Greetings from the Ether,
Finalizing our review series of Jon Padgett’s work, we are beyond thrilled to share with you our interview with the critically acclaimed author of The Secret of Ventriloquism and the novella, The Infusorium, which we reviewed here and here, respectively. Jon was kind enough to meet me in person for the interview, and we hope you find our conversation as interesting as I did. Make sure to read to the bottom for some information regarding Padgett’s new literary project Vastarien: A Literary Journal, which is currently being funded on Kickstarter!
FEB. 6th, 2018. CAFE CARMO. NEW ORLEANS, LA.
It was a dusky day in the city of New Orleans, the advent of rain looming through the overcast sky. Critically acclaimed author Jon Padgett met me at Café Carmo on Julia Street, where we ate a delicious meal, and delved into the secrets of ventriloquism.
CP: Can you tell us a little about yourself and your collection? How it came to fruition, what hurdles you faced in its production?
JP: I’ve written since I was a kid. Mostly abortive efforts, until I was in my early twenties. A lot of bad poetry, a lot of bad first chapters of novels. In my early twenties, I’d started to read Thomas Ligotti, who instantly became my favorite writer, and who I wanted to emulate as a writer myself. So I wrote a story and dedicated it to him, and sent it to him in the mid-nineties, and he was polite but, it was clear that he thought the story was disposable pastiche. And, at some point in our friendship, I told him to take the kid gloves off, he did, and just destroyed it. Over and over and over again. Over the years, I would rewrite the thing and rewrite the thing. Finally, over the course of literally twenty years, I reached my goal of making the one good story: “20 Simple Steps to Ventriloquism.” And I successfully sold that to Joe Pulver for the Grimscribe’s Puppets, an anthology that went on to win the Shirley Jackson Award for Best Anthology, I think in 2013. And after that I sold it to Pseudopod, and it did well there, and all of this time – once I finished it – I realized there was more to the tale that I wanted to tell. Partially, because I had stripped out ten thousand words of the original story that had characters and was set in a specific place called Dunnstown, and so that story became The Infusorium. In a way, the whole collection was like writing a novel in reverse. What I ended up with was a series of stories, many of which kind of revolved around this one story, “20 Simple Steps to Ventriloquism.” At one point, Tom [Ligotti] described “20 Simple Steps to Ventriloquism” as kind of a Necronomicon for ventriloquists. I guess that’s kind of true. That’s how it all started.
CP: If you had to choose a favorite story of your own, or one you enjoyed the most while writing, which would it be?
JP: Two different ones. It’s one question, but the one I like the most is not the one I enjoyed writing the most. “20 Simple Steps to Ventriloquism” was a grueling process. I mean, blood, sweat, and tears. Well, definitely sweat and tears. I don’t know about blood. Whatever little budding writerly ego that I had was decimated by my favorite writer over and over again, over the course of twenty years. That was not fun at all. However, I know that story, of all my stories, is good. Subjectively, it is. Whether you like that kind of thing or not. The story that I wrote and enjoyed writing the most, while I was writing it, probably was one of two stories. “Escape to Thin Mountain,” which was literally written over the course of hours and seemed to be almost perfectly fully formed in what it is, without any need for heavy revision. Or a story that I wrote a few weeks ago while I had the flu. I had a fever of around 103 degrees. It’s called “Yellow House,” and it’s one of the weirder things that I’ve written. It needed, and needs, more work. But I really enjoyed kind of riding that wave of delirium while writing it.
CP: Do you still actively perform ventriloquism? What about the art influenced your work most?
JP: Oh, that’s a good question. I don’t pull out my ventriloquist dummy very often anymore. The last time I performed a show of sorts, was at a talent show, kind of an impromptu neighborhood talent show. Literally about a month before Hurricane Katrina, in a neighborhood of New Orleans called Bywater, at a friend’s party. And, you know, it went over very well. I’m sure I could do it more frequently than I have, but I’ve chosen to focus my free time that’s not spent on my family and friends, on writing. And for the second part of your question, ventriloquism has had profound influence on my writing. I didn’t realize how much that was the case, until I looked back at the collection once it was done, and realized – of course, the whole thing’s called The Secret of Ventriloquism, and revolves around a document called 20 Simple Steps to Ventriloquism – but the themes of identity and self, and acting as a mouthpiece for something outside of yourself, all of those things were not intended originally and just came out in the work as it was being written.
CP: Very cool. What does the future hold? Do you have any further collections, novel ideas, anything we can look forward to?
JP: Since the collection came out, I’ve written I think about six stories and one story that seems to be getting larger and larger in scope. It’s a Watership Down for ants and is different from anything else that I’ve ever tried before. It’s heavily influenced by both Watership Down and William Hope Hodgson’s The Night Land. So, there’s that. I’ve placed work in several anthologies over the past year. I’m just moving ahead. Dim Shores was going to be publishing a long novelette called The Broker of Nightmares. I think it was coming out this summer, and I was very excited about that, but then Dim Shores folded, hopefully temporarily. I guess we’ll see, you know? I would like to put together another collection, but I want to make sure that it doesn’t come too soon. I’d like to put together something a little longer than Secret was. A little more substantive. Maybe something that has a larger scope. Even though I have continued to write stories that are set in or near Dunnstown. We’ll see.
