ART BY ERIK WILSON
Inside a God of Haunted Walls: An Unconventional Interview with Garrett Cook
by ASH LOMEN
I figured the best place to interview Mr. Cook was inside the walls of his own creation, the titular house from his latest horror novel A GOD OF HUNGRY WALLS. This obvious bending of reality and fiction took some of the proper palms being greased, and more than a few favors being called in from on high, but in the end, I did what I do best and I got things done, arriving at the house in less than two days.
As I stood outside the threshold to the old home I must admit I was feeling a bit nervous. Not at meeting Garrett, he and I were old friends, but the house itself gave me slight pause. It was an unimposing house, worn siding stained rust orange and not too much else to look at, but I knew what lurked inside. I knew that the basement had pink carpet that sometimes moved like flesh, and I knew the room with the yellow walls and the jars of buttons was where something unthinkable had happened, and I knew about the choice made between husband and wife so long ago in the kitchen, and I knew very well the god that haunted the walls. Nonetheless, I had a job to do. I was a professional.
I opened the door and walked straight down the hallway to where Micah and Cytherea’s room was located. I was afraid, but not undefended, for as I walked the halls a shadow of an even older house that I had visited as a child enveloped me, protecting me from the god of these peculiar walls as I let old memories prod my brain like hot needles. It hurt, but no unfamiliar whispers dared to hiss from the cracks in ceiling. The god was silent, observing.
Your humble journalist was safe for the moment.
I pointlessly knocked on Micah and Cytherea’s door, smiled and said, “Oh look, a door.”
I laughed as I went inside and rummaged through their shit, a bunch of pagan knick-knacks and incense burners, even a few sex toys until… I found it.
“Micah, you filthy goddamn hippy.”
I unrolled the small plastic bag and grabbed a swirled purple glass pipe off his nightstand covered in stone Celtic statues. This job wasn’t turning out so bad after all, I had even started to hum to myself as I made my way to the kitchen. The fridge was covered in silly cartoons and religious symbols and it looked like that asshole Brian drank all the beer. For a good moment, I was almost disappointed until I remembered Kaz and checked the freezer. Jackpot. I always liked that girl. A nice icy bottle of Grey Goose Vodka stuck out from behind a pile of some long frozen Healthy Choice TV dinners. I poured myself a small glass and sat down at the kitchen table. It was then that I realized I was sitting across from Garret Cook. Dressed like a Time Lord in purple, he smiled and waved.
“Well,” I said, throwing back the glass. “I guess we have an interview to do.”
I clicked the record button.
Ash Lomen: So before we get started talking about this house, I suppose I should get the questions I already know the answers to out of the way. Who are you? What do you do? How does this project differ from your previous work?
Garrett Cook: I’m Garrett Cook. I’m a Bizarro and horror author and editor. I’d say this project differs from my previous work in that it’s the first time I put out a book that is more “horror” than otherwise. Even in the cutest, most whimsical circumstances in my books, there have been scenes of intense violence and deviant sexuality but this is the first time that those things take precedent over weirdness. And I feel that’s a meaningful distinction.
AL: Well, your novel MURDERLAND was harsh, not exactly light reading for people unfamiliar with horror or subversive fiction, but A GOD OF HUNGRY WALLS man… this book is sick. I love it but it is fucking twisted. Any insights into what made you write something so extreme?
GC: I’ve been waiting for some time to be given and give myself permission to hit as hard as I really want to and with this book I more than had it. This book is driven by a lot of rage and sadness and confusion and is an honest look into the face of the enemy. Given this opportunity, to do anything less is a betrayal of my publisher, my art and the people who love it.
(I poured another glass of vodka, downing it just a quickly. This house is not so scary after all, I thought to myself as I fumbled through my notes for the next question.)
AL: The sex scenes, while frequent, typically contain such dark underlying elements I would not say they are written to titillate… yet there is a frequent theme of eroticism running through all the psychological and body horror in this book. Would you consider A GOD OF HUNGRY WALLS “Erotic Horror”?
GC: I don’t control people’s boner. I will not legislate or suppress anyone’s boner. There is certainly a lot of eroticism but the context it comes in is pretty toxic. If you feel past the toxicity and it’s exciting to you, more power to you. I like uncomfortable laughter, uncomfortable eroticism and I like moments where readers are left taking inventory of their values. Stuff happens in this book that I think is hot and I know others wouldn’t so I don’t feel inclined to judge those who get aroused by the parts that make me cringe.
