Psychedelic Flapper: An Interview with Madeleine Swann

Madeleine Swann is a psychedelic flapper, weird fiction writer, creepy stuff lover, and hideous face puller. And she’s a lot of fun to interview!

-Austin James

“I wanted to be a writer, an actress (but not a famous one), and every single animal in existence.” -Madeleine Swann

Austin James: First off, thanks for chatting to me… I’m excited to get to know you a little better through this interview. Now let’s cut the crap and get down to the real, deep, issues: where do you stand on the Marmite spectrum of lovers/haters?

Madeleine Swann: Basically, Marmite is the devil’s eye boogies.

James: It seems to be the consensus that it’s generally horrible shit.

Swann: I know people who absolutely love it. I don’t trust them. One of them is my best friend Steve. I’m waiting for the day he reveals his true form as some ungodly being.

James: You’ll have to defeat him with a sword made of lightning in order to advance to the next level.

Swann: I’ll probably just look away, embarrassed, and pretend I didn’t see anything.

James: If you don’t fight him, who’s gonna stop him?

Swann: I can’t see that he’ll do any real damage, he gets confused very easily.

James: Ah, so a lower level boss. Makes sense.

Swann: Yeah, he’d probably wander towards the village, bent upon destruction, then worry he’d left his phone in the car and turn back.

James: As an American, I know everything (like I needed to remind you), and I’m not even sure Marmite isn’t just #fakenews…

Swann: I wish it was. Do you have Nutella? It’s just as bad. Also, Twiglets.

James: We do have Nutella. I have not partaken, but I will keep your warning in my pocket for future use.

Swann: Make sure you do, although I think marmite might be the worst.

James: So, changing pace, I hear you’re a writer?

Swann: Oh yes! I try.

James: In fact, you’ve had a book release just recently.

Swann: I did! Fortune Box in June, with Eraserhead Press.

James: Tell us about it?

Swann: Ok. Tower Ltd Surprise Packages is a mysterious company sending packages to strangers throughout the city. Each package is a different story and they all contain a magical object that either helps or proves disastrous for the recipient.

James: Oh cool! So, it’s like a collection of intertwined and loosely related short stories?

Swann: Yes! They’re different stories with the same premise.

James: That sounds fun. Where’d you find the inspiration for this idea?

Swann: A section of The Red Tower by Thomas Ligotti has a creepy tower sending gifts to people in the nearby town that contained spooky items, and I wondered what kind of items a tower of mine would send, and it went from there.

James: I’ve read the first story/chapter in Fortune Box, which (by the way) I loved. Tell me about Seed Man?

Swann: Oh, glad you liked it. Before I met Bill, I was single for about six years, because I’d had such a succession of terrible relationships, and I was determined not to get involved with anyone unless I was completely sure it was right. It led to a lot of awkward dates which was the basis for that story.

James: This is my favorite line: “They’d talk politics, films and art, and maybe she’d allow him a boob to touch on the first night.”

Swann: Haha! I was really proud of that one.

James: Moving on to the real issues, what relation are you to the James Bond character of the same name?

Swann: Zero, although I’m not sure if she has some Proust connection. I don’t know, I read somewhere that her name is a Proust reference and it made me feel intellectual.

James: Bullshit. You work for MI6. You heard it here, folks!

Swann: Shhhh, you’re not supposed to tell people.

James: Don’t worry, no one but the hundreds of thousands of people reading this interview will ever know. Your secret is safe with us.

Swann: Phew!

James: What’s it like working with Eraserhead Press?

Swann: Good. I like being part of a group of writers weird enough to be accepted into the weirdest publisher; it’s a nice feeling.

James: How involved were you, as the author, in approving cover art, etc. (I ask out of ignorance)?

Swann: They did the cover and I thought it was brilliant. They asked what I thought, and I said, “yes!”

James: Well, I happen to agree. It’s a sweet cover!

Swann: Thank you, I love it too!

James: How did working with Eraserhead this time around differ from when you released Rainbows Suck through New Bizarro Author Series (one of their imprints) back in 2015?

