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Edo van Belkom: A Northern Dreamer
By Scott Nicholson
Edo 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 Horror.

1. You're a former reporter. Did those job skills carry over into your fiction writing?

Yes 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.

Being a 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.

2. You 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 byline?

Edo: 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.

3. 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?

Edo: 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.

4. Do you deliberately try to keep the genres mixed up as you work, or do you just go with whatever the current story demands?

Edo: I 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 demands.

5. What can you tell us about your new book Writing Horror which will make us all want to buy it?

Edo: 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 school.

6. How did winning a Stoker Award (for "Rat Food," co-written with David Nickle) affect your career?

Edo: 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 momentum.

That's the 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 something.

7. What about your editing projects? What do you look for when reading those first few paragraphs of a submission?

Edo: I 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.

8. What's the difference between the writing scenes in Canada and the United States?

Edo: 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.

9. 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?

Edo: 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.

10. 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?

Edo: 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.

For more on Edo, visit his website

copyright 2000 by Scott Nicholson


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