Bookend: Tom Monteleone Finds Joy In Writing Horror (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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Bookend: Tom Monteleone Finds Joy In Writing Horror

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:03
We'll end today's Haunted D.C. show with "Bookend." Our monthly look at the local literary scene. Tom Monteleone is a prolific author of horror and science fiction. He's written three dozen books and published more than a hundred short stories. Our own Jonathan Wilson recently met up with the author in a park in the Canton neighborhood of Baltimore.

MR. JONATHAN WILSON

00:00:28
One of the reasons we wanted to talk to you this month is because it is the month of Halloween, and you are a horror and sci-fi writer, so I guess, you know, my first question is, do you look at Halloween any differently than anybody else, being a writer of your ilk?

MR. TOM MONTELEONE

00:00:46
Yeah, I really like Halloween. It's probably, you know, when I was growing up, I think Christmas was my best holiday, but Halloween's definitely my best one now. Yeah, I have a lot of fun with it. We still, we still decorate the house really big for all the kids in the neighborhood, 'cause they all think, oh, that's where the crazy guys lives, you know? He always has a great Halloween. Cause I like to, I dress up as like, Phantom of the Opera, The Invisible Man, some years I just do the old skeleton reaper thing, and I scare the kids.

MR. TOM MONTELEONE

00:01:14
You know, when they knock on the door, I don't open the door. I just kind of let the door go (makes noise), and just open, and then they have to decide whether they wanna like peer in or run away. And then I'll do a, you know, like, come in. It's fun.

WILSON

00:01:29
The other question that comes to mind is, do you get scared still? I mean, you've been writing horror works for so long now. I'm wondering, is it harder to scare yourself or to be scared? Do you not scare easily? Or do you scare more easily because you're more in touch with that part of your psyche?

MONTELEONE

00:01:46
I know when I was a kid, one of the reasons I was attracted to all the (word?) genres, you know, like science fiction and horror and fantasy and, you know, Twilight Zone type stuff. I was very easily scared. I had a very active imagination, which I think is, I think what most writers, and most creative people, they have to have that. They've gotta have -- even when you're a little kid, you realize, you are looking at the world differently than a lot of other people.

MONTELEONE

00:02:11
That you're not just in it for the baseball cards and the, you know, the bubble gum that you get at the back of the pack. You're looking for something else.

WILSON

00:02:21
In terms of when you started actually writing some of these ideas down and then even thinking, hey, maybe I could make a living writing, did that happen early on, or did it happen by accident?

MONTELEONE

00:02:32
I wasn't sure if I really thought about making a living at it. But I remember I was, I remember the actual day that I realized I wanted to be a writer. I was reading this anthology by, no, -- it was actually a collection of stories by Theodore Sturgent, who was very popular in the '60s and '70s. And I was reading this story, and I was probably about 11, and I had this -- because when you're a kid, you have this view of the world that everything's kind of just there. You don't really think about where anything comes from. You don't have a sense of cause and effect or phenomenology or any of that.

MONTELEONE

00:03:06
It's just there. And I was reading this story, and all of a sudden, it hit me that somebody had not only thought up this story, but they actually sat down and linked all these words together and made this story happen. And it was a very weird revelation for a kid. You know, to even think like that. And then the next thought I had, naturally, was, hey, I think I'd like to do this. I'd like to try this. Because I remember the Cub Scout cookouts and everything, the campouts, I was always the guy telling the goofy stories, you know, around a campfire.

MONTELEONE

00:03:39
I just like doing it. So, I saved my money from cutting lawns that year, and I bought a typewriter at Sears for 29 bucks and I started typing out stories when I was 12 years old.

WILSON

00:03:51
How did you start getting paid and thinking, you know, hey, I don't need to, you know, become a doctor or a lawyer. I mean, when did you realize that?

