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Most of you who read my journal need no introduction to Poppy Z. Brite, or so I might have thought until I installed the hit counter that checks traffic here. More than 3000 folks a month hit this journal for one reason or another, and for those of you who may have not had the pleasure of walking the streets of New Orleans with Nothing from Lost Souls, or visiting Birdland in her novel "Drawing Blood," -- or more recently shared a meal or two with G-Man and Rickey -- the characters from her current series of novels...here's a short bio.

Poppy Z. Brite was born in New Orleans in 1967, and has been writing as long as she can remember. Her earliest work was published in the small but well-regarded magazine The Horror Show and in anthologies such as Borderlands and Still Dead. In 1992 her first novel, Lost Souls, was published by the groundbreaking Abyss horror line and has since become a cult classic, reprinted dozens of times and translated into eight languages. She followed it up with three more successful horror novels, Drawing Blood, Exquisite Corpse, and The Lazarus Heart. Her short fiction has been collected in three volumes, Swamp Foetus, Self-Made Man, and The Devil You Know. Other projects have included a collection of nonfiction pieces, Guilty But Insane, and an authorized bio of rock diva/trainwreck Courtney Love.

In recent years, Brite has moved away from horror, instead drawing on her extensive knowledge of the New Orleans restaurant scene (she has been married to a chef for 17 years) for a series of novels and short stories about Rickey and G-man, two young New Orleans cooks who make a name for themselves by opening a restaurant whose menu is based entirely on liquor. Brite's restaurant tales (published by Three Rivers Press, a division of Random House) include the novels Liquor, Prime, and most recently Soul Kitchen, of which Publishers Weekly wrote, "Throughout, Brite demonstrates a deep passion for and knowledge of New Orleans' food scene, and winningly sends up the city's wealthy elite, who 'were like great dark sea creatures circling below the water's surface.' The novel is brisk and entertaining, and manages to deal sharply with homophobia and racism amid a frothy plot." Soul Kitchen was completed the night before Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. She is currently working on another book in the Liquor series, Dead Shrimp Blues. In January, Subterranean Press will publish her novella D*U*C*K, which also concerns itself with the Liquor characters, but in a slightly alternate world where Katrina never happened. Subterranean Press also published The Value of X, a short novel about Rickey and G-man's early years growing up in New Orleans and learning to cook.

Poppy Z. Brite lives in New Orleans with her husband Chris and 19 cats.


NEW PROJECTS:



SOUL KITCHEN (novel; out now from Three Rivers Press):




D*U*C*K (novella, due out in January from Subterranean Press):


And without further ado...on to the Deep Blue Interview - those of you familiar with these will see that we have cheated some on this...there are follow-ups to some of the five questions. Sue me...it's my journal ... and meanwhile enjoy the company of docbrite Poppy Z. Brite

DBJ: You've been writing for a long time now From the beginning of your career, people seem to have been eager to stereotype you, categorize your writing and your lifestyle from a distance, and then -- time and again, they walk away bewildered when you fail to fit their molds. Despite this, and despite taking your writing in different directions again and again, you have remained enigmatic, successful, and true to whatever odd drummer keeps your beat. So?finally getting to the question?how has this sort of fawning misconception on the part of the world at large affected your writing? You stand solid as stone when your mind is made up to stop writing a certain thing, or not to be "genrified" -- but has the pressure molded you in any way? In short, how has the pressure of the "Poppy" that people have convinced themselves they know leaked into the Poppy that actually is?

PZB: I can't see that the various strange things people think about me have affected my work at all. I can't swear that they haven't, because I don't think you ever really know all the things that have influenced you, but writing is such a personal activity for me that I can't imagine letting it be affected by ... I don't know, message boards and Entertainment Weekly articles and the like. I try to glean useful information from reviews I think are intelligent, but I'm not very good at it; can't think of a time when I've actually changed anything about my work because of something I read in a review.

DBJ: You have a way of bringing music into your writing that speaks very strongly to me. Everyone disagrees with me (or seems to) but for me "Drawing Blood" was a much more powerful book than "Lost Souls." You sent me back to images of my own Hank Williams Sr. soaked childhood, and you showed me Charlie Parker from a completely different perspective that has never left me (nor has Birdland). Your poor lost vampire children in "Lost Souls" seemed to have walked out of a Sisters of Mercy bad dream. My question is this. How much of the music in your writing comes from the music in your life? Do you write your obsessions into the prose, or do you just pluck the sounds from some moment in time and weave them in? What music was important to you when you wrote Lost Souls -- and what are you listening to now? Feel free (please) to mention any significant period between.

