The following interview first appeared on Ed Gorman’s blog and will be featured in due course in Cemetery Dance magazine.
EG: Tell us about your current novel or project.
TR: I have two major books on the go at the moment. The first is another short story collection that I’ve just put together. The title is ‘Summertime: The Best SF of Tony Richards.’ I realize that I’m better known as a horror and supernatural author, but I’ve been penning the occasional SF tale for over three decades, and these are my favorites. The collection includes two novelettes that first appeared in Asimov’s in the Eighties, plus a story – from an old British magazine called Ad Astra – that first saw print in 1979. The complete book is with Dark Regions Press at the moment, and hopefully they’ll publish it in 2012.
The second is the one I’m working on right now, and it’s a new Raine’s Landing novel. And in case your readers do not know, I’ll explain the premise behind the series. The idea is that there were real witches in Salem, Massachusetts. Clever and prescient, they fled that town before the infamous Trials of 1792 began. They decamped to the town of Raine’s Landing instead, and the place has been full of magic and strangeness ever since. Except there are a couple of small problems. Because of the nature of the Landing, supernatural badness is attracted there like iron filings to a magnet. And the town is affected by a curse – nobody born there can ever leave.
The chief protagonist – the town’s main troubleshooter – is a man called Ross Devries, a former cop who’s lost his family to magic gone badly wrong. He never uses the stuff himself, partially because of that, but he has several people who help him, not least a gun-toting young woman – formerly a criminal – name of Cassie Mallory. The first two books – ‘Dark Rain’ and ‘Night of Demons’ – were brought out by HarperCollins. And the third – ‘Midnight’s Angels’ – has recently been released by Dark Regions. The fourth – ‘Deadly Violet’ – I’m putting out myself on Kindle. They’ve had brilliant reviews and attracted a following, but they haven’t made the big time yet. Although I’ve had a couple of tentative approaches from movie and TV people, so who knows?
EG: Can you give us a sense of what you’re working on now?
TR: The new Raine’s Landing novel is called ‘Speak of the Devil,’ and it’s something of a departure from the earlier books. In the first few novels, the supernatural menace came from outside the town. This time, it’s a small group of townsfolk trying to take power by means of the darker arts. And because of that – because it’s his own neighbors – Ross finds what’s going on much harder to deal with. Additionally, he doesn’t have Cassie with him for most of the book … she is pregnant, and has been hospitalized. That’s something I’m very much trying to do with this series, have things happen to the characters that are outside the main story arc, have them go through setbacks and events that change them, just like people in the real world.
In the earlier books, as well, the threats mainly came from inhuman, or barely human, sources. Whereas in ‘Speak of the Devil,’ I’m dealing with human evil, including one bad guy who’s so innately vicious he makes Hannibal Lecter look like Jimmy Stewart. It’s been tremendous fun writing about him.
EG: What is the greatest pleasure of a writing career?
TR: I’ve seen more than a hundred short stories in print, two stand-alone novellas, five novels and six collections. And after all this time, I still get a tremendous buzz when something new comes out with my name on it, particularly when it comes with a great cover like the ones Wayne Miller has been doing for my books over at DRP. I’m definitely not someone who writes stuff just to put it away in a drawer … I like to see my work out there and being read. And hearing back from readers – and the Raine’s Landing novels have generated a good few enthusiastic emails – is always a pleasure.
On that subject, I’ve in recent years derived a great deal of satisfaction from giving public readings of my work. I was nervous as all hell the first time that I did it, but have begun to genuinely enjoy it since. Writing is mostly a very isolated job, and I’ve no particular problem with that. I’d hate to try and write with people looking over my shoulder and going “You spelt that wrong” or “Ooh, what happens next?” But it’s nice to get out there into the world beyond my head sometimes, and giving a reading let’s you connect with your audience on a very direct level.
EG: The greatest displeasure?
TR: Most writers I’ve ever spoken to agree on this one. I’ve no problem at all with polishing up a short story, but rewriting a full-sized novel is largely drudgery, an enervating slog with very little that is joyful or creative to it. But it has to be done and, since I’m something of a perfectionist, it usually gets done at least four times, often more, before I’m happy with a finished book. All that you can do is tuck your head down and get on with it, looking forward to the day you reach the final page and can start on something new again, the fresh creative juices flowing.
EG: Advice to the publishing world?
TR: Publishing’s a business, sure, and the houses have to either make money or go broke and wind up publishing no one. A smart writer understands that and does not whine on about ‘commercialism.’ But the plain fact of the matter is, far too many publishers don’t conduct themselves in much of a businesslike way. I’m constantly hearing from writer friends who were told that this and that publicity was going to happen and it never did. I even know one woman whose novel got turned into a TV miniseries, starring a well-known actor … and her publishers never even bothered to tie it in. So my advice to publishers would be, ‘be better, smarter businessmen and do more for your authors -- you will sell more books.’
EG: Are there any forgotten writers you’d like to see in print again?
TR: The thing that’s really changing this – bringing authors back – is not print but ebooks, although it is a slow process. I was horrified to see that, until recently, there was barely any Bradbury on Kindle, except that’s changing with the re-publication of Fahrenheit 451.
One series that I used to love, and do not see around much any more, was Peter O’Donnell’s Modesty Blaise novels. She’s a secret agent, and the books are kind of distaff James Bond stuff. But they’re considerably better written than you would expect, with good characters and exciting plots.
When I was a kid, there used to be an English series – written, if I recall, by different authors – about a detective called Sexton Blake, a rather more down-to-earth version of Sherlock Holmes. That could stand revisiting.
How many people these days know about Joan Aiken’s Wolves of Willoughby Chase books? They’re ostensibly fantasies for older children, but are wonderfully imaginative and so beautifully told that any adult can enjoy them, and they’ve invited praise from the likes of Michael Moorcock.
And when it comes to science fiction, did I hear someone mention Cordwainer Smith, who wrote some truly amazing stories such as ‘Scanners Live in Vain’?
EG: Tell us about selling your first novel?
TR: It was called ‘The Harvest Bride,’ and was a supernatural thriller about an alcoholic American journalist, currently living in London, England, who finds his colleagues being murdered and starts linking those crimes to the time they spent in Vietnam, covering the war there. I wrote it on a big blue Olivetti manual typewriter that I still keep tucked away in a closet in my study. And because you could not delete and alter anything you wanted, writing was a rather different process back then. You had to go at your prose rather more carefully the first time around. In fact, I finished ‘The Harvest Bride’ in two drafts. (The following year I bought my very first word-processor, and my next novel – ‘Night Feast’ – went through seven, which demonstrates how that kind of technology has changed the way we work).
I then went looking for an agent, and Leslie Gardner, a native Manhattanite who now lives in London as well, picked me up. She showed the novel to Tor, and they bought it straight off. Huge joy in the Richards household, as you can imagine. Headline Books took the rights for the British market. It went on to be nominated for the HWA Bram Stoker Award for Best First Novel, alongside Clive Barker’s and Dan Simmons’ debut books. And it got some wonderful reviews, including one from a certain E. Gorman, which is why I’m so pleased to be appearing on this blog. Huge thanks, Ed.
Copyright © 2012 Ed Gorman and Tony Richards.