Steve Berman describes himself as “mostly a writer of queer speculative fiction”. He is the author of the recently released collection, Red Caps: New Stories for Out of the Ordinary Readers. In addition, he is the author of the novel, Vintage: A Ghost Story and the short story collections, Trysts and Second Thoughts. He is also the publisher of Lethe Press and the most prolific editor of queer speculative fiction working today. Steve has been a finalist for many awards, including the Andre Norton, the Gaylactic Spectrum, the Golden Crown Literary, and the Lambda Literary Awards. He resides in southern New Jersey.
Gavin Atlas: Hi Steve! Thanks for doing an interview with Out in Print. To start, you’ve written in a number of genres. When choosing what to spend your time writing, what makes young adult fiction often have the strongest draw on you? Also, could you tell us about some of your favorite YA novels or short stories?
Steve Berman: Hello and thank you for all your interest in my writing. I think the reason why I often drift towards young adult fiction is because it is “fiction of firsts”—think of how many new experiences happen to us between the ages of fourteen and eighteen years old. First jobs, first real kisses, first heartaches, etc. (btw, I wish I could say that this notion is original to me, but my friend Holly Black coined it years ago). Writing about first time experiences is a powerful thing; it’s a greater impetus on the author than mere nostalgia. I’m actually more likely to have favorite authors than individual books or short stories—I would imagine other folk have similar experiences. I admire David Levithan for his wit and all he has accomplished. Holly Black would rank among my favorites even if we were not friends.
GA: My favorite character in Red Caps is your slightly sinister French tooth fairy. Is there a way I can be friends with Mr. Souris or hire him as a therapist without paying him in teeth? How did you conjure him up? What would you think of him if he somehow became a part of your life?
SB: Ah, Mr. Souris…he’s my trickster figure. I wanted to create someone with a great deal of flair that could be intimidating and yet comforting in turn. As a supernatural entity, he has abilities that make him inhuman, and yet he is not at all omniscient—the truth is, he’s as flawed as any adult. I don’t know if he would accept any remuneration except for teeth since so much of his identity involves his occupation, his purpose. If he visited me, I think we would have a very long discussion about what he does with all the teeth he takes. I fear the answer.
GA: From the Pine Barrens Devil to Shuka, Guardian of the Jungle, and Amelia Earhart sojourning through swamps, you make New Jersey feel full of magic. How would you describe your feelings toward New Jersey overall?
SB: Every elementary school student in southern New Jersey learns about the Jersey Devil by 6th grade. It’s almost part of the curriculum. Yet, New Jersey seems to be the butt of so many jokes that my instinct is to show readers a side of the state that invokes wonder rather than scorn.
GA: Your story “Three on a Match” brings up the nature of lies, and maybe even the necessity of them. There would be no fiction without lies, and lies can help create mystery or humor. Can you discuss some of the most fascinating lies you’ve been told or, if it won’t get you in trouble, that you’ve told yourself?
SB: Hmmm. I’ve been “catfished” twice by people pretending to be someone they were clearly not back in the early days of the Internet. Both times the lies they told to shield their real identity (and, in one case, feminine gender) became more outlandish until they collapsed like the square-cube law that prevents giant monsters from existing. When I eventually figured out what they did—never why—it was intensely painful because I thought I had found someone who really showed an interest in me. Lying might be fascinating but it can be truly hurtful. Being in the closet was my most successful lie. A lie so easy, that I slipped into it again during graduate school and managed to get a girlfriend without realizing how or what would happen next (the answer: a disaster).
GA: Here are two word associations. Can you tell us what each means to you, in terms of yourself and your fiction? Your first word is: October.
SB: My first two “professional” sales were to two role-playing game magazines and released in October. So, for a while, my friends nicknamed me Mr. October. October also has my favorite holiday: Halloween.
GA: From your story “Bittersweet” your word is: Sugar.
SB: Sugar = Death for some. That comes to mind. White, granular or powder, could look like a drug, is seen by a drug by many. Sweetness = lies. All sorts of things come to mind. We both want sugar and hate ourselves for wanting it.
GA: Now, back to you. What makes you laugh the most?
SB: If I say Schadenfreude, does that make me the villain? I will say my favorite sort of movie is black comedy, such as Black Sheep, I Sell the Dead, and Reanimator.
GB: Imagine you’ve been given a life-size set of Kaiju monsters where “life-size” means big enough to destroy Tokyo. What would they look like? Since you control them, what would you have them do?
SB: I used to love Kaiju as a kid. But the whole square-cube law just echoes through my cranium every time I watch a giant monster movie: they cannot be, the laws of physics say they cannot be. Perhaps if they were so alien as to shock my brain, cause me to roll a d100 in SAN loss, I could go mad and turn them loose. But not in New Jersey.
GA: And last, what goals are you looking forward to accomplishing? And we’ll throw in a genie for you. What experiences would you most wish to have?
SB: I’ve yet to win any award for my own writing. Even though such things rarely translate into sales, they are a visual reminder that someone, perhaps an entire jury, thought highly of my storytelling. I’d like to fall in love. I’ve never been in a relationship. Never had a guy lie next to me in bed and say he loved me. I wonder how that must feel. I have seen it done in films, read about it in books, but the entire notion of romance seems like fiction, a lie, to me. It’s a plotline I doubt I ever will follow in real life, which leaves me devastated some days, some nights. I’d also like to own a secret volcano base.
GA: Thanks, Steve!
SB: You’re welcome.
© 2014 Gavin Atlas