John Claude Smith has published two collections (The Dark is Light Enough for Me and Autumn in the Abyss), four chapbooks (Dandelions, Vox Terrae, The Anti-Everything, and The Wrath of Concrete and Steel), and two novels. Riding the Centipede was published by Omnium Gatherum in 2015 and was a Bram Stoker Award finalist for Superior Achievement in a First Novel. The Wilderness Within was published by Trepidatio/JournalStone in October of 2017. His third collection, Occasional Beasts: Tales, has just been published, and includes 14 tales and 92k words of weird horror. He splits his time between the East Bay of northern California, across from San Francisco, and Rome, Italy, where his heart resides always.
KR: Could you tell me a little about yourself please?
Slither through the wasteland
Cosmic and infinite and just!
Not out of will but out of must…
I must eat the aether
Firmaments and ash
Insatiable and expanding…” er, okay, stop, STOP!
That’s not me, that’s the cosmic force out to destroy the world, as channeled by a musician in a story I am taking a break from writing to do this interview. I, on the other hand, am the future husband of my Roman girlfriend, Alessandra, father to a wonderful young man, Gabriel, scribbler of words which, when strung together as sentences, then clumped together as paragraphs, form a thing called a “story,” which, in my case, is usually rather dark and will often make you think about it well beyond the final word.
KR: What do you like to do when not writing?
There’s time when I’m not supposed to be writing?
Unmentionable things…and reading.
I also enjoy the arts—music, movies, art galleries—and perfecting a means by which I can travel between dimensions and to parallel worlds.
KR: What is your favourite childhood book?
I don’t remember the names, but two stand out: there were these compact-sized adventure books, hardcovers, they could fit into a grown man’s palm, that left an impression, particularly one that took place in Morocco, a precursor to my love of the work of William S. Burroughs…perhaps (I was all of 5 or so when I read it); the other was a horror anthology I wish for the life of me I could remember. My mother handed it to me when I was 7-8 years-old, and the opening tale, something by Lovecraft that was all about mood—I’m thinking it was one of the Silver Key tales—rearranged the gears in my skull, my brain entranced by the ambience and how words could create a world. That was quite possibly the beginning of my true love of words, and writing.
KR: What is your favourite album, and does music play any role in your writing?
Closer by Joy Division–the best band Ever! Music doesn’t usually play a direct role in my writing—I don’t often write with music in the background—but there’s usually a rhythm to each tale, a distinct drive, so the music is somewhere between the words, filling the empty spaces.
KR: Do you have a favourite horror director?
David Cronenberg. David Cronenberg. David Cronenberg. Videodrome, Crash, Naked Lunch, Dead Ringers, Eastern Promises, The Fly, etc., on and on. Many of these were foundational within my creative mindset. He may not be pure “horror,” but it’s threaded into much of his work. Other faves include David Lynch, Mike Flanagan, Jeff Nichols, Denis Villeneuve and Guillermo del Toro.
KR: What are you reading now?
Picking the Bones, a collection by Brian Hodge. I read his cosmic horror novel, The Immaculate Void, a couple months ago. It’s my favorite book of the year so far. So, I’ve been going through his collections since then.
KR: Who were the authors that inspired you to write?
Clive Barker, Joe R. Lansdale, J.G. Ballard, Ray Bradbury, Harlan Ellison, Hunter S. Thompson, William S. Burroughs, and a trio of ladies who were probably the most essential influences: the early work of Kathe Koja and Lucy Taylor was massive for me, as well as the pure visceral drive of Charlee Jacob’s work.
There are many current writers who are leaving a big impression as well. Many whose work inspires and keeps the creative juices flowing.
KR: Do you work to an outline or plot or do you prefer to just see where an idea takes you?
I used to be a pantser—go with the flow and see what happens—but I’ve found some level of plotting helps a lot, especially with novels (of course!), though I find it good to remain open to unexpected turns, so my plotting is loose, just giving me a path upon which Stuff Happens.
KR: What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?
Depends on each individual piece. I research in most cases whatever is necessary to get me over the hump and getting the story moving; that is, if research is needed. But for tales that require more, I will dig in and do the work. Like, for example, in my tale “American Ghost” from the forthcoming The Leaves of a Necronomicon anthology, I had to read a lot of the poetry by a famous poet/singer, as well as get specific details in relation to his whereabouts, so I had to dig deep.
KR: Describe your usual writing day?
There is no usual day. Okay, in Rome, where I spend my summers with my girlfriend, I can write as I want, so lots of early morning writing happens, when the brain is fresh and firing on all cylinders. In the states, dealing with real life and work and such, I usually try to get in an hour or two in the evenings during the week, with more time during the weekends…if I’m not just wiped out; it’s an issue, so I find it best to actually schedule myself, so I know This Time is writing time…so don’t let yourself get distracted, JC!
KR: Do you have a favourite story/short that you’ve written (published or not)?
Hard to say. A few that are high on my list would be, “The Wounded Table,” “American Ghost,” “Beautiful,” and whatever I’m writing now (honestly: the tale I am wrapping up later today is called, “It’s Hard to Be Me,” and…it’s doing the right stuff). Stretch it to a novelette and “Autumn in the Abyss,” “Becoming Human,” and “Dandelions” probably stand out. A little longer, into short novella territory (or still novelette, but the high-end word count), “The Glove” works in all ways for me.
