I’m honored to present Jeremy C. Shipp, a writer that had an immediate impact on my own view and perception of writing. I just read his book Sheep and Wolves, and was . . . OK, I don’t know what I was, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. I can’t give a coherent review of it, but I will say it was bizarre, horrific, weird, thoughtful and extraordinary. It defies explanation, is devoid of all cliché, and shimmers of originality. His following answers are extremely useful to writers and readers of any genre.
I suggest reading his freely available stories yourself:
Jeremy C. Shipp’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in over 50 publications, the likes of Cemetery Dance, ChiZine, Apex Magazine, Pseudopod, and The Bizarro Starter Kit (blue). While preparing for the forthcoming collapse of civilization, Jeremy enjoys living in Southern California in a moderately haunted Victorian farmhouse with his wife, Lisa, and their legion of yard gnomes. He’s currently working on many stories and novels and is losing his hair, though not because of the ghosts. His books include Vacation, Sheep and Wolves, and Cursed. And thankfully, only one mime was killed during the making of his first short film, Egg. You can subscribe to receive his newest short stories at www.jeremycshipp.com/bizarrobytes.htm
1. I read “Sheep and Wolves” and was admittedly as confused as I was perplexed. It’s possibly the most unusual and mind-warping book I’ve read to date. Please explain what writing means to you and why you write.
Writing, to me, is almost like breathing. If I stopped, an important part of me would die. Through writing, I process my experiences, I converse with the world, I connect with myself. I also have a lot of fun. In truth, I would write even if I was the last living being on the planet. But I do enjoy sharing my work with others, and I always hope to affect the people in a positive way (even when I’m writing about the darkest of subjects).
2. Many of my readers have never heard of bizarro fiction and it seems to defy all logic and rules. So to introduce it to them, what is bizarro fiction?
Bizarro fiction is the genre of the bizarre. My favorite Bizarro authors use the absurd and surreal to speak about the real, in the most intriguing and entertaining ways possible. You can read more about Bizarro here: http://www.bizarrocentral.com/about.asp
3. You give hope to writers like me who see so much formulated “packaged” literature topping the charts. What advice would you have for unpublished writers? How do you handle the fear of failure?
Here’s the advice I would have given to myself when I was unpublished: write from your heart, your gut, your mind, your spleen. Experiment with your style and write outside your box. Don’t let fear of the unknown prevent you from developing your own special voice. Make sure that what you write entertains and interests you, because if it doesn’t, it won’t entertain and interest anyone else. Check out ralan.com and duotrope.com for submission guidelines, and follow those guidelines. Don’t worry about rejections or failure. Failure is a big part of success. Just look at babies. They have to fall a lot in order to walk, and so do you.
4. You seem to completely ignore and break all the rules of literature, and in my view, you escape the word “genre” altogether. How do you see yourself in terms of genre? Do you place any limitations on your writing?
Genre, to me, is more of an afterthought. A home for my stories to live in after they’re born. But as far as the writing process goes, I don’t think in terms of genre. I try to work outside even my own expectations, although once I create a “reality” in my mind, it solidifies. In other words, I don’t write about worlds where anything can happen. There are always limitations. Boundaries. My stories/realities are twisted funhouse mirror reflections of our own world.
5. An off the wall question: Music has influenced my own writing. To me, you seem almost like the Frank Zappa of writing. What music do you listen to? Does it influence you as a writer?
As far as music goes, I tend to be more inspired by the melodies than the lyrics. Certain songs can put me in the mood for certain scenes. Lately, I’ve been listening to Akeboshi, Rie Fu, A Fine Frenzy, Pink Floyd, The Flaming Lips.
6. Tell us a little about your upcoming novel “Cursed”. What inspired you to write it? Reveal (if you can) a tasty morsel about it.
My first novel, Vacation, is a map to my brain. My second book, Sheep and Wolves, is a map to my fears. And Cursed is a map to my heart. When writing this novel, I cut up my heart, and fed a portion to each of the characters. Therefore, I’m strongly attached to these imaginary people.
Myriad ideas, experiences and people helped spawn this novel. However, one aspect of our reality inspired me in particular. In our world, there are many forms of abuse that are unseen or are even socially acceptable. For instance, most people agree that it’s wrong to physically or sexually abuse children. And yet, the emotional abuse of children is widespread and quite normalized. Children are often treated as precious objects that require subjugation for their own good. Another example: someone might feel sorry for a person who’s randomly punched in the face, but then feel nothing for a person who’s being verbally abused due to fat hatred. And so, I wanted to write about characters who suffer experiences that the mainstream consciousness doesn’t recognize or accept. Cursed is the story of how these characters band together, and try to cope with their rather strange problems.
The motto of the book: there’s more than enough love in the world. But there’s not nearly enough respect.
7. Do you map things out before you write a novel? A short story? Do you improvise a lot of your writing? Any particular process?
Most of my writing is improvisational, although I do write down ideas and snippets of future dialogue in a notebook from time to time. Sometimes I use these notes, sometimes I don’t.
Usually, when writing a story or novel, I know where I’m headed. I just have no idea how my characters are going to get there. And that’s the way I like it. I find my process interesting and fun. When my characters are confused, I’m confused. When they’re frustrated, I’m frustrated. I put them in situations I don’t know how to get them out of, and we find the solution together.
And then, by the end of the novel, sometimes my characters don’t end up where I expected them to. Sometimes they change in ways I didn’t foresee. And that’s always nice.
8. Who are some of your favorite writers?
Arundhati Roy, Louis Lowry, Kurt Vonnegut, Franny Billingsley, Brett Easton Ellis, Amy Hempel, Aimee Bender, George Orwell, Haruki Murakami, Chuck Palahniuk, Anthony Burgess, Douglas Adams, Francesca Lia Block, Roald Dahl.
9. Do you have a favorite novel? Why is it your favorite?
I have a few favorites, but my very favorite might be The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy. I love the rhythm of this novel, and the creative use of language is genius.
10. How does a creative writer like Jeremy C. Shipp handle writer’s block? Does it exist in your world?
I’ve never experienced a true form of writer’s block. I used to suffer from a sort of mental block, borne from fear, but these days I force myself to write no matter how I’m feeling. And now I write every day.
11. Finally, thanks so much for doing this Jeremy! Not all writers are as friendly and open as you and that means a lot to me. Any final words?
Thanks so much for the opportunity and the kind words! My final words: vaudevillian snapping turtle, spork-wielding ninja monkey, yard gnome belly button lint festival.