Interview with Bram Stoker Award® Winning Author Alessandro Manzetti and Editor Jodi Renée Lester
Bram Stoker Award® Winning Author Alessandro Manzetti’s work has been published extensively in Italian, including novels, short and long fiction, poetry, essays, and collections. English publications include his collections ‘The Monster, the Bad and the Ugly’ (co-written by Paolo Di Orazio),’The Massacre of the Mermaids’, ‘The Shaman and Other Shadows’, ‘Dark Gates’ (co-written by Paolo Di Orazio), ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ (co-written by Stefano Fantelli), and the poetry collections ‘Eden Underground’, ‘Venus Intervention’ and ‘Sacrificial Nights’ (co-written with Bruce Boston). His stories and poems have appeared in Italian, USA and UK magazines and anthologies, such as Dark Moon Digest, The Horror Zine, Disturbed Digest, Illumen Magazine, Devolution Z Magazine, Recompose Magazine, Polu Texni Magazine, ‘Bones III’ Anthology, Rhysling Anthology (2015 and 2016), ‘Mar Dulce’ Anthology, ‘I Sogni del Diavolo’ Anthology, ‘Danze Eretiche’ Anthology, ‘Il Buio Dentro’ Anthology and many others. His dark poetry collection ‘Eden Underground’ won the Bram Stoker Award for 2015 and was nominated for the Elgin Award for 2016. His dark poetry collection ‘Venus Intervention’ (co-written by Corrine de Winter) was nominated for the 2014 Bram Stoker Award and the 2015 Elgin Award. Some of his poems have been nominated for the Rhysling Award. Six of his stories were recommended by Ellen Datlow for the ‘Best Horror of the Year Volume 7’. He has translated works by Ramsey Campbell, Richard Laymon, Poppy Z. Brite, Edward Lee, Graham Masterton, Gary Braunbeck, Gene O’Neill, Lisa Morton and Lucy Snyder. He’s the owner and editor-in-chief of Independent Legions Publishing, HWA Italy Representative, Editor of K-Noir Series for Kipple Officina Libraria and Foreign Rights Manager for Cut Up Publishing.
He lives in Rome, Italy.
To celebrate Eden Underground winning the 2015 Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in Poetry, Alessandro Manzetti and his English language editor Jodi Renée Lester join the HWA Poetry Page for an interview.
HWA: Do you still have the first poem you ever wrote? Would you be willing to share it?
AM: It has been really a long time since then, I don’t remember which was the first poem I wrote. I started writing poetry, for pleasure, when I was sixteen, so more than thirty years ago. The first poems I wrote were inspired by the great beat generation poets. These were naive poems, of course; a sixteen year old boy looks at the poetry as a way to face his diffidence, looking for the first answers. After all this time, I have found many other questions and only a few answers, like everyone else.
HWA: How does being a poet fit into the rest of your life?
AM: This makes me feel strong when I work on the pages of a manuscript, letting me see and tell many things hidden in the shadows of life, but on the other hand it makes me feel fragile in everyday life; it’s like having a too thin skin while the sun is too much hot. It‘s like living in a constant, burning noon. Being a poet is something that can’t remain outside from all the rest, from life, from everything that surrounds us and move closer to us. Being a poet might be a curse, or a beautiful disease; It depends on your point of view.
HWA: What were your first impressions after learning about the Stoker nomination? What is the impact and import of the nomination? And how about when you won the Bram Stoker Award?
I was glad, it was my second nomination, and I was honored that so many respected colleagues had appreciated my work. But when they called my name, during the Bram Stoker Award ceremony, in Las Vegas, I was really surprised. I was quietly drinking my glass of white wine, planning to celebrate one of the great poets who competed for the award with me, some of them are my good friends. Instead I had to go on stage and open the curtains of a dream. Besides these, there was a fantastic light, an unexpected and warm reward for hard work and for the hard times that all poets must live. It was a moment I will never forget. Such a prestigious award is important, and offers many new opportunities. For me, before everything else, is an incentive to improve. But it’s not an award that makes someone a poet. The sheriff has his golden badge, everyone can see it, while the poet has his invisible abyss.
HWA: Who are your favorite poets? Favorite poems?
