Nonfiction

Interview with Cover Artist Billy Norrby

by on Aug 4, 2015 in Nonfiction | 0 comments

This month’s featured cover artist is Billy Norrby, whose piece “Rock and Claw” beautifully mixes fantasy with reality. Norrby’s work has been featured in dozens of gallery shows and publications, with many works that challenge the real and the unreal. APEX MAGAZINE: Many of your pieces feature a mix of reality and fantasy, including the giant crustacean of “Rock and Claw.” What is your process for working out angles, perspective, and other techniques with creatures and objects that might only exist in the imagination? How does that differ from painting people and other reality-based objects? BILLY NORRBY: Indeed, surreal/fantastical elements are prominent in most of my paintings. Despite that, and to the best of my ability, I always try to present each image as having a cohesive and tangible reality of its own. The goal is to have the otherworldly aspects blend seamlessly with the people and environments I’ve photographed in and outside my studio. Naturally, the logistics behind painting what isn’t there and presenting it in a believable manner to me presents a fun challenge of problem solving. To inform my brush strokes I build models, butcher plastic miniatures, and put together costumes. And I admit that sometimes all the building and sculpting can amount to a certain overkill, but I really enjoy working with my hands and the miniature construction satisfies the kid in me who dreamt of working in special effects of the Ray Harryhausen/Rick Baker variety. Since painting is by its nature a very slow and arduous task compared to many other endeavors, I try to inject as much fun as I can into the process itself. Once I have my sculptures and miniature sets ready and can move on to the painting phase, I’ve actually minimized the difference between painting the “real” stuff and the imaginary elements, because those have also become “real” to a certain extent. My approach of expanding reality into the surreal/dream like realm borrows from very thorough artists like Donato Giancola and James Gurney, whom so effortlessly create utterly believable, boundless worlds. AM: Your website features three different series—“Pulsar”, “Shadows”, and “The Riot Series”—that each seem to have been completed within certain timeframes. How do you approach other, visually different ideas that might come up during those times? BN: The separation of my work into these three different categories is not as clear cut as the layout of my website would have it to be. In actuality, the evolution of my work has been a very gradual process with plenty of overlap and darting back and forth over a period of 6-7 years. It was only recently that I took an overall look at my body of work thus far and could see that there were certain paintings which seem to naturally fit together as opposed to other ones. These divisions are thus mostly an afterthought rather than the result of conscious decisions on my part. But certainly, by the nature of the gallery business you often attach a particular theme to an art show, so sometimes it becomes very clear which images fit together in a designated series. I will also say that the hyper saturated colors of “Pulsar” were a reaction towards the increasingly conservative and romantic streaks my paintings had drifted towards over the last few years. (I have to keep myself excited after all!) But in all seriousness I do believe that a painter is best served by having a clear consistent voice. And I also think that an ambitious artist should strive to evolve and avoid settling into a comfortable space, even if there are clear commercial benefits to do so. Some visual notes aside though, I am still always the same person and artist interested in certain ideas and emotions in general. All my paintings share my particular outlook regardless of differences in subject matter. In time, as my body of work grows, I believe that all perceivable outliers among my paintings will fit neatly back into a larger, logical fold. As an artist, if there are certain images you really want to create...

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The Fuzzy Bunny Squad is Standing By….

