I still can’t get FRACTAL DESPONDENCY out of my head, Trent. The week following my first reading of that novella, I kept imagining the story as a film shot in black and white and blue. I was actually scoring the thing in my mind, casting it, and, above all else, loving it. So I was shocked to hear that it isn’t even close to your favorite! What is your favorite of your stories? Why?
It’s not that I dislike it. It’s really the piece of writing that got me noticed. But to me it’s more of an important piece in regards to my life. Much of the story is autobiographical. Not all, of course, but a lot of the things in Fractal Despondency really happened to me. A small one, for example: waking up with my left ear filled with dried blood. I still have a scar at my ear that will never go away. So some moments are directly from my life, some are almost direct but shrouded in make believe, and, of course, some parts I just completely made up. It’s special to me in that it was the first thing I wrote where I said, “Okay, enough bullshit. Stop pulling punches. Sit down and tell people the way you really see things. The way you see them through your own uniquely prescribed lenses.” I like it, but I think it could’ve been better. Maybe I’m wrong. It certainly could’ve been worse. I could’ve been, and in all likelihood should’ve been dead, so anything I write now is special to me, because I’m still alive to do it.
You’ve mentioned that you’ve taken some criticism for how honest your work is. Share with us your views on honesty in prose. What have you gotten out of baring your soul on the page?
I get lots of emails from people who say this thing or that was good, but it made them very uncomfortable. I dated a girl briefly who broke it off after she read my stuff (it wasn’t working out anyway). I think one of the drawbacks to the whole honesty thing in fiction is people tend to place themselves in the character, and when you’re being as honest as you can be, you’re likely gonna strike some sort of chord on some level, and some people take it personally. I’m kind of talking out of my ass here, but now I’m not, though it’ll sound more like I am.
Our society has basically simplified literature by breaking it into two basic categories: “Escapism” and “Literary”, the former being exactly that, an escape, and the latter being, uh, well, “good”, which, I guess, to whomever broke down the complex versatility and millions of doorways that spans each and every type of fiction, means “important”, which is apparently measured by someone (we don’t know who) who has made it a cultural duty to find a way to still keep the classes separate. In other words, there’s fiction for stupid folks and fiction for smart folks. Few people judge a book by its content; they really do judge them by their covers, or by the name attached to them. Someone once told me how much she hated Stephen King, then admitted to never reading him. The whole thing is just lame. My work is not escapism, though I wouldn’t call it important either. I’m just saying the things I feel I’ve gotta say. If life had showered me with rainbows and unicorns, I’d be writing about that, but it showered me with death and substance abuse, manipulation, suicide, and so I write about that.
For me, if I’m not telling the truth, truth the way I see it on a given day, then there’s no point. Don’t get me wrong. I read all kinds of things, and I’ve written things with the sole purpose of having a good time. I’m not a super serious person. I’ve got a big time goofy side, and I’m a total geek, in my own ways. But I also have a lot of anger and regret and shame and guilt, and these are the things I usually put words to. If I’m happy I strum the three chords I know on a guitar. I have a human therapist, a great therapist, and then I have my keyboard therapist, or pen-and-paper therapist. The writer in me is my other therapist.
Tell us about an author who you don’t think people read nearly enough. What’s their best work? Why should people start reading them right now?
People who know me, or who have followed me for a while, know that my favorite writer is David Goodis, pulp master of the 40s and 50s. And Joe Lansdale, contemporary master. I’ve gushed enough about both of them, so I’ll talk about somebody else for a change. A somebody else named Roger Zelazny. With only a couple of exceptions, I didn’t read his work while he was alive, and that saddens me because I can’t call him up and say, “Dude! I mean, Dad! I just read Creatures of Light and Darkness! Holy shit, man! You just rocked my face off!” I don’t talk about my father a lot, and it’s nothing against him, which, I’m sure, wherever he is, he knows. Even writing in different genres, it’s tough being a writer who is the son of a writer, not to mention being the son of a great, great writer, whose work was so damn poetic, so thought-provoking, and so damn entertaining. His work was my first real experience with philosophy. The first thing to really strike a chord inside me was “For a Breath I Tarry”. A small and simple little scene, which, through the magic of cut and paste, I can recite verbatim.
