Many moons ago, long before social media existed, there were message boards. I know some of you youngsters might not be quite sure what I'm talking about but those around circa 2000 will remember rather well. Sure message boards exist here and there but social media of all kinds have taken over from the communities that used to be. I was fortunate enough to become part of a great board that was for horror fans of all kinds. Dark Obsessions focused on horror movies, toys, dolls (Living Dead Dolls/Krypt Kiddies), and a group of amazing people.
That is where I had the pleasure of meeting C.J. Cummings. Back then he was one of the admins of Dark Obsessions or D~O as we were affectionately called. Eventually, I was made one as well and along with some others ran the board for a good number of years. Nowadays its a bit of a ghost town but still exists as well as my friendship with C.J. Cummings. It's a friendship that has been one for more than ten years. Amazingly enough we have never met in person because there is a giant pond that separates the U.S. and the U.K.
I am pleased to tell you about Cumming's new writing project along with writer Mark Ryan, that is unlike anything I have ever read. It is the first book in a series entitled A Tale Told Twice which is called Birdsnatch which is available today! I was lucky enough to get a review copy of this new concept. A Tale Told Twice is actually quite simple in idea but with such an intriguing twist on storytelling. Cummings and Ryan select a title to a book and then each write a story without knowing what the other is writing.
Birdsnatch by C.J. Cummings is a gritty, comic book look that gives us a glimpse at the world ending focusing on two characters that are at opposite ends of the spectrum. Melon is a loser that wants more out of life and is not scared of the end of the world. In fact he embraces it, venturing out as it is all supposed to take place. Trinket is a character that the audience will be sure to fall in love with due to Cumming's unique way of writing. C.J.'s writing is so descriptive that the city becomes as much of a character as the people that are in it. Also, keep an eye out for Cattermole, you will know the character when you see it and is one of my favorite parts of the story.
Birdsnatch by Mark Ryan is a look into the future with a sci fi twist. Much more an action story than I expected which was a pleasant surprise. At times I was on the edge of my seat while I was reading about an original world that involves plastic surgery created villains. A government team is put together to stop the foes and we follow a new recruit that gives the reader someone to follow into the unknown world that the other characters have grown accustomed to. This story felt like a pilot episode for a weekly episode kind of in the vein of Strike Back or a C.S.I. which I would totally embrace more stories in this universe.
FIND A TALE TOLD TWICE'S BIRDSNATCH ALL OVER THE INTERWEBS!
Okay guys, first things first. Give us a little history about yourselves, and what made you want to collaborate with the other through writing?
C.J. Cummings: Well, Mark and I met over a year ago.
Mark Ryan: Yeah, we met through the YouTube community. I think Chris found my channel and we started commenting on each other’s’ videos.
C.J: We realized pretty quickly that we had a creepy amount of things in common. It was insane.
Mark: Yeah, really was. A love of Flight of the Navigator and Guillermo Del Toro sealed our brotherhood. I read some of Chris’ (now on the back burner) sci-fi story “Silversoil” and fell in love with his writing style.
C.J: Same happened with me. I read one of Mark’s short stories named “Kelp Song” and loved it, and it became something we discussed on and off, doing a collaboration at some point.
Mark: Yep. Then one day we brainstormed ideas and Birdsnatch happened.
R.T: Flight of the Navigator is such an underrated cult classic, haven’t seen it in years. I may have to check it out soon to bring back some memories!
How did the idea for A Tale Told Twice come up? It's a brilliant Idea and how was the wonderfully odd title of Birdsnatch decided upon?
Mark: Many days Chris and myself will just sit and type nonsense to each other, just ‘cause it makes us giggle. If it was in public we’d be taken away.
C.J: Yep, we’d be done.
Mark: These conversations should never be released.
Mark: They did though, bring up the word “Birdsnatch”.
C.J: Yeah, and we were looking for a way to write together and were just shooting the breeze and trying to think of a way how. The title stuck.
Mark: We loved it because we thought it had potential to lead people’s minds in a certain direction and yet our stories would be so different that it would surprise readers.
C.J: Exactly. We wanted to have a title that we could just go with, take it wherever we wanted to and have it mean whatever it needed to mean.
