Edward Morris is a man seeped in literature from a young age, who’s also lived quite a life. He’s been nominated for the Pushcart Prize in 2011, the Rhysling Award in 2009, and the BSFA in 2005. From short stories to full novels, he’s done it all – and pretty much lived it all as well.
Let’s dive into this man’s life and find out what he can teach us – which is a lot.
1) Edward, first of all you’ve had quite an education. Tell us a bit about it – and also what role you think education plays in becoming a writer.
The more, the better, and every different kind. Credits from Hard Knocks U. are, of course, instantly transferable. Writers need to read. Writers need to study engineering, or have some back-breaking job in a brewery, or work at a soup kitchen, or anything that takes them outside their comfort zone, challenges their experience. Education comes from everywhere, in that sense, and it is food for what we do. Feed it.
In the academic sense, though, with literature, philosophy, history, anthro, whatever… Read the rules before you tear them up. Study the classics. Study critical thinking. You can be an iconoclast and tear up old dead white men to shreds. But read them first. Wallace Stevens, I believe, said that you have to become the author of your own authority. Educate yourself in every way you can, while you can. Because it enlarges the world you live, as well as the worlds you build with words.
2) What do you do besides writing – if anything – and how does it influence your writing?
I write a lot, and it is most of what I do. I also, quite simply, try to experience everything I can, while I can. It goes back to the education question. Seeing Wovenhand blow the doors off the Hawthorne Theatre. Camping in the Oregon desert. Helping Ann Koi make art all night long in Olympia. Hearing the Dalai Lama sing in Pioneer Square. Roadmarshalling for the Olympic cycling trials one year. Everything I can grab. Enough for a whole separate interview. But the principle shines through.
Also, I bounce drunks. It would take a whole separate interview, again, to explain everything that has taught me about the human condition. Bouncers are part psych nurse, part babysitter, part caregiver and part superhero; the good ones, anyway. You have to be. 99% of it is psychology…and the things I have seen on duty inform so much of what I write.
I am a visual artist, and I hang out with artists. That feeds my prose, it feeds my soul…and there are times when Art gets my aggressions out just as quickly as writing does. One can tell a story with images just as much as one can paint with words. Bryon Gysin was wrong: Writing is not fifty years behind painting, they are merely two different drugs. It depends on aptitude, preference and circumstance.
3) You’ve also lived quite a life, with ups and downs, medical challenges and more. It seems to have only fueled you – much as William Burroughs has said. Tell us how it fuels you and what can we do to transform problems into prose?
I have a lot of scars, some self-inflicted and some not. Society has generated a tremendous number of setbacks, but I don’t waste time blaming Society. Because I don’t have time. Our culture is sick, America is sick, and poverty is not automatically someone’s fault, nor are things that someone didn’t necessarily choose.
I can own the things that are mine to own, but I won’t apologize for being disabled, and I don’t choose to be perpetually indigent because I want to sit around on my ass making mudpies in the sky and ignoring what other people think are my responsibilities. Most of those others are the ones who would craft my doom.
Because I never sold out my dream. To do so would be to let them win. To let them do what they wanted to do before, which was the old Nazi song-and-dance of ‘Segregate, Humiliate, Abase and then Kill At Will.” That’s not going to happen. Those people are getting old, and running out of time with their own stuff, and it scares them. What better Judas goat than me? But that rings hollow, because of what is actually going on in my life. I’m getting *responsible. I’m falling *to grace, and it shows to the people who matter.
How that informs my prose is simple: Writing is my dream, not because I want to make a million dollars, but because it is Magic. It sets me free. It is what I was born to do, and it was born in me.
And when I hurt too much to pull my double-jointed carcass off the floor, when the million anxieties of health or poverty have me begging my higher mind to let myself curl up under the bed and moan, when I want to bite the face off someone who has hurt me or kept me down…
I hear my collaborator Joseph Pulver. Every time: “COMMANDMENT #1: GET YOUR ASS IN THAT CHAIR AND WRITE. COMMANDMENT #2: BLEED ON THAT PAGE. IF YOU AIN’T BLEEDIN, I AIN’T READIN’.” Every time. The first two King In Yellow adaptations I did under his aegis were a direct demonstration of that principle, and critic Peter Tennant called the first one a masterpiece. Because I bled that page red.
4) As a writer, you’ve done both novels and short stories. Do you have a preference, and which do you think is best for an aspiring author to start with?
