Ginger Nuts of Horror
George Billions is a writer whose work litters the Internet under various pseudonyms. He's written everything from fake product reviews to unqualified fitness advice, steamy romance novels to straight-up keyword spam. These days he's trying to put out the kind of stuff he enjoys reading and writing. His most recent is a crime noir / weird horror novel called Buying Illegal Bugs with Bitcoin. It's about a small-time drug dealer who buys a mysterious insect off the darknet, and all the terrible things that happen as a result.
Could you tell the readers a little bit about yourself?
When I was a little kid, I tapped out stories on an Apple IIe. I fell in and out of writing as I got older and had older people stuff to worry about. A few years ago I became a writer-for-hire, mostly doing boring web copy. Somebody hired me to ghostwrite a sci-fi novella and I started thinking, hey, I should be writing my own stories. Once I fell down the rabbit hole of indie fiction people were putting out on Amazon, I knew the world was ready for George Billions. I'm pretty sure we're entering a new golden age of pulp fiction. I want to be a part of it.
What do you like to do when you're not writing?
I'm really into pro-wrestling. It's got drama, over-the-top characters, and the spectacle of simulated violence. I like the kayfabe - the idea that it's all real and we're going to act like it. These are all things I love about the books I read, plus acrobatics and feats of strength. And I get to yell the whole time. As with books, my tastes lean increasingly toward the indies. Black Label Pro is the local promotion where I live, and I get pumped about every show.
Other than the horror genre, what else has been a major influence on your writing?
Crime stories are a lot of fun. I like thrillers when they can still surprise me, and I'm crazy about pulpy noir stuff. Characters with serious flaws, living on the margins of society, violating laws and social norms, are my favorite kind to read about. They're my favorite kind to write, too.
A friend once told me I collect weirdos. I know some genuine characters who naturally generate story ideas whenever they're around. They've definitely been a major influence on my work.
The term horror, especially when applied to fiction always carries such heavy connotations. What’s your feeling on the term “horror” and what do you think we can do to break past these assumptions?
I think horror, in a broad sense, is all about the thrill of discomfort. Good horror will make us feel some combination of fear, disgust, and excitement. The best examples produce both mental and physical responses.
As far as moving past assumptions, I'm not sure we need to. People who don't like horror will assume it's all vampires, werewolves, and serial killers. People who do like it already know there's a wide spectrum of horrific things to read about.
A lot of good horror movements have arisen as a direct result of the socio/political climate, considering the current state of the world where do you see horror going in the next few years?
One of the most terrifying books I've ever read, Prelude to the Massacre by Stan Miller, is not even strictly a horror novel. It's a dark noir story about some extreme right-wing racists who get radicalized to the point of wanting to commit mass murder. Miller nails the mindset. I went to school with a lot of people with tamer but similar perspectives, and have seen the same ideas reverberating through echo chambers around the Internet. Extreme ideologies and mass killings are a match made in hell. They're also a fact of life at this point and prime fodder for the horror mill.
What are the books and films that helped to define you as an author?
One of my fourth-grade teachers introduced me to H.P. Lovecraft, corrupting my young mind forever. I'll forever have a love of unspeakable cosmic horror, secret death cults, and inbred, backwoods weirdos. He's always been an inspiration in terms of the horrors I create.
His writing style, though, is something I've always found tedious. It's hard enough to get through as a grown man. I have no idea how I read it as a child. I prefer easy-flowing, conversational writing, like Bukowski, Vonnegut, or Palahniuk. They tell stories on paper like they'd tell them in real life. I try to do the same thing.
Rosemary's Baby, the book and the movie, is my go-to masterclass in the art of slow-burning dread. Something is terribly wrong. We're not sure what it is, but it's going to get a lot worse before it's over. I'll always strive to pull that feeling off half as well as Levin did.
What new and upcoming authors do you think we should take notice off?
Nathan Ballingrud and William Pauley III are a couple of my favorites. I like the realness of their characters combined with the weird, otherworldly terror they experience.
How would you describe your writing style?
Concise. I'm less interested in masturbating to my collection of ten-dollar words than I am in telling an engaging story. I'm also a natural smart-ass with a dark sense of humor, which comes across in my work. I don't set out intending to be funny. It just comes out that way. On the other hand, I've had readers who didn't think my work was humorous at all, but liked it anyway.
Are there any reviews of your work, positive or negative that have stayed with you?
Several people compared Buying Illegal Bugs with Bitcoin to David Cronenberg movies. I thought that was cool as hell. It wasn't intentional on my part, but I definitely take it as a compliment. The Fly freaked me out as a kid.
What aspects of writing to do you find the most difficult?
Deciding what idea I'm going to flesh out into a whole book is tough. There are so many seeds floating through my head, waiting to be germinated. I also have a lot of trouble balancing paid writing with the stuff I want to write.
Is there one subject you would never write about as an author?
