And he still is!

I see some Bradbury in "Scraps of Time and Place".

Bradbury is like childhood, terrifying and wonderful at the same time. I’d like to think I capture a little of that from time to time. Stephen King is like this. He knows and understands childhood and the wild things in the closet and the shadows under the bed. He writes remarkable friendships, the ones we carry with us always, from those years.

S. M. Stirling is a contemporary writer I really enjoy. I can’t pen point a particular influence although I aspire towards his battle scenes. He can put those together better than anyone I’m aware of now.

When did you start writing?

When I was between 10 and 12 years old.

People, kids begin to look at the world around that age. Before that we are pretty focused on the self. Well, I began to look around and realized the world did not operate the way I was taught it was suppose to. That view then turns on the self and I realized that I made even less sense. So I began to order things on paper. Back then it was pen and paper and when pen hit paper it was somehow transforming and natural.

Getting published ... that has been a twisted path for me with many pitfalls and detours.

First, I put pen to paper then, sometime later, the thought of sharing arrived slowly.

Writing is a damned scary venture, isn’t it? Sharing what you have written, that’s not for the faint-hearted but, face it, we writers are basically faint-hearted. You can’t have that kind of nature and not be a bit thinned-skinned. It’s like a romantic venture, that moment you put it all on the line.

You eventually learn to tuck your ego away or so I hear -- but it’s raw and takes some courage always.

I started by letting a few people I trusted look at my work, but that was much later. I was in the process then of deciding this is what I want to do. I always keep returning to that.

I started as a poet, believe it or not. And I did publish in that genre in this anthology or that one right away. The poetry came much later when I was in college, as did the short stories ... I took those genres up seriously in my early 20’s. Before that is was snippets, patches of stories, a half poem, it was mostly journal type entries. But it began there.

Strangely and odd enough I was not heavy reader until college.

It was like a dormant part of me woke up and woke up at a full gallop. I’ve been catching up ever since.

It was an English teacher and I was terrified of him, anyone with sense was! First day of class there was like 37 people, mostly unknowing freshmen packed into his little class that had about 12 chairs.

We were spilled all over the floor and standing in corners.

He was a tall lean Scotsman with a big white beard and wore a little red beret and the same old brown wrinkled corduroy sport coat everyday. I think that coat was much older than I was.

We were all squirming and quietly asking each other, "What’s up?"

We knew this was not the norm.

He looked up and his eyes seemed to impale each of us. You knew there was no corner deep enough to hide in! In fact, we quickly learned not to sit in those corners anyway.

He quietly said, "If you are worried about having a seat don’t be. There will be plenty of seats soon enough. By the end of week there will be 12 to 15 of you left. Fewer of those will survive before to the end of semester."

Then he roared with the loudest belly laugh I’ve heard before or since. I once, many years later, heard that laugh in the back of a darkened theater and instantly said, "That is Mr. Moore." He was always Mr. to me even after we became friends. He was my first teacher in every sense of the word.

Well, Mr. Moore pointed to the door with his chin and said, "If you want to leave, now is a good time to do so because the door will soon be locked, as it will be every day the moment class begins. There are no latecomers here."

Those with good sense bolted for the door and he politely told them all goodbye and said thanks for coming.

Truth is, I think, I was too scared to leave.

Afterwards, I told my girlfriend of the time, "I can’t do this class. This is not for me."

She looked at me and said simply, "I think you have to if you want to write."

Well, long story made short, I survived the first week, and I survived the entire semester.

I took every class he offered, in fact.

I never walked in that room at ease, though. It was like a confrontation with a Zen master. There was the feeling that anything could happen in that room. Yet through all this, he was the most respectful person I have ever met.

He was not mean, ever. He was stern, and he was caring. But it was the kind of kindness that strips away falseness.

If you ever, and I did, say something glib or false you were ablaze in your seat instantly.

But it was always Mr. Walters, Ms. So-and-so. It was the first time most of us were treated as adults.

OK, so I did the bravest thing I think I had ever done up to that point. At mid-term, I quietly slipped a large envelope of probably 200 poems on his desk.

I was so frightened I could not talk. I just slipped it there on my rush to the door.

He never said a word about it.

I’m laughing here.

But the very last day of class, he said, "Mr. Walters, I believe this is yours."

I picked up the same envelope and neither of us said anything.

I thought, "Oh, crap, he did not even bother to look at them."

Lol.

I was mistaken.

I got home and realized every single poem was littered with red and blue ink. He had thoughtfully commented on each poem.

That was the beginning ... somehow.

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