Over the next few days, I’ll be posting interviews with the contributors to the American Carnage anthology (my review is here). All five writers agreed to be interviewed, which I’m super excited about. Please note: discussion is welcomed, but keep it respectful. I’ll be monitoring the comments.
Note: The interviews are fairly long.
Also note: answers are unedited/uncensored/unwhathaveyou. My comments are (sometimes) interspersed, but other than that, all answers, thoughts, and opinions are from the authors.
I’m starting the interview series with my interview with Paul Brian McCoy, the mastermind of the anthology, and the author of the final story. He’s also the editor-in-chief of both Psycho Drive-In and PDI Press.
Ready? Here we go!
First, tell us a bit about yourself. Any fun and interesting factoids?
My name is Paul Brian McCoy and I’ve been writing fiction off and on since I was in high school and realized it was easier to write stories than to draw them. Up until then, I’d wanted to draw comics. After getting my Masters in English and going ABD for a Doctorate, I started writing reviews for Comics Bulletin. That eventually evolved into editing their TV/Movies section, which eventually evolved into launching my own site, Psycho Drive-In as CB’s sister site. This is where I connected (and in some cases, re-connected) with all the Psychos involved in AMERICAN CARNAGE: TALES OF TRUMPIAN DYSTOPIA and our previous short story anthology NOIRLATHOTEP: TALES OF LOVECRAFTIAN CRIME.
Tell us more about Psycho Drive-In and PDI Press.
Psycho Drive-In basically is like Belial from BASKET CASE, the monstrous creature that I carry around with me everywhere, that lashes out at movies, TV, and other things that cross me! But in the end, Psycho Drive-In is just looking for love and acceptance in the freak community. (Editor’s note: we love you! I think ICoS and Psycho Drive-In could be great friends.)
We broke off from Comics Bulletin mainly because there was just too much writing going on. We had people reviewing TV shows and movies on a regular basis, while the comics side of the site was also cranking out continuous great stuff, so nothing was staying on the front page very long. It was like cooking in a galley kitchen; meals get made and they’re delicious, but everybody keeps bumping elbows during the cooking process and there’s just not enough room to breathe. Since Comics Bulletin wasn’t called TV and Movie Bulletin, the then-Owner/Editor-in-Chief, Jason Sacks, and I built a new site and ported over nearly all the old coverage, so we wouldn’t be stepping on each other’s toes any more.
We launched on Valentine’s Day, 2014 and started out covering just about anything and everything, but after a couple of years of no real audience growth we decided to switch our focus to mostly horror with a side of sci-fi (and hints of other genre coverage, like Shakespearean adaptations, Film Noir, and Superheroes). In the past year or so we’ve also shifted away from publishing a lot of TV coverage, since there’s just so much of that on the web. So we haven’t been posting as much, but we’ve really started building an audience, nearly doubling our traffic this year over last.
The biggest reason for this is that our writers are some of the best you can find on the internet. The contributors to AMERICAN CARNAGE all have done amazing work for Psycho Drive-In. Dan Lee has a great little column called Beautiful Creatures, about practical effects in horror films. John E. Meredith has two ongoings, Popcorn Cinema and The Flesh is Weak, that are sometimes heartbreakingly beautiful and sometimes hilariously vulgar explorations of film and life. Rick Shingler is currently checking out some overlooked gems of Shakespearean adaptation in Everybody Dies: Shakespeare on Film, and the ever-eclectic Mike Burr touches on a little bit of everything when he gets the chance.
And that’s just the guys included in AMERICAN CARNAGE! We have a ton of other writers who are so much better than they have any right to be.
PDI Press grew out of two things: the fact that most of our writers are frustrated authors as well as being talented critics, and the fact that it costs money to host the website with little-to- no ad revenue. The name NOIRLATHOTEP is a Lovecraftian pun that I couldn’t believe nobody had used yet, so last year, I asked if anyone would be interested in contributing a Lovecraftian-themed short crime story to a fund-raising anthology, and everybody perked up. I had already e-published some old columns in book format and they brought in a few bucks each month, but nothing serious, so I knew we could probably at least make ten or fifteen dollars every couple of months to help my suffering finances. Little did I know that NOIRLATHOTEP: TALES OF LOVECRAFTIAN CRIME would be more popular than anything else I’d tried selling.
