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1/26/2017 – This Book Ain’t Nuttin to Fuck With: A Wu-tang Tribute Anthology just dropped via Clash Books. This is the first book I co-edited along with Christoph Paul. If you like your fiction literary and laced with gritty hiphop, buy the book here: https://www.amazon.com/This-Book-Aint-Nuttin-Fuck/dp/194486606X/

Artwork by Matthew Revert 

 

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Dark Manifestations and Cosmic Indifference: An Interview with Nicole Cushing

newgodishI recently reviewed Nicole Cushing’s novella Children of No One and enjoyed it so much I felt the need to dig into Cushing’s psyche by means of interview. She’s a new exciting voice in horror fiction. Get comfy, pull out some snacks and watch the show unfold below. 
So how exactly did you get into writing fiction? Was this something you did since day one or something you got into as you got older?

From an early age, I wanted to write. However, I didn’t have the confidence to pursue any kind of career in the arts. When I went to college, I majored in psychology because I thought it would ultimately prove more marketable than an English degree.

I tried writing shortly after college, but that attempt sputtered out after getting just a handful of (well-deserved) form rejections. I tried a second time, around 2000-2002, but that attempt failed, too. I went to a lot of genre events and got to know a few people in the business. Hell, during that time I even managed to sell a story to a Cemetery Dance Richard Laymon tribute anthology. But I wasn’t writing regularly. Again, I had a huge crisis of confidence and an inadequate work ethic.

But in 2008, I decided to try again. And this time, I was mature enough to become teachable. I went to a convention in Columbus, Ohio called Context. I took several writing classes there, including a short story critique workshop led by Gary Braunbeck. I learned a lot about the nuts and bolts of short story writing that day, but the most important thing I learned is that I didn’t know as much as I thought I knew.

From that point on, I dove into writing. I knew that, for me, it wasn’t enough for writing to be my hobbie. I really wanted it as a career. And I knew that there was a long apprenticeship involved, and that I’d have to plug away at it, steadily, if I wanted success. Brian Keene has always encouraged newer writers to read every day and to write every day. I can’t say I’ve lived up to that challenge perfectly, but more often than not, I have. And I think that work ethic has contributed to whatever success I’ve achieved so far.

howtoeatfriedfurriesI noticed you jumped into the bizarro scene a few years ago with your novella How to Eat Fried Furries. How did that come about and are you still interested in writing any bizarro related works in the future?

Nowadays, I think of Fried Furries as a collection of linked short stories, but some readers see it more as one complete, unified work – that’s how experimental it was…it’s hard to even define the form!

In any event, the book came about due to a bizarre, surreal dream I had about a man in an animal costume. (It’s been a few years, but if I’m not mistaken the dream that started it all was about an old man dressed in a snail costume who started to do that old break dancing move “The Worm”, very slowly, over the ground.) It was the only dream in my life that cracked me up. I woke myself up due to literally laughing in my sleep!

So, after that dream, I asked myself why someone would dress up in a snail costume. I wrote a short story about such a costumed snail-man. Then I thought about other strange animal costumes, and other strange reasons why people would wear them. All of them were absurd and bizarre and – to some degree – outlandish. I’d really had a lot of fun reading some of the Carlton Mellick III, Jeremy Robert Johnson, Cameron Pierce, and Gina Ranalli titles out at the time, so working with a Bizarro publisher made all the sense in the world.

As for writing Bizarro in the future, I can only say this: I never say never. I don’t see it as something I would do in the immediate future, just because I’m enjoying what I’m doing in a different arena. But I don’t rule it out. If I had a Bizarro fiction idea and felt compelled to write it, I’d follow that compulsion through. Right now, I’m just compelled to do other things. Other kinds of stories have just sort of grabbed me by the throat and said: “Write Me!”. My muse is abusive, that way.

What brought about the transition to writing cosmic horror?

 I’d had some interest in cosmic horror, even during my Bizarro days. Unlike many others, though, my interest has never been focused on Lovecraft, specifically, or the Cthulhu Mythos. I’ve generally been far more enthusiastic about the work of Thomas Ligotti. In fact, the story “A Citizen’s History of the Pseudo-Amish Anschluss” (in Fried Furries) was inspired, in part, by Ligotti’s “The Town Manager”. So it was less of a radical shift than it might have seemed.

But to answer your question more directly: I was fairly new to writing, just a couple of years into my career, when I was in the Bizarro scene. Like any other newer writer, my stuff just grew and changed over time. I wasn’t motivated by disappointment with Bizarro, so much as I was by an interest in broadening my horizons. I started to read more widely, and got a kick out of the mental and emotional impact authors like Ambrose Bierce and Algernon Blackwood were able to trigger with their work. I aspired to write stories that explored some of that same territory. Here’s a metaphor that might explain what happened: I wanted to add more colors to my palette, to paint better and better pictures.

Lately, I think I’ve been growing and changing again. For example, the book I have coming out in April, I Am the New God, doesn’t quite seem like a cosmic horror book, to me. It might be a cosmic horror book, in the sense that Phillip K. Dick’s The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch is a cosmic horror book. But I don’t think the Lovecraftians would see it as a cosmic horror book. I would describe it as more of a character-driven exploration of the link between religious faith, mental illness, and violence (with maybe just a pinch or dash of cosmic horror embedded under the surface).

choir of beastsYou definitely work in dark territory, drawing on obvious inspiration from Thomas Ligotti, H.P. Lovecraft and Gary Braunbeck. Are there other writers that have had a profound influence on you and do you plan on creating your own mythos?

Any list I compile will surely omit someone I’d rather not omit. But with that caveat, I’d be happy to share some additional influences.

