I’m thrilled to welcome Douglas F. Warrick to the blog today, author of Plow the Bones, which I recently reviewed here. This amazing collection of stories is the first book in the Apex Voices series, which highlights up-and-coming writers of genre fiction.
Books, Bones & Buffy: First off, welcome to Books, Bones & Buffy! I appreciate you taking time to answer some questions for my readers. Plow the Bones is one of the most unique story collections I’ve read in some time, and believe me, I’ve read some very unique collections this year. At the risk of asking a very over-asked question, where do your ideas come from? (And I really do want to know!)
Douglas F. Warrick: Ha! Tough question. I don’t really think any person whose trade is in creative fabrications knows exactly where their ideas come from. Maybe we should. Maybe if we were more vigilant and perceptive, we would. In my case, I’m usually working through some frustration or phobia. But that really addresses where my themes come from, not so much my ideas. I guess if I’m being honest, my ideas are probably some combination of the stimuli that I absorb and the obsessions that I nurture. I wish I could offer a more insightful answer!
BB&B: Hey, that answer works for me:) Let’s say someone comes up to you and asks you to describe Plow the Bones. What do you tell them?
DFW: The stories in Plow the Bones don’t stay put in a single genre. Sometimes they wear horror masks or fantasy masks or science fiction masks. They dress up like courtiers, or they pull on their patched-up punk-rock leather jackets, or they stand around naked and stare at themselves in the mirror. They are sad and strange and scared and hopeful. If you like Harlan Ellison, Haruki Murakami, Jorge Luis Borges, Jeff VanderMeer, Catherynne Valente, Alissa Nutting, and writers like that, you like some of the same writers as me. That doesn’t necessarily mean that my writing is anything like theirs, but you can at least open the book knowing that we have something in common.
BB&B: I love Ellison and VanderMeer, I can totally see the comparisons. Your stories are full of images that don’t always fit together in the imagination. Did you make a deliberate choice to use imagery this way in order to make the reader feel uncomfortable?
DFW: The images toward which I gravitate are those that appeal to me. I like combinations of images that make me feel like real life has adopted the logic of dreams. In my experience, there’s a weird flavor of discomfort that overlaps with the sublime. There are two real-life examples that come to mind. The first: in my hometown of Dayton, Ohio, there’s an annual Halloween block party. Bands play, the bars hold costume contests, people wander the streets dressed as dead things and video game avatars and superheroes and fairy tales. That collision of spookiness and sublime abandon, the juxtaposition of all these disparate characters engaged in everyday celebration, it creates a scene that I find both uncomfortable and unspeakably exciting. The second example is Bangkok, Thailand. Walking around Bangkok at night is extremely strange. The tourists cluster inside of Starbuck’s while fifty feet away Buddhists pilot a giant dragon puppet through a neon red-light district. People ride around in tuk-tuks (essentially taxis that look like motorcycles with canopies and couches bolted to the back) past street vendors with waxed mustaches selling mints labeled as Viagra. There’s a mean streak to Bangkok, a nasty misogyny, a huge disparity between rich and poor, but there’s also a lot of joy. That disparity bothers me and compels me. I try to create that same feeling in my stories. Not so much for the reader, who I hope exists, but for my own self-exploration.
BB&B: I know you must have a slew of influences, both literary and artistic. Your stories are so visual, and disturbingly visual at that. Which artists and writers speak to you the most?
DFW: I tend to wear my influences on my sleeve. I’m glad to hear you find the stories to be visual, that’s a huge compliment. Visual art informs a lot of my stuff. I’m a big fan of the Surrealists, Magritte in particular. He’s the best. The films of Lynch and Jodorowski, trashy stuff like Russ Meyer’s filmography, a bunch of Bunuel’s movies. I’m influenced by bunches and bunches of fiction writers. Thomas Ligotti, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Flannery O’Conner, Stewart O’Nan, tons and tons more. These days, I find myself leaning increasingly on music for inspiration. I’m particularly fond of old punk rock acts (Richard Hell, The Buzzcocks, Violent Femmes), lo-fi blues (in particular, I’ve been really digging Black Ace and Son House lately), and spooky ambient music.
BB&B: I like that your influences are so varied. Several recurring themes stood out as I was reading your stories, including inanimate objects that come to life, and your use of very unsettling, non-traditional monsters (like human body parts that are fused together in strange ways). Why do you think you tend to use these images over and over again?
DFW: I was a film major before I started writing. In film school, they talk a lot about auteur theory. Now, let’s be clear, I don’t mean to self-identify as an auteur. I don’t think I am one. But one of the qualities that defines an auteur is a recognizable recursion of themes and images. Fellini has his fat women, his dwarves, his carnivals. Truffaut has his young men in love. Lynch has his awkward conversations, his small-town secrets, his enigmatic nightmares. The Cohen brothers have their hapless put-upon protagonists and their sinister and mysterious strangers. I think most creatives return to something over and over again. With me, maybe it’s inanimate objects or non-traditional monsters. It’s funny, because I believe you when you say that I write about those things over and over, but I don’t do so intentionally and would have a hard time pulling out examples of my own recurring themes.
BB&B: You seem to have a handle on the short story form, but have you written any novels, or are you planning to?
DFW: You don’t even want to know how many novels I’ve started and then abandoned. It’s a self-doubt thing. I’m working on a few things now, and I’m hoping that by mentioning them in interviews like this one, I’ll feel obligated to finish them. One is a surreal crime novel called We Three Slayers of Beasts. The other is a novel about South Korea called The Memento Mori Year. I hope you’ll see one or both of those soonish.
BB&B: If you had to choose a single image or icon that represents you, what would it be?
DFW: That’s so tough. Only one? I feel kinda compelled to be a jerk and ignore the premise of your question entirely by choosing, like, five images. See, this is why I couldn’t commit to getting only one tattoo. I’m gonna go with… a triceratops ballroom dancing with an octopus. Except that in my head, that looks a lot less silly than it sounds.
BB&B: Wow, I love that one! Just for fun, tell us three things about Douglas Warrick that can’t be found on your website.
DFW: This could be dangerous for me… #1 – In the past year, I’ve become addicted to the gym. Can’t stop going. Love it. #2 – I’m a huge fan of professional wrestling. I watch it religiously. I attend shows put on by independent promotions. I actually own a Mick Foley t-shirt. #3 – “Torn” by Natalie Imbruglia is one of my absolute favorite songs ever. If it comes on the radio, I sing it at the top of my lungs. It never comes out of rotation on my iPod. The rest of my taste in music is far less suspect, I promise.
This was a blast…thank you so much, Doug!
Douglas F. Warrick is a writer, a musician, and a world-traveler. His first published short story appeared in Apex Digest back in 2006. Since then, Douglas’s work has been published in a variety of periodicals, websites, podcasts, and anthologies, and has grown progressively stranger. Douglas originally hails from Dayton, Ohio, but his travels have taken him all over Asia. Douglas has screamed Buzzcocks’ lyrics with Korean punk rockers in the neon alleys of Seoul, marveled at the oddness of Beijing’s masked opera singers and illusionists, piloted a bicycle through Kyoto on the way to the Golden Temple, broken up a fight between an Australian tourist and a Thai street vendor in Bangkok, and learned that the world is much weirder more wonderful than anything he could fabricate.
Find Doug and Plow the Bones here:
And now you can win your own paperback copy of Plow the Bones. If you are an aficionado of high-quality quirky genre-bending writing and you love to be challenged when you read, then this giveaway is for you. Simply enter the form below! Giveaway is open to US residents only, and ends on May 31 2013.