Monday, February 4, 2013

Interview: Molly Tanzer

Molly Tanzer's fiction has been turning heads in the realm of weird fiction, and for good reason. She shows a remarkable talent for writing tales that embody the humorous macabre. Last week, in my review of her first collection, A Pretty Mouth, I said that I don't remember the last time I had so much fun reading a book. I couldn't recommend it enough.

Awhile back I asked Molly if she would be interested in doing an interview for the blog, and what followed was quite a nice little chat.

JS: First off, I'd like to thank you for the interview. Your book was a blast!

MT: No, thank you!

JS: So I guess my first question has to be, what is the major inspiration behind what I am now dubbing as "The Calipash Cycle"? 

MT: Major inspiration … well, in other interviews I’ve cited the moment in time when I was watching Barry Lyndon and resolved to write a picaresque about incestuous twin necromancers (and thus “The Infernal History of the Ivybridge Twins”) but that’s just the one story. Basically after it became apparent people enjoyed the Twins, I thought to myself “Hey, wouldn’t it be cool if this was like, a Blackadder kind of thing?” So when the gentleman who became my editor at Lazy Fascist contacted me about maybe writing more about the Calipash family I pitched that and he said he thought it was a cool idea.

But more specifically, the major inspiration behind the Calipash stories is my love of English literature. My Master’s was largely focused on 18th century English novels, specifically women’s novels that contained a Transatlantic element, but I also read quite a bit of Victorian lit and 17th century stuff during my time in academia. So I had that core of research to help me with the middle three pieces.

JS: Your stories contain a lot of humor mixed with the macabre. Do you ever find this blending difficult to achieve?

MT: It’s always felt natural to me, but I grew up watching Tim Burton movies, reading books written and/or illustrated by Edward Gorey, and worshiping Christina Ricci as Wednesday Adams in the Adams Family movies. So yeah, that sort of dreary, macabre mix of humor and horror is what I find myself enjoying—for example, Lemony Snicket’s latest is queued up on my Kindle right now—and I always try to write things that I would want to read!

JS: Something I ask all weird fiction writers: Since Lovecraft's influence is apparent, are there any stories by Lovecraft (or his contemporaries) that are favorites of yours?

MT: Sure. Anyone who knows me knows I have what might be called “a thing” for “Herbert West - Reanimator.” Other stories at the top of my Lovecraft list are “The Temple,” “Nyarlathotep,” and “From Beyond.” I also really love “At the Mountains of Madness.” Tekeli-li!

JS: Besides the humor another aspect of your fiction is the rampant, no holds-barred sexuality, which you write so well. Although it mostly seems tongue-in-cheek and intertwined with humor when it is delivered, do you ever find it awkward to write these scenes?

MT: If I say not really, does that make me a creep?

Seriously though, I am interested in the history of human sexuality and the taboos individuals and groups have created (and still create) around sex, for good or for ill. I’ve always enjoyed seeing how writers treat this very basic part of being human, as well as how the era in which said writers are writing makes that more or less difficult. Honestly I don’t think there’s anything that much more risqué in A Pretty Mouth (the novella) than one would find in the poetry of John Wilmot or Abraham Cowley. And “The Hour of the Tortoise” is definitely pretty raunchy, but compared to the actual pornography Chelone Burchell would have read and written it’s extremely tame. Like, everyone in that is … let’s say of age and leave it at that.

The only thing I find awkward is when people assume that because I write frequently about sex it means I’m interested in discussing my personal taste in such matters. This is not true! Honestly, there are few topics I enjoy discussing less in groups of people. (Not that this question was doing that—it just happens.)

JS: Interesting and sometimes antiquated cocktails sometimes make appearances in your work (such as the Corpse Reviver #2) and you recently hosted a cocktail contest on your blog in honor of fellow author Jesse Bullington's latest book, The Folly of the World. What can you tell readers about your love and knowledge of cocktails, and are there any favorites that you think everyone should try?

MT: I got into “mixology” after going to a bar called Peché [] in Austin, TX, the last night of World Horror 2010. They mix exquisite pre-Prohibition style cocktails there, and I was lucky enough to be there with my friend (and author) Andy Romine, who has a vast and impressive knowledge of cocktail ingredients and history. I believe it was he who suggested I order the Corpse Reviver #2, actually. Anyways, I was quite taken with the various cocktails I tried that night, and decided that I was going to explore mixing them on my own.

I think the best advice I can give those interested in beginning to mix cocktails is this: If you’re truly interested in the art, get a good book on drink mixing. Don’t just try things off the internet willy-nilly. The internet can be a great resource, yes, but as with anything else on the internet, any old asshole can put up some garbage, claiming to be an authority, and then you’ve wasted your time and someone’s—maybe your—good booze.

The best overall print guide I’ve found is The Gentleman’s Companion by Charles H. Baker, Jr., more specifically the second volume (Being an Exotic Drinking Book). If you can find it for a decent price, it’s worth picking up … just be aware that most of the recipes are complex in terms of method and ingredient list. You have to have a well-stocked bar, basically. It’s also so old that it has a paean to “Mr. Waring’s Blender” at the beginning, and waxes prosy on what The Blender might do for the future of cocktail mixing. Indeed! More modern, and in some ways just as good is Imbibe! by David Wondrich. It’s more reasonable in terms of the scope of what you need for one drink, and the recipes are great, including the best recipe for a mint julep I’ve tried (which is actually the original, the Prescription Julep).

So, for those who imbibe and are looking to branch out, some of my favorites are the Sazerac (with real absinthe, please—you can get the real stuff now so there’s no reason to buy Herbsaint, or any of the stuff with artificial dyes), the previously mentioned Corpse Reviver #2, the French 75, and the Dark n’Stormy. (I recommend for that last one a very specific combination: Kraken rum, Cock and Bull ginger beer, lime, and also 1 tsp fresh grated ginger on top.) I also have some free recipes of my own design on my website [], the best of which, in my opinion, are The Heavenly Twins.

JS: As for YOUR contemporaries, what current writers of horror and the weird do you think are really giving the genre a run for it's money?

MT: You mentioned my friend Jesse Bullington above, and he’s great. I’m also a big fan of S. P. Miskowski, her book Knock Knock is seriously good. Then of course there’s Nick Mamatas, Caitlin R. Kiernan, John Langan, Nathan Ballingrud. Alan M. Clark’s novels through my publisher are superb. Oh, and re: other bizarro authors, there’s Carlton Mellick III. His The Kobold Wizard’s Dildo of Enlightenment +2 (an adventure for 3-6 players, levels 2-5) is amazing, and likely anyone who laughs at the title will like the book.

JS: 2012 was the year you have officially established yourself as a modern master of the weird. So tell readers, what is in store for Molly Tanzer in the year 2013, and the question that must be asked, have we seen the last of the Calipash family?

MT: While I contest that 2012 established me as any such thing, I was very fortunate to have my first book and several short stories I’m proud of published last year! As for this year, I’ve got some more short fiction coming out, and there are some larger projects I’m working on, as well. As for future installments of the Calipash family, I’m definitely open to writing more, but I have no current plans to do so.

JS: Once again, I'd like to thank you for chatting with me!

MT: My pleasure! Thank you for having me! 

More about Molly Tanzer on her website:

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