Talking Shop with Angel Zapata, the Man With the Cool Rocker’s Name

He’s a quiet guy with noisy fingers. He’s an enjoyable person and his stories are easy, smooth reads. Please, welcome Angel Zapata to the Donor Center.

AJ: Who is Angel Zapata?

AZ: This was a hard question…

Who is Angel Zapata?

Yeah, who the hell does that guy think he is? I know he’s been a parking lot attendant, a stockroom clerk, an account executive, a medic, a customer service rep, a quality technician, and now…a writer. Who is Angel? I guess the best answer is “I’m adaptable.” I can find where I fit on any given shelf. It’s allowed me to overcome horrible situations and create stories in a variety of genres.

In high school, my English class was reading Macbeth. I was hooked the moment my teacher, Mr. Irving read the opening scene, When shall we three meet again? In thunder, lightning, or in rain? Those witches really opened up something deep inside me. I started writing. More importantly, I began reading work from the men and women who influence me to this day: Blake, Baudelaire, Plath, Sexton, King, McCammon, Koontz, and Crumley. I started submitting poems, but most were rejected. Honestly, I was trying to be a literary giant before taking baby steps. I was also trying to be the writers I was reading and not the writer I was becoming. I gave up writing for about a decade.

After having my first son, a divorce, a new bride, three more boys, and a new home; I reached my mid-thirties. I had returned to poetry and was writing flash fiction before I knew that’s what it was called. Everything I wrote was dark, twisted and brief. Three years ago, I wrote my first horror story. It was accepted by Morpheus Tales. Work has poured out of me ever since. I’ve kept at it and realized I don’t always need my muse to speak in order to write. I realized I can push myself and make the page dance.

Shit, this answer is longer than most of my stories.

Who is Angel? I’m a quiet guy with noisy fingers.

AJ: A quiet guy with noisy fingers. That has got to be one of the best answers I have ever heard.

Let me asks you this: you said you were trying to be a literary giant before taking baby steps. Having been in the business for the last couple of years, do you see this as a mistake a lot of writers make?

AZ: I think every writer is guilty of this. Although some writers call themselves their greatest critic, many of us know just how easy it is to get over-excited by our own work. We create our masterpiece and immediately want to frame and exhibit it before the paint is dry. I’ve heard many writers talk about how fast they churned out a poem or piece of flash and sent it out on the same day. Too often we skip the basics: proofreading, spell checking, reading and following publisher guidelines.

When I first began scribbling out meter, I thought just because I read the classics and could string together pretty words, every editor would be itching to hold my baby in their hands and pronounce her the most beautiful child they had ever seen. I wanted that immediate gratification. All I got was disappointment.

I think with the advent of the internet, the “craft” of writing has taken the backburner. A lot of newbie poets haven’t studied the masters, haven’t practiced using structure before venturing toward free verse, haven’t let their words age on the page. Blogs and comment fields continually feed the illusion that what we write everyone wants to read and declare it “Brilliant!”

I think the time we spend “not” writing can be equally as important as the time we do. My advice to myself and other writers is to slow down, savor every consonant and vowel, and spend time getting to know our creation before sending him or her out into the world. In a nutshell: stop trying so hard to be an “author.” Concentrate on perfecting your status as “writer.”

AJ: Outstanding advice, especially the part about perfecting your status as a writer. With this I also add, that the craft has become a lost art and not just because of the writers, but the editors, publishers and readers as well. In our day and age, everything is done at a break neck pace, including writing. People want action right away, forsaking some of the finer parts of writing.

I want to touch on something for a moment or two here. Every writer may be guilty of the mistake of wanting to get that baby out there but at least it’s their baby. However, there is something that only a select few are guilty of and that is plagerism. A while back this became a personal issue with you, as well as Lisa Morton and Ferrell Moore.

I’ve never had a story stolen so I can’t begin to imagine what that would be like. For those like myself who have not been in your shoes, would you mind telling us about your experience with having your work stolen by someone else?

AZ: That morning I was reading the most recent story posted on Flashshots, a daily flash fiction site. The story was called Imagination’s Burial by a guy whose name was popping up on many of my favorite sites. It was less than 100 words. As I read it, I started feeling sick. And when I got to the last line, “We take turns drinking their blood,” I was stunned. That was the last line of my story, At the Depot published online. Minus the last line, the story was similar, not identical. But the entire plot was way too close. I decided to Google it. There were only two hits; mine and his. I thought it had to be coincidence. But all day it nagged at me. I decided to dig deeper. I went to e-zine after e-zine this guy was published in and started Googling random lines from his stories. It didn’t take me long to find out there was a plagiarist among us.

