Interview

Marcus Pan

By Sue Simpson

Bio and publication history.

Uh…can you send me a sample of this? I've never made an official publication history before. I can do the bio alone if that will do or I can try to work out a publication history, since I really should, if you can show me what the bloody hell one looks like. (Isn't it cute when us Yanks try and talk like you?)

1) Tell us about your baby please? I mean Legends of course.

Marcus PanI've been doing Legends for about twelve years now. It's over time moved from something that was embarrassing and grew into something I'm proud of so referring to it as my "baby" is probably somewhat accurate. Legends has two main themes - independent music and dark fiction. The fiction we've run includes dark horror, sci-fi, fantasy and the like while the music touches on punk, gothic, industrial, experimental and everything in between.

Currently we're printing monthly, but options of that being changed to every two months (6/year) are in discussion. I'm trying to keep it on the schedule it's on if I can though.

2) What the hell drove you to create your own magazine?

Well, it actually started as kind of a joke, but ended up becoming a vehicle. I did a lot of freelance fiction at the time and was trying to break into the pulp/digest magazine market (at the time ISAF, Analog, etc.) with a 0% success rate. Eventually I gave up on that.

Then while at a Ren. Faire in NY state one year, Legends was born as a retaliatory joke directed at some pamphlets that had been thrown around that year by a fundamental religious group. Being pretty drunk at the time, it prompted me to write an article contradicting their points. I really wanted to print this, but nobody would touch it. So I put it out myself and wrapped some of those other things that nobody wanted from before around it and called it a "magazine" and threw it out there in a pamphlet style just like they did.

After what was to be the third and final issue of Legends, I realized I was having fun. So I kept going. You can see all the original issues in full at the website too - but they're really embarrassing so I'd rather you didn't.

3) What qualities do you look for in a Legends writer?

It really depends on the content. If I'm looking for a music reviewer, I want someone who isn't afraid to state their opinion. And state it strongly, succinctly and with backing data. At the same time I want them to take many things into consideration and try to find some good in it somewhere.

For fiction writers, I look for unpredictability. A lot of the best stories have already been told - but not in every possible way and from every possible view. There's still some good, refreshing and new stories coming out occasionally, but if you're going to touch upon an "old fashioned ghost story" for example, try and find a different way of telling it. Your own usage of different points of view in some of your stories that I've run are an excellent example of this.

I'm also not afraid to print long stories, and am looking at a few that will run over long stretches in next year's issues. But serials are very difficult to remain strong reading as the months roll on. So if I'm looking at a fiction serial that I'd expect needs to run over 3 months, I'm looking for a writer's ability to balance long plots without relying too heavily on previous chapters (for those readers who didn't get the previous month's issue), while keeping the story's flow moving fluidly along.

Another issue over the years is exclusivity. While five years ago I might have printed almost anything, as Legends gains in popularity so do increase the submissions. Having to reject things from printing is a new experience for me. I'm not sure I like that part of running Legends though, but I guess I have to.

Call Out4) Legends is predominantly a music magazine, what then prompted you to add fiction, now it's an integral part of the mag, was that intentional or did it begin as just a page filler?

Legends was originally a fantasy fiction magazine. The music started to become primary and was pretty heavily fastened on by issues numbered in the 80s. While there were many that contained purely music related articles, I do try to keep the fiction aspect of the magazine strong since Legends cut its teeth on it.

I am working on getting new material from many authors right now in addition to working on a compilation book project being tentatively called Decade of Dark. This will be a best-of-fiction collection over Legends' first decade.

5) Some of the cover illustrations are fantastic how do you suit a writer to an artist? Or is it just a case of flinging a story at an artist randomly and seeing what they come up with?

I do have some kind of method to the madness. Most of the artists I work with I do so very closely. In many cases I have other projects with them that have already made me familiar with the type of work they do. Zubrovka for example, has a gallery at Surreal RAYn and also works on some of the Serpent's Inn site as well. I'm familiar with his work that way and know that the type of work he does is modern and photographically based, so that works great for modern horror, suspense and thrillers while it doesn't sit right with medieval fantasy types of stories.

Meanwhile, I've worked with Lee Alverson for quite a while now as he was the second illustrator of the Serpent's Inn series. He's also handled some very large Legends projects with the Disoriented serial as one example. Lee Alverson has a graphic artist approach to his work and uses digital tools like Poser. That makes him good for action-adventure style work, and he's especially good at dark sci-fi style pieces. Additionally he's never afraid to push the bar on some of his more risqué work, which makes him perfect for stories like this month's feature, Birthing.

Marcus PanWhen a new illustrator approaches me - someone I've not worked with yet - then yes I throw something at them randomly to see what happens. But usually by the second or third piece from an artist I develop an idea of what type of stories I might ask them to do in the future.

6) How has Legends developed over the years and where do you see it going in the future?

Over the years it's simply grown in scope. The website built up a huge following for Legends Magazine that numbers around 25,000 readers each month and has really helped it spread. The increase in those that I found willing to help with it is purely because of the ability to communicate via the Internet and that in turn means I have a staff ready to handle the workload that comes in whether it's new stories, CDs or books for review.

Viewing earlier issues and comparing them to recent issues can truly be a humbling experience for me. I really fought with myself over whether or not to put everything up from issue 1 onward to be read at the website, since I find a lot of my past work to be simply bad. But I did, because Legends is more fun to talk about as a whole rather than in pieces.

7) What makes a good horror writer?

For horror, I think that unpredictability is a good policy to follow. When writing straight horror fiction, which really has been done to death through the 80s, it's difficult to stay away from the clichés that are rife throughout it. If there weren't so many bad horror clichés they wouldn't have been able to make two Scary Movie spoofs that made millions each here in the states.

8) We've all been driven from our beds in the early hours with a feeling not to be confused with but very similar to the need to pee. It is of course the urge to write that crazy idea that floated into your head unbidden in the early hours. With you it must be intermingled with ungodly-hour-ideas for the mag. When were you first hit with this affliction?

I have a problem sleeping at all, since I've always considered it a waste of time. Getting bonked awake by an idea doesn't happen very often to me since when I do sleep I tend to crash rather than rest. The house can crumble down around me and I'll sleep on. When that sort of thing does happen I don't write it down nearly as much as I should.

Most of the time I get urges to write while I'm in the car - which is a very bad place to have that happen believe me. I've taken to carrying a steno pad around with me just for my brainstorm bric-a-brac, but again that's still not something you do in the car.

) When were you first aware of the need to write, and what are your earliest memories of creative writing?) When were you first aware of the need to write, and what are your earliest memories of creative writing?

I've been writing since I was approximately 10 years old. My earliest memory of writing was when I was in the 6th grade and I wrote a dictionary of "bad words" that got me in some serious trouble with the teachers. I still have that little book.

Then I went on to start creating a family newspaper, sealing my fate as a geek from that day forward.

10) What was the first thing you ever wrote that you were truly proud of? That defining piece that told you 'I'm going to be a writer?'

That's a tough one. I remember writing a drama once when I was around 15. It's been lost to time since then, but it was a story about a cave in within an underground bunker during a war and took a Lord of the Flies type of take on the survivors while they were down there. I think that might have been the only drama fiction I ever wrote, but I really liked it. I have no idea where it ended up.

11) People have different ideas about horror. How would you define the word 'horror' in relation to writing?

When you say "horror," most people think of straight macabre fiction along the lines of King or Strauss. That's usually what I think of, unless you also bring up other words like "suspense," "slasher" or "thriller." I don't know if I'm qualified enough to decide what it should mean.

12) I know you are outspoken, opinionated and direct, all admirable qualities in a bad-assed magazine editor but do you have any morals when it comes to writing? Are there places you won't go?

Call OutNone. There are limits on what I'd print, yes, taking into account the audience that I have. But when I'm writing, no there are no limits. Most of what I write will never be seen.

13) How did you first become published? And was it an easy transition from writer to 'published writer' or was it the proverbial nightmare?

I gave up the publishing route for some time when I started Legends. I discovered that it's something I like to do, but probably not something I can live off of. Suddenly I found myself writing technology articles for non-fiction magazines as I built up my career in the IT market, and most of my non-Legends published writing is from that. I've never gone through the "nightmare" - I strategically pre-empted it by surprising them on the non-fiction side of the fence.

14) Where do you find your inspiration? Characters? Locations?

Inside my head are tons of stories that I like to visit fairly often. While sure I have seen a really nice full moon one night and went on to write something like Piss On Your Grave which appears in the latest issue of The City Morgue, usually what ends up written down pours right out of my head. Like I said, most of that never gets published anywhere and that's probably a good thing.

15) How do you structure your writing? I read somewhere that James Herbert writes one page a day, every day. That no matter what he's doing or where he is, he always writes that one page and no more. I suppose being on a roll makes it hard to leave but easy to return to, and being at a sticking point isn't a problem because you know that you only have one page to get through. How do you manage your writing time?

It's been very hard to write lately and I've been pretty lax what-with handling the editing/business side of Legends Magazine, but I do keep a journal that I try to write in as often as I can. This journal is completely freeform and has no set boundaries - it could be a journalistic account of what I've been up to, or it could be a sudden turn into a new storyline that fell out of my head. Most of what is being published by me now had its start somewhere in the journal. It's my filter.

