Interviews & Reviews

I DON’T GET HOW ANYTHING WORKS ANYMORE: a conversation between Tyler Dempsey and KKUURRTT

TYLER DEMPSEY: Going to a music festival ten years after you didn't like going to them in the first place. And, just not being able to get that feeling you could back then. Understanding from now on it's a memory unreachable. I've never read a book that used this location/theme combination. Did you come up with that, you bastard?

KKUURRTT: Hahaha I mean I wrote like three versions of this location before I found the theme of chasing a memory unreachable and they were all just pure fucking trash. 10K word false starts that will never see the light of day. Like, look at how fun this thing is wow. But don’t people already kind of know what is fun for them? One day something just clicked, the first line of the book really, the idea of a character being over this thing he claims to still treasure and it all just worked from there.

So, the location was there the whole time, but the theme came later.  I don’t know if that’s the most effective way to write, but I always just start with an inkling and then let it develop on its own. When you write, do you outline, do you plan? Is theme x location a concern?

I’m more in love with this idea of ‘having fun,’ than having my chain yanked tight in anticipation of anything providing it.

Easier said than done but I love the ethos. I hate when I forget this kind of shit and settle into some caveman brain kind of shit, existing on survival mode that doesn’t even apply to this situation I find myself in.

An older friend (97) said the trick to not blowing his head off was being sincerely interested seeing what his brain might think next. I would blow my book’s head off if it didn’t offer results I didn’t anticipate. Heard common burnout, in nonfiction, comes after the research stage. Like, your brain worked through whatever made it interesting.


But if you don’t take notes. Just let it swirl around. It’ll remain interesting and sustain the marathon of book writing.

The biggest points will stick. The others, the brain’s ass will shit out.

I’ve never gotten past the research part of a research-heavy project.  Collapse under the weight of more and more and did I do enough? The only research I let myself do now is in-the-moment kind of stuff. Even then sometimes I just use a [placeholder] and come back on the rewrite. Maybe I’m a fuck research except for that of a life lived kind of guy. I guess that’s what they mean by writing what you know. Not like in any “this is the only way” sort of way. More like, why not use the tools you already have?

I never know what’s about to happen in front of the blinking vertical-line on my screen. A character worth chasing presents a melody to me. The longer I mine it–see where the particular combination of tones leads them–the more image chips out of the marble. A novel I wrote last winter was an exception. Dreamt it. Then had a sense of urgency to get it down. A crime novel set in a fictional, Midwestern town. Realized once I started I needed a map/character outlines/other shit I hate.

Power for you to be able to pull this off. Glad there was benefit in map/character/outline. Some people only write that way and I wish I could. My brain just gets bored by this process and starts acting out against itself.  Self-sabotage my entire life any time someone told me what to do—and that includes me. It’s fucked.

Hope I never do it again. Was it scary writing a book that spans only a few days? Or did it allow you to settle in on the line-level. I gotta be honest—I don't read a lot of Twitter-writers engaging a reader like this—you're actually funny.

The schedule kept grounding me. Always pulled me back to a timetable, even if of my own creation. Otherwise I have the nature to get lost in my diatribes, rather than being in the moment. Time isn’t real when you’re on drugs, so it’s like all really fast or really slow and it didn’t have to be 10 pages = an hour or some shit. Just as much as I wanted to hyperfocus or not. But time kept pulling me out of musings or philosophy or high-speak and into narrative. And even though there’s not much of a narrative, days passing became a sort of replacement narrative. The original version was five days instead of four, but I worked with an editor who helped me pull back slightly. There’s something infinitely relatable about just a weekend. Who hasn’t had one of some comparative nature? I don’t want to call it a bender, but yeah… eventually there is a return to normalcy.

Thanks for the compliment on being funny. I feel like such an asshole when people on twitter are like “are there any actual funny books,” and I’m like ahem… Are there any other books that make you laugh?  Are we supposed to laugh while reading fiction?

Agree. The weekend works on many levels. It’s juuuuust long enough. But not too.

Wasn’t wired for drugs. Even in my 20’s. After 3/4 days I needed 48-hours to grind my teeth in soft lighting. Felt strung out toward the end of your book. Seriously, I wouldn’t say it’s a ‘difficult’ book, but it’s not as easy as railing coke.

It’s just not sustainable. I feel like people think “I’m just a drug guy,” and sure I’ll advocate for experimentation all day, but the book is also very clearly trying to come to terms with the notion that maybe this isn’t the best. Feeling strung out by the end of the book was by design. I got strung out writing it. Too much of a good thing…

Being stuck in a cosmically-unpleasant situation like your narrator hits different. Like watching, Seinfeld, or something.

Funny’s hard. Which is why your book’s refreshing. Zac Smith tickles me in an intellectual way. I see his ‘flex,’ if you could say he has one, as subversive. Very: don’t look at me, but please, please look. He’s phenomenal. Stuart Buck’s recent novel, Hypnopony, made me laugh.

Lots of writers seem to be doing similar, highly-cerebral comedy. Aimed at a writerly-audience—Cavin, Sam Pink, et al.

LOL on Zac. His writing definitely has a flex. I see the look at me/don’t look at me kind of thing, but I also think it transcends even beyond that. I can’t wait to see what Zac is writing in thirty years. Cavin and Sam, I’ll ride or die on both of their writings. Haven’t read a page I haven’t loved. I need to read Hypnopony, fuck.

We love seeing people get what they deserve. As the situation becomes more a mockery of itself, tension builds, almost in the way horror operates—even minor situations are imbued with oh-shit-what’s-gonna-happen feels. Being one step away from a k-hole…

Just putting people in worse and worse situations. And drugs make that even easier. Like I knew a k-hole and a bad trip were incoming, but I had to save them for the right moment. Tension and release. I love horror movies, but can’t really fuck with horror fiction. Guess I’m more inclined to let comedy be my horror. Same kind of visceral reaction… just horrible shit happening to people. Except here, it’s funny.

Roland’s musings act like an adjacent narrative, then SNAP back into the flow of what's going on at the festival. And, because the paces (like, how they say people in different cities walk different speeds) aren't aligned with one another in each narrative, there's a pleasing warble when the reader gets to pull off that merge. Like nailing a simple trick. An ollie. You still feel good.

The musings to narrative snap IS exactly what I was going for, something that could balance interiority and presence in physical space simultaneously. I really appreciate you comparing it to an ollie. There’s an excitement to it, even if it’s simple. The author who inspired this stylistic effort most is probably Henry Miller. But his obsessions are more fucking-influenced than mine.

It’s just the way my brain works and I couldn’t do anything else if I wanted. How do you translate your thoughts to the page? Do you silence some and let others through? I’m sure everybody’s process is different, but mine is 100% apparent on the page.

Agree, everything’s on the page. Henry Miller, haven’t read him. What book/s operate/s similarly?

Sexus, Plexus, and Nexus and Tropic of Cancer/Capricorn are all too long and the magic trick wears off well before you’re done. The books of his that get it most right in my opinion are Quiet Days in Clichy and Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch, but I like to read Miller more for tone and style than narrative anyway. Can pick it up, read 50 pages, and put it down for six months. I haven’t read everything, nor do I really intend to.

I translate my thoughts to the page in a murderous sprint. Most of what’s left, after editing, is propelling plot.

I DO try to reward in craft-y ways. Another reason I’m drawn to your work, I’m sure. My novel, Consumption, switches narrators each chapter, so it has that ollie-reward. Readers get to know narrators/voices, and don’t need fancy bells and whistles, like me saying who’s talking, to know who’s talking. Writers who pull this off, I see as magicians.

I had a screenwriting teacher when I was 18/19 tell me—as nice as she could—that all my characters sounded exactly alike—like me. Probably why I just tend to write in first person present. I have a lot of ideas that need close narrative distance to multiple people, and I always feel incapable.

Do you write on drugs?

Write high, edit sober…? No, write sober, make stranger/sillier high, edit sober.

It’s occasional. Like a pass or a paragraph. Moreso I let music guide me. Obviously I was listening to a lot of house music when I was writing this. Just 2 hour set after 2 hour set, putting me in that forward momentum. Though, music depends on the project. I write a lot to the Grateful Dead and Kanye. Right now the thing I’m working on is Aphex Twin. We’ve been talking music in the DMs. Do you use music to write? Does it change?

Music’s huge. It’s a daily necessity. I struggle with mental health and can only get by off the music in my head a few days before I need a massive aural-assault from the outside to set me straight. I use music to check whether what I’m writing/reading is good. If it can’t compete with mid-volume background noise for my attention, it probably isn’t.

I’m going to start using that as a litmus test for both things I’m writing myself and also reading. Nothing worse than reading the same sentence over and over. Can music focus me away from my phone? Here’s hoping. If not, trash it.

What were your favorite tropes to riff?  Aurora? The druggies/dealers? So many prepackaged images, you could really go crazy there and I found myself able to catch up, even if I got lost for a second. Kind of BLE-URBG'ing myself back into the scene.

There’s this total visual overload at a festival, and I did my best to capture it, but I don’t know if that is even possible through prose—especially as someone who largely lays off of description.

I think my favorite tropes were describing one or two people in passing: the viking men or the guy in a suit or the couple out of basic raver monthly. Find a way to cut them down to size with a half a phrase rather than a full description. So much going on that it always felt like a flash of this and a twist of that would work. I feel zen in a situation of overstimulation, but it’s impossible to catch all of the details.

Had a poetry professor say we write about our obsessions, and I definitely got some out with this book. Might try to avoid drugs in the future. Try and come at it from a different angle. Do you have obsessions that refuse to leave your writing?

I had fun writing Crime. The one I enjoyed most, though, was the Californian. Already Dead was the first book I read that made me want to write that trope. Lived in the Bay Area for a few years. Made me realize these unique cultures—the Bostonian, Californian, New Orleanian, the Southerner, the Appalachian–naturally brought so much to the fiction table. That book has such real characters. Have you read it? One of Denis Johnson’s lesser-knowns.