Swann: The first time around we were all placed in a Facebook group and assisted each other with promotion etc.. I found that quite stressful because I’m not great in groups. This time around I’ve kind of just been doing it myself.

James: How has that been? You have any readings or anything lined up?

Swann: I’ve managed to get most of the copies I bought into bookshops, told people online to ask me questions which I’ve answered in videos, and I did a giveaway. Not sure about readings but I’m sure I will at some point.

James: Nice. Getting books into bookshops is an important aspect of the game, even in the age of Amazon and social media. Maybe even more so in this age.

Swann: Definitely! I was really pleased when Blackwell in Oxford said they wanted ten copies.

James: How’d you go about setting that up?

Swann: I emailed them with links to my book and my website and they seemed to like it!

James: Do you find “the UK” to be generally accepting of Bizarro/weird fiction?

Swann: I think there’s a lot of weirdos here, so I think we’re generally open to weird stuff yes. Haha. Not everyone, but there’s always some.

James: How long have you been writing weird fiction?

Swann: Oooohh… erm, I think to be honest I was experimenting with weird stuff in primary school, I was writing surreal comedy stories that made sense to no one but me, and no one else found funny, but I thought they were hilarious, so I kept doing them and making people listen to them.

James: That’s awesome! How did you learn about the bizarro movement?

Swann: I found out about it probably around 2014. I was searching for the weirdest books ever written because nothing was satisfying my weird needs anymore, and I stumbled on Eraserhead Press.

James: And then?

Swann: I read a few and wasn’t sure. Then I kept reading and started to get into it, and submitted some stories to things, and it went from there.

James: Which Bizarro authors do you think helped you “start to get into it”?

Swann: I think probably The Haunted Vagina, I thought it was a genuinely sweet story, by Carlton Mellick III. Also, A Million Versions of Right by Matthew Revert. And Autumn Christian’s work.

James: Yeah, I can definitely see why you were lured in. Okay, so other than Eraserhead, where else have you been published?

Swann: Got a collection with Burning Bulb and a novella with Strangehouse Books, and short stories on The Wicked Library Podcast, Clash Books magazine (issue 1), and various other places. For transparency, I’m answering this question on the toilet.

James: Do they have toilet paper in the UK?

Swann: No, you use tea cups.

James: Ah. Well, at least you’ve all been upgraded to indoor plumbing (I assume)?

Swann: We have now, thank goodness. I used to have to sit in a field.

James: How relevant are broadswords in England nowadays?

Swann: I don’t know about anyone else, but I carry mine everywhere. Also, I’m now hiding because Bill’s got in from work, I’m going to jump out at him

James: Use your broadsword…

Swann: Good idea!

James: If you accidentally kill him I’ll help feed his body to the hogs by documenting each aspect for our viewers.

Swann: I’d probably try Necromancy. I don’t know how I’d handle day to day life without him.

James: Have you successfully necromanced before?

Swann: A couple of times, mostly just old people who popped off again ten minutes later.

James: Makes sense. So, which of your books are you most proud of?

Swann: Definitely Fortune Box. I’m so proud of it, I feel like I’m getting to where I need to be as a writer.

James: Where’s that?

Swann: It still very much has my sense of humor all over it, but I wanted to say more about my thoughts on the world, and people, and things like that.

James: What’s next? Any current projects you can talk about?

Swann: I’m working on a weird middle grade book right now.

James: That sounds awesome. Can you share any details?

Swann: Not sure at the moment because it’s not finished, but I think it will be quite dark for a kid’s book. Hopefully still funny though.

James: Have you talked to any publishers about it? Is there a market for weird YA books?

Swann: I hope there is! Not yet. I’ll do the looking when it’s finished.

James: You mentioned that you’re getting to “where you want to be” as a writer. What’s the next step?

Swann: I’d really like to get an agent. The next thing I’ll do is send this new one out to them and hope for the best.

James: In your opinion, what is the advantage of having an agent?