16) Sell Legends to us please. Why should we buy your magazine? What is it that you personally like about it?

This is really the question I've never been good at. But I think one of the strongest things about Legends is that while there are other magazines in the indie market and, indeed, in my segment of music and fiction (The City Morgue, Outburn, Starvox, et. al), I think there are some things we offer differently or better.

On the music side of things, bands and labels can be assured of a full length review. Legends doesn't write one paragraph blurb reviews and treats every CD as a new article. We're not column-based, we're article-based.

On the fiction side of things, some of the writers that have printed with Legends have gone on to book contracts and further publishing. I feel that I have a nose for a good story, and think I've assembled a stable of excellent writers.

17) Do you use events, experiences, thoughts or beliefs from your own life in your writing, or is your personal life kept well apart from what you write?

My journal is rife with personal pieces, and while again most of it remains locked up sometimes a personal piece of it will leak out to the public occasionally. But I figure if I keep it mixed up enough nobody will be able to tell the personal pieces from the others.

18) Many of us on UKAuthors keep (and God forbid) post our journals. Do you, or have you ever, kept a diary or a journal?

Hah, see above. Yes. And no it's not something I can post like you brave folks.

19) Do you have times when you don't want to write? How do you overcome that? Do you ever suffer from writer's block? Or what I think is far worse, writer's laziness?

Writer's block I get fairly often. But having a journal where there's no set schedule helps with that. It's also unformatted, so I can read it later and pick out pieces that might become a new story with the right nurturing.

20) Have you ever been truly hurt by negative criticism, or can you easily detach your writing from yourself?

I can detach my writing from me fairly well because I've always been of the mind that mine is really the only opinion that I should care about. I do chastise and berate myself more than I should though if that counts for the above question.

21) What do you do with writing that you feel is sub-standard? Both your own and other people's?

My own just stays in the journal never to see the light of day. And there's whole loads of it, too.

Other people's I will either work with to better the standard if I can or I have to turn it down if it's submitted.

22) Who do you admire as a writer?

Marcus Pan @ ConvergenceI'm a fan of a lot of writers, from Jules Verne to Shakespeare, Stephen King to Philip Dick. I read a lot, and while I was working in Manhattan for a while read voraciously. I can't say that any stand out per se, although Douglas Adams impresses the hell out of me.

23) If you could be one famous person alive or dead who would it be?

Wow. Hmm…I'll have to come back to this one. I might not even come up with something for this one, but we'll see.

24) Most people are not lucky enough to own their own magazine Have you done any other jobs before becoming an editor?

Oh, from one end of the spectrum to the other. Before, during and probably after. Blue and white collar. I've done everything from construction to contracting to IT/technical to retail. I'm currently contracting in the medical sector as a software specialist. And at night I load trucks.

25) Can you tell us about some of your writing triumphs...the highs and lows of your career?

Legends has been more like a slow build. But I guess one would be when Legends hit the decade mark in 2000. Being at Convergence 8 with the chance to be on a zine discussion panel was really cool also. I'll have another when Decade of Dark gets completed, but other than those two it's been more like small hurdles. When you think about it, twelve years now, I've sure taken my damn time with all of this.

Lows tend to be more personal. Releasing Jaken Steele as editor in formative years, or having to create the first few issues completely on my own because most everyone who promised to help didn't. Another one that comes to mind is my accidental use of an image copyrighted by UK artist Stephen Stone. I was still in the habit of printing public domain images because I didn't have any artists yet, but I trusted somebody else when they sent it to me as such and got lax with researching its rights. I felt incredibly horrible about that and I bought the one-time right to the piece so that the issue could remain out there. I believe it still remains as the most expensive issue I ever produced.

Call Out26) What did you spend your first payment from writing on?

A pack of cigarettes. The best damn cigarettes I ever smoked.

27) Do you ever fear losing you creativity.

Not as of yet. I suppose that could be a future concern but I don't feel I've tapped the well dry as of yet.

28) If you woke up tomorrow and found you could no longer write, if the words were gone, how would you compensate?

I'm not so sure I could. I write worlds better than I talk. There wouldn't be anything to compensate with.

29) What does being a writer mean to you?

Being read is one of the greatest joys I have. Knowing that there really are people out there besides myself that are reading it. It means I can have something to say and, unlike most people, possibly get other people to listen. The pen is mightier than the sword, as the saying goes.

And maybe after I'm dead they will still read some of it and that's the surest form of immortality that I think I have a chance of reaching. Being a writer is my bid for immortality.

Interview for UKAuthors.com.