I was furious.

He had stolen from newbie writers to H.P. Lovecraft and had gotten his work published all over the internet. I consulted with close writer friends and they encouraged me to confront him. I collected my evidence and contacted the plagiarist by e-mail. I gave him time to respond, and when he didn’t I decided to go public and blog about it. That blog post sparked a mob of angry, supportive writers from all over the world. I spoke with editors who had published him, and the word spread like wild fire. Later, I found out from Mercedes Yardley at Shock Totem that this same culprit had tried to pass off Stephen King’s work as his own. This “un-writer” as I call him, crawled back into the hole he came from. My guess, he changed his name and is probably doing it again.

What I’ve taken away from this experience is that there are predators out there waiting to steal our words. Yeah, we can copyright our work, but I don’t think we can stop them. These recent cases from Lisa Morton and Ferrell Moore prove that. But, I do believe we can fight back. I do believe we can research and expose them, take legal action if we can. I do believe it is our responsibility as writers to look out for one another. Read published work online, in print. If something seems familiar, take a few minutes to seek out the source. I could have remained silent and chalked it up to coincidence. But who would that have helped? How many other writers might have fallen victim to this same predator?

AJ: It turns out the individual you speak of sent in a King story to one of the places I read for. And I agree with you in that, as writers, we should look out for one another and we should go after those who steal our work. I believe that’s exactly what Ferrell Moore is doing with the individual that stole his work. If you’ve never read his blog, you really should (as should everyone in our business: The Writer and the White Cat )

AZ: Oh yes, I have read Mr. Moore’s blog about that plagiarist bastard, Byron (or whatever his real name is).

AJ: And there is so much more about that case than I’m sure any of us know quite yet.

At the beginning of this interview you mentioned that you read a lot of different writers and it is a nice mixture of styles. Stephen King’s advice has always been to read a lot and write a lot.

As a writer, do you feel it is important to read as much as you write, if not more?

AZ: Definitely, the more you read the better writer you’ll become. Writers need to constantly expand their mental libraries. And just because, for instance, you write horror exclusively doesn’t mean everything you read should be horror-related. In fact, these days I read very little horror. I do read a variety of fiction genres, poetry, newspapers, magazines, graphic novels, Manga, encyclopedias, product labels; everything and anything I can rub my eyeballs on. I find this keeps the horror in my stories fresh. It allows me to take the ordinary and give it the supernatural push it needs. It helps me enhance character and scene details with poetry, merge speculative fiction with well-researched fact, and blend a dash of comic book panache to the mix.

AJ: So being an avid reader of just about anything, what attracted you to write horror?

AZ: I’ve always been drawn to the paranormal, to things that creep and whisper in the dark. As a child, I was plagued with horrible nightmares of devils and demons, yet somehow loved to be terrified by the classic Hammer movies with Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. I remember sneaking into my father’s dresser and finding stacks of Eerie Publication magazines. Titles like Tales of Voodoo, Witches Tales, and Tales from the Tomb, with their awful covers of blood-dripping fangs and dismemberment, horrified and delighted me. As I got older, that attraction continued to grow. I began writing stories based on my dreams.

When I started seriously writing about three years ago, I figured I better begin with a subject I was well acquainted with. And I feel comfortable around monsters. I feel at home with horror.

AJ: Interesting that you should mention that you were plagued with nightmares as a child. A lot of the horror writers I have spoke to have given accounts of night terrors and very vivid nightmares as part of the reasons they writer horror, myself included. It’s an interesting point that we could study if there were more time in the day.

Angel, if I’m correct, you now have a book out. Would you mind telling us about it?

AZ: Yeah, it’s called The Man of Shadows. It’s a collection of twenty-five short horror stories. Sam Cox over at House of Horror recently began publishing books through her newly established Panic Press. I sent in my manuscript, and a few weeks later I was thrilled to learn it was accepted.

It’s mostly flash fiction I’ve written for ePubs and print anthologies over the last three years. It also has two brand new stories that have never appeared anywhere else. I’m really proud of it.

I’ve tried my best to present some really fresh perspectives on vampires, zombies, witches, trolls, and even the Boogeyman. The first story, The Mouth of Babes sets the mood for the entire collection. So like I tell people: if witchcraft, prostitution, corpses, cannibalism, and snacking on rats ain’t your cup of tea, then you should probably read something else. This book is definitely not anything like the The Very Hungry Caterpillar.

AJ: Where did you get the title from?

