My Interview with Author John Claude Smith

My Interview with Author John Claude Smith

Occasional Beasts: Tales and Other Thoughts

This morning our interview is with John Claude Smith, author of the latest bestseller, Occasional Beasts: Tales. Welcome, John Claude, and thank you for being here.

I think I’ve read every book you’ve published since The Dark is Light Enough for Me. Your books are always horrifically fun and intriguing in a slightly messy and unnerving sort of way. 

So, tell us…who is John Claude Smith? 

 The Lowdown (aka Author’s Bio)

“John Claude Smith has published two collections (The Dark is Light Enough for Me and Autumn in the Abyss), four chapbooks (Dandelions, Vox Terrae, The Anti-Everything, and The Wrath of Concrete and Steel), and two novels.  Riding the Centipede was published by Omnium Gatherum in 2015 and was a Bram Stoker Award finalist for Superior Achievement in a First Novel. 

The Wilderness Within was published by Trepidatio/JournalStone in October of 2017.  His third collection, Occasional Beasts: Tales, has just been published and includes 14 tales and 92k words of weird horror. He splits his time between the East Bay of northern California, across from San Francisco, and Rome, Italy, where his heart resides always.”

JCS: Besides this, I am driven by the arts, be it music, painting, writing—of course—and many curious variations, a lot of it veering toward outsider art.

IF: For those who are not currently following John Claude Smith on Facebook, I strongly encourage it. His daily posts are always interesting, enlightening and, I must say, surprising. Now, on with the show…

First Tales and the Giant Claw

IF: John Claude, as we are in the business of writing the “what if” stories, the stories whose subjects are born from our own fears, our own curiosities, I might suggest that your stories are an index of who John Claude Smith is. Where he’s been, where he is presently and where he’s going on his path of life.

So with this in mind, I have to ask, John Claude, going back in time, what was your first story and what events in your life gave birth to it? Can you describe where you were either physically or even psychogenically at the time?

JCS: My first story was for a class in school when I was perhaps seven and I’d ignored the teacher and the project and, at the last minute, scribbled a tale based on the movie, The Giant Claw. I hastily drew a bad cover for the tale, turned it in, and was embarrassed when the teacher posted it on display with the other tales. I learned my lesson about caring about the work right then.

But, of course, that’s not the first real tale. I started writing with lyrics and then poems, before moving on to tales that veered strongly into Twilight Zone territory, both the television show and the magazine from the 1980s. Fast forward a wee bit, and a point when I thought, hey, since I’m writing stuff all the time, why not get serious about it?

I was in my late twenties and just kind of getting by and needed something more from my life than, well, just getting by.  The mindset had been triggered.  Being a writer might bring fame and fortune and, haha, hey, as long as I can write and perhaps get some tales out, that would be something.  My headspace needed renovating.

The first tales were more straightforward horror, but even then, I was exploring something deeper. I distinctly remember writing a tale called, ahem, “A Torrent of Ages,” some kind of warped exploration of how a watcher over history is needed in order to keep the balance in the world. That perhaps ten years later, maybe more, became “The Perceptive One,” which was once called, “The Oblivion Express,” what with the train in the tale.

The original version was around 3000 words, while the expanded version is over 10,000 words. Anyway, to tie this up, I do not remember the first tales, as I’ve written my whole life, but what eventually became “The Perceptive One,” from my first collection, The Dark is Light Enough for Me, was there in the beginning when I decided getting serious needed to happen.

My first sale was a tale called, “Slow Flies,” a zombie-esque tale that takes place in Eddie Van Halen’s house, years after he’s gone and the world’s gone the way of a plague and the only edible thing left are the big, fat slow flies…

IF: Gross! LOL

Snippets from Another World

IF: A little history here, I believe you told me that you started writing by reviewing local bands in San Fran? I would still to this day, love to read those reviews. But my question is what band, local or otherwise, influenced you enough to impact your writing? Or was it an amalgamation of more than one? And what stories or creative vibes did they influence?

JCS: Excellent question.  Yes, soon after I got serious about fiction writing, I was sidetracked by music journalism. I reviewed primarily the more obscure genres—dark ambient, death industrial, power electronics, experimental, etc.—along with metal and industrial. With the likes of dark ambient and all their noisy companions, I took a different path with my reviews.