CP: Now, before the closing question, just one that, personally for me, I was curious about. I remember when True Detective first came out, and I began noticing similarities between Rust Cohle’s philosophies and Ligotti’s nihilistic writings, that I stumbled upon an article on Lovecraft eZine. At the time, it was my first encounter with Davis’s company, and the article truly brought Pizzolatto’s work into a new light, one not as deserving of admiration. Then, I went back to this article recently, and realized it was none other than you who wrote it, with Mike Davis.
JP: *Laughs* Yup, that it was.
CP: Do you still feel animosity towards Pizzolatto? And do you think that the success of True Detective has done good or bad to Ligotti’s reputation?
JP: Yeah, that’s a great question. And one that I’m surprised hasn’t been asked before now. I don’t think there should be animosity towards Pizzolatto’s work. After that, I think he got burned, and I think he got burned badly, and understandably so. But I don’t think that was all his fault. Honestly, I think that HBO is at least as much to blame as he is for not doing due diligence and not handling things well, afterwards. But, I do believe the side effect of Mike and I bringing – and not only Mike Davis, but also Mike Calia, the then reporter at the Wall Street Journal, now the political editor at CNBC – us bringing to light the quotes that, let’s face it, were lifted from Ligotti’s The Conspiracy Against the Human Race; it definitely ended up shedding light onto Ligotti’s work. Probably helped speed things up. For instance, the reprints that came out under the Penguin Classics label. Ligotti is only one of ten living authors who has been published by them. Deservedly so, but I’m not sure if that would’ve happened until after his death.
CP: Because of the research and interest from the show?
JP: Yeah, that focus. All of that said, it wasn’t inevitable that there would’ve been controversy like this. I think that Pizzolatto could have certainly done things differently. I think of the reasons he probably didn’t likely had to do with HBO and its attorneys. But if he had given credit where credit was due in the first place, and if they had allowed credit where credit was due, then Ligotti would’ve gotten at least as much attention as he did from this whole plagiarism controversy.
CP: That was awesome to hear in person. In closing, we always like to have a question catered to our readers, of whom many are writers themselves. Do you have any tidbits of advice or pieces of knowledge you’d wished you’d had when you first decided you wanted to pursue prose?
JP: My only advice: if you’re young and you’re a writer, or wanting to be a writer, you’re going to have ups and downs. And sometimes you’ve got to be realistic about your own skills. When I was young, before I got in touch with Ligotti, I was convinced that I was already a very good writer when in fact I was lousy at it. It’s important to get a group of people who know their stuff from one way or another, not just your friends, and people who want to please you, but other writers, and honest ones. I wasted a lot of time feeling self-satisfied when I should’ve been learning the craft. The flip side of that is if you are somebody who’s been struggling for a very long time, and you’ve tried to get your work out there, nobody’s taking your work, or you’re getting very few hits, and you’re feeling like quitting, just remember I was writing in the shadows for twenty years with an audience of basically one. And things turned out better than I could have ever imagined when my book actually came out. Patience. Just keep at it. Don’t stop. I think John Irving said in The Hotel New Hampshire, “You’ve got to get obsessed and stay obsessed.” That’s true of many things, not just writing. If you want to make an impact, do it and keep on doing it. And fail. As Beckett says, “Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”
Padgett is also spearheading a new literary journal, titled Vastarien, which has an active Kickstarter. Make sure to stop by the project’s page and back a new, unique journal.
Vastarien. The forbidden tome. The impossible otherworld. A textual entryway into
“…a place where everything was transfixed in the order of the unreal. . . . Each passage he entered in the book both enchanted and appalled him with images and incidents so freakish and chaotic that his usual sense of these terms disintegrated along with everything else. Rampant oddity seemed to be the rule of the realm; imperfection became the source of the miraculous — wonders of deformity and marvels of miscreation. There was horror, undoubtedly. But it was a horror uncompromised by any feeling of lost joy or thwarted redemption; rather, it was a deliverance by damnation. And if Vastarien was a nightmare, it was a nightmare transformed in spirit by the utter absence of refuge: nightmare made normal.”
Our name is drawn from Thomas Ligotti’s classic story of the same title (quoted above). Vastarien is a source of critical study and creative response to the corpus of Thomas Ligotti as well as associated authors and ideas. The inaugural issue is going to be something unusually special, filled with in-depth essays, interviews, weird fiction, terrific poetry, and fascinating hybrid pieces by some of the best authors out there. An interview with Thomas Ligotti and an introduction by him, neither of which have ever been presented in English, are included.
Check out the Kickstarter here.
JON PADGETT is a professional–though lapsed–ventriloquist who lives in New Orleans with his spouse, their daughter, a cat and a dog. Padgett’s first short story collection, The Secret of Ventriloquism, was named the Best Fiction Book by Rue Morgue Magazine. He has work out or forthcoming in Pseudopod, Lovecraft eZine, Xnoybis, Antenna::Signals. His work recently appeared in Joseph Pulver’s anthology, A Walk on the Weird Side, and Phantasm/Chimera, an anthology published by Plutonian Press.
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