Meet Sanford Nowlin, a Pace digital editor at the Pace San Antonio office. Now meet Sanford Allen, an author currently composing “a cosmic horror yarn about the creative and destructive power of art.” Some days they are the same person; other days they are separate individuals. Both agree on at least one thing: Sparkly vampires are not scary.
Describe your wordsmith epiphany—the moment you realized writing was your superpower?
Although I read voraciously as a kid, I found it difficult to apply myself in most elementary school classes. What can I say? Repetitious math exercises and rote memorization just weren’t my thing. But in 6th grade, an English teacher devoted every Friday to creative-writing assignments. On those days, I finally found something I could throw myself into, something liberating and fun. I had the teacher’s permission to make up stories about rocket ships and time travel and dinosaurs—and get a grade for it! That just didn’t seem like work to me. And, most of the time, it still doesn’t.
Not that I’m stalking you or anything, but I couldn’t help noticing you have an Amazon author page.
My first novel, Deadly Passage, came out a little more than a year ago through San Francisco-based publisher JournalStone. It’s a horror story set on an 18th-century slave ship. The protagonist, himself a freed slave, must confront two horrors: one that’s devouring the ship’s human cargo and another that comes from his participation in the most barbaric trade imaginable.
A couple dozen of my short stories also have appeared in magazines and anthologies, including After Death…, which won the 2013 Bram Stoker Award for Best Anthology. One of my most exciting short-story publications was in Rayguns Over Texas, an anthology of science-fiction writers from the Lone Star State. That one allowed me to appear in a book with two people who inspired me to start writing in the first place: Joe R. Lansdale (the guy who wrote Bubbahotep) and Michael Moorcock (the prolific British sword-and-sorcery writer who now lives in central Texas). I’m working to finish up my second novel, which is a cosmic horror yarn about the creative and destructive power of art.
A myth you’d like to dispel about the Sci-Fi/Horror genre?
The thing that bugs me most is when people dismiss science fiction, fantasy and horror (which I’ll group under the genre umbrella of speculative fiction) as second-rate, escapist fare. The best speculative fiction uses elements of the fantastic to address the quandaries and concerns of its time. By freeing itself from the constraints of the every day, it allows writers to throw around big questions and big ideas. For example, Ursula K. LeGuin’s Left Hand of Darkness may be about a goodwill mission to an alien planet, but it’s really about the artificiality of distinctions between the sexes. Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot may be about vampires in New England, but it’s really about the disappearance of small-town America. George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead may be about zombies in a shopping mall, but it’s really about American consumerism. By no means is all speculative fiction good—there are still plenty of sparkly vampires out there—but when it is, it’s literature that makes us see something new about the world and about ourselves.
That’s kind of deep for a guy who’s a founding member and guitar player in an Ur-metal band. By the way, what is Ur-metal?
“Ur” is a Germanic prefix meaning “the earliest, the oldest, the most primordial.” So, essentially “Ur-metal” is heavy metal music that taps into the genre’s formative influences. Among others, those include the heavy British blues of Cream, the can’t-find-my-mind psychedelia of Blue Cheer and the science-fiction stadium rock of early Blue Oyster Cult. I suppose we could have described ourselves as “proto-metal” or “heavy psych,” but the term “ur-metal” sounds so much more guttural and epic—like the sort of thing Vikings would listen to on their longships during interstellar travel. We’ve got one album out, which is available on Dogfingers Recordings, both here and in Europe.
You developed a systematic method for keeping your creative juices flowing and your writing fresh. What’s your routine and how do you balance Pace work, creative writing and performing with the band?
It’s actually fairly simple, and it boils down to the time of day. I find that my best window for writing fiction is in the morning and that music works best for me as a nighttime activity. I get up at 5 a.m., write for a few hours, go into the office and do my Pace editing work, then create music in the evening. Of course, it helps that I don’t have kids to take to soccer practice or drop off at school.
Dude, you must crash on the weekend.
Actually, my wife and I spend a lot of time in the kitchen. It’s just a great way to unwind over the weekend and to make sure we’ve got tasty and healthy weekday meals. I became vegetarian around the time I moved out of my parents’ house, so that required me to learn a whole new repertoire of recipes. Indian is by far most vegetarian-friendly cuisine and I really enjoy the complex flavors, so I gravitated to that one early on. Recently, we’ve discovered how much we both enjoy bitter flavors. They allow one to exercise a part of the tongue that doesn’t get enough love in Western cooking. One of our recent discoveries is bitter gourd, which features prominently in Indian cooking and is delicious when stuffed with aromatic spices and pan-fried. Cocktail-wise, we’ve had a lot of fun with some of the bitter Italian spirits, including Campari, Aperol and Cynar. Admittedly, they can be an acquired taste, but they bring a refreshing astringency to cocktails.
Do the worlds of fiction writing, content agency writing, music and cooking ever overlap in surprising ways?
When I got serious about fiction writing a few years ago, I discovered that it helped hone my content writing and editing skills. Fiction requires an authoritative voice, active language and good descriptive skills—all of which help in crafting content. The kind of creation we do at Pace demands clarity and economy of language, both of which come in handy to the fiction writer. The music and cooking stuff has certainly found its way into my prose as well. A number of characters in my stories are musicians, and sometimes they need to eat. Lately, I’ve been using my favorite science-fiction, fantasy and horror books and films as inspirations to create new cocktails. I post them on my blog every Friday in a feature that’s equal parts recipe and literary review.
To learn more about Sanford, visit his website sanfordallen.com.