Welcome to my blog, Mr. Bradley. Make yourself comfortable. There’s plenty of club soda in the fridge, a pack of Marlboro Ultra Lights on the table beside you, and you’ll see that I’m playing the dinosaur sequence from The Tree of Life in a loop for you.
While it would be melodramatic to say I’m in category A, I can’t deny that it feels very strange. Definitely a lot of taking stock of what I’ve accomplished and what I haven’t; trying not to dwell on regrets or missed opportunities, but also recognizing the mistakes I’ve made.
Also, there’s an even greater awareness of my mortality; that, in all realistic terms, I definitely have fewer years ahead of me now than behind me. Part of this is due to the unfortunate fact that I suffer from a very bad and very complicated case of Type 1 Diabetes. I have to check my blood sugar levels four times a day and then inject myself with the appropriate amount of insulin to stay alive. That’s heavy stuff at any age, but feels especially so hitting forty.
On a brighter note, I finally feel – as a writer – that I’m entering something close to the career I’ve always wanted. I’ve worked, on and off, as a professional writer since my early twenties, but it was always in journalism and film criticism, which was most definitely valuable and fun, but never the kind of writer I wanted to be. I wanted to be a creator, not a commentator (not in any way of diminish the value of journalism and criticism). Now, due in no small part to working with you, I’ve entered that stage of my career – first with our short stories; and now with our screenwriting and our first novel together. That feels really good.
My first year was not without its difficulties, mostly in trying to find gainful employment as well as establish some kind of support system of people I could rely on. But, thanks to enormous help from my parents, as well as several close friends, I got through the financial and emotional challenges.
I’m sure most people reading this have seen the movie Swingers. Although the characters in that had more of a “scene” than I did my first year, that film really reflects my early L.A. experiences. Right down to the fact that I literally live around the corner from the Derby (which, sadly, is now a bank) right at the height of the swing dancing craze that movie helped popularize. Some of my fondest memories of that first year were going to the Thursday night swing dancing classes, trying to learn the moves (I am, alas, a terrible dancer). I’ve always wanted to write something about those days but – as of yet – haven’t been able to pin down the story I’d want to tell since, as I said, Swingers really nails a lot of it for me.
I’ve always loved that story. Though I love pretty much every word Joe Lansdale has written, I was especially fascinated by “The Night They Missed the Horror Show” – how, as I think Joe himself has said, it’s funny until it’s not funny. And then it’s really not funny. It’s also staggeringly provocative in terms of its insights into issues of race and racism; besides being a great entertainer, I firmly believe Joe is one of our best and most important American fiction writers grappling with those issues. And nowhere more bluntly than in this story. So I thought it would be a wonderful challenge to try to pull off what Joe did in the story at feature length.
Why I thought our first screenplay together should be an adaptation of an enormously controversial story that didn’t appear to lend itself to feature film (and some would argue is totally unfilmable at any length) I really don’t know, other than to say that, though Joe’s story is pure Texas, a lot of it reminded me of where we grew up in Southwest Missouri – especially the casual racism coupled with an obsession with high school sports. So then I set about inveigling you into the notion; you signed on for the ride; we got in touch with Joe, he cut us an amazing deal allowing us to take a crack at it, and the rest is history.
As to whether it will ever be a movie, I don’t know. The material is so aggressive and confrontational that it’s a hard sell, to say the least. But Joe loved our script, so we know we did right by the story, and – as our friend Eric Shapiro said – all it takes is one crazy SOB to pull the trigger and make it happen. And just as adapting the story was a labor of love for us, I do believe that getting the movie made could become a labor of love for a producer or director who wants to make a splash, because, if nothing else, any film version of “The Night They Missed the Horror Show” would get a hell of a lot attention.
When you love a film, you really love a film! When did you first fall in love with movies? What are your favorite films from this decade? What are your three favorite films of all time? Why?
As for falling in love with movies, well – given our age – we’re both Star Wars babies, aren’t we? I’d loved movies before that, but seeing it with my Dad at the age of four was The Big Moment. However much we all might hate how George Lucas exploited and betrayed his creation, the importance of that film, as well as the Steven Spielberg films of the Close Encounters/Raiders of the Lost Ark era, can’t be understated in terms of that initial childhood awe.
Then came Stanley Kubrick, and that changed everything again. And then Coppola and Scorsese and Malick and Lynch and Oliver Stone and then foreign films (Bergman, Godard, Tarkovsky, et al.)…well, the list is endless.
Favorite films from this decade – I’m going to go since 2000, which is just over a decade. In no particular order, totally off the top of my head: The Hurt Locker, Cache, Children of Men, Tell No One, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Family Portraits: A Trilogy of America, The Tree of Life, Melancholia, Antichrist, and Zodiac. I’ll probably think of a dozen more as soon as I send this to you, but those movies give a pretty good indication of where my head has been cinematically since the turn of the century.
What lights you up?
What shuts you down?
My diabetes. Losing people and animals I love. Monstrous events, whether it’s invading Iraq or what just happened in Aurora, Colorado. Willful stupidity and ignorance. Gaspar Noe movies.
What are you working on right now?