In the last year or so, I’ve found myself quite taken with Poe (particularly his story “The Black Cat”, and his ideas concerning what he calls the “imp of the perverse”). I’m interested in characters who, in some way or other, self-destruct and descend into mental disturbance and/or irrational violence. Nobody does that better than Poe, I think. Violence, in his hands, isn’t cheesy or gratuitous. It’s as upsetting as it would be in real life, and the psychological depth he gives his characters means the violence is slathered with the ichor of a diseased conscience. Yum!

I’m increasingly interested in characters who live at the margins of society – the kind of folks who live lives saturated in horror and may not even know it. Hubert Selby, Jr. (author of Last Exit to Brooklyn and Requiem for a Dream) is an influence, in that way.

I’m also an admirer of the Holocaust stories of Tadeusz Borowski (an Auschwitz survivor who went on to commit suicide, via gas, in the ’50s).

As for a mythos, if you’d asked me about this a week ago, I would have told you absolutely not. My favorite Lovecraft story is “The Music of Erich Zann”, and part of the reason that story is my favorite is that it has all the good stuff about Lovecraft without the (in my opinion) hokier mythos aspects.

But recently, I discovered that a character in my work-in-progress may, in fact, be a manifestation of The Great Dark Mouth (a god of nothingness, first introduced in Children of No One).

I was pretty surprised when I discovered that possible link. I’m almost finished the novel, and it had never even occurred to me. It was only when I was able to look back at the work, from the sort of bird’s eye view one takes during the revision process, that I was able to see a connection between the two. So, there’s a possibility that a mythos surrounding the Great Dark Mouth may emerge, in at least some limited way.

I can’t see myself consciously aspiring to build a mythos. If one emerges it will just happen naturally, without any planning on my part, simply as a result of my obsession with certain themes.

The Children of No One really blew me away. Can you list any artists that have impacted you and are you into behavior art?

From the time I first saw late night re-runs of Rod Serling’s Night Gallery, as a relatively young child, I’ve appreciated disturbing visual art.

As far as naming individual artists, I’m afraid my frame of reference is so emeshed in the publishing industry that the only specific artists that come to mind are cover artists. For example, I’m thrilled with the work Zach McCain has done with my two DarkFuse novellas. He manages to create impressive cover art that is simple, professional, and eye-catching. It conveys the texture of my work in a single graphic.

Other cover artists I particularly enjoy are Aeron Alfrey, Caniglia, and my Hoosier neighbor, Steven Gilberts. I should also mention Lee Copeland, a Tennessee-based artist whose work adorns much of the wall space in my office. I’m particularly fond of his portrait of Rondo Hatton and a digital painting he did of a scene from my story “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Piggy Class”.

I have a confession to make in regard to the phrase “behavioral art”. As far as I can remember, I made it up for Children of No One. (Though a quick Google search reveals others have been using the term since 2009, so maybe I’m wrong.)

But I digress.

I do have an interest in behavioral art (or as most of the world knows it, performance art). Some of that interest manifested itself during my Bizarro days, when (like many Bizarros), I grafted performance art onto my readings. I don’t do that, anymore. But it was certainly an intersting experiment.

Prior to writing Children of No One, I’d discovered Yoko Ono’s Cut Piece. This struck me as a particularly effective bit of performance art that succeeded in making the viewer – or, at least, this viewer – quite uncomfortable. Because of that, it seemed like the perfect piece to reference in a horror story.

There’s a strong occult element in The Children of No One. Did you have to conduct a lot research or is this something you practice regularly?

The occult is something that I find superficially interesting, but I’m not a believer. I’m an atheist. I find the occult to be a useful storytelling device, though. The occult enables a horror author to play with certain philosophical notions, by bringing them to life (so to speak) in stories. Because magick is a powerful force in the human psyche (if not, in my opinion, reality), it also lends the fiction some oomph it might not otherwise have.

My first meaningful exposure to the occult came from getting Alan Moore’s take on it. In the documentary The Mindscape of Alan Moore, he talks about the connection between art and magick. It’s a fascinating point of view, and it informed part of Mr. No One’s thought process. Alejandro Jodorowsky is another artist who has an interesting take on the occult, and I was influenced by him, as well.

I also conducted a little research by contacting occult expert Nathan Drake Schoonover. My understanding is that he’s appeared on some television shows on the subject. I told him a little bit about Mr. No One’s goals, and he suggested that Theyyam ritual might be one way in which he would pursue them. That sent me off to search for video footage of Theyyam ritual. When I found it, I decided I’d invent a Theyyam-based magick in the book. I wanted to capture the flavor of Theyyam, while creating from whole cloth other aspects of the ritual that just seemed to make sense to me.

i_am_the_new_godI heard you read a short story 500 nights in a row. Is this true and how did this affect you and your fiction?

It is true.

A few years ago, I stumbled across a talk Ray Bradbury gave to college creative writing students, in which he encouraged them to read a short story each night, a poem each night, and an essay each night for a thousand nights.

By Bradbury’s standards, I’m a slacker. I only did it for five hundred nights, and I didn’t bother with the poems or essays. But the exercise did have a profound effect on my fiction. When I made a commitment to reading every night, I soon found that I got bored if I read too much of the same thing. So I was forced to seek out novelty (from my point of view). European authors. South American authors. African authors. Asian authors. I may never have read Bruno Schulz or Borges or the aforementioned Tadeusz Borowski or Hagiwara Sakutaro or Lauri Kubuitsile or Beatrice Lamwaka had it not been for my short story each night project.

So, it opened up my world, really.

Many writers have specific writing rituals they go through before actually sitting down and banging out those words. What is your writing process like?

