Thursday, July 19, 2012

Carnell's Act of Will strikes unique balance

Photo courtesy of Thom Carnell.

Among the first lessons for any student new to martial arts is balance. Not everyone gets to stand on a post at the seashore to practice balance. Once disturbed, regaining balance can be difficult. It must be worked at, recognized, and valued.

For Thom Carnell, balance must be struck between being the messenger and the message. Whether as the editor of the dark arts magazine Carpe Noctem in the late 1990s, a writer for Fangoria, a novelist, or a martial artist, Carnell has learned that the stories aren’t always about him, even it seems he might be the only person interested.

“There was nothing going on (in Carpe Noctem) that wasn’t going on in my office,” Carnell tells Warning Signs from his office in Bellingham, Wash. The magazine was Carnell’s way of sharing the things he found interesting instead of just keeping it to himself.

In Carpe Noctem, Carnell opened up the world of “horror journalism” to new artists of all media. For many, Carpe Noctem was their first introduction to the world of Jhonen Vasquez (“Johnny the Homicidal Maniac,” “Invader Zim”) and goth troubadour Voltaire. Interviews ran the gamut from Henry Rollins to Diamanda Galas.

“You find yourself in the weirdest places,” Carnell says. “You find yourself dragged into some tiny room and have to establish an instant rapport.”

The strength of Carnell’s interviews (which are available as ebooks) is in the research done beforehand.

“For something like ZomBcon, I’d have a stack of information an inch thick. … The person will usually serve up the next question on a platter,” he says.

Research can make some projects take longer than they might otherwise. For his debut novel No Flesh Shall Be Spared, Carnell says he spent a year and a half researching to take a 2,000-word short story to a 160,000-word novel. It took his wife Catia (an integral part of Carpe Noctem) to move him along.

“That’s a bitch for me, too, because I love doing it (research),” Carnell says. He spent four months just researching firearms and “looking for that little stuff that you can only get by doing.”

Everything one does informs their writing, according to Carnell. So it’s important for writers to remember to live.

“Get out of the house, get out from behind the computer,” he says.

Carnell says for him it is ending up in “weird, slightly dangerous situations,” and situations that might seem dangerous.

“Walking onto Gwar’s bus, you think, ‘Wow, this could go really bad.’ Instead you end up with a bunch of guys playing Magic: The Gathering,” he says.

The other part of being a creative mind sometimes gets lost in the modern world.

“We’re all drunks and miscreants and we sometimes forget that,” Carnell says.

But even miscreants have deadlines. Carnell credits Catia with being that driving force for him.

“If she hadn’t pulled the trigger, I’d still be polishing (the novel),” he says. She also knows when things aren’t going well on an assignment. “Cat will say, “Your heart’s not into this.’”

If research and experience are two legs of a writer’s three-legged stool, taking criticism is the third.

“Hate it or love it, but don’t give me apathy,” Carnell says. “So many people think writers don’t want to hear what’s wrong, when that’s why we gave it you.”

For his current project, Carnell has continued his goal of sharing the things that interest him with the rest of the world. He’s going beyond the actors and directors usually interviewed for Fangoria and other media and searching out the stories of how people became who they are. The first Act of Will podcast featured martial arts instructor Scott Sonnon. In the two-hour broadcast, Carnell explores Sonnon’s childhood and touches on Sonnon’s experience training in Soviet Russia.

“This is a platform to talk to anyone I want to,” Carnell says. The people talking to Carnell range from Sonnon the martial artist, to musician Monica Richards (Faith and the Muse), comics icon Steve Niles (30 Days of Night; Frankenstein, Alive, Alive!), author Roger Ma (The Zombie Combat Manual) and more.

Carnell has found balance in his numerous projects, his home life, and in just taking time to think about the world around him. Act of Will is another expression of that. And while the subjects of the podcast are other people, it’s also about him.

“It’s a matter of going on a person journey,” Carnell says.

Thom Carnell’s Act of Will is available on iTunes, or via his website
No Flesh Shall Be Spared is available through Amazon in paperback or for the Kindle.
Carpe Noctem—The Interviews, Volumes One and Two are available for the Kindle.
Watch for more of Carnell’s work in Fangoria or follow him on Facebook or Twitter.

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