March 20, 2015

New Ways of Being Human: an interview with Cody Goodfellow, author of "Strategies Against Nature"

With a cover too hot for Amazon, albeit these days that's a fairly low/arbitrary bar, Cody Goodfellow's latest short story collection, Strategies Against Nature, was published this month as part of King Shot Press' opening salvo of bare-knuckled literary offerings. I had the chance to ask Cody a few questions about the book and writing in general. Enjoy!

Strategies Against Nature: Aging punks recapture the greatest show of their youth through barbaric rituals. The lone survivor of a hellish Interstate pile-up follows an otherworldly sound to its source. A father desperate to cure his daughter’s condition uncovers a multinational corporation’s unspeakable plan for solving world hunger. In these eleven stories, Cody Goodfellow explores the bizarre and the deeply human, using the kaleidoscopic language only he is capable of.

Gef: With Repo Shark published by Broken River Books, and now Strategies Against Nature through its imprint, King Shot Press, how have you been enjoying the working relationship thus far with the likes of J. David Osborne and Michael Kazepis?

Cody: When the media tries to rationalize the implosion of a cult like the Process, Heaven's Gate or People's Temple implodes, there's always a disconnect when they point to the Svengali-like leader at the center. People see a wild-eyed, disheveled hypo-pimp, and they can't imagine how so plainly imbalanced an individual could compel any sane person to dedicate or even sacrifice their lives to their capricious whims.

Speaking as someone who studied these phenomena religiously while his peers were applying for their first retail jobs, I can see the seeds of it right there in this volatile latter-day Manson Family with five part-time Charlies. I can almost predict what those first horror-struck Oregon marshals and NEA tactical commandos will uncover, to their everlasting chagrin, in the depths of the Broken River compound, when the shit finally hits the fan.

But for now, they're magnificent to work with. Their dedication to the Word is unwavering and as obsessive, if not more so, than my own. I had the pleasure of working with Jeremy Robert Johnson on three books, and these guys make JRJ look like his preschooler line-edits his work. They get that the more transgressive and strange your message, the more it behooves you to write and print and present with authority and rigor, and two-dollar words like "behoove." 

I've never worked with anyone who had a brighter, more compelling sense of what they wanted to do or show to do it. They're plotting what I think is the most exciting evolution on the Bizarro publishing model, because they're taking everything that's worked for Eraserhead into the camp of what loves to think of itself as "serious" literature; and instead of offering a gonzo alternative to mainstream alt-lit, they're taking the "alt" part back and making it a portal to the dangerous and unknown, instead of a self-conscious formula.

I often feel bad about stealing them away from what would otherwise be stellar writing careers if they only pursued them full-time, but both of these weirdoes read my first, self-published novel in their formative years, before their fontanelles closed over, and it clearly fucked their standards up beyond all repair.

Gef: Michael describes this book as a bit of a departure for you, in the sense that it strays from the more bizarre stories you've written. So, how much do you pay attention to genre labels or what's literary and what's not?

Cody: He's kidding himself. That's like saying Stockton is a livelier and more scenic vacation destination than Fresno. 

More mature, certainly, and more nuanced than Silent Weapons, and All-Monster Action was an overkill exercise, so it's like comparing apples to orange colostomy bags. Michael did curate the collection out of a mound of stuff I dumped on him, several dozen stories from the last five years, and he went in looking to make a less frivolous, less genre-ghetto book than what I did before. His zeal to make my work respected is sometimes scary. 

More than a departure, Strategies is an expansion of the ideas and questions posed in Silent Weapons, but while Silent Weapons focused very much on how people influenced and altered each other, the new book looks more at how we deal with our enslavement by the natural world, and how we force our individual and collective will upon it. At its heart, the same mission is there––to test new ways of being human––and the same methodology. 

Someone who was, I think, damning me with faint praise said I had a gift for literalizing weird metaphors, so while it seems like harmless, grotesque wankery, there's a very serious subtext puffing a tweed pipe and huffing its own postcolonial dialectics.

I like to believe I don't think about genre when I write, but to make any kind of a living, you're going to write for markets and take commissions where you have to build to suit, and most people want to know what they're getting, especially if it's supposed to be surprising. Whatever I'm writing, I try to mix genres and tangle up their basic assumptions, the expected surprises, so it feels familiar and alien.

Gef: What was it about this book, if anything, that you approached differently from you previous titles?

