Fantastik Edebiyat, Turkey, August 2009
Interview with Joseph Vargo by Furkan Çolak
Read this interview in Turkish


When did you start writing? What kind of style did you prefer in your early times?
I began writing when I was a teenager. It was mostly short stories and poetry that I could use as song lyrics, but I filled numerous notebooks with my work. I didn't do a lot of serious writing for several years until 1999 when a friend of mine approached me with an idea to write a series of stories based on my gothic paintings. I wrote five short stories in the next six months and began working with other writers for what would become our first book, Tales from the Dark Tower. I had always loved gothic horror because of the mixture of mystery, romance and the supernatural. The book was very successful and I began writing for Dark Realms magazine. Most of the things I wrote for Dark Realms were non-fiction articles about ancient mysteries, unexplained creatures, gargoyles, tarot cards and things of that nature, but I also wrote some contemporary horror short stories as well. Years later I compiled several of these short stories for the book The Legend of Darklore Manor.

How did you enter the fantasy-fiction world? What was the book that you first read?
I've always had an affinity for fantasy fiction. When I was a kid, I loved movies like Jason and the Argonauts and King Kong. In my early teens I discovered Robert Howard's Conan books. I was really drawn to these books because of the fantastic artwork on the covers, which were painted by the legendary Frank Frazetta. I became totally immersed in the stories, and I became lost in Conan's world when I was reading the books. I also had a book of Poe's collected works that I read from cover to cover. A few years later I discovered the works of H.P. Lovecraft and have been a fan ever since.

Can you explain what does fantasy-fiction mean to you with only one sentence?
It's a thrilling journey through an unexplored realm filled with adventure and mystery that exists at the farthest reaches of our own imaginations.

Which writers are your favorites? Do you read modern fantasy books?
My favorite books are the old classics. I still enjoy reading Poe, Lovecraft, Stoker and Howard, but also think that there are a lot of contemporary authors who have written some great books as well. I loved James Silke's Death Dealer books and I also enjoy Terry Brooks and Robert Jordan. As far as modern horror writers go, I like a lot of Clive Barker's work as well as Raymond Feist and Stephen King.

Our website has many amatuer writers and they need some professional tips. Do you write according to a program? Where is your favorite place to write? Do you listen to something while you are writing?

I have a very unorthodox style of writing, so I'm probably not the best person to give advice about creating a comfortable work environment. I don't even look at the computer screen when I'm typing. I'm actually staring at my fingers right now. Seriously though, I don't have a favorite place to write, since I type my work on my home computer, but my favorite time to write is late at night when there aren't any distractions. As far as music goes, I like to listen to something that puts me in the mood and mindset of whatever I am writing. Everyone has different tastes in music, so I would recommend listening to something that inspires you, as long as you're not distracted by the lyrics. Surround yourself with sights and sounds that make you feel comfortable and create the appropriate mood for your theme. 

As far as the actual writing goes, here are some tips that work for me:

1. Don't start a story unless you have a good ending. It's much easier to write a plot and develop characters if you have a clear idea of where everything is heading. So many stories today begin with an interesting premise, but then they go nowhere. If your story doesn't have a strong ending, people will feel disappointed when they finish reading it and that's all they'll remember about your story.

2. Write a detailed outline of your story, then begin filling in some of the action and dialogue. You can avoid stumbling blocks by constantly moving forward with different parts of your story. If you get stuck on a particular part of your story, write it in outline form, then flesh it out.

3. Don't expect your first draft to be perfect. Most authors rewrite their stories several times, making numerous changes to their original draft. A lot of young writers don't like making any changes to their first draft, but it is often necessary to rework and fine-tune your story through a series of drafts.

4. Accept constructive criticism. Everyone wants their work to be accepted and praised, but it's very important to be able to listen to criticism and advice. You can't please everybody, but if several people don't like the same thing about your story, you may want to rethink that part. If someone offers helpful advice, give it some consideration.

What about music? When did you start to play an instrument?
I began playing piano when I was eight years old. Even then, I liked to compose my own melodies. When I was in my early twenties. I sang in several rock and metal bands and wrote some original songs. I began creating instrumental music in 1998 and started composing music with a MIDI keyboard and computer program. In 2003 I formed Nox Arcana to create concept albums that were based on dark fantasy themes.

What kind of music do you like? Who is your favorite singer or composer?
I like a few different styles of music, ranging from movie soundtrack music to the mellow acoustic style of Loreena McKennit, to classic rock bands like The Rolling Stones, to harder rock like Aerosmith and AC/DC, and even melodic heavy metal like Judas Priest and Scorpions. There are so many great singers and composers, but if I had to pick just one, it would be Freddy Mercury from Queen. He had a terrific voice and his songs were so full of passion. He was also a very innovative composer with songs like "Bohemian Rhapsody" and "Liar." Great stuff.

