Autumn Christian is a horror writer who lives in the dark woods of the southern United States with poisonous blue flowers in her backyard and a set of polished cow skulls on her mantel.
She's been a freelance writer, an iPhone game designer, a cheese producer, a haunted house actor, and a video game tester. She considers Philip K. Dick, Ray Bradbury, Katie Jane Garside, the southern gothic, and dubstep as main sources of inspiration. The Crooked God Machine is her first published novel.
Hi Autumn how are things with you?
Wonderful, wonderful. It’s 4:15 in the morning and I’m coming down from a margarita and surreal indie movie binge with a headache that would most likely kill a rhinoceros. I couldn’t sleep so I decided to speak to you in this semi-coherent state.
Can you give us some background information on your good self?
I’m a writer who lives in the dark woods of the southern United States with poisonous blue flowers in her backyard and a set of polished cow skulls on her mantel.
I’ve been a freelance writer, an iPhone game designer, a cheese producer, a haunted house actor, and a video game tester. And I consider Philip K. Dick, Ray Bradbury, Katie Jane Garside, the southern gothic, and dubstep as main sources of inspiration.
In five words describe yourself?
Orphic, clumsy, confused, awake, addicted
Poisonous Blue Flowers and polished cow skulls, I take it you don’t subscribe to Ideal Homes Magazine?
Not at the moment. I’ve moved over ten times (with a brief stint of homelessness) in the last two years. More out of circumstance than any actual desire to move, though I was living in Oklahoma on a small town dairy farm and after six months decided it was time to leave. I picked the first city that seemed interesting to me, which was Austin, Texas, and ended up there with a thousand dollars, no job prospects, and no idea what the hell I was doing.
A cheese producer, I love cheese, what is your favourite cheese?
Cowboy cheddar, which is a secret blend of fourteen spices in the exact right composition to render a person completely useless and hallucinatory for fourteen hours straight.
No, but seriously, it’s good cheese.
At the risk of being really offensive to all my American friends and readers, but is cheese making that big in America? When I think of American cheese, all that springs to mind is Cheez Whiz and Monetary Jack cheese?
I wouldn’t say it’s a ‘big thing’ in America as agriculture and food production is a relatively small part of the economy. However my grandparents started a cheese business and the time of my life when I worked on their dairy farm and produced cheese is probably the most interesting (and most asked about) part of my life. I mean any god-forsaken half literate bum can write a story. It takes real skill to produce delicious organic cheese.
You have also spent some time as a video game tester. Is that as a good a job as my mind thinks it is?
Imagine if you will, playing your favorite game. Now imagine that you’re playing in a single hallway or section of your favorite game. Now imagine that someone said they thought they saw the character clip the wall once and you spend eight hours running up and down that same hallway trying to figure out how to clip the wall. Video game testing isn’t so much about playing video-games as in trying to make them break in new and unsuspecting ways. Once while having to load a saved game 300 times in a row I think I achieved, for just a moment, spiritual nirvana.
What first started you on the path of writing?
The typewriter in the corner of my bedroom, Goosebumps, Ray Bradbury, and my father. I loved the idea of being a writer before I was actually a writer: because writer’s were mysterious and sexy and the most erotic image known to humankind is of a person at a typewriter/keyboard banging out literary vomit, slamming down a whiskey, and being generally inebriated and brilliant.
If you had to be pigeonholed what genre would you say you write in?
One word: horror. Multiple words: dark/horror/pseudo-romance/bizarre/surreal/speculative fiction.
And who would you say has been the biggest influence on your writing?
A terrible cliche, but my dad. Amidst the convoluted storm of trauma - divorce, anxiety, bad dreams, he helped me to see that writing was not a neurosis, that creativity was beautiful, not to censor myself.
If you could pick one author to be your mentor. Who would you chose and why?
I’d say Philip K. Dick but he’d most likely just sit me in a corner and tell me conspiracy stories while smiling that congenial smile of his. So I’d say Hunter S. Thompson but then we’d probably not write at all and he’d just carve a Z in my forehead and feed me lots of drugs, and now that I think about I’m perfectly okay with that.
Who are your favorite authors and what is it about them that you love?
