Nicole Cushing is my new uber tuber BFF whether she knows it or not. Okay she doesn’t but she’s way cool and I like her books sooooo yeah I’m creating imaginary friendships with authors. Not the first time so let’s just over look that shall we.
Nicole very kindly agreed to be on my blog for an interview after I reviewed her book How To Eat Fried Furries. It’s a funny, crazy little book of satire and wit.I appreciate Nicole being on thanks Nicole and for indulging my occasional crazy question. I’d hate to be boring 😉
Any hoo this is me and Nicole chatting it up about books, people in animal costumes and all her cool books. Bizarro but now mostly horror and I do love me some horror reads.
Please tell me about yourself –
I’m originally from Maryland and moved to the Midwest about ten years ago. I’ve been writing seriously since about 2008. In the first two years of my career, I enjoyed writing dark, absurd satires. During this time, I participated in a small press community of surrealists, absurdists, and loveable weirdos known as the Bizarro movement.
I dedicated myself to becoming the best writer I could possibly be and endeavored to achieve this by reading each day and writing each day. Back then, I sincerely thought I’d continue writing Bizarro fiction, perhaps for the rest of my life. But that’s not the way it turned out. The more I read and wrote, the more excited I became about my interests outside of Bizarro. It just sort of turned out that way.
Nowadays, I’m focusing on writing short horror and dark fantasy stories. Really, short horror fiction is my passion.
You’ve got this awesome book out How to Eat Fried Furries where in the world does one get an idea like this and how did you manage to incorporate squirrels in outerspace, political aspects, religious and well there is a lot of satire in that one little book? –
It’s a long story. I think it all started with a very odd dream I had in the winter or early spring of 2009. In this dream, there was an old man with a long, gray mustache, and he was dressed up in a snail costume and performing the old ’80s break-dancing move “the worm”. It was the funniest dream I think I’ve ever had, and I was actually laughing in my sleep (which is probably among the most delightful sensations I’ve ever experienced).
To this day, I find dreams and nightmares to be fertile ground for story ideas. So I wrote a short story about the snail man.
After writing that story I started to think about the whole concept of artifice and costumes. When I wrote my snail man story, I had to stop and consider why he dressed like a snail. I began writing several short stories about people dressed up as other sorts of animals – squirrels, pandas, cows etc. – and started to consider the possible motivations someone might have for trying to pull off such a deception. What’s the incentive for trying to pass yourself or someone else off as an animal? As I began to accumulate these stories, I began to think that they might work well in a small themed collection.
At around the same time, I began watching Monty Python’s Flying Circus and the films of Alejandro Jodorowsky. I also spent a lot of time listening to bands like Negativland and The Residents. For better or worse, these all influenced the book.
My interest in artifice and deception led to an interest in social criticism, an interest in how governments don’t actually pursue solutions to problems but instead pursue pseudo-solutions. The U.S. government, for example, doesn’t want the U.S. to be at peace with other countries, it wants for there to be the perception of peace. (Let a small professional army, reserves, special forces, and drones fight the battles a few continents away, while the rest of the country watches Howard Stern on America’s Got Talent!) It doesn’t want to really fix problems like poverty and child abuse, it just wants there to be the perception of having fixed them (because really fixing them would require effort extended longer than four or eight years, and would probably entail facing some unpleasant truths about our society). Typically, governments like to claim success by constantly redefining the way success is measured. For example, for most Americans this feels like “peace time”, because there isn’t 24/7 cable news coverage of the various wars in which we’re involved (or on the brink of becoming involved). We’re redefined what “peace time” means, or – at the very least – muddied the waters between what we consider war time and what we consider peace time. Warfare has become a sort of white noise in our culture, it has become the norm rather than the exception.
This is the sort of thing I was trying to address in the book – the shell games, shams, and the like perpetrated on people by political and religious institutions. My furries aren’t people with a fetish for dressing up as animals – they’re people coerced into wearing animal costumes so that the fictional society in the book can feel more at ease with cannibalism. In the fictional world of the book, if you slap a cow costume on a woman and pass legislation legally declaring her a cow, then you can feast on her without guilt (and the society increases the food supply, decreases grocery prices, etc.) How to Eat Fried Furries is actually just an over-the-top, absurd take on loopholes. It’s really not about furries at all.
