Shells Chats with author Trent Zelazny

How do you feel music has influenced your writing?

Music is essential to most everything in life. It is the most primal form of creative expression. The first form we learn as children. Without music I think few of us would survive.

Songs often inspire stories and there’s very little music I don’t like. Most stories develop a soundtrack and sometimes music inspires a story. I can’t listen to music when I write. It’s usually too imposing. But when I know what kind of music fits the story, or what kind of music the characters like, I create mixes on my iPod and listen to them when I go for walks or do other things. It helps keep me in the story and in the characters’ frame of mind. People often listen to music in my stories.

Do you feel as an author you have to write everyday or when the moment strikes you?

Different things work for different people. Me, I try to write something every day. If things aren’t going well I’ll putz around on the computer more than usual but I’ll keep checking on the last words I wrote in hopes that the next move will come to me. If my computer is on, regardless of what else I’m doing on it, my current piece is always on in the background, ready at a moment’s notice if the muse should suddenly opt to fellate me.

You have studied other things such as film and martial arts. Has learning more about these things influenced your writing in any way?

Everything influences, I think. Some things more than others, or at different times than others. I practiced martial arts for years and have been a movie buff since as long as I can remember. I often make movie references in my work. Oddly, I’m not big on martial arts films—go figure.

Anything of interest can find its way into a story, or inspire a story. I have a character in a recent piece whose passion for basketball has slipped away. I love basketball and it was both fun and interesting to write an emotional conflict as a ball game. My book Destination Unknown came to me almost in its entirety by listening to the Missing Persons song of the same name.

If you’re not interested in anything, chances are your readers won’t be either. But you also have to be careful. Not everyone is going to find your topics and hobbies nearly as fascinating as you do.

Also, reading or writing a story can spawn new interests. The thing I’m writing now has gotten me interested in classic country music—Gene Autry and Merle Haggard and so forth—as well as in my native land of New Mexico. One thing I wrote taught me about architecture. I love the constant Ping-Pong between the hemispheres of the brain.

What is the one thing you find most challenging when writing short stories?

Getting the piece to work right in a short span of time. It’s easy for me to come up with short story ideas but pulling it off is almost always a challenge. A guy we’ll call Doohickey wakes up inside a power outlet. Cool, so why is he in the outlet? What’s it like inside there? Is he alone, or is he among female electrical connectors? Is this some metaphor for sex, or does it have nothing whatsoever to do with sex? Does he get out? Does he get off? Given enough time this and more could all be explained, and some writers could pull it off in a page but I don’t think I’m one of those writers. The up side is I don’t currently think this would make a very good novel, but I could still explore the world of Doohickey trapped inside an outlet, if I wanted, without too much of an investment.

Where can we find some of these short stories?

As most of them just gave brief nods in very small publications, the best place would be the collection, The Day the Leash Gave Way and Other Stories, from Wilder Publications.

How has working as a copy editor helped with your writing?
It’s helped sharpen my skills, I think. Most importantly it’s taught me how much I dislike the comma. The comma’s essential, but I could do without so many.

What is the one biggest mistake you see authors make when you have looked over their stories?

Overuse of adverbs, unnecessary big words, and odd speaker attributions. Constructing a powerfully moving, grimly true, handsomely, gracefully, delicately, beautifully worded sentence is not as simple as simply adding –ly to everything. It successfully encourages me to proudly stop reading, though you certainly need to have some. And when characters “grimace” and “snarl” and “ejaculate” instead of “say” things. That gets under my skin. I think it’s desultorily nongermane to go off about exorbitant big words.

Can you tell us a bit about The Day the Leash Gave Way and Other Stories?

The book is what it is. Some stories are good, some not so much, but every piece in it represents something of a phase in my life, be it smart, dumb, ignorant, informed, what have you. It’s been a long time since I read Joe R. Lansdale’s The Good, the Bad and the Indifferent, but he said something about his early stories being published in the collection was good to show people that you gotta start somewhere. I’m very proud of some of the stories in Leash, while some I have that same belief about, and hope others can see it that way.

Can you tell us a bit about Destination Unknown?

Should be out in early March, or so I’m told. It’s a story about a married couple in complete ruin after a horrible tragedy, and now they suddenly find themselves in an awkward and frightening situation. To me, it asks the question: Can you stick together after you’ve fallen apart?

What projects are you currently working on?

I recently finished a book called A Crack in Melancholy Time, the most biographical thing I’ve written, a story of grief and loss and substance abuse. It was more for therapy than it was ever meant to be a commercial book, but I do think it’s very good. And currently I’m writing a novel called Too Late to Call Texas; a story set in Southern New Mexico in the late 1970s or early 80s. I’ll let others decide exactly what year.

Where can people find out more about you? or FaceBook me.

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