SCOTT A. CUPP is a John W. Campbell Award-nominated short story writer and World Fantasy Award-nominated editor who frequently deals with the West (mythic and otherwise) in his fiction. He’s published eighteen works of fiction and an assortment of non-fiction articles and reviews over the last thirty years. He co-edited the World Fantasy Award-nominated anthology CROSS PLAINS UNIVERSE: TEXANS CELEBRATE ROBERT E. HOWARD (2006, FACT/Monkeybrain Books) which honored Howard in the 100th anniversary of his birth. He lives and works in San Antonio with his wife, Sandi, and a Bengal cat, Tygrr, who tolerates him.
Favorite authors, books, and comics include:
Philip K. Dick, Joe R. Lansdale, Fritz Leiber, JG Ballard, Stephen King, THE NIGHTRUNNERS by Joe R. Lansdale, UBIK by Philip K. Dick, THE LAST STARSHIP FROM EARTH by John Boyd, NOVA by Samuel R. Delany, THE HEREAFTER GANG by Neal Barrett, Jr., CREEPY and EERIE (different titles but pretty much the same in content and tone), WEIRD SCIENCE FANTASY (Al Williamson, Angelo Torres, Frank Frazetta, Wally Wood and EC Comics), UNCLE SCROOGE (Carl Barks is a hero), HAWKMAN (the Murphy Anderson version), GREEN LANTERN or THE ATOM (Gil Kane is still an all-time favorite). Full interview behind the cut.
What first brought you to San Antonio, and what made you stay?
I’m kind of a yo-yo with San Antonio. I have lived here on at least four separate occasions, depending on how you count some college time. My dad was in the military and we moved here in 1967. I stayed until I got out of high school and then moved to Austin for most of the next six years (with one brief interlude back in SA while I tried to accumulate cash to continue school. I moved to Houston for a brief period and then came back to SA in 1977. I found work with Montgomery Ward later that year. I met my future wife here in 1979 and was then promptly transferred to Laredo. We got married while I was there and in 1980 we moved to Dallas where we stayed for 20 years. I got a chance to move back to San Antonio in 2000 as District Controller for Wards and stayed in that position until the company imploded and liquidated in 2001. Since then I have had three jobs which included travel but San Antonio has a big enough airport that everyone seemed happy. I like SA. Anthony is my rarely used middle name, so a city named after my personal saint is cool.
What are your earliest fond memories of genre, whether it be sf, fantasy, or horror?
I grew up watching things like THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN, THE LONE RANGER, THE ROY ROGERS SHOW, and SKY KING on TV. I was already a good reader but there was a competition in the class to see who could read 100 books first. I tried hard but did not win. However, I did read SPACESHIP UNDER THE APPLE TREE and a couple of other juvenile SF books. By the time I was 8 I had my own library card and was searching out TREASURE ISLAND and other adventure titles. I read comics from the beginning. I went to the movies frequently, seeing JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH, THE TIME MACHINE, and VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA when they were released. By junior high I was actively searching for genre titles. I read Verne, Wells, Heinlein. A friend introduced me to the works of Philip K. Dick via THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE and I loved it. I read DRACULA early on. The scene were Lucy Westenra is killed in the tombs may be one of the scariest things I ever read.
What made you want to write professionally in the first place, and why do you still do it?
Part of the writing thing was I always thought I would, even in high school. I would take vocabulary tests and try to make a sort of continuing story out of the words, featuring Captain Goodguy. When I got to college, I met my friend Henry Melton who also wanted to be a writer. For a year we went around together, worked on some short pieces, and listened to music via his reel-to-reel tapes. He has since gone on to produce some wonderful YA SF books and won a couple of awards. In 1973 I met up with the Science Fiction club at UT. Their sponsor on campus was the amazing Chad Oliver. Through the club I met Bill Wallace, Walton (Bud) Simons, Joe Pumilia, Lisa Tuttle, Lewis Shiner, Howard Waldrop, Jake (Buddy) Saunders, Bruce Sterling, Steve Utley, George Proctor, Tom Reamy and many other Texas writers. I saw them at the beginnings of their careers and I knew I wanted to do that. Then I met Joe Lansdale, Bill Crider and James Reasoner. Joe was doing horror, Bill was doing crime fiction and James was doing crime and western stuff. From them I got the final urge to go and do likewise and started producing some stuff.
I wrote my first sellable story “Night of the Blade” in one day in 1981 in Palestine, TX during a snow storm. It took me five years to sell. It was finally published in a semi-prozine called HARDBOILED edited by Wayne Dundee. Around this time I wrote the initial version of “One Fang”. It took 24 years to sell that one. But in 1988, things began to change. I sold a story to Lansdale for the western anthology THE NEW FRONTIER. While visiting Joe I was told of an anthology he was editing RAZORED SADDLES. He said “You really want to be in this thing. It is going to warp people’s minds!” He was right. I did want to be there but I didn’t have a good idea. He told me about an idea that Neal Barrett, Jr. had which he could never wrap up into a coherent piece. It was about the Texas Revolution and how, while fighting rebels, Santa Ana was also carrying out pieces of the Inquisition and was persecuting gay folks that he found. Neal had said “What if everyone at the Alamo had been gay?” I was blown away by the concept. So was Joe. He said he had noodled on it but had never quite gotten it to gel either. That night sleeping in Joe’s library I had a dream and woke with the voice in my head. By the time he and Karen got up I had half of “Thirteen Days of Glory” written. He read the fragment and immediately wanted the rest which I provided within the week. It was nearly (not really) called “They Died With Their Skirts On” or “Thirteen Days of Flaming Glory”. Nearly every review of the book mentioned the story in a positive way and it has been called “a minor classic” by Ed Bryant in LOCUS MAGAZINE. It was later translated into Spanish and caused some grief for Mauricio Jose Schwartz and Don Webb, the editors, of FRONTERA DE ESPEJOS ROTOS (THE BORDERLAND OF BROKEN MIRRORS).
