John Shirley

Q. How is it that you can write in three different forms of writing (film, music and published writing)?

A. Necessity, firstly. I don’t have a day job. I’m a full time writer. So I need a variety of markets. There are off seasons in all of them so when one is not operating I take up the other. I was always telling stories to the other kids, when I was a boy–I’d pretend it was a dream I had and then I’d hold them spellbound as I made up an adventure. I started publishing fiction when I was 19. I was always more comfortable in a library than anyplace else. And it was the one thing I seemed to be consistently good at, as a kid–“Composition”. But I also have an interest in all those areas of writing–I’m at least as influenced by film makers as by novelists, though I’ve read countless books. My fiction tends to be scene oriented, rather cinematic. I’ve worked in movies–I co-wrote THE CROW, I’ve sold other scripts. I’ve worked in television writing. On the show Deep Space Nine, on Poltergeist: The Legacy and others. As for music, I’ve always been drawn to it. It kept me sane, gave me an outlet when I was down. I’ve been in half a dozen rock bands in my time, as lead singer/songwriter. I was on the Celluloid Records label in New York. I played at CBGB, I played in clubs all up and down the west coast too. I’ve written eighteen songs–the lyrics–recorded by the Blue Oyster Cult, mostly on the albums Heaven Forbid and Curse of the HIdden Mirror. And I have an album called Broken Mirror Glass, selections of my recorded work dating from the late 1970s, from Black October Records. In fact, I just joined a group as lead singer that does covers of “garage band” tunes–like songs by The Seeds, and The Thirteenth Floor elevators, and the Sonics. And some originals. Songwriting is, usually, storytelling, on some level, so it’s not such a stretch…And this while I’m planning a new novel and doing some appearances for the most recent one, DOYLE AFTER DEATH. It just feels natural to me to do work in all those forms. And not only do I work in different artforms, I work in different genres, pretty comfortably. I was one of the first cyberpunk science fiction writers with BRuce Sterling and Rudy Rucker and William Gibson. I published a good deal of science fiction. I am pretty well known for my horror and dark-fantasy and even crime fiction. I’ve written a historical western called WYATT IN WICHITA. Of course sometimes science fiction and horror and even westerns can overlap in a single book! Science Fiction horror, like Alien, is not uncommon; and I’ve written books where there are horrific monsters on other worlds, and the action is rather like a western.

Q. Which is your favorite body of work?

A. I probably get the most pleasure out of music. Who doesn’t? Rhythms penetrate the body, they activate parts of the brain; singing releases endorphins. It is transporting. But there’s a musical side to prose, too. Writing fiction has its own inner music. Harlan Ellison used to say, to young writers at Clarion, “You have to hear the music” when writing.

Q. If you could be any horror character, who would you be and why?

A. Not all characters in horror are villains. Vampires are probably the most glamorous horror villains–so if I had to be a villain, probably Dracula. He’s like the lead singer of a rock band! But I probably feel more like Van Helsing, Dracula’s enemy, than Dracula. I’m more about countering the forces of darkness than fantasizing about being part of the darkness–but then again we all have darkness in us, we have that Jungian dark side. We have to own that, we have to incorporate it in us. So I have Dracula in me as well as Van Helsing.,

Q. As a horror writer, what is the scariest thing that has ever happened to you?

A. You mean in my own life? Or as a horror writer, writing? (I’ve scared myself a few times.) I think you mean in my life. I’m not sure I should tell you that, in detail. I came from the dark side of the street, and it took me a while to get out of it entirely. So things happened. I’ve had guns put to my head. I’ve been locked in a room with some very dangerous people who spoke blithely of murder. But I think pitching movie and television ideas to executives at big studios in Hollywood scared me more…

Q. What’s next for you?

A. I have all these books, new editions, coming out through Start, and its imprints. There are the horror novels CELLARS and IN DARKNESS WAITING, there’s my story collection Living Shadows–I revise my works when they come into new editions, to a greater and lesser extent depending on the book. And I have the surreal science-fiction novel HIGH coming out that way–HIGH is a new/old novel. It was a fantastic idea, one of my most original, that I did many years ago when I was inexperienced, and didn’t have enough time to write it properly. Now I’m making it come alive. HIGH is a new title as it’s really a new novel. And right now I’m just finishing revising that for Start books. I’m also working on a movie deal–but I can’t talk about it yet!


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