Where did “In the Temple of Celestial Pleasures” come from? Can you tell us a bit about how you came to write the story?
For years, I had been toying with the idea of a science fictional brothel that afforded human beings the opportunity to virtually experience the sex acts of creatures from other worlds. It didn’t work as space-faring science fiction, especially when my first few attempts centered on multiple dalliances culminating in total, irreversible surfeit; the narrative rhythm always ended up being, “this, then this, then this, then this,” then boom, a catalogue of wonders hinging on character and theme not at all, and therefore possessing no resonance whatsoever. I then had the epiphany: what if there was only one transcendent experience, and anybody who sought it had to sacrifice everything, including his future? Who would be jaded enough to even want to pay the price? From there, the only remaining brainstorm was the decision to bring it down to Earth and set it in some vaguely eastern medieval kingdom—a necessity because the guy had to be a prince of sorts, entitled to expend uncounted lives in his lust for novelty. But don’t be fooled by the form. This tale has been called horror and sword and sorcery, but is still a first contact science fiction story.
Unpleasant protagonists getting their comeuppance is a common trope in horror and dark fantasy, but “In the Temple of Celestial Pleasures” gives us an unpleasant protagonist getting exactly what he wants, albeit in a disturbing way. Were you working deliberately against the grain in this story?
Nope. I didn’t go against the grain. I paralleled it. You see, to me, this is very much not a story about a man getting exactly what he wants, or one about a man screwed by a Faustian bargain, as it is a story about a man who wants something until it’s no longer worth having. There’s a reason why I surprised myself by not actually showing the experience he’s paid for, or the emptiness of the life afterward; two things that I fully expected to include. And that’s because his journey arrives at the destination I really cared about, his conversation with the slave girl he abandoned. Read that scene closely, contemplate the impassable gulf between him and her single tear, and it should be totally clear that he now realizes he sacrificed more than any human being ever should, long before he ever entered the Temple. To me, that’s the story, far more than how royally screwed he will likely be afterward.
For the last few years you’ve been writing a middle-grade series, Gustav Gloom. Has writing for children changed anything about the way you write for adults, or vice-versa?
I’d like to say that writing horror-tinged fantasy for children has made me subtler, but it wouldn’t be true. Every story has its demands, and the only lesson I’ve found universal is that compromise is a killer.
What’s coming up for you? Any upcoming publications readers should watch for?
In terms of short fiction, this is actually the most recent I’ve made, which means that as of now I have nothing at all on the horizon. This will likely change by publication date. I’m still working on various novel proposals to follow up the Gustav Gloom series. In the meantime Gustav Gloom and the Cryptic Carousel is out in August 2014, and the fifth Gustav Gloom will be out one year later.
What’s scarier for you—gore, or creep factor?
Gore to me serves a different story function than the creep factor, though they can intersect. I have no problem with gore, even when used in its comical version, splatstick. The creep factor, the sense that something is terribly wrong, to me comes before fear; and fear can be one of the finest story-telling emotions of all.
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