Bewildering Stories Interviews
For six years now, Richard Ong has enlivened Bewildering Stories’ pages with artwork, photography and short stiories. We are happy to be able to add him to our collection of distinguished Interviews .
I. Personal Questions
Where do you live, if you don’t mind saying? — I have lived in Toronto for the past 36 years, so I’m pretty much a “native” of the city as one can be.
Where do you think you might like to live either in reality or in your imagination?
That’s a very interesting question (the imagination part, I mean, lol). In our reality, I’m pretty much content to remain in Toronto. It is a wonderful city with a well-balanced culture and infrastructure. In my later years, I would love to give Niagara-on-the-Lake a try for a year or so.
Now, for the more interesting part of this question: where in my imagination would I really like to live? It’s as much a question of “when” as it is “where.” Simply put, I’d like to live in a Galaxy class starship in the 24th century exploring other star systems, though I’m not so sure about the beaming down part (lol). I have the same reservations as Dr. McCoy when it comes to “scrambling my atoms,” as he would put it.
What is your occupation? What do you do in real life?
I wear many hats in my real life. I currently make my living as a business intelligence data warehouse and reports developer for a Canadian social media tracking company. My specialty includes assimilating business data and presenting them to our end users the status of a sales campaign and the performance of a product.
Outside of my day job, I’m enriching my existence as a short story writer, photographer, artist and independent film screenwriter/producer.
Has your occupation influenced your writing, artwork or filmmaking in any way?
My occupation has definitely influenced the way I juggle multiple tasks at the same time. In the corporate world, I have many years of experience prioritizing many projects in terms of effort, hours, dependencies and cost.
The discipline acquired in managing my time enables me to write and paint between my day job and family life. This life skill is also invaluable in helping me wear the hat of a co-executive producer (and co-screenwriter) for an independent film company.
How did you come in contact with Bewildering Stories?
Years ago, I was looking for a list of online publications to submit my short stories. I can’t remember which book, but I believe BwS was one of the listed names for the science fiction category from a writer’s guide publication. I submitted my work and I’ve been a contributor every since.
Is there anything BwS does particularly well? Of course there’s always room for improvement: is there anything in particular you’d like to see added or changed?
Bewildering Stories’ greatest strength and appeal is its diversity of contributors (stories and artwork). Unlike many other publications, BwS is like the “United Nations” of all writers and artists from around the world.
This wonderful publication does not discriminate your writing or artistic experience and the peer-to-peer writing community is a great way to help edit and fine tune a potential piece of work before being accepted for release.
I would, however, like to see BwS actively branch into filmmaking, featuring a new category of science fiction/fantasy/horror contributors whose screenplay is either currently under development or has been produced by a film company (independent or mainstream).
II. About Reading
Is there anything you’d like to tell BwS authors to do or not do? — I’d love to see a comic strip! Say, something as simple as a four or five panel artwork.
What’s your favorite book? What’s the last book that you read and really enjoyed?
My favorite books are modern gothic mysteries that are set in the modern age, but linked to a shadowy past prior to the 20th century with a hint of the supernatural.
Who are your favorite authors, and what about their works appeals to you most? — My favorite authors are (the late) Barbara Michaels and Heather Graham. Their books fall under the modern gothic/supernatural mystery category that appeals to me.
If you could be any character (other than one of your own) from a book or movie, who would it be? Why? — I would like to be Heathcliff so I that I could reconcile and reunite both the Earnshaws and the Lintons to an alternate, but happier ending in Wuthering Heights.
If you could invite any other writer to dinner, whom would ask? Feel free to choose from any time or place. — If I had the power, I’d create a Facebook time portal page and message Shakespeare to join me for a drink over a goblet of ice wine to find out who really wrote those sonnets!
III. About Writing
How long have you been writing?
I wrote my first short story, a science fiction short, for my high school freshman English class. One of hobbies since I was a kid was to design outrageous engineering designs. I used the short story as a vehicle to promote my idea. Big mistake. All of my characters became cardboard extras to the development of my new power generator. Even the story was astoundingly flat. I was lucky to get a B-minus!
My first serious attempt on professional fiction writing was in the late Nineties when I entered the Toronto Star newspaper short story contest. Many years later, I became a regular contributor of personal memoirs for Yesterday’s Magazette and of short fiction and artwork for Bewildering Stories.
What made you want to start writing?
I love to draw. I also love to design future technology. I want to live in a world in which all the characters I drew and all the rocket engines I designed exist. Writing is a way to make that happen, even if they exist only as phantoms created by an overactive imagination.
