Just catching up with Betty Rocksteady, the two-punch Gatling gun of artistic creation about what happens when her passions for illustrating and writing collide…
“I wouldn’t ever want a dog, I just don’t really get them, and they don’t get me. They’re extroverts.” -Betty Rocksteady
Austin James: So, I know you’re a writer and illustrator. You’ve e got a couple books out there, been in some anthologies. Amazon search shows an impressive catalogue of magazines as well (which I assume is a mix of your writing and illustrations, if not both). Do you have any other art forms in which you express your need to create?
Betty Rocksteady: I don’t think I have the time to do any other art forms! I’ve dabbled in other things, but these are the two that have stuck around. The main thing I want to do in the future is marry the two more. I’m going to be illustrating all my books from now on. I’m currently working on 20 illustrations for The Writhing Skies, which is coming in fall. The book is really extreme, sexual, and colorful, and the illustrations are a cartoony storybook style, which creates a really interesting contrast that I think really represents what I want to create.
James: I love it! It’s cool that you can take your two passions and weave them together like that.
Rocksteady: It’s something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time, like since I was a kid, and now I feel like my abilities are at a point where I can do it right. I’d love to do comics someday, and I’d also love to illustrate a point and click adventure game. So, it’s mostly about using the two art forms—illustration and writing—in new ways and using them together.
James: Is The Writhing Skies your third book?
Rocksteady: Yes! It’s coming out from PMMP this fall.
James: So other than “extreme, sexual, and colorful” is there anything else you can share about this upcoming release?
Rocksteady: Sure. The Writhing Skies is a novella that contains a lot of the same surreal nightmarish logic as Like Jagged Teeth but with a much more adult tone. The main character, Sarah, is trapped in her empty and grey hometown, followed by strange glowing creatures, confronting some really fucked up stuff from her recent past. It deals with sexual violence and manipulation, plus goopy aliens.
James: Thank god for goopy aliens, right? So, I know you’ve written Bizarro before. Would you consider TWS a Bizarro piece?
Rocksteady: I think everything I write has some Bizarro elements without being fully Bizarro. I like to use the dream-logic and strangeness of Bizarro, but it leans more on the side of Lynchian surreal than outright Bizarro (to me at least). Writhing Skies is definitely in that category. It’s more trying to make you uncomfortable than make you laugh.
James: Tell me about all of your short story work… it’s quite an impressive list.
Rocksteady: Oh yeah! I spent a couple years writing a ton of short stories and got into a lot of cool anthologies and magazines. Now I’m working on longer projects for a bit and it feels weird not to be submitting all the time.
James: So how do you like working with PMMP?
Rocksteady: Oh, I love PMMP! I think they do a lot of cool stuff. Max is an excellent editor and Lori makes beautiful-looking books. They’re also really into my vision and on board for any of my artistic ideas, which really makes me feel like I’m doing projects I believe in.
James: I’m relatively new to the scene, but it doesn’t take long to recognize that they are a well-respected small press who know what they’re doing. Okay, back to you, which talent took hold first (illustrating or writing)?
Rocksteady: This is kind of pedantic, but I don’t really think of them as TALENTS so much as skills. I definitely had an early interest in both, and maybe a slight aptitude but if what I do is good, it’s because of all the time I’ve spent getting here, not an inborn talent. And I think that’s just as cool.
I’ve always done both illustration and writing I guess, I was into both as a kid. I spent a lot of my 20s drawing and not much writing, but when I turned 30 I decided to get back into both seriously.
James: Yeah, I like the word “skill” better as well. I mean, someone can have a natural talent towards something, but it usually still takes lifelong development. Except for those of you that don’t need to develop—just have the natural “talent” to go out and be successful… fuck you people, by the way.
Rocksteady: Yeah there are definitely people that are naturally talented enough to produce professional quality work without a lot of training and those people can go to hell, haha.
James: So, when did you first start to realize your illustration skills were sharpened to the point where you felt like you were getting good at it? How about writing skills?
Rocksteady: Oh, I don’t know. I’ve always been drawing, and I always liked my drawings. I’ve been doing it I guess semi-professionally for a few years now, but it still took a while for my skill to catch up with my taste. I taught myself to draw on paper, but I’ve been using an iPad Pro for a few months now and I really feel that it’s pushed me to a new level where the work I produce is much, much closer to what I want it to look like.
The first story that I wrote that I thought was pretty good was “This Narrow Escape” (published in Kzine), which was also the first story I wrote using Bizarro/dream logic techniques. That kind of broke things open for me in terms of writing. Before that everything I wrote felt very hollow to me and didn’t have my true personality in it. Then from there I went on to write Arachnophile and so on. I’m constantly determined to learn more and get better
James: Do you have a routine you “must” follow in order to be productive when creating?
