Stephen Blackmoore: The Terribleminds Interview

Like I tried to make clear last week — I know some awesome motherfuckers. Case in point? Stephen Blackmoore. Mister Blackmoore is a writer after my own heart. Wit like a lash. He’ll talk booze. He’ll talk games. Best of all, the guy’s an incredible writer. I’m lucky to call him a friend. I’m also lucky to have read both his upcoming DAW releases, CITY OF THE LOST, and DEAD THINGS. The former is going to knock your socks off. The latter is somehow, mysteriously, inexplicably even better — that book is going to knock your head off. And then, with your burbling throathole, you’re going to say, “Can I have some more?” Anyway. Blackmoore — whose blog, LA NOIR, is worth checking out as it details the grim and grimy side of Los Angeles — decided to submit for intellectual processing at the Terribleminds Enlightenment Center.

This is a blog about writing and storytelling, so before we do anything else, I’d like you to tell me – and, of course, the fine miscreants and deviants that read this site – a story. As short or long as you care to make it, as true or false as you see it.

I had this roommate one time. Squat, little homunculus of a guy from Boston. It was me, him and a mutual friend. So I move in and he’s the Mystery Roommate. He’s away for the first three months I live there. I never meet him. But the Mutual Friend tells me he’s cool, so, whatever.

So, he finally shows up. Nice enough guy. Kind of evasive. He’s been “away” the last few months. That’s all he’ll say. “Away.”

So I ask the Mutual Friend, “Hey, why’s he so weird about talking about where he’s been?” I mean, I don’t care one way or the other, but if somebody doesn’t want to tell me something really innocuous and simple, chances are it ain’t so innocuous and simple.

“Oh,” she says. “He’s been in jail.”

This being news of the sort I’d normally like to have BEFORE I move in with somebody, I ask, “For what?”

Turns out his girlfriend broke up with him about a year before and he shows up on her front lawn coked to the gills, crying and screaming her name.

And naked.

So picture this overweight, pasty white, Jewish guy running in a panic through Mar Vista with his junk flapping in the breeze and a couple LAPD officers on his ass flipping coins as to which one of them will have the unfortunate honor of having to take him down.

Now everybody has a bad turn every once in a while, right? It happens. You’re lonely, your heart’s broken, you’ve just done a couple monster rails of Peruvian flake.

You’re gonna go a little crazy.

As it turns out, though, this isn’t the first time, or even the second. Seems he’s got an issue with, shall we say, self expression.

Now I don’t really give a damn if he’s been in jail or has some issues. Everybody’s got issues. I got no problem with crazy as long as it doesn’t chuck furniture at my head or try to shank me in the middle of the night.

All things considered, though, he wasn’t that bad a roommate.

And the best part about it was that he was really paranoid.

No, really. Paranoid people are great, See, they overthink everything. Spend days figuring out what every little thing means. They’re constantly overanalyzing, trying to figure out all the angles.

That makes them very easy to fuck with.

Mystery Roommate and I had largely separate schedules. Weeks might go by before we saw each other. I’d leave before he got home and he’d leave before I got home.

He had this cheap, cardboard chess set with plastic pieces that he stuck in the living room with the idea that he was going to play with, fuck I dunno, the voices in his head or something.

So one morning as I’m walking out the door, I stop and I move a pawn.

When I get home that night I see that he’s moved a pawn.

So I move one of my pieces. Along the lines of, “I think a Knight on that square would really pull the room together.”

I hate chess. I know how to play it, sure, but it’s like watching golf. My idea of a great chess move is to scream “Checkmate”, kick my opponent in the nuts and light the board on fire. I’m not actually paying any attention to the game.

I won three times.

So one night when our schedules actually synced up he starts talking about chess. Gambits, openings, defenses and I don’t know what the fuck he’s going on about.

Turns out he’s been spending hours at a time analyzing my game. Trying to figure out what I’m doing. What my next move might be. And when he thinks he’s got me figured out, BAM! I change the game on him. One second I’m doing some weird Bobbie Fischer shit and the next I’m playing like a goddamn monkey.

