An Interview with Norman Prentiss

Published February 1, 2015 by MommaCat

Norm Prentiss

1) What’s your earliest memory about storytelling?

My earliest memory of somebody else as a storyteller would be my Dad. He was a schoolteacher, and got a good reputation for telling stories to his students–adventures that he made up. They were long stories, though, and I only remember him telling me and my brother a story a couple times. One story was about a kid who met an angry bear in the forest, and my Dad used a fur hat as a puppet for the bear. Later, we’d beg him to tell us another story, and he wouldn’t!

As for myself as a storyteller, I remember a few badly drawn comic books in the fifth grade, and also some “serialized” horror stories I wrote, complete with cliffhanger endings. They were mostly based on monster movies. The segments were badly written, but I had very careful handwriting. When I turned in the stories to my teacher, I left a note at the top: “Please make comments in pencil, not pen,” so I could erase the teacher’s comments. I guess I felt like my handwritten versions were like publications. I found one of these a while back, with my note at the top, and the teacher’s comments throughout, IN PEN. What was wrong with her? Ha ha!

2) If you could live during any era in any land, real or imaginary, where would it be and why?

I think I’d only want to visit another land/era–because I’ve grown too comfortable with today’s technology and the social climate. For a temporary change, I’d want most to go back to Oxford in 1983-4, which was where I spent my Junior Year Abroad in college. This was an interesting time for me, and I think where I developed a lot of my adult personality–for better or worse. I didn’t have much money to spend, and no transportation, so I walked everywhere. I only had one suitcase of possessions and somehow I did fine–no clutter!

3) Do you consider yourself handy around the house?

Not by a longshot! That’s the one big drawback with owning a home now. I really loved when we could simply call the landlord when the sink was clogged or whatever. I guess I’m supposed to learn more things myself (especially to avoid fees for plumbers and electricians). As it is, the ceilings are really high in our place, so it’s even an effort even to change lightbulbs…

4) What are the next three books you’re planning to read?

I’m on the Graphic Novel Jury for the Bram Stoker Awards, so one of them will definitely be a graphic novel. I’m looking forward to Spirits of the Dead which is a collection of Richard Corben adaptations of Edgar Allan Poe stories. Always loved his artwork in Creepy magazine, back in the 80s.

I’m also a teacher, currently doing a college class on Horror Fiction, so I will have the pleasure of rereading Dracula–and this time I’ll get to consult Mort Castle’s annotated edition, which will be fun.

The current book I’m reading on my Kindle is a Ray Garton novel I hadn’t owned before: Dark Channels. There’s a lot of authors I used to check for in used bookstores, since their paperbacks were often rare and out-of-print, and Garton was one of my favorite “happy finds”–along with Douglas Clegg, T. M. Wright, Thomas Monteleone, Elizabeth Massie, Graham Masterton, David Morrell, Richard Matheson, Robert McCammon (I always slowed down when I got to “M” on the shelf). That treasure hunt in used book stores was pretty fun, but I gotta say it’s pretty cool now to find many of my favorite authors so easily in electronic editions. Cheaper, and without all the wear and tear from previous owners. I’ve re-bought a lot of books this way!

5) If you could claim one book as your own – think fame, not fortune – what book do you wish you wrote and why?

I’d say To Kill a Mockingbird. Not really that I’d want to write that book, because I couldn’t. But it would be nice to do something like it: maybe a horror version of TKAM, something with a similar coming-of-age feel. And if a horror book could have this much truth in it… that would really be something, wouldn’t it?

6) What if you could trade bodies with one person for one day? Who would that be?

Gee, I don’t know how to answer that! Maybe I’d just want my current body to cooperate a little better: more energy, burn calories the way it did fifteen years ago (I swear I eat the same as I used to, but the food stays differently). Then again, if I had the same body I had fifteen years ago, I’d probably be having a kidney stone right now. Somehow at least that one issue has fixed itself.

7) Who are the authors that influenced your life the most?

