Wednesday, April 11, 2012
The Writer's Block Interviews: Steven Belanger
1) Tell us a bit about yourself and where you live and work.
Thanks for having me here at The Writer’s Block, Raychelle. I’m a high school English Language Arts teacher, novelist, short story writer—and so-so poet. I live in the Northeast, in a quiet area of a loud suburb. It’s sort of rural where I am, but I’m half a mile from suburban and seven miles from urban. Also just half an hour to the good beaches, forty minutes to an hour to good walking/biking/hiking trails, an hour and a half from Fenway Park, two hours to the peaks and streams, and five hours from Manhattan—all of which I love and go to as often as possible.
2) Describe your journey to becoming a writer/author.
Oh, boy. How much time have ya got? Well, the short of it is that, when I was about six or so, I wrote a short story in a birthday card for my mother, whose name was Carole. The story was called something like, “A Christmas Carole, by Charles Dickens, but re-written by Steve Belanger.” (The misspelling of her name was intentional. I still have the card somewhere, since she’s passed.) It made her smile, and I was hooked. Throw in some slacking, finishing a novel, getting ripped off by an “agent” who scammed me for about a year (she’s still under indictment in NY State after many other victims came forward), and not writing a single creative word for nine years, and then being rescued (creatively and perhaps literally) by a great woman who convinced me to write again. “Hide the Weird” was the first thing I finished and sent out, and it’s in Space and Time Magazine right now. I feel I have those nine years to make up for, so I’m full speed ahead with many projects.
3) Do you gravitate toward specific genres in your writing?
Well, I don’t know. “Hide the Weird” is speculative fiction, I guess, though I’m not happy with that label. I just sold a very short nonfiction piece about how adopting a greyhound changed my life. I also finished a much longer nonfiction piece about managing anxiety in ten easy steps, with examples, anecdotes and short summaries. I’ll be sending that out soon. I’ve written (and am now re-writing) a zombie story that has quite a bit of the feel of Dylan Thomas’s “Do Not Go Gentle Into that Good Night.” And a tiny bit of the Sox collapsing last year. Cuz they just rolled over and died, get it? (Sorry.) My edited and re-edited, finished and re-finished (knock on wood) novel is a mystery titled Cursing the Darkness. A draft of a sequel (or maybe a prequel, we’ll see) titled Remembering James is about half done. My novel The Gravediggers is a historical fiction horror novel, which I guess is what Dan Simmons’ The Terror was. It’s about the TB epidemic in 1880s and 1890s New England (specifically RI and NH) and how a creature really could have hidden in the shadows of the hysteria and walked in the footsteps of the disease—suspected, but never seen. Or was it? The Mercy Brown folklore of Rhode Island plays a part, as does the unbelievable sacrifice of the village of Eyam, England during the Plague (look both of those up). Modern-day, hysteria-inducing diseases, like 1980s AIDS, does, too, at least in the draft so far. I’m writing a memoir as well, and even my poems are of differing subjects and themes. Oh, yeah, and a book of my existentialist philosophy, titled Faith & Reality: Jumping Realities. And I’m about 100 pages into a semi-autobiographical novel, The Observer. And a collection of essays and articles about my experience in education, titled When No Child Gets Ahead, No Child Gets Left Behind: Adventures and Lessons in Education. And a concentration camp novel, about a camp the Nazis used as a sort of positive advertising to the world’s cameras (the prisoners were shown performing whatever talent they had, like singing; they ate only for the cameras, and were told to smile or be shot after the cameras were shut off). A small group of courageous adults try to save the life of a young boy who has no obvious talent whatsoever, at first by hiding him in a chorus. And a novel about a different sort of Armageddon, titled Apocalypse. So, no, actually I’d have to say I’m all over the place! I guess there are two different theories for not-yet-firmly established writers: write what’s selling (Do we really need another teenage paranormal romance?) or write what you want and work your butt off trying to sell it. I do the latter.
4) Tell us about your latest published short story, “Hide the Weird”. Where can readers find it?
