Austin James: I’ve been bummed that you’ll be missing BizaroCon 11 so I won’t be able to meet you in person. Second best thing: I get to interview you instead! First off, thanks for your time.
Andrew James Stone: I’m super bummed, too. After you experience the convention, you’ll know why!
And it’s my pleasure!
I’m very excited to check it out and meet so many cool people I’ve been hanging with online for the past year plus. Anyway, let’s get to the shit that matters: if I were to push play on your (music playing device of choice) what song would I hear?
Last song I listed to was “Splash 1” by the 13th Floor Elevators. I mostly listen to psychedelic music from the sixties, but have been getting back into punk rock again lately (mainly X-Ray Spex, The Stranglers, The Clash, The Dead Boys, and The Adverts).
Ah, so you’re on drugs. Makes sense.
Nice. Which has a bigger influence on your writing: your music or your drugs?
Music, with the exception of Xanax. Though I generally write in silence and sober. But when I write on substances, Xanax is the only one that doesn’t make the words shit. I can also listen to music while writing when on Xanax, oddly enough.
Though mushrooms and salvia have been inspirational in the past, both for their own separate projects.
The Mortuary Monster, no. And while I came up with the idea for All Hail the House Gods during a friend’s writing exercise while sober, after it was a short story and before it became a novella I had a wild salvia trip that took place in the world of the House Gods. While it didn’t inform the plot, I did experience what life is like to be a House God.
Tell me about Monster? It seems to have done pretty well… almost 50 Amazon reviews average 4.5 stars. Not too shabby!
Thanks man! And I think it’s a fun book. The obvious inspirations are “The Addams Family” and “Corpse Bride.” But the bigger, and less obvious, inspirations are Kurt Vonnegut (all his work) and Steinbeck’s Cannery Row, which everyone should read.
The book itself is special to me because, aside from being my first book, I also wrote it at a real low point in my life (this was just after my alcoholism started to destroy my life and why I quit drinking), and writing the book, creating this sympathetic monster (sympathetic in my mind at least, and hopefully others) was a way to deal with my past and push myself forward.
And yeah, it being received so well by so many is also a huge plus. Got some great blurbs from Brian Evenson, Brian Allen Carr, and John Skipp on that one, all of which blew me away.
Yeah, those blurbs were great, all from artists I admire. And I completely understand what you were going through, as I too suffer from the inability to drink like a responsible human being. I’ve been sober for over eleven years. How is the non-drinking life serving you?
Congrats man! That’s awesome! And it has been treating me wonderfully. I’ve had occasional slip ups, but have essentially been off the booze since June 2014. My writing has improved immensely since I quit booze.
Good job—it’s definitely a struggle and I’m proud of you. Anyway, back to Monster, do you consider your first book to have been a success?
Yeah, I think it definitely has been. I mean, success is definitely relative. I’d have liked for it to have done a lot better. But for a first book from an indie bizarro horror press, it sold real well, received some amazing praise from writers I love and respect, got some overwhelmingly positive reviews in rad lit journals, and (if Amazon hadn’t deleted a number of reviews for nefarious reasons (FUCK YOU JEFF BEZOS)) would have over sixty Amazon reviews in its first eighteen months of life. But even then, it still sells relatively well nearly two years after its release and has fifty-eight (mostly positive) Amazon reviews. And more than that, without the success of TMM, All Hail the House Gods wouldn’t have done nearly as well as it is doing. TMM helped build a small following for my work, which has allowed AHTHG to increase it exponentially.
Do you consider yourself a bizarro author?
Yes, bizarro-lite. Meaning I see my work more in line with the Brian Allen Carr, Laura Lee Bahr, and Danger Slater type of bizarro writers, as opposed to CM3, Kevin L. Donihe, or Emma Johnson, the kind of bizarro writers whose work is totally batshit crazy in a beautifully wonderful way.
With that said, I’m an incredibly bad judge of where my work falls on the genre spectrum. I was extremely surprised to find out that The Mortuary Monster is primarily a weird horror book instead of a bizarro book with elements of gothic horror.
Moreover, I never set out to write a bizarro book. I just come up with an idea and try to build a world that feels realistic to the story idea I hatched.
That’s what I love about the bizarro genre, it embraces so many styles and concepts. Do you dabble in short story writing?
I used to write nothing but flash fiction and short stories (and poetry), but haven’t done any of that since spring 2015. And the short story I wrote in 2015 was a ten page version of All Hail the House Gods, which, of course, I ended up expanding into the novella.
I enjoy reading short stories, and writing them for that matter, but for the last few years, I’ve pretty much only written novellas / novels.
Tell me a little about AHTHG?
AHTHG is a short dystopian bizarro horror novella. Primarily, it explores various ways to overthrow a totalitarian government. Only the government consists of sentient House Gods that demand a daily child sacrifice (chosen through a Shirley Jackson-esque Lottery System) to keep them from declaring war on the oppressed once more. The oppressed, the humans’, only activity as children is Erotic Recreation, in which they couple (fuck) other children all day until they can conceive (think how children are taught to play in Huxley’s Brave New World). Once a couple conceives, they are wed, moved into a small tent, and are required to create one child a year to give to the government where they are entered into the House God lottery.
