MONDO 2000 sent its intrepid field of correspondents to track down the alluring Poppy Z. Brite in New Orleans. In this episode Magdalen, Keeper of the Sacred Tape Recorder, blackmails FringWares Inc.'s resident boy genious Paco Xander Nathan into driving the black German sedan - the one with tinted windows - through dusky Southern corridors to the home of gris-gris, flash floods, and American vampyre lore. Hacktor Wiley Wiggins - on the lam from the law and a posse of pedophiliac freaks - sneaks into their hotel room in Crowley, Louisiana and demands an audience with the Goddess of horror. After narrowly escaping a cabal of bubbas at the local Waffle House, they arrive at Ms. Brite's candlelit flat in the French Quarter.
PZB: Do we wanna do this straight? Does anyone want a bong hit? That might enhance the quality of the conversation.
MAG: Maybe I could just have one...
PXN: Just a wee bit...
PZB: [searching room] I need one of those bells for my stash box like those keychains where you clap your hands and they beep at you... Is that thing still rolling? Anybody got a lighter?
WW: We got matches from the Crowley Inn. [burbling sounds]
PZB: I don't wanna be too fucked up for this, just fucked up enough... See, this is my coffee table art. [shows a mounted picture of a bloodied corpse on the asphalt with a smear of mottled, bloody flesh in the foreground]
WW: Ow, I hate it when that happens.
PXN: [peering at photo] What is that? Brains?
PZB: I think thats blood with a reflection in it, but it could be some brain fluid or something.
WW: [pointing at the smear] So what's this slab of meat about eight feet away from him?
PZB: I think thats his face. He probably came through a windshield, and like his face broke off and slid out there. [takes white brick from the coffee table] This is a brick from Jeffrey Dahmer's apartment building. My friends just happened to be in Milwaukee for a Con when they were tearing the building down. It's my favorite gift ever.
MAG: I understand the new book [Exquisite Corpse] is less horror-based than the first two novels.
PZB: It's veryy horrible, it just doesn't have a supernatural element. It's a serial killer story tentatively scheduled for hardcover publication by Delacorte. There are four major characters, two of whom are serial killers, at least two of whom are HIV positive, all of whom are psychotic to some degree, who have aliases, and none of whom are entirely sympathetic. So I figure this one will rocket me to the top of the New York Times bestseller list.
My publisher's been in a hurry, so I've tried to give them a book a year. I can't keep up that pace! After I finish the novel, I've earned some serious fucking-around time. I'm going to do a lot of traveling... I've just gotta go out and get into some trouble.
MAG: Some of the same characters keep popping up in your books, some of the same motifs. Are you extending any of those into Exquisite Corpse?
PZB: The continuing characters will definately not pop up; and it's hard for me to think about things like motifs and themes while I'm actually working on something. I guess there's an AIDS thread runnin g through the three books, which wasn't dealt with at all in Lost Souls. One reviewer complained that as a vampyre story is should've dealt with AIDS, which I thought was kinda strange. I didn't see the vampyres in the story as being affected s trongly by disease of any sort. There's a scene where they drink cancer-infected blood and they only get a stomachache, so if they drank AIDS blood maybe they'd get a version of the vampyre clap or something. There's an undercurrent of AIDS in Drawing Blood and it's a major theme in the new book.
MAG: There's a hacker character called Zach in Drawing Blood. How much did your personal experience inform how you wrote that character?
PZB: I knew about Zach's character before I knew he was a hacker. I didn't know much about his background or how he made his living, I had been reading some things about computer hackers, and I realized that this would be a good thing for him to do. I knew he was an iconoclast, and I knew he liked to fuck shit up, and I just did the research from there. My two main research angels were Bruce Sterling, and Darren McKeeman, who's an ex-hacker. Both of them I could call at almost any time of the day or night. I remember calling Bruce at some point to ask him what color secret service agents' vans were. You like to get these things right.
MAG: You use a lot of strange communication media between your characters. Zach uses the Net, and he uses strange codes in local newspapers to communicate with this friends. But there's also alot of psychic stuff going on.
WW: And isn't pirate radio part of the new book?
PZB: Pirate radio is an important part of the story. The character with full-blown AIDS has a pirate radio show. His on-air name is Lush Rimbaud. As far as obscure means of communication go, psychic and paranormal phenomena are things that I've always been very interested in.
MAG: You spend time online yourself, right?
PZB: I have an account on the WELL. It's very expensive for me so I'm not spending as much time online as I'd like to. New Orleans is not at the forefront of the cyber revolution, let's just say.
PXN: I was kind of curious, you said you were talking to Sterling. He's been making noises about how SF has come to a kind of dead end and he wants to go into horror. Are you converting him?
PZB: That would be cool. I don't really like hard science fiction very much. Cyberpunk characters are a little bit more recognizable to me. Actually, there was going to be a hacker element to Exquisite Corpse, but it seems to have died off... It actually came from reading about Jeffrey Dahmer and his homemade zombies. I got interested in the parallels between that and brainjacking and home-brew neural interfacing.
