Almost two decades. It’s weird to think that much time has passed since my mom bought me that hardcover of Nightmares and Dreamscapes Christmas of my twelfth year. Before this of course I was reading nothing but those Goosebumps books. They were all the rage with the middle school set back in… Jesus, was it really 1996? Did such a year really exist all those years ago? Did Pogs really exist? Were OK Soda, Sifl and Olly on MTV after school, and video stores really around? The memories are like old photographs from outdated cameras. Those pictures you used to have to shake to get a clear visual of. The ones you had to wait to see how they turned out.
I remember it was hard to read. Not just because it was one of the very first adult books I’d ever delved into, only shortly after I’d read The Terminal Man by Michael Crichton. I mean it was literally hard to read, as the hardcover was heavy for my little twelve-year old forearms to lift.
I read most of that hardcover of Nightmares with the scarecrow on it on a trip my parents took from our home state of Massachusetts down to South Carolina. My grandparents had a time-share there, and to save money on airfare, my dad decided to drive down.
I remember being in the back of a mini van, reading by a flashlight. Reading about the Ten O’ Clock People. I have no idea why, of all the stories in the collection, The Ten O’ Clock People is the one I remember most vividly. Perhaps, because it seemed so adult to a twelve-year-old. People on cigarette breaks from their adult jobs, except they were seeing these weird monsters that passed themselves off as human. In that strange way memory works, like those pictures you have to shake that sometimes didn’t come out, the only thing I really remember understanding from the story back then was that quitting cigarettes was hard, and that batmen could in fact be seen if you smoked cigs, and then tried to quit.
Why I don’t remember about Dolan’s Cadillac as strongly is utterly beyond me. I was in a car reading it, you’d think that would be the one that stuck out. But I digress.
To be frank, I remember the weight of Nightmares and Dreamscapes more than I remember the content of the book itself. Like the first time you learn to do something, how what you often remember is the first time you were proficient at it. Not how you finally learned how to stay up on that bike without training wheels, but rather the time you rode down the street to go get pizza with some friends.
The first King book I really remember the plot of was ‘Salem’s Lot. I was huge into vampires, my mother having those Vampire Lestat books all over the house, and she waxing poetic on Dracula, and her no doubt reading me stories of vampires. So, when I went into a text by this really cool author who wrote about monsters and scary adult stuff, and it was about vampires, you can bet I was over the damn moon.
I still remember the cover was a pale vampire, with fangs out, and neon purple outlining his face, against the black. It was the Signet edition. I remember being really creeped out by the town, by the Martsen house. My family had moved from a house on a busy street in another town, to a larger house on a quiet street in a very rural town. The move no doubt had a lot to do with the resonance the novel had with me.
By that summer I was verily King obsessed. And, it was time for my family to go on our yearly summer vacation to the Samoset Resort in Rockport, Maine.
I grew up in Massachusetts. Yes, we’re a state in New England, but well, we’re not like Maine. Maine is a way bigger state. And, most importantly, Maine has some woods you can really, truly get lost in. Maine has small towns sorta like Jersusalem’s Lot. Not that they’re full of vampires, but they are very small.
There’s a different vibe to the state. Things move slower. Or, maybe people from Massachusetts are just really hyper. Who knows? Point is, you can’t spend any time in Maine without hearing something about Stephen King. Hell, I’d argue you can’t go anywhere in New England without hearing something about him. But, back in the 90s, you really couldn’t escape his looming shadow.
For the first time, in that summer of my twelfth year, I noticed there was a picture of Stephen King in the lobby of The Samoset Resort. He had those signature coke bottle glasses on, the frames of which seem to be a favorite among serial killers and computer programmers if you go through pictures of either from the late 80s and 90s. For some reason he also had a mustache, a green button up shirt, and green cowboy boots. I’m not making this up, if you ever happen by The Samoset Resort in Maine, go check.
At some point that year my mom told me her friends used to be neighbor’s with the Kings in Maine. They told her how he owned a pink Cadillac he kept in the driveway, and how there was a black iron fence with bats on the top outside the house.
My grandfather on my mom’s side grew up in Maine, too. We’re pretty close, gramps and me.
So, you see, all of these things, my relatives and my mom’s friends from Maine, our yearly vacation to a resort in Maine King had, it turned out, visited, and my budding young imagination, everything combined that summer to put me in the prime head space for The Gunslinger, the first book in The Dark Tower series.
The Gunslinger hit me like a slap to the face. I was never one of those kids that liked cowboys before this. And suddenly here’s this story about a desert, and a mythical cowboy with hands fast as lighting. Here’s this story about a man in black, a magician who wants to set The Dark Tower to toppling, destroying everything. For the Tower is everything, friends. It holds up our very existence on it. And here’s me, reading about a boy named Jake, who wakes up in Roland’s universe. Jake, who was alive in New York City, until he was pushed into traffic and died.
I became Jake that summer. And King himself was Roland. I was following the path of the beam; a path this man who grew up not so very far away from where I grew up wrote about. And I got the sense that King was never very far off, you understand? It sounds very silly, but it almost seemed that summer like I was meant to read The Gunslinger.
I finished The Gunslinger, and needed to read more of the books in the series. I needed to read more Stephen King. I became down right fanatical.
It all started with that one book my mom probably bought me for Christmas because she wanted to encourage me to read. I’m sure she didn’t think that two decades later, I’d have two tattoos on my body dedicated to King’s fiction. I’m sure she didn’t think I’d spend so much time and energy reading so much Stephen King.
You see, the power of Stephen King has always been that he has put himself into his stories. King has never been afraid to get personal with his fiction. But I would argue another layer of the onion, once peeled, is that for people in New England, especially in the 90s, King was like a rock star, like an actor, like a famous athlete. King was always around the corner, you understand? He always seemed like you might see him at a Red Sox game, or see him getting an orange Crush at a gas station at a rest stop somewhere in the middle of nowhere New Hampshire. So, when you get someone who is so honest with their fiction, throwing so much of themselves into it, and then you come to find out he likes to ham it up in credit card ads, and likes to see his picture in the magazines, and likes to cameo in some of the adaptations of his work into films, or mini series…
I still feel like he’s just around the corner. I don’t think that feeling will ever go away, to be honest. And, I’m also not sure if I should be thrilled, or a little irked out by this feeling. After all, this is also a guy who wore serial killer glasses for many, many, many years before finally switching them up. This is a guy who, when he was about the age I was when I got Nightmares and Dreamscapes, used to collect newspaper clippings of killer Charles Starkweather.
Deep down, down where the memories sit in an album on a shelf in my mind, I know the important thing is the feelings his fiction evoked in me; is the way the fiction, and learning about the man made me feel about myself. The importance of Stephen King in my life, particularly in the 90s, was, and has always been, that he’s made me realize the power of the imagination, and the power of image. The reason King’s fiction was so pivotal, and say, Crichton’s was not, is that Crichton never seemed like he could have been someone like me.
Almost two decades, man. So many words. So many books. That’s a lot of time. That’s a life time for some.
You might be wondering, so what? So a horror nerd got a good PR team, and you ate it right up, so what’s the big deal, who cares?
I gotta’ be like one of those hippies from Woodstock in my response. You had to be there, man. I can’t really explain it to you.
Everything– but especially the fact that it really is the city that never sleeps!
So you collect dolls. How many you got, if you were to give it a rough estimate?
Oh gods, are you going to make me count? And do you mean whole dolls or parts of dolls? I have lots of doll heads, lots of doll tootsies and arms and a few torsos.
And do I count the voodoo dolls and the Japanese Kokeshi dolls (wooden).
Looking around my living room (there are some in other rooms) there are dozens of all kinds and made of all materials. You can see the “problem” in the attached photo of my radiator in the living room.
You have a collection you edited called Alien Sex.
Uh, what’s that one about?
Ummm. Alien sex of course 😉
No really-it’s an anthology of science fiction stories about gender and human and not so human relationships.
