Monday, December 20, 2021
Monday, August 2, 2021
An Interview with Steven Beai
Steven: “STEE-VEN” (laughs) Oh, my LAST name! As you can imagine, John, I get asked that endlessly. I used to say “It’s pronounced “FRON-KEN-STEEN”. It’s actually pronounced BAY-EYE. The peculiar mix of three vowels and a single consonant to form this last name, I have been told, was a hastily-concocted name-change in order for my great-grandparents to escape Nazi Germany. The original name was Beja. Since they had no grasp of English phonetics, they just dropped a letter, added another and got the hell out of their once-beloved homeland.
John: Wow. Could you tell us a little about your background and what is distinctive and different about your writing?
Steven: I’m an only child, born in the early sixties. My childhood was idyllic; I have no complaints thanks to my parents, Frank and Paulette. They provided me a typical suburban middle-class life and were generally supportive of my lofty creative goals early on.
I grew up with G.I. Joes, Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine and Universal monster movies. I can’t recall ever being lonely. I was content to create my own worlds with those G.I. Joe figures when I wasn’t engaged in solitary exploration of my environment, studying Midwest creeks, catching crawdads, taunting wasp nests, etc. Mostly, I was a reader. I read every Hardy Boys book I could find, along with Stevenson’s TREASURE ISLAND, Conan-Doyle’s SHERLOCK HOLMES – similar classics like DRACULA and THE STRANGE CASE OF DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE, THE JUNGLE BOOK and THE TIME MACHINE to name a few.
I was around thirteen years old when I discovered writers whose influence would stick with me to this day. Ray Bradbury was the first. DANDELION WINE mirrored much of my own childhood growing up in small Midwestern towns. I was fourteen when I read DEATHBIRD STORIES by Harlan Ellison and devoured every other piece of writing by the man I could find. I was fortunate enough to form a casual friendship with Ellison years later when my phone rang out of the blue – he was calling to compliment me on a short story I had written for Talebones digest, “Slipstream Season”. “You better have gotten paid for that work!” I remember him saying gruffly! How he got my number, I have no idea. From then on, we spoke and corresponded until shortly before he passed away in 2018.
Beyond Bradbury and Ellison, the only other writer I count among proper “influences” is the incredible Donald Barthelme. Look him up. Read any one of his vast catalogue of short-stories and you’ll be hooked.
As for my own writing, what makes it “distinctive” or “different” is probably the fact that I don’t “repeat”; that is to say, a reader never knows what they’re going to get from one story or novel or non-fiction piece to the next. I’m sure this has hobbled me as far as even a semi-lucrative career goes, but I write what I want to read, understanding that I, like everyone else, simply want to be entertained by a piece of fiction. Throughout the years, fellow writers have pointed to certain stories with surprise that I was the author. The best example I can give is “Falling”, appearing in the anthology DREAMING OF ANGELS. It’s a somber and quite gentle ghost story which brought many readers to tears at the conclusion. Prior to this story, much of my work was either profane, graphically violent, or both.
I hope that answers your two-part question, even though I left out my 15 years as a Federal Law Enforcement Officer. I prefer to write in a fictitious sense about strange and terrible things, about the almost incomprehensible technicolor violence one human can visit upon a fellow human, rather than relive experiences I had where no imagination was required.
John: Steve, where can we find your current work and any current projects in-progress?
Steven: My friend, there are NO links to my work other than Amazon, where the Spiffington comics can be found for sale. WIDOW'S WALK is long out-of-print, the numerous anthologies, I couldn't say.
You know, my biggest "claim-to-fame", such as it may be, is being known as the writer who fervently admonishes new writers NEVER to give anything away for free. "Contributor's copies" is NOT a form of payment. A vague promise of "future royalties" is NOT a form of payment. A publisher's job is to publish. Whether they choose POD or a manageable inventory of printed books, is NOT the writer's problem and should not affect the income of said writer. Yes, technology is wonderful, but it's not a license to cheat the creator of a product. I have yet to hear a solid argument as to why a "publisher" can't pay an advance of a paltry 100 bucks to a novelist, or 5 bucks for a short story. I can pay a bill with either amount. All I can do with "contributor's copies" is fill my office garbage can. And if enough writers stand fast and hold firm to the FACT that their work has value, imagine all the pseudo-editors and publishers, not to mention the beta-readers, who will quickly become Walmart greeters.
