Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Editing, writing, and Howard Stern: An interview with R.J. Cavender, the Living Horror Library

R.J. Cavender is editor of the award-winning horror anthology series The Horror Library, produced by Cutting Block Press, which has twice been nominated for a Bram Stoker Award. The Horror Library IV, co-edited with Boyd Harris, won the 2010 reader's choice Black Quill Award from Dark Scribe Magazine in the Best Dark Genre Anthology category. R.J. also was founder of The Horror Library writer’s group, from which nearly two dozen writers have gone on to see hundreds of their short stories, novels, and collections published. He is the resident horror editor and acquisitions consultant  at The Editorial Department, and he serves as a staff editor at Dark Continents Publishing.

JOHN: A lot of folks will know your name from the Horror Library anthology series. Can you tell us a little bit about how that came about?

R.J.: Long story short, it all began over at Francis Ford Coppola’s Zoetrope virtual studio and online author workshop. I’d started an office over there for horror writers after having a few less-than-encouraging run-ins with the more “literary types” who didn’t appreciate the sort of stories I was submitting for review. And from that office sprang a writers group, a workshop, a website, and then finally our first collection in 2006.

JOHN: What was it like when you opened that first box of nice, freshly printed Volume 1 anthologies?

R.J.: It was pretty amazing. We’d only received the books back from the printer a few days before heading to our first convention, World Horror-San Francisco. Boyd E. Harris, co-founder and publisher at Cutting Block flew into town with a box of books and then we drove from where I was living in the Coachella Valley, all the way up the California coast, eventually ending up in San Francisco. It was a great weekend, punctuated by a lot of career firsts, but opening that box for the first time and seeing our new books was a definite highlight. It’s a feeling I return to with every new collection. I just love the feeling of cracking that first spine of a book right out of the box and breathing in that new book smell. It never gets old.

JOHN: You started in this business like a lot of us, wanting to see your stories in print. I know you still do some writing, but most of your recent career has been devoted to editing. How did you make that transition?

R.J.: It was easy for me, as I never got that rush from seeing my stories in print that most authors do. But as an editor I enjoyed seeing other people’s work that I collaborated with in print more than I ever did my own. It took me many years to come to that realization, but as infrequently as I wrote and as glacial as my pace was, I always cherished my role in a developmental and collaborative capacity more than I did working at trying to be an active and prolific writer. 

JOHN: Tell us about your work with The Editorial Department.

R.J.: I joined The Editorial Department nearly two years ago after meeting owner Ross Browne at The Tucson Festival of Books and discovering that we shared a strong appreciation for horror fiction, as well as the sense that horror writers are under-served when it comes to publication opportunities and quality resources to help prepare their manuscripts for the marketplace.  After months or back-and-forth exchanges and proving myself worthy to work for one of the oldest and best-respected authors' services firms around, Ross hired me and I started on my first manuscript. Since then I’ve worked with an average of 50 authors per year helping them get their work ready to pitch and sell. I do everything from annotated notes services to line-edits, working on full manuscripts, novellas, and short stories alike. My position as Acquisitions Consultant also allows me to follow-through with authors once I’ve finished editing their work, introducing authors to publishers looking for great horror manuscripts to publish.

JOHN: Do you find your clients are primarily trying to sharpen work they are shopping around to agents and editors, or are they looking to e-publish their work?

R.J.: Much like the publishing industry itself, nowadays it’s a clean split between authors looking to go the traditional route with large houses, those looking to go with small specialty presses, and those looking to self-publish. All paths are viable ones to follow in this new publishing climate, but one thing that separates the publishable from non-publishable manuscripts will always be good writing and good editing.

JOHN: Now tell us about your work with Dark Continents Publishing?

R.J.: As of yet, there’s not much to tell. I met the Dark Continents crew at World Horror Convention- Austin and was impressed with their work and their staff. I’ve just started on my first manuscript with DCP and once that’s finished I’m sure I’ll have a lot more to talk about!

JOHN: How is the satisfaction of writing, revising, and editing your own work to a point that you feel good about it different from helping another writer hammer out a polished, stronger, more marketable work?

R.J.: I was a chronic self-editor, which is a good thing ordinarily, but I nitpicked to the point that I never was able to produce a full-length manuscript that I had enough confidence in to send out into the world. I only wish at that point that I’d read Self Editing for Fiction Writers (co-written by The Editorial Department founder Renni Browne). It’s my own personal work bible now and a fantastic read for any author. I’ll be doing a workshop based upon the fundamentals from the book at KillerCon 4 in Vegas this fall.

