Ian Rogers is a writer, artist, and photographer. His short fiction has appeared in publications including Cemetery Dance, Supernatural Tales, and Shadows & Tall Trees. He is the author of the dark fiction collection Every House Is Haunted (ChiZine Publications) and SuperNOIRtural Tales (Burning Effigy Press), a series of stories featuring supernatural detective Felix Renn. Ian lives with his wife in Peterborough, Ontario. For more information, visit ianrogers.ca.
SFFWRTCHT: First things first, where’d your interest in science fiction and fantasy come from?
Ian Rogers: It all started with my parents. My mother always had Stephen King novels lying around the house, and she never cared if my sister or I read them. I think she figured, as long as we were reading something that was a good thing. My father was the big science fiction influence. The first movie I remember seeing on VHS was Alien, which my father probably thought was okay because it takes place in space. He never had much use for horror novels or horror movies, but he didn’t mind if my sister and I watched/read them. The rule in our house was, the moment they give you nightmares, that’s when we’d have to stop. I don’t recall if we ever did get nightmares from any of the movies we watched or the books we read, but if we did, we sure didn’t tell him about it.
SFFWRTCHT: Who are some of your favorite authors and books that inspire you?
IR: Different books inspired different parts of my writing. For instance, Stephen King taught me about taking everyday events and tweaking them slightly with the supernatural to make them truly terrifying. I’ve always liked the idea of realism in fiction, especially fantasy, because I feel if you have believable characters and events, then it’s easier to sell the fantasy elements. It’s about creating that suspension of disbelief which makes for a much more visceral reading experience.
That’s one of the reasons why I enjoy the work of crime novelist Elmore Leonard. He writes some of the best dialogue, in any genre, because it always sounds so real. He writes about cops and criminals, but it’s not about good people or bad people, they’re just people doing good and bad things. That’s what makes his work believable, and what makes it so good.
Some of my other influences include Charles L. Grant for his brand of “quiet” horror, Clifford D. Simak for his blue-collar science fiction novels, and William Gibson for his ability to write innovative fiction with such spare (yet elegant) prose.
SFFWRTCHT: When did you decide to become a storyteller and how did you get your start?
IR: I started writing seriously in my teens. I was originally interested in film, so at first I wrote a lot of screenplays. But for various reasons, my career in film never even left the launch pad. Then one day a couple of friends contacted me about submitting a story for a ‘zine they were putting together. I wrote them a Lovecraft pastiche called “Black Iron Shadows,” and the rest is history.
IR: I took a lot of English courses in high school, but mostly I learned through trial and error. That’s just the way I learn best. I read a lot and I write a lot. I’ve never been one for workshops or writing circles or things like NaNoWriMo. I’m not against any of these things — if it works for you, then do it — but writing as a social activity has never appealed to me. I have a few beta readers, people whose opinions I trust completely, and they’ve served me well.
Of course, it should go without saying that I’m still learning. I don’t think any writer ever reaches a level of complete and total perfection. It’s not like reaching spiritual enlightenment. At least it isn’t for me. Having said that, in the past year or so, I definitely feel like I’ve “leveled up” as a writer. When I go back to reread some of my favourite books, I can see why they work, why they’re so good. It’s a bit like Neo seeing the code of the Matrix for the first time.
SFFWRTCHT: Did you start with shorts stories, novels? How long before you made your first sale?
IR: I started with short stories, but then moved on to longer works. The first story I sold for cash-money was called “The Tattletail,” and I sold it to a mag called Dark Wisdom. That was six years ago. I still enjoy short fiction and I’ll always write it, but it’s definitely moved onto the backburner. For me it’s a career move as well as a personal choice. I’ve published two collections, and people seem to dig them, but they want longer stories. They want novels.
SFFWRTCHT: Your work has appeared since 2006 in outlets like Cemetery Dance and Supernatural Tales, and you have a bibliography of 24 short stories, a novella and more. Your first collection, Every House Is Haunted, is out now from ChiZine and has sold more limited edition hardcovers than any title they’ve had. Tell us about Every House Is Haunted, how did that come about?
IR: What happened was, ChiZine had been around for a little while, but they hadn’t yet opened to unsolicited submissions. When that time finally came around, I didn’t have a novel finished, but I did have enough stories to make a collection. I contacted ChiZine and they informed me that they had been publishing quite a few collections and were shifting their focus onto novel-length works. They were still doing collections, just not as many, which meant mine would have to be exceptional for them to take it. That was fine by me, seeing as how I wasn’t really shopping the book around anyway. They asked to see my two strongest stories, so I sent them “Aces” and “Charlotte’s Frequency.” They loved them and asked for the rest of the book, and eventually they bought it.
