“Start Today And Keep Going”: Jesus of Scumburg Author Leo X. Robertson talks to Kendall Reviews.

Leo X. Robertson is a Scottish process engineer and writer, currently living in Oslo, Norway. He has work published by Helios Quarterly, Unnerving Magazine and Expanded Horizons, among others.

On his podcast, “Losing The Plot”, he interviews authors and other creative types about anything and everything.

KR: Coffee?

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KR: Could you tell me a little about yourself please?

I’m a Scottish process engineer, currently living in Oslo, Norway.

My fiction isn’t always horror, but always horrific.

KR: What do you like to do when not writing?

I just got a PS4, which is unreal! The graphics are insane. Everywhere looks like a real place. I was shooting bad guys in a game thinking, “Are these people gonna be okay? Should I inform their next of kin?”

The storytelling complexity in some of these games is novelistic in its depth, and there’s a real skill in how plot elements are shown without interrupting the real-world feel or gaming experience. I’ve learned so much about storytelling from games. (Sure, Leo, and I bet you learned how to write from reading Playboy articles, right?)

KR: What is your favourite childhood book?

The Tiger Who Came to Tea” by Judith Kerr.

The family don’t seem mad about the tiger coming to their house and eating all their food, and there’s no apparent moral. Plus, that the tiger doesn’t come back has a mature elgiac quality to it. They buy tiger food in case he does, which is sensible and pragmatic, and they might hope that he comes back again, but they have to live knowing he might never, with a sense of gratitude that he ever did (if it was indeed a fortuitous thing in the first place.) What could be truer to life than that?

A perfect book!

KR: What is your favourite album, and does music play any role in your writing?

Maybe it’s still “Sleeping with Ghosts” by Placebo. Melancholy, confusing, bittersweet, angsty—that sounds like my writing for sure!

I would love to write something inspired by Tool’s “Lateralus” some day. I’m convinced that it’s a message channelled from some ancient alien civilisation, the meaning of which we’ve still yet to decode.

Jesus of Scumburg”, my forthcoming book, was mostly inspired by retrowave stuff I found on YouTube, particularly “The Uncanny Valley” by a band called Perturbator. Frenetic, aggressive and otherworldly energy!

I listened to all three while writing my answers to this. It took me that long!

KR: Do you have a favourite horror movie/director? 

As an experience, I love the original “Martyrs” for its sheer audacity, and how it seems to change genre and direction several times across the course of its length. Was disappointed that the writer/director hasn’t topped it since—but how could he?!

Everyone who knows me is probably sick of me mentioning “Synecdoche, New York.” As far as I understand it, Charlie Kaufman was commissioned to write a horror film, and that’s what he came up with. The film is phenomenal, but calling it “horror” is a stretch. Kaufman went off the deep end, got too wrapped up in his own overly ambitious vision and delivered something that was bound not to please the people who asked for it.

I can’t tell you how much I relate to that.

KR: What are you reading now?

Just started “The Network People” by Bob Freville, the third book out with Psychedelic Horror Press (PHP) (the second was my own “Bonespin Slipspace.”) Nicholaus Patnaude, co-owner of PHP, has put so much effort into the illustrations, and the writing is great.

Also started “Portnoy’s Complaint” by Philip Roth. I’m always joking that my favourite authors are dead straight white pessimistic American males. I started “Sabbath’s Theater” by Roth last year, but didn’t get far into it. He probably had to die before I could explore his oeuvre. Which I’m now excited to do!

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KR: Who were the authors that inspired you to write?

I’ve mentioned it more times than due, but when it comes to my three latest books—“Bonespin Slipspace” (Psychedelic Horror Press, 2016), “The Grimhaven Disaster” (Unnerving, 2017) and “Jesus of Scumburg” (Hindered Souls Press, forthcoming 2018)–Samuel Delany’s “Hogg” was so disgusting and outrageous that it gave me permission to write whatever the hell I wanted without fear of repercussion. He started it!

