This interview originally appeared on NEHW member Erin Underwood’s blog.
Interview: Joining Trent Zelazny on the Dark Side of Fiction
by Erin Underwood
You might have seen him around. His name is Zelazny. Trent Zelazny. If you read dark fiction he’s someone you want to know, or more to the point, he’s a writer that you want to read. Some people write from the heart, but Trent Zelazny leaves his blood on the page, creating fiction that feels like you’re living an experience while tucked safely in your own cozy home. He is definitely making his mark, writing some terrific pieces–most of which have just been published this year.
Perhaps one of the most impressive things about Trent Zelazny is his ability to keep moving despite the obstacles thrown in his path. Troubles aside, Trent had continued to produce some excellent heart pounding stories that are likely to worm their way into your “To Be Read” pile until you’ve got nothing left from him to read–at which point you will join the rest of us who are waiting for more. Luckily, he’s agreed to give Underwords an interview so that we have a little something to tide us over for now.
Drummer. Writer. Movie buff. How would you describe that guy people call Trent Zelazny?
Reserved. A bit neurotic. Still healing. My life has taken a lot of twists and turns. 2009 and 2010 were both pretty much one big downward spiral, filled with alcohol and the death of my fiancée, bouncing aimlessly around Florida, staying in flophouses and some nights on the street. Thankfully, with the help of family and friends, I was able to pull out of it. The 2011, the new Model T is a vast improvement, though it still clinks and clanks when it runs.
What can readers expect when they pick up your newest publication Destination Unknown?
Hopefully a story with characters they can relate to. Hopefully it’s exciting to them, too. A far-fetched scenario but one that, I think, is quite plausible, even moreso possible. To me it asks the question: Can you stick together if you’ve already fallen apart?
What literary (or other) influences have been the most powerful on your development as a writer?
Horror was the big one at the start. Matheson, Bloch, King, Koontz. Over time this evolved into crime and mystery, especially the old pulps from the 40s and 50s, and Film Noir. And not to come off as pretentious, but you have to sound pretentious when you use the word, existentialism, especially Sartre and Kierkegaard. The best mentor I’ve had is Jane Lindskold. I seriously doubt I’d be as far along as I am without her. I’ve kind of let that friendship slip away, and deeply regret that, knowing it’s mostly my doing.
Your fiction is a mixture of horror, noir, crime, and comedy in varying degrees. As a writer or reader, what attracts you most to this combination of literary genres?
It would be more as a reader than a writer, I think. They are typically my favorite things to read, so I guess it would make sense that they’re the things that come through most when I write. Dave Barry and Donald Westlake can make me laugh so hard that I practically wet my pants. Joe Lansdale has the mind-boggling talent to frighten you, make you cringe, and laugh out loud, all at the same time. I also really love heavy drama. Judith Guest’s Ordinary People was and is a personal favorite, as is the movie. I’d love to be able to write something like that one day.
You’ve worked with a variety of the darker genres, but haven’t touched much on the fantastic. Since fantasy and horror often go hand in hand, do you think you’ll explore this combination of these genres?
I have a little. When I was younger I wrote a lot of fantasy and some science fiction. As time went on, however, I found that, overall, I just wasn’t very good at it. I think, with my father being who he was, I kind of thought that that’s what I was supposed to be doing. I have fantastical elements in pieces, usually dark. The book I’m working on now has a big supernatural subplot, and I have a sort of fantastical story coming out in the anthology Fantastic Stories of the Imagination. I try to let the story tell me what it is. Often not, but at times it waves its arms and says, “Hey, there’s some fantasy in this one.”
What story or scene has been the most challenging for you to write or pushed you the furthest outside of your comfort zone?
The book I’m working on has done that a good amount. Fractal Despondency would likely be the biggest so far, I think. Semi-autobiographical. My fiancée had only been dead four or five months when I wrote it.
If you had one chance to ask anyone (alive or dead/real or fictional) one question, what question would you ask? Why that question?
At the moment of this interview, it would probably be Kierkegaard. I’d wanna ask him why the hell he had to say “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” Because it is one of the truest things I’ve ever heard and, to me, it’s not an all-together pleasant thought.
In an interview with Darrel Schweitzer for Fantasy Magazine in which you were answering a question about your father’s (award winning author Roger Zelazny) influence on your writing, you said, “He gave advice and helped with certain must-knows, but he always encouraged individuality.” Looking back, how has that encouragement helped to shape your fiction into what it is today?
Well, it almost contradicts what I said above about feeling like writing fantasy was what I should be doing. Last thing he ever wanted was to turn anyone into a literary clone of himself. I have an older brother and a younger sister—I’m the Jan Brady. Whatever any of us took interest in, he encouraged. He encouraged my music, my writing, my drawing. Anything I seemed to take a real interest in. He wasn’t a cheerleader, but an encourager. I’m pretty sure he did that with my brother and sister as well. When he saw that I was gravitating more and more towards writing, we’d sit in his office and talk about it. He rattled off a few things that every writer should probably read (Shakespeare, for example) but otherwise told me more about fundamentals. He used favorite books of his as examples (Alfred Bester’s The Demolished Man, which is an amazing book, comes to mind), but he never told me I had to read them. He wanted me to find my own way.
In another interview that you did with Gabrielle Faust, part of your advice to new writers was not to be afraid to write something unpublishable. Why do you think this is so important?
This is often where writer’s block comes in, I think. Not that the words won’t come, but more a fear that the words will be bad, or wrong, and this will somehow, in some way, confirm that you don’t have what it takes. That you’re not a real writer. I still write stories that are beyond help. Am I let down when I finish? Yes. Am I glad that I wrote it? Yes. It’s a little like blowing your nose, clearing the gunk and crap out so you can breathe, and sometimes you’re really stuffed up. You may have to go through an entire box of tissues, but eventually you’ll breathe better, and you’ll be glad you got rid of all that snot.
Within the last year you have published a solid stream of fiction. What are you working on next?
- Destination Unknown – print & e-book (Dec 2011)
- “Snow Blind” in Stupefying Stories – e-book (Dec 2011)
- A Crack in Melancholy Time – e-book (Sept 2011)
- Shadowboxer – e-book (Aug 2011)
- To Sleep Gently – e-book (Aug 2011),
- A story in Kizuna [Fiction for Japan] – print & e-book (Aug 2011)
- Fractal Despondency – e-book (Apr 2011), print (Jun 2011)
- The Day the Leash Gave Way and Other Stories – print (Aug 2010)
Currently working on a new novel, as well as a short novelette for a shared world anthology, and a project I’m not allowed to discuss (tease, I know). I’m sure a short story or two will pop up soon enough. With 2009-2010 being what they were, I was at least blessed this year with a bit more publishing success.
Trent Zelazny is the author of Destination Unknown, To Sleep Gently, Fractal Despondency, Shadowboxer, The Day the Leash Gave Way and Other Stories, and A Crack in Melancholy Time. He was born in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He has lived in California, Oregon, Arizona, and Florida. He currently roams throughout the country aimlessly. He also loves basketball. You can visit Trent on Facebook, Twitter, and on his website.