How much of the writings in Cottonmouth Kisses are autobiographical?
The majority of them, I'd say 90 percent or so, but then again I'm rotten at math. The pieces that aren't autobiographical are biographical; they're composites. I'll use the story "Metaphor & Remorse" as an example: I've never had a boyfriend who turned tricks to pay my college tuition, though I did have a friend who had a boyfriend who did. On the other hand, I did have a completely chemical-fueled "romance" (talk about using a term loosely!) similar to that of the narrator and the character Gavin. Incidentally, a dear chum & drug buddy of mine chose the moniker "Gavin" to use when she stripped at the Century and Market St. Theaters, two locales buzzing with insanity and illegal behavior. I've never had a dealer slice a gouge in my shoulder, though several friends & a couple of lovers have obliged me this way. Anyone who's ever seen the photography book True Blood or Badlands by Charles Gatewood will know I was into some pretty heavy-duty territory: ritualistic cuttings, performance art with strap-on 60cc syringes, glamour blood play. Note the adjective in that last phrase: I may have been into the rush of getting my shoulder slit open, but I still cared about what latex outfit I was wearing & who did my make-up! Heh. That's what Cottonmouth Kisses is about, the cycles, the circles, the shedding of skins. The symbol of the serpent swallowing its own tail. Hence it's all in the mix: fact, fiction, & fucked up experiences of my friends & those of my own. I think the final piece in the book, the epistolary work entitled "The Dreaming Real" sums up the experiences best, gives them & the book some closure.
There is so much sadness and loss in Cottonmouth Kisses that I find some areas almost disconcerting. What compelled you to write such sad stories and poems? Was it a needed release or something akin to O'Barr's writing of The Crow?
You know, I've never read The Crow & honestly know anything about O'Barr, so I really can't use that as a point of reference. I can, however, agree that this book was a needed release. A much, much needed release. You know the cliché of "Go with what you know?" Well, that's what I did, fellow...so the fact that you find some sections of the book disconcerting lets me know that I did an o.k. job; that is to say, that I hit my mark. A story like "Metaphor & Remorse" should get under the reader's skin. At least that's what I intended for it to do. I wrote that piece at the absolute lowest point of my existence, in the depths of long-term i.v. meth addiction (with the obligatory dilaudid, heroin, and coke cocktails just to keep things interesting), lost love, disillusionment with humanity from my experiences in the club realm, and of course that lingering shadow within the shadows, despair. It wasn't entertaining writing this story, wasn't fun. But putting it all out there on paper gave me a place to put all my misplaced emotions, delusions. Moreover, the presentation of fact through the guise of fiction is really freeing. Sure, I can look at a story like this one now & it takes me back to a really dark place, but at least it's with a more enlightened perspective. I can see the humor in the situation, the monumental Things that ultimately mean nothing at all, are completely avoidable. In that sense, that's the real value of the work to me, the message in the story "Taking Care Of:" putting those things out there, my ego-based fears, filthy thoughts & dirty secrets. That's how I take care of them, provide a release. It gives them a life of their own, hence ultimately means I no longer own them & they no longer own me.
You've taken to Internet publishing quite well, appearing in indie online publications like Morbid Outlook and Gothic.Net. What drew you to this form of publishing rather than more conventional forms?
