Edo van Belkom: A Northern Dreamer
van Belkom is a writer's writer, one who works in many
different fields. He also writes about writing,
in addition to his award-winning fiction, non-fiction,
and those special little fantasies that appear between
pictorial spreads. He's one of Canada's best-known
speculative fiction writers, and is also gaining
notoriety as an editor as well. His latest book is Writing
1. You're a former reporter. Did
those job skills carry over into your fiction writing?
and no. Writing for newspapers taught me to write cleanly
the first time through because quite often at small
newspapers copy is used almost immediately after it's
written and no matter who's looked at the copy after you,
mistakes are still your fault. So, I guess I can write
fairly quickly because I learned to do that in
newspapers. Also, I sometimes feel that a sort of
newspaper style has followed me into my fiction writing,
you know, short sentences, plenty of "buts,"
"whiles" and "althoughs." There's
other things that have helped as well, like knowing how
to write a press release because I've read plenty of them
and know what might interest a reporter, and doing a lot
of layout work helped me get a sense of how things should
look on the page and that's been a bonus in terms of
making up promotional flyers and things like that.
reporter also helped me with the non-fiction books I've
done, espeically the interview book NORTHERN DREAMER.
Instead of asking the coach how his guys did tonight, I'm
asking authors to explain how they thought they did with
their last book.
made a splash with one of your early stories,
"Baseball Memories." Did selling work get any
easier from there, or did you still have to fightfor that
I've always struggled to sell stories, especially in the
early years. "Baseball Memories" sold and did
well because it was a good story. I wrote plenty of bad
stories after that one and for a while I thought it was
just a fluke. But, the more I wrote the easier it got to
sell. But generally speaking, selling stories has never
been easy. I still get rejected, not as often as I once
did, but still more often than I'd like.
You've published 150 stories in horror, science fiction,
fantasy, mystery, and more. When people at parties ask
you what you write, what do you tell them?
Well, I don't tell them I write sex stories for men's
magazines. I used to tell people that and once I did that
was all they wanted to talk about. I still write those
stories, but I don't talk about them much. As for the
rest, I say I write whatever someone will pay me for,
which is true. I've written political speeches and
corporate letters, advertorial copy, non-fiction. What I
can't stand is when people learn you're a writer and then
ask you if you've published anything. As if you'd ask a
plumber if he's ever fixed any pipes.
you deliberately try to keep the genres mixed up as you
work, or do you just go with whatever the current story
just write the next story in line. I never consciously
mixed up the genres. When I started out I just wanted to
get stuff published, I'd try anything that might have a
chance. Admittedly, I did begin thinking I was going to
write science fiction, but found out early on I didn't
have the head for it. I still do some SF but it's never
about how the nuts fit onto the bolts. I've even written
a few stories without any fantastic element because I got
to the end of the story without needing any to tell the
story, so yeah, I just go with whatever the current story
What can you tell us about your new book Writing
Horror which will make us all want to buy it?
Well, I took a BA in Creative Writing from York
University, but the professors there didn't know shit
about writing. They knew all about the muse, and the
so-called writer's process, but hardly any of them had
produced anything and tried to get it published. (The
head of the Creative Writing Department at the time had
never published anything, but had edited some literary
magazine in University, and he was "working" on
some novel, had been for five years, and is probably
still hard at work on it today, 15 years later.)
My book is
about the reality of writing and publishing. It doesn't
talk about the muse or anything like that, just solid
practical advice based on my experiences and those of
writers I know. I explain things like showing vs. telling
and P.O.V., all of which I learned on my own after I left
did winning a Stoker Award (for "Rat Food,"
co-written with David Nickle) affect your career?
If you'd asked me a year or so ago, I would have said,
"Not at all." Because it didn't really. I came
home from New York, sent out press releases, got a
picture and article in a local paper, an inch in the
TORONTO STAR and that was it. Oh, and when my collection
DEATH DRIVES A SEMI came out, it had "Bram Stoker
Award Winner" across the top of the cover. But
nobody was beating a path to my door, I got invited to
contribute to a couple of anthologies that never got off
the ground, but there was nothing unusual about that.
When things started to change was when I was again a
Stoker nominee and then won the Aurora Award and so on.
When all those things began happening I began building
thing. One good story, one award, one milestone, isn't
going to impress all that many people. But when you put
out a string of good stories, are nominated for awards,
put out a few books, people slowly begin to take notice.
Some authors do
something, they'll send out a press release and expect
their phone to ring off the hook. It took something like
four or five press releases to get my university alumni
magazine to do a story on me. The editor told me that
when my collection came out he thought it was time to do
What about your editing projects? What do you look for
when reading those first few paragraphs of a submission?
look for stories that I myself might write. Stories with
beginnings, middles and ends. In the first few paragraphs
I want to be drawn in and made aware of a character's
problem. I don't want to have to read five pages to find
out what the problem is, I want it early on. I like to
write stories that move briskly, and those are the kind I
like to read as well.
What's the difference between the writing scenes in
Canada and the United States?
Not much really. My collection was published by Quarry
Press which is a small press, much the same as many small
presses in the United States. There's the odd anthology
that's open primarily to Canadian writers that I submit
to, but even that is changing. The two open anthologies I
edited accepted work from Americans so it's more like one
big market now. The young adult anthology I did for
Tundra Books was a bit of a milestone in that Tundra is a
division of McClelland and Stewart, which is the largest
publisher in Canada, so it looks as if I'm helping horror
to make some inroads into the mainstream here and that's
a good thing.
Novels, collections, anthologies, and non-fiction. Are
you happy working in all these areas, or do you someday
see yourself settling down into one niche?
There's this joke I like to say often. "I have a
million jobs, and I get about a dollar for each
one." Funny, but it's sort of true. I write short
stories, magazine articles, novels, non-fiction books, I
teach writing classes, I review books, I edit a line of
books for Quarry Press, I give talks and lectures... It's
all helped me to make a living at this thing, but it is
wearing me down a bit and I find myself falling asleep on
the couch at night just like my dad (a sheet metal
worker) used to do every night. It's great that I have
all of these stories and books coming out, and people are
starting to take notice of my work, but I'd much rather
be writing one thing (and short story collections would
be my choice) and getting a million dollars for it, than
a millions things at one dollar each. Those numbers are a
bit overdone, but you get the idea.
We're going to give you a very large tombstone on which
to put your complete writerly epitaph, though hopefully
it will be many decades before we carve the letters. What
would you like it to say?
When I go I just want people to speak kindly of me, you
know, like, "He was a really nice guy." Other
than that, my tombstone should just say something like,
"He wrote some pretty good stories." That's all
I ever set out to do, and that's what gives me the most
satisfaction... writing a good story.
more on Edo, visit his website
2000 by Scott Nicholson
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