There’s something so cool about California lit. It has the ability to be a million different things to a million different people. Such thematic differences between say Good at Drugs and Body High, which are the only recent California drug novels of my recent memory. I’ve only read Jesus’ Son and Largesse of the Sea Maiden, but Johnson is a king, so I can’t see why this wouldn’t be as well.

Read the plot summary and it was an instantaneous cop:

Can’t wait.

Awesome. Body High floored me.

Obsession is an obsession. I riff origins, often. Surreal seems pervasive. Thinking of Brian Evenson, Stephen Graham Jones, etc., here.

Hell yeah. You ever watch any De Palma movies? I feel like he nails this.

I haven’t. Sounds like something I should pirate.

I imagine if anything my career throughline will be music more-so than drugs. This is my rockstar shit… fictionalizing rock star shit.  Honestly, the only thing Dave Chappelle has ever said that was of any interest to me was in his Block Party movie directed by Michel Gondry: “Every comic wants to be a musician. Every musician thinks they're funny. It's a very strange relationship that we have. Some musicians are funny. Some comedians can play.”

I’m neither, but writing both.

Good at Drugs is about belonging. Or not. Didn't realize how whored-out-for-community every facet of festivals sadly broadcasts itself being—sunglasses/face-paint/glowsticks, groupthink, I-knew-about-this-band, yoga. The only similar trying-this-hard-but-failing-sortacommunity I can think of is the Writing one. Do you mind talking some on your own sense of alienation? What, if anything, have you gotten from the writing community in making this book? How’d you come by the Anwyll blurb?

Welfare is so so good, so I just shot him an email and he dug it. Felt really quite fortunate. I still feel like I owe him, but I don't know how or what…? The communities can be very similar, except doing drugs with people is definitely this bonding experience and I’m pretty sure I was the only person at AWP on acid that year. I got my MFA and felt like an outsider because I didn’t write in literary or genre stylings. In fact, all of the people I bonded with (aside from the wonderful Tex Gresham) were poets. People that were obsessed with language more than plot. God, the first piece I wrote for that program was about an open-mic comic who goes on stage and melts as performance art. In retrospect, it felt like out of the gate I was like “fuck your workshop.” When I found this literary community I felt that I belonged. A bunch of weirdos who took writing seriously and sometimes even let themselves have fun with it. I think with time I started to see the false trappings here just like the festival-community, but I’ve made good friends in both.  You’ve just got to weed through the bullshit.

Or slide into the DMs. I read Newspaper Drumsticks when you posted it as a pdf months back and I liked it but I didn’t say anything. I’m glad you reached out to me and started talking rap music.

But maybe the bullshit is just the timeline and we all really need to get to know each other in person better. Maybe there is value in things like AWP or writing retreats. I don’t know. I’ve been at this too short of a time to be jaded. I’m glad we met. The internet itself is alienating, even though it has this great power of bringing people together. Maybe it’s all about finding your niche and being satisfied with it? From the phrasing “trying-this-hard-but-failing-sortacommunity” it seems like you’re feeling alienated. Is that the case?

The Timeline’s a big table. Everything’s picked over. Or, like, the apples and shit laid around deflate if you bite em. I’m too new to be jaded, too. But, you're right. Everything requires bullshit-combing. Hearing you say you liked my book is awesome. It’s nice hearing anything. Most of what I read hits the way it sounds a lot of the stuff in your MFA did. Like, a completely different sport, or something.

I don’t know why sometimes telling another person that I liked what they did feels like the hardest thing in the world. We really are fucking weird creatures.

For sure. Still haven’t found a ‘community.’ X-R-A-Y is the closest thing. Reading there has been huge. A few individuals respond to my thing. And, you know, I see writerly groups on Twitter connecting, and I’m happy for them.

Don’t know what people think about my circle on their timeline.

I used to wish people would understand me. But, that didn’t work.

What we’re circling—maybe—is work? Like, you can’t expect community to come on, like you crushed it up, loaded it in a bong, and sprinkled DMT on top. Your efforts usually end with the message never answered.

But, that isn’t the point.

Or is it the point entirely? Are we having a conversation (partially) to embolden other writers who feel without community to start talking? Two Writers Talking—a new series on [wherever this ends up getting published].

I hope.

Good at Drugs feels like it needed to be written. For you. To set down a thing that once buzzed and felt special. A book literally millions of seemingly 'normal' people, who flashback every time they sip orange juice, would love. Do you get a sense it's reaching readers? Can you envision a way writers might hustle in the future to reach niche-but-adjacent audiences?

Yes yes. The people that are reading it are feeling a connection even if they don’t have that direct experience and that’s definitely exciting to me. A solid amount of people have bought it, but I believe it’s just sitting there on most people’s shelves. I appreciate everyone who tweets about books they love. Obviously indie literature lives or dies by buzz. I don’t think this book has connected with ravers quite yet. Like there are hundreds of thousands of people who do drugs and go see live dance music, but getting this book into their hands has proven to be a challenge. I believe the right DJ gets their hands on it and posts about it and it’s like, game on. I didn’t write this for a niche, but I wish that niche would have the desire to support it. There aren’t many novels about the rave. I figured I could be at least one of the ones that matters. But maybe I was barking up the wrong niche and it’s only those adjacent that will come out with the hell yeahs and the high fives.

I think the answer about hustling to a niche is just authenticity. Write about what you love and it’ll show. I’d love to read your rap writing. Do you have any? If someone were really into watching twitch streamers, I’m sure they could write a really great book about watching twitch streams. I think readers are fundamentally interested in what other people are interested in. How do you get non-readers to read? Fuck if I know.

Like, have you read Convenience Store Woman? Literally shut off my phone every night to read about convenience stores.

No, but this is exactly what I’m talking about. I think we all have those interests, even if we struggle to see them through the fog.

Interesting, you think it’s sitting on shelves unread.

You mentioned Tex, and I thought of him while reading. Yours doesn’t match his epic, page-number-wise. But, mentioned yours requires work. I see that requirement being antithetical to what (most) indie publishers are pushing and people are reading these days—the bite-sized novel. There will always be readers for harder works, but maybe the breed is thinning?

Tex was really important in validating this book for me. He read an earlier draft and gave me the confidence that readers—and not just ravers—would like it. That it had a universality in its fiber. But then again, I think the people that are coming to it are appreciating that it’s got some heft to it. That it feels like a traditional novel in many ways, and is not just bite-sized (even though I like the bite-sized as much as the next guy). I know that the heft and sprawling epicness is definitely part of what I appreciate about Sunflower. Like, oh, wow, yeah, okay. That book might not get the love it deserves in Tex’s lifetime, but it is a masterpiece, and I hope some future society is able to look back on it as the postmodern classic it is.

Recently, I had a rapper cosign Newspaper Drumsticks. While my Amazon rank soared, I was like—wow, the rap community is a niche for prison-writing. How a writer domino-effects into several large, otherwise unattainable audiences is something I’m very interested in.

For fucking sure. Doesn’t it all feel like a goddamn fucking mystery sometimes? Like I don’t think I get how anything works anymore.

Thanks for saying you’d love to read some rap-writing. Pretty sure the last thing Rap needs is a white guy named Tyler. I’ll keep sounding the whistle about what I think needs more ears, and flooding DMs with playlists.

We started here by the way:

Tyler’s got the ear that’s for sure. Maybe you just write about being a white guy named Tyler who likes Rap. A playlist creation obsession…

I could slay that book. Hear you're writing now. Can you talk about it?

I’m doing this thing where I write three to four microfictions a week. I’m going to keep at this for the entire year of 2022. From there, see what my obsessions are and try to find a collection within that. Other than my collaborative novel with Tex Gresham, Easy Rider II: Sleazy Driver, coming out this Spring, I might hold off on publishing for a while. It feels like a three year cycle is healthy. I want people to want me. This book still has buzz to build. I have some other bigger projects in the pipeline that I want to keep close to the vest, but I will tell you that I’m terrified of writing a second novel. It already feels like I forgot how to do that thing I just did. Humbling as hell.

What have you got coming? Tell us about Tyler’s ’22.

I’m writing a novel. About halfway done. Still no clue what it will look like. But, want to experiment with self-publishing? See what it feels like to have control? What difference, if any, I feel with sales?

We’re putting out the co-written book ourselves. Through an imprint, but ultimately the same steps as self-publishing. We can compare notes when it’s all said and done.

That’d be awesome. Thanks. Keeping close tabs on what rappers are doing to push numbers…might try getting weird, start some writing feuds.

Let’s go you fuckin piece of shit motherfucker.

I’m a dawg and you a pussy you eat cat food.

Definitely finishing the novel I mentioned. Who knows? Might finish a second poetry collection by year’s end. Want to write a pulp novel. Maybe under a pseudonym.


More of these? I like this. Feels genuine. Unlike reviews/blurbs, which can feel like having a stranger’s dick/cat in your mouth. You can’t even see their face. IF this gets published. Maybe someone will skrrt in my DMs? Maybe, I’ll start interviewing rappers?

I think we’re onto something. 

Consuming nothing but interactions, right? I’m hungry. Thanks for talking. Making me feel less alone.

You too, my man. Love a situation like this. To break down the borders we have in our heads and talk it out with someone we might not have otherwise. Can’t be beat.  Peace.

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DEREK MAINE on film with Rebecca Gransden

What film, or films, made the first deep impression on you?

The first film I saw in the theater was Flight of the Navigator. We must have arrived late. Or it was unexpectedly full. We had to sit in the very front row. I was very uncomfortable. I was seven or eight. It came out in 1986 so I would have been four but that can’t be true. Anyway, when you are four or seven or eight you are really small. I remember the screen was huge. I couldn’t handle the sensory overload. It felt like the screen was going to swallow me up and take me away on the spaceship. It was a very good movie. I have not seen it since.

I was visited by an apparition the night I watched The Care Bears Movie (1985). This sounds like something I would write in a story, but it’s true instead. My parents did not believe me. They told me to go back to bed. They said, “go back to your room,” or something just like that. They said I was scared from the movie. They said it was because of the movie I was scared and not the apparition. But I don’t remember anything about the movie, and I certainly remember the white mass of light that stood over my bed. That was 35 years ago. What did Daniel Johnston say? “Some things last a long time?”

