Simon Logan: The Terribleminds Interview

I don’t know Simon Logan very well, honestly — but I know I like what I see. You know he’s the real deal. Anybody repped by Allan Guthrie is the real deal. Anybody who writes an opening sentence like, “So she walks in, trying to look cool, trying to look like nothing has happened, like nothing has gone wrong, but it’s difficult because she still feels the ghost of the revolver’s handle pressed against her palm and the scent of gunpowder in her nostrils” is the real deal. I think Simon and I come from different angles regarding the process and nature of writing and storytelling, but that’s a feature, not a bug, and further proof that nobody does This Thing We Do precisely the same way. You can find Simon’s blog here, and you can also follow him on Twitter: @simonlogan.

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.

So when the Punk Overlord takes power he orders the beheading of all of those who had opposed his ascendance in order to ensure peace.  When others protest against this mass-slaughter he has them beheaded too.  Their families try to stop the killing and so they are killed – again to ensure peace.  When the executions are all over with it’s just the Punk Overlord and the Executioner who are left.  The Punk Overlord looks out over the empty kingdom of corpses which he has been left with and blames the Executioner, then demands that the Executioner himself climb into the guillotine.  The Punk Overlord beheads the Executioner then sits alone – finally his kingdom is at peace.

How would you describe your writing or storytelling style?

It varies slightly depending on what I am writing but I tend to prefer a mash-up between stripped-down and lyrical.  Katja From The Punk Band would be the equivalent of The Ramones (fast, minimalistic and straight to point) whereas lovejunky is more along the lines of Deftones (moody, slightly druggy and with bursts of violence and energy).

I’m fairly loose with sentence structure and tend to rely mostly on what sounds good to me and what flows well rather than what follows any rules or conventions (though I don’t read my work aloud).  As for storytelling I love intermingling story threads and having them trip over one another and I love leaving gaps which are only filled in further along the lines. I also only put in as much backstory for any character as I need to, I don’t come up with a full life history for any of them otherwise I may feel obliged to squeeze it in unnecessarily.  Write only what needs to be written but write it with style.

Your work and writing philosophies seem to embody a punk aesthetic. How can writers embrace that, and why should they? (Or, perhaps, why shouldn’t they?)

For me the attraction of the punk aesthetic is to properly reflect yourself and your energies and interests in your work.  Be inspired by what other people are creating but focus on creating that inspiration within yourself rather than just replicating what others have done.  Most of the best punk bands were better musicians than people give them credit for – people assumed that because they didn’t play complex, multi-layered pieces that they couldn’t but I think it was more about the fact that they chose not to do that than anything else.  I think important not to break the rules just for the sake of it but at any time I think we should feel able and free to do so if it benefits what you are trying to create.  With all that said,  if I’m going to be true to the punk ethic then nobody should listen to what I’m saying and just go do their own thing.

Music obviously plays a huge role in your work — not only do you compare your work to music but on your website you have playlists for the work. Do you listen to music as you write? Do you begin a project with musical inspiration already in mind or does the musical connection come after?

I never listen to music whilst I write, no.  I’ve got the attention span of a three year old at the best of times so that would be too distracting for me, especially considering that at the moment my playlists are full of Bring Me The Horizon, Parkway Drive and The Acacia Strain.  I do, however, allow myself to be inspired by the music I listen to, whether it’s the lyrics or just the feel of them. And I never look for inspiration from music directly, it’s more of a background thing.  That’s true of all my inspiration, really, I don’t’ research as such, I just consume information on a daily basis and occasionally it leaks back out again.  I read and listen to that which interests me and stories just come out of that – rather than me listening to or reading something and trying to create something out of it.  Plus the music which inspires me changes as my tastes change.  Whilst I started out using industrial music as inspiration that kind of morphed into punk and then some electronic stuff then hardcore and then it all just kind of merges after that.  Which is sort of the effect I’m going for in my fiction, actually.

What’s awesome about being a writer or storyteller?

Creating something – that’s what’s awesome about any form of art.  To have added something to the universe that wasn’t there before.  To read or see something else that is so utterly shit that it infuriates you and being able to respond to that anger, to use it, by creating something in direct opposition to it.

Conversely, what sucks about it?

Not a lot, to be honest.  It used to bother me working in a vacuum where you would toil away for months on end then produce something and have no idea if anyone else knew if you or it existed but that doesn’t bother me anymore.  Since I’m comfortable writing for myself it’s nice to get feedback from people who have read and enjoyed my work but it makes no difference to what I create or whether I create it.  Considering that I’m sitting at a computer in a warm room making shit up, it would be pretty crass of me to complain about it sucking …

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:

Listen to what others have to say then feel absolutely free to ignore it.  I have no problem with writing rules and conventions and they are certainly handy to know but at any point if I feel a story would benefit from pushing them all to one side then I’ll do it.  Along similar lines I’d also say look at what others are doing and then do something different.

Do you then believe that writing is more a work of art than a work of craft?

