Saturday, May 16, 2015

SLAVE STATE OF MIND: Interview with Chris Kelso and Kate Jonez

I woke up this morning to a warmish day, gloriously green outside all of Xanadu's windows. But six months ago, the view beyond the panes looked suspiciously like I imagine the Slave State appearing: cold, colorless, the trees bare, an unforgiving, inhospitable landscape I've come to think of as kin to the winters up here in the north country. A gray place and time.  Late in November of 2014, while the snow was already piling up outside our home, I received an instant message on Facebook from a young, talented rising star, Chris Kelso, inviting me to contribute to an anthology he was putting together.  The project would mine the depths of the sinister world he'd built, the Slave State -- a fourth-dimensional realm of pain, where humans are forced to live out hard time mining metals and other essentials under alien dictatorship.  Chris was aware of my byline, stating he wanted me to be part of the madness. I was both touched and humbled, agreed to write for the project, and quickly immersed myself in his world of pain and horror. The Slave State is populated by individuals living in hopelessness and nihilism. Within hours of reading up on the Slave State primer, I had a title involving my main character, a man-for-hire -- "The Coin-Operated Man" -- and a road map into Moosejaw, one of those places you never want to wake up in (but are great fun to visit!).  I dashed my story's longhand draft off in two days, and it was quickly accepted into the project, where it shares space with a stellar galaxy of talented scribes. SLAVE STORIES: Scenes from the Slave State has just been released by the fine folks at Omnium Gatherum Books.  It was my joy to speak with Chris, Editor and World-Builder, and the fabulous Kate Jonez, publisher and multi-award nominated author, about the journey forth -- or fourth -- into the Slave State.

Chris, the Slave State originated in your wonderfully wicked psyche, and you've shared with me that it has a clear connection to the surrounding lay of your home in the UK.  You've built a pretty bleak world in the Fourth Dimension -- tell us about the Slave State.
The Slave State is the worst place in all the universes, worse even than contemporary Ayrshire. It’s where hope goes to die. It’s the spider that eats you when you get to Hell. But the all ensconcing misery of slavery and subjugation at the hands of our alien overlords is just the beginning, Gregory. There is much more. There is constant violence around you, every face you meet will return a glance full of unwavering apathy and there’s a pesky little depression virus assuming the form of a black dog patrolling your streets in search of hearts and minds. Think of the Slave State in the same way you’d regard the allegory of the cave. There are three stages; imprisonment in one world, freedom from it, and then further imprisonment in a new world, and there can be absolutely no escape from that world. The Slave State isn’t so far removed from this reality. It gets as dark as charcoal the deeper you delve into it, it just depends how far you’re willing to go really. Which is exactly what you’ll have to do. People should enjoy these tales of humanities enslavement though. There’s a lot of truth and pathos in there that can provide you with a unique perspective on life. More often than not, things only get light again when circumstances are seemingly at their darkest.

(Editor Chris Kelso)
Kate, what was it about Chris's concept that intrigued you so the project was green-lit by Ominium Gatherum?
I first encountered the idea of Slave State in Chris' The Black Dog Eats the City and when he told me he invited other writers to explore the world he'd created I was excited to see how the world would expand. I wasn't disappointed. Wire City, Spittle, Ersatz and the rest are even more vivid than before. I feel like I could hop on a plane and visit. Although maybe it's a place I should just read about...

Chris, you built the world and then invited others to share in your lunatic vision.  This must have been an eye-opening experience, seeing other writers interpreting that vision, right?
It was truly wonderful. I didn’t expect to get so many submissions. I actually predicted that no one would have a bloody clue about the books or their history and I figured that the writers I sought out for solicited submissions would give me a polite refusal. Neither of these things happened. The first timers in the book wrote with frustration and bite, like pissed off teenagers seeking to foment revolution. I could feel them eagerly articulating and projecting their own personal Slave State fables. It was even more wonderful when writers I admired sent in stories rooted in my creation. Everyone really seemed to get what the Slave State books were all about and took the mythos to places I could never have reached alone. The entire legacy of the Slave State has been strengthened tenfold because of these writers’ contributions. 