Evanston Publishing, the house that produced CENSORING THE CENSORS, folded a few years back. I took advantage of buying up their inventory of those books, hoping to keep them out of the hands of opportunistic sellers who would price-gouge with third-party sales. (At one point, I saw a copy of CtC signed by both you and me offered for the asking price of $1200....remember that convention in Atlanta where we first met in person? That's one of those copies!) I have a limited number of all four issues of "Spiffington, P.I." and a larger number of CENSORING THE CENSORS in my possession that I'm selling for well under the inflated prices, plus, personally signed. So the only link beyond Amazon I have is the e-mail email@example.com for anyone interested.
John: Steve, what made you write 'American Dreams' and what did you hope to achieve in it?
Steven: Well, although I've been training at self-quarantine for the last ten years, you're never ready for the main event until it's actually upon you! (laughs) What inspired me to write "American Dreams" was in response to the countless number of times over 13 months I either heard or read of a single person or politician speak about "my country" or "the American People" as if there is only one opinion, one dream and one collective (to use a Star Trek Borg reference). You know -- some outlier politician shrieks into a microphone that amplifies throughout the nation and claims to be a victim of, of all things "censorship". "The American People won't stand for this!" First of all, you're not being 'censored' -- you're all over the internet and national news channels -- not exactly what any sane person could think of as being "silenced". Secondly, I AM one of the 'American People'. Therefore, I must hazard a guess that the politician in question is simply an opportunistic liar. When it came to fellow citizens bloviating about "my" America -- again, over free and unrestricted airwaves and broadcasts, all I could think was that these folks maybe just wanted to be left alone, which is an easy thing to achieve for anyone. Think about it. Want to be left alone? Easy. Talk to no one, keep your head down when go out to get groceries, don't have a phone, don't have friends or family. Mission accomplished. But don't tell ME that "my" America is somehow "lost". And please stop the nonsensical blathering about "censorship", "free speech" and the First Amendment without taking the time to understand -- to TRULY KNOW - what those three very different terms mean.
So I wrote the essay in the hope of pointing out that there is not and never was, a single American Dream. People in other countries own houses and property, have satisfying and financially-rewarding work, good healthcare, raise families and achieve satisfaction in mind, body and soul. No different than what we in America can achieve. But a single, shared "dream" based on demographic? Never been any such thing. I don't think I've accomplished enough to benefit this country to say I'm "proud" to be an American; rather, I say I'm "fortunate" to be an American. The differing ways in which we live out our lives, our ability to express dissent and disagreement in a cordial and intelligent manner...this is what defines America. Thus, the essay was born.
by Steven Beai
Many a hand has scaled the grand old face of the plateau
Some belong to strangers and some to folks you know
- “Plateau”, Curt Kirkwood
There are as many American Dreams as there are people in America. So, referring to THE American Dream seems somewhat lazy to me, leaving me to wonder what exactly is that sole dream shared by over 350 million Americans. And the laziest among us will answer using redundant words such as freedom and liberty, which mean exactly the same thing. Moreover, states of being such as “freedom” and “liberty” are subjective; that is, they are influenced by personal tastes, influences or opinions. For instance: Let’s say my version of “freedom” includes keeping loaded firearms in every room of my house within easy reach. Our children are friends. Your child comes to spend the night at my house. At some point your child’s brains are blown against the wall of my rec room due to an accidental misadventure involving one of my guns. I am sad and traumatized but, you know...freedom. I will attend your child’s funeral with the proper thoughts and prayers, neither of which are of any substance. It’s a fair bet you won’t be thinking about freedom, but wondering about a country that promotes a free-for-all.
