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Trent Zelazny Interview

Author Trent Zelazny has earned wide acclaim for his noir writing and prose style. With works such as Fractal Despondency and To Sleep Gently he has put forth a darkly unique brand of fiction that has clicked with readers across America and the world. His novel To Sleep Gently was awarded the Nightmare Award in 2011 and his most recent novella, Butterfly Potion (Nightscape Press), is receiving high praise from readers and critics alike.

By Tina Hall

Trent Zelazny
TINA HALL: You have said as a child you hated how school was set up. Can you elaborate on that? What do you think needs to change most in regards to today’s educational system?

TRENT ZELAZNY: It just didn’t work for me. For some people it is the perfect way to learn. But, really, it’s just like anything else. Nothing works for everybody. As a whole people love the Beatles, but not everybody. As far as what needs to change, well, funding, obviously. Teachers work their asses off and get paid shit, more and more schools drop important extracurricular activities, like music and art, or even sports. The educational system needs a lot of work, but I’m not really the person to say what those things truly are.

TH: You also said you used to make imaginary catalogs at the time. How did that work, what did you sell in them? Do you think being a daydreamer has proved useful to you now in your career as a writer?

TZ: I made catalogs for all sorts of crap. Rock and roll memorabilia for made up bands, fake sports equipment. I had a Friday the 13th catalog in which one could purchase things like the corkscrew that gets slammed into Crispin Glover’s hand, as well as the cleaver he gets in the face. It was just something to do, really. I kind of wish I still had some of them, but they’re all long gone.

As far as still being a daydreamer, yes, I am, but not as much. The childhood magic has faded in a lot of ways, sadly replaced with a fair amount of cynicism and depression.

TH: What was your father Roger like as a person? What do you think was the most important thing he taught you?

TZ: He was a great guy. Incredibly sweet and unbelievably smart. I sometimes question his parenting skills, but that doesn’t change the fact that he was a great guy. He was also a great writer. He taught me compassion, I think, and encouraged creativity.

TH: How do you feel about being called one of the best noir authors of our time?

TZ: I don’t really agree, but it’s nice to hear, as well as totally surreal. I think I’m a good writer, but I don’t think I’m a great writer. I know I’ve inspired and influenced people, and that is very cool. Really, that’s what this whole thing is about, at least to some degree. As far as being one of the best, if that were true, I’d be selling more books, I think. But having a huge ego and super low self-esteem, it’s really cool to hear that. It doesn’t really play any part in the outlook I have of myself, though.

TH: Who do you consider to be the best in the genre?

TZ: Currently or ever? I’ll just rattle off a list of who I feel are past and present masters. David Goodis, Cornell Woolrich, Jonathan Craig, James M. Cain, Day Keene, Jim Thompson, Patricia Highsmith, Donald E. Westlake and his pseudonym Richard Stark, Lawrence Block, Ed McBain, Dorothy B. Hughes, W.R. Burnett, Horace McCoy, Gil Brewer, Jonathan Latimer, Chester Himes, John D. MacDonald, George V. Higgins, Martin M. Goldsmith, Joe R. Lansdale, Jason Starr, Ken Bruen, Tom Piccirilli, Daniel Woodrell, James Sallis, Domenic Stansberry, Ed Gorman, Elmore Leonard, Pearce Hansen, Dennis Lehane, Jason S. Ridler, Richard Aleas. There are a million more. These are the ones that pretty much came immediately to mind.

TH: Why do you think noir has always been so popular with the masses?

TZ: I don’t think it always has been. I think, like most things, it goes up and down in popularity, and we’re currently in a stage where it has been resurrected yet again. It’ll fade and come again, but these days things fade less than they used to, I think. People have more access to whatever it is they’re interested in. So rather than publishers and movie studios dominating what’s available, we now have the internet and other such things. I also think people have become more accepting of other people’s interests, and fewer people need to feel ashamed or embarrassed because they like, say, Katy Perry, or something. This may or may not be true. Maybe people give me shit and I just block it out, I dunno.

TH: You have said you like to write in that style because it deals with people who are down on their luck and simply trying to survive. Why do you think that is?

TZ: I know what it’s like. I’ve been down and nearly out on a number of occasions. I’ve slept in alleys in Tampa, I’ve been the victim of identity theft. I see friends who struggle to pay their rent, put food on the table. That’s what, or who, these stories are about. And what do they want most, usually? To not be in their shitty situation anymore, and if there’s a chance to get out of it, most will be willing to at least consider it, even if it’s dangerous or could have terrible repercussions.

TH: Are there any little known facts about you that most people would be surprised to learn?

TZ: I’m a little obsessively weird about having to wear a wristwatch. Same goes with a baseball hat. When I chug a beverage, the number of chugs needs to be, for some reason, divisible by four. I don’t much like wearing shoes these days, and I have a lucky T-shirt, Chris Bosh, #1 of the Miami Heat. Just wearing that shirt got me a $100 discount on my computer.

TH: How do you think you have changed most since your early days?

TZ: I’m less ignorant, I guess. I’m less happy-go-lucky, but I’ve still got a wacky side and I think a pretty decent sense of humor. I’ve always been kind of philosophical, but have become moreso in recent years. And, as a general rule, I don’t give too much of a fuck about what people think of me. Tomorrow isn’t promised, so it isn’t worth worrying about what someone else thinks. Certainly not as far as trivial shit goes.

TH: Can you tell us a little about Butterfly Potion? What can readers expect from this one?