MAG: Speaking of hacking... Your style and subject matter are so visceral, physical, and sensual, yet in the process of creating them you're sitting there in front of a computer all day. Do you ever feel a little unbalanced between the two?
PZB: The sort of trance that you lull yourself into when you're writing is like tripping or being really sick - it's hard to remember exactly what it was like when you're not there. Or even extreme pain. [laughs] The parallels between extreme pain and writing, I could talk about that for days.
You know, I really started as a professional writer in 1991 - that's when I hooked up with my agent. He basically have me enough money to live on so I didn't have to be a stripper anymore. Stripping was very interesting but I didn't get much writing done. It's just very hard to live in both of those worlds. It creates a dichotomy in the way you see yourself.
WW: Writers as a lot have a horrible, debilitating disease. You chain- smoke, stay in your room, don't go out, don't talk to anyone else...
PZB: Well, novel writing is not a healthy state of mind, I assure you. You get pulled into the character's world and it usually doesn't let go of you until it's good and ready to. The characters ride me and I get into states of mind where I'm lucky if they'll let me escape to the kitchen to get some peanut butter and triscuits. Sometimes if I'm writing really late at night all the capital letters on the screen turn around backwards.
PXN: Predation's a big theme with you. It seems like your characters would be using the Net and radio to prey on people.
PZB: I think when my characters prey on anyone, they do it pretty directly. They go out and get someone in a bar and bring him home, dismember him, and fuck him - not necessarily in that order. I'm really interested in subcultures of all types; that's one of the things that first interested me about writing the about the gothic subculture, about hackers, and about serial killers, who create littler countercultures of one. That's what's most interesting to me about serial killers. They totally disregard society's taboos but they make these very rigid, strict taboo systems out of their own. They tend to have very definate patterns. They don't necessarily do things in the same way each time, but they do them for the same set of reasons.
According to himself, Jeffrey Dahmer was not a consciously murderous soul, he just wanted someone to stay with him. He became fixated on this idea of keeping someone around, and he went to such a degree with that, he was boiling their heads and calling their skulls his friends. He was so obsessed with creating a homemade zombie...
WW: He put weak acid in someone's forebrain to try and create a zombie...
PZB: He did that to several guys, and one he actually kept alive for two days.
WW: One managed to get out of the house and wander down the street...
PZB: Yeah, the Laotian guy...
WW: Cops bruoght him back, Dahmer's like, "Oh he's just a buddy of mine, never mind the bleeding wound in his forehead."
PZB: Really, he's 19, the kid was 13.
MAG: I was very intrigued that the main characters in both Lost Souls and Drawing Blood were male and in love. There was only one somewhat-developed female character in each book. I was curious as to why?
PZB: Since my first novel was published, I've pretty much had to come out. Since I was old enough to know what a gay man was, I've felt that I was one who happened to be born female this time around. It's frusterating sometimes. The male characters are just the ones that I've become most facinated with.
Most of my work is based on a foundation or eroticism, and I just don't get an erotic charge out of women. It's hard to be inside their heads and develop them as characters. Male-male sex is simply the kind that I find most erotic personally. Also one of the things that I like about writing cross-genre stuff is that horror fans pick up my work and they end up reading a hot, gay erotic scene which they'd probably never seek out on their own, but gee, you know they might like it.
MAG: Do your characters present themselves to you though your fingertips w hile you're writing or in your dreams?
PZB: Well, yeah, some of my characters are continuing. I've written about Steve and Ghost of Lost Souls. I've had a couple of short stories about them before I wrote the book and they'll probably turn up in another book at some point, and then there are the other guys... In Missing Mile, the guy who owns the record store and who runs the club.
Even the characters who turn up for the course of one book, they tend to keep in touch after the book is o ver if they make it through. I don't know if you want to do a spoiler about the end of Drawing Blood, how they end up in Jamaica and this beautiful happy ending, but they only stayed in Jamaica for about eight months. They're living in Amsterdam now. See, I know these things, and this means that I'm going to have to go to Amsterdam so that I can write about their next story.
WW: It's hard to exorcise someone from your gaze once you've gone to all the trouble to create them.
MAG : Do you concieve of them as being real in any way? PZB: They're as real to me as my friends and family. I'm able to communicate with them and heard from them. I don't have to be living in the same place. It actually makes me feel more lonely for the characters when they are supposed to be living in the same place that I am. It's a bitch that I can't just walk down the street and knock on their door. Even these serial killers, they'd hang out with me - I'm not their type anyways. I'd like to go visit with them but they'd have to provide the meat. You just cant get a good human haunch down at the A&P.
WW: Well, they say the inner haunch is the best cut...
WW: It's supposed to taste like sweet ham; all of the rest of the human body is supposed to be too tough and gristly.
