This week’s ad-free episode of the Crime Cafe podcast features my interview with crime writer Weldon Burge.

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You can download the transcript here! 🙂

Debbi: Hi everyone. This is the first episode of our 10th season here at The Crime Cafe. And boy, that decade sure went fast. Where did all that time go? In any case our guest today is a writer, indie publisher, and a full-time editor, although I now believe he has retired, but we can talk about that. He’s written numerous articles for various publications as a freelancer. His first novel, Harvester of Sorrow was originally published by Suspense Publishing, but is now published through his own company, Smart Rhino Publications, which focuses mostly on horror and suspense thriller books.

He has also published 17 books. That company has published 17 books, including the most recent anthology, Asinine Assassins. There’s the tongue twister for you – Asinine Assassins – which I believe is also part of a trilogy. His latest short story collection is Toxic Candy, which he is offering as a giveaway. Check the notes in this recording for his guest post and giveaway details. Alrighty then. So in any case, it is a great pleasure for me to introduce Weldon Burge as my guest today. Hey, Weldon.

Weldon: Hi. Thanks, Debbi. Good to hear you.

Debbi: It’s great to see you and great to hear you, and glad to have you on the show. So you are no longer working full-time and you are devoting yourself to writing fiction these days?

Weldon: Yes. Pretty much.

Debbi: As well as publishing.

Weldon: If a nonfiction job comes up, I will take it, but I’m focusing primarily on fiction at this point.

Debbi: Yeah, yeah. I reached a point where I pretty much said, okay, that’s all I’m going to do.

Weldon: Well, I was working for an educational consulting firm, so I was dealing with PhDs every day, and then I’d come home and I have to get into fiction because I’d had enough brainy stuff all day long. So now that I’m retired, I’m going full force into the fiction and enjoying it. I love it.

Debbi: Awesome. That’s great. That’s a wonderful thing. So how do you structure your writing schedule?

Weldon: I don’t. I mean, I’m constantly writing. I’m constantly writing notes, bits of dialogue that come into my head I will write down. So as far as the schedule goes, it’s just whenever I have time to do something, I’ll do it. But I have things churning in my head constantly, so getting something on paper is something I do all day long. Ideas come for me and I try to work them out in my head, and I have notebooks everywhere, notes everywhere, and when I have time to sit down and do it, I do it.

I’m constantly writing notes, bits of dialogue that come into my head I will write down. So as far as the schedule goes, it’s just whenever I have time to do something, I’ll do it.

Debbi: Yeah. Notes everywhere. I think that’s kind of like a writer’s life. Notes everywhere.

Weldon: Yes, that’s right. That’s right.

Debbi: What was it that inspired you to create the Ezekiel Marrs character, and what are your plans for the series?

Weldon: Okay. Actually there’s one chapter in the book that has nothing to do with Ezekiel Marrs. That actually spun the tale for me. There’s a section in the book where a teenage couple find a body in the woods, and that was the very first thing that came into my head, and everything kind of spread from there. Ezekiel Marrs was first called Simon something, and it went through umpteen different names, and I liked the Ezekiel because of the biblical parlance there and then Marrs because it’s out there. So I like the idea of that name, and it’s fairly unique, which was the other thing I was looking for. The character kind of grew out from himself. It was kind of interesting how that occurred. I always wanted to do police procedurals. I have always been interested in that sort of thing, you know, CSI kind of stuff, so it was just kind of a no-brainer to go in that direction for that book.

Debbi: What makes you interested in procedurals particularly, do you think?

Weldon: I’m not sure actually. I really hit into Ed McBain’s books back in the eighties, I guess it was, and I’ve read every single one of them. I think there’s 50-some of those books. The Steve Carella character, I really enjoyed that character because it was a policeman who was a no-nonsense type of guy, very structured and very family-like, and I like that character, and I kind of tailored Ezekiel Marrs with that character in mind. So that’s kind of got me into it. And then of course, the CSI shows and so forth, which are totally unbelievable, but I think they’re cool. So I was looking at all of that. When I was doing the Harvester of Sorrow, I wanted to make it as real as possible, so I talked to cops. I actually did a police academy here in my hometown just to get a feel for what cops are doing, and that helped considerably when I was writing the book.