The “aliens” are sometimes just other species on this planet. A few funny stories, some black humor, but mostly dead serious. One of my favorite anthologies. (And one of my first).
I suspect that Tom Waits might be an alien. Do you think Tom Waits is an alien?
Oh yeah. With that voice? You bet!
What kind of food you feed your cats? I do with that Blue Wilderness indoor formula for the dry, and usually either wilderness canned, or sometimes Weruva.
Proplan soft food and Wellness hard food. Proplan is expensive but my cats have become very choosy and refuse what is known as “pate”-so I now try to buy a variety of flavors and chunky stuff with gravy. Mixed with the cheap stuff. I’m hoping it’s just the hot weather but they’re both off their feed.
How many hours do you read per day?
A few hours–mixing different kinds of reading- manuscripts for Tor.com or whatever original anthology I’m reading for and previously published stories for the Best Horror of the year, and any other reprint anthology on which I’m working.
How many hours, on a good day, do you dedicate to editing?
Sometimes not at all. Depends on deadlines. Other times a few hours. When editing short fiction, I can’t edit more than a few stories a day and need a break between each one.
Joyce Carol Oates has a story that’s going to be in one of your new collections, which is about birds?
Well, I didn’t know for sure that she’d be doing one for that anthology -I approach her for anthologies I think she might be interested in and she’ll usually say yes-if she can come up with an idea. If that happens, I might get a story from her in a few days. Otherwise, I don’t expect anything. So the first I knew she was working on this one was when she tweeted it -that was quite a surprise.
Did you happen to see True Detective season 2, and the part with the dude in the bird mask? That was like, my favorite part.
Here’s a pic of it.
(What I just asked about her bird antho, it fits, sorta…)
Not yet-no spoilers!! I watch everything on netflix DVDs so am awaiting its release.
You have a favorite pizza place in NYC? Am I an asshole for asking?
Actually, the one several blocks from me -a little hole in the wall called Village Pizza (on 8th avenue at 13th street)-when I have someone over whose helping me out with my tech, I often order in from there.
You’re not an asshole -I hope everyone gets pizza there–it would help them enormously.
Too many–good n plenty, red twizzlers (the traditional kind that are chewy not the crap you often get now), See’s chocolate lolipops. Cotton Candy.
Did you know cats have no sense of gender?
No-how do they know and what does that mean? That they can’t sense gender in other cats? (Unlikely, or there wouldn’t be cats yowling like they’re being tortured 😉 )
Or do you mean they can’t differentiate the gender of humans? And again…how could that be determined?
(I don’t know, someone told me that the other day. I think they meant they can’t tell it about themselves… I have no idea, actually.)
You drink a lot of coffee?
Not much- usually a cup in the morning. Unless I’m out with people all day-then often we stop for iced coffee.
Have you ever seen anybody actually slip on a banana peel? I haven’t. I’m crying foul, Looney Tunes.
Nope. But I bet it’s happened at least once in real life–where would Looney Tunes get the idea from otherwise? And they can be very slippery, those banana peels.
I would watch out for them if I were you.
Well played, Datlow. Well played.
Do you think Guillermo Del Toro would ever cast Benicio Del Toro, and have Guillermo Navarro help him with the cinematography? That’d be a confusing set. “Hey Del Toro… wait, I mean Benicio. Cool. Now where’s Guillermo?”
You’re too silly! I’m not familiar with Navarro-but they’d probably call each other Guillermo (or “Big G), Benicio, and Navarro on the set.
Spring-although there hardly is any in NYC-I love the gingko trees on my block, with their teeny tiny gingko leaves getting bigger and bigger. And the magnolias (although the blossoms only last a few days so sometimes if I’m out of town I miss them). And the white pear trees around the corner from me.
Thanks for taking part in this babbling only semi-coherent exercise in thought patterns. Anything coming up you’d like to plug?
The Best Horror of the Year Volume Seven is out NOW from Night Shade and The Monstrous is coming out from Tachyon in time for Halloween. Also, a bunch of my anthologies are now available as audio books
Thanks for the fun interview!
I’ll try my best to keep this intelligent, and not divert into the blog post equivalent of shaking my hands and going “oh my god, oh my god!”
Now, let me preface this by stating I only got into a lot of weird fiction a few years ago. I grew up reading King, Barker, Crichton, and people of this nature. And yes, I read Lovecraft and loved him, but always found him to be very verbose in my early years. I still find him very verbose, but I can appreciate what he was going for now.
Anyway, cut back to a nervous Spooky Sean, at the convention center in Providence, meeting people and listening to panels. If there is one thing I’m struck with having been to Necronomicon 2015, sitting here remembering, it’s the sense of community, warmth and welcomeness which I felt.
In a day and age when sniping and yellow social media journalism are the norm, it’s wonderful to be in public with authors and artists, and see that everyone, even the racist old pieces of shit who happened to wander out of the home for the weekend, are very friendly, and inviting. I read an article by Silvia-Moreno Garcia who said that what Lovecraft really imparted and promoted was a generous nature. How Lovecraft was very into helping fellow writers, and being supportive. And boy, it seems that sense of community and giving nature has never left the scene. I was damn near assaulted with people saying hi, and introducing me to friends, and friends of friends.
And also, Scotch.
There was a whoooooole lot of Scotch.
Speaking honestly, I’ve been to a few horror and writing conventions, and perhaps it’s that I seem to have found a nice fit for me in the weird community, but I’ve never experienced anything like the sheer unadulterated friendliness I found at Necronomicon this year.
Since this is an ADD horror fan article, I won’t even edit the hops from topic to topic, but let’s talk about the obvious problem of Lovecraft’s racism, and how Necronomicon is taking steps to show the weird community is moving past the old ways. I met a lot of wonderful women who write weird and horror fiction, and listened to a panel about how Lovecraft is going global: what it’s like to adapt his work into, say, Swedish, or Spanish, and the various places across the globe his work seems to have a large audience within.
Perhaps it’s the fact I grew up with a learning disability, but I tend to side with those whose voices are normally not heard from. And I will go to bat for these unheard voices, these new and exciting opinions from those who have previously been washed beneath a tide of status quo.
Let’s be real about this. Lovecraft’s work brings racist assholes out of the woodwork. There’s no way to avoid that, as Lovecraft was also a racist pretentious asshole. But… H.P., he is long dead; more than 100 years dead and rotted away, and it seems that his old racist apologizers are being slowly but surely overrun by a new generation of people of color, women, and gay people, who are influenced not by his hate, but by his love of the cosmic, the terrible, and the weird.
And that’s what I want to emphasize. In truly Lovecraftian fashion, I feel I am not properly equipped to express what I feel, and how this experience over the weekend has effected me. But allow me to try.
Going to Necronomicon 2015 was a total blast. Despite one dumb line, most of the conversations I heard were about the exciting new things coming out of weird fiction from all sorts of different voices previously unheard. Most of the vibe I felt was that we are on the edge of a wondrous new future, where not only new voices, but new mashes of genre will make books, comics, and films even more wonderful, terrible, dark, terrifying, and exciting than ever before!
I leave you with a favorite quote of mine from Lovecraft.
“I never ask a man what his business is, for it never interests me. What I ask him about are his thoughts and dreams.”
That is the power of Lovecraft; to inspire dreams, and to bring together dreamers of all sorts to unite in a common cause of a love of the fantastic, the wondrous, and the numinous.
Thank you to everyone I met at Necronomicon 2015 for sowing the seeds for many new dreams to come.
Joe Pulver is the closest thing to an avatar of The King in Yellow that we have in this realm. His work is experimental, sharp as a fucking knife, and longs to expose the true faces found beneath the many colored masks.
And this should be up by Necronomicon 2015, so hopefully I get to chat with the man in person, about stuff other than spirit gum, and beer.
Check out his variety of collections,Blood will have its Season, andA House of Hollow Wounds.
