Interview with Ernest Hogan

Published 2013-11-02.
Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
I actually started drawing stories, then went on to doing comics. When I got my first typewriter I wrote, "The Day the Lawn Revolted" in which a boy used his lawnmower to save the world of an alien life force that was making his lawn grow out of control. There may have been earlier prose experiments, but I don't remember any details.
What is your writing process?
I'm always being hit by ideas, like sniper's bullets. I'll scribble some notes, start a computer file, start working. Since I work for a living, I'm always running the gauntlet of being constantly interrupted, so it there's no telling how long it will talk me to finish something. If I think it has a good chance of selling to a particular market, I can get something done pretty fast -- but if it's just a weird story that I'm enjoying noodling around with, it could take me years. I'm always walking around with stories growing in my brain, which can be dangerous.
How do you approach cover design?
I try to create something that will snag eyeballs, and interest people in reading -- and buying -- the book. I'm an artist, so it allows me to stretch those muscles, and I can talk myself into working cheap. I keep in mind that an ebook cover is usually seen thumbnail-size, so it has to "read" at a small size. I also try to come up with something that doesn't look like every other cover out there, and will stand out.
What are your five favorite books, and why?
In so particular order, and subject to change without notice:

FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS by Hunter S. Thompson. I keep re-reading it. There's something about the whole gonzo journalism thing that appeals to me. I use that technique in my own writing. I like that way it isn't really a story, and only seems to have a plot the way a surrealist painting fools you into believing the impossible.

THE CALIPH'S HOUSE by Tahir Shah. Anything by Shah is great. His nonfiction reads like excellent fantastic fiction, but are also grounded in reality. They will have you rethinking everything. And they're fun. CALIPH'S HOUSE is one of the best books about living in the post-9/11 21st century. It weaves the warring world together, and is where we all live now.

NAKED LUNCH by William S. Burroughs. The badass book of the 20th century. Narrative itself is torn apart. It takes you incredible places, and it turns out a lot of is real. And kids, don't try this at home!

MUMBO JUMBO by Ishmael Reed. The Great American NeoHoodoo Novel. Reconstructs what Burroughs tore apart. Ishmael Reed is the father of Postcolonialism, Afrofuturism, and all the other isms that are about to turn genre fiction upside down any day now. Is that revolution in the air?

