Anyone familiar with the term "extreme horror" is likely to be well-versed in the works of Richard Laymon, Jack Ketchum and Edward Lee, but for years now Charlee Jacob has been steadily working towards garnering a major name for herself in the field. She is at once one of the most ruthlessly sanguine and yet impressively lyrical writers of the macabre and the ghastly. Readers can expect to be shocked, touched, entranced, thrilled and revolted by her unshackled sense of humor and gut-wrenching narrative voice.
She has recently sold work and published short fiction & poetry in: Necro' Publications DAMNED anthology, THE DARK ARTS, DARKEST SPACE, microSHOCKS, CHIM AND HER, THE DECAY WITHIN, THE MAGAZINE OF SPECULATIVE POETRY, MIRRORS IN FLAMES, BARE BONE, DARK ILLUMINATI, THE 2003 RHYSLING ANTHOLOGY, THE BEST OF DREAMS OF DECADENCE, and Delirium's upcoming Lovecraftian DARK HOMAGE series.
PIC: In the past, you've done stage acting, slung hash, and dug up dinosaur bones. Clearly these varied occupations have led to a diversity of themes and subject matter for your work. Your stuff is all over the map, from hardcore extreme novels to searing short fiction to wonderfully meditative poetry. Are you an adventuresome person by nature who's easily bored?
CJ: What I am is a person interested in a variety of things. I grew up in a household where so many subjects were taboo, my mother very repressed. I couldn't do this/do that or say this/say that, couldn't watch certain movies or television shows. Nor could I associate with certain people. The one thing never challenged in our house what I chose to read. No one ever looked twice at my books. And, since I had health problems, I read a lot. Everything from poetry to adult adventure to history (nothing more frightening than what people do to each other). Even as a child, I didn't read children's books. I learned early that the la-de-da nice and painless wasn't true. I even suspected that nobody lived happily-ever-after.
PIC: Your characters are often driven by their sorrow and inexplicable desires. I've held to the belief that, because everyone has regrets, sorrows, and doubts, most people are haunted in one fashion or another. Would you say that's true for you?
CJ: Absolutely. Of course, according to my mother at least, there was something chasing after her and me. She said it was because we'd been witches in a former life. Hell of a thing to be told when you're growing up, eh? Kind of hard then, wouldn't you say, to grow up feeling anything OTHER than haunted. And told to be silent if I got hurt or frightened as family business was never supposed to leave the house. If you went crazy, well they could just lock you in a closet and throw away the key so the neighbors never had to know. People who haven't grown up with this sort of background really have no idea. Either they don't believe me or they find it funny-or they just want to turn away. They don't want to hear it. So it gets turned and turned into that which really is unreal, crazy. I love the printed word.
PIC: Do you consider yourself a happy person? Not of the tra-la-la ilk, but on a day to day basis?
CJ: Some days I'm almost a normal person-whatever that means. I think "normal" must mean feeling not haunted, not as if SOMETHING is chasing after you. But you mean a really happy person. Not especially. Only my husband, Jim, makes me happy.
PIC: THIS SYMBIOTIC FASCINATION is extremely explicit and full of gore, and yet, ultimately, deals with loneliness, love, and the cruelty of society. Despite your edgy material, there's a human element to it all, however heinous or heartbreaking it might be.
CJ: Well, I hope so. I do always perceive the human element first, preferring mainly characters who probably aren't just some poor schlep who happens to fall into a mess. We think we live in times where the average person can be thrown into horrific situations so suddenly, so outside the mainstream of life. (i.e. terrorism on both the international and home fronts). But it's always been this way. It's never really been safe out there (or in here for that matter).
I reach down deep for my own pain, insecurities, loneliness, the freakdom childhood can possess and imprint. This is what I mold my characters from. Then I unleash my own terrorists-usually supernatural in nature and Grand Guignol in scope. But by using my own pain in these people I design, I feel more for them. I do hope it comes across.
PIC: Indeed it does. Your second novel from Leisure HAUNTER may contain some of your most extreme images and situations yet. Do you feel that your work is becoming even more dark as you go along?
CJ: I'm not sure my work will ever get as dark as HAUNTER again. It might. I may not be the best judge since I don't deliberately sit down with the intention of blowing my audience to Kingdom Come. It just often seems to write itself that way. My work will always be dark to some degree.
PIC: Was the move from the small press up to the mass market everything you thought it would be?
CJ: No. But then I think many writers make a mistake of believing they will suddenly have all their problems solved. Unless we turn into Stephen King, most of us are still virtually unknown. This isn't the Big Time; it's mid-list, and there are countless of us out there struggling for the same thing-to get that elusive reader to pick up our work for the first time. Unfortunately, in the mass market, the reader's attention relies upon the book's cover, at least some degree of marketing, and an intelligent distribution... considerations which are, for the most part, out of the hands of the author. Making this leap-or any other-doesn't mean you've made it. You still have a lot of work to do and it's all uphill. Let's hope you didn't choose to be a writer solely for the perks and promises.
PIC: You've garnered a fair amount of deserved notice in the past couple of years. Do you feel that you're getting more perks along the way?
CJ: Gee, thanks for thinking the notice is deserved. But, no. The most I can say is that now a good deal of what I write in short fiction and poetry is solicited. It's nice to be asked. I'm not the wallflower at the dance any more.
PIC: Are you a born and raised Texan? Unlike other Texans, who have a style greatly influenced by westerns, or southern noir, your narrative voice is straight all-out horror. It feels almost "northern" by comparison. Do you find that a fair comment?
CJ: I was born in Texas and have lived most of my life here, except for 13 years spent in Norman, Oklahoma. I do actually have several published dark stories which take place in the old west. Funny, I've had several people tell me they see the southern gothic in my work. But am I right, did you just call me a Yankee?
