As stated on John’s business card and social media status, he is a writer, photographer, adventurer, man. He also happens to be one of the most down to Earth, humble and honest curators of dark fiction I‘ve had the pleasures encountering in quite some time, which is saying a lot considering most dark fiction writers tend to be humble and down to Earth despite the literary nightmares they enjoy feeding us.
I had first heard of John Urbancik several years ago, mostly through Brian Keen’s who happens to be close friends with John. For other no other reason other than I simply hadn’t yet, did I finally get around to reading John’s work. I’m currently making my way through John’s Dark Walker series – which I’m thoroughly enjoying – but that’s not what this interview is about.
John, though his Face Book profile, solicited reviewers to check out his newest publication, InkStained, which he recently published via his own imprint DarkFluidity. I jumped at the chance to read him, and that’s what this interview is all about.
When I first began reading InkStained, I had intended on interviewing John about the book, but as I continued to read and get more familiar with the man behind the pen, the interview become more than just about this singular book and delved into other unexpected aspects of his life.
I hope you enjoy our conversation as much as I discuss with John the importance of prioritizing creative ideas, the development of InkStained and how this particular artist is finding his way back after immense loss and grief.
DARK BITES: To get the ball rolling, John, I must ask: where do your come ideas from? Just kidding. You more than answer that in InkStained. A better question, hopefully, is while compiling the wealth of ideas and experiences for InkStained, how did you organize the material to ensure that only your best ideas ad stories made in into the final product?
JOHN URBANCIK: Organizing this project was enormously difficult. I went through 100 episodes worth of me talking – and sure, maybe it’s easy enough to listen to me if you’re not me, but if you are me, and you’re trying to transcribe things so you have to slow down the audio, it’s pretty freaky. I then printed every story individually, divided them into four piles – one for each of the three chapters, and one for the stuff I knew wasn’t going into the book – then tried to find the stories that were closely related, or the places where I said something I’d already said fifty episodes earlier, and streamlined the hell out of it. I started with 175,000 words of me rambling, and ended with approximately 100,000.
DB: How much of what is compiled in InkStained is the culmination of previous podcast episodes and how much is new or edited material for the sake of the book?
JU: All of the book is taken from the podcasts, and all of the book was then thoroughly reviewed, revised, and rewritten as necessary. We talk differently than we speak, so I had to streamline everything into something that could be read without driving a person insane.
DB: You’re clearly of a dreamer state of mind and seem to thrive when exploring ideas and how they connect to the world around you as you take notes and stretch your creative muscles for all their worth every chance you get. What was the experience like of sifting through so many notes and podcasts to make the book you wanted to make? I imagine it was quite the memory lane and am curious if there were any new surprises or discoveries along the way that may have caught you off guard.
JU: There were entire topics I’d forgotten I’d covered. There were topics I covered more than once. I shared some of the same anecdotes more than once. What amazed me most was how clearly I could see where I was, physically, at the time of each of those talks. I would listen, and see the studio I’d set up in Tallahassee, or the studio I’d set up in Richmond, or the one in Madrid, just as clearly as if I’d filmed the whole thing and was watching it on a screen.
DB: I would like to ask a personal question if that’s okay. I understand during the last stretch of putting InkStained together, you suffered a terrible loss this past June when your partner of over twenty years, Mary, was taken from the world by cancer. First of all, my sincere condolences, John. If you don’t mind me asking, considering how closely linked to your art your heart is and vice versa, how might this terrible loss have affected your art currently and possibly in the future, and how might your art have impacted the way in which you’re able to grief?
JU: Honestly, I’m still in the process of figuring all that out. I’m not healed, it’s not resolved, I don’t know what will happen. I was able to restart by working on projects that needed revisions, but that wasn’t immediate. From there, I found it difficult to work on anything longer than, say, an InkStains story. I was still scribbling in notepads, but some days they were just a serious of disconnected words. I realized at some point I was doing more poetry than usual. I had a title for a project that wasn’t gelling into a novel the way I thought it should. Somehow, I realized this poetry – partly as a result of what happened – belonged in a project with that title (John The Revelator, which is an old blues song). Apparently, I wasn’t going to get anything else done until I finished this, so that’s what I did. I added some of my photography, and expect to see this book (which is now complete except for a few minor fixes) released to the world at the end of January.