No rituals, here. Usually, I have breakfast then simply sit down and write until I have to get ready to go to my day job. The only thing close to a quirky writing ritual I have is that, if I feel stuck on a passage, I’ll go to the games section of Thomas Ligotti Online and play a goofy zombie shoot ’em up game. It blows off some steam and allows me to approach the text with a fresh set of eyes.

9. What are you working on now and what can readers expect from you in the future?

I’m finishing my first novel. (And by “finishing”, I mean, it’s pretty much all written and has been through a couple of rounds of revision). I’m re-writing one of the chapters now, and – once that’s done – I’ll read through the whole manuscript again. If it seems okay, I’ll then send it out to my first readers and see what they think.

This novel started life under the title Perfect Monsters, then became Mr. Shadow, before I decided to change the title again to The Psychotics. Although the more I think about it, Perfect Monsters might really still be a good fit. I dunno. I try not to worry too much about titles, at this point.

As for what readers can expect in the future…well…right now the big, upcoming project, is my forthcoming novella, I Am the New God. DarkFuse is releasing it on April 8th, but is taking pre-orders now at Amazon. (The pre-order price is a dollar cheaper than the price on release day, so it makes all the sense in the world to order it now).

There’s also the possibility that I could have a short story collection out at some point in the future. But it’s a little too early to talk about that in any specifics.

Oh, and one final thing. I’ll be teaching a writing class at this year’s Context speculative fiction convention (September 26-28 in Columbus, Ohio). For more information, visit http://www.contextsf.org/workshop.htm .

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Kris Saknussemm Interview

Earlier this year I had the pleasure of reading Kris Saknussemm’s fantastic short story collection Sinister Miniatures. I was so impressed I had to sit down and conduct an interview with this mysterious figure.

1.) First off, how’s your dingo?

KS

Sadly, she passed finally. Peacefully at age 16, after an amazing life. She’d survived being hit by a car, a huge thorn in her eye, a fall down a mine shaft in heavy darkness, a very venomous snake bit—and most importantly, the single most aggressive lymphoma ever recorded in a mammal at age 6. She was such a great athlete (able to swim over two miles with apparent ease, faster than any dog over 200 yards short of a racing greyhound, more than capable of clearing an eight-foot fence), her fitness stood her in good stead and she coped courageously with the long, exacting surgery and the chemo treatments we forked out for (she was after all, the most important member of the family). She went on to have 10 more years of great health and adventure, including a 12,000 foot skydive with me (dingo under canopy) and taking on the whitewater rapids of one of Australia’s toughest rivers. Well may the indigenous peoples of Australia and New Guinea revere these dogs as particularly unusual companions and spirit guides—I can attest to both personally. She became an international figure when she was made a special case study in the University of Wisconsin’s Veterinary Medicine literature (this was where the cancer treatment protocol was developed), which has helped in the later treatment of thousands of animals of several kinds, and also opened new lines of thought regarding the treatment of humans (because the drugs used are the same, the difference is the dosage and the sequencing). Her greatest claim to fame however, was as a local hero, when she apprehended a man who was working as a water meter reader but who was really a serial rapist. She heard him attacking our neighbor in her garden before we moved out of town onto the land, leapt the fence and had at him. He tried to stab her with a screwdriver, and did break a bone in her snout, but she seriously disabled him and allowed the woman to call the cops. He’s still in prison now. When she died, over 180 people came to say goodbye, including a Catholic priest, a Buddhist monk, a Wiccan witch, a psychiatrist, the chief of police, the local newspaper editor, and several of the local farmers who had traditionally been the most afraid of dingos. I laid her in the ground myself, beneath towering eucalyptus trees beside LakeDaylesford, but she still comes often to look over me in dreams. She was a one-of-a-kind dog.

2.) So, you’re a writer and a multi-media artist. How did you fall into these two mediums?

KS

There are three answers to this question. I’m certainly a writer first, and have been since childhood—but visual artists, musicians, photographers, and filmmakers have influenced me in important ways. Sometimes this influence is easily seen and understood, but many other times not. So, partly what I’m doing with my participation in other arts is just trying to work out for myself in what way I’ve been influenced—to articulate that more clearly to myself. The second element is artistic challenge. I feel that working in other media has sharpened my sense of what I’m doing as a writer—or what I’d like to do. A pleasant extension of this is greater artistic freedom. One thing that annoys me about writing is that you spend a lot of time answering the question, “What is your story or book ABOUT.” No one asks that question about a piece of abstract art or music—at least not in the same way. Writing is always inherently representational and has a SUBJECT. Working in other media reconnects me with process and pure presence. The third aspect has to do with collaboration and sharing. Writing is a lonely game often, and you’re asking for a high level of time commitment to get someone to read you. A painting or a work of music can be accessed and engaged with much more immediately, and you can include people who may not be readers, while also opening doors to working with other artists in a way that’s hard to do with writing. A happy side effect of this is that you can expand the surface area of a piece of writing through multimedia executions, as I’ve done with the music soundtracks for my books PRIVATE MIDNIGHT and REVEREND AMERICA.

3.) Your novel, ZANESVILLE, has developed cult-following. How did this come about and how do you feel about cult phenomenon in general?

KS

I feel very honored by the devotion that’s been expressed toward ZANESVILLE. Its following is principally American, but it’s been well received in Russia and Poland too, which pleases me. It gets categorized as “speculative fiction,” which I take to mean that it has appeal for some science fiction/fantasy readers, but also strikes a chord with readers of literary fiction. It’s a hybrid entity (as most of my stuff is!) so I think it’s picked up readers who aren’t satisfied with either genre fiction or more conventional literary works.

The good thing about a cult following is that the readers are very loyal—and the writing becomes a real part of their lives. The downside is that it’s not possible to have that depth of connection if a work gets too famous too fast. I’m the same way myself about books, music and artists I’ve been really passionate about over the years. You feel a sort of proprietary co-authorship position in something not everyone has heard of. My challenge (like many artists) is to keep my first and most devoted readers respecting and enjoying my work, while also growing my audience in a measured and genuine feeling way.