Debbi: That’s interesting. You’re in Delaware, correct?

Weldon: Yes.

Debbi: And there’s a cop academy right in your hometown?

Weldon: It’s in Newark, Delaware, and it’s a community type of thing. I think there were maybe 20 of us, and it was interesting because we got to go out and do things with the cops, ride alongs and that sort of thing, and it’s very illuminating to see what actually goes on. I think anyone who’s writing crime fiction should do this sort of thing to get out there and see hands on how cops do things.

Debbi: Yeah, absolutely. It’s an education for sure. What made you decide to start a publishing company?

Weldon: I’ve always enjoyed working with other writers. We have a very good community of writers here in Delaware, Northern Delaware, and I enjoy working with all of them, and I’ve always had in mind to do anthologies because of that. When I started the company, I had anthologies in mind. So I did the Zippered Flesh Trilogy, I did the Assassins Trilogy, several others and I enjoyed all of that. I mean, I’ve worked with probably nearly a hundred writers at this point, very diverse in their abilities, and I’ve probably learned more from them than they’ve learned from me, which is kind of cool, and all of that. I mean, I enjoy not only working with the writers, but teaching them. I’ve been doing a lot of workshops and that sort of thing recently.

I’ve always enjoyed working with other writers. We have a very good community of writers here in Delaware, Northern Delaware, and I enjoy working with all of them, and I’ve always had in mind to do anthologies because of that.

I worked with the library system here in northern Delaware, particularly the Kirkwood Library in Milton. We’ve been setting up an author series. We do a monthly thing now. We just did one on book covers before that. We did a panel discussion on self-publishing. The one next, well, actually the end of this month is about structuring novels. So I’ve lined up a number of writers in each of these specific categories and had them come in and teach these classes. So it’s becoming really a rolling ball kind of a thing, and more and more people are coming. The last thing, we had 43 people there, and the library was ecstatic that we were able to get 43 people in one room. So I love that kind of thing when we can do that sort of a community thing.

Debbi: That is such a great example of what authors should be doing, focusing on the local market.

Weldon: Yes, and if you look at it from a marketing perspective, my name is getting out there because of this material that I’m doing, and the same with the authors that I’m pulling in to do the teaching. So every time we go out there, we have setups for our books. The end of this month, I have someone who’s doing novel structuring. She’ll have her books there as well so it’s not only a teaching, but it’s a selling and marketing opportunity for the writers. So that’s very important to these folks. I find that teaching these classes is a far better way to market your books than say, signings. You have a signing and people come in the door and they just go right around you. They know it’s a hard sell, but if they’re learning something and say, oh, there’s something cool about this book, they’re more likely to buy it. So I think it’s very popular with the writers and very popular with the readers.

I find that teaching these classes is a far better way to market your books than say, signings. You have a signing and people come in the door and they just go right around you. They know it’s a hard sell, but if they’re learning something and say, oh, there’s something cool about this book, they’re more likely to buy it.

Debbi: Absolutely. Very smart. What’s your process for planning, organizing and publishing the anthologies?

Weldon: Usually I talk with some writers that I know in the area. There used to be a group here called the Written Remains Writers Guild, which was dissolved in the past few years, but I worked a good deal with them too. The anthologies, in fact, that we published, were in tandem with that group so it worked out very well. But what was your question again?

Debbi: Oh, just wanted to know what your process was for putting these anthologies together. How did you get the authors? How do you organize everything?

Weldon: Well, when I started out the whole … I come from a marketing background, so I knew that the best way for a new publisher to get going is with an anthology, because you automatically have 20-plus writers who are all going to hit their material on social media. So for me, it’s free advertising. So it’s a good opportunity for them to build their portfolios. But it’s also good marketing for me to get the book out. So with the first anthologies, the Zippered Flesh horror thing, it’s a body horror thing and it sold very well. It was actually up for two Bram Stoker awards, and that’s unusual, very unusual for a first time publisher. That really exploded the whole thing so I was very lucky to have that anthology. I think if it was a one-off just by me, a self-published novel, it would not have had the impact that it did.

