An interview with Cody Goodfellow

Welcome Cody Goodfellow! I’m not sure when I first discovered his works, but they immediately blew my mind with their craft and no-holds-barred attack. I felt that I was learning something new on almost every page. Cody also has a knack with atmosphere that I rarely see. In REPO SHARK, I swear I could feel that particular kind of heat and smell that air, and I felt the desperation and hopelessness. And that was before things went south. It’s something much of his work shares.

I’ll never forget standing in the Apple store where I worked, wearing those dreadful blue shirts (Hey! Are you a cop?) when in walked Cody one day with one of those massive Mac Pros. It felt like the asylum had come to set us all free. Since then, I’ve followed his work and have never been disappointed. Not only is his work fascinating and multi-layered, but the man is, as well. As you shall discover. 

1. When did you discover Lovecraft? What was that like for you?
Fittingly enough, it coincided with the onset of puberty. 

I’d read Stephen King in elementary school, and while it blew my mind and made me want to become a writer, it left me cold, philosophically. I lost interest in The Stand when it pivoted from being a plague novel to a checkers match between good and evil. I remember sitting in the dentist with the suction in my mouth when I got to the part in It where we learn that Evil is a spider, but Good is a friendly turtle… and it utterly lost all credibility for me.

Not to get into a religious argument, but for me, most supernatural horror fiction from the Bible and Paradise Lost on rings false, with its insistence that Evil only exists because God has a hard time accepting our unconditional love at face value. In the face of a dreary world that utterly rejected him, Lovecraft created an existentialist universe bereft of objective morality or benevolent higher powers that just resonated with my intuitive sense of how the universe works. Because it feels sometimes like the universe itself is alive, but whatever’s out there isn’t trying to test us, tempt or destroy us.

The trick is moving past Lovecraft’s cartoony monsters and pursuing that cosmic horror ethic into more sophisticated, less racially problematic spheres. That has been harder to do for people like me, but there is a self-conscious and self-serious streak in a lot of weird fiction that balks at the literal use of monsters, and isn’t all that comfortable just being scary. I salute those who need to feel that even their guilty pleasure fiction is very grown-up, but I relish the opportunity to reduce even only nominal adults to goose-pimpled children.

2. You’re known very much for your Lovecraftian and Mythos tales, yet, you seem to switch gears and be able to work in many other genres successfully. Your work with John Skipp veered more into the splatterpunk and straight horror areas, with a touch of the weird. What other helped steer your outlook as you were a developing writer, and what turns you on now?

My father and grandparents died when I was very young. Growing up, I I think I read classic and splatterpunk horror, cyberpunk science fiction, crime, fantasy and lurid history with an eye to anything that would re-sensitize me to the vital cruelty and weirdness of the world, and strategies for coping with it. Authors I favored found ways to use words to shock as images and sounds couldn’t, to achieve almost a form of synesthesia, with language you could taste and smell. People like Ballard, Burroughs, O’Connor, Koja, Gibson, Rucker, Peake, Crews, Ellroy and Schow, whose voices seethe with unique notes amid precise prose.

My lasting favorites proved that working in a variety of genres needn’t dilute the ferocity of your approach. I looked to people like Ellison, Shirley, Simmons and Moorcock, who mastered whatever style and genre suited the tale. An audience game to follow you through whatever you cook up next might be smaller, but they travel well and make for better company than fans who come to treat you like a magic vending machine. From reading all this stuff, I learned to cross-fertilize the tropes and techniques of different genres, mixing the expressionism of horror with the stasis/progress moral axis of cyberpunk, for example, as opposed to conventional good/evil, or using a very eye-level first-person confessional style from detective fiction to ground a particularly outlandish science fiction premise.

As I get older and try to take down bigger projects, I reach for graphic novels, or crime fiction like Thompson, Woolrich, and Stark’s Parker books when I’m not reading history or science texts, because the brutal economy of the language and gamesmanship of misdirection is good mental exercise. I wish I could say I found time to read more current horror fiction, but I’ve developed a mental callus or blind spot that generally makes reading the kind of stuff I write feel like more work, no matter how good it is. I think this is why I haven’t tried harder to break into comic books.
3. Your latest collection, Rapture of the Deep, collects several of your Lovecraftian tales, as well as a new, exclusive story. What can you tell us about this collection?
 