Since most of the music was instrumental, and rather wild, cosmic, or at least inspiring me in such a way, a lot of my reviews almost came off as snippets of some other world, or something horrific, or just something a wee bit creepy. An example: “The A-side opens with the wail of a siren from an operating room in the pit of Hell, a pummeling beat tattooing the souls in torment (unwilling patients to a sadistic fate), scalpels wielded with negligible glee: dissection, imminent; anesthesia, questionable (non-existent…)” 

Another one, for amusement sake: “There is a tendency for the atmospheres to sound as though they are being electronically scanned, kind of a sonar blipping responses from the ectoplasm currents at the edge of a formless infinity thought eons dead, but alive because everything that ever was exists within us all, trace memories from the limbic mind.  Ingenious!  And then, at the point when the “I have come to tell you what I have seen…” sample (Ray Milland from X—The Man With The X-Ray Eyes) kicks in, everything grows more pervasively eerie, more discomfiting, nerves on needles, as if we have slipped into that other dimension/realm/(anti)world. 

It is a mirror warped, a negative reflection, an aural mutation—doors to alternate explanations of reality swing open, a flood of technologically interpreted sounds from the “Anti-World,”–a deluge of black static transmissions: layers of sound in revolt, a vortex brimming with disembodied voices and, toward the end, confusion as law, confirmation of a successful journey via the haunted, soulless chorus denouement…” etc., on and on, I did have a tendency to go on, haha…  And neither of these examples takes us into the deepest cosmic wasteland or dealing with strange alien creatures or… 😉

It’s funny, I don’t know exactly how or if the review writing did anything specifically for my fiction writing, besides training me to meet deadlines, which isn’t a bad thing. I believe because they were almost condensed tales…not really tales, but snapshots into other worlds, they stood on their own. I have twisted pieces of some into poetry, but I don’t believe I’ve used any for fiction (maybe one piece), though I often think I should, so perhaps that will still come.

The Influence of J.G. Ballard

IF: I believe this is a topic near and dear to your heart. What authors have influenced your writing the most? And have they also influenced your life?

JCS: Too many have influenced my writing at one time or another: Clive Barker, Kathe Koja, early Lucy Taylor, Charlee Jacob, Joe R. Lansdale, Hunter S. Thompson, William S. Burroughs, a slew of current writers, and many, many more. But I think the primary one, that also might influence upon my psyche, is J.G. Ballard. There’s nothing within the actual writing to indicate as much style-wise, but his mindset when writing, his distinct view, as well as how so many of his tales linger in my mind long after I’ve read them, tapping into something I cannot quite define. This fascinates me as much as the best of his writing.

IF: Wow, note to self, read J.G. Ballard. Okay, well, that’s all we have time for today.

John Claude, thanks so much for doing this interview. You’re an inspiration and I wish you and Alessandra a long, happy life!

For more about Author John Claude Smith and his wild, weird and absolutely fantastic tales, please see below…

Occasional Beasts: Tales

 

Reviews for Occasional Beasts:

“John Claude Smith’s collection Occasional Beasts is a dark mosaic of the weird, the surreal, and the bizarre. These stories will dig into your brain-meat and take up permanent residence there. Highly recommended!” — Tim Waggoner, author of The Mouth of the Dark

 “Smith has mastered the delicate art of dread, transcending genre to put his stamp on weird horror. Provocative and terrifying, he grounds Occasional Beasts in the human condition while warping the walls of reality in fourteen tales that are not for the faint of heart.” –John Foster, author of Mister White and Dead Men

 “Occasional Beasts is yet another dazzling collection of dark imaginings from the mind of John Claude Smith. His evocative prose, mastery of atmosphere, and wildly original concepts manage to cast a spell on the reader that is as alluring as it is unsettling. …a certain glorious madness permeates this collection, as well as a fearless, visceral writing style that demands your attention”– Taylor Grant, Two-time Bram Stoker Award Nominee, The Dark at the End of the Tunnel

“A tumble down a dark slide with stories extremely dark, poetic and metaphysical, Occasional Beasts feels like holding hands with a demon while an angel whispers in your ear.” — John Palisano, Bram Stoker Award-winning author of Nerves and All That Withers

“John Claude Smith’s Occasional Beasts lurks in the subconscious long after the last page. Despair becomes peace, and the soul is left a scream in the darkness as these tales churn through your psyche… Occasional Beasts: Tales is a must-read, but do so with the lights on.” —Alex Scully, editor Firbolg Publishing

Links for Occasional Beasts: Tales and John Claude Smith:

Occasional Beasts: Tales Amazon

Occasional Beasts: Tales Omnium Gatherum

JCS Amazon Author Page

Goodreads

The Wilderness Within (blog)

 

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