There’s this one road that leads from Sudbury (where I grew up) into Lincoln, and much like the road in the story, it is serpentine, and hazardous. One time I got a flat around there, and had to change the tire off to the side of the road. It’s right across the street from a few trails leading up a hill, so it’s quite woodsy. This was the genesis of the idea, I’d driven on this road and skidded out a bit, and it had scared the shit out of me. So, just add a supernatural creature, a snow storm, and there you go.
I was inspired by the film Ginger Snaps, as I enjoy writing about menstruation as it relates to the werewolf mythology.
A lot of the language, of predator chasing prey, was recently inspired by the works of Laird Barron, but in honesty, I wrote the story back around 2010 or 2011, before I’d read any of Barron’s work. So, most likely, I can trace it to Stephen King, and stories like “One For the Road.”
I’m sure this story would drive Stephen Graham Jones nuts, because he expressed on this episode of Miskatonic Musings how much he hates supernatural werewolves.
I like them, though. I like the idea that maybe it’s like they turn into a hell beast or something, some sort of possession that makes very little biological sense.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that one story from John Langan in “The Wide Carnivorous Sky,” “The Revel.” I think it’s one of the best werewolf stories ever written. But, yet again, I read the story after I had written “Stranded in the Storm.”
The funny thing about ruminating on where your ideas come from, is they come from so many places sometimes, and you write one of these, and then you’re driving and you go “oh, damn, I was inspired by (insert story name) too! i should have added that!”
One of the fun things about most of the stories in “Too Late” is I can see myself expanding any one of them into a longer work, jumping off from where the story ends. And this story especially, and a certain character at the end, might get her own novel someday. Who knows?
Phillip Gellat is the screenwriter of Europa Report, and wrote a film adaptation of Laird Barron’s short story 30. I’m sure you’ll be hearing his name a lot in the coming months.
What’s been the hardest thing for you to write so far?
The hardest thing was a screenplay I was hired to write. An adaptation, though not of a short story or of a comic or a novel. I’ll leave it at that. The experience was – it was like having a bunch of nails fucked into my eye holes, while I slowly inserted rusty wire hooks under my fingernails so that a team of maniacs could manipulate my typing without my seeing.
What’s the most challenging part of adapting a short story into a screenplay?
The dread is the most challenging part. Dreading that.
Shaken or stirred?
Are you trying to get me to talk about Bond? I’d love to talk about Bond. Because listen to me here and now: George Lazenby and Timothy Dalton might not have been the best Bonds but they are in two of the best Bond films ever. Living Daylights does globe-trotting so god damned well. Bond and the Mujahadeen! It’s amazing.
And On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is such a special movie. A Bond movie that ends with emotional devastation! It’s incredible.
And also stirred, please.
Do you like oatmeal?
Yep. I eat it every morning. I’ve developed various ways of making it. I used to put a ton of powdered ginger in it. Now I put peanut butter. I like to think of it like my morning witch’s brew. Strength for the coming day.
How do you like your coffee?
Dark roasted and black. Two cups a day.
Favorite short story?
Oh sweet Jesus. Favorite of all time?! This interview is sadistic. The first short story I remember loving is The Lagoon by Joseph Conrad. Though, in all honesty, I remember very little about the story itself, just the feeling of having loved it.
Lovecraft’s short stories are probably the ones I’ve re-read the most. Though I’ve also spent a lot of time with Barker’s Books of Blood.
I can say that over the last two years I’ve been reading a lot of short fiction most of it in the weird and horror vein. I recently found myself floored by Robert Aickman’s work.
Ever fired a gun? I haven’t, unless you count one of those tiny little rifles they let Boy Scouts shoot at camp. That’s more like a pellet gun though, I think…
Yep. I have. I grew up in Wisconsin farm country and there were guns around. So I got to fire them. I have one particularly crazy story of getting taken to a weird little one room shack somewhere over the hills that bound my home town explicitly to fire guns. The shack was, at the time, covered in right wing propaganda (Limbaugh photos, anti-Clinton slogans, this was the mid-90s) and guns. Lots of guns.
I spent the afternoon firing said guns with a bunch of hunter types, all of whom were there to both shoot and get drunk.
One of them told me that the only way to ensure a hand gun is accurate is to dry fire it constantly. Like I should buy one and just walk around the house pretending to shoot things with an empty gun. Then he told me about how he’d accidentally shot a hole in his fridge that way.
It’s a very strange memory.
How did you get into writing comic scripts? Was it hard for you to get your foot in the door with that?
Compared to the time other people have breaking into that world, I had a relatively easy time. The artist on my first comic was also working on The Venture Brothers. When you say that to publishers, they perk up a bit and listen.
Have you ever actually got your foot caught in a door?
I haven’t! But I have knocked my two front teeth out on a bathtub.
What would you do if you came home, and there was a severed foot stuck in between the front door to your place?
Ask it politely to leave.
Who do you think would win in a fight, Robert E. Howard, or Howard the Duck?
I… I… I’d love to say “The duck” and justify it in some epic fashion. But I’d have to say the Robert would win. Then again, I don’t actually know that much about Howard the Duck… except that he’s trapped in a world he never made.
If trees scream, does that mean grass would too when you mowed it?
One cannot assume such, no. They’d be entirely different species. Perhaps the grass suffers silently. Perhaps it weeps. Or perhaps it just bides its time, cataloguing every blade we trim, and waiting for its moment.
What’s your favorite part about living in Providence? You do live in Providence right? I hope I didn’t just pull that out of my ass…
I do live in Providence. I’ve been here for about 5 years. Providence is a weird city. It’d be a weird city even if it didn’t have the Lovecraft connection going for it.
My favorite part is my house. We moved from Brooklyn so having a house felt really special. I have my office in the attic. When we moved in we found old chiropractic back braces under the eaves. It made the whole thing special.
What kind of comics have you read which inspired you? What kind of films have inspired you to write films?
I am and will forever be an Alan Moore apologist. From Hell is my favorite comic of all time and it is something I am always coming back to as a high watermark of storytelling. When I was a teen, I was all about Dark Horse’s “Legends” line. So the Mignola, Chadwick, Miller, Allred, Byrne stuff. Then in college I was all about the Vertigo books of the ‘90s and ‘00s (Preacher, TransMet, The Invisibles, Sandman). Lately I haven’t been reading many comics, sadly.
As for film, I’m not exactly spouting a radical theory when I say that American film of the 1970s was something special. I find myself constantly inspired by that era. It was radical and philosophical and poetic and felt hand-crafted. Each of those movies, even the bad ones, is special in some way.
Because if there is a god, he hates us all. And if there isn’t, then it’s just us and our luck versus the clowns down here and isn’t that an upsetting thought.
Go anything to pluggy-plug? Do it now!
Well, I started shooting that adaptation of a Laird Barron short story last week, so everyone should keep their eyes peeled for that! Feel free to follow me on twitter (@pmjeepers) or instagram (philipgelatt) where I’ll be posting pictures and things from behind the scenes.
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 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.