KR: Do you read your book reviews?
Yes and no. I do to a point, though I’ve learned it’s often best to let them be. All with a grain of salt anyway: I appreciate the good ones, so I can convince myself to not be too annoyed by the bad ones.
KR: Any advice for a fledgling author?
Expect nothing outside of putting the words down on paper, writing the stories, and getting some sort of satisfaction or, dare I say, joy out of that. But anything beyond that…Expect Nothing.
KR: What scares you?
KR: E-Book, Paperback or Hardback?
Hardback. But I’ll take what I can get and/or afford, haha…
KR: Can you tell me about your latest release please?
Occasional Beasts: Tales is, well, here’s the back-cover copy:
“Occasional Beasts: Tales features fourteen stories, four never before published, exploring the landscape of love and transformation, of desire and damnation, of unleashing the beast within, or encountering the beast of another made flesh, including gods made monsters in the eyes of deranged acolytes, and even the unflinching revelation of one’s true self, be it beastly, otherworldly, or the most horrific beast of all: Man.
We are all Occasional Beasts…”
Everybody reading this interview should purchase a copy. I consider it quite possibly my best book…so far.
KR: What are you working on now?
This interview…and a couple long pieces that both might end up being novels, as well as a short story for an anthology request, and a special project with my girlfriend, who is also a writer. I think it’s good to have a couple projects/tales going on at all times, especially when writing longer pieces, as I might get stuck and just need a break from one, but the other will inspire creativity, keep me focused on writing, as I should be.
KR: You find yourself on a desert island, which three people would you wish to be deserted with you and why?
You can choose…
a) One fictional character from your writing.
b) One fictional character from any other book.
c) One real life person that is not a family member or friend.
Rudolf Chernobyl—we’re gonna tear shit up. Vaughan, from Ballard’s Crash, because I’m a disturbed human being. David Cronenberg, because I need some sanity on that island if I’ve invited the other two along.
On second thought, perhaps Derek Gray and Alethea from my novel, The Wilderness Within. The conversations about writing and music would be intense. And, though it’s two characters, the way I’m interpreting it, it’s only one (read the novel). As for from another book, how about another creative medium? Fox Mulder and Dana Scully, now that’s an interesting twosome, two sides of the same coin, so one character? Am I making my own rules? Of course!
Croneberg is still welcome, though for variety, perhaps P.J. Harvey could drop in on occasion.
KR: Thank you very much John.
You can find out more about John by visiting his blog www.thewildernesswithin.com
Follow John on Twitter @wickdplayground
John’s author page can be found here
Occasional Beasts: Tales features fourteen stories, four never before published, exploring the landscape of love and transformation, of desire and damnation, of unleashing the beast within, or encountering the beast of another made flesh, including gods made monsters in the eyes of deranged acolytes, and even the unflinching revelation of one’s true self, be it beastly, otherworldly, or the most horrific beast of all: Man.
We are all Occasional Beasts…
Twelve intricate, dark tales of bittersweet madness, twisted desire, and souls in crisis explore the deepest realms of the human, and not so human, condition.
When enigmatic poet Henry Coronado disappears six months after the New Year’s Eve, 1959, Welcoming Chaos event, he takes with him a profound secret wrapped within the words of his poem, Autumn In The Abyss. Fifty years later, an ill man’s research into Coronado’s work and life reveals that poetry can indeed change the world, or leave it in ruins.
The Word is a living thing…and often with lethal intentions.
Reality is the strangest mirror…
Private Investigator Terrance Blake spends most of his days shadowed by an event from his past, while dismantling the lives of those driven by the masochistic need to confirm the lies they deny are cold, hard truths, until Hollywood socialite Jane Teagarden calls him for only the third time in years with news on the whereabouts of her runaway brother, Marlon.
Marlon Teagarden has been a ghost for ten years, traveling through the underbelly of society as a means of blotting out a past allegedly rife with child abuse, until he is chosen to Ride the Centipede, leading to the ultimate experience, courtesy of literary translator of languages and drug-infused visions from inner and outer space, William S. Burroughs.
Just your average road trip chase through the dark frontier of addiction and alternative realities gone sideways.
Also along for the ride, at the behest of a mysterious employer, is a nuclear-infused force of corrupt nature, “some kind of new breed of human and radiation, a blotch, an aberration, cancer with teeth.”
Allow me to introduce you to Rudolf.
Let the games begin…
The forest is alive.
While visiting fellow writer, Frank Harlan Marshall, Derek Gray senses a palpable dread within Frank’s house and the forest that surrounds it; a subtle, malignant sentience. What should be a joyous event, as they await the surprise arrival of a long-lost friend, comedian “Dizzy Izzy” Haberstein, is fraught with unease Derek does not understand.
Derek’s confusion is upended by the chance meeting with musician Alethea, formerly of Dark Angel Asylum, a band that dropped out of sight once the leader, Aleister Blut, ended up in an insane asylum. As their relationship blossoms, Derek’s disorientation at the hands of the forest manifests as his world turns sideways…and one of Frank’s fictional creations—a murderous monster named Average Joe—gains foothold in the surreal, psychological terrain.
As the worlds of reality and fantasy meld, what transpires bounds from deeply profound to pure madness.