It’s still not a best-seller, but it’s paying our cyber-rent. Which is partly why I figured that even if we don’t make any money on the admittedly controversial AMERIAN CARNAGE, we’d still be doing okay. And now we have a publication track record that should be of benefit when we launch our Kickstarter for NOIRLATHOTEP 2: SUBTITLE YET TO BE DETERMINED, later this Spring. It’s damn time these folks got paid for their hard work.
At the moment we hope to publish at least two more short story anthologies this year, with maybe a collection or two of critical essays sprinkled here and there, since the non-fiction writers on the site want to get in on the act, too. Everyone wants to see their name on Amazon.
Tell us a bit about your writing. Are you usually a fiction writer, or did you make an exception for this anthology?
I had always considered myself a fiction writer (and self-loathing poet), but after grad school I just didn’t write any fiction. Instead I tried to apply the critical theory that I’d learned to writing comics, TV, and film criticism. But in 2011, I self-published my first novel, THE UNRAVELING: DAMAGED INCORPORATED, BOOK ONE, followed shortly by a collection of short stories made up of my Master’s Thesis project, called COFFEE, SEX, & CREATION.
Since then, though, I hadn’t really done any creative writing. I’d tried to get a number of projects started, both solo and with others, but everything always fell apart. It wasn’t until our second year at Psycho Drive-In that I was able to hook up with a group of writers who all had a passion for weird fiction and no professional outlet. A group of talented amateurs, if you will. Their enthusiasm helped get me motivated to start writing again, and we put together a collection of Lovecraftian crime stories that has turned out to be pretty popular for what is essentially a self-published book of stories by writers nobody’s ever heard of before. My own writing is generally about weirdness and normal people getting sucked into bizarre situations. I have a strange mix of classic and trashy influences, from Salman Rushdie to Philip K. Dick, with a lot of sci-fi TV mixed in along with a healthy dose of John Waters and Troma films.
Speaking of the anthology, what drew you to it? Why did you decide to submit a story?
When President Trump made reference to “American Carnage” in his inauguration speech, I knew we had to do something with it. It’s such a powerful phrase, both in the fact that it’s so out of touch with reality and that it conjures up such vivid images. It immediately makes me think of Death Wish 3 or Invasion USA in terms of pure cheesy, 80s exploitation film ideologies. So I pitched the idea to our crew and since we’re mostly a bunch of left-leaning creative types, there was a lot of excitement.
For an added twist, I thought why not make every story’s title a title to a classic punk song (and in one case, a GWAR song). I wanted to use those songs as spiritual and creative inspiration without actually doing adaptations. The titles were springboards for what everybody put together.
Tell us about your story. What inspired you to write it?
I had originally intended to write something Queercore, but the idea I originally had (a trans reimagining of ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST, with a dose of I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE and Neo-Nazis) just wouldn’t come together on the page. Then, I started getting the other stories in and realized that they were much better than I’d expected. So much so, that I thought we might need something more off the deep end to really round out the collection. I mean, John’s story, “What Kind of Monster Are You?” was closest to my original vision for the collection, but even it is just so damn good that once the craziness starts, there’s still a veneer of quality that avoids going full Troma.
So, since I had characters in my novel who could enter into dreams, I thought, what could be trashier than diving into Trump’s subconscious mind? After that realization, my story practically wrote itself. It’s easily the weakest story in the group from a literary standpoint, but it’s also the most likely to get its author put on a watch list.
Basically, “Big Takeover” is inspired by the Bad Brains song, and involves Damaged, Incorporated – the dream aliases of a group of fringe-science defenders of reality who originated in my novel THE UNRAVELING. We have two psychics who don’t get along, and their boss, a brain in a jar – with back-up from a benevolent AI – who receive a warning from Kennedy’s Brain that something is wrong with the current President’s brain. It could be brainwashing, it could be possession, it could be a stroke. But in order to find out what’s going on, and decide whether it’s a threat to national – and international – security, they adopt their alter-ego fiction suits and dive into Trump’s unconscious mind. It’s gross. It’s repulsive. It’s, as the characters put it, “Mucky as fuck” in there, but ultimately I thought it was fun.
My mantra when coming to every scene was what would Lloyd Kaufman (founder of Troma Films) do? I think he’d be proud.
The anthology is about a Dystopian world (with or without aliens). Do you think that we’re closer to an apocalypse or a Dystopian society now than we have been in the past? Or are we already on our way there, without even realizing it?