4.) I particularly enjoyed your short story collection SINISTER MINIATURES. Why did you decide to put out this collection and what are the challenges of constructing short stories as opposed to novels?

KS

Thank you. I love short stories, and I think most of us grow up reading them first, before we get to longer works. What I wanted to do with SM was bring together all the shorter pieces that had been published over what I felt is my “apprentice phase” as a writer. I personally like thematically linked collections of stories, even though they’re hard to sell—but in this case I didn’t want to impose that kind of structure or work within some conscious frame. So, my only criterion was if the pieces had been published individually in some context I thought was credible. Then I turned the whole bundle over to a fan and friend, who has also had some strong editing experience, and she determined the order. It was a good way for me to step clear of this stage of my writing life and to see it all through fresh eyes.

The creative challenge with short stories is that I think they really do need to be written and finished fairly fast. The revision…mulling over process is very different. They offer the benefit of more immediate completion—but also put forward the challenge of more focused performance.

5.) A lot of stories such as “The Night Creature” are sexually charged. Was this on purpose or just something that naturally happens in your stories?

KS

I think that the erotically charged is a natural direction a lot of my writing is magnetized toward—it’s a matter of how explicit the sex is. I’m honestly most fascinated by all the suppressed/repressed moments we have, which are psychologically tinged with a sense of sex, but that often don’t actually cross the threshold of the physical. As Freud argued, this is where we all begin in childhood, and I think there’s an undeniable level of truth in that, and that it never really leaves us.

6.) Your life seems to revolve around conspiracy theories, first with your novel ZANESVILLE and then in the prequel ENIGMATIC PILOT. What are your thoughts on this and conspiracy theories?

KS

While there’s nothing new about conspiracy theories, they seem to me to have taken on a quantamized level of power and meaning in our age of mass and instant communications. To the point where they can be considered the default folk religion of the postmodern era, because one way or another, everybody seems to have at least one. I think they’re mechanisms for individuals and societies to help bridge the gap between very old inclinations toward the supernatural (and on a simpler day-to-day level, superstitions) with our so-called modern sense of science and reason. Patterns of conspiracy theories are part of the lingering tribal definitions we have for ourselves, and very obviously reflect our suspicious concerns regarding governments and the media. The one point I’d make about conspiracy theories, which I think often goes unnoticed, is that they contain a curious element of optimism. Someone somewhere knows the real answer, the real truth. If we could just step behind veil, peek behind the curtain. This is in strong contrast to the big questions of religion and metaphysics, which I think all people privately understand (no matter how vehement they may seem) are in this plane of existence at least, very likely undecidable propositions and therefore matters of pure faith and belief. Conspiracy theories have their own component of faith, of course. But they are concerned with issues that must finally have some level of concrete objective truth to them, if we but knew. JFK was assassinated—what’s the real story? Is there in fact a crashed spacecraft and alien technology being investigated at Area 51? Was the USA complicit in 9/11? Conspiracy theories, while they may seem to destabilize if not outright challenge the “official” explanations of such things, are actually deeply conservative and strangely affirmative. There is an answer…somewhere…however well hidden or denied.

7.) How close are you to finishing THE LODEMANIA TESTAMENT?

KS

I’ve honestly taken a bit of a break from the direct writing work—and for two good reasons. One was that my research led me onto a storyline that’s great action-adventure fun and has more commercial potential than anything I’ve ever worked on. I think this often happens when you really get on to something—other paths open up. This idea is being developed into a pitch to Hollywood come mid-October. The other reason for cooling out on the focused writing is that I wanted to really reflect on and nail down the underlying mythology of the cycle. The end of the TV show LOST had a big effect on me. I was a huge fan, even when things started to get a bit silly. I still had hopes for a satisfying resolution that would fulfill my sense of loyalty. Like many viewers, I felt bitterly disappointed. In the end, it was decisively clear that the creators never really knew what was going on. They were just throwing mud at a wall. So, I’ve pulled back and done some hard thinking and note taking—trying to make sure my supporting frame and internal mythology is tight. You never want to over-determine and feel like you’re writing to a formula—but you still need to have some pretty clear answers, at least within yourself. With this nitty-gritty work done now, I’d like to think a focused year of work would bring the whole thing together, but in the meantime, I want to complete some other projects that are in that awkward near-done state.

8.) Can you tell me some of your inspirations?

KS

I’ve had a lot of different inspirations over the years. I started writing when I was just a kid, because I realized that my consumption of Hardy Boy books meant I was soon to run out. So, I invented my own series called The Benton Boys. Then I thought I wanted to be a songwriter and music producer / DJ (and actually did have my own late night radio show on a community soul station that I’d have to sneak out to). After my athletic career blew up when I had a major car accident trying to impress a girl, I replaced that whole team thing by getting into acting and the theater, and that made me want to write plays, so I read all the American heavies, then the Europeans, then back to Shakespeare and the Greeks. With fiction, it was sort of the same arc…adventure and science fiction as a kid, then the American greats like Faulkner and Flannery O’Connor, then the more experimental work of the Europeans, South Americans, etc. If I had to get specific about writers I continually come back to, Cervantes, Swift, Sterne, Melville, Kafka, Faulkner, Miller, Dick and Burroughs come to mind—but there are many, many others (and I have large sections of the Sherlock Holmes canon committed to memory). My favorite female authors are Djuna Barnes, Clarice Lispector and Katherine Anne Porter. But probably my biggest influences come from the fields of Outsider Art, the history and philosophy of science, psychology, religion and anthropology.

