The Poppy Z. Brite Interview

June 18, 2004

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Today's interviewee is fascinating. At the age of 18, established as a horror fanatic, she published her first book, a Southern Gothic vampire novel, Lost Souls. She has also edtied a volume of erotic vampire fiction and written a biography of Courtney Love at the musician's request. Her current book, Liquor, is a departure for her, as she writes about the cooks and kitchens of New Orleans.

The Poppy Z. Brite Interview: Just Under Twenty Questions

How did you come to write a book about restaurants?
I've been married to a chef for fifteen years, and I am a native New Orleanian -- everyone's obsessed with food and restaurants here. Eventually I just had too many good stories and characters not to do it. I didn't expect it to take over my life to the extent that it has -- I've already written two more novels and several short stories about these characters, and there will be at least one more novel, probably more.

Do you watch many cooking shows, or The Restaurant?
I used to watch "Iron Chef," which was great, but I think I've seen all of the episodes several times now. I hated the first season of "The Restaurant," which I found totally unrealistic, but liked the second season where everything was falling apart and Rocco was showing his true, pathetic colors -- that much more closely resembled the real restaurant world as I know it. I liked "A Cook's Tour," except the one about New Orleans, and I do check out Emeril every now and then. Generally, though, I prefer reading about food to watching shows about it.

You had to change agents when you changed genres. Have your fans been excited about the writing divergence or are they mad like the folkies were when Dylan went electric?
Almost all of them have been incredibly supportive and kind, and the ones who haven't been were mostly the pinheads who only wanted a Lost Souls sequel anyway, so I don't mind being rid of them.

What do you like about working with small presses?
The creative control, the personal relationships, the beautiful books. Although I must say Three Rivers (the division of Random House that published Liquor) has offered me these things too, more so than any other major house I've worked with.

What is your writing schedule?
Mostly at night. Minimum of four pages a day.

Do you plot stories out ahead of time or are you able to create stories as you write?
I don't like to do a great deal of advance plotting. With novels, in particular, I seldom know what's going to happen more than halfway through. The fun of getting there would be lessened if I had it all meticulously worked out, I think.

Do you ever get writers block? What do you do?
I'm not aware of ever having had it. I've had periods where I felt uncreative and discouraged, but I tried to see them as recharging periods rather than "blocks."

Other than cuisine, what's the difference between a New Orleans kitchen versus an East or West Coast one?
I'm really only familiar with East/West Coast kitchens through reading about them and talking to people who've worked in them; I don't know those scenes like I do the New Orleans one. A few readers have mentioned slang they think may be unique to New Orleans kitchens: "G," "Freak of the Week," "taint," "shoemaker" -- though I feel certain I've heard cooks from elsewhere say "shoemaker."

A lot of writers would kill to be published in their twenties, let alone earlier than that. Were there any pitfalls of having your first book picked up at such a young age?
Sure. You do a lot of dumb shit, and people expect you to keep doing it forever. Doesn't mean you have to.

To write horror, is it necessary to study the genre pretty closely, or is it something anyone with a good imagination and writing skills able to do?
I cherish the fond, foolish hope that no one would set out to write in any genre unless he enjoyed reading it enough to be familiar with it. I've been reading horror fiction since I was very young, and I still read it even though I'm no longer writing it, though not as much as I used to. I don't think you necessarily have to know your genre inside and out, but certainly you should WANT to be familiar with it because you like it.

You seem like you've grown up to be a pretty different person from when you were 18 (as most people have.) Do you regret now anything that you said or did publicly?
Sure redux. I can't read interviews I gave in my twenties or even my early thirties; they're pure cringefests. But I don't know if I'd actually go back and change a great deal of it, since I like where I am now, and all that silly stuff played a part in getting me here.

Do you still think of yourself as being more male than female? How does this play out in your day to day life? I have never been certain what it means when a woman says she feels more like a gay man.
I don't know what women mean when they say it. For me, it means I think of myself as male, and that I am attracted to males. There are as many different forms of transsexuality as there are transsexuals. I suppose I would be a non-operative, non-transitioning one -- I have no plans to seek gender reassignment and I make no attempt to pass as male or even appear male. It's a purely internal thing, and at this point it's really only relevant to my personal life.

You don't see many Girls Gone Wild and drunk frat boys with camcorders in New Orleans goth lit, do you?
Couldn't tell you -- I don't read much New Orleans goth lit.

Who was your favorite Beatle?
Gotta be John. He's the only one I have a tattoo of!

Speaking of which, some people draw parallels between Courtney Love and Yoko Ono. Do you think this is accurate in any way?
I honestly haven't spent enough time thinking about Yoko Ono to know.

You say about her, "Courtney can be a very stressful person to have in your life." Can you give any details about how she was stressful to have in your life in particular?
I know I'm a big old wet blanket (sorry!), but I'd really rather not. That's in the past, and I'm a lot more interested in discussing other things now.

What advice would you give to someone who wanted to write an erotic scene but was struggling?
Hmmm ... that's a good one. I'm not really sure. I won't claim I have never gotten embarrassed while writing an erotic scene, but I always just plowed ahead with it, so to speak. Sex doesn't figure as prominently in my work as it used to, and it's hardly a part of the Liquor novels at all. I discussed this in my Livejournal not too long ago, and here's what I came up with: These characters, Rickey and G-man, seem to value their relationship more than any others I've written about. The relationship is not a brand-new source of wonder and passion for them; it's life as they know it, which is a whole different ball game (again, so to speak). They're comfortable in it; they're honest about it; they know what it is, and it's not a source of angst for them. They tolerate my flashing the reader a glimpse of their sex life when the story seems to require it, as in my short story "Bayou de la Mère," but they're not about to let me splash it gratuitously all over the page to titillate myself or anyone else. I respect that, and as far as possible, I do what they tell me; I'd certainly be lost without them at this point.

Do you still write while on drugs or drunk? Does this ever backfire?
No, I've given up that interesting but ultimately not very productive habit.

How does it feel to be the 96th person interviewed for
Not as sexy as being the 69th, that's for sure.

[Ed. note: She is actually the 97th, which is even less sexy]