PZB: Well, I can tell you right off that I was never a Sisters of Mercy fan. I could probably name a couple of their songs if I thought about it, but I don't know that I could identify one. Pretty much all the music that has influenced my work has been mentioned in the work itself, and I don't think I ever mentioned SoM. Certainly LOST SOULS (the novel) has its Goth characters, but I've never understood why people thought Lost Souls (the band) was a Goth band -- they weren't at all. They sounded like a cross between early R.E.M., Tom Waits, and the Eagles.

Deep Blue Note (I think that they believed the band was a Goth band because it's hard to seperate the members of the band from the music you imagine them playing, and while not trying overtly to make them "Goth," you wrote characters that epitomized the movement at the time so perfectly -- just my take on it though)

Back to PZB: I like DRAWING BLOOD better than LOST SOULS too, though both now seem hopelessly flawed to me, as books do ten or fifteen years down the line. That's not to say that I'm not glad people are still reading them -- quite the contrary -- and even to me they're important artifacts of those times in my life. But I do find them hard to look at.

Music was very important to my early work. That started changing around 1994. I don't know why, but it became more of a distraction than an inspiration. Now I never listen to music while writing and its influence on my work in general is minimal. Part of the reason, obviously, is that I stopped writing about musicians. I was very taken with musicians and bands throughout my twenties, but the lustre faded, as it does, and I'm more interested in less glamorous occupations now (though it's amusing, and a rich source of material, how modern diners glamorize chefs and how some chefs try to glamorize themselves).

DBJ Follow-up can you (without naming names if that would be bad) give an example of this chef-glamour syndrome? I can certianly name actors, muscicians, and authors who suffer the same sort of self-delusions, but it would be interesting to read an anecdotal chef-worship story - whether from a diner's perspective, or that of a chef...

PZB: Just flip through any of the glossy food magazines -- or even simply turn on the TV -- and you'll be bombarded with examples. Sexy chef shots. Chef fashion shoots. Rocco DiSpirito, once a promising young chef, making an ass of himself on NBC's "The Restaurant." The original Japanese "Iron Chef" was a cool show, but the U.S. version lost both the wit and the hardcore balls-out cooking aspect, replacing it with prettyboy chefs who mostly couldn't cook worth a damn. I'm not inherently opposed to chefs being the new rock stars -- it's nice to see the media glamorizing someone who actually works for a living -- but a lot of the time it means that the photogenic or hype-conscious chef gets more attention than the truly talented one.

DBJ: You live a life surrounded by animals of all sorts. The last time I visited I met cats, dogs, an albino snake -- I can't even remember them all. Of course, I can't remember a lot about that night, though I do remember getting a late night tour of New Orleans from Chris (actually early morning?) on the way back to my hotel. Through the years your love of your cats and the other animals has warmed my heart -- it's something we share. (Since the interview took place, a very pretty dog named "Honey" wandered onto our porch and into our lives, bringing us to one cat, one rabbit, one turtle, and two dogs). The question is this -- throughout all your prose that I've read, I don't remember animals playing a large part in the stories, novels, etc. What started your long love affair with the four-legged, furry, short and slithery denizens of the world, and have I missed their influence in your work -- or do you keep that part of you more separate?

PZB: Well, I no longer have my snake -- we were able to trace her to the LSU vet school after the storm, but no further -- and my dog is living at my mother's country house in Mississippi because we're currently in a small apartment. We also lost five cats to the storm, four ferals and semi-ferals who couldn't be caught plus one who got sick and died in November. It's been a very, very rough year, and the toll on the animals has been one of the worst parts of it, far worse even than the loss of our house.

I've had animals all my life, but aside from a couple of essays about birdwatching, I've never had any desire to include them in my fiction. As much pleasure and love as they give, I do think people whose lives are filled with animals need a few pet-free zones, and fiction writing is one of mine.

DBJ: You are somewhat of a hero to many of us, and before I ask you another question, I want to tell you why. You wrote a vampire novel and it was very successful. You fought your way clear of vampires, despite the clinging, groping, sometimes begging talons of fans gripping at you to draw you back. You wrote some amazing horror novels -- and during that period managed to write articles, a biography of Courtney Love, and then, again, you broke free. You wrote about a restaurant and food, and despite the bellowing and grousing of your fans, you have made a success of this as well. You have defied the rules that seem to fetter many authors, particularly those who start in genre fiction. Tell me the philosophy that has made this possible. Tell me a little about the way you have approached your career -- was it a plan, or have you followed the winding road? Is there a method, in other words, or has it just been you -- being you -- and nothing more than that?