How would you feel if someone uses your likeness to create a comic book superhero called “The Pulverizer”?
If the villains have cool uniforms (and names) (and KILLER superpowers) and are skullduggerous bastards that spit NASTY and vile, and I get the action figures and a copy of the DVD (if they make a film – and Eva Green, or Serena Williams, is my girlfriend in it), KOOL! !!
In fact, a few years back a buddy of mine made a custom action figure of The Pulverizer. It’s pretty damn neat—looks like The “FF” Thing in a Deadhead t-shirt.
Skittles or Starburst?
No no—NO! Not a big candy fan, and when I do, it’s chocolate!!!!!!!!!!! Reese’s Pieces, yeah, I’d do that. Or, white chocolate… mmmm soft creamy—Yeah, white chocolate, yummy! !!
If you could ask Robert W. Chambers one question, what would it be?
Were there lost notes, sketches, outlines, drafts, plans for other King in Yellow works? And if allowed a second, do you think mine are of any merit?
I love night. I love birds. I was a nut for Archimedes in Disney’s The Sword in the Stone when I was a kid. For a hundred reasons, owl! Is there anything as beautiful as a Snowy Owl?
Ever used spirit gum?
Once. Was going to a Halloween party and we used it to glue a cheap fake beard on my girlfriend at the time.
How do you feel about The Spirit?
I’ve got it! Love Eisner and the character. The Octopus and Mister Carrion were great – wish I had come up w/ the name, Mister Carrion. Myabe i can still steal that? Dr. Carrion. Yeah, I just might.
Ever seen Spirited Away?
There was a bar, a hole-in-the-wall bikerjoint, it was next door to a used bookstore that closed at 9pm. Me, sitting there w/ my beer. A woman sat down. Bought me a beer. Looked in the bag of used books I had just purchased. She liked a bunch of them, told me about others she had that I would like. She had a scar on her knee and long legs, very nice legs, the voice of a seductress, and magical green eyes. She told me she had a bottle of whiskey w/ my name on it
in her apartment…
Wait, maybe it was swept away? ??
Whatever it was, I wrote about in it my tale, “And this is where I go down in darkness”.
Oops. Sorry, please forgive Mr. Stupid, I read that wrong. Thought it said “Been” spirited away.
No, I have not seen it. Just checked the trailer, looks kool.
Have you ever written a story and been utterly and completely surprised with it, both in where it went thematically, and in its characterization?
Yes, my novel, “The Orphan Palace.” Going in, I knew where and how it ended and next to nothing else but the main character’s name.
Who do you think would win in a fight, Shirley Jackson or Anne Rice?
Shirley! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! She has everything you could ever want, power, vision, darkness! She has created plague and bloodshed and delirium stretching its strange over heart and soul, Shirley could win this with her eyes closed and without even getting up from her
Part 2 of my answer: Anne Rice is OK, but Shirley walks on water. ‘NUFF SAID!
What’s the shortest turn around you’ve ever had on a story, from idea to completion of first draft?
Not sure this really counts, but for a short short, 25:17. I put on John Zorn’s “Spillane” and wrote as it played, and the second it ended I was done (it helped that I knew Zorn’s composition well and knew what was coming). For a regular tale, say, 3000+ words, about 3 hours.
You’re stuck on a desert island, and you can only bring 5 books. The catch is you have to share your reading with ancient lizard creatures.
Anyway, which 5 books do you bring?
World Poetry: An Anthology of Verse from Antiquity to Our Time by Washburn, Major, and Fadiman
The Complete E. E. Cummings Complete Poems, 1904-1962 (Revised, Corrected, and Expanded Edition)
The Weird by Ann & Jeff VanderMeer/The Centipede Press Michael Cisco box set (Yes, I know that’s cheating, but you know, I’m not one for following the rules)
Flicker by Theodore Rozsak
The Complete Dramatic Works of Samuel Beckett
And then I cry, as 5 is not enough!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Oh wait, there’s a koolass bookstore here and they’re having a SALE on CISCO and Laird and ANNA TAMBOUR and Alice Fulton and Jack O’Connell—! I’m saved!!!!!!!!!
Like most, most used is Fuck! But “Go to Hell” carries the most venom to me.
You used to work in a record store? What are some of your favorite memories from that?
Robert Fripp sitting there on a chair in the store playing Frippertronics. Meeting Clapton and having a beer w/ him. Getting backstages and meeting Herbie Handcock—what a great generous cat he is. Getting tickets to a very-early-in-his-career Stevie Ray Vaughan show (during a New York flood) and hanging out in the bus w/ him after.
If trees could speak, what do you think they’d say?
Stop allowing assbags to burn books – we died once, that’s enough! !! And it’s just plain WRONG!
Do you think a horror writer could have a career if they didn’t write about anything supernatural in their stories?
Yup. I see folks like Laird Barron easily writing crime and noir. With the vast talent in the field right now—Livia Llewellyn, Molly Tanzer, S.P. Miskowski, Paul Tremblay, Brian Evenson, there are many who could write anything that catches their interest.
When I used to drink, Beck’s. In a frosted mug, of course. And when I was near broke, well, Genny Cream Ale.
Deep ones are crashing your party. One of them knows a lot about philosophy, does that make him a really deep Deep One?
Nah. Makes him gone if he can’t shut up. It’s a party, not a lecture on Heidegger, or an overwrought exploration of the periodic table.
Also, how do you deal with them if they try to steal the women to breed with?
Please don’t fool w/ mine… or you’ll be on the menu at the sushi bar around the corner in the morning.
What is it about crime mixed with horror that you like? What is it about the mix you don’t like (if there is any aspect of the commingling you don’t like)?
Mix crime/noir and horror and wham-bam, the moon is in the gutter, and you’re alone. Now that is a dark passage that’s irresistible. To me, they are natural bedfellows, birds of a feather, born to be partners in lowdown skullduggery. The criminal carries around darkness and pain
(schemes or fears or cravings, or a festering brew of them all) inside, look at Poe, or Caligari, or Jack the Ripper and Bloch’s Norman and Juliette, in them, we get the best of both worlds.
Mixing crime and horror is like pizza (or Mike Griffin’s chili), I can’t get enough. I mean Goodis and Ligotti, they’re brothers, right? Laird and Ellroy, don’t they drink together and swap yarns?
When it is done right, there’s nothing about mixing them I don’t admire.
You ever known anybody who went really off the reservation?
Sadly, yeah. Cat I knew (he was few years ahead of me in HS) came back from The Nam, part of
him came back, became a small time contract killer. Wound up shived in a prison shower. He was in for attempted murder.
Do you ever worry your mustache will gain sentience, and start feasting on the blood of the innocent?
Never on innocents, they need protecting. But so many nasties and viles and trolls need culling, that could take lifetimes for the stache to properly equalize things.
What projects you got coming out, Joe?
Cassilda’s Song. An all-women tributes to Robert W. Chambers’ King in Yellow
The Leaves of a Necronmonicon. A novel-length round robin that follows the travels of a Necronomicon for 120 years or so.
I just edited the Necronomicon Providence 2015 round robin, The Doom That Came To Providence.
I’m guest editing another all KIY issue of the “Lovecraft eZine”.
And I have three more anthologies I’m working on at present.
Also working on a new novel, and have 5 tales sold for upcoming anthologies next year. I’m sure I’m forgetting a few things . . .
I’ve always been a fan of finding out about the creator behind the creations. Most of my favorite writers seem like people I’d love to read about, even if they didn’t write compelling stories. King, Barker, Crichton, Ketchum, Oates, and look, these are just the ones off the top of my head.
The thing about Laird Barron is, he’s one of those writer’s who makes you want to write. Barron is one of those people that makes you want to create, and that goes out of his way to spread the word about other writers, and influences on his work.