However, once the protagonists’ (the couple Kurt and Katie) oldest child is selected for sacrifice, and they watch Kurt Jr. willingly walk into the mouth (front door) of a House God to die, they snap. Katie creates an underground collective to try to overthrow the House Gods with a radical revolution while Kurt tries to find good House Gods to work with to bring down the oppressive system peacefully. Consequently, AHTHG also turns into a marital drama where broken spouses do all that they can to save their family and, consequently, society. But of course, their notions of revolution are polar opposites, and they struggle to understand how the other can react to their tragedy in the way that they are.
I have probably already said more than I should about AHTHG, but this is also only the origin of all the insanity packed into this little revolutionary book, which poses plenty of moral questions without giving any easy answers.
Dude, that sounds awesome—no wonder it’s getting some pretty good reviews and such early on. I’ve got my copy… can’t wait to read it! Before I forget, you mentioned poetry. Are you a poet?
Not really a poet. I always wanted to write novels. But when I started writing at seventeen, I went to a small private art school where the teacher was a poet and had us write tons of poetry. Long story short, the second poem I had ever written, and one of the first things I had ever written, won a National Scholastic Arts and Writing Awards gold medal, which meant I flew out to NYC and was presented with the medal on stage at Carnegie Hall.
I mean, the poem was shit, but it put me on a poetry kick because I used to be a lazy writer and it takes way less time to write a shit poem than a shit novel (to write a good poem takes just as much time / work), but a first draft of a poem is quite obviously way shorter than a novel draft. Anyways, I wrote a lot a poetry until my third year of undergrad (age twenty), and haven’t written a poem since. Now I’m doing what I always wanted to do with writing, and I’ve never been happier with my work.
You realize that the second poem you wrote has more accolades than some poets ever receive, right?
I’ve never really thought about it, to be totally honest. However, the National Scholastic competition is for 6th-12th grade students, so even if not many poets will ever receive an accolade like that, and while it is certainly a wonderful award to receive, it doesn’t mean much in regards to your talent as a poet in the grand scheme of things. I’m proud and honored to have been recognized for that award when I was seventeen, but that certainly doesn’t make me a stellar poet. I’m a mediocre poet, at best, who hasn’t written a poem in five years.
Do you have any poetry online somewhere? Or short stories, for that matter?
Yes, probably over a hundred poems and pieces of flash fiction that I wrote between the ages of seventeen and twenty. Most of it I hope no one will ever read. However, I am proud of a few. The four I think I’m most proud of is a poem in Gutter Eloquence, a short story in New Dead Families, and flash fiction in Hobart and DOGZPLOT.
You may not know this, but I bullshit with writers and pretend I’m a cutting edge journalist. Ergo, I’m gonna consider these links an EXCLUSIVE SCOOP! Soon my interviews will include nudes. Cutting. Edge. Shit.
Those are the interviews I’d like to see!
Right? So we’ve talked about your poetry, short form fiction, and your books. What are you working on now?
Currently, I’m working on a sea monster novella that takes place along the Puget Sound in Seattle. That’s the main project right now, and I’ve given myself a November deadline to finish it because my wife and I are expecting twins early December. But I also have a fake war novella called The Great Air War that’s been in the back of my mind since 2016 and every now and then I either add to or subtract from it. I also have two or three other novella ideas that I’m excited to start on, but I haven’t even outlined them or written an opening sentence yet. I just have a document of notes on various novellas to write when the time for that project feels right.
Lastly, I have a psychedelic dinosaur novel called The Ultimate Dinosaur Dance-Off. It’s a lot of things, but mostly a love story between a college student and a full-grown Apatosaurus. It’s finished, I just tweak it here and there every so often as I try to find the right publisher for it.
Do they all have a dash of bizarro?
The Ultimate Dinosaur Dance-Off is probably the most bizarro thing I will ever write. The others certainly have flavors of bizarro, but are definitely on the lighter side.
But I also assume none of my books are that bizarro because I have been living in the world of the story even before I start writing them, which the process of writing them alone is a long one for me. So they are probably a bit more bizarro than I believe them to be.
Nice. Anything lined up with any publishers?
Not at the moment.
Have some pitches accepted by various publishers, but I still haven’t written the books and who knows how much longer they’ll be patient with me.
I am writing the sea monster story (Nightmare Sound) for a specific press though, but who knows if they will take it. I’m nearly halfway done with the novella right now.
As a fledgling author myself, I can’t even imagine what that’d be like: “yeah various publishers have accepted pitches but I haven’t gotten around to writing the stories yet.” Good luck with that, by the way.
Thanks man! It’s nice, for sure, but stressful because family and work keeps us busy and the window of interest from the publishers is only open so long, ya dig?
Yeah that makes sense. Part of the dream I suppose. Anyway, on to even more important things: twins you say?
Yeah, holy shit twins! A boy and a girl (both human). My wife and I are super excited. They will be our first children.
Human twins, even? Well hot dog! They gonna have cutsie twinsie names?
I don’t think so. We’re not into giving them first names that begin with the same letter or anything like that. We have a few names picked out (especially for the girl), but we might just call the boy “Boy,” after the magical Waititi film.
Okay, not really. But we are at a loss for boy names now. We dig gender neutral names. But this is all I’ll say on the topic of names.
Congratulations are in order, good sir
Thank you very much ☺
After experiencing both male and female offspring, as well as speaking to others with similar parental obligations, here’s my sage wisdom: the girls are harder to raise, the boys are harder to keep alive.
Ha! Good things to know. I appreciate the warning / advice!
Seriously though, it’s a very cool and magical thing, having children. Changes everything. It’s hard to explain, but the days don’t even look the same afterwards.
Yeah, I bet. Can’t imagine it yet because it has yet to happen, but I am very much looking forward to it!
Can you see them move inside your wife’s belly yet? A foot kicks, you push, it pushes back?
Not yet. Should be very soon now though.
Well those of us that hang out with you on social media are looking forward to pix and whatnot.
You got it! My wife is way better at me than that, but I’m bound to be tagged.
Yep, which is yet another reason to keep a wife around…
That, and I’d probably be dead without her, no joke. I’m pretty terrible when it comes to being an adult, is what I mean.
Just look for the adultier adult, and avoid being the adultiest adult in any given situation.
Ok, so back to writerly stuff. When did you realize that you wanted to be a writer?
I think when I was fifteen. Growing up, I was crazy dyslexic. I couldn’t write an essay throughout middle school. Had never read a book until high school. But my second year of high school (I think that’s when you’re fifteen?), I discovered the wonders of Harry Potter and read the whole series within months (the timing was perfect because a month after I finished the sixth, the seventh was published). After that, I got into horror, especially Stephen King and Jack Ketchum. And then pretty much read whatever I could get my hands on. And while I wanted to write then, I knew I couldn’t, given my past inability to write a basic sixth grade essay + my dyslexia. But my mom enrolled me in a private art school when I was seventeen because she knew I wanted to write, which is where the second poem I had ever written won the award, which is when I finally gained the confidence to know I could potentially do this writing thing.
How do you overcome the dyslexia to churn out such amazing writing?
I did therapy for a couple of years probably when I was sixteen and seventeen. But by that point, I had overcome most of it just by reading voraciously since age fifteen. So reading constantly I think is a great cure for dyslexia. At least it worked for me.
Very cool… it’s encouraging that you were able to overcome that disability! But now I have to ask, what other art forms do you dabble in?
I absolutely adore art; unfortunately, I can’t draw or paint for shit. Same with music. And filmmaking. Really, what I’m saying is that I love to consume all forms of art, but the only one I produce (at all competently) is literature.
I guess I do draw for fun, but nothing I’d ever show anyone.
So what are your top six favorite movies from the last 27 years?
I’m not going to google whether all of these were made in the last twenty-seven years (spoiler: they probably were not):
1. The City of Lost Children
2. Howl’s Moving Castle
3. Sorry to Bother You
4. The Rocky Horror Picture Show
5. Pan’s Labyrinth
6. The Nightmare Before Christmas
Interesting selection, and truth be told, I wasn’t going to fact check the movie release dates. Do you find movies and the storytelling within inspirational towards your writing?
Yeah definitely. Sorry to Bother You is the most recent that comes to mind. Mostly because my politics are similar to Boots Riley’s, and I always try to infuse them into to my art as does he. But usually, I’ll write something, and someone will tell me it reminds them of x film, and I’ll be like, holy shit, that film is amazing! So I guess it goes both ways weirdly enough.
What was the most recent movie you saw in the theater?
Sorry to Bother You. Which, incidentally, I’m about to go see again in two hours with my dad and Laura Lee Bahr (I almost never go to the theaters because of money, let alone see the same one twice).
Yeah. And soon you won’t go because you have little kids. And then you’ll forget what going to the movies is like. And then you’ll rediscover how fun and expensive they are in five years or so.
Yeah, definitely! But in five years, that shit will probably cost $25 a ticket, at least.
And another $25 for a medium popcorn.
Yeah but fuck their food. Just bring in your own eats and drinks in a wind breaker or a backpack. Tell our kids the popcorn taste like shit and your potato chips are WAY better.
Haha true. Except that will be an easy three counts of felony smuggling by then.
Ehh. Most good people I know have been to jail. I’ll finally join them and give my kids something to be proud of.
Your kids already get to be proud of their father, for probably a lot of things, but (for the purposes of rounding out this interview) because you’re a great writer with growing success.
Why thanks! That is much appreciated. My wife and I are just hoping our kids enjoy to read someday. That alone would be a beautiful miracle!
I hear ya! Any other plugs or links or profound statements you wanna make before we wrap this thing up?
Oh sure. Read Rios de la Luz, Brian Allen Carr, and Laura Lee Bahr. All their books. All the time.
Awesome, thanks for the interview, sir!
My pleasure! Thanks for having me!
Austin James writes obscure and uncomfortable fiction.