What films first felt transgressive to you? Do you remember being secretive about any films you watched growing up?

I was downstairs on the couch, alone, and it was late. I pressed rewind a whole lot of times. Let me back up a bit.

I knew why Friday the 13th (1980) made me horny. I wanted to be a teenager at a summer camp having sex on the bottom bunk. You could pause it and pretend. That wasn’t transgressive at all. If anything, it was obedience. I was secretive about watching it (and wearing out the magnetic tape of the VHS) because I did not want my parents to catch me being horny. I think that is good and I hope my son, when he gets there in a couple of years, affords my wife and I the same courtesy.

Oh, but I started to tell you the real answer which is Disclosure (1994) starring Michael Douglas and Demi Moore. Demi Moore sexually harasses (assaults? rapes?) Michael Douglas in the movie. Spoiler alert or content warning, perhaps. Demi Moore and Michael Douglas used to date & have sex with each other. Michael Douglas is married now. Demi Moore gets hired to be his boss. One night they are working late. She makes a move on him, and he demurs. She gets more aggressive. He gives in, momentarily, and then, while she is giving him a blowjob and he is saying nasty things to her, he recalls he has a family, and he is able to break free from her grip.  Well, I’m not interested in the movie on its terms so I won’t summarize further or offer anything resembling an opinion of its internal politics, but it was the sexiest thing I had ever seen, and I felt so naughty over and over every time and I would like to say two things about that:

  1. The idea of desire so overwhelming it upends your life is extremely appealing to me. I don’t mean Demi’s desire. Her desire, in the context of the film, is to set up an encounter that forces Michael Douglas to lose his job. Michael Douglas’s desire for her, and the transgression of that desire, is where I am at. I am someone with big feelings, not always knowing where I am supposed to put them.
    1. Sometimes my feelings are inappropriate. I do not act on them. I share them, sometimes, in my art. Sharing them is not a ploy to make my reader complicit. It is a bloodletting, a release, a solemn prayer that I am not alone.
  2. I know now, because I am older and have some life experiences under my belt, that my own desires awakened by the scene were intimately tied to the feeling of transgression itself. It is a naughty thing to be a pre-teen boy downstairs, alone, on the couch, and it is late, and touching the private parts of your body to arouse apleasure. I connected with Michael Douglas’ feelings of wrongdoing, of sin. Bad, bad boys we were.

Are there any films that define your formative years?

Tombstone (1993). I wrote a fictional essay that touches on the ‘why’ and was fortunate enough to have it published by/at Misery Tourism, but it honestly boils down to “I watched it a ton of times, at a certain time of my life,” which feels sort of accidental/incidental. Most of my favorite pieces of art feel that way. A friend gave me Roberto Bolaño’s The Savage Detectives as a 30th birthday present. My father liked North Carolina Tarheel basketball. Our tastes and preferences are less like choices and more likely circumstantial or inherited.

Can you talk about the influence film has had on your writing?

I can’t claim much, truthfully. It’s difficult for me to parse out my (non-literary) influences, but film is such a visual medium, and I cannot think visually. You know that exercise they give you, sometimes in therapy, where they ask you to visualize a red cube and then turn it over, so on and so forth? I cannot visualize a red cube. I thought, for a long time, that my memory was leaking out of me faster than I could make new memories, but it was just that I could not, and I cannot, imagine visually. The elements of films that have stuck with me are always lines. Or, more precisely, how it felt and how I was feeling when I saw the film.

Once, for instance, I went to an afternoon showing of Being John Malkovich, with a friend. When we went into the movie it was light outside. The movie messed with my head. I have some fears surrounding consciousness that were tested by the film’s premise. I was feeling sick to my stomach. I did not like thinking of someone else up there steering my thoughts. I have enough trouble controlling them already and back then, sometimes, they’d try to hurt me. When my friend and I walked out of the movie theater it was dark. I felt like I’d lost time. I felt like I was lost in time. I did not like that. We went to a Boston Market next where I had one of my spells. It was an unpleasant feeling. If I need that particular feeling for a character or scene then I can access it, but I cannot picture what John Malkovich looks like.

Are there films you associate with a particular time in your life, or a specific writing project?

During my mid-to-late-teenage years I lived with a much older man. He had an open-door policy and a couple of guest rooms for young boys to stay with him and he let you smoke in the basement and have full access to his impressive record collection. There was bread and cheese to eat, and usually he would bring home a case of beer and watch us drink it. Some nights he gave us pills and we’d take our shirts off and dance in the living room. If anybody asked, I was eighteen and just didn’t have any ID with me.

He would start asking, usually around midnight, if anyone was up for a massage. That was the only time you could go into his room, if you were up for a massage. I did not ever want a massage and my secret weapon was I can stay up later than everyone else always. So, I waited him out. But as soon as someone did take him up then I would have the television and his video cassettes all to myself. He had a copy of Koyaanisqatsi (1982). The film just blew me right away and I watched it every chance I could get. The house was small, so I turned it up loud and the score was done by Philip Glass and the whole movie was just a series of images illustrating how much we fucked up the environment. There is no dialogue or words, I don’t think. I cannot remember a single image now (no visual memory), but it gave me a feeling of great unease and catastrophe. I have never written about that period of time. I can’t recall anything of interest or particularly literary happening. But I do remember staying up later than everyone else to watch Koyaanisqatsi and being drunk and not understanding the film, but completely digging it.

Do you have any lines of film dialogue you regularly use in your daily life?

  • When I am arguing with my wife, “I’m calmer than you are,” (Walter, to the Dude, in The Big Lebowski [1998])
  • When I am stuck in a social situation I cannot get out of, I mutter to myself “I realized that not only did I not want to answer THAT question, but I never wanted to answer another water-sports question, or see any of these people again for the rest of my life.” (Anthony, to the two girls Dignan invited over to the pool, in Bottlerocket [1996])

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LINDSAY LERMAN on film with Rebecca Gransden

What films first felt transgressive to you? Do you remember being secretive about any films you watched growing up?

I saw Liquid Sky in high school, and although much of it was mostly just weird to me because of how young and clueless I was, the amazing blacklight monologue scene and its “cunt that kills” focus (and its 80s underground punk aesthetic in general) seemed transgressive to me in ways that were thrilling and subtle. Also, the first person I fell really, really in love with was older than me and loved Prince. Because of this person, Purple Rain was the sexiest thing I’d ever seen, and to teenaged me there was something especially intriguing and powerful and mysterious in Prince’s approach to sex and sexuality, like it lived in some dark and sacred erotic realm.

Are there any films that define your formative years?

Bertolucci’s Stealing Beauty got in deep, though I was pretty young when it came out and I was definitely younger than Liv Tyler’s protagonist. I think I was stunned to see a young woman on film who seemed complex and smart, quiet and searching. Up until then, I believe I had never, ever seen a girl or a woman on screen who might have a rich inner life.

Do you use film as a prompt or direct motivation for your writing?

I don’t. I generally don’t use any writing prompts. I write when I can, or when I need to, but I can’t make writing happen when it’s not happening (if that makes sense), and I also can’t treat writing as a job. I don’t clock in or log word counts. I’ve absolutely been inspired by film, though!

Thinking about the places you’ve lived, are there any environments that are cinematic? Have you lived anywhere that has been regularly depicted onscreen? If so, has this had an influence on your perception of the place, or how you’ve depicted it in any of your writings?

I think every place is a cinematic place in the right hands, but I spent many of my formative years wandering around the Sonoran desert and the pine forests in the high desert, so to me there is almost nowhere as cinematic. I think it’s the stark quality of life there — how everything that’s survived is almost exceptionally tough and wily. When I was writing I’m From Nowhere, I was lucky enough to live in the desert for a few years again, and since the book is set there, I found myself constructing the setting in a more cinematic way than I had planned to. The openness and the spaciousness and emptiness of the landscape made their way into even the structure of the story.

Are there films you regularly return to, and do you know why?

The past few years, I’ve rewatched a handful of films with some regularity. Peter Greenaway’s The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover, Jane Campion’s Bright Star, Alejandro Jodorowsky’s Endless Poetry, Milos Forman’s Amadeus, Barry Jenkins’s Moonlight, and Claire Denis’s High Life. I’ve rewatched each of these for different reasons, but I’ve done so because it’s felt necessary to study them.

Do you have any lines of film dialogue you regularly use in your daily life?

I catch myself saying “Fuck it dude, let’s go bowling” a lot. I’ve probably watched The Big Lebowski more than any other movie. I used to put it on in the background when I’d come home late, though to be honest, I really can’t remember why that movie and not some other.

Are there individual scenes that stay with you?

So many scenes. The slow motion shots of Maggie Cheung’s arms and shoulders and neck in Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood for Love; Béatrice Dalle smearing herself with blood in Claire Denis’s Trouble Every Day; Adele Haenel crying in the final scene of Céline Sciamma’s Portrait of a Lady on Fire; little Mai climbing on top of Totoro and taming him in Miyazaki’s My Neighbor Totoro; the scenes in Liz Garbus’s What Happened, Miss Simone when Simone turns her electric and gloriously intense stare on her audience, interrogating everyone with her presence. It’s intensity and tenderness that stay with me longest, I think.

What films have roused a visceral reaction in you?

The answer to this has changed over the years, but since the birth of my daughter, I really can’t watch anything that features kids in peril. And it’s not just because I think “oh no, what if that were my child?” — it’s because when I hear babies or young children cry, I feel alarms going off inside me and I feel a strong physical compulsion to comfort and hold and soothe. In general I’m fascinated by how caring intensely for other vulnerable beings rewires entire dimensions of us — it’s definitely not just parenthood per se that does this.

Are there films that are reliable for inspiring your creativity?

I wish! There is almost nothing that’s really reliable for inspiring my creativity. It changes from book to book, phase of my life to phase of my life, obsession to obsession.

Which of your writings would adapt most successfully to film?

I am currently working on a screenplay. I’m adapting a short story I wrote, and it’s a really fun and intimidating challenge. I don’t know what will come of it yet, but I’m enjoying the entire process. (So far, ha.)

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TEX GRESHAM on film with Rebecca Gransden

What film, or films, made the first deep impression on you?