PZB: Well, it's nice to be called a hero! But there's really no reason I should be considered such; it's not as if I've ever felt that I have much choice about what I write. I can't write about things I'm not interested in, so I didn't have the option of cranking out a bunch of LOST SOULS sequels once I realized that, in my heart, I was done with those characters. I don't understand writers who talk about "giving the readers what they want." If I wasn't pleasing myself first and foremost, I'd never have had any readers in the first place, and if I were to insult them by trying to spoonfeed them what I imagine they want, I doubt I'd have any left.

My own insistence on following my obsessions has taken me to a variety of places, but I certainly don't look down on writers who spend their whole careers writing in one genre or on one subject; I've reached a point now where I feel I could keep writing the Liquor books almost indefinitely. You can't go far wrong doing what you have to do, and just because people expect you to follow a certain path doesn't mean you have to.

(In fairness to my readers, I'd also like to say that I think the "bellowing and grousing" has been vastly exaggerated. This is partly my fault for complaining about it back when it was more of an issue, but the vast majority of people who enjoyed my old work seem to have approached the new stuff with an open mind, and the response has been tremendously gratifying. Once you get beyond the different surface trappings, it's still me, still my voice, still work that's coming from my heart, and I think people recognize that.)

DBJ Follow-up You Said: "Once you get beyond the different surface trappings, it's still me, still my voice, still work that's coming from my heart, and I think people recognize that."

I know this is true. I first became enamored of your work way back when I read "His Mouth Will Taste of Wormwood," an amazing Lovecraftian tribute that managed to be at once a period piece, and at the same time very real and "immediate" for me. Still, though you are modest about it, there are a lot of authors who have either crumbled from lack of the courage to write what they really want to write in the face of the possible loss of readership, or who have followed their muse into obscurity. The strength of your voice, your influence, and your work has held up under the pressure of change -- a rare thing in today's literary climate.

So, that in mind, here's a quick follow up...was there a moment in particular, or an event, or a thought, perhaps, that you recall specifically as a turning point...when you no longer felt like writing the type of fiction you'd been known for over the years and shifted toward Liquor - and beyond?

PZB: Well, you know, I've mentioned before that as early as 1993 I thought it would be a blast to write a funny novel set in the New Orleans restaurant world -- but I'd just moved back here after many years away and Chris was working at his first New Orleans restaurant job and I didn't feel I knew that world well enough yet. So the seed of the idea was there, but I didn't think I'd ever do it. Then one day in the summer of 2000 I'd been trying very hard to get started on another horror novel, and it wasn't coming and I wasn't excited about it or interested in it, and I became disgusted with myself when I remembered how much I'd enjoyed writing once upon a time. So I went into my office and I started writing about these two guys, these young chefs, just for fun, and I gave them Chris' experience of his whole crew being fired from a restaurant named after a drink (Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville) for having a beer after their shift. This thing grew and grew, and I wasn't all that surprised when it turned into a novel, but I was certainly surprised when it turned into a series of novels and novellas and short stories about these characters and their families, a series that, six years later, shows no signs of ending.

DBJ: One last extra question...You obviously used Chris' experiences in writing about your restaurant and your chefs...did you base either of them, or both of them, on Chris? Someone else you know? Or did you just sort of build them from a bunch of varied stories/experiences?

PZB: People who know me and Chris well feel that Rickey and G-man bear a strong resemblance to us, both in their characters and in the dynamic of their relationship. I'm not a chef, obviously, but Rickey is by far the most me-like character I've ever written about. (I don't like to say "autobiographical" because the outer details of his life -- neighborhood, job, relationship with his family -- are nothing like mine, but in character and temperament we are very much alike.) That's why it annoys me when readers say he is a pain in the ass, though I suspect it is true. G-man has Chris' kindness and easygoing personality, though, unlike G-man, Chris has successfully left his Catholic childhood far behind.

As I'm sure you know, inspirations for characters and inspirations for stories can diverge wildly. Chris brings home a lot of great kitchen/restaurant stories, as do the other chefs and restaurant people we know, and I might write about something happening at Liquor that actually happened at another, real-life restaurant -- though generally it will have mutated wildly by the time it makes it into print.

DBJ Note: I'm jealous, by the way, of anyone who lives with a chef...

PZB: You needn't be, at least not if you think it means having a lot of great food cooked for you. Believe me, it doesn't. He does bring me snacks from the restaurant, and about twice a year he cooks a wonderful meal at home, but most of the time I'm on my own food-wise. Fortunately, while I'm not on his level, I can get by in the kitchen.

DBJ: The final (and standard) Deep Blue question. You have until tomorrow to come up with the concept, plot, or idea for a new story or novel. You can have transportation to anywhere in the world, access to a library with all the worlds books, or the same deal with a library of music. Which do you choose, and why?

PZB: Definitely the books. As I say, I still enjoy music, but it isn't a big source of inspiration to me anymore.