Ditto in the "Go With What You Know" department. I know absolute zilch, a way embarrassing Zero, about creating an on-line publication of my own. However, I put out dark lit 'zine of my own entitled As If in the mid-90s, so through my own endeavors, I learned a little bit about getting work to editors: essentially, find your market, be courteous yet persistent. I must have sent a package to Lara (of Morbid Outlook) during my As If days, back when her publication was in photocopied or "hard" form, because I have no recollection of it & didn't even buy a modem until I kicked drugs in January of '99. Obviously I've since gotten in touch with her though, and think she's a real sweetie & very talented girl. Insofar asGothic.Net goes, Darren & Elizabeth were actually neighbors of mine when I lived in San Francisco. They lived right around the corner from me my last six months in the city, my final insane sublet scenario (which incidentally I've just started to write about, tentatively it'll be the beginning of my new book). Of course I knew them from the Goth club realm, but once we shared the same 'hood, they saw me out of all the regalia: they'd bump into me 4 or 5 in the afternoon, wandering the streets still in my pajamas because I'd just gotten up (another of my many habits at the time), my hair a disheveled junkie sculpture, eyes half open, either scoring drugs from the corner dealer or buying liquor in the corner store or bingeing out on Popeye's fried chicken, which was half a block away. I can vividly recall Elizabeth bopping in there one afternoon because she saw me through the window packing my face. She was excited because they'd just received an advance copy of Caitlin Kiernin's book; me, I was excited to be eating my first meal in a few days, greasy biscuits and red beans & rice. Yes, I was pathetic. I must have shoved a diskette at them at some point, because there's also a flash in my memory of them bringing me a check at Roderick's Chamber, where I worked. Anyway, I guess what I'm trying to say is that I was drawn to unconventional means of getting published because I lived a very unconventional life. Before I ever sent a manuscript out to any publishing house, I photocopied my own chapbooks, did lots & lots of readings in cafes & clubs, and shoved my work at anyone who seemed even partially interested. That's what this whole Internet site thing is about anyway; isn't it? The Do It Yourself approach? I love the D.I.Y. approach...why wait for an opportunity to come your way, you know? If I wouldn't have been so aggressive about putting my work out there, I seriously doubt I would have found a publisher, or anyone else for that matter, who was interested to see it. Same thing with your website, Marcus: By taking the initiative, that's how your work has reached your readers & me....& me, your reader!
How was your experience with Manic D Press?
Excellent. Actually, Manic D was my first choice of whom I wanted to see my manuscript, & in fact was the only place I sent a package. (So I guess it's a good thing they picked me up!) The owner and editor, Jennifer Joseph, has a really keen eye on what's new & happening in the literary realm, particularly because she's a writer herself. The books are attractively produced, get good distribution, & most importantly I knew this press was 'my market' because I kept buying their titles! Sparrow 13 Laughingwand, who's a brilliant writer, has a dark & gorgeous book called Hell Soup put out by Manic D Press. Then there's also Bucky Sinister, Beth Lisick, John Longhi, Justin Chin, Ayn Imperato, J. Tarin Towers, many, many others.
Any advice you'd give a writer of like style on achieving a published book or similar deal?
As I said earlier, make a concerted effort to get your stuff out there. There might be some fortunate writers out there who simply "get discovered," but that's never happened to me or any of the other writers I know. I'll use my dear friend, the fabulously talented Michelle Tea as an example. First of all, I met Michelle at a reading, which already establishes that she was putting herself out there. She read at open mics in coffeshops and bars, renegade photocopied and distributed 'zines of her writing, read & read at more open mics, decided she didn't like the general vibe of any of the open mics, so she enlisted her friend Sini & they started an all-girl open mic of their own called Sister Spit. Through Sister Spit, Sini & Michelle planned and booked over a dozen national tours on their own, rattling vans full of girl poets across this U Ass of A of ours, bringing their voices to the people, so to speak. Hence, it really comes as no surprise to me that Michelle got publishers' attention & has put out two novels by the age of 29. She's both a great inspiration to me & proof that It Can Be Done. Prime example with Cottonmouth Kisses...it may not be on the N.Y. Times Bestseller list (and furthermore never will be!), but at the time I'm pecking away these answers on my keyboard to you now, it's ranked at #3 on the Amazon.com Gay & Lesbian Short Stories Bestseller list. Not bad for a small-press endeavor about a queer Goth-damaged junkie. Hear me out, though: I'm not throwing this info out as a big pat on my back. On the contrary, I'm saying that this is the direct result of me literally saving my coins in a piggie bank and then taking off for two months in my rickety Mazda to do readings across the country (& one in Canada). There's yet to be a single review of Cottonmouth Kisses published anywhere (though this issue of Legends will change that; massive thanks to you, Marcus!). I don't have a publicist; I don't even have an agent. There are tons of writers out there with a wealth more talent than I have I'm sure of it. The key is just making that talent accessible.
