June 2001 Interview for The Horrifying World of Bentley Little Website
In June 2001 we contacted Bentley Little about the possibility of interviewing him for this website. He graciously agreed. We subsequently asked our readers to send in their questions and many did. We consolidated the questions and sent them to Bentley. Below are the results of that interview:
We started out with an ice-breaker question-
Q: Are you an Elvis man or Beatles man? Are you a dog person or a cat person?
A: I'm a Beatles man. Elvis didn't even write his own material! And I'm a cat person. The thought of cleaning up dog crap makes me puke; cats take care of themselves.
Now on to the real questions-
Q: Are there any differences between the US and UK editions of the following books: The Revelation, The Mailman, Evil Deeds, The Summoning and Dark Dominion?
A: There are no differences between the UK and US versions of The Revelation, The Mailman, Evil Deeds/Death Instinct or The Summoning. All of these novels were first published in the United States, and my British publisher simply bought them and reprinted them as is. From University/Night School through The Town/Guests, the British editions were published first, and I did make changes to the later American editions. I'm embarrassed to admit that I can't remember if Dark Dominion is different from Dominion. I believe there are some minor differences, but I couldn't say for sure without going back and rereading the books (which I'm not about to do). Sorry.
Q: What are your musical tastes? Particularly what do you listen to while you write (what music puts you in the writing mood) and/or in your spare time?
A: There's no way for me to answer this question without sounding like a pretentious jackass. Inevitably, when authors are asked their musical taste, they try to be as eclectic as possible ("Oh, I like John Coltrane and the Sex Pistols and Beethoven."). The problem is, I really do have fairly eclectic tastes-so if I answer honestly, I sound like one of those poseurs I hate. It's a lose-lose situation.
But here goes. My first love is progressive rock from the 1970s. I'm a big fan of Jethro Tull, ELP, Yes, Renaissance and their ilk. It's the music I grew up with. I'm also a fanatic record collector and am constantly scouring used record stores and thrift shops for albums, so I have a lot of music in a lot of different categories. As for what I listen to while writing, it depends on the day. I don't use music to set a mood; I simply listen to what I feel like hearing at the moment. I don't know if this will help, but here's a short list of my most recent CD purchases:
Q: What are your favorite authors, books and films?
A: I'm afraid this question's impossible for me to answer. I'm a voracious reader and movie watcher, and I can't really narrow down my preferences. I'm not exactly an indiscriminate reader/viewer...but I do like an awful lot of books and movies. I will say that of non-horror authors, the ones I always buy in hardcover the instant they're released are John Irving, Anne Tyler, Jim Harrison and Richard Ford.
Q: What is your favorite Richard Laymon (may he rest in peace) novel?
A: That's a tough one. I have a soft spot in my heart for The Cellar because it was the first Laymon book I read and it just blew me away at the time with its graphic sex and violence. His most recent novel, Night in the Lonesome October, is probably the one that scared me the most. But I would have to say that my favorite is Savage. I like its epic scope, its Little Big Man allusions and the fact that it was set primarily in Arizona. I also admired the narrative voice Richard developed for the work. I think it was his most ambitious and best novel.
Q: What are your favorite and least favorite short stories written by yourself?
A: Boy, that's even tougher! My least favorite story is probably one of the dozen or so that I've taken out of circulation and that have never been published. Of the ones that have been published, my least favorite is probably "One Night Stand, " a completely pointless porno story I wrote for Cavalier in the mid-1980s (although "A Pirate's Life For Me," which was published in The Horror Show around the same time is pretty cringe-inducing. It's not very well-written, and despite the fact that it's based on a dream I had as a child, it also bears a strong resemblance to the Michael Crichton movie Westworld-something I didn't notice until after publication). I don't really have a favorite short story. As other writers have said before me, they're all my children and I love them all in different ways for different reasons.
Q: How/where do you find the inspiration to write and what influences and/or guides you through the creation/writing process?
A: I'm not a writer who sits and waits for inspiration to strike. I just sit down and write. That said, inspiration can come from anywhere. The Revelation was based on a dream and a series of randomly chosen Bible verses, The Mailman was based on my own dependence on the mail and a bizarre story I heard while working as a reporter, Death Instinct came from a 60 Minutes report on idiot savants, The Summoning emerged from a discussion I had with my wife about Chinese vampires, University was inspired by several suicides/killings that occurred at Cal State Fullerton while I was a student there, etc. Every day, ideas come to me, and I write them down on scraps of paper and shove them in my desk. Even if I suddenly get writer's block, I probably have enough ideas for short stories and novels to last me the rest of my life.
