Giving Birth To CreepsInterview by Joshua Chaplinsky
The process of bringing The Orange Eats Creeps into this world was not an easy one for first-time author Grace Krilanovich. Conceived as part of a dare, the novel slowly took shape during a protracted gestation period of writing and revision. But that was only the beginning. Once fully formed, there was the matter of coaxing the reluctant manuscript from the publishing womb. It was only after a particularly difficult labor that the experimental bundle of joy finally arrived in September of 2010. Indie-press midwife Two Dollar Radio was there to aid in the delivery and hand out cigars. Continuing with the pregnancy metaphor, that would make mentor Steve Erickson the birthing coach, and the unnamed classmate who presented the dare the all important sperm donor.
You'd think Creeps was destined for problem child status, what with its petulant, stream of consciousness anti-narrative, but it actually turned out to be quite the well-behaved little cherub. Reviews have been predominantly positive, despite the difficulty of the material. Creeps appeared on numerous end of the year lists in 2010, and Grace was selected as one of the National Book Foundation's prestigious 5 Under 35. No one was more surprised than the author herself. It's not everyday a plotless book about promiscuous underage bloodsuckers (or PUBs, kind of like CHUDs) is so well received.
Grace was refreshingly honest about the difficulties she encountered while writing Creeps and the lessons she learned along the way. She was kind enough to replay the video of its birth and provide a running commentary while I squirmed in my seat. When that ordeal was over, the conversation turned to more pleasant subject matter- such as the warping of young girls' minds and her love of male hustlers. We also managed to discuss the new novel she is working on and the age-old challenges associated with the problematic second child.
JOSHUA CHAPLINSKY: How did THE ORANGE EATS CREEPS come about? Is it true you picked ideas out of a hat?
GRACE KRILANOVICH: Yeah. It started as kind of a dare or a wager with a classmate of mine in the Grad program at CalArts. I wanted to write a movie or a TV pilot incorporating a bunch of elements I would basically choose at random. One of them was "ancient Egypt high school." Another one was "boxcar vampire junkies," or something like that. I had a bunch of things listed out and he was like, why don't you just rearrange this here, combine these together, and the resulting string was "slutty teenage hobo vampire junkies." He was like, you should write that, and I said, okay, maybe I will, you know? It was just a way to limit the cripplingly infinite possibilities of what you can use as your subject matter- what these people do and who they are. Kind of tamp it down and define the parameters of the story.
JC: That doesn't sound like the most limiting set of parameters to me.
GK: Well, it is in a way. When you sit down to write a story, the characters could be anybody at any time in any place. It's kind of paralyzing.
JC: In one interview you referred to the book as "the verbal equivalent of a landfill of ideas." It mines everything from punk rock to true crime to drug use to popular culture to geography.
GK: The novel as a form is a huge container for the wild array of things you want to load into it. So I think the form of the novel was really the right form for this particular story, because I wanted to incorporate a wide variety of styles and elements. Incorporating all these disparate things in this big mixed bag. And I wanted to play with the excessive qualities of certain novels that I like. Write something overwhelming in a way that's supposed to duplicate the inner state of the character and throw you into this other realm.
JC: What novels in particular?
GK: Well, something like [Pierre Guyotat's] Eden Eden Eden, where it's just completely relentless in terms of the form. All one unbroken sentence. It's the most excessive, in terms of language and subject matter, that I can even think of. Something like that, where the novel itself, the form, is expanded by pushing it to those limits.
JC: With all that you put in, was there anything that got left out?
GK: Yeah. I ended up cutting about 80 or 90 pages of stuff. I wrote the novel over the course of a few years, so there were certain points where I cut a lot. I didn't think it would be able to be that long. I was judicious about having it be excessive, but in a way that didn't push the patience of the reader. I wanted to keep the reader in the book.
JC: Is that quantity you were cutting, or were there any specific elements you decided had to go?
GK: It was purely quantity of words that I cut. In writing the book, I kind of wrote the same scenarios over and over again, so there weren't any story lines or divergent paths that got pruned down.
JC: Did you have an overall plan when you started writing?