(Publisher Kate Jonez)
Kate, in addition to being the anthology's publisher, you're also a successful writer.  You know story.  What are some of the surprises you enjoyed from helming this project in terms of the submissions?
 I was impressed by how well this anthology brings together such a diversity of stories and illustrations while still adhering to the Slave State theme. The quality of the writing from story to story is exceptional. The emotional tone varies from horror, to abject misery, to melancholy and, surprisingly, even hopefulness. Each story can stand alone, but also does its part to add another piece to the whole. 

Chris, you hand-selected the authors who appear in the Table of Contents.  How and why did you approach the scribes that you did?
Well, you know, I selected some of the writers. There are a few people in there who merely responded to the sub call on my website -- stories from Shane Swank, James Sposato, Love Kolle, Roger Lovelace, Mitchel Rose, Ian Welke and Clive Tern were unexpected blessings, all talented writers who have gained a new admirer (Shane Swank also happens to be an amazing artist and supplied some beautiful interior art for the anthology). The writers I handpicked were chosen purely because I loved their stuff. There are some incredible pros in the table of contents, it’s still a bit surreal to scan the final line-up. I’ve appreciated people like John Langan, Gary Shipley, Andrew Hook and Kris Saknussemm from afar for a while. It took guts to approach them and ask for fiction donations. I got some great verse from Seb Doubinsky, who I was initially just a fan-boy for, but who has since become a valued friend. As for the others, well…. Much like yourself Greg, Andrew Coulthard, Richard Thomas and Rhys Hughes -- all fine examples of those seasoned genre authors who are just fucking addicted to writing, so I figured you guys would definitely be up for sending something in and I knew the standard would be really high. You were my safest bets, the willing and profoundly gifted.  Mary Turzillo’s short fiction has always impressed me and, I mean, getting a submission from a Nebula winner is always a boon, isn’t it? I felt like she was one of the marquee signings. She didn’t disappoint! Laura Lee Bahr, Spike Marlowe and Violet LeVoit are my three favourite bizarro writers -- PERIOD. I had to get them in there. I’ve worked with writers and artists like Hal, Terence, Preston, Gio and Michael Faun on a few occasions now and am always keen to get them involved in projects because they’re so talented and versatile. Same goes for big John Palisano. In fact, he gave me my first break by publishing ‘A Message from the Slave State’ through Western Legends, and apart from being a multi-award nominated author and screenwriter, I felt John was as important a part of the mythos as anyone. I guess he’s to blame….I always considered Simon Marshall-Jones’s Spectral Press to be one of the best horror imprints out there. He’d expressed his fiction writing desires on Facebook a few times and I thought it might be interesting to test the water there, fortunately his fiction is also brilliant. When it came to finding home-grown flair I didn’t have to look much further than the Slave State template of Glasgow for writers. Sometimes I help out with a local event there called the Speculative Bookshop, which is where I met Mick Clocherty, Phil Differ and Dale McMullen (and subsequently became acquainted with artist Dario D’Alatri and collaborators Tony Yannick and Warren Beckett). I know most of those guys personally and we’re all pretty like-minded. I consider them gifted artists in their own right too. I was always going to seek subs from my Speculative Bookshop buddies. Finally, I wanted this book to be fully illustrated and Soussherpa Art (Robert Baumer) really caught my eye on Facebook. His depiction of the miners toiling in their enclaves was absolutely perfect. I was lucky to get so much talent involved, yourself included. 

