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In Part One of my interview with Irish author Alan Kelly, we
talked about growing up gay in Ireland, the fascination with the seamier side
of life, and his short fiction. In Part Two, Kelly gives me all the details on
his pulpliciously gruesome debut novel, LET ME DIE A WOMAN, and his favorite
SEAN ABLEY: I really like your first novel, LET ME DIE A
WOMAN. It's a fun read, starts off one place then goes a completely different
direction, which I love. First, let's talk about the title, which you totally nicked
(more British slang!) from Doris Wishman. Cheeky move! Did you back into the
title after choosing it, plot-wise? Did the film's subject matter (transgender
documentary) inspire you? Or maybe you finished the book and discovered the
ALAN KELLY: In the beginning it was called "Blood Rag:
Let Me Die a Woman" but my publishers preferred LMDAW as a title so
"Blood Rag" was later dropped. I was aware of Doris Wishman for a
while before I even considered writing the novella, most notably her documentary
on transgender identity, but it wasn’t until (character) Bunny Flask’s
revelation after her bitch fight with Alice Fiend that I settled on that title.
While writing the book, I wasn’t really thinking about representation at all
and I was writing to a deadline which is good as it forces you to get to the
Many of the characters are in a way inspired by women in the
horror genre like Shannon Lark and Heidi Martinuzzi, who are possessed of
audacious personalities and seem larger than life, both champions for women in
horror. A lot of the novel’s material is homage to the likes of Russ Meyer,
Quentin Tarantino and John Waters! Sort of a weird stew your mother has made
which you’re not sure is poisonous or not. One magazine described it as “It Came
from Outer Space meets Female Trouble…” and I couldn’t have been more pleased!
I think one day I might return to the character of Bunny Flask! I’m sure
there’s another Grand Duel I could put her in!
ABLEY: You actually live in the area in which part of the
book is set, Wicklow, which is on the Eastern shore. I've never been, but from
what I can dredge up on the interwebs, the area seems so lush and peaceful. Yet
you've filled this area with horrible people and events. Is there some
grievance you have with Wicklow?
KELLY: No, I don’t have a grievance with Wicklow. The reason
I used horrible people and events was because Jessica Spark was the sort of
girl who is a magnet for trouble. Her snarky self-absorption, lack of charm and
mean wit would always land her in hot water! So it was probably a bad idea
attending a Scarecrow Festival in the first place. I just think I have a very
dark sense of humor and have a tendency to laugh at stuff I shouldn’t – not
that I would laugh at a village being decimated by malevolent alien scarecrows!
– and I wanted Jessica to be a typical teenage sociopath who had zero empathy
for those around her and pretty much hated everybody she came into contact
with. I also think in horror, the character that shows the most mettle is your
typical too-good-to-be-true “good” girl who suddenly discovers she can fight
like Xena when confronted by monsters or madmen whereas you learn early on that
Jessica isn’t a victim and would probably react aggressively in any given
situation. Even in the taxi before they reach the festival, Jessica is
fantasizing about her boyfriend being mutilated! In a way, it was great fun
turning an already mad teenage girl into a genocide-crazed megalomaniacal
ABLEY: As I read LET ME DIE A WOMAN, I had this sense of a
gruesome children's book. Meaning, the events of the story (not the actual
writing) felt very kid-like, as if a kid were telling this tale and making it
up as they went along. "First this happens, and then this happens..."
Each new aspect of the story doesn't necessarily flow organically from the
previous bit, but then they all come together in a way that makes sense in the
end. (Feel free to debunk this assertion.) How did you create the story -
outline first? Just go with the flow as you wrote it? All or none of the above?
KELLY: I didn’t have an outline or really know where the
story was going so I didn’t map it out or spend too much time on
characterization. I did go with the flow. I’m terrible at procrastinating and
having to juggle writing a novella with freelance work was pretty
marathon-going! I wrote it over two months and was lucky to get even 500 words
done a day! I think you’re really on the button with describing the novel as a
gruesome children’s book. As others have said it has a very cartoony veneer, a
lot of surface color to disguise the rot beneath. The storyline is pretty
erratic and slightly schizophrenic in its construction and in a way that is
very pulpy! I didn’t set myself any rules while writing so therefore didn’t have
any to break and the novel has a tongue-in-cheekiness which I was aware of
right from the start. But I agree that the story is often fragmented and didn’t
always make sense, until the end. I guess there is spontaneity to the book,
which is quite child-like! Monsters, fiends, the apocalypse, bad language and
OTT violence, it’s almost a graphic novel – without the graphics!
