In an interview originally appearing in Interzone, you stated, “Any writer worth reading is going to talk about his own experience, even if he is writing fantasy . . .” Would you say all of your stories relate in some way to your own experience? What draws you to this approach?
It’s unavoidable, isn’t it? All that surrounds us—sights, sounds, colors, music, words, fragments of conversations—penetrates our minds to some degree and is turned into something else. Think of an earthworm’s castings, which are the product of what passes through its body to be transformed into something new and enriched, or at least different from what it was. The process happens whether we’re aware of it or not, and it’s beyond our control. As Stephen King once remarked, if you eat asparagus tonight, your piss is going to smell funny tomorrow, and there’s nothing you can do about it. If your mind and your senses are alive, it’s inevitable. Of course, we don’t write about everything that happens to us. Ideas are everywhere, like fireflies in the air, but only certain ones stick and get under the skin. Why? Don’t ask me. The trick is to follow and explore what intrigues you. Was it Terence McKenna who said that life is not a puzzle to be solved but a mystery to be experienced? The best advice I can think of for a writer is a line by Kenneth Patchen: “Never oppose that which seems strange in yourself. It is the only part that is aware.”
I find some of the scariest stories to be those in which something about an otherwise ordinary situation seems a little off; where the menace lurks between the lines on the page, rather than being out in the open. I had this feeling while reading “Princess.” Is creating that sort of tension or tone important when writing horror stories in particular?
I’ve written many stories about that feeling you get when you know something’s wrong, but you’re not quite sure what it is yet. “It Only Comes Out at Night” was an example, and this one is the latest. The conscious mind focuses on one thing at a time, but the unconscious is in touch with all and everything inside you, the accumulation of events and experiences and associations that we cannot readily access at will. In the case of “Princess,” I remember very clearly when it came together. It was a night in March of last year, after the Paperback Show in Glendale. I was sitting at a table by the pool with Peter Atkins, Julius Francisco, Ashley Dioses, K. A. Opperman, Lindsay Lane and a couple of other friends, and I glanced up and noticed the words EXTENDED STAY in neon letters at the top of the Con hotel, which was a Holiday Inn Express. It seemed ominous somehow, and I began a jokey riff about the possibilities of what it might mean. Months later, I remembered a story I had started years earlier but never finished because it didn’t seem to be going anywhere. My working title was “Just Like You,” and it was about four people, two children and two adults, in a car. Now, finally, that scene connected on some deeper level with the two words I saw written in red against the sky. The style of the story made itself, once I had an inkling of what it was really about.
What are you working on now?
More stories, of course. It Only Comes Out at Night & Other Stories, a career retrospective from Centipede Press, was published in November but sold out in less than a week, with no plans for a second printing, alas. Since then, I’ve been proofreading a new, expanded edition of my book of Hollywood noir tales, Fine Cuts, for Borderlands Press. It has a cover by Harry O. Morris and it’s turned out beautifully. This is the first U.S. publication, with a recent, previously uncollected story to bring it up to date. All the copies are signed and numbered, and the lettered state includes “Twenty-Four Frames a Second,” an essay about motion pictures. Borderlands is also bringing out a thirty-five-year anniversary edition of my first collection, The Dark Country, later this year. So I’d say things are looking pretty good.
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