Rocksteady: Nope, not at all. I keep changing how I do it. It’s not chaotic or anything but I don’t have any rituals or set ways that I can think of.
James: Switching gears, rumor has it that you like cats. Can you confirm and/or deny said claim?
Rocksteady: Haha yes! Maybe just a little bit. I’m actually in the very starting phases of my next book, THE CAT LIVES, which is going to be a short story collection of interlocking stories about some really strange cat mythos.
James: I was actually going to ask if cats were ever inspiration for any of your work. Sounds like THE CAT LIVES will be badass… I’m already looking forward to it. Can you give an example of “really strange cat mythos”?
Rocksteady: It’s still in development stages but I have a few stories written and a lot of notes, just had to put it aside until Writhing Skies is complete. THE CAT LIVES is going to be a lot of different types of horror stories, but they are all going to predominantly feature a cat or cats, and I’m working on a mythos that’s developing naturally as I go. It’s not quite ready for public consumption yet, and I don’t think any of it will be laid out in so many words, it’s something that will seep into you as you read (assuming it turns out like I’m expecting)!
James: That’s sounds awesome (you see, I, too, have love for feline companions)!
Rocksteady: I don’t think I could be a functioning human without cats.
James: What’s your opinion about canines?
Rocksteady: I just don’t really care about them, but I think everyone should treat their pets well. I wouldn’t ever want a dog, I just don’t really get them, and they don’t get me. They’re extroverts.
James: And extroverts disgust you… I get it. We have both. But our little dog is a lot like a cat, honestly. So, back to writing: which of your pieces (short stories included), are you most proud of?
Rocksteady: Honestly, I get so sick of looking at everything after a few drafts, it’s always the new stuff I’m most excited about! I do think one of my coolest stories is “Dusk Urchin” in Looming Low. Anything where I can achieve a lot of tension subtly and without a lot of backstory is cool to me. I’m also really excited about my story “Elephants That Aren’t” coming soon in Lost Films. I’m obsessed with 1920s-1930s style cartoons so that style features in the story and I even drew a flip book to go with it.
James: Makes sense. In anticipation of this interview gaining you hundreds upon hundreds of new fans, where would you recommend one starts into the Betty Rocksteady Library?
Rocksteady: Oh, definitely Like Jagged Teeth. And as far as short fiction, “Dusk Urchin” (in Looming Low), “Elephants That Aren’t” (Lost Films), and the upcoming “The Woods, The Waterfall” (in Deciduous Tales #2).
James: Circling back to THE CAT LIVES, do you already have publication plans with PMMP, or are you planning to shop it around once it’s ready?
Rocksteady: I’m still thinking about that. I don’t think I’ll decide until it’s closer to complete. I definitely want to illustrate it, so I have to keep that in mind as well.
James: Switching gears again, tell me about your “semi pro” job as an illustrator. Do you mostly do it for individuals, publishers, etc.?
Rocksteady: When I started I was just doing a lot of stuff for myself and posting it on REDBUBBLE. I always did a lot of gothic pen and ink work, but I started adding that retro cartoon styling to it and I feel like I’ve really found my own groove now and people are responding well to it! This year I’ve done a couple cover commissions, I’m illustrating a couple books and I’ve been doing a lot of personal cartoon commissions for people. It’s all pretty fun and I’ve been really pleased with how it’s going.
James: That’s awesome! Do you still have the REDBUBBLE thing going on, or has it evolved beyond that?
Rocksteady: Yeah, I still have lots of stuff on there but have not added anything new in a bit, as I’ve been kept really busy with other projects! I would like to get some cartoon stuff up soon.
James: Ok, so I’ve been saving up for this last question. All of your fans are dying to know: Is “Betty Rocksteady” your real name? Also—spitting follow-up questions a bit to early—is neon blue your natural hair color?
Rocksteady: I hate to reveal the boring truth but yeah, Betty Rocksteady is a pen name, and for no Particular reason other than it just sounds great.
And no, hot pink is my natural color.
James: Makes sense, I hear that hot pink is pretty common in Southeast Canada. And I do love how Betty Rocksteady sounds… how did you come up with it?
Rocksteady: It just struck me one night, a couple years before I even started writing and I changed my Facebook name to it just for fun, and when I started getting published it just felt right. Betty Rocksteady feels like the best version of me. Oh, my real name is actually Betty so it’s just the Rocksteady part that was new.
James: Yeah, I dig it. Definitely fits you and resonates in the memory. Anyway, it’s been a blast chatting with you.
Rocksteady: Hey, yeah, thanks for doing this!
Austin James writes obscure and uncomfortable fiction.