November 12, 2008

INTERVIEW - Author Marvin Kaye Sheds Light On My Favorite Anthology

When I was in high school I stumbled across a fat hardcover anthology called Masterpieces of Terror and the Supernatural. This wasn't like other collections I'd seen; beneath the appropriately spooky Edward Gorey cover design I found dozens of amazing stories, some obscure and some beloved, some contemporary and some classic. I read the book to bits, and loaned it to friends until I eventually lost it.

A few years ago I recalled the book's title and tracked down a copy on Amazon. Revisiting the selections one by one brought back a ton of memories, and I began to realize what an effective primer this volume had been for me as I explored the genre. And once again, Masterpieces began to work its insidious way through my current circle of friends -- it's spent less time in my actual possession than out of it. This time around I paid far more attention to the curatorial role that author Marvin Kaye played in presenting these stories -- I became determined to find out more, and to let him know that his collection was still very much appreciated over 20 years later...


TB: A lot of people ask me about Masterpieces' Edward Gorey jacket, wondering whether it was created specifically for this collection. Can you tell me about it?

MK: Edward ("Ted") Gorey did the dust jackets for eight of my Doubleday anthologies, which proved a great selling point. In addition to Masterpieces of Terror and the Supernatural, he also did the dust jackets for Ghosts, Devils & Demons, Witches & Warlocks, 13 Plays of Ghosts and the Supernatural, Haunted America, Masterpieces of Terror and the Unknown, and Sweet Revenge. And when I did the centennial edition of Dracula for Barnes & Noble Books, we used some of Ted's drawings from the Frank Langella Broadway play version.

I believe Ted and I exchanged a cordial letter or two, but never met. He was supposed to appear at a big book fair that ran one year on 5th Avenue, so I went to meet him, but when I got there, I learned he'd stayed home because one or more of his many cats was sick.

TB: Your headnotes (or "rubrics") to each story paint an interesting picture of why certain selections were made, and helpfully infuses the collection with your personality. There are some stories I would not have been patient enough to read without the extra nudge, and afterward I felt that interesting feeling of having shared something with someone. I don't have any other collections in my library that have this component; do you introduce the stories individually in your other collections? Is it important to you to have that opportunity to compel and intrigue (and occasionally apologize to) your readers?

MK: Yes, I do this for each and every selection, even the occasional poem. I regard one of my duties as an anthologist is to provide information, if available, about the author, and the reason I chose to include the composition. Sometimes I've selected pieces that are not personal favorites but have some valid reason for inclusion, whether it be historical significance, or representative of a style of writing that many readers enjoy. In devoting the time, energy and research that I do to my rubrics, I am paying homage to the splendid introductory notes that Anthony Boucher wrote for the contents of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction and the ones written by Ellery Queen for Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine. Those two periodicals taught me more about genre literature than any other source, though honorary mention belongs to H. P. Lovecraft's important essay, "Supernatural Horror in Literature."

TB: At the time of the collection, you list your favorite H.P. Lovecraft story as "The Music of Erich Zann." Over 20 years later, has any other of his stories supplanted its place in your heart?

MK: "The Music of Erich Zann" is still my favorite Lovecraft story, though "The Rats in the Walls" is a close second. "Rats" actually is more frightening; I admire "Zann" as the most Poe-like thing Lovecraft ever wrote; had it been claimed as a lost Poe manuscript, I think it would have passed.

TB: When crafting an anthology, how do you come to terms with having to choose between two equally deserving candidates? And how much does the publisher usually interfere with your selections?

MK: How do I choose between any two authors for space? This was never a problem in the majority of my anthologies [Mr. Kaye has assembled 31 of them] because they are big books with plenty of space. I don't think I ever had to leave anything out for that reason. Occasionally the rights were not available for a story I wanted to include, or the author or estate might want more money than was comfortable for my budget, but that seldom occurred. Mostly the contents of my big anthologies include all and everything I wanted.