PIC: Oh good Christ, I'd never do that.
CJ: I'm kidding. But if you mean by writing "northern" that I don't do that aw shucks slack-jawed chainsaw-toothed redneck with a boner (who sounds an awful lot like all the Tyler brothers in THIS SYMBIOTIC FASCINATION and HAUNTER), with action slower than molasses on a chilly…chili?…chicken-fried Sunday morning with some fading southern belle dragging about feeling sorry for herself (who sounds a lot like the Tyler brothers' shapeshifting mother), and boots slipping in as much angst as in bullshit and blood while out drinkin', screwin', and tryin' to get the heehaws and heebiejeebies shake't out (sounds like them redneck Tyler brothers again), then... wait... uh... what was the question?
PIC: Ah, I think you answered it. Anyway-your poetry in TAUNTING THE MINOTAUR, NIGHT UNMASKED, and FLOWERS FROM A DARK STAR are so thoughtful and poignant. Even those that clearly fall under a horror banner are lyrical and exquisite. Do you feel your poetry balances out the extreme side of your career, or is it just an extension of sorts?
CJ: NIGHT UNMASKED and especially my current on-line poetry collection, CARDINAL SINS, contain some stronger work. But I also have a lot of fiction which is not particularly graphic. Most of the stories I have published have been less than extreme. Many of my stories started out as poetry, including such graphic tales as "The Begetting" and "Four Elements And An Emphatic Moon". And there are poetic elements in both THIS SYMBIOTIC FASCINATION and HAUNTER, though some critics fail to find them because they are too busy grandstanding with pointless outrage. I see both my poetry and my prose coming out my heart and gut.
PIC: You've recently expanded your novella "Dread In The Beast" into a novel. What made you decide to lengthen it? How difficult did you find the process? Was it easier than starting from scratch?
CJ: I decided to expand it because I felt much more could be told. I have been intrigued with the idea of the goddess of waste since I wrote the novella. It was no easier and no more difficult a process than writing any other novel, save that a few of the characters have already been "fleshed out". I also incorporated a revision for my story, "Emetic Finger", first published in the magazine STYGIAN ARTICLES and then in my collection UP, OUT OF CITIES THAT BLOW HOT AND COLD. It just fit in so well with Jason Cave's time spent in the Middle East. I had a lot of fun writing the novel (most of the time anyway)-the opposite from when I wrote the novella. I also didn't enjoy writing HAUNTER. HAUNTER was very cathartic.
PIC: How so?
CJ: I took all the pain from growing up as a "haunted" kid, the mess of my family life, the recent deaths of my parents and brother with the unresolved issues between us, the terrors of my first marriage, the essence of always being an outsider-and I poured everything out. I wrote in a delirium, bringing up poison and keeping it as poison upon the page, not willing to be commanded into silence any longer.
PIC: You've also finished another novel VESTAL. Tell us about it. Is it as hardcore as your previous novels?
CJ: I don't especially like the word "hardcore." You take that back!
PIC: I'm sorry. Please don't hurt me. I didn't mean…ah, hardcore…I meant ah…nice and sweet…you're very nice and sweet and…
CJ: Well, because it sounds like pornography. I don't consider what I write to be pornography despite sexual extremism. Pornography is described in the laws as having no socially-redeeming value. My work is full of moral lessons, they're just not done in a manner of which those with clothespins on their noses and asses approve. Extreme? Yes, usually no-holds barred. Graphic? Frequently. But as for VESTAL... It is nothing like SYMBIOTIC or HAUNTER. It does have strong passages but I believe it is a very "human" work. People think you write about torment and death and this indicates you want to torture and kill folks and that you love violence. It is the opposite with me. I write about these things because I've seen them and found them horrible. In the case of VESTAL, the characters are-to use an unsavory term-freaks, and they commit atrocities they have been taught to believe are pious acts which destroy evil.
PIC: GUISES, DREAD IN THE BEAST, and UP OUT OF THE CITIES THAT BLOW HOT AND COLD are collections of your short fiction. In the early part of your career you were primarily a short story writer with, what, I heard over 400 tales to your credit? Was moving into novel-length territory a career shift or did you finally decide it was time to try something new?
CJ: Wow, where did you get that figure? Let me guess. I gave an editor a bio saying I had some 400 publishing credits for poetry and fiction... and the editor shortened it to my having published 400 stories. I wish it was true. At this time-and I sat down and did a count just for you!--I have 225 fiction credits (excluding novels) and 580 credits for poetry.
CJ: This includes reprints! But to the question... I wrote my first novel when I was a kid (it sucked by the way). I have always worked on novel-length projects because I can put so much more of what I'm feeling in them. I can let out all the grief and the shit I've seen, like taking the longest hot, soapy, loofah-scraping shower you can imagine.
PIC: Loofah-scraping? The hell?
CJ: Shh. So I just couldn't get any of them published. None of my writing really found much acceptance until desk top publishing opened up the genre. I also hadn't been able to give any real time to the craft until injuries from automobile accidents finally kept me from working at my regular job. Now I hobble to my computer every day. Hell, even on the worst days, I can write in long hand in bed, if necessary.
PIC: Thanks, Charlee Jacob, for talking with us.
CJ: You too.
Tom Piccirilli is the author of eleven novels, including THE NIGHT CLASS, A CHOIR OF ILL CHILDREN, A LOWER DEEP, HEXES, THE DECEASED, and GRAVE MEN. He's published over 140 stories in the mystery, horror, erotica, and science fiction fields. Tom's been a final nominee for the World Fantasy Award and he's a three-time winner of the Bram Stoker Award, given in the categories of Novel, Short Story, and Poetry. Learn more about him at his official website www.tompiccirilli.com.