Anyway, it’s a tiny little book, really. Only about 90 pages. But it seems to have found its niche. I’m glad there are readers who’ve enjoyed it.
Will you ever publish a Kama Sutra for Furries? –
Um, no. (Although my guess is that – now that you’ve mentioned it – at least a half-dozen authors will read this and pitch the idea to their publishers).
Do I have that kind of power I wonder hmmmmmm
How did becoming part of the Eraserhead Press family and the Magnificent Seven come about? –
Back in ’09, I started submitting my series of people-in-animal-costumes stories to various genre magazines, webzines, and anthologies. I think they were a little too silly for most publishers. I did, however, get positive responses from the markets associated with the Bizarro movement. Even when they didn’t accept the stories, they sent encouraging rejection notes. So, I began to get more involved in Bizarro. I started reading Eraserhead Press books and thought a collection of my people-in-animal costumes stories might work out well for the New Bizarro Author Series (NBAS).
And, eventually, that plan came to fruition. I became part of the 2010/2011 class for the NBAS, and we called ourselves the Magnificent Seven.
I’m grateful that Eraserhead took a chance at publishing my book. And, even though I found out Bizarro wasn’t a good fit for me, I’m grateful for the time I spent in the movement. Bizarro taught me to write fearlessly. I needed to learn that.
You’re more focused on horror than bizarro these days is this a conscious effort or simply where your focus has always really been? –
I’ve always had some interest in horror, but I think that interest has intensified and become much more focused in the last year or two. This wasn’t the result of any conscious effort to get away from Bizarro, it just sort of happened.
Like I said earlier, back in 2010 and 2011 I became dedicated to becoming the best author I could be by reading every day and writing every day. When I started reading each day, I found that I got bored by sampling the same sort of fiction all the time. I’m restless like that. So I diversified my interests. I started reading things like Ann & Jeff VanderMeer’s anthology The New Weird and Ellen Datlow’s Darkness: Twenty Years of Modern Horror. At about the same time, I devoured Gary Braunbeck’s non-fiction book about writing horror, To Each Their Darkness. I also read S.T. Joshi’s book of criticism, Classics & Contemporaries, and came away with a new perspective on the horror field.
It might have been Gary’s book, though, more than any other, that convinced me to experiment with different approaches in my writing. I’m ashamed to say that I didn’t understand much about subtext before reading Gary’s book. I took some of Gary’s reading suggestions and started reading authors like John Cheever along with various horror authors who worked on the quieter end of the continuum. I was already a big fan of Thomas Ligotti, too, and so I had some appreciation of what kind of effect a quiet, nightmarish style of writing could achieve. I think my appreciation of Ligotti paved the way for my appreciation of other “literary” (for lack of a better word) horror authors.
I want to be very clear that this change in my writing isn’t about turning my back on weird and transgressive elements in fiction because I think I’m somehow above them. I don’t want to throw the baby out with the bath water. This is about expanding the number of colors on my palette so that I have more ways in which to create. I like the fact that Fried Furries made people laugh, but I also want my fiction to move people to tears, or to induce a vague sense of unease and disturbance. I want to creep people out, in a subtle way, because I’m gaining more and more of an appreciation for this sort of approach. Sometimes, I want to make a reader’s soul ache. To achieve the results I want, I’ve had to approach stories with different tools.
I dated Bizarro, but I didn’t marry it. That’s how I tend to think of it. Bizarro is like the ex-boyfriend where things didn’t quite work out but you still look back to the relationship fondly and remember the good times and you wish him the best. Hell, I might still write an occasional Bizarro tale once in a blue moon. I’m just not interested in limiting myself to that genre.
I love, love, love short stories and you’ve written many do you plan on sticking with that or will there be a full length Nicole Cushing horror ( or other genre ) book one day? –
Short stories are my passion. Last year, I tried writing a science fiction novel. I think the first draft was around 110,000 words. I set it aside for several months and when I went back to edit it I realized that it just didn’t work well. So, I’m trunking it. I might scavenge it for short story ideas, though, because I think there are some possibilities there.
I don’t rule out the possibility of writing another novel some day. After all, I’m still young and hope to have decades of writing ahead of me. I never say never. But I really want to continue to explore the possibilities of the short form, for now.
