Shane Jesse Christmass has been one of the busiest writers lately. Over the past three years alone the Australian based writer has published five separate books. Three books published by the outstanding English publishing outfit Dostoyevsky Wannabe, Police Force as a Corrupt Breeze, Napalm Recipe: Volume 1, and Yeezus in Furs. Last year the Kansas publisher, Inside the Castle released his book, Belfie Hell. At the start of this year Apocalypse Party published his latest book, Xerox Over Manhattan.
The slim volume, like most of his books, is hard to classify or simply describe. Just over one hundred pages in length, the book is reminiscent of a Louis-Ferdinand Céline classic or, for a more modern comparison, a Dennis Cooper or Blake Butler work. The experimental book is told with short, inventive but declarative sentences that are more fun to read aloud than they are to keep to yourself. The text is one large paragraph that propels forward, almost forcing the reader into consuming the entirety of it at once. Anything and everything is fair game for Christmass to write about as he weaves his way through a vortex of obsessive and talented thoughts to reach the climax of the book, which ends with an abruptness that skids the reader to a halt, leaving both a exhausted and satisfied feeling with a wanting, a needing for more. One of the beauties of this book is the fact that the readers can flip to any page, begin anywhere, and find themselves enraptured by his ability to hypnotize.
Here’s the opening page passage to give you an idea of how quickly Christmass can suck you into his web of his storytelling:
Your extreme shyness. Your supple feet in green heels. President Ricky’s morbid obsession with dirty underlinen. His yawning in morning then tobacco cough. Camera pans around remote regions of Midwest. Dead faces disturb President Ricky. Black perforated scabs. His skull hairless. Crisp skin. Scorched lovers. A man in a straightjacket. A vase of flowers. Xerox machine over Manhattan. You hand out photocopies at my funeral. I take my lunch at the McDonalds on Eighth Avenue between 34th and 35th Streets. I steer clear of hospital food. I’m heavily into you. You ask me if this is okay. I close my eyes. A heated conversation takes place. You turned up one warm summer night. We went off and dug up skulls at Potter’s Field. We made a bonfire. We put pentagrams in chalk on the sidewalk. You took a beating. I sleep in your apartment. I sleep with a butterfly knife under my pillow. You sleep on the floor. I throw the butterfly knife into the East River. I also throw seven bags of speed as well. You take me out to dinner. We go sit in a Baptist Church out in New Jersey. A bum asks us for a few dollars. Nothing is playing on the car radio. I give you $100 for the pentagram medallion around your neck. Young man keeps his tassel loafers in a small black box. Stasis effect among people in the street. They are grotesque figures. Dead men scooped from the mournful sea. Salesman selling wallpaper from suitcases. Long underwear held together with Scotch tape. Bible knowledge about the existence of another Earth. Bird refuge on the islands of Indonesia. Bright brochures with full-colour photos left behind in a briefcase. Arithmetic scribbled into a notebook. Theoretical physics.
I chatted with the author about his influences, writing process, and his plans for the future.
You have such a distinctive style. Did you formally study writing? How did you come to writing books?
No … never studied formally at all. I just taught myself. I read a lot and wrote a lot. How did I come to write books? I was always determined to be a writer though. I was one of those smartass kids who was, more in my head, rather than admit to people, that I was going to do it. But here’s the thing, I was always doing it, whether I got published was another thing altogether. I guess to write books though, it’s about some work ethic. I spent a lot of time in my 20s writing, but only when I felt like it, mainly because I was some dumb shit who believed in ‘holy inspiration’ or some crap. My chi needed to be aligned to produce amazing works. Turns out my chi doesn’t know shit except laziness.
Who were your main influences when you first began writing? Have they changed over the years or do you find yourself coming back to the same writers?
When first started writing I had no idea on what I was doing. It was some type of automatic scrawling that loosely resembled poetry. I was probably around 13 or 14 listening to LL Cool J while the rest of the house slept before rising early.
I really engrossed myself in the Romantic poets. Which seems pretty uncool, but it is what it was. P.B Shelley was a hot-blooded constituent, he chucked a measured impact on me for a minute. I got really deep into him. Like I said, around when I was 14 but also for a long time afterward.
I’m not really sure why actually, I think it’s their somewhat progressive philosophy. Their whole persona was swashbuckling. Which probably wasn’t how it was. It was probably miserable and poor and probably full of dysentery and horrible Italian dope, but when you’re on the early side of being a teenager, you can fall for the myth rather than the reality.
If you’re looking for a gateway to the imagination, and forebears of literature, then Shelley, Mary Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft, Lord Byron, Coleridge, then all that shit is pretty good shit to immerse yourself in.
Shelley was, still is, and undoubtedly until I die, some type of woozy entryway to perfection. An ordinary excellence for me to read. There was a balanced harmony, those metaphysics, and a specific form to his work.
