Tuesday, April 2, 2013

MADHOUSE PATIENT DIES AFTER WATCHING TAPE

PATIENT: JOE BORRELLI
ILLNESS: WRITER


• When did you start writing? Why did you pick the genre you write it?

I got started writing pretty early in my life. I was a voracious reader as a child and I always assumed writers were just hardcore readers who discovered they had a story to tell. I picked up a copy of William F. Nolan’s How To Write Horror Fiction as a tween and that’s when my identity as a writer really kicked in. I remember writing 80-page Friday the 13th fanfic pieces after picking up the young adult novels by Eric Morse, which I think was my first big work, and I learned the fundamentals of storytelling through running games of Vampire: The Masquerade and Call of Cthulhu.

I’m a little leery of saying that I “picked a genre” to write. It sounds like I made a monogamous commitment to one style or motif. One of the things I love about writing is the sense of opportunity. I feel like I can take a shot at many different media because I’m sharpening my skills at creative expression. I started writing comic scripts and plays, I’m doing my first horror novel, and I’ll probably try my hand at scriptwriting and see if I can’t make any inroads into video game stuff.

Horror fiction works for me because my sense of aesthetics runs dark. I think you can find tremendous beauty in crumbling gothic manors, creepy old cemeteries, abandoned Shinto shrines, and other lonely haunted things.  I don’t necessarily have a bleak or cynical outlook on life, but my tastes have always run a little macabre. I find fake-y, spooky darkness very pretty.

• Where you get your ideas from? Do you journal at all?

I write stuff I want to read.

I don’t journal per se but I do host two blogs and a podcast, mostly dealing with horror or pop culture. It’s the closest thing I have to a personal journal. Talking about myself always seems a bit self-involved (he says while doing an interview) but, when I discuss things that are important to me, I find it a more honest reflection of where I am at a particular time of life.

• What’s a normal (writing) day like for you?

I write every day, usually after work. I suspect I should be writing earlier in the day but I lack the discipline to crawl out of bed at a reasonable hour. I like to set small word count goals, usually somewhere between 300-600 words a day. I go on write or die, set all speeds to “ludicrous” and go. As I’ve gotten to the end of my thesis novel, I’ve ditched word counts and gone for the pomodoro time-boxing technique: I write hard for fifteen minutes, take a seven minute break, write for fifteen, take another break. After four sessions I take a twenty five minute break. It’s a programmer trick and it totally works. 

Weekends are either writing marathons or partying marathons. Or, these days, Mass Effect 3 marathons

 
• Favorite author or book? Who are you currently reading?

I tend to gravitate toward fearless writers, people who write tough-guy crime fiction, and Japanese misery porn. The inspiration for my thesis novel is the crime fiction of Natsuo Kirino. Aside from creating work that almost directly addressed my personal hang-ups, she has a way of taking the most ugly and mundane brutality and unraveling the threads around it.

Hands down, my favorite author is the Irish graphic novelist Garth Ennis. Selling him to people involves talking past his flaws, but he’s fantastic at creating characters of different genders, ethnicities, and cultures. He writes confidently and it’s a trait I would like to pick up for my own work.

Finally, there’s a blogger named David Brothers (4thletter.net/iamdavidbrothers.tumblr.com) whom I admire greatly. He writes about pop culture subjects with an honesty and humanity that astonishes me. I do think non-fiction writing is a very different skill set but I strive to incorporate influence into my work.

Right now I’m mostly reading books for class. My pile of get-tos include:

  • Snuff by Terry Pratchett
  • Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone by Eric Klinenberg
  • Darth Plagueis by James Lucero
  • All You Need Is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka
  • The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry by John Ronson
  • Ninja: 1,000 Years of the Shadow Warrior by John Man
  • The Heroes by Joe Abercrombie.

• Do you write in silence or with noise (TV, movies, music)?

Music, mostly.  I like hanging out in thumpy club environments and I like to recreate that energy. Depressing music slows down my thoughts.

The one odd quirk is that I’m more likely to play obnoxiously American music (country, hip hop, psychobilly) when I’m writing scenes in deeply foreign settings. For all its other faults, American music is high bravado. You need bravado when you’re creating anything.

And, of course, the theme song for any person engaged in a creative endeavor is “Die Vampire Die!” from Title of Show (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9DDdM66_nSI)    

• Do you have any weird habits when it comes to writing? Do you type or write longhand?
 
I tend to rely on external structures in all aspects of my life. For example, I can’t just go to the gym and hit the weights and jog on the treadmill. My attention will eventually wander off. Instead, I go to Barry’s Boot Camp and have gay body fascists scream at me to work harder.

The same applies for my writing. I can’t just sit down and write without something keeping me focused. Instead, I use Write or Die or the aforementioned pomodoro technique. It can make my first drafts feel frenzied, but without them I end up farting around on Reddit.

Crutches often get a bad rap. When all is said and done, they help get people moving.