Your short stories have been featured in an anthology with George R.R. Martin, Bentley Little, Neil Gaiman, Chuck Palahniuk, Jack Ketchum, Brian Keene not to mention a ton of fellow bizarro authors and I’m missing a lot of people from the list. Did they all beg and plead to work with you? –
That would be a pleasant daydream to entertain, wouldn’t it? But, alas, the reality is that on the cover of those sorts of anthologies the Martins, Gaimans, and Ketchums get top billing and I’m usually listed as “and others”. I’m cool with that, though. I’m still early on in my career, and at this stage I’m just happy to have a five or ten pages in the same books as those folks.
I suspect when these authors are asked about their anthologies they mention Nicole’s name every time.
I sometimes get into science fiction (Phillip K. Dick, Adam Roberts, Yevgeny Zamyatin). I also read literary fiction. I mentioned Cheever earlier. I like Junot Diaz and Raymond Carver, too. I think the common thread with all of the authors I enjoy is that they tend to look at life from a dark point of view. Such authors speak to me, regardless of the genre they’re marketed in. I’m sure they all influence my writing, too, at different times.
What are you reading now? –
I’m near the end of W.H. Pugmire’s Uncommon Places. I’m also slowly inching my way through lots of different anthologies and collections. Ramsey Campbell’s Demons by Daylight. David G. Hartwell’s The Dark Descent. A collection of stories by Algernon Blackwood. Lots and lots and lots of that sort of thing. I’m also getting into Brit Mandelo’s Beyond Binary.
What is your work space and routine like? –
My work space is a mess. Littered with marked-up drafts that way a woodworking shop is littered with sawdust. Also, I write on top of a card table that has a green tablecloth draped over it (I guess as a way of conning myself into forgetting that I’m writing on top of a card table). Seriously, one look at that room would cure anyone of the delusion that a writer’s life is in any way adventuresome or romantic. As far as routine…well, lately I’ve fallen out of my routine. I write whenever I can grab the time. Sometimes it’s in the morning, sometimes late at night. I do hope to re-establish some sort of routine, though, because I tend to be most productive when I have one.
What do you do when not writing? –
Like most other writers, I have a day job. That keeps me busy. I hang out with my husband and watch Cartoon Network. That’s pretty cool. This year, I’ve also gotten into watching baseball again for the first time in many years. As I type this, my Cincinnati Reds are in first place in the National League Central Division. So, that’s a pleasant diversion from the Ligottiesque nightmare that is the rest of my life.
Are conventions an essential part of an authors life? Should they be? –
I think it depends on the author and it depends on the convention. Take me, for example. I’m an introvert and I don’t drink or use drugs. Conventions that involve a lot of heavy partying aren’t a good fit for me. So, if I go to a convention, I try to attend one that has a lot of programming and a focus on books. (In general, I’m not fond of conventions with a focus on movie or TV stuff). Because of all of these things, I enjoy nerdy sorts of cons like ReaderCon. But, if I was a different sort of person – someone who loved to get wasted at cons, I’d probably go somewhere else.
Conventions, at their best, help people put a face to a name and help (hopefully) to establish real friendships with people in the field. I think it’s possible to have a career without attending conventions. But I think most writers would benefit from attending a few of the good ones.
Which author have you met that you got all giddy fan girl over? –
I don’t know if I’ve ever gotten giddy fan girl with anyone. Part of this is because I tend to be quiet and shy. I have been to conventions where very well-known genre authors have been around. (ReaderCon is a nifty one for that. It takes awhile to get used to seeing Samuel R. Delany casually strolling by a few feet away! But instead of introducing myself and gushing I’ve tended to wistfully look on from afar. In the highly unlikely event I ever met Thomas Ligotti, I might get a little bit giddy fan girl on him because he is, quite simply, one of the greats of the horror field. At his best, he’s right up there with (if not actually better than) Poe.
What are your future writing plans? –
My goal is simply to become the very best author I can be and make a positive (and, hopefully, lasting) contribution to the horror and dark fantasy fields. Right now, I have a passion for short fiction and I want to pursue that. I think I’d like to have another collection – a much different collection than my first book – published some time in the next year or two. Believe it or not, I also have ideas for a couple of children’s books. I tell myself I’m going to try working on them some time in the near future, but I don’t feel the same passion for those projects that I feel for the short stuff.