Interview with Karen Brissette

Karen Brissette is the name of the blogger in A Head Full of Ghosts. The real Karen is a bookseller, reader advisory master, one of the top reviewers at Goodreads, and a force of nature. I first met her in 2010  when Karen reviewed my collection In The Mean Time (my favorite lines: “so gentle of a touch, so much restraint and it kills me because i need to know more!!i hated leaving these characters behind!! SHORT STORIES, WHY ARE YOU SO SHORT???”). I got to meet her in person at her bookstore in 2012 (see the picture below. Smile everyone! Not pictured, last summer’s reading in Brooklyn at WORD Karen attended and the weirdness of me reading her to her ensued.).

Fast forward to the heady days of 2013 and I asked her if I could name my blogger after her and have my blogger sound like her. Er, maybe I forgot to ask her the second part there, but it’s all good. Right? RIGHT???

Here’s Karen reviewing the other Karen and A Head Full of Ghosts .

Now, onto the interview!

ME: Are we (the royal we) sure that you are the real Karen Brissette?

KAREN: i am willing to provide a DNA sample if you give me a dirty magazine and a candlelit room. but i can’t think why anyone would want to steal this identity instead of one that came with more money and glamour attached.

ME: Tell me something your legions of Goodreads followers don’t know about you.

KAREN: well, considering my alarming lack of boundaries, impulse control, and dignity, anyone who follows me on goodreads and actually reads my reviews and weekly adventures knows absolutely everything about me; from what my various surgical scars look like to how i did in my first ballet recital (poorly). the only thing people don’t know is what i am doing RIGHT NOW and that is: wearing my baller shorts and drinking a bass ale while also still on painkillers from my back surgery, which is probably a bad thing to do, but it is getting all warm and summery out and sometimes a lady needs a beer after a hard day at the book factory and don’t judge me!

ME: I wouldn’t dream of judging you. As one of the top reviewers at Goodreads, do you rule over the Goodreads chattle with an iron fist or the delicate touch of a benevolent supreme being?

Karen: i don’t feel like i do much ruling at all. i’m only on top because i’ve been on the site since 2007 and i’ve written so damn many reviews. after the amazon takeover, and several subsequent design changes, so many of my friends abandoned goodreads in revolt; it’s a whole different climate over there now, and i’ll be old news soon enough. but i try to be kind and avoid conflict and deflect any drama that comes my way. i’m just a reader who likes talking about books and my cat like any other crazy old librarian lady. so i guess i ‘rule’ with studied neutrality.

ME: Tell me about your reader advisory group you’ve set up. (I know that’s not a question, but work with me)

KAREN: oh, that’s something i put together as my final thesis-type project for library school. the idea was to teach everyday readers the fundamentals of readers’ advisory, which is a wonderful service librarians provide to help connect their patrons with books they will love based on detailed conversations about what appeals to them as readers. i wanted to see how goodreads could serve the readers’ advisory community – what it offered that other RA resources lacked, and how building a community of readers could replicate the readers’ advisory experience with just basic training. we read books together and did readers’ advisory exercises, we tested out other RA services to see which ones were good and which were weak, we suggested books to each other based on reading patterns and stated preferences – we did it all, man! i started it in 2011, and it’s still going, with over 3,000 members, and before i even graduated, i was asked to present my paper on it at ALA, on a ‘readers’ advisory in the digital age’ panel. not too shabby! and OH! here’s something goodreads peeps don’t know yet – i just started working for riffle, where i am now their in-house readers’ advisor, and i’m going to be doing the same thing over there! it just started yesterday, so i haven’t had a chance to pimp it out yet! it is here:https://discussions.rifflebooks.com/c…

ME: How many possession (monster erotica doesn’t count) novels have you read?

KAREN: good lord. i don’t even… probably not many, honestly. there’s yours… oooor issss tthhheeeeere? The Exorcist, (i am looking at lists online of “demonic possession novels” to jog my memory and this list is saying The Terror by dan simmons, so i do not think this is a very good list, but i have read that), Your House Is on Fire, Your Children All Gone, A Good and Happy Child, does \Rosemary’s Baby count? lists are also saying tim curran’s Sow is demonic possession, but that’s more demonicproximity maybe. i dunno, NEXT!