My freedom has become your oppressive loss. Hey! Don’t Tread on Me while I’m treading on the rights of everyone else.
See what I mean?
Here, I would like to offer my personal “American Dreams”. These hopes and desires apply to me and my situation alone. They have not changed a great deal from my younger days to the present.
2. A clean and safe place in which to live.
3. A fair chance to own such a place.
\ 4. The opportunity to love and be loved by whomever I choose, providing they will have me in the same manner.
5. Enjoying an equal amount of leisure, in quality if not quantity.
6. Growing older with dignity after a lifetime of work.
7. Wisdom to know my country well enough to teach my children the basics of life so that they may go on to do better than I, rather than be struck down before their prime by bullies, whether such bullies be in the job arena, in Law Enforcement or in the public square.
8. To die in mid-sentence, surrounded by a Feast of Friends, as did F. Scott Fitzgerald. Barring this, to die either in my sleep, or with much less drama than I lived most of my miraculous and improbable life.
There you have it. No dreams of power. No dreams of wealth or fame. No proclamations based on politics or religions seeking to control the actions of strangers...or anyone else, for that matter. I will add one final thought: My American Dreams have all come true, with the exceptions of numbers six, seven and eight, which are pending, but looking good.
Now it’s YOUR turn.
Your American Dreams are just a comment away.
I look forward to reading them all in the Comments section below.
Monday, July 12, 2021
Wednesday, May 5, 2021
Zombies and Vampires and Ghosts, O My! I've always loved horror movies, and recently, in Scare Central, I ran across an article or list titled THE 200 BEST HORROR MOVIES OF ALL TIME. I eagerly went through it to see how high or low my favorites were ranked or if they were even included at all. I did find my share of surprises. Surely Halloween (#90) and The Exorcist (#123) should have been higher. Also, four movies that were made in just the last few years made the top ten. Does that suggest bias or a growing maturity in horror movies?
Here are Scare Central's TOP TEN HORROR MOVIES. Do you agree or disagree with them, and why? Which movies would you add or remove? Please comment and let me know. I'm curious!
THE TOP TEN:
1. Psycho (1960)
2. Get Out (2017)
3. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)
4. Us (2019)
5. Alien (1979)
6. King Kong (1933)
7. Nosferatu, A Symphony of Horror (1922)
8. The Night of the Hunter (1955)
9. The Invisible Man (2020)
10. A Quiet Place (2018)
Tuesday, April 27, 2021
HERE'S MY LATEST INTERVIEW, WHICH YOU CAN ALSO VISIT BY CLICKING ON THE SITE BOOKS CHARMING. Aakanksha Jain asks me questions I've never been asked before, and I respond with some strange answers. If you want to learn something that no one knows about me, just read on.
John B. Rosenman was an English professor at Norfolk State University where he designed and taught a course in how to write Science fiction and Fantasy. He is a former Chairman of the Board of the Horror Writers Association and has published 250 stories in places such as Weird Tales, Whitley Strieber’s Aliens, Fangoria, Galaxy, Endless Apocalypse, The Age of Wonders, and the Hot Blood erotic horror series. John has published two dozen books, including SF action-adventure novels such as Beyond Those Distant Stars, Speaker of the Shakk, A Senseless Act of Beauty, Alien Dreams, and the Inspector of the Cross series (Crossroad Press). He has also published a four-book box set, The Amazing Worlds of John B. Rosenman (MuseItUp Publishing). In addition, he has published two mainstream novels, The Best Laugh Last (McPherson & Company) and the Young Adult The Merry-Go-Round Man (Crossroad Press). Recently, he completed the first two novels of a new Dreamfarer series.
Two of John’s major themes are the endless, mind-stretching wonders of the universe and the limitless possibilities of transformation—sexual, cosmic, and otherwise.
Q.1 Tell us a something about yourself not many people know?