AM: My favorite poets are Gregory Corso, Allen Ginsberg, Paul Verlaine, Stéphane Mallarmé, Ezra Pound, Samuel Beckett, William Blake, Dylan Thomas, André Breton and many others. It’s really hard to choose only one poem, maybe I could mention the first that comes to me in mind: ‘Mexican Impressions’ by Gregory Corso, from his collection ‘Gasoline’. In my new poetry collection, ‘Sacrificial Nights’, co-written with Bruce Boston, I’ve written a piece as a tribute to this poem, entitled ‘Gasoline’.
On the western border of the city,
where Spanish Town sprawls
into the adjacent suburbs,
Camilla sits at her favorite table
in the bar of the Gracias Madre.
While outside on the street
they sell plastic Christmas trees,
hot pastries, fake passports,
candies filled with paradise juice.
On the old jukebox in the corner
Chavela Vargas is singing “La Llorona.”
The guitar strings count the notes
like fingers on the beads of a rosary.
The green curtains on the window,
dotted with small white flowers,
look destined to live forever
without losing their colors,
like the world behind the shoulders
of Frida Kahlo on her iconic Vogue cover.
Camilla is staring at her chip engagement ring.
It’s so tight she can’t pull it off.
A brand new Ford pick-up filled
with melancholy workers of the night,
a Christ sticker glued to the license plate,
stops in front of the windows of the bar.
In the driver’s seat, a young bastard
with too many possible fathers,
doomed by the sombrero
he imagines atop his head.
A man with an unstitched soul
and an atlas of hell on his scarred face
sucks the finger of Camilla until the ring slips off.
He downs the last shot of Bushmills.
“We can call him Diego,” he says
“though he will remain only in your head.”
The wet poison on her finger
dries under the fan blades.
The time has come again.
She must don her high heel shoes,
empty and asleep under the table,
and go back to work once more.
All the hookers call that man Gasoline
because he makes your belly burn
like boiling tequila,
like a ceaseless miscarriage.
— By Alessandro Manzetti
HWA: Considering the rich history of horror (or dark) poetry (reaching all the way back into history through Poe and continuing on in the present day), how do you see the future of Horror poetry shaping up? Any surprises in store?
AM: In the horror and dark field, there are many masters and talented poets, like Charlee Jacob, Bruce Boston, Linda Addison, Marge Simon, Corrine De Winter, Michael A. Arnzen, Rain Graves, Peter Adam Salomon, Ann Schwader, G. O. Clark, Stephanie Wytovich and many others. All these dark voices are driving the horror poetry to new fascinating scenarios. I believe that the horror poetry still has a lot to show. Among the poetry collections recently released I like ‘PseudoPsalms: Saints v. Sinners’ by Peter Adam Salomon, and I’m curious to read ‘What I’m afraid to Show You’ by Michael Tugendhat, a poet that I’ve never had a chance to read. I also must thank my friend Bruce Boston who introduced me, about four months ago, to a great poet: T. Winter-Damon. His collection, ‘The Heure d’Hallucinations’ (Talisman Books, 2002), is a must. A little excerpt from his poem ‘Beyond This Shaman’s Mask of Leather’:
i hold them in my palm—stars, sand grains, galaxies of swirling
radiance, motes of tantalizing & hypnotic prism-sense-vibration.
they press like thumbs against my red/purple/roadmap retinas &
screaming images of grapes exploding beneath pink fishscale creases
of downtrodding monks dark circled hollowness of oaken vats
that line my cavities of cranium, twenty feet away an electric
lightbulb maybe sixty watt maybe one hundred sears into my optical
perception like the center of a neutron bomb in fission a blue dwarf
HWA: What’ next for you?
AM: Recently, my new dark poetry collection ‘Sacrificial Nights’ (Kipple Officina Libraria, June 2016) co-written with Bruce Boston, has been released. We worked on it together for more than seven months; it was a truly inspiring project. As for the new poetry projects, in September I’ll start working with Marge Simon on a new collaborative collection, titled WAR, to be released in 2017. After this I will work with Linda Addison on another collaborative collection which will come out in 2018. I think collaborations with other poets are very interesting and challenging.
Furthermore, I’m glad that in October, an illustrated special edition, in Italian, of my Bram Stoker Award winning poetry collection ‘Eden Underground’, will be published. The book will be presented at Lucca Comics 2016.
