I hate to judge a person based on fiction, as it’s an easy way to mistake fiction for reality. However, I get a sense you might have had some partying days in you? Anything you care to share?
As a kid growing up in Middle America who idolized people like Hunter Thompson, Samuel Coleridge, Jack Kerouac, and Jim Morrison, I’ve clocked my late night hours on the weird end of the dial, but I don’t really care to share anything specific, as I find that sort of conversation so incredibly boring. Anyone who constantly talks publicly or romantically about drinking or drugs probably hasn’t had any experience with either.
Favorite mixed drink?
A rocket strength Jameson Irish coffee with a splash of Baileys. Remove the “mixed” and it’s Jameson neat. Keep the “mixed,” and I like this concoction called a Thirsty Crow, served up at this little hipster dive of the same name in Silverlake. They make them with a dank Rye, ginger beer, lemon juice, bitters, and mint. Kind of like a cowboy mojito. Refreshing as hell, with a nice warm kick. Cadillac margaritas in the summertime are also nice. I’m not too snooty or macho when it comes to a quality cocktail.
What scares you?
What terrifies me more than anything else is the thought of my wife and daughter being in danger, threatened, or scared. I would rip through walls and take on armies to make sure that never, ever happens. I think and worry about it daily. Either of them becoming seriously ill also scares the shit out of me.
Moving down the priority list a bit, I personally don’t like the idea of imprisonment or being immobilized and at the mercy of others, squeezing into small, enclosed spaces, and humanoid figures with unnaturally long appendages. Things with large, unblinking eyes. An unexpected knock on our front door. Marionettes, old masks, and unintentionally bizarre clowns also rank in there somewhere. As I’ve gotten older, and after several recurring dreams of falling from buildings several miles high, I don’t like great heights anymore, either.
In a general sense, people scare me. Males of the human species in particular. The made-up horrors I tend to write about pale in comparison to what has been unleashed by human beings. Aside from a very close circle, I don’t trust a one of them. How can you? It’s not like the monsters amongst us wear placards.
Godzilla as a child, and probably Cthulhu as an adult (I think you can see the running theme here in terms of size, dramatic aquatic entrance, etc.). Victor Frankenstein’s monster in Mary Shelley’s book is quite fascinating, and from a purely visual perspective, Slender Man is pretty spooky, what with the featureless white face, long proportions, and watchful total silence.
“Horseshit.” Old timers and football coaches use it with such aplomb. I also like a good non-specific “cocksucker,” perfected by Al Swearengen on Deadwood. Personally, I use “motherfucker” way too much. I’m pretty trite with my own expletives.
If you could ride an elephant to work, would you? It seems like it’d be a real pain to park the thing/ keep it from trampling people to death.
Hell no. No proper turning signals and shitty handling in LA traffic. I’d let my daughter name it, then take that beautiful beast out into a protected wildlife area and set it free, posting up with a .306 in case poachers got some ideas.
What if the Dark wasn’t actually Nameless, but had a really lame name like Bartholomew?
Then Bartholomew Dark would get his own self-titled show on the CW, starring nine people that all look way too much like actors.
What do you think of the term “torture porn”?
I think the term is accurate, as it appeals to a base, apparently popular desire to see relatively innocent human beings – primarily women – endure terror, pain, and a gruesome death. People are fucked up like that. I don’t think it’s very interesting, though. WHY these twisted individuals are doing what they do is far more fascinating than HOW they do it, or the end result. If I was hired to write some stupid torture porn movie, it would be all background, lead-up, and counterpunch, with the gore happening entirely off-screen, sometimes heard but never seen. Your brain will construct an infinitely more horrifying death scene than any filmmaker can ever stage. Hitchcock understood that.
I’m more of a fan of “revenge porn” than “torture porn,” as I do have a soft spot in my grayish heart for bad things happening to bad people who truly deserve it. And there are so many who do.
Do you think William S. Burroughs ever really did use his bare hands to dig into the dirt, hence being a Burroughs who burrowed?
I think Burroughs was rather soft in the underbelly, being a man born of great means and devoted as he was to shooting junk into his veins. He’s no doubt buried a few bodies, but probably either hired out, or used a shovel. Guys like him don’t do the heavy lifting. They just write checks and watch.
Pistol or revolver?
Bazooka. The old timey kind that all my green Army men used. Or that classic Russian-made RPG. The kind they used in Red Dawn, and are the favorite weapon of jihadists and insurgents of all stripes around the world. Those things are like souped-up bottle rockets. I’ve had daydreams about shooting one of those for years.
Do you like spicy food? It hurts me stomach.
I do, indeed. Although I have a pretty sensitive stomach, the irony of which is never lost of my wife when I toss back raw peppers and then wait for my night to be ruined.
Detasseling corn at age 14. Child labor laws didn’t really exist out on the Upper Plains back in the 80s, and so my first “corporate” job other than working for other farmers (walking beans, bailing hay, scooping animal waste of every kind, etc.) was a forced march through endless rows of seed corn alongside a motley crew of inner city kids, migrants, and ex con hard cases who couldn’t get hired on anywhere else. Getting up at 4 am, being bussed across the river to Iowa, then herded into fields of wet, razor sharp green sword blades while line bosses with bad prison tats degrade you like drill sergeants for every tassel you miss – that’s not the way you want to spend your summer. I forgot to bring gloves the first day, and still have the scars all over my fingers. I don’t mind hard work, but that was pure hell.
Rainier cherries. Thank goodness I married an Armenian girl.
Dogs or cats?
You ever had a story you wrote you hated, but everyone else seemed to like?
Not really, as I wouldn’t try to sell or publish a story I hated. It is interesting to see which stories get the most response, and why.
Shower, or bath?
Shower. I grew out of baths when I grew out of my Toughskins.
Granite counter tops, or marble?
Granite. Slate gray, rough hewn, hopefully containing the petrified remains of many ancestors.
If you got any plugs, let the readers know, Ted.
Well, my first collection of short fiction, The Nameless Dark, is available through Lethe Press.
A novelette, “MonoChrome,” that doesn’t appear in my collection, can be found in the anthology In The Court of the Yellow King, published by Celaeno Press. It’s a Los Angeles tale and introduces Henry Ganz, a character that I want to revisit in future work. I’m presently working on a few novellas, the first of which has sold (announcement coming soon) and the second of which might come out through the same publisher, as they have interest in publishing both. I also have some novels that are piecing themselves together in the back of my mind, and dozens of short stories I either need to finish or start. Once completed, one of my upcoming fiction collections will be titled Salt Creek: Tales of Prairie Horror and will feature horror and dark fiction that all takes place in the Midwest, primarily Nebraska.
As always, there are too many ideas and projects spinning in the ether, with so little time to pull them in and clean them up.
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.