A. I’m neurotic and often insecure around others. Worry and fret a lot. Yesterday I had my second Covid shot and I worried about finding and getting to the place on time even though I had already been there. In many ways, I feel different from others. Part of this is related to my writing, and part of it is just me. I also have a low-grade psychic ability. For example, when I watch Jeopardy, I always know a split second in advance when the Daily Double is going to come on. I wish I had such an ability when it came to the stock market!
Q.2 Are we going to read more from you in the near future? Any new project you’re working on?
A. I recently finished Dreamfarer, which was inspired by one word I made up: Dreamfarer. Also, I finished a sequel to that novel. Its title is Go East, Young Man. Both will be published by Crossroad Press.
Other than the Dreamfarer series, I’m waiting for the next short story idea to surface. I will have two short stories coming in Dark Owl Press’s odd & weird Western collection Something Wicked this Way Rides and one in A Celebration of Storytelling. An H.P. Lovecraft horror tale will appear in Lovecraftian. Other than that, I’m waiting for my next short story idea to strike.
Q.3 What inspired you to write Inspector of the Cross series?
A. Well, I’d read a lot of Golden Age and later science fiction and grew up in the fifties watching science fiction / horror movies like Them!, The Thing, and so on. Plus, I read Joe Haldeman’s award-winning sci-fi novel The Forever War about a soldier who was a thousand years old thanks to relativistic space travel and decided to up the ante and make my hero four times as old because he traveled between the stars in suspended animation.
Q.4 What is the most difficult thing about writing characters from the opposite sex?
A. Wow, I like to say that people are people regardless of gender and to an extent that’s true. I recently wrote Skyburst about a teenage girl, and I want to believe I got it right. I know that my wife thinks differently than I do about some things. For example, when we’re watching a TV show, she usually notices people’s hair, makeup, what they’re wearing and comments on their color, design, and suitability. I seldom pick up on such stuff, so I’d say that details such as clothes, cooking, and the like often skim right past me. Since I write often about futuristic societies, such matters are important.
Q.5 How do you develop your plots and characters? Do you use any set formula?
A. When it comes to developing plots and characters—Nope. I’m a pantser, not a plotter, and I usually make it up on the fly from the merest wisp of an idea. At the same time, I do have set formulas. In my novels, I like to write about Christlike heroes who have fabulous, mind-stretching adventures in the far future. This is the case with Turtan in my Inspector of the Cross series. Imagine meeting your great-great-great grandchild when he’s an old, old man.
With short stories, I’m more flexible and there’s a greater range of plots and characters, more variety. Some of my stories are comic and satirical in nature, and others horrific and erotic. It’s safe to say that I’ve tried my hand at a lot of things.
Q.6 How do you see the future of science fiction literature? Will sci-fi maintain its independence or intertwine with other literary genres?
A. Gosh, I wish I had a crystal ball. As technology develops and humanity spreads out among the stars, I think that sci-fi will play a greater role and will become more intertwined with other genres. I once published an article called “Literary Racism,” whose premise was that genres like science fiction, fantasy, and horror (romance too) were looked down upon as being non-literary and not deserving of respect. With regard to science fiction and speculative fiction in particular, I think there will be more of a merging, though how much I can’t say.
Q.7 How do you see the relationship between science fiction and culture? How about the boundaries between science fiction and reality?
A. Science fiction continues to play a growing role in shaping culture, which is becoming more and more fluid and virtual. Look at gamers who live in an online reality for several hours each day. Or those addicted to their favorite TV series or shows. It’s not just science fiction; it’s also fantasy and other genres, all brought to you via Netflix and other outlets. More and more, reality will be an online phenomenon, either on a computer platform or in a virtual reality matrix. Speaking personally, most of my socializing now occurs online. This was all predicted nearly a hundred years ago by E.M. Forster in his novelette “The Machine Stops”. Talk about predicting the future!
Q.8 To what extent can science fiction affect or improve the developments in science and technology in human life? Is it right to say that science fiction can change what human life looks like in the future?