AZ: The title of the book also happens to be the last story in the collection. It’s a very small piece I wrote a couple of years ago for a contest Nathan Rosen was hosting on his site, Microhorror. It didn’t win, but many of my online writer friends really loved it. I think it’s a fitting title. Plus, as a horror writer, it’s what I aspire to be… A Man of Shadows.

AJ: Looks like I’ll have to pick this collection up and make sure and read the last story.

Speaking of Microhorror, you have started a new online publication, correct? Would you mind telling us about it?

AZ: Yeah, I’m totally excited about it. It’s called 5×5 Fiction: Stories Told Loud and Clear. For a long time I wanted to start my own e-zine, but I really wanted it to be something different. I knew I wanted to focus on micro-fiction; I wanted to offer a fresh challenge for writers, and I wanted it to have very tight constraints regarding form. I explored a wide variety of micro-fiction styles such as Twitter stories of 140-characters, Robert Swartwood’s hint fiction, drabbles (100-word stories), and dribbles (50-word stories). Then one day I was re-reading a poem I wrote a few years back called 5×5. It has nothing to do with the writing form concept I developed, but it made me recall the research I did for that title.

On shortwave radio, 5×5 or “loud and clear” is the confirmation given when a message has been received with signal strength and signal readability both at optimal. I united that listener acknowledgement and the literal value of five times five, to create complete stories with an unwavering structure of five sentences of five words each. Complete stories, not poems or abstract thoughts, in exactly twenty-five words. So far the response has been quite positive, with many writers thrilled to have a new challenge to conquer. And I’m receptive to all genres.

I’ve tentatively called it a quarterly zine, but that will solely be based on quality of submissions received. Guidelines and updates can found at: 5X5 Fiction

AJ: Can you give us a couple of examples of what you are looking for?

AZ: Sure. I wrote a handful of examples and posted them on the 5×5 site. One of my stories is called The Inhabitants:

Their spacecraft landed at night. At first, we were frightened. But eventually we overcame fear. We entered their ventilation system. The human cargo was delicious.

A perfect example of the form was submitted by a favorite writer of mine, Michael J. Solender. I think he really hit the nail on the head with this one. It’s called New Years Eve:

Too much champagne got him. Her pain was even worse. He couldn’t deliver the goods. She was Jonesing for jelly. All she got was jammed.

AJ: All she got was jammed. Hahaha… that’s a great line.

Before we let you go, Angel, do you have any other projects in the works?

AZ: Words never stop moving in my brain, so I’ll be keeping busy. I’m currently working on a poetry chapbook. Plus this year, my goal is to begin working on a short story collection for children. My son was reading this awesome book, Invasion of the Road Weenies by David Lubar. I read it and loved it. It’s really some fantastic flash fiction that kids and adults can enjoy. It’s inspired me to try taming my work for a younger audience.

I’ve also scheduled myself for hitting the lottery and quitting my day job by mid-year, but I guess I’ll settle for writing whenever and wherever I can.

AJ: If you hit the lottery, remember us little guys… or at least just think about us every once in a blue moon as you live it up.

Angel, thank you for taking the time to visit the Donor Center. Drop by anytime.

AZ: Thanks, AJ. It’s been a real pleasure. And I’ll definitely be dropping by. Take care.

(Herbie’s Note: I’ve read many of Angel’s stories and have enjoyed them. Check out Angel’s blog, A Rage of Angel, for updates on publications and goings on in his writing life. Every interaction I have had with Angel has been pleasant. Truly a nice guy with a future in this business.

A Rage of Angel )

  1. Nathan Rosen says:

    Great interview, and thanks for the name drop!

  2. Laura Eno says:

    Terrific interview! I hope you went back and let Mr. Irving know what an impact he made in your life, Angel. I think most teachers feel they’re shouting into the wind.

    I’m really looking forward to the first issue of 5×5. Michael’s entry is a riot!

  3. Lee Thompson says:

    Great interview, gentlemen!

  4. Erin Cole says:

    A great, natural interview, AJ and AZ. I have always suspected Angel has lived a ‘seasoned’ life, for it shows in the depth and scope of his writing and I admire him for testing the writing waters, from poetry to horror to children’s books – one never knows where hidden talents are until they try everything, and I’ve no doubt Angel will find even more strengths and success in his craft.

  5. az has amazing reach, his work never disappoints. I had the pleasure of meeting him and one of his young sons when they visited charlotte a while back and it really was a pleasure getting into the mind of a writer i admire close up. i very much like what he said about being patient with your words aging on the page – i know when i read an az piece -it has been worked and reworked. oh btw his poetry is really phenomenal too – thanks for the shout out on the 5 x 5 – a fun challenge to be sure.

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