JOHN: You've put a lot of time, work and energy into your writing and editing career, and it seems to have reached a point where it's paying off. What are some of the jobs you've had over the years to pay the bills while you pursue your writing and editing career?

R.J.:  In no particular order: stock boy, date-entry at an insurance office, bartender, cab driver, chocolatier, baker, busboy, tamale roller, and a six-month stint as a 3rd shift clerk at an adult bookstore. I’ve got a lot of stories.

JOHN: Where there times you thought "Man, just isn't worth it. Give me a 9 to 5 job and I'll be happy."

R.J.:  Never. Not once. Working with authors is the best job in the world.

JOHN: Let's move away from writing for a bit. I've heard through the grapevine you can be a heavy sleeper. That ever get you in trouble, or put you in an embarrassing situation?

R.J.:  Yes. In front of a radio audience of millions, even. The funniest moment of my life that I ever slept through. (Warning: This will take you about a fifteen minutes to get through, although it is well worth the wait. If you think that one voice is familiar, you're right -- it is the one, the only Howard Stern): R.J. on national radio

QUESTION: Favorite writer not named Stephen King, Dean Koontz, or Bentley Little?

R.J.:  Sunil Sadanand is an amazing talent. He just needs to finish his first novel and people will know his name. His stories have appeared in volumes 1-3 of +Horror Library+ and he has a story coming up later this year in the next volume. 

QUESTION: Favorite food?

R.J.:  Pizza. The world’s most versatile meal!

QUESTION: What's the craziest thing you ever did, or at least the craziest thing for which the statute of limitations has expired?

R.J.:  I plead the 5th. If there are no existing photographs, then I’m not admitting a thing.

QUESTION: If money was no object, name three things you'd like to do one day.

R.J.:  Seclude myself away in a lighthouse for a year and write the one novel I know I’ve got in me.
Solve all the world’s problems by throwing my endless supply of cash around.
Buy my mom a tasteful McMansion.

QUESTION: Three things you fear.

R.J.: Clowns with stubble.
Airplane crashes.
Rodney Dangerfield’s ghost.

QUESTION: Three pet peeves (can be anything from what you see as a writer and editor to what you see when driving to the market.)

R.J.:  People who talk or text in theaters during the film.
Repetitive words and phrases.
Close-talkers with halitosis.

QUESTION: Okay, back to the writing questions. I know you hit a fair number of conventions each year. Do you find that more of a social or professional effort?

R.J.:  It’s a fantastic blend of both. I get to see and chat with some of my favorite people and I get to meet new authors and work with them on their projects. I only wish I could take the time off to go to more, but the ones I always try to attend are World Horror Convention, Stoker Weekend, and KillerCon in Las Vegas.

QUESTION: Do you suggest aspiring writings visit conventions, or is that something better for someone who has some experience -- and a body of work -- to show off?

R.J.:  Going to our first convention was a game-changer for Cutting Block Press. Of course, we had our first book out and had already made a good deal of friends through workshops and forum boards like Zoetrope and Shocklines. However, any author at any stage of the game can benefit from the panels, workshops, and networking that conventions provide. My best advice to any author looking to make that next step would be to take your vacation time for the year and plan to attend a writers convention.

QUESTION: If a writer's looking to approach you for some editing work for a novel, first, how do they do that, and second, what do they need before approaching you (i.e., a rough draft, a draft that's as polished and finished as they can make it)?

R.J.:  I’ve worked on projects that are complete and ready to edit and ones that are seedlings of ideas that need nurturing and collaboration. Every project and every author are different, and everyone works at different speeds, with different needs for their projects. The best way to find out if I’m a good match as your editor is to meet me at a convention, attend a workshop or panel I’m moderating, or sit down with me for a pitch session. For those who can’t make it to a convention, you can always send me an email:

JOHN: What do you have coming out over the next year, either your writing or editing work?

RJ: Horror For Good: A Charitable Anthology (co-edited with Mark C. Scioneaux and Robert S. Wilson) will be debuting at World Horror Convention in Salt Lake City at the end of March and will also be available at our website and through other online retailers. And +Horror Library+ Vol 5 will be coming out later this year. We’ll also see the return of +Horror Library Radio+ after World Horror Convention. And of course, I’ll be teaching the Self Editing for Fiction Writers workshop at KillerCon Convention in September!

JOHN: Thanks R.J. for taking time to chat with us today. Sounds like you've got a busy, busy schedule set. To keep up with R.J., his writing, editing, and maybe even his snoring, visit him at Cutting Block Press

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