The OF Blog: The wotmania Files: Interview with Poppy Z. Brite (2/6/2003)

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The wotmania Files: Interview with Poppy Z. Brite (2/6/2003)

This is another in a series of interviews that Kory conducted at wotmania between January-April 2003.

Thanks for agreeing to do this short interview, the members at the site will enjoy it. Many of them are aspiring writers themselves, and they are all on the look out for information on authors they enjoy or haven't read yet. I'll include a link to your site on the page as well, so they can follow your links and infor mation there.

Great! If I didn't mention it, the site was recently redone by a new designer and I think it is much improved.

1 ) Your first story was written at the age of 3, I have a copy of your reading of it myself. Do you recall the actual creation of it, and what inspired the story and need to write it out?

I didn't write it out -- I just spontaneously told it into a tape recorder. I've been doing things like that since before I can remember. I've no idea what inspired that one, though I think it is a pretty good story for a 3 1/2 year old.

2 ) You started submitting stories at the age of 12. Do you have any of these stories around anymore? Are you surprised that any of them were never published?

No, I don't have them any more (thank God, or I'm sure somebody would want to do a chapbook), and no, it doesn't surprise me that they were never published -- from what I can recall, they were terrible!

3 ) By 18 you had your first published story. What was this story about and where did it get published?

"Optional Music for Voice and Piano," published in THE HORROR SHOW, a good little magazine that ceased publi cation in 1988.

4 ) Lost Souls, your first published novel, came out later. How did you manage to find a publisher and what impact did this have on your life?

in 1987, editor David B. Silva invited me to be part of the "Rising Stars" issue of THE HORROR SHOW, featuring two stories and an interview apiece from five new horror writers. Among them was my friend Brian Hodge -- we met through that issue. After the "Rising Stars" issue came out, I received a letter from Douglas E. Winter, whom I knew at that time only as the biographer of Stephen King. He was working as a publishing consultant for a hardcover horror line being started by Walker & Company, he'd liked my stories, and he wondered whether I had a novel in the works. I'd just begun my freshman year at the University of North Carolina and was hating it. That letter decided my future. I dropped out of college and began working on what would become LOST SOULS.

Through no fault of Doug's, the manuscript sat on the shelf for a year until Walker & Company decided they weren't going to start that new horror line after all. Brian Hodge, who had just sold his third novel to Dell, offered to show LOST SOULS to his editor. In 1991, Dell bought the novel as a paperback original. A few months later they decided to make it the first hardcover in the Abyss horror line and signed me to a six-figure, three-book contract. As for the impact this had on my life, it's very difficult to say, since almost every aspect of my life would be different if this had not happened. I suppose the most obvious impact is that writing has provided my sole income since 1991, and I've learned that this is not the luxurious situation I thought it would be! I'm not talking money -- though there have been feast times and famine times -- so much as the paradox that
once you become a freelancer, your time becomes less your own. For me anyway, the fact that I set my own hours causes me to feel slothful whenever I'm not working.

5 ) Of all the books you've published, Exquisite Corpse is the "most" in every horror related characteristic. What brought out such dark characters and storylines?

To me, the dividing line between my previous two novels and EC wasn't so heavily drawn. I didn't consider it more graphic, shocking, or extreme until everyone started saying it was. I still wonder if supernatural elements (present in the first two, but not in EC) don't provide a comfort zone for some readers -- "Well, I'm not upset by this, since it couldn't really happen." DRAWING BLOOD opens with a man murdering his wife and younger son, and the story follows his older son returning to the scene to learn what happened, so how exactly is EC darker than that? I suppose it ends on a more somber note, but for much of their lengths, the stories seem equally dark to me.

6 ) This year the 10th Anniversary edition of Lost Souls and your new novel The Value of X both became available. They are vastly different in topic. Have you gone in a new direction permanently, or is this a deviation which will eventually return you to the fantasy and horror genres?

I have no idea. I don't plan these things according to what I think will sell or even what I like the idea of writing; I work with what I have. Lately, "what I have" isn't particularly dark or horrific, and I am so inter ested in this work that right now it's difficult to imagine doing anything else. But keep in mind that I always feel that way. In an interview ten years ago, I said horror was large enough to encompass anything I might want to write. That turned out not to be the case, though I don't mean that as any sort of indictment of horror.

7 ) During your life and career you have been friends with and influenced by many renowned authors. Who do you admire and feel influenced by, either creatively or in work style.

Oh jeez, I'm always afraid of answering this question for fear of leaving someone out. I read and admire so many different writers, but I never really know if I've been influenced by them until years later, when I look back at my old work and think, "Well, that sounds like Peter Straub/Ray Bradbury/John Irving" (to name three writers I read heavily in my teens, not necessarily my biggest influences). Right now I'm interested in writing honestly about New Orleans (something I feel I've failed to do in the past), so I idolize John Kennedy Toole, who wrote A CONFEDERACY OF DUNCES, probably the best novel about the city. I like J.D. Salinger's Glass family stories because I've been writing a bunch of stories about a family, though of course they are nothing like the Glasses. I like the way Neil Gaiman seems to feel unconstrained by characters' time lines; he has the ability to go back and write an event from a given character's past and make it feel effortless and seamless. I'm thinking particularly of
the stories about Hazel and Foxglove in SANDMAN.

8 ) You have links to two magazines on your site, The Spook and City Slab. Could you tell us about them and why you have chosen to pitch in and help them off the ground?

Don't give me too much credit! I'm happy if my work somehow helps a new market, but I'm no publishing altruist. Those magazines approached me, I told them my minimum price for an original story, they agreed to meet it, and I wrote the stories. The links are on my site so people will be able to find my work.

9 ) How about a little information on the Church of the Subgenius?

I haven't kept up with them as well as I should, since X-Day apparently won't happen until the year 8661. It was supposed to be 1998, but apparently the aliens wrote it on a cocktail napkin and "Bob" read it upside down. You can get all the information you want by following the link on my site, though.

10 ) Similar to our home here, you have a Message Board called The Phorum. What types of topics would we be able to discover in discussion over there?

Currently, everything from the pros and cons of THE VALUE OF X to how to cure a goldfish of ick. It's definitely (and thankfully) not all about me!

11 ) Now that the Value of X is out, what can we look for from you next?

The followup, LIQUOR, will be out from Crown Books in Spring 2004. It takes place ten years after TVoX and is quite different in subject matter and tone. I'll spend this year writing the third novel about these characters, which Crown will publish in 2005. I also have a new short story collection, THE DEVIL YOU KNOW, coming out from Subterranean Press in a few months.

Thanks for your time Poppy, I appreciate it. By the way, I've run out of the Community Coffee you sent ages ago and would be happy to trade boxes again Let me know, and I look forward to your response.

I'll pick up an extra bag next time I go to the store.



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