An Interview with Paul Jessup

Paul Jessup was kind enough to drop by my blog as part of the Apex Blog Tour to chat about his novel Close Your Eyes, among other things. All month long, you can snag Paul’s book, and a myriad of other wonderful Apex titles for 25% off with the discount code SEPTEMBER.

Now, to get things started, I will shamelessly steal from Paul’s author bio in order to make introductions.

Paul Jessup is a critically-acclaimed/award-winning author of strange and slippery fiction. With a career spanning over ten years in the field, he’s had works published in so many magazines he’s lost count and three or four books published in the small press.

Close Your Eyes CoverWelcome, Paul! Since this interview is part of the grand Apex Blog Tour, let’s start with your recent Apex novel Close Your Eyes. I’d describe the book as genre-crossing, or perhaps genre-smashing, combining elements of horror and science fiction, while also being lovely and poetic. How would you describe the work to intrigue those who may not be familiar with it yet?

Well, thank you for those kind words! And I think what you said is pretty tantalizing, as well. I guess in a way I would say that it’s a surreal space opera, that has moments that are horrific but it’s not horror, and moments that are pure and beautiful and right. I would say maybe it’s as if Jodorowosky made a Star Wars tie in novel, with maybe Satoshi Kon creating the character designs along with Moebius? And yet that’s still not quite right, is it? It’s a space opera that destroys its own boundaries, and does a lot of things space opera probably shouldn’t do. In a way, it’s a fairy tale, in the old fashioned sense of the word. Full of surrealism, danger, sex, and terror.

That’s a pretty good way to describe it! Your prose in Close Your Eyes borders on poetry, and the images throughout are incredibly striking – from creepy surrogate doll bodies, to a character whose lover is a supernova. Reading the novel almost feels a bit like lucid (or semi-lucid) dreaming. Given how highly visual the novel is, have you ever pictured it being adapted into a visual medium, and if so, what form would that take – animation, graphic novel, some other form? Do you have a dream collaborator you’d want to work with on said adaptation?

Haha, yes! Of course I have. I actually talked about this for a while with my editor, Jason Sizemore, while he was editing the book. Just the usual game of, if this was a movie, who would you cast, etc. And he said something I thought was perfect, that it should be an anime series. And I really feel like it should, the character designs in my head were heavily influenced by Japanese fashion at the time.

I mentioned some dream collaborators above, with Satoshi Kon being one of them. Sadly, Geiger passed, but his designs for the ships he created in Alien and Dune were a huge influence on the ship designs in the book. I loved that organic, cold, and corpselike feel to it all. As if the dead lived on as machinery, and it felt like the perfect expression for how the ships would look and feel.

Switching gears a bit – in addition to novels, you’re also a prolific short fiction writer. Where do you typically start with your writing – an image, a line, a character, or does it vary from story to story? Do you generally have a sense of where you’re going when you begin, or do you let the story take you where it will and discover it along the way?

I usually have an idea, some strange little idea I toy around with for awhile. I do research, I gather images and thoughts, I read tons of books, look at lots of art, trying to get feel for what this idea could be. And then I get a sharp image and a first sentence and I start writing.

From that point on, I just follow the story, I don’t plan anything at all. Most of the research I’d done before gets thrown out completely, and most of the original idea gets tossed aside. But that’s okay, what’s important to me is getting to that start and then letting the story surprise me. I love being surprised. I guess for me the research point is more for gathering images and thoughts and ideas and shoving them into my subconscious mind, to let it sit there and fester and grow.

And then when I write this festering research from before reaches its tendrils into the story, but it’s changed. It’s different, and far more interesting than it could’ve ever been before.

Most of your fiction tends toward the dark and the weird – what draws you in particular to that flavor of speculative fiction? What are some of your favorite works, or recent favorite reads within the speculative fiction genre, dark or otherwise?

I wish I could say why I’m attracted to such things. I’ve thought about it over and over again, and I guess to me there’s a beauty in that dark weirdness, and I love all kinds of beauty. I think it’s terribly narrowminded to not see the beauty in depression, sadness, and death. To only see the beauty in joy, or in reality as a thing of beauty is limiting the human experience.

And at times, I feel like the human experience is all about observing the beauty in the universe. And that includes the beauty of sorrow, of shadows, of the things that run from the light. I was also raised Catholic in a Catholic household, and my whole childhood was haunted by the images of saints being tortured. They were beautiful images, and the faces always seemed beatific, transcendent, not in pain at all. I would say as an adult that they seemed orgasmic, but as a kid I had no idea what that would be. And I think this kind of childhood twisted my experience on what beauty is, what I could be, and how art has conversations with it.

As for modern writers, I know a ton of great ones! It’s so hard to choose. Selena Chambers’ Calls for Submissions is a fantastic collection, as is Georgina Bruce’s This House of Wounds, and Anya Martin’s Sleeping with the Monster, and Laura Mauro’s Sing Your Sadness Deep, Natania Barron’s Wothwood, Michelle Muenzler’s The Hills of Meat, the Forest of Bone. I also know of one fantastic weird horror novel by an amazing writer (and good friend) that’s stuck in agent hell and not getting traction, but I won’t talk about that one here…since no one could read it yet. But I got to read it, because I’m awesome.

Leaving writing aside for the moment, one of my favorite questions to ask authors is about non-writing related jobs. What is the most unusual job you’ve ever had? What did you learn from it, and has any aspect of that job worked its way into any of your stories?

Working trash cleanup at a Renaissance Festival. I did it for about 8 years, through High School and College. It was definitely an experience, and perfect for my teens and early twenties. Lots of people my age, all living a Bohemian life, wandering about making money with acting and music. Made lots of great friends, and it was a highly fertile artistic experience.

And because I worked trash I got to see the nasty side of things, too. Maggot covered turkey legs, dead cats, drowned animals in the water supply. It’s odd how beautiful that could be in a faux medieval wood, with sunlight dappling on the corpse, lying there with eyes open as if to say, hello.

What’s next for you? What are you working on, or have coming up that you want folks to know about?

Working on a big fat novel shaped thing, kind of like a similar approach to epic fantasy that I did with space opera and Close Your Eyes. Though that one is probably at least still a year away from being complete, and who knows if anyone will ever bite on such weirdness to publish it. I have a haunted house novel (about a house haunted by the ghosts of a 60’s suicide cult) that I just finished last year and have shopped around for a bit. As always, writing lots of short stories and articles for places like Strange Horizons and SFWA, as well as local newspapers and other places.

I’m also working on a video game! An old school console style RPG, with big epic plot completely adorned with the usual Jessupian weirdness you’ve come to expect. You play a shadow witch, captured at the start of the game by bone witch who wants to cut your heart out and use it for a spell. You’re in the cage, your desperate to get out, and a voice starts calling out from a box on a table near you…

And then it gets really weird. And yet the gameplay is old school Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy style gameplay, so in that way it’s all very familiar. I’m having fun making the pixel art and writing the weird dialogue and designing the levels.

That sounds like a lot of fun. Thank you for stopping by to chat!

Certainly! Any time. Hope I was half as interesting as my novel.

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