Swann: I’m not good at promoting myself and such. Agents help you with those things a bit more.

James: Makes sense. How many hobbits live in your town?

Swann: 17, all named Harry.

James: What did you want to be when you grew up?

Swann: I wanted to be a writer, an actress (but not a famous one), and every single animal in existence.

James: How are the actress and animal careers going?

Swann: I kind of abandoned those but I do a good impression of a napping cat.

James: Tell me about your book out from New Kink Books?

Swann: Oh yeah! It’s a novelette of surreal erotica set in a wonderland world of kinky things. It’s another set of linked short stories.

James: Talk about a wide range of audience appeal! Weird porn to Bizarro YA…

Swann: Ha! My interests are vast but they’re always weird.

James: What do you do when you’re not reading or writing?

Swann: I’m probably either watching a weird film, terrible TV or YouTube.

James: What are some of your favorite weird films?

Swann: Guy Maddin is probably my favorite director, he loves the 20s, surrealism and daft humor like me. Also, I quite like Cat Soup, Freaks, A Page of Madness, Pandora’s Box, lots!

James: I’ll have to check some of those out. Don’t make fun of me for having not seen any of them.

Swann: I wouldn’t make fun of you!

James: Do you have a routine you follow when you write?

Swann: I usually write in the morning, then finish around midday.

James: Do you people have coffee on that side of the world, or are you forced to drink tea whilst writing?

Swann: I’m hooked up to a tea drip 24/7. Bill does prefer coffee, though.

James: Mainlining earl tea is supposed to be good for your liver.

Swann: That’s what I tell myself.

James: Haha. Well hey, this has been a great chat! Is there anything else you want to get out there before we finish up? Any links or opinions or #fakenews?

Swann: Sure!

And fake news: if you look deep into a shark’s eyes, you’ll probably die.
Austin James writes obscure and uncomfortable fiction.

Machine Gun Truth: An Interview With Autumn Christian

Anyone who is even somewhat familiar Autumn Christian knows that not only is she an amazing author, but she’s also training in the arts of Kung Fu. Curious as to whether or not her reflexes are as sharp as one would assume, I took the “shotgun interview approach” by peppering her with random questions in attempt to throw her off her game. I learned, however, that I am the one who is but a grasshopper…

-Austin James

Autumn Christian

“Our purpose (as a species) is to enrich and help humanity. That applies to writers too.” -Autumn Christian

Austin James: So before we get into writerly stuffs, first things first: Kill Bill Volume 1 or Kill Bill Volume 2?

Autumn Christian: This is a totally unfair question, but Volume 1 for several reasons: The “Wiggle your big toe” scene, Lucy Liu, Hattori Hanzo, and Gogo Yubari.

James: What about the dialogue and character development in Volume 2?

Christian: Also excellent, but it’s set in motion by what happens in Volume 1—and in general the beginning of a movie or game or book is the most exciting, because of novelty.

James: I’ve found my opinion about these movies has changed as I get older. When they first came out I liked Volume 2 much better, but I was also under the impression that everything Tarantino does should be Pulp Fiction (thankfully, I’ve grown beyond this as a consumer of the arts). Alright, next super important question: cats or dogs?

Christian: Dogs. Cats are one of the few non-pack/herd domesticated animals. Social animals are generally more intelligent because they require that intelligence to communicate with each other – so dogs can interact with you and communicate with you in a way that cats can’t, since their social structure is more similar to our own.

James: (jots some shit down into notebook) Hmmmmmmmm. Okay. You’re fans are dying to know—pizza or tacos?

Christian: Pizza. It is comprised of everything enticing and delicious to human beings and as such, is the perfect food.

James: Do you put Marmite on pizza?

Christian: I’ve never eaten it. Isn’t that more of an Australian thing?

James: My understanding is that it’s horrid shit and, thus, is outlawed everywhere but the UK. It was a trick question. Good job!

Christian: Oh I see. UK, Australia… same thing right? I forget about every part of the world that isn’t Texas.