9.) Can you describe a normal day of writing for you? When you sit down what type of thoughts are running through your head?

KS

I usually wake up very early—around 4AM—and immediately try to record or write down what I remember of my dreams, whether it’s complete drivel or some quite detailed and fantastic epic. Then I make some coffee and work through correspondence and social networking communications while I wake up. Once I’m really alert, I’ll plow into new writing on the primary project of the moment. Hot and fast, laying down track (I’ll often attack scenes that place a premium on the rhythm of the dialogue, or the lyrical atmospheric riffs that bring scenes to life). I usually go for about two hours at that pace and then slip back to bed or just the couch for another hour or so of sleep. Then, where I live now, I hit the pool and do some exercise, have breakfast and begin working in a more conscious stop-start way (as in I allow myself to go online to check a detail, or refer to other books). Then lunch of some kind and some meditation to clear my head. In the afternoon, I do menial household stuff, errands, shopping etc., and then go back over what I’ve done earlier, although never in a formal revision way (I save those bouts up, like paying bills). This process always leads to some new spurt of writing, and I usually work until the sun gets low and then I chill out on my balcony. Evenings I give over to reading or socializing with friends, or hanging with the new woman. I try to be fairly disciplined this way, because there’s so much I want to get done, and I’ve fought hard in the past to find that time and energy. Whenever I get bogged down on one line of work, I shift to another, or make a painting. I find the creative production aspect of writing is easy. The hard parts start with revision, and all the peripheral promotional correspondence you have to engage in (working out reading tours, etc.) The absolute hardest part of all is integrating exciting creative work with a romantic relationship. I’ve finally come around to accepting that the other party has to be in something of the same line. Another medium perhaps, but a similar kind of perspective.

10.) I read somewhere that you said something along the lines of how magic is all around us yet most people are unaware of this? Can you elaborate on this?

KS

One of my life missions is to revitalize the term “magic” and to lift it back out of the realm of unicorns, rainbows and the cutesy context of Harry Potter. I mean a range of things by it. From my earliest memories of childhood, I was afflicted or gifted with a hypersensitive awareness of meaningful forms in seemingly random patterns—not just shapes in clouds, but complex scenes in pine knot heads or floor tiles and sidewalks. I saw not only faces but full-on dramas taking place all around, and reasoned that there was a Secret World which surrounds us and informs our lives, even if we’re only occasionally aware of it. The second level of meaning for me is the adult, psychological extension of this natural mode of perception. I’m continually amazed by the myriad synchronicities of design and detail that take place all around us constantly, without most people noticing. Wherever you are, literally, it’s said that a kind of spider is somewhere nearby. There are whole universes in motion in a stream of dust particles. Below the conscious level of every conversation is an intricate exchange of energy, a subtle conflict of animal instinct, and layer upon layer of linguistic complexity. We know so little really about ourselves and so much of what we call perception is actually selected or subconscious inattention, filtering. Back during the hallucinogen days of my youth, I’m not sure I ever had some grand spiritual/cosmic insight or experience. But I did very much have some powerful glimpses into the workings of my own mind, all the things around us that so often go unnoticed—and the complex psychological interactions between people.

The third level of meaning for me within the concept of magic relates to my time directly trying to learn the art of native sorcery in places like Papua New Guinea. There’s a clichéd line of evolution in Western thinking that goes Magic -> Religion ->Science. I think much of the cultural turmoil we’re seeing around the globe today is proof that this model is grossly simplistic. I brought my Western limitations and assumptions to the study of native sorcery—but I also brought an unusually open mind, and I was rewarded for that with many insights I wouldn’t have had otherwise. To try to summarize an immensely complicated phase in my education, I saw in some life changing new ways that the Western distinction between the Psychological and the Physical is one of the most specious and most burdensome polarities in all of our cultural tradition.

11.) If you had to survive an alien invasion what would you do?

KS

Intermarriage! I actually look forward to an alien invasion, although I don’t intuitively feel “invasion” would be the right word. But I think it would be a great honor to be alive to see such a thing, and I think whatever form it would take would somehow be healthy for the inhabitants of earth (especially the non-humans). My interest would be in gaining as much information and knowledge as directly as possible. I guess I’d like to be a double agent.

12.) Can you tell me and the readers out there what lies ahead in the future for you and where they can find you?

KS

My new website is:

www.krissaknussemm.com

It gives a good overview of both my writing and multimedia work, and has a blog that I’ll be contributing to regularly. My latest novel is REVEREND AMERICA, which came out in February to great reviews, and is a kind of road movie/personal pilgrimage in the New Depression Era America of today. I also have a new book out right now (as a special limited signed edition in print as well as an eBook from a UK publisher) called EAT JELLIED EELS AND THINK DISTANT THOUGHTS. It was originally conceived of as a prologue to THE LODEMANIA TESTAMENT overall and was the intro to ENIGMATIC PILOT, but Random House found it too weird (imagine that!). I think readers who enjoyed ZANESVILLE will find it interesting.

My next book, coming out in November from Soft Skull Press, is called SEA MONKEYS. It’s billed as a “Memory Book” and is my most realistic work to date, although kaleidoscopic and poetic in style. It deals with my childhood and growing up years in the San Francisco Bay Area and Central California. In February of 2013, Lazy Fascist Press is publishing my first play in 20 years (which was first staged in Melbourne). Named THE HUMBLE ASSESSMENT, it’s a kind of dark, surreal, Kafkaesque take on the job interview scenario. Around that same time, another art portfolio work entitled POSSIBLE LANGUAGES is coming out in Europe, and I am near completion of a collaborative book with the French photographer Esther Voisin, which combines her images with text from me. The two major writing projects on the go blend fiction and memoir and relate primarily to my years in Australia and the bizarre adventures in Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu. Meanwhile, I continue to work on THE LODEMANIA TESTAMENT cycle.

