[Today, we sit down for an interview with poet, novelist, and short story author, Bruce Boston. Here, he discusses his interest in speculative fiction; his collaborations with other authors, such as Robert Frazier and Alessandro Manzetti; and his upcoming projects.]
ev0ke: What roles do mythology and folklore play in your writing? Do you find yourself drawn to one particular mythos, or does it change depending on the project?
Bruce Boston: I’ve never embarked upon a concentrated study of any mythology or folklore. I’m probably the most familiar with Greek mythology, which I’ve picked up gradually over the years from reading. And I have used references from Greek mythology in both poetry and fiction.
However, if there is a mythos that most often informs my writing, it is threefold: the altered perceptions and states of consciousness induced by psychedelic drugs; leftists politics; and the visions of science fiction, not only dystopian and apocalyptic, but the belief that despite the physical frailty and diminutive lifespan of humans, that someday we will reach and inhabit the stars.
ev0ke: Most of your work could be broadly defined as speculative. What draws you to fantasy, science fiction, and horror? What do you find so compelling about those genres?
BB: I think that most writers have read a lot, and their own work tends to emulate and follow in the tradition of the writers they have most enjoyed and admired. My formative years as a reader and subsequently as a writer were the 1950s and ‘60s. During those years I devoured huge quantities of science fiction along with a good measure of fantasy and horror. Why I first gravitated to science fiction I attribute to the fact that it offered worlds I found much more intriguing and with far greater possibilities than the world around me.
ev0ke: Over the past fifty years, you have been widely published in a variety of journals, ezines, and anthologies. What positive changes have you seen in the publishing industry over that time? What changes would you still like to see?
BB: The only positive one I can think of is that, because of advances in technology, it is far easier for beginning writers to get published. If you can’t find a press to publish your work, you can afford do it yourself far more economically than at one time, and now you can also distribute and promote your work online. The plus side of this is that works that are more experimental or edgy, the kind that traditional publishers might shy away from, are now available to readers. On the downside, since there are no editorial standards to get published, there are far more mediocre works appearing in print and flooding the market. One result of this is that they tend to turn off readers on all fiction and poetry.
The primary change I’d like to see is an increase in payrates from professional publishers so they are professional payrates and not fifty or more years out of date.
ev0ke: Your tale “Mammy and the Flies” appears in Monsters of Any Kind. In the introduction, editors Alessandro Manzetti and Daniele Bonfanti argue that “monsters are maybe the last line of defense against self-annihilation. If they want to survive, men need monsters.” Would you agree with this statement? If so, why? How are monsters a defense? And how does that play into your story?
BB: I don’t think you should take this short intro to Monsters of Any Kindtoo literally. First of all, it’s there to make clear what this anthology is about, not human monsters such as serial killers or sociopathic dictators, but cryptids and other imaginary monsters, such as Frankenstein, zombies, Godzilla, the Sasquatch, the Chupacabra. Second, it’s there to draw the reader into the anthology by stressing the significance of such monsters for human consciousness.
Do we need monsters? Judging by how thoroughly these creatures are scattered through literature, legend, myth and folklore — the Cyclops, Grendel, vampires, ghouls, Nessie, demons, countless dragons and sea monsters, and so on — apparently we do. Are they “the last line of defense against self-annihilation?” Probably not, but they may be one line of defense. If a viewer watching Godzilla takes a perverse pleasure in seeing it destroy Tokyo, isn’t this a harmless subliminal outlet for the rage we all feel at one time or another?
As for my story, I think it creates an appropriate monster for this anthology, while metaphorically expressing the futility of trying to deny and repress the darkness that exists within us.
ev0ke: You have been working on the world of the Mutant Rain Forest since the 1980s. How much of the world was planned out in advance? And would you consider the Mutant Rain Forest to be a cautionary ecological tale, or straight dystopian science fiction?
BB: The two Mutant Rain Forest collections, Chronicles of the Mutant Rain Forest (poetry, 1992) and Visions of the Mutant Rain Forest (fiction and poetry, 2017), both written in collaboration with Robert Frazier, could be characterized as both cautionary ecological tales and dystopian sf-horror. We both knew from the beginning that we intended to portray a future world in which Nature rebelled against man’s despoliations. The particulars of this world and the individual scenarios therein were planned out as we went along, at first by mail and extended long-distance phone calls, and later by email. As Bob as written elsewhere, “The experience was heady, organic, overwhelming, and heartfelt from the get-go.” I agree completely that this was one of most compelling and enjoyable collaborative writing experiences I’ve had, where we often both clicked together as if we were a single voice.
