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Category:    Home > Interviews > Authorship > Writinig > Media > Publishing > Politics > Michael Bagen Q & A/Interview

Michael Bagen Q & A


1) You have now written five books and two are anthologies.  What is the appeal to you of an anthology work?


I have several large and predominantly unprintable rants about the current state of the short fiction market.  It is not precisely collections that interest me, but short fiction.  I have found the current climate for professional short fiction unwelcoming, experimental only in the most laughable sense, and utterly devoid of real originality. The genre magazines are tanking.  The largest of them will not accept electronic submissions.  The largest hard science fiction magazine is called “Analog”.  Etc, etc…I am making the effort to not officially state for the record something that I cannot back up with actual data, however established my contentions are.  Briefly stated, I like short fiction.  Short fiction is a dying art and an all-but-dead market.  Thus I persist in giving my contribution to the form. So far, my contributions are: On the Other Side: Tales of the Unbelievable, Kissing the Devil, several short stories in miscellaneous publications, and the forthcoming illustrated series Van Nye’s Book of Lies.



2) You say you do not like genres or genre classifications, yet for people to get an idea of the kind of fiction you write, Horror, Thriller, Detective and Science Fiction are the closet to describing them.  What would you add?


I dislike genres because they’re an industrial way of organizing a creative product.  I am not convinced that they are the best or most efficient way of organizing books, although in any system, there are areas that will remain static.  For instance, take any of the books in Terry Pratchett’s well-loved and volumous Discworld series.  They categorize as Humor-Fantasy, a distinction that tells you precisely squat about the book, other than it possesses a certain number of jokes and a certain number of wizards.  Also, the hyphen is often the sign of a dullard; here stands a case in point.  Describe it as a farce or a satire and regardless of its content genre, the form (also sometimes called a genre) shows you what the story is.


As to my work, I write of the monstrous indignities of being alive in the manner of one inundated in them.  I would call them creative nonfiction as soon as I would call them horror, and with precisely the same accuracy.  But out of respect for those journalists who are actively being shot at in pursuit of a story that no one cares to read and think on, I restrict myself in open association between works of alliterative perspective and works of structured journalism.



3) How do you see your work exceeding genres?


Refer to the above question/answer.  I consider the distinctions that make said genres exist basically irrelevant to the evaluation of anything worth reading.  Is [George Orwell’s] 1984 a science-fiction novel, a horror novel, a political satire, or literary fiction?  Answer: It’s terrifying, accurate, and prophetic.  That’s the marker I shoot for, and that’s more than enough.



4) A few decades ago, book reading was a larger business from the initial hardback releases to the proliferation of paperbacks people read often.  What do you see as having changed since the 1970s besides more electronic media?


The Internet has lionized pseudo-literacy, copyright mutilation, the vandalism of the English language, and numerous other sins too great to list in one area.  It is furthermore only continuing the work of the television.  Lastly, American culture is notoriously anti-intellectual.  This combined with us being the largest exporter of media in the world (and compared to the UK and Japan that is saying a great deal), we are encouraged to make our media more and more appealing to the world at large.  This requires deletion of subtext and context to an ever-greater extent, in order to keep from alienating future audiences.  And since the principal audience for any media outlet is children (owing to their disposable income) outlets must also appeal to their fickle whims and pedantic tastes.


What results?  Among other things, the writer becomes irrelevant.  Proof of this is glibly summarized in a proof I like to call: “Nearly every movie produced in the United States since 2000”.  There are exceptions, but we have reached a point where the writer is all-but-unnecessary to the media creation process, because it is no longer a creative process.  It is a mill creating feed for young dilettantes so that they may be properly fleeced.


As such, you may track the fallout back to the source, the publishing industry, now coasting on what material can be most easily processed into mass-market goods (Harry Potter, Star Wars, Twilight, etc.).  In short, a lot has changed, and everyone knows what these things are.  But we can hardly change back.  We’re married to this course, even if it is killing us all.



5) How do you define post-modernism?


I collect definitions of postmodernism.  I have no less than seven.  Does this clarify?



6) Yes.  Instead of asking you your favorite authors, tell us your thoughts on the following writers.  Agatha Christie?


Heard great things.  I’ve never read.



7) Why do most thrillers seem to be missing the ability to create suspense?


