The Rumpus Interview with Nick Antosca

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Having read a decent amount of his work, and being familiar with the trajectory of his career, it’s safe to say Nick Antosca’s one of the more fascinating people/novelists/television writers today.

Nick was already writing poetry and short stories when he entered Yale at fifteen and studied under 1970s sci-fi icon and bizarro fiction forebear John Crowley. His first novel, Fires, came out while he was working at a hedge fund in New York in 2006. Then, with the financial collapse of 2008, he lost his job and had more time to spend on writing. His Shirley Jackson Award-winning novella Midnight Picnic—a compelling backseat journey to find a child killer and destroy him—followed.

Two years later, he moved to Los Angeles to pursue film and television. He’s written for MTV’s beefcake-adorned hit Teen Wolf, and the ABC drama Last Resort. During this time he remained active in the fiction world, publishing his second novella The Obese—a bloody satire about body image and America’s obesity epidemic. Nick now writes for the forthcoming NBC show Believe (which is being executive produced by J. J. Abrams and Alfonso Cuarón).

How Nick would have time beyond writing is anyone’s guess, the way he vacillates between the extensive demands of Hollywood screenwriter and prolific author. He claims to live in a cut-out apartment in the side of a mountain in the Hollywood Hills, part of a home that used to be owned by Humphrey Bogart. By the lust-addled, dark subject matter of his stories, often dealing with a desperate sense of alienation, one might think his place to be blacked out, walls adorned with rotting taxidermy, and a few dog-eared volumes of Marquis De Sade.

It’s also easy to imagine some dark shape of a faceless human sitting erect in the corner of his bedroom, threatening Nick with assault, by the way his writing is deeply saturated with tense momentum amid ominous settings. These are the visions prescribed for dreams when reading his work—permeated with unidentifiable beasts, unexplainable magic, and, don’t forget, the beautiful women who are never drawn if not to be worshipped.

His most recent literary effort is a distillation of his short fiction from the last ten years: The Girlfriend Game. The twelve stories within are quick and fluid reads, grab-hold-and-won’t-let-go adrenaline rushes, the stuff nightmares are made of. It’s consistent. And unlike many collections that all revolve around the same theme of quaint American drama, Nick also gives us variety. Whether it’s a tale of an alien hookup rapture, or a son’s guilt watching his mom transmogrify into an amphibian, The Girlfriend Game a true collection.

Nick and I spoke via e-mail correspondence over the course of a few weeks, and not once during our time did I underestimate the shadows reading over my shoulders to see what their Captain had to say.

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The Rumpus: First things first: do you own any taxidermy?

Nick Antosca: I don’t think so. I own some bugs encased in lucite or something. I also have a big cat’s eye—a fake one—made for a taxidermist. I really like animals. I feel like having an actual taxidermy-ed mammal would get gross, like its hair would get dirty and stuff.

Rumpus: Why did you start writing for TV?

Antosca: I was tired of working in an office and I wanted to make a living telling stories. There are not many people who find a way to do this. One way is writing TV, and we’re lucky to be in the middle of a TV renaissance. It’s the healthiest storytelling medium in our culture. That’s the second reason. It’s just really exciting.

My introduction to the renaissance in TV was The Shield. I love that show, it’s one of the great modern works of art. The Shield made me realize there were great opportunities for writers in TV.

Rumpus: It’s an interesting choice to jump from fiction to serialized work—you seem to oscillate between the two. Can you tell me more about your shifting role between fiction and screenwriting? How do the two mediums compare for you?

Antosca: In fiction, I have a residual guilt when I focus on story over language or mood or whatever—the more “literary” things. In screenwriting, I don’t have that guilt because story is the only thing. Character, dialogue, everything else—they feed into and drive story.

At this point, fiction and screenwriting blend for me. I feel like being a TV writer/screenwriter has definitely made my fiction writing better, although I have less time to do it.

girlfriend-game_1024Rumpus: How long did it take for you to put The Girlfriend Game together?

Antosca: I wasn’t thinking about putting a collection together, actually. A few of these stories were written years ago. I wrote “Clown Blood” in college. A year or two ago, I figured, Hey…I’ve got enough stories I like to make a collection. So I got in touch with Jackie Corley at Word Riot. So one answer is: it took almost ten years to put this collection together. Another answer: no time at all.

Rumpus: “Migrations” packs a lot of crazy shit into a story that reads like an apocalyptic movie trailer: a missing finger, strange weather, an imaginary cripple named Oswald; the kitten getting carried off by balloons was a nice touch. Was “Migrations” written when you were in a spec-writing mindset for selling movie ideas?

Antosca: No, not at all. “Migrations” was written before I was even trying to be a professional screenwriter. The idea for the story comes from the opening anecdote, which is about a guy who gets drunk and goes on a tear in his apartment building, ends up in a neighbor’s apartment, gets all bloody, comes downstairs hollering and screaming, gets chased by the doorman, etc. That happened to a guy I knew in college. That, combined with the image of all the mental hospital patients walking slowly into the hills, was what inspired the story. I can’t remember where the other stuff came from.

Rumpus: Did the guy actually end up losing a finger like the main character in your story?

Antosca: No, he didn’t lose a finger—he just bled from the head and got in a fight with a doorman.

Rumpus: Were some stories (more than others) inspired by movies you were writing, or by the horror films you often express a fondness for?

Antosca: Yeah, definitely. I love horror movies. I consider myself a horror author, sometimes. “Rat Beast,” obviously, is horror-based and sort of, vaguely connected to body-horror movies in concept—the idea of changing yourself, improving yourself, at great cost. Also “Migrations”—I tried to use a tactic that my favorite horror movies tend to use, which is glimpsing something horrific/unnatural but never really getting a good look at it.