Based on my two western/sf/horror pieces I got a nomination for the 1991 John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer at the WorldCon in Chicago. I still write because I enjoy the finished product. Writing can be a big chore to me, particularly if I am not passionate enough about the story. That’s why I stop and start so often. When the time is right, the words come. And when they are good, I am very happy. Right now, I need maybe one more piece to be able to shop around a collection. With the book market in the toilet like it is now, it may take a while to sell. But, hey, I’m a writer, I’m used to rejection.
You’ve worn several hats in the publishing business. You’ve been an editor and a retailer, in addition to your career as an author. Do those experiences influence your writing life, and the choices you make in your writing? Or not?
The retailer and author pretty much go hand in hand. I love to read and tell people about things I like. I love to see someone discover a writer they have never heard of and have a whole new body of work to explore. Hand selling books is easy if you are passionate about what you are selling. When I write, I try to be memorable. I don’t have a passion to turn out 200 stories before I am gone. I will be happy for someone to read one of my stories and to have them say, “No one but Scott could have done that.”
Do you have a personal favorite amongst your body of work?
Perhaps the story I am most pleased with is “King of the Cows” which initially appeared in SOUTH FROM MIDNIGHT, an anthology given to members of the New Orleans World Fantasy. It was later adapted into a comic format for Mojo Press’ WEIRD BUSINESS, edited By Joe R. Lansdale and Rick Klaw with art by Matt Guest. I like it because it came to me in one quick storm while I was driving back from Conestoga in Tulsa. I had five hours to ruminate across central Oklahoma with little in the way of entertainment. I was stoked and ready to write (which is what conventions do to me) and from the combination of boredom, Sunday churches, and barb wire fences came the story of the bovine messiah. I am also high on “Johnny Cannabis” which had been percolating in my mind for a long time (over ten years) before it came out. And of course, “Thirteen Days of Glory” is hard not to love.
What are one or two of your most gratifying moments as a professional in the sf/f/h biz?
Finally finding a home for “One Fang” (in CROSS PLAINS UNIVERSE) after 24 years and then having it make the Recommended Reading for both YEAR’S BEST SF AND YEAR’S BEST FANTASY AND HORROR. And getting notified of the nomination for CROSS PLAINS UNIVERSE for Best Anthology at the World Fantasy Convention. We did not have a prayer of winning–the competition was too strong, but it still made me feel great. I was on Cloud 9 the whole weekend.
What’s your most recent published work, and where can we find it?
My most recent piece is my short story “Johnny Cannabis and Tony, the Purple Paisley (Sometimes) Colored White Lab Rat” which appeared online at Revolution SF.com. The story is the result of being an old fart who lived in Austin in the early 70’s, when much of the early portions of this story take place. I was a quiet, dull type, not the doper or stoner, though I knew folks who fell into those categories. For years I had wanted to do the ultimate doper fantasy (kind of like combining DESTINY’S CHICKENS and DIVINE RIGHT’S TRIP). I didn’t do that but I wrote what I think is a fine, fun story. I’ve had talking cattle twice in stories as well as the talking rat. And I had a giant horny toad. Nothing same and normal in my world. Or in Austin in those days. Nowadays, too.
What are you currently working on?
I am working on two pieces with Mark Finn (“Hell in a Boxcar” and “Jumbo, All American gorilla and Nazi Smasher”). Both stories are killers but they are difficult and I am slow when I am fast and right now I am in the really slow mode. I am also working on an alternate universe story involving the Texas navy, zeppelins and James Fennimore Cooper called “Monikin of the Gasbags”. This is probably what I will finish first for ArmadilloCon.
What’s your favorite San Antonio place?
There are several places which I have fond spots for. The Alamo is the setting of “Thirteen Days” and I love the whole metaphor revolving around it. I once used the Alamo as a reference to a Patti Smith concert at Randy’s Rodeo (Which had also hosted the Sex Pistols) as holding a small group of people who knew their cause was doomed but who hung on anyway. Also, the San Antonio Zoo. My first job was there in 1970, making cotton candy and selling refreshments. I made $1.45 an hour. It was tough work and, to this day, I still cannot eat cotton candy. The smell will make me sick. Also, I loved the old Wards stores. It still hurts to drive by Windsor Park or Wonderland and see those building being used for other purposes. I spent 23 years, 9 months, and 4 days working for Wards and would probably still be there today if things had not changed. 2001: A job odyssey. What a year. And, of course, there’s Atomic Comics where I get my weekly fix of books and conversation with the owner, John Minton. The conversations are as much fun as anything I do each week.
Favorite food that can be found nowhere else but SA?
I have maintained for years that you cannot get great Mexican food north of San Antonio. I love going to Panchito’s on McCullough (the Todo De Mexico platter is to die for–or because of) as well as their Olmos tacos. Warning: Do not be deceived by Panchitos at the Quarry. Not the same place, the food isn’t as good, though they have nice fideo. And Taco Taco on Hildebrand. My wife is really fond of Cachito de Mexico because their hot salsa is hot enough for her. It melts my spoon so I don’t go quite that far. I may love Mexican food but I am still a gringo. But, I can eat Mexican food many, many days in a row. And a Whataburger. Anytime. And the pastries at the Guenther House. To die for.