Because they are written by and for boring people.  They are further writing for people who have already seen all of the basic tricks pulled off by the best.  The only adventure left is the self, the one thing the postmodern age will not let you keep.  That’s my definition of Post-modern, by the way.  Modern is an eternal present.  It is the Now.  Post-modern is what happens afterward, when you are not your present, but someone else’s future.



8) Just a few more writers to ask you about.  Richard Matheson?


Without some men, I would not be here. Without Richard Matheson, most of those men would not have been there.



9) Rod Serling?


He and Edward R. Murrow are the only men who ever truly were what television exists for.



10) Ian Fleming?


James Bond books are amusing, but you can read through the whole of them in a month.  From a literary standpoint they have the value of a sneeze.



11) Yet Fleming’s book shave been very influential in the genre and outside of hard-edged and fantasy spy fiction, so people find them fun and the character on screen has seen so many changes.  It was recently declassified that Fleming was actually the head of MI-5 during the war.  Would you like to have seen him write something more realistic?


Realism to me is a null concept.  It is largely dependant on personal views of reality.  Given the example offered, Ian Fleming, we must ask ourselves whether his version of “’reality’ is equally valid as the substantially different version forwarded by John Le Carré?  Furthermore, this leaves unasked the always pleasant question of whether or not the author deliberately obscures the ‘realism’ either for sales, or to conceal certain other realities.  Ian Fleming was a spy.  He wrote of spies as he would have liked them to be seen.  Given what I have heard of John Le Carré [see below], we’ll step lightly about the ‘realities’ proclaimed by the offices of professional liars.


As to how he fares in popularity, it is plainly because he is constructed as the apex of modern masculinity, a continuation of a trend.  This does not deprive him of pulp value, but in a literary sense he is still a contemporary Byronic hero, a character of virtue (by his audience’s standards, at least) and completely devoid of flaws.  For a better understanding of the character, I recommend forgetting as best you can the films.  They are two different men.  Read the books, the undiluted Ian Fleming character.  Then, to cap it all off, read The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier.  Its depiction of James Bond is, to the character and his ways completely accurate.  When removed from an utterly submissive reality, his entire persona is cast in an extremely unflattering light.



12) And no less than Sean Connery was cast in League film.  What do you think of the author Thomas Harris?


Read “Silence of the Lambs” in college.  Decent.  Amusing.  I don’t really read crime books.  They bore me.



13) A few more writers.  Daphne Du Maurier?


Are you making up names or what?  Alright.  I know that one, but I’m not too well-read on crime fiction.  They tend to be formulaic and I have a basically amoral view of the world.  The amorality of my work is perhaps its strongest feature, in fact.  So I find the revelry of the just triumphing over the criminal quite dull.  My rekindled interest in the genre is largely the result of Charles Ardai having started Hard Case Crime, which keeps the form in its place (short, cheap paperbacks).  I wrote a book for him once, but he didn’t like it.  His words “Not quite right for me.  Try a horror publisher.”  I took it as a complement, largely with his prompting.



14) Dashell Hammett?


He’s fun.  He wrote when the form hadn’t been done to death, and did it well. His direct descendants live in Pittsburgh.  I’ve met them.  The heir to Hammett’s name should be learning to read right about now.



15) John Le Carré?


I have not read him.  A friend of mine had to read several of his books for a class.  His review is unprintable.  I have only seen one film based off of his work.  If it is made to the book’s image, then my friend was correct.  The only interesting aspect of John Le Carré, as I understand it, is that he was allegedly paid to make the British Secret Service look like buffoons in his books.  Considering the incident with the Cambridge Five, this stands as amusingly coincidental.  In short, I know nothing of him personally, but I have heard a great deal of him.  None of it has been good.



16) Stephen King?


See Richard Matheson.  He is one of those people.



17) And I Am Legend by Matheson inspired King to be a writer to begin with.  How about William F. Nolan?


I have only seen the film version of Logan’s Run [1976, see more elsewhere on this site].



18) Rex Stout?


Again, I have not read.  I have listened to numerous radio episodes of Nero Wolfe, when Sidney Greenstreet was doing the titular character.  I like him as all men must love a writer who sits down and says “what if he’s just really, really fat?”



19) Cornell Woolrich?


