Haunted: An interview with Jeremy C. Shipp
By Alan Kelly.
3:AM: “At the time, I thought it was horrible. I knew immediately I’d be committing professional suicide, but I thought ‘what choice do I have?’ Somehow, I seemed to be dead already. I love glamour and physical beauty. I’ve always been fascinated by beautiful me…” – Vampira. Has your writing ever taken you to a place so dark or twisted or sick you thought you’d never return?
Jeremy C. Shipp: I have disturbed myself. I have traveled to realms so dark that they made me sick to my stomach and my soul. But ultimately, I’m an optimist. I believe that most people want to do good. And so, I always carry a torch of hope with me. And because of that, the darkness of my stories can’t crush my spirit.
3:AM: “The Cryptkeeper: What do you get when you cross a witch and an igloo? The Old Witch: I don’t know? The Cryptkeeper: A cold spell.” When was the last time you had a cold spell or felt the writing just wasn’t coming?
JCS: Sometimes I don’t feel inspired to write a specific story or novel. But I usually force myself to work on it anyway. And if that doesn’t work, I switch to another writing project. So, I force myself to write every day. I write even when my muse is vomiting blood and chunks of lung.
3:AM: Elvira: “Yeah, go ahead and fire me. I need this job like a leper needs a three-way mirror!” In interviews you’ve said your work is like a fun-house, distorted mirror image of our world. Which novel would you most like to live inside, for a week and which would you not?
JCS: I would live inside Cursed, because I love the characters. Cicely would be especially fun to hang out with. I know because Cicely is, in part, inspired by my wife, and my wife is the best friend a guy could ask for. I wouldn’t want to live inside Vacation. There’s too much death. Too much suffering. I’ve already experienced the paradigm shift that Bernard experienced, and I don’t want to go through that again.
3:AM: Xena once said “I have many skills,” and as a writer you’re certainly one talented and hugely skilled young man – so far your books include Vacation, Sheep and Wolves (a collection) and Cursed. What is the highest word-count you’ve reached in a day?
JCS: Thank you for the kind words. I started writing when I was 13 years old, and I’ve been writing at least one novel a year ever since. These days, I’m quite the minimalist. I obsess over every sentence. Every word. So I’m slow as a zombie snail. My highest word-count probably occurred when I was 14 or so, writing a fantasy trilogy called The Night Trees. Back then, I wasn’t a minimalist. I was a maximalist, and I could churn out maybe 5000 words in a day.
3:AM: “Those who cannot understand how to put their thoughts on ice should not enter into the heat of debate.” – Freidrich Nietzsche. Has an idea or thought ever got frozen at the forefront of your mind and did you have difficulty defrosting it?
JCS: I do keep many ideas locked away in my cerebral freezer, and this is an important part of my writing process. Most of my best ideas remain frozen for a while. Sometimes I hold onto an idea for a year or more, and I never allow my cerebral dragons to roast the thoughts. I allow the ideas to defrost naturally. I suppose this process helps me, because sometimes my mind needs time to fully wrap itself around a thought.
3:AM: “Curses always recoil on the head of him who imprecates them. If you put a chain around the neck of a slave, the other end fastens itself around your own.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson. Can writing be a form of slavery – like the bite of a viper, once the poison starts running through your veins, there is nothing you can do?
JCS: I feel less like a slave, and more like a willing servant. I give up time and energy, and in exchange, I am blessed with emotional and spiritual fulfillment. Writing helps me to process reality. Writing gives me the opportunity to connect with the world in a positive way. If I stopped writing, I think my soul would explode, or implode, or some other kind of -plode. Then again, I could probably find a new calling as a singer or a plush artist or a shadow puppeteer.
3:AM: William Blake once said “Every harlot was a virgin once.” Are you a harlot when it comes to pimping out your books?
JCS: I think of myself as an ethical snake oil salesman. Snake oil has a bad name, but it’s actually high in Omega-3 fatty acids, which can reduce the risk of stroke and heart disease. I always try to promote my books in a way that gives people the happies. I post free stories on my website. I give away free books. I talk about evil clowns.
3:AM: “I myself believe that there will one day be time travel because when we find that something isn’t forbidden by the over-arching laws of physics we usually eventually find a technological way of doing it.” – David Deutsch. What are one or two of your more ‘outrageous’ beliefs? Do you feel that some writers might benefit from looking at the world with the eyes of a child?
JCS: Many years ago, I saw the world through crap-colored glasses, and my writing was quite crappy because of it. These days, however, I look at the world with an almost childlike wonder. I don’t let mainstream reality control what I see or what I don’t see. I live in a semi-haunted Victorian farmhouse, and I believe in ghosts. They believe in me, so it’s only fair. I also believe in psychokinesis, Bigfoot, fairies, fairy winkles, souls, love, and respect. I believe in a godforce that connects everything to everything. I can’t speak for other writers, but my perception of reality is what makes my writing what it is. Whether or not that’s a good thing is up for debate.
3:AM: “Our lives are not all interconnected. That theory is a crock. Some people truly do not need to be here.” The American Psycho scribe is quoted as saying that. A later novel of his, Lunar Park, is inspired by ‘visitations’ he apparently had from Patrick Bateman. Has any of your characters ever paid you a visit?
JCS: I’m often visited by my characters. Just the other day, an ex-detective named Mario Lopez came over. We had blueberry tea, and he told me that people are disappearing in his town. Some of the townsfolk suspect monsters. Others suspect something much more sinister. He asked me what I thought about the disappearances, knowing full well that I have all the answers, but of course, I couldn’t give him any. If I revealed the truth before the truth was due, his entire reality would implode. He knows this, but I think he still blames me for keeping the secrets to myself. Sometimes he looks at me like I’m a monster. This frightens me, somewhat. After all, Mario could hurt me if he chose to. Not with his gun, but with his spirit. He could disconnect from me and force me to abandon my new novel. Thankfully though, he’s not the sort of man who lets blame control his behavior.
ABOUT THE INTERVIEWER
Alan Kelly is a journalist and writer whose B-novella Let Me Die a Woman is forthcoming from Pulp Press. If he looks hungover, he probably is.
First published in 3:AM Magazine: Friday, April 9th, 2010.