Michael Bailey is the author of the nonlinear horror novel, Palindrome Hannah, which contains five interrelated tales as well as a secret sixth story that plays out backward through the other stories. The entire book is structurally a palindrome. The novel’s sequel, Phoenix Rose, is also experimental horror. Michael is also the author of the short story and poetry collection, Scales and Petals, and is working on his third novel, Psychotropic Dragon.
His first foray into editing is an anthology of psychological horror, Pellucid Lunacy, which was just recently released. The anthology is a collection of 20 bizarre stories, from authors with unique styles and imagination. All profits from the anthology are being given to charity—it truly is a labor of love!
I asked Michael to talk with us about his experiences during the creation, editing, and publication of Pellucid Lunacy, among other things. He kindly agreed to the following interview.
Weldon Burge (WB): Before we talk about Pellucid Lunacy, I want to ask you about your other books, specifically why you went the self-publishing route. Editorial and artistic control? Or more than that?
Michael Bailey (MB): Few publishers are interested in new authors. With experimental horror fiction, there are even fewer. Palindrome Hannah is a nonlinear meta-novel. When first sending it to publishers (agents wouldn’t touch it), I received a dozen personalized letters and enough form rejections to bind a book that would probably sell. They all said the same thing: dark, ambitious, risky. Publishers weren’t interested in artsy; they wanted cookie-cutter moneymakers. Experimental rarely sells. After polishing the novel for four years, I decided to put it out there myself to see what would happen. It sold close to 1500 copies by word of mouth and was a finalist for the 2006 Independent Publisher Awards—rave reviews, the works. It was then that I realized I would never submit to cookie-cutter and would forever push my love for nonlinearity, which of course spawned Phoenix Rose, an even stranger novel (listed for the 2010 National Best Book Awards), and my short story collection, Scales and Petals. I now have a new imprint I call Written Backwards. For me, it’s more than editorial control, although that has a lot to do with it. I simply want to publish what no one else will publish, fiction that disregards conventionality.
WB: What then possessed you to pull together, edit, and publish a horror anthology?
MB: The literary lightbulb clicked on after helping with a few amazing anthologies: The Phantom Queen Awakes and Dead Souls. If you are unfamiliar with Morrigan Books, I would highly recommend picking up all of their books. Working hands-on at the Borderlands Press boot camps over the last few years with Tom Monteleone and Gary Braunbeck (to name just a few of the incredible people in that program) helped with this decision as well. I enjoy editing fiction as much as writing fiction. This probably makes me a sick person. I wanted to challenge myself with a mind-bending anthology. The collection contains both recognizable names, and names that deserve to be recognized.
WB: The theme of Pellucid Lunacy is psychological horror. What elements were you really looking for in the manuscripts submitted?
MB: Clear insanity, hence the name. According to the original submission guidelines, I wanted stories that disturbed the nonlinear fabric of reality, stories that questioned trivialities such as coincidence and fate. I was looking for portrayals of fear as an emotion. Most important, I was looking for stories to keep readers flipping through the pages, over and over again. I read all of the submissions late at night. Stories that stuck with me by morning made round two. Stories that survived round three and made it into the “maybe” pile were those I wanted to finish reading through that third round, stories that made me smile with anticipation or with new curiosities.
WB: Trading hats from writer to editor, what did you find most challenging in the transition?
MB: The hats were entirely interchangeable. No head lice or anything like that. It’s much easier to edit (and critique) another’s work than your own. The most challenging facet was not editing the submissions in my head while reading them. I do this a lot with books now. It’s ruined my enjoyment of reading forever. Structural, spelling, and grammatical errors in opening pages are a huge turnoff for an editor, but I forced myself to read every submission completely. I copyedited a lot of stories that didn’t fit the mold of the anthology and sent them back with full critiques. This resulted in kudos from submitters, but it was cumbersome. Almost all rejections were personalized. This means the world to aspiring writers.
WB: As the editor, you must have read many, many stories during the selection process. What were the most satisfying aspects of that process? The least satisfying?
MB: The most satisfying aspect was the quality of submissions received. There are some amazing writers out there who don’t know it yet, and there are some potential writers who just need a little push, which is why constructive criticism is so crucial. And there are established writers (I won’t drop names) who submitted fiction that I had the pleasure of rejecting (is that right to say?) to make room for better stories by less established names or first-timers. Rejections were the least satisfying. I only sent a few form rejections, but only to those who disregarded submission guidelines by sending cookie-cutter stuff.
