- What made you want to help start the New York Asian Film Festival?
I used to go to the Music Palace down in Chinatown to see double features when I was in university and fell in love with Hong Kong movies there. Around 1999, the owners put it on the market and some other folks who also loved the place reached out and we all met and tried to see if we could get some cultural agency to buy the building, but no luck. We realized that plenty of people would keep showing the latest Wong Kar-wai and Zhag Yimou movie but who’d show the comedies and romances and action movies we loved. So we all put our money in a pot and started showing them ourselves.
- Who is your favorite writer?
It changes constantly, but every book I write has a writer who functions as its spirit animal. For my latest book, The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires, that was Shirley Jackson. I spent the entire time I wrote it re-reading her books and short stories, including her two memoirs about raising kids, Life Among the Savages and Raising Demons, which are really underrated.
- What do you prefer to write: novels, non-fiction, or screenplays?
They’re all hard for me. Novels are deeply immersive and I have to write three books and throw them out for every one book I publish. Non-fiction is back-breakingly labor-intensive because every word has to be true. And screenplays are so stripped down and concise that every sentence requires pages of work to get there. So I hate them all.
- What current writing projects are you working on?
I’m revising a screenplay for a crime film set in the South and another one about a mediumship investigation, writing a non-fiction book about martial arts movies coming to America in the Seventies and doing revisions on my next novel, which will be out in 2021.
- Who or what are your biggest influences in terms of your writing?
I aspire to get my writing boiled down to the lean, deceptively simple style of someone like Elmore Leonard or George V. Higgins. I fail on a regular basis.
- Is there an overall theme to your writing?
I don’t write according to a theme, but it’s more that there are a lot of stories I want to tell. If I started today, it would take me about a decade to get them all down on paper and published.
- In your novel, We Sold Our Souls, is Black Iron Mountain a metaphor for anything?
Black Iron Mountain is the prison that we’re all trapped in, the one where only money has value, messiness is discouraged, kindness is mistaken for weakness. Philip K. Dick wrote about a similar construct he called The Black Iron Prison, and Grant Morrison talked about something equivalent to his Anti-Life Equation. I feel like it’s a piece of mental architecture that appears from time to time in fiction almost like a kind of Flying Dutchman. The worst thing about Black Iron Mountain is that while we’re the prisoners we’re also our own jailers.
- Is there any subject that is off-limits for you as a writer?
Not that I can think of offhand.
- Why did you choose heavy metal to be at the front and center of your novel We Sold Our Souls?
I wanted to write about a musical genre that no one thought was cool, and no one thinks metal is cool. If you say you like metal people make a lot of unflattering assumptions about you and your life. There’s no other style of music that gets that reaction, as far as I can tell. Hip hop comes close, but at least people who listen to it are cool. There’s nothing cool about metal. That’s why I love it. And it helps that metalheads are some of the kindest, sweetest people on the planet.
- If Hollywood was making a film adaptation of We Sold Our Souls, and the director asked you to cast the role of Kris Pulaski, who would you choose?
Juliette Lewis, now and forever.