Here’s the link to the video trailer for SEA MONKEYS.

http://youtu.be/tG6Fmtxeqyc

Thanks for the engaging questions. All art only comes to life when other people care.

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The Architect:An Interview with Tony Rauch

Tony Rauch’s fiction is absurd and hilarious. I first came across his work when I read eyeballs growing all over me…again. Here we delve deep into this man’s psyche.

1.) Tell me a little something about yourself.

Answer –

I’m an architect living in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA.

I have three collections of short stories published and three more collections under consideration for publication.

I’ve been writing stories since I was in elementary school, though those were created as pictorials that had a narrative to them. When I was a kid I used to draw pictures and write funny, irrelevant, thoughtful captions for them.
In college I took courses in creative writing, and enjoyed them. I was published in the school literary journal several years in a row, then some friends started their own lit journal, which continued to publish my stories, then a few years later they contacted me about doing a collection of my work, which became I’m right here. At first I thought they wanted to put out a chap book, or maybe even a series of them, but they meant a perfect bound book, which they ended up doing.

2.) There are a million things you can do with your time. Why write?

A –

Yes, there is much competition for my limited free time (And I do have other hobbies and interests, including all the pesky and time-slurping career maintenance that goes along with my line of work).

I write because art really inspires me, art in all its forms and guises – music, painting, drawing, collage, etc. So I have this need to be productive in a concrete way. I need to see my progress and have something concrete to show for my efforts. I used to draw and paint, but then when I was finished, I only had one thing I could give to only one person. And my drawings, paintings, and collages were basically stories anyway, only written down. Or they were interesting fragments of scenes that could become interesting tales. So I found that by writing my drawings down, I could create art that many people could see, as opposed to just a few who could see a painting, drawing, or collage of mine.

The other reasons I write are similar to the same reasons people follow their passions – as a way to take my mind off things, as a means to get away from things, as a way to keep that side of the brain alive. Plus, I’m pretty creative and have a restless mind, so it’s a way to feed my mind, or a way to take what my mind thinks up during the day and apply those thoughts to a positive outlet. It’s also a good way to develop good critical thinking skills.

Also, as I settled into life after college, my life started becoming more routine and predictable. I got the feeling I was losing that sense of discovery about life. Writing was a way to have new and strange adventures similar to when I was younger, when everything was new. So writing adventures was a way of infusing my life with that sense of discovery and limitless possibilities.

3.) How did you hook up with Eraserhead Press?

A –

They emailed me. They liked my first collection of shorts (which was published by a local Minneapolis press, Spout Press). I have no idea how they got a copy of my first book, I’m right here.

They said they saw a notice of mine on a website where I posted that I was looking for a sci-fi press to publish some of my strange sci-fi and young adult stories.

They asked if I had any books similar to I’m right here that I could pitch to them as they were looking for authors outside of the West Coast. I had tons of material saved up just waiting, so I sent them several packages (book proposals) and they happened to like what I sent.

At first, I thought they only did horror or slasher fiction and tried to convince them my stories were not a good fit. But they said they did other types of fiction too, which was true, and that they wanted to expand into other areas, other themes and forms.

But that’s the hardest part – finding a publisher who is into what you do. Then marketing becomes the next challenge – just getting the word out about your books. I haven’t had much trouble coming up with ideas or developing my stories. That part seems to come fairly easy at this point as I’ve grown more efficient at what I do. It’s the marketing that’s the tricky step right now.

4.) Do you have any trunk novels or novellas sitting around or do you
work solely in the short form?

A –

I have a novel and two novellas, but they are more mainstream fiction.

I also have two collections of mainstream short stories ready to go, three collections of odd shorts which EHP is considering at this time, and I have at least three more odd collections I’m working on, one of which is about 85% complete.

But that accounts for about seventeen years worth of work, so over time you accumulate binders full of stuff.

Basically, I have two mainstream story collections and two novellas no one seems to want.
For some reason my speculative work stands out to someone, so go figure.
It’s a strange game for everyone. Seems hard work, dedication, and luck come into play equally. Maybe all that early, unpublished work is just practice for what gets published in the end?

I mostly work in short form as that’s all I have time for and what’s easiest for me. Also, long work to me feels bloated and could use trimming, whereas short form seems to get to the point without messing around and wasting time.

I have been working on longer stories though, expanding my tales. So that’s been a nice evolution and a happy surprise – to get into 12 page, 18 page, 22, 36, 50 page epics. I think it’s good to stretch your wings, grow, and try new things, new forms and formats – to keep things fresh, mix things up.

5.) Do you think you can write your way out a paperbag? If yes, how so?

A –

Oh sure, you bet I can. I can also write circles around one, both inside and out, assuming we’re talking about a standard dimensioned, regulation paper grocery bag and not a regular old lunch bag.

Though I wouldn’t mind just settling inside of one for a while, writing wise, just to see what that would get me.

If I were in a paper bag and had a pen, I could write and write because of so much surface area. I could also poke through the bag with the pen, but then again, why would anyone want to? Everyone needs some peace and quiet, some time to themselves.

6.) What or who inspires you?

A –

Well, artistically – music, art, writers of strange adventures, writers of experimental fiction. These items get my mind reeling, really get me thinking creatively.

There is a “things I like” section on my website for more detail. The site also has story samples and info on my books –

http://trauch.wordpress.com/

7.) Any advice for new writers?

A –

Keep writing. Write all the time. Write what you want, what interests you.

Send your writing out to get published all the time as this will build up material and may attract publishers.

Figure out why you are writing. Set goals. Work to those goals. Stay focused, don’t become distracted by what others want you to be. Find a good editor to review your work before you send it out.

