I am very excited to present to you an interview with Jeremy C. Shipp. I first “met” Jeremy (in the internet way) through Twitter, which is one of the reasons I love Twitter so much. His tweets caught my attention — unique, funny, thought-provoking, just like the artist himself. This led me to his website, where I discovered a whole new world of fabulous, twisted fiction. His story, “Scratch”, made me cry. His book, “Vacation”, touched me and made me think, which is a wonderful thing for a book to do.
Come on in. But, you might want to leave a light on. Just in case there’s clowns.
1. “Vacation” is your first published novel. It’s twisted and demented, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I’m not the only one. Why do you think it appeals to people?
First of all, I’m very happy you enjoyed the novel.
And the truth is, I still find myself shocked at how many people connect with Vacation. This is a strange novel, and when it was first published, I didn’t think a large number of readers would appreciate an alternative fiction book like this one. But, over the past couple years, I’ve received positive messages almost daily from myriad readers, and even from writers such as Piers Anthony, Jack Ketchum, Gary Braunbeck, Jeff VanderMeer, John Skipp. The thought makes my head spin. I feel so blessed.
With Vacation, I wanted to write the sort of book I enjoy reading. A book where every sentence matters, where the meaning is complex and layered, where the overall perspective is unique. And perhaps some readers appreciate Vacation for reasons such as these.
Also, the main character experiences a paradigm shift that’s extremely disorienting, difficult, satisfying. It seems many readers who’ve experienced their own shifts can relate to this.
2. The debate rages on regarding education and degrees. Do you think a college education is mandatory for a writer? Why or why not?
Every writer is different, and so some might benefit from a college education, and some might not. Me, I have a degree in creative writing, but I regret the years I spent in that environment. I went for the wrong reasons, and I didn’t quit because I was so used to making negatively motivated choices (such as those based on fear). The system I trapped myself in almost changed me into a writer I’m not, and my authentic self barely hung on by a thread. Of course, others would thrive where I wilted.
3. How long did it take for you to write your first book? Was “Vacation” your first novel?
I started writing novels when I was 13, and I’ve been writing them ever since, one novel a year. So Vacation wasn’t my first novel, by far. However, Vacation was the first book I was satisfied with. For the first time, I felt I accomplished everything I set out to accomplish.
4. What is your writing process like? Give us an idea of how the strange machinations of your mind work.
My tales are usually sparked by a single image or idea that bursts in my mind. If the thought affects me deeply enough, then I’ll brainstorm in a notebook. I never write outlines, just ideas, snippets of dialogue, etc. After that, I write the story, and I usually have some idea where the characters are going to end up, but I have no idea how they’re going to get there. And so, I take the journey with them.
Writing has always been very challenging for me, because I obsess over almost every detail. If I didn’t have so much fun with the process, I’d never write again.
5. Was there a traumatic episode in your childhood that contributed to your fear of clowns? And what’s with the monkeys?
There was that one time when I dressed up as a clown for Halloween and I was sucked into a mirror world where my reflection chased me around in a circus and tried to eat me, but I’m sure that has nothing to do with it.
And I’ve always loved monkeys. Ninja monkeys, coconut monkeys, and the rarest of the rare: spork monkeys.
Coconut monkeys are the natural enemy of yard gnomes, but it’s my hope that one day I’ll be able to bring both species together in peace and harmony. And when that day comes, we’ll put on a Charles in Charge musical. I’ll play Buddy.
6. Do your parents and siblings support your work? Do they read it, and how much does their opinion matter to you?
My parents and my siblings are all very supportive of my work. One of my brothers is the only person in the world who’s read everything I’ve ever written. My dad reads almost everything. And my other brother and my mom don’t enjoy reading dark fiction, but they’re supportive, nonetheless.
I would keep writing even if every being on the planet hated my stories, but I do appreciate all the support I receive from my family, my wife, my friends, my readers.
The opinions of others matter to me, sometimes, but everyone’s opinion is different, so I have to take every opinion with a grain of delicious salt.
7. Who are your heroes or literary influences?
Most of my heroes are people in my life. My wife, my parents, my brothers.
As far as writing goes, some individuals who inspire me are: Arundhati Roy, Lois Lowry, Kurt Vonnegut, Brett Easton Ellis, Amy Hempel, Aimee Bender, George Orwell, Haruki Murakami, Chuck Palahniuk, Anthony Burgess, CS Lewis, Douglas Adams, Francesca Lia Block, Roald Dahl.
8. What is your first clear memory?
My first memory is a nightmare. A monster. My second memory is a bit nicer. I was in the park with my dad and brother. The park maintenance people had emptied the pond, and there were barrels and buckets everywhere. My dad lifted up me and my brother so we could look into every container and see the fish.
9. “Vacation” deals with a lot of societal themes. What do you think is the future for our society, and has your opinion changed since you wrote “Vacation”?
I’m an anarcho-tribalist, and I believe that civilization is a good system for machines, but not for actual living beings. Healthy social systems are those that work to benefit the people, but in civilization, people work to benefit the system. It’s a bizarro world we’re living in, but the system is unsustainable. It’s my hope that humanity will work hard to ease the transition into sustainable social systems.
My overall perspective about our society hasn’t changed, but every day, I’m learning new things about the world and about myself. I’m always changing.
10. Tell us about “Cursed”, which I understand comes out this fall. Is it different from “Vacation”, and how?
Vacation, to me, is a “global” novel, while Cursed is much more familial; domestic. The focus of Cursed is the characters. Their problems, their relationships, their complex thoughts and raw feelings. When writing, I gave these imaginary people each a piece of my heart, and so I feel a deep connection with them.
With Cursed, I set out to write a book about neglect and other forms of abuse that society often ignores or accepts. For instance, the physical and sexual abuse of children is almost always looked down upon, socially. And yet, the emotional abuse and subjugation of children is quite normalized in our society. Another example: people with disabilities are often seen as less than whole—as if they need to be cured in order to have meaningful lives. Many disabled people suffer emotional abuse because of this idea.
In Cursed, the characters band together to try to deal with very strange problems. Problems that society doesn’t recognize.
11. Another debate raging in literary circles is that of the roles of online publishing, indie publishing, and the role of traditional publishing. Where do you see the future of publishing going, and how much of an effect do you think the Kindle and other electronic readers contribute to this?
This is a complex issue, but I think I’ll give a simple answer. In the fight between conventionality and diversity, in the end, diversity always wins.
Get your butt over to Jeremy C. Shipp, Writer Guy for some absolutely stellar short fiction. And don’t forget to pick up a copy of “Vacation”, and be prepared to rock. Look for an upcoming review of “Cursed”, right here on WordWebbing.
A huge thanks to Jeremy for taking the time to speak with me. It was an honor, sir.