Scott Colbert is the creator and cohost of The Imaginarium podcast, author of the acclaimed novella Barbed Wire Kisses, and was a popular contributor, cofounder and editor of the now defunct talkbacker.com and the supernaughts.com websites. He’s also published a collection of essays on the films of John Waters, Terry Gilliam, David Lynch and David Cronenberg. Scott resides in Phoenix, AZ and currently working on his next novel, A Pocketful of Broken Glass.
What works of yours are out there, for those readers that are still not familiar with you?
As far as fiction goes, there’s Barbed Wire Kisses, an ultra violent weird western with a pair of serial killers and some ghosts; Life in Amber is my “quiet” horror tale, and probably my most accessible, it’s also my most personal. And then there’s my most recent novel, Errors of the Flesh, which is my take on the fantasy genre. Coming out later this year is A Pocketful of Broken Glass, a crossover supernatural thriller of Barbed Wire Kisses and Life in Amber. I also have a small sampler out with a story, poem, and essay called Detritus. My non-fiction consists of my essays from the now defunct Talkbacker website on my favorite directors, John Waters, David Cronenberg, David Lynch, and Terry Gilliam.
You seem to dabble in many genres, is there one that’s your favourite when it comes to writing?
Horror is the umbrella I place all of my books under and it’s what I love most. All of them are quite different from one another by design. The sub genres, Western, psychological thriller, fantasy, are what I love to read, and I think switching up the genres keeps readers guessing what I’ll do next. My podcast partner Todd Staruch always says, “What the fuck is wrong with you?” after reading one of my books, so maybe I’ve invented my own genre, the “What the fuck is wrong with you?’ genre.
Errors of the Flesh has a massive work of world-building behind it, do you follow a process when it comes down to it?
I’d love to say I had a special process for world building, but the truth is, I made it up as I went along. I took notes as I wrote it, so I didn’t contradict myself, or forget something. A lot of it came from an old Dungeons and Dragons campaign I played about half a lifetime ago and I remembered a lot of that, which made it a bit easier. Having said that, if I ever write another fantasy novel, I will create and map out the world beforehand.
There are quite a bit of gay relationships and gay sex in Errors of the flesh, which is unfortunately still something that today’s society struggles to cope with. Were you scared of bigotry and a close-minded reception, or where you quite confident in releasing it?
And that’s after I toned it down in later drafts! If I thought there was too much, I could only imagine what a reader would have thought. At the start my intent was to make Errors of the Flesh a bawdy comedy of manners, almost a farce, so it reflected the problems of the gay community as I saw it in a fantasy setting. That went out the window very quickly as my penchant for horror crept in. The Saerus-Kharisi love story was always the constant in all versions. I did worry a bit which is why I took a lot of it out, because it could have been erotica at one point, and that’s not what I wanted. As a gay man, I find it important to have gay characters in books where you don’t always find them. I don’t worry about how people will react to my work regardless of the content. There’s something in them all to offend everyone. Years ago I might have worried a little more, but with the advent of tags and people’s love for labelling things, if they see those and still get upset, well…you knew going in what it was.
Do you want to tell us anything about your beginning in the indie world?
That could be a book in itself! I’ve always written, the first thing I can remember writing that wasn’t for school, was a short story inspired by the movie Rocky. I guess you could call it fan fiction although that term didn’t exist back in 1976. I was eleven when I wrote that. Then I wrote plays and short stories in my twenties. From my late 20’s on until I was in my early 40’s I didn’t really write anything. No reason for that, just had nothing to say I suppose. It wasn’t until I ran across Shocklines, a bulletin board/forum, that I started writing again. Through that forum I met some people who are still friends today. My first professional sale was a poem for the anthology Death in Common, and from that I got the idea for Barbed Wire Kisses and my career *for lack of a better word), took off from there. The late T.M. Wright became my mentor for a short period of time before his eyesight got too bad and Parkinson’s disease took hold. But he encouraged me, and said some very lovely things about my writing and I’ll always be grateful for that. Now it’s hard for me to imagine a time when I wasn’t in the indie scene.
I know you have a podcast called Imaginarium which has reached its seventh year. Congratulations! Can you tell us anything about that?
In September of 2013 I was a writer and Senior Editor for the long gone Talkbacker website that I mentioned earlier. From there two friends and I created a podcast called The Supernaughts Debate Show.After recording a dozen or so of those I was encouraged to do my own podcast, and so I started Imaginarium. After about 25 episodes I decided I wanted to have a co-host and I asked The Horror Nerd, Todd Staruch if he’d join me. Lucky for me, Todd said yes, and we’re about to record our 264th episode. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think it would last that long.There were times I wanted to quit, but my dearest friend Wade Radford kept encouraging me. Incidentally, Wade and I had our own limited podcasts, The Bitches of Oz (about the HBO drama OZ), and Jailbait (all about prison themed media), both of which are archived on my Youtube channel. I’ve met some fantastic people who came on as guests and ended up being friends, and Imaginarium is probably what I’m the most proud of creating.
What – if anything – is missing from the indie scene?
