Joel A. Sutherland is a librarian, an editor and an author. He and his wife Colleen Morris are co-editors of the recently Book Smuggler reviewed Fried! Fast Food, Slow Deaths–a horror story anthology with some bite (Lame attempt at a pun, sorry). Fried! is a collection of 23 short stories, all centered around–you guessed it–the horrors of fast food.
You can check out our review here.
As an author, an avid reader, and a first time editor, we asked Joel to give us some insights into his work and getting into ‘the biz’ for any aspiring writers and fans interested in getting published. Joel graciously accepted, and voilà! Hope you enjoy the interview as much as we did.
The Book Smugglers: First and foremost, congrats on the success of Fried! As your first co-edited book, you must be pleased with the positive reviews it is garnering. What sparked your interest in creating and editing a horror anthology (as opposed to submitting your own story separately)?
Joel: Thank you, Thea. The positive reviews have been very rewarding—and a little relieving—not only because Fried! is the first book I co-edited, but also because of the unusual premise and presentation of the book. Right from the beginning I’ve always thought of Fried! as the literary equivalent of a B-movie, the printed page version of Tarantino and Rodriguez’s Grindhouse. The book tries not to take itself too seriously, and I couldn’t be happier—and, again, a little relieved—that the readers and critics are having fun with it.
You probably wouldn’t guess it by looking at me (I have no piercings and only two exceptionally innocent tattoos), but horror has long been a passion of mine. So has writing and reading. It was only a matter of time before I got up off the couch and decided to edit an anthology. It was a lot of work and the stress of learning through trial and error sped up my hair loss, but I’m already itching to edit my follow-up anthology.
The Book Smugglers: One of the coolest, eye-catching things about this book is its premise. How did you come up with the idea to create a collection of shorts tied together by this fast food theme?
Joel: Fast food and horror go hand in hand. I’d argue that fast food is horror, or at least seriously horrific. I can’t recall a time that I’ve eaten in a fast food chain and not felt nauseous before, during and/or after my meal. It seems like our society is finally beginning to reject the happy smiling faces of Ronald McDonald and Colonel Saunders. Take Fast Food Nation and Super Size Me as pop culture reflections of this shift in attitude. Those were pretty horrific tales. It was only a matter of time before someone explicitly combined fast food with horror.
In fact, someone had tried to do so before us. A few years back a new small press announced itself to the world by opening a call for submissions for five horror anthologies. Only one book saw the light of day before the press collapsed and released all of the accepted stories. One of the doomed projects was to be called Fast Food Frenzies. Once they closed their doors I saw some of the contributors on message boards and blogs wondering if they could produce and release the book themselves. I hated seeing all of these talented artists get burned, and that’s when I decided to get up off the couch.
The Book Smugglers: How did you and your co-editor (and wife) Colleen find authors and artists to contribute to this book? How was the selection process carried out?
Joel: We created a simple website with guidelines and linked to it on all of the writing sites that we knew of. It wasn’t long before the stories began pouring in. Some came with notes from the authors explaining that their submissions had been accepted for Fast Food Frenzies (we accepted some but not all of these tales), and others were freshly written. Acceptances went out to our absolute favourite stories before the submission period ended and then came the hard part: picking the last two or three stories from ten or fifteen that could easily have made the cut. One of the key components to the selection process was picking stories that would blend well together but weren’t too similar. We didn’t want twenty-three stories set in burger joints, for example. Luckily, the writers came through for us, submitting some of the most imaginative takes on fast food horror imaginable, and our job was fairly easy.
As for the artists, a fine Texas chap by the name of Bret Jordan took care of that. Bret created the cover art for Fried! as well as some of the interior art (he was initially connected to the book by having a story, “Veggie Burger,” accepted early on), and he found the remaining artists who contributed interior illustrations. Bret’s a cool dude. He has invited me to visit him in the Lone Star State (I live in Toronto), even going so far as to say that the beer will be on him. I don’t think he thinks I’m serious, but one of these days I’m going to take him up on his offer. What can I say? I like free beer.
The Book Smugglers: Don’t we all! How did the book finally find a home with publisher in Graveside Tales?
Once Colleen and I had made our final selections, we sat back and assessed what we had before us. Frankly, the stories were too good to self-publish on Lulu.com, only to be largely ignored and quickly forgotten. The decision to approach traditional publishers was made at the same time that Graveside Tales announced their new company, which would specialize in off the beaten path horror genres (their second anthology, The Beast Within, centers on were-creatures of all sorts). I wrote to the two Big Cheeses, Dale L. Murphy and Tony Kendall, made my pitch, and they bit. The biggest upside was that everyone involved—the authors and artists—gained a bigger and better venue for their work.