They came to rest in the place once known as California. The time was near sunset. In the distance, the surf struck steadily upon the rocky shoreline. Frost released Mordel and considered his surroundings.
"Those large plants...?"
"And the green ones are...?"
"Yes, it is as I thought. Why have we come here?"
"Because it is a place which once delighted Man."
"In what ways?"
"It is scenic, beautiful..."
That’s the first bit I distinctly remember reading where my heart pounded in my chest and I fell in love with my father’s words. Some personal favorites would be A Night in the Lonesome October, Lord of Light, My Name is Legion, Creatures of Light and Darkness, Damnation Alley, and of course the Amber Series.
BUTTERFLY POTION is a very strong story. How does it differ from your previous outings?
Thank you. I’d put it in a similar vein as Fractal Despondency and Shadowboxer, but having worked through so much stuff since writing those two, both mentally and emotionally, I think it has a slightly clearer vision and, for want of a better way to put it, a more fatherly outlook, as though Fractal Despondency and Shadowboxer are hurt and crying children, and Butterfly Potion is telling them, “Yes, it hurts and I bet it hurts bad. In fact I know it hurts bad. Real fucking bad. But look, you’ve survived it. You’ve come out the other side. Now let’s get a move on, let’s Keep on truckin’.” – I was born in the 70s, so I can say “Keep on truckin’.”
They’re great. Really good folks who really care about what they’re doing. As far as working with a publisher, my experience with Nightscape was the most fun and rewarding I’ve had. Looks like they have a good lineup coming. I’m pleased and proud to be in with such good company.
What lights you up?
Pretty girls, music, laughter. A damn good movie or a damn good book or a damn good basketball game. A philosophical discussion that doesn’t turn into a pointless argument. Long walks on the beach… wait, forget that one, that’s for my personals ad.
What shuts you down?
Negative people. I don’t mean people having a negative day. We all have those. I mean people who are just negative, day in and day out. People who never have nothing nice to say. People who are always right. People who would rather say something shitty than say nothing at all. I think the Earth will implode by the weight of hatred. If you wanna be negative, to quote my father’s novella …And Call Me Conrad, “Love is a negative form of hatred,” so that might be a more positive way to still be negative. Food poisoning can do it, too.
What can you tell us about your forthcoming anthology?
It’s called Mirages: Tales From Authors of the Macabre. Something illusory, without substance or reality. The sticky threads that communicate the meaningless in a thousand different ways. I was thrilled to get such a stellar lineup of writers. There’s a story in it called “Angela & the Angel”. I think you’d really like that one. It’s written by Scott Bradley and a guy you might know, Pete, goes by the name Peter Giglio. I think it’s a great collection and I think folks will really like it a lot. So many great authors, so many great stories. Should be out in late August.
As to not have much crossover with another interview I did, I’ll keep it brief. I loved basketball as a kid. When I was little my favorite player was my big brother, then Larry Bird. In high school I set the interest aside so I could do the whole disassociated artist thing. Then a few years ago it came back and saved my life. I’ve been debating writing a non-fiction piece on exactly how it did that.
How did childhood shape your love of reading and writing?
We come back to the word “Escapism”, though not as defined when I used it before, I don’t think. The escape part, yes. Pretty much everyone will admit it now, so I’ll say it. My family was fucked up. Whatever, really, it happens. Most families, in one way or another, are fucked up. There were things in my childhood I hid from, some things I had to hide from. Books and movies were the safe places for me. I could escape the shit and the fear and live in another world for a while. Comedy/humor and horror were the big ones for me as a kid, both in books and movies. And drama. I liked stories that could make me cry. Only in hindsight do I think that was because I needed to cry.
What else would you like people to know about you?
I love my friends. I haven’t always been the best friend to some, but I would die for them, if I had to. Friends, please don’t pull a Max von Sydow/Ming the Merciless thing on me for saying that.
Also, people often say I’m easy to read, and yet they’re constantly confused by me. I could go off on a long tangent but won’t.
I’m also willing to admit that I still really love the band Jesus Jones.
Amazon.com links to buy BUTTERFLY POTION:
And here's the BUTTERFLY POTION book trailer: