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This interview was originally published in the October 1998 issue of CoffeeTalk, an e-mail newsletter for speculative fiction writers. This article is used by permission of Renee' Jean Stacy, editor of CoffeeTalk)

THE LAST GULP ...
Writers of the Future and That Religion Thing....An interview with Scott Nicholson

CT: First of all, give us a few shameless plugs about "The Vampire Shortstop." Tell us how that story came together.

Scott: I woke up one morning with the words "Vampire shortstop" in my head. It was probably one of those little puns your subconscious makes, the play on "vampire" and "umpire." For whatever reason, I couldn't resist writing that story. It was finished mostly in a day, with some minor revisions. It's what I call a "lucky" story, or when I'm doing horror, "ghost-writing." That's when the story basically tells itself and the only thing I have to do is stay out of the way. There's always some grammar, word choice, and mechanics, but I trust myself a lot more when I'm not being writerly.

After the story won the prize and I was writing a press release, I figured out the theme. I realized that the story was about racism.

Except, of course, it's bigotry against vampires instead of an ethnic group. And the coach in the story, that's basically me. I coached Little League for two years, and I loved the kids and they loved me, and I stressed that winning wasn't the most important thing. But we were in a close game against a team that had beat us five times in a row, and I got all excited and I turned into exactly the kind of Marine-sergeant monster I'd always deplored. So it's about racism, and it's about winning at all costs.

But what do I know? Read it in Writers of the Future Vol. XV and decide for yourself. Oh, and one more thing: when I typed the last line, I got a little shiver up my neck. That's the real grand prize, as far as I'm concerned.

CT: Now give us all the nitty gritty details. Lodging, expenses, participants and authors, etc.

Scott: The writers ranged in age from 26 to I believe around 50 in age. They were all Americans this year, though that's not always the case. 12 were there for the entire week, and two flew in for the weekend ceremony, in addition to last year's top winner, Morgan Burke. Some of the writers I'd heard of who'd been published before were Amy Sterling Casil, Ron Collins, and Stefano Donati. Others ranged from first-timers to those like me who'd had a few small-press sales.

All expenses were paid with the exception of about four meals. I did fine by eating the huge continental breakfast and then going out for dinner. I did blow some money on books, but I do that anywhere. We stayed in the Celebrity Centre, which is a Scientology hotel.

It's a gorgeous hotel, historic and right at the foot of the mountain where the "Hollywood" sign is. Ginger Rogers used to live on the top floor or something. Unfortunately I saw no ghosts. But the service was excellent all week, even though us scrungy writers were definitely out of place among the other hotel guests. There was a bit of shuffling of rooms when the pros started coming in, but I'd sleep three to a suite any day for the chance to meet Jack Williamson, Tim Powers, et al.

CT: Tell us a little about how the workshop itself is run.

Scott: For the first two days, we did some idea-generating things and read different articles on writing, most of them by our late benefactor Mr. Hubbard himself. We were also assigned a "twin" to discuss ideas with. The workshops generally took two to three hours a day, then we had the rest of the day free. Some people took advantage of their free time by writing, but writing is part of my daily routine. I was a North Carolina mountain boy in the big city of LA. I wanted to find out what the big freaky city was like.

On Wednesday, we started writing from our choice of the ideas the exercises had generated. The stories were due on Thursday. Some, like the manic Ron Collins, wrote a story a day. Others panicked. I wasn't too worried about that part of it, because I knew I was going to rewrite my workshop story before I sent it to the magazines. I suspect some felt a bit of peer pressure. I mean, here were Algis Budrys and Dave Wolverton, actually reading our stuff! Much different from a submission where you get the old invisible razor across the throat.

I have to confess that I don't believe in workshops. My wife is my first and only proofreader, and I trust her judgement, because she's a reader and not a writer. I personally don't think writers know anything, so how can you trust what they tell you? I mean, we're simpering gas giants of insecurity wrapped in a poison atmosphere of egotism. That said, the workshop was a great experience.

CT: What style of critiquing do they use?

Scott: Algis had a great method of critiquing: you got to say one line about the story, and if you had nothing to say, or someone else had already said it, you passed. Except he made us keep referring to our stories as "drafts." So we didn't diagnose, tear down, or reconstruct. I think everyone took the comments well. We were all jolly pals by then, us against the mad world.