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Haruki Murakami was a big one, because I remember thinking, “You’re not supposed to do that. You can’t just bring her back, stop that there, have him do that without explaining why.” His stories implicitly say, “Yeah but I just did.”

I mention Lionel Shriver a lot also, because every time I read one of her books I think, “I didn’t know you were allowed to let people know that you thought this way!” Even supposedly edgy authors have nothing on her. No matter how offensive they are, they always seem to be indulging in the idea of readers thinking of them a certain way, whereas Shriver’s works are the result of an author who genuinely does not care what you think of her.

I guess the thread through my early influences, and what continues to inspire me is, “Do what you must for the sake of authenticity.” That’s always scary because it inevitably means creating something that hasn’t been seen before.

KR: Do you work to an outline or plot or do you prefer to just see where an idea takes you?

I used to come up with an interesting scenario and see where it goes—but I do enjoy stories that have clearly been plotted beforehand. I want to see how much of that I can add to my own work. (I reserve the right to later decide this direction is a mistake.)

Now I write my interesting scenarios for a first draft, doing the “letting the characters go on an adventure” thing. Then I painfully and mercilessly beat the thing into as plotted a form as I can manage. “Have a third act epiphany already, you *&$^%!!”

KR: What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?

I find a competitive edge in scientific info. Through my work, I get free scientific papers, so before a project I’ll search for a few keywords and download/read papers with titles that seem interesting.

I’ve been guilty of using research as a crutch in the past. So many crutches become available to you as a writer—especially if you think like me that “the reader is reading me” when I’ve done the job properly. Why wouldn’t you try to hide from that? I find it impossible not to take anything about this personally—I just choose to do it anyway

With “Jesus of Scumburg”, I did loads of research up front—but since it’s about a punk band and their music, it inspired me into an unfiltered unleash of whatever was inside me. It’s less about adhering to reality and more about the use of my own imagination. That’s what I’m hoping people come to my stories for. I got the first draft of it out in one weekend, whereas it’s just taken me nearly three months to write something of similar length this year. Efficiency and research are project-dependent.

KR: Describe your usual writing day?

Start writing before anything else. The alarm goes off in the morning and I go right to the laptop to write.

If I don’t have a first draft to write in the morning, I’ll write out my dreams if I had them—because in that sleepy mode, everything you’re thinking seems commonplace and logical, but when you read it back later, it was highly imaginative dream logic. The same is true of early morning first draft writing.

I may get more jolts of inspiration throughout the day. Scandinavia has a real meetings epidemic. And they can run two, three, four hours! They always ask at the end, “Does anyone have anything else they want to bring up” and it’s never nothing. (Nowadays I lead my own meetings. I’m forever cancelling them or cutting them short, to the bemusement and joy of the people in them, who are not used to not having meetings if there’s no need for them, or ending them when the meeting is over.)

Most days, I have three, four, five different things to work on, and throughout the day I’ll type notes and paragraphs and dialogue snippets for each into separate Google Doc files, and before I know it I’ve hit my daily word count without even noticing—so I highly recommend that.

That means I go long stretches without any new material, and then a whole bunch of things at once. But that doesn’t really matter. In fact, this limitation has forced me to slow down and opt out of the perpetual success cycles on social media. I spent months thinking, “Good for these people. It’s not my time at the moment.” Which is nice, because I can participate in the successes of others more, separate myself from them, and take things at my own pace. 

Another good antidote to success anxiety is just to work as hard as you can, as much as possible and do your absolute best. That leaves you happy to accept any outcome, because no matter how far ahead or behind you end up, you’ll know it’s not for lack of trying.

One thing I rarely do enough of is nothing at all, which is a lovely problem to have!

KR: Do you have a favourite story/short that you’ve written (published or not)?

I don’t seem to think of my own work in terms of “best written”/”highest quality” material, as I imagine others do—but “most me” and “least me.” And it’s the “most me” things that I’m fondest of, whereas I think “less me” leads to greater palatability (but maybe not lastability.)

