Today I’m kicking off a new semi-regular feature here on the blog: Interview 5.5.5. The idea is simple – I’ll be talking with some of the best authors writing genre fiction today, posing five questions each on five topics over a period of five days. I’m proud to introduce this new feature with one of my personal favorites, Norman Partridge.
It’s easy to understand why Norman Partridge calls his blog “American Frankenstein.” Take a look at his bibliography – much like the good doctor’s creation, it’s a veritable patchwork of pieces pulled together in one suprisingly cohesive whole. There’s hard-boiled noir, straight-up horror, nonfiction, and even a handful of comics. You may not know what Partridge is going to write next, but when you read it, there’s no doubt who it comes from.
2010 has been a very good year for Partridge. His latest short story collection, Lesser Demons, continues to draw rave reviews (including my own here), and publisher Cemetery Dance is announcing a new collection called Johnny Halloween today. That collection that will contain something Partridge’s fans have been clamoring for in a new prequel to Dark Harvest, the Halloween novel the author himself considers his best work (and a book we’ll be discussing in length later this week).
We’re kicking off our five-day interview with five questions on writing.
BG: What was your “ah-ha” moment when you knew you were meant to be a writer?
NP: As a kid, I read a haunted house story in front of the class. It started with thirteen ghost hunters investigating an old mansion, and it ended as the last one escaped from the place, completely insane with his hair turning white. Of course, his twelve companions had died horrible deaths along the way. When I finished reading, my classmates were sitting there with their mouths open. Then they broke into applause. That was the moment that hooked me on writing — I realized there was power in the pencil and notebook I carried around, and in my imagination, too.
Tell us about the first story you remember writing.
It was probably the haunted house story I mentioned above. The other thing about that one was that a few weeks later our teacher announced a writing contest with prizes for fiction and nonfiction. There was only one rule to the contest: NO HORROR STORIES. Hey, for a kid like me, that was like saying I should write a story with my hands handcuffed behind my back.
Of course, I had an idea the contest was rigged, but I figured a way around it. I didn’t write a story. Instead, I wrote an essay about Tragedy. It was about the Titanic, and it featured people bobbing around like ice cubes in the North Atlantic and images of a haunted ship at the bottom of the ocean. So I got my horror in there, and I won the nonfiction award. I guess that was my first experience with working editorial angles.
What kind of writing schedule do you keep? Do you have any “rituals” that you follow when it comes to your work?
My wife and I have a new baby daughter, so the truth is that I write when that little girl lets me. She grabs a nap, I grab the keyboard. As far as rituals, I talk about my finishing routine in the afterword to my new short story collection, Lesser Demons. One thing I didn’t mention is that I’m only comfortable writing at my own desk. I can’t work anywhere else. I come from a family of railroaders, and I’ve got an old Southern Pacific desk from the thirties that my stepdad liberated when one of the depots closed down. Darn thing’s roughly the size of a Smart Car and probably weighs about the same. It’s got a big spring-loaded panel in one drawer that was built to hold a typewriter. The spring is as big around as my wrist, and that panel could knock you cold if it clipped your chin while you were raising it. Hey, I love that. A guy who writes the kind of stuff I do should have a desk that’s a little dangerous.
Do you have certain themes you like to explore, or do those reveal themselves when the work is done?
Most of my stories include a gut-check moment. Life rears back and kicks the characters in the teeth, and then it’s a matter of watching them react. Sometimes things work out, sometimes they don’t. But there’s generally a point where the characters have to walk through a fire if they’re going to make it. I don’t necessarily set out to do that, nor am I unaware of that tendency while I’m working, but that’s one direction my creative compass tends to chart again and again.
How extensively do you rewrite? What kind of surprises have you found in rewriting?
I actually love rewriting. That’s where I’ve got a chance to set things right, though sometimes it’s like hunting for a piece of a jigsaw puzzle that doesn’t exist — which makes it especially sweet when you do manage to churn it up in your imagination. I just wish rewriting worked in real life, and I could have the same opportunity for do-overs. Now that would be something special.
Coming on Day Two: Short Stories vs. Novels