Monday, November 7, 2016

A Conversation With Weldon Burge

Weldon Burge is a true Renaissance man: author, editor, and publisher. He’s also one of a diminishing breed: people who can disagree without becoming disagreeable. I first met Weldon at a Creatures, Crimes, and Creativity conference a couple of years ago and we struck up an immediate friendship. It’s a treat to get to chat with him here for you.

One Bite at a Time: Weldon, first, thanks for this. There are things I’ve wanted to ask you since we met but there’s never time at a conference. Let’s start with the writing. Among the joys of the C3 conference is getting to meet writers who don’t write the same stuff I do. I write crime novels; you write primarily horror short stories. What attracts you to horror?

Weldon Burge: First, Dana, it’s always great to see you at the conferences as well. We’ve had interesting discussions—online and in person.

Well, to answer your question, I write (and read) both suspense and horror. And, of course, suspense and horror share a good number of similarities. But horror is my “go-to” genre.

So, what attracts me to horror? Not to be cliché, but I think horror fiction is cathartic—it’s a way to safely face your demons, so to speak. Horror taps those primal, often psychological fears we all harbor. Plus, it’s just fun to be scared. A good horror story is like a ride on a rollercoaster. It’s thrilling and, in a way, cheats death. Yet, you know it’s actually safe. The guy wearing a mask and wielding a bloody axe in a story you’re reading … well, he’s probably not outside your bedroom window. But, then again, he may be …

OBAAT: Short stories are hard for me. My best ideas seem to want to be novels; I can write a flash piece when I need to. Short stories are a struggle for me, yet they’re right in your wheelhouse. What is it about short stories that resonates so strongly in you? Do you have plans to expand into novels?

WB: I’ve always loved anthologies, so it’s probably not a surprise that I enjoy writing short stories. Nothing against novels, but reading one is a commitment. Not so much with a short story. And I think writing a short story requires greater focus and precision from a writer. You have to get at the characterization, setting, and plot pretty quickly, unlike a novel where you have more leeway when it comes to developing those three elements. Writing a short story is like telling a joke—you have to get to the punch line ASAP. Nobody wants to listen to a joke that’s 300 pages long.

I’ve been asked to expand several of my stories (especially “White Hell, Wisconsin”) into novels. And I have a truly disturbed hit man character, Francis “Flash” Conwright, who has appeared in several of my short stories. I think he may deserve a novel at some point. I’m currently working on a police procedural that—surprise!—has horror elements.

OBAAT:  I learned at this year’s C3 that you like to listen to heavy metal when writing. How does that help you and who do you like to listen to?

WB: Well, when you’re writing horror, I guess it’s natural to have heavy metal in the background. Inspirational? I don’t know. It may simply be my preference. But having screaming guitars, pounding bass and drums, and growling vocals in the background is probably more impactful to writing horror than listening to, say, Adele. As to what I listen to, I’m pretty broad, going back to Blue Cheer in the late ‘60s to Megadeth and Metallica today. I also often listen to rock/blues guitarists like Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, Gary Hoey, and Joe Bonamassa, to name a few.

OBAAT: Your full-time job is working as an editor, both of fiction and non-fiction. Do you feel your editorial work helps your writing?

WB: Oh, definitely! Sitting on both sides of the desk (the writer submitting material, the editor accepting material) has helped in my own career in more ways than I count. As an editor, I’ve worked with somewhere in the neighborhood of a hundred writers. I hope that those writers have learned from me, but I can safely say that I’ve learned far more from them. As the editor at Smart Rhino Publications, I’ve enjoyed working with other fiction writers, all at different levels of their careers. I hope those relationships have been mutually beneficial.

OBAAT: Do you ever worry your editing will spill over into your fiction and influence it too much? Or, even worse, that you’ll inadvertently appropriate something you editing, possibly years ago? I ask this for a reason, as I’ve considered doing some editing and both of these things worry me.

WB: That is actually something I’ve recently contemplated. I’ve been working far too long on the novel I mentioned earlier. A writer friend of mine told me, “You know what your problem is? You’re an editor.” “What do you mean?” “How many times have you rewritten the first chapter?” “Oh …” Switching gears can become problematic.

As far as appropriating something I’ve previously edited … well, I’m not aware that has ever happened. Not that it hasn’t, just that I’m not aware of it. I just don’t worry about that sort of thing. If anything, a story may spur something in my own imagination. But I’m keen on not plagiarizing.

OBAAT: When did you get the idea for Smart Rhino Publications?

I always wanted to publish horror and suspense fiction. I acquired the web domain for Smart Rhino Publications back in 2000. But, it wasn’t until print-on-demand and ebooks came along that I could see how to make things work. Being an independent publisher back in 2000 was foolhardy at best. I finally saw a way to jump into the fray back in 2011, when I started planning our first anthology, Zippered Flesh: Tales of Body Enhancements Gone Bad! I know a lot of people despise Amazon. But, prior to the launch of Createspace and Kindle, Smart Rhino was only an idea. I’m glad it’s no longer that.

OBAAT: How did you come up with the name Smart Rhino?

OK, now this will probably sound bizarre. I had a dream one night in which I saw Rodin’s “The Thinker” with the huge head of a rhinoceros. When I suddenly awoke from the dream, I immediately thought, “Wow that must have been a smart rhino!” Ah, dreams …

OBAAT:  What surprised you about getting a new publishing venture off the ground, whether good or bad?

WB: I got lucky with the first anthology, Zippered Flesh. I had no idea how well it would go over, but the book garnered many great reviews and was largely accepted by the horror community. Our second book, a suspense anthology titled Uncommon Assassins, also went over well. The third book, Zippered Flesh 2, included two stories that earned Bram Stoker Award nominations. That told me Smart Rhino had arrived. Just this past year, the novella The Box Jumper by Lisa Mannetti received a Stoker nomination, and was deemed “Novella of the Year” by This Is Horror in the UK. So, I’m jazzed about Smart Rhino’s success so far. We’ve now published 10 books, and have two more anthologies in planning stages. Trying to keep the momentum going!

OBAAT: Now that Smart Rhino is up and running, what is your biggest challenge? Your greatest joy?

WB: As just about every indie publisher knows, funding is the chief challenge. For most of us, it’s more a labor of love than a profitable venture. So, we’re always looking for more reviews, more stature on social media, different ways to market our books. For me, I’m always looking for more money to start the next Smart Rhino book project. The success of one book feeds the launch of another. We’ve been fairly lucky so far in that regard. But it really comes down to word of mouth from the readers who enjoy our books and spread the word—and, of course, that is the hardest marketing for a publisher to obtain. Without that support from our readers, Smart Rhino would not survive.

As for the greatest joy, I love working with and helping other writers. I love when I hear a reader say something like: “I bought the anthology for the Graham Masterton story, but I enjoyed the stories by several authors I’d never heard of before. I need to search out their other work.” That, for me, is what it’s all about. I also fully appreciate the “name” writers who share that same drive to help others.

OBAAT: It’s pretty well established that between writing, editing, publishing, and the day job, you don’t have a lot of free time. What do you like to do to relax when the stray opportunity presents?

WB: I like to travel with my wife, go to concerts, go to the beach—the normal things, I suppose, that people do to relax. (We seem to have been visiting many wineries lately.) I’d probably have to retire to really relax … and even then …


seana graham said...

Very interesting interview. Good luck to Mr. Burge and his publishing venture.

Weldon Burge said...

Thanks Seana!