James: Don’t you live in California?

Christian: Your point? Haha.

James: On a scale from orange to amino acids, how do you rate your natural levels of vitamin D7?

Christian: Dusty Cliff Bar in the back of a cupboard.

James: Excellent. I know those probably all seem like random, unrelated questions. And they were. It’s a little known “fact” that I have an advanced degree in Psychologistical Trending. Full disclosure: your preliminary evaluation score is 34.

Christian: That’s exciting. How do I get the high score?

James: To start playing with all weapons and items pre-equipped, plus four energy packs and a one-up, enter the following cheat code: A-5, B-2, B-4, DOWN, LEFT, C-1, C-3, C-5, UP, D-4, D-5, LEFT, E-1. Okay, so now that I have a better idea what kind of person we’re dealing with in you, let’s talk writerlies…

Christian: Here, I’ll send you a picture of my credit card too!

James: Thanks… I’ll keep it… safe. So I’ve read just enough of your stuff to be ashamed that I haven’t read more. I read a lot of your posts on social media, as well as your blog.

Christian: If you’d have told me that a few years ago, I’d say, “sorry, do you want $5 in reparations?”

James: Really? I think you’re fantastic writer, and actually have started a small collection of screenshots showing writing advice from your blog, etc. You think you’ve improved “that much” over the past few years?

Christian: Not writing-wise. But my self-respect has. And thank you. I’m glad that those things resonate with you. That’s my job.

James: I’m happy that your self-respect has improved, you deserve your own respect at the very least. What do you think has led to this personal growth?

Christian: I used to think that relentless self-editing and demeaning myself not only protected me from criticism, but helped me improve. Not only does it not do either of those things, it’s an actively harmful agent that hurts you. Because at that point, you’re not approaching the task of writing with joy or determination. You’re approaching it like you’re something born wrong that needs to atone for simply existing. So every day, writing become a struggle. You’re coming up a force and pushing against it. Every. Single Day. Most people have difficulty with that kind of constant pressure.

James: I hadn’t thought of this point of view before, but it makes sense. I’m glad you’ve grown beyond that point in your life. So you’ve already hinted in this direction, but do you have a general philosophy about what it means to be a writer?

Christian: Our purpose (as a species) is to enrich and help humanity. That applies to writers too. Books were a great comfort and a teacher to me throughout my childhood and onward. I gained multiple perspectives, empathy, connected with others who were suffering. Personally, I write because I don’t want people to suffer like me. I want to write for the people who feel outcast and broken, like the world doesn’t make sense. Empathy heals. And the permission to be yourself heals. And I think books can do that.

James: What are you working on now?

Christian: I ‘m working on a collaboration with a friend of mine, who brought me on to work on the voice of the female main characters. It’s a fictional story about gender relations and how rage uses the Internet to spread.

James: That sounds awesome—I like the premise. What are the dynamics like when co-authoring a project like this?

Christian: I don’t want to divulge too much, but we play to each other’s individual strengths. He’s the Secretary of the Exterior, I’m the Secretary of the Interior.

James: I don’t even know what the hell that means but it sounds cool and I’m sure the end result will be excellent. So which of your written works are you most proud of?

Christian: My last one. It’s a novel about a woman who has the power to heal people with sex. It’ll be coming out spring of 2019 from CLASH Books. It’s the novel that most shows my growth as a person as I transition into a writing style that’s less narrowly focused. It’s still an “Autumn Christian story,” but unlike anything I’ve ever written before. From what I have out currently, I am probably most proud of my novel, We are Wormwood. It is the bildungsroman for broken girls. It is fiction, and every word is true.

James: Good to know, I’ll definitely have to snag a copy of Wormwood; I’m slowly reading through Ecstatic Inferno and am loving it. Also, premature congratulations on the upcoming release through CLASH.

Christian: Thank you!

James: So, what thing(s) do you want your readers to know about you?

Christian: There isn’t a particular thing I want readers to know about me. My books aren’t meant for people to discover things about me, but about themselves. I feel removed from the relationship between book and reader after I write it and put it out into the world.