(I was a little dizzy now. I tried to remember my journalistic training. Drinking too much during an interview is highly unprofessional. I may not be the best journalist, but I am nothing if not professional.)
AL: Let’s talk about your titular villain. The House. How do you write a house? More than that, how do you write such a misogynist, sadistic, manipulative, asshole of a house and still make it compelling and likeable? I also notice The House often repeats himself, and the prose it speaks to us in often conveys a sense of anxiety. Is this repetition of his speech intentional?
GC: The haunting is bodiless and timeless and runs on its own propaganda so the repetition is very intentional. Rhetoric and mantras abound because it’s a cult and it is all about believing its own hype. This was very important for writing this. Hardcore pedants and ideologues talk a certain way and establish certain rhythms. I do not shy away from being an ideologue myself, so I shift kind of easily into that mode. I think it becomes compelling because of a combination of Stockholm Syndrome and a certain degree of pity for something that will never be satisfied and really doesn’t get it. Evil is a form of suffering, Hell is a prison even for Satan. So it suffers and when you watch something suffer, you can’t help but react. Also, the haunting dehumanizes its victims so they become less sympathetic. I have had readers accuse these characters of not being fully fleshed out. That is so. The haunting doesn’t really know or care who they are, regardless of its insights into how to harm them.
AL: Now I want to talk about my favorite chapter “The Rake’s Progress”. I’m going to try my very best to avoid spoilers, so I will just say I was not expecting this kind of background chapter. What was your reasoning behind giving us this backstory? What was you reasoning for the twist at the end of this chapter that leaves the information we are given so painfully ambiguous? I want to know more! Personally, I could have read a whole book on that part of the house’s history.
(I was on my third drink and I noticed that my speech was becoming a little slurred. It was understandable. Friends or not this was my favorite book of the year and it was reasonable that I get a little drunk to compensate for my excitement. Or perhaps I was really afraid of this goddamn house despite my arcane protection. Either way I must remain professional. I was a professional. I remembered that Garrett was talking.)
GC: I like when narrators fuck with people and abusers always manipulate information politics as a weapon. I felt that a sense of mystery is important and demystifying this thing does it a disservice. You may believe whatever you please.
(Good writers always hold their cards close to their chest. I hate that. I could feel a bit of paranoia settle into my gut. I looked around nervously as I took a hit off of Micah’s pipe.)
AL: Tell me about the Homunculus, man. How the fuck did you think that up? He isn’t here now… is he?
GC: It’s an alchemical creation. There’s alchemy in its inception. I just created something that made sense from an alchemical standpoint and hoped it would be appropriate nightmare fuel.
(It certainly was nightmare fuel, and here I was in its home, drinking the stolen vodka of someone is cared about very deeply. I was an interloper, I was a vandal. I was very nervous. I drank down the vodka straight from the bottle to soften my frayed nerves. I must remain professional.)
AL: There was a part of this book I found really hard to read. The chapter “Playing Doctor”. It is a disturbing and emotionally taxing scene of body horror that involves a housemate the reader feels genuine sympathy for. What was it like writing something like that?
GC: It was painful enough that I had to change that character’s name because I could not stop imagining a person I know who had the same name as that character going through that. A lot of this book hurt. A lot of this book I wrote by reaching into really bad places and going back to the worst things I’ve seen happening to people I’ve loved. It’s also kind of a chamber of patriarchal horrors.
(I was seeing double now. Both of the Garretts in front of me looked slightly sad. I almost felt bad for asking a question that got me an answer like that. That explains was why it was so hard for me to get through that short chapter. The pain transferred perfectly from writer to reader. I don’t think I could ever write something that hurt me that much. I poured another drink. I was afraid of this house.)
AL: This is a bit of a personal question but… lets talk about the new housemate Brian. I think I know you well enough to say there is a lot of you in that character. I’m not sure how deep you want to go into it, but can you tell me a little about the relationship between yourself and Brian?
(My speech was completely slurred. Garrett politely ignored it.)
