|Portrait by Jim Agpalza|
After delighting us with his conversation with Richard Calder a few weeks ago, Félix García is back to interview Laura Lee Bahr, author of Haunt, published in Spain (as Fantasma) by Orciny Press and nominated for the Ignotus and Kelvin 505 awards. Hope you enjoy it and remember that you can also read a translation into Spanish of the interview.
Banda sonora de la reseña: Félix suggest reading this interview while listening to Andmoreagain, by Love (YouTube, Spotify).
Félix García: With your first novel Haunt, you won the Wonderland award, which is the most prominent award given in the Bizarro scene. Shortly after, Orciny Press published it in Spanish as their first title of their Midian collection, devoted precisely to Bizarro (and now it's been nominated to the Ignotus and Kelvin awards, but this is another story we'll talk about later). Since I'm a bit wary, my first question may be a bit surprising to you: Do you feel part of the Bizarro scene? And, in any case, what is Bizarro to you?
Laura Lee Bahr: I didn't know anything about Bizarro until I was published under their umbrella. I had written Haunt and I knew it was something different, and I had approached other publishers who found it interesting, but ultimately too big of a risk. John Skipp, a friend of mine and huge name in the horror novel community, read it and formed Fungasm Press -- part of the Bizarro world, to publish it. I attended my first Bizarro ocn that year, to see what I was getting into, and immediately was like _- "MY PEOPLE!!! AT LAST!!!!"
To me, Bizarro is the right to fly your freak flag. Bizarro is that weird kid that never fits in that knows more about art,science, math, than your biggest nerd but can't sit at the nerd-table because of his giant gecko head and because he can't stop licking his eyeballs. Bizarro is the coming of age novel that he writes to the insect-love who he both wants to eat and mate.
FG: One of the most striking things about Bizarro is that its titles are deliberately punk and outrageous, like Ass Goblins of Auschwitz. I think this can put off the undesirable reader, who obviously would think something like “screw this Haunted Vagina, I'd be better off reading 50 Shades of Grey”. Next to these titles, Haunt of course, but also Long Form Religious Porn, look a bit moderate. Aren't you afraid that they may end in the hands of the least likely reader? Imagine, for instance, Donald Trump reading Haunt. Do you think he would like it?
|Judith and Holofernes|
LBL: I would love for Donald Drumpf to read it, and then the ghost of Sarah would materialize before him and behead him ala Judith and Holofernes . Sarah would bring his head, like a Papa John's pizza, on a platter to the people and say, "at last, I have vanquished him." To me there are no wrong hands. You don't have to get it or like it; in fact, a lot of my friends don't get it or like it. I am happy with a "this is fucking weird." or "I don't get it." If you invested the time to read it, thank you. If you get it and love it, I love you write back. My books are a piece of my heart and soul, and I feel that the people who connect with it are connecting with me on a level so intimate I didn't know it existed until I wrote this book and people read it and loved it.
FG: But you did not start as a writer but as actress/screen writer/director. Where comes the idea/need from to write your first novel. Do you see these two sides of your creative life as opposed or complementary? How do you decide that this story you're thinking about turns into a book or a movie? (These are three questions, I know, but they may have the same answer)
LBL: I wrote my first novel because, quite frankly, it was saving my life at the time. Without getting too much into the details, I began writing Haunt as this weird challenge idea and putting it on scraps of paper, emails, napkins as I worked a corporate job I hated. When I realized I had to change or die, I went to New Mexico for two months with the purpose of writing a novel. This novel is what became Haunt. Writing Haunt saved my soul. It scared me, it bled me, but ultimately, it is what saved me from destroying and eating myself alive.
FG: I have no trouble in picturing how 24 hours in the life of a writer are: getting up really early to write, pipe smoking, passing the pages of a book next to the window not necessarily reading it, confinement, isolation... Because of the two sides of your creative life as writer and director, I'm not quite sure about it. In fact, I don't know how anybody in the Bizarro scene would fit in the cliché I just drew here, and we can sum up in: to be a writer you must write every day. How is your work day, and how do you find time to write?
