I was going through my files today and I came across this article from 1996. It ran in a magazine called The Nightmare Express. Not only does it have some good information in it, it seems appropriate for the season. It also saw how my writing has improved from 19 years ago. I cleaned up the worst problems. I didn’t want to change it too much.
Not all writers can edit and not all editors can write. Finding someone who successfully wears both hats is an oddity. Thomas F. Monteleone is just such a person.
Monteleone’s best-selling novel, The Blood of the Lamb, the story of a man cloned from the genetic material found on the Shroud of Turin, sold nearly 10,000 copies in hardcover and more than 175,000 paperback copies. The novel won him the 1993 Bram Stoker Award for Best Novel from the Horror Writers Association. His novel, The Resurrectionist, came out in October 1996 with a first hardcover printing of 50,000 copies. In the novel, Monteleone again looks at the darker side of religion with a U.S. Senator who discovers he has the power to raise people from the dead.
In between his first short story and The Resurrectionist, Monteleone has written 20 novels, more than 100 stories, and more than 70 articles. He’s managed that great amount of material by sticking with his writing schedule.
“I try to make sure I do three or four hours of dedicated writing a day. That’s about all I can deal with. Any more than 10-12 pages a day and it’s garbage. I usually write five to six pages so three to four hours is all the time I need to write at a good level,” he said.
On the editing side of the business, Monteleone edits the critically acclaimed Borderlands anthologies, now in its fifth year. The other day when I was talking with him, Monteleone took a phone call from White Wolf Press, the publisher of the paperback editions of Borderlands. He had just been told that Borderlands 2 and Borderlands 3 were among White Wolf’s top five bestselling books.
Monteleone admits that editing Borderlands has been more work than he imagined. With a successful writing career, he certainly doesn’t need the headaches editing an anthology causes. So why does he do it?
“I didn’t like the direction of horror fiction in the late 1980’s. The boom was playing to serial killers with steaming organs. I was getting tired of it. The sub-genre of vampire fiction was getting stale. I wanted to do an original anthology to explore new directions in the field,” Monteleone said.
Borderlands the anthology was so successful (15 of the stories in Borderlands received nominations for Bram Stoker Awards, two stories won, and the anthology itself won rave reviews) that it allowed Monteleone to create Borderlands Press, a small press that continues the direction of its namesake. After a rocky start (Monteleone’s partner mismanaged the company, not paying royalties and spending too much), Borderlands Press found its pace.
“We were on a treadmill the first three years and wound up in debt,” admitted Monteleone. “However, we’ve spent the last years getting out of debt. I like the company where it’s at now. It’s a small company that can’t get much bigger. We average about four titles a year.”
As with many small-press publishers, Monteleone feels the small press fills a need that large commercial publishers aren’t interested in filling. “When the small press is good, it’s very good. It’s a good venue for people who otherwise wouldn’t get much exposure. It has a small audience. The publishers have scaled down budgets, publications numbers, and expectations of acceptable profit. It’s a specialized market.”
Monteleone estimates that he reads about 500-600 short stories a year, of which, 80 percent are for Borderlands. He also said that of that amount 50-60 are publishable and only 20 go into Borderlands.
“I want to see stories that examine the genre in a new way that hasn’t been done before. I want a unique take. I don’t want to see the traditional horror elements. I want to go beyond that. I have no interest in reading my 85th vampire story,” he explained.
Other than lacking an original idea, why does he reject a story as unpublishable?
Monteleone said, “A lot of people don’t understand the basic story structure and how to unfold it dramatically. They speechify and lecture without letting the story carry. They don’t have a natural ear for dialogue. At least 50 percent of the stories I reject are because the dialogue is so tinny that a sardine factory wouldn’t use it to make cans. The writers can’t recreate how people talk. They don’t even realize it unless they are made aware and work at it. They need to talk out their dialogue. I can’t see any other way around it.”
Monteleone lists his should read horror as TED Klein (especially The Ceremonies), basic Stephen King (The Shining, The Dead Zone, Salem’s Lot), H.P. Lovecraft (not for style, but his uniqueness), Edgar Allan Poe, Henry Kutner, John Collier, Ray Bradbury, Peter Straub, and Joe Lansdale. In addition, according to Monteleone, some of horror’s most underrated authors who are definitely worth reading are Chet Williamson, David Silva, Bradley Denton, Nancy Holder, and Kim Antieau.
Monteleone’s advice to new writers: Keep writing and keep submitting your stories.
“Editor’s start to recognize your name. It means something to them. It means that you’re dedicated, prolific, and you’ll be around. They start feeling they’ll know who you are. It’s almost as important as what you say,” he said.
Which hat does Monteleone prefer wearing: Writer or editor?
“If you can write a good short story, you can write anything. It makes you a better writer by learning how to write a good story. It doesn’t make a lot of money, though. Novels allow you to develop characters, which is important. You can invest time and emotion in a character and make him live,” he said.
To see what Monteleone has been doing since this article, check out this page.