I come from a marketing background, so I knew that the best way for a new publisher to get going is with an anthology, because you automatically have 20-plus writers who are all going to hit their material on social media.

So working with those 20-plus writers, what I did is I solicited some name writers, Graham Masterton. I managed to get him and who else? Joe Lansdale, I’ve landed for one. My thinking is that if we have a name author in the anthology that will draw people in. A lot of the other writers are just excellent writers that haven’t had a chance to get out there, so it’s been pretty cool to have someone say, I bought the book for the Graham Masterton story, but I really like the one by Sean Meeks. I never heard of the guy before, and I need to look at his books because I really liked what he wrote. And that’s the kind of thing that I’m looking to do with all this material. I love having people pick up books and read authors that they’ve not known before. And that’s one of the joys actually of doing an anthology is hearing people grab onto other authors that they’ve not met or read before. For me, that’s a big plus to be able to help writers in that way.

Debbi: I’m with you there. Totally. I totally agree. That’s fantastic. It’s a great approach. I also noticed that you have done a lot of nonfiction as well, haven’t you?

Weldon: Yeah, I actually started as a journalist. I come from a journalism background. I wrote a lot for newspapers and magazines, and one of my things – this freaks people out – I was a garden writer for a long time. I wrote for Organic Gardening, Fine Gardening, that sort of thing. So how do you make the shift from gardening to body horror? People are like, where did that come from? I always enjoyed reading horror, and I always enjoyed gardening and always enjoyed doing album reviews and book reviews and all that sort of thing, and feature stories for night newspapers. I was fairly diverse in what I was able to do, and I’ve been doing it since I was 16, so it’s just something I love to do. I’m a born writer, I think. It’s just where I’m at.

So nonfiction was a good start. It kind of gave me the learning experience of working with editors, especially with newspaper editors where you have to get something in like this. You can’t be sitting on something. So that taught me how to get material out in a great way and be able to self edit to make sure whatever I put in front of the editor was already ready to go. I think a lot of the younger writers that I’ve come across in my job in particular have not quite learned that yet. They’re on their way, but it takes a long time to get into that groove, I think. But getting into the groove, starting early and writing as much as I could, I think it helped a great deal for all that I’m doing right now.

Debbi: Absolutely. Journalism is a great background. I was a journalism major and did a little bit of journalism years ago.

Weldon: I would tell people if they ever have a chance to edit to do so, because that’s one of the best learning experiences that I’ve ever had is working with other writers, and figuring out how to work with them to bring out the best product. Some writers have a problem with that because they think you’re attacking them. There’s something bad about that and it really isn’t. The editor wants the same thing that the writer does, which is to have a good product, to have a good story or an article, and learning how to do that, I think helps a lot as a publisher, but also as a writer.

Debbi: Yes. You do have to learn to accept constructive criticism.

Weldon: Yes. Yes.

Debbi: I don’t understand people who feel precious about their words. So precious, they can’t …

Weldon: There have been – not many, but there have been a few that have submitted material to the anthologies where I had to reject it because they were not willing to work with me. One fellow in particular who had actually published before sent me this story and it was littered with the grammatical errors and misspellings, and I went through with him to fix that, and he had a problem with some of the changes I made, and after three drafts I finally gave up. But the thing was, if it was a new writer that I was not familiar with and had not worked with before, I would’ve rejected the thing straight out based on what I saw. It’s not unusual for me to reject a story before I even finish the first page, based on misspellings and grammatical errors. I know right off the bat that this is going to be a hard writer to work with.

Debbi: Yeah. Yeah.

Weldon: But with this guy, I published one of his stories before and it was excellent, and I couldn’t figure out why this was so bad, and he wasn’t willing to fix it, so …

Debbi: Oh my gosh.