In retrospect, with regard to science fiction as a predictive literature, I think we had the general idea right — Nature’s rebellion — though not the particular forms it would take. Now we indeed have Nature rebelling, with climate change and a growing number of infectious diseases.
ev0ke: Sacrificial Nights, written in collaboration with Alessandro Manzetti, is a surreal blend of horror and crime noir, with the interwoven poems creating a puzzle box of a cityscape. How did your collaboration come about? And, once the project was underway, how did you go about creating Sacrificial Nights together?
BB: I first came upon Alessandro’s work when I was asked to write a blurb for Venus Intervention, his collaborative poetry collection with Corinne De Winter. I’d already enjoyed and admired Corinne’s poetry for years, and in Alessandro I discovered an evocative voice rich in surreal imagery.
Shortly after this Alessandro contacted me and asked if I would be interested in collaborating with him on a dark poetry collection, his suggestion being a book centering on prostitutes and prostitution. His proposal interested me because I sensed our individual poetic voices would merge well together and complement one another’s. Yet the focus of the project seemed too narrow to me for an entire book. I suggested we expand it to a collection that would explore more of the marginal individuals who inhabit the nights of contemporary cities.
Alessandro agreed, so we set about creating characters — prostitutes, pimps, a thief, an arsonist, a police detective, a psychotic killer, an exotic dancer, and more — portraying them, their lives and situations. As the work progressed, and the characters we had created began appearing in more than one poem and also began interacting with one another, it became clear that we were not only collaborating on a book of poems, but on a cohesive fiction. We carried on in the same vein until their stories were complete. Thus Sacrificial Nights is billed as “a poetry novella.”
The successful merging of poetry and fiction has long intrigued me, so I was more than pleased when a number of readers and a reviewer said they wanted to keep on reading or it was hard to put down. Not that uncommon a reaction for fiction, but a rare one for a book of poems
ev0ke: Artifacts is your fortieth(!) poetry collection to be released. Congratulations! How did you decide which poems to include, and have you noticed a definite evolution in your writing since your first collection? Has your focus shifted, your style changed?
BB: I put Artifacts together in much the same way I have previous collections, by selecting what I considered my best uncollected poems and ordering them in a way that resonated so that the book stood as a whole.
My first genre poetry collection was All the Clocks are Melting, published by Velocities Press in 1984. Comparing it to Artifacts, published by Independent Legions in 2018, I’d say that the style in Artifacts, its language, is more polished and less first-draft. Also, the overall focus is darker because I am much less optimistic about the future than I was in 1984.
ev0ke: What kind of research goes into your writing? Piles of books? Hours online? Multiple trips to the library?
BB: It depends on the work. Generally I write more from my imagination than from research. If I do any research these days it is usually online. That has changed recently with regard to a new collaborative collection that Alessandro Manzetti and I are planning (see below), for which I’m currently reading several books as research.
ev0ke: Where can readers find your work?
BB: Most of my books, including used copies of those no longer in print, can be found at Amazon and other online booksellers. For anyone interested in signed copies, they can be ordered directly from me. Query me at email@example.com.
Also, I post poems both old and new, along with links to poems and stories as they appear online or in print, on my Facebook page.
ev0ke: What other projects are you working on?
BB: Alessandro Manzetti and I are planning a new dark poetry collection that will center around the Grand Guignol, a Parisian theater that existed from 1897 to 1962. Known as a theater of fear and horror, it presented plays so shocking for the times it had to employ a house doctor to administer to all the patrons who fainted. We’ll be exploring the audience for such plays, the actors, the writers, the plays themselves, and the changing historical context for the more than sixty years the Grand Guignol flourished.
Also, I’m gradually compiling a new collection of stories with the working title Gallimaufry. This will consist mainly of stories previously uncollected along with some that have not been collected for decades and only exist in books long out of print.
[Rebecca Buchanan is the editor of the Pagan literary ezine, Eternal Haunted Summer. A complete list of her published works can be found there.]