Horrotica writer Eric Keys gave me the greatest interview. He's taking a break from blogging, so I'm posting it here. Join us as we talk sex, spookiness, and writing!
EJ: Mainers are required to read Stephen King. It’s an actual law. I encourage you to call Maine’s governor and ask about it, I’m sure he won’t mind. I went to school with the girl who played young Rachel Creed in Pet Sematary; it’s one of the few movies that was really filmed there. Fred Gwynn, (rest in peace) actually did a passable Maine accent too. It’s hard to explain, but Maine is just spooky. There were places in the woods that seemed absolutely magical. And there were places you just didn’t go. My brother and I never even had to talk to each other about those places, we just knew. My mother used to say “I can always tell when I’m in Maine, because the trees look like they could jump out and take over the road.” So it follows that I like to write about magic, mystery, and the natural world.
EK: Were there any places in Maine that had a deep impact on your writing?
EJ: Certainly the house I grew up in. It was an old farmhouse, built partly in 1860 and partly in 1790. It’s on ten acres of fields and woods. It felt alive. Every board in the house, every tree, every plant felt like it had its own personality and history and soul. I also lived in a number of places around Portland - that’s the real Portland, not that pretentious copycat in Oregon. A condo we lived in, an 1800’s brick building, had a dark, twisty basement with a dirt floor. I still have nightmares about that basement. I’m fairly sure it was an entrance to hell.
EK: Nightmares and dreams are often a big deal for writers. Personally, I have not received a lot of ideas from dreams but I have often tried to recreate what I think of as the feeling of a fever dream. Have dreams influence your writing much?
EJ: Very, very, very much yes. Absolutely. I have an unbelievably active, surreal, and lucid dream life. I have two sci-fi novels that have come to me as dreams; the events played out in my head like a movie. I could probably write innumerable horror stories from my dreams. And I may actually do a nonfiction collection of some of my dreams; it’s wild stuff.
EK: In Fresh Cut you write about a number of years you spent in Boston. How did that change of locale affect you?
EJ: It was my first big city, and it invigorated me. Brought out my wild side. (As if I needed any help with that). It’s a big college town, so there were a lot of people my own age. I think it made me more social, and it certainly started me people-watching. That’s an essential skill for any writer, or actor. It was still very “New England,” though; it had that sort of odd historical undercurrent, that strange sense of dark deeds long past. I think Boston has always been a city that’s very prim and proper on the surface and all kinds of dirty underneath.
EK: What are some of the places in Boston that you remember fondly?
EJ: Um...leaving it? I was just not a fan. No, really, though - those strange multilevel ramps in and out of the city, oxidized or painted to a bright green or orange, swirling above and below you like the rings of Saturn. Beautiful and offputting at the same time. Remember when they tore down the first wall of the Boston Garden Arena? On the way out of the city you could see inside to all the bleachers and nets and floors that the Boston Celtics had played on so many times. I hate sports, but I have to admit it disturbed me. It was like looking at an autopsied corpse.
EK: I remember the Garden fondly. I saw my first rock concert there – REM. And on that note, do you listen to music while you write? Does music play a big role in your writing process?
EJ: Well, my first concert was Huey Lewis and the News, so let’s hope that didn’t influence me too much - Although then I’d be American Psycho, which would be awesome! Actually, I’m way too into music to listen while writing. Since I’ve been a singer with a band, I always wind up getting pulled into that world instead. But certain pieces definitely come around to haunt me at times. And since I tend to view books as movies in my head, they’ll usually have a soundtrack. For Fresh Cut it’s a combo of 90s alt bands like Live and Blur, and wonderful modern melodrama like Muse.
EK: You moved to LA at the end of your memoir. What most stands out for you about the difference between New England and Southern California?
EJ: The weather, obviously, but truly, it’s the people. I remember one time in Boston I had to go out without a bra. I got yelled at by some guys on the street. In LA, no one would give a rat’s ass. If they even noticed with all the other bizarre behavior going around. Boston’s Puritanical roots are very close to the surface. LA is a city of beautiful freaks, and it’s easy to blend in. You can get a dude in a business suit, a homeless guy with dreads, a cholo, a goth, and a movie star all sitting in the same outdoor cafe.
EK: Not to make this interview about me, but you were one of the first people to write a review of my eBook: Grace & Blood. (Thank you for that, by the way.) What do you find interesting about erotic horror?
EJ: Ah, well, as Jane’s Addiction said: Sex is violent. Not always. I love the tender side, too. But I love that sexuality and violence are two of our most base animal instincts. How many animals kill each other in a frenzy over mating? They both come from a very dark place. And a very powerful place. It’s enticing to explore it. Cathartic. It’s not for everyone but it doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with it. In the movie Quills, Kate Winslet’s character says “I don’t think I could be such a good girl in life if I wasn’t such a bad girl on the page.”