Weldon: Yeah. It was just kind of weird. It was funny because afterward he didn’t take offense to it. He just didn’t understand what I was looking for, I think, so it was more of a misunderstanding than anything else. And he submitted things beyond that, which I also rejected, unfortunately. But he knew what I was looking for after that and knew that if he sent something to me, I was going to be generous and fairly open-minded with what he submitted. I try to do that with everyone when I do that.

The other thing is that I always answer. When someone sends me something, I think it’s courteous to give them some kind of response. Usually I try to be positive with it and tell them exactly what is wrong that made me reject it, and also I would tell them if you fix this or that, you can send it out again and someone else might pick it up because it might be good writing. It just doesn’t fit what I’m looking for at that moment.

Debbi: Yeah. It’s interesting. In screenwriting, you’re always getting notes from people, whether it’s people who are reading to criticize your work, a producer, a financier, whoever. And if you can’t learn to sit with that note and figure out what it is they’re really saying, you’re not going to get anywhere.

Weldon: I think that the main problem is the misunderstanding of what you’re looking for.

Debbi: Precisely.

Weldon: Another story. The first anthology I mentioned was The Zippered Flesh, which is a body horror thing. And I got this story and I’m reading it, and it was a romance story. I’m reading it thinking, God, there has to be like a third arm or something in here somewhere. And by the time I finished the story, there was nothing. It was just a romance story. It was well written, but had nothing to do with the theme, and so I went online and onto Amazon and checked out this author, and sure enough, she was a romance writer. So why would a romance writer send something about body horror that’s titled Zippered Flesh is beyond me.

Debbi: I don’t know.

Weldon: I think it was just a shotgun approach. You know how some people just throw something out there hoping it will land somewhere, and that’s just a waste of time for me, and even more a waste of time for the writer.

Debbi: Absolutely. Absolutely. You have to know what the publication you’re pitching is looking for.

Weldon: It amazes me that people don’t do that.

Debbi: It does seem obvious, doesn’t it?

Weldon: And I can guarantee you, if I saw that author again, I wouldn’t read it.

Debbi: Oh, interesting. What advice would you give to anyone who’s interested in writing for a living?

Weldon: Ooh, that’s a good question. Be patient, be prolific. I mean, you have to be cranking this stuff out constantly. A lot of the writers I know who write crime fiction believe in writing series, and you’re one of them actually. Series seems to be the way to be successful in this particular genre. That’s kind of what I’m striving for. I think the main thing is to continue to churn things out, even if you’re not selling. The more you churn out, the better it will be. Ray Bradbury said that if you write a story every week, you write 52 stories a year, something’s going to sell. If not, you’re going to at least learn the craft as you move along. So I think you have to keep at the wheel, keep going at the thing, and you might not be successful, but you definitely won’t be successful if you don’t do that.

Be patient, be prolific. I mean, you have to be cranking this stuff out constantly. A lot of the writers I know who write crime fiction believe in writing series … Series seems to be the way to be successful in this particular genre.

Debbi: Absolutely. You have to write in order to be a writer.

Weldon: You have to pay your dues.

Debbi: Just keep writing. Pay your dues. Exactly. What authors have most inspired your own writing?

Weldon: I mentioned Ed McBain earlier. I really like his stuff. Let’s see who else. That’s a good question. I’m trying to think about who I’ve read recently. I like the Thomas Harris stuff, obviously – Red Dragon, that sort of thing. I’m just blanking out right now. As you can see, I have a huge library of stuff back here, and …

Debbi: Yeah, yeah.

Weldon: You caught me. I’m sorry.

Debbi: That’s okay. Well, Ed McBain is a great example.

Weldon: I loved his stuff. And it’s interesting because he started writing these books back in the fifties, I think it was way back when. I think his last book was in the eighties. And the characters pretty much didn’t change. Even though the years went by, Steve Carella, the lead character didn’t change all that much, which I thought was interesting that McBain could keep that continuity and still make it interesting over those decades. I mean, that’s just amazing to me that he is able to do that.