• Would you consider yourself a Plotter or a Pantser?

I’m emphatically a Plotter and I think a writer does a tremendous disservice to the reader by being a Pantser. You have better story control and you come up with more satisfying endings if you really sit down and think about what you are doing. I’ve long suspected that Pantsers are a little to enamored with the mythology of writing, where you sit back and let the muse come and wander through the story all starry-eyed. Plotting sounds like WORK and WORK is never fun or fulfilling.
My favorite example is Legendary Genre Writer Whose Name Everyone Knows. He/She is one of the most acclaimed and successful writers in modern times and, in his/her book on writing he/she describes heavily plotting stories as being flat and devoid of life.

Most of the major books he/she writes end with a bunch of stuff blowing up. It’s not hard to see why. He/She writes into a corner while following their muse willy-nilly and they have no solution at the end except for an explosion.  

Which is not to say that Plotters aren’t loose or inflexible. The hook of my novel is a bullying ritual called The Torment Game. When I was originally laying out the book, I conceived of it as a sort of fake occult ritual my powerless protagonists could do to give themselves a feeling of control. I kept writing and that idea never sat well with me.

While doing my research, I discovered a Japanese ghost story game called hyaku monogatari, which involves creepy tales and all sorts of occult paraphernalia. Aside from being great visuals, it fit the story better. No matter how put-upon and desperate they are, smart girls won’t believe they’ll get superpowers by emotionally tormenting each other. I planned out the scene but I tweaked it as I went.

Pixar has a piece of writing advice that I consider essential: “Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front.” The more I write, the truer this becomes. You owe your work the best you can do, and you can’t always do that if you charge ahead blindly.


• What do you think is the hardest aspect of the craft?

Probably the fact that writing is a marathon. I have friends in other creative disciplines that start and finish projects incredibly quickly. Five weeks might be fine to make a really lovely composition but that wouldn’t be much of a dent in novel. Finishing something is euphoric but that feeling comes after a lot of work. I won’t burn out, but I get why people do.

The other problem is how people react to writing. You can look at a play or listen to a piece of music and have an instant emotional reaction to it. If someone dumps a manuscript in front of me, I groan. It takes a lot of focused attention to get through prose. Plus, while people will cheerfully say they can’t draw or play music, everyone thinks they can write a novel.

On the other hand, writers are a needy bunch. I’ve never seen any other creative endeavor that generates as many advice books, self-congratulatory websites, upbeat memes, and other “my identity is a writer so pay attention to meeeee” stuff. It’s just writing, dude. Either do it or don’t.  

• Current projects?

My primary project is my thesis novel, which is about three Japanese foreign exchange students trying to rebuild their lives after accidentally killing their friend in a bizarre bullying ritual called The Torment Game. They come to San Francisco and quietly try to rebuild their lives, but the ghost of their dead friend follows them to torment them further. It’s my story of identity, cultural immersion, and guilt.  

My other thing is working on my horror podcast, CreatureCast.net. A couple friends and I get together every other week and talk story about the horror genre. It’s fun and we’re good at it.

On the backburner are a couple of independent comics I’ve been trying to get off the ground for a while. One in particular combines my love of classic animation and cosmic horror. I call it The Doom That Came To Toonland.

• How do you balance being an editor and being a writer? (Or double jobs, being a mom/dad, etc.- apply to your situation)

I tend to choose day jobs that don’t leave me physically or psychologically exhausted. I like to keep my life balanced around three circles in a Venn diagram. Circle One is creative fulfillment. Circle Two is exercise. Circle Three is farting around.

• What do you think people expect from you with your writing? EX: Can they always count on a good gross out?

Honestly, you can probably expect a dead Japanese girl with her hair in her face.

In all seriousness, I’m fascinated by Asian horror in general and K/J horror in particular. Yeah, it’s as trope-y as its western counterpart but few things have scared me like the classics of the Japanese horror genre. The horror tends to come from human weakness rather than religious repression, so I connect with it a little better. 

I also write a lot of what I playfully term as “hipster horror.” I grew up and have lived in big cities my entire life. I currently live in Bushwick, which is the most hipstery part of Brooklyn, and it doesn’t take much for me to look at my environment with a darker lens.

In short, I want to be the older male Lena Dunham of horror fiction.


• Advice for aspiring writers?

“Be regular and orderly in your life so you may blah blah blah.”

BIO: Born in San Francisco and currently residing in Brooklyn, Joe Borrelli has been a lifelong fan of horror fiction, having spent his childhood and early
adolescence submerged in the franchise horror of the 80s. He started his high school horror film club, ran dozens of Call of Cthulhu convention events, visited the actual Castle Dracula in Transylvania, and is currently working toward his MFA in Horror Fiction
at Seton Hill University.

When not daydreaming about becoming a vampire, Joe writes fiction, climbs rocks, collects comic books, plays capoeira, and makes ill-advised decisions on his love life. Follow his blog at creaturecast.blogspot.com.