This might come as a shock, but I think watching E.T. as a kid rewired my brain, changed my DNA, shaped my life's path. I would rewind the ending over and over and just bawl my eyes out as the ship made a rainbow across the sky. I wasn't just sad—it was joy as well. And I didn't understand how I could have two feelings at the same time, and how this movie could do that to me. 

Very often film is one of the ways we first come into contact with a world outside that of our direct experience. Which films introduced you to areas of life away from the familiar circumstances you grew up in?

I remember my dad showing me Sling Blade when it first came out. I was like ten or so. But it blew my mind. Wasn't until I rewatched it earlier this year that I realized how much that movie affected me and shaped my human understanding. I'd never seen life like that, but it felt so familiar to where I grew up.

What films first felt transgressive to you? Do you remember being secretive about any films you watched growing up?

Gummo was one of the first films that felt really transgressive to me. I grew up watching movies like Freaked (1993), Stay Tuned (1992), UHF, Robin Hood: Men In Tights, etc.—which are commercial, but they're weird as hell and therefore transgressive to a young mind. It wasn't until high school that I got into Korine, Waters, Troma Films, Oldboy, Freddy Got Fingered things like that. I was very much into cinema trash when I was in high school.

In terms of being secretive about watching films growing up, I never really felt the need to be secretive because my family was very much into watching movies. I was pretty much allowed to watch anything—when I could. My dad introduced me to John Waters.

Are there any films that define your formative years?

Terminator 2, Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey, the Indiana Jones series, The Blob, Tremors, Jurassic Park. I grew up with the big blockbusters and those definitely shaped my love of entertainment and film. 

Can you talk about the influence film has had on your writing?

All my writing I see as scenes—the shots, people acting them out, the pacing. Without films, I don't think I could write. I see a story as a cinematic arc that ends unfinished. I try to have the same plot-based conceit of a film, but then make it less about the plot and more about the people shackled to the plot. I feel like I've noticed this in Don DeLillo's writing—a huge influence on me. He is cinematically driven and often shapes his novels around a plot conceit and then completely ignores that plot. I dunno... Maybe I'm just describing writing in general hahaha

Do you use film as a prompt or direct motivation for your writing?

Both. Sometimes I take scenes/ideas from movies and expand or adapt. Sometimes I put movies on and just let it play in the background and let the sounds and rhythms of the movie make waves in my brain.

What directors, film movements, or particular actors have been an influence?

Paul Thomas Anderson is easily my biggest influence. The Safdie Brothers a close second. Harmony Korine a not-so-far third. But they all present characters and situations—albiet in different constructions—that I think people aren't used to seeing. They gently force us to acknowledge existences we tend to shy away from in productive ways. 

Have you ever made a film? If so, has the process of doing that had an influence on your writing?

I've made numerous short films—never a feature. I've only scripted maybe one of those shorts. It used to be spontaneous, improv, random things that were cobbled together in the edit. This ended up being how I write too—allow for spontaneity and then adapt it in the edit. Make it work, because if my mind wants me to do it, then there's clearly something I need to explore.

I, of course, have a micro-budget feature I'd love to film/direct—a nasty little one-location thing about a guy at a party where no one thinks he's funny and all he wants to do is make one person laugh. Awkward, anxiety-inducing nightmare kind of movie. I'd do it tomorrow if I had the money and people.

Are there films you associate with a particular time in your life, or a specific writing project?

I watched Being There and Pee Wee's Big Adventure a lot while writing my screenplay, Fix Daddy. Inherent Vice and Gilliam's Brazil were on repeat while I wrote Sunflower. Paul Thomas Anderson films got me through a pretty bad emotional breakdown I had in my mid/late-twenties. I like to put on 90s action films while editing because they put me in a good mood and who the hell likes editing things?

Thinking about the places you’ve lived, are there any environments that are cinematic? Have you lived anywhere that has been regularly depicted onscreen? If so, has this had an influence on your perception of the place, or how you’ve depicted it in any of your writings?

California is infinitely cinematic. I used to work at a golf course and watch the sunrise every morning and that felt cinematic beyond anything. But I've never felt that anywhere I lived has been regularly depicted. I like to see places as anti-cinematic and show that aspect. Taking a place like Disneyland—constructed to be a magically cinematic place—and making it not at all like itself. More claustrophobic and grimey and unglamourous. Taking Hollywood and stripping it of the domestic tourism aspects. I probably answered this question totally wrong... Sorry.

Are there films you regularly return to, and do you know why?

Speed is something I rewatch pretty regularly—because it's probably the greatest action movie of all time (tied with Die Hard with a Vengeance). Unforgiven, because it's such a weird western. I've been watching Once Upon A Time In Hollywood a lot lately. I watch the Lone Wolf & Cub film series way too much. Frances Ha always puts me in a good mood. Saving Private Ryan is my most shameful guilty pleasure. I'm embarrassed to share it here, but... Oh well.

Do you have any lines of film dialogue you regularly use in your daily life?

I saw a lot of random lines from the documentary American Movie—things either Mark Borchardt or Uncle Bill says. "I don't have any dreams anymore" and "That's senseless." 

Are there individual scenes that stay with you?

The "No Blinking/Processing" scene from The Master. One might say it's...masterful... sorry. The "give him the gun" jail scene in Unforgiven. The opening meta-scene of La Ronde is absolutely beautiful. But ask me this tomorrow and it'll change. My mind always runs through scenes I love nearly constantly—and there's a lot.

What films have roused a visceral reaction in you?

Uncut Gems—that was the last movie I saw in theaters. I never make audible noises in theaters, but so many times during that movie I found myself saying shit and oh god and stuff like that. And the ending had me jaw-dropped silent and I sat that way until the credits ended. A few other films are: Good Time, Umberto D., Naked Lunch, Kiarostami's Close-Up, Saint Maud (2019), The Killing of a Chinese Bookie, and The Tree of Life. I'm having more visceral reactions to films as I get older. I cry a lot more now and I really enjoy it.

Are there films that are reliable for inspiring your creativity?

Gummo (yes, again), Magnolia, A Scanner Darkly, Birdman, Adaptation—and the list goes on and on. But those are some main ones.

Which of your writings would adapt most successfully to film?

Either my forthcoming novel Sunflower or a couple of short stories—“Lovebird,” “Violent Candy,” and “Hollywood & Vine.” Apart from “Lovebird” which is published at X-R-A-Y, all of these are unreleased and will be in my collection from Tolsun Books in 2023.

Can you give some film recommendations for those who have liked your writing?

Herzog's Stroszek is a masterpiece. Then there's The King of Marvin Gardens (1972), Safe (1995), He Got Game (1998), Buzzard (2014), Tangerine (2015), Possessor (2020), Eastern Promises (2007), Fallen Angels (1995), Network (1976), Zola (2021), Hard Eight (1996)—and have I mentioned Gummo?

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ROBERT KLOSS on film with Rebecca Gransden

Can you talk about the influence film has had on your writing?

A lot of my writing is me trying to translate aspects of film to my work. Various shots, sounds, atmosphere. Using film as a basis, rather than say using reality as a basis, or other books as a basis, means starting with another artist’s aestheticized version of the world. What I see in my mind when writing then is framed, lighted, shot, so on, like certain scenes or moments from films I admire. Then I try to translate it. The silences, black and white faces, gusting wind of Antonioni or Kurosawa, for instance. 

The impossibility of it is sometimes frustrating, almost painfully so. But the impossibility of it is also why I allow myself to do it—the failed translation allows it become something closer to my own.  

What directors, film movements, or particular actors have been an influence?

Filmmakers who are particularly good at sliding between reality and dream have shaped my writing: Wong Kar-wai, Carl TH Dreyer, Ingmar Bergman, David Lynch, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Andrei Tarkovsky, Werner Herzog, Paul Thomas Anderson. There are others I’m leaving out, but those have been the big ones over the years. 

Are there films that are reliable for inspiring your creativity?

I don’t think so. I wish I could count on tapping into something whenever I need a burst. But I need things to happen more organically, more surprisingly. I can’t impose upon a film in that way or impose upon my process in that way. It has to emerge. 

Have you ever made a film? If so, has the process of doing that had an influence on your writing?

I have not. For a long while I wanted to, really wanted to, because film seemed to embody more closely what I wanted to achieve in writing. At one time I think I could have done it. My brain now works so differently than it used to. I’m not sure if it’s aging or what. It takes me so long to muddle through. Things don’t occur to me like they used to. I can’t see them as clearly. It takes me so long to get anywhere. I have to fail, fail, fail, fail before something takes hold. There’s no vision, no certainty, no direction. 

Can you give some film recommendations for those who have liked your writing?

I’ll give a list of some films that I admire that I haven’t mentioned. Mostly recent favorites. Most anything else by these directors would work as well.   

Zama (Martel), High Life (Denis), Personal Shopper (Assayas), Decasia (Morrison), The Wolf House (Leon and Cocina), Horse Money (Costa), The White Ribbon (Haneke), The Favourite (Lanthimos), The Lighthouse (Eggers)

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SCHOOL OF HARD KNOX: A Conversation with DuVay Knox by Charlene Elsby

DuVay Knox is the author of Soul Collector (Creative Onion, 2021) and The Pussy Detective (Clash Books, forthcoming 2022). In his author bio, he writes, “I cum outta The South, by way of Louisiana and Tennessee… RUMOR has it I was born from The last Nut in My Daddys Sack. And came into this world when HE came. Needless to say/My Birth was Traumatic. Thus, I arrived here with an Attitude. The Doctor Slapped Me and I slapped Him Back. And So my Journey began. To Find Myself.”

I received an advance copy of The Pussy Detective from Clash Books. Within the pages upon pages of unabashed pussy appreciation, I found a portrait of a man devoted to mitigating the damage done to people by other people (and the desperation of those who would turn to such a stranger, when it seems all hope is lost.)

This interview was conducted as an email exchange in December 2021.

Charlene Elsby: Mr. Knox, your publications to date include Soul Collector and The Pussy Detective. Now it might be reductive to say your topics are sex and death, but the themes are definitely there. What I'm wondering about is the spiritual aspect, as it seems that within your work, sex and death are both conduits to a kind of beyond. Is there another realm behind our material world, and how and when can we access that?