Besides the obvious influences like William S. Burroughs and Brian Gysin and, most likely, Kathy Acker as well, what other writers would you say influenced your current style?
Dennis Cooper. A copy of Frisk made it to my hands when I was still living in (groan) Arkansas, & my outlook on writing changed completely. Frisk is one of the most frightening, gloriously disturbing texts I've ever read in my life. Cooper's lean style of writing, his sense of authority, his graphic descriptions & subject matter amaze me. Guide is another great book of his. But there's also Kate Braverman, whose book Lithium for Medea is most God indeed; Bruce Benderson, whose novel User is a little piece of perfect; The Letters of Mina Harker by Dodie Bellamy, Chelsea Girls by Eileen Myles, The Medicine Burns by Adam Klein, Drawing Blood by Poppy Z. Brite (but that's a given). Ask Dr. Mueller by Cookie Mueller (of John Waters notoriety) is also excellent. I'm really into writers that employ the first person these days: writers that get me right in their guts through stories told in the viewpoint of "I."
Have you ever tried the cut-up writing style?
Sure. In college I had a great creative writing teacher, Hope Norman Coulter, who really emphasized the importance & function of form. Under her instruction, I learned about strict poetic forms like the Villanelle, Terza Rima, Rubaiyat, et al. The thing that's fascinating about writing within an established form is the surprises that come about when a writer conforms to them in other words, the things he says to fit within the form are often worded differently or through different phrases. Because of my studies with Hope, I had a phase in which I was really interested in writing about contemporary subject matter in rigid, classic forms. The poem "The Truth About Modeling" fromCottonmouth Kisses is an example of the work I did at the time: it's a sonnet about my misadventures nude modeling for an Arkansas State University art class. (It's the only decent paying job I could get in AR with purple hair & I needed to save money to move to San Francisco!) After that, I dabbled in informal forms & styles: automatic writing, the cut-up, etc. Actually, I wasn't too crazy about cut-ups. The end result was reminiscent of garbage I had clinging to my refrigerator, the "masterpieces" an old roomie of mine constructed with a magnetic poetry kit. He'd stand there for hours, huffing on a crack pipe, rearranging the nouns and verbs into cryptic attempts at wisdom, "the then sad she said wants" type of crap I'd inevitably end up reading when I went to the fridge for a Coke. So I'm damaged. (Surprise, surprise.) Maybe I just need to experiment with the form again, though, as Burroughs came up with some brilliant stuff.
Any future plans for another book? What's next for you?
Of course I want to put out another book! In fact, I'm currently working on two different projects: an anthology with the fabulously talented Michelle Tea and my first novel, tentatively entitled Turnskin. I assume the anthology will come to fruition first, though work on the novel is coming along well. It's got a feel similar to that of "The Dreaming Real," the final piece in Cottonmouth Kisses. Really informal diction, humor mixed in with the dark stuff. Turnskin is about the transference of addictions, trying to replace drugs with coffee & cigarettes, sex with food, love with cable t.v. & rental videos, blah blah blah. I've been using a quote of my friend *BOB* as inspiration for this work, the statement she made while still active in her intake of illicit substances that, "I'll never become addicted. Today I took ecstacy. Yesterday I did speed. Tomorrow I'll probably smoke some pot. Why would I stick to one drug?" That's really funny to me now, hearing her in my head, her raspy voice, completely earnest. I'm fascinated by the human condition.
What are you reading and/or listening to these days?
Shinjuku Thief, when I'm feeling sombre. The Witch Hammer is genius! & SOW, the Anna Wildsmith project. I sort of rediscovered them when organizing my CDs. Both the Sow releases are brilliant. Ditto that with Diamanda Galas I'm so glad she's touring; I'd love to see her again. Haujobb, The Future Sound of London, Autechre for an electronic fix; Tracey Thorn's A Distant Shore & Aimee Mann's contributions to the Magnolia soundtrack when I crave haunting, beautiful lyrics. I haven't gotten sick of the Velvet Goldmine soundtrack yet. Oh yeah, & The Hope Blister, Ivo's project after This Mortal Coil. Of course Coil is one of my favorites, as well the old stuff, the new stuff; I'm into almost all of it.