Paul Di Fillippo, one of my earliest mentors, says that short stories are the crack cocaine of the genre. More payoff for less work. I’ve always had a harder time with flow in novels, or did until a great editor named Shawn Gibbs helped me with linear Science Fiction. Aspiring writers should start out with *journals. *Then short stories. In between, outlines and treatments and ideas. Keep the originals. Play around. Try an idea three different ways. If it doesn’t work in first person, use second or third person. Let the idea be as big as it wants to be. Aspiring writers need to concentrate on writing what they feel like writing, getting it on the page, and fixing the rest in Post Production. Personally and academically, short stories first is the way to go. In my humble opinion.
5) We’ve got a lot of aspiring authors out there – what do you think is the best way to start getting published?
Duotrope.com Ralan.com Outside of spec-fic, any market site with that setup. I have never sold a story from a postal submission. Start with local zines, online zines, people who maybe don’t pay, or pay token rates, but will advise. Editors like Don Webb at Bewildering Stories, who know what they see when they see it and aren’t afraid to say it. Start by talking to published writers, and by people who go to the open mics or whatever your scene looks like. Start from where you are and, in Method Man’s immortal words, create a ruckus where you at.
6) The role of self-publishing seems more prominent in writing and literature. What’s your opinion of the boom in self-publishing and how it helps or hurts authors?
My good friend and collaborator Justin Montgomery is a huge self-publishing advocate, and has softened me toward it. If it works for you, *beat it to death.* Flog every angle of it that you can. Become a promotional machine. It helps a person’s voice to talk about what they say in their prose, and demonstrates its importance. The market is changing so fast, and every day self-publishing becomes more viable…if you know its limitations and consequences. It just means you have to be your own ‘street team’, as it were, and get the word out there.
7) Promotion is another area that authors have to work on. What do you recommend for authors to learn and do for promotion?
See questions 5 and 6. Every Means Necessary.
8) You’ve been nominated for quite a few awards. What roles to awards play in the author’s career?
Award nominations look good on a cover letter. The experiences that I have had with each nomination were *electric, and I made so many great friends. Editors like Jetse de Vries and Bud Webster and Bill Olver. Fellow BSFA nominee Cory Doctorow, who talked my ear off at Worldcon ’06 about a lot of really brilliant things. Another fellow BSFA nominee who won, Kelly Link, whose work was unfamiliar to me before that but put stars in my eyes when I studied the winner. I don’t know authoritatively what role awards play in an author’s career, because I’ve never won one. But nominations are quite a stepping stone for any writer.
9) Some writers try and enter a lot of writing contests. What role do you see for those in an author’s career?
A lot of contests are bullshit. I have a hard time with anyone charging a reading or submission fee anywhere. Read the fine print. As much as I hate to say good things about anything Scientology-related, the Writers of the Future Contest has helped authors I like a whole bunch, like Ken Scholes. Generally, the higher-profile the contest, the more I trust it. Again, just my opinion from the field.
10) So any other advice to share with our fellow writers and aspiring writers?
Don’t let people who don’t write tell you what you should be doing. Don’t confuse your tools with your task. Neil Gaiman has said a lot of good things about this, two of which I want to regurgitate: That there is no drug on earth like finishing something…and that anything that gets you writing and keeps you writing is a good thing.
11) Any of your novels and stories you want to suggest our audience read?
My novels are soon to be reissued. Some of the publishers folded, and one sadly left this plane not long ago. BLACKGUARD 1: FATHERS AND SONS and BLACKGUARD 2: THE ART OF WAR were pretty tight.
The ones Samhain ran look silly and dated to me now, much like my association with the publisher.
Stories… I list a lot on edwardrmorrisjr.wordpress.com and they are continually being updated. Here is my first collaboration with Joseph Pulver, which will do for a recommendation: http://lovecraftzine.com/magazine/issues/2013-2/issue-23-april-2013/a-cold-yellow-moon-by-joe-pulver-edward-morris/
Also, my alternate history novella that was Interzone’s first “web extra”, JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH, which I am still proud of. Dr. Walter Munk at Scripps actually helped, to the point where he sent me to the library to read everything about Project Mohole before I wrote one word… http://www.ttapress.com/Journey.pdf
Oh, and the Perihelion stories…
– Steven Savage
Steven Savage is a Geek 2.0 writer, speaker, blogger, and job coach. He blogs on careers at http://www.musehack.com/, publishes books on career and culture at http://www.informotron.com/, and does a site of creative tools at http://www.seventhsanctum.com/. He can be reached at http://www.stevensavage.com/.