Every so often me and my girlfriend will drive down to the beach to do a bit of surfing as the sun comes up. Well, she surfs and I try not to drown. There’s a cool diner down the far end of the beach run by an ex-marine and his wife, we always go to after. Relaxed by the ocean, we eat pancakes, talk and then when we’ve reached the peak of our comfort we’ll both take out a book to read while we take advantage of the bottomless coffees. It’s a great way to start any weekend.
A month ago, I cracked open Chandler Morrison’s Dead Inside at the breakfast table. Gabriel Hart had switched me onto Chandler’s highly stylized prose work months back but I was just now getting to his novels.
“I like that one’s cover. It’s really cool. What’s it about?” my girlfriend asked.
I thought a long minute about lying but didn’t. Honesty is the foundation to any good relationship after all.
I was just a few pages in but told her what I’d heard and read.
She cringed into her coffee mug.
I went onto tell her it was actually a love story at its heart. A twisted, horrible, fucked-up love story. Like Casablanca, just with dead bodies and… and… other stuff. But a love story all the same.
She laughed, smiled and I told myself what a lucky bastard I was again.
I got to thinking — how the hell did Chandler Morrison sell this book to his publisher, if I was apprehensive about explaining it to my nearest and dearest? He must be one helluva salesman. Or one helluva writer.
After reading a lot of his words I can safely say — Morrison is 100% the latter.
The man can write. And he writes with originality, panache and style.
A controversial figure on the indie lit scene I caught up with him to pick his brain and find out what exactly makes the man tick!
Hey Chandler, thanks a lot for agreeing to this interview. To kick off, can you tell our readers a little bit about how you got started in writing and the Indie Literature scene?
I’ve always been writing. It’s all I ever wanted to do, and I’m very lucky to have had such clarity in my life-direction. As for the indie scene, I guess it happened pretty organically. Everybody kind of knows everybody. Once you start operating in that world, you just get swept along with the current. I was reading a lot of my contemporaries before I could actually call them my contemporaries, and it’s still kind of surreal to get a text message from someone whose work has been on my bookshelf for years.
You’re perhaps best known for the novel Dead Inside. How did that novel come into fruition and what were your inspirations for that story?
I had something very specific I was trying to do with that book, and I think that sometimes gets lost in the din of its reputation. At its heart, it’s kind of this quirky satire about social outcasts and how their relationship is affected by conformity and the expectations imposed by polite society. When I was writing it, though, I was watching a lot of New French Extremity movies, which have a way of juxtaposing artistic beauty with visceral violence. I was interested in doing something similar to that, while also lampooning it in a way. There can be something inherently silly about extreme violence that’s played for effect, and the gore in Dead Inside is intended to reflect that. If you read it totally straight, it doesn’t make a lot of sense. You’re not supposed to take it seriously. A lot of people seem to think I’m a shock-jock who just wants to get a rise out of the audience, but that’s never been my goal as an artist. It’s sort of baffling to me how riled up people get over Dead Inside, because the entire book is kind of ridiculous by design. You could overlay most of the scenes in it with a laugh track, and that’s basically the point.
How did you go from Indie author to celebrated author? What was that process like?
The vast majority of my success can be attributed to other people. First and foremost, Jeff Burk—the former editor of Deadite Press—took a chance on me when I was a no-name, self-published author nobody had heard of. He really thrust me into the indie lit scene and did a lot to hype me up, and it’s safe to say I wouldn’t be where I am without him. Then there’s Jarod Barbee at Death’s Head Press and Andersen Prunty at Atlatl Press, who both took risks on some books I wasn’t sure were going to find an audience, and they essentially brought the audience to them. Sadie Hartmann has helped a lot with that, too—she’s basically a modern Pauline Kael for the literary world, and the way she’s championed my work has had quite a bit to do with the scope of its reach. The supremely talented Gabriel Hart has published a couple of very flattering pieces about my work, as well, for which I couldn’t be more grateful.
Los Angeles and California play important roles in your stories, why is it such an important setting in your work?
I’ve lived in a lot of places, but nowhere has given me the kind of inspiration that LA does. The city itself is its own character. It’s shiny and beautiful on the surface, but a few layers beneath the glittery exterior is something ugly and diseased. That’s the type of character I write about. The people who populate my books tend to be tan and blond and beautiful, but they’re sad and selfish and they hurt everyone with whom they come in contact. In that sense, LA is the embodiment of a Chandler Morrison character, so it’s a natural setting for my work.
You have a highly anticipated splatter western that recently came out with Death’s Head Press. Can you possibly give us some insight into that? What was it like working on a splatter western novel compared to your other more modern novels?
It was a fun and interesting challenge that I enjoyed a lot, and I’ll probably never write within that genre again. I suppose the toughest aspect of the project was navigating what I wanted to do with it versus what I thought my fanbase was going to want from it. In the end, I married the two together by weaving in this metafictional narrative about an embellished version of myself as he struggles to write the Western. I didn’t tell my publisher I was doing it, so it was a risky approach. People seem to be responding well to it, though, so I think it paid off.
What advice would you give to up-and-coming indie authors?
Never forget your fans. All the talent in the world doesn’t mean a damned thing without them. Also, style trumps substance 100% of the time. No matter how unique you think your concept is…it isn’t. Everything’s been done. Story means almost nothing. What matters is how you tell the story. It’s all about finding your unique voice and using it to approach your subject in a fresh and exciting way. That’s what reels people in and keeps them coming back.
What novel are you reading now?
The Good Life by Jay McInerney. He’s probably the closest thing we have to a modern Fitzgerald, and he writes about my favorite subject—sad, attractive, rich people with horrible personalities—with such tenderness that you often forget how awful everyone is. It’s aspirational.
What music are you listening to now?
Definitely not Hawthorne Heights. I’m fortunate enough to have been given a digital copy of Memory Palace, Bunny Lowe’s upcoming EP, and I’ve been listening to that on repeat for a while. She’s hands-down the most singularly talented solo artist currently active today, and her music has this way of just…transporting you somewhere else. Keep an eye out for that release when it drops in the near future. In the meantime, check out some of the stuff she has available now. The songs “Narcissus” and “Joyride” are exquisite.
What did you last eat?
I really can’t answer this with anything other than “an aborted fetus,” can I? It’s the brand, man.
If you could go on a drinking binge with any five writers alive or dead, who would you choose to party with?
I actually don’t drink anymore, but that wouldn’t stop me from lighting the town up with the likes of Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Richard Yates, Joan Didion, and Eve Babitz. I’d have taken Joan home at the end of the night. Our affair would have been tabloid fodder for months.
What would you like written on your gravestone?
Nothing. Just throw the Versace Medusa logo on there and call it a day.
Chandler Morrison is the author of Human-Shaped Fiends, Along the Path of Torment, Until the Sun, Dead Inside, Hate to Feel, and Just to See Hell. His short fiction has appeared in numerous anthologies and literary journals. He lives in Los Angeles.
Stephen J. Golds
Stephen J. Golds was born in North London, U.K, but has lived in Japan for most of his adult life.
He writes primarily in the noir and dirty realism genres and is the co-editor of Punk Noir Magazine.
He enjoys spending time with his daughters, reading books, traveling the world, boxing and listening to old Soul LPs. His books are Say Goodbye When I’m Gone, I’ll Pray When I’m Dying, Always the Dead, Poems for Ghosts in Empty Tenement Windows I Thought I Saw Once, Cut-throat & Tongue-tied, Bullet Riddled & Gun Shy and the story and poetry collection Love Like Bleeding Out With an Empty Gun in Your Hand.