By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
Do you write novels in a linear way, from beginning to end?
Yeah. I think it’s an indulgence to do it the other way. I think it’s a kind of cowardice. There are places in anyone’s books that are going to be easier than other parts. And if when you come to a part that’s difficult and think, “Hm, I’ll skip that,” all you’re doing is lining up these problems that are going to wait for you and kick you in the ass. So I’m very rigorous with myself. I won’t allow myself to go on to a fun bit, like the sex. I think if you write big books like I do, and don’t write in a linear fashion, something inevitably gets screwed up in the emotional flow. In Coldheart Canyon there are many characters, and each character has its own arc. The arcs start at divergent points, but they converge at roughly the same point. So what you try to do is induce in the reader an incredible feeling of excitement, because everybody’s arcs are resolving because they’re encountering one another, right? It’s not that they’re resolving in an abstraction. They’re resolving because A meets B meets C and so on.
Which explains its length, I guess.
Yes. But this will amuse you. I proposed it as a short story. You’ve had this problem?
I have the opposite problem. I just finished a novel that I proposed would be 400 to 500 pages, and it wound up being 160 pages.
Maybe we can help one another. [Laughter.] Listen, I need to ask you something. I know it makes this more of a conversation, but . . . how are you able to make your novels so compact? It’s very foreign to me.
Well, in my work explanations are beside the point. That might be why. I’m interested in a suggestive approach. My work’s so internally chaotic that the surface has to be as impeccable and barren as possible to communicate at all.
Hm. Let me offer you this. Why do you take pleasure in books like mine, which, by your own self-directed aesthetic, are surely flabby books?
But that’s exactly why your books interest me. I know how to do tight, but I don’t know how to do what you do at all. And partly because your work and my work have so much in common, in terms of their horrificness and interest in psychosexual violence and so on, this fascinates me. I think to myself, “How the fuck does he do that?”
I had a conversation with Pete Atkins, who wrote Hellraiser II, III and IV, and several novels as well. I’ve known him since I was 18. When he started writing novels, he said, “I get bored with bits in between the action bits and the big set pieces.” And I told him that if you don’t have those, the big set pieces don’t have any foundation. Also — and this is absolutely the reader’s experience, though it might not be the writer’s experience — sometimes a sentence which might not be particularly interesting on the page says something completely vital. So I think a lot of what I do comes out of wanting to tell the story the best way I can. The lyricism comes out of a hunger to have prose aspire to the condition of poetry, as yours does. I think one of the reasons that you and I have a certain kind of fan who will love us to our dying day is because there’s a richness in what we both do. It’s layered. We both have the erotic and violent thing, and a poetic way of dealing with it, but you are in your work, whereas I am not in mine. I think that’s the major difference between your work and mine. The most populist thing I do is to not be in my work.
Well, your work and my work are about the imagination. So in that way, you are in your work. Certainly, I feel you there, and I imagine that personalized quality of your work is partly what inspires such devotion among your readers.
Yet I don’t think my readers feel the kind of intimacy with me that your readers feel with you. There’s much more of a sense that the world I create belongs to them.
Well, it’s that balance between what’s yours and what’s theirs that’s so remarkable. For instance, my favorite film of yours as a director isLord of Illusions, partially because the eroticism in it is so scarily pure. I thought it was a very personal film, much more thanHellraiser orNightbreed.
Right. It was also my least successful film. [Laughter.] In Lord of Illusions, I got to do all kinds of shit that I wanted to do. The bondage stuff in there, the girl and the ape, all kinds of shit. It’s very funny because Frank Mancuso was head of MGM/UA at that time, and he didn’t like the movie at all. There was one shot of a dead child on the floor, and he said, “This shot will never appear in an MGM/UA movie.” As it turns out, it did, because I took it out, and then when he wasn’t looking, I put it back in. I knew he’d never bother to see the film again.