Mark: Yeah. The A Tale Told Twice concept came after when we decided we wanted to write a story each based on the same title.
C.J: It was a concept we hadn’t seen before. One book, one title, two stories by two authors. The same story twice.
Mark: We decided to go away and write whatever the title awoke in our minds and when we unveiled our stories to each other we loved them so much that the idea of a series, ATTT, was born. It was something that felt fresh within bizarro and short fiction and works really well for our experimental writing.
Were you worried at all about unknowingly writing about the same subject, or did that push your imagination when it came to creating a unique story?
C.J: I don’t think we were ever concerned that we’d write the same thing, but there were a couple of times, when we discovered that certain elements existed in both of our stories, that we wondered just how similar some aspects might be. The fun thing about writing a collab like this is the openness and freedom of it. If we write two stories that are super-similar in premise, then so-be-it, but if they are completely different then that also works. It’s the beauty of experimental projects.
Mark: There was no anxiety on my side, it was more excitement to see how different or similar our ideas would be. Towards the end of us both finishing we revealed to each other certain plot points and I was kinda freaked out that we had both gone down a superhero/villain route. It did confirm that Chris was the perfect person to be working with.
Okay, now it’s time to brag on each other a bit. What is your favorite thing about the others story?
Mark: The main thing I love about Chris' writing is the way he keeps a human strand running through all of his stories. The weirdest things could be taking place but you will always feel the emotions of the characters and join their tale. In Birdsnatch the main characters may not be upstanding citizens but you follow them on some serious emotional growth and you become invested in their motivation.
C.J: You’re too kind, bro. Mark’s writing has always fascinated me. His mind works in a way I have never seen in another author, and his creativity levels are off the charts. He can take a single thing and have it become a whole universe of something unexpected. His story could be just a police hunt story, yet it has this mythology at the edges that hints at more going on, like we’re looking at a framed photograph that has been cut away from a bigger picture. I love that about Mark’s work, he had so many ideas, and manages to add layers to his work that poke at potential for more paths to go down.
Mark: Also, in terms of Chris’ work, who doesn’t love a diseased skanky cat-rat-mole hybrid that survives on used tissues.
R.T: Totally agree with you Mark, nothing like a good cat-rat-mole hybrid to make a reader fall in love! And C.J. you are correct about the mythology part of Mark's work, just brilliant!
Once the writing of the book was done, was the process of self-publishing easier or harder than expected? Any lessons learned that you could share with us?
C.J: It was a lot of “first-time” scenarios for both of us, so it was worrying sometimes, but a very big learning experience for us both.
Mark: Definitely. I think the process ended up being both hard and easy. Easy because Createspace really holds your hand and makes sure you can get what you really want. The hard part comes after. You are given the tools but its up to us to do the work.
C.J: Yeah, promo work, getting the word out there, and the formatting, editing, all of that is up to us. It was crazy but also incredible.
Mark: It’s also problematic at times that we’re 300 miles apart, so doing everything through webcam can be tough.
C.J: Totally. We manage though.
R.T: Technology really does make it easier to do great projects like this!
Moving away from your book for a moment, what are your opinions about where the entertainment media is at in general? Movies, Books, Games, it seems like we are at the peak or do you think the future has no boundaries where entertainment is concerned?
Mark: Personally I think weirder cinema is getting more and more attention and this is leading to bigger directors being allowed more freedom in what they create. Guillermo Del Toro is my current favorite director and anything he creates I instantly connect with. As long as geek culture continues to move to the mainstream the more serious it will be taken and the better output will be created. As far as literature. There seems to be a real resurgence in genre writing. Ourselves being part of the weird-fiction niche, Booktube is a good example of a scene being propelled by fans, for fans, and there are fans for every type of story you could imagine.
C.J: I think we are at a renaissance period for television right now. There are so many incredible TV shows on right now, it’s difficult to find time for even a fraction of them. Movie-wise, as a movie-buff I will always find movies I love, but I do think some genres are in dire need of new voices, fresh ideas and an overhaul. I would go into this deeper but I think it would become a bit of a rant on the staleness of things. I think there are some glorious ideas out there though. As for books, well, the special thing about books is that there will always be thousands that you haven’t read that you will love, and that means it never becomes stale. I think the book business is in the best shape it’s ever been in, which is inspiring for us when we’re working on collab weird fiction projects, and solo stuff in sci-fi and fantasy.
