J. S. BREUKELAAR
JS Breukelaar is an Australia-based American writer of Dystopian and Oniric Horror. Her works include the novels Aletheia and American Monster.
What is your earliest reading memory?
Probably Doctor Dolittle. The image of the inside of the giant snail shell is one of my earliest reading memories. And a book of Japanese Fairy tales that my grandfather gave me.
Has writing been a conscious choice or a natural thing for you?
Very natural. I seem to have been always doing it.
Do you have any special habits or rituals when you write?
Coffee. Earphones. And a notebook with a pen beside the keyboard.
Do you choose your stories/poems or do the stories/poems choose you?
It never seems to work when I choose my stories. The best ones choose me. I try and make them my bitch, they always bite back.
What national books/authors do you enjoy re-reading and why?
That’s tricky because I’m an ex-pat, so national is a slippery concept for me. I rarely make a distinction except when I’m reading, as I am now, the incredible The Fisherman, by John Langan, which happens to be set in my home state of New York, not very far from where I was raised. Ditto Straub, Jeffrey Ford, George Saunders and others, and it’s a weird and creepy experience. Other authors I always reread include McCarthy, DeLillo, Shirley Jackson, Stephen Graham Jones, Joyce Carol Oates. I enjoy so much of my contemporary’s work too—D. Foy because of his style, his courage, Laird Barron because of his skills and chills, Jeremy Robert Johnson because his stories are hilarious and sad, Kelly Link because of her weirdness, Amelia Gray and Livia Llewellyn and Letitia Trent because of their virtuosity. The list goes on and on.
But my compatriots now include Australians with whom I live. And I know less about the history of Australian literature than I should. But I recently had to dig into Barbara Baynton for work, and she blew my mind with her wild Australian Gothic fiction, a tradition that lives in authors like Margo Lanagan, possibly one of my ten favorite authors anywhere, Angela Slatter, and Karron Warren. Some of Peter Carey’s work, of course. The poet and songwriter, Garreth Liddiard. Poets Omar Sakr, Samuel Watson. And Cobby Eckerman.
What foreign books/authors do you enjoy re-reading and why?
That book of Japanese fairy tales that my grandfather gave me is on my desk, and I reread it for the haunted characters; I read manga too—Bleach is still a favorite. Bolaño (the role of love in his work), Seb Doubinsky (stark and dystopian and real), Borges (everything), Cervantes (for the homesickness, the madman as visionary), Leena Krohn (for the slow fantastical burn), Han Kang (for the weirdness and the dread). The poets Mahmoud Darwish and C. P. Cavafy. Rimbaud of course, is also on my desk.
What is so important about fiction/poetry?
Life. There are no stories in heaven.
Flaubert says he was physically sick when he wrote Emma Bovary’s death. Are you empathetic with your characters?
Yes. But only with the ones who live. I cry for them. Dream about them. Fear for them. And for myself. Characters are family. No one can hurt you like blood. When I don’t care that way about my characters, I know the story is a dud.
Can you cry writing your own poem?
I have, yes. My first published poem was the first time I wrote about a friend of mine who died. I am part of a small group of writers who regularly agree to write a poem a day for a month, usually Haiku, which we circulate. Haiku can make one feel very vulnerable, very exposed. Tears ensue.
What is your ideal reader?
I’m grateful to all my readers. They’re all ideal. Response to my work varies widely. Love, hate and everything in between. Here I am.
Should writers be embraced by society or should they be exiled?
I feel that a societal embrace would be like a hug from a giant hairy spider with a hundred sticky tongues all trying to lick off my face. No thanks. But society is separate from state institutions, or it should be, especially in a state that is more or less a democracy. And institutionally, writers—all artists—need to be subsidized and literature needs to be supported at the cultural level – if only to affirm to that big hairy spider that we’re not food. Society survives, or thinks it does, by cannibalizing its own, so writers are better off as outsiders, survivors slinging arrows into the void. Who knows, one of those arrows might just find its way into the spider’s heart.
Is there a God or are there gods for writers?
The power we appeal to is the one that we think will free us into our own virtuosity—with or without a cause—so whether it’s God or the devil, is hard to say.
What makes a writer a writer?
I don’t know.
Tell us about your fiction.
My first novel, American Monster, was a dystopian novel about a space alien searching for a lost humanity, only to find it in herself. My recent novel, Aletheia, is a ghost story for people who don’t believe in ghosts. It’s about memory as fall-out, science as art, and monsters who turn on, and into, mothers. It’s also about evil. With a capital E. And it’s a love story, too. It’s set in a small town beside a lake, in the middle of which is a mysterious island, which everyone can see but no one’s ever been to. So in a sense, my fiction is what’s considered “weird” in that there’s a level of undecidability about what’s going on, but in another sense, it’s hack writing with soul. Horror with heart.
What is the purpose of your writing?
It’s a living, just not in the financial sense.
How do you really feel about recognition and fame? Are you a satisfied mind or always craving for more?
I would be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy being recognized for what my art tries to do. But I honestly can say the yearning for hearts and minds is more for connection than conquest.