DB: With so many ideas constantly knocking around your head, all vying for your attention, how do you manage to not only separate the good ones from the clutter, but to also manage to getting through a daily routine of general adulting without feeling like you’re being neglectful to whichever idea is shouting loudest?
JU: When it comes time to start a large project, like a novel, one or two of the ideas in the back of my head will fight for that spot like gladiators. They’ll take to the coliseum, and only one will emerge victorious. The other, generally, sulks away and is never seen again, or not for a great many years. Most of the novel ideas that are currently thrashing around in the back of my head have their own little notepads, so I can quickly get down any ideas and stray thoughts even while working on something else.
DB: What made you decide to go the route of DarkFluidity as the publisher and, if I may add to that, how has the experience been overall?
JU: DarkFluidity started as a website. Back in the 90s, I featured other authors, artists, and musicians on a quarterly basis. Authors like Brian Keene and Douglas Clegg and Tom Piccirilli. That iteration of DarkFluidity no longer exists, but it’s evolved into a platform for me to publish the things that don’t necessarily have a mass market appeal. A couple of novels, and all the InkStains books. At the moment, though, I haven’t worked with any additional authors for this. And though I’ve thought about making such an attempt, I’m not that crazy.
DB: When it comes to promoting yourself as a writer, it seems you’re either lucky enough to be picked up by a major publishing house with an already established distribution base, or you’re grinding it out independently and have to do much of the promotional pimping on your own shoulders. What do you see as the most important steps you can make when trying to expand your audience as a small press author?
JU: I don’t know how successful I’ve been, so I do the same thing I’ve always done (which at first sounds like a stupid thing to do): try new things, push into new arenas, take risks, say yes whenever you can. Of course, that’s also my philosophy for life. I should probably be dead by now.
DB: I understand you’ve got a few logs in the fire as far as creative projects go. What can you tell us about that, as well as the best way to get updated on what’s due when and where from you next?
JU: My website – www.darkfluidity.com – is always a good place. I might not update it as frequently as I should, I almost always include new releases and the like. You can also go there to sign up for my mailing list, which is weekly and regular, and sometimes includes weird things that appeal to me because I sometimes think weird things. InkStained: On Creativity, Writing, and Art will be my first nonfiction book, and is out in December 2019. My first poetry and photography book, John The Revelator, is expected in January, as is a novella with Eraserhead Press called Echo. I don’t generally think I write bizarro stuff, but actually, I do sometimes, and this is one of my most bizarre.
DB You had previously mentioned although your InkStain podcasts are no longer available, that we may not have seen the very last of them. Care to elaborate?
JU: I was alluding, then, to InkStained: On Creativity, Writing, and Art. As to other podcasts, I’ve been a guest host for a bunch of weeks on The Horror Show with Brian Keene, I sat in for an episode of Cosmic Shenanigans with Mary SanGiovanni, and I’ve even been a guest on Jay Wilburn’s Matters of Faith.
DB: Other than that, what new adventures are you most looking forward to in the foreseeable future?
JU: I’m currently on the road, traveling across the United States, something I dreamed about doing as far back as college in the late 80s/early 90s. I’m doing it because I need to find where I fit into the world now, and where I should live for at least the next little bit. I’m seeing friends and surfing couches and visiting bookstores and the like, with the ultimate intention of attending a screening of Mary’s last film (she worked in animation), Klaus, which we’ll all be able to see in November on Netflix. At the end of this six months of wandering, I hope to find a place where I can be surrounded by friends and people I love, but still have enough solitude to put together the next slew of novels, stories, and whatever else crawls out from the abysses of my mind.
DB: Thank you so much for your time and honesty, John.
You can get your copy of InkStained: On Creativity, Writing and Art at DarkFluidity as well as Amazon and the usual channels this December.
In my review, I describe InkStained as:
“…essential reading for any writer looking to hone their craft. Hell, it might even appease readers who ask, for the millionth time, where writers get their ideas from.
Part how-to, part stream of thought, Urbancik describes his creative process with selfless abandonment. While occasionally straying from his own beaten path, it’s during these diversions we glimpse the writer’s mind. The author discusses everything from how to capture inspiration from a mundane job to how a focused day at the cemetery can spark the next published novel.”
*You can read my full review in the November/December issue of Rue Morgue Magazine (issue #191)*