James: More importantly, in event of zombie apocalypse, what three weapons would you want, in order of necessity? And why?

Christian: This is a tough question. I think first I’d want an all-purpose knife, so not only can I cut zombie throats I can open tin-cans and cut ropes, etc. Second, a sword. Something professionally made out of steel, so that I can cut down zombies at a medium-range distance without having to worry about it breaking. Third, a gun. I’ve only ever shot a rifle in real life but I think I’d probably go with something like a pistol, but since I’m not very proficient with a gun this would mostly be used to dissuade other humans from attacking or stealing my things.

James: Good answers. I like you circled back to my first question by all but demanding a Hattori Hanzo blade.

Christian: Haha!

James: Other good answers include: crow bar (weapon plus break into places for scavenging) and light saber (because… it’s a light saber).

Christian: Oh, I mean I thought we were trying to keep it at least somewhat grounded in reality, despite the zombie scenario. If we can get light sabers, then yeah, give me one of those.

James: I feel like we now need a short film where motherfuckers just annihilate hordes of zombies with lightsabers for 20 minutes. Night of the Dead: The Jedi Scourge. Anyway, this is an interview with a writer, so more writerly questions: which writer (still writing today) has had the most influence on your own writing?

Christian: I don’t think I can point to one author, but John Skipp says I’m the gene-splice baby of Philip K. Dick and Poppy Z. Brite and I feel that’s probably the best descriptor of me.

James: Definitely not a comparison to be ashamed of. With that in mind, if you could meet one person throughout all history who would you choose?

Christian: I’ve never honestly thought of this question before—I always thought I’d like to meet Philip K. Dick or Bukowski, but honestly, if I could pick anyone, it’d probably be Jesus. I think that guy understood some crucial things about the human race.

James: Ok, so your answer just spawned a hypothetical battle to the death with undead Jesus. Name the three weapons you need to avoid certain death (or un-death)…

Christian: Truth and a machine gun, which really are kind of the same thing. I don’t need a third weapon.

James: Of course. Everyone know that Truth and machines guns are basically identical twins.

Christian: Well, a machine gun operates within the laws of physics and its effects are final. AKA, Truth.

James: I like to get deep and philosophical, but I get the feeling I’m way out of my league interviewing you (in a lot of ways, actually). So, quickly switching subjects to avoid coming across as ignorant: do you have a writing process, or daily routine or anything like that?

Christian: I like to listen to trap music and slam red bull while typing on my mechanical keyboard, because the loud clack makes me feel like I’m (back to this) manning a machine gun. I’m just kidding, trap music is terrible. Everything else is true though.

James: So, based on this (innocent?) obsession with machine guns… do you think of your words as bullets?

Christian: I am a soft 28 year old white woman who grew up in the suburbs, so I can’t say that I honestly know what I’m talking about—but as I’ve been going to martial arts every day, working on myself, I realize that I should approach life with what I can best embody as the aspects of a warrior. Because life is struggle, it’s hard, and nobody else is going to help you be the best version of yourself. You have to clear the path out that you want, and that requires simultaneously recognizing your feelings, and weaponizing them, and pushing yourself. So no, the words aren’t bullets necessarily—but what I’m conscientiously putting out into the world with my writing, and the relationship between me and my writing—we want to spread love, keep our weapons sheathed, and yet be ready for war.

James: Speaking of Kung Fu, do you believe it’s helped coddle and grow your creative cancer?

Christian: Yes! The results of failure in martial arts are immediate, as are successes. If you fail to land a punch, you know right away. It’s the art of bringing the body and mind together, and recognizing they are one. Writing operates under physics even if the effects aren’t immediately obvious, so the same rules apply. Body and mind are one. Reality and fiction are not in opposition. Fiction is a kind of reality, so if you understand the rules of how things work – observe, experiment, adjust for error— you become a better writer. And just like a cancer, I want to spread. As does… well pretty much everything in existence.