He’s convinced I’m some sort of chess genius.

He asks me what my strategy is.

So I tell him.

Next day I find the torn up chess board in the trash. I don’t know what he did with the pieces, but the garbage disposal never worked very well after that.

The moral of the story? I’m kind of a bastard.

How would you describe your writing or storytelling style?

An unfortunate side effect of Tourettes.

I tend to underwrite. I think a perfectly good novel length is 60-70K words. Not that I don’t like longer novels, I love longer novels. I’m just not predisposed to write them. Comes from writing short stories, I think. And being lazy.

I’m also interested in voice over plot. On the one hand I’ve been accused of style over substance, which I’ll concede for some things I’ve done, but that’s not what I’m shooting for. Sometimes style is substance. A story is a complete thing, not just individual pieces. Voice is an important part of it. It just happens to be the part I’m most interested in.

Bear in mind, I didn’t say I was good at it.

Yeah! Fuck chess! Ahem. Got a favorite boardgame besides chess?

Ah. Games. Yeah.

This is where I let my geek flag fly, right? I used to play a lot. A long, long… long time ago.

Jesus, I’m old.

Anyway, I mostly played RPGs. D&D, Call of Cthulhu. A lot of old school Traveller. When they put the game out in those little booklets instead of one monster rulebook. My first D&D boxed set didn’t come with dice. It came with these little paper chits that you had to cut out and draw from a cup.

You kids and your “dice.” Back in my day we had to calculate range modifiers with astrolabes! And digging through entrails! Why I remember when we had to sacrifice a goat just to figure out our armor class!

But board games? Never really grabbed me much.

Although…

There was this one. It’s a little embarrassing because of the name, but I’ll say it, anyway. Black Morn Manor. I got a lot of shit when that one came out.

One player’s the evil monster holed up in a spoooooky mansion in the woods and the other players are trying to figure out what sort of monster it is. See, there’s an object, wooden stake, voodoo doll, whatever, that can kill the monster. Monster’s trying to destroy it, other players are trying to use it. It’s hidden somewhere on the board.

The challenge is that there’s no board.

Instead, everybody gets tiles for pieces of the manor grounds or rooms in the house that they lay down to build the board as they go. Only the monster player’s got tiles too. While you’re building a straight shot through the house to get to him and kill him he’s turning it into a maze and trying to kill you, too. And if you die you switch to his side.

What’s awesome about being a writer or storyteller?

There’s the “making shit up” bit, which is fun, but better is seeing someone else’s view of it. I think of a story as a collaboration between the writer and the reader with the reader doing most of the heavy lifting. So I try not to be heavy handed with description if I can help it.

I like seeing and hearing other people’s interpretations. I love the idea that someone might come away with something different than I thought of and put their own particular spin on it.

Case in point, my novel CITY OF THE LOST has a cover by the comic book artist Sean Phillips, which is cool. But what’s cooler is that he’s also doing some internal illustrations for some scenes and characters in it.

And seeing how he pictured these characters is incredible. He’s got details on them that I forgot I put in there and even then they’re not exactly how I pictured them. Seeing them through his eyes was both gratifying and a little humbling. Sure I wrote those characters, but in a lot of ways he made them his.

I wanted to do comics before but after seeing what he’s done with them now I REALLY want to do comics.

Conversely, what sucks about it?

Assholes and haters.

I don’t mind them so much when they come after me, but yeah it can sting. Most of the time, though, it can be downright entertaining.

Fun fact: Somebody once put together a blog titled something like “Stephen Blackmoore Is A Big Fat Idiot” because of some unfavorable things I said about her murderer cousin who gunned down two people in an income tax office and fucked off to Wisconsin. Sadly there was only one post IN ALL CAPS BADSPELLINGANDNO PUNCSHASHION beyond the obligatory !!! A few months later she took it down.

I think of that as my, “I have arrived,” moment.

I’m looking forward to my first 1 Star review. I’m taking bets on whether it’s going to be because I a) kill a dog, b) kill a hooker, c) got a gun or Los Angeles fact wrong or d) beat a guy to death with a midget.