Philip K. Dick for his way to explore complex, human difficulties and the concept of reality with simple prose and campy sci-fi stories. Ray Bradbury for giving me the Halloween tree and showing how
And if you didn’t write what other creative outlet do you think you would do?
Most likely a cabaret dancer or a taxidermist.
As a horror writer, why did you choose this genre? It’s hard enough becoming a writer, and it must be ten times harder trying to make it as a genre writer?
I didn’t choose this genre, it reached out of the slimy netherpits of my consciousness and chose me. I never set out to write horror but I think every writer, every good writer anyways, will have a moment when they realize what writing for themselves means. It comes out clumsy and broken and dark, but that’s okay, because you feel clumsy and broken and dark. And that darkness has a power to it. Some days I feel not so much a writer but an exorcist: pulling demons up out of the pit of my stomach.
What so you love about the genre, and what do you hate about the genre?
What I love: Horror as a way to force yourself back into the body, to feel its desperation and
anxiety, the tightness of the spine. Horror as a medium to interact with the infinite, a la Lovecraft or any number of dread-knotted existentialists. Horror to showcase beauty, cast the human condition into high relief, leave me tongue-tied and exhausted bent over the keyboard.
What I hate: That horror is seen as zombies, werewolves, and vampires when I think such things are a pale specter of what horror has the ability to accomplish. The idea that horror arose and died with Stephen King and that thanks to the 80s horror glut it’ll never make a resurgence.
You have talked a bit about your battle with depression, has this been a constant battle for you throughout your life? Or is it something that has been a recent battle?
It’s always been there but reached its peak when I was 19 or so, and I was nearly hospitalized. I was misdiagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome. I was fed Klonopin and scratched myself on the kitchen floor. I met a boy through DeviantArt and I thought we were going to start the revolution, until six months later when I ran away from home and we ended up in a commune outside of Austin. He woke me up in the middle of the night to tell me that Mexican assassins were outside the door prepared to kill us. I think that’s when I knew there was no revolution after all
Do you think the battle has been the reason that you seemed to drift around for a while?
Yes and no. I always want to run. I’m always sitting at the window squeezing my dress between fists, saying, “sometimes, you know,sometimes I just want to run off into the woods.” I have a serious case of wanderlust and want to move to Seattle in the next year or so. I want to stuff my eyes with sensation before I die. It’s a desperate desire, it feels like running into a glass over and over again.
Of course you have to be mindful about where you’re going: I was running from my own body my own skin, my cellulite teeth and hair, that I was running in search of something other. I found the other, it was fantastic, but the depression lingered. I’d think I’d like to end up on a cliff overlooking the seaside. On a ship plowing into an iceberg. When really I just wanted a goddamn reason to get out of bed.
How do you deal with it? And how do you deal with people mistaking, depression for being a bit down?
I’m still trying to figure this one out.
Your first published novel The Crooked God Machine, is described as a dystopian horror novel? Can you tell us exactly what you mean by this?
It’s a horror novel that you should read to people who need a reason to kill themselves or are thinking about joining an organized religion. It’s a combination of gothic americana, sci-fi, teenage romance in deep freezers, and strippers.
It’s set on an alien planet, did this bring any extra challenges in writing the book?
In a way, as I’d never done any sort of real world-building before I wrote the Crooked God Machine. However it’s also a sort of facsimile of the American southern small town. I wanted to create at atmosphere that was at once alien and familiar, nostalgia and claustrophobia.
Did you ever consider setting the book on earth?
In the first draft of the book, it was set on a destroyed earth. I’m not sure why I abandoned this idea: probably because I liked the idea of being lost in deep space, of a place beyond our planet where we’re not sure what happened or how to get back to who we used to be.
What was the inspiration for writing the novel?
God came down from heaven to speak to me and he turned out to be a real asshole.
How happy are you with the finished book?
My writing friend threatened to kill me after he read the first chapter. I’m pretty happy with it. I’ve been writing novels since I was 16, so it’s definitely not my first, but it’s the first that I felt could be shared with others.
You have recently teamed up with one of my favourite publishers Dark Continents. How did this come about?