Incidentally, all the critiques on my work were appropriate. I took the "draft" home and gave it to my wife to read, and she spotted everything that it took 11 writers to find wrong. I rest my previous case.

I suffered through a couple of college writing classes, which is probably where I got my distaste for workshops. But I'm going back next year, you can count on that.

CT: What did you find most useful from the workshop?

Scott: More valuable than the critiquing was being able to mingle with writers, to get where they came from, to share the space in their heads. The absolute highlight was hearing lectures from awesome people like Tim Powers, Janet Berliner, Kevin J. Anderson, and of course Algis and Dave. Wow. All had different approaches, but the message was clear from each: find out what works for you, and don't worry about what everyone else does.


CT: The least?

Scott: We did quite a bit of silent reading in the workshops. It's something we could have done in our hotel rooms. But it's a fairly structured workshop, so that was part and parcel.


CT: We've heard several people ask about the connection between the contest and scientology. What can you tell us about that?

Scott: I've submitted an interview with Dave Wolverton to Speculations and I asked him that question. Hopefully some of you will read his take there.

Here's my take: L. Ron Hubbard was an SF writer. He founded Scientology. He also had the foresight and the money to start a contest to encourage new speculative fiction writers. How many other people in the world are giving out thousands of dollars just to nudge a few writers along? Certainly not publishers.

As part of the workshop, we toured the Hubbard Life Museum, which strongly focused on Scientology. It was interesting in its way, though some of the writers felt a little railroaded. I didn't. I was there as a guest of Author Services Inc., which sells Hubbard's work.

The staff at the hotel was entirely made up of Scientologists. It's where they have their church meetings and classes. And all the people were as nice as any other group I've ever met, and far less proselytizing than certain religious groups we have in the South. I've always heard Scientology was a cult. But what's the definition of a cult? A group of people who don't happen to believe what you believe? Christianity was a cult. It may still be, for all I know.

Scientologists aren't vacant-eyed zombies. They are people who found a system that works for them. They are environmentalists and practice self-respect and respect of others. More power to them. I'm not going to be a Scientologist, but I'm proud to include some among my friends and I'm glad that I got a chance to understand more about their beliefs.


CT: Would you recommend this experience to other writers?

Scott: Go, go, go. I'm definitely going back next year, even though I'm anxious about flying. It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I am lucky enough to have twice.

I mean, after the awards ceremony, where we had to make speeches, people were coming up and asking us to sign the anthology. And that went for the pros, too. Here was Kevin Anderson, Tim Powers, and others, coming up like kids at Halloween, asking us to sign their copy. Jack Williamson asked us to sign a copy for him. JACK WILLIAMSON!


CT: Did you find any of the advice constraining when you returned home?

Scott: No problem at all. I don't think about the process if I can help it. There's plenty of critics out there just waiting for you to have some small success so they can rip you apart with their teeth. No need to gnaw your own self.

I got home, got in my chair, and just went back to the daily grind, which is where the real battles are fought and won.


CT: What's next for you?

Scott: Next? Well, I wrote 3,000 words today to finish a story for June Hubbard's Civil War ghost anthology. I'm going right now to snuggle my wife so she'll read it and then I can fix it in the morning and mail it out. I think it's good, but what the heck do I know? I'm only a writer, see?

I'm also sending out a novel manuscript tomorrow to Gordon Van Gelder at St. Martin's Press. It's at an agent's now, and I was hoping to have the agent shop it around, but if the agent rejects it, then I've wasted a month or so of my writing career.

I'm about a fourth of the way through a novel that my wife says is my best yet (I've written three.) That's my unpaid day job, the novels. I also have a sci-fi novella I'm working on, and about once a month I take a day or two off from the novel to write a short story. I also stay busy keeping all my stories in the mail.

I have a few works coming out soon: "Haunted" in MORE MONSTERS FROM MEMPHIS (Oct/Nov), "Homecoming" in MAELSTROM #2 (Oct), and a German translation of "Thirst" in STORISENDE on Nov. 4th. I've got another twenty stories out there collecting rejection slips.

Anybody who is interested, my website is at www.hauntedcomputer.com. It's fledgling right now, but soon I'm going to make a writers' area where I can post my interviews, writing links, news, etc.

CT: We wish you the best of luck with all your endeavors, Scott, and all the virtual java you can drink.

Until next time ...

-Copyright 1998 by Renee' Jean Stacy

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