Read a lot. Look for inspiration from other art forms to keep your work fresh. Experiment and play around with ideas, language, form.

Have a good work ethic, get efficient, but have a good life balance in order to draw ideas from other areas.

8.) What projects do you have coming out in the future?

A –

Probably in this order –

– I just finished three new collections – one absurdist, and two that are similar to my last short story collection, eyeballs growing all over me . . again – which are imaginative, whimsical, dreamy, absurd, surreal fantasy, sci-fi, and fairy tale action adventures. You can visit my website (listed above) for samples of the stories and updates on new releases.

– After those collections are released, I will continue to work on marketing and promotion for them. It’s tough to get the word out about the books. That’s the most daunting challenge – marketing. It’s tough to find places who will review your work.

– Then I’ll work to finish the last collections I’m working on. I have several other collections of shorts started, but they need a lot of work.

– After all that, hopefully I’ll finally get some sleep for once, maybe get some housework done, maybe go outside to see what’s out there as it sure looks interesting from the window.

I don’t know what’s next after all that. I suppose that’s the sense of discovery in it all though – in finding out what’s next.

That brings up a question that I struggle with – what is success?

To be an artist you can’t just coast on technique or comfortable formula, you have to go out there and explore the unknown in order to grow. You need to reach beyond what you already know in order to stay fresh. So how many absurd, surreal, fair tale adventures does the world need? Three books worth? Six books worth? Twelve books worth? I suppose writers should milk what they can get for as long as they can get it, milk it for all it’s worth. So if I keep getting published, I guess I should keep writing.

9.) Anything else you would like to add?

A –

Yes. Lots of things, but mostly –

– Rock and roll ain’t noise pollution, rock and roll will never die.

– Make connections in your mind between all that is not yet related or connected. Make connections between previously unconnected ideas. Within those new connections will be lots of inspiring opportunities.

– Just be yourself.

– Call your mother, maybe send her some flowers. She gave birth to you, after all, you ungrateful son-of-a-bitch.

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Warmed and Bound:An Interview with J. David Osborne

 

So our latest interviewee is a young talented writer who goes by the name of J. David Osborne. He’s witty, funny, and his lean prose packs a helluva punch. So without further ado…

What exactly made you want to write and can you include some influences?

I wanted to write because I felt compelled to. Boring answer, I know. I don’t have a dark past. I’ve had a pretty sweet life. I felt, and still feel, that people are wasting good ideas with bad writing and, more importantly, maximalist prose. So I try to write well and give people the kind of books I’d want to read: weird and concise and about something. That sounds kind of up its own ass. But there’s no other way to put it. I think a lot of stuff is great but I have horrible ADD and can’t sit still for too long without wanting to go do something. Go outside, etc. I get weird existential crises when I stay staring at a book for too long. So I’m always like, “get to the fucking point.” I think my writing might eventually evolve into something a bit better than the second-rate Ellroy knockoff it is right now, but for now you guys are stuck with WHITE JAZZ with people who lose their teeth like sharks.

Oh, and also:I don’t think that maximalism is a bad thing, per se. My favorite writer of all time is David Foster Wallace. DFW could make every single word count for something, though. None of it was fluff. It was the ultimate in lean, complex prose. But that’s a level of genius that someone would have to be crazy to attempt to emulate. Stephen Graham Jones wrote a great article on that, I think it was over at The Cult. Or The Velvet.

Here’s the article.http://chuckpalahniuk.net/features/essays/blue-velvet-monster-on-david-foster-wallace
So I hear you’re becoming dj as well?

Yeeeeep!! I’m trying, man. It’s hard! Beat matching and all that. My buddy’s got an S4 which automatically syncs shit but I hear you get booed for that so I’m learning it old school. I have to remember to focus on things like BPMs and shit. I’m not very musically inclined, but it’s a blast. I like it because I get to feel like a musician without really doing much. And all due respect to real DJs, who definitely do something, the shit gets mad complicated. I’m just far from that, now. But one day…

Let’s say your 48 hours into the zombie apocalypse, what do you do?

48 hours in? I’d be dead! We have this board game, because we love to party, that has zombies and shit in it. You get to strategically place zombies around your friends and you have to get away from their zombies. I lost. I would be a zombie or I would be food. Period.

Can you tell me about your next book your working on any other upcoming publications/gigs?

My next novel, LOW DOWN DEATH RIGHT EASY, is being worked over right now. I finished the first draft around the beginning of June. I’m in the hardest part of novel writing: culling through every word and making sure it’s essential. And then, once you do that, you take out stuff that’s essential to the little things, that can be picked up on somewhere else. I love leaving a lot of little mysteries around in the book that can be solved by connecting two different lines at different points in the book. BY THE TIME WE LEAVE HERE, WE’LL BE FRIENDS had a lot of those. BTTWL takes place in a Russian gulag, so it’s basically a prison camp. There’s a scene at the beginning where, on the camp administrator’s desk, there’s a photo frame with the picture missing. Then, later on, we find one of the main characters with the picture, but it’s written to seem like it’s a picture of his girlfriend back home. There’s a throwaway line about how he has been working, cleaning the camp administrator’s office. There’s shit like that all through the book. I love love love doing stuff like that. It’s so much fun, as a reader. And as a writer. I basically write to entertain myself. I hope some folks get something out of it, too.