You’re entitled to your opinion. I ain’t gonna argue that.

But I hate watching people, particularly creative types, get beat over the head for shit they have no control over or because they pushed someone’s buttons who doesn’t know how to handle having their buttons pushed.

I get pissed off and rant as much as the next guy, if not more, so I get I’m being a bit of a hypocrite here, but I still don’t like it. It takes bigger balls than most people have just to put yourself out there in the first place. Squashing someone like a bug because you got your panties in a twist is just you being an asshole.

Deliver unto us a single-serving dollop of writing or storytelling advice that you yourself follow as a critical tip without which you might starve and die atop a glacier somewhere:

Don’t take yourself too seriously. It ain’t worth it.

I’m a bit of a process monkey. You do anything special in terms of writing? Notebook, whiteboard, outlines carved into the flesh of a gimp you keep shackled to the desk? Always curious to see how other writers, ahem, “make the sausage.”

I stare at the wall a lot. Though I’m not sure that has anything to do with my writing.

I’ve tried index cards, mind-maps, Post-Its, a white board, note pads. None of them have ever really worked for me. They all just get in the way. Took a look at Scrivener once and my eyes glazed over.

Though outlining a book works really well for me, I can’t start with an outline. I have to start with a few scenes to help me establish the voice, the characters and give me an idea of what I’m trying to do. For me the outline’s just about plot and there’s a lot more to a story than the plot.

LA Noir is by and large a blog about the seedy underbelly of Los Angeles. It’s an awesome place to stop by and read some grisly little tidbits about the City of Angels, and is pretty unusual in terms of an author blog. Where’d the idea for that come from, and why?

I never actually intended L.A. Noir to be an author blog. It just sort of worked out that way.

A few years back I was writing for a community blog called LAVoice. Los Angeles politics, police, education, that sort of thing. It was a cool site, and won a couple awards, but it petered out.

While I was digging up things to write about for them I kept running into crime stories that I found myself wanting to talk about instead.

So I figured what the hell. As far as I’m concerned the best way to show contempt for something is to mock it and if I can’t go around being Batman beating the crap out of pedophiles and drug dealers the least I can do is point and laugh. And there’s a lot to point and laugh at.

Because otherwise it just really pisses me off.

Favorite word? And then, the follow up: Favorite curse word?

Favorite word: “Defenestration” I love the fact that the act of flinging something out the window has happened often enough to require its own word.

Favorite curse word: “Jesus H Monkeyfucking Christ”

I have no idea what the H is for. Hubert, maybe? No clue.

Favorite alcoholic beverage? (If cocktail: provide recipe. If you don’t drink alcohol, fine, fine, a non-alcoholic beverage will do.)

Whatever you’re buying.

But if I’m buying I like single malt whisky. Oban, Dalwhinnie, Lagavulin, Macallan, Balvenie. If you can get it there’s this great Tasmanian whisky called Lark that’ll strip the rust off battleships. Until you put a drop of water in it and then goddamn is it smooth. Good stuff.

Recommend a book, comic book, film, game: something with great story. Go!

Jesus. Just one? Okay, uh… KISS ME JUDAS, by Will Christopher Baer.

That’s one of those novels I keep going back to. It’s insane, hallucinatory and has one of the best inconsistent and unreliable narrators ever.

Guy goes up to a hotel room with a prostitute and wakes up in the bathtub with a stitched up side and a note saying CALL 911. A pretty standard urban myth goes rapidly off the rails from there as he goes hunting for his possibly missing kidney. Or maybe it isn’t missing and this random prostitute who may or may not actually be a prostitute (or maybe she’s a surgeon, or a nurse, or a professional organ harvester, or a drug mule) is just fucking with him. Maybe she stuffed baggies full of heroin into the hole. Maybe she’s trying to kill him. Maybe she’s trying to get him to kill someone else. Maybe that someone else is her.