DuVay Knox: Deep Q. Butt yeah DEATH is sho nuff another REALM. And when it cums to SEX the FRENCH say, in particular, dat The ORGASM is LE PETIT MORT aka The LITTLE DEATH. Having been a SEX ESCORT in Europe, among otha countries, Sex continues to play a part in mah Books. Especially the TRAUMA dat often accompanies COPULATION as part of a RELATIONSHIP dat SOURS—Or as a result of ABUSE. Meanwhile, much of mah life was like growing up in a WAR ZONE where I lost many of mah FRIENDS & RELATIVES To DEATH. And they were always wondering WHY? Why were these peeple TAKEN frum them? So much of mah WRITING is a NOVELISTIC attempt to address this issue.

CE: Deep answer. That was actually something I was planning to ask you about—that when I read The Pussy Detective, I was surprised to find the voice was so empathetic. I don't think it would spoil the book to talk about the reason the narrator gives for why women seek out the skills of the narrator. (Their pussy lost its magic on account of some bad man). It seems to me like you've had some really influential women in your life. Now that I'm thinking about it, I don't recall a single other male character with whom your character carries on a conversation, or who factors into the story significantly—not counting that fuck Greasy, of course. It's almost like you've got a source on women's psychology on the inside. Care to comment?

DK: Hmmmm. Had a good relationship wit mah Mama. Plus, I was married for 25-plus years (not all good....butt STILL we hung in there and did what we had to do). Then too: I slung dick as an escort for a number of years round Europe as a young man in the AIR FORCE. So I have spent many nites jes LISTENING to women. So much of the PUSSY DETECTIVE was based on THOSE S/experiences: what they talked about in regards to men folk. Imma good listener (so I have been tole).

CE: I have some quotations underlined, just because they remind me of various things I've read in philosophy. There's this mention of the pineal gland, which Descartes said was the source of thoughts, and which you identify as connected to the clitoris (which is the gateway to a woman's subconsciousness). Then there's a "SACRED HYSTERIA no womayne shood ever Sexperience--UNLESS she is giving dat thang up to the RITE muthafucka." And the idea that "KARMA Is Also a SEXUALLY TRANSMITTED DISEASE." You talk about majick, demons and gods. It looks to me like you've got a consistent and coherent spirituality that informs the whole theory of the book--and the ritual that Reverend Daddy Hoodoo conducts on Abysinnia. Are these beliefs to live by, or just part of a fiction?

DK: Years ago, back in the late 70s, when I started studying the CLITORIS (cuz I wanted 2 B thoro when it came to fucking) I came across the info bout the CLIT being konnected to the PINEAL GLAND it cumpletely changed how I viewed SEX and WOMMIN. And especially DESCARTES along wit NIETZCHE/OSHO & PASCAL BEVERY RANDOLPH informed mah SEXUAL PHILOSOPHY. For example, Nietzsche stressed the importance of FRIENDSHIP over LOVE. Dat made an impression. The NAZIS really took his shit outta context. And OSHO was the guru of FREE LOVE "butt" always noted dat it had responsibilities. That led one day to mee writing the quote: KARMA KAN BE A SEXUALLY TRANSMITTED DISEASE dat I explain in da book.

Add all this 2 da fack dat I grew up in da Life of HOODOO (New Orleans/Mississippi) and SEX MAJICK/DEMONS & GODS of the REALMS where destined 2 B a part of mah life. So yes I LIVE BY THIS (and THESE) thangs. They R not jes lip service. I view SEX as a GATEWAY to HIGHER REALMS via RITUAL (wich is how I was taught to view it). So yes: I draw frum these aspecks 2 pull them into mah FICTION.

CE: I did a quick search through the digital copy of The Pussy Detective and found that you use the word "pussy" 113 times, but you also use "puss eye" 17 times. I think I understand these two concepts, but for those who haven't read the book yet, could you explain what the difference is?

DK: PUSS EYE was jes mah DADDY'S funny name to take da Sting outta dat werd. Southern slang if u will. So dat was kinda an honorarium to him.

CE: So you've been around a while—on the planet, I mean. But you've just started publishing. I want to know how that happened. There's a hint in your Pussy Detective dedication that there are two women who "never let me forget that I could write something folks would wanna read if I really put my mind to it." In your previous life, were you not writing (or not writing something folks would want to read)?

DK: Yeah-i been round da block a lil skeet taste. I wasn't publishing tho cuz I was bizzy writing as a freelance journalist for many of the Top Hiphop-Rap publications in the country/copywriting for ad agencies and doing standup comedy (werking wit a lotta Names in dat world including DAVE CHAPPELLE, CHRIS ROCK, BILL HICKS, NORM MACDONALD, DANA CARVEY and many others .... even almost had a job writing jokes for the CONAN O'BRIEN show). Butt I left standup comedy cuz dat particular hollywood industry is such a beast & slimy. 

I Slowly came to da thought of a writing a book after countless peeps telling me I should do it. A lotta dat encouragement came frum SLAM POETRY contests I useta compete in. AND da 2 women dat I hint at. Im kinda a Polygamist and have 2 Ladies in mah life hoo have been krucial and kritikal to mah success. Their motivation is what ultimately pushed me to git da books outta me and onto da page. In fack: MADAME X is based on one of them.

CE: How did you become acquainted with Marjorie Steele over at Creative Onion (who published Soul Collector) and then with Clash Books?

DK: Meanwile-I met MARJORIE STEELE when I was writing on MEDIUM round 2016-17. I was using da platform to write JOKES and SATIRE as well as SHORT STORIES and she took a liking to mah flow. She was one of mah most devoted followers. Later she tole me she was working on heading up her own PUBLISHING COMPANY and wanted to git mah shit out to the world. Tole her I was IN. She kept her werd. And on top of dat she is just damn good peeple. And GOOD PEEPLE in this Industry (let alone the werld) are hard 2 find. I will always be thankful 2 her for giving me a chance. Because where others were scared of mah RAWNESS she allowed me 2 B Unfiltered (which is the basis of mah Standup: rude/raw/offensive). She has never been afraid of mah FOUL MOUTH ways (profanity is mah 2nd Language).

CE: In the Soul Collector, the narrator collects souls, while in The Pussy Detective, the narrator finds lost pussies. I can picture both your books being episodic, i.e., they're both open to being serialized. Are you working on a sequel? (If so, can you give us any hints?)

DK: True dat. I wrote dem EPISODICALLY. Especially da SOUL COLLECTOR. I like mah TV/Movies da same way. I tend 2 think VISUALLY in da vein of COMICBOOKS when I write. I like dat old skool CLIFFHANGERS stile of writing/serialized shit (ala DICKENS). So yeah--im werking on SEQUELS for both books. Maybe simply The SOUL COLLECTOR #2 and/or the PUSSY DETECTIVE RIDES AGAIN (since he was always in his car going 2 rescue PUSS EYE).

CE: Finally, maybe you could tell me a little bit about Black Pulp Fiction Publishing House. What's your intention with that venture? What can we expect in the near future?

DK: BLACK PULP FICTION PUBLISHING HOUSE is jes mah attempt to resurrect a form/stile of writing dat deserves mo respeck than it has gotten. I think mah writing falls sumwhere between (altho inspired by) ICEBERG SLIM and GEORGE JACKSON wit nods to ZORA NEALE HURSTON & GAYL JONES (4 peeple hoo influenced mah own flow). 

Im also concentrating on re-introducing the koncept of short novels (novelettes) as I think peeps are tired of LONG ass novels. I know i hate books that mo than 200 pages (maybe dats mah ADHD). To dat end books Im writing/publishing will fall into the old skool POCKETBOOK size of 4x6 or 4x7 and not over 150 pages. Having been in advertising I think psychologically peeps are subjeck to buying a book they kan simply putt in their pocket/purse. It gives dem the feeling dat writing wont be a chore. The age of the DOORSTOPPER book is over. Meanwile: JAMES PATTERON is alretty on this trend wit his BOOKSHOTS series. A lotta of those books are 100 pages or Less. And Im heah 4 it.

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SEAN KILPATRICK on film with Rebecca Gransden

