I’m not sure Eliza and I have spent more time on our front porch discussing the many layers and details of a book as we have with The Orange Eats Creeps. There are many options for reading this story. I think it could be read as a surreal feminist revenge story, or a heartbreaking quest for lost childhood. At one point, I thought possibly the second half of the novel was where the main character chose “the hibernation option.” And then the PW review mentioned war as a possibility, which I had never even considered. Without asking you anything too blatant about what you feel the book is about, how did you go about incorporating all of these vast, wide-ranging themes and thoughts into a book that originated with a series of clichés?
GK: On the most basic level I sought to incorporate everything I ever thought, saw, read, felt or heard about into the story. That’s why I love the form of the novel so much – it’s a container that can hold so much. The challenge to fill it with the entire world is unique, and also paralyzing. At the same time, while I was frontloading it with the verbal equivalent of a landfill of ideas and thoughts, I was also conscious of restricting it a great deal – tamping it way down, to the point where I didn’t want to have things like computers, high school, sports, the DMV, or even phones taking up space (or at least limit it to landlines. No cell phones here). Forget about TV shows, movies, commercials, celebrities (other than Marty Stouffer and a few others); use no more than a handful of brand names, stores and settings -- just a discrete constellation of objects swirling around in a morass, smoothed into a comforting repetitive swath. It’s a most enticing refuge. This is the paradox I mentioned before, of everything and nothing interchangeably, of constraints yielding hitherto un-thought possibilities out of the infinite.
I even made a deck of cards to help in the writing of the novel – three “suits” for Settings, Characters and Afflictions. I would deal a “hand” and write the scene that emerged from the juxtaposition of the three – something like “cat-rat,” “7-Eleven,” “sleep paralysis,” for instance.
So, sure, it can be each of those things you mention above. I wouldn’t want to go so far as to say it’s open to any and all interpretations -- that seems like a cop-out on my part. I did try to steer it in a direction.
In reading through this generic author questionnaire that we had you complete, you referenced a number of books that mined a similar terrain, ranging from Patty Reed’s Doll to true crime books to Lynda Barry and Kathy Acker. Could you talk about some of the various work and artists that provided inspiration for OEC?
GK: One of the very early sources of inspiration was the movie The Lost Boys. One of my favorite sequences is where Michael goes from hanging precariously on a train trestle to falling through a thick fog, down, down, finally landing gently on his bed. So dreamy for a movie about teen boys. In Santa Cruz, where the movie was filmed in the late 80s, it was a really big deal when the film crews came around. Then of course watching the finished product it was funny to see the glaring geographic continuity gaffes and inaccuracies in the cinematic version of my town – their “Santa Carla.” The movie seems to be referencing real events, however, most prominently the series of Manson-esque murders that led to Santa Cruz being deemed the “murder capital of the world” in the early 70s. I can only imagine how creepy it was in town then. My mom’s family went to the same church as the Ohta family, who were slaughtered wholesale at their Rodeo Gulch home. Santa Cruz’s proximity to San Francisco meant that hippies who were too weird for the Haight-Ashbury scene retreated into the margins, the woods, by the end of the 60s. The forests provided many places to hide.
Then, of course, growing up in California meant being schooled in the lore of the Donner Party (Patty Reed was a Santa Cruz resident later in life), with field trips to Sutter’s Fort in Sacramento to see the doll, etc. The fact that the book Patty Reed’s Doll is an account of the Donner Party tragedy just for kids is kind of amusing. Campy? Sure. Fourth grade is where we also cover the California Missions – and that’s a whole other ball of euphemistic complexity. It involved making a model out of clay, paper maché or sugar cubes. The missions are still there, each one day’s walk from the next, all the way up the spine of CA. You get the feeling some heavy shit happened on the site. Thousands of years of life as they knew it ending in the span of a few generations. Some of the facts remain obscure. The ongoing project: trying to excavate for clues – because you haven’t been given the whole story. It’s been lost. So I guess one of the early impulses for writing The Orange Eats Creeps was to engage these childlike, would-be-camp approximations of our local horrors – sifting through that for some residual truth, as if it could ever be known.