LBL: Honestly, the greatest fantasy I have is the first three sentences you wrote. I never have time to write. What I do, is I carve that time out of everything else I am supposed to be doing. Right now, I work as a middle-school teacher, which is as an exhausting (and rewarding, too, in its way). I carve my writing time out of any time I would have to do anything fun. Weekends, breaks, summer, dinner time. Add directing and acting the mix and honestly I don't fucking know how it gets done. I think it really is because I am a project-aholic and I need to work creatively in order to survive. If I wasn't working on a novel, short-story, movie, or something, I think I would just blip out of existence. One day, maybe, I will be able to wake up, smoke a pipe, and look out at the woods and see a lone deer staring through a window at me like an angel saying, "Laura, you have arrived in writers heaven. Take a cup of coffee and write now, and nothing else will trouble you."
Then I'll wake up, fists clenched, and do all the shit I have to do.
FG: I saw your movie, Boned, recently and what drew my attention was that the bad guys are a bunch of sadomasochistic and slightly ridiculous goths, very much like the vampires in Long Form Religious Porn. What do you have against goths? Or... wait: Are there any goths in L.A.? Isn't it too hot over there to be dressed for mourning?
LBL: I love goths. In fact, I co-wrote a musical called Gothmas where I wore a long black wig, 2 inches of black eye-makeup under my eyes, and a lacy black dress that made me look like a bat. I was amazed at how, when I went to perform in this play and stopped to get coffee or something, how differently I was treated. How scared people were of me. So yeah, I have a dark goth heart. I just laugh at it, too. Both of those villains -- in BONED and in Long-Form Religious Porn -- are scary in a kind of comical way. The real villains that I am scared of are the Men in Suits in Haunt. Don't fuck with them.
FG: Let's talk about Haunt now and it's overwhelming success. While I was preparing this interview I could read all kinds of compliments and comparisons, from these calling you “a force of nature” to those willing to find analogies and citing the likes of Shirley Jackson, Mark Danielewsky, David Lynch or Kurt Vonnegut, to name a few. All these references are impressive, not to say intimidating (at least they intimidated me). The problem with these analogies are that they can be double-edged. I mean, who wouldn't like to be compared to these titans? But, at the same time, can be a big weight to bear on your shoulders. What I'd like to ask you is if you felt that there were too many expectations when you wrote your second novel, Long Form Religious Porn?
LBL: I hadn't thought about it until people started saying that to me. The answer is of course, yes. But the thing is, after I finally finished Long-Form Religious Porn, and it took me a while for such a short book, I was so intensely proud of what I think it accomplishes. It is a VERY different book than Haunt and maybe actually has a very different audience. What it says about sexuality and existentialism, and ultimately depression and belonging, resonates with me as an author in a very deep and unique way. The last lines of the book are actually a mantra for me. It is a book, for me, about the will to live and as a personal who suffers from existential depression, it is a kind of vision quest of a novel. I hope that it finds its people to whom it can really affect. It took a while for Haunt to start to excite people and find its way into the hands and hearts of adventurous readers. I know the same will happen with Long-Form Religious Porn, and ultimately, I hope every novel or collection I write. Books are a huge commitment to me. They are one of the most, if not THE most, sacred art forms to me. If I release a book, it is because I am offering the best of everything I have in that form. Like love, that doesn't mean it always comes back to you in the way you want it to, but the act itself is sublime.
FG: I read the interview John Skipp made you for Fangoria magazine, and you say something there that was extremely interesting to me about the iconic figure of the young, beautiful woman who suffers a violent death. This trope is very popular in noir, or better, in almost any kind of narrative since the Greek myths, and definitely an important element of L.A.'s mythology (the Black Dahlia, and all that). The thing is that all these deaths are used for something as utilitarian as motivation for the hero (who has always been a man). Haunt is one of the few stories in which the victim holds the leading role. But maybe there is a good reason for this in “realistic” crime literature for not to take this path, as Long John Silver said (Dead men tell no tales, and neither do dead girls). Were you aware of all this during your writing process or is it something you realized about later?
LBL: Later. I mean, I knew that I was the ghost, that the ghost in the machine was me, and that I was not Sarah -- the victim -- but something else that happened because of what happened to her. But after the book was out there, I started to really understand that what I had done was given a voice to victim with a kind of vengeance. I love ghost stories because they express an idea that death is not the end, but that there is some sort of afterlife agency. What I hate about being a woman is feeling like prey. I hate how sometimes I feel just trapped in my own woman-ness in how I am seen. I hate how people talk about women in terms of how they look all the time and how they use their bodies. I hate being meat. I mean that's really all us though, men and women. I hate how all of us are meat, really. But yeah, the pretty young murder victim is always perfect and a perfect device for a traditional crime story where different sides of masculinity duke it out. But I am a woman who cares less about the dudes duking it out and more about, "what the fuck -- ?? how do i get my life back??
