Tuesday, May 6, 2014



1. When/why did you decide to become a writer?

I have always been a passionate (some might even say pathological) reader, but the notion of becoming a writer did not hit me until my early twenties. I grew up in a small-town blue-collar household, and the idea that someone could pursue a career in art was completely alien to me. So there I was, about ready to graduate from college with a degree in history, not knowing what one might do with such a degree aside from teaching high school (which sounded about as fun as a frontal lobotomy) when a friend of mine announced that he was applying to film school in California. That just blew me away--that someone would have the confidence to throw caution into the wind like that and pursue a goal that was so impractical. Not long after, I wrote my first short story. It was terrible. Really, really terrible. But I was hooked, and I've been writing ever since.

2. What authors inspired you when you were younger? What books do you enjoy reading today?

When I was younger, I was fixated on animals for some reason, so I obsessed over books like Old Yeller, Where the Red Fern Grows and My Side of the Mountain. Part of the reason for that was probably the fact that my parents are extremely conservative, and these are wholesome stories for young boys to read. Then one of my teachers introduced me to Jack London, and I think that's when the fictional world became more important to me than the real world. I must have read White Fang twenty times. I picked it up again a few years ago, and guess what? It's still great! Such a good story. I was also heavily influenced by Bible stories and comic books when I was younger. There are a lot of great superhero stories in the Old Testament.
Today, I read widely and often. I love any writer with a unique voice and a dark sense of humor. Jincy Willett, Philip K. Dick, Vonnegut, John Brunner, Jeffrey Eugenides, Stacey Richter, Sam Lipsyte, Philip Roth, Sherman Alexie, George Saunders, Jim Thompson. I like writers who take risks but still try to communicate with a large audience. I don't much care about genre or literary credentials. If you're original and entertaining, I'm in.

3. What was the inspiration behind the stories in your book Justice, Inc.?

That's a really difficult question. These stories were not conceived as a unit. In fact, there's about an eight year gap between the oldest story in this collection and the newest one. I have no idea what inspired them. My brain just works like that. I'm appalled by the world every day. I'm not trying to be sensationalist or funny; every time I leave the house, I am horrified by the destructive nature of humanity. We are petty, ignorant animals with inflated egos. It's depressing. Writing helps me process the insanity of our culture. Writing and alcohol.

4. Why did you choose to make Justice, Inc. the title of the book as opposed to one of the other stories?

I just like that title. It asks so many questions with two little words. Also, if you're a small-press author, there's not always a marketing team to think up a cool cover for your book, so you have to do it yourself. I couldn't envision a cover image for any of the other stories, but the image for "Justice, Inc." popped up right away. Of course, it's one thing to conceive of a book cover and another thing to bring it to life. Fortunately, I know a talented graphic artist named Jay Miller, and he graciously took my half-ass idea and made it real.

5. When can we expect a full-length novel from you?

Oh, boy. I'm working on one right now. I wrote an awful, semi-coherent first draft last summer, and now I'm cleaning it up. I expect it will be at least six months to a year before it's ready for publication. It's really weird. And dark. I explore many of the same themes that come up in Justice, Inc., specifically fear of the corporate-state and technophobia.

6. Will you continue with the dystopian theme or do you plan on trying out other genres?

I'm focused on dystopia right now. It comes so natural to me. At some point, I plan on writing a novel that's more specifically satire. I'm just not mentally in that place right now.

7. What is it, for you personally, that makes dystopia so intriguing and inspiring?

My father is a fundamentalist preacher, so I grew up thinking about the end of the world in a very real sense. In fact, I can't remember a day in my life when I didn't contemplate an apocalyptic scenario of some kind. At this point, it's just hardwired into my subconscious. For a writer, it's so much fun because you get to take everything to the extreme. Dystopian stories are not stories about the future at all, of course. They are stories about the present and the past. They are your deepest fears come to fruition. Bradbury imagined a world where books are illegal and collective knowledge is lost in Fahrenheit 451. Orwell dreamed of a fascist government that controls language and rewrites history. I imagine a future where it is impossible for the individual to exist outside the totalitarian corporate-state. It's the world we already live in; I'm just taking the current trends in our culture to their inevitable conclusion.