Have you ever played the iconic PC game called, “Myst?” To me, fiction writing is like creating a new universe in which words have real power over life and death (at least of your story people).
Almost every writer is inspired by someone or something else. What inspirations have you found? Where do you get your ideas?
I watch a lot of movies, both classic and contemporary. I’m like a sponge absorbing many ideas while being entertained. I also read a lot of books - gothic, supernatural, science fiction, fantasy.
I also borrow a lot of documentary DVDs from the library, especially those produced by NOVA and the History Channel. The ideas will fire in my brain while in the midst of watching one of these shows starting with the words, “What If?” I would pause the DVD player right away and make notes on my iPhone.
In composing a story, which do you think of first: the plot or the characters?
Well, the characters generally dominate my ideas. The plot typically comes after. There are some exceptions, of course, when I suddenly get a spark that I would like to tell a story about a specific scenario. But most of the time, my stories are character-driven.
I would typically create a character profile table and establish my story person’s dominant personality, physical traits, strengths and weaknesses (usually a vice or something that I can exploit on to create intrigue). As I develop my characters, their “individual traits” will begin driving the direction of the story.
What do you consider the strangest thing you’ve ever written? — Except for the personal memoirs (and even those are suspect), all of my short fictions are equally strange.
What do you consider the most revealing thing you’ve ever written? — Those would be my short personal memoirs (snippets of my life) published in Yesterday’s Magazette.
Where and when do you write?
Whenever I’m inspired, I would write like a demon whether it’s in the subway train during rush hour, during my lunch break or at a coffee shop late at night. I would either write my prose or sketch the action scene on my notebook or jot down my ideas on my iPhone before they disappear (I love the smart phones that way).
Some writers say they have to write a certain amount every day. Do you do set a quota?
Nope. Perhaps I am lucky in that I don’t depend on my writing to pay my bills. But regardless, writing should be fun. You shouldn’t have to twist your own arm in order to write. If this is the case, then perhaps you should be writing about something else.
Do you ever have a problem with writer’s block? If so, can you offer other writers tips on how to deal with it?
Every type of job offers a challenge. Writer’s block is just a catch-all phrase to describe a difficulty in transforming an idea into words. My advice is: don’t force it. Work on something else that you have less difficulty writing about. Once your brain had a chance to exercise, the one elusive thing you’ve been trying to pursue will appear when you least expect it. So be ready when it does.
But above all else, don’t force yourself when you’re having these challenges. Your stress will show in your work. Do something else to get your brain working. Watch a movie that resembles those types of situations your own story people will be subjected to. And be ready to jump when that spark of magic appears.
Do you use the Internet or the library to check facts? — Absolutely. I use both the Internet and the reference library books. If you are working on historical fiction, the local museum and the city archives are other useful extensions of the writer’s knowledge base.
How did you get started in screenwriting?
Fan films on the Internet got me started in this business. I don’t work on fan films, but the people who worked on them are my heroes. It takes guts to be part of the indie film business. External funds are usually non-existent unless you are able to successfully crowd-fund your project. Otherwise, your baby will need some out-of-pocket investment.
Way back in 2011, I emailed the CEO of Redcape Cinema Productions about an idea that I had, to see if he might be interested in pursuing it. Years later, we produced A.R.C. Angel: Kalina, our original superhero film short about a team of enhanced humans whose mission is to exterminate demons, vampires, werewolves and other night creatures that walk among us. Here is the 6-minute film. It was nominated for Best Guerilla Film Short in the 2013 Action on Film International film fest held at Monrovia, California.
How is screenwriting different from regular fiction writing?
Screenwriting is a collaboration between you and the director. What this means is that two-thirds of script is the story and dialogue, whereas one-third depicts the technical aspects such as camera work, sound effects, VSFX that will be added later, etc..
The format and flow of a script is typically a minute of film time per page. But the biggest difference between screenwriting and regular fiction writing is that your script is a living document and its final form will only reveal itself during the actual shoot. What this means is that in spite of your director’s best efforts, there will always be circumstances that have not been foreseen and your script must be malleable enough to be reworked on-the-fly as needed during production.
Are you working on any film projects right now?
Yes. I’ve once again teamed up with Redcape Cinema Productions as both co-executive producer and co-screenwriter to produce a featurette in August 2016, which will at least be 30-minutes long. It is an exciting superhero team pilot episode of a potential web series which we hope to promote the idea to future investors.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
All writers should also draw. It doesn’t matter if you are a terrible artist. What you draw is only for you. I find that drawing helps me visualize what I want to describe. Heck, grab a color pencil while you’re at it too and you will find that your ability to describe a scene will greatly improve.
Copyright © 2016 by Richard Ong