Kate, there's talk of a potential follow-up to the anthology. What's next for the Slave State -- and for Omnium Gatherum? 
I'm looking forward to publishing more tales from the Slave State. This summer Omnium Gatherum will be publishing Wire and Spittle by Chris Kelso. This is a companion novella to Slave Stories about inner city anarcho punks and their last gig before the eventual annihilation of the state. I hear Chris has plans for other works set in the Slave State. I can’t wait to see what’s coming next. As for Omnium Gatherum, we are growing fast. This year we'll be publishing 14 books from fabulously talented authors. I'd love to invite your readers to sign up for our readers club.  We're about to unveil a preferred reader program that will give people an opportunity to receive books in advance of publication. Even greater things are coming in 2016 as we add new employees and explore opportunities opening up for innovation in small press publishing.

Friday, May 8, 2015


Last summer, I woke from one of those haunting dreams that left invisible ice over my flesh, and an ache in my heart.  In the dream, I learned that a friend of mine who died in a terrible car accident soon after the summer I turned eighteen had been brought back -- his parents had won the right in a government-sponsored lottery years earlier, but had kept their second chance on the q-t.  By the time I met this incarnation of my friend in the dream, he was a teenager, pretty much the age I last knew him in the real world leading up to the accident.  I woke up the next morning to welcome our wonderful weekend house guests, those fabulous Sisters Dent (both are world-published authors, great friends, and forces to be reckoned with; Karen, as I often like to point out, was once a successful actor who appeared on my late, beloved soap, One Life to Live).  As is usual for one of those weekends spent with two of my favorite friends and writers, we ate a spectacular lunch, filled our coffee cups, and settled in the living room to write and read from our latest projects. From the moment I put pen to page, the story based upon that eerie, bittersweet dream dashed itself off, pretty much in the order I experienced it.  The story went out to Jason Rennie, publisher of the spectacular magazine Sci Phi Journal.  Late on a Saturday night, during a break from whatever movie we were watching on the living room flat-screen, I sauntered into the Writing Room to check emails and found that 'George the Second' had been accepted into Issue #5.  The issue was just released, and contains work by amazing writers and artists, many of whom were kind enough to share the back-stories behind their contributions.

Roy Gray on "Why We Are Here" (Article): "New Scientist, 20 April 2006 issue contained Amanda Gefter’s piece 'Exploring Stephen Hawking's Flexiverse'.  Quoting from that, ‘The real lesson of these so-called singularity theorems is that the origin of the universe is a quantum event.’ My article started there.  It set me thinking that assuming the act of observation is crucial to quantum phenomena we, humanity, could be the observers. But we are here and now and the singularity that birthed our universe was then. I likened that moment as a version of Schrodinger's cat (a cat isolated in a box lives or dies by a quantum event) and our stargazing as opening the 'box or boxes' and so slowly closing in on the singularity. That led me to wonder if our future activities, using more advanced technology, have opened boxes. This suggested a variety of possibilities so I wrote the article but had no idea what to do with it. I even turned the result into poem but, as I’m a less than competent poet, no one was interested. I have read it out at a few SF conventions but probably bemused my audience."

Jeffrey A. Corkern on "On Emotion Drugs" (Article): "Is it possible to prove the existence of the soul using purely scientific methods, cold, objective logic and reason? Yes. Quite easily. In Sci Phi Journal #4, Jeffrey A. Corkern, in ‘On the Sentient Constraints of a Sentient-Containing Universe,’ explained why the existence of sentients in a Universe must be eternal, asked if analysis of human behavior would show at its rock-bottom the assumption of eternal existence, and urged the immediate commencement of a scientific effort to build a soul-detector. In Sci Phi Journal #5, in ‘On Emotion Drugs’, he shows this assumption clearly exists at the societal level, how the universal societal prohibition against emotion drugs has as its founding assumption the idea our existence is permanent and eternal. As a matter of logic, the entire problem turns out to be completely trivial. So completely trivial, in fact, any reader will be able to follow the logic for himself or herself and decide whether or not Mr. Corkern is right in urging the immediate commencement of a scientific effort to build a soul-detector -- or not. He guarantees you an interesting read."

