Friday, July 20, 2012




Hello Terry, thank you so much for agreeing to do this interview. It is a pleasure to have the chance to get to know more about you and your writing. First tell us about your newest novel and why you decided to write it. 

Lizard World is – in a nutshell -- the black comic history of a brain transplant: some Florida yokels kidnap a dentist named Max Smedlow, scoop out his brain and transplant it into the body of an evil and still-surviving 17th-century English Lord. As you can see, this is certainly a horror story. But it is also a protracted joke. After they’ve been surgically connected, the dentist and the lord alternate like Jekyll and Hyde: whenever the dentist’s brain tries to take control of the decrepit body and return to his life filling cavities in suburban New Jersey, the ancient lord interrupts him with three-hundred-year-old memories of his depraved youth when he debauched maidens, ate beggars, schemed to steal a dukedom and underwent excruciating operations that engrafted stolen body parts and cut out his growths of reptilian flesh.

Why did I decide to write this? That is a difficult question – and I can think of two very different ways of answering it. On the one hand, I can speak about the very slow, intuitive process I went through in order to come up with this particular story. But, on the other hand, I can speak about why I wanted – in the first place -- to find a story that is both horrible and very funny. And it is this second way of answering your question that seems to lead into deeper waters. For the idea of writing a comic-Gothic novel was born long before I slowly discovered the plot that this comedic horror tale would have.

I think the need to write a story that is both horrible and funny stems from the fact that I think this kind of story is my most sincere expression of how I see life. I am a voice-driven writer – which is to say that I discover my characters through the way they speak – and a black-comic plot releases these voices.

Tell us about some of your hobbies, things you like to do in your spare time. 

The only hobby I have now is oil painting. I’m not a very good painter and that’s probably why I like painting so much – and why it’s so good for me. It allows me to be playful while at the same time (since I know I’ll never be Monet or Cezanne) it frees me from the perfectionism that sometimes afflicts me when I sit down to write. Painting a picture, like writing a novel, is about creating a world. It reminds me that I shouldn’t hesitate to make a cloud or rub one out and, through my very incompetence, that it’s okay to make a mess of things. Although I don’t paint often, I always wonder (when I do paint) why I don’t paint more; for I lose all sense of time – and, after I finally put my brush down, the canvas always draws me back again like a magnet.

What is the one most rewarding thing in your life right now?

The most rewarding thing in my life? That’s easy: the people I love.

When reading for pleasure do you tend to stick to the same genre you write or do you like to read other genres as well?

Although Lizard World is a black-comic horror novel and so – sort of – belongs to the horror genre, I don’t think it should be shelved next to The Shining or Dracula. Instead I hope it might be placed next to other darkly comic fictions – and these are the kinds of books I mostly read. The modern masters of the comedic voice whom I like most are Nabokov, Thomas Berger, Evelyn Waugh, Aldous Huxley, John Barth, Thomas Pynchon and Martin Amis. Thomas Berger, for example, has written in many different genres – the whodunit, the western, the spy story etc. – but it is the comic voice that is the constant. But I do also have a longstanding fascination with the gory delights and nightmarish characters of the Gothic novel and have read most of the masterpieces. I particularly like books that, like Lizard World, fuse the comic and the gothic – like Patrick McGrath’s The Grotesque, for example.

But I also read entirely different kinds of novels. At least once a year I read a Simenon mystery in French and right now I’m reading Ian Fleming.

I like Tolkien’s and Neil Gaiman’s fantasies and William Gibson’s and Neal Stephenson’s science fiction. All of this reading is certainly always for pleasure, but it’s also always equally for business. That’s because I remain on the lookout for anything that will suggest possibilities for writing a scene or structuring a drama.

When was it that you realized writing was what you wanted to do with your life?

When I was sixteen I became obsessed with writing papers for my English class. I spent hours and hours, sitting at my desk in my room, writing in longhand on a lined pad of yellow paper. I remember how I was always revising, changing words, adding phrases, experimenting with the order of my sentences and – not with a computer but literally – cutting and pasting with scissors and scotch tape. I remember one day realizing that I would always be doing this.

When can we expect your next book out and can you give us a sneak peek?

I’ve been working with a brilliant illustrator – named Lou Netter – on a graphic novel version of Lizard World. So that’s the next book in the works, although I can’t say exactly when it we’ll set the monster loose. I’m also in the very earliest stages of planning another novel – and so I have some sketches of a plot, some embryonic characters and some passages of polished prose. But it is much too soon for me to know what it will be and certainly much too soon for me to speak of it. That’s not because I want to be ungenerously secretive, but because my first creative writing teacher told me that it’s “bad luck” for a writer to talk about a work-in-progress – and because I’ve come to see the wisdom of that advice. The point is that speaking about a book before it’s had a chance to germinate is like prematurely letting the steam out a pressure cooker. Uncooked ideas have to stay inside the imagination, safe from either the approval or the disapproval of the outside world. Because approval or disapproval can be equally injurious, interfering with judgments and choices that require the clarity of solitude.

Back in your high school career, who was the one teacher you would say made a profound difference in your life, if any?

Yes there was. His name was Robert Cullen and he was, for me at least, the “catcher in the rye.” Holden Caufield explains that phrase when he says that he’d imagined children playing on a field of rye – and a grown man standing on the edge, ready to catch anyone about to fall over. Cullen was, I think, the only person I’ve ever known who was enlightened – in the Zen Buddhist sense of the word. So when I, so to speak, stubbed my toe on the infinite, he was the one who helped me understand. It was because he suggested it that I spent years studying the poetry of William Blake. Cullen almost always wore sunglasses, but when he took them off and looked at you, he had eyes like blue laser beams.

What dreams do you have for future generations that you'd like to share with others?

I am much more drawn to the past than to the future and so I can’t say that I find myself thinking very much about future generations. But if I did dream about future generations, I feel pretty sure that those dreams would be nightmares. I don’t see things getting a whole lot better and think the world to come will much more likely be a dystopia than a utopia. I hope that my sons and their families (if they have them) will grow their own food and establish a self-sufficient sanctuary in the countryside as far as possible from the ugliness and contagion of the larger society. I once was on the coast of northwest Ireland where I was told that, on an island not from there, monks devoted themselves to transcribing the Bible during the dark ages. I think civilized people in the future will have to do pretty much the same thing – keep the candle burning in the night.

One off the board question I like to ask, is what are your views as far as 2012, and do you believe in the Mayan Calendar? 

National Geographic recently reported that a cave has been discovered in an ancient Mayan city – and that the walls of the cave are covered with paintings, one of which is a calendar that extends the future for at least another 7000 years.

So it seems that even the Mayans didn’t think that the world was going to end in 2012. I think they were probably right.

Finally, do you have any advice you'd like to give to other aspiring authors, also please leave us your links where we can find out more about you.

The advice I’d most like to give to other writers is that they should write for the love of writing itself and not for any other imagined and extraneous benefit.

In other words, don’t write because you think it’s going to make you rich or famous – or even noticed at all, for that matter. The greatest joy I’ve gotten from writing came to me on those splendid and rare days when, in complete solitude, I had written pages that entirely pleased me. This bliss was sufficient unto itself and didn’t require anyone else’s attention or applause. Above all, trust yourself, your own sense of taste – and if it tastes good to you, it is.

If you’d like to know more about me, go to my website: I’d be delighted to have you visit.

Thank you again Terry for the ability to do this interview with you. Perhaps we can do more together in the near future.

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