When I think of my own favourite books and films and so on, they’re the ones where, on first attempt I thought, “What the hell is this?” but something compelled me to return at a later date. The thing is usually original enough that the audience has to learn how to relate to it on its own terms, and once you learn to do that, you’re taken somewhere you’ve never been before.

My own best published example of this is a story called “Brothers” in Unnerving’s Hardened Hearts anthology. I couldn’t be happier that it has a home, especially that home!

I’m appreciative of the support that Unnerving has given me, and would advise subscribing to them for 2018 magazines, novellas, short story collections.

KR: You can find out more about Unnerving Magazine here

There’s no greater joy than writing something exactly the way you want to. Big additions to that joy are 1) finding a publisher who appreciates it for exactly what it is, and 2) an audience.  In Hindered Souls Press’ acceptance letter for “Jesus of Scumburg”, they told me they planned for a December 25th release for the birth of my character, Jesus. The wanton blasphemy of it! I was like, “Boom, perfect home for this one!”

KR: You can find out more about Hindered Souls Press here

KR: Do you read your book reviews?

No, because I don’t like it when authors read mine.

I don’t write reviews with authors in mind; I write them to organise my own thoughts on what I’ve read, for my personal records, and to let the people who read my reviews know what I have to say about the book.

I’m happy to write to authors to let them know what I thought, and I often do. But that’s an author-to-author dialogue, not a reader-to-reader one.

There are few things more liberating than writing a review like no one at all is reading it. I won’t have anyone encroaching upon that pleasure, and I’d never take it away from anyone else.

KR: Any advice for a fledgling author?

Do it. Start writing. You’ll forever be learning, so today, with what you know, is the best day to start.

In the grand scheme of things, it makes as much sense that you’re writing today as it does that I am or anyone else is. No one really knows why we’re doing this. There are infinite novels, enough stories told in the last year for any of us to spend the rest of our lives trying to consume them. It makes no logical sense.

I don’t subscribe to that overly confident camp of “we need stories to survive.” Something irks me about that idea. It’s not like you can, as a result of that, then say, “My time was well spent writing this story, and it is necessary.”

We’re doing something that serves some higher order sense that we don’t understand. If you get the impulse, you have been called to writing, and you have to do it. “Choose a job you love and you’ll never have to work a day in your life” is, uh, not the case. (Isn’t “a job you love” a paradox?!)

99% of others will marvel at films and videogames and books for their ingenuity and experience them without the desire to pick them apart. They’ll have moments when they stare out the window and think nothing at all. Without even realising it, they’ll share a blithe joy in the everyday and a contentment with life that bonds them to one another. They exist on another planet, and you may not join them there.

Your efforts at writing may not even pan out. Even if you “make it”, whatever that means to you, most of what you do—while never truly being a loss—won’t amount to anything.

Some days, miraculously, none of this matters, and it was all worth it. Enjoy this personal victory. But the chance of your victory day syncing up with that of your author friends is very slim—so don’t gloat, and don’t give writing advice while high on this momentary release.

Start today and keep going, if only because not doing it is so much worse.

KR: What scares you?

Pfft, today, this hour, it’s the distinct sensation that “this is my time”, that “these are the days”—that this is the time I’ll be romanticising in future.

If I romanticise this later for being “the time”, it means things will get worse, and this is as good as it gets for me. Some time in life is that. Is it now?! Or now? Or… now?

KR: E-Book, Paperback or Hardback?

Paperback! I don’t like the dust covers on hardbacks, and I don’t remember what the hell I’ve read in ebooks at all.

The miracle of fiction is the imagination made physical. That’s what I tell my husband as I progressively cover every free surface of our tiny flat with paperbacks. All our furniture is paperbacks. Our flat is now paperbacks. My life is paperbacks. All hail paperbacks.

KR: Can you tell me about your latest release please?