What was it that brought or drew you into the gothic subculture? In my case it was, typically enough, musically-related but later become a people thing - came for the rhythms, stayed for the conversation so to speak. What about you?
Whoa. That was eons & eons ago! Well, both the music & the conversation drew me in, but not in the conventional sense. Remember that I was living in a small town in Arkansas: dusty gravel roads, homophobic rednecks, mullets galore. There was no goth scene for me to be "drawn into," so to speak: I had to actively seek it out. Fortunately my family had cable t.v., so the "Some Bizarre" show late Friday nights, "The First Cut" (at least I think that's what it was called the MTV show w/ Peter Zaremba before they started 120 Minutes), and Star Hits magazine were my contact with the outside world. I'm really dating myself here: this was 16, 17 years ago, when I was in sixth grade! Star Hits had this pen pal section in it called RSVP, to connect lonely souls like me with others. I sent in a postcard with my 40 words-or-less vitals you know, I was into Siouxsie, Soft Cell, The Cure, obvious stuff. They printed my ad & suddenly I started getting all this great mail in decorated envelopes from kindred souls, other freaks around the planet. It was completely exciting. We signed these things called friendship books (or fetish books or "fbs"), little hand-made booklets where people decorated a page & put their favorite bands, song lyrics, interests, & then passed them on to each other. When the book was full, the last person to sign it sent it back to the person who made it, or the person it was made for. The goth thing manifested itself through my involvement in this postal service subculture thing I was in on. Actually, it makes complete sense: I was isolated & miserable, a hypersensitive art fag prancy type trapped in a small southern town. Of COURSE I could relate to bands like Joy Division and the others my new "pen fiends" (as we called each other) turned me on to! We swapped tapes, sent cassettes to each other, & that's how I was introduced to bands like Severed Heads and Skinny Puppy by the time I made it to high school. The first picture I saw of Skinny Puppy, that promo shot they used for their first tour & EP, completely did me in. They looked fucking amazing, all hair-sprayed & severe black make-up standing in front of that chainlink fence. I was in love. So through my stacks of bipolar correspondence I scribbled & my transformation from New Wave to No Wave to the grave, I ended up in serious bat territory! heh. By the time I was 16, I was venturing to Memphis, TN on the weekends with a few older friends of mine, who'd sneak me into underground, off-the-beaten path nightclubs. Predominantly gay, synthesizer drenched places of the mid-80s. It was there I was able to meet other people in person who shared some of the same interests as me. Many of my penfiends faded, but some of them I met as I got older, & I'm still friends with them to this day. It's a surreal experience sometimes, to go to clubs in San Francisco & New York & here in El Lay, & bump into people that were pen pals of mine when we were teenagers. Natch, I always call them by their adolescent nicknames: Razzle, Lolia, monikers like that. We all went by several pseudos. I had some really ridiculous ones: Bananafishbones, Ratfink, Budgie; as if the real one weren't enough! How embarrassing.
Here's a fun question: What's your favorite derogatory term you've gotten? Mine was "art fag." That one still makes me laugh.
That's funny; I just used "art fag" to describe myself in the answer above. I was such an art fag back then, though. I even wore a beret & smoked cloves! Sampoerna X-Tras, of course, in the black cigarette papers. Heh heh. Well, I've had so many pejorative terms thrown at me; it's hard for me to pick just one, a favorite. Maybe "Death Rock Faggot?" Natch that one rang true. Let me think of something really ludicrous. Oh yeah, "Clit" and "Clintoris," two very obvious plays on my name, were popular.
How'd you find yourself in such upcoming films as Sex, Death and Eyeliner and Black Pearls? What was it like to be involved in such a venture?
