Hello Adam Golaski and welcome to The Plutonian!
When I first read your Weird Horror collection Worse Than Myself it really blew me away. At turns surreal, beautiful, shocking, and obsessive. It really made a huge impression on me. So let me say it is a huge honor to have you here for an interview! Looking back on Worse Than Myself, how you do feel about it? How have been the responses to it?
Shortly after Worse Than Myself was published I held a clothbound copy in my hand, alone in my parents’ kitchen, and felt ambivalent. Here it is. Earlier this year, looking for Hiroshima by John Hersey in the stacks at Brown University, I saw a copy Worse Than Myself—I was thrilled! It’s unreal in the world. But it is in the world and I’m glad. I like the stories. I like the book’s structure. I care about Worse Than Myself.
You wrote to me: you read my book, you liked it, you asked me to contribute to an anthology you’re editing—that’s gratifying. Very infrequently, someone seeks me out because of it. To tell me it meant something to them.
There seems to be an increasing feeling in modern society of a loss of reality. A lot of people, seemingly more in the last couple years, have started looking around and not be able to take what is happening in society as something that corresponds with the normal accepted notions of what reality is supposed to be. There seems to be no core reality anymore. No new music scene. No real counter culture. No identifiable sense of what is culturally relevant, since there is no culture to speak of. Our media bombards up with nostalgic images of other eras to try to hide the emptiness of our society. And now the United States government is using ‘alternate facts’. I think that Weird Horror right now is uniquely positioned to be able to talk about this genuinely strange era we live in. One of the main concerns of Weird Horror is in exploring the different masks that society wears to conceal the darkness and utter chaos that lay hidden behind the workaday world. In Weird Horror reality is an extremely malleable thing. What are your thoughts on Weird Horror and our increasingly unreal reality?
Not to pick a fight, but reality is awfully real, Scott. What you’re describing is dissonance. What we want the world to be like and what it is like. That’s a modern angst, but it’s not new. Much of the horror in my weird fiction describes a failure to comprehend what is right in front of us. You write about a lack of culture—there’s culture! You just don’t like it. Or: it’s hard to see. Romanticized, the present will look as coherent as the past does. “Weird Horror” is a tool with which to describe human experience. I don’t think there’s any experience it can’t be used to describe; the only limits are generic. I try not to police myself too much when I wander into the horror genre hinterland.
There are all kinds of different traditions in the history of Weird Horror. In North America, Weird Horror seems to follow in the tradition of Lovecraft, Bradbury, Matheson, and King which is more realist, idea driven, speculative horror fiction. Whereas Eastern Europe deals in more introverted and personal psychodramas with writers like Grabinski, Kafka, Ewers, and Schultz. And in Japan there is a tradition of socially and morally transgressive authors like Rampo, Izumi and Abe. There is so much interesting and criminally underread work out there. Where do you feel your horror fiction falls in terms of themes and traditions? Do you have any favorite non-English or just lesser known horror writers who you would recommend?
I don’t know. I don’t have an allegiance to a particular tradition. Mary Caponegro’s fiction is deeply weird in the way it describes experience. A few of Alyn Ryan’s short stories interest me. I was deeply impressed by Jennifer Claus’ “The Room Is Fire,” which I published in New Genre no. 7. I liked “The Witch House” by Jessica Phelps.
I don’t think anyone writing horror these days can have escaped the influence and historical weight of horror cinema. From classics like Night of the Living Dead and Repulsion to lesser known deliriums like Messiah of Evil and Goke: Bodysnatcher from Hell, there has been some amazing work done in the horror film. Has horror cinema influenced you?
I’m influenced by cinema in general—I studied filmmaking and made films (student films). I worked in a movie theater! Horror cinema—and other genres beloved by the folks who raised me—are a part of my childhood. Roused from bed to see Them! on T.V. when I was five.
One of the most talked about aspects of your collection Worse Than Myself, is how the book is divided into two different sections. One being more focused on a more abstract surreal horror, and the other more focused on playing and experimenting with traditional horror tropes. How did you decide to go in that direction with the collection?
You say that one part is more abstract and the other part more focused on playing with traditional horror tropes—fantastic. What an interesting read! The two parts were determined by place. And place had a lot to do with how abstract or traditional the stories were.
I love the quote from Ramsey Campbell where he calls your work “ insidiously weird “, which I feel is a very apt description. But it begs the question, why do you want to pass these nightmares off onto your readers?
Why did you want to read a book called Worse Than Myself?
I don’t think of my stories as nightmares. My approach to telling a story, no matter how strange, is to treat it as if every aspect of it were absolutely real. As a result, I think about why people react as they do to the inexplicable and/or the horrible. My characters don’t know what’s going on—in the same way that you or I have only a dim sense of what’s happening where we are not.
Instead of “to pass these… off,” maybe “to give.” As in, here, these are stories I wrote. Do with them what you will.
Some of your work deals with both sexuality and horror. In those stories, there is exploration of the pull of eroticism and the push of abject disgust. What connections do you see in those topics?
Sex is every day. Occasionally, I write a story directly about sex, but sex is likely to appear in any story that’s engaged with the world. Sex makes us vulnerable, so it’s a natural subject for horror. If you’re distracted by the affair you’re conducting, you might not notice that there’s a monster in the room (“The Man From the Peak”). If you’re resisting a sexual urge, you might find yourself isolated when you most need community or worse—utterly perverted by your self-denial (“The Demon,” “The Dead Gather on the Bridge To Seattle”).
Disgust is a personal matter. A matter of taste, a matter of morality, a matter of cultural attitudes. What happens to a person when they feel disgusted with themselves is a central concern in Worse Than Myself.
I know I speak for a lot of people when I say this, I would love to see a new horror collection from you! Any chance of one emerging in the future? And is there any upcoming projects you would like to talk about?
Since Worse Than Myself, I published a book of stories called Color Plates. I’ve also written a collection called Stone Gods I’d like to see published by the right publisher (I don’t want it to vanish on the shelves of book collectors). I’ve half-completed another set of stories and a novel (an excerpt from that novel appears in Nightscript no. 3). I’ve published lots of stories, poems, and hybrid pieces in various little journals (check out OUTLAND 1 – 6 in the third Sharkpack Annual). I’m writing a book about the Ti West film The House of the Devil for Auteur. And there’s much that’s weird on my blog, Little Stories. I’d be very pleased if people subscribed!