It’s actually got a couple new things… “Archons” and “Swinging” are original to the collection, because if you write stories at the length and scope Lovecraft did in his prime, you still can’t really sell them.

Rapture... is a dozen or so of my best Mythos stories. Instead of gibbering to the hardcore Lovecraftian choir, with these stories, as with Radiant Dawn and Ravenous Dusk, my first two novels, I’ve tried to restore some of the mystery and lure in and seduce the uninitiated, representing the Mythos without an acolyte’s breathless urgency to EXPLAIN everything. Cthulhu has become “nerd bacon,” a welcome addition to any geeky mashup, but it’s also become commonplace and silly. But it’s still fair game for modern fiction the same way that vampires or werewolves are. The Great Old Ones have metastasized from one author’s vision to a body of metaphors for the other face of nature, for the alien and unknowable in the universe and in ourselves. 
 

What I think is most interesting about modern Mythos fiction, for those who find any of it interesting, is how successive “Lovecraft Circles” of authors have aligned in their intent. HPL’s peers and disciples all added their own gods, forbidden tomes and cults to the mythology, with the effect that some, like Derleth, Lumley and Carter, nearly murdered the subgenre they loved with cyclopean bricks of exposition and contrived, consonant-heavy monsters that lacked the uncanny, paranoid urgency of Lovecraft’s creations.

All of us today are working individually in HPL’s universe, rather than in any kind of true shared world; a duet with Lovecraft’s concepts and maybe a handful of his acolytes, disregarding each other’s convoluted updating of Innsmouth, R’lyeh, the Old Ones’ Antarctic city, etc. And a lot of it is responding to the mad love for the mystery and uncompromising alienness of the Mythos cycle by filling in every last shadow, until nothing that remains is all that strange, or until they become stock puppets like every other empty antagonist in “urban fantasy” series.

But of those still working with the Mythos and doing it well, you see authors reclaiming the core tropes of Lovecraft’s original stories and dissecting, exploring and in the best cases, reinvigorating the primordial cloud of unknowing that sets them apart from mere monsters. And they’re doing this while reclaiming the pantheon from the xenophobia that created it. However much of a direct influence you’ll admit his racism was upon his art, Lovecraft undeniably took refuge in dreadful illusions to contain his fear and revulsion of other cultures and people of color, and the mainspring of his horror is a frantic rejection of and obsession with the Other, but in the best Mythos fiction today, you see new and deeply nuanced ways of relating to the Great Old Ones that don’t marginalize other people, and thus make Lovecraft’s universe that much wider and weirder.

4. How did the Cthulhu Prayers and Breakfasts come to be? Those are definite highlights of any con.
 

All praises and acknowledgment are due Hierophant of the Horde Robert M. Price and Choirmonster Darrell Schweitzer, who founded the Esoteric Order of Dagon and initiated the prayer breakfasts at the original NecronomiCon shows in Providence in the 90’s. Brother Bob’s early sermons are collected in an excellent pamphlet called The Sermon On The Mound, and a hymnal of Schweitzer’s perversions of Christian standards can also be found wherever he peddles his wares. Later, Brother Bob presided over breakfasts at the HP Lovecraft Film Festival & Cthulhucon in Portland, where I was first recruited as a deacon, and later pressed to deliver a backup sermon and carry out ritual observances when Bob was laid low by hay fever.

I carried the torch down to San Pedro when we spun off a California franchise of the film festival and even took our show to steampunk heretics on the Queen Mary, but Underdeacon Froggy Mason and I quickly began to twist the unhallowed rites to my own ends, with more original song parodies, arcane PowerPoint demos and a more progressive philosophy that soon ran afoul of the official EOD heterodoxy.

After the gauntlet was thrown down in a stinging rebuke of the EOD’s reactionary politics, I declared a schism at the NecronomiCon prayer breakfast of 2013, and opened the Temple of Yog-Sothoth with a flurry of ululation and bubbles. Though an uneasy reconciliation at the 2015 NecronomiCon was documented in the New Yorker, the Esoteric Order of Dagon is to this day a nest of treachery and usurpers who cannot properly bring waffles to their web-fingered followers.