The Book Smugglers: Another pretty cool aspect of the book is the artwork and the use of newspaper clippings/inserts throughout. I loved that certain scraps would have for example a coffee mug stain, or were torn, or had burning around the edges. Was this something the authors included in their original stories, or was it an editorial decision?
Joel: The credit for that idea goes to the Graveside team, Dale, Tony and Bret (Matt Hults was later appointed Editor-in-Chief). I believe Bret and Matt wrote the news clippings and created the authentic look for them. That’s the beauty of the small press: the publishers are often more eager to experiment with quirky ideas, often to beautiful and innovative results.
The Book Smugglers: Since you also are an author, how did you come to the decision to include your own story in the anthology? Was it a tough call to make?
Joel: Pardonnez mon français, but does a bear poop in the woods? Yeah, including my own story, “The Bocan,” in an anthology I co-edited was an extremely tough call. There’s definitely a stigma with editors including their own stories in anthologies, and there has been an endless debate on whether it’s right or wrong. I almost cut it from the lineup, but felt somewhat justified in its inclusion because it had been previously accepted for Fast Food Frenzies. Plus, it’s really short, so readers can easily skip it if they wish. I’ve been pleasantly surprised and—here’s that word again—relieved that most of the reviews have singled it out as a favourite.
The Book Smugglers: And a bit about you as a writer–who are some of your influences? Do you have a favorite author or book (or many of each!)? Because you know I gotta ask–which story in Fried! was your favorite?
Joel: My influences are as disparate as they are numerous. Ask me today and I’d list Stephen King, Philip Pullman, J. J. Abrams, Fran Friel, Yann Martel, William Goldman, David Milch, Kurt Vonnegut, Naomi Novik, Mark Haddon… Ask me tomorrow and it will be a completely different list. The favourite book question is a little easier to answer, but I’m going to cheat a touch by naming a series: George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire. Martin has taken fantasy fiction to all new heights. His prose is crisp and evocative, his action is brutal, his novels are sprawling and perfectly plotted and his characters are none of them one-dimensional. If you told me the fifth book in the series was coming out tomorrow I’d say that’s one day too many.
My favourite story in Fried!? Oh, that’s a mean question! You were one of those kids that peppered her parents with questions of which child was their favourite, weren’t you? Can I say they’re all my favourite? No? Okay, here’s what I’ll do: I’ll list a few stories that I’ve been uber-shocked that none of the reviews have singled out yet. “Bad Fish,” “The Drain,” “Take Away” and “Happinex.”
The Book Smugglers: Do you have any words of advice for first-time authors, desperately seeking publication and publicity?
Joel: Read lots and write more. That’s a bit of a cliché, but as King himself would say, it’s a cliché because it’s true. Oh, and don’t forget to submit your writing. It took me a while to learn that I would never become a published author if I didn’t take the plunge and send my written words out to the world. As my eight-year-old nephew would say, duh.
The Book Smugglers: So…what’s next on the horizon (if you can divulge) for you? Any upcoming projects as an editor or an author?
Joel: I’m happy to report that Frozen Blood, my psychological horror novel with a generous heaping of ghosts, is going to be published by Lachesis Publishing either later this year or early next year. It’s the story of an emotionally battered woman who returns from the States to her hometown of Ottawa for her father’s funeral. She gets trapped indoors with her manipulative twin sister and her money-grubbing brother-in-law (and those previously mentioned ghosts) during a devastating and unending hailstorm. Cabin fever leads to insanity, then bloodshed. Not exactly beach reading, but if you like suspense I’m sure Frozen Blood won’t disappoint.
I’m now outlining my second novel, a story about a motley group of strangers trying to rebuild a society after the apocalypse, and Colleen and I are considering how to follow-up on Fried!’s success. Like I said before, I’ve got the itch to edit another anthology and I can’t wait to get started. As soon as I can officially announce it the guidelines will be posted on my blog, http://joelasutherland.livejournal.com/
Joel A. Sutherland is a librarian, an editor and an author. His fiction has appeared in many anthologies and magazines, and Lachesis Publishing will soon release his first novel, Frozen Blood. He also co-edited Fried! Fast Food, Slow Deaths with his wife, Colleen Morris, and wrote the children’s book The Teddy Bears of Tomorrow (Sam’s Dot Publishing).
He is currently hard at work on a variety of writing projects, as well as completing his Masters in Library and Information Science from the University of Wales, Aberystwyth. In his free time—what little of that there is—he likes to play with his dog, Murphy, and watch zombie movies.
Visit Sutherland online at http://www.joelasutherland.com/
Once again, thanks to Joel for granting the interview. *pops open a–regretably not free but still tasty–beer* In the words of Stuntman Mike, “Ladies, THAT was fun. Well…adios!”