DANGEROUS VISIONS edited by Harlan Ellison. Throw in AGAIN, DANGEROUS VISIONS for good measure. Those books changed my life, opened up my mind to possibilities of what writing and speculative fiction could be. It also made me a rampaging monster in high school. And set me on the crazy course that my life too. Teen dystopia fans, ya wanna see something really scary?
What do you read for pleasure?
Make mine weird. None of this cozy, routine, just-a-good read stuff for me. It can range from nonfiction about things I'm curious about, to antediluvian pulp fiction. Recently, I've enjoyed WITCHCRAFT IN THE SOUTHWEST by Marc Simmons, MUSICA TEJANA by Manuel Peña,THE COMANCHEROS by Paul Wellman, THE QUIXOTE CULT by Genaro Gonzalez, ALL SHOT UP by Chester Himes, AFRO-6 by Hank Lopez, and THE SPACE MERCHANTS by Frederik Pohl and C.M. Kornbluth.
What is your e-reading device of choice?
I had a iPod touch, but it died. I'm saving my pennies of a new one. Meanwhile, I can always read on my desktop.
What book marketing techniques have been most effective for you?
It's hard to tell what works, so I keep trying. I blog, do Facebook and Twitter, go to conventions. Lately, I've learned that sometimes taking it easy, and coming off as a human being works better than a constant blitz of BUY MY BOOKS! BUY MY BOOKS! BUY MY BOOKS! The ain't no sure-fire instructions to follow. And one thing I'm sure about, doing what "everybody" tells you to do, usually doesn't work. Check me out on Facebook and Twitter, or, and my Chicanonautica column every second and third Thursday at If something works, or doesn't, I'll mention it!
Describe your desk
A magnificent art deco monster that gathers notebooks, reference materials, electronic gadgets, dust, and takes all the abuse I heap on it.
Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I was born in East L.A., and grew up in West Covina, California. I'm a Chicano even though I have an Irish name that I share with the father of ragtime. While I was still in the womb, my parents took me the grand opening of Disneyland. After Eastlos, W.C. was like something out of Ray Bradbury's THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES, with healthy does of Philip K. Dick, and Frank Zappa. Some people can't tell my nonfiction from my science fiction -- maybe it's the way I see things. When I try to write "mainstream" (whateverthehell it may be) editors say it's too weird. I tend to prefer warm weather and disorganized environments. My writing is an organic part of my eclectic life.
When did you first start writing?
Some during Junior High, I made the transition from cartooning to writing. The showed us film, RAY BRADBURY: STORY OF A WRITER, and I thought, "Wow! That's how I want earn a living." It seemed more practical than cartooning, which everybody thought I was nuts for pursuing. They thought I was a little less nuts for wanting to be a writer. I'm still trying, Ray! Anyway, I started writing a lot crummy little stories on the portable typewriter that my parents got me to do homework on. They got better as time went on. If I don't publish a few things every year, I get cranky.
What's the story behind your latest book?
I'm trying to finish PACO COHEN IS ALIVE AND WELL AND LIVING ON MARS before the end of the year. It will include to stories that appeared in ANALOG: "The Rise and Fall of Paco Cohen and Mariachis of Mars" and "Death and Dancing in New Las Vegas." I promised Ben Bova that I would write a novel about Paco, and was trying to do it as a series of short stories that I would eventually publish as a novel. After finishing another Paco story, I realized that it might take me decades to finish the damn thing this way, so I decided to make it priority. Besides, I've got all these other stories and novels buzzing around my brain . . .
What motivated you to become an indie author?
New York turned it's back on me years ago. I've been publishing short fiction regularly, but that doesn't really make money. And I've got a cult following. People kept asking where they could get my books. It was frustrating as all hell. Some people even thought I was dead. Getting paid is better than not getting paid, but getting published is also better than not getting published. And now, when people ask about my books I can start telling them about how they can order the ebooks of CORTEZ ON JUPITER, HIGH AZTECH, and SMOKING MIRROR BLUES . . .
How has Smashwords contributed to your success?
I'm no longer hopelessly obscure, and it's great to available on a wide variety of devices.
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
Making all this craziness in my head come to life with words, and hearing from people who read it, and get it.
What do your fans mean to you?
If it wasn't for them, I'd probably get depressed, and wouldn't live very long.
What are you working on next?
Besides, PACO COHEN IS ALIVE AND WELL AND LIVING ON MARS, I'm working on another story about cyber-enhanced Mexican wrestler called Steelsnake. He currently appears in a story called "Novaheads" in the anthology SUPER STORIES OF HEROES AND VILLAINS edited by Claude Lalumière. The idea is to do a series of novella-length stories about Steelsnake, and release them as ebooks. Who knows maybe it'll become a franchise that will support me in my old age!
Who are your favorite authors?
Hunter S. Thompson. Tahir Shah. Ishmael Reed. William S. Burroughs. Harlan Ellison. James Crumley. James Ellroy. Elmore Leonard. Philip K. Dick. Chester Himes. Ray Bradbury. Henry Miller. No particular order. Subject to change without notice.
When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
Read, pursue things I'm curious about (hopefully, not always online), watch weird movies, go on roads trips with my wife, keep an eye out for things new and wonderful, and of course, go to work to pay for it all.
How do you discover the ebooks you read?
A lot of people send their ebooks to me -- I know a lot of writers. Social media let me know about others. I listen to what friends recommend. I tend to be hunter/gatherer when it comes to reading material . . .
Do you remember the first story you ever read, and the impact it had on you?
No. I was into TV and comics as a kid. They made me read a lot stuff that bored me at school.
What inspires you to get out of bed each day?
I usually have something to do.
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