I was tagged by Stephanie Wytovich — poet, professor, editor and someone just too sweet and creepy to refuse — to answer these questions. Fair warning: I am feverish and slightly hallucinating from a nasty chest cold so these responses might be a bit more “truth-y” than is prudent.
Was being a writer something you always aspired to be?
I’m not a writer; I just write. In fact, I seriously try to stop writing every couple years. I quit in disgust and desperation, in anger and disappointment. Some days I wish that writing would just leave me the fuck alone. I hate how I have to work a full time job like everyone else but when everyone else is coming home to watch television, or play with their pets or masturbate, I have to write.
But that’s the point: I have to write. I’ve told stories for as long as I can remember. Words wrap themselves around the curls inside my brain, sticking there like papier mache, making it hard to think clearly about anything else. And to get a little peace, I have to scrape them out and write them down. Then invariably, I’m drawn into those words, into those narrative shapes. I push them around, tinker with them, arranging them, breaking them, fixing them. If I am diligent and honest and work hard enough, eventually those scraps will get up and walk away on their own and I can have a little peace for a little while.
What genre do you write?
This is a difficult question. Genre seems more about readerly expectation, possibly about marketing, than about “writing,” though I admit those horizons invariably fuse… — Can’t you just shut up with the theory and answer the nice lady’s question? —
“The New Weird” is what I’d prefer, I think. “Horror,” I suppose. “Literary” maybe. I really like the phrase “Magical Realism” but it sounds a bit 1980’s. “Urban Fantasy” but that too often just means stories where the brutal thugs who solve everything with force are female. Possibly “Bizarro.” Yeah, that probably fits best. Bizarro because so few people really know what the hell that means.
Whatever genre that fits Joyce Carol Oates, Angela Carter, Flannery O’Connor, William Burroughs, Salman Rushdie, Franz Kafka maybe Clive Barker and Caitlyn Kiernan.
Can you tell us a little about your current work in progress? When did you start working on this project?
My current work in progress is “Anatomical Models, Astral Bodies,” a collection of supernatural body-horror poetry set at dream carnival. I started writing them a couple years ago when I… OK, so this sounds even crazier than I like to admit… but when I started to dream about this “place.” A darkly innocent urban circus kept popping up in my dreams and meditations, populated by rather heart-wrenching characters. As I continued to “visit” this dream world, I found that I’d joined the show, though not exactly as one of the performers. I seriously thought I’d finished the collection about two months ago and nearly submitted it to a publisher… but those freaks just won’t leave me alone. Evidently, there’s still more to tell.
What was your first piece that you can remember writing? What was it about?
I was in early grade school, so young I couldn’t actually “write.” My mother transcribed a story I told about a lonely little boy who lived on the moon. He lived inside his toys.
What’s the best part about writing?
That point when the world goes away and it’s just the Work and it’s a dance and project and an obsession. It’s surgery and delirium and lockpicking. Time ceases to mean anything. It is the Being that is Becoming. A close second is the sense of relief when the pressure releases, when that tension finally snaps shut and the piece is able to live and breathe on its own.
What’s the worst part about writing?
The sense I’ve betrayed that first inspiration, that I’ll never be able to write well enough to do justice to that initial kick in the gut, that I’ve lapsed into sentimentalism or cliche or some easy way out. The sense that I’ve been invited into a gleaming crystal palace and all I’ve done is track mud onto the white carpet.
What’s the name of your favorite character and why?
Suzanne (protagonist of “Twice Folded Worlds”) She’s more clearly broken than I am but she’s too stupid to give up. She keeps going, keeps kicking at her darkness. Her wounds are the source of her power. I barely feel that I deserve to tell her story.
How much time a day/week do you get to write? When is the best time for you to write (morning or night)?
Morning, long before light, especially in the months between November and March. I am well-rested, my brain freshly stocked with insanity from my overly-vivid dreams. I can just type and type and pray that the sun never rises, that the work day never calls me away. I can usually get an hour or two in. I am constantly amazed at how little I get written during the weekends.
