Interview: February 14, 2003
February 14, 2003
Michael Garrett and Jeff Gelb are the co-creators and co-editors of the internationally award-winning HOT BLOOD anthology series. Their latest spine-tingling collection is HOT BLOOD XI: Fatal Attractions, which contains 18 dark and sinister tales of sheer terror. In this interview conducted by Bookreporter.com's Joe Hartlaub, Garrett and Gelb discuss the evolution of the HOT BLOOD series, as well as their literary influences and their plans for the future.
BRC: Both of you come from interesting and very different backgrounds. Jeff is from New York State, now living and working in southern California. Mike was born and continues to reside in Birmingham, Alabama. How did you originally get together?
MG: We were both big comic book fans in the 1960's and linked up originally by mail to trade comics. A friendship developed and it's been there ever since.
JG: By the way, Mike grew up faster than I did. He stopped reading comics in the mid-60s and I still buy them weekly!
BRC: In his book ON WRITING, Stephen King credited you, Michael, with being the first to publish him. Can you tell us the story behind that?
MG: Comic book fans in the sixties typically self-published what were called "fanzines" about their favorite comics. A friend and I produced one called COMICS REVIEW. King and I had been corresponding a while and trading comics via mail. I asked him to contribute a story and voila! I WAS A TEENAGE GRAVE DIGGER resulted as his first published fiction.
JG: I was friends with Mike when he published that story, and recall, even as a young teenager, how well written I thought that story was! King was good from the word "go"!
BRC: What was the genesis for the HOT BLOOD series?
MG: Well, let's see. Jeff and I grew up reading horror fiction and Playboy in the sixties and one day a light bulb went off in our heads that it would be fun to write stories that combined the best of both worlds. After selling several such stories to men's magazines in the 1980's, we wanted to find a more respectable place to sell our stories. When we were unable to find the market we were looking for, we decided to create one of our own.
JG: We were lucky, too, because at the time we sold the series, horror was taking off as a genre, thanks to the excellent fiction of Stephen King and Dean Koontz in particular.
BRC: Once you conceived the idea for the first HOT BLOOD book, how did you originally get started? Did you have any contacts in the publishing world?
MG: As I recall, we were flying by the seat of our pants. We received advice from a few guys already in the business, but for the most part, we did it our way, as the song goes.
JG: I had a friend who was a literary agent at the time and he encouraged me to send him our proposal and a list of writers who would agree to do a story for us if we got a deal. That agent, by the way, was Kurt Busiek, who has gone on to great fame as a writer in the comics world.
BRC: How difficult was it, initially, to obtain stories for the first HOT BLOOD anthology?
MG: I don't recall it being very difficult at all. Everyone bought into the concept quite enthusiastically.
JG: Yes, we were flooded with submissions. We had obviously tapped into a very rich vein, as it remains to this day.
BRC: HOT BLOOD XI is by far my favorite volume of the HOT BLOOD series. Did you do anything different in selecting the stories for this collection?
MG: I suppose we've grown as editors and have also become more selective regarding the stories we accept, but the overwhelming credit goes to our authors who really came through for us this time. I suspect that, due to the timing gap between volumes ten and eleven, there was a lot of stored-up sexual energy that our writers were ready to release!
JG: We're blessed with writers who enjoy working with us whose writings are exceptional by any standards. They just happen to love writing sexy horror stories!
BRC: I notice that there is a common thread running through most of the stories in HOT BLOOD XI that might be condensed down to the old adage of being careful what you wish for, lest you get it. Was this deliberate, or something that developed on its own as you compiled the stories for the volume?
MG: It wasn't deliberate per se, but I'd also say that, as a collection grows, it tends to take on a life of its own. By that I mean that a submitted story might not fit well with its counterparts if it's received late in the process after the majority of the stories have already been accepted. Chances of acceptance are considerably better when stories are submitted at the beginning of the process as opposed to the end.
JG: One thing I'm proud of is that we use so many new names in each volume. It's great to have our "usual cast" of phenomenal writers, but we also love finding raw talent and working with them to give us fresh takes on HOT BLOOD themes. I'm convinced that the new names in HOT BLOOD will become the standard-bearers of horror fiction in the future.
BRC: You each included a story in HOT BLOOD XI that you had written. Can we expect to see more stories, or perhaps a novel, from you in the future?
MG: My first novel, KEEPER, has been reprinted and is currently available through Amazon.com. For the past ten to fifteen years, I've had little available time to consider tackling another novel, but I have to admit that recently I've been giving it far more serious thought.
JG: I love writing these short stories. Actually Mike and I work hard to please each other and edit each other's work. We don't just accept our own work without the other's solid approval. I wrote a novel that was published back in the late '80s, SPECTERS, and enjoyed the process. But right now, sadly, I don't have the kind of spare time it would take to write another.
BRC: Has there been any change in direction of the subject matter for HOT BLOOD over the years?
MG: I think so. Times change. Readers' tastes change. We're always trying to push the boundaries, so there are stories in this latest volume that might not have been accepted in earlier volumes. The only self-imposed taboo that we enforce is that nothing involves underage characters. Child molestation is too horrible in the real world to have a place in our books.
JG: Rape is also a no-no for us.
BRC: Which volume of HOT BLOOD would you consider to be the best, and why?
MG: I know this sounds like a cop-out, but I really couldn't say. I honestly think that, if you compared the strongest and weakest of the entire series, there wouldn't be a significant difference. Jeff and I have always taken our roles as editors quite seriously and do our very best to make each volume the best it can be. For instance, we never accept stories as favors for other authors. We've never been involved in one of those deals wherein we would accept stories from certain authors in exchange for acceptance of our stories in their publications. Each story must stand on its own to have a proper place in our books.
JG: I'd be hard-pressed to pick a favorite volume of the series. We've run a ton of great stories. In fact, another idea we'd love to see happen is a BEST OF HOT BLOOD volume, because even diehard fans may have missed a book or two along the way --- and they all contain great work.
BRC: What has surprised you the most regarding reactions to the HOT BLOOD series?
MG: The most pleasant surprise for me is how women warmed up to the series (no pun intended, or maybe it was). Our original vision was for a predominantly male audience, but a female audience has steadily developed and we've changed our editorial slant as a result. We're quite proud of the fact that the new volume, FATAL ATTRACTIONS, has an almost 50/50 split between stories by male and female authors. That's something for which we've strived for quite some time.
JG: Actually, we'd love to do an all-female edition of HOT BLOOD. Maybe if this volume does well, that can happen.
BRC: Who have been your major influences in literature?
MG: For me, it would be Richard Matheson and Rod Serling. I loved the way both of these authors told stories with twist endings while keeping to the bare bones. To this day I still avoid fiction that is unduly padded.
JG: For horror fiction, certainly Matheson. For mainstream mysteries, Lawrence Block and Michael Connelly.
BRC: What book(s) have you read in the past six months that you would recommend to our readers?
MG: I could recommend a few but they haven't been published yet! Seriously, I serve as a freelance editor or "book doctor," so I have very little time for pleasure reading. I'm reading unpublished manuscripts whose authors I can hopefully coach toward future success. If any of your readers are interested in my services, they should check out www.writing2sell.com, which also includes several pages devoted to the HOT BLOOD series.
JG: Connelly's CHASING THE DIME was a great read, as are all of his books. I just got the new Block, SMALL TOWN, and am looking forward to getting into it. My 2002 "discovery" was a guy named Jack Kelly whose new MOBTOWN paperback is as beautifully written a noir story as I have ever read, plus it's set in my hometown of Rochester, New York!