I had a gig for a couple years churning out pornstar biographies for one of the big video sites. If you've looked at naked people on the Internet, you've probably seen it. One of the actresses on my list didn't have much info in any of the databases I had access to, so I turned to Google. I found a long article about her. It turned out she was a drug addict and prostitute with an abusive pimp who basically forced her into porn. He later murdered her. Of course, this isn't what people want to read when they've got the lotion and tissues out, so I just rambled for a couple paragraphs about her unstoppable libido and impressive breast size.
I can't think of anything I could write in a story that would make me feel as gross and dirty as that still makes me feel.
How important are names to you in your books? Do you choose the names based on liking the way it sounds or the meaning?
I don't think too hard about character names. It's usually the first thing that pops into my head. Last names are harder and generally not even necessary, so I tend to skip them. I gave the lead in my newest book the last name Samsa, a reference to Gregor Samsa in Kafka's Metamorphosis. Both stories are about bugs.
Writing, is not a static process, how have you developed as a writer over the years?
Writing web content has taught me to write tight paragraphs made of short sentences. It's easy to read when your attention span is addled by information overload, as mine is. My editor for the porn bios was more of a grammar hard-ass than you'd expect on such a gig, and helped me fix a lot of my writing weaknesses.
What tools do you feel are must-haves for writers?
Writing is pretty self-contained. Perseverance will get you so much further than any particular writing implement or outlining app.
What is the best piece of advice you ever received with regards to your writing?
Read a lot of books.
Getting your work noticed is one of the hardest things for a writer to achieve, how have you tried to approach this subject?
So far, I've just gone the free route. I ask for reviews around the Internet and sometimes do free ebook download days. Making friends with people who have similar tastes on Goodreads is probably the most effective thing I've done. It's also a lot of fun and helps me find new books to read.
To many writers, the characters they write become like children, who is your favourite child, and who is your least favourite to write for and why?
The unreliable narrator of Fidget Spinners Destroyed My Family is a mean, unreasonable, narcissistic drunk and generally all-around terrible person. Maybe it says something about me that she was so much fun to write.
The main antagonist in Buying Illegal Bugs with Bitcoin is also a nasty person, but less fun to write. His dialogue is amalgamated from all the racist shit I heard growing up as a mysteriously ethnic dude in a rural White ghetto. I wanted readers to feel the same discomfort I did while writing him.
What piece of your own work are you most proud of?
Buying Illegal Bugs with Bitcoin represents decades of evolution as a writer, and emcompasses some of my favorite elements in fiction: weird horror, bugs, criminal situations that spiral rapidly out of control, eccentric characters, and a smart-ass slacker as the narrator. I couldn't be happier with how it all came together.
And are there any that you would like to forget about?
I must have forgotten them already.
For those who haven’t read any of your books, which of your books do you think best represents your work and why?
Again, it's got to be Illegal Bugs. It's the purest distillation of the voice I've been developing and the themes I've been touching on for years.
Do you have a favorite line or passage from your work, and would you like to share it with us?
I have so many darlings. Here's a snippet from Illegal Bugs. Our bug-loving hero has just escaped a close encounter with a couple maniacs, and is riding the bus home. A young punk rocker next to him pulls out a switchblade to carve something into the seat.
Teddy nudged me before he got off. “Later, man,” he said, throwing up devil horns with both fists. Then he switched hand gestures, giving the bus driver dual middle fingers as he went down the stairs.
I looked over at the fresco the budding Michelangelo had donated to the city.
Gouged deep into the plastic and crawling around the anarchy sign was some kind of centipede thing. It had a skull for a head and a huge penis ejaculating toward the top of the seat, just like in nature. A human head was squeezed in its fanged jaws, the previous owner spurting blood from a jagged neck hole. His hands were up as if trying to feel for his missing cranium.
The illustration was crude and the details minimal, but I couldn’t help noticing the victim was wearing a zip-up hoodie. It reminded me of the one I had on.
Can you tell us about your last book, and can you tell us about what you are working on next?
Before Illegal Bugs, I wrote Fidget Spinners Destroyed My Family. The book's genre is still a nebulous thing. It's been called a horror novella, a psycho-drama, a dark comedy, and a memoir. I maintain that it's a real-life cautionary tale about a trend that peaked around the same time I published it.
I have a few ideas I'm kicking around for my next one. It will probably involve petty criminals unwittingly meddling with diabolical forces beyond their comprehension.
If you could erase one horror cliché what would be your choice?
People can write whatever they want, but I'm not going to read a book with the words "abandoned psychiatric hospital" in the synopsis.
What was the last great book you read, and what was the last book that disappointed you?
Oh, that's tough. I read so many great ones. Die Empty, by Kirk Jones, was one of my favorite horror novels to come out in the last year. It's a dark and hilarious meditation on consumerism, middle age, and death, written in a transparent second-person POV that I've never seen before.
I give up on books I'm not enjoying, so I'm not disappointed often. Maybe Disappearance at Devil's Rock. It's a good book, but Tremblay set the bar really fucking high for himself with A Head Full of Ghosts.
What's the one question you wish you would get asked but never do? And what would be the answer?
Is this a true story? Yes.