by on Aug 4, 2015 in Nonfiction | 0 comments

Picture this: you’re reading a novel, or a short story, or perhaps watching a movie or television show; you’re being entertained, you’re caught-up in the story, enjoying the heck out of everything, and then— —what the…?— —something so unbelievably, incredibly, and mind-numbingly STUPID happens that whatever spell has been cast by the story/novel/film/show is instantly broken, and you spend several moments trying to figure out why this moment of radiant brainlessness has elbowed its way into something that was, up until this point, doing a damn fine job at helping you suspend your disbelief; in fact, you spend so much time meditating on this conundrum that you miss whatever happens next, or are so flummoxed by it that there is absolutely no way in hell that you can enjoy the rest. What is a person to do? The obvious answer is to seek out those books, stories, movies, and shows that have some integrity and acumen behind them, and whose creators display an obvious respect for your intelligence. (And while you’re at it, discover that cure for cancer we’re all waiting for, will you?) Unfortunately, most people have neither the time nor the inclination to seek out those works that adhere to the above guidelines (they are out there, but keep in mind as we go along, everyone is entitled to the occasional mis-step; this statement will be made clearer shortly). So the answer to the question What is a person to do? is actually very simple. What follows is my personal solution: Fuzzy Bunnies. Think about them for a moment: you’ve got these bunnies; they’re all warm and plump and fuzzy; you can hug them and squeeze and call them “Norbert”; they’ve got their cute bunny noses and adorable bunny whiskers and those loveable floppy ears; you can hold them in your arms and pet them and—just like Spock with a Tribble—all your cares and concerns just…fade…away…under…the…weight…of…all…that…cuteness. For the record, I’m not suggesting you go out and purchase an actual fuzzy bunny; they tend to poop and copulate a lot, and you don’t need any more frustrations; I’m talking about metaphorical fuzzy bunnies, the type you keep running free in the Watership Down field in the back of your mind, all ready to be called upon when needed. But what use are these fuzzy bunnies if you cannot properly identify a Fuzzy Bunny Moment? Lucky for you I have no life and few friends and am terrible lonely and so have spent a great deal of time considering this problem in order to give my existence the illusion of meaning. Let’s start with the supreme Fuzzy Bunny moment from the film Aliens. I like this movie, but had it not been for the Fuzzy Bunnies, the ending would have ruined it for me. You have to know the moment I’m talking about. Sigourney Weaver has bitch-slapped the Queen Mother Alien down into this airlock chamber. The Queen is scrabbling to get to Sigourney. There’s no time to close the roof, so Sigourney—in an act that defies not only all logic but at least three separate laws of basic Physics—hits the “jettison” button, the doors open, and the Queen is sucked into space. But what of Sigourney? How does she prevent herself from being pulled into the death of space’s vacuum with the Queen? With one arm—count it, one—she holds onto a single rung of a ladder. Forget that the sudden decompression is sucking pieces of equipment that weigh several tons more than she all the hell over the deck above, Ripley somehow manages through a feat of god-like strength to hold onto the rung for several seconds, all the while defying the power of the vacuum to reach out with her free arm (which should have been wrenched at the very least out of its socket, if not ripped off entirely) and hit the button to close the door, and the day is saved. You could do several things at this point while watching the movie: laugh; shake your head; run, screaming, for a copy of Ernest Scared...

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Interview with Mehitobel Wilson

by on Aug 4, 2015 in Nonfiction | 0 comments

If you’ve been a long time reader of horror short fiction, you know the name Mehitobel Wilson. For everyone else, allow me to introduce you to a master of visceral literary horror. When I say horror, I don’t mean splatterpunk (although she’s written some of that too). I mean those pieces that leave you with a feeling of forebording, of looking over your shoulder, of not wanting to turn the lights off. “Brisé,” Wilson’s piece in this issue of Apex, is not your standard, expected type of horror. This is the kind of horror that tricks you into thinking it’s something else, it’s a shapeshifter. But when you get to the end of story, you’ll race to read it again, where the story becomes something completely different, the characters shifting under suddenly different light. Can we wake up tomorrow and be better, stronger, smarter than we were yesterday? Can we will ourselves into being someone completely different? How does wanting to be someone else destroy who we are? Those questions and more are explored in “Brisé.” In my interview, I asked Mehitobel if these characters are as we perceive them through Erin’s eyes. And I ask you, the reader, the same question. Along with those heavier questions, Mehitobel was kind enough to give me a behind the scenes view of her nearly twenty years in the publishing industry, everything from writing, to editing, to conducting interviews not much different from this one. She even gave me some tips on how to level up my creative foul mouthness! Mehitobel lives in Kentucky and has succeeded in becoming nearly completely nocturnal. She loves pickled everything, baroque music, and Cantonese hip-hop. Learn more about her work at her website,www.mehitobel.com, and while you’re there be sure to check out the gallery of her painted ball jointed dolls. Questions about the story APEX MAGAZINE: Although I had to look the word up, readers who have studied ballet will immediately know from the story’s title to look for a ballerina. Erin’s relationship with her body and her attitude towards competition show an intimate knowledge of the strenuousness that can border on obsession of ballet. What research did you do to get the ballet details just right? Are you a dancer yourself? MEHITOBEL WILSON: I’ve always been a dance enthusiast, but not a dancer. I don’t think I did any research specifically for this story, but I’ve watched and read tons about dance throughout my life and just absorbed stuff. I hope it’s believable within the story: I don’t want any dancers to come beat me up for getting the details wrong. Dancers are hardcore athletes with incredible focus and would demolish me. AM: Let’s talk about Erin and Richard’s dysfunctional relationship. Married after a brief courtship and the end of her career as a ballerina, she becomes little more than an ornament on his arm. Who was Erin before she got married? Is Richard really as callous as he seems? MW: Erin was the embodiment of that focus. I think Richard is a decent guy. Erin’s just so bitter and self-absorbed that she sees him through a crappier lens than he deserves. AM: What’s really stopping her from dancing again? MW: Pure cowardice. Fear of not being as good as she has spent all of her life training to be. And, really, she’s afraid of the stage itself, and makes excuses to avoid it. AM: What inspired this story? What was the trigger in your life that put you down the path of writing about a doomed dancer? MW: I told myself I could wake up tomorrow and be a better—or at least, different—version of myself if I wanted. I could take a breath, and with the next one, be more. I could be more dedicated, faster, more gregarious, more fabulous. But I took the next breath and woke up tomorrow, and the tomorrow after that, and a bunch more yesterdays. Every day, I forgot to try. So, I figured I’d write that out of my system. I don’t know why I chose a dancer;...