EK: I’ve often felt that erotic horror has an effect on the human brain to churn it up into a state where you’re able to entertain ideas and thoughts that would seem simply impossible otherwise. Have you had a similar experience? How would you describe the subjective effect that this kind of literature has on you?
EJ: I think it can free the mind, for lack of a less cheesy phrase. I think all people, no matter how wholesome, have the capacity for violence and darkness; we’re hardwitred for it, deep down in our lizard-brains. Our sexuality lives there too, entrenched in the need to procreate for survival. When you really tap into the primal level of one, the other is right there at hand. The boundaries blur. It’s not something to fear, it’s just our nature. Personally, I love engaging with that primal sexuality. It makes me feel like a warrior-goddess of birth and destruction.
EK: Are there any other erotic horror writers you read?
EJ: I read a neat book by a fellow who calls himself the Dark Scribe. He did a vampire story the way it should be done. Screw that Twilight crap. Darla Hogan has a couple of collections with a heavily erotic bent. Some people on Amazon apparently found his style too much. Wimps. And my friend M.B. Vujacic writes awesome short stories that he’s had published in several places - including one inspired by my book! http://sqmag.com/2015/06/29/edition-21-florist-by-m-b-vujacic/
EK:Any places you won’t go when reading erotic horror? Any boundaries you simply will not cross? (And I may or may not be planning to use your remarks to plan future projects!)
EJ: Yes – it can’t be gratuitous. I have to feel like the author has genuinely gotten into the headspace of the character and isn’t just tossing out nastiness for shock value. If it’s horrific sexual violence and murder, it has to make sense for the character. Normally I prefer my stuff less murdery than your work, Eric – but you make it make so much sense for your characters that it works. I even went with you when you skated across the child-murder line, which is normally intolerable for me. You’re that good.
EK: Now, on to your book. Fresh Cut is not a horror story by any stretch of the imagination and yet it is a memoir that I think a lot of horror writers will enjoy. Has horror literature influenced your writing? If so, how?
EJ: I just love to explore the dark side of humanity. I’ve been a horror fan from the moment I could read. I like it when characters have to survive something dreadful - and you know, I liked that element even before my own life became dreadful. I just like the strength and humanity it brings out in people. Horror characters seem so much more interesting than the ones going through mundane troubles. And I like the feeling of the supernatural. I’m a rationalist, but doesn’t the world sometimes feel like strange things are occurring just out of the range of our senses? Horror writers tap into that. They make us feel like extraordinary things could happen, both good and bad. That’s definitely a theme in my writing - sinister, powerful things just under the surface.
EK: What are some lessons you learned in writing this book? What would you like to pass on to other memoir writers? And what lessons would you pass on to fiction writers?
EJ: Well, be careful. Delving into your own darkness can be really unsettling. That being said, be utterly ruthless with yourself. I really wanted to figure out how to make my life a good story, not just blather all my own crap all over the page. Too many memoirists do that, and it’s totally undermined the credibility of the genre. It may sound cruel, but I like to tell people “Be a writer first and a memoirist second.” Just because you have a story doesn’t mean you can write it. You’ve got to get some training and some practice, or you’ll kill your story. And your story is important - all of our stories are important - they deserve to be heard, and they deserve to be well written. For fiction writers...make your characters into people. Real people. Model them after people you’ve met. Too many fiction writers make their characters all sound the same, it’s excruciating. Let them come to life in your head and share their stories with you.
EK: I know you’ve become a mom since the days chronicled in Fresh Cut. I know the whole tone of my own writing changed after I became a father. Has motherhood affected your writing?
EJ: Yeah, I have lost most all tolerance for violence towards children. Can’t read it, can’t watch it. I am also perpetually sleep deprived. I have learned that I sometimes have to work in 15 minute increments. But I am more inspired than ever: these weird little critters make me want to work harder than I ever have before, and they give me tons of ideas. I’ll be writing my toddler into the next installment of my fantasy book as a changeling child.
EK: What are you working on these days?
EJ: I have a dark fantasy novel called Soothbound up for publication, the first in a series. It examines the consequences of religion and mythology colliding with a secular worldview. I have just started a more literary endeavor called World Between, which will have episodes of my own childhood dreams, nightmares, and fantasies woven into a coming-of-age story.
EK: Where can people find you online?
EJ: Sigh. Everywhere. I am so Google-able these days. But here’s a list:
EK: Where can they buy Fresh Cut?
EJ: Most every online retailer including Amazon, but publisher-direct is best:
EK: Any parting words?
EJ: Balenciaggaaaa! (Er, sorry. Just a little overexcited about the new American Horror Story).