James: Have you Kung Fu’d your boyfriend yet?

Christian: My boyfriend studied Tukong for 7 years under Grandmaster Yi, who was raised in a temple and created a martial arts system for the South Korean Special Forces. So…. no. He helps me with my technique though.

James: Alright, sensei, why did you choose writing as the form to express your creation?

Christian: I didn’t. I don’t think we can choose our passions, not really. The thing that’s inside me that compels to write couldn’t compel me to make rustic furniture, or photograph sea urchins. I’ve been writing since I was six years old, before I understood what “being a writer” (with all its baggage) meant. It just fascinated me, and it continues to. At this point I can’t really separate who I am from that.

James: I love the way you explained that, because it’s so true for me as well. My stepdad actually builds rustic furniture, so it’s interesting that you mentioned that. It’s an interesting comparison in mind between his art form and mine—something that I’m now going to explore a little deeper in the near future.

Christian: Cool! I have mad respect for people who make furniture. Pure math.

James: So, I’ve been learning that I’ve been very naive to some of the things many female artists go through. Have you found it difficult to be a “soft 28 year old woman from the suburbs” in this industry?

Christian: Yes. Of course. But I also don’t think anyone would say they’ve had it easy. I’ve had trauma to go through, I’ve been assaulted—but I think my perspective as a woman and a writer is an asset and a strength, not a hindrance. Maybe a few people rejected stories from me because I had a female name, or thought I was incompetent. I can’t say for sure. I’ve never had that confirmed. Almost everything I set out to do, I did. I earned people’s respect through the most important vehicle—the work. Yes, I struggle. I struggle a lot. But so does everyone else. So I won’t say that my struggle is special, or different. Like I said earlier… life is struggle. People ask why Kate Spade would kill herself if she had everything. She didn’t have everything. Her struggle was just different. That’s the price of being human.

James: Do you feel that expressing your own human struggle through written word changes reality?

Christian: A guy who works at McDonalds and helps people get easy access to food changes reality. Sweeping your floor changes reality. We all change reality. Books specifically are powerful. Some books more than others, and those who hit a cultural pressure point at just the right time affect more people. Books completely changed the landscape of my mind, and as such influenced how I act and perceive the world. I would not be the same person if I’d never read Philip K. Dick, Thomas Piccirilli, Stephen King, Poppy Z. Brite… the list goes on and on. Books allow to explore new perspectives, consider struggles we never have personally. Research shows that reading books is linked with increased empathy. Uncle Tom’s Cabin was one of the reasons for the Civil War. The Jungle by Upton Sinclair brought on the Meat Inspection Act. Books absolutely do change reality, but that’s not a special effect of books specifically.

James: Great points. Now back to the important topics… sex or chocolate?

Christian: I don’t need chocolate for the continued existence of the species.

James: Damn. I was hoping you’d say sex AND chocolate.

Christian: Haha. Sorry, we don’t always get what we want.

James: Sad but true. Okay, last question: what should my last question for you be?

Christian: Why are puffy Cheetos the best snack food, for $200?

James: Why are puffy Cheetos the best snack food, for $200?

Christian: Wait, I didn’t think you were actually going to ask me that. I don’t have time to write a Shakespearean sonnet.

James: Fair enough. Let’s go with an alternate final question, then. Who has the better super hero suit: Iron Man or Black Panther?

Christian: Black Panther. That has to be a trick question.

James: No, actually I agree. Why do you think it’s Panther?

Christian: It looks cooler, for one, which in a fantastical world counts for a lot. And it seems as far as mobility way better than the Iron Man suit.

James: Good point, Black Panther does look a helluva lot cooler than Iron Man. Well, thanks for partaking in this scattered interview. It’s been a pleasure—I am a fan and it’s been cool to pick your brain a bit.

Christian: Thanks! I hope you found some good brain pickings.

You can stay up to date with Autumn’s happenings by following her on Facebook, and/or Twitter.

Austin James writes obscure and uncomfortable fiction.