Well, of course, a few things are brewing with you, including a new novel and a couple of screenplays. And I’m in research mode for a secret solo project – a screenplay – that’s based on a true story that is fantastically amazing and no one has ever written a book or made a movie about.
I’m also, in the spirit of turning forty, working on getting health together, both physically (by taking better care of my diabetes) and mentally (by dipping a tentative existential toe into the calming pool of Buddhism).
I realize, of course, that we’re going to release the two Afterwords we wrote for The Dark when the book comes out. These stories behind the story, sadly, didn’t make it into the finished book. In the meantime, Scott, please share with us the broad strokes of the story behind The Dark.
However, just as I was getting ready to start to work on it, my girlfriend Amy Wallace, our friend Del Howison, and I sold the proposal for The Book of Lists Horror to HarperCollins, and suddenly everything went on the backburner. But, even after we finished that book, I was finding it hard to get back to The Dark. That was back in 2008.
Well, last year, when Skipp was hired as editor of the Ravenous Shadows line, the first thing he asked me was “What are you thinking about The Dark?” We’d put in so much work on conceptualizing it, and I knew he’d always been a little disappointed that I hadn’t done it.
I answered that I thought I should do it with you.
Skipp grinned and said, “You guys write me a proposal.”
Tell everyone a little bit about “Straycation,” the story we have in John Skipp’s forthcoming Psychos anthology.
The happy ending postscript to this is that when we nailed down “Straycation” and I told my girlfriend Amy that we weren’t going with the other story, she asked why. I said that we just couldn’t crack it – that it would take someone like Patricia Highsmith (author of Strangers on a Train and The Talented Mr. Ripley, among numerous other classics) to pull it off. Well, Ms. Highsmith happens to be one of Amy’s idols, so that intrigued her. She took it, in the best sense, as a little bit of a challenge, and asked if I’d mind if she tried a version of the story (shades – no pun intended - of me and Skipp and how The Dark came to be) and I said go for it.
You conceptualized “Angela & the Angel,” the story we have in Trent Zelazny’s MIRAGES. Where did that story come from?
Skipp’s anthology prior to Psychos was Demons. However, at an early point, the publisher was apparently thinking about making it involve angels as well as demons. I couldn’t come up with anything that wasn’t obvious or cliché involving demons, so I started thinking angels. And somehow this dark fairy tale just popped into my head during a drive out to Palm Springs. I took the idea to you and we worked it.
The story, which as I said is very dark, has had an appropriately tortured history since then, starting with the fact that Skipp’s publishers decided to go solely with demons as the anthology’s theme. From there…well, let’s just say that the story went through multiple iterations and mutations – one of them so extreme that it resulted in an entirely separate story! So I’m really happy that our odd, troubled little tale – about an odd and troubled young woman named Angela – finally found a really cool home in Trent’s anthology.
How excited are you to be sharing a TOC with Thomas Harris? What has his work meant to you on a personal level?
I’m excited beyond words, especially since Harris doesn’t write short fiction, so one doesn’t see him in TOCs (the piece in Skipp’s Psychos is an amazing excerpt from the classic Red Dragon).
On a personal level, his novels – even the worst of them (looking at you, Hannibal Rising!) – have always fascinated me. Red Dragon is one of my favorite books, in any genre, period. And his writing is really like no one else’s, in or out of the thriller and horror genres. There are sentences, particularly in Red Dragon and Silence of the Lambs, by Harris that blow me away with their lyricism and complexity, even though he’s not, in any way, a particularly difficult or dense writer on the surface.
He’s simply one of the greats. It’s sharing a TOC with the Godfather of the Modern Psychological Horror Story.
You’ve taken some pretty amazing trips with your father over the last couple years. How has this strengthened your relationship with your dad? Of all the places the two of you have visited, what’s your favorite? Why? What’s your least favorite? Why?
It’s brought my Dad and me together in ways I never would have dreamed possible. And, believe me, it’s not like we were ever estranged or anything like that.
It goes back to the fact that in early 2006 I lost my Mom in a completely unexpected way. Literally, on New Year’s Day, 2006, she and my Dad went to go see the movie Munich; on January 2nd she died. One of those one in a million things that just ends the world for a whole family: my Dad, me, and my two sisters (not to mention everyone who loved my Mom, who was much beloved by family and friends).
My Mom worked for the airlines the last few years of her life, and because of that she and my Dad were able to take trips all over the world that would’ve never been financially possible otherwise. They saw all the great cities of the world; they would do things like spend a three-day weekend in Argentina. Just amazing.
After losing her, my Dad – and I completely understand this – honestly felt like he could never get on an airplane or do any traveling again; it was just too intimately connected to her.
And it was hard between my Dad and me, because we could barely get on the phone without just starting to grieve for my Mom. Again, not at all an estrangement, just really rough emotional territory. We did a lot of our communication via email.
A couple of years passed, and while I don’t think it’s at all true that time heals all wounds, I do believe it can be healing to some extent.