Working with ChiZine has been one of the best experiences of my life. Everyone has been so friendly and professional. They’ve got a really talented crew working for them, and the work they did on my book has been nothing short of spectacular. I definitely want to work with them again in the future.
SFFWRTCHT: Outliner or pantser?
IR: I’m a bit of both. I tend to start with an outline, then I reach a point where the story lifts off and I can cruise by instinct alone. Some writers are firmly anti-outline, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with using one as long as you’re not married to it. I’d forget stuff if I didn’t write it down ahead of time.
SFFWRTCHT: Which comes first for you—character, plot, or setting?
IR: I tend to start with plot, usually in the form of an ordinary situation that comes to me with a supernatural slant to it — “What would happen if….?” I wrote a story called “The Cat” inspired by a cat I had as a kid that was always bringing back dead animals (mice, snakes, etc.) and laying them out on our back stoop. I wondered what would happen if the cat started bringing back bigger and bigger critters.
Other times it starts with character, as it did in “Aces,” which is about a girl named Soelle who is so out of sync with reality that those around her are plagued by paranormal phenomena.
SFFWRTCHT: You seem to be very focused on horror. Is that your favorite genre? What makes a good horror tale?
IR: I write a bit of everything, but horror is definitely where I come home to roost. I think it’s because those are the types of stories I fell in love with as a kid — you know, when I was probably way too young to be reading them. Even when I read a young-adult book like The Hobbit, the part I enjoyed best was the scene with the giant spiders. I guess I just like being scared.
As for what makes a good horror tale, I’m sure opinions vary, but the kind I like best are the ones where the author has managed to create a sense of the fantastic and at the same time made it seem like the horrors, as unbelievable as they might be, could actually happen. I’ve heard people say that horror isn’t a genre but rather an emotion, and I could see that because for me the best horror stories are the ones that linger afterward. The ones that make you look under the bed or close the closet door. You know, just in case.
IR: Oh yes. I’ve had two or three science fiction stories published, but since they didn’t fit the theme of the collection, they never made it into Every House Is Haunted. One story, “The Rifts Between Us,” is a sort of sci-fi horror yarn, but the sf elements are kind of vague and wonky. It’s probably stretching it to say it’s science fiction, but it does take place in the future — albeit the near-future.
I’ve written some straight literary tales — one about a summer camp for kids with sleep disorders called “Camp Zombie.” I remember when that one came out, I had to tell people that, despite the title, it wasn’t a horror story, that there were no actual zombies in it. I”m sure some people were disappointed by that, but I still think it’s one of my best stories. It was reprinted in a “best of” collection called Can’tLit.
I’ve also written a couple of Westerns, but there isn’t much of a market for them these days. And some Weird Westerns, which is another genre that I love and feel doesn’t get nearly enough attention. Basically I’ll write whatever time of story comes to mind regardless of genre.
SFFWRTCHT: Tell us about some of the tales here. I won’t ask you to pick favorite babies, but give us a taste of the variety. You’ve gotten several rave reviews already.
IR: I think the collection covers a lot of terrain in terms of dark fiction. There’s the quiet horror of “The Candle,” straight-up haunted house stories like “Inheritor” and “The House on Ashley Avenue,” apocalyptic stories like “Winter Hammock,” creepy bug stories like “Charlotte’s Frequency.” There’s even variety in terms of length. One of the stories people seem to dig is the longest one, a 10,000-word novelette called “The Dark and the Young.” There’s also a couple of flash fiction pieces, a lake monster story called “Vogo,” and a twist on the Wendigo myth called “Hunger.” I think there’s something in this collection for everyone who enjoys scary stories.
SFFWRTCHT: How were the stories in this collection chosen? by you or someone else?
IR: I chose them all myself. Every House Is Haunted is the culmination of my first six years as a published author. I feel it’s a strong representation of my work, combining reprints with unpublished material.
When I was putting the book together, I realized there were a handful of haunted house stories, while the rest could be read as variations on the theme of haunted houses as a metaphor for haunted people, haunted lives, etc. I remember I was bouncing titles off my friend, Michael Rowe (author of Enter, Night, also from ChiZine), and when I got to Every House Is Haunted, which was the one I liked, Michael said, “That’s the one.” After that, everything else just fell into place. The cover that Erik Mohr came up with was perfect, and it gets mentioned a lot in reviews. I’m really proud of this book.
