Interview with Brad Strickland

Today’s guest is acclaimed and prolific author Brad Strickland.

Brad has had quite an impact on me. It was he who first put into my head the idea of going to my first DragonCon in 2003, after which my life was never quite the same. He introduced me to the Atlanta Radio Theatre Company and generously served as beta reader for a number of my plays for the group. He’s been kind, supportive, an all-around mensch, and I’m glad to have the chance to share some of his words with you.

Me: Biography/ work history?

Brad Strickland: I’m a native of New Holland, Georgia. It’s a mill village and I grew up there, though my maternal grandparents were farmers, and I spent lots of time on the farm with them, too. I have a Ph.D. in American Literature from the University of Georgia and did postdoctoral study in the literature of the American South at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. For over 35 years I taught English, primarily at the University of North Georgia (formerly Gainesville State College). In 2014 I retired and my wife Barbara and I moved to Snellville, Georgia, to be closer to our first grandchild, Elora Sweeney. I began writing while still in high school and sold my first short story to Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine when I was about sixteen. For a time I taught in Georgia’s annual Governor’s Honors Program, and a fellow teacher there–in science, not English–got me interested in writing science fiction. I sold a number of stories to the four big SF magazines of the day and as a result, an agent, Richard Curtis, got in touch with me and urged me to write a novel. I did, he sold it, and since then I’ve written eighty-odd in all, not all under my own name!

Me: As a writer and a reader, what is your favorite thing about speculative fiction?

Brad Strickland: The fantasist and mystery writer John Bellairs said it best: With this kind of writing, you can let your imagination run wild! I like the exciting “what ifs” about this kind of storytelling, but I also like the discipline that it takes to control a magical story. Magic has to have rules–if anything can happen in a story, then nothing much is interesting about it. There must be limits. As Robert Frost said about free verse, there’s no fun in playing tennis with the net down. So world-building, setting up a convincing society, creating defined technologies or systems of magic–this is all part of the creative process for speculative fiction. I stand in awe of J.R.R. Tolkien, who created a world, various races, and five or six languages–legitimate though imaginary languages, each with its own vocabulary and grammatical rules–before writing The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings.

Me: Which of your works are you proudest of, and why?

Brad Strickland: My favorite book of my own doesn’t fall in the speculative fiction category. It’s When Mack Came Back, a historical YA novel about life on a North Georgia farm in the last year of World War II. I put a lot of my childhood memories in it–though I’m not quite that old–and the farmhouse is my grandpa’s farmhouse, the dog in it is one of his dogs, incidents in the book are based on ones that happened to me, and so on. I don’t think it’s nostalgic, but it does a good job, I think, of capturing the feel of a certain place and the people who inhabit it.

Another of my favorites is Wicked Will, a YA mystery in which a twelve-year-old William Shakespeare turns amateur detective to solve a murder that occurs in Stratford-upon-Avon. I had a lot of fun working echoes–or maybe foreshadowings–of a great many Shakespeare plays into that one.

Me: Who are some of your favorite science fiction and fantasy authors, and why?

Brad Strickland: Ray Bradbury, first of all, because he stirred my imagination when I was a kid. Loved The Martian Chronicles–science fantasy rather than strict science fiction–and even more Something Wicked this Way Comes. Bradbury had a poet’s ear and a reporter’s eye and the people in his stories take on a life of their own, with a style, a bounce, and depths that are hard to match.

For spooky stuff, Arthur Machen, whose tales evoke a sense of wonder–there’s a whole unsuspected universe whose laws are not our laws, just on the other side of a thin veil…and when the veil is parted, terrible things come through! To just a slightly lesser degree, H.P. Lovecraft, though his deliberately archaic prose style I find now less enthralling than it seemed when I was a teen.

Tolkien, of course, for the epic sweep of his stories, the sense of grandeur–anchored by the humble hobbits. Good lesson there–For all the magic and wonder you create, touch your foot to the earth now and again to remind us of the enduring human values.

Me: What would you like to see more of in speculative fiction?

Brad Strickland: Bigger paychecks for those of us who write it!
Oh–well, I’d like to see more optimism. I find too much fantasy cynical and dark these days. A little light would help, I think!
(I agree completely.)

Me: What would you like to see less of in speculative fiction?

Brad Strickland: Corollary of the above: I am sick and tired of vampires, whom I find boring. Vampire fiction feeds on itself–and the movies. Little if any of it takes any cognizance of the actual folklore about vampires; and if it did, we’d find they’re about as romantic as a rabid wolf. Lovecraft had an idea that writers should pursue–invent new creatures, new magics, alien and unknowable beings and realms.

Me: What advice would you give aspiring writers of science fiction and fantasy?

Brad Strickland: Don’t quit your day job–it’s very hard to break in.
Be true to your own vision and your own story. Don’t just imitate someone else–nobody but you can tell the story that you most want to read.
Avoid jumping on bandwagons. By the time you find a seat, the ride’s over; don’t write for trends. If baseball werewolves are big right now, by the time your book’s finished, the trend is over.
Don’t think editors are your natural enemies. You and an editor are on the same side: both of you are trying to get the best possible version of your story before the public.
As Sir Winston said, “Never give up. Never, never, never, never, never give up.”

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