Rumpus: Some horror movie fans say they like to test their limits knowing something isn’t real and made expressly for their entertainment; or they’re into dissecting the technical aspects of how a gory scene is put together. There are those who claim that anyone who fancies blood/gore movies is disturbed, latently violent, and in need of professional help. What do you think is the appeal of horror/slasher films?

Antosca: Horror is so basic. You’d get an adrenaline jolt from watching your mom get gored by a woolly mammoth. A horror movie gives you the adrenaline without having to have your mom get gored. And in some cases, I mean in some kinds of horror movies, there’s the pleasure of identifying with both the victim and the tormentor. I feel like most people who love slasher movies are sort of putting themselves in the slasher’s shoes as well as in the shoes of the final girl.

Midnight PicnicRumpus: Do you feel like watching these movies helps you deal with your own fears?

Antosca: I think watching horror movies distracts from or obscures my fears. My fears are of running out of ideas and/or money.

Rumpus: Some people avoid pumping frightful imagery into their conscious minds to avoid pumping it into their subconscious/dreams. What do you dream about?

Antosca: I have very exciting dreams. Most of the time. The other day I dreamed I was buying a t-shirt that said “I’m Charles Manson” at a street fair, and then I realized the real Charles Manson was following me. I have grotesque/picaresque dreams. They’re super vivid and crazy shit happens in them. I get that from my mom. She would describe crazy dreams at breakfast. She would also stop the car whenever we passed a cemetery and walk around in it.

Rumpus: Your mom sounds cool. If you have a nightmare do you wake up thinking, Wow, and grab your laptop to jot the details down? Or do you stare at tiles in the shower in the fetal position, like I do?

Antosca: If I can remember the details and muster the wakeful energy, I write it down. Every year or so I resolve to keep a regular dream log, but it never sticks. But sometimes I’ve gotten great material. The first story in The Girlfriend Game, “Rat Beast,” is based on a dream.

Rumpus: In an interview with Mark Asch at The L Magazine, you said you were undergoing hypnosis to manipulate your dreams, to retain them more completely; and that your second novel, Midnight Picnic, contained numerous plot elements that came directly from dreams. You also claimed a hypnotist is a catalyst as much as a conductor. Can you explain more about the process of hypnosis and how it helps cultivation?

Antosca: I haven’t done proper hypnosis in a while. My hypnotist co-founded the website Rap Genius and is no longer a hypnotist (and we’re not in the same city anymore, sadly). I haven’t bothered to find a new one. Sometimes I try to meditate, which I hope will help in the same way, but it doesn’t really. But lots of times my dreams have the seed of an intriguing story.

Rumpus: Speaking of intriguing stories, “Predator Bait” is about a decoy—a woman who looks like a girl—who works with a team to bust Internet predators and becomes involved in a compromising situation with her boyfriend. To what extent was this story inspired by real-life events involving child predator stings on the Internet?

Antosca: “Predator Bait” is directly inspired by To Catch a Predator, that Dateline show with Chris Hansen. It’s just: what would it be like to be the actress who’s hired to play the twelve-year-old girl who lures those guys into the house when they show up? Probably pretty weird. Do you call your relatives and tell them to watch because you’re on TV? I don’t know, I doubt it. That’s a fun way to get into stories: what’s it like to be this person, whose inner life nobody really wonders about? Also with the story “Mammals”: what’s it like to be the guy whose job is to go to work every day and test out cosmetic products on defenseless animals?

The ObeseRumpus: In your novella The Obese, a toxic substance has gotten into the NYC water supply and is turning people into zombies—but it only affects the extremely overweight, turning them into killing machines. How much contempt did this book breed? Were people offended?

Antosca: Well, I don’t really know how to quantify contempt, and I think the readership for a book in that circle—it was published by Lazy Fascist Press, which largely publishes bizarro fiction—is not easily offended. Extreme and grotesque forms of satire are accepted as such. I do remember one woman, a poet I think, who read the book—no idea how she heard of it—and was offended enough that she wrote a post on her blog about it, but later took the post down. I’m not sure why she took it down.

Rumpus: There is a quote for The Girlfriend Game by Peter Straub, who says: “These lovely stories float out to us from a long, dark alley-way where Franz Kafka and Bruno Schultz are mugging Ray Bradbury.” How difficult was it to get that quote? Did you contact other authors?

Antosca: I just e-mailed Peter Straub—I can’t remember why or how I had his e-mail, probably from ReaderCon, years ago—and he said to send him the book, so it wasn’t that hard. He was one of the authors who inspired me to be a writer when I was in my early teens (his novels Koko and Shadowland, in particular), so that was cool. I only contacted one other author, but he didn’t get back to me.

Rumpus: A few years ago you introduced a screening of Blue Velvet at the Rubin Museum, while living in New York. The film screened as part of series in conjunction with the museum’s exhibition of Carl Jung’s The Red Book. Most recently you were invited to go on Playboy Radio and talk about The Girlfriend Game with adult film star Jessica Drake in Los Angeles. As a resident of both cities, can you talk a little bit about the differences you’ve seen between the cultural landscapes of New York and LA?

Antosca: Los Angeles is more hospitable to writers. It’s less claustrophobic. It feels more unpredictable and dangerous, and the landscape is less structured. You see coyotes lurking all over the place. It just feels wilder and more dangerous. And while it’s fun to introduce movies at a museum, I’d rather talk to porn stars.


Sabra Embury writes for Brooklyn Magazine, the Believer, LA Review of Books, Fanzine and other places. Follow her antics on Twitter @yrubmEarbaS. More from this author →