If you missed it, click here to read part one!
MM: Which of the stories in your new collection is your personal favorite? I know that’s like asking a dad which of his sons is his favorite – but hey, you probably have a favorite, right?
SGJ: Man. Maybe "The Meat Tree," I guess. Because that's me in the story, yeah - it's me in all the stories, even "Lonegan's Luck," set in 1890 or whenever – but because writing that one, I've always kind of secretly suspected that, if I ever learned how to write a novel, it was in "The Meat Tree" that I learned it. Stories aren't just about cool things happening, about characters making hard decisions. You've got to have a voice to deliver it. Before "The Meat Tree" I'd done a lot of stories that had real and decent voices, but "Meat Tree," for me it's where voice synched up with a layered story in a way that still feels so right to me. But the lead story, "Father, Son, Holy Rabbit," aside from how different it is now from when it ran in Cemetery Dance, I still don't think I'm done with it. Really, I kind of suspect every story I've told, or will tell, it's there, in that. And I'm not done with it.
MM: I love your book Demon Theory, since it plays so cleverly with horror-movie concepts. Are you an avid horror movie viewer? Do you watch the latest releases, or prefer the classics?
SGJ: I'm an omnivore, I guess. Even on the selection committee for a horror film festival right now. Old, new, made for three thousand or wide-release. I pretty much love it all – though, I should say, I'm also terrified by it all, and almost always so grossed out I have to look away. My favorite genre of horror movie's of course the slasher. Just taught a class on them. Can't get enough – can't wait for Scream 4. I tend to shy away from possession or ghost movies, though. Just because I'm going to have to sleep eventually.
Love vampires and zombies, aliens and predators, and especially werewolves. Not so much into the gross-out contests, though. Or, I mean, I can't even watch Southpark while I eat, because it grosses me out. And also because laughter and macaroni aren't the best mix. But I love the old, say, Peter Jackson overgore stuff. And duct-taping a head back on in Decampitated, say. But Triangle, man, that was beautiful, wonderful, excellent. And so was Harpoon. And, tonight, if I get around to a DVD of my own, it's going to be either The Flesh and Blood Show or The Ant King. If I had the complete run of Harper's Island, though, then it might be another marathon like that. Just because I like to be happy.
MM: Demon Theory entertains on two levels: through the main story told in the body of the novel, and also through the many revelations conveyed through the footnotes. How did that project evolve? Did you say to yourself one day, “I’m going to write a novel with a heck of a lot of footnotes!”…?
SGJ: No, I originally meant for the footnotes to be just for me. To back up: I slammed Demon Theory out in 1999, right on the heels of finishing my first novel, The Fast Red Road. My plan was to write something the complete exact opposite of Fast Red Road. That meant different voice, different style, different content. But still about what I love. So, since Fast Red Road had been – still is, for me – about this one particular truck I love love love, then I needed to pick something else I loved for this next project: horror movies. It was obvious. Back then, to unwind from Fast Red Road, I'd been watching two or three horror VHS's a night, pretty much. Just going down the shelf, taking whatever was next. And – I don't think I've said this out loud, ever – Demon Theory, when I started it, my main delimiter for it was that all the dialogue be spoken. Because, back then, I thought that was my weakest non-trick, dialogue. I was always paraphrasing, doing it some indirect way. But the reader needs to be in-scene, needs to be involved real-time like that on and off. So I took this one guy Con to a party, to see what would happen. And, as it turned out, what would happen would be a three-wheeler wreck at the core of everything. Which, that's a trick directly from Fast Red Road, where, each time I hit that what's-next wall, I'd just mine my own life.
It's what I accidentally did with Demon Theory: that three-time-happening three-wheeler wreck? That's me. And I felt, really and truly, like I was dying then, thought maybe I was dead somehow, just walking around. Three times I went under those tires, though, like Jenny. But kept getting back up. So, yeah, Demon Theory started out being me trying to do the opposite, me trying not to get labeled an 'Indian' writer, me trying to teach myself dialogue, but, like with every story I write, it wound up being me trying to make sense of the world, me trying to shape my personal narrative such that it made sense.
As for the footnotes, though, they were originally my way of checking myself, of saying where I was stealing this from, why I was doing that – more Fast Red Road carryover: in that one, I embedded all these song lyrics, so, this time, I wanted to call myself on that – but then they just kind of warped into their own thing, this understory that was the real story. Can't imagine Demon Theory without them, though, if the story doesn't work without them, it's a failure, yes?
Anyway, what sucked was that I stole Thanksgiving from my warehouse job in 1999 to finish it, and did, and then, in January of 2000, my friend gives me an early look at this interview he was doing with this unknown guy, writing this novel with all these layers of footnotes, this horror novel that was going to change everything, bring scary stories into some kind of legitimate arena, all that. I read the same of House of Leaves he shot me and it kind of broke my heart. So I went back, stripped out all the fun apparatus I'd had on the original Demon Theory – all these levels of different-typefaced reviewers, and a whole another trilogy of nevermade Italian movies that Demon Theory was robbing, and on and on – and finally MacAdam/Cage took a chance on it in 2006, though by that time I'd already used the title I originally wrote it under, All the Beautiful Sinners. I kind of dig the 'Demon Theory'-title, though. And, though to me, Fast Red Road, it's practically autobiography, still, Demon Theory's where I buried my heart.
Stay tuned for part three...