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POPPY Z. BRITE
Slave to Writing

October 1998
By Paula Guran

Poppy Z. Brite There's a room on the second floor of an old house somewhere in New Orleans. Its walls are covered with 1930s wallpaper and the floor slants slightly downhill. But, distracted by the glowing multi-colored Christmas lights that bedeck it all year round, you might not notice either. In that room, late at night in the midst of thousands of books and accompanied by several cats, you can find a small, attractive women at a normal modern PC using an ancient word-processing program (WordPerfect 5.1 for DOS -- because she doesn't like Windows.) Fueled by Diet Coke, talent, and imagination, she produces some of the most acclaimed and controversial fiction in horror -- and out -- today.

In the last decade Poppy Z. Brite has become one of the most widely known, read, and talked about horror writers around. She made her first sale in 1985 at age 18 and went on to sell to several notable anthologies after that. But it was with her first novelLost Souls in 1992 that the acclaim -- and the controversy -- really kicked in. The novel, lushly written, full of neo-Gothic, youthful, angst-ridden atmosphere and decadent bisexual vampires, became a favorite with many younger readers and met with some disdain from traditionalists. Poppy was young, female, outspoken, honest, and saw no reason to be anything other than her slightly weird self.

BOOK COVER As her career continued -- novels Drawing Blood and Exquisite Corpse, the collection Swamp Foetus (or Wormwood as it was later renamed for mass market publication); editing two Love In Vein anthologies of "erotic vampire" stories (Brite herself, much to the consternation of many vampoholic fans, has never returned to vampires); a biography of Courtney Love, a recent novel based in James O'Barr's world of "The Crow," The Crow: The Lazarus Heart; and a second collection of short fiction, Are You Loathsome Tonight? just out from Gauntlet Press -- Brite saw no reason to change into someone less likely to irritate people in suits. But she does feel her writing has changed. "I've gone through several incarnations as a writer -- the 19-year-old author of the Southern gothic, homoerotic rock'n'roll vampire novel i>Lost Souls is not the same writer as the biographer of Courtney Love, and so on. It changes with each work. If I had to pitch my most recent short story to Hollywood, I'd call it 'How Stella Got Her Groove Back as directed by David Cronenberg with a soundtrack by Babes In Toyland.'"

Brite does not explore traditional horror themes of good vs. evil, instead she uses this progression as a writer and her innate honesty in her fiction. "I am trying to find and describe the beauty in things that are generally seen as horrible, freakish, or disgusting," she explains. "I am trying to be true to the characters who live in my head. I'm trying to create things I will always be proud of because they are honest, even if I've outgrown them."

BOOK COVERBut when dealing with others perceptions, Brite's honesty hasn't always served her a well as it has her writing. Some have seen her personality and frank public statements as some kind of attention-getting pose. Fans saw the same aspects think of her as a writer they know very personally. When readers get that devoted, however, they don't always welcome change. As a result, she's wound up occasionally and unfairly dubbed both as a flash in the pan and as a sell-out by different camps.

"How long can they keep the 'flash in the pan' thing up? I've been a flash in the pan for what, nearly a decade now?" she wonders. She's also cut back on doing interviews this year, sick, she says, of hearing herself talk and wanting to concentrate on writing. Referring to a too-often repeated quote she admits, "I've stopped trying to convince every damn person on earth that I really am a gay man born in a female body, because the people who can understand, do, and the rest are going to think whatever they want to think. I've come a long way toward realizing that the opinions and the rumors don't affect my life unless I let them."

"I am and probably always will be a slave to writing -- in the best and worst senses of the term. What I am not, and hope never to be again, is a slave to a publisher. I am working on a new novel, but if this one takes two or three years, then so be it. I'm more concerned with writing a good book than with getting it out there in a 'timely' fashion. Part of the reason I wrote the Courtney Love bio and the Crow book was to give myself a financial cushion so I wouldn't have to hurry through the next novel."

BOOK COVERFinancial cushioning also makes it easier to publish what and where she wishes. Her just released collection from small publisher Gauntlet came about simply because Gauntlet's Barry Hoffman expressed an interest in doing a new short story collection. "It wasn't something I was marketing," she says, although it's now mass market rights have since been sold in England and are being auctioned in the U. S. "But when Barry asked me, I realized I had enough stories for a new collection and decided to go ahead with it."

The collection's illustrations include photos by J.K. Potter. Potter combines art and photography to produce disturbingly fantastic, horrific images -- often using nude and semi-nude female models, including Brite. The author has no qualms about going beyond the small limited market with such images, "I 'd be happy to include them in a mass market edition, but," she adds, "that would be up to Potter, and I doubt he'd agree to it because a mass market publisher probably wouldn't want to spend the money to reproduce them well enough."

BriteBrite took a break from the writing slavery recently to accept and invitation to guest as Australia's Melbourne Writers' Festival, an international yearly event. A travel-lover, she was excited about seeing a new part of the world, but perhaps even more excited "to be leaving New Orleans in August and going to a place where it's winter!" Accompanied by her husband and mother, she made reading/signing appearances at the Hares & Hyenas Bookshop in Melbourne and Better Read Than Dead in Sydney along with the festival.

And, Poppy Z. Brite, being Poppy Z. Brite, it makes it only fair to offer one small personal update: she's finally got her first tattoo. (No, I won't discuss her piercings you disgusting, prying wretches!) She says she loves it, "It's quite small -- my first and maybe my only. It's a line drawing of John Lennon, his self-caricature from the cover of the Imagine book and video, and it's on my left bicep. I got it because Lennon has been a hero of mine since I was 13 and I felt that it would bring me luck in certain upcoming ventures."

With Brite, one can only hope the luck will come, because those new ventures are sure to be interesting for everyone. -- Paula Guran


Poppy Z. Brite's Web site is poppyzbrite.com There is an earlier in-depth DarkEcho Horror interview with Brite on site. The August 2001 issue of The Spook featured a cover story. "Basketball and the Elusive Rogue Mackeral: Poppy Z. Brite in the 21st Century" An Interview by Paula Guran and an associated article "Calling Dr. Brite: Does Poppy Have a Brand New Bag." You can download them here on the site.


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