WB: What advice would you offer writers who are contemplating writing for similar anthologies?
MB: Follow guidelines and be original. Find your voice and put it to good use or don’t submit at all. The second biggest turnoff for an editor is to read something unoriginal.
WB: My story, “Sizzle,” is included in Pellucid Lunacy, and I want to mention how delightful it was to work with you. You suggested changes to the manuscript, and I appreciated the back-and-forth process we went through to improve the story. What would you tell writers about fostering a strong editor/writer relationship?
MB: I had a dream after reading your story in which surgeons tried unsuccessfully to remove a piece of bacon from the back of mind. Not my head, but my mind. I can still smell it, which is why your story made it. It’s still sizzling in there. Writers need to know that it is okay to challenge an editor. It’s your story, not theirs. A strong editor/writer relationship emerges when both parties realize that it’s okay to ask questions, to want changes, to offer advice. You have nothing to lose as a writer. If the story is worth publishing, what harm is there in having two minds working together to make it even better? I honestly believe a story is never finished, only improved.
WB: What did you learn from the creation and publication of Pellucid Lunacy that has helped you as a writer?
MB: There’s this veil between writing and publishing; lifting it for a while helps you realize that the other side isn’t so bad. The people over there are just as insane. Pellucid Lunacy has inspired me to submit more often to themed anthologies, and to write specifically for anthologies instead of shaping unpublished stories to fit. If a publisher doesn’t like a particular piece of fiction, something unique is still created from nothing, which is the entire point of writing. Out of all of my anthology fiction, all but one was written specifically for those anthologies.
WB: Looking back, is there anything you would have done differently in the process of bringing the anthology to life?
MB: Nothing at all. I am very proud of this anthology, and those in it should be proud as well.
WB: All the profits from Pellucid Lunacy are going to charity. Can you tell us more about that?
MB: The love of art and helping others—those are beautiful things. While I wouldn’t mind profiting from sales of Pellucid Lunacy, I would rather have that money benefit others. Like all of my work, this was an experimental piece, and I will be experimenting with more ideas soon. All profit from the anthology will be donated to help fight breast cancer and Down syndrome. Future anthologies will most likely go to similar charities.
WB: If Bill Gates called and said, “Michael, I’ll give you a million dollars, but only if you use it for publishing purposes,” what would be your plan?
MB: I would say, “Bill, I’m sure you’re probably sick of money by now. Give me two million dollars. I’ll use half for publishing and I’ll donate the other to a charity of your choosing.” After he forks it over (probably has it in his wallet), I’ll invest my share and live off the interest to pursue my writing career, pumping out one or two novels and a themed anthology every year.
WB: In one sentence, what is the future of publishing?
MB: The publishing world will yield its fruit from a digital tree.
WB: What’s next for Michael Bailey? Can you tell us anything about your next novel, Psychotropic Dragon?
MB: I am definitely chasing the dragon. I’ve had this novel stuck in my head for 10 years now and I’m happy to get it out. Both of my existing novels are nonlinear in different ways. The sub-stories within Palindrome Hannah can be read in any order, making the entire book a palindrome, and coincidence is challenged throughout. Phoenix Rose is more recursive, the characters within rising from their ashes as you read along, questioning reality throughout. Psychotropic Dragon will also be nonlinear and mind-bending, but it is like nothing I have ever written or read before. It is a short novel (without chapters) and takes place in a single moment of Julie Stipes’ life, the tie-in character from the two previous novels. It is utterly disturbing and scares the crap out of me. I can’t even begin to explain it, but it deals with a damaged young girl’s addiction to a hallucinatory drug taken in the form of eye drops, and her perception of the moment.
WB: One last question, just for fun. Which is the better villain, Professor Moriarty or Hannibal Lecter?
MB: Hannibal Lecter, but only if he’s from Red Dragon, The Silence of the Lambs, and Hannibal. Those are some of my favorite novels. I’m not sure what Thomas Harris was thinking with his latest novel. Is it sad that I don’t consider Hannibal the villain?
WB: Not at all. I’d enjoy a nice glass of Chianti and a plate of favas with Lecter—although, claiming to be a vegetarian, I’d kindly beg off the mystery meat.
Thanks, Michael, for an interesting and enlightening interview.
For more on Michael and his books, visit his Web site at www.palindromehannah.com.
(This interview was published in the March 2011 issue of Suspense Magazine.)