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Black Static


Cody Goodfellow Interviewed

6th Oct, 2016

Author: Peter Tennant

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In Black Static #54 I review Rapture of the Deep and Other Lovecraftian Tales by Cody Goodfellow as part of a feature on Hippocampus Press, and by way of a follow up to that I asked Cody to do an 'identikit interview', with questions from a "crowd sourced" pool, the crowd in this case consisting of Stephen Theaker (two questions), Chris Roper (three), and Roy Gray (two), with myself providing the remainder.

Here are the results of that exercise:-

PT: What software or devices do you use for writing?

CG: Lazy and resistant to change as I am, I still use Word for manuscripts and Final Draft for scripts, because for my very limited requirements, they're familiar and all but invisible. I still type on my laptop in a dim, dusty office furnished only with books and lit only by blacklight.

PT: Literary awards: a good thing or a bad thing?

CG: I'm torn between lamenting their uselessness and smugly endorsing them as a distraction, like social media, for many who'd otherwise be writing and exhaustively promoting more of their own books. In the absence of any pathway to a livable midlist career in writing, it's the kind of shiny object that distracts those who most need distracting. In simpler times, they could push a truly great book out into mainstream culture, but to say any one work is objectively, inherently superior is still a fundamental perversion of the intense subjectivity and the intimate bond between reader, author and text.

I suspect it's because the repressed despair and rancor of daily public life has seeped into even our collective fantasies, but it seems the only reason we talk about these things lately is to resist their being co-opted by alt-right assholes as a platform for their indefensible politics and even worse art. Kind of like all our other elections...

PT: Why do you write horror?

CG: I had a fairly frightening childhood that left me a very maladjusted, angry kid. Horror movies, monsters and comic books helped to translate the anxiety into inspiration, the despair into awe and curiosity. As I matured and my interest moved from that which was merely threatening or ugly or scary to others to the truly weird, it became less of a means of channeling my anger or signifying my otherness to others, and more of a method for interrogating all that is seemingly normal, but really a distraction from the howling absurdity at the heart of all human endeavor. And it was only then that I began to really discover joy and glimmers of what almost feel like acceptance of the whole ugly, inescapable thing.

PT: Does mental or physical pain affect or influence your writing?

CG: Absolutely. Early on, it was emotional and mental pain that I couldn't otherwise come to grips with. Now that I've mostly put that shit to bed, I'm transiting seamlessly into dwelling on the disintegration of my body, the fear for my loved ones and children, which is like having your nerves strewn out across a hostile landscape.

PT: Does music inspire your work?

CG: I listen to a variety of instrumental music constantly to keep me submerged in my work or thinking about it in the car, walking the dogs, cleaning the pool--anything intense, complex and fast and demanding, from Stravinsky to Amon Tobin. I worked for a decade tracking alternative radio airplay during the absolute nadir of rock history--the nu-metal, rap-rock and emo years--which left me highly sensitized to the emotional trap of lyrical music. It left me responding to false crises, like getting hysterical, raw, life-or-death messages from the ghosts of strange teenagers.

I occasionally play and compose, and it's a great method of creative crop rotation to channel my energy into expressing something musically, without language. (My Cthulhu Prayer Breakfast parody of Baby Got Bass can be heard here .

PT: Do you ever find aspects of the behaviour of a character you are writing about come through in your own behaviour or attitudes? E.g. if you wrote a very left or right wing character do you think that might temporarily affect your own politics?

CG: Probably not as much as I should... I'm much more interested in exploring people utterly unlike myself in my work, than in explaining myself to the world. My more memorable characters tend to have poor impulse control and let readers explore being inside the kind of people they read about with disgusted incredulity on their newsfeeds. Everyone who acts like an evil asshole is generally either devoid of empathy or trying to manage or suppress their own fear and pain, so it's fascinating and not too hard to get inside that and make sense of it. But it seldom goes further than trying on a mask; the unexpected intersections between my own politics and philosophy are illuminating, but the strain of trying to empathize with someone who subscribes to a brutally solipsistic worldview, for example, wears one out, and the revelation that our daily existence caters to and seems tailored by and for those who feel nothing for others is as banal and deadly to art as it is essential for people to regularly confront.

PT: Do you ever test out actions in your fiction by trying or simulating them yourself?