What film, or films, made a deep impression on you as a youth? Which films felt transgressive back then? Were you secretive about watching them? Would you say any of these films defined your formative years? Can you talk about the influence film has had on your writing?By some superannuated lapse in parental bargaining, a ten-year-old-me was allowed to view Reservoir Dogs and Menace II Society. Using an online source, I’d already printed both scripts on half-pages with a nineties printer. One particularly sadistic week of basketball camp and I felt nowhere ingratiated with the world outside my VHS player. To compound the problem, I’d recently learned how to jizz. Expanding one’s taste from that list of homages, the influences of these influences (beholding From Dusk Till Dawn in a theater) cemented the era. Gnostic steroid demon gunmen flipping through stylized ballets (John Woo) and iconic machine slashers endlessly stalking girls were refined into the grunge of Henry Portrait of a Serial Killer and Confessions of a Serial Killer back to back. Strange Days was social commentary (though this film, of course, is something hard to process nowadays: far beyond message, style over message) and SFW philosophy. Midnight Express and Little Odessa ripped people’s tongues out, showing how process should commence. Love and a 45, Judgement Night, and Coldblooded proved the influence of influenced influencers could also influence (particularly Leary’s performance). In one glorious, preadolescent swill, I downed local hero Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead trilogy, Bava’s Demons, Van Bebber’s Deadbeat at Dawn, and Giovinazzo’s Combat Shock, retro sleaze masterpieces, and continued slurping Welles’s beautifully manic take on The Trial, and the cold brutality of Haneke’s Funny Games, funk atop craft.Very often film is one of the ways we first come into contact with a world outside that of our direct experience. Which films introduced you to areas of life away from the familiar circumstances you grew up in?The industrial ghettoes that sparked David Lynch’s genius were a relatable surrounding, but how far he took that inspiration into a separate creative world felt integral. Richard Linklater is the complete opposite of my purview, but is undeniably iconic and inspiring, especially back when. The international canon filled in the rest of the planet with all I cared to view of it. Finding Angel Dust at Blockbuster, the work of Tarkovsky, the exciting, riveting Kurosawa, (a hell of a snow day home from school watching) The Dollars Trilogy and the exhilarating The Young Poisoner’s Handbook, the claustrophobic Polanski classics, and for tropical tourism: Cannibal Holocaust and Make Them Die Slowly. The Forbidden Zone in place of fables.Do you use film as a prompt or direct motivation for your writing? What directors, film movements, or particular actors have been an influence? Have you ever made a film?I saw the two best meta cinema on cinema masterworks of the nineties quite young: Living in Oblivion and In the Soup (seconded by Contempt and Day for Night). I decided to pursue script writing and attended this cheap workshop downtown Detroit ran by a minor production assistant from one Spike Lee film. He wrote the word “weak” on my teenage script, which I appreciate, but he followed that up with zero useful advice. Though his spit on the page was perhaps relevant preparation for writing (had had that before, and daily now — my own), he’d have done better taking a shotgun to my lap in that regard. All of Kinski (chiefly what Herzog unlocked), Terrence Stamp in Fellini’s Toby Dammit, alongside the end of Imamura’s The Pornographers — actors going sublime and achieving a moment beyond presence. Lately, what Mickey Reece and Joel Potrykus manage to wrought against these artless times almost lets me experience optimism. I tried, and meagerly try, to make films, the hardest undertaking of an art form possible.Are there films you associate with a particular time in your life, or a specific writing project?Detroit is shit for art. But once there was an abandoned grade school in the Cass Corridor, pre-gentrification, called The Burton Theater: matinees amid the ruin, shock art projects decorating (everyone hates those now), plastic bags spider-webbed throughout the building, attached to a urinal handle so that the whole building shivered like an entity when you flushed). I saw Trash Humpers, a cut of Häxan (I’d only dug the Burroughs version) with accompaniment by the band Wolf Eyes in an auditorium sans air conditioning — seeing the screen through a heat haze mirage. Crispin Glover came and presented his wild films, standing stock still in a tiny destroyed closet between showings, addressing each fan in one on one sessions (I stammered with unexpected fear through mine, not realizing he’d deign an individual conference with everyone). Right about then, just as I saved up to join (what was, to me, a very pricey inner-sanctum membership), the yuppie boomer landlord (who gleefully rode atop toy trains) evicted the programmers and took over, switching the schedule to tripe such as Love, Actually during Christmastime. A local source of inspiration appropriately cut short at its height.Thinking about the places you’ve lived, are there any environments that are cinematic? Have you lived anywhere that has been regularly depicted onscreen? If so, has this had an influence on your perception of the place, or how you’ve depicted it in any of your writings?Jarmusch’s longshot landscapes met with People Under the Stairs and Fresh, Tetsuo: Iron Man and all the blasted hellscapes of Mad Max wannabes make me homesick. My old car is briefly featured in 8 Mile, sorry to say. Leaving Las Vegas evokes hopeless alcoholic dads punching the wall next to our child heads. But writers are supposed to be overly erect about the working class because utilitarianism is this country’s shiniest lie. (Many of today’s unintentional autogynephiles (re: all millennial men) could use some physical abuse, I admit.)Are there films you regularly return to, and do you know why?There is a type of film enjoyed on first viewing, but you brushed by it without dwelling, only to realize later the level of supreme art that went momentarily underappreciated. I often return to Kill List in awe, Kontroll (saw when released, holds up amazingly), Miracle Mile (describe this film to someone beat for beat, almost as mesmerizing as watching it), Branded to Kill (flawless, beautiful), and especially The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, which I saw young enough to relish, to be broken further into film by, in fact, yet it took seeing it on a big screen, and many, many wonderful times over (it truly gets better with each viewing, grows in you) to comprehend the insane confluence of intensity captured on camera (dinner scene, etc.). Do you have any lines of film dialogue you regularly use in your daily life? Are there individual scenes that stay with you?The Coen brothers demand reenactment. I feel ran over deep into the beach like in Mike Hodge’s Pulp. I perform How to Get Ahead in Advertising aloud each night. I am nearly always issuing coffin mumbles from the end of The Vanishing. The depraved eighties overkill set pieces in An American Werewolf in London, Invasion USA, and Action Jackson are my manifesto.What films have roused a visceral reaction in you?The rowdy turns in The Caller had at me. Attack the Gas Station rallies the viewer. Pretty Persuasion and Dirty Pictures predicting the cultural future are eloquent. Alan Clarke and his influence on The War Zone and Nil by Mouth, Henry Becque-esque reality cruelty gets my goat. The expansive The Telephone Box shit my shit out, the bottleneck tightness of The Guilty as well. Wake in Fright is ultra real, the film of our age, a millennial sludge trap ouroboros. Killing the nude woman with pop guns in Munich seems far more perverse than the filmmaker knew, a demonic scene. Rec 2 is the most vicious roller coaster jump scare experience I’ve had in a theater. Putney Swope is the foremost American comedy. Green Knight had me viscerally verklempt about how much potential it wasted. People at the theater were pulling their seats up in a rage, screeching far scarier noises than this weak millennial take on the legend could muster (I sense the director, so technically gifted, has never been hurt, one notch too abstract, but close, Black Death did the heavy montage literary ending better). The Grey is a more classic, but far greater disguised genre thing really about accepting death. When The Grey pissed stupid people off, I agreed with it, not them.  Are there films that are reliable for inspiring your creativity? When a genre subverts itself well: Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning, a secret treat. Upgrade is the best action film comment on millennials. Seeing Riley Stearns’s work, and others like Resolution and Luz released in the last few years, is heartening. There will always be a Let’s Scare Jessica to Death, The Corndog Man, Baxter, Habit, Underground, La Haine, The Ugly, The Cell, Seven (films that had no business being so good), sneaking way above every decade’s typical crap (we gotta hunt for them harder now). Maxx, Aeon Flux, and Ren and Stimpy formed my first artistic sensibilities. I Never Left the White Room back to The Last House on Dead End Street (and Watkins’s nonsensical, hyper-retro art pornos), the bottomless, pointless sadism of The House on the Edge of the Park and Hitch-Hike — perfecto.Which of your writings would adapt most successfully to film?Marat / Sade would be the only path to trying. Nobody’s gonna build me a Deadwood set. All for naught and just about impossible. Can you give some film recommendations for those who have liked your writing?My genealogy could start with tracking down the legendary Salo at fourteen, then later seeing Possession after realizing relationships aren’t nice. Man Bites Dog was formative, along with The Hitcher (throat slit Eric Red’s gnostic demon killers: this, Cohen and Tate and Near Dark) and von Trier. Bertrand Blier’s early work was huge to me, and the pinku genre, including The Embryo Hunts in Secret. Miike’s dozen absurd masterpieces after high school, Angel Heart before. Peter Greenaway and the uncanny ending of Twentynine Palms, both ideal, but closer to scope of potential for me might be something approaching an Alan Resnick short, maybe The Signal (2007) if I got lottery lucky. The Eric Wareheim video for that Tobacco song is one of the best shorts I’ve seen (and the superb videos for Liars’s “Plaster Casts of Everything” (innovative rear projection), Rone’s “Bye Bye Macadam” (with its Joe Frank-esque electrical cult worship) Lorn’s “Acid Rain”, Jonathan Bree’s “You’re So Cool”, Oneohtrix Point Never’s “Sticky Drama” (demented Salute Your Shorts), Liam Lynch, the Feral House zeitgeist of Longmont Potion Castle and Francis E. Dec’s Worldwide Gangster Computer God, the abstruse oddities Charles Carroll is up to, glad that Sam Hyde prospers), ditto the simplistic, impeccable bit Cronenberg did (“they sense the threat”) for his book release (he should stick to film). Pig was a recent masterpiece of refinement, a classical tour de force that I’m incapable of, but appreciate (am a Vampire’s Kiss guy). I’d reach for the genius of Killing of a Sacred Deer, paced to Little Murders, cut like Chinese Roulette, Hal Hartley blocking, as ferine as Kite, Aster’s short C’est La Vie acted by the girls of a Walerian Borowczyk flick (trauma of Blind Beast, Lady in a Cage, Onibaba, or the sensuality of Survey Map of a Paradise Lost and In the Realm of the Senses), writing with a Sword of Doom ability to clear a room, but falling flat once Mifune challenges — most likely I’d end up with Trailer Town. I’m okay with that.
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Whose Presence Joined With Ours Will Create Something Novel; A Review of Adam Soldofsky’s TELEPAPHONE by Evan Williams

Take any version of the movie Freaky Friday. Now imagine it remade as a film noir. Now imagine it was written by Marshall McLuhan. Now imagine it isn’t afraid to lean into the philosophical implications a body swap has on the nature of selfhood. Congratulations, you’ve got Adam Soldofsky’s Telepaphone

My first impulse upon reading the title was to rummage through my shelves for Mag Gabbert’s MINML POEMS, a book taking the torch of condensed wordplay from Aram Saroyan. The word “telepaphone” feels like it might fit in among Gabbert’s poems, sandwiched somewhere between “anammal” and “implocean.” While reading MINML POEMS I made a game of dissecting Gabbert’s pieces into their possible constitutive parts, beginning with the obvious combinations and extending outwards. What becomes clear in this practice is not only that the meaning of the poem can drastically change depending on its compositional permutation, but that the meaning of its individual components can be inflected in one direction or another by its partner(s); as one piece changes, so do the rest, so does the whole. 

Motivational speaker Jim Rohn once argued that we are the average of the five people with whom we spend the most time. This idea supposes that our social surroundings construct us, though it elides, or, at minimum de-emphasizes our agency in the process. Our sense of self is not constructed for us, but by us, through and against those with whom we interact. Soldofsky approaches this idea, one of definition by inflection, and emphasizes not only the inflection itself, but its mode: the titular gadget, the telepaphone.

Described as “an amateur magician’s apparatus that, when worn by two individuals” might “facilitate telepathic communication,” the device is one that, on its face, allows for an intimate knowledge of another; it allows for a deeper, more genuine sort of inflective interaction. 

