School of the Ages

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indie author interview: Bernard Schaffer and a moving Harlan Ellison story

Posted by Matt Posner on February 9, 2013 at 8:00 AM

ON KAS 1 and 2

To begin with, tell us something about the reception you got for the first Kindle All-Stars book?

The first KAS project was just a whirlwind of activity. When I uncapped the genie bottle I had no clue what would happen. At that point I'd been publishing for about a year and was still learning my way.

 

If you'd told me I'd be talking to Harlan Ellison on a regular basis and working with him on a story when it all started, I wouldn't have believed you.

 

Any feedback from the celebrity authors -- Harlan Ellison and Alan Dean Foster?

Alan was very pleasant, really. A few polite emails and no drama.

 

Harlan...I’ve never spoken openly about what happened with Harlan but I think enough time has passed to do so. Harlan was always one of my literary heroes. He still is. I'd kill for him, so don't misunderstand anything I say.

 

Over a period of a month or so, I was in constant contact with him. Emails, faxes, phone calls, mailed packages. He is a font of information and even his simplest emails will make you feel embarrassed to call yourself a writer. We talked about life, love, family, politics, his experiences as an author, Dangerous Visions, everything.

 

In the midst of all that, Harlan offered to edit Old-Time Lawmen. I was flabbergasted.

 

To go from a kid who stood in line at Philly Comic Con to get his signature to an author working on a project with him was staggering. But it gets more amazing.

 

He actually rewrote the first page of my story and signed it. I have, in my possession, a one of a kind Harlan Ellison manuscript that contains my characters and world in his words.

 

He gave me a very honest, and correct, critique of the story and I told him I would get to work right away.

 

I went into a frenzy of writing. It was like his insight to my work unlocked something in me, and I completely overhauled my style. So, it was with great enthusiasm that I sent him the new version. I thanked him for his honesty and told him how he'd helped me, and I waited.

 

Now, let me back up a moment.

 

Harlan is very ill, and what I think happened was that the month we were in such close contact, he was feeling better. He had some energy. He was excited about the project.

 

That all changed when his illness reared up.

 

The last phone call I got from him was that he'd received my story, and that he could not do anything more for me. I had, to quote, "Gone beyond the boundaries of imposition."

 

I had no idea what to say. I muttered an apology and he told me to save it. And then something really crazy happened. I knew this was it, so I thanked him for everything.

 

What else could I say? He's a literary giant and I'm a peon and he took the time to share a little of his insight with me. I told him I would always be grateful.

 

He said, "Yeah, I'm just a wonderful fucking human being."

 

And then he hung up. We never spoke again.

 

In more ways than one, it was a definitive experience for me as an author. Probably as a person.

 

Should we be expecting any celebrity authors in KAS 2? If yes, how did you recruit them?

We've got this kick-ass guy named Matt Posner on board. His story is hysterical and closes out the book. In addition there's Tony Healey, Vitka, and a whole host of others.

 

Dealing with celebrity authors is more trouble than it’s worth. You can have them. I took people I believe in who also believe in me.

 

How many stories and essays are in KAS 2?

There are nine stories in all. It's a much tighter, more cohesive book than the first.

 

What was the process of putting it together like?

 

Much easier this time around in terms of story selection. I told everybody not to submit anything until it was finished and let Laurie Laliberte filter out the junk. All I did was come in at the end and call the plays.

 

That being said, I missed all the deadlines putting it together because I had too many other things to get done. Laurie began moving onto other projects, when months later, out of nowhere I blitzkrieged her with my brand-new nine-part story and edits for what she’d sent me.

 

I’m sure it’s no walk in the park for her to work with me. Our relationship is that I’m like the whirling dervish and she’s the poor weather person trying to broadcast while her umbrella gets torn inside out and the wind almost carries her off.

 

She keeps saying yes to me, though, thank God. I’d be lost without her. And there would be no more KAS. I wouldn’t want to do it without her.

 

She deserves every ounce of acclaim she's received as an editor, plus a thousand times more.

 

In just the past year, she's become a name editor for independent authors. In five years, she'll be the most famous one in the business.

 

Readers:  see my interview with Laurie Laliberte here.

What did you learn from making Resistance Front that changed your approach to this volume?

I learned that less is more. I learned that editing is not re-writing. I learned that I don't want to be the behind-the-scenes guy. I also learned a million things about publishing that I was clueless about then.

 

How did you settle on the topic of cryptozoology for this anthology?

 

I wanted something original. I picked a topic broad enough for people to feel creative about, but defined enough that it would establish a theme. If I said "Horror Anthology," well, there's lots of ways to go with that. We'd get submissions of all sorts and join the million other horror anthologies out there.

 

At first, I think people kind of scratched their heads at my idea and a few KAS alumni opted out. That's okay. They'll always be family.

 

Talk about the making of the book cover.

 

Tony Healey found this amazing piece of art that just nails the anthology’s theme. I didn’t want to go with cheesy looking pictures of Bigfoot or Nessie. Plus, it’s reflective of the original book.

 

The next step was that I sent it to KAS alum Keri Knutson, who in addition to writing, has become a nifty little cover artist. She put it together and that was it.

 

About your own career and general thoughts.

 

Your writing and professional lives have been very busy, as those of us who read your blog have learned. Tell us about some of the highlights, good and bad, of your career since you launched the KAS sequence back in early 2011.

 

Well, the Harlan thing happened. That was pretty intense.

 

My book Superbia reached the Top 100 Kindle books in 2012. It was for a few days only, but still, I was happy.

 

I found a narrator for the audiobook version of Guns of Seneca 6 and got to hear my book read to me, with character voices and everything. That was mind-blowing.

 

As far as the bad goes? A Hollywood producer emailed me last year about Superbia. He wanted this and that regarding movie options. I sent him the info he requested and never heard back.

 

I don't really worry much about the setbacks. I just keep writing.

 

How do you manage to find writing time with such a busy schedule?

 

I’ll tell you a story. I started writing so much this year that I fell woefully behind in my reading, which really started to scare me. I truly believe that any artist needs to constantly enrich themselves with the work of others, otherwise you begin to stagnate.

 

I couldn’t take time away from writing and couldn’t convince any deities to expand the hours in the day, so I came up with an alternative solution. One asset I have is ample time driving, so I went to the library and began borrowing audiobooks. It’s been an excellent solution.

 

I’m not exactly sure how to tell someone to find time to write.

 

You either burn to do it or you don’t.

 

In your essay BJ Schaffer is Dead you talked with some distaste about your life as a child star. What is your view of celebrity in America these days?

 

I actually touch on celebrity a little in my story segment that introduces your story. I can sum up celebrity in America today in one word: Disposable.

 

I know you have come out in favor of stronger gun control after the Newtown Massacre. How can this be done most effectively? Also, what is the wrong way to go about it?

 

Easy. Psychological screening for the purchase of firearms. No more assault weapons.

 

People don't need AK-47's. They may want them, they may like them, they may think they should have them to defend themselves from the looming zombie apocalypse, but they do not need assault weapons. Period. And I'm a gun owner. My dad and uncle work at a gun store. I'm a cop. It's not like I'm some fancy-pants "liberal" or whatever gun-nuts try and label everyone as. I'm a dad and I'm a citizen of the United States and this crap has become ridiculous.

 

Any final words.

 

Thanks for having me, Matt. I truly appreciate the support and your contribution to the book.

 

ApiarySociety.com is Bernard Schaffer’s Official Website (Containing behind-the-scenes info on each book, and much more)

Amazon Author’s Page for a full list of publications

The Official blog for daily updates and insight into the world of independent publishing

 

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