xTx is a writer living in Southern California. She has been published in places like PANK, Hobart, Puerto del Sol, Smokelong, Monkeybicycle, Storyglossia, Kill Author, and Wigleaf. Her new story collection, Normally Special, is available from Tiny Hardcore Press. She says nothing at www.notimetosayit.com.
Her story "The 33rd Word for Cold" appears in Issue Thirty-Three of The Collagist.
Here, she speaks to interviewer Joseph Scapellato about hells, dungeons, and making what's ugly beautiful.
1. Where did “The 33rd Word for Cold” begin for you, and how did it get to here?
It began early one morning before work when I had all of my Radiohead albums playing on shuffle. I was still half-asleep, the sun wasn’t out yet and the suddenly music became everything and the only thing that existed around me and I wondered, what if I couldn’t escape this? Then the line, “We exist in a Radiohead dungeon…” came out of me and I just went on from there.
2. In part, I read this as a fresh and emotionally gripping approach to what could be called the “trapped in hell” story. Whereas most depictions of hell feature an unchanging eternity, this hell changes—new words are coined, multiple mental dungeons are revealed, a character dies. I’d love to hear about how you did/didn’t conceive of this as a “trapped in hell” story while you were composing/revising. Did you do some thinking about the conventions of such works? (Any favorite hell fiction?)
I can see where this could be a “trapped in hell” story, but in my writing I prefer to torture the living so maybe that’s why it remained in a dungeon instead of a hell. I didn’t consider other works while writing it and can’t think of any hell fiction at the moment. I think the scariest hells are ones here on Earth, some we are thrust into, others thrust upon us and how we deal with them when they do. That’s what I had fun exploring with this piece.
3. I love this story’s neologisms—how the characters name the varieties of cold to “make the misery seem a bit pretty, maybe exotic.” Do you think that most writers are “guilty” of this—of beautifying misery? To what degree should this be a writer’s duty? (For you, for others?)
I think misery gets beautified/glamorized in a lot of fiction; some inadvertently, some not. I don’t think it should be any sort of “duty.” I sometimes find myself getting caught up in it though, especially when the misery they are beautifying is drug, alcohol or sex focused. It’s only after I close the book that I realize, “Hey, that wouldn’t be fun.” I do love and admire when writers can make even the ugliest things beautiful.
4. Does this piece appear in your story collection Normally Special? If so, how does it fit in? (And if it isn't in this collection, does it mark a new direction for you, aesthetically?)
This piece is not in Normally Special but I’ve noticed that the writing I’ve done since the stories in Normally Special are more fleshed out, more developed. I think I’ve gained some patience to stay and grow a story instead of maybe ending them early just to have them finished. Aesthetically, it’s a bit different, yes and I am finding myself dabbling in a bit of magical realism lately. I like being able to not have typical boundaries in my stories.
5. What writing projects are you working on right now?
Currently I am working on a novel. It’s been a long and painful process and I suspect it will continue to be so for some time. I pray there is a happy ending.
6. What killer writing have you been reading recently? Are there any upcoming releases you're excited about?
Some outstanding books I’ve read this year include, Murakami’s, IQ84, Cheryl Strayed’s, Wild, Matt Salesses’, The Last Repatriate and Matt Bell’s, Cataclysm Baby.
I am excited to read Frank Hinton’s, Action, Figure, Mel Bosworth’s, Every Laundromat in the World, Brian Allen Carr’s, Vampire Conditions, Poisonhorse by Brandi Wells and all the other books I can’t think of right now.