Jesus of Scumburg” is about Jesus DeJesus and his punk band, whose music incites its audience to destroy whatever city the band plays in. As Jesus takes the implications of his destructive lifestyle to their logical conclusions, and better ways of life slip by, his way of existence stops seeming so great.

To get my job and all that, I’ve had to spend many nights reading dull passages in books about stuff that most people don’t know or care about. So, “work to live don’t live to work/ good time versus long time” types always irked me. I’m guessing the core of this story is, “Okay, let’s take a look at that unfettered attitude in action—does it make sense?”

Certainly the story is useful for the reader to reflect on their own attitude to this balance—but more than that, I wanted this book to be a unique experience, a window into somewhere unforgettable and different. It’s the sound of my subconscious screaming.

KR: What are you working on now?

I’m so close to the final draft of this extensively researched novella. I get the feeling I’ve done a good job, but having read it all the way through at least every two days for the last two months or so, I have absolutely no idea. In fact this novella may, as a result of this writing process, currently mean less to me than any other text on the planet.

But in like two years I’ll forget all this pain, maybe have a physical copy of this book in my hands and think… “Lol I’m not reading this.”

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.

Ollie from “Bonespin Slipspace.” He knows how to survive for extended periods of time, and he’s already done way more depraved things than I could dream of doing myself. But he’s surprisingly sweet, and wouldn’t let that side of him out unless I gave him permission to (which I wouldn’t.) I’m guilty of “Sympathy for the devil” syndrome for sure, so we might even end up best friends.

b) One fictional character from any other book.

Piscine Patel from “Life of Pi.” If his story is true, he’s already a survivor, with more curiosity and love of life than I could muster. He has a huge life-affirming force.

c) One real life person that is not a family member or friend.

Jonathan Van Ness from Queer Eye! He’d make you think it was all gonna be okay. Plus I’d get to meet him!

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KR: Thank you very much Leo.

For more information on Leo please visit his official website here

Please check out Leo’s podcast ‘Losing The Plot’ here

You can follow Leo on Twitter @Leoxwrite

Visit Leo’s Author page here

Jesus DeJesus is the lead singer of the Nazi Sympathizers, a punk band whose music excites its audiences into a frenzy that results in the complete annihilation of whatever city the band plays in. When Jesus is reunited with his high school crush at a gig in his home city of Scumburg, his disorder-centric way of life is soon thrown into question, making him wonder if there might be a better life in store for him. Jesus DeJesus’ story is an exploration of the ever tempting urge towards total destruction.

Themis and his buddies celebrate the end of high school by taking a trip to, of all places, Grimhaven’s abandoned nuclear plant, where Themis’ insane grandfather, who religiously devoted himself to nuclear energy, worked up until the hideous accident that put the plant out of commission. When Themis and his girlfriend explore the plant at night, they discover that the plant isn’t as dormant as it seems, and the background radiation of Themis’ family history threatens to result in a full-blown sickness. The Grimhaven Disaster is a horrific, surreal and positively radioactive vision of what happens when youthful hubris clashes with the sobering decay of adulthood. Includes bonus story, The Other Half

You can buy The Grimhaven Disaster from Amazon UK & Amazon US

In Bonespin Slipspace, all is not what it seems. Rudy and Tammy may have made the biggest mistake of their lives by accepting an invitation to Blackburn’s manor to party with the depraved Manorites. Head-games, ghoulish hallucinations, and disturbing memories lurk around every corner of the psychic and physical labyrinth that is The Manor Experience. Rudy and Tammy may never get out alive, but, in Blackburn’s world, even death may no longer offer the familiar escape. Give Rimbaud an x-ray machine. Tie up and gag Baudelaire. Introduce Poe to bondage. Do you dare enter the realm of Bonespin Slipspace?

You can buy Bonespin Slipspace from Amazon UK & Amazon US

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  1. New interview on Kendall Reviews! – Leo X. Robertson

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