SFFWRTCHT: How long does a typical short story take you to write?
IR: From the idea to the final draft, I would say in general it takes me about a month to finish a short story. I could probably finish one faster, but there’s always a period of time in there where I leave the thing be and then come back to it again later. A cooling-off period, if you will.
SFFWRTCHT: What’s your writing time look like—specific block? Write ‘til you reach word count? Grab it when you can?
IR: I try to write at least a little bit every day, even if it’s only a few hundred words. It’s like exercise. The moment you stop it becomes that much harder to start it up again. And it’s really not that hard to get in some writing every day. I don’t have a hugely stressful job, I don’t have kids. So I really have no excuse beyond my own laziness. I don’t play video games either, so I can’t even blame that.
IR: I tend to stick to Word, because that’s what I’ve always used. I just bought a new iMac, and I got Scrivener because I’ve heard some writer friends swear by it. It has a lot of bells and whistles that I suppose are handy for some people, but I’m not entirely sold on it. It strikes me as the kind of program where you could get so lost in all the neat features that you forget you’re supposed to be writing something. I figure I’ll have to give it a serious shot sometime, write at least one book using it, and then I’ll decide.
My writing process is pretty boring. I get up, I sit in the chair, and I write. I don’t have a muse, I don’t write in a fancy notebook, I’m not moved by the tides or some deep emotional need to Create. I get an idea for story, I think about the character who’s going to carry it, and I start writing. My process isn’t terribly artsy or elegant, but that’s the simple truth of how I work.
SFFWRTCHT: What’s the best and worst writing advice you’ve ever gotten?
IR: Ironically the best piece of writing advice I ever got was to take all writing advice with a grain of salt. That what works for one writer may not working for another. There are no hard and fast rules about writing, but I’ve always liked what Stephen King said in his book On Writing: “If you don’t have the time to read, then you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write.” That one has always resonated with me, because I’ve heard plenty of writers talk about how they don’t have time to read.
Some writers bemoan the question “Where do you get your ideas?” I don’t get asked that one very much. What I’m often asked is “Where did you find the time to write a whole book?” As if I somehow discovered a few more hours in each day, or something. The fact is, if you want to write, you write. That’s how you figure out just how passionate you are about it. If you don’t have time, you’ll make time. Simple as that.
The worst advice I’ve received has all been variations on how to make yourself stand out in cover letters and queries. Personalizing your correspondence in such a way that you come off chummy with publishers and agents. Which I’ve never done because it never felt right to me. Maybe some people do it, and maybe some of them succeed with it, but I’ve always erred on the side of caution. Treat every cover letter and query like you’re applying for a job. Be a professional.
SFFWRTCHT: What future projects are you working on that we can look forward to?
IR: I’ve got another collection out, this one a series of occult detective stories called SuperNOIRtural Tales. They feature a Toronto-based private detective named Felix Renn in a world that exists next door to a supernatural dimension called The Black Lands. I call these stories supernatural noirs or “supernoirturals” because urban fantasy has become so synonymous with paranormal romance these days. I always say if Felix had a vampire girlfriend and a werewolf sidekick, then I’d be cool with calling them urban fantasy. But I feel “supernoirtural” describes them much better.
With two collections in the can, I’m currently taking a bit of a break. But over the Christmas holiday I plan to get my notes together and begin work on the first Felix Renn novel. I’ve also got a woodsy horror novel in the works (think Videodrome meets The Blair Witch Project). I’ve also completed a 120k sci-fi satire novel about UFOs, conspiracies, and family that I think of as “The X-Files” meets “Arrested Development.”
Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the editor of Blue Shift Magazine and an author and editor of adult and children’s speculative fiction. His debut novel, The Worker Prince (2011) received Honorable Mention on Barnes & Noble Book Club’s Year’s Best Science Fiction Releases for 2011. A sequel The Returning followed in 2012 and The Exoduswill appear in 2013, completing the space opera Saga Of Davi Rhii. His first children’s books, 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Jokes For Kids (ebook only) and Abraham Lincoln: Dinosaur Hunter- Land Of Legends(forthcoming) appeared from Delabarre Publishing in 2012. His short stories have appeared in magazines, anthologies and online. He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 (2012) and is working on Beyond The Sun for Fairwood Press (July 2013), headlined by Robert Silverberg, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Mike Resnick and Nancy Kress, and Raygun Chronicles: Space Opera For a New Age for Every Day Publishing (November 2013). He hosts #sffwrtcht (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writer’s Chat) Wednesdays at 9 pm ET on Twitter and is an affiliate member of the SFWA.