Read Fear a year or two ago.  Very good writer.  Unafraid to actually put a paragraph in a book, which is something that seemed less popular after the books become read mainly by illiterates.  He is one I have read and appreciated and know quietly that I don’t know the half of it.



20) Mickey Spillane?


Meh.  Based solely off of one book, I’m afraid, but meh.



21) Tell us about your new book, Kissing The Devil, your second anthology work.


My literary philosophy is open up and bleed.  It hurts to look at the consequences of this some times.  In fact, that reaction is my only consistent proof that I’m doing anything right.  With respect to that, and to the topic of women I have known, loves I have loved, and things I have barely survived learning, I give you Kissing the Devil.  Take my advice. Kiss the Devil.  Eat the worm.  Because we all have to learn and on some things we never take anyone else’s word for it.



22) Like movies and TV series, fewer and fewer classic books of fiction seem to get made.  Why?


Posthumous fame comes from success.  What makes books successful in this day and age?  Their ability to draw in massive amounts of money from the pockets of the stupid into the hands of the dull.



23) Is there something that has reduced the number of good writers you can pinpoint?


My limited memory.  We have a glut of good writers, most of them dead.  In my profession, the “silent majority” is still your competition, and in most cases you have already lost.



24) At one point, a German publisher became the #1 publisher of books in the English language.  What is wrong with that situation?


Compared with the many, many things wrong with the publishing industry and media in general, not that much.  I’ll leave Bertelsmann [now former owner of RCA & Arista Records] alone until we account for the death of English diction, the rise of Ebonics as anything other than sub-par speech, and Rupert Murdoch.  These horrors slain, I will feel armed and armored enough to go on a moral crusade against possibly the largest media organization in Europe (as the top five in the world are all based over here).



25) How do you feel about the Religious Right’s longtime project to censor books?


If I thought any of them read I would actually be worried.  But the following things must be known: 1) you cannot plan around them.  They are either indifferent, or they are dangerous lunatics.  Ignore them, for they cannot be treated rationally.  2) they cater to a need for us to control each other.  As people seldom read anymore, it becomes harder for them to discourage reading.  Harry Potter some cite for the anti-magic devilry argument.  Please note, they practically had the book rammed down their throats before they even knew it was there.  Failing that, they’ll mostly settle back on haranguing J.D. Salinger, whom is dead and the dead always get the best lawyers.



26) Are there any other groups you feel are acting to censor expressions of thought?


Liberal groups, especially feminists, have taken up the same practices as the Religious Right, albeit in slightly more socially palatable ways.  Picketing, complaining, protesting all against all things “demeaning to women”, and the utter maintenance of the point that if some PC lack-wit with a tribe of college students behind her thinks it’s offensive, then it should be harangued out of existence.


It will only get worse. I could go on with this, but it is a topic of some length.  Suffice it to say, pressure is exerted on all sides politically, and all are convinced of their inherent rightness on essentially subjective points.  It is all propaganda and information control.  It is all lies and the smile that pretties them.



27) Tell us your thoughts on mass media today and how bad it has become.


http://mediatedman.blogspot.com.  Answers forthcoming, infrequent, and profane.  I will likely compose more coherent tirades on this matter in the future, and the blog will be where to find them.  I’m not against publishing them for pay, but it’s a steep cliff, getting paid for telling people that their shit does in fact stink.  Also, moral ambiguity sells worst of all.  If you need etch I mind anything pertinent to mass media, that would be the one.



28) What have you seen or read lately that was more impressive to you than expected?


The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles and The 2009 Federal Budget by President Barack Obama.



29) New campaigns and even TV shows (The Electric Company has been revived) to get children to read are under way.  Many were shocked children would read books en masse again when Harry Potter became a print sensation, but that is not the same as getting new generations to read classics.  Any thoughts on that?


Getting that many children to read Harry Potter somehow reminds me of the approach used on a goose to create foie gras.  Force-feed and harvest the fatty remains. I consider it doomed, to be honest with you.  I hope I’m wrong, but then again I hope that tomorrow someone in the US develops a patented bacteria to break down plastic and thus save us from drowning in our own garbage.  In either case, realism points a grim finger.



Thank you for your time.  You can read more about Mr. Bagen’s thoughts and works at the following links:





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