Michael Bagen Q & A
have now written five books and two are anthologies. What is the appeal to you of an anthology
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.
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.
Heard great things. I’ve
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
Without some men, I would not be here. Without Richard Matheson,
most of those men would not have been there.
He and Edward R. Murrow are the only men who ever truly were what
television exists for.
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.
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.
no less than Sean Connery was cast in League
film. What do you think of the author Thomas
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
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
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.
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
I have only seen the film version of Logan’s Run [1976, see more elsewhere on this site].
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?”
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.
Meh. Based solely off of one
book, I’m afraid, but meh.
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.
movies and TV series, fewer and fewer classic books of fiction seem to get
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.
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.
one point, a German publisher became the #1 publisher of books in the English
language. What is wrong with that
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).
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
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
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.
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.
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.
for your time. You can read more about
Mr. Bagen’s thoughts and works at the following links: