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Original Essays



Original Essays | July 22, 2014

Nick Harkaway: IMG The Florist-Assassins

The three men lit up in my mind's eye, with footnotes. They were converging on me — and on the object I was carrying — in a way that had... Continue »
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    Nick Harkaway 9780385352413

Original Essays | Today, 10:00am

Jessica Valenti: IMG Full Frontal Feminism Revisited

It is arguably the worst and best time to be a feminist. In the years since I first wrote Full Frontal Feminism, we've seen a huge cultural shift in... Continue »
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Original Essays

Under the Skin

by Will Christopher Baer
  1. Hell

    Hell's Half Acre

    Will Christopher Baer
    "Baer's writing has an undeniable force ? it's sordid and entrancing, hallucinatory and yet given to brutal realism." The Times (London)
  2. Penny Dreadful

    Penny Dreadful

    Will Christopher Baer
    "Baer's language is hip, spare, brutal, sometimes gorgeous....The the voyeuristic glimpse the novel affords into the imaginary labyrinth inhabited by obsessive, nihilistic gothic gamers." Publishers Weekly
  3. Kiss Me, Judas

    Kiss Me, Judas

    Will Christopher Baer
    "Stylistically superb debut that reinvents the thriller....Baer will almost certainly write better books than this, but probably not with such youthful verve, bare nerve-ends, or frigidly droll, dead-on metaphors." Kirkus Reviews

I never consciously set out to write noir, although the books and movies I gravitate toward generally tend in that direction.

I started writing, as a kid, my own mutant science fiction: the Wild West crossed with Middle Earth, such that a werewolf might coexist on the same plane with Billy the Kid, goblins and zombies. In college, I primarily studied Shakespeare, Faulkner, James Joyce. The stuff that really grabs me is prose that hits like a blunt object. I write as internally as I can manage, by which I mean I try to turn the narrator's body inside out, to literally get under the skin and find the nausea, vertigo, and despair inherent in ordinary personal interactions. I have a tendency to focus on the visceral minutiae, so when I read my work in public, it feels like the stuff of affliction. One reviewer called the Phineas books "existential noir," a phrase that annoys me intellectually, but sometimes feels accurate.

As I've mentioned in various interviews, I write mostly in binges. I write best when I hole up somewhere, isolate myself completely, what I call going under. I finished Kiss Me, Judas on a two-week writing jag in a borrowed artist's studio in the East Bay that had a coffeemaker, cheap stereo, and toilet. And disturbing paintings on the walls. Penny Dreadful spilled out over the course of several months in a Motel 6, while Hell's Half Acre was written in a rented room in North Beach above a bar. To my mind, the Poe books are primarily about betrayal, guilt, redemption — the ways that people damage and fail each other. But they are also about the shifts that occur in everyday reality. I burrowed deepest into this idea in Penny Dreadful, where the reality morphs constantly, moving from the realm of a shared consciousness in a fantasy role-playing game to an internal deconstruction of Ulysses.

There's a fair amount of Biblical imagery in my books, no doubt because of my Southern upbringing, which accounts for a certain hillbilly goth feel. But my books are also all about love — whenever someone asks what my books are like, the first words out of my mouth are "scary love stories." Everyone comes from a fucked-up family, everyone was damaged by their parents, and everyone is trying to find some kind of love that makes sense — so what else is there to write about? But what most interests me are the ways that people wound each other when they are simply trying to love each other. And when a story is coming to me, I follow my characters. I follow my obsessions, and so the stories that unfold in the Phineas books tend toward crime and violence, mystery and erotica. I just try to get under the skin.

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