Welcome back! Today, I’m thrilled to feature the awesome Nicole Cushing. Nicole is the Bram Stoker Award-winning author of Mr. Suicide and The Sadist’s Bible, as well as numerous short stories.
Recently, Nicole and I discussed her forthcoming books, A Sick Gray Laugh and The Half-Freaks, as well as her inspiration and advice to new writers.
A couple icebreakers to start: when did you decide to become a writer, and who are some of your favorite authors?
I decided I wanted to be a writer when I was still a kid. But I didn’t actually get off my ass and do the work to achieve that goal until I was thirty-five.
As for favorite authors, well, here are some names: Ligotti, Kiernan. Poe. Kundera, Ugresic, Miller, Herlihy, Gombrowicz, Andreyev, Hedayat.
Congratulations on the release of your forthcoming novel, A Sick Gray Laugh! What was the inspiration behind this book, and how did it develop from concept to finished version?
A Sick Gray Laugh has a lot of layers, and each layer had its own inspiration.
Part of the book was inspired by my experiences with depression and obsessive compulsive disorder, and by my various experiences with trauma and grief. Another part was inspired by my life in small Midwestern towns largely devoid of color; towns where the Grayness seems palpable, menacing, and almost sentient. Another part was inspired by my long-held interest in the strange Utopian cults that settled in the Midwest throughout the nineteenth century, and by my general interest in magick and the occult. Another part was inspired by my feeling that the world, in the present day, keeps getting weirder—and not in a good way. From where I sit, each and every social institution seems to be devolving into something absurd.
As you might imagine, weaving all of those subjects together into a single, coherent whole was a challenging task. Thankfully, I was able to learn quite a lot from Milan Kundera’s nonfiction book The Art of the Novel. His discussion of the so-called “polyphonic” novel was a revelation.
Readers absolutely love Mr. Suicide and The Sadist’s Bible. How do you feel that A Sick Gray Laugh fits in with those two books? On the other hand, how does it build on your previous work?
The common thread linking all of my books seems to be their preoccupation with themes of trauma, madness, and foulness (sometimes seasoned with a bit of gallows humor). A Sick Gray Laugh is no exception.
That having been said, A Sick Gray Laugh uses several approaches I’ve never tried before. To take just one example, a significant stretch of the book is historical fiction about a town established by one of those Utopian cults which I mentioned earlier. The novel traces the fate of this settlement over the span of two hundred years. So the book encompasses a much wider canvas than anything I’ve written before. Accordingly, it’s about twenty-thousand words longer than Mr. Suicide.
You also have a novella, The Half-Freaks, due out from Grimscribe Press later this year. What can you share about that book?
The main character of The Half-Freaks is a man named Harry Meyers. He’s a troubled fellow in his fifties who does odd jobs for the residents of a working class subdivision. Unfortunately, he’s also prone to a sad array of sexual compulsions.
Harry has lingered in my imagination since 2014, demanding that I tell his story. I had a perfect image of him in my head. I knew how he talked. I knew how he thought. But I also knew that those details weren’t enough to support a good story. He had to grow into something more substantial than a creep.
Eventually, I found I was able to give Harry more humanity by pointing out the freakishness of the world that surrounded him. For example, his mother dies in the early part of the story and he’s forced to interact with the health care and funeral industries (which are both motivated by a freakish combination of kindness and greed). The Half-Freaks is the story of Harry’s attempt to rebel against the forces of inhumanity and unreality.
What’s your writing process like? Do you write every day, and do you have any writing rituals? Also, is there a certain part of writing (e.g. establishing setting, crafting dialogue, developing characters) that’s your favorite? Conversely, is there a part of the process that’s your least favorite?
I tend to write Monday through Friday. I start my work day at around eight or nine a.m. by reading for an hour. Then I print out the last three to five pages of my work in progress, edit them, and try to add a thousand new words. This keeps me busy until about one or two p.m. Anything after that time is devoted to household chores and/or the business side of writing (reviewing contracts, blogging, posting videos to Youtube, keeping up with my lesson plans for The Nightmare Institute, etc.).
You are an awesome award-winning author with several books and several years of experience behind you. What’s the most important thing you feel that you’ve learned about writing over the last few years? In that vein, what advice do you have for writers who are just starting out?
The best advice I can offer to any writer (whether new or experienced) is simply this: writing isn’t a race. While many writers feel a need to constantly crank out new books, I think quality wins out over quantity.
After all, learning the craft takes time. In fact, I don’t think I’ll ever stop learning new approaches. I want to continually improve. And once you learn about the existence of any given technique, you may need to conduct a lot of failed experiments before you finally figure out how to best integrate it into your work-in-progress. Then, even after you’ve finished integrating it into your work-in-progress, it can take time to polish the completed book.
What projects are you currently working on?
In April I launched The Nightmare Institute, my platform for teaching horror writing classes. That keeps me pretty busy. I’ve also started work on a new novel.
Where can we find you online?
You can find out more information about The Nightmare Institute over on my Patreon page, https://www.patreon.com/nicolecushing
Of course, I’m also available on Facebook and Twitter. I pop up on Instagram every once in a while. And my website is www.nicolecushing.com.
Tremendous thanks to Nicole Cushing for being part of this week’s author interview series!