Q: Do you have any special rituals you go through (and any special places you go to) while writing, or are you able to write off the cuff whenever and wherever an idea arises? Do you need a special environment in which to be creative?
A: No rituals. No special environment. I can pretty much write anywhere at any time.
Q: What do you use to generate your work- computer, word processor, typewriter, pen and paper, chisel and stone, or a little of each?
A: The Revelation and most of my 1980s stories were written on manual typewriter. Everything from The Mailman through The Town was written on a Commodore word processor with an incredibly slow daisy wheel printer. Since 1998, I've been using a cheapo Packard Bell computer with a bubble jet printer. Ideas I write on paper by hand.
Q: Are you ever going to write another novel under the pseudonym of Phillip Emmons?
A: I have no plans to do so.
Q: You have used recurring characters and places in your novels such as "Hobie Beechman," "The Store," and "Automated Interface". Do these characters and places have any special significance to you (similar to Phillip Emmons)?
A: Like Stephen King, I'm a big fan of William Faulkner, whose entire body of work takes place in a single fictional Mississippi county. I always admired that ability to depict the complexity of life through a career-long mosaic. When I started writing short fiction, I slavishly followed Faulkner's example, and quite a few of my early stories take place in the same Southern town, which I called Randall. When I wrote The Revelation, I decided to place my fictional world in the Southwest. I moved Randall to Arizona with the intention of one day rewriting those old stories and moving their settings (as an in-joke for my really hardcore readers, Hobie's lawyer in The Mailman is a character from those early stories who retired and moved to Arizona).
I won't bore you with the minutae of this pointless exercise. But all of my novels save Death Instinct take place in the same fictional universe. Hence the recurring characters/places. Death Instinct is a piece of fiction within that world.
Q: What were you doing in the period after you wrote Guests and before you wrote The Walking?
A: Any perceived gaps are the result of publishing practices. I'm always working on a new novel. It generally takes me between nine months and a year to write a novel, although since the birth of my son in 1999, that time period has been stretched by a few months. Real life takes precedence over fiction.
Q: What more can you tell us about the short story collection or novella you are working on with Leisure Books titled Four Dark Knights?
A: Christopher Golden approached me about this project several months ago, and I agreed to participate, but I have not written anything yet and to be honest don't know what I will write. I said I would contribute three interconnected short stories, but for "marketing purposes," Leisure is going to call my contribution a novella. It's not.
Q: What other projects are you currently working on? What can you tell us about your next project(s)?
A: I'm currently finishing up a new novel and am thinking about the next one. I have three good ideas, and I'm trying to decide which one to do first.
Q: Do you have any plans to issue another compilation of short stories (from hard-to-find magazines and anthologies) similar to Murmurous Haunts?
A: Signet has agreed to put out a short story collection, and it should be published sometime in 2002. I put together 36 stories that I thought would appeal to my fans. My editor wants to cut four of them-"See Marilyn Monroe' s Panties" from one of the "Hot Blood" books, "The Pounding Room" from the first Borderlands anthology, and two unpublished pieces-and we' re still working out the order of the stories and trying to come up with a title, but the work's almost done. There will be four new stories and the rest reprints-mostly from obscure small press magazines. As for putting out another chapbook like Murmurous Haunts, I had such a bad experience with that publication that I have no plans to do so again.
Q: There are very few horror writers who actually make a living at their craft. Most end up writing mysteries or westerns under various pen names or writing pulp fiction novels or teaching creative writing. Mr. Little, do you teach or hack novels to support your 'real' books or are you able to make a living at it?
A: I've been very lucky. Even during the horror downturn of the 1990s, my novels sold. I worked as a technical writer until the release of University. By that time, I was doing very well, and I quit my day job. After a bad experience with Death Instinct, I vowed never to compromise and to write only what I wanted to write. As a result, I did not quit my job until I had enough savings to survive five years of no income. I still have that "mad money," which enables me to do what I want. If a publisher doesn't like one of my novels (as was the case with The Ignored), I can shelve it and go on to the next novel without having to grovel and sell out and write Buffy or Crow novels. If my work falls completely out of favor sometime in the future and no one ever wants to publish my fiction again, that's okay. I'll just get another job and keep writing for myself. The truth is, I've gotten a lot farther than I ever thought I would and have done much better than I expected. I've had a chance to speak my piece, to say what I wanted to say. I can't complain.
We sincerely thank Bentley Little for going out of his way to answer these questions.
We would be happy to ask him for a new interview should any readers have questions they would like to send us.