As for my new fiction projects, in October a new horror/dystopian novella will come out, first in Italian, together with the Italian edition of the novella ‘Mop Up’ by Richard Laymon, then in English. Then there are many other projects, but I prefer not to reveal too much, for now. Publishers, you know, could send some hired killers to your door, if you talk too much
For more information on Alessandro, visit his website: www.battiago.com
Alessandro Manzetti and his English language editor Jodi Renée Lester celebrating Eden Underground winning the 2015 Stoker.
Jodi Renée Lester is an editor and author. She has worked with several authors and anthologists on award-winning projects, including Alessandro Manzetti (Stoker Award winner for superior achievement in a poetry collection, Eden Underground, 2015), Maria Alexander (Stoker Award winner for superior achievement in a first novel, Mr. Wicker, 2014), Deborah Khoshaba, Psy.D. (National Indie and Excellence Award in the personal growth category, Getting to Oz, 2014), and Lisa Morton (Black Quill Award winner for best dark fiction anthology and Stoker Award nominee for superior achievement in an anthology, Midnight Walk, 2009). She currently works as the English language editor for Independent Legions Press based in Italy and has worked with Probably King, an Italian-to-English literary translation service. She has also edited a variety of Japanese-to-English patent translations, medical and scientific articles, biographies, and writing guides, among others. In 2016, her story “Just Watch Me Now” appeared in The Lovecraft eZine, issue #37. Her stories “Casting Lots” and “The Guixi Sisters” appeared in the anthologies Songs of the Satyrs (2014) and Midnight Walk (2009), respectively. Her latest story “Serpentine” is pending publication in Shroud Quarterly. She earned her bachelor’s degree in biology at CSU Fullerton, studied creative writing with Dennis Etchison, and honed her editing skills with independent crime publisher UglyTown. She is a member and volunteer of the Horror Writers Association and lives in the Lowcountry of South Carolina with her husband Mike.
For more on Eden Underground, English language editor of Eden Underground, Jodi Renée Lester, also joins us:
HWA: As the English language editor, can you give us an insight into the editing process?
JRL: Well, it’s a very interesting process to me. Prior to meeting Alessandro, as far as translated work goes, I’d only worked with non-fiction translations from Japanese-to-English, which is a piece of cake compared to poetry and fiction because it’s very easy to recognize errors and whether the errors are due to a language gap or typos or just a poor translation. Obviously, poetry and fiction are completely different animals from non-fiction, but that divide increases by a very large margin when editing a translated work. And because of nuances unique to Japanese and unique to Italian, editing them is very different because the types of errors you find are different. I think there is a real art to the translation and editing process that you don’t find when you’re working in the source language. So, I was very excited to start working with Alessandro because there would be a lot more creativity involved, and also especially because working with poets and authors from Italy sounded fantastic to me. But it is a very deep process. There is a lot of trust involved, and once it’s established, it continues to develop over time. First, Alessandro had to trust that I’m a qualified editor, and then that I’m a qualified editor of translated work. And I have to sort of establish a language baseline, so I understand how much English he understands. And then there’s the difference between understanding the spoken word vs. the written word. But still, when we started working together, I had no idea just how much of what I told him he’d understand, so I found myself over-explaining things, probably about three different ways for each point to ensure that he understood me. So he’d have these REALLY long comments in the text to sift through. Now they’re much shorter because after establishing a baseline, and meeting and talking to him in person, I have a much better idea as to how much he understands, and since he’s more familiar with my editing style now, I can ease back on some of the lengthy explanations. And I think over time we learned that we really worked well together, developed a deep creative connection that I don’t always have with clients.
So, the original work is edited in Italian and then translated into English. Then he sends me the translated work and I begin editing. For poetry, my editing process doesn’t really change from when I edit short fiction, which is what I do most of the time. It doesn’t even change that much from source language edits to translation edits, though the latter is much more involved, has so many more layers, and can be very intense. Research is a very important part of my process, but especially with Alessandro because he has a lot of historical references in his work and descriptions of locations, so it’s crucial that I understand the symbolism, where the imagery is coming from, what it represents. And then, again, there’s the translation aspect. By “square” does he mean the shape or a plaza…and I can usually sort this out myself either through context or research. Let me just say that I’m a heck of a lot smarter than when I first met him. 😀 And that’s one of the things I love about working with the Italian translations and especially Alessandro—there’s really a unique challenge for me that I don’t think I can get anywhere else or with anyone else. Through words Alessandro and I have visited Mexico City, Israel, Italy, the old west—really we’ve been all over the world together, and boy did he ever take me to task on U.S. history recently in his shared collection of stories with Paolo Di Orazio, The Monster, the Bad and the Ugly. So, with my research done, I edit the story. And from there it’s pretty much the same except with translations I have to keep my antennae up for things that might be language discrepancies, which you don’t have when editing in the source language. And with translations, it’s really important to get the tone right and make sure that the author’s voice comes through. I have to be really careful not to alter the author’s voice. But in a good translation, the tone and the voice should come through, even if there are a lot of word and grammatical discrepancies, and in Alessandro’s case that never seems to be a problem. His command of language, and that of his editors, is really excellent. In poetry—and even in his prose, because his prose is very poetic (I always say I love when poets write prose)—I have to tread very carefully because one wrong word or one poorly placed comma can really change what he’s saying. After I edit the work, I send it to him and he incorporates the edits as he sees fit. Sometimes we do one or two passes on a work, sometimes more, depending on its needs, to get it completely right, and usually we know we’ve reached that goal when we both feel the work is complete.