ABLEY: It's interesting that on one hand you've created
villains that are human on the outside but squirming with creepy life forms on
the inside, and on the other you've created a transgender protagonist. We've
all heard the old "man trapped inside a woman's body" line, and I
can't help but draw a comparison between life forms that need an outer shell to
"pass", and a person who feels as if they're trapped in a shell not
of their choosing. Am I on the right track?
KELLY: Yes, there is a contrast between Bunny’s gender
identity and The Doll’s outer skins. On one hand you have these life forms who
are nothing more than a coat for a parasitic monster and the other you have a
young woman who has been born in the wrong body and trying to conceal it
because she is all too aware of how her colleagues will react to this. I have
to confess though at the time of writing I didn’t consciously set out to
address this. Obviously I’ve thought of these issues on a deeper level and they
have found their way into my work without me being aware of it even happening.
I know quite a lot of transgender people and have first-hand experience of
Transphobia! People, at least here, show no restraint with their hateful
comments and assumptions about transgender identity; I’ve even heard it from
other GLBT people, which is absolutely shocking! In recent years there has been
a stronger Transgender presence on the Dublin gay scene/community which is
wonderful and if LET ME DIE A WOMAN raises awareness or helps anybody in this
position, that would be something to be proud about. Of course I’ve never met a
transgender person like Bunny, and like I said, she is an amalgamation of
larger than life people and not inspired by anybody I know personally.
ABLEY: How did this book find its way to Pulp Press?
Did you pitch it first?
KELLY: I have been friends with The British Queen of Noir,
Cathi Unsworth (THE NOT KNOWING, THE SINGER,
BAD PENNY BLUES) ever since I interviewed her (along with Megan Abbott and
Christa Faust) over at Bookslut for an article called “The Ladies of Noir” a
few years back. We were exchanging emails, mostly talking about film and
literature and she recommended a book by Danny Hogan called KILLER TEASE; a
racy, ultra-violent book about a burlesque bitch with a bad-temper called
Eloise Murphy who decides to exact stiletto impaling revenge on a group of
misogynistic men who blackmail her into doing some unsavory things! I adored
the novel and decided to send the first 2000 words of what would become LMDAW
to Danny! At first, I pitched it as a short story and Danny liked the character
of Jessica Spark so asked if I would be prepared to write something longer and
I agreed! After about two months I sent the not quite finished manuscript to
him and we edited it down to 23000 words! In the original manuscript, Bunny was
far more homicidal, less sympathetic and had a back-story exploring the Adam
Wolf story-strand which the editors thought was a bit too dark! I am very
pleased with how the story evolved and that people seem to like it, so far.
ABLEY: I know you prefer a real book with pages and a cover
to ebooks. I couldn't agree more. But considering how media mutates over time,
I feel that at some point we're going to have to give in and accept this new
fangled technology. Will Pulp Press be offering the ebook version of LET ME DIE
KELLY: It's available as a kindle book. I think eBooks are
fine if you are reading short stories or a novella like LMDAW, but in reviewing
I’ve often received electronic copies of novels which are over 500 pages long
and once or twice I’ve read the books but only if it is coming from a
small-press. Printing the novel out is costly and your eyes feel like someone
has taken a blow-torch to them once you finally finished it. I think media is
constantly in a state of flux and things happen so fast that sometimes, it is
all a bit too fast to keep up with. I will always prefer a print novel to an
electronic copy, but that is my preference and not a criticism of eBooks.
ABLEY: After poking around on the net, and reading your
work, I got the sense that you are very comfortable with the transgender
community, and have a desire to explore that world in a variety of ways. I have
to ask - do you consider yourself transgender?