A. Let’s hope that climate change doesn’t destroy us first. Even if it doesn’t, human life may be reduced to a worldwide, desperate struggle to survive if we don’t heed the signs of global warming fast. With our current day science and technology, we have the ability to vastly improve human existence. Perhaps we can eradicate most diseases and deformities and expand the average lifespan to 120. The choice is up to us.
Q.9 Is classic science fiction literature different from modern science fiction literature? Have the key aims of the genre changed considerably or not?
A. Well, the science in modern science fiction is usually more accurate because it reflects the progress in scientific knowledge. In the case of “hard” science fiction, the science and the scientific method are especially rigorous. Also, there are some discoveries that are missing in classic sci-fi—black holes, anti-matter, DNA profiling, etc. However, I don’t think the key aims have changed that much. The writers of science fiction today are still trying to understand nature on Earth and the nature of the universe as well as its possibilities. I think that there is more emphasis on craftsmanship, editing, and literary quality, partly because of the growth in readership. Also, writers address more often the central issue of our time: the threat of global warming to our species here on Earth.
Q.10 What do you think are the main reasons of the popularity of science fiction? To what extent has the film industry helped in popularizing the genre?
A. I think one reason is suggested by Jack Williamson’s Hugo Award Winning autobiography, Wonder’s Child: My Life in Science Fiction. From the beginning a sense of wonder at exploring the unknown has been one of the fascinations of science fiction. And today, that sense of wonder contributes to the popularity of science fiction more than ever before. Certainly, movies and TV programs have contributed to the genre’s growth in popularity, but don’t forget online games, especially of the role-playing variety. These days, an individual can become his—or her—own avatar and be an active participant in worlds of make-believe. You know, at one time, science fiction was essentially a hobby of white guys. Now everyone takes part in its celebration, regardless of gender, race, or sexual orientation.
Q.11 Ray Bradbury considers sci-fi as “the important literature in the history of the world, because it’s the history of ideas, and the history of our civilization birthing itself”. Do you agree with him, as many sci-fi stories do, indeed, depict disaster?
A. I think that Ray is right on target. Science fiction contains the history of ideas and speculates about what is to come. It cautions us about future disasters, man-made or otherwise. I recently had a short story called “Free Air” published in an anthology titled A Dying Planet. In my story, the air we breathe is in very short supply indeed. But beyond such concerns, science fiction embraces and contains all other literature. It is the largest genre of all. You can have romances and detective stories, westerns, thrillers, alternate histories, etc. that incorporate science-fiction elements. On top of that, you can have soft and hard science fiction on a sliding continuum. You can have just a dab of science or a whole lot.
Q.12 Science fiction has a long history. Which era do you consider the most effective period in the whole history of the genre?
A. That’s hard to say. The science fiction of the forties and fifties gave us so many of the themes and tropes we continue to harvest today. So from that point of view, it was extremely effective. However, the present period of science fiction is the most effective of all because it benefits from the most recent and advanced scientific discoveries, and because the writing is often so much more sophisticated and polished than it was in the past.
Q.13 In many science fiction stories, the existence of God is denied. Could we call science fiction as an atheist literary genre?
A. No, we couldn’t. Oh, there is some atheistic science fiction, and I suppose there is a tendency for scientists to value facts and reality over spirituality. However, there is much science fiction that speculates about God and supernatural subjects. Checking my home library, I see New Altars, a collection of “Science Fiction & Fantasy Stories about Spirituality and Religion”. And in my Inspector of the Cross series, God is a female presence that pervades the multiverse and adores the hero. In another of my novels, Dax Rigby, War Correspondent, I feature a new religion, the All-Faith and describe God as the “mother universe”. Sometimes science fiction opens up the subject of divinity and explores whole new vistas.
Q.14 How many books have you written? Which one is your favorite?