Debbi: Yeah. That is pretty remarkable. A lot of times, he stays …

Weldon: He wrote under pseudonyms as well. Evan Hunter, I think is his actual name. He wrote a number of other things. He’s churning them out left and right. Jeffery Deaver. I’ve read a lot of Jeffery’s stuff. He’s another one that I don’t know how he does it. He must write two or three books a year. I did meet – I think you might have met him too at C3.

Debbi: Yes, yes.

Weldon: C3 conference. I talked to him briefly, and it sounds like he writes constantly. Even at the conference, he would pull out his laptop or whatever and turn away until someone started to bug him. Jonathan Maberry, I just met recently too, and he’s the same way. If he has a minute, he pops open the laptop and works until someone comes along and he starts talking to them. So every opportunity they have, they write so you know that whatever it is is going on in their head constantly and they’re chomping at the bit to get something down on paper or on the computer.

Debbi: Well, I always find it remarkable when people can just switch like that from being with other people or writing and being with somebody in and out. That kind of flow.

Weldon: I think a lot of it is subconscious. It’s always working in the background. . and that’s just a writer thing, I think.

Debbi: I have actually done writing just in airports with paper and pen. It’s kind of like, okay, I’m here. I’m bored. I’ll just write something.

Weldon: I’m sure this happened to you too. You’ll have something in your head when you wake up in the middle of the night and you grab for paper or something to write it down. I used to keep a notebook right next to the bed, and the problem with that was I’d wake up and write something real quick and then fall back to sleep. And then in the morning I look at the notebook and it’s gibberish. I have no idea what it is, and I think a lot of writers are that way too. The other thing is, in the shower, things come to your head when you’re in the shower and unless you’re great on the wall, you’re not going to remember it.

Debbi: I know. Yeah. That’s happened to me quite a bit. Let’s see. Tell us a little bit about Toxic Candy, your giveaway.

Weldon: Ah, okay. Actually, I have a copy here. I tried to pull together a diverse group of tales. I think there are 14 stories in here. I was looking to do the crime fiction. I have science fiction, a lot of fantasy stuff. There’s a lot of different things in here, and these are all stories that I’ve had published over the years. So there are sea monsters in here. It’s all kinds of stuff. So I had fun writing and pulling it together, but it kind of reflects what I’ve written for the past 20-plus years.

Debbi: Sounds like it has a variety of genres.

Weldon: Yeah. Well, it’s says right here, tales of suspense, fantasy and horror.

Debbi: That covers quite a bit

Weldon: That’s it. If you’re living in Delaware, you’ll find a lot of references to Delaware in here, and people seem to enjoy that too.

Debbi: That’s cool. Very cool. I love when you can bring in details of a place.

Weldon: Actually, Rehoboth Beach is mentioned in two different stories. One is with the sea monsters, and the other one’s about the haunted house on the boardwalk, so they were really fun to write.

Debbi: That’s great. Is there anything else you’d like to add before we finish up?

Weldon: Well, this is the Harvester of Sorrow book right here. I’m working on the sequel, mainly doing notes right now. I’m also writing a paranormal. It’s a paranormal police procedural. It’s kind of a mouthful, but I’m working on that right now, and I’m hoping that’ll be the start of another series. The plan right now is to do the Harvester series, the Ezekiel Marrs stuff, as well as the new series, and doing two books a year. That might be a little much, I don’t know, but that’s the plan right now so we’ll see how that goes.

Debbi: Well, congratulations on what you’ve done so far.

Weldon: Thank you.

Debbi: It’s really fantastic, I think. I really appreciate your being on today. Thank you.

Weldon: Oh, thank you. It was great.

Debbi: Awesome. Well, on that note, I will just say thank you to all my listeners as well. If you enjoyed the episode, please leave a review. It helps. Also, check out our Patreon page where we have ad-free episodes and bonus content for patrons. On that note, I’ll just say take care. Our guest on the next episode will be Clay Stafford. Take care and happy reading until next time. Be seeing you.

Weldon: Thanks, Debbi.


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