One of the most important factors is my communication with Alessandro. It has to be as precise as possible because English is his second language. So if I’m not making myself clear, this will be reflected in the published work. I never see the work in its source language. I tried that once very early on and it really hampered my ability to edit the work. I thought it would be the opposite, that if I didn’t understand a particular phrase, I could look it up and see if I could figure out what it meant…but, no, it was a really bad idea so I ditched the Italian version, struck it from my mind, and forged ahead.
But I love language. I find it fascinating. I find this work fascinating. It’s so challenging and rich. I’m very fortunate to be doing what I’m doing because I absolutely love it. And I love working with Alessandro.
HWA: What were your first impressions after learning about the Stoker nomination? What is the impact and import of the nomination?
JRL: Well, I was just thrilled for Alessandro! I know how hard he’s been working to break into the American market, and this was proof that he’s done just that. The nomination, and especially winning the award, was very important for many reasons. It was the first time an Italian took home the Stoker Award, and I think he’s charting a course for other Italian authors to follow. As the founder and chair of the Italian chapter of the HWA, he’s been opening doors for Italians to enter the international horror scene. Alessandro has really been delivering a message of unity in the horror writing community, and I think the award not only speaks to his excellence, but also is a good indicator that we welcome the Italian authors with open arms, we love working with them and they definitely have a place here. I think as we move forward we’ll be hearing a lot more from Italy. They definitely have a unique voice and a lot to contribute to the genre. I know I’m not the only one to say this, but I’m just thrilled to see our Italian membership rise and more Italian authors joining the international horror scene. So, for the HWA, I think the award demonstrates that there is definitely an American-Italian bond that has already established itself and it can only continue to grow. For Alessandro, I think this will open many doors for him in the U.S., in Italy, and in other countries as well. I think it already has.
HWA: Who are your favorite poets? Favorite poems?
JRL: Alessandro! Who else?! This is actually a dangerous question for me, because I’m really a prose kind of gal. I used to write a lot of free verse when I was younger, but I didn’t read a lot of classical metric poetry. I remember T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land” really had an impact on me when I was in high school. As an adult, Richard Brautigan was very influential as he reinforced that what I was doing with my own writing was okay. I think my favorites would have to be Patti Smith and Charles Bukowski—free-verse poets that hit me on an emotional level. It’s hard to pick a favorite, but when I read Smith’s “Wave,” I hear the simple voice of a child, of a dream, of innocence and naiveté, that feels a little bittersweet to me. There’s something beautiful about all that to me, so that’s definitely one of my favorites. I recently used an excerpt of it in a story of mine. A lot of her poetry is very visceral to me, which may be why I like Alessandro’s as well—his is very visceral but in a different way.
HWA: Considering the rich history of horror (or dark) poetry (reaching all the way back into history through Poe and continuing on in the present day), how do you see the future of horror poetry shaping up? Any surprises in store?
JRL: Again, I’m not really tapped into the poetry market, but I have noticed over the past few years that there seems to be a lot more competition as far as the Stoker Awards go than in previous years. I say competition, but really these poets are a tight-knit group, very supportive of each other, very happy for each other’s successes. I’m seeing a lot of collaboration among poets, especially Alessandro, Marge Simon, and Bruce Boston. And of course there’s Linda Addison and Stephanie Wytovich who are real staples among horror poets. In my opinion it’s looking pretty healthy, and I think we’ll be seeing some great things from our horror poets in the near future.