My experience with Sex, Death & Eyeliner was disastrous, mainly because I was such a disaster factory. This was in '97, at the height of my meth addiction, or right in the middle of my "bottom," so to speak. My chum Blair, who I became friends with through my work with him on his film, Black Pearls, hooked me up with the gig. I had a great experience with Black Pearls, mainly because Blair is astoundingly patient & was able to capture me at different junctures in my life: the bloodplay thing (actually, Blair was the first one to film one of my "performances"), the cracked-out spoken word thing, the Hi, Now I'm Sober crossroads. It's funny, I met Blair in the bathroom of a club at an Element show. I was on the road with my boyfriend at the time, pursuing paranoia & delusions because we had been up waaaaaay too long & thought we were being followed by "them" (whoever they are / were / whatever). Blair thought I was a freak but called me a month or so later when he saw a lay-out of me all glamorous & besplattered with blood in a spread of me with Danielle Willis and Dharma that was in High Society (!) magazine. Yep, clearly this was a time in which ANYTHING went for me. Blair wanted to use me for his documentary & I was game for it, so ditto that when he gave me the chance to fly down from San Francisco for Keith Border of Neo Motion Pictures latest endeavor, that being Sex, Death & Eyeliner. I was SUCH a mess before even stepping off the plane, having been up longer than I could remember & dressed to the teeth in melodrama. I got kicked off the plane for trying to change into latex tights in my seat (the bathrooms were taken & I needed a new outfit! Remember that latex means no underwear, & I think you'll understand why this was such a big brouhaha.). I was late to location the first day of filming, fucked up in a major way the next day by freaking out when the deluge of drugs started to leave my overtaxed system, leaving me sobbing uncontrollably & lashing out at the director & PAs, etc. It's humorous to me now, but at the time it was terrible, believe me. I went to the advance screening of Sex, Death... & they had to edit almost every line of me speaking because I was such a stammering speed-addled dork. There are lots of images of me in the film, but only one bit of me talking, & I'm so cracked & raspy I couldn't even understand myself. Seriously. My friend, Sham, who was at the screening with me, had to tell me what it was I said and of course, it wasn't anything impressive. Insofar as Black Pearls goes, I have no idea what the story is with it. I've seen a couple different cuts, but Blair hasn't released anything to the public yet. It's been so long since he started this project; at times it makes me wonder if anything will ever come of it. But Blair's such a great guy, I can't help but have faith in him. I can't wait to see it!
How did you end up recording some of your spoken word work with Apocalypse Theatre?
Running in similar circles, frequenting some of the same S.F. clubs. I honestly can't remember how they approached me or even who, but I do remember the day of the takes. Another of my less than great moments in drug addiction. I was ridiculously late for the session, strung like a Strativarius & giving some elaborate excuse about how I had digestion problems because I was afflicted with diverticulitis, some garbage like that. My excuses got more elaborate & challengingly creative once I had run out of alleged friends & relatives who could die. The major karmic kick-back happened later when friends & relatives actually did begin to die, & I was too thwacked-out to show up. Very depressing indeed.
Lately the general consensus has been that the gothic and like scenes are heading back underground. Have you noticed this trend? Do you feel it will better or worsen the current state of things in the scene?
This is a tough one for me, as I've always considered the Goth scene as underground. I mean, sure, there are mainstream acts like Marilyn Manson (whose song Great Big White World I can't help but love, no matter how much I try otherwise) and Nine Inch Nails that really brought facets of the scene into the 90s forefront. Furthermore, there've been big media exposes like specials on E! and the like. But the scene for me has always been more intimate than the Bauhaus t-shirt, black liquid eyeliner, lunchbox equation. I can't imagine vocalists like Diamanda Galas or bands like Malign ever being played on mainstream radio: their work is too emotionally-charged, too over-the-edge for the couple next door to rub crotches and hip hop. I also really equate underground writers like Sparrow 13 Laughingwand and Lake Vajra as being at the core of what the Goth scene means to me. Their work is histrionic, flowery, gritty, beautiful & grotesque, sacred & profane. Lake has a really gorgeous website, www.purpleglitter.com. I highly recommend you check it out. It's artists like the aforementioned, artists with an intensely personal connection with the reader and listener, artists who are high risk in their presentation, their extreme emotional range, that I believe not only define the scene, but also benefit the world at large. It's from them that I draw my inspiration. After all, only a person who risks is alive.