PZB: That would make sense. Don't eat the brains though; it's bad for you. The worst thing is to eat the brainstem of your own family because it has the highest concentration of the stuff that will fuck you up.
WW: The trick is to tap their spine and get some of that pure spinal fluid - you'll trip for weeks.
MAG: In Lost Souls, you creative gothic characters, a rural goth club, and a goth band. How involved have you been with the goth scene itself?
PZB: I was in a goth group of one, pretty much. When I was most into the music, habits and obsessions of it, I was living in Chapel Hill. Most of the goth crowd there at the time wouldn't have me. I wasn't cool enough for them. I was there visiting at the time because my dad lived here - I've visited a lot throughout the years - and I met a lot of really cool goths when I was here in NEw Orleans in 1986, including the guy who introduced me to Chartreuse. Consequently, the coolest characters are based on New Orleans and the lame goths are mostly bases on the people in Chapel Hills. Now that Lost Souls is out in paperback and widely distributed, I find myself having alot of goth fan s, and I like that. MAG: Once you get hooked on them, they're really hard to get rid of.
PZB: I keep getting sucked back into the scene and I'll always be surprised - "Oh shit, I'm not done with this yet!" [laughs]
MAG: A lot of goths have some kind of really fucked up religious background. How about you?
PZB: No, not at all. My dad is from a Southern Baptist family, so he was totally anti-religion by the time he got out of that, and my mom was never particularly religious. I've become a subgenius-Kali-Hello-Kitty worshiper. Although when Chris Li's [her husband, sigh - eds.] deal with the Immigration Bureau was about to go down, I went over to the Church of St. Jude, where St. Expedite lives. St. Expedite is a Catholic saint who exists only in New Orleans--arrived here in the 1800's from France. It was a crate containing a statue of a saint that came in on a ship. He didn't have a name on his pedestal and no one knew who he was. But the word "expedite" was stamped on the crate, so ever since then, he's been the local saint you pray to to expedite something. I could do a Mass every once and a while. I took Holy Communion at my dad's third wedding, and you weren't supposed to unless you were baptised, so I was very bad.
MAG: Very bad. Hell in a hand-basket. And what would the Pope say if he saw all the Asian erotica you've got in your living room?
PZB: What can I say, I like Asian boys. I don't know what to say about my attraction except that I know it somehow ties in with my fascination for serial killers, and I give Chris Li a whole lot of credit for not being too alarmed by this. [laughter] With this book, I hope to get the serial killers out of my system so that I can ever write about anything else. But I don't think I'm going to get those Asian boys out of my system anytime soon. MAG: Have you ever traveled to Japan or China?
PZB: No. We're planning a trip to Asian sometime in the next couple of years. The think I know I'm definitely going to do is we're going to end up in Calcutta around Halloween one year for the Kali Puja. I'm not a goddess worshipper. I don't like any other goddess, but Kali just kind of reached out and grabbed me by the scruff of the neck and said, "Hi." And then she started turning up everywhere and appearing to me in books with images so she became one of my totem gods, along with Bob and Hello Kitty. [laughter] MAG: I don't know if you can speak about your introduction to something quite that dangerous.
PZB: When I first walked into the Hello Kitty store in Chinatown in San Francisco, it was like coming home. I don't know what it is about Hello Kitty. There's a hacker named Lu3ke who send me an e-mail message yesterday about how he'd always found Hello Kitty bizarrely erotic, her entire universe was this sex universe. She's almost Bob-like, with this big floating head. She has a body, but it's like a useless appendage. After he told me about his erotic fixation, I came up with the idea of the Hello Kitty blow-up love doll.
WW: There's anything you can imagine in Hello Kitty. I mean, unspeakable sex toys, dental tools...
PZB: You know how poeple get a gold star put in their front tooth? I want a Hello Kitty gold star.
WW: Hello Kitty designer glass eyes... Hello Kitty dentist's chair with big straps.
PZB: Yes, yes.
PXN: I'm just curious. The whole hacker community--there's definately an element of pedophilia going on there, trying to get hacker groups together--not to name any names, but certainly there's been a history of that. Did you get into that?
PZB: Well, I feel kind of naive here.
PXN: It just seems you fit in well with some of the situations they're developing.
PZB: I'm not quite sure what you're referring to.
PXN: Let's put it this way: it's a really good way of putting together a lot of young boys. [laughter]
PZB: Do any of these names start with a "C"?
PXN: Oh, there's a lot of names in that particular practice. I think it's more prevalent on the East Coast.
PZB: I guess that would make me the old pedophile then. [laughter] I was recently doing another interview for a magazine called Subliminal Tattoos and of course the subliminal tattoo is the tattoo that you have that's invisible or flesh-colored so that people will get the message without knowing wnat it is, consciously, and they asked me what mine would be and I decided that it would have to be "filthy rich rice queen" so that cute little Asian boys would fling themselves at my feet without knowing why. [laughter] That'll work, yeah. Now MONDO can print that and scoop the Subliminal Tattoo guy.