A lot of people may mistakenly assume what I’m talking about when I say “people I’d love to read about,” in reference to Barron means I’m talking about his years of dog racing, or the growing up in Alaska part. And here’s where I spill the beans: yeah, that’s certainly intriguing, but I don’t mean that. Oh, of course, when I first heard about his upbringing, his history, I read up on it. But, this research was in the same way I’d read up about any writer. I like to learn what people have done, what has informed their art.
What I mean, specifically, is when you hear the man in an interview, he seems like a cool person, a good dude. He seems like a man who doesn’t let his reputation go to his head. And make no fucking mistake, Barron will soon be an even larger looming shadow over the horizon, being the genre giant he is.
But fuck all the genre stuff. Fuck all the stuff about how he combines genres, and cross-blends, and how he has this sensibility, and how this, and that, and on, and on. No, I say, let’s strip all the genre bullshit for right now, and look at Laird Barron as a writer.
Simply put, Laird Barron is an incredible writer, and it doesn’t matter worth a damn what he chooses to write about. He has a quality about his work, where you can pick any page at random, and usually find something wonderfully poetic, or frightening, or funny. The point is, the man can move you, and what more could you ask for in a writer?
So, of course, I chose to ask him about swears, Hello Kitty, and made terrible Old Leech puns.
Have you always considered yourself very science-minded, or is it something you have to work at for your stories?
I’m an abstract thinker. Nuts and bolts, granular science frustrates me. The big stuff, where it transcends math and morphs into conceptual fantasy, is more my speed. I’m less interested in cold facts and more so in potentiality.
Favorite pizza topping?
Skis or a snowboard?
Skis. I’m no good on either, but skis appeal to my sense of tradition.
When each was in their primes, who do you think would win in a fight, Cormac McCarthy, or James Dickey?
Two of my favorite writers. Both gave a lot of thought to violence. Dickey was a big, mean guy. His cameo in Deliverance? Holy shit. Menacing. Look at those enormous murderer’s hands. He’d be difficult. But maybe, maybe they’d belt some tequila and hold each other close to a Hank Williams song.
Connery. Accept no substitutes.
“Don’t Fear the Reaper,” Blue Oyster Cult; “Buenos Tardes, Amigo” Ween; “Big Iron” Marty Robbins; “Sixteen Tons” Tennessee Ernie Ford; “Ruby” Roger Miller
Favorite Bond songs?
“Live and Let Die,” and “Nobody Does It Better”
What if your doppelgänger was actually you from the future? What does that even, like, mean, man?
Past selves are actually doubles of your future selves.
If dogs could talk, what do you think they’d say?
Nothing. They know too much. We’d be forced to silence them forever.
You seem to have a love of art? Goya, in particular. What drew you to art, and incorporating it into your stories?
My mother was an artist. She had a lot of natural talent and I wish she’d been encouraged to cultivate it. Sometimes the trick in solving a problem is to look away and refocus— the answer is always there if you’re patient enough to reframe the question. Photography and painting, as examples, music would be another, distract my consciousness and permit my subconscious to do the heavy lifting.
Would you be upset if I tried to get a campaign off the ground, which is essentially a series of rip-off Chuck Norris jokes, except with an emphasis on cosmic horror, with your name involved?
No, but Chuck might be.
Follow up: I heard Old Leech traveled to another dimension, after one time when you drank a bottle of expensive Scotch, and punched it in its slimy face, after it insulted your dancing abilities.
Is this true?
Old Leech would not insult my dancing abilities.
Have you heard about the story in which the children of Cheech Marin have to smoke a lot of strange pot, and put on a rock show, to pay for their rent?
It’s entitled “The Children of Old Cheech: Up in Ineffable Smoke.”
Please send applicable royalties to my agent.
Do you ever go to a gun range?
Who do you think would win in a fight, Johnny Cope (from Hand of Glory) or Conrad Navarro (from The Light is the Darkness)?
Navarro is an immortal. Lacking divine intervention or some supernatural edge from the Corning Sisters, Cope would be up Shit Creek if it came to blows. On the other hand, Jessica Mace would find a way to destroy both of them.
You ever watched The X-Files? It occurred to me the other day most of that show was filmed in the woods of the Pacific Northwest. Vancouver, specifically.
I enjoyed “The X-Files,” particularly the monster-of-the-week episodes. One of those shows that isn’t very good (and the writers had no problem ripping off source material), yet succeeds due to a miraculous chemistry between the leads and to a lesser extent the supporting cast. It’s a classic.
You ever thought about writing a fantasy novel at some point down the road?
I trunked a grimdark fantasy novel sixteen years ago. Fantasy is an appealing genre. It is the mother of science fiction and horror and it kept me alive as a kid. I’ve begun working on a weird, fantastical alternate Earth. Paula Guran recently acquired a short story from that setting. I plan to write more. If these are well-received I’d like to take a swing at writing a novel based on characters and places in that universe.
Would you ever put poems into a short story collection, and or release a collection of poetry?
Comedy is hard. So is poetry. No to mixing poems into a short story collection. I’d need to get better at poetry before contemplating a book of them. I love the discipline and years ago wrote a significant number of poems. It improved my prose and sharpened how I think about prose.
How do I know you aren’t in cahoots with your doppelgänger, and he isn’t actually answering this right now? In fact, how do I know he doesn’t handle all of your public appearance stuff?
I might be the doppelganger’s doppelganger. It gets confusing for everyone.
Do you believe in any cryptids, i.e. The Loch Ness Monster, Bigfoot, etc.?
I’m skeptical regarding Bigfoot and Nessie. Deep sea cryptids and cryptids purported to dwell in jungle regions seem more plausible. I’m open to the notion of interdimensional entities— ghosts, or what we call ghosts. Reality is a band on a radio dial. Sometimes there’s overlap.
Would you ever think about owning land, so you could change your title to: Laird Barron, Land Baron?
My name pretty much means that already. I’ll take some land, though. A farmhouse near the Catskills would do fine.
Do you think people will figure out I just use random questions to pad out my interviews, amidst completely legitimate, in fact not random at all questions?
It’s more a question of whether they care.
Better band, Foghat, or Styx?
“Foghat,” all day.
When it comes to swearing I don’t play favorites.
If you could be any monster, which would you be?
Wait, does that mean… uh, nevermind.
Have you ever thought about writing a Western novel, with no horror or science fiction elements?
I’ve considered writing in many genres. My grandfather was a failed novelist. Westerns were his favorite. If I do it, and I just might, it would be a sprawling epic in the spirit of Leone and Peckinpah, full of bloody revenge, heaving bosoms, and men who love gold and horses and guns and come to bad ends. And there’d be something fucking weird going on in the periphery. Sorry.
Hello Kitty, or Teletubbies?
Why are most post it notes yellow? Is it because they’re easier to find? Or, because usually, you write completely mad things on them, and yellow is the color of madness.
Post it notes originally came in pink, blue, and green. Yellow post-it notes were discovered bundled in variety packs several years later. No one knows the exact details of the yellow post-it note’s provenance. A detective specializing in industrial security reported that a miss-filed USPS pickup address matched an abandoned corporate office complex of Gale Research in Florida. The detective’s voluminous report was recorded on several hundred yellow post-it notes stuck to every available interior surface of a rusted out Airstream trailer. The detective is unavailable for comment.
Damn. That’s heavy.
You ever want to be in a rock band? I know I did/ still want to.
No, that’s never been on my wish list.
How the Hell do you write for twelve hours a day? Do you do breaks every couple of hours or so? Break down a twelve-hour writing day for us?
Five or six hours a day goes into fiction. The rest is non-fiction and editing. It’s every day, week after week, month after month. Bukowski said to let it kill me, so I did.
Maybe it’s best to frame my life (and I don’t separate writing from life) this way: You move somewhere remote and primitive. Every day, you look out your window and there’s a mountain. In the winter it has a snow cover. In the summer it doesn’t. The mountain is always there and after a while you become accustomed to its presence. After a longer while, you accept its presence. Sometimes a visitor will say, “My god! Look at that mountain!” And you won’t know what the fuck they are talking about for a second.