Suggestion time! What Book, Movie, Comic, and Band would each of you recommend our readers to check out, old or new?
C.J: For me I’d say Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. I read it this year and it blew my nerdy socks off. I’ve read 70 books so far in 2015 and loved so many, but this is up there. I am also a sucker for The Road by Cormac McCarthy.
Mark: I’d have to go with The Night Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko, such a great book.
C.J: I still need to read that one.
C.J: This is hard, but Midnight in Paris. The Woody Allen film. I just adore that movie. I could name so many though. Ruby Sparks. Lord of the Rings Trilogy. Her by Spike Jonze. Man, let’s go watch a film.
Mark: I’d say Predestination, the Spierig Brothers flick, that blew me away, it does time travel so well.
C.J: Blankets. It moved me, it made me laugh, and it’s just friggin’ beautiful to look at.
Mark: Rat Queens for me. Loved every page of it.
C.J: Oh, Rat Queens is bloody awesome.
C.J: Pantera, Alice in Chains, Johnny Cash. I live in the past. I like dirty blues, thrash metal and other things that lots of people don’t like.
Mark: Ok old man. My picks are Tom Waits, Nick Cave and Devin Townsend. Check ‘em out.
I know you two are hard at work on the second book of A Tale Told Twice. Can you give us any hints as to what we can expect and how it might differ from Birdsnatch?
C.J: Well, we are hard at work on the second book. The cool thing about A Tale Told Twice is that it isn’t a series in the sense that the next book is anything to do with the other, they are all separate, but part of the concept of ATTT.
Mark: Yeah, so our second book won’t follow on from Birdsnatch. It’s a whole new title, and two new stories from each of us.
C.J: Shall we break some exclusive news here on Needful Things and announce the title of book two?
Mark: Yeah. Let’s do that. The second book is called “X-Ray Animals” and we are both working on it being out in a few months. It will be an entirely different animal, pardon the pun, from Birdsnatch.
C.J: We’re super excited about it, and all the books going forward.
Whoa that's awesome! Breaking news right here on Needless Things!! X-Ray Animals sounds as intriguing as Birdsnatch. Definitely, makes me want to read it!!
What does the future hold for each of you without the other? I know you both have a short story collection coming out? Beyond that, what are each of your writing goals?
Mark: For me my goals for the future are keeping a steady flow of ATTT book releasing. We currently have 5 books planned in the ATTT series and I have a short story collection I’m working on titled Not Quite Right. My fantasy sci-fi adventure The Barefooted Oarsman and a trilogy of novellas called Lucha Livingstone.
C.J: For me, beyond focusing on the ATTT work and the planned books going forward, I’m working hard on getting my short story anthology, Shards, out soon. It will be out on Amazon in the coming couple of months and I’m excited. I’ve been working on it a while and am proud of it. I’m also working on a contemporary science-fiction novel which is the first in a duology, and I have some other ideas I’m playing with. Mostly though, Shards, my novel and ATTT is where my passion and focus is.
Any final words for our Needless Things readers?
Mark: Thank you to anyone who has checked out the book or is going to. Please share it everywhere. If you see an old couple sat at a bus stop then give them a copy. It may finish them off but at least they would have died happy.
C.J: Yeah, give it as a gift, use it as a text-book on how not to “do life”, or just enjoy it. Seriously, thanks to Needless Things and R.T. Ewell for the time, and giving us a space to chat about our book and projects. Means a lot to us both. I hope, any of you who read our work, will find something to enjoy. Cheers. See you in the funny pages.
Thank you Mark and C.J. for taking the time to talk to us and I encourage everybody to check out Birdsnatch which is available today!
R.T. Ewell (but you can call him Richard if you see him in public) is a nerd and self published author. While also being Needless Thing's resident Lego fanatic & reviewer. His first novella Fat Trapped was released in 2013 introducing the horror world to The Blankenship Family. Some random likes of his are the Batman villain Bane, Jeff Smith's cartoon epic Bone, and the 80's BMX movie RAD.