GC: Brian and I are similar in some ways. We’ve had to carry our lives on our back and have been influenced a lot by places we’ve been. Unlike me, he’s nonverbal though, he doesn’t really reach out like I do. I think his life is worse than mine because of that. I put myself in that prison sometimes but I always tell myself that I need out of it. Brian doesn’t have that luxury all the time.
(I knew what Garrett was saying was important, both to him and to his book. Perhaps to me as well. The world was a blur but I pushed on. I was recording all this, and my next question was the reason I dreamed up this whole interview in the first place. I read my own handwriting out loud as best as I could.)
AL: You are a pretty positive person. Often you scold me, our humble journalist, for my constant cynicism. This is a nasty book with a good heart, but it is also a very a cynical book simply by the nature of the narrator. What would you say to me if I told you I was surprised by your cynicism? How does that cynicism conflict with the inherent hope I see in some of your other work? How does that cynicism conflict with Garrett the social justice advocate? Garrett the humanist? Garrett the optimist?
GC: Garrett the cynic and Garrett the optimist are one. I am not optimistic because we live in the best of all possible worlds. I am optimistic because it’s the only way to survive. I got to inhabit the skin of the enemy and think like it does. I got to make a dialogue and connection with the trauma and the voices that hold me back. We don’t get a better world if we’re not honest about the fact that we’ve gotta fight to take back every patch of Hell we see, inside and outside of ourselves. We no longer get the luxury of less than impossible odds. We had it. We blew it. But don’t forget the last words of this book.
(Even in my current state I remembered those words. Garrett had a habit of saying profound shit sometimes and I had hoped to catch some of it on tape. Through my drunkenness I smiled, satisfied. I did it. I could let go now and ride the wave of intoxication. The next question was easy.)
AL: So what are you working on now? What is the next horror project we can expect from you?
(Drinking fast now I heard a singing in my head. An old familiar song. Was it me?)
GC: I’m fixing up a book called Wrongside that I wrote as my first three-day novella challenge. It’s not as overtly sick as this but it’s pretty damned painful and comes also from the same dark places. So, I’d call that my next horror project. I’m also working on my next Bizarro book which goes to lengths that would also be welcome on Deadite, so you’re going to be seeing work informed by what went into this.
AL*singing out loud*: I want to be the very best, like no one ever was, to catch them is my test, to train them is my cause. I –
“I’m sorry, I don’t understand that question.” Garrett interrupted with a puzzled look on his face.
I plopped down the bottle of Grey Goose on the hardwood table as I exhaled a plume of smoke.
“That is because you sir,” I said drunkenly, “have no imag-”
Then I heard it, a sound like a kangaroo thrown in a vat of toxic waste, dragging and half-hopping its way down a distant hallway, accompanied by the sound of scalpels gently scraping against old sheetrock. I heard the hushed whimper of a child. My eyes went wide, my intoxication momentarily forgotten. Garrett gave me a look of pity.
“I knew this was a bad idea.” he said, disappearing in a burst of purple smoke.
I smashed the glass pipe across the edge of the table and held out the broken end like a knife, brandishing it in every direction.
“Fuck you Homunculus! The haunting is not the only creature in this house that studied at The Black Academy at Salamanca. Garrett may be afraid of you but I’m not. ” I lied.
More scraping. Another childlike whimper.
I looked at a large window adjacent to the kitchen table, I tucked the tape recorder under my arm protectively and threw myself out through it. Glass shattered and I hit the cement walkway outside, hard enough to see nothing but a flash of white light for a brief moment. When I recovered, nothing seemed broken but three shards of glass the size of my thumb stuck out of my left thigh, just starting to bleed at the intrusion. The pain did the job that a coffee and a cold shower never could and I ran like a sprinter across the street and out of the neighborhood. I even managed to somehow lug my pudgy, profusely bleeding body over a fence. When I got far enough away I checked to make sure that the recorder had survived the fall. It did.
Always the professional, I thought to myself.
I smiled and promptly passed out from the blood loss.
Ash Lomen is a writer of short fiction from Southern Louisiana. He is the author of the collection “Swallowed By The Horizon” and co-wrote the horror novella “Blow Up the Outside World” with Jordan Krall. He has had other verse and prose published in Bizarro anthologies both online and off. He lives with a pig, a dog, and a cat.