Bloody and beautiful. Horrific and hopeful. Seeming contradictions join in perfect harmony in the wondrous world of author Jeremy C. Shipp. Reading his writing is like a tattoo upon your soul. It leaves a mark. If you truly understand his message, you can’t help but come away changed. It’s an initiation by fire at times as he shines a light on injustices, our self-destructive tendencies, and the illusions we use as a balm on our wounded hearts.
He makes you face the truth. And it isn’t always pretty. But in journeying in his world, you come away feeling inspired, optimistic, and desiring to make a difference. Even amid the darkest of circumstance there is humor and there is love in his work.
His writing is intelligent, eloquent, utterly creative, and extremely heartfelt. His latest work Cursed is due out this Halloween and is available for pre-order. A review of the book is available here. He graciously took the time to share a bit about his latest novel, his perspective on the publishing industry and social networking, and his hopeful heart.
You are known for writing fiction that falls into the Bizzaro genre. For those that haven’t heard of Bizarro fiction, please describe it.
Bizarro fiction is the genre of the weird; the literary equivalent of the cult movie section at the video store. The stories we Bizarros create tend to be absurd and surreal and strange, and our differences in style and content connect us just as much as our similarities. One of our commonalities is the tendency for Bizarro fiction to be equally entertaining and thought-provoking. That’s what I strive for, as far as my own fiction is concerned. I want to touch hearts and minds, but I don’t want to preach or pull teeth. I want my readers to enjoy themselves in the beautiful, horrible worlds I create for them.
Please share a little bit about the premise of your upcoming release Cursed.
Cursed is primarily the story of Nicholas and Cicely. Together, they create a support group of sorts for cursed individuals, and together, they try to figure out who cursed them, why, and what exactly they can do about it. I enjoyed thinking up all the twists and turns in the plot, but even more than that, I enjoyed writing these characters. Nicholas is so insecure and obsessive, and Cicely is so creative and passionate. They’re my favorite characters.
Your wife Lisa’s journey played a large role in inspiring your writing of Cursed. Please share a little about that.
For years, my wife suffered from CFIDS. And while she experienced excruciating pain every day, most of her suffering stemmed from how people treated her. For the most part, people either didn’t believe she was sick or they looked down on her, as if to be disabled is to be less than whole. To see my wife treated this way affected me deeply, of course. And so, I had to write Cursed. In my mind, the most powerful curses in our world have everything to do with disrespect and invalidation.
You have a very unique style and viewpoint in your writing. Has there been pressure to write more for the mainstream? If so, how have you dealt with it?
I have experienced such pressure, and if my goal was to make as much money as possible, and to be read by as many readers as possible, I would force myself to write more for the mainstream. But ultimately, I need to write from my heart, and my heart happens to be a rather strange place.
What is your take on the publishing industry? What things would you like to see changed?
In my mind, the mainstream publishing world is a place where mainstream ideas thrive and most unique stories can’t survive. This isn’t always the case, but still, mainstream publishers are mainstream publishers because they do what it takes to maintain their power. And this can, at times, create a rather stagnant atmosphere. Some publishers, for instance, won’t publish books where the main characters are gay, or pagan, etc. These publishers want to sell as many books as possible, and they don’t believe their readers will connect with certain characters. In a world where money is almost everything, the same stories tend to be told over and over again. Personally, I would prefer to live in a world where art and money were disconnected.
Of course, there are many publishers out there who take chances and who care more about what they’re publishing than whether or not they’re going to publish a best-seller.
What is your spiritual path and how does it affect your writing?
I’m an animist, and this affects my worldview, which affects everything in my life, including my writing. As an animist, I believe that every one of my stories have a spirit. And these spirits can affect the world. For better, or for worse.
I can be quite the easy-going and silly individual, but there are certain things I take very seriously. And I take my role as a storyteller very seriously. I believe that storytellers have the power to affect how people see themselves and others. For instance, many people, women especially, have distorted body images, and I believe this is largely due to TV, movies, magazines, books, etc. I don’t believe that most creators of media are intentionally trying to hurt anybody, but people are being hurt. And so, I do what I can to write consciously; to think about what ideas I’m spreading.
You face a lot of dark issues in your writing. Writing seems to be a great place of transformation and empowerment for you. Would that be accurate?
Yes, writing definitely helps me to process the more horrific aspects of reality. I don’t see myself as a pessimistic person, but I also don’t shy away from the horrors of our world. I do what I can to seek out and face the evils of civilization, and with my writing, I try to shine a light on these horrors. And while I’m not a fan of the systems in our world that propagate disrespect and violence, I am hopeful when it comes to human beings. There is an abundance of goodness in our world. There’s love and respect and friendship. And most people have the best of intentions in everything they do.
When reading one of my books, I do want my readers to stare at face of systemic evil, but at the same time, I want them to feel hopeful and empowered.
One of the things I admire about your work is that your stories always seem aimed at doing more than merely entertaining. You make powerful statements about society, interpersonal relationships, and how people view themselves. Do you generally start a story with an idea of a statement you want to make? Does it tend to unfold as you write?
I don’t set out to make specific statements about our world, but if some aspect of reality disturbs me or affects me in a powerful way, this inspires me to put my characters in similar situations. This sounds cruel, perhaps, but my goal isn’t to torture imaginary people. My goal is to help my characters transcend these situations. And this transcendence can’t be achieved simply by killing the bad guy or saving the world from destruction. The true villains in my stories are always ideas. And the only way to truly fight an idea is with another idea.
