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WFD Interview with Stanley Wiater
by Cynthia Arnold

Stanley Wiater regularly explores an exotic world--one of horror, dark science fiction, and fantasy--the overlapping genres of the "fantastique" (a French word, meaning the fantastic or extraordinary).

Wiater puts in it this way: "We reflect more clearly upon the world through a twisted funhouse mirror. We see more intensely through blood-colored glasses. We're the folks who'll have a sunset picnic in an old cemetery... which is actually terribly, terribly romantic. The darkness is what I was born to illuminate."

He graduated with honors from the University of Massachusetts in 1975 with a BA in "Cinema & Writing." But Wiater had really started his career in 1970, when he was only 16 and sold his first national article to Fate magazine. In 1980 his first short story, "The Toucher," was the sole winner of a contest judged by none other than Stephen King.

Wiater has since sold over 700 articles, interviews and short stories. He has authored or edited eight books about horror or pop culture. In 1991, Random House published his guide to the "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles," the only book ever authorized by the Ninja Turtle creators. In 1991 and in 1997, he won the Bram Stoker Award from the Horror Writers Association for two of his collections of interviews with authors and filmmakers. (He has so far published four collections of exclusive interviews.)

Soon to come is "Dark Dreamers: Facing the Masters of Fear," a coffee-table book of photographs and text with famed photographer Beth Gwinn. After that will be "The Films of Wes Craven," done with the approval of the director. He is currently working on a study of Stephen King's work, "The Stephen King Universe," with co-author Christopher Golden. He writes for several publications and major on-line sites, such as Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com.

WFD: How did college help you in your writing career?

Wiater: I discovered where my strengths were. In my junior year, I entered a national essay question and won a twelve-week scholarship to study the film industry in Hollywood. One day, I attended a private screening of a Sam Peckinpah film and ran into my lifelong idol--Ray Bradbury. So I boldly asked Bradbury for an interview, which turned out like a dream because I loved the man's work so much. I then took full advantage of every similar situation I found myself in from that point on. More to educate myself than anyone else, I interviewed several major actors, producers, and directors while visiting the various studios as a student intern.

When I got back to Massachusetts, I contacted the "Valley Advocate" (a weekly alternative newspaper) and said "I have an exclusive interview with world-famous author Ray Bradbury. Are you interested?" Of course they were--and in all the others! While still a college student, I discovered that I could sell my interviews. All of them--most more than once! Almost by accident I had found my career. After I graduated, I purposely decided to focus on the writers and filmmakers I enjoyed the most—those working on the dark side of our popular culture.

WFD: You teach workshops at the University of Massachusetts in freelance writing, and in horror, suspense and mystery writing. What's the most basic advice you give your students?

Wiater: Writing is a business. Talent is the smallest part of it. You have to present you and your manuscript professionally, if you want to be taken seriously. It's like a job interview. If you don't dress the part, you won't get the job. There are really only a few ways to present a manuscript. With my students, I'm always surprised at how many of them don't know the basics of the writing business, a lot of which are clearly outlined in the annual "Writer's Market."

For instance, I tell them that when they submit to a major magazine, it will probably go through a series of readers and editors before it gets accepted. I tell them they have to convince everyone along the chain of command that their story or article is worthwhile. It's never as simply or easy as we'd all like to think. But there are few people who'll honestly tell you the cold, hard facts, and even fewer beginning writers who are willing to listen.

WFD: What qualities does a writer need to succeed?

Wiater: Many of my beginning students tend to think that their particular idea is new or original. The sad truth is that there are not many totally original ideas. Practically anyone can come up with a "high concept" like they say in Hollywood.

What is much more important is to find your own distinctive voice. We all start out imitating the style of some favorite writer. Yet you need to sample many different kinds of writing. It's like sampling food at a few hundred different buffets, so to decide when the time is right what you ultimately liked best.

You also have to develop a life-long hunger for reading. By reading a lot--every day for the rest of your life--in all different genres and mediums--fiction, non-fiction, books, newspapers, magazines. Then you might develop your own distinct way of telling a story; you may develop a voice worth listening to and that people will want to hear. If you can speak distinctly, simply and clearly in conversation, you can then do it just as effectively in writing.

It's all about communicating. Nothing else matters if you can't communicate to at least one other human being through your words.

WFD: What does writing have in common with the other arts like music or acting?

Wiater: Many actors and musicians will say that acting or music "chose" them--that they didn't consciously choose to go into those endeavors. Writing professionally is often the same. In terms of a career, it's the only thing you want to do. In terms of having a reason to get out of bed and face the world, it's the only thing you want to do.

Ever since I was 12, I knew I'd be a writer. There was no other road for me to go down. If you love what you're doing, you will excel at it. Though someone may do better, try always to do your absolute best. The people who are successful in the arts have only one secret: they really love what they do. Who says you can't be one of them?

© Copyright 1999, Cynthia Arnold

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