As part of my participation in the publication of Wrapped in Black: Thirteen Tales of Witches and the Occult, I’ve had the extreme good fortune to be able to interview my co-contributors. I’m working through them in the order of their stories in the book, so first up is none other than Gordon White, author of “Hair Shirt Drag.”
When I read this story, it knocked my socks off. I was breathless by the end. I absolutely loved it, and getting to talk to Gordon as an interviewer was a lot of fun.
Michael: Wrapped in Black is an anthology of stories about witches and the occult so let’s get right down to the meat: do you believe in magic and the powers of those who claim to practice it? There’s no wrong answer, of course, but if you say yes and then don’t tell at least a little of the story I am going to be serving some serious side-eye.
Gordon: Most of the magic in my story (at least the boring parts) are derived from what I have been told are absolutely true exercises of hedge magic by some of my more distant relatives. They all lived before I was born and I haven’t seen any ghosts since I was a teenager, so unfortunately I can’t verify. If anything, though, I think magic would work is subtle ways: threads of reality pulled into different shapes by exercises of intent channeled through ritual. Synchronicity, “messages from the universe,” gut feelings. Nothing as exciting and dramatic as magical spells and summoning demons and whatnot, but I’ll take what I can get.
None of that is to say that I don’t believe in sparkly vampires. Because I totally do.
Gordon: What appeals to me about horror – all speculative fiction, actually – is that there are no physical boundaries. In theory, this should liberate authors to explore the human condition in all its full and dramatic aspects in unlimited worlds without the need to meet the expectation of a happy ending. The deep focus of “literary” fiction should combine with the limitless potential of speculative fiction to give us new rich, dark understandings of ourselves. So, that’s a long of way saying that it is both freeing and aspirational.
Michael: As writers, we’re supposed to be tired of being asked where we get our ideas. (Personally, I love hearing myself talk.) Thus, I’m not asking that: I’m not asking from where in your brain your ideas come (unless you want to tell me). Instead, I’m curious as to whether there’s a physical location or activity you find particularly helpful. For my part, I go running when I need ideas. There are specific trails and dark wooded places where I can put my body to work on that repetitive task and my brain will eventually start coughing up inspiration.
Gordon: Living in New York City, physical space is such a difficult beast to wrangle. By necessity, we live in a small apartment and I start to go stir crazy after a while since there’s no dedicated place where I can shut the door and think in isolation (other than the bathroom). Perhaps that’s why a lot of ideas come to me, at least in their first instance, in the shower.
To really work things out, though, I like to take the dog on long walks. For a while it was up and down the less populated western avenues (11th all up and down midtown). We now live close enough to Central Park, though, so that we can go for morning walks for off-leash time. Being able to walk and think lets me run through the jumble of thoughts so that by the time I get home, I’ve clarified at least the idea of what I want to write. Having the dog helps immensely because: A) being outside and moving, I can’t get bogged down in frantically scribbling all my crappy ideas, so the chaff shakes loose as we walk; B) I’m otherwise lazy and won’t exercise for myself, but for her? Anything; and, finally, C) only crazy people talk to themselves in the Park, but if you talk to a dog… well, that’s just cute. Unless you’re David Berkowitz, I guess.
Michael: What work (horror or otherwise) do you most wish you had written, and why?
Gordon: I’m sure this answer changes day by day, but looking at my shelf today, I think Jeff VanderMeer’s Wonderbook is at the top of the list. It’s drawn not only from such a deep well of knowledge, but a place of such absolute faith in the creative process, that I wonder what that must be like.
On second though, maybe I should have said The Bible, so that I could add in the Commandment “Be Cool, Babies. Be Cool”?
Michael: You and your favorite writer are stuck in an elevator while repair crews try to rescue you. What do you ask them? Do you have a grand time together or do they eagerly anticipate their escape?
Gordon: I think are two ways to play this:
First, you could “Mercy” the author. By this, I mean that you intentionally try be as weird and off-putting as possible in the hopes that one day you appear in a not-so-thinly-veiled role as the villain/victim/yattering demon in your favorite author’s newest story. Then, you can tell all your friends! (“Hey guys, have your read Amy Tan’s new novel, THE JACKASS? Well, you’ll never guess who it’s about.”)
Second, and my course of action, would be to purposely have the most innocuous and inane conversation possible. The author will probably be relieved that you’re not an obsessive weirdo and, as a result, will be more likely to open up – albeit only about the insipid topics you’ve chosen. The downside? No chance to pick the authorial brain. The upside? You get the most unique author encounter ever. Anyone can ask Stephen King about ON WRITING, but how many could say, “Oh, I was trapped in an elevator with Thomas Ligotti once. The guy would not shut up about the Energy Star setting on his dishwasher. Yeah, I know, for thirty minutes. Apparently it does *not* get the pans clean.”
Michael: What’s next for you? Where can we keep up?
Gordon: I’m far behind on getting things out and submitted, so not so much on the fictional front until I can sit down and write and cry and edit and submit. However, I also read submissions for Kraken Press and two of the novels I pulled from the slush are coming out in the next few months to a year – Leah Erickson’s THE GILDED LYNX and another that hasn’t been announced yet. Those are going to be fantastic! I’m also taking up some additional responsibilities as an interview coordinator (in addition to occasional review contributor) over at Hellnotes.