GK: No. I hadn't written fiction before, so my only plan was to write a crazy story that no one would ever see or know about. And to have fun with it, to push the limits of what was decent, you know? Writing in secret without telling anybody I was working on something was also important, because it was very freeing in terms of just putting whatever down on the page. Just figuring out who the characters were and what the story was about as I went along. Just writing one page chunks, or a paragraph at a time. And writing around images, or really short glimpses of scenes that I had, which is- I don't know if I would write that way now. I think it came from a lack of experience and wanting to try a different approach. It's not the easiest way to write fiction, by any stretch. It did really feel like it was torturous, just trying to get a single page out.
JC: I read that you used a number of unusual methods while writing the book, such as dealing a homemade deck of cards with different words and actions to shape the story.
GK: Oh, yeah. I mean, after a while I just started coming up against a wall of, how far can I take this, where is this going? A total inability to continue turning out the pages. So for lack of any better way to proceed I started using word games and different techniques to generate text. Blending things up, making cut-ups out of pages that I already had to generate new content. Or using the cards to generate possible scenarios. I wanted to keep using the same repetitive type of scenes, like deja vu, being caught in this vortex. So I think recombining the writing that I already had lent itself to that, because all the same phrases would pop up again and again- that was the effect that I wanted.
JC: You've also said you listened to holosync meditation tapes while you wrote. What exactly are they and what purpose did that serve?
GK: A friend of mine introduced me to that. It was kind of tongue in cheek. They're like a new age meditation soundtrack. You listen to it on headphones and it sends subliminal tones to each ear, over the sounds of rain. It's very relaxing, and I used it- not all the time, but at certain points in the writing to kind of get an intense focus on the story and to think deeply about the characters.
JC: Did that work for you?
GK: Yeah, it did. Maybe it's just a matter of quieting all the external noise in your mind and getting a really high level of focus. Maybe anything could do that for you, but that in particular made if possible for me to come up with ideas I wouldn't have arrived at otherwise. I don't think I'd rely on that today, but at the time I was willing to experiment with anything.
JC: You mentioned that before CREEPS you wrote mostly non-fiction. I know you have a day job at the LA Times. Was CREEPS a rebellion against the rules and structure of that type of writing?
GK: Initially I saw it as a way to incorporate a lot of the non-fiction ideas I was interested in into fiction. Like writing about music and writing about movies. I don't think it was a reaction to feeling like I was limited by non-fiction. I think in the CalArts writing program, there was a lot of encouragement to push boundaries with hybrid forms and to incorporate different elements into opposite genres of writing. So I was interested in writing fiction that still conveyed my non-fiction interests.
JC: You were selected for the National Book Foundation's 5 under 35. CREEPS was also on numerous end of the year lists. Have you been surprised by the positive reception to what might be considered a "difficult" or "experimental" novel?
GK: Very surprised. I mean, just because of how difficult it was for me to get the book published, how many presses turned it down. The years and years of sending it out and feeling discouraged. You start sending it out and you don't expect to get easy acceptance, but still. It was almost three years and there were no takers, and I just felt like it was such a hard book to interest somebody in. And I can understand that. Just getting a manuscript like that on your desk, you know- what the hell is this? It's so hard to identify what the novel is right off the bat like that. So I anticipated a similar reaction when the book came out, even though my publisher- Two Dollar Radio, Eric Obenauf- he had so many great ideas about how to present the book and how to convey to the reader what they were in for. The cover art and Steve Erickson's intro- I think all those things contributed to introducing the book and conveying what it was. But in terms of the 5 under 35, I was very shocked by that, and I'm still shocked. I could never thank Scott Spencer enough. It's just an incredible honor, and for him to go out on a limb like that for a book like mine- it's awesome.
JC: How exactly did you hook up with Two Dollar Radio?
GK: Well, they went for it. Steve suggested I send the book to them. Even in my initial investigation into who they were and what kind of books they published, they really seemed to be the right place for it. Their ideas about publishing were really consistent with mine and I just love the whole idea of the press- their aesthetic and the books they publish. It just clicked. It seemed to be the right home for the book.
JC: They did a great job. There was that cool little book trailer. Very lo-fi and atmospheric. Did you have any involvement with that?
GK: The trailer was my handiwork. I shot it and my friend Nickole helped me. That's her song on there. We had a budget of like 5 dollars, but it was fun to make. We shot it around Santa Cruz, where I grew up.
JC: While not specifically a vampire novel, how do you think CREEPS fits into the current cultural obsession with them?
