Hello and welcome to my blog, Author Interviews. My name is Fiona Mcvie.
Let’s get you introduced to everyone, shall we? Tell us your name. What is your age?
Christian H. Smith, age 46.
Fiona: Where are you from?
I was born and raised in and around Springfield, Illinois. I lived in Arizona for many years, and am currently back home in the Midwest.
Fiona: A little about yourself (ie, your education, family life, etc.).
No education to speak of. (Learned to write mainly by lots of reading and LOTS of practice.) I’m happily married with three kids. Just like Homer Simpson.
Fiona: Tell us your latest news.
Nacreous March Publishing in Toronto is publishing my novel HELP ME RHONDA as a limited-edition chapbook. The book is a bit more experimental than anything else I’ve published; a genre-bending epic that’s approximately one-third 80’s high school movie, one-third WILD AT HEART-esque road story, and one-third surreal afterlife adventure. It’s dark, violent, funny, and contains one of the strangest and most disturbing sex scenes since JG Ballard and William S. Burroughs were in their primes.
You know, what they call a “feel-good” story.
Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?
When I was in third grade, my teacher said we had an hour at the end of the day to work on anything we wanted. I put my head down and started transcribing a dream I’d had, turning it into a fictional story about hiking with my best friend, andfinding a haunted house in the woods. I was so lost in telling the story that the bell ringing came as a real shock. I’ve been hooked ever since.
Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I’ve always considered myself a “writer,” but only felt confident taking the quote marks off when Permuted Press published my first novel, THE BLACK MONKEY, in 2015.
Two more books followed, to form the “Bloody Bakersfield” trilogy: BLOODY BLOODY BAKERSFIELD and NEW SALEM. (I sold them with the tag-line: “Midway between Castle Rock, Maine and Twin Peaks, Washington lies ‘Bloody’ Bakersfield, Illinois!”)
Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?
That’s actually an interesting story. (To me, anyway.) THE BLACK MONKEY came to me fully formed in a dream.
The dream itself was brief and very simple. Little more than an image. I saw a young African-American kid, about ten years old, alone in the woods on a cold pre-dawn morning. (This was a rare “third person” dream, where I was not a participant within the dream, but rather watching from the outside.) The kid was terrified by something I could not see, something horrifying that was coming for him.
In the dream, I knew what was coming for the kid. I also knew that it was something he had created himself. I knew why he had created it. I even knew how.
I emerged from the dream into a very rare hypnopopic state. I was not fully awake, but I was completely lucid. In this semi-conscious state, the story assembled itself in my mind as vividly as if I watching a film. Like I was downloading it. Even in this state, I was aware that this was a story that I would eventually write.
This is the story I “received”: The children in a small Illinois town have gathered in the same harvested cornfield every Halloween night for longer than anyone can remember. Here they enact a strange ceremony in which a sock monkey is buried along with handfuls of sacrificial trick-or-treat candy. The ritual had become just an excuse for partying and making out, the true meaning long forgotten. But then the little town becomes the hunting ground of a monstrous serial killer who preys upon children. When the adults can’t catch the murderer, the children resort to the dark magic of the monkey.
That dream was one of the most extraordinary experiences of my creative life, and one I haven’t been able to replicate since. I wish there was a pill or something I could take before bed to make that happen.
Fiona: How did you come up with the title?
The title came along with the story.
Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style? Is there anything about your style or genre that you find particularly challenging?
I aim for a clear, precise voice but often find myself filling the page with tangents and flourishes that usually get scaled back in the editing. (Thank God for editing.) The whole process is a challenge; taking this thing that’s whole and perfect in my head and translating it into words that will allow other people to see it, too.
Fiona: How much of the book is realistic and are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
Auto-biographical elements always creep in for me, no matter how fantastic the story gets. It’s both a method for working out my own feelings (way cheaper than therapy) and a way of keeping even the craziest stories grounded in a recognizable reality.
As an example, in THE BLACK MONKEY, the ten-year-old narrator is coping with both a child-murdering serial killer stalking his town, and his parents getting divorced. These two shattering events are given roughly the same weight in his telling. From his perspective, they’re equally horrifying.
Fiona: To craft your works, do you have to travel? Before or during the process?
I always had this fantasy of setting books in exotic locales, then moving there temporarily so I could get an authentic feel for the place. (I couldn’t wait to write my Paris novel.) But, given my current socio-economic status, I have to settle for mental travel and lots of Google-pedia research.
Fiona: Who designed the covers?
Permuted Press has in-house people who do great work. I was especially pleased with the design for THE BLACK MONKEY, designed by Martin Kintanar.
Fiona: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
I don’t really have an overt message, other than to reflect my natural tendencies towards agnosticism- and a sort of cranky, misanthropic humanism. Certain themes do tend to crop up often, though. Identity, gender, dreams and dream logic, the supernatural, religion and religious mania, horror, sex, comedy, and the dismaying human propensity towards violence.
Fiona: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest? Who is your favorite writer, and what is it about their work that really strikes you?
My all-time favorite writer- kind of a cliché- has to be Stephen King. At his best, he has this incredible ability to make the most fantastic and horrific stories seem real by populating them with fully-rounded, believable characters. His style (which he himself has called “Big Mac and fries”) is deceptively simple, and was what inspired me to believe that I could be a writer, too. He makes it looks easy. (Of course, it’s not.)