ME: I love Your House is on Fire… Do you consider yourself a fan of the horror/dark fiction genre?

KAREN: i surely do! i’m a big fan of czp (Chizine Publications), as you know, and all of their books are dark gems. my preference, though, is the slipstreamy stuff, where things are just slightly off, rather than being traditional horror monster-y stuff. i like unsettling more than splatter; spooky stuff where you’re like, wait, WHAT?? where it’s a little subtle and startling.

ME: You have many fans on Goodreads. Many of them are desperate, slovenly writers like me. Can you tell us how many times you’ve been tuckerized?

KAREN: thank you, google.

so, there’s you, and then i was in a short story by j.r. hamantaschen called – ominously – Soon Enough This Will Essentially Be a True Story from his collection With a Voice that is Often Still Confused But is Becoming Ever Louder and Clearer in which an angry author stalks and attacks a goodreads reviewer named karen (who reads a lot of monsterporn) because she didn’t write a review of his shitty book after winning it through the goodreads giveaway program.

so that was great.

also, a there is a brief appearance by a character named “karen” in mike mullin’s book Ashen Winter that was written in as a ‘thank-you’ to me for being such a good cheerleader for his books. spoiler alert – as brief as it is, nothing good happens to me, but i am a silver lining kind of girl, as the author himself points out in the thread to my review:

I told Karen that the character named in her honor came to a bad end. Then we were talking about it at ALA, and she says all cheerful-like: “My character might not be dead. She might be a sex slave in a flenser gang.” That’s optimism for you, folks!

this is how people thank me.

i am also the human protagonist in both The Horny Leprechaun 1 AND The Horny Leprechaun 2 by nikita king, in which i experience anal sex with a leprechaun. twice.

i am also in a tao lin poem called “february,” although he doesn’t know it was me. the relevant parts are:

…a Barnes and Noble person stood above us.

The Barnes and Noble lady wore a kimono. She freaked out and gave a lecture about where to sit and we paid attention and she ran away. I looked at your face. I said something and you laughed.

fun fact – i just googled this to find the exact quote and it led me to his site with the full text of the poem where “barnes and noble person” hyperlinks to this annotation:I’m ~95% sure this person read this and said something about it in a Goodreads review of the book (“you are a little bit happier than i am”) that “February” is in. I just looked and couldn’t find it. I remember she seemed to not have a positive or neutral reaction, and gave the book 1 or 2 or maybe 3 stars.

to set the record straight, i never read the book, but my bestie greg did (and he gave it FOUR stars), and my ‘saying something’ was in the comments section of his review: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show…, where i said i never freaked out,and to tao lin, i say “hhmph”

don’t sit in front of the bookshelves. you are in the way and the carpet is wicked gross. trust me.

also, i’m still convinced that the song “jessie’s girl” is about me. which is pretty gross, considering i was 4 when that song was released. gross, jessie.

ME: Jessie is gross. Was it fun or weird or fweird reading your blogger doppelganger in A Head Full of Ghosts?

KAREN: oh, it was super-fun! there was LOL-ing. it was definitely weird reading a version of my voice through someone else’s perception-filter, but it was an excellent homage.

ME: Is there something Karen (not you, the other one) got wrong in her blog posts?

KAREN: you mean, like, factually, or just incompatible with the me that is me? i can’t speak to factually, because book-karen is way better informed than i am about film studies, and uses terminology i would never use myself in both jargon and slang. ‘funky,’ my foot…

but the tone is pretty much spot-on. scarily so. to the point where i was reading it and thinking, “oh, karen, you complete goober!” because you managed to make me see myself as others must see me, and it’s a pleasantly alienating experience. it’s a little horrifying and embarrassing, to see someone capture your voice like that, with all the BOLD DECLARATIONS and odd phrasings, and that part about das unheimliche which i think was lifted straight outta one of my reviews – that one was particularly goobery on my part.