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Interview with Carly Sorge

by on Jul 7, 2015 in Nonfiction | 0 comments

A professional illustrator from Fort Wayne, Indiana, this month’s Apex Magazine cover artist Carly Sorge creates a wide variety of digital artwork. Her pieces, many for tabletop RPG games, feature varied genres including science fiction, fantasy, and horror. APEX MAGAZINE: For your piece “Submersible,” the color palette is much more subdued than many of your other works. How does the choice of color affect the emotion of a piece, and does the duotone nature of the work offer something that a full color piece might not? CARLY SORGE: Color is a powerful, if not the prime, driver of emotion, and control of color is one of the most difficult skills to master. Often a simpler color scheme is a better as you get a clearer message across with less variables to worry about. With this piece, the natural color and light of the ocean matched the mood I wanted to convey, one of the reasons I chose the subject matter. AM: Your social media posts indicate that you are an avid reader, and many other posts are dedicated to science and especially dinosaurs. When you are getting ready to start a new piece, how does the balance of the things you are interested in affect what you are creating? CS: That’s entirely what dictates what I paint both on my own and what professional work I look for. When I make a piece under my own direction, I am as indulgent as possible because it’s my chance to do whatever I want, and what I want are also things I seek out in other people’s work: big, richly detailed worlds to explore, exciting new beings to meet. That theme is easy to find in science fiction, so I’m enjoying that a lot right now. Also, one of the most fun things to do is to play media that’s in the same genre as a piece I’m working on: so watching Star Trek while painting space ships, listening to fantasy stories while painting a fantasy scene. So fun! AM: Your website links to your live art stream (picarto.tv/live/channel.php?watch=CBSorgeArtworks), something some artists do and others seem to avoid. How does working on a piece while others are watching affect your methods and/or ideas? Is it different creating something in person with a crowd, versus an online crowd? CS: It doesn’t change how I work but the frame of mind is different for sure. It helps me stay on task and feel less like I’m by myself all day. One hard part is, any time they’re watching, people can see the screw ups along the way, and that’s embarrassing!  I want to start a counter on my livestream for the number of times I repaint hands or clouds. Working in person versus working online is the same feeling of being watched but 100x more intense! AM: Your art features many different types of scenes, from the circus of “The Center Ring,” to the seemingly mean streets of “Sliss,” to the desert Southwest of “Branson in the Desert.” How much research goes into those pieces, and how much is more the imaginative versus reality in the imagery? CS: My work focuses on realism, so that things that are impossible can be experienced as if they’re real, so reference is important. I don’t use reference directly (copying a specific image) very often but it lets me see the specific shapes and lighting I need. I have my own reference library, both book collections and digital files, plus we live in the blessed age of Google Image Search. I constantly save images I find on the internet and think will be useful- often things I’d never think to search for or would be impossible to find again. I even have some live models: my cockatiels have taught me about wings and feathers, and my lizards are a great help with dragons and other beasties.  It’s important to find new visual information so I have a bigger deck to draw from in my imagination. AM: Among your pieces on your DeviantArt page are a scattering of...

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For Exposure: The Life and Times of a Small Press Publisher (Excerpt)