8. What authors (dead or alive) would you love to collaborate with?

I can't imagine collaborating with another author. My ego is too fragile. They'd give me some negative feedback, and I'd run to my room and cry. I'd love to have a chat with Philip K. Dick though. I just want to know how much of his insanity was real and how much of it was embellished. But I'm fairly certain if you tried to collaborate with PKD, blood would start leaking from your ears almost immediately.

9. Where do you see yourself and your career in the next ten years?

I have no idea. I never think ahead. That's how I protect myself from my own dystopian future. I ignore it.

10. Are there any stories in Justice, Inc. that you'd like to revisit one day and write about in a longer or continuing way?

I don't know about specific stories, but I'm just starting to scrape the surface of the world in which Justice, Inc. takes place. It's an alternative universe that I am allowed to peek into, like some sort of perverted voyeur from another dimension. This universe was brand new to me when I first began writing this book, so it was difficult to make sense of it. However, now I'm starting to understand it, and I feel more comfortable writing about these people who are struggling in this alternate reality. So yes, I'll keep digging through the trash in this other world, but I probably won't revisit these same characters; there's too much interesting trash that I haven't seen yet.

11. The imagery of two fashionistas smashing a man over the head with designer handbags and then going to get Jamba Juice immediately after is particularly disturbing.  What was going through your mind as you wrote that?

Well, I was living in California at the time, and I was working at a private college. And California is a weird place, especially if you're not from there. Everyone is beautiful and the weather is gorgeous, but there's an underlying current of desperation that you can't quite put your finger on. And then one day Emily started talking to me in her bitchy Valley Girl voice. She told me all kinds of horrifying stories, but the way she told them made me laugh. The juxtaposition between innocence and horror is what makes that one interesting. I really enjoyed writing Emily's story.

12. The vision you presented in "The Time Warp Cafe" is also disturbing. Do you think that, provided we live another century, we could achieve that level of science?

I'm not the right person to ask about the real-world applications of science. Probably not. We're just starting to understand how time works, but from my limited comprehension, it's not something that can be manipulated on an individual level in order to make a person immortal. In order to disrupt time, you need something like a black hole, which would destroy us. However, I do think we will continue to make advancements in healthcare that will extend human life (for those who can afford it). Humans fear death, and we'll do anything to avoid it. But I think there are psychological and existential consequences to living longer than nature intended. That's what I was attempting to examine in "The Time-Warp Cafe." I wanted to take someone from Generation X and place him in a futuristic Millennial utopia...and then watch him squirm.

13. Would you like to see your work on the small or silver screen one day? If so, which work and why?

Sure, although it's difficult to imagine how that would work with these stories. They're not action-driven narratives. Even in "Life After Men," which is probably the most cinematic, Emily only kills one zombie. The real conflict is a more personal, internal struggle, and that's difficult to capture on screen. But I'd love to see a Wes Anderson version of "Welcome to Omni-Mart." It would be interesting/infuriating to watch a director reinterpret my writing.

14. Where do you see the dystopian genre going on the future?

I think gritty, violent dystopian stories like The Walking Dead and Cormac McCarthy's The Road have probably reached a saturation point for the moment. I love them, but there are too many. I look forward to seeing some utopian dystopia in the near future, in which the crisis comes not from the breakdown of society but from a closely monitored and controlled culture. Like A Brave New World, except with universal healthcare and drones.

15. Thank you for participating in the interview! Can you please leave the readers with three things that may surprise them about you?

Thank you. This was fun. Surprising, eh? Let's see. I'm getting married this summer. People often find that surprising, considering my cantankerous, pessimistic disposition. I have the partial remains of at least ten animals in my apartment. I came to that realization recently, and it sort of creeped me out. (It also helps explain why people are surprised about my impending nuptials.) And I have a fondness for Hollywood musicals that I will not apologize for. Yes, I love Blade Runner and Pulp Fiction as much as the next guy, but I can also sing every song in The Sound of Music...and if you don't like it, you can kiss my von Trapp.

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1 comment:

  1. […] an interview with Kelly Smith of Kelly Smith Reviews, Bridges explained what has drawn him to tell dystopic […]