So much! So, so much! I think the biggest thing missing is a sense of overall community. There are pockets of it here and there, within specific genres, but indie as a whole has an every man for himself vibe that I think is unnecessary and counterproductive. There was a time when authors would promote and talk about other people’s work as well as their own. We all helped each other with whatever was needed. I see none of that today. Everyone views everyone else as an enemy and a threat to their sales. I’ve always been a believer that working together creates more sales for everyone. That seems to be the exception to the rule anymore. Another major component missing is professionalism. Many, but certainly not all, indie writers simply don’t take the time to create a good looking, well written book. Go to the trulyawfulcovers website and you’ll see what I mean. Not only can you judge a book by its cover, you also should. If a writer can’t be bothered to create or have someone create a decent cover at minimum, then what is that going to say about the contents? Usually it’s going to be poorly written, needing a host of editors to fix all the grammar, spelling and punctuation issues. If a writer can’t afford a cover artist or editor, then save until you can. I’m guilty of this as well, so I’m speaking from experience, not a bully pulpit. I could go on, but I think I’ll leave it at that.
With the advent of social media, is it still relevant for an author to have their own website?
I don’t think it’s as relevant as it used to be. Ten years ago certainly. We had social media, but it was more as a supplement to the website. Now it’s reversed. If I want to know what’s going on with a favorite writer I’ll look at Twitter or Facebook. Their website is the last place I go to. No particular reason for that other than it’s easier to use social media on my phone than look at a website. Smartphones and apps have changed the way we interact with readers far more than anything else. I think using a website for all the social media links we have is far more beneficial than the website itself.
With the advent of social media, do you think that “being popular” is more important than actually writing well, for an indie writer’s career?
I think that’s always been true to an extent, though more so in other areas of the arts. I’m of two minds about this really. On the one hand I think anything that gets people to read is great. On the other hand poor writing could certainly put people off from reading more. I think writing well will always be more important. Being popular is fleeting, and especially in this social media society we live in now. There’s always an influencer ready to take the place of someone else.
Writing, proofreading, editing, marketing, cover design, formatting… Do you wear all these hats yourself, or do you have someone helping you?
Yes and no. Barbed Wire Kisses was originally published by a micro press, and underwent professional editing, first by someone I hired, and then by their own editor, so BWK is the best edited of my work. When the publisher and I parted ways and I went indie, I had a friend design the cover for it (he also did the covers for all my non fiction as well). I did the layout for it and I’m sorry I did. I’m going to go back and have that redone so it looks like a proper book. I did everything for Life in Amber including the cover, and everything aside from the cover for Errors of the Flesh. That was done by an artist from Fiverr, and is my favorite cover of anything I’ve done. The new books will be professionally edited, because I realize I’m not very good at editing my own work. I’m great at doing it for others but not for myself.
Do you come from a literary background?
Not at all. My mother was a school bus driver and my father was a cop in Queens, NY. My father only read non-fiction having to do with the civil war and ufo’s. My mother didn’t really start reading until she retired. I’m not sure where my creativity comes from, as no one in the family has any kind of interest in the arts like I do.
It is basically impossible to self-publish without going through Amazon, which virtually has a monopoly on it: is it a problem and – if yes – what a “normal person” can do about it?
When I first started out, there were only self publishing places like Lulu, and a bunch of fly by night business scams. That’s one of the reasons Barbed Wire Kisses had a micro press at first. Then Amazon made it easy to create ebooks and it was the only game in town. And yes, at one point they had a monopoly, and then I found draft2diigital and that opened my work up to well over a dozen other outlets like kobo, Apple, etc. I know it’s popular to knock Amazon, and certainly there are valid criticisms but they gave a lot of us a career. There are other options up to and including selling your work on your own website, which a friend of mine does as well as sell on Amazon. Also, from my own experience; when I first started, Amazon counted for 90% of my sales, and D2D about 10. Now, and for the past few years it’s maybe 60/40, so Amazon’s grip isn’t as tight as it used to be. I have no answers about what a “normal person” can do, other than not use them.
What is next after Errors of the Flesh? What is in your future?
I have two books coming out this year (fingers crossed anyway). First up is a collection of essays on my friend Wade’s movies, books and artwork. That will be released in September in time for his 30th birthday. My next novel, A Pocketful of Broken Glass will be out by the end of the year. As I said earlier it’s a crossover novel of Barbed Wire Kisses and Life in Amber, but you can read it without having read the other two. Of course I hope people do read the others, or listen to the audiobook versions.
What do you do when you’re not knee-deep in writing?
I do a lot of reading, I know, what a surprise, right? Not as much as I used to as my eyes aren’t what they were but as much as I can. I got a new kitten back in February so I spend time playing with her. I’m an avid gamer, and currently hooked on Diablo III for the Switch.
Did Covid affect your writing at all? What I mean is: does it feel “unrealistic” writing about characters that go out and interact without worry about lockdowns, masks and social distancing, or it didn’t bother your writing in the least?
It’s funny you ask that because I had this issue with the new novel, and I had decided to incorporate it in the book, but as I’ve been thinking about it, I’m leaning towards cutting that out. While the story is current day, there really isn’t a way that the lockdown would have affected the characters. Not in Arizona anyway, where most of the action takes place. I think this is something that’s going to be an issue for writers, filmmakers, etc for a long time to come. I’m of the mind that I write fiction, I can make a world where COVID-19 doesn’t exist. I have enough of it in real life without having it poison my writing as well.
Classic question: do you plot in advance or do you write “by the seat of your pants?”
Definitely by the seat of my pants. I prefer it that way for two reasons. The first is, if I don’t know what’s going to happen next, neither will the reader. The second is, the time I spend making an outline could be spent writing the book. I’m not a fast writer, nor a prolific one, so I’d rather not waste time when I could be getting into the meat of the story.
Would you like to give us some of your contacts? (Social media, website…)
I can be found all over!