ME: Tell us writers to stop doing one thing in our books. We’ll listen. We promise.

KAREN: well, this isn’t something that you, personally, are guilty of, but my biggest pet peeve is when a misunderstanding between two characters is allowed to drag on for years of their lives/hundreds of the book’s pages, because a simple conversation – a conversation that would naturally occur in a real-world scenario – just doesn’t happen, because the author thinks this is a fine way to build tension and sustain drama, but it drives me CRAZY! it’s sloppy writing and poor characterization.

and publishers – not every book is a readalike for gone girl on the train. be better at comparisons!

ME: Approximately how many books are in your home right now.

KAREN: screw approximately. after the bedbug convention of 2015, which was really very mild and ended up being needlessly disruptive, when i had to move the majority of my books to two separate storage facilities so exterminators could come in and kill those bastards, i have relatively few books here (as opposed to the thousands upon thousands i had before those suckers tried to move in. on the second day, after greg and me had made countless trips to my queens storage unit, my dad showed up to help move more, and he weighed them by unknown means, and he claims to have personally relocated more than 2 TONS of books. which is insane. it is insanity.) so now, i have very few, and i counted them for you because i like things to be accurate. excluding library books, e-books, and books belonging to sean of the house, there are 1664 books in my house. i did math for you.

ME: Thems a lot of books… You can pick three favorite books ever with only six words to describe each. Wow, I’m annoying. Sorry.

KAREN: Jude the Obscure: kids do the darndest things sometimes
Infinite Jest: good for reading and squishing bugs
Wuthering Heights: two assholes in love ruin everything

ME: What to-be-published-soon books should we keep an eye out for?

KAREN: well, there’s this book coming out called Disappearance at Devil’s Rock by this paul tremblay cat that’s pretty good…

but also –

All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by bryn greenwood – august 9th

this an absolutely beautifully-written book, but i know i’m gonna get put on some watchlist for loving it as much as i do. it’s about a may january-december relationship that should be shocking and disgusting, but trust me, it works. it’s like Lolita, but with more meth.

True Crime Addict: How I Lost Myself in the Mysterious Disappearance of Maura Murray by james renner – may 24th

one of my favorite novelists, who is also a former journalist, has written this true crime/memoir mashup about his investigation into the 2004 disappearance of maura murray: what he discovered and what it cost him, personally. it is nonfiction, but just like his novels, it visits crazytown more than once.

The Hatching by ezekiel boone – july 5th

carnivorous spider apocalypse. what, you need more??

there are also excellent new books by ron rash and donald ray pollock and jessie burton.

as for books that are on the publishing horizon that i haven’t read, but would like to very badly, dear publishers who might be reading this – there are new books by tana french, megan abbott, colson whitehead, both ali AND zadie smith, a very mysterious release by steve erickson … sometime, and Blood Riders: A Novel – a vampire western written by gary oldman.

which is the book i need THE MOST.

mekaren

5 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

The Notes that became A Head Full of Ghost

Paperback week continues with a notebook…

DO NOT LOOK AT THIS STUFF UNLESS YOU’VE READ THE BOOK BECAUSE SPOILERS ALL OVER THE PLACE. YES I AM YELLING!

When it gets down to the actual writing of the draft/story, it’s all on the laptop for me. I wish I could write longhand, but I can’t. Too many mistakes, too wedded to delete and cut and such. But I do keep a bunch of little notebooks around for ideas, character sketches, notes, etc. Here is the cover of one such notebook. Lisa gave it to me Christmas of 2012.

cover

It ended up being the notebook in which I sketched out the idea for A Head Full of Ghosts. I wrote the following notes before sitting down to start the book.

I didn’t crack open the notebook until February of 2013. Here’s the first page.

page1

(so much for that no cheap twists thing, yeah?)

Pages 2 and 3. Notice the working title was “My Head Is Full of Ghosts” (the Bad Religion tune)

pg2

Pages 3 and 4:

pg3

It would’ve been a different book if Marjorie was named Connie. Connie? And my “eh” summed up the do-gooder part, which quickly fell by the wayside.

