In the last interview I will be hosting on my website for a while, please join me in welcoming Autumn Christian – the incredibly talented author of The Crooked God Machine and A Gentle Hell.
1. Tell me more about how you got started as a writer?
I don’t even remember. It must’ve gotten in my blood. Someone punched me in the stomach and the only response I could think of was to write. I don’t know how to stop, much as I’d like to sometimes.
2. What do you fear? Tell me about your own phobias.
I think my life has been defined by fear. One of my first memories is of being at the Oklahoma City zoo looking down at the hippo tank. My mother told me, “Be careful, one time a kid fell in there, right into the hippo’s mouth, and they ate him.”
I grew up with extreme social anxiety disorder. The thought of having to answer a phone or a door left me in tears. I used to lurk on the social anxiety disorders forums and hear stories of 60 year old virgins and women who hadn’t left their homes in twenty years. That wasn’t going to be me. It took me years and years, but I decided to run towards everything I was afraid of. It’s why I dropped out of college and ended up working at an Oklahoman dairy farm. It’s why I ended up in Austin, Texas by myself with almost no work experience and became a game designer at one of the top game companies in the country a year later.
I’m not at all any less afraid. There are moments when I can’t even get out of bed because I’m paralyzed with it. But I’ve learned to run towards it and not away more often than not.
3. In A Gentle Hell, one of your stories, They Promised Dreamless Death, evoked Philip K. Dick in title and in its description of a world where reality and our perception of it is skewed – can you tell me some more about how you discovered Dick and his influence on your work?
I first discovered Philip K. Dick when I was in 2nd grade, around 8 or 9 years old, when I read UBIK. Though I was young and didn’t understand many of its overarching themes the power of that book lingered with me. I later rediscovered my love of PKD in college when I read A Scanner Darkly and then sought to read his entire collection. I’ve always been interested in alternate realities and the concept of ‘the real’. These aren’t new concepts, but Philip K. Dick did bring it back into pop culture.
He’s been strongly influencing my work ever since. I’m not usually a science fiction writer – The Crooked God Machine is the only science fiction novel I’ve written to date – but Dickian concepts go deeper than science fiction. They’re embedded deep in our consciousness. We’ve all woken up from a dream unsure of if we’re still dreaming.
First you begin to ask, “Am I dreaming? Am I awake?” Then you get to a point where you realize it doesn’t matter, so you start to ask, “What are my powers? What can I do here?” I want to move past those basic concepts into the place where we learn to cope in a universe where our reality or unreality is unknown.
4. Your Demiurge is Dead is another skewed story where the police procedural collides with a Burroughsian lampooning of vulgar spirituality – what is your take on how spirituality influences American life and culture? Do you think it can be as uplifting and healing as it can be wounding and degenerate?
No. Am I allowed to say that? No.
There are good spiritual people but this is in despite of spirituality. Your Demiurge is Dead is very much about the isolation I experienced as a child growing up in a religious country. You’re supposed to love your fictive father more than your real father. You exist in a murk, a ghost planet. A ghost isn’t going to love you like a living person loves you, no matter how much you pray to it.
Religion is destructive because its morality exists outside of actions. The prophet in Your Demiurge is Dead is a product of this. He’s not a leader of the people, he’s a murderer. The Triple Goddess isn’t a spiritual figure, she’s a tabloid star. We superimpose our own desires for direction and morality onto monsters. It’s easy to do when you’re supposed to follow directions from a god that lives in your head.
5. The Dog that Bit Her has a very unique take on a classic monster – what made you decide to reinterpret the werewolf?
I was squatting in my boss’s old apartment when I wrote that one. I’d been kicked out of the warehouse where I lived because of a breakup. I was full of manic energy – I hadn’t ate or slept in days. I started panicking; the thought of destroying myself seemed appealing, so I sat down at the keyboard and pounded out about 8,000 words.
I don’t think anyone gives a good goddamn about zombies and werewolves, not really. What they care about is the human reaction to these monsters. So I ended up creating a sort of “The Awakening”, for werewolves. And as you read it’s really not about werewolves at all, it’s about the girl regaining her independence. About a husband coping with his sick wife becoming stronger than he will ever be.
6. The Singing Grass struck me as being an autobiographical piece in some respects – would that be an accurate analysis? What is your opinion on art as autobiography? Does it gain more power when we put more of ourselves into it, even to the point where we become maybe too exposed and vulnerable before the audience?