Your blog has a lot of great advice for writers. Do you think the best advice for a writer is simply to write, and ultimately to do what works for each writer individually?
Prescriptive advice may be fatal if swallowed. Best practices? Read widely, read critically. Everybody always lists the dead white guy gallery of literary inspiration. Take a look at what people are doing right now—Stephen Graham Jones, Livia Llewellyn, John Langan, Paul Tremblay, Jeff VanderMeer, Sofia Samatar, S.P Miskowski, Usman Malik, David Nickle, Victor LaValle, Kelly Link, Anna Tambour, Adam Nevill, Gemma Files, and Ian Rogers. And on and on.
Write. Train your subconscious to provide material. You train it by feeding it and heeding even the craziest ideas that surface. Always be writing, even when you’re not. The youth I wasted makes me a better writer today. The hours you spend living and not bolted to a desk are important. Toughen up. If you’re serious, you’ll never be tough enough. Toughen up anyhow.
Possibly, there are shortcuts to getting published. There isn’t a shortcut to writing anything worth a damn.
Thanks for agreeing to do this interview. Anything coming out soon you want to plug, and or your doppelgänger wants to plug?
My next collection, “Swift to Chase,” will appear in mid to late 2016. This one is largely set in Alaska. In addition to stories of ultra-ghouls, genius loci vampires, Black Dogs, and black magicians and their retinues of flat affect psychopaths, it gathers several tales in the Jessica Mace saga, including an original slasher novella about her parents during their senior year in high school. Meanwhile, keep an eye out over the next year for around seventeen new stories in anthologies such as “Licence Expired: The Unauthorized James Bond”; “Autumn Cthulhu”; “I Am the Abyss”; “The Gods of H.P. Lovecraft,” and “Seize the Night.”
I’d love to be able to tell all of you I’ve read a huge amount of Stephen Graham Jones’ work. In the past, I might not have decided to interview an author whose work I haven’t read a lot of. But, see, sometimes all it takes is one story. I read this man’s story “The Darkest Part.” The story, which is ostensibly about a killer clown, is filled with such brilliant nightmare imagery, and out of all the stories in Ellen Datlow’s “Nightmare Carnival,” it is my favorite, and creeped me out the most.
So, I tracked down SGJ, and asked him about soda, and movies. I snuck in some questions about the definition of horror fiction, too.
Look, I made it a random format interview, I have to stick with it.
Stephen’s collection After the People Lights Have Gone Off is currently available via amazon, and really, just google it, it’s all over.
What’s your favorite episode of “The X-Files”?
“Jose Chung’s From Outer Space,” easy. That’s the best 44:50 of television I’ve ever seen, really, and, of everything I’ve read and watched, it’s probably had the most influence. It’s a story that’s having fun with character, with form, and it’s still dipping from the well of the fantastic—and, most important, it’s got heart, it’s not afraid to be sentimental. I need to go watch it again now. I carry it on my phone at all times, in case.
How would you define a horror story? Or, alternately, can everything be a horror story, if seen from the right angle?
In bear-terms, which is how I try to understand most things, a horror story is “We fought the bear, and we either won or lost.” An up or down ending doesn’t make any difference, though I far prefer the up-endings, where there’s hope, rebirth, all that. To understand my bear-models, I would say that weird fiction, say, it’s more like “We couldn’t help it, we poked the bear, and then it stood ALL the way up and we had to try to comprehend it with our puny minds, and now we’ve got to back to our normal lives and try to live with the knowledge that this bear exists, and that we’re so small and insignificant.”
Coke, or Pepsi?
Pepsi all the way. Coke leaves my mouth hot, makes it hurt. I’ll only drink a Coke if I really, really need some caffiene. And then I’ll immediately regret it. And, I talked to someone recently who had been a nurse in a psychiatric center where some chemist or something for Coke was for a while, and she told me that he kept yelling about how cinnamon was the only difference between the two. I think. I wasn’t really listening as well as I should have, was writing a story in my head. And she could have been lying, too. No clue what city I was in for this, but it’s only been a couple of months.
Your story from “Nightmare Carnival” fucked me up. You seem like a man who doesn’t like clowns. How do you feel about clowns, and have you ever had any nightmares about them?
Clowns have never bothered me. I mean, unless they’ve got silver eyes, of course. Never had any clown nightmares, though. Most of my nightmares, they’re me moving through a crowd, and I’m not really in my right mind, I can’t feel my body, am just putting one foot in front of another, and the voices and lights are all smeary. Makes my heart beat hard, just thinking about that again. I hate it.
Vinnie Jones or Tom Jones?
I guess Tom? I don’t know who Vinnie Jones is.
I don’t cuss. If I’m reading something with profanity in it, and I have to say whatever word’s there, I always have a hard time not giggling when I say it.
If you could be any monster, which kind would you be?
Werewolf. When I was twelve, I did all the tricks the books said would get me there, too. Didn’t seem to work, though. Yet.
Your style seems to be quite concise. Did it take you a while to learn your voice? Was there, for instance, a time when you longed to be more verbose, and ethereal?
I used to want to be able to write like Kurt Vonnegut. But he’s way concise, and finally I figured I couldn’t be Vonnegut. Only person I’ve read who’s even close to Vonnegut—in delivery, tone, something—is Carlton Mellick III. Dude can write.
Graham crackers, or Teddy Grahams?
Crackers. Them and fishsticks are like eighty percent of my childhood.
Do you have any writing rituals?
Nope. Rituals are just a way to give yourself excuses to not write. “I don’t have this hat,” “I can’t do candles in the airport,” “the neighbors are too loud,” all that. Writing’s not something the world allows you to do. It’s something you can’t help doing. You shouldn’t have to trick yourself into it.
What kind of music do you listen to when you write, or do you not listen to anything at all?
Always listen. Right now, this instant, it’s Elton John and and Kiki Dee, “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart.” But this isn’t really fiction writing. Earlier I was working on a novel. Think it was Dire Straits? But, it’s usually Bonnie Tyler or Skid Row or Don Williams—just all over the place, really. With a lot of Footloose and Motley Crue. But I always come back to country. Country’s what I cut my teeth on. It’s where my heart mostly is.
Beer or liquor, or neither?
Definitely not beer. Not much of a drinker, really. I mean, I can nurse a glass of wine if the situation insists. But it’s not pleasant. I have to close off a big part of my mind, then chant in my head that you can do this, you can do this. And, I’ve tried people’s ridiculous-expensive bourbon and all that, and can’t seem to understand the draw. Problem is, really? I like to write when I get home. And I care about fiction too much to allow myself to do it with anything messing my head up. My head’s plenty messed up already. Also, when I was in seventh grade one of my coaches, who was legit-crazy, he said if any of us ever drank and drove and hurt his family, he would come in through our windows at night and hold our arms down with his knees and cut out throats very, very slowly, staring into our eyes the whole time. And then he showed us the knife he’d do it with. So, I’m still pretty nervous about that. Anytime I’ve got car keys on me, I won’t even consider that glass of wine. I’ll sleep on the sidewalk before I’ll get behind the wheel with even a sip of alcohol in me. I want my throat to stay closed, I mean.
If you could eat dinner with anyone either alive or dead, who would it be?
I’d like to grab a burrito with Kevin Williamson in 1994, or whenever he wrote Scary Movie. Dude was firing on all cylinders. Some of the sparks, they’d cross the table, I suspect. Maybe burn me up, but it’d be worth it.
If there’s a definitive difference between weird fiction and horror, is there such a thing as weird horror fiction, that would not be considered part of the bizarro genre?
Definitely a difference between horror and the weird. See the bears explanation, earlier. But, yeah, there’s weird that draws more from horror than from fantasy or science fiction, definitely. Really, a lot of the time? When you accidentally make your horror-monster too unbeatable, the horror story you’re trying to write can slowly shift into weird fiction territory.
