Hello peeps! Today I have the pleasure of interviewing Scott J. Couturier, author of The Box, sixteen twisted tales to infect your psyche.
Describe your ideal reader.
Couturier: Anybody who enjoys Weird fiction, & moreover who appreciates being challenged by a read. I hope LGBTQ+ readers especially will find something of value.
The futuristic story “I Am Haunted” disturbed me more than any other story in your collection. In it, you address things such as euthanizing elderly people in order to use limited resources efficiently, contaminated water’s effects on our psyches, and other societal and ecological issues. Do you think these things are what we’re headed toward in real life?
Couturier: The scenarios in “I Am Haunted” are presented as quasi-satirical, so I can’t say that’s where we’re “headed” literally, though in some ways we’re there already. The elderly, though not euthanized, are all too often packed away in homes or care facilities, w/ families unconcerned about their well-being afterward. Our water table is already polluted w/ psychoactive medications, to the point where marine wildlife can now be considered medicated. As for society & ecology, these seem to be unraveling in tandem & at an ever-accelerating pace. So, yes, unfortunately I do foresee a very near future where humanity has a lot of self-created struggles to confront, in ways not too dissimilar from the tenets of cosmic horror.
That’s very sobering. A lot of your stories feature an advanced technique of carrying the plot through long passages of internal monologue. Is that an artistic choice for this collection, or is that your natural writing style?
Couturier: I can’t say I’ve ever explicitly decided to pursue a story through internal monologue, but it is a natural way for me to write. Once I step into a character’s headspace, I get flooded with their perceptions – the good, bad, & ugly. So there is a definite “stream of consciousness” element (often I have to reign things in to keep the word count down). As a lover & writer of Weird fiction, the genre often depends on internalized perceptions or accounts of phenomena; I would say my way of telling stories is also influenced by this convention.
Pancakes or waffles? It’s the debate of the decade.
Couturier: Haha! The depressions in waffles obviously provide more opportunity for syrup & butter to pool.
Yeah, waffles are my choice, too, for that exact same reason. What is your writing quirk?
Couturier: I used to use too many semicolons! Anymore, I tend to write in fits & starts. I’m not sure if this qualifies as a “quirk,” or if it’s just poor scheduling on my part. Often I find myself waiting for inspiration to strike, & when it does – then I’m at it for hours, usually until I have a completed rough draft.
“City of Xees” is incredibly imaginative with its strange planet, flow of time, ecology, language, and societal priorities. How do you feed your imagination?
Couturier: I read constantly, & keep up a correspondence w/ several like-minded peers. More than that, I find gardening & exposure to nature – in all its delightfully perverse permutations – to be a tremendous imaginative stimulus; wonder is essential to me. Also, music, music, music, prog & jazz & metal & everything in between. “City of Xees,” specifically, is an example of what Clark Ashton Smith referred to as “creating the entire milieu” for a story, from the world to the physiognomy to the laws of magic, science, & religion. Years ago, I started out as a pure fantasist before delving into horror; “City of Xees” demonstrates this quadrant of my imagination, almost a standalone beside the other, darker, more “set in a recognizable world” stories in The Box.
Hap Japson from the titular “The Box” is my favorite character from the collection. I mean, the guy wears a taxidermied monitor lizard around his shoulders! Who is your favorite character from the collection?
Couturier: Delighted you like Hap! As for me, the narrator of “Sustenance of the Stars” is – well, not my favorite character, but perhaps my favorite monster. I also have an affection for the doomed, transformed narrator of “Stitches,” the most recent story in the collection.
In “Hatchling,” Harold had worked and slept for years in a “work/sleep tube.” Is that the solution to our affordable housing crisis, or is it a nightmare scenario?
Couturier: Again, work/sleep tubes are pretty much already here, though not so much in the US. Of course, the pandemic has ushered in a culture of working from home, which I hope can offset some of the more inhumane solutions being bandied about for increasing office productivity. I’ve mostly managed to stay outside the corporate horror-show, though it fascinates me how these abstract entities are given even more rights than the individual, & how the individual is meant to serve the corporation, either through work or consumption of product. In the end, corporations look at people as simple resources, which to me is already a nightmare scenario. Whatever comes next (be it work/sleep tubes or virtual reality workplaces) will no doubt present new & innovative tactics for suppression & exploitation of the individual.
You use a lot of alliteration in your stories:
- Winds of whither
- Tangled, tenacious
- Sterile stench
Do you read your stories aloud to determine how the words sound together? Do you have a poetry background?
Couturier: Sometimes I do go back & read entire stories out loud, looking for that all-elusive rhythm. At other times the rhythm is there in the rough draft, & I can just run w/ it. My journey w/ writing Weird fiction began in 2017, when I was inspired to start experimenting w/ speculative poetry after a decade+ long dry spell. This soon blossomed into fiction; I publish both Weird prose & poetry, & my first collection of “folk horror” verse (titled I Awaken In October) is due out this autumn from Jackanapes Press. So, yes, I do have a very strong poetry background, which finds its way into my stories via alliteration & other subtle stylistic choices.
I detect a Gothic influence in lines like: Of what followed, I have little to recount. (From “Knowledge’s Fruit”). Do you have a favorite Gothic author?
Couturier: The Gothic is the cornerstone of so much speculative writing; certainly the fundament of horror & Weird fiction. I’m a huge fan of Charlotte Brontë, & Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray reconfigured my DNA. & of course, there is Poe. Of the Weird writers, Lovecraft & Clark Ashton Smith especially delve into pungently Gothic tropes.
I love The Picture of Dorian Gray! What is the last fabulous book you read, and why should we read it?
Couturier: I just finished Come Tomorrow, a collection of spectral fiction by Jayaprakash Satyamurthy. He vividly evokes the ghostly nature of Bangalore, aka Beantown, in a series of stories that draw heavily from Ligotti to Aickman to the most classic masters of the Weird. His voice is superlative; highly recommended.
You’ve been busy! What are you currently working on?
Couturier: So very much! I have a short story halfway finished right now, titled “A Look Like Death.” Some of my more recent stories have a tinge of hardboiled noir about them, just as an experiment. I’m also in the process of assembling my second short story collection, titled From Weir, as well as working on the ToC for my second collection of Weird poetry, this one delving directly into cosmic horror.
Where can we find your work?
Couturier: Numerous venues regularly feature my prose & poems: S. T. Joshi’s Spectral Realms, The Audient Void, parABnormal Magazine, The Literary Hatchet, Eternal Haunted Summer. As for The Box, my first collection of Weird/horror/liminal fiction, you can buy physical or kindle copies through the publisher, Hybrid Sequence Media. Link:
Is there anything you wanted me to ask but I didn’t?
Couturier: A question about The Box’s LGBTQ+ content. I identify as bisexual, & themes of queer desire & ideation come through in multiple stories; never as the centralmost theme, except perhaps in the aptly titled “Knowledge’s Fruit.” It took me a long while to discover how to write my queerness, how to express & integrate that side of myself in fiction, & I’m proud to have found an expressive median.
I agree, queer themes do run through multiple stories. Thanks for the chat, Scott. I enjoyed The Box!
Today’s images are from Dan Parlante, Mae Mu, Adrian Korte, Raphel Koh, and Steve Johnson, respectively, on unsplash.