My Dad is a Vietnam veteran, and one of the things he’d wanted to do all of his life was take a trip back to Vietnam. See with older eyes what he saw when he was 20. I should note, by the was, that my Dad – due to his astounding mind for technical matters – did not serve in combat, so the notion of the trip, while profound, wasn’t as emotionally loaded as it might be for some veterans.
He and my Mom never made that trip. So I suggested that he and I make it. At first, he was – understandably – enormously reluctant. But I planted the seeds, and he started looking into the logistics of it: the financial viability and all that. Slowly, but surely, a trip began to take shape.
One of the things I wanted to do was go during the Tet Holiday, which is the Vietnamese Lunar New Year. It’s a huge deal there, and probably the worst, most complicated time to go as a tourist. The reason I wanted to do this is because one of my long-term projects is a book, with comics writer Jason Aaron (Scalped), about the late Gustav Hasford, author of the novel The Short-Timers, which was the basis for Kubrick’s Vietnam film Full Metal Jacket (Jason, I might add, happens be the cousin of Gus Hasford). As your readers probably remember, the story of the book/film take place mostly during the 1968 Tet Offensive, with particular focus on the brutal urban combat that took place in the city of Huế. So I wanted to go during the holiday and I wanted to be in Huế on Tet itself.
Well, my Dad moved heaven and earth to make this happen. In February, 2010, we started in Saigon (it still just doesn’t feel right to call it Ho Chi Minh City) and worked our way north, and on Tet we were in Huế, having drinks and dinner at the DMZ Bar. If that’s not a profoundly bonding father/son moment, I don’t know what is.
Since then, we’ve been to Thailand four times (and let me assure your readers none of them were for the reason a lot of Western men go to Thailand, though on our last trip we did make our way down to the famous Soi Cowboy red light district to gawk at the spectacle); Laos; Cambodia; and Myanmar (formerly Burma). We’re already starting to talk about a possible trip to Mongolia and maybe another trip to Vietnam.
As to favorite, well – that Vietnam trip was just magical, so that was my favorite trip. But actually, my favorite country in Southeast Asia is Laos, which I like to refer to as the greatest place very few people have ever been. My Dad and I even agree that it, in particular the former capitol, Luang Prabang, is the place in SE Asia we’d want to live. Laos is just…words fail. It’s so beautiful; the people are so gentle; it’s still largely unspoiled and un-Westernized.
I should add, as well, that my Dad and I both just love Bangkok, Thailand. It’s just such an amazing city; even the sleazier sex trade aspects are surprisingly well-regulated and not depressing. And it’s got the biggest, weirdest shopping mall I’ve ever been in, the MBK, which is sort of like Blade Runner inside an enormous building.
Least favorite? Alas, that would be Cambodia. That’s not to say I regret in the least going there, particularly getting to see Angkor Wat, one of the most extraordinary set of ruins on Earth (and the visual basis for certain aspects of the Kurtz compound in Apocalypse Now). But after what that country went through under Pol Pot – well, it’s amazing there’s any society at all. The whole country, particularly the capitol, Phnom Penh, just reeks of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. It was a sobering and instructive trip, but an emotionally difficult one.
In 2008, you co-edited The Book of Lists: Horror (HarperCollins), which was nominated for a Bram Stoker Award. There are so many great lists in that book, and I know this is kind of unfair, but tell us about 3 or 4 of the lists that excited you most.
Oh, I can’t answer this question. They all excited me. But, of course, it was staggering – and full credit for scoring this goes to Del Howison – to score a list from Ray Bradbury, particularly since he passed so recently. But, no – they’re all great lists and I love them all and thank our contributors for giving them to us.
At the risk of not having enough dinosaurs in this interview, tell us why you love the dinosaur sequence in The Tree of Life.
This has, of course, become something of a joke amongst my friends, particularly on Facebook. But it’s true – that whole Creation sequence, and in particular the dinosaurs, really moved me.
Part of it is, still being kind of a little boy at heart, I love dinosaurs. And it was cool to see them in something about as far from Jurassic Park as you can get (not that there’s anything wrong with Jurassic Park).
I’m also really fascinated and moved by what that sequence, to me, suggests: the birth of empathy. Besides, admiring the sheer 2001-like ambition of it alone is amazing. The fact that Malick, in the midst of what is essentially a domestic drama, chose to try to illustrate this – and with dinosaurs, no less (not what we tend to think of as exemplars of empathy), just blows me away.
And I like the ambiguity of it. Maybe that one dinosaur really did get distracted by something and that’s why it didn’t harm the other dinosaur. I find that pretty hard to believe, given my reading of Malick’s oeuvre, but it’s a great argument to have with people who think the inclusion of that sequence is one of the dumbest decisions ever made by any filmmaker.
You eat at House of Pies almost every day. What do you order? Why House of Pies?
It’s pretty much always breakfast and I go through periods of ordering the same thing and then switch to something else. Right now I’m doing scrambled eggs, corned beef hash, hash browns, and an English muffin, sometimes with a side of extra-crispy bacon. They have amazing corned beef hash, by the way.
I don’t know. But whatever it is, I’m sure I’ll post about it on Facebook.
Fantastic interview, Scott. Thank you for your time.
BOOK TRAILER FOR THE DARK
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