5. Okay: so I’ve always wanted to ask about your singing. I once saw you do a reading/performance  at a tiny art gallery and I believe it was you and Skipp that produced these out-of-this world country tinged harmonies, perfectly pitched, for a song within your story? Did you study singing? Grow up with country?

That was a weird fluke. I’d recently quit smoking, and wanted to see if I could sing properly once my lungs cleared, and Andrew “the Slow Poisoner” Goldfarb was in the house, so apropos of nothing, at the end of a Bizarro performance piece, we broke into Marty Robbins’ Cool Clear Water. I’m not a country fan by any stretch, and have never sung in a band or choir or a class, but I do have a soft spot for old Western tunes and cowboy crooners. I enjoy singing, but I’d pretty much only get in front of a crowd to do it again because I like making myself nervous. But I’m glad you enjoyed it…

6. Speaking of music: you’re also known as being an amazing connoisseur of amazing music that’s not widely known. Your mixes are epic, and run through so many styles one hardly has time to absorb them. Do you listen to music while you write? Does it inspire your work?
I don’t know who knows me as such things, but I’ll bite…

Music is my other favorite thing. I always have music on while I write and when I drive and think about what I’m writing. Lately, I’ve been listening to Mutant and Xen by Arca, Garden Of Delete by Oneohtrix Point Never, a lot of Venetian Snares and always, always, Amon Tobin. Generally it’s all instrumental, from classical and film scores to big band, exotica, space music and techno. It’s all vivid music that drives what Jim Thirlwell called “brain movies,” without trapping you in a singer’s narrative or pushy psychodrama. I always preferred it to vocally driven music of any kind, and after I put in ten years as a “radio research musicologist” basically playing Name That Tune at home in my pajamas to compile data for alternative chart ratings, a huge part of my brain was tied up remembering and recalling the lyrics of every song on the radio during the absolute nadir of rock music in America. Creed. Limp Bizkit. Barenaked Ladies. Godsmack. Losing the job when we finally became obsolete was like having a stroke in reverse. I had to relearn everything after having some fifty percent of my gray matter suddenly come back to life after it no longer had to recognize the slap-bass solo on any given Korn song.

An editor friend of mine tells me everybody in Hollywood is cutting to Junkie XL’s Mad Max score, to try to capture its clean, breakneck pacing, and I do pretty much the same. I make mixes of appropriate music for things I’m writing, and the tempo and attitude of the music totally influences the tone and rhythm of the prose. A book I’m doing now involves a lot of insider entertainment industry crap, and the narrator fancies himself a music supervisor, so he dictates the proper music for each scene. I’ve always composed and sometimes performed electronic music as a hobby; my college roommate and I scored a couple pornos in college. Sometimes I’ve collaborated with Skipp on stuff for films or as a goof. Everything is experimental music when you don’t really know what you’re doing…

7. You’ve made some excellent short films, including the hilarious and creepy, Lovecraftian “Stay at Home Dad”. Where you always interested in filmmaking and screenwriting? Is this a newer passion? Are you working on some new films?

I came to UCLA in 1989 to study film, but they scrapped the undergraduate production major my first quarter. I left school totally discouraged by what I’d seen and heard of the film industry, and to this day, every encounter with it makes me more grateful for the simplicity of writing. When I moved back to LA in 2007, I wasn’t looking to get into film, but my wife had run a post house and is an editor, and Skipp was busy picking up the fundamentals of directing when we first started hanging out. As Skipp has evolved into a bona fide filmmaker with Andrew Kasch, I’ve had a lot of opportunities to try different stuff—acting, scoring and stain removal, as well as writing—and meet the vast array of people you need to know and subordinate to your will to even dream of making a simple, short motion picture.

Our last film was Clowntown: An Honest Mis-Stake, which we’d hoped to parlay into a series, but somehow, it seems like clowns aren’t as universally beloved as we thought they’d be, so while we continue to look for a circus sideshow sugar daddy, I’ve been doing some acting and background work, and already have carved out a niche as a period junkie.