TZ: It’s about a guy named Perry. He’s an alcoholic, or has become an alcoholic as a means of coping with a tragic loss. It’s really a story of self-exploration, of coming to terms with personal guilt and shame. And of course, like most of my stories, there’s a hot redhead. I have a thing for redheads.

TH: Are you surprised that it has been so well received?

TZ: Honestly, I’m surprised when anything I write is well received at all. Or even acknowledged.

TH: What do you love most about working with Nightscape Press?

TZ: They’re professional and great people. They care about what they’re doing and already it seems to be taking them pretty far. My biggest love for Nightscape is their love for what they’re doing.

TH: You also edited your first collection of short stories, Mirages (Black Curtain Press). Are you excited about its release? What it is like to get to edit the works of so many talented authors?

TZ: I’m very excited. I think it’s a great collection, with so much talent. It should be out in August, the Magic 8 Ball tells me. As far as what it was like to edit, it was both very easy and extremely difficult. As a general rule the stories needed very little in the way of actual editing. The writers in it are of a high caliber and know what they’re doing. The coolest part was getting to see new stories from writers I very much admire, as well as coming across a few great stories by people who had never been published before. A couple of people are making their debut in this collection.

TH: As someone who works hard to promote his work. What advice would you offer other authors on the subject?

TZ: Don’t be afraid to look like an idiot. Not everything is going to work. Be willing to take a few risks. When people want to interview you, say yes. A friend asked me not too long ago for advice on promotion because he said, for some reason, I’m always on the radar. I honestly don’t know why that is. I guess it’s true because this was coming from a friend who lives in another state. Be heavy-handed but also know when it might be good to back off. You can still be doing promotional stuff without shoving it in people’s faces twenty-four/seven.

TH: As an author you deal with the occasional stalker here or there. Why do think that is? What is it like? Do you find it odd that people should take such an interest?

TZ: I do. Honestly, it’s no fun at all. Some of it, I’m sure, has to do with my work, but I’m also sure that there is something I personally do. I dunno what it is, but I do tend to attract that sort of thing more than a lot of people, and it can be downright scary.

Yes, I do find it odd. I dunno if these people see me as a lover or as a charity who they think in some way they can save or what. But as Charles Barkley said, “I’m not a role model,” I will say, “I’m not your lover and I’m not your cause.”

TH: Do you sometimes get tired of being so recognizable?

TZ: I’m really not all that recognizable, but I will rant here for a sec. I’ve done a pretty damn good job of separating my work from my father’s work, but the name still can become an issue, and it hurts far more often than it helps. I’ve published short stories and books under various names, but the books that have resonated with people are the ones I write under my own name. There are unwarranted jealousies that come into play. But for the most part, it’s getting better.

The strange and slightly hurtful thing for me in all this is that I actually seem to be least well known and least appreciated in my own hometown. Again, I dunno if the name has anything to do with it or not. The New Mexico papers and magazines constantly ignore me, and I don’t understand it. But a newspaper is like anything else. It has its own agenda, etc. So maybe it’s my name, or maybe I pissed someone off at some point, I dunno. Or maybe they just don’t like my books. But I find it odd, as I am, like it or not, becoming more well known, that a local author with seven or eight books and umpty-ump short stories published would just be completely and utterly ignored. Maybe I haven’t fucked the right person, or maybe I just need an anti-whining pill.

TH: What do you like to do when you aren’t working or watching basketball?

TZ: I love movies. Almost all kinds. Lately I’ve been getting into recording things with my phone or webcam. Been digging the video thing. I’ve just started keeping a video diary, which I hope will go into a VEGM (Video-Enhanced Grave Marker) when I die. I also produce the super low-budget talk show called Book Talk with Steven Janiszeski, which has been in suspended animation but about to start up again. Steven is a great guy, and Roscoe is the most well read dog I’ve ever met, even though he doesn’t speak.

TH: On your site it says you currently roam around aimlessly. Is that true? What do you do when you are out there roaming the Earth and such?

TZ: After I had a lot of shit hit the fan in my personal life, I didn’t really want people to know where I was. I chose to be a recluse, to a degree. Lately I’ve been making a point of getting out more. I do like nature, despite what some of my friends might think, but I don’t like it in the way people always say in personal ads. “I enjoy hiking, camping.” I’m not against those things at all, but I kind of do my own thing. Maybe I’d have more success on dating sites if I enjoyed hiking and camping.

TH: Is there any one subject you’d like to cover most that you have yet to?

TZ: In my fiction? I think it will always be work of personal internal struggles. One that nags me but I have yet had the courage to tackle in my work, is being a father. I have a son, Corwin, and he is super cool, and, for the most part, I’ve been an absent dickhead in his life. Not by choice. Things are never that simple. There’s a lot that plays into it and it’s very complex, but that is currently my biggest regret, and as I write so much about regret and guilt and shame…well, I think you can see where this is going. I also still need to do a lot of work on this in my personal life.

TH: What projects are you currently working on?

TZ: Too many to name. Currently working my way through three different novels. I just finished my second short play, which was actually an adaptation of one of my short stories. Still pushing Butterfly Potion but also trying to gear up for the release of Mirages in August, as well as the release of my novel Too Late to Call Texas, which is coming out at the end of September. A few short stories here and there, and trying to get Book Talk up and running again.

TH: Is there anything you’d like to say before you go?

TZ: Life is short and could be even shorter than you think. Love what you do, do what you love.

Among other literary endeavors, Tina Hall interviews the most interesting figures producing underground and mainstream horror, crime, true crime and pulp fiction.