CS DeWildt, a frequent Bartleby Snopes contributor, is making all kinds of noise with his brilliant and powerful new book, Love You to a Pulp, out now from All Due Respect Books. We were lucky enough to get the chance to catch up with CS and learn a little more about his life and writing.
BS: I just finished reading Love You to a Pulp this morning. It’s a stunning book that’s both horrifying and beautiful. Can you talk about the inspiration behind this crime/noir story?
CD: Thanks for having me. The biggest inspiration for the book was the setting. I moved to southern Kentucky in 2003 and I was completely taken aback by the beauty of the place, particularly the temperate forests and cave country. But despite the beauty, there is also something very unsettling about the more rural areas I saw: the poverty mostly, but also in the people who definitely lived up to the stereotypes of “southern folk.” And it was that disparity between the two feelings that truly gave birth to the novel. I wanted to tell a gritty, dirty, violent story while still preserving everything I loved about the region.
BS: A few years back, we published your short story “The Bull” in Bartleby Snopes. One of the chapters in Love You to a Pulp is heavily derived from that story. Was this something you planned when you wrote “The Bull,” or did it just seem to fit when you were writing Love You to a Pulp?
CD: The version you read in LYtaP is closer to the original vision I had for the piece. When I began writing the story you first saw, the father figure was motivated by money and he didn’t really consider what he was doing to his child by making him fight. I didn’t consciously choose to change up the dynamic in the original, but that’s what happened. I found my sympathy for the father and the whole tone of the piece changed, from a boy exploited by his father for profit to a more complex relationship in which they depended on one another for survival. They were all each other had. But the original idea stayed with me and I don’t know what motivated me to rewrite the story, but I did, setting it in the South instead of the desert and removing most of the sympathy for the father and focusing on the kid. Fast forward a couple years when I was working on the novel and I found the new piece fit in very well to the backstory narrative.
BS: One of my favorite passages (when Neil discovers the “cancer” on himself) is based on something that actually happened to you. How does real experience shape a book like this? I mean, your life can’t possibly be anything like Neil’s, right?
CD: My childhood was definitely not like Neil Chamber’s early life. But I did, as an adult, pull a blood-swollen tick from my scrotum, and when I found it, for a moment, I was sure it was some kind of malignant growth, just like Neil. I was relieved when I discovered what it was, but also horrified. The thing was huge and I have no idea how long it was feeding on me. There’s a strong tick motif throughout the book, and the ticks are many things, but in this instance, I wanted highlight Neil’s vulnerability, he’s recently been orphaned and now he thinks he’s got cancer on his nuts. But he figures out what it is and takes action without complaint. And that is a trait that continues into his adulthood, if it’s something within his control, Neil deals with it. It’s a crucial existential moment for him, in terms of the motif, the symbol of the ticks, which previously stood in for the comfort of religion, becomes something else and as a result: Neil realizes that he is truly alone and that crying about it isn’t going to help him any. That’s not to say I planned it that way. I just like ticks and the very thought of them is enough to make most people squirm, which is my intention (partly) when I write.
BS: What is the value that lit mags have to writers who want to publish longer works and find success in other markets?
CD: I can only speak for myself, but I think many writers would agree that the magazines are incredibly useful. Not only are they chocked full of great stories, but they’re an opportunity to build up a list of credits, and they’re a great proving ground for writers. Submitting to magazines helps us learn to deal with rejection, how to work with editors, and of course when submitting to lit mags, we are writing, which is the most important piece of the puzzle. If that’s too abstract I will say that submitting to magazines got me noticed by some other folks doing the same thing and allowed me to become part of a very supportive network of authors and publishers. Additionally, I have queried numerous agents over the years I’ve been at this, but only one agent made the initial contact with me, and he did so because of a piece I submitted to an anthology. So, what’s the value of lit mags for writers? Education and exposure. We need these things if anyone is going to take a chance on our longer stuff.
BS: What’s next for CS DeWildt?
CD: I’m finishing a new novel and trying to land that agent I just mentioned. Got another I’m aching to start on. In the meantime I’m just trying to promote Love You to a Pulp and generate a little buzz for myself my titles.
CD: The best thing is the way technology has created so much opportunity for writers who didn’t have any real venue for exposure and publishing. The digital world has become a microcosm of sorts of the “real” world, and as a result, people can connect much more easily with like-minded professionals without the various roadblocks associated with the “traditional” publishing model. It’s easier to publish and to get published and exposed, and for indie writers especially, it’s a wonderful development. However, there is still a lot of resistance to the digital model, and that’s what I find to be the worst. I hear people talk about how they “prefer paper” to e-books, reviewers who won’t look at print-on-demand titles, fine, great, but did these types show the same kind of resistance when the printing press came along? Did they consider the experience lessened because books no longer had to be hand scribed in a monastery? Probably, but they’re dead now. Paper books will always be around I think, at least for quite a while, but to dismiss progress as a fad is silly. Efficiency and convenience will win out every time, and soon the aging herd of dinosaurs will die and the world will forget that a traditional-virtual dichotomy ever existed. I love paper books too, but I also love being able to carry a virtual library with me wherever I go.
BS: Long live paper and digital! Thanks for taking the time to chat with us. Good luck with the new book and your next projects. Now, if you’re still reading this, go and buy some of CS’s books.