Some writers just get ‘it.’ I’m sure you know what I mean. You’ve read works, thumbed through stories that make you, the aspiring writer, cringe in jealous envy and bask in amazement. Some writers simply have the ability to fashion a story so compelling, so real, that the only logical reaction is outright adoration. Gaiman did it for me with “Sandman.” King had me with “Salem’s Lot” and now, Jeremy C. Shipp has hooked me with “Those Below” and the forthcoming “Fungus of the Heart.”
Recently, I had the privilege of interviewing Shipp and what I discovered was that the dark wit and brilliant imagery comes from a man intrinsically aware of his own voice. Shipp is the Bram Stoker nominated author of books such as “Cursed” and” Vacation” and has been published (previously and forthcoming) in Cemetery Dance, ChiZine, Apex Magazine, Pseudopod, and Withersin.
In his own words, Shipp enjoys living in Southern California in a moderately haunted Victorian farmhouse called Rose Cottage. He lives there with his wife, a couple of mighty cats, and a legion of yard gnomes. The gnomes like him. The clowns living in his attic--not so much.
You've been quoted as saying of your novels, "Vacation, is a map to my brain. Sheep and Wolves, is a map to my fears. And Cursed is a map to my heart." Does that mean that Fungus of the Heart is a map of your soul? What can you tell us about this book and the genesis of writing it?
You might say that Fungus of the Heart is a map to my values. And what I value most is relationships. And so, Fungus of the Heart is full of stories about families, friendships, lovers. I believe that treating others with respect is the most important thing in the world, and therefore, many of my characters are disrespectful. My characters have emotional, physical, spiritual needs, but my characters are often screwed up in one way or another, and so they don’t know how to get their needs met in a healthy way. Therein lies the horror.
What is your writing process? Are you an organic writer or does there have to be some organization in your process?
I usually start out with a shard of an idea. Maybe an aspect of a character, or a fragment of a plot. Then I brainstorm for a while, and after that, I get writing. I never outline, although I do carry around a notebook with me almost everywhere I go, so I can write down any ideas I have about the story I’m working on. Usually, I know where my tales are going to end up, but I never know exactly how I’m going to get there. I like not knowing everything. I like putting my characters in impossible situations and letting them find their own ways out.
Was there one person that influenced you early on to write?
There wasn’t one person in particular. My fourth grade teacher asked her students write fiction stories from time to time, and I really enjoyed that experience. Also, in elementary school, I loved to read, and I loved when my father read to me. Some of my favorite authors were HG Wells, Alexandre Dumas, Jules Verne. I also fell in love with storytelling thanks to filmmakers like George Lucas, Terry Gilliam, Jim Henson. And so, because of all these books and films and people, I decided to write my first novel when I was thirteen, and I’ve been writing almost constantly ever since.
How different do you think your life would be if you didn't write? Do you think you would use some other medium to create? What would it be?
If I wasn’t a writer, I’d probably snap and become one of the clowns in my attic. Truthfully though, I’d most likely become a singer or a filmmaker. I love singing, playing the guitar, playing the piano. The only reason I don’t sing and play more is because writing is my greatest passion and it takes up so much of my time.
How long into the submitting process did you get your first publication?
When I was 18, my creative writing teacher, Phillip Brugalette, encouraged me to send out my work. And so I did. About two months later, I received my first acceptance letter for a story called “Love Thy Demon.”
How did you/do you handle rejection?
For the first couple years of my writing career, I didn’t handle rejection very well. I was a pimply, shy teenager, and I spent much of my free time feeling sorry for myself, and the rejection letters gave me yet another excuse to be hard on myself. Thankfully, though, by learning to deal with rejection, I became a stronger, more confident person. These days, when I hit a pothole on my journey as a writer, I just thank my lucky stars that I’m alive, and I’m moving forward.
Why don't Rose Cottage's clowns like you? Did you key their tiny car?
The leader of the attic clowns once threw a maggot and broken glass pie at my face. I didn’t laugh at his joke, and so they’ve held a grudge against me ever since.
For those readers who don't know, can you give us the distinction between Horror and Bizarro fiction? Which do you prefer to write?
Bizarro is the genre of the weird. Bizarro fiction tends to be not only strange, but thought-provoking and fun to read. Bizarro isn’t necessarily horrifying, and Horror isn’t necessarily bizarre, but most of my work tends to be a combination of Bizarro and Horror.
If you knew tomorrow was your last day on earth, how would you spend your time?
I would play with my cats, hang out with my family, cuddle with my wife. I would eat a peanut butter and watermelon sandwich. I would tell everyone I love that I love them, and I would thank them for the joy they’ve brought me. Then I would say goodbye.
If any writers inspire or influence you, who are they?
Some authors who inspire me are Arundhati Roy, Lois Lowry, Haruki Murakami, George Orwell, Kurt Vonnegut, Francesca Lia Block, Anthony Burgess, Gregory Maguire, Amy Hempel.
What kind of fiction can you not bring yourself to read and why?
I will not read fiction written by attic clowns. Not because the clowns don’t write good stories. They do. But they print their books using Smurf blood, and that just isn’t right.
I read "Those Below" from Love and Sacrifice and I absolutely loved it. Can you tell us what inspired you to write this story?
I’m glad you enjoyed the tale. I wrote “Those Below” because of the systemic and personal racism that saturates our world. In most stories, the zombies eat the people, but in “Those Below,” the people consume the zombies, in a metaphorical sense.
What can we expect from you next?
I’m working on a new novel, a middle grade book, a comic book series, a horror screenplay. There may also be a stage musical in the works, as well as a film based on one of my books. In addition to all this, I’m planning on forming a yard gnome choir and an attic clown Vaudeville act.