GK: Well, when I started writing, I wanted to do a take-off on the late 80's/early 90's vampire, like Lost Boys. That was the aesthetic that I was after. Pre-Twilight, at the time I was writing the book. But that's alright. You can't control the way people's interests are turning. The vampire elements I wanted to incorporate into the story, they're not campy- well, they are campy, but they're campy in a different way. The thing I was after with that was the parasitic element. The consumerist impulse.
JC: It's funny, I was reading some of the Amazon reviews, and you throw the word vampire out there and people start to expect certain things. One irate reviewer complained CREEPS was "all junkie and no vampire."
GK: Haha. There's not nearly as much baggage when you say a word like hobo or junkie, you know? What are you gonna do?
JC: Your writing process may be unorthodox, but what about your schedule? Do you have a routine? Any rituals?
GK: Initially I was writing more steadily, because I was still in grad school and it was easy to carve out writing time. After I graduated, it was a little bit harder to maintain that schedule. After a while, I stopped writing. I stopped working on it for about a year. Then I lined up a few retreat type situations out of panic, because I felt like I would never finish the book. One of them was- I was house sitting. Then I went to the Macdowell Colony. Those were about 3 or 4 weeks each. And that was really essential to finishing the book. I felt like I needed those days of unbroken focus to get into the story enough to be able to see it through to the end. That was really important.
JC: You graduated with a Master of Fine Arts in Writing from the California Institute of the Arts, where author Steve Erickson is a teacher. As you said earlier, he also wrote the introduction to CREEPS. How did that come about? Were you an actual student of his?
GK: Yeah, I was a student of his. He also published two excerpts from the novel in Black Clock while I was still a student there. So he was really a huge advocate for this work from the very beginning. He went to bat for it in every way possible. I'm eternally grateful for that because I feel he, like Scott Spencer, went out on a limb advocating a work that may have struck people as too weird.
JC: On the Two Dollar Radio blog, you run down a list of books and films you were exposed to at the tender age of 15. NAKED LUNCH, TROPIC OF CANCER, Andy Warhol's TRASH- very atypical stuff for a young girl. Looking back, do you feel that material warped in any way?
GK: Well, that's what I wanted to read. For some reason I was really drawn to stories of male hustlers. I was really into the whole Andy Warhol milieu and everything Lou Reed. I would seek out and read anything that Lou Reed endorsed- like John Rechy's City of Night, Last Exit to Brooklyn, Delmore Schwartz. I never had a YA period. I read books for adults because they appealed to me. And stories about male hustlers appealed to me for some reason. The Andy Warhol movies, Joe Dallesandro- I ate it up. Maybe it did [warp me], sure, but I also liked old movies too, musicals and stuff, so it wasn't all sleazy and perverted.
JC: You could look at it as a positive warping.
GK: Exactly. A positive warping.
JC: Would you recommend your own book to a 15 year old girl?
GK: I wouldn't recommend it to a 15 year old girl, but I wouldn't want it to be kept from them, either. It was so important to me as a teen to have access to great book stores in Santa Cruz, like Logos Books and Records- huge used book stores- before you could easily buy things online. You couldn't find out of print books as easily. But having so many great book stores in town and being free to browse throughout the entire store and buy any kind of book was really huge for me. I think if I didn't have that I'd be a completely different person. A much different writer for sure.
JC: Are you currently working on a followup to CREEPS?
GK: I'm working on another novel. I've been working on it for a few years now. I really wanted to write about California, because I'm a sixth-generation native and I'm really drawn to the weirdness of it. How unusual it is and how great it is. I wanted to write a story of early California, kind of a love triangle that's a little bit warped.
JC: I read that it takes place in the 1800's?
GK: Yeah, the late 19th century on the central coast of California.
JC: Are you going to employ a similar experimental approach?
GK: No, this one's much different. I think over the course of writing the first book, I learned so much about writing fiction. I can see it from the early stuff I wrote, comparing it to the stuff I wrote at the end, a real trajectory of learning how to write. And so with this one I haven't felt the need to resort to text generating techniques as much. It's a different kind of story and it's not something that's really necessary here. But that being said, it's not like it's been breezy to write this new book. It's never easy.
JC: Do you have a time frame on when it might be finished?
GK: Soon as possible, really. I've been working on it already for longer than the last book took. I feel really invested in the story and the characters and I'm definitely motivated to finish it. Hopefully soon.