I had some time to talk to Josh Strnad about his first anthology, Silent Screams, coming out from his new imprint, Serpent and Dove Speculative Fiction, the power that fiction can have, and work life balance. The anthology is set to come out sometime in the next week. I will update ordering info here as it becomes available.
Chimerical Dark: Hi Josh, thanks for taking the time to talk to me today.
Josh Strnad: The pleasure is all mine.
CD: This is your first foray into the publishing world. What made you want to take the plunge?
JS: I had been wanting to edit an anthology for quite a while, and when the time came to finally go for it I weighed the pros and cons between putting it out under my own label or taking it to a traditional publisher. In the end, doing it myself seemed like the best option.
To be honest, I’m self-aware enough to recognize what a small fish I am, even in the small pond of indie horror authors, and I didn’t expect many publishing houses to take any particular notice of me. If Silent Screams had been Neil Gaiman’s idea, I’m sure publishers would have perked up and paid attention, but Josh Strnad? “Who is this guy? Is his name even spelled correctly?”
Silent Screams is also kind of an anomaly among today’s horror anthologies, and it didn’t seem like the kind of thing most publishers were looking for. Although I obviously don’t think the idea of compassionate horror is an oxymoron, it generally isn’t the first place one’s mind leaps when thinking of genre fiction. I had a specific vision for the book, and I wanted to be sure I would have control to shape it as I saw fit.
CD: Speaking of your specific vision, tell me a little bit about how you came up with the concept for Silent Screams.
JS: Regardless of genre, the stories I like best are those that inspire me to be a more compassionate person, to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes and to see things from a fresh point of view. That’s the power of really great fiction—it draws us out of ourselves and re-frames the way we see the world. Fantastic fiction, in general, provides a nonthreatening way to discuss real-world concepts. Because the reader already suspends disbelief, it can help peel back layers of politics and prejudice to get to the hearts of people.
Horror is especially great at that. I like pulpy thrills as much as the next guy, and sometimes write things that are merely for entertainment, but sometimes the cruelty and horror of the real world beats anything we authors can come up with. I wanted a book that would act as a megaphone to shout on behalf of those who are often forgotten and who are denied the ability to speak for themselves. As a Christian, I believe people are important to God—poor people, abused people, addicted people, elderly people, handicapped people, black people, hungry people, gay people, exploited people, and even unborn people. Thus, they ought to be important to us, too. At the end of the day, I want my life and my writing to make the world a better place, and this book (or at least the Platonic ideal of it) is hopefully a small contribution to that end.
CD: Once you know the driving concept behind the anthology, it seems only logical that it be a charity anthology. How did you decide which charity you wanted to benefit?
JS: For my charity, I went with The Salvation Army. Besides providing disaster relief, they provide resources and aid to the homeless, the elderly, the imprisoned, and the hungry. They are also on the front lines in the war to put an end to human trafficking and sex slavery, one of the most blatant and horrifying examples of exploitation going on today. In short, they are a perfect fit with my vision for Silent Screams because they have a track record of helping exactly the kinds of voiceless and ignored subsections of society that the book focuses on.
CD: What does the future hold for Serpent & Dove Speculative Fiction?
JS: Next up is a rerelease of my fantasy novel, Pantheon, which combines elements of Greek Mythology with the American Wild West. It was published by a small press called Musa that unfortunately closed its doors, reverting all rights back to its authors. So I’m going to do a cover redesign and once again unleash it under my own label. After that, who knows? I’m not enough of an anarchist to say I’m through with traditional publishers altogether, but the dawn of CreateSpace and other such services have made publishing much easier than its ever been. It’s a fun time to be an author.
CD: Since I stalk you on Facebook, I know you’ve made a couple big changes to your life this past year that merit congratulations. Any tips for aspiring writers and publishers on how to balance your writing and life?
JS: Haha! You imply that I’ve managed to find some sort of balance. It is an illusion, I assure you.
This past year has been a good one, but a crazy one for me. Since embarking on this editing project I have moved to a new state (now living in South Florida) and a new job, met, fell in love with, and married my now-wife (a story in itself), and purchased my first home. Not one of these things was planned when I began working on Silent Screams, and none of them were convenient, but I wouldn’t change a thing.
In his wonderful book On Writing, Stephen King observes that “life isn’t a support system for art. It’s the other way around.” Don’t forget that even though writing and editing are work, they should be enjoyable. Choose projects you are passionate about, and let that fire drive you to get them done. Life happens, and sometimes it gets in the way of your creative work. The key is to not let your creative work get too much in the way of life.
This sounds a little bit zen, perhaps because it is. In the nuts-and-bolts of fulfilling commitments and getting words onto paper, though, a lot of grit is necessary. If you say you’ll do something, do your best to get it done, and make it as good as possible. Communicate as much as possible with those you’re working with; if there are delays, explain them. And, when your back is against the wall or you are in over your head, don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Seriously. Ask others for help. Surround yourself with talented people you trust. When it came to finally formatting Silent Screams, my wife took on a lot of the technical work herself. I tapped the talents of a friend of mine, Emory Watts, to do the gorgeous cover and interior artwork. I asked my buddy Matthew, who is a serious font nerd, to help design the cover layout. Early in the project, I asked a couple of other authors and anthologists for advice, which I promptly ignored most of, to my own doom. The fact is that we’re all just muddling along the best we can through writing and life. Balance is something learned, sometimes the hard way. In short, work hard, be honest, do your best, and have fun. I think that about covers it.
CD: Thank you again for taking the time from what sounds like a full life to talk to us.