Friday Fiction – Interview With Jeremy C. Shipp

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.


Fiction Friday – Take a "Vacation"

Once in awhile, I am lucky enough to run across a piece of work that not only touches my heart, but makes me think, and think hard. “Vacation” by Jeremy C. Shipp is one such book.

It’s marketed as horror, but trust me when I tell you that you’ve never read a horror book like this. It’s so much more than that. It’s layered with meaning and thought-provoking social themes, wrapped up in a kind of twisted love story, delicate like a baklava pastry with substantial walnuts of thought with a drizzle of honey to make it all very tasty.

Bernard Johnson is an English professor, and embarks on a once-in-a-lifetime Vacation subsidized by the government. What he learns about himself and his environment has far-reaching effects. Nothing is what it seems; the fabric of his unreality is re-woven into a new reality and the journey is fascinating.

Every chapter opens up a different line of thought, a unique perspective on the world as a whole and society in general. Shipp’s unusual vision of what makes this fictional civilization tick bears a striking resemblance to the world in which we live – and it isn’t pretty. It isn’t pretty, but every word shines with a truth that’s hard to ignore.

Shipp’s outlook and message might be difficult to stomach, but then, most hard truths are. His creative prose and singular subject matter combines horror, humor, and insight in a way that is most unusual from anything else I’ve read. Johnson is a sympathetic hero without being anything close to perfect, but who loves a perfect hero? His growth as a person is reflected in the choices he makes toward the end of the story, and while not all the loose ends are tied up in a pretty bow, it makes the story resonate that much more.

“Vacation” is not an easy read. It’s not a comfortable read. It’s a challenging read, and will stay with you long after you read the last page – much like baklava stays on your hips long after it’s eaten. This is one story that will make you think long and hard about your place in the world, the consequences of your choices, and how society and government plays a part in your life whether you realize it or not.

Jeremy C. Shipp has written an evocative and exciting literary adventure. Take a trip with him – you will never have a more unusual, mind-blowing, and illuminating vacation.

Stay tuned for an interview with the talented, wild, and crazy Jeremy C. Shipp. You can find his novel, “Vacation”, for sale on Amazon on the widget to the right.

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"Scratching" My Horror Itch

As a reader and a writer, it is the greatest joy of my life to discover new and amazing authors that rock my universe. It doesn’t happen often enough, but when it does, I’m flying like Aladdin on his magic carpet. By “new”, I mean “new to me”, so sometimes my ravings may elicit the response of, “Oh, jeez, know THAT writer, been reading them for YEARS, where the hell have you been?” Still, sometimes we need to be reminded of Golden Oldies, but sometimes we’re lucky enough to catch a rising star, and that’s really exciting to me.

I don’t confine myself to one genre — as a matter of fact, although I recognize the need for labels (marketing purposes, don’t you know) I don’t like them. I love finding material that either crosses the boundaries of genres, or blurs them so they’re not so sharp or delineating. Like a chalk hopscotch, doused in a misty spring rain. I’ve always been of the opinion that although good writers will do well in any genre — a word is a word is a word, and if you know how to wrangle them, it doesn’t matter what the task is — I further believe that writers do their best work if they are in love with their genre of choice. In other words, especially in this profession, you have to love what you do or it’s gonna suck.


So, there I was, twittering on Twitter, when in the twitter-stream a very nice young man, who is planning to release a book this fall, was letting it be known he would participate in an interview to anyone who was interested. Of course, I’m interested, I’m always interested. Are you kidding? That’s like throwing a shiny thing in front of a magpie.

I traveled to his blog to check out his work — the first story I read was Scratch .

It was nothing like I expected. Oh, I’ve read horror, lots and lots of horror, and most of the time, especially in shorter works, I’ve found horror rather — unsatisfying. You know, too much gore for the message, or too little. Something that looks on the surface to be horror is really comedy dressed up in a shroud, and it’s often empty, like a zombie’s eyes. Nothing in there, can you dig it, just shock value and if there even is a message it’s lost in the horror of a good story gone bad rather than standing on its own torn up, blistered feet. Good horror is really difficult to write in a way that doesn’t come across as parody.

Not so in this case. This story blew me away. Actually, it made me cry. It made me cry because there is such truth embedded within, it burned my eyes. I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a copy of Vacation, and next up will be my review. All I’ll tell you right now is, I wasn’t disappointed.

Even if horror isn’t your “thing”, I encourage you to give this guy a turn on the dance floor, even if horror is not your favorite genre. Because underneath the horror aspect, there’s a story, can you dig it — an awesome, mind-blowing, thought-provoking and thoroughly entertaining story. You can’t get better than that.

Definitely check it out, and keep your eye on Jeremy C. Shipp. I know I will.

ALL my eyes, because he’s tricksy.