The exception to this are the five anthologies I did for the Science Fiction Book Club from 2000 till this year. They include The Vampire Sextette, The Dragon Quintet, The Fair Folk, Forbidden Planets, and A Book of Wizards. The first of these was suggested by Tanith Lee, who said if I could sell such a book, she'd write a vampire novella that would include vampirism, sexual content, and music (thus playing on the word sextette two ways). My editor at SF Book club was delighted with the idea, but choice of the other five authors was not entirely up to me as it always had been in the past. With only six authors, the book club wanted names likely to sell well. So the editors and I came up with a priority list, and there was an "A" list, a "B" list and a "C" list. Though I didn't have as much control as I usually did, every author choice was mutually approved by me and the editors, so it worked out well. We followed the same working arrangement for the remaining four books; sometimes the editors overruled my choices, sometimes they agreed with me. It was all very cordial; the editors are personal friends.

Now I'd come up with (or rather Tanith did) the title for the vampire book, and Forbidden Planets, which is my only solely SF collection, was also my idea. The other three were the editors's ideas. I was OK with the dragons and the wizards, but personally I was a little doubtful about The Fair Folk, an anthology of six original novellas about fairies. I doubted it would appeal to as wide a market as the others, but I was wrong. Not only did it sell well, but it won me the World Fantasy Award for Best Anthology of 2005.

Except in the five instances cited above, my publishers mostly let the choice of material be mine, I had a somewhat different situation with The Ghost Quartet, which the SF Book Club decided not to do. Tor Books is its publisher. This idea also derived from Tanith Lee, who told me she wanted to write a ghost novella inspired by Strindberg's play "The Ghost Sonata." She wanted it to be a quartet, since I'd done a sextette and a quintet. She also wanted me to be one of its four authors. Had the SF Book Club chosen to publish it, I would have surely been excluded, but Tor was all right with me being one of the four provided one of the others was Orson Scott Card. I'd bought stories from Scott before, but he was and is so busy with his book deadlines, I doubted he'd be able to participate. At first he said no, but when Tor said they'd only do the book if he was in it, Scott relented. I'd already done an issue of H. P. Lovecraft's Magazine of Horror that spotlighted Brian Lumley, so I asked him and he agreed to be the 4th of the quartet.

TB: Did you ever think back in 1985 that people would still be enjoying this collection several decades later?

MK: Did I think, in 1985, that people would still be reading and talking about that anthology? Absolutely, yes... provided it remained accessible and in print. Its contents are indeed masterpieces and would be familiar to all genre enthusiasts whether they appeared in my collection or not.

TB: From what I've read on your website, it seems that your life has become a blend of writing, theatre, and healing work. Can you tell me a little about how these overlap in your life?

MK: Writing and theatre blend because I've written plays and adaptations for the theatre. They overlap to the extent that while I'm writing various kinds of fiction I usually am involved in one or another show, mostly with my theatre company, The Open Book. Healing work is off in its own corner, so to speak, and doesn't really blend or overlap with the others, except perhaps in some vague philosophical manner.

TB: I'd like to ask you all sorts of things about the healing modalities you practice, but I'd at least basically better ask how you came to them. Was it through treatments that you yourself received?

MK: How I came to healing is a long-ish story, but basically this is what happened: the first time I was scheduled to act in the Edinburgh International Fringe Festival, I was staying for a week in London. The night before I went to Scotland, I was scheduled to have dinner with the fantasy editor Steven Jones. On the way to meet him, I was crossing Oxford Circus when I was sideswiped by a double decker bus and knocked against the side of a stone fountain. Nothing was broken, but all summer I limped around Edinburgh using a cane. Edinburgh is largely up and down steep hillsides, so I didn't realize I'd sustained a back injury till I got back to NYC, where walking is mostly level.

To get relief from the back pain, I tried different modalities, but the only one that gave me real relief was energy healing. The woman who treated me taught reiki, and I enrolled in first level reiki. I became so convinced of its healing abilities, I went on to study 2nd level and eventually became a reiki master (level 3). One day, the same woman, at the start of a treatment, told me she'd just learned craniosacral therapy and wondered if I'd mind receiving such a treatment. I agreed, and was very impressed with the results, and sometime later, after reading a book about it, I decided to study it, too. I took four courses in craniosacral and became an assistant teacher of it at quite a few sessions. During my training, which was through the Upledger Institute, I discovered lymph drainage and studied that up through the first Advanced Level.

TB: Do you think that short fiction (and anthologies) stand to benefit from the amount reading and writing people do online now?

MK: I hope so, but am somewhat skeptical. I suspect online activity produces more online activity and not necessarily book sales. But I'm hardly an expert, and may well be mistaken.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

nice post. thanks.