01-13-11:Steven R. Boyett Reads at SF in SF on November 13, 2011
When Rina Weisman first told me that Steven Boyett was going to read at SF in SF, I was stoked. Like many readers, there are certain stories that just stick in my mind. For me, one of those stories can be found in an old anthology from the now-defunct publisher Dark Harvest; 'Silver Screan,' an anthology of horror fiction about movies edited by David Schow. It's the place where Joe R. Lansdale's "The Night They Missed the Horror Show" first appeared. And it's the place where I first read Steven R. Boyett.
Boyett's story in 'Silver Scream ' is "The Answer Tree," and there's not much I want to say about it, because it is rather short, utterly memorable and best read cold. It has a sort of meta-fictional, Borgesian feel to it. It's extremely chilling and extremely intelligent.
At SF in SF, Boyett, did not simply read his work. He performed it, having almost memorized big chunks of both pieces he read. It was closer to stand-up non-comedy than a literary reading, and there is a potential for that to be problematic. Most books are, after all, meant to be read in silence. This is fine. But an overly dramatic reading of some books might seem to be heavy handed.
01-12-11:Ray Garton Interviewed at SF in SF on October 23, 2010
"For me, I have to discover something as it unfolds."
If I had never met Ray Garton before, I think I might have been a little hesitant to talk to him after his reading of "Second Opinion." It is, after all, the story of a man who cheerfully cuts up his best friend with a chainsaw. But Ray is, like most horror writers, a genuinely nice guy, even when he's reading the most gruesome story you can imagine. He just reads with such relish and friendliness, you can imagine helping him start up the saw.
After the show, I talked to Ray in the lobby, with the recorder slung over my shoulder, which is not so easy as one might expect. Yes, I know that digital audio recorders can be quite compact now, but mine is old and big and sort of clumsy — and I like it that way. For one thing, it lets the people I speak with know I'm serious about it. It also has great mic pre-amps. And finally, I've had it so long and used the mics I have so long that I am utterly, completely familiar with how it is going to sound. I suppose I should, but I never use earphones.
But in spite of my rather forbidding setup, Ray was really relaxed and happy to talk. We talked about "Second Opinion," which has had many lives and a variety of formats. You can find the story in his collection 'Slivers of Bone,' from Cemetery Dance Publications. It is well worth your valuable reading time, so long as you enjoy reading stories that feature chilling violence delivered in an absurdly cheerful manner.
We also talked about Ray's series following on from 'Ravenous' and 'Bestial,' which he will be merging with his 'Live Girls' series. And we talked a bit about his writing process, how he crafts these stories of terror and violence. With all this "write what you know" advice that seems so common, writers like Garton seem like they must be hiding something. Especially since he writes the violence and the horror so well. You can hear just what a nice guy Ray Garton is in person by following this link to the MP3 audio file.
01-11-11:John Shirley Interviewed at SF in SF on October 23, 2010
"...you can go back to the Marquis de Sade for some of it, though I'm not a big fan of his...."
Leave it to John Shirley to get the Marquis De Sade into the conversation in less than a minute; in fact he gets there in the first 30 seconds of his answer! But then again, when you're talking to the author of the short story collection, 'Really, Really, Really, Really Weird Stories' about his new collection — 'In Extremis' (Underland Press ; July 2011 ; "$"), then you can put this in perspective. John Shirley is the electric eel of literature. He does not have to try to shock you. It just happens naturally.
And to be perfectly honest, I was not so shocked. As I mentioned in my article about hi reading, I'd already been shocked back in the day by the stories in 'Heatseeker.' And I've read enough of Shirley's work since to know that each book may be wildly and intensely different from anything I'd read before and anything he has written. Wherever that dark place is, that cold place, Shirley can find it, and then write a nice yarn about it. And to add to Shirley's singular achievements, he's the guy who can garrote you with yarn. He doesn't need those nasty knitting needles to penetrate your brain. Though he might do so just to fuck with you.
So here's the guy who just likes to basically terrorize his readers on every level — visceral, moral, intellectual — writing a biography of Gurdjieff. If this seems a little unexpected, then I suggest readers sample some of the stories in 'Heatseeker,' which seem to embody Gurdjieff's title, 'Life Is Real Only Then, When 'I Am'.' To my mind, the existential nature of Shirley's horror is what's particularly effective. At his best, he can simulate an acid trip gone terribly wrong.
"We kind of assemble ourselves from this buffet of other people's selves."
Sure, it only took me what, eight months to wrap my brain around the interview. But you do what you have to and face what you can. There are lots of great reasons for why this interview is running now. Chuck's signature in the book tells all: "To Rick — We'll always have that precious hour in my hotel room." Well, thanks to the infinite life of anything that goes up on the Internet, that promise is now brought to fruition.
I spoke with Chuck in his hotel with a view of the San Francisco Bay behind him, as the tide went in under the Golden Gate Bridge. It was a pretty spectacular, but, in retrospect, having edited the damn interview — that too, turned out quite well. Chuck and I talked about the novel of course, and many of the themes it suggests; celebrity, and how we assemble our personalities out of bits kiped from our favorite performances, as it were, of those around us, or those we see.
I found 'Tell-All' to be a very complicated novel but didn't even twig to the meta-fictional aspects of it until we talked about the book. And for a very dense book, it's always refreshing to talk with the author who can put the novel in perspective; without spoiling what unfolds in the plot at all, we did manage to tweeze out the aspects of Chuck's minimalist techniques and how the novel uses that form as tool to its greater ends.
Things also took a personal turn as Chuck talked about the circumstances of the novel's creation, which, not surprisingly, inform the novel itself. He also talked about his writing group, which has been meeting on Thursdays for something like twenty years now, and has probably just signed off, as much as they do, on his upcoming novel. He gave me a précis for that novel, and I suspect that it is much more along the lines of what the readitariat thinks of as a "Chuck Palahniuk novel." You can join the listenatariat by following this link to the MP3 audio file.
New to the Agony Column
07-11-15: Commentary : Robert Repino Morphs 'Mort(e)' : Housecat to Harbinger of the Apocalypse