Saturday, May 1, 2010
Interview: Horror fiction author Cody Goodfellow
Cody on the left, Skipp on the right.
Cody is a force of nature, much like massive storm that destroys everything in his path Cody is the horror writer of my generation that stands tall above the competition. John Skipp is a splatterpunk legend who has had his hand in some of the most legendary novels of the 80's horror boom and it just made sense that they would become a team. After hanging out with the two of them at the world Science fiction convention a few years back I see it was horror match made in heaven.
I met Cody when we were both living in San Diego. I had read two amazing reviews of his debut novel Radiant Dawn. I read it and was blown away by the over the top insanity, inventiveness and most of all the mojo and confidence he wrote with. We formed a short lived but very helpful group of local writers who held prose-potlucks. Each of the writers would share a story. Cody's readings were often disturbing and hilarious at the same time. He read with a Harlan Ellison style bravdo.
He is a super funny person but Cody also has a soft side, and writer's wisdom he seemed to be born with. I did this interview shortly after reading Cody's latest novel “Prefect Union.” His solo works include Radiant Dawn, Ravenous Dusk and Silent Weapons for Quiet Wars. He has also co-written two books with John Skipp, The Day Before and Jake's Wake.
Check out Cody and other modern Lovecraftian goodness at:
Some kids find sports or music you found a love for Horror fiction. How did that happen?
I loved a lot of the same things as other kids, but they generally didn't love me back.
I was a very angry little kid. My parents split up when I was three, and my father and his mother died when I was seven. My world was a mean and meaningless place far removed from where everybody else seemed to live, and misery loves company. But I couldn't make it as a bully, so I started making up stories... both to make sense of the place I came from, and to shake others out of their complacency. It's a hard, ugly place because we let it stay that way, because we're wired to treat it like a zero-sum game. Horror taught me how to see the beauty in the empty machine we inhabit, to accept the randomly awful, while wondering at the weird. In the absence of God, everything is a miracle.
Now, I'm a very lucky, very happy adult, but I can't stop looking into that place, can't stop wondering who I've stolen my happiness from.
Your spin on horror fiction is on the more bizarro end of the scale what influences on your writing do think had the biggest effect on your unusual style?
If it seems weird or original, it's because my style has been assembled out of many disparate parts. I never sit down and try to scare myself, or fish for what scares others. I write about what fascinates me, and the things that fascinate me tend to freak other people out. I think that's a major unexamined element in the Bizarro movement: the obsessive, embracing quality that makes even the resolutely non-horrific stuff scary. The proportions of horror are inverted: the fascination has almost overtaken the repulsion, as the outsider in our world finds a home in the unacceptable. My own stuff is far less absurd than the bulk of Bizarro fiction, but I'm a lot closer to them than to the conventional horror small press.
A Cody Goodfellow novel is different from anything else out there what sets you apart?
Obsession. I have a fairly strong work ethic, but I'm powerless not to write, and I can't finish a story until it's stacked higher than everything that came before it. My favorite frequently recurring complaint about my stuff is that I try to cram too many ideas into each piece, because that's exactly what I think a story should do... I borrow the conceptual fetishism from science fiction, but with the intent to disturb, rather than to dazzle of inspire optimism about the future or humanity's prospects in it.
in what ways has collaborating with John skipp forced you out of your writing comfort zone?
Well, working with anyone puts me outside my comfort zone... My favorite thing about writing is the solitude. But working with Skipp is so much fun and the ideas flow so fast and fluidly, that I've had to start writing my solo stuff with a blow-up doll, or I get lonely. We both have to fall in love with a project to collaborate on it, so with each one, we find new ways to compartmentalize ourselves, so we can each do what we love, and weld it together into something neither of us could've conceived of, alone. It's not such a deviation from my own modus operandi, which has always been to entertain myself. When I can get a good one over on Skipp, he always fires it back with a new spin and features, so if anything, it takes much of the willful effort out of it.
One big difference: Skipp writes much more sparely and informally than I do. He leads with his heart and wants to party with his characters, while I'd rather stalk them through a telescope.
Your first novel Radiant Dawn has been called a Lovecraftian epic, It takes a different modern spin the mythos, was that the intention from the beginning?
Definitely. I had burned out very early on trying to crack short story markets, and I just wanted to throw down everything I had, pay back all my influences and see if it amounted to more than I'd taken in. I wanted to do a vast modern epic like the Iliad and the Odyssey, and Lovecraft's Mythos seemed like the perfect modern analogue to the Greek pantheon. Amoral, utterly inscrutable spirits that reify the lowest of nature's creations, giving the lie to all the stories we told ourselves about where we came from and where we're going.