Oh, and he’s a cop. Or he used to be a cop before he had a mental breakdown. Now he’s very clearly insane, off his meds and fighting a rampant infection from the (expertly as it turns out) stitched up wound. He goes on for pages about how he’s going to kill her when he finds her and then when he does he decides no, actually he loves her. Or at least really enjoyed the sex. What he can remember of it.

But he still wants to kill her. And get his kidney back, which may or may not be in the cooler she has in her car.

He’s afraid to look.

Things kind of go downhill from there.

Where are my pants?

In the evidence locker. At least until the trial or the zookeeper at the monkey house drops the charges. But I don’t see that happening. I mean, really, in the eye? With his kids watching? That’s just cold, man.

Good aim, though.

Got anything to pimp? Now’s the time!

I gots me a book!

A dark urban fantasy titled CITY OF THE LOST coming out January 3rd, 2012 through DAW Books. It’s been described as “creatively violent.” I mean, how can you go wrong with that?

Here’s the ad copy:

Joe Sunday’s dead. He just hasn’t stopped moving yet.

Sunday’s a thug, an enforcer, a leg-breaker for hire. When his boss sends him to kill a mysterious new business partner, his target strikes back in ways Sunday could never have imagined. Murdered, brought back to a twisted half-life, Sunday finds himself stuck in the middle of a race to find an ancient stone with the power to grant immortality. With it, he might live forever. Without it, he’s just another rotting extra in a George Romero flick.

Everyone’s got a stake, from a psycho Nazi wizard and a razor-toothed midget, to a nympho-demon bartender, a too-powerful witch who just wants to help her homeless vampires, and the one woman who might have all the answers — if only Sunday can figure out what her angle is.

Before the week is out he’s going to find out just what lengths people will go to for immortality. And just how long somebody can hold a grudge.

I just turned in the second in the series, DEAD THINGS, which picks up with a different character in the same world. I have no idea when that will be coming out.

Anything you can tell us about DEAD THINGS?

DEAD THINGS is a follow-up to CITY OF THE LOST. I’m writing the series from the perspective of the world rather than a particular character, so DT has a different protagonist. I like the idea of showing different views of this world and seeing what sorts of stories I can tell in it.

DT is about a necromancer named Eric Carter. He can see the dead, talk to them, manipulate them. He’s on speaking terms with Voodoo loas, demons and the undead. He’s a rarity among mages, which are rare enough as it is. He’s not thrilled with it but he was born that way.

Fifteen years ago Carter’s parents were murdered by another mage and he went a little bugfuck. Took the guy out by feeding his soul to a bunch of hungry ghosts. Pissed off a lot of people when he did it. They gave him a choice to either get out of L.A. or they’d kill his younger sister. He hasn’t been back since.

But now his sister’s been murdered and when he returns to L.A. he finds out that her death was just bait to get him back home.

But who wants him that badly and why? There’s no shortage of possibilities. There’s the guy who drove him out of town, his best friend who he left to pick up the pieces, the mage he killed who might actually have come back from the dead.

And when he runs into Santa Muerte, the patron saint of murderers and criminals who used to be an Aztec death goddess, things get a lot more complicated.

What’s next after COTL and DT? Whatchoo working on now?

A lot of that staring at the wall thing I was talking about earlier.

I’ve got about half a dozen other ideas I’m playing with for the series, incuding ones that pick up with the characters from COTL and DT, though I’ll probably hold off on those. I’m hoping I can keep this going for a while. Really depends on whether enough people like it or not, I suppose.

I’m working on a story bible for the series. Maintaining consistency can be a real pain in the ass. I keep running into the same problem I have with index cards and Post-Its. Referring back to a bunch of dry notes just doesn’t work for me, so instead I’m writing short stories set in the world. So far it’s helped cement some things for me and I might use a few of them as jumping off points for future books.

I’ve also got a collection of short stories I’m toying with releasing on the Kindle, but I don’t know if I’m ready to do that just yet.

Other than that it’s just jotting down ideas here and there. I want to try my hand at a lot of different things. Science fiction, a western, a straight crime novel. Would really love to write for comics and games.

And while I’m at it I want a jetpack and a pony.

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