I think it’s a nice split between the two.  The craft side of things is good to learn and to know but I would only ever view it as a guideline rather than a rule.  If it feels right to start a sentence with “and” or to break other grammatical rules then I’ll do it – so I guess in the end the art overrides the craft but both are important.  I’ve read a number of books in which the craft is spot on but there’s just no art to it and they always leave me feeling a little hollow.  I don’t want people to read my stuff and feel the same.

If feedback doesn’t play a role in your writing, if you’re comfortable writing for yourself, where does interaction with the marketplace come in? Is commerce the enemy of good writing?

Not necessarily but there is that risk because commerce tends to follow whatever is popular, the path of least resistance, and so if everyone goes that route then it all comes out the same.  You see that when something becomes popular, such as the Twilight books, then everyone jumps on the bandwagon – but all they’re reacting to is the end result, not the things which inspired it in the first place.  They’re replicating the form, not the spirit.  I do think it is vital for any writer who is wanting to work commercially is at least aware of market forces and what can sell but I would never write something purely to that end.  I don’t mind shaping, however.  I do listen to what people have to say and since I recently got an agent I’ve now got to take that all a little more seriously, however in the end it’s my decision on what to do and how to do it because it’s my name on the book cover.

What are your thoughts on self-publishing?

In and of itself self-publishing is neutral – it’s what is done with it that matters.  Personally I think that it’s great to have that option there because a lot of writers would never have been published not because they weren’t any good but for marketing reasons.  I once had a rejection for my first novel, Pretty Little Things To Fill Up The Void, from an editor who said she loved the book and would loved to have taken it but that she just didn’t see how it would be marketed.  That’s fair enough because they are there to sell lots of books but the fact that we now have the option for people to get their books out there for less financial risk is positive. I’ve seen people argue that the loss of traditional publishers and editors might open the floodgates to lots of crappy fiction because those “gateways” are gone and others argue that the reading public at large will just step in to take their places – I’m undecided on the issue.  Personally I would always prefer to be published by someone else just to re-assure myself than I’m not deluded and the only one who thinks what I’m doing is any good (which is always a possibility).

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

Onamatopeia, for sure.  And there’s nothing better than good old-fashioned “fuck” though as a Scot I’m partial to the occasional “bas’tart”.

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

I’m with the Dude Lebowski – White Russian.

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

I always like to point people towards a little-known Spanish film, Fausto 5.0.  I saw it without any idea of what it was and was just blown away by it – it’s a retelling of Faust but set in a slightly off-kilter modern day Spain.  Throughout the film there is this background about a virus and people dying or going missing but it’s never really explained and I love when a film does that.  There’s a great scene where the protagonist goes to a convention hall and the entire front of this massive building is covered in plastic sheets and in the background crews of guys in biohazard gear are spraying blood away – again, no explanation is given.  And in a weird coincidence my friend, the ultra-talented Dan Schaffer, did the UK DVD cover for it.

Where are my pants?

Pants? You Americans, honestly …

Got anything to pimp? Now’s the time!

Katja From the Punk Band is my latest, an industrial crime thriller which has been described as Jackie Brown meets the Sex Pistols.  Very stripped-down but with multiple plotlines interweaving and stuffed full of punks, chemicals, video games and  body modification.  It’s done pretty well for me (it got me an agent for starters, my fellow Scot Allan Guthrie) and people seem to be digging it.  It’s available in paperback and e-editions and you can find out more about it, plus the other stuff I’m working on, at www.coldandalone.com – including the latest on lovejunky which is part dystopic crime thriller, part brooding noir romance, and Guerra, an industrial thriller about guerrilla media wars.

9 comments

  • Out of interest, Chuck, what are the different angles regarding the process and nature of writing and storytelling that you have from me? Curious to hear.

    And of course that’s open for anyone to respond to.

    • @Simon —

      I think we end up at the same place, really — but in terms of writing technique or advice, I tend to approach it from a more structured baseline. I think most writers have to know the rules before they break them; they develop the instinct to know what violations work and what violations fail. But what happens is, if you advise Writers In General on that, they end up thinking that the rules and laws don’t apply and then editors the world ’round get piles of unformed, untrained flatus. A lot of this comes out of my work as both a freelance writer and a freelance editor, too, where you a) have to be more focused on the market and what your clients want and b) see a lot of writing come and go that could be so much better if the authors had a greater sense of the How-To — the craft first, art second, as it were.

      Though, as I said, I think we arrive at the same place. And Katja shows that you’ve got a great instinct for how to make the words dance.

      — c.

  • Oh I totally agree that it’s vital to have a handle on the craft before you start playing with it and so I take that side of things very seriously. The better you know the craft side of things, the more tools you have at your disposal to work with it.

    In the end it’s all about communicating ideas to the reader and anything which gets in the way of that (whether it’s slavishly sticking to rules or breaking them without good cause or sense) is going to harm the story in the end. In my experience I’ve read far more which handles the craft perfectly but has no art or expression to it than that which is very arty but has no handle on the craft.

    The worst of all, I suppose, is that which is adept at neither craft or art.

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