Where did you get the muse for your songs (excluding weird stories and fantasy books)? I heard that you are composing your songs in a medieval style, is that right?

Some of our concept albums have been based on the works of my favorite writers, while others are straight from my own imagination. My inspiration has always been to create something new or to put an original spin on a familiar theme. The muse can inspire creativity at any time.
      Our music has a lot of variety ranging from lonely music box melodies and piano pieces to fully orchestrated compositions with gothic choirs. Although the majority of our music is instrumental, we also have some acoustic guitar ballads with singing. Our album, Blood of the Dragon conveys a very medieval style. Some of the songs incorporate Gregorian choirs, gothic chanting and even rhythmic clashes of swords and armor.

The Shadow of the Raven album is a little bit more emotional than your other albums. Ofcourse it is about Poe but I want to know, what do you think about love and melancholy themes?
Things that deeply affect our emotions are usually the source of our most profound inspirations. I can really relate to the passion of Poe's poems and stories. His bittersweet tales of lost love are truly haunting. His entire life was filled with tragedy and he used it as the inspiration for his classic works. I wanted to capture the hauntingly melancholy feeling of his anguished soul with the music on Shadow of the Raven. I believe that our music on that cd is a fitting tribute to his tormented life.

You music has got a different magic, I have to say. I'm interested in writing weird stories too, and usually I'm listening to your music while I'm writing. How do you get that magic? All of the musicians trying to catch that magic will want to know it :)
There isn't a real formula for it. It just happens. Sometimes I will be driving in my car, or working on a painting and a melody will pop into my head. I drop what I'm doing and get to a piano to work out the melody and write it down. Sometimes the melody isn't that special, but we work on it in the studio, changing notes and adding counter-melodies on different instruments and the magic begins to happen. Sometimes it works the other way and you have to reduce a song to it's simplest form, whittling away everything that gets in the way of the basic melody.
      Deep down inside we all know when something feels right and when something feels wrong. I have found success by following my heart and my instincts. I think it's important to have a passion for your work.

Lets talk about your new album Blackthorn Asylum. It is about one of Lovecraft's works again, isn't it? I'm really looking forward to listening to it.
Blackthorn Asylum is set in an abandoned sanitarium where the doctors experimented upon their patients in an attempt to extract the physical essence of evil. The deserted asylum is now haunted by the ghosts of its former occupants and the building harbors a sinister secret. In order to convey the feeling of madness and despair, the music and sound effects are very dark and disturbing.
      We did an earlier album called Necronomicon, which was based entirely on Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos. While Blackthorn Asylum isn't actually based on Lovecraft's Elder Gods, it is an original concept that expounds upon his short story "From Beyond." The story relates a theory that there is a hidden dimension surrounding us, but we lack the senses to perceive it. This unseen dimension is inhabited by creatures so terrifying that the slightest glimpse of them causes incurable madness. In Lovecraft's story, Dr. Crawford Tillinghast discovers a way to open a portal to this parallel world, but he suffers the grim consequences of his own actions. The Blackthorn story line tells the tale of another doctor who is continuing this dangerous research by conducting horrible experiments on the inmates. 

What is the best thing about being an author, musician, illustrator (an artist actually) for you?
It can be difficult to motivate yourself all the time, but it's a small price to pay for being able to bring your dreams and visions to life. It is the ultimate reward to be able to turn my ideas into books, cds and paintings that can inspire others to create.

What do you think about Turkey? Have you ever been in Turkey? (If you haven't, I have to say Anatolia has got it's own mystic atmosphere and you'll like it :) )
I think that most Americans see Turkey as a very exotic land, rich with history, art and culture. I've never visited there, but looks very mystical, romantic and intriguing. Two of my friends just returned from a vacation to Anatolia last spring and they loved it. They said the food was delicious and the people were extremely friendly.

Do you know any Turkish musician, author or illustrator?
I've heard a rock band called Pandora that I really liked, but I'm not sure if I've read anything by any Turkish authors or viewed works by Turkish artists. Maybe you could recommend some to me. I do think that classic Turkish architecture is amazing. It's so intricately detailed and has a very mystical quality to it.

Is there anything else would you like to add?
I think that artistic creativity is a terrific way to express who we really are inside. Whether you are a writer, an artist or a musician, you can leave your mark in this world and have a positive influence on those who appreciate your work. I feel everyone has something important to share with the world.

Thank you very much for answering us. We are eagerly awaiting for your new works.
It was my pleasure,
Joseph Vargo