Pages 4 and 5:

pg4

pgs 5 and 6

pg5

The yellow highlighted sides are some cleaned up notes I took during a Gothic fiction panel at Boskone. I remember Faye Ringel and Christopher Golden were on the panel and the discussion was very helpful to me.

pg 7

This list of notes came from Calum Waddell’s essay “Exorcising the Liberal,” which was reprinted in Centipede Press‘s The Exorcist: Studies in the Night Film collection of interviews and essays. Jason Zinoman’s excellent SHOCK VALUE was a great source/discussion of The Exorcist and its politics and place in pop culture too (I blabbed about that book here.)

pg6

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Paperback release day: Extra goodness in the A Head Full of Ghosts paperback

So it’s May 10th, which means, among other things*, the paperback of A HEAD FULL OF GHOSTS is now available and roaming free in your favorite bookstores.

What extra goodness might be found in said paperback? Well, let me tell you…

There are 21 extra pages of bonus type features. There are book club questions** (Not pictured). But I assure you I worked very hard coming up with those book club questions. In fact, I snuck into many a book club meeting, peeking through windows and closet doors, taking careful notes on the types of questions you book clubbers want to use as part of your discussion.

MORE? You ask. Okay. More!

Liner notes

Liner notes! Beginning with the dedication and ending in the last chapter, I talk about the many inspirations for character names and many other novel/film references sprinkled throughout the book. Some obvious. Some not so. If you liked the shenanigans in the blog posts*** then this extra is for YOU. I don’t give away all the secrets, of course. What fun would that be? But I do give away the secrets of some Canadian horror authors.

MORE? More.

H word

My annotated essay “The H Word: The Politics of Horror,” which was first published by Nightmare magazine.

MORE? Okay, a little more.

recs

A brief (and annotated) list of possession story (film/book/story) recommendations.

I hope the extras are a fun little bonus for the paperback readers. I had fun writing them.

Enjoy, and Merry and Marjorie say, “Hi!”

GO BUY THE BOOK!!!!

*I’m sure there are plenty of other events planed for May 10th. I just haven’t been invited to them.

**Just in case you’re a member of a book club in which the members don’t really know each other, or don’t like each other, and are loathe to come up with discussion points on your own. That actually sounds like a fun book club to me: a gathering of enemies to discuss books.

***If you didn’t like the shenanigans in the blog posts, well, two things:

1). You probably aren’t reading this here blog post because it means you didn’t like the book. If you didn’t like the book then you are masochistically reading this. I ask that you please stop because I refuse to serve as your masochistic facilitator. Do that stuff on your own time, please.

2) Now that the book has been out almost a year, I feel somewhat safe in saying the following publicly: If you didn’t like the blog posts or skipped over them entirely then you didn’t understand or get the book. There I said it. And it felt really good to say it.

 

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Two wrap arounds, one post.

DaDRhcGHOSTSpb

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Interview at io9

I say many things about my two books, horror, pickles, and bestow upon myself a graduate degree in horror.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Disappearance at Devil’s Rock and A Head Full of Ghosts sell to Titan Books (UK)

I’m very happy to announce that TITAN BOOKS (UK) will be publishing both DISAPPEARANCE AT DEVIL’S ROCK (July 2016) and A HEAD FULL OF GHOSTS (September 2016) as trade paperbacks.

I’m very excited to be part of Titan’s awesome group of writers, and that my books will soon be available in Ireland, the UK, and Australia! Woo hoo!

New cover art coming soon!

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

This Is Horror (UK) Awards, Bram Stoker Awards

Some very flattering awards notice for A Head Full of Ghosts.

It won This is Horror’s Novel of the Year. Yay!

this-is-horror-award-winners-stamp

Also, AHFoG is a Bram Stoker Awards nominee as well. More yay! Winners to be announced in mid-May.

Huge thanks to everyone who read and voted for the book. You’re all all right in my book. We’re all all right. We’re all all right…

 

 

4 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized