B.T. Joy is a British horror writer whose short fiction has appeared within the printed pages, internet presences and podcasts of markets such as Static Movement, Surreal Grotesque, James Ward Kirk Fiction, Human Echoes, MircoHorror, Flashes In The Dark, SQ Magazine, Forgotten Tomb Press and Chilling Tales For Dark Nights, among others. He is also a practicing poet and his poetry can be found in magazines and anthologies produced worldwide. He is currently working as a high school English teacher in Heilongjiang, China.
1. How long have you been writing and what got you started?
I can’t remember a time when I didn’t write for pleasure, but I’d say I began to take writing seriously (or as seriously as I take anything) in around 2006-2007 when I first started my university education in London. It was around those years that I published my first short story and, gradually, the readership of a piece of writing has come to be as integral to my process as the writing itself. Without the reader and his/her interpretations, after all, I am essentially making dark shapes on light paper. After graduating with my undergraduate degree in 2009 writing has continued to be central to the way I express myself and I continue to engage with it on both a practical and academic level. As of this year I have had prose and poetry included in around fifty markets and, also this year, I was awarded my MLitt, in poetry, from the University of St. Andrews.
2. What is the best piece of advice you have for new writers?
I’ve come to consider tenacity of purpose the most important attribute a writer can possess. If a writer feels genuinely that he/she is producing work which is worthy of being read then that writer’s first task is to convince everyone else that this is indeed the case. However, because of the limited time readers will devote to an unknown quantity, and the general saturation of the market, success rarely takes place overnight. And so we, as writers, must be tenacious and (armed with the confidence that we are writing well) we must proceed with an attitude of sheer bloody-mindedness.
3. Are there any writing resources, such as books or websites, you’d like to recommend?
Yes. For the horror genre everyone must check out Dark Markets (http://www.darkmarkets.com/), The Horror Tree (http://horrortree.com/) and The Horror Writers’ Association (http://horrorwritersassociation.info/) on a regular basis. Their listings are exceptionally good and give you a real feel for what’s going on in genre fiction.
4. What is your favorite type of fiction and who are your favorite authors?
In terms of prose I’m much more attracted to the short story than the novel. I think I appreciate being taken through one single narrative arc rather than being bombarded by a conglomeration of, sometimes completing, narrative arcs. The short stories of James Joyce and Anton Chekhov, together with the novellas of John Steinbeck have, and will probably remain, very close to my ideal; all for different reasons, of course. I am also similarly old-fashioned in terms of my taste in horror and love the shorts of W.F. Harvey, W.W. Jacobs, M.R. James and Ambrose Bierce. I also have a complicated relationship with H.P. Lovecraft. Some of the best novel-length fiction, in my opinion, is that which makes no bones about its debt to the short story and presents itself, not as one monolithic block, but as an episodic interweave of several interacting story-lines. The best examples of this style of writing, for me, are Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and, to bring us further up to date, many of Stephen King’s wonderful novels; such as ‘Salem’s Lot or IT.
5. What tips do you have for finding time to write?
Make it a habit. By which I don’t mean a religious habit (which is hard to upkeep and requires discipline) but rather an addiction like nicotine or alcohol or conversation. Also, I would like to redefine what it is to ‘write.’ There was a period, about two years back, when I physically wrote every day, and this is a good practice for some. However, I don’t see that it’s essential for us to physically write so often as this (that is, to put pen to paper), rather there can be whole days of writing in your head; of plotting; of improvising dialogue between two characters etc. All this can be entirely mental and may not even make it into a final, polished piece of writing. However the mental process keeps the writing habit alive and puts your verbal and imaginative muscles through their paces. Whenever I’m personally engaged in this mental writing I like to go for very long walks to nowhere in particular and just talk to myself. I can thoroughly recommend it. I think it’s why Nietzsche said that all truly great thoughts are conceived by walking.
6. Do you prefer to outline a story in advance or write on the fly? Why?
I have published about two dozen of my stories and I’ve never written a story outline. I don’t think I ever will. I don’t like them and I think they generally get in the way. Having said that, I usually start thinking about a story at least a week before I ever put pen to paper and, in that time, I have usually developed the rough track I wish to trod and the general polestar of the story’s payoff. Then again, we must never be constricted by what we’ve planned before. Writing is an energetic process and should be accordingly spontaneous and dynamic. In one story which I wrote years ago, for instance, I had been writing, in the voice of omniscient narrator, with a very clear idea of which of the characters had committed a brutal child murder which I had described. However, in the last two sentences I found myself revealing that the murderer was, in fact, an entirely different character. In the end minimal changes had to be made to earlier portions of the story to reconcile with the newly envisaged ending. It would seem, in other words, that my subconscious and conscious minds had been writing two entirely different stories.
7. How do you deal with rejections?
As a duck’s back deals with water.
8. What are your writing goals for the next twelve months?
I’d like to see all the irons I have in the fire right now come to fruition and simply continue to write more fiction in the horror genre. I may begin in the next few months to bring past work together as a collection; but, really, at this stage it’s all speculation. I’m also a poet and so I find I must divide my time equally between obscenity and sublimity. By the middle of this year two of my solo poetry collections should be available and I look forward to beginning to promote them.
9. For the next five years?
In the past five years I’ve made a dozen five year plans which I never stuck to. I have a fundamental aversion to five year plans. I think, as far as writing goes, it’s best anyway to be present with the piece you’re working on now; rather than seeing it only as a means to the achievement of some future pattern. Many writers, we must remember, never saw any returns (financial or otherwise) for a lifetime of effort and diligence. Their payoff was almost entirely posthumous. Now, we don’t want that. Of course not. We should attempt at least to be recognised while we’re alive. Literature, after all, is a conversation. And conversations with the dead are often a little one-sided. However, if things in the next five years don’t amount to what I expected, then I won’t be overly distressed. All I know is I will have a document open in front of me. And I will be writing.
10. Is there anything you’d like to plug? Feel free to share a link.
Plugs change so regularly that I try to keep everything in the same place and so if readers find themselves wanting to know a little more about my writing they can visit my website (http://btj0005uk.wix.com/btjoypoet) or my blog (http://btj0005uk.tumblr.com/). On both sites readers are invited to contact me directly with thoughts, comments, requests, lists of their favourite episodes of The Twilight Zone; anything that takes their fancy. Literature, after all, is a conversation.