Jeremy C. Shipp is an imaginative writer with a diverse fan base. He’s been praised by readers and fellow writers, stalked by mad gnomes, hunted by giddy mimes, and interviewed by the devil itself. Vacation, his first book published by the independent Raw Dog Screaming Press, is a surreal, fantastic trip into a futuristic underground world in which nothing is quite what it seems–including one’s own actions, or lack thereof. This unique and unforgettable work has amassed plenty of favorable reviews, and some of Shipp’s other stories have been published in popular lit magazines such as ChiZine and Cemetery Dance.
In this interview, Shipp entertains with his sharp wit as he answers questions about Vacation, his other endeavors, and the creative process.
INTERVIEW WITH JEREMY C. SHIPP
NG: You started writing at the age of 13. What–or who–got you started?
JS: I think my thought process at the age of 13 was something like this: “I like books. Why don’t I write one? That would be fun.” And I’ve been writing almost every day ever since. But even before that, I had an assignment in 4th grade to write a short story. My story ended up not-so-short, and I really enjoyed the experience. And before I could write, I would play pretend with my brothers, with complex plots and characters. And before that, when I was a wee babe, my favorite toy was a pen. And before that, when I was just a twinkle in my father’s eye, I would flash stories about my past lives, in Morse code.
NG: What sparked the idea for Vacation?
JS: Vacation was a conglomeration of various ideas and passions about the world, that all sort of smashed together in my head at once. One of my major ideas, however, was the notion that a person could travel the globe, jump from resource bubble to resource bubble, and never really get a clear picture of what’s going on.
NG: You employ a non-linear style in the telling of the story. Was this a natural part of your writing process, was it something you intended, or both?
JS: Every aspect of writing Vacation felt very natural to me, and at the same time, my stylistic choices were made consciously.
I don’t think I’ve ever revealed this publicly before, but I used to be afraid of writing first person narratives of any kind. For most of my writing career, I avoided first person like the gnome plague. But then, deep down, I knew first person was the right choice for Vacation, so I gave it a try. And I’m so glad I did. I’d never felt so connected with my voice.
NG: What was your experience like in trying to get the book published?
JS: Getting Vacation published wasn’t too difficult, but the road leading up to Vacation was a crooked one, filled with potholes and swarming with killer mimes. As you know, I started writing books when I was 13, so I wrote over 10 novels before this one. I’ve received many, many rejection letters over the years. Which is actually a good thing. I’m very happy that Vacation is my debut novel, because I feel so passionate about the story.
Even though getting the book published didn’t take me years and numerous rejection letters, the events wouldn’t have unfolded the way they did if publishers like Raw Dog Screaming Press didn’t exist. I think it’s awesome that there are publishers out there who actually seek out outside-of-the-box/bizarro/weird stories.
NG: What authors have inspired you as a writer?
JS: When I was kid, I was very much inspired by HG Wells. Later on, I felt a deep connection with the works of Kurt Vonnegut, Arundhati Roy, George Orwell, Anthony Burgess. Right now, I’m really digging Haruki Murakami.
NG: You also make short films and compose music. What other projects in those fields are you working on? What other writing projects?
JS: The short film I wrote entitled EGG is currently in production (http://vids.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=vids.individual&videoid=25076212). It’s very strange, very atmospheric. I don’t want to say too much about it, but I will say that a mime dies. I’m working on a few other short film screenplays.
My short story collection Sheep and Wolves is being published later this year, via Raw Dog. There’s a good possibility that the DVD of EGG is going to come with the collection.
I’m also writing a new novel called Cursed. If all goes well, it should be published in 2009.
NG: Do you currently have an agent, and if so, what is your advice to writers seeking representation?
JS: I don’t have an agent at this point. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with writers having agents, and I may have one some day.
I’ve heard it told that this is a great site for finding recommended agents:
NG: What other lit works of yours are available?
JS: Here are some works of mine that can be read online for free:
NIGHTMARE MAN (http://www.hub-mag.co.uk/images/Hub_29.pdf)
THE HOLE (http://www.angelfire.com/punk/theswallowstail/ISSUE_4.pdf)
THE WANT (http://www.bloodrosemag.com/archives/sep_2003/want.html)
PARSNIP THE ARTIST (http://www.hauntedhousedressing.com/parsnip.htm)
METAL THE REBEL (http://www.hauntedhousedressing.com/metal.htm)
I also have stories in various print magazines and anthologies. All that info lives at my website: (www.hauntedhousedressing.com).
Also, I’d like to mention (because I’m excited as heck) that my short story “Inside” is set to appear in an upcoming issue of Cemetery Dance.
NG: How much of your own world view is present in Vacation and how much of it is the characters’? Are the two intertwined?
JS: Vacation is a book written from my heart, my soul, my gut, my spleen. Much of the passion that fueled this book came from my love for the life on this planet, and my disgust toward those systems that cause suffering. So, many ideas that are important to me found their way into novel. These ideas were, of course, interpreted by different characters in different ways. None of the characters believe what I believe, 100%. I don’t think I could ever write a character like that, unless it was an autobiography.
NG: What does it mean to you to be a writer, an artist?
JS: First of all, I want to say that I don’t believe there’s one right way to be an artist. Everyone has different experiences and different personal boundaries–which is all peachy keen to the extreme. But for me, being a writer means that writing is an important part of my life. I know that if I was stuck on a desert island (or a dessert island), I would still create stories, because it’s part of who I am. I am, however, very happy that I’m not stuck on a dessert island. For one, I’d lose all teeth within a few years. But more importantly, sharing my stories with others is a wonderful experience.
NG: What do you hope readers will take from reading Vacation?
JS: It’s always nice when a reader writes to me and tells me that the book affected them in some meaningful way. Maybe they see the world a little different. Maybe they see that adverbs aren’t always a necessity, after all. In any case, I hope the experience of reading Vacation is both weird and positive.
NG: Any advice for young, aspiring writers?
JS: Well, let’s see. You should know–first and foremost–that you don’t need anybody’s approval into order to become a writer. You don’t need a degree, and you don’t need your work published, and you don’t need validation. If you feel like a writer, then you’re a writer. Things were a lot easier for me, once I realized that. I actually accomplished a lot more once I lifted that co-dependent pressure off my shoulders. This may not be advice that anyone needs.
I suppose I just wish that someone had told me all that, when I was first starting out. Another bit of advice—don’t worry about rejection letters. They’re actually good for writers. They’ve got a high omega-3 content, and they’re delicious. But seriously, even if one editor doesn’t want your story, it doesn’t mean that another one won’t love it. The game is about finding those people who connect with your work. So, in conclusion, just keep writing and have a good time with it, and everything’ll be peachy.
You can visit Jeremy’s website at http://www.hauntedhousedressing.com and his Myspace page at http://www.myspace.com/jeremywriter. You can purchase Vacation at http://www.rawdogscreaming.com/vacation.
Nancy O. Greene