A lot of the people I listed in my used bookstore “wish list” above. I’ve been so lucky in recent years to get to meet and sometimes work with people I idolized as a younger reader. Tom Monteleone with his Borderlands writer’s workshop was a huge influence. This was a weekend “bootcamp” with intensive feedback and instruction about writing. It’s really like a whole MFA packed into 3 days–intense and very rewarding, and great for networking with peers. At the first Bootcamp, my instructors were Tom, F. Paul Wilson, David Morrell, and Richard Chizmar–and meeting Rich helped start my association with Cemetery Dance, so that was huge for me. Rich and Brian Freeman at CD really changed things for me, trusting me as a proofreader then slush reader for Cemetery Dance magazine, where I still work as an associate editor; they also published my first book, Invisible Fences, in their novella series, which was a dream come true. I’d also count T. M. Wright as an influence, with his existential version of horror. And last but definitely not least, Douglas Clegg–who combines a literary style with a page-turner pace, better than anyone, and has such an amazing sense of storytelling. He’s a great friend, really wonderful to talk to and laugh with, and so generous with advice about the writing business.

8) What do you do to lift yourself up when you’re feeling down?

Wow, if you’d asked me this about a few years ago, I might have said I didn’t know what you mean about feeling down. I’d have some rough patches here and there, but mostly temporary, and my partner of 30 plus years has always been there, so the relationship stuff is great. But some things have been hitting me harder lately: job stress and difficulties, and hammered with deaths of several close family members, all in a short space. I don’t know if I’d built enough of the tools over my life to help me deal with such things… but I guess denial and avoidance helps a bit, and reading or writing my way out of a funk. Actually, cat videos on youtube might have been the easier answer.

9) What five people – living or dead- would you invite to a dinner party? (Universal translators will be provided)

I think I’ll dine with the living–that just seems more pleasant! Kidding aside, I’m mostly fine with meeting dead folks through their words. That’s how I’ve gotten to “know” them already, and I wouldn’t want them disappointing me, or contradicting my interpretations. Is it cheating to say I’d just invite a few friends?–like a dinner out at a horror convention, or a college reunion, or the people I’d see to celebrate a book sale or a new job.

10) Your last two books, THE NARRATOR and THE HALLOWEEN CHILDREN have both been collaborations.  They have flowed seamlessly which speaks in part to the brilliance of the authors involved – Michael McBride and Brian James Freeman as well as yourself.  Would you talk about the logistics in developing and finalizing the stories and tell us how they came to be?

Each of the collaborations was different, and I imagine that’s often the case.  The books have different needs, and authors have to get used to each others writing styles and work styles.  With Mike and THE NARRATOR, it was very easy to divide up the roles:  The novella takes place in a sixth grade classroom, where the students become increasingly frightened by stories they’ve heard. I did the overarching frame story, and Mike did the weird tales that frighten the children. The way it worked was that I’d drop some kind of hint in the frame tale about a story or a kid’s particular fear–for example, a cover image on a book that a student was reading–and Mike would write the story.  Sometimes I’d give Mike a hint about what I thought might work, but he always came up with something better–which was a cool part of the process, waiting to see how each story turned out, and then writing my part accordingly.  With THE HALLOWEEN CHILDREN, we wrote the book over a longer time period, and it ended up the length of a short novel, so the process was a little more complicated. The initial idea was for each of us to take a different character’s point-of-view: I had the husband and Brian had the wife.  But as the story grew, we often had ideas for the other person’s section, and would take a stab at it.  So, we sometimes “ghost-wrote” each others’ section, or added to a segment that was already written.  Reading it over again, I’ll sometimes think: “this part’s pretty cool. I wonder if I wrote it?”, haha!

I definitely learned a lot from each collaboration, and it was incredible that I got to work with two of my favorite writers.

11) And finally, if you would be so kind, tell us what you have planned for the future?

I’m working on a novel called Life in a Haunted House, which has a bit of a YA feel. I also have a novel I’m continuing to polish and shop around, called Odd Adventures with Your Other Father–a segment of this one appeared as a standalone story in a collection from PS Publishing (“Beneath Their Shoulders” in Dark Fusions, edited by Lois H. Gresh). A few short stories here and there, too!

12) How do you want the world to remember you?

As a cheerful, sometimes inappropriate guy who always meant well. And, oh yeah, he wrote that one story or book that was pretty good, but nobody can recall the title.

Thank you so much for visiting with us at Cat After Dark Norm! I truly enjoyed meeting and chatting with you. Please come back again any time. Readers can visit Norm on the web, on Facebook or follow him on Twitter.

**And because this interview was done months ago, there’s an update to Norm’s professional life.  He’s now an editor for Cemetery Dance.  If you have a moment, congratulate him. 

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