As for a newer writer, I just started reading A HEAD FULL OF GHOSTS by Paul Tremblay, and it’s fantastic! I’m always impressed when an author can take a genre that I’d thought was wrung dry (demonic possession, in this case) and make it seem new and fresh.
Fiona: Outside of family members, name one entity that supported your commitment to become a published author.
I had a great high school English teacher named Bill Myers, who was the first adult to take my writing seriously. Prior to that, I just saw writing as this odd thing I did to make my friends laugh. I credit (or blame) him for making me think this was something I could actually do with my life.
Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?
If “career” is defined as a vocation and calling, and the part of my life towards which I expend the most energy, then yes, without a doubt. If “career” means something that pays the bills, then… not quite yet.
Fiona: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
I’m constitutionally unable to read over even my published works without wishing I could give them another round of editing.
Fiona: Did you learn anything during the writing of your recent book?
My current project is a noir story with horror elements. The main character (and narrator) is a transgender woman who works as a private investigator. I’m doing lots of research to get everything technically right, and to be respectful in my treatment, but the main thing I’m learning is how to get out of my own head and see the world from someone whose perspective is very different from my own.
Fiona: If your book was made into a film, who would you like to play the lead?
If somebody made a movie out of one of my books, I’d probably be happy no matter who they cast. Though I think Jake Gyllenhaal would be a good choice to play Mark Davies (the main character of the BAKERSFIELD series.) He’s good in just about everything he’s been in, from DONNIE DARKO to NIGHTCRAWLER and NOCTURNAL ANIMALS. One of those actors who always seems to have a lot going on just beneath the surface.
Fiona: Any advice for other writers?
Be persistent, don’t take rejection personally, be both your own biggest fan and your own harshest critic. Also, be good at social media. (I suck at social media.)
Fiona: Anything specific you want to tell your readers?
Thank you so much, all five of you.
Fiona: What book are you reading now?
A HEAD FULL OF GHOSTS, as noted above.
Fiona: Do you remember the first book you read?
Besides Dr. Seuss? I remember that from junior high on, I never read books that were appropriate to my age group. I consumed everything Stephen King put out, as well as the HITCHHIKER’S GUIDE series. As a young teen, I was also obsessed with THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP.
Fiona: What makes you laugh/cry?
My kids. Both of those things, sometimes simultaneously, on a daily basis.
Fiona: Is there one person, past or present, you would love to meet? Why?
I live in Springfield, Illinois, and our hometown hero is Abraham Lincoln. Of all historical figures, he’s the one who seems most human to me. (The man had a great sense of humor, and also a deep streak of melancholy.) I often wonder what he’d think about what we’d made of the country he pulled back together. (Lately, it seems like he wouldn’t be too pleased.)
Fiona: Do you have any hobbies?
An obsessive pursuit that takes up all my time and yields little in the way of material reward? For me, that’s writing.
Fiona: What TV shows/films do you enjoy watching?
TV seems to have overtaken film as the medium where the most artistic work flourishes. The TWIN PEAKS revival was one of the most astounding things I’ve ever seen. BREAKING BAD was great, epic storytelling.
For movies, I tend to fall back on my favorite directors: Lynch, Cronenberg, the Coen brothers, Tarantino, Hitchcock, Kubrick, and anything scripted by Charlie Kaufman.Plus classic horror flicks like DAWN OF THE DEAD, THE EXORCIST, and RE-ANIMATOR. Oh, and bizzaro cult films like FORBIDDEN ZONE, EL TOPO, and LIQUID SKY.
Fiona: Favorite foods, colors, music?
Favorite food: Barbequed anything. Or sushi. (Not barbequed sushi, though.)
Favorite color: The one I see when I press my thumbs into my eyelids really hard.
I’m turning into one of those cranky old guys whose musical tastes atrophied when he was in his twenties, so I tend to dig anything from the late sixties through the mid-nineties. Bob Dylan, The Beatles, Pink Floyd, Patti Smith, David Bowie, Prince, Tom Petty, Nirvana, Nick Cave, PJ Harvey, Tom Waits. I don’t think I can count Amy Winehouse and the White Stripes as contemporary favorites anymore.I have to have the music pumping when I write, and lately I’ve been listening to a lot of film scores. My two favorites are TWIN PEAKS: FIRE WALK WITH ME and REQUIEM FOR A DREAM.
Fiona: Imagine a future where you no longer write. What would you do?
The only future where I can imagine myself not writing is one in which I’ve suffered some kind of traumatic brain injury. So I would hope someone would park me in front of a window that offered a nice view of a burbling stream or something.
Fiona: What do you want written on your head stone?
“I told you I was sick.” (I may have stolen that.)
Fiona: Do you have a blog or website readers can visit for updates, events and special offers?
my website: christianhsmith.com
– criminally neglected, but I plan to update soon. Or eventually.
Here’s the link to my Amazon page: https://www.amazon.com/Christian-H.-Smith/e/B00YLTS48Q/ref=sr_tc_2_0?qid=1508683405&sr=1-2-ent