We get a lot of submissions about heaven and hell, and over the years we’ve only published a handful (this piece and Dale Bailey’s “The Ministry of the Eye” are two that spring to mind). Do you have any theories about what makes these places so irresistible for short fiction writers to write about?
I’ve written a few Heaven and/or Hell stories over the years, including my first published horror story, “Clearance to Land,” and the Johnny Cash tribute “The Train Stops.” One of my many novels in progress is yet another visit to the inferno, which you may or may not see completed at some point. (I am not currently working on it, so don’t hold your breath; just saying that I’m not quite done with the questions.)
Many folks attack the trope at one time or another, whether they’re believers or not. Mark Twain did, multiple times. (See: “Extract from Captain Stormfield’s Visit to Heaven,” part of a novel he couldn’t quite make work; also, “The Mysterious Stranger.”) I think what attracts the writer of the fantastic to these premises is that they’re such platonic absolutes, which immediately pose logical questions, much as the speed of light does. Posit a God and you are immediately forced to wrangle with the implications of an omnipotent being (as I was very consciously doing with my prior Lightspeed story “The Boy and The Box”); posit the existence of a place where the virtuous are rewarded and another where those who don’t meet the entrance requirements are punished, and you are immediately forced to questions about the practical implications. Theologists do it with argument and fiction writers do it in story. In my case came the not-unprecedented question: How can Heaven be Heaven if not everybody you love made it there?
One of this piece’s strengths—to me, at least—is the tremendously complicated model of virtue that James discovers he’s managed to fit when the rest of his family, even his very young children, haven’t. How’d you come up with it?
Ha! Fooled you! I didn’t. The story doesn’t present the rules. It simply says that the rules are too insanely complicated for any mortal being to comprehend. To us, they translate as completely arbitrary. For all we know, maybe James just never talked while he ate.
I really liked the character of James. He’s sort of an everyman, but he has memories of specific unpleasant behavior that made him seem very, very real. I feel like building complicated characters with difficult hang-ups and imperfections is one of your strong points. Who are some of your favorite characters that you’ve written?
Andrea Cort would certainly be among my all-time favorites, though even in her books I have to give an edge to her love interest, the Porrinyards. Fernie What, from my Gustav Gloom novels, would certainly be up there, too. I can’t claim a creator’s pride, but I certainly enjoyed the hell out of writing Spider-Man, too. Of the characters who only appeared once, I must confess deep love for the titular old couple in “Sunday Night Yams At Minnie and Earl’s.”
It seems like you’re a pretty prolific creator—this will be the tenth story we’ve published by you here at Lightspeed, and of course you’ve got something close to thirty books out or soon to be released. And you write loads of nonfiction, too. I know there are people who definitely prefer writing nonfiction over fiction or novels over shorts. Is there a style or a size of writing project that you best enjoy?
Horror takes a lot out of me, which is one reason it only accounts for about a third of my short fiction, but honestly: I like attempting stuff I haven’t attempted before, which is why the novel I am working on right now is in a genre I’ve never attempted, not even at short length.
You’re a bit of a movie buff, too. I know you and your wife Judi ran a movie blog called “The Remake Chronicles,” about, well, movie remakes. What do you think are three best movie remakes? Feel free to share links if you wrote about them!
This is actually a pretty easy question to answer, since the all-time best movie remakes would have to be those where the originals were inferior to the remakes that are now recognized as classic films.
But there are two ways to interpret the question. If you’re asking: What were the best movies that qualified as remakes?, the first three are obvious. To wit, the Bogart version of The Maltese Falcon is the third. (bit.ly/2noBXuk) The Karloff Frankenstein was at least the second (bit.ly/2ojw6eg). The Judy Garland version of The Wizard of Oz is (depending on how you count prior films) multiple versions in, following an absolutely disastrous 1926 version that featured Oliver Hardy as the Tin Man. Those would likely be the best three, but the list actually goes on and on. The best version of Les Misérables ever was likely the one made in France one year before the Hollywood classic with Charles Laughton, and that was something like the seventeenth. The best version of The Three Musketeers is almost certainly the Richard Lester production (bit.ly/2nTZUxm), which was also at least one dozen versions in. Then there are those where the original version is almost impossible to see: One of the funniest movies ever made, Billy Wilder’s Some Like It Hot, is also actually a remake.
If you’re talking the best remake of a film that was a classic to begin with, that managed to be a classic itself, another question entirely, I would nominate either the The Magnificent Seven (a remake of Seven Samurai), or Sorcerer (a remake of The Wages of Fear).
And that, my friends, is the short answer.
Here at Lightspeed, we’re pretty obsessed with pets. So I have to ask: How are your cats?
As it happens, my composition of the reply to this question was interrupted by the sound of feline puking, elsewhere in the house. What are the odds? And now that I’m back from a mission with paper towels: Just fine. Uma Furman, Meow Farrow, Harley Quinn, and Gilbert the Gray are all gratified by your best.
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