Violet Glaze and Josh Meyers
The writer and illustrator talk about their collection of short stories Genghis Cum
Published: November 10, 2010
Violet Glaze and Josh Meyers read from and sign I Am Genghis Cum
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Writer Violet Glaze and illustrator Josh Meyers slide quietly into a coffeeshop corner table on a weekday afternoon, warm drinks in hand, 15 minutes early for this interview. Meyers is a modest 21-year-old illustrator just getting started in Baltimore. The now Philadelphia-based Glaze, 35, is a widely published movie critic (including five years with City Paper) and internet erotica writer with a published novel under her belt. Together they’re responsible for the new collection of short stories I Am Genghis Cum. They look like an unlikely pair, but the awkwardness of their age difference enhances their clearly aligned artistic viewpoints. During a conversation about their collaboration, it becomes clear that each had little to do with the other’s creative process; the fact that their efforts unite so seamlessly in such an unusual product is rather remarkable. Genghis’ stories chronicle four aspects of procreation—conception, pregnancy, infancy, and parenthood—with savage honesty and ruthless humor; Josh’s soft ink drawings of robot fetuses and sunglass-wearing sperm place the stories in context. Glaze’s take on infancy, “10 Darlings and a Handbag,” details a woman’s violent attempt to rid herself of the responsibility of her newborn, but in a raggedly funny way that makes the grotesque easy to swallow. Glaze dives into the deep at word one, and she stays there, never losing her footing on a rough and wild trek into the void she encountered after the birth of her first child.
City Paper: Let’s start at the beginning—tell me about where the book came from.
Violet Glaze: The real genesis of this is about three years ago, I got pregnant. The long and short of it was I had a horrendous delivery. I was in labor for 90 hours—that’s n-i-n-e-t-y, 90—and the reason for that was I was trying for a home birth, with a midwife, and—I won’t get into details—but it was a combination of us not really being philosophically aligned about what the best kind of birth is and me just being a stubborn cuss and not willing to throw the towel in. I went to the hospital at 80 hours, and then I had a C-section at 90 hours.
And after the C-section the PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder] started. I don’t remember holding my son for the first time, and after he was born I started having flashbacks. I started all the classic symptoms—I wanted to kill people, anything that had to do with a baby or maternity I started having panic attacks, and finally when my son was about 5 months old I had a full-blown nervous breakdown and suicide attempt and we had to move out of our house and move in with my parents. And that’s when a psychiatrist said, “You have PTSD,” and I had to move forward from that.
So these stories came out of that, not in a conscious way. In fact, I hope my son forgives me for [“10 Darlings and a Handbag”] some day. People said, You should write about this, that would be healing, write about it, and then I write about it and they’re like, Jesus Christ—keep that to yourself. So once I had these four stories—not with any idea of a big project in mind—I saw that there was a thread that connected all of them and that was a certain anxiety and horror of parenthood and human reproduction and it was at that point that Josh came into the picture.
Josh Meyers: She had originally asked somebody else to do the illustrations but I guess he flaked out, and I’m really happy because I think my illustrative style just works a lot better.
VG: Totally. I mean, the thing I like about this book with your stuff is the illustrations are almost gentler, in a way. It seems strange because of the subject matter, but some of your stuff is so hard-edged and so sharp and [in this book] it’s so round and gentle and cartoony, so it’s kind of a nice mix. I was really surprised when I got them. It’s a true collaboration in that sense. The two of us together creates a synergistic whole.
CP: The book is told by four completely different voices. Was that a conscious choice or was that how it came out?
VG: It just came out. I’m not the kind of artist where I start out with a thesis and then prove it. I more just work intuitively, and I step back and see what I’ve done. And it’s interesting to me that the two male voices in this book are written from the first person, and the two female voices are in the third person. I think the highfalutin’ answer to that is that when I’m writing female characters I need to distance myself from them, and especially I had to distance myself from the experience in “10 Darlings and a Handbag,” because that story’s really much more autobiographical than I want to admit and that was the only way it could get out of me. The other part is I just really like writing in the voice of completely reprehensible males. It’s the most freeing literary exercise to be just a complete douchebag.
JM: I was worried that you were writing this book about me, and it was a practical joke. For like a minute I thought, I don’t think this is gonna get published. I think she’s just fucking with me. Oh, I, like, chop up women after I’m done with them, cool, thanks.
VG: I never knew that! No, no, I think the first story came out of finding out that statistic about Genghis Khan and just kind of going forward from that. [Studies suggest that Khan has roughly 16 million living descendants.] Having seen reproduction from the female end, which was not a cakewalk for me, I’m sort of more interested in the possibilities of the other end, like, my god, it’s a mirror-image experience. And just to walk in someone’s shoes who wants to take that to the immoral satanic nth degree was a fascinating idea for me.