I think the Mythos gets a bad rap as being a gloomy anachronism, and most of the recent attempts to modernize it seem to miss the point. The Great Old Ones are not another new canon of bad things from outside that must be stopped. It's their world, already; always was, always will be. So it's a very different kind of fear from most conventional horror, which poses a test that the pure of heart may pass and save the human world, and is thus almost a kind of fantasy. It distills the bad things that happen to good people into a material form, and lets good people kick its ass. Lovecraft led a movement that reflected in pulp what Sartre and Camus had done to "high" literature and philosophy, and declared that all meaning and anthropocentric beliefs are a human illusion. With Radiant Dawn and Ravenous Dusk, I wanted to do something that pushed that philosophy into a medium that rendered it exciting and current, again. And maybe scary. Nothing scares the great mass of people worse than the fear that we evolved in a spiritual vacuum, and nothing scares athiests worse than the notion that there really is a God. Balanced properly, the Cthulhu Mythos is the embodiment of both of those fears. There is a God, but his chosen ones are the frogs and the fishes in the sea, and you don't ever want to meet Him.
Your most recent novel A Perfect Union is one of the weirdest horror novels I have ever read. It has a surreal and dangerous vibe that contrasts the literary feel of the prose. It is also a dark and disturbing statement on hive mentality Was the political elements a by-product or an early theme of the idea?
I didn't set out to write a political novel, but just as my fascination with evolution led to Radiant Dawn, my fascination with the darker side of human nature led to Perfect Union's premise. People, particularly Americans, are terrified of any semblance of a maternalistic state, just as they're afraid of being abandoned by God if they accept evolution. What so utterly revolts them about communism is being trapped in state-imposed childhood, apparently, since most of the tenets of communism––strong central control, equal shares for equal work, self-sacrifice––are the hallmarks of an effective nuclear family.
Just under the veneer of rugged American individuality, it seems, lies an almost infantile rage at any attempt by the state to actually make the world a better place, which is derided as an effeminate "nanny state." Far better, in their eyes, a distant yet authoritarian patriarch who gets out of his chair only to punish. So the roots of political belief go far deeper than rational concerns about taxation and laws. Like evolution, politics is something almost nobody can really overcome their toilet training to discuss rationally.
The set-up of Perfect Union lays the foundation of a haunted house novel but morphs into a body horror freak-out. Did you want this novel to be a Goodfellow spin on a classic horror troupe?
I did set out to write a seemingly conventional horror novel, with all the familiar tropes––young people lost in the woods, a haunted house, lurking monsters––but those things have long since stopped being frightening by themselves, and the reasons why they once worked have atrophied into a bitter kind of comfort food. You don't have to go out into the woods to find chaos and disorder. It perpetuates a dangerous illusion to suppose that evil and chaos come from outside, and dispelling that (however temporarily) was the real gift of the Splatterpunks. We're soaking in it all the time. So, to go out into the forest primeval and instead find deliverance from the pain and failures of modern society... that seemed like something many people would want... but being people, they'd surely fuck it up.
You've had dozens of short stroires that you've unleashed on the horror scene like a fragment bomb. Can you tell me about the process you used to choose the stories for Silent weapons for Quiet wars? What can we expect from future collections?
I wanted to shape the first collection into more than just a repository of my early work, so I left out a lot of stuff. My model for a perfect collection would have to be Deathbird Stories. Silent Weapons had a guiding theme, of how nature and the world shape individuals into weapons for its little battles. Between species and systems of belief and ways of surviving, wherever there is friction, it wears the combatants into tools that, in spite of their personal desires, change the world. Alan Clark's brilliant cover art depicts the characters in my stories before they're written. Gestating in little sacs in my brain, waiting to be born fully grown and already in deep trouble.
My next collection will be more free-wheeling, with more science fiction and period pieces, and I've got plans for a collection of my Mythos work in the works, though it's hard to say when it'll happen, because most of the books the stories are slated to appear in keep getting delayed.
What horror novels past or more recently most warped your mind?
Wetbones(John Shirley), The Bridge(Skipp and Spector), Blood Music are three that shaped what I thought a horror novel should really be. The Ceremonies by T.E.D. Klein is a perfect example of the kind of awe and dislocation that true cosmic horror should deliver.
You are also well read in the most out there of Science Fiction. Any recommendations for psycho Sci-fi?
Spinrad's Iron Dream. Dick's Three Stigmata Of Palmer Eldritch. Life During Wartime by Lucius Shepard. Dream Baby by Bruce McAllister. A Colder War by Charlie Stross.
If you were transplanted at the moment of your death back in time to be roadie for any band in history who would it be and how would use that ability to change history?
Interesting question... Just for myself, I would work Ministry's The MInd Is A Terrible Thing To Taste tour or Skinny Puppy's Too Dark Park tour, both in 1990. But if I were to try to fix broken history, I would go on the European Master Of Puppets tour and be the bus driver who DIDN'T kill Cliff Burton... thus saving Metallica from sucking the bell-end of banality for the next two decades.