A. I have about twenty novels and twenty short stories available on Amazon. In addition, I’ve published over 250 short stories. It’s hard to say which book is my favorite. One that often comes to mind is A Senseless Act of Beauty because it’s my most ambitious and experimental. At 115,000 words, it’s my longest novel and contains stories I’ve published separately. A Senseless Act of Beauty is my only framework novel, containing short stories that interact symbolically and otherwise with the larger story. I really took chances here in writing about Aaron Okonkwo, a Nigerian scientist in the far future who visits a distant planet where he has to recover and rediscover his ancient warrior heritage.
Q.15 Do you have any unique and quirky writing habits?
A. I’m a pantser, so I tend to write without a net or outline and make things up on the fly. I used to go to a local Barnes & Noble for inspiration. I’d simply walk around, and chance things I’d see would ignite ideas and story plots. Once I invented a new word, “Dreamfarer” and began a whole series as a result. In general, I don’t write according to a schedule but when the spirit and convenience allow.
Q.16 How do you select the names of your characters?
A. They tend to be symbolic. Stella McMasters in Beyond Those Distant Stars travels to distant stars, so of course her first name is Stella or Star. And she becomes a dominant force so her name has to be something like McMasters. The name Turtan in my Inspector of the Cross series stems from Turtanazalene, a made-up coolant that malfunctioned and killed the hero. So when God resurrects him, it seems appropriate that the first six letters be used for his name, since they suggest that he conquered death itself. Incidentally, Turtan’s real (secret) name is one of the most ordinary and undignified I could think of. One of my friends disliked it, but I felt it was appropriate. Don’t our most glorious, legendary heroes sometimes come from the humblest of origins? Sometimes I’ll pick a name just because I like it, even though others do not. This is the case with Dax Rigby, for example. I just love the sound.
Q.17 Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with good or bad ones?
A. I read them now and then. I want all of my readers to love what I write, and when they criticize my books, I try to learn from their comments. Sometimes they hurt. For example, I just read a review on Amazon of Starfighter Chronicles, which contains the first three novels of my Inspector of the Cross series. Do you know, she only gave it 4 out of 5 stars? The nerve! Well, I read what she wrote, digested it, and before I left, I reminded myself that it was just a personal opinion. Yes, sometimes a review will sting, but you have to learn from it, then brush it off and move on.
Q.18 Which famous person, living or dead would you like to meet and why?
A. I wish I had met John Keats, the great English poet who died at twenty-six and whose grave bears the epitaph, “Here lies one whose name was writ in water.” He died of consumption, i.e., tuberculosis, and for the last two years of his life, he was too sick to write. He sensed early on he was going to die and prayed for ten more years which he would devote to poetry. He didn’t even get five. Yet at the time of his death, his literary achievement surpassed that of Shakespeare, Milton, and others at the same age. It would be nice to know how far he would have gone if he had been given the chance. Perhaps he would have been the greatest literary genius of them all. I would like to be a time traveler so I could go back with a doctor and cure him. Then he could have both his poetry and his beloved Fanny Brawne.
Q.19 What is your favorite book from other authors and why?
A. Boy, this is tough. Let me mention three.
1. George R. R. Martin’s The Game of Thrones series, especially the first three books. I was overwhelmed by the rich, complex world creation of seven different kingdoms and the characters contained therein. Brienne of Tarth, Tyrion Lannister, Arya Stark, Daenerys Targaryen and so on.
2. Mike Resnick’s Kirinyaga. Partly because I spent my professional life teaching at black colleges, this novel continues to resonate with me. Imagine putting an African country or tribe in an orbiting space station and trying to preserve it against the threat of neocolonialism.
3. Dan Simmons’ epic, mind-blowing Hyperion Cantos. I’ll never forget the Time Tombs or the seven pilgrims who visit Hyperion to confront the fearful Shrike, the Lord of Pain.
Q.20 Share the experience of your journey so far?
A. Rocky, challenging, rocky, with periods of inspiration and fulfillment divided by vast desserts of despair. Okay, I exaggerate a bit, but whoever said writing would be easy? If I sell a book, it makes my day, and if someone writes me and tells me how much they enjoyed one of my stories, I feel like dancing. Suddenly, it all seems worthwhile.
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