MONTELEONE

00:03:59
So, all through high school, nothing. I go through college. I was pre-med for a while, but calculus absolutely blew me away. Then I thought, I'm gonna try writing again, once I get out of here. I got out, and I started writing seriously. And I must have written about 20 stories over a two year period. So, I sent out stories all the time. I'd start at Playboy, 'cause they were paying about three grand a story. They would always reject me. And I would work my way all the way down to these little science fiction magazines.

MONTELEONE

00:04:26
Two and a half years go by, I've sold nothing. And I'm getting form rejection slips. And there was this one anthology series that was being published about once a year, by this really well known writer at the time, and editor. His name was Damon Knight. Finally, I get a postcard from him, and he says, Mr. Monteleone, I've taken notice of your work for two reasons. One, you have a distinctive last name, and two, you keep sending me stories. And then he put, you know, all of which have been execrable and unpublishable. He says, I'm gonna make you a deal.

MONTELEONE

00:05:00
You send me whatever story you think is the best thing you've ever written, because you've shown such determination, obviously, you're not gonna quit. And I will line edit your story for you and tell you everything that's exactly wrong with it, and then it's up to you to decide what you want to do with it. So, I spent like three months writing this new story that I'd had an idea for. And I'm polishing it, and I'm beating it up, and I'm dragging it through. I finally get it. I think, this is easily the best thing I've ever written. I send it off to him.

MONTELEONE

00:05:29
Finally, this manila envelope shows up. I open it up. The first page, there were so many corrections on the page. There was more red ink than my typewriter black ink. It looked like an Illinois roadmap. You know what I mean? It was like, I'm looking at that, and I was at this crossroads. I was afraid to even read what I had done wrong. It could have been very easy to just put it in the envelope and say, you know what, I'm gonna go be a dentist or a pharmacist or something.

MONTELEONE

00:05:59
But I set it down for about 24 hours. And I finally went back to it, and I sat back and I went through every line. And it was the most incredible learning experience I think I've ever gone through.

SHEIR

00:06:22
That was author Tom Monteleone, speaking with Jonathan Wilson. Monteleone's new novel, "Submerged" will be published next month. If you'd like to hear more from Jonathan's conversation with the author, including his advice for aspiring writers, visit our website, metroconnection.org.

SHEIR

00:06:55
And that's "Metro Connection" for this week. We heard from WAMU's Jonathan Wilson, Jacob Fenston, Bryan Russo, Tara Boyle and Lauren Landau.  WAMU's managing editor of news is Memo Lyons.  "Metro Connection's" managing producer is Tara Boyle.  Lauren Landau is our editorial assistant.  Our intern is Stephen Yenzer.  Lauren Landau and John Hines produce "Door to Door."

SHEIR

00:07:15
Thanks as always to the WAMU engineering and digital media teams for their help with production and the "Metro Connection" website.  Our theme song, "Every Little Bit Hurts," our "Door to Door" theme "No Girl" and "Turn Your Face," our theme for "The Location," are from the album "Title Tracks" by John Davis, and used with permission of the Ernest Jennings record company.  You can find all the music we use each week on our website, MetroConnection.org.  Just click on a story and you'll find information about its accompanying song.

SHEIR

00:07:40
And if you missed part of today's show, you can stream the whole thing on our website by clicking the "This Week On Metro Connection" link.  You can also subscribe to our podcast there or find us on iTunes, Stitcher, and the NPR news app.  We hope you can join us next week when we'll shuffle up a deck of wild cards. That's a show we do every once in a while, where we go theme free, and bring you an hour of stories on all sorts of things, really. We'll find out why so many school kids are going hungry when lunch time rolls around. We'll visit a long shuttered and nearly forgotten part of the Maryland Zoo. And we'll take a rather enterprising voyage as we explore the strange new world of a legendary spacecraft.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE #1

00:08:19
I think "Star Trek" inspired many of us in the game, you know, as we started in it, to say, okay, we're doing Apollo. Pretty darn hard. People to the moon, but look what we could have.

SHEIR

00:08:29
I'm Rebecca Sheir, and thanks for listening to Metro Connection, a production of WAMU 88.5 News.
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