Please share a little about your writing process. Do you do a lot of research? Are there any writing exercises you use to flesh out characters and their back story? Do you outline?
I’m quite obsessive, so I research subjects to death, especially when I’m writing novels. For instance, when writing Cursed, I researched serial killers so much, I made myself sick. These days, I don’t write any outlines, although I do brainstorm from time to time, before starting a story. After that, I start writing, and I usually have a vague sense of where my characters are headed, but I never know exactly how they’re going to get there. I put my characters in impossible situations, and I don’t know how they’re going to save themselves, physically, emotionally, spiritually, but they often find a way.
I re-write constantly. And due to my obsessive nature, I can spend hours on one paragraph. So my writing process is highly enjoyable and excruciating.
What characters of yours are your favorites?
Cicely, in Cursed, is probably my favorite character of all my stories. In fact, I love all the characters in Cursed. I still feel deeply attached to them. I’m also growing fonder and fonder of Bridge, the main character in the novel I’m working on now. She’s a very strong, very fragile human being. She has so much love and passionate inside, but she doesn’t know how to express them. She’s lost, and there are forces in the world that want to claim her. I hope for her sake that she can find her own path. We’ll see.
What have been the top five moments in your writing career so far?
I was beyond excited when my first novel, Vacation, was published. I’m still excited. And I was shocked and thrilled to receive an acceptance letter from Cemetery Dance. Also, getting a positive review in Publishers Weekly was special for me, because I didn’t expect that sort of mainstream attention.
But, in truth, my favorite moments occur when I’m writing my novels; when things come together in ways that I didn’t expect; when my own characters make me tear up.
And I’m especially touched when I receive heartfelt letters from my readers. I can’t express how much this means to me. To hear that I’ve touched a heart or a mind or a soul in a positive way, I feel like the storyteller I always dreamed of becoming.
Any advice for aspiring novelists trying to get that first book published?
First of all, don’t give up. Getting published isn’t easy, and rejection letters are an important part of a balanced breakfast. Write every day, if you can. Write from your heart, and your mind, and your gut, and your soul, and your spleen. Visit sites like ralan.com and duotrope.com and send your work into the publishing world. Follow the submission guidelines exactly.
And remember that no one can judge the worth of your work. Stories are inherently worthy, just like you are. If your goal is to receive validation for your work, by getting it published, you’ll suffer unnecessarily.
You spend a lot of time on social media such as Twitter and Facebook. What kind of difference has this made for you in getting your work/name out there?
Social media is the lifeblood of my career. As a cult author, I depend on my supporters and readers to help spread the word about my work. And I’m blessed with how supportive my readers have been, and continue to be.
What are some of your favorite experiences you’ve had interacting with your fans?
I enjoy the day-to-day conversations, silly and serious alike. I know many weird and wonderful people, and I’m monumentally thankful for this fact.
As far as other experiences go, I love all the heartfelt letters and emails I’ve received from various readers, telling me that my stories and books have affected them in positive ways.
What is something about you that people might not expect if they just know you from online tweets and Facebook updates and got to know you in person?
Online, I’m quite outgoing, but in person, I can be rather shy. I’m always more than happy to open my heart to the world, when it comes to writing, but it takes me a while to open up, face to face. I can also be very sensitive and insecure at times, though I try not to react to my feelings in an unhealthy way.
Online and offline, I try to let my true personality shine through. My goal is always to let myself be the weird, emotional, passionate person I am. Sometimes this is hard for me. Sometimes I hide myself. Because there are those who don’t like the real me. Still, I try not to let that stop me.
Oh, and in person, I’m actually a talking eggplant.
When did you find out life is not fair?
I suppose my first day of Kindergarten was a shock to my system. I cried and cried and hid in a cupboard, and no one saved me from my suffering. And I kept suffering for about 20 years.
What one word would you use to describe yourself?
How would you like to be remembered?
I’d like to be remembered as a compassionate and supportive human being who treated his family and friends well, and who helped make the world a better place, even in the smallest of ways.
If you could change one thing about your past what would that be?
I wish that I had experienced a childhood of unschooling. But at least I am a student of life now.
What do you like most about your job? What do you like least?
I love the writing process and I love interacting with my readers. I don’t like getting hate mail.
If you could try any profession, other than writing, what would you like to try?
I’d really like to write and direct films, especially strange musicals. My wife and I are going to start on a film project very soon. I’m excited. I might act. Who knows?
If you could live in any other time, when would that be?
I’d like to live 20,000 years ago, in some village. As an anarcho-tribalist, this would be a dream come true. But only if everyone I love traveled to the past with me.
What question do you never get asked in interviews that you wish people would ask? And what is your answer?
What message, above all, do you want your stories to communicate to the world?
This is a hard question to answer, as my stories are thematically diverse. However, I suppose all of my stories are unified by one general idea. And that idea is that hierarchical thinking of any sort is damaging to our planet and to our souls. One human is not better than another. One body is not better. One species is not better.
This is a simple idea, but one I believe is worth pouring out my heart for.
Please visit Jeremy C. Shipp’s site.
You may order signed copies of his previous works Vacation and Sheep and Wolves here as well as pre-order Cursed.