Violet LeVoit was part of a really cool panel at BizarroCon I really enjoyed and I am happy to say friend and supporter of all types of literature At The InkWell will be hosting her along with Bradley Sands for a special Bizarro-themed reading at KGB this summer.
Here are 10 questions with author Violet LeVoit:
1) “I Am Genghis Cum” is an awesome title (I was a history major), what were the origins to do this book?
So this is the story I tell: I was in labor for 90 hours. Yeah, for realz, three days. This is because I was trying for a homebirth, for all kinds of convoluted reasons that I was mostly unconscious to at that point in my life, but there is nothing like being in pain and terror for you and your baby’s survival for three days to make all those issues come to the surface pretty damn quick. And then after my kid was born I came down with PTSD because of my bad birth experience — which, I’ve since found out, is actually very common, even for women who have so-called “good” birth experiences — and when he was five months old I had a nervous breakdown, the marriage I was in fell apart, I still suffer from lingering PTSD-related afflictions on top of all my pre-existing mental health conditions . . . that’s my origin story.
So one day, getting out of the car, fat and post-partum and post-surgical (I had a C-section) and a crying kid in the back seat and a diaper bag on my shoulder and basically hating life in a very primal and deep way that only a new, overwhelmed parent can really understand, I got hit with this thought: “I should write a story about a secret society where new moms can sell their babies for organs on the black market and they can get the tummy tucks they really want instead.”
And immediately after thinking that, I thought “Oh, Jesus, that is exactly the kind of story you can never write. If you actually give voice to those thoughts, you will have turned a dark corner not only as an artist but as a compassionate human being, and you can never go back.” Because at that point I was sort of a minor celebrity in Baltimore, I had been working as a film critic and arts journalist for about a decade and was doing movie reviews on the radio and that kind of thing — and not only if I wrote that story would I probably throw away all of my professional reputation, but worse, I would be the sort of horrific, vile mother who not only thought of something so selfish and unmaternal, but wrote about it. The act of writing that story would make that idea real in a way I wasn’t ready to face.
So I wanted to let go of that idea, but it wasn’t ready to let go of me. And the courage it took, months later, to sketch out the story that became “10 Darlings And A Handbag” . . . I was right, I couldn’t go back after I’d written that. I started to realize how bad that marriage to my son’s father was, and how it was killing me, and how I needed to live another life where I was respected and valued and allowed to be who I was. And once I realized that, everything in my life started to change. And yes, it’s been shitty. Single motherhood plus the poverty of being a writer is hard. But realizing you’re free of the wrong person, and the wrong life, is sweeter.
So to go back to your question: “10 Darlings and a Handbag” freed me to write whatever I wanted, which led to one story flowing out after another. Only after they were all collected did I realize the unspoken theme of I Am Genghis Cum is the horror of human reproduction. Every story is about some terrifying spin on gestation or fertilization or even just the mating dance. I had to exorcise that torturous birth experience, but I did it with black humor.
2) Do you think science will find a way for the handless to donate sperm? Or will we need handjob volunteers?
You know, I’m actually anti-hand job, for this reason: In recent years I’ve had sex with many more men around the median age of 22, and I’m stunned to realize how much masturbation has hardwired their sex lives. 70 years ago most men’s first sexual experience was with an animal — it’s in the Kinsey report — but anyone born after 1985, their first experience has been with an image, probably internet porn. So when they’re confronted with an actual woman, and the relative slackness of a vagina or mouth, their internal neural map can’t read it as sexual stimulation. They can’t come.
So this is probably an endorsement for handless men as GGG sexual partners, since they’re open to all kinds of variations. As far as sperm donation, I understand an electric shock applied rectally to the prostate is how they do it for paraplegic men, but that might not be your thing.
3) You did a chapbook called “Hate Poems”, do you think resentment can be in a positive thing? Or do you follow the Nietzsche and the 12-Step Program negative view of resentment?
Was Nietzsche anti-resentment? I guess it’s the whole “will to power” thing, that nothing as petty as resentment can hold back an Übermensch. I’ll admit that resentment is one of my worst habits, and the times in my life I have sincerely forgiven people have been some of the most freeing and uplifting moments. But when I started work on a chapbook, I realized many of my poems were about romantic bitterness and it made the theme easy. But the secret of that chapbook is, if you unfold and refold it inside out, it’s “Love Poems” on the inside. And those poems are the best poems I’ve written.
4) I noticed a moderate correlation that the more interesting the day job the writer has had the more interesting their writing can be? What is the strangest day job you have had?
If “strangest” means “most atypical”, then it’s either receptionist in a school for emotionally disturbed teenage boys, or industrial laser operator for a puzzle maker. If “strangest” means “most surreal”, then it’s being a production assistant for a TV Christmas special and using the bathroom one stall down from Jessica Simpson, who sings while she’s sitting on the toilet.
5) Who are some present day authors who you read and go: damn, they are really good?
My dirty secret is that I read more non-fiction than fiction. I like the way William Poundstone bring a polymath curiosity to all kinds of subjects, from the nature of mathematical paradox to the hiring policy at Google to the secret recipe for chocolate chip cookies. Mary Roach is another science writer whose funny, ceaseless explorations of sex, food, and death are irresistible. Neil Steinberg is a Chicago newspaper columnist who is one of the best phrase-turners in his book Drunkard, a memoir of being a suburban alcoholic that I re-read once a year, it’s that good. Grant Morrison has a knack for illuminating the hidden obvious in Supergods, his combo memoir/dissection of the superhero mythos, and Jane and Michael Stern taught me everything I know about writing about pop culture.
Not that you asked what I’m reading lately, but I’m finishing up How To Create The Perfect Wife, Wendy Moore’s can’t-put-it-down account of Enlightenment radical Thomas Day and his cockamamie scheme to groom an orphan girl into his ideal woman, and I’m starting in on George Pendel’s Strange Angel, about Los Angeles rocket scientist/black magician John Whiteside Parsons.
6) “It’s amazing who you’ll fuck to avoid writing” is quote from “Hate Poems”. What is the best vice to avoid writing? Mine is eating bad food and watching bad TV.
The most effective way is checking email. The most pleasant way has already been stated.
7) If you go back in time and meet Genghis Khan what would you say to him?
“Teach me everything you know.”
8) If you had magic wand and could fix something about the current state literary world what would it be?
I would remove the distinction between literary fiction and genre fiction. “Literary” is a genre, with its same set of tropes and expectations as any other style of writing, and giving it automatic supremacy over “trash” genres like sci-fi, romance or bizarro artificially inflates some writers and unfairly deflates others.
9) Do you have any advice for young and weird writers?
Don’t wait for someone else to legitimize you. What you are doing may be so new that you have to create a place for it, whether on the web, in ebooks, in chapbooks, on billboards, or written across your forehead. Being published is great — and I wish everyone a publisher as great as Rose O’Keefe and Eraserhead — but don’t wait for someone else to declare you “real”, like a velveteen rabbit. If you spend more time writing than Reddit-ing, can complete a project from beginning to end, and care very deeply about whether it’s the best you can give, then you’re a writer.
10) Last, question what are you working on now?
Three super exciting projects: One, a sequel of sorts to Genghis Cum, also with Fungasm and the super-duper John Skipp. This one will be more sex than horror. Two, a graphic novel with skin-crawling illustrator Greg Houston (The Last Goddamn Hollywood Movie). Three, a private project that’s going to combine bookbinding and writing, and, if I’m lucky, will get me lots and lots of hate mail from white supremacist groups. Wish me luck!
You can reach Violet at the links below and check out her book or the ghost of Genghis will come at you.