I met Stephanie Schmitz, the social media manager for Dark Continents, at the World Horror Convention in Austin. We were at a pitch practice session and I stumbled through a pitch with her, having never done it before. She gave me her card, which fell down into the bottom of my wallet and I didn’t retrieve until six months later after I thought that maybe the antidepressants were a good idea after all. She emailed me to submit a novella for a new line coming up, and I did.
They seem to be one of the nicest and most supportive publishers out there. How much help and support
have they given to you?
Quite a lot. They worked with me on editing, creating the cover, and promotion. The other writers have also been extremely helpful as well. We’ve been able to draw from each other’s networks. I feel very much the child of the group, as they’re all more accomplished than I, so I’m glad to be a part of Dark Continents publishing.
Your first publication with them is A Gentle Hell, what would be your gentle hell?
She came to me as an anorexic woman named Jane. The unassuming care-taker with the sewn lips. She scrapes along the edge of the ocean. She doesn’t know how to eat anymore. It’s the self-sabotage that’s warm and peaceful. Or it’s the autumn of 2010 sitting in a basement surrounded by french existentialist literature.
You describe the book as being for all the deformed children and girls that dream of demons. Which are you?
I’ll answer this question with a true story: I was at Lake Elmer in Kingfisher, sitting in the back seat of my car watching the sun go down across that scummy lake water. I turned and the devil was sitting next to me, calm with his arms at his side, his head a tangle of thorns.
“Why haven’t you been writing?” he asked me.
“Because it doesn’t mean a damn thing,” I said, “because I’m sick and tired and why won’t you just let me enjoy this fucking sunset?”
Then he touched me on the forehead, as if blessing me.
“Go home and write,” he said.
And I haven’t stopped since.
The book is made up of four stories, how much of your career do these stories span?
From the time I was 18 until 21 years old. They Promised Dreamless Death, about a salesmen who sells sleep and the consequences of a world living unconscious, is the oldest story and was written while I was still in college. The Dog That Bit Her, about a neurotic woman gains freedom from her co-dependent marriage with the bite of a rabid dog, is the newest and was written about six months ago.
Can you tell us about the stories?
In “They Promised Dreamless Death” a salesmen sells sleep with the promise of a better life, but what dreams lurk beneath the substrate of consciousness for those who take it are stranger than they ever imagined.
In “Your Demiurge is Dead,” while the world adjusts to the death of God and the new reign of the Triple Goddess, Charles hunts for an Oklahoma murderer and is forced to confront his religious ideals when he encounters a new prophet.
“The Dog That Bit Her,” is the story of a neurotic young woman who gains freedom from her co-dependent marriage with the bite of a rabid dog.
And in the semi-autobiographical “The Singing Grass,” the artist and the writer converge at a meadow haunted by a carnivorous deer and the burnt monsters that show them the consequences of an artistic life.
Do you have a favourite among them?
The Singing Grass. It was a gift to someone, but I wrote about our distance even before I knew it existed. It’s surreal, but feels more real than most things that I’ve written.
How do you market your work? What avenues have you found to work best for you?
I pick a wall that looks particularly sturdy and bash my head against it until I can’t think anymore.
I mean - I market my work by picking impossible goals and throwing my stories at them. I email people who I have no business emailing. I scour for editors underneath bridges. The best marketing tool I’ve found is to write and write and write until your fingers start to bleed, and in that process you pick up connections and people begin to talk about you. You submit stories and keep talking, but you always keep the writing the focus. I’m still very new at this process, but this has what’s worked best for me so far.
Are there certain characters you would like to go back to, or is there a theme or idea you’d love to work with?
I have recurring characters, themes and imagery that find themselves in story after story. They follow me around in real life and take on enormous significance. I try not to repeat myself, but they are like signatures. The horned god of the woods has followed me around for several years, as has the blue flowers that I once plucked from a dark wood. I feel them everywhere I go, and when they’ve released me I can move onto another idea, another monster.
What has been the toughest criticism given to you as an author? What has been the best compliment?
The toughest criticism I’ve ever been given was by an editor at Tor who said I needed more substance, and less style. The best compliment: A girl who tried to commit suicide had her mother print out my stories and she read them while in the hospital, and told me that they saved her from dying.
Is there anything that you would like to say to your readers and fans?
Together we are going to eat the stars.