Readers can find “Hide the Weird” in Space and Time Magazine: The Magazine of Fantasy, Horror and Science Fiction, via http://www.spaceandtimemagazine.com or at a newsstand near you. It’s a romance with a twist: a young man can see into the very near future (usually a couple of seconds to a couple of days); what he sees next is an ex-girlfriend, who he still loves, jumping from her apartment window, aflame, and plummeting to her death, a shooting star he loves crashing to the ground. But, when? Can he stop it? If he can’t, how can he warn her about it without her thinking he’s a freak? And, throughout all this, is he really saving anyone, or just making someone else die? All of that in just four magazine pages, with a nice illustration by Mark Levine.
5) I understand that you have recently completed a novel. What can you share about it?
That I’m soon to seek literary representation for it. Just finishing the pitch and packaging.
And that it’s a story of redemption. Foster was a cop who couldn’t save a three-year old girl from plummeting to her death. Now he’s dead inside—despite a façade, he’s just a depressed and broke PI with a dying mother. But after Henry Blanchard hires him to find his missing daughter, Foster soon learns he’ll have another chance to save someone from certain death. And at the end, when he saves her, he saves himself.
Some people fail at something so traumatic that it defines their lives. How many get a chance at peace and self-redemption? Foster does, but it’s not easy: The vice-president of RI’s largest construction company is extorted and blackmailed by his ex-wife and her lover—a known crime figure named Charlie—who wants the company to work on the Mob’s pork-barrel projects and to launder its money. The VP’s eighteen-year daughter, Melissa, witnesses this and runs away. Foster finds her at her drug-dealing boyfriend’s in time to save her from Charlie’s hitmen. But he’s forced to lose her. Foster solves two other connected crimes while also fending off crooked cops, a dirty detective, a seductive and deceitful woman—and his depression, created by his mother’s illness and his regret and loneliness. The climactic scene: a Wendy’s restaurant, where he finds Melissa—and the hitmen sent to kill her, plus some. The novel resolves with Foster’s and Melissa’s recoveries, his mother’s death, the end of his mental and emotional anguish, and his self-redemption. Sort of.
6) Who are your favorite authors? What is on your reading list right now?
Too many favorites to mention, but here are some, in no particular ranking: Shakespeare, Stephen King, Robert B. Parker, Nietzsche, Anne Lamott, Alice Munro, Umberto Eco, Barbara Tuchman, Dan Simmons (though we need to have a talk about Flashback), Woody Allen (short stories and screenplays), Quentin Tarantino’s screenplays, lyrics of Paul Simon, Lennon/McCartney and Brandi Carlile. And, well, how much space do you have? Right now I’m reading Jonathon Kellerman’s latest (though they all seem to be bleeding into one by now), and The Best American Mysteries of 1998 (working my way up), and Joyce Carol Oates’ Haunted: Tales of the Grotesque. And whatever I’m doing at my job, plus new stuff in the new textbooks that look interesting. And…
7) How do you promote your work? What methods have worked best for you?
Well, I’m still relatively new at this, so I do what I can without letting it overwhelm the actual writing time, plus the career that I love which also pays The Man. I blog usually three to four entries per week. I’m a member of (too many) online writers groups. I befriend (or is it e-friend?) other bloggers, and I comment on their blogs. I tell everyone who is related to me, who likes me, or who might be interested—or any combination—about my published work. I just took a copy of Space and Time with my story in it to the local library and asked if they could subscribe to it, since my story was in it—and they said “Yes!” (That was completely spur-of-the-moment.) A few other things are in the works.
Despite all this, I firmly believe that the best method of promoting my work is to finish more of it, to send it out, to get it published, and to advertise that—then repeat. I very strongly believe that a writer’s best advertising is his own high-quality, published work.
8) What are your upcoming plans for 2012?
To finish, send out, and publish every single title I mentioned I was working on in #3!!! Plus everything else festering in this overactive head of mine that I haven’t had time to jot down yet. And to set up a better schedule for myself so that I can do all that.
9) What is your definition of success as an author?
This is actually pretty simple, and I’m happy you used the word “author” rather than “writer,” or it wouldn’t be so simple. A successful author is one who gets paid to his/her own satisfaction for the work he or she has produced. Success, unlike beauty (though we could argue about that, too), is in the mind of the individual, not the beholder.
10) What advice would you offer to aspiring authors?
Read a lot.
Write a lot.
Send it out a lot.
Thanks very much for having me here, Raychelle. Answering these questions actually helped me realize a few things about my writing—especially how I need to better schedule my writing time.