Sunday, May 16, 2010

INTERVIEW with Writer/Artist Ernest Hogan

with Writer/Artist Ernest Hogan

My Grandfather was a Villista curandero; revolution is in my blood.”

Ernest Hogan describes himself as “an Aztec Leprechaun with too much imagination … investigating things that humans were meant to leave alone … a recombocultural Chicano mutant known for committing outrageous acts of science fiction, cartooning, and other questionable pursuits."  

I met Ernest when I was editor of Amazing Stories and not long after I had purchased his short story back in March, 1982: a story called “The Rape of Things to Come”.  The story was way off-the-wall, the kind that wakes you up with a jolt while wading through the ever-growing slushpile of manuscripts. The kind you buy. This was his first published fiction and it paved the way for the avalanche of outrageousness that flows from him to this day.

Elinor Mavor:  How did you feel when you got notice of purchase for “The Rape of Things to Come”?

Ernest Hogan:  It was the biggest high of my life. I walked around in a daze for a week or so. The crazy quest I was on wasn't the illusion that practical people told me it was, after all:  There was a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, but it was weird gold, stuff that keeps moving, so you have to keep chasing it. You can never own that gold, but ahhh ... the places, things and people you will see along the way!

Elinor Mavor:  How many years have you been writing fiction?

Ernest Hogan:  I first tried to write short stories when I was twelve, and my parents bought me a typewriter. In junior high I saw a film about a day in the life of Ray Bradbury and thought … oh, boy, that's the life for me! Before that I was drawing my stories as cartoons and comic strips.

Elinor Mavor:  I have seen a lot of your sketchbooks filled to the brim with cartoons and various drawings done over the years. How do you make use of these archives?

Ernest Hogan:  Often I just shuffle through my sketchbooks and find something I can scan, play with in GIMP and use on my blog or possibly in upcoming ebooks I have in mind. I am also experimenting with taking on-the-scene drawings made on some of our recent trips around Arizona and Utah, and whipping them into illustrations for some travel publishing ventures. I'd like to develop a sort of “gonzo journalism cartooning” that could have interesting commercial applications. I am experimenting with different device publishing applications and really love the iPod as one of the possible places to publish some illustrated ebooks.

Elinor Mavor:  How would you classify your writing: Satire? Ethnic? Comedic Science Fiction? How do you expect your readers to respond?

Ernest Hogan:  “It's complicated” as they say these days. Science fiction has been the commercial venue that provided a safe haven for me. I have an irreverent, satirical mind, and the ethnic stuff comes with the territory because of who and where I am. I am not now, nor have ever been politically correct. I usually start out trying to amuse myself … then it builds: I guess I do try to make the reader laugh a little, be somewhat shocked, step out of his or her ego for awhile, and hopefully come away seeing the universe a bit differently. I recently re-read Lucian of Samosata's True History and realized … wow! That's what I do. He really is the founding father.

Elinor Mavor:  What are your favorite themes?

Ernest Hogan:  The fish out of water. The traveler in a strange land. Distortions of the world around me to try to get it to make sense. I usually begin with characters that are based on me but who then start getting their own ideas and taking on a life uniquely their own.  Sometimes I try to exploit something to be “commercial”, and while it usually goes terribly wrong, it still turns out weirdly interesting.

Elinor Mavor:  Now for your influences … who are some of your favorite writers?

Ernest Hogan:  Right now I'm waiting for Tahir Shah to come up with something new, and buying books by David Hatcher Childress.  They're both travel writers and Childress is a self-publisher/businessman whom I am studying.  Of course, among the old favorites are James Ellroy, Ishmael Reed, Chester Himes, Hunter Thompson, William Burroughs, Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, Harlan Ellison, Ray Bradbury and Edgar Rice Burroughs.  I love bizarre imagery and ideas and swing from pulp to the avant-garde.

Elinor Mavor:  And favorite films?

Ernest Hogan:  My favorite filmmaker is Alejandro Jodorowsky … I've watched El Topo, The Holy Mountain, and Fando Y Lis since they became available on DVD and I lust after a copy of Santa Sangre. I also watch Terry Gilliam's adaptation of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas over and over. My taste ranges from art films to cheap exploitation … I collect weird cheapies and don't consider it a guilty pleasure. Snake People with Boris Karloff and Tongolele is almost as good as a Jodorowsky film. I'd love to have the first Flash Gordon serial with Buster Crabbe … it's crude, but somehow works for me better than the later ones.

Elinor Mavor:  Over the past ten years NewYork publishing has been undergoing dramatic changes as internet technology has exploded. How has this affected you?

Ernest Hogan:  New York wasn't crazy about High Aztech even though the audience was out there.  They wouldn't touch Smoking Mirror Blues or anything else I was sending them during this time. I kept hearing, “You need to be more commercial”.   So I knocked myself out trying to be commercial.  Nothing pleased them.  I finally figured out it wasn't me, it was them. Ten years of working in a book store has taught me that they don't know what they are talking about. There are tons of hot, “commercial” books out there that are NOT selling. After listening to what readers say about what they like over the years, I have learned their tastes are always evolving … they are looking for new things … trends that the internet is definitely picking up on. I have sold three stories already this year through small presses reached via online connections … more than I EVER sold in one year. And this is just the beginning. After all the uncertainty, I feel I am now in control.

Elinor Mavor:  So we are in the midst of this electronic revolution and it marks the decline of traditional publishing and the rise of online self-publishing. Continuing on with the previous discussion, how do you think writers in general and you in particular should take advantage of this phenomenon?

Ernest Hogan:  Right now, writers need to learn all they can about online self-publishing, podcasting, ebooks and so on, and start setting themselves up as cottage industries. The New York-centered, traditional publishing world is going down fast. Over the ten years of working in the bookstore, I have literally seen the business wither away. Even with “bestsellers”, for every dead-tree copy that sells, a big stack gets tossed around and finally sent back to be pulped. Mass market genre paperbacks mostly just sit there on the shelf. Lots of money is being lost and yet the publishers still are thinking in terms of getting readers to line up by the thousands for the next releases of fat, expensive hardcover blockbusters.

My wife, Emily Devenport, and I have shifted to self-publishing and will be releasing existing and new material as ebooks, podcasts and audiobooks all via our blogs and new websites we are presently designing. We are easing into this and don't expect to to become rich, but this should bring more compensation for our work than doing things the old way has ever done for us. We'll also be able to market directly to the people we know are interested in reading our novels and short fiction.

Elinor Mavor: Anything I forgot to ask that you feel like mentioning?

Ernest Hogan: Writing is a unique career. There are no rules. In my experience, doing what “everybody” says you should do, doesn't work. You probably won't get rich. If you spend a lot of time worrying about whether or not you “feel creative today”, you better find some other way to amuse yourself. To me that sort of sounds like, “I really want to become addicted to heroin, but I keep forgetting to take my shots.” So, you need to write, not worry. Or pick another career.

All artwork in this post copyright 2010 by Ernest Hogan.

Photo of Ernest Hogan by Emily Devenport
Read my Post about Illustrating Belarus by Emily Devenport  

by Ernest Hogan:

Semiotext (E) SF Anthology
The Year's Best Science Fiction: Eighteenth Annual Collection by Gardener R. Dozois
The Rise and Fall Of Paco Cohen and the Mariachis of Mars
Hindenburg's Vimana Joyride
Voices for the Cure

Other short fiction has appeared in  Amazing Stories, Analog, Science Fiction Age, Angel Body and Other Magic for the Soul and Witpunk.