The novella’s plot quickens when Adam Soldofsky—a failing-if-not-already-failed artist in a marriage brought to its deathbed by his alcoholism—and Axel Wilhite—an internationally-renowned artist with whom Adam attended art school—test the telepaphone. The machine’s instructions require the pair to sit facing with headsets “snug but unrestrictive,” set “about the crown of the head with the skull carapace sitting atop the head like a ballcap.” It’s worth noting that by this point in the book, the friendship between Adam and Axel is withering, if not spoiled. The meeting which has brought them to this moment was predicated upon Adam’s emotional decline, Axel visiting in the hopes of helping, or at least assessing its severity; the precipitant for the ensuing inflection of Axel on Adam, Adam on Axel, is one of imbalance. And, ultimately, a further imbalance is achieved: the telepaphone overshoots the mark, catapulting them past mere telepathy into a full blown body swap. 

I won’t spoil the plot further but to say drama and dark hilarity ensues. 

At the heart of any good body swap plot is the idea that having learned what another’s life is like, one walks away not only with greater appreciation for their own, but with an enlightened understanding of the daily hardship of their peer, and this is certainly true of Telepaphone. What is not common in the body swap genre, and what makes Soldofsky’s work so gripping conceptually and in its execution is its exploration of the leftover self, which borders on an assertion of an essential self.  

What’s left of another person if your consciousness now resides within them? Their dreams, their muscle memory. Sporadically throughout the course of the story, Adam—in Axel’s body—falls asleep, launching into one of Axel’s dreams. When this happens, it’s not immediately clear in the text. Mostly, it is a seamless transition from Adam’s wakeful observations into his experience of Axel’s dreams, which he observes and comments upon as though he were outside of them. It’s in these moments that Telepaphone articulates most clearly the intimacy of a friendship—one brought on by despair, misfortune, and technological mishap. It’s tempting to argue that Soldofsky’s thesis is one aimed at touting the power of misery to bind. 

It isn’t just a binding, however, just as sewing together the bits of two or more words into a single, condensed poem isn’t just a binding, it’s a generative act; the bits, linked together, allow for a new and surprising form to come forth. 

As is established early on, Adam and Axel first found one another in art school, going on to achieve wildly different degrees of success. Adam painting in Adam’s body results in Adam’s work; Axel painting in Axel’s body results in Axel’s work; Adam painting in Axel’s body results in a fusion of taste, technique, and vision. It creates something not only wholly new, but something representative of the pair’s inflection of one another. 

This is the point from which the potency of Soldofksy’s novella stems. Snared in the logistics of the body swap is the surface-level but often obscured fact that a body swap is fundamentally the creation of two new lives. Further, if we construct ourselves against those around us, then not only does the body swap afford its participants the opportunity to construct a renewed sense of self against their swap-ee, but, disembodied, they might form it against themselves as well. Intimacy brings forth new form. It’s this that Soldofsky both fears and celebrates, the harrowing trials it may involve, and the selfishness we must break past to give over our whole being to another. 

I took it upon myself to dissect the word telepaphone as I dissected Gabbert’s poems. Yes, it is most likely that the word is simply a combination of telepathy and phone, evoking the sound of the word telephone as an added bonus. However, mirroring the definition of the self and the social network in which it operates, the book takes on new meaning as its constitutive parts change. Having spent far too much time considering the contributions of an assortment of possible words based on telepaphone’s syllabic makeup, and even testing out a few acronyms, I came finally to two alternative possibilities:

Telegenetic past phoneTeleological partner phone

I won’t decide between the two which is the right one, there is no wrong answer. If the first, Soldofsky has painted an elaborate portrait of our past—social, intellectual, emotional, etc—lives as being additives to not only our way of perceiving the world, but to our cellular composition. It is an articulation of the belief that that material is transmissible in a tangible fashion. If the second, then we need not worry. Body swap or not, there’s another we’re moving toward, another who will someday sit facing us, and whose presence joined with ours will create something novel.

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B.R. YEAGER on film with Rebecca Gransden

What film, or films, made the first deep impression on you?

The first films I truly loved were incredibly basic, because I was a kid. And I was a blockbuster kid. I was obsessed with Aliens, Terminator 2, Jurassic Park, etc. And I still love those movies, even though they’ve long been replaced as my favorites. But I think the biggest mark they left on me was a love of grandiose scope and spectacle. There’s plenty to critique about those films with regard to emotional or intellectual complexity, but in terms of presenting a spectacular, grandiose vision they’re pretty impeccable. So they’re still a big inspiration—I’m often trying to marry emotional complexity and realism to a grand, mythic scale.

What films first felt transgressive to you? Do you remember being secretive about any films you watched growing up?

I’m not sure about transgressive, but the first film I encountered where I realized I was watching something supremely different was probably Welcome to the Dollhouse, which I saw not too long after it came out. I think it triggered my initial understanding of independent film, that there was such a thing as independent film, and that independent film was substantially different from what I was used to seeing. I remember thinking why does it look like that? Both the film quality and the actors—why does everyone look so fucked up? (i.e. like real people). Like I said, at the time my favorite films were the big blockbusters, so this was incredibly jarring. I kind of reeled from it at first, but it was so well done, so well-written and funny, I warmed up to it, and it’s become one of my favorites since.

There’s this film that no one has heard of that was extremely formative for me, called Slaughter of the Innocents. I first saw it on TV, late at night, when I was nine or ten. I had seen commercials for it, and knew it was about child murder, and that fact alone was so upsetting to me, but also incredibly compelling. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. It felt so crazy that there was this film called Slaughter of the Innocents that revolved around child killing—I had to see what it was all about.

It centers on this FBI agent who specializes in child murders. But the twist is that he’s been training his eleven-year-old computer-whiz son to be a forensics investigator. So this eleven year old kid is helping his father solve these grisly child murders, and no one around him bats an eye—not his mother, not the other FBI agents, no one. It’s treated as though it’s the most normal thing in the world. So the whole thing feels like a goofy kids’ movie like The Goonies or Home Alone that’s been folded into this bleak film about child murder. It’s absolutely bonkers. But revisiting it now, I can see how that aspect spoke to me at such a young age. It had many of the trappings of what I loved as a child—these kid adventure movies—paired with this terrifying story that felt very real and immediate. This was 1993, so it was the tail end of the satanic panic, the height of stranger danger, and there are all these stories about child abduction and sexual abuse and murder on the news and on talk shows. Slaughter of the Innocents is full-on pulling from all these anxieties, and as a child it felt so real. Watching it now, it’s goofy and campy, but at the time it felt intensely relevant and powerful.

I’m also now able to appreciate it as an incredibly non-traditional first brush with dark and transgressive themes in art. Most people’s first exposure is something generally recognized as a classic—Silence of the Lambs or Twin Peaks or something like that. For me it was this bizarre D-list rip off of Silence of the Lambs and Twin Peaks. But unlike most D-list ‘90s films that no one has ever heard of, Slaughter of the Innocents still kind of slaps. The acting, writing and direction isn’t terrible. It has a beautiful and eerie vibe. The entire thing feels as though it exists within a world that’s ending but no one realizes it yet—and if there’s one through-line between all my books it’s my attempt at trying to capture that feeling. So despite its obscurity it had a pretty enormous impact.

Can you talk about the influence film has had on your writing?

I’m influenced by film in a fairly unique way. I’d love to know if this happens with anyone else. Essentially: I watch a lot of good stuff but I also watch a lot of garbage. Sometimes I just want sound and image in front of me, and I’m pretty easily entertained. And often I find so much inspiration in the dumbest shit. I’ll be watching something like Detective Pikachu, and there might be a little visual gag, or an offhand remark played as a joke—and I’ll think “What if we took that gag seriously, and played it out to its most logical conclusion?” That sometimes becomes the foundation for a scene, or a character, or an entire story.

Earlier this year when my wife and I were dealing with the side effects from our second vax dose, we threw on the Shrek movies. And no joke, a brief gag in Shrek 2 ended up inspiring the premise for my next novel. The novel will in no way read like something inspired by Shrek 2—it’s this quiet, mournful drama—but I’m almost completely certain that if I hadn’t been watching Shrek 2 I never would have gotten this idea.

I think the way this works is that “good” or “serious” films (however you want to qualify that) tend to be fully realized artistic visions. They’re already taking their premises seriously and playing them out to their most logical conclusions. At the same time, they’re also giving you less to build with. Like, there’s not really anything I would try to change or improve upon with something like The Piano Teacher. There could be structural elements I borrow from great art, but less so with regard to content.

But “bad” movies (or silly movies, or generally unserious movies, or lowest common denominator movies—however you want to define them) can be rich in unrealized potential. There are materials within that can be scavenged and improved upon and built into something radically different from how they were originally conceived and presented. I find that weed helps.

My friend John Trefry who runs Inside the Castle was talking about this too, that engaging with garbage forces you to bring more of yourself to the table in order to appreciate it than a classic piece of art does. It can require a more active engagement (again, weed helps). What you end up enjoying or being inspired by will inevitably be more personal, and have more to do with your own perspective rather than the creator’s.

What directors, film movements, or particular actors have been an influence?

I’m going to use John Carpenter not just because his films have had an enormous impact on me, but he also serves as a great counterexample to some stagnation I currently see within the horror genre. One thing that’s fascinating about Carpenter is that, ultimately, he wanted to make Westerns. But he didn’t have the necessary resources, so he adapted his vision into something completely new, while still holding onto that root inspiration. You can see traces of Westerns throughout his filmography, in the cinematic and narrative languages he uses, but you’d never mistake his work for John Ford’s. Most importantly, he didn’t just go and make a shoddy knock off of a John Ford film. He created something new.

Something I kind of loathe right now, specifically within the horror genre, is the overwhelming obsession with nostalgia. I see a lot of directors and writers content to ape what came before them. And I’m sure much of it is done out of genuine love (just as much of it is done as a cynical cash grab). But regardless of intention, strictly rehashing what came before leads only to stagnation. It signifies a misunderstanding of what made the films of the 70s/80s/90s/whenever special: they brought something new to the table, and reflected something about the time and culture in which they were created.