Would you consider yourself a fast or slow writer?
Does Joyce Carol Oates sort of scare you? I feel like you don’t wanna fuck with Joyce Carol Oates.
I’d be more nervous around Neal Stephenson, I think.
Do you have any advice for new writers?
Read outside your chosen area. Write stories you don’t think you can write. Don’t pin all your hopes on one piece. Always be writing something new.
How many movies do you watch a week?
Two, three? This week I think I’ve watched the second Paul Blart, which I loved, want to buy, and . . . and it’s only Tuesday. About to go see the new Terminator at the theater. So that’ll be two. I’d guess I’ll watch one more before the week’s through. Probably something werewolf. I just watched Dog Soldiers, but I’m kind of wanting to watch it again. And there’s that new Simon Pegg action-movie thing at Redbox.
Thylacine. I get really sad every time it hits me that I’m probably never going to see one.
Do you have anything special you do when creating a character outside of simply writing your story?
It’s just diguise, disguise, camoflouge. Because they’re all me, more or less.
Thank you for taking part in the interview. Do you have anything you’d like to mention coming out soon, or any final words you like to impart?
Got my werewolf novel Mongrels out in May from William Morrow. Very excited about that. I feel like I’ve been kind of a fractured writer for a while, but Mongrels brings it all together for me. Next stories are out in . . . let me think: Ellen Datlow’s The Monstrous and Josh Viola’s Nightmares Unhinged and Ann Vandermeers The Bestiary. All horror. What else is there?
I first partook of Llewelyn’s fiction in the Ellen Datlow edited short story anthology Nightmare Carnival. It was a story entitled The Mysteries, which left me feeling rather odd. I was unnerved, not the kind of scared where you have to check behind all the doors in the house, but rather imbued with the kind of existential irked-out-ness which makes you afraid to go out into the backyard alone, to stare at the stars.
Llewelyn’s work is vicious, but beautiful: like a stampeding bull ready to gore you, except, right before the horn of the beast enters into your guts, you notice a flower tucked behind its ear.
Make no mistake, her work is not for the faint of heart. One scene near the end of her story At the Edge of Ellensburg disturbed me in the profound way only the most well executed and graphic scenes of violence can.
So what did I do when I found such a brilliant author? What did I decide to ask a woman possessed of such ethereal work, and who has such a poeticism to her stories?
I asked her about coffee, ice cream, and bees.
Her official site is LiviaLlewellyn.com and you can purchase her short story collection Engines of Desire: Tales of Love and Other Horrors through Amazon, and you can pick up the audiobook of the collection through Audible.
What’s the worst flub-up of your name you’ve ever gotten on your coffee at Starbucks?
Probably Navian. All of the other names have some similarity to Livia – Lydia, Lybia , Liberia – but Navian? I think they just like to fuck with me. Most of the time I get Olivia, and I’m fine with it. As long as I get my double shot of espresso, I’m not going to throw a hissy fit about it.
Do you have any writing rituals? Any preferred time of the day, or type of environment to produce within?
I have a day job, so when I write revolves entirely around it. That means my evenings are when I write, even during the weekends. I typically turn off most of the lights in my apartment around 7:30 pm, sit on my couch with my netbook on a pillow on my lap, and write while listening to really creepy ambient music. I occasionally have a glass of wine while writing – it depends on my mood, and on what I’m working on (I’m an over thinker and worrier, so sometimes a bit of wine makes it easier to just plough right in without constantly editing and second-guessing myself). By around 9:30, I’ve usually thoroughly freaked myself out – not because of my fiction but because I have a severe fear of the dark, and my apartment is full of insects – so I stop writing, turn on all the lights and the radio to the local classical station to keep the devils away (or at least keep them entertained), and hide under the covers until morning.
Do you ever cut out some of your sexual content from your stories to get them into an anthology, upon an editor’s request?
I’ve never had to do that yet, but I’ve had editors request rewrites and revisions – some major – from me before, and I’ve complied (although not without a wee bit of surliness on my part, I’ll admit). In each case, I wound up with a far better story, so I can’t imagine that I wouldn’t do the same for sex scenes. Then again, a lot of the editors I write for tend to have very specific ideas of what they want, and I do try to stick to the parameters they set in advance, including levels of sexual content and the context in which any sexual content appears. I did have one story rejected that had a fairly graphic sex scene in it, but the editor was looking for dark fantasy, and I gave him very bleak horror, so a rewrite wouldn’t have worked, even if he had asked for it (he didn’t). In that case, it was my fault: I misread the market.
Does your middle name start with an L, because then it’d be super alliteration.
My middle name is Siân (Welsh for Jane) so, sadly, no. In Starbucks language, however, I’m sure it’s something super fantastical, like Lllewelwalksdjfklslln – or, Navian.
Which of Lovecraft’s monsters do you think has genitals?
That’s not an aspect of elder gods that my fiction has ever explored, so no, I’ve never thought about it. Besides, I think if they procreate, it’s not in such a typically “human” fashion, with gigantic elder junk. (Hee hee!) I imagine it would be a process beyond our comprehension.
Cthulhu, is it a he, a she, or an it? I prefer to think of it as an it.
I know that typically Cthulhu is written about/depicted as male, but who really knows? I’m writing a story (titled “Bright Crown of Joy”) that addresses that, on what he/she/it actually is. (Oh, and, it might actually go into that mysterious procreation process a bit!) So I’m not going to answer that right now, except to say perhaps none of these things, and something altogether different.
As a member of the ginger tribe, do you think people with red hair have had to deal with more bullshit than say brunettes?
I think that depends on what part of the world you live in, and what century. As a 20th/21st century North American ginger who is more of a strawberry blonde than classic red, I only ever experienced some light teasing for my hair color – it was a little more red in grade school, and so of course I got some shit from classmates about my hair and freckles and pale skin. But no one ever beat the shit out of me for it. No one’s ever told me they wouldn’t hire me for a job because I might be – GASP – Irish. It was more along the lines of smartasses occasionally reminding me that they read somewhere that redheads were once associated with Satan and devilry and sexxy sex sins – to which I always replied “once?” and then flew away on my broom.
Do you tend to write fast, or slow? Pen and paper for a first draft, or computer all the way through?
For horror and dark fantasy, very slow. For short fiction, maybe around 300-400 words an hour. For novellas and my never-ending novel, closer to 700-800 words an hour. I write with a computer, and stick to it all the way through the process – I only use pen and paper once the story is finished and I’m editing. For erotica, however, I tend to write more quickly – I think because I know people don’t take it seriously or think it’s going to be good, I don’t come to the writing of it with all those weighty (and bullshit) expectations of it having to be perfect and impressive. So I can clock in at around 1000 words an hour – which is why I’m writing more erotica this year than horror. I’m hoping that what I’m learning to do with writing erotica will transfer over to writing my “regular” fiction, and I can speed up my process a bit.
Cheerios, ever since I was six months old. I loved them when I had no teeth, and I’ll keep loving them when I’m a toothless old hag in the Home For Horror Writers Who Can’t Afford to Retire But Are Super Incontinent.
Favorite serial killer?
I’ve never been interested in real serial killers or true crime fiction about them, so I’ll answer this with a fictional serial killer. Probably Dexter – I know, I know, Hannibal is what all the cool kids love nowadays, and the set designs and writing and acting are all just over-the-top phenomenal, but in a fictional world, I would much prefer (and be more likely to survive) an encounter with Dexter over Hannibal.
Favorite character named Cyril?
Cyril V Karakallos, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople from 1748 to 1757. While he was studying to be a monk, he was expelled from the school for “behavior issues”, stirred up trouble with the Catholic Church, and had the occasional help of a “thaumaturgic” monk. There’s nothing more irresistible than a Christian bad boy who can cast pagan spells with his bedazzled cross.
Can you read Cyrillic?
Not a lick of it.
