Swallowing a Donkey’s Eye. Author Paul Tremblay interview

When I first got the email asking if I was interested in Swallowing a Donkey’s Eye my first thought was that is some weird sex spam. Then I checked and realized I knew who was sending it. I’m glad I checked that email because it’s more ChiZine awesomeness. I am seriously batty excited about this publisher who has such great unique reads on offer that I feel they are total must reads. Paul’s book is no different in fact I went and purchased his other book In The Mean Time because of my lust for all things ChiZine. Great sounding short stories so yes I’m a short story freak and I know that by now everyone is aware that I am a cover whore. Swallowing a Donkey’s Eye has one kick ass cover and I can’t wait to read it myself. Till then I get to interrogate interview Paul. He also shows why I want to ask about an authors work space and routine. I wish more authors would send me pics of where the magic happens. Thank you Paul and ChiZine

Hi Paul thanks for being on can you tell me a bit about yourself please –

Hi! Well, I’m tall, have a master’s degree in mathematics, hate pickles like death, and don’t have a uvula. Swallowing a Donkey’s Eye is my third novel. My first two featured narcoleptic private detective Mark Genevich (The Little Sleep and No Sleep Till Wonderland). I’m also the author of the short story collection In the Mean Time, and I’ve co-edited four anthologies, with the most recent being Creatures: Thirty Years of Monster Stories (with John Langan).

What is your work space and writing routine like? –

I’m displaced. I just moved out of my house of thirteen years and the new place isn’t ready. But, previously, I had a little office set up in my house where I would do most of my writing surrounded by books, horror movie posters, dust, and empty soda cans.

Right now I’m at the dining room table of my sister’s house (she’s graciously putting us up while we wait for the new house), and there’s a giant pelican staring at me. See picture:

I wish I had a better, more disciplined routine than I do. These days, I do most of my writing at night. I don’t sleep nearly enough.

Favorite books and authors? –

Oh, man, there are so many. But to name a few: Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughter House Five, Mark Danielewski’s House of Leaves, Aimee Bender’s The Girl in the Flammable Skirt, Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle, George Orwell’s Animal Farm, Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep, Stewart O’Nan’s A Prayer for the Dying, Kelly Link’s Magic for Beginners.

What do you like to do when not writing? –

Currently, it’s watch Call of the Wildman with my kids. They want me to try and catch a snapping turtle like Turtle Man does, but I suspect they just want to watch me lose a finger.

Also, I love to read, take my dog Rascal for walks (not on the beach), shoot hoops, and play catch (baseball) with my kids. Also, I run obstacle courses at playgrounds.

Did your latest book Swallowing A Donkey’s Eye turn out as you had originally intended or did you deviate a great deal from what you had planned to do when you first sat down to write it? –

I first sat down with a title only. As a writing prompt, I took title from Neutral Milk Hotel’s instrumental “Pree-Sisters Swallowing a Donkey’s Eye.” I originally planned to just write a short story, but it quickly grew into a novel once I decided to set it in my City Pier world. City is a westernized, near-future, technologically advanced City built hundreds of feet above a coastline, resting on the shoulders of a giant wooden Pier. City deports their homeless below to the Pier. I’d written a novella set in that world. The donkey novel starts out in Farm, which is outside of City and is the sole food provider for the megalopolis.

I went in without a whole bunch of expectations, and really, not a lot of plot. The basic quest of the narrator needing to find his mother whom left behind in city was my guide. I made up the rest as I went. Which also might explain why it took me so long to write and rewrite the novel.

What was the inspiration behind the story? –

Besides the song, this, in a weird way, is the most autobiographical of my novels. But the real people and experiences the novel uses are all twisted up and refracted. I guess that could be said for most novels, but this book was a deeply personal one for me.

The cover and title is quite unique was it the original design and title you had in mind? –

Since I stole borrowed the title I can agree that it’s a great title!

Eric Mohr at Chizine Publications always does a great job with covers and cover design. His donkey and apple picking in the background is perfect.

Given the political/election plots and subplots of the book, I suggested that some of the art look like propaganda posters. CZP took the suggestion and ran with it. I couldn’t be happier with Susanne Apgar’s artwork/posters and Danny Evart’s interior design.

You’ve written many other books, they all could be considered outside the norm is that something you try to do or do you think there is too much cookie cutter type stories in the publishing world?

I do think there are too many cookie-cutter type stories in the publishing world. But the same could be said for movies and television. Not that that excuses all the cookie-cutting…. I could go for a cookie. This weekend, I bought some red-velvet whoopee pies, and man, they were the greatest things ever.


Anyway, I don’t worry about the norm much to be honest. I try to write books/stories that would interest me as a reader. I much prefer skewed viewpoints, difficult characters, and storylines that mix and muddy genre or mainstream expectations.

Please tell us about Swallowing A Donkey’s Eye –

It’s about a young man who, after signing away six years of his life to work at the mega-conglomerate Farm, finds out that his single mother might be on the verge of eviction and homelessness back in City. The narrator then must try and escape Farm and get to City if he hopes to keep his mother from being deported to the Pier. There are complications of course. The complications: a two-faced roommate, sadistic Barn Managers, ecoterrorists in duck and chicken suits, a mayor infatuated with outlaw campaigns and magic refrigerators, a reality TV show, and a dead-beat Dad who is also a priest with ESP.

Hopefully it’s funny, maddening, sad, and poignant in the right places.

What do we have to look forward to next? –

I have stories in the forthcoming Fungi and Grimscribe’s Puppets anthologies. Stephen Graham Jones and I co-wrote a YA novel that CZP will publish in the future.

And the future is where we all will be!


Other than the playground Paul can be found on his site / blog and ChiZine

Paul Tremblay is also the author of the novels The Little Sleep, No Sleep Till Wonderland, and the short story collection  In The Mean Time. His essays and short fiction have appeared in The Los Angeles Times, Five Chapters.com, and Best American Fantasy 3. He is the co-editor of four anthologies including Creatures: Thirty Years of Monster Stories (with John Langan). Paul is currently on the board of directors for the Shirley Jackson Awards. He fears many things, including the return of his banished uvula.


Swallowing a Donkey’s Eye

by Paul Tremblay


Farm is the mega-conglomerate food supplier for City, populated with rabidly bureaucratic superiors, and sexually deviant tour guides dressed in chicken and duck suits. City is sprawling, technocratic, and rests hundreds of feet above the coastline on the creaking shoulders of a giant wooden pier. When the narrator’s single mother, whom he left behind in City, falls out of contact, he fears the worst: his mother is homeless and subsequently to be deported under City to the Pier. On his desperate search to find his mother, he encounters ecoterrorists wearing plush animal suits, City’s all-powerful Mayor who is infatuated with magic refrigerators and outlaw campaigns, and an over-sexed priest who may or may not have ESP, but who is most certainly his deadbeat dad.

Whether rebelling against regimented and ridiculous Farm life, exploring the consumer-obsessed world of City, experiencing the suffering of the homeless in Pier, or confronting the secrets of his own childhood, Swallowing a Donkey’s Eye’s narrator is a hilarious, neurotic, and rage-filled Quixote searching for his mother, his own dignity, and the meaning of humanity.

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