You can’t just photocopy magic and expect the outcome to be magical. You need to do something different with it; if not something new, then something personal and sincere, something beyond “I like this.” Like, I tried watching Fear Street 1994 and got maybe five minutes into it. “Oh, we’re doing Scream? We’re just going to do a bad version of Scream?” And I shut it off. I’m not interested in watching a bad version of something good that came before. 

So John Carpenter’s filmography is just a persistent lesson in how you can take something old and beloved and transform it into something completely unrecognizable, yet equally as powerful.

Have you ever made a film? If so, has the process of doing that had an influence on your writing?

The past couple years I’ve been collaborating with this filmmaker Nick Verdi.

I acted in his short film Angel of the Night, and co-wrote his debut feature Cockazoid. It’s really forced me to learn how to develop and communicate my ideas in a quick and concise fashion—something I’ve never been good at. Writing obviously tends to be a solitary endeavor—you’re communicating your ideas to yourself in your head and on the page, and then you refine those ideas over an extended period of time until they’re ready for someone else to take a look. And this can take years. But filmmaking needs to be quick—especially run-and-gun, beg-borrow-steal no-budget filmmaking—so if you have an idea, you need to be able to communicate it efficiently. You can’t just wait for inspiration to come, because there's a schedule you need to adhere to. You really have to get in there and problem-solve and make shit work. So that’s been a welcome challenge. It’s forced me to learn how to refine my ideas faster.

Thinking about the places you’ve lived, are there any environments that are cinematic? Have you lived anywhere that has been regularly depicted onscreen? If so, has this had an influence on your perception of the place, or how you’ve depicted it in any of your writings?

I’ve lived in Western Massachusetts my entire life, and maybe it’s just a bias but I’ve always found the area (and New England in general) to be extremely evocative and cinematic. Funny enough, the newest season of Dexter was just shot here (including a diner that’s a two minute drive from my apartment). But yeah, I think part of it is the juxtaposition—vast woodlands and hills abutting rotting factories and strip malls. Cities built on the sides of mountains. There are these insanely wealthy towns with tiny hidden nooks where they keep all the low-income housing, far from sight. Also the architecture—some of the buildings here are hundreds of years old. Same with the cemeteries. The past and the future seem to be constantly scraping up against each other. It’s a dynamic, conflicted landscape.

Are there films you regularly return to, and do you know why?

Hands down my favorite film is Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula. And here everything collides: it’s a wholly unique blockbuster on a grand scale, with astounding vision and spectacle, and it’s also a little trashy. There’s really no universe where Keanu Reeves should be in this movie, but I love that performance; he fits the character better than people give him credit for. There are also parts in the later acts that kind of fall apart and make no sense, but it doesn’t really matter. It becomes part of the film's overall character. It’s gorgeous and dark and silly and bloody and horny, and there’s this powerful romantic emotion running beneath it all. The ending knocks the wind out of me, always.

I just admire the hell out of it. And it consciously represents an end of something. Coppola made it specifically because he foresaw that big-budget films that rely on elaborate costumes, sets, and practical (in-camera!) effects were on their way out. As a result, he pulled techniques from the entire history of filmmaking. It’s a culmination of the form. He believed this would be the last opportunity to make a film at this scale the traditional way. And he was right! You couldn’t make Bram Stoker’s Dracula today. And that’s terrible. What a loss.

Which of your writings would adapt most successfully to film?

I’m going to go the opposite direction and give one that I think is pretty much unfilmable: Amygdalatropolis. Content aside, the vast majority of it takes place on online imageboards, and I can’t really think of anything less cinematic than that. I know some filmmakers have done desktop films, but as far as I can tell those still primarily rely on webcam footage, and I’m honestly a bit skeptical of how much life the form has.

I’d be very curious to see how someone would interpret Negative Space. I have a very distinct vision in my head of what that would look like, but the nature of literature is that every reader creates their own vision from the text. You can never know what your story looks like inside another person’s head, so a film adaptation would be the closest you could come to actually observing that.

Can you give some film recommendations for those who have liked your writing?

River’s EdgeThe GateThe Doom GenerationBenny’s VideoKairo

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JULIET ESCORIA on film with Rebecca Gransden

What film, or films, made the first deep impression on you?

I remember watching Beetlejuice over and over as a kid. I got nightmares from things that kids aren’t supposed to get nightmares from, like The Care Bears movie, but for some reason this movie didn’t bother me? Explains my goth roots.

What films first felt transgressive to you? Do you remember being secretive about any films you watched growing up?

I wasn’t allowed to watch rated R movies for a long time (except my parents did let me watch The Shining and The Exorcist in junior high). When Pulp Fiction came out, a lot of the boys in my class—it was all boys—watched it and were talking about how cool it was and I was so jealous, Pulp Fiction seemed so cool and mature to me.

I also remember my parents having a recorded copy of Body Heat on VHS and I was under the impression that this was something they didn’t want me to know about because it was dirty.

Are there any films that define your formative years?

SLC Punk is a silly little movie but I have a lot of affection for it. The party scenes feel true-to-life, and when I was in my teens/early 20s it was really relatable to me. (Fun fact: writer Chiara Barzini appears in this movie.)

The Virgin Suicides made a big impact on me for a lot of reasons—its dreaminess, the images, the portrayal of teen girlhood, and the subject matter of suicide. 

I saw Donnie Darko when I was around 20 and it kinda blew my mind. I remember being like Wow, movies can do this! and wanting to talk about it with my friends but I didn’t have any artsy friends at the time and nobody cared.

Do you use film as a prompt or direct motivation for your writing?

Not entirely, but at one point during the writing of Juliet the Maniac I got this strange idea that I needed to match it with the color palette of East of Eden? This doesn’t even make sense. I don’t think it even made sense to me at the time. I was feeling lost in the manuscript when this happened. 

What directors, film movements, or particular actors have been an influence?

I want to use this question to talk about how much I love Riley Keough. I love Riley Keough! She’s amazing in everything I’ve seen her in. I love her voice. She’s hot. I have a big crush on her.

American Honey (with Riley Keough)—there are some scenes in Juliet the Maniac that take place in a van. I watched that movie and tried to get the van scenes to at least resemble the van scenes in American Honey. That movie got the milieu of “fucked up youths in a van for long periods” thing down perfectly.

Have you ever made a film? If so, has the process of doing that had an influence on your writing?

Yes, I made a bunch of short films directly related to my first two books. I don’t really think they had an influence—mostly I just found it exciting to work in a different medium. Writing is my favorite artistic medium and I find it to be the most… spiritual? in that you can directly inhabit another person’s mind and thoughts… but there are still limitations to it. There are certain things you can only do with film. It felt fun and freeing to be able to work with images and, especially, music. I’d like it if you could force people to listen to a soundtrack to your book. 

Are there films you associate with a particular time in your life, or a specific writing project?

I watched Drugstore Cowboy about a hundred times when I was dating this junky who was very bad for me. (Referring to him as a junky seems harsh but also accurate.) He’s dead now. Bad memories. 

Another dead boyfriend (different dead boyfriend) memory are the movies of Jim Jarmusch. I still don’t like Jim Jarmusch movies, excepting the zombie one. I liked the zombie one.

Thinking about the places you’ve lived, are there any environments that are cinematic? Have you lived anywhere that has been regularly depicted onscreen? If so, has this had an influence on your perception of the place, or how you’ve depicted it in any of your writings?

All three places where I’ve lived as an adult were cinematic. I grew up in Del Mar, CA, which is sandstone bluffs, blue ocean, bent Torrey pines, and that soft golden light that is distinctive to Southern California. The beach in front of the house where I grew up has always felt creepy to me, which I tried to portray in this movie and the corresponding story. It has a lagoon that gets misty and just looks vaguely ominous.

West Virginia, where I live now, is so beautiful that it feels aggressive. I regularly feel distracted while driving to work by the aggressively beautiful mountains and trees and rivers and sky. I have some stories in my new, not yet published collection that feature me writing about this aggressive beauty. It makes me kinda sad that movies set in WV are generally filmed in Georgia, rather than on location. I wish WV would get a decent airport and give out tax credits so they could be filmed here. Seems like a missed opportunity. 

And New York, where I went to grad school… I think the way it’s depicted in movies, books, and music is a big reason why I wanted to go to school there in the first place. I’ve tried to not write about it too much because it’s been covered so many times, but I also didn’t want to shy away from it either. When I had a story that I really wanted to write that absolutely needed to be set in New York, I let it be set in New York. 

Are there films you regularly return to, and do you know why?

I feel the need to watch Gangs of New York about once a year. I’m not even sure why. I guess because there are so many good characters, and it feels so ambitious in terms of scale. Goodfellas and Taxi Driver are other Scorsese movies I feel the need to watch fairly regularly.

The aforementioned The Virgin Suicides is another one. I’ve watched Once Upon a Time in Hollywood four times and could watch it again (fuck the haters for this movie, you all are losers). It’s pretty much a perfect movie, from the editing to the acting. I am also really into anything related to the women of the Manson family—not Charlie, he’s boring, but the women—and anything that could be described as California Noir. 

Under the Silver Lake is another recent “California Noir”ish movie I could watch again.

And David Lynch movies, of course: Mulholland Drive, Blue Velvet, and Wild at Heart are movies I could watch over and over. 

I loved Midsommar (again, fuck the haters, you’re boring) and feel like that movie was kinda made for me, with the imagery and the weird nature/pagan shit and the woman character getting the upper hand in the end.

I saw Ganja & Hess for the first and so far only time last year but it really hit me hard. Like the other movies, I think a lot of it has to do with imagery/general aesthetic.

What films have roused a visceral reaction in you?

Waves was the most recent one. It gave me a stomach ache, big time.

Can you give some film recommendations for those who have liked your writing?

All of the ones under the “films I regularly return to” section, plus Good Time, The Neon Demon, The Witch Who Came from the Sea, Ordet, The Virgin Spring, Through a Glass Darkly, The Hunger, American Honey, Thou Wast Mild and Lovely… I could go on but that’s a decent list. 

This series has not much to do with my writing, but I want to recommend Small Axe. That series was amazing and it got less recognition than it deserved.

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