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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.