I’ve also got the DEMONS anthology coming out, which has a story that I am really proud of. It’s edited by the nicest man in the world, one John Skipp. It’s got stories by Neil Gaiman, HP Lovecraft, Edgar Allan Poe. Also some newer shit by badasses like Nick Mamatas and Carlton Mellick III and Athena Villaverde. It is going to be AWESOME. As humbly as I can say, the story in that book, OUR BLOOD IN ITS BLIND CIRCUIT, is the best thing I’ve done so far. It’s about a couple of cops in Juarez who turn to Haitian voodoo and Cuban santeria to protect themselves from the violence down there. They get magical protective tattoos, make war water, etc. And that is all based on fact, which is wild. I lived in El Paso for a couple years and it seeped into my blood. I love that city and its troubled sister city. Miss it.

There’s also the WARMED AND BOUND anthology, which is maybe the most excited I’ve ever been for an anthology as a reader, ever. Steve “Fucking” Erickson wrote the foreword, which made me pee a little.Brian Evenson, Stephen Graham Jones, fucking Craig Clevenger, the list goes on and on. Blake Butler, Jeremy Robert Johnson, Craig Davidson. This will be THE definitive noir collection of the past few years, easily. Every single writer in this has cut his or her teeth on the blackest, dirtiest, sleaziest noir around. They drink Ellroy and shit Thompson. Or you know, whoever. It’s a smorgasbord of noir goodness. My story in that one is pure Oklahoma noir, dusty roads and meth and jilted lovers. My story in that one is called “Three Theories on the Death of John Wily”, which is maybe not a great title, now that I think about it. Theories is a stupid word. Anyway, the story presents three possible suspects for a dead meth dealer: his best friend, his girlfriend, and a pimp. Pela Via, who edited this beast in addition to providing a story, said that it lacked a certain warmth that the other stories had, which is something I’m going to have to work on. Noir needs a heart. It’s bloody and damaged, but it needs a heart. So there’ll be one cold bump on an otherwise hot, bloody, sleazy book. Seriously, you’ll love this thing.

There are a bunch of little stories that I’m working on, too. That I will not tell you about. Except for the story I’ve got coming out in the next Magazine of Bizarro Fiction, issue 5. It’s about a walrus that grows out of a guy’s leg. I’ve also got an article in that issue about the novel I scrapped before I started LOW DOWN DEATH RIGHT EASY.

It was called BREAK THE BONES WHOSE SINEWS GAVE US MOTION. I like that title a lot. I might use it, might write the damn thing after all.It was kind of a pseudo-sequel to BY THE TIME WE LEAVE HERE, WE’LL BE FRIENDS.

Last but not least, is there anything else you would like to add?

Be my friend on Facebook! (link) Follow me on Twitter! (@jdavidosborne) I do my damndest to keep the mood light and funny. I’m very friendly and totally not a douchebag! Also, there’s a release party for WARMED AND BOUND in Hollywood on August 26th. I will be there, getting drunk and acting a fool. Come out if you are in the general area!

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Fisticuffs and Bad Horror Movies: An Interview with Michael R. Colangelo

Introduction: I love short stories, especially gritty, smart horror. Horror that touches something inside of you. One of these writers goes by the name of Michael R. Colangelo. Back in the day when I was editing my own webzine/blogspot, I published his piece “Carcass.” I thought it was brillant and ever since then, I’ve been an avid fan and follower of his work.

Who or what has influenced your writing?

Everything. Right this week it’s a book of Michael Dirda criticism, a pile of skateboard magazines I found in the lobby, Game of Thrones on TV, rotten.com, and some movie called Ice Scream – which is like a porn film with all the sex scenes cut out. I’m not very discriminating. If it’s interesting in some way I’ll look at it and take something away. Broadly though: “textbook” literature, bad horror movies, true crime stuff, and independent comic books, I suppose.

You used to be an editor for Harrow. How was that experience and how did it benefit you as a writer?

The best part about The Harrow is if you go read through the archives the pieces there hold up really, really well, where other short fiction (especially online) does not. It wasn’t easy filling six fiction slots on a monthly basis, but I think we did a pretty damn good job of it, especially given our perceived lack of overall resources. As a writer, I think reading submissions is pretty key to the ongoing learning process. It should make you think about what’s right or wrong about a story in non-subjective ways. I’m pretty sure that translates into your own writing as to what might be right or wrong about something in a piece too. By the way, I’m currently editing for Ideomancer – which is different but the same.

The horror scene in Canada in seems to be flourishing and you’re from Toronto. How involved are you in that scene?

Toronto has always been pretty flourishing in terms of fiction writing in general. The city has some big publishers situated here and a lot of respected small presses too. It’s nice that the awareness is growing but it has always been a pretty big deal. As for the scene, the last time in attendance at one of these writer clubs, fisticuffs broke out and a scoundrel dented my top hat. I won’t be returning, to say the least.

Recently you won the Richard Laymon award? How did that come about and how did you feel afterwards?

The HWA emailed me in December and told me its intentions. We’ve done something like increased membership counts by 40% every year since I’ve helmed the Membership Chair, and I think everyone’s a little mystified about how that was done. But whatever — I’ll never tell and it’s a giant glass tombstone with my name engraved on it that is named after a guy who wrote about a hundred novels about tits. Fuck yeah.

If you had to kill a man and dispose of the body as well, how would you go about doing such a thing?

Bare hands, obviously. Probably just one hand. Then feed him to his children and raise them as my personal assassins for when I lose the taste for it myself.

I love your short fiction; however, I’ve been patiently waiting for something longer to come out such as a novel or a novella? Will this happen anytime soon?

I get asked this question a lot. Trouble is, nobody’s actually thrown a pile of money at me to get things rolling. Some douche is going to suggest that’s not how things work, but the problem is I’m pretty content where I’m at right now – wherever that might be. So money=book unless it tickles me to write and send something long out, which could happen too.

There are a lot of writers who get little or no recognition such as yourself. Can you recommend any?

Just me.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Nope. Thanks for the questions.

*You can find more of his work here.

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