Did you go to college for writing? Or if you haven’t been to college yet, do you plan to?
I went to college because I was born with more questions than the folks around me. I took classes that seemed to respond to these needs and, yes, there were more than a couple writing classes in there. My favorite, possibly, was a playwriting seminar I had with William Hoffman. I ended up with a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan concentrating in both English Literature and Philosophy. I later did Master’s and Doctoral work in Philosophical Aesthetics, focusing on German theatre.
But seriously, you never stop learning how to write.
What bothers you more: spelling errors, punctuation errors, or grammar errors?
Fuck ALL of those “errors.” The worst errors are failure of will, laziness, the cowardice of not following a piece of writing to its honest conclusion. And that doesn’t necessarily mean to a dark place. There is a coy and shallow sarcasm that is boring and lazy, nearly indistinguishable from the yammering of internet trolls. Why do so few writers have the nerve to imagine anything positive?
What is the best writing advice that anyone has given you?
Just do it.
What advice would you give to another writer?
Don’t do it. Run. Run screaming. If you seriously have a choice, do ANYTHING else. Perhaps start a collection of Beanie Babies or a VLOG about high-end footwear.
What are your favorite writing sites or blogs that you turn to for help, tips or encouragement?
Caitlyn Kiernan’s Livejournal. She is relentlessly, brutally honest about the drudgery and horror of being a full time writer. It would be very easy for me to romanticize that life, to imagine a carefree existence of words and dreams, if I didn’t have to work for The Man.
On the entire other end of the spectrum, Tobias Buckell who is a SF writer and a futurist. He’s unsentimental about the job of writing and often pokes into the actual data of creativity.
Besides writing, what else do you enjoy doing? What are your hobbies?
I take things apart and put them back together in cooler, weirder ways. I make masks. I enjoy solving problems, technical, physical, narrative ones. Wood working with hand tools. Gardening. Tai Chi. Meditation. Fighting with Janice.
What is the best book you’ve read this year?
Violet LeVoit’s “I’d Fuck Anything and Stephen Hawking” nearly blew my head off when I read it on the plane coming back from World Horror this year. It was the best thing I’d read in years, that is, until I read her other collection “I am Genghis Cum.”
What is the best movie you’ve seen this year?
I saw a new print of “Haxan” screened at the Ann Arbor Film Festival this year with a live soundtrack provided by Demdike Stare. That movie is still so fresh, so WTF.
What is your favorite book or series of all time?
I think I’ve read Catch-22 by Joseph Heller more times than any other novel. Midnight’s Children by Rushdie also has particularly fond memories as well. Maybe “The Country Between Us” by Caroline Forché. I’m pretty shitty at answering these questions, aren’t I?
Who is your favorite author?
Today at least, it’s Charles Baudelaire. Not just his facility with language and image but the ability to imagine a whole new kind of beauty, to crack open cultural expectations.
What are your plans for the rest of the year in terms of your writing?
The “year” is nearly done but before January, I need to have edits done on “Til Death: The Horrors and Happy Afters of a Long Relationship,” which is a collection of marriage poems I’ve written with my long-time companion, Janice Leach. This volume will be coming out on Raw Dog Screaming Press in 2016.
I’ve also been trying to screw up the courage to finish a novel, “Twice Folded Worlds.” I’d intended it as a fun romp, about grindhouse sorcery in the days of the Satanic Panic, but it’s stirred up some seriously disturbing personal shit. I’m planning to short-circuit all that gothic bullshit and go NaNoWriMo on its ass.
If that doesn’t work, I’ll hammer some more on the sex-drug exploitation novella “SEMPx” I originally conceived as a screenplay.
Where else can we find you online?
Well, you’re likely reading this at my blog, http://jamesfrederickleach.com
I’m contributing editor and Cheif Fear-Monger at http://DailyNightmare.com which celebrates Midwest Snob Horror