I recently interviewed horror writer Matthew Brockmeyer. He lives in the redwoods of Northern California and has been writing about all of his life, although the path to making a career out of it, he says, has been a long one. “I write dark fiction and horror, usually with a both literary and transgressive edge to it.”
Tell us about your latest project. What’s it about?
Under Rotting Sky is a collection of short stories I’ve written over the past four years, including previously published tales and new work. It’s a good example of who I am as an artist, for it really runs the gamut from literary fiction to historical fiction to classic horror to extreme horror and splatterpunk.
What else have you published, and where?
I have one novel out: Kind Nepenthe, a ghost story set in the far back hills of Humboldt County. It’s gotten a lot of critical acclaim and done pretty well. I’ve had short stories published all over, in anthologies, magazines, journals.
What are you working on currently?
I’m working on a new novel about a young runaway punk-rock girl who falls into a cult of blood-worshiping pornographers. It takes place in San Francisco in the early 1980s.
Do you want each book to stand on its own, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?
Both, actually. I’d like to have each of my works stand on their own, but there are connections that run through them. Most of my stories take place in Northern California, so there is always an interconnection of place. But there are also recurring characters as well. Like the work of Irvine Welsh and Louise Erdrich, all the stories take place in a shared world.
How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?
I don’t think it really did, honestly.
How do you balance making demands on the reader with taking care of the reader?
Hmmm, interesting question. I want the story to be clear. I don’t want readers confused, but at the same time I like to drop red herrings and have some misdirection, the way a magician will divert your attention for a moment during a trick. Surprises and twists are great, but clarity is extremely important as well. It’s a balancing act, I suppose.
What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?
I do pretty exhaustive research. I’ve written a couple of historical fiction stories and became a member of the historical society, visited local history museums, sought out experts. I’m a voracious reader and will search out books on particular subjects, both fiction and nonfiction. I also love documentaries. I’ve been having a blast researching the early punk scene of San Francisco for my new novel.
What period of your life do you find you write about most often? (child, teenager, young adult)
I find myself writing about kids and childhood a lot, but I’m also a parent so a lot of that comes from there. I’m also obsessed with subcultures, hippies, punks, beatniks, goths, back-to-the-landers and cults of sorts.
How do you select the names of your characters?
Oh, I have some fun there. I have some wild character names: Coyote, Calendula, Diesel, Slug, Garbage, Roach, Eight Ball, just to name a few. I like nicknames that stand out and are unforgettable. But I also like to juxtapose names, for instance in my novel Kind Nepenthe, while most of the characters have crazy names, the main protagonist is simply Rebecca, because I wanted to show that she was lost in this crazy world.
Sometimes the names I choose are references to books I love; sometimes the names just have a great ring to them. Dickens always had the greatest names: Ebenezer Scrooge, Uriah Heep, Pip, Fagan, Artful Dodger. He even had a Master Bater!
Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with bad or good ones?
I usually read them, but it’s all subjective, so I don’t take bad reviews badly. People either like things or they don’t. It’s just the way it is; nothing is universally liked. Positive reviews are an affirmation, though, so they’re nice. You’ve got to have really thick skin to be an artist and put your work out there.
What one thing would you give up to become a better writer?
White bread and soda pop.
What is your favorite childhood book and why?
As a wee child Where the Wild Things Are. The theme of releasing your inner beast is one I return to often. I see it really as a werewolf story.
From my teen years, Lord of the Flies. It’s really a horror story. It’s an amazing look at the ease in which humanity falls into tribalism. The scene with the talking pig’s head on a stake is so surreal and wonderfully grotesque. Extremely well-defined characters. That enigmatic ending. Just a fabulous story.
Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know about you and your work?
Although I like to entertain, I also strive to say something about our existential nature and what it means to be human. But while many of my stories are nihilistic, I’m actually a pretty positive guy. Many times I am literally writing out my worst fears, which is why some pretty horrible things often happen. In the end it’s just a wild rollercoaster ride.
You can connect with Matthew Brockmeyer at his website: http://www.matthewbrockmeyer.com