(Artist Cat Leonard's beautiful artwork for 'George the
L. Jagi Lamplighter on "HMS Mangled Treasure: The Rescue of Mister Spaghetti" (Fiction): "My story takes place in the background of my Prospero’s Daughter series. (Mab, the supernatural detective, is a character in that series.) I originally wrote it for a Bad Ass Faeries Anthology.  When the time came to contribute, I didn't really feel like writing anything, but I sat down and prayed about it. The idea for this story came to me, and it made me cry. I figured any story that made me cry, I should probably write. It was hard to write, in a way, because it posited things that made me uncomfortable. I thought someone was going to complain fiercely about what the story says about autistic children...but to date, no one has. Sammy, the main character’s son, is based in a large part on a friend of my son. But the incident where Sammy peed on the neighbor’s doorstep was taken from the annals of actual family events -- though I am happy to say that, in my case, the neighbor forgave us."

Scott Chaddon on "The Great Teacher" (Fiction): "Years ago I spent a lot of time contemplating God's purpose for this world. In college I majored in art and minored in theater and learned that perfection of form never happened in a first attempt. I applied this understanding in forming one potential explanation as to why this world was so messed up. In all honesty the planet itself was perfect and it was mankind that was so terribly flawed. Humanity has a disturbing tendency to destroy everything it touches, including itself. Along this line of thinking I derived the theory that our world was a sketch, a rehearsal if you will, for God to realize every possible flaw and error in it's design so that it could use this experience to create a perfect people for a world. A world where the people lived, loved, created and did not destroy. It was from contemplation of this idea that my story was created."

Anthony Marchetta on "The Philosophy of Serenity" (Article): "‘The Philosophy of Serenity’ was originally an article I wrote pretty much for my own amusement called ‘Serenity: A Philosophical Review’. I wrote it right after I finished the movie Serenity for the third time (since then I’ve seen it at least once, maybe twice, more). I am a huge, slobbering C.S. Lewis fan, and when I watched the movie it struck me that Whedon, virulent atheist that he is, was making a pretty massive concession to the theistic side of the Great Debate.  Essentially, through the characters of Mal and Book, Whedon was admitting that, taken to its logical conclusion, atheism leads to complete despair. He even goes as far to say that it’s better to believe in literally ANYTHING than nothing at all. And C.S. Lewis said much the same thing in the climax of his novel The Silver Chair. Think about how blasphemous of an idea it is, in the modern world, to admit that it’s better to believe in a lie than to believe in nothing. It’s remarkable Whedon managed to get away with it without being publicly drawn and quartered."

Ben Zwycky on "Beyond the Mist" (Serialized Fiction): "Beyond the Mist -- a serial that began in Issue 2 and is still ongoing -- is a story of a man beginning with absolutely nothing: no possessions, no memories of who he is or how he came to be here, no reference point to be able to tell where he is or what is happening, no knowledge of the wider world, and not even solid ground to stand on; he is falling (or is it flying?) through an endless mist. One voice informs him that the mist is the last refuge of freedom from a world full of suffering and slavery; another that it is a self-imposed prison in a world full of beauty and adventure. Which should he believe? He makes his choice, and then things get interesting."

Patrick Baker on "Civic Militarism and Heinlein's Starship Troopers" (Article): "I am a part-time military historian, and I was working on an article on the history of civic militarism in the West.  Civic militarism is the idea that active citizenship is a transactional relationship between the nation and citizen.  In short, the concept is that a free citizen joins in the military forces of their country to fight and defend it; in return the citizen is recognized as a fully participating member of the body politic.  The thought occurred to me that the so-called 'Heinlein Rule' from Starship Troopers, where only military veterans are allowed to vote and  hold office, was the logical extension of civic militarism.  At the same time, I had to address the various objections to the idea, such as that it is fascist, racist, sexist, and so on. The article also gave me the chance to write about my favorite book, Starship Troopers.  So win-win."