Updated: May 2
In the first of our Q&A features, we talk to our contributor Raistlin Skelley about the undead, subversion, filmmaking and fiction as we delve deeper into his inspirations behind Deep Blue Dream - a short fiction piece available in The Needle Drops... Volume One.
Splitting his time between writing and seething over the demise of the Kane Road Drive-In, Raistlin Skelley is a student of the hard-boiled tradition of the 40's and 50's. He taught himself to write by stewing in conspiracy theories, true crime, Tom Waits lyrics and the stories his family told about strange happenings as children. Raistlin self-published two books during quarantine, the neo-noir thriller The Five Year Trip and a collection of short crime stories titled Neighborhood Watch, along work featured in North by Northeast. His writing evokes the world he grew up in and the one that passed him by, where houses were lit with incandescent bulbs and mom jeans were a joke.
So, Raistlin - I think it’s safe to say you hail from an area many consider the home of horror: George A. Romero’s playground, arguably the birthplace of the ‘modern zombie’. What were your experiences with the genre as a kid?
There's a quote from Jamie Hewlett that I cite all the time where he said, "Romero was my Beatles."
I really think that sums it up. I didn't know about Hitchcock/Truffaut until that documentary came out a few years ago. For me growing up, it was Document of the Dead. Romero's films, particularly his early ones, were absolutely indispensable to me. The tone, the look of those movies was so relatable because that's what the world here looks and feels like. The grey skies, the emptiness, the bleakness and overbearing paranoia. That's home to me. I'm sure growing up here has a lot to do with my love for them, but ultimately I think it was unavoidable. Finding out my grandfather was Sheriff Cooper in The Crazies probably did a lot, too.
Building on this, you mentioned the rapid deterioration of the Rust Belt in your bio. Do you think the economic / social attributions of this partially led to your interest in subversive genres?
That's an interesting question. I'm not really sure. Writing, movies, music and fiction haven't ever really been an escape for me, per se. The world is a crazy, fucked up place and disappearing into another one hasn't ever really helped me to cope with this one. I think I've always gravitated toward works that echoed my own feelings about the world and society: from Vonnegut to Romero to True Detective. The first season, mind you.
Considering Deep Blue Dream is this neo-noir horror thriller, where else do you take inspiration from?
Oh, a lot of places. I love movies, but I try to stay away from them as a general rule, as far as inspiration goes. I may re-watch Blow Out or All the President's Men or something like that before working on a novel, but it's mostly to touch bottom as far as tone and ambience is concerned. I'm always nervous about inadvertently ripping people off. You mentioned before the David Lynch influence with this story and I definitely won't deny it's there, I love his movies, but I didn't set out to write a Lynchian story, necessarily. I've just soaked him and so many other filmmakers up over the course of my life. Music, though, is usually what I turn to when I'm writing. I think it's harder to rip off a song or an album, so I see music as safer waters for inspiration while actively writing.
"The world is a crazy, fucked up place and disappearing into another one hasn't ever really helped me cope with this one."
Favourite creature feature?
That's so tough it's bordering on unfair.
Off the top of my head, I'll go with Ginger Snaps. And maybe sneak Snaps Back in there, too. Those were pretty big for me as a kid and I think underrated as far as creature features go.
You’ve also had experience with filmmaking. How does this influence your approach to writing fiction?
Wow, you really did your homework! It has a pretty direct influence; I started writing fiction because movies took too much time and money, haha! I was really limited with what I could afford to shoot and where and I had all these ideas of stories that I wanted to tell, so I just said fuck it and wrote a book. That's where my first novel, The Five Year Trip, came from. I originally conceived that story as a script, but I had just spent a year making a short film and wanted to be able to see something through from start to finish in not too much time, so I sat down and wrote that in about three months. Everything I write I see as movies in my head, writing is just a lot cheaper.
You're also an Aesop Rock fan, featuring a quote in your bio. What are a few of your top albums of 2020?
Aesop and Tom Waits are definitely my biggest influences, hands down. I really feel like an Aesop Rock/Tom Waits cover band most of the time.
Spirit World Field Guide is amazing. From what I heard, a lot of his fans didn't go for it when it first came out, but I think it's as solid as anything else he's ever done. His Freedom Finger EP was excellent too and Rogue Wave. Preyer by Ilsa, King Gizzard was churning out a lot stuff last year. That Live from San Francisco album was pretty great. The Thou & Emma Ruth Rundle album May Our Chambers Be Full, Chained to the Bottom of the Ocean – The Vestige, Messer Chups – Don't Say Cheese, Los Freniticos – Macumba. And The Surfrajettes Hale' iwa Hustle single.
"I was really limited with what I could afford to shoot and where and I had all these ideas of stories that I wanted to tell, so I just said fuck it and wrote a book."
What recent fiction would you recommend to our audience?
Hmm… It's kinda hard, because a lot of the stuff I read is by people who are dead, haha! That Jim Carrey novel, Memoirs and Misinformation, that was my favorite novel released last year, but think it caught a lot of people off guard and they didn't know what to do with it. I'll just say this: Hunter Thompson meets Thomas Pynchon.
Donald Ray Pollock is pretty good, but rough. He's definitely not for the timid. Daniel Clowes, while a cartoonist, is still putting out great stuff. Patience is one of the best stories I've ever read, regardless of format. And it may sound like old news at this point, but Gillian Flynn is pretty good, too. Sharp Objects was a solid neo-noir and I think superior to Gone Girl. And definitely check out the mini-series if you get the chance.
In three words or less - what can our readers expect?
Static. Guilt. Paranoia.
Thank you - it's been a pleasure.
Deep Blue Dream by Raistlin Skelley is available in The Needle Drops… Volume One.