You have a wonderfully poetic quality to your work. Do you ever find yourself getting lost in the words, unsure where you were going to travel with the plot?
Sometimes. But not always because I’m caught up in the flow of the language or the pretty images – like most writers, sometimes I just go off in a wrong direction with a wrong idea, and keep writing until I reach a dead end. Then I have to go back and figure out where the right fork in the road is. And yes, I do kill my darlings – but that only means I take them out of that particular story, and save them in a “odds & ends” document. I don’t see why I have to completely erase out of existence a sentence or paragraph I love. Writing is a lot like sewing – if you have leftover bits of fabric and notions, you save them in case you can use them for a future project.
Favorite science fiction authors? Favorite horror authors? Favorite fantasy authors?
I’ve listed my favorite horror writers numerous times, so I’m just going to name my favorite SF and fantasy writers. And I do mean a few – I could list hundreds of names. For science fiction – Kim Stanley Robinson, Pat Cadigan, Peter F. Hamilton, Philip K. Dick, Linda Nagata, Maureen F. McHugh, Charles Stross, Neil Stephenson, James S.A. Corey. To be honest, I haven’t kept up with science fiction as much as fantasy and horror, so a very large portion of my favorite authors aren’t current popular favorites (or, they’ve moved on to other genres, as Dan Simmons did). For fantasy – China Mieville, K.J. Parker, George R.R. Martin, Tad Williams, Ricardo Pinto, Ursula K. LeGuin, N.K. Jemisin, Jacqueline Carey, Caitlin R. Kiernan. I could go on, but I’m lazy. And honestly, listing a bunch of writers probably isn’t as informative or as interesting as explaining why I like and read these writers over others. I’ll save that for another interview.
If you knew you could make a boat load of cash from writing something like 50 Shades of Grey, would you?
“(Anaïs) Nin is hailed by many critics as one of the finest writers of female erotica. She was one of the first women known to explore fully the realm of erotic writing, and certainly the first prominent woman in the modern West known to write erotica.” (Wikipedia)
“The thing is, (E.L.) James’s writing reads like a bad photocopy of (Stephenie) Meyer’s writing. Meyer is a terrible writer, but James is worse, by a magnification of ten… She throws adjectives at us until they finally don’t mean anything at all. Characters are clumsily described every time they walk onstage… The narrator’s interior life is vapid and painfully literal… I don’t begrudge anyone their right to get off on whatever they want to get off on, but I do encourage them to find some better erotica when they’re done with these books.” (Dan Savage)
Money is nice, but at the end of my life (and after), which of these writers do you think I’d rather be most like?
You live in NYC. What’s your favorite part about living in the city? Least favorite part?
I live just outside of New York City (as in, about three minutes away), in a very small city that’s really nothing more than a suburb of NYC. But I lived in Manhattan for ten years, and I work in Midtown. Everything I do is informed by NYC, which has both negative and positive aspects. I love the culture – museums, theatre, dance, galleries – and the counterculture (what’s left of it). I love the architecture – I’m a big fan of big buildings, of megalopolises like Hong Kong, Singapore. I thank “Blade Runner” for my love of horrifying and overwhelming urban spaces. I love the little gardens and parks and secret spots in NYC – they’re all over. It’s kind of amazing to be dragging yourself up and down canyons of iron and steel and glass and suddenly come across a pocket of benches and green trees and a waterfall that’s two stories high. I love the Village and the LES and the waterfront areas and all the little corners of Brooklyn and Inwood and the Bronx. I love that all my friends are just a few subway stops away.
Subways – a nice segue into the negatives! Our subways system is an eyesore and an embarrassment, and riddled with trash, crime and schedule delays and fuckups that make commuters sob with frustration and rage. Housing for the middle and lower classes is disappearing, and the people who help run this city are being forced further and further out of it, spending more and more money and time trying to get to jobs that barely pay enough to cover the rent. Rent increases are forcing NYC-based, privately-owned restaurants, theatres, stores out of business, and what’s replacing them are chain stores, ultra-luxury housing, and anything that might possibly attract tourists. Which is a shame. I came to NYC because I knew I could find a job and make a living here in a very unique city, but I was better off twenty years ago than now, and am living in a metropolis that in many respects looks no different than any other large city. But that’s the reality of the situation, and most likely the reality of every major city in the world – no matter where you go, you find the same restaurants, the same retail stores, the same movies and cultural experiences. You have to work harder to find the truly authentic areas, and those are shrinking ever year.
I also want to state for the record that I find the 9/11 Memorial Museum, and the entire surrounding area with its hundreds of thousands of gawking, souvenir-buying, selfie-taking tourists, utterly repulsive and profane.
What’s with the bees?
When I was young, we had a colony of bees that moved into the house wall between the kitchen and living room one summer. You could hear them if you woke up early in the morning, when the house was absolutely quiet and they were all inside. I was both terrified and fascinated by them. Later, when I was a teenager, I accidentally stepped in a yellow jacket nest in a field across from our house. Much hilarity ensued – by the time I got home, I had yellow jackets up my pants, down my shirt, in my hair. My mother ripped my clothes off as I hit the front porch, and had to basically beat me in order to kill them all. I was stung maybe 30-40 times – I got off lucky, it could have been hundreds, but 1) I was running really fucking fast and 2) my beagle, whom I was walking, managed to attract most of their attention (she wasn’t stung once, because beagles can run like little fighter jets). So, yeah, I’ve always been a bit neurotic around things that can bumble, buzz and sting. I joke about it a lot because when I moved into this apartment, there was a bee nest in the wall by the fire escape window. The hole was filled up, but they still hover around the apartment a lot every year. I can’t escape them.
What do you think leads to writer’s block, and or an inability to produce?
I have no idea. Every writer comes to their work with a different set of problems, hopes, neuroses, fears, etc. – I couldn’t tell you what causes it, or what writers do to overcome it. It’s individual and specific for each person. And for me it’s a private part of the process, and not something I discuss with others. People are free to speculate as to what causes me to stop writing or to write at all, but I prefer to not give away what happens in my head when it happens. As an analogy, I’ve never been interested in “behind the scenes” features on movies or plays. I don’t want to know or see the process behind the creation of the art. I only want to see the end result, so I can bring myself into it as a viewer/audience member and not be thinking “oh yeah, I heard that person had problems with this part, etc.”. Same for fiction.
Who do you think would win in a fight, Mary Shelley, or Joyce Carol Oates? My money’s on Oates. I bet she has a mean left hook. Although, Shelley might fight dirty.
I think it would be a draw. I can’t imagine either of these women losing at anything. If anything, they’d bond and form some kind of unstoppable time-traveling writing/crime-fighting team, and the rest of us would basically be fucked.
Do you like to listen to music while you write?
I have to, because my apartment building is very old and there’s no insulation – you can hear everything in all the other apartments, which is unbelievably distracting. So I have headphones on, and listen to a variety of very strange ambient albums. I very rarely write without it.
Favorite flavor of ice cream?
Anything with peanut butter, bananas or rum in it. I also really, really love those Captain Crunch bars, although now they’re called “strawberry shortcake” bars or some bullshit. And I love drumsticks – except those aren’t called drumsticks anymore, either, but back in my day, they were called drumsticks and we loved it, consarnit! God, I hate growing old.
Favorite movie where someone in ice screams?
The Antarctic is basically a gigantic block of ice, so everyone on that continent can be considered to be “on ice”, so: The Thing. I don’t care if that’s not logical, because I’m a cheating bitch. If you ask me which version, I can’t even.
What do you think of the concept of genre? Do you think the future will be less constrictive in terms of genre blending?