KELLY: Yes, for as long as I can remember I’ve had friends
who are transgender and always felt more comfortable surrounded by people aware
of who they are. One of my best friend’s is post-op and she never used her
gender as a crutch or let it dictate who she could be, where she could go or
what she could do. And this is true of most of the Trans people I have met. To
be honest, I am not entirely comfortable with being identified as “a man” nor
am I entirely comfortable being identified as “a woman” so I guess that leaves
me somewhere in-between. There is the GENDER WORKBOOK by Kate Bornstein and I
am inclined to agree with her whenever people ask me about gender. That a
binary exists but many of us don’t subscribe to that and feel there are dozens
of genders. I am constantly striving to find a place or an identity in which I
feel most comfortable. It’s something I am still searching for, but I do feel
that I am getting there. Not to be flippant about it, but for now I’d like to
keep people guessing…
ABLEY: You're about half my age, so I'm betting you weren't
exposed to some of the awesome, awful gay lit of the 60's, 70's and 80's. My
favorite gay lit guilty pleasure is Gordon Merrick, author of such uplifting
beach reads as THE LORD WON'T MIND and NOW LET'S TALK ABOUT MUSIC. Any good
trash on your bedside table?
KELLY: Julian Clary’s blackly comic crime capers MURDER MOST
FAB & DEVIL IN DISGUISE are guilty pleasures! I went on a Gore Vidal binge
not so long ago and found some of his work tantalizing and some of it a bit
dull. I’m not sure I’d describe what I read as trash – trashy, yes. I have a
number of novels which I keep close at all times, which are Lydia Lunch’s WILL
WORK FOR DRUGS, Tony O’ Neill’s SICK CITY, Helen Zahavi’s DIRTY WEEKEND,
Christa Faust’s MONEY SHOT, Helen Walsh’s BRASS, Dennis Cooper, Clive Barker.
Stacks of books I haven’t got round to yet. I don’t always read as much as I
like while writing unless it is for review! Last year I bought the entire
collection of Hard Case Crime and love every hardboiled word! HCC is probably
my all time favorite publisher and vintage pulp is a weakness of mine! Gay
writers I like are Scott Heim, Denis Kehoe, Robert Rave, and Max Schaefer. I
would like to write a hardboiled novel somewhere down the line with a gay
protagonist! I sort of have an idea already but am going to keep schtum!
ABLEY: You've written short stories, a novel and plenty of
film criticism and profiles. Is there a screenplay inside you just dying to get
KELLY: I was in London in October and having drinks with the
scream queen, film-maker and Gorezone columnist Suzi Lorraine, and we were talking
over drinks about horror, projects and just general stuff and I told her I have
always wanted to write a “creature feature” screenplay! I do have an idea for
one and think it would involve genetic engineering and be closer in style to
MONSTERS or DISTRICT 9 than say PIRANHA or SNAKES ON A PLANE. It is only an
idea but one day I would definitely like to get round to starting it. I quite
enjoyed some of the faux-documentaries like the REC films and THE LAST
EXORCISM. I have written short screenplays before and never find them quite as
difficult as writing short stories or novel work. Novel writing can be quite
draining and a very solitary and sometimes extremely maddening process! If I were
to write a feature-length screenplay, I would seek out someone to collaborate
with, for sure. I am a huge fan of Dustin LaValley and love his dark
sensibility, so I would probably pitch it to him and see if he’d be keen. But
first I need to finish the book I’m writing right now!
ABLEY: Irishman to Irishman - What is your favorite form of
potato? Spoiler: mine is tater tots.
KELLY: Oh that is an easy one! I’m addicted to Colcannon, which
is an Irish recipe of spuds mashed with white cabbage and highly addictive! I
remember that is all I would eat, lacing it with white pepper! Another is
traditional Irish stew with potatoes or the summer baby potatoes with lashings
of butter! I like all kinds of potatoes! Every Irishman since birth is
practically bottle fed them!!!
Get your copy of the best stocking stuffer ever! LET ME DIE A
WOMAN, in paperback or Kindle, from Amazon.
Alan Kelly's Facebook is here.
Let Me Die a "Gay of the Dead" Twitter follower
Let Me Die a Facebook follower here.
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