CG: Absolutely. You don't need to live everything you write about, but it's essential to know how it feels from the inside out, whenever possible. I've gone shooting, skydiving, scuba diving, rock climbing and done a lot of other stupid things I might not be attracted to, to know what it feels like to know the outside edges of life and the fear of death.

Most recently, in the middle of writing a short novel about a homeless actor, I started going out for background acting roles, to pick up extra income as much as for research, but it's taken on a life of its own. And (to build on the previous question) it's changed my perception of actors, for whom I always felt a deep dislike because of their attention-seeking and insecurity. No one gives up more control over their art than actors, who become instruments of the production, so their constant low-level terror seems pretty understandable, next to the endless whinging of authors.

PT: Who has had the biggest influence on your work and how?

CG: Lovecraft is what anyone who barely knows me would say, and his universe, if not his style or politics or much of anything else, has exerted a huge influence on about half of my work. But I read a lot more science- and crime fiction, than horror. In terms of effect, I like what Ballard, Dick and Ellison do with manipulating the reader's emotions, and while I love maximalist density and crazy erudition like Eco, DeLillo, Gibson and Stephenson, I've been trying for much of my career to get more impact out of leaner prose, to which end I've learned a lot from Ellroy, Westlake, Thompson, Parker and the rest of the hardboiled school. 

PT: What does the phrase "horror community" mean to you, if anything at all, and do you consider yourself a part of that community?

CG: Sometimes, I feel like the only person who got into writing BECAUSE of the solitude. Most of my best friends are, unavoidably, also writers, but I try to keep at least as many healthy human beings around me at all times. I've got friends all over the field, but you know who your friends are when you call for help, and my real people are the Bizarro community centered around Eraserhead Press.

Horror fandom is generally fantastic, with a generous sense of humor about itself and a spirit of camaraderie lit up with perverse glee, but otherwise like any other geek subculture. At least from the literary creators' wing of the ghetto, it's more of a support group with some aspects of a prosperity cult.

In the echo chamber of social media, writers tend to conglomerate as if other desperate writers were their only demographic, a horde of performers casting round and round in search of an audience that isn't just waiting to pitch its own work.

Having a community that appreciates one's tribulations and triumphs saves a lot of artists who otherwise might sink out of sight, but social media feeds petty bitterness and persistent delusions of careerism--the notion that all one needs to do is persist in creating to become entitled to an audience and a successful career--create this weird barnyard culture where someone is always getting pecked to death for real or imagined points of art, politics or personal issues. A community of people who must create alone is always volatile, and the sense that nobody is getting what they feel they've earned is like a static charge in the air, looking for any lightning rod.

PT: Tell us about the best and worst experience you've had as a writer?

CG: I thought about this one way more than I should've... My favorite experiences have been working with artists, on covers and on comics, and I've met a lot of my heroes and had the honor of working with more than a few of them, but the singular peaks are in performing my work for a good crowd. I got to read my work by a (simulated) campfire in Balboa Park in San Diego, which figures prominently in my psychological landscape and so felt like an event inside my own head; or performing at the Cthulhu Prayer Breakfasts at the Lovecraft Film Festival and Necronomicon in Providence. At the last one of the latter, I made such an ass of myself that it was written up in The New Yorker, so that has to be some kind of pinnacle.

The worst experiences have been with some publishers, particularly the sale of my first book, which was in 1996, for a book that came out in 2006 with major changes and several uninvited collaborators. The experience deformed my expectations and paranoia so much that I've never trusted publishers larger than myself since.

PT: How do you deal with negative reviews and other criticism of your work?

CG: I try to learn from it. Empty praise is useless, but honest criticism is like free medicine. If even the most hostile review points out a weakness in your work, the best retort is to address it and leave them nothing to say, next time. Coming from a place where everyone tries to write because it's the key to the Big Show, the only benefit that most people come to enjoy is praise and encouragement, which is like cigarettes in prison--a makeshift currency that can get you quite far, so long as you never take up smoking.

PT: What can we expect to see from you in the near future? What work do you have in the pipeline?

CG: We just sent a graphic novel, Mystery Meat Comix, to the printer, and will be selling it through my imprint, Perilous Press. I've also got another dozen or more stories locked up with various anthologies and periodicals. I'm trying to get back to two unfinished novels and several screenplays, which are kind of like lovingly engraving and printing up your own losing lottery ticket.



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