I think all Dystopian Fiction is really about the contemporary society in which it’s created, so in a way, we’ve always been living in a Dystopian world whether we realize it or not. Life is difficult and freedom is more of a state-of-mind than an actual reality for the vast majority of people on the planet. There aren’t zombies or aliens, but the US has a president with reading comprehension issues, an inability to feel empathy, and little-to-no practical knowledge about anything going on in the world.
He also has tiny hands and a micro-penis.
In the US, we have the illusion of freedom, but we have also had a dramatic militarization of the police, a war on people of color that’s been going on for a couple of centuries, and now neo-Nazis feel safe creeping out of the woodwork and claiming that their toxic ideology is as intellectually valid – or moreso – than those who oppose them. Then we have the Left is saying that Nazis should be engaged in the “marketplace of ideas” despite the fact that their ideas are pure hate and the advocation of genocide. I mean, asserting that Anti-Fascists are the real fascists is straight out of 1984.
There’s been a disconnect with reality and the real fascism has already gotten a foothold, marching lockstep with the 1%. Things look bleak.
Things have gotten a little…heated in recent times, especially when it comes to politics. Have you gotten any pushback or criticism because of the anthology’s theme?
Honestly, we’re so small that we’re not even a blip on anyone’s radar. We’ve had one or two Instagram followers get offended, but not even in a very hostile way. We have had promotional opportunities turned down from a few Facebook sci-fi and horror pages, which is perfectly understandable. Just sharing the Amazon link for AMERICAN CARNAGE violates a lot of pages “No Politics” rule, so what can you do?
I’m super-excited that you offered to review the book and are taking the time to talk with us about it! (Editor’s note: I admit, I was drawn to the anthology because of the theme. I’m glad I read it, because I really enjoyed it. I’m super excited that the contributors agreed to an interview!)
When you think about the future, is Future Earth a scary or an optimistic place? Or have we, perhaps, already wiped ourselves out and this is a moot point?
I think it’s always going to be a combination of the two. Even in the face of the worst that humanity has to offer, there’s always a reaction. There’s always the urge to create alongside the urge to destroy. There’s always love and heroism to counter hate and cowardice. Somebody’s always going to raise their fist or fly the black flag to oppose oppression. It’s always going to be a struggle. It’s always going to be a fight. That’s the way it’s always been.
Of course, if we do wipe ourselves out, it’ll probably be for the best.
Since ICoS is all about survival, do you think you’d be more likely to survive an alien invasion or a zombie apocalypse?
An alien invasion, for sure. With an alien invasion, there’s a definite goal in mind. It may be difficult, or nearly impossible, but aliens will have a purpose for being here, which means there will always be a resistance and the potential for victory and survival.
With a zombie apocalypse, there’s no end in sight. Zombies represent the inevitability of death (among other things, depending on one’s perspective) and nobody escapes death.
What’s your favorite apocalyptic scenario?
Having just said the zombie apocalypse is one where I’d most surely not survive, I have to say my favorite fictional apocalyptic scenario is… the zombie apocalypse. I think that it is the most existential exploration of meaning and value available in any apocalyptic scenario. Confronting the notion that death is inevitable and there’s no escape, only the biding of time until the end, is one of the most vivid and disturbing ideas that the human mind can engage with.
The central thematic tenets of zombie fiction, no matter how poorly it is pulled off in low-budget film or cheap novels, is the psychological impact of death and loss. Even when zombie fiction ignores real psychology and concentrates on splatter and gore, that is also a valid way of addressing death and loss. Mourning with a chainsaw. Raging against the wave of inevitability with pure escapism. Of course, the best zombie fiction does it all: Night of the Living Dead, Dead Alive, Shawn of the Dead… these films really understand both the surface and the subtextual impact of their storytelling.
Is there anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself or your writing?
Just to let everybody know that there is more Psycho Drive-In madness on the way! We’re getting the plans in place for a Kickstarter to finance NOIRLATHOTEP 2 and are hoping to get a collection of R-Rated Space Opera stories (tentatively titled STARSHIP BALLERS) in print later this year. With any luck I’ll also have the second DAMAGED INCORPORATED novel finished this year and maybe an indie comic adaptation, too!
You can find me on Facebook at /paul.b.mccoy, on Twitter at @PBMcCoy, and Instagram at @paulbrianmccoy. Be sure to follow Psycho Drive-In on FB at /psychodrivein, on Twitter at @psychodrivein, and Instagram at @psychodrivein. And of course, hit us up at http://psychodrivein.com for the best reviews and commentary on the internet about genre film and television.