CP: What stories did you write first—did you write them in any particular order, or was it simultaneous?
VG: I think “Rough Trade Marks the Spot” was the first, and that’s unusual because that entire story came to me in a dream, beginning to end, and I just had to wake up and transcribe it. I’ve never had a story come to me like a gift-wrapped present like that before. I think “10 Darlings and a Handbag” was the first in terms of genesis because I started thinking about that when my son was only a couple of months old, but it’s one of those things where you think of it and you’re like, Oh Jesus, I can’t write this story, and then you put it off and put it off and put it off and one day. . . I don’t think I was ready to face writing it yet. Or face being the kind of writer who would write that story.
JM: It’s pretty gross.
VG: It’s a brutal story. Going back and reading Chuck Palahniuk and going back and reading something like Stephen King, who we think of as a very mainstream writer, and, how can I put this? I have this philosophy about women in the arts being their own worst enemy because women value consensus. And you don’t want to step too far out of the bounds, not because you’re actually going to offend somebody, but because you worry about, well, what’s the bigger picture of my peer group and how this affects other people? And it took a while for me to get the courage to say, this is my voice and this is my experience and peer group be damned, and to trust that in myself.
CP: Do you think the book as a whole is from a feminist standpoint?
VG: I’m a feminist, so whatever I write comes from that in a sense, but I don’t have an agenda for this book.
CP : When you say you’re a feminist, what do you mean by that? A lot of people attach a lot of different meanings to that word.
VG: What does that mean? I think—you have to look this up—but I think it’s Carol Leifer’s joke [editor’s note: Elaine Boosler’s, actually] that I’m a person trapped in a woman’s body, and I think that’s how I approach life, that there’s a lot of assumptions about women, and I want women to be free to understand the whole human spectacle and be part of it. I guess that’s the basic explanation. And I like porn.
CP: You self-published this, but [your first book] Hotel Butterfly had a publisher, correct?
VG: That had a publisher. It was an e-publisher so it never existed as a hard copy. This is my first hard-copy book. And I’ve been a contributor to anthologies where I’ve had a byline within it, but this is the first hardcover book with my name on the cover.
CP: How was the artistic process of writing for an e-book different from writing for something you were self-publishing?
VG: I couldn’t place these stories anywhere. I tried to sell them in the short story market, which is already full, and nobody wants to buy these so I figured, well, I can either sit on them forever or I can follow the model of the indie band, which is, we’ll get some capital together and we’ll put out a CD for 10 bucks. [Genghis Cum] is from lulu.com—they supply the templates and that’s where you can order it and everything—but there’s still a stigma of if it’s self-published, it must not be anything. I would like it to be more of the music model, where any band can put together a CD and it’s a legitimate contribution to the bigger music scene as a whole. And I have to say I’ve also been inspired by local bands like Human Host. Mike Apicella, who’s head of that, we’ve known each other since we were 15, and I’ve watched him live a life that’s completely devoted to the arts and just stand behind every single project that he’s done and put it out and, you know, critical consensus be damned or popularity or whatever. And that was inspirational to me too, very much sort of a DIY spirit about it.
CP: Josh, how would an illustrator, traditionally and now, go about getting their work out?
JM: I have no idea. I use a blog and that gets me some notice, but when I try to bring my art to people in person they don’t care at all. It’s pretty tough. And there are so many artists in Baltimore City that I think I just get kind of lost in a sea of illustrators.
CP: Violet, you’ve been writing for a while. Do you feel like it’s a lot more self-promotion now that you have to go through?
VG: I haven’t been writing fiction, but the people I talk to who do fiction they’re like, yeah, it’s a total hustle, it’s different than it was 20 years ago. Twenty years ago, if you got a publisher they would call you and say, “Great, we’ve got a book tour, we’ve got this, we’ve got that for you.” Nowadays publishing is structured around the blockbuster, so they’ll put all their chips on Harry Potter and for everybody else it’s like, “We got you the book, the rest is up to you.” So you have to book your own interviews, your own readings, your own everything. I don’t know it any differently so I just figure this is the lay of the land. And this, as a project, is my first steps into that world.
CP: Where do you find your artistic peers in a world where you’re battling for yourself?
VG: It’s funny because when I was trying to place these short stories, I couldn’t find anywhere to place them. Once I had this book, people have bought stories from this book to reprint in other avenues, and I found out about the whole world of bizarro publishing, which is a genre that I wasn’t aware of previously. So this book has been an entryway into other projects. And I don’t know if it’s been the same way for you.
JM: I didn’t even know that. I didn’t know people were taking stories out of this.
VG: Oh really? Yeah, “Rough Trade Marks the Spot” is going to be in an anthology later in this year, and I actually asked them about carrying some of your illustrations, but I don’t know if you’ve heard from them or not.
JM: . . . Nope.
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