Yes, every part of that story is autobiographical, even the impossible parts. I wrote that story to try and understand my relationship with the artist but it became twisted in the process. Several people have told me it’s one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever written – and I think it’s because I’ve infused it with myself – my experiences and my feelings and my energy, even in the parts that come across as strikingly surreal.
Yes, throw yourself into your story. Your vulnerability will gain you great and awesome powers. There’s a freedom in exposure. Not that it isn’t hard to achieve that level of self-expression. Most people can’t be that honest with themselves, because it hurts. It bites. You’re going to have to dig deeper than “it’d be really cool to write a vampire story!” You’ll have to think about what’s hurting you and unearth it.
I don’t know any other writer who cries and scratches themselves as they write, though maybe it’s for the best. I never did learn how to cope with my feelings except by writing them down.
7. One of the aspects of your work that I greatly admire is your knack for truly unique imagery that rarely, if ever, draws on traditional horror clichés – could you talk a little about which writers have influenced you in terms of imagery and how to construct and present it so as to arrest the reader’s attention?
My greatest influences in terms of my voice: Ray Bradbury (of course, and RIP), Poppy Z. Brite, Tom Piccirilli, Anais Nin, Kathy Acker. I write from the body. I write what feels good in my stomach, what makes me nauseous. I write like a bad headache.
Developing a voice is one of the most difficult things a writer can do. You will probably start out emulating someone (Ray Bradbury) and becoming a pale spectre until something clicks in your head one day and you begin to become your own writer. You have to religiously toss out overused phrases and plot points until you find what you really want to say underneath it all.
8. Can you tell me some more about your novel, The Crooked God Machine? And tell me why you think we have such a fascination with dystopias rather than utopias?
The Crooked God Machine is my debut novel. It’s a dystopian horror novel about a man named Charles living in a world where plague machines terrorize citizens with swarms of locusts and rivers of blood, salesmen sell sleep in the form of brain implants, and God appears on the television every night to warn of the upcoming apocalypse.
I started writing it when I was 19 years old. It was my gut punch reaction to living in this uncomfortable universe. It contains all my rage. As you can tell from some of my reviews on Amazon, this book has made others very uncomfortable as well.
We’re fascinated with dystopias because we’re fascinated by everything that can – and does – go wrong. It’s the little black cloud on the horizon syndrome. What we find dangerous excites us, because it can maim, crush and kill us. Conversely, a utopia contains no new possibilities. A perfect world is an unmoveable world, and in that world there can be no stories.
9. So what is a typical writing day for Autumn Christian?
There isn’t one. I currently work as a game designer, which can be extremely demanding. I write whenever I have an opportunity. In the morning, after work, in the middle of the night, during my lunch breaks. Most of my novels have been written in-between moments, because I rarely have huge stretches of time to devote to writing.
When I’m writing I like to listen to music, drink copious amounts of coffee, curse, and bite. In that sense I’m your typical writer.
10. So what does 2012 hold for Autumn Christian? Any last words?
2012 will most likely see me washed up on a distant shore somewhere after I succumb to some sickness of the spirit. Besides that, I’m going to be finishing up my book We are Wormwood and most likely seeking a publisher. I’ve had it described as my A Scanner Darkly, though I often refer to it as my ‘my lesbian demon romance drug novel’.
Here’s the preliminary summary:
Ever since she was a child, Lily has been pursued by the girl with the Wormwood eyes, the girl she once found hiding in the burnt out husk of a dead tree. It is Lily’s connection to this girl that will lead her through a psychotropic underworld of reincarnated saints and bondage queens. Of poison gods and spiders with women’s faces. And ultimately, the girl with the Wormwood eyes will take Lily down into the Hush Place, to a final confrontation with the ubiquitous nightcatcher, the creature that’s followed Lily’s Messianic-complexed mother since her birth.
A darkly surreal, drug-coated romance, We are Wormwood tells an inhuman love story, and the transformation that results.
After that, I’ll be finishing up Sunblood, a science fiction novel of anorexia and transforming into a bird through nanite technology.
I hope my last words won’t be here for a few years at least.
Thank you, Autumn!
A Gentle Hell is available from the following links:
The Crooked God Machine is available from the following links:
If you want to find out more about what Autumn’s up to, please visit her website here.