Can you give us some background for “Singing with All My Skin and Bone”? What inspired you to write it?
The core of it is a decision I came to around this past New Year’s, which was to finally get brave enough to dig down into the core of what makes me frightened and angry and sad and drag it out and make words out of it. One of my favorite books on writing is Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, and one of the points she stresses is the importance of doing that, that those painful, shameful things are where a lot of your most honest and powerful work can come from. So this story was a direct result of wanting to attempt that.
On a more practical level, it comes from my experience with an impulse control disorder called dermatophagia, which involves the picking/gouging and eating of one’s own skin; it’s basically compulsive self-injury. It’s a very stigmatized disorder, to the extent that people even know about it—obviously, because it’s often quite disturbing to see its effects—and I had a rough time with it as a kid, because kids are cruel about things like that. I’ve struggled for years with talking about it openly, and turning it into a story seemed important. It’s an incredibly autobiographical story, and it was terrifying but oddly healing to write.
On a side note, one of the terms for people with dermatophagia is “wolf biter.” I sort of love that.
You recently published a collection of essays. Care to tell us a little about it?
It was mostly a whim. I’ve been writing nonfiction in a more academic sense for a couple of years now—I’m a regular contributor to a sociology blog called Cyborgology, and I’ve also written for The New Inquiry—and I’ve produced some stuff I’m pretty proud of. Often I write about society and technology, but also frequently about video games as well as the social process of storytelling and the place of fiction in how we understand our experience of reality. At the same time I’ve been wondering what was involved in the process of putting together a self-published book, the nuts and bolts of designing the interior and whatnot, and I wanted to see if I could do it and not completely fail at it or hate myself. Turns out it was bearable, and the result—A Brief History of the Future—came into the world this past July. I’m pretty pleased with it.
You’re pursuing a doctorate in sociology. How do your academic studies influence your fiction?
Often the influence is very indirect, but it’s almost always there to some degree. I’d say it consists of both how I think through an idea—how I look for ways to draw connections between elements that may not be obvious or intuitive—and also what I want my fiction to do. I’m a sociologist with a strong social justice orientation, and I try to be aware of the degree to which my writing includes people we don’t see or hear from very much, or that says and does things that are important but under-examined. It also means that I try to be aware of screw-ups: am I representing this person fairly and richly? Am I doing this group of people justice? Am I reproducing tropes or other story elements that I shouldn’t be? Is this even my story to tell? I’m in a position of considerable privilege so I’ve obviously made false steps in the past and I’m sure I will in the future, but it’s something I’m always trying to work on.
What are you working on lately? Any upcoming publications to watch for?
I’ve been finishing up a trilogy of dark fantasy novels—Casting the Bones, from Masque Books (Prime’s digital imprint)—and the third book will hopefully have gotten a release this October (if I’ve finished it in time, shhhhhh). I’m excited about it; it has some very odd worldbuilding going on, as well as multiple queer characters, which is always fun and gratifying to write. Besides that, I have “What Glistens Back,” a story in Lightspeed about an astronaut in freefall who’s spending the last moments of his life saying goodbye to his husband via radio, though I’m not sure yet when that’s getting posted. And I have a novel coming in January from Samhain Publishing—Labyrinthian—which is a queer retelling of the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur in spaaaaaaaaaace. It’s very goofy but it was so fun to write and I can’t wait for it to get released.
If you were the hero of a horror movie, how would you end up destroying the monster?
I wouldn’t. I would be consumed alive. My horror stories never end well. Unless you’re a monster.
Spread the word!