Genre categories are great for marketing and promotion, and to identify who you are to readers who want to know what your fiction is about before buying it. They’re great for identifying as part of a tribe of writers, if that’s important to you (it is to me for social reasons, which are somewhat important). Beyond that, they’re not much help if you’re trying something new, if you’re blending genres. So many people are hung up on “what” this or that particular novel is, that in many ways the categories become (in my opinion) a detriment and a hindrance to publication. I’m writing a novel that’s literary erotic horror. That’s three different genres, typically all marketed and sold separately from each other. No agent is going to represent a writer whose novel straddles three separate marketing categories. No large, major publisher is going to buy it, because they think it will be a nightmare to promote – large companies are set up to sell and publicize their product to booksellers and reviewers within the parameters of very specific, pre-defined genre categories, and “literary erotic horror” is not one of them. So, you can blend the fuck out of as many genres as you want, but if you want to be professionally published, you’ll have to stick to a single traditional genre category when finding representation and a publisher. (Which means I will have to pick only one of those three genres to pitch my novel as when looking for representation.) That’s my take, anyway. Of course, I think if you self-publish or can find smaller, more nimble, forward-thinking publishers than most of the Big Five (or find a very forward-thinking imprint within one of the Big Five companies), then there will probably be less constrictions. And it always helps if you can compare yourself to someone famous who’s gone that route of genre-blending before you (Margaret Atwood, Emily St. John Mandel, Michael Faber, Kazuo Ishiguro). Publishers love nothing more than the illusion of a sure thing packaged in the form of a “new literary sensation”. Yes, I’m jaded. But I’m right.
I heard you used to be an actor. If you could perform your dream role, what would it be?
Any of the lead females in the Greek plays, in particular those translated by Robert Fagles and Robert Graves, would be dream roles. If I had the power, I would switch genders to male, and perform Richard in Shakespeare’s “Richard III”. That’s always been my unattainable dream role. However, Wallace Shawn’s “The Fever” has to be at the top of the list, even just as a staged reading (for those not familiar, it’s a blistering one-person, one-act play). I still might do that someday, given enough time and enough rum and enough people in whatever empty convention room I can find.
Would you ever want to perform a short story collection, or a novel, for an audiobook?
I would have recorded the audio version of Engines of Desire, except I didn’t have access to a professional recording studio. I have a great reading voice. Seriously. Twenty years in theatre did not go to waste.
Who do you think would win in a fight, Laird Barron, or a polar bear?
I love Laird and think he’s a great guy and one of the best writers on the planet. That said: unless he was properly armed with the right rifle (one with a large enough caliber of bullet to stop a charging predator weighing up to 2000 pounds, and that wouldn’t freeze up in extremely cold weather), the polar bear would win. Sorry, Laird!
I don’t have one. I have many favorite films – there’s no way I could chose just one. Blade Runner, Blue Velvet, Alien, Aliens, Dead Ringers, Rocky Horror Picture Show, Exorcist: Dominion, The Devil’s Backbone, Taxi Driver, Mulholland Drive, Mildred Pierce, Sunset Boulevard, The Best of Everything, The Red Shoes, The Great Beauty, Stoker, In the Mood For Love, Kairo, The Final Wave, Picnic at Hanging Rock, Dune (shut up!), Ben Hur – those are all among my top picks. I think together these films touch on all my interests and obsessions, although I could list a hundred more. A shout-out to Dodgeball, too – I fucking love that stupid film.
What do you think weird fiction is? It’s one of those genres which A. may or may not be a genre, and B. seems incredibly hard to define.
I have to be honest: I don’t care about the definitions of weird fiction. I never have, I never will. I know there’s a lot of discussion going on online about it, a lot of introductions to and essays in anthologies about weird fiction. I find all of the debates and commentary interesting, but ultimately I don’t give a shit. It could be anything, according to everyone’s collective opinions. I know a lot of my stories are lumped into the weird fiction category. But I approach every story as horror when I write it. Which category is the correct one? I don’t care, because it doesn’t change how I write.
How many licks does it take to get to the center of the universe itself? Will the world never know?
You are correct: the world will never know.
I heard you like to swear? Have you ever had to fuckin’ cut out some of the swears and shit you felt like motherfucking writing because some asshole told you to cuntin’ cut some motherfuckin’ shit out of the fuckin’ fucker?
Like a weapon (and sexual content in my fiction), I use swearing very effectively. Using something effectively tends to make it memorable, which is why people think I swear more (and write more explicit xxx stuff) than I actually do.
Is the Pacific Northwest haunted by the screams of your fallen enemies?
No, because I never go after my enemies. They fall by their own hand. I never have to do a thing. – Time does all the work for me. The downside is, of course, Time does and will do the same thing to me.
Plane, train, or automobile?
Train. If I had the money and time, I’d travel only by trains across the continents – and I’d take super-expensive cruises on the non-poopy lines across the Atlantic and Pacific. I’m very much a fan of 19th century transportation. I loathe zeppelins, aeroplanes and those new-fangled auto-mobiles.
Any new stuff comin’ down the pipeline soon?
Nothing new at all – everything I’m working on this year will be published next year, and everything being published this year is a reprint. So, this year is a bit quiet, but that’s fine. Next year is going to be big.
It’s the new attitude I’m trying to adopt, in regards to my stories. In regards to the art that I spend hours laboring over.
I’m not a very smart man. I think most of the important lessons I have to teach are simply from living through certain events, and forming an opinion based upon how it feels in retrospect.
Let me tell you all a story. I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in English about ten years ago, with a minor in film. I’d dabbled off and on with short stories, and reviews in college. Primarily, I spent my time working on screenplays. I always assumed I would be a screenwriter, and then- well, then, nothing. I’ve always suffered from a lack of self esteem, and from feelings of inferiority. So, as is typical when it comes to my creative output, I never did anything with it.
Anyway, cut to a few years out of college. I’d had a series of retail jobs, and one gig as an assistant teacher with autistic teens. And, spurred on by words of encouragement from my new girlfriend at the time (almost eight years with her soon, I love my woman) I started to work on short stories again. And I attempted to shop them around.
Being the classic shoot off the email first, ask questions last type of man I am, my first attempts to sell short stories were doomed from the start because I didn’t bother to research the markets I was sending my stories too. And granted, a few might have fit, but the market was tough to get into, and I was brand new at the story game. But, admittedly, most of the stories I sent off just didn’t fit thematically with the markets I sent them too. The best example I have is that I sent an extreme horror story with graphic sexual content to an anthology to contain stories with monsters. See, just didn’t take the time to read up on the guidelines. That’s a great lesson kids: read the fucking guidelines before you send a story.
So, I learned from that, and started trying to shop stories to the right markets; to openings where the stories would fit. And, somewhere along the line, I shopped a story to a place where the payment was a contributor’s copy. In essence, your payment is a physical copy of the book you’re in. And I got my first short story acceptance! And I was thrilled. The acceptance gave me the ego boost to continue to write stories, and shop them.
And then, for the next seven years or so, I sold myself short. I submitted work to small presses, and magazines where I knew it would be easier to get in, because they weren’t paying me any money. And very rarely I’d go for a paying market, get shot down, and then go back to writing stories, and letting them be used in anthologies or web magazines for free.
I’ve finally started to shop stories for paying markets again. And shocker: it’s tough to get people to pay you for your stories. But, I plan to keep shopping them.
Don’t sell yourself short, like I did, and continue to do. Even if you were say, the worst cashier in the world, your employer would still pay you for your time at work. So, why is it any different for stories? Why is it that we allow magazines and short story anthologies to pay us nothing, and just blithely assume that it’s going to be good for us? Why do we work for hour after hour, and accept nothing for it?
Because we are afraid we aren’t good enough to deserve money? I went to the RMV today. I had to renew my license. It took over an hour to talk to a lady, who asked me like two questions, took my picture, then sent me on my way. The RMV pays all of its employees, and they are slow as shit.
There’s nothing wrong with accepting some kind of monetary compensation for your work, especially if the people you are giving it to plan to make a profit off of it. Complacency doesn’t mean a snowball in Hell if you don’t go anywhere because of it. Go get devastated for a while. It’s worth it, trust me.