You can find more about Poppy in her live journal docbrite or at her website:

ONWARD!

DNW


counter easy hit

Comments

( 18 comments — Leave a comment )
eldritch00
Aug. 20th, 2006 02:23 am (UTC)
Fantastic interview, Dave...as always.

Everyone disagrees with me (or seems to) but for me "Drawing Blood" was a much more powerful book than "Lost Souls."

Consider me someone who feels this way about Drawing Blood in relation to Lost Souls. While I did enjoy the latter a great deal, the former was an astonishing improvement, and Brite just seems to be getting better and better, at least based on the few I've read.

(And like you, I also thought living with a chef would be a rich experience in many different senses of the term.)
deep_bluze
Aug. 20th, 2006 02:26 am (UTC)
Yeah..well
I loved Drawing Blood...it's a long time favorite of mine because of the bits that stuck with me...and I know Poppy has come far from those days...we all have. It doesn't change the way the book affected me then...

I'm glad to have been around to watch it all unfold...

D
eldritch00
Aug. 20th, 2006 03:42 am (UTC)
Re: Yeah..well
I was catching up late last year and stuff (and I'm still not done). Also, I have to say that Exquisite Corpse was at first something I never thought I could get into, but it was an overwhelmingly wonderful surprise that I was proven wrong. I pretty much love that one, too.
deep_bluze
Aug. 20th, 2006 01:56 pm (UTC)
Re: Yeah..well
Hah! I thought that Exquisite Corspse was a hoot, to be honest....while I admit that the initial description of the story seemed unlikely to be pulled off...I was already far enough into reading Poppy's Work to know I'd yet to be disappointed. I also loved the CROW novel quite a lot...though at this point it seems WAY too prophetic...

D
eldritch00
Aug. 20th, 2006 07:26 pm (UTC)
Re: Yeah..well
Ah yes, I also liked that Crow novel a great deal as well!
mariadkins
Aug. 24th, 2006 04:20 pm (UTC)
Re: Yeah..well
When I get stuck writing or am just having a blah day and need something to bring me back around, I pick up Lost Souls. I really need to find a new copy. The one I have is a first-run paperback, and it's about to fall apart on me. :(
docbrite
Aug. 20th, 2006 02:54 am (UTC)
(And like you, I also thought living with a chef would be a rich experience in many different senses of the term.)

Oh, it is. Just not in the "having lots of lovely food cooked for you all the time" sense of the term.
deep_bluze
Aug. 20th, 2006 02:57 am (UTC)
Lol
I bet it's actually fun to eat food from OTHER chefs and have Chris there to discuss it with.

D
docbrite
Aug. 20th, 2006 03:05 am (UTC)
Re: Lol
Indeed. And he feels the same about me, because I possess one of the world's great unsung and unfoolable palates (if I do say so myself).
deep_bluze
Aug. 20th, 2006 01:58 pm (UTC)
Unsung?
I think people flock to your journal to hear about the places you've eaten, and what you had, and what you thought. It's fascinating, really, and you have a wide knowledge of fringe goods...spices and sauces and things from abroad you would not normally hear enough about...(for me it started with Chartreuse, but I have to say I was NOT enamored of that).

D
mariadkins
Aug. 24th, 2006 04:22 pm (UTC)
Re: Unsung?
I think people flock to your journal to hear about the places you've eaten, and what you had, and what you thought

I know that for me, her blog's given me a good idea of where to go if I ever make it to New Orleans. And yeah, I picked up my first bottle of Chartreuse because of Poppy. ROFL
eldritch00
Aug. 20th, 2006 03:42 am (UTC)
Okay, I should have been clearer with my comment! Sorry, and thanks!
deep_bluze
Aug. 20th, 2006 01:54 pm (UTC)
I wonder
If there isn't a lot of LEARNING to do from a talented chef. Even if I was doing the cooking, I'd think when I did something wrong I'd hear about it (lol).

This was a fun interview.

DNW
cave_ghost
Aug. 20th, 2006 03:54 pm (UTC)
Her novels always smells so good! And I wish Liquor will be transleted to russian
deep_bluze
Aug. 20th, 2006 04:18 pm (UTC)
For the sake of those in Russia
I hope so too.
jgoodman71
Aug. 20th, 2006 02:58 pm (UTC)
Great interview, Dave.
deep_bluze
Aug. 20th, 2006 03:48 pm (UTC)
Thanks...
I enjoyed this one a lot.
queenie_writes
Aug. 20th, 2006 05:19 pm (UTC)
"Once you get beyond the different surface trappings, it's still me, still my voice, still work that's coming from my heart, and I think people recognize that."

I do. :) Great interview.

( 18 comments — Leave a comment )