by on Jul 7, 2015 in Nonfiction | 0 comments

When people learn you’re the editor of a short fiction magazine, they press you for all the lurid slush pile stories. They understand that the world overflows with twisted, confused individuals and that, as an editor, you have chosen to make your living with the creative output from that crowd. Due to ghastly curiosity, they have questions. What’s the craziest story you’ve ever received? Oh, I’ll get to that later. Have you ever read anything that made you want to call the police? No. But other things related to editing have. I’ll get to that later, too. Has anybody famous ever submitted a story? Stephen King, if you’re reading this, I’m still waiting for your story. Any experienced editor who works with a slush pile will have a litany of odd encounters to share. It’s part of the burden of working with the public-at-large. The privilege of working with the ‘outside the bell curve’ types is a necessary part of the job. The boring truth is that most slush stories are simply unremarkable. You read them, you reject them, you move on to the next one. But once in a while, strange and unfortunate stories find their way to the submission stacks like fruit gnats magically appearing around your kitchen table. Lesson one as editor: Don’t place your home address in the magazine’s masthead. I did just this in the first two issues of Apex Digest. I had yet to learn the hard lesson that some people accept rejection in less-than-professional ways.[1] I received my first threat of violence (this implies more than one because, of course, there has been more than one) while reading submissions for the third issue of Apex Digest. Years of managing a small business has taught me that a smart business tactic is to always be a professional, so my rejections are concise, short, and polite. Should the mood hit, I’ll include personal feedback, particularly to authors I know personally and won’t take my suggestions as an insult. However, a majority of the time I’ll send a form rejection. Not because I don’t like to help people with their writing, but more as a matter of personal time restrictions. Form letters are an evil necessity in the publishing business. A form rejection ignited one man’s irrational anger in a memorable and frightening way. Six minutes after I emailed the rejection notice, the author wrote a heated response. Before I go any further, let me give writers these words of advice: never, ever respond to a rejection. You’re not going to change anybody’s mind. Move on and try again with a different story. Also before I go any further, let me give editors these words of advice: never, ever respond to a rejection response. The writer at the other end of the letter is likely in an emotional and irrational state. Move on, you have hundreds of stories waiting for you in the slush pile. At that point of my editing career, I had never received an argumentative, impassioned response to a rejection. Perhaps a few “Thank you for your consideration” and “Maybe next time” notes here and there, sure—harmless stuff that wasted my time. But this author had a beef with me over a most unusual thing. I’ve always worked hard to make sure Apex has a reasonable response time. Back in those halcyon times, my goal was to answer all submissions within seven days. I had rejected this upset gentleman’s story in two days. Two days! The author’s polemic made it clear he felt that two days was not sufficient time to read, assess, and reject his story. He then went on to say mean things about Apex Digest, and said he wiped his ass with the pages of my zine. I wondered then and I wonder now: who gets upset over a two-day response time? I’ve had publications hold on to my work for two years before they reject it. Compared to that, two days seems like a minor miracle. And if you hate a magazine enough to wipe off your derriere...

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How Horror Made Me More Empathetic

by on Jul 7, 2015 in Nonfiction | 0 comments

Recently, a New Republic article entitled “What It Says About You if You Enjoy Horror Movies” caused a lot of controversy and angered many horror aficionados and creators, including myself. One of the conclusions, and the one that drew the most ire, was that people who enjoy horror movies lack empathy. (The article can be found here: newrepublic.com/article/120689/babdook-what-it-says-about-you-if-you-enjoy-horror-movies) I take exception to this as someone who considers himself both an empathetic person and a lover of the horror genre. My fiancé is one of the kindest, most compassionate people I’ve ever met, and also a voracious devourer of all things horror. These two examples don’t exactly make a scientific case study, but there is something to be said for personal experience. And my personal experience is that horror has actually made me more empathetic. In order to really explain what I mean by this, it will be necessary to provide a brief rundown of how I define horror. What I think makes for good and true horror storytelling. For me, the most basic building block for horror is suspense. It’s not the gore or the creative kills or the blood-curdling screams…what actually makes horror horrifying is the ratcheting of tension, that edge-of-your-seat suspense that ties the audience’s stomach up in knots. And what is the most effective way to build suspense in a horror story? Well, ask a dozen people you may get a dozen different answers, but as a lifelong fan of horror and someone who has been publishing in the genre for the past ten years, I’m going to share my thoughts on the subject. The most effective way to build suspense for me is to introduce characters the audience can relate to, can care about, then place those characters in jeopardy. It is this investment in sympathetic characters that are in peril that gives the story the sense of risk that is necessary for true suspense. Of course, not every horror movie or novel follows this formula. There is a subgenre—sometimes called “torture porn” in film and “siction” in print—where the main focus is the imaginative death scenes, the extreme and graphic violence. And dating back even to the later Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street movies, killers were being turned into anti-heroes, and the fun of the films was derived from rooting for the killer to off a succession of increasingly obnoxious and vile characters. It is not my intention to judge those that enjoy those types of stories; they provide their own form of entertainment. However, I do not believe that they are truly horror. You cannot be horrified if you are cheering and laughing your way through the film. That may be an enjoyable ride, but it is not the essence of horror. As I’ve stated, my definition of horror makes you feel connected to the characters you’re watching or reading about, and you root for them, you want to see them survive…but you know for some of them that might not be an option, and that’s what creates the tension and suspense. There’s also an element of putting yourself in the shoes of the characters, imagining what it might be like to be in their place. All of this can be summed up in one word: empathy. Yes folks, I firmly believe that horror in its truest form actually fosters a sense of empathy for other people. The success of such tales hinges on it. In fact, I would argue that if horror has a higher purpose beyond mere entertainment (which I think in and of itself is a pretty lofty goal), it would be that it develops and nurtures a deep feeling for those in trouble, those in need, and makes you feel their pain as if it were your own. When watching the original Halloween and Halloween II, which I saw repeatedly as a child, I was not on Michael’s side. I was putting myself in Laurie’s shoes. Her unease early in the film was mine, and when she started finding the bodies of her friends strew...

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