Cody: I think the biggest difference is I put more control than before in the editor's hands. Jeremy and, eventually, David, succumbed to my pushy attitude, but Michael challenged me to do more than dump my best-received shit since the last book into this one. So I dumped ALL my shit on him and let him sort it out.

Gef: How do you go about picking out the stories for a collection anyway? Was there a particular theme in mind from the outset?

I like to do a Google search on titles while I'm working on them, to see if it's already a book, obviously, but also to see what else other people have made of the same words. This one came up for Strategies Against Nature, from Jaakko Hintikka's On The Epistemology Of Game-Theoretical Semantics, which I totally want to read, now. "Hence this is the thought experiment we must undertake, a thought experiment to the effect that the only thing I can do is to play language-games against nature with different strategies against nature in order to obtain knowledge of reality.” 

Generally, I like the mixtape or rock album approach; creating a flow of images that gradually expands from the intimate to the infinite, from the expected to the unthinkable.
Gef: Strategies Against Nature finds itself as part of an onslaught of fiction of King Shot Press and Ladybox Press, with eleven other books, all being released on the same day. Have you had a chance to scope out the company you're keeping and anything that might have stood out to you?

Cody: I wish I had the time. My secret shame is, I'm a grievously slow reader, and I've worked in bookstores practically for stock in trade, for years. So last week, I read a Harry Crews novel that I bought on impulse while waiting to buy my textbooks freshman year of college in 1989. I am excited about a bunch of the company I'm in with, from a real estate perspective. They say you want to have the crappiest property on the block so your neighbors are lifting you up, instead of them making you look bad. I think the roster speaks for itself, or it will once the March Madness sales tallies are in.

Gef: What do you consider to be the strength or saving grace of short fiction?

Cody: In terms of time, energy, output and input, there's no simpler medium for communicating, potentially, any idea, feeling, or argument. The reader comes in alone to find only the author, working alone, and with only words, they, together, can make anything. And in one sitting. A life lived and gloriously ended, a world born and destroyed, in the empty interim before the dentist comes in. Writing short fiction is a joy that runs its course before it becomes work, while writing a novel can be a suffocating experience, "a long, lonely trek through hostile country," as William Browning Spencer described it.

But against the brevity and simplicity and ease of consuming short fiction, for most readers the deal breaker seems to be the emotional investment required. If they're going to get to know and feel for characters, they'd like to have a rewarding and long relationship with them, whereas they balk at the effort required to jump into some unknown quantity, where one might still be trying to sort out who to root for when the story screeches to a halt. I rejoiced when literature rediscovered the joys of plot and genre conventions, following Chabon and now Ishiguro, but they seem only satisfied with genre if they can make it self-conscious and dull. Every sailor and railroad brakeman used to have a pulp magazine or cheap thriller novel in his duffel bag. I think a new pulp revolution is what's necessary to make reading a vital part of everyone's inner life, not just the ever-shrinking minority of us who just suck at videogames.

Gef: What's the worst piece of writing advice you ever received? Or what piece of writing advice do you wish would just go away?

Cody: More because a too-broad interpretation of them is exactly what any writer who should be changing oil for a hobby instead of writing, I'm sick to death of "Show, don't tell." 
It's always excellent advice for screenplays. The problem with it in literature, is you're telling a story. If you do it smoothly enough and play on the reader's sensibilities with a sure hand, they'll see pictures in their heads. But for longer than I've been writing or reading, most of the popular writing has sought to emulate the loud, bright but flat modalities of cinema. Everything is sight and sound and surface description. For discerning readers, the kind of people who won't give you existential dread when they tell you they love your work, it's the voice, the unique and deceptively intimate way the author TELLS the story, the sly awareness of HOW the mind conjures up those pictures out of your words, that makes reading a more satisfying experience than watching a movie or a play. 

Gef: What kind of guilty pleasures do you have when it comes to books or movies or whatnot?

Cody: I'm a pulp writer, so my research is almost entirely guilty pleasure of the stevedore's night off variety. But I do love to read shitty Silver Age superhero comics. 

Gef: What projects are you cooking up that folks can expect in the near future, and how can folks keep up with your shenanigans?

Cody: I'm trying to fight my way through to my next novel, UNAMERICA, and a short film I did with John Skipp and Andrew Kasch should be hitting the festival circuit this summer. It's an anachronistic two reeler-style comedy about birthday party clowns who hunt and kill monsters. I've got a graphic novel with Mike Dubisch, Mystery Meat, coming out soon. I intermittently blog at my old publishing concern, Perilous Press, and would more often if anyone read it.

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