8. The Lovecraft Film Festival is an amazing gathering of films and Lovecraftian culture. It’s a lot more than just people sitting in a theater and absently watching movies. Can you talk a little bit about that experience? And they are also doing a crowdfunding campaign with some really cool perks. Spill!
We’ve picked up the torch from the Portland festival, which will be old enough to drink this October. Our fest, now in its seventh year, has been a very different experience, mostly because Portland is such a cozy town where all the weirdos regularly run into each other, where LA is a vast, distraction-infested wasteland, so just bringing together a crowd of highly evolved mutants like this is a massive undertaking. Our three-day show includes classic features and about four hours of new weird short films, but also weird lit readings and panels, art shows, the Mall of Cthulhu, gaming, filmmaker Q&A, SFX makeup demonstrations, a burlesque floorshow shadow cast of The Dunwich Horror…and some stuff I forgot. We use Kickstarter to sell our advance tickets and fly in guests, and we’ve only got about halfway to where we need to be WITH ONLY 12 DAYS TO GO. We’ve got a lot of neat swag and extra stuff for people coming to the show, from a professional portrait with a real live monster by photographer Joshua Hoffine to a chance to meet a fate worse than death in a Joe Pulver story, but we’ve also got a livestream package for folks who can’t make it out to SoCal, hosted this year by Mike Davis of Lovecraft e-Zine and Leeman “Ask Lovecraft” Kessler. So there’s no logical reason why everyone on earth shouldn’t make this a part of their lives.

9. Graphic novels are also high on your list. I know you’ve done work in that field, too. How is it different than fiction and/or films? Do you have anything in the works?

Writing comics professionally is one of those ambitions I’ve had to kind of let go of, in order to still enjoy reading them. The industry has been even less responsive to my overtures than the film world. Which is such a pain, because writing comics is the distillation of all that makes writing for film so exciting. You’re selecting exacting slices of moments to stand in for the whole scene, so it takes the persistence of vision that makes motion pictures work to its extreme. But where everything you write into a film is going to cost untold amounts of money and trouble to bring to life, in comics, you’re laying out the blueprint, and your partner the artist laboriously but somehow magically breathes it into existence. Everything, everything is negotiable. When an artist is in sync with your prose, it’s like making a film, and the best partnerships become as simple and fertile as jamming between musicians.

I’ve been privileged to work with Mike Dubisch on a lot of small projects and to have him do the cover art for REPO SHARK and ALL-MONSTER ACTION, but we’ve never successfully conned a real publisher into even considering something we did. The last time we tried at a convention, the editor in question begged off to use the restroom, walked ten feet away from us, and started a conversation with someone else. So, fuck those guys.
We did exactly the kind of graphic novel we’d love to read, that nobody else seemed to want to release. Next month, we’re putting it out through my occasional micropublisher, Perilous Press. MYSTERY MEAT is an epic tale of a company town forced to serve as guinea pigs for an artificial meat product, told through four graphic and one prose story in the classic style of EC and Warren horror anthology comix, but with the raw, uncensored and radical sensibility of underground books like Skull and Slow Death Eco-Funnies.

As soon as the dust clears from the film festival Kickstarter, Mike and I will launch a campaign to fund the printing, and we’re offering hyper-obscene backlight prints, highly objectionable Sikbrgr and Cannibal Cow T-shirts and scheming on a body horror coloring book with work from sickos like Gunsho, Skinner, Mike Bukowski, Nick “the Hat” Gucker, and worse.

And if that doesn’t work, I’ll try to get my Name That Tune job back…

Mystery Meat Logo-2.jpg

PLEASE VISIT CODY GOODFELLOW’S AMAZON AUTHOR PAGE

CODY GOODFELLOW has written five novels, and co-wrote three more with New York Times bestselling author John Skipp. His first two collections, Silent Weapons For Quiet Wars and All-Monster Action, each received the Wonderland Book Award. He wrote, co-produced and scored the short Lovecraftian hygiene film Stay At Home Dad, which can be viewed on YouTube. He is also a director of the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival-San Pedro, and cofounder of Perilous Press, an occasional micropublisher of modern cosmic horror. He lives in Burbank, California, and is currently working on building a perfect bowling team.

Advertisements

2 thoughts on “An interview with Cody Goodfellow

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s