Interview: John Claude Smith

John Claude Smith is a writer of dark speculative fiction, music journalism, and poetry. Most of the short fiction veers into horror, while the novels tend to meander into a weird mix of magic realism, psychological and supernatural nuances, and, again, horror. Late 2011 saw the publication of his first book, The Dark is Light Enough for Me, a collection of short stories. He presently exists in the SF Bay Area, though soon he will be in Rome again, where he truly lives.

Q: What do you write on? Computer, pad o’ paper, battered Underwood? Give us a vivid picture.

A: Usually on a computer, though many tales and, in particular, poems, start by putting pen to paper.

Q: Do you listen to music while you write? Does it influence what you write?

A: I can and often plan specific music for a mood I want to incorporate into a story, but ultimately, when locked in with the writing, it doesn’t matter. I hear the voices and motivations of the characters and the music is nothing more than white noise whispering for attention in the background.

Q: Do you write in short bursts or carve out long periods of time to work? Is it a habit or a vice?

A: When I’m deep into a project, specifically a novel, I write for specific periods of time on a daily basis. In between the novels, of which there are two down, with the third novel in the second draft, while I align research for the fourth, I will allow for a less regimented process. It’s a part of me as even when not writing, I’m thinking writing. The brain is quite cluttered with stories, stories and, yes, stories.

Q: What writer would you most want to read your work? What would you want to hear them say?

A: There are too many to consider, but the “pop-up” in my brain keeps registering Harlan Ellison as the one, and I would simply like him to enjoy the work…but express his enjoyment in traditionally effusive Ellison manner, perhaps.

Q: On the days where the writing doesn’t go so well, what other art or career do you fantasize about pursuing instead?

A: A musician for a post-punk band cut out of the mold of all the bands from England circa 1978-1982 or so, though I have horrible tendencies when playing guitar to turn into a thousand-notes-a-second speed-freak wanker, which derails my fantasy and sends me back to words.

Q: What do you read? What do you re-read?

A wide variety of everything, though for re-reading pleasure, I tend to lean toward a lot of writers whose work stretches even the genres they are slotted in, like Lucius Shepard, Laird Barron, etc. Actually, last summer I did an in-depth reading and re-reading session with those two and a handful of other writers whose work sets the highest standard for what I enjoy, both stylistically and imaginatively, real quality and potency. It was a form of research. I plan to dig into a lot of Weird Fiction writers soon, to research much of what they do, dig into the heart of the weird.

Q: Where did the idea for your latest collection come from? Do you have a surefire way of sparking inspiration?

The idea was there for quite some time as I have about 3-4 books worth of short stories. It just took my agent to say, hey, how about an ebook, and me responding, why not? I think of it as a good introduction to my work. Inspiration comes to me by simply listening to the world around me, reading widely, living without restrictions. Paying attention. The littlest odd notion can lead to something huge.

Here’s a little taste of The Dark: The excerpt is from the story “The Sunglasses Girl.” After an evening of sex in his car with what he thought was a prostitute, our main character, Trane, learns his assumptions were wrong:

She smiled, all teeth, vicious, gleaming with disgust, and took off her sunglasses.

“Remember, you made this choice,” she seethed.

The moment was brief. Description was useless, but Trane’s mind flashed with unexpected images: vast gulfs of infinite, starless space; yawning abysses where the lost tumbled for eternity; black scars that oozed blindness. He felt an oppression begin to suffocate him. She had no eyes, per se, just the empty sockets where they should be, empty sockets that defined the word “empty” in new, disturbing ways: fathomless wells in which the echoed response of the dropped stone would never speak. They epitomized nothingness, a vast, turbulent nothingness that indicated there was no soul within her, no self, nothing of substance—nothing!—but something of unspecified definition that roiled like a cavern of agitated bats. The nothingness started to leak like viscous black rivers from a whirlpool of resentment and hatred and loathing and spite and so much more negativity—negativity, that was what he witnessed; the whirlpool writhed with an omniscient negativity—Trane’s head pulsated with the pummeling weight of her wrath. He gasped, his erection went south, and she put the sunglasses back on.

It was only one moment.

You can find John on Facebook and Twitter as well as at his blog. Find out more about The Dark is Light Enough For Me and read reviews at Amazon and Goodreads. I just got started reading the collection while traveling back from Scotland and can recommend it for anyone who likes dark horrors with an almost Lovecraftian sense of unease. Thanks for being my guest today!

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