Can you tell me a little bit about the origins of “A Short Guide to the City”?
I had picked up a copy of Joseph Brodsky’s Less Than One: Selected Essays, and was reading his great piece on St. Petersburg, “A Guide to a Renamed City,” and realized with a kind of shock that I could write something similar (but more like a guidebook entry) about the city of my birth and childhood, Milwaukee. My feelings about Milwaukee are mixed and cloudy, and they veer back and forth between hostility and acceptance. I thought I could pack all kinds of feelings about the city into this story if I did not stick to the literal truth, to physical accuracy, but instead permitted myself to exaggerate and invent, and by those means perhaps to express another, deeper kind of truth.
What are you working on these days?
I am at work, and have been for years, on a longish novel nowadays called Hello Jack. It involves Henry James, Jack the Ripper, a strange nineteenth century English painting, and several members of the eccentric Hayward clan from A Dark Matter, among them the second-richest woman in the world.
In addition to your novels and short fiction, you’ve published several poetry collections. Do you find writing poetry to be very different from prose, or do you see similarities in your process for each?
I still read poetry pretty much daily, but cannot write it any more. Something happened to me when I had become used to writing the long lines necessary to prose, and I forgot how to write short ones. Enjambment was way beyond me. The case was hopeless. I chucked it.
I think it’s safe to say you’re an established figure in horror. Do you keep up with new developments in the genre? Are there any up-and-coming horror authors you’re particularly fond of?
I do not keep careful track of what is going on in the genre, but I hope it is moving along the lines I try to suggest in my own work and on occasions like speeches and conferences; that is, toward a kind of mainstreaming without which it will helplessly become a cult literature enjoyed primarily by adolescents and other grotesques. Fiction first, I say, and horror second. Newer writers I like include Laird Barron, John Langan, and Sarah Langan. They’re good writers, and I think they have learned to trust their impulses.
What scares you? Is there anything that will make you sleep with the light on?
In a way, everything pretty much scares me. There’s a reason I was in psychoanalysis for fifteen years, then in continuing psychotherapy for another fifteen. With the same shrink! I got out just before we began exchanging anniversary gifts. These days, things don’t really scare me as much as they once did, and my methods for coping with everyday stresses are way, way less neurotic.
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