Books-wise, yeah, Cruddy and Childlike Life of the Black Tarantula by the Black Tarantula were two titles that people immediately drew parallels to. I couldn’t help but be influenced by some of the weird books and movies I saw at young impressionable ages: Andy Warhol’s Trash, Naked Lunch, the SCUM Manifesto, John Rechy’s City of Night, Tropic of Cancer, Christiane F – all consumed from the summer of my 15th year to the summer of my 16th. At 12 I loved the book The Girl Who Owned a City. Creepy Victoriana: Wisconsin Death Trip, quasi-Victorian eccentric Tasha Tudor, found photos of everyday interiors in The Tasteful Interlude... Around the time I started writing the book all kinds of stuff was swirling around in my head: Mulholland Dr., Twin Peaks (and the tie-in book Diary of Laura Palmer), the art of Joe Coleman, Journey to the End of the Night, music documentary The Decline of Western Civilization, Rebecca Brown’s The Dogs, Story of the Eye… I was seeing bands like High on Fire regularly, wrapping myself up in the heaviness, etc. I happened upon a strange catalog of arcane and forbidden texts called the Amok Fifth Dispatch (a book so disturbing I haven’t even been able to crack it in 6 or 7 years); the RE/Search books, especially stuff about JG Ballard and Burroughs and cut-ups; music books like Our Band Could Be Your Life, American Hardcore. There were the two days in 2004 I spent countless hours helping my then-boyfriend process some dude’s collection (literally a truckload) of 60s and 70s adult magazines -- sorting, putting them in sleeves, etc. That kind of warped my brain for a bit.
I’m not of the school that seeks to limit or eliminate entirely the reading of other books during the process of writing one. I think the influence is inevitable, sure – but why not use it strategically? That’s when I started reading stuff like Awakening to Animal Voices, The Ohlone Way and Guyotat’s Eden Eden Eden. This is different from reading for research. You’re just looking for the flavor to impart.
I’ve enjoyed places like Publishers Weekly running captions saying “Slutty teenage hobo vampire junkies run amok in Grace Krilanovich’s debut novel.” Does it make you smirk too?
GK: Yeah. I am a big fan of sleaze and camp ridiculousness. And the S-T-H-V-J combo seems like maybe three too many factors, which I always thought was funny. Just a tad excessive. Like, do they have to be hobos and junkies and . . . vampires? I hoped it would one day transcend its obviousness and become more “literary.” Ever upward! Although I’ve heard that the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic book was cool. And then the kids cartoon version battered it into oblivion, so that time it went in reverse.
Are you concerned that people might label this ‘just another book about slutty teenage hobo vampire junkies?’
GK: Haha! Who said that? Rob Zombie? I want to meet these jaded weirdos. That would mean it has become a genre, right? Is it even possible to have a genre with more than three descriptors? Is Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! just another Castrating Vixen Hot Rod Desert Boob movie? Is Guns ‘n Roses just more Paranoid Dystopian Rape-core, helmed by a Manic Frontman-clown?
How do you follow up a book like The Orange Eats Creeps?
GK: A historical romance, stricken with nightmares.
Oh don’t worry, I’m still working through the same issues. This time it’s the Coast Range of California in the 1870s. It started with the idea of writing a novel cover version of the song “Past All Dishonor” by Divine Horsemen. Then after a while I discovered that the song itself is based on a James M. Cain book of the same name – an obscure post-Civil War tale of homicidal love, a noir on the Western frontier. Oh well. I kept writing anyway. Then I realized what I was writing was basically the story of the movie Gilda. There are no new plots, apparently. At least it’s fun to write a pastiche history, making it cool and stylish, like McCabe and Mrs. Miller.
Grace Krilanovich's first novel, The Orange Eats Creeps, will be published September 1. You can pre-order it during the month of August for $10 through our website.