FG: Curiously enough, this “fantastic” thing about the narrator being a dead girl (this is no spoiler, the reader gets to know about it in the second page) is what makes the complicated and far-fetched structure not to feel affected in a postmodern, academician way, but natural and (I hate this word) organic in the story. Well, this was not strictly a question but a reflection, but yet, I'd like you to tell us about how Haunt ended up having this narrative form. (And of course, I'm not completely sure about how the dead tell their own stories, or whether they do it or not).
LBL: Originally, the challenge I set for myself was to write a choose your own adventure for adults, but what I wanted to do was to have it be more like I felt reality was, where completely seeming inconsequential choices radically affected what happened in your life. So originally there was much more randomness, different plot lines, different characters in Haunt. Later I took the page-flipping (if you choose this go to page ---) out in favor of doing a different style which I felt was a more organic structure and worked better with this story-line, although it didn't fit with anything I had seen before. So what it is now is a compromise between a choose-your-own adventure and a linear novel, based on what I felt as a reader would be most pleasurable. I really do want what I write to be fun to read, and taking the reader on a ride is why the structure now is what it is.
FG: Following this, can you imagine how a movie adaptation of Haunt would be? Would you direct it yourself? If not, Who would you like to direct it? We're talking about big budgets (dreaming is free, right?). Don't be shy: Nicolas Winding Refn, David Lynch... whoever you want. You can even name a dead director.
LBL: I love the movie DRIVE with all my heart. David Lynch has been invoked with me more than any other artist. But I would have to say in my dream world it would be Ana Lily Amirpour (who directed A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night) or Jennifer Kent (the Babadook). Both of those directors get at the psychology of terror with a sort of humor that resonates deeply with me. I certainly would never want to direct it. I write novels to be done with my end of the thing. To me, this novel is all I can do with this idea forever. But I would love for someone else to show me what it does to there head. There are what I consider pretty perfect novels that also make fucking fantastic movies. Harry Potter, yeah?
FG: Besides all your talents, I have heard that you invented one of those miracle diets. Would you mind telling us about that? Maybe there's a reader who can be interested in following it.
LBL: haha!!! The only miracle is if you don't fucking die or lose one of your five senses. Yes. When I moved to Los Angeles to be a movie-actor, I was amazed at how what would be considered severe eating disorders and body-obsessive behaviors were the norm. So, as a person who weighed exactly what I should as a healthy human of my height, I was told I needed to weigh 20 pounds less. I tried a lot of different diets that made me hateful and unhappy, and finally decided, 'fuck it. I am not going to eat anything but junk food and see what happens." (by the way, I was 21 at the time and still operating with a teenagers metabolism and taste buds). So, for breakfast I would have a cherry coke and a Big Hunk (a candy bar made of pure sugar and peanuts). Lunch would be a Dr. Pepper and a bag of BBQ corn-nuts. When I wanted an apple, I would eat candy corns. When I wanted a dinner, I'd have Doritos and a hostess cupcake.
|Hugo Camacho, Orciny Press editor, and Laura Lee Bahr|
Needless to say, I felt like shit and I finally quit the diet when my vision started to blur. That was only five days.
But I lost five pounds.
I can remember finally eating an apple and being like, "oh my god, this is the best thing ever."
FG: Thank you very much for your kindness and patience, Laura. But no interview can finish before I ask you about your present and future projects.
LBL: YES!! I am so excited about a couple of things. One-- Fungasm Press, which has published all of my books for far, will be publishing a collection of my short stories called Angel Meat.
I am really, really proud of the stories in here. I cannot wait for people to read them. Some of them have been previously published in a wide array of anthologies, but bringing them together has created this completely new work that I think people will love.
Also, I am writing my first totally noir novel - no ghosts, no vampires, just straight up old-school noir in a new school setting. It's total LA noir. This one, also, is a loosely based non-sequel sequel to my movie "the little Death." All I am going to say is sex, death and twins.
Thank YOU!!!!! Great questions and a real pleasure!!