Everything I had read prior to then reading Shelley just seemed like a soluble salt paste, dourness that dimly lit me, that didn’t light me very well. Shelley was the fervour that kicked off the energy levels, that covered me in black fleece, stoked me with broad arrows. I’ve never looked sideways since.
What does your typical writing process look like? Does it begin with an idea? Is it character or setting driven?
I’m not going to go too deep in what, or how I write. I’m not even sure I have a process. I’d like to think I didn’t have any so dreary as a ‘process’. I definitely have some construction guidelines that I adhere to when I write. I like to get a big pile of nouns, a lesser mystery of nouns, and then link them together like weaving code, chance brings up some uncanny circumstance, some secret annex that puts forth the story, a hundred raptures in the late hours. But I like to remain brainless before I hypothesise. I do begin with several ideas, and obviously if the point is to install some type of delirium in the reader, then numerous ideas must be inserted into the story. Always provide too much information in the fiction, but not in the explanation of how one wrote the fiction. The door is opened. Curiosity is defensible. The words are a curious set of Cybercrunk metrics.
Do you consciously push plot to the side when writing a book?
I’ll give you a cast-iron assurance that I never push plot aside. That might seem contrary to people’s experience when they read one of my novels. But I always set out to have a plot, the story, definitely the ending. How that eventuates in conclusion is another matter though. I don’t have some vicious set of inflexible ideas whereby plot is irrelevant. Even at a base level, if a writer is pushing, squishing together a whole bunch of ideas, characters, settings, then as a total, at the end of the work, there’s just by nature going to be a plot. I structure my books perhaps based on tone, but I don’t really have any fierce eyes toward negativity, I’m open to all things and then open to reducing those things to make a more manageable artefact. I’m loosely mobile rather than immobile.
Do you like the term experimental? What does it mean to you?
It seems to come with a lot of baggage, probably baggage that I’m guilty of when judging a book and whether I want to read it. When the sceptical fiend takes over, when the contrarian saint enters my body, and I read that something has been reviewed as ‘experimental’ – I’m usually certain to be then found vomiting in a toilet bowl, and then bound to not want to ever read it. I think it’s a very very lazy way to review something that says nothing particularly deep about a work, or the role of an author, or artist. I mean fuck, are all authors meant to be pushing themselves, trying to unlock something new, for themselves and for their audience. I would think being experimental would be the key selection criteria for even starting be an author, everything else is just mainstream piss.
What does a good day writing look like to you? Do you write long hand first? Edit as you go? Short bursts of creativity? Do you write everyday?
I don’t ask for much and everything else has to come first and writing has to come last, but if I can write at least a couple of sentences a day I’m pretty ecstatic. I have a structure to my writing where I can actually write quite a bit, quite consistently. At the moment, I’m writing a story a day, but my style defines my definition of what a short story is. I have lots of documents that are full of words and everything is pieced together to create a whole. I’m being very effusive – but John Trefry from Inside The Castle advised me to stop pulling back the curtain.
How has music influenced your writing?
Massive, but I’m not sure how exactly. I make music. Mattress Grave and another thing called Snake Milker. I also make mixtapes for each book release. I like how some bands have certain words that they repeat in their lyrics over the course of each album. These words almost become a meme for describing that musical act. I’d like to think that eventually there’s certain words that are repeated in my books that people can ascribe as my words. What those words are? I guess I’ll just have to wait for a reader to advise me.
What are you currently reading?
I just finished a book by Jonathon Blake Fostar. I really liked it. It’s called Middle School Dance 2000. It’s published on what I can only assume is his own imprint: Dream Boy Book Club. It’s pretty cool and it’s definitely the sort of stuff, or one of the sort of types of writing I like to read.
Jonathon contacted me a few months ago asking if he could send me a copy. I pushed it to the top of my read pile, but had a few other things to get to, but was very keen to sink my teeth into this. I’m not exactly sure what the ‘Dream Boy Book Club’ is, apart from a publisher. The website has all these rules like – no tao lin fans … hunks and/or beach babes encouraged … no characters named ‘britney’ – so it seems pretty legit to me.
James Nulick and I just did a bit of a book swap – he sent me his three novels, I sent him a few books. So I just finished Haunted Girlfriend – which is fucking great. There’s a big centrepiece short story called Body By Drake. I thought the story was going to have something to do with Champagne Papi, but it’s this science fiction Brobdingnagian thing, the frostlike taciturn center between Harry Harrison and Yevgeny Zamyatin
I’ve also been reading all the back issues of Scab Mag which is a big online dirty, queer journal run by Dominik R. Miles.
What are you working on at the moment?
Oh … a novel of course. I’m sort of in the final throes of getting the final manuscript correct and then going to send it out. It’s called Vape Dick. Well at this stage it’s called that. Belfie Hell had a different title, but I then searched on its original title and found out that there was already a graphic novel with that title, so then came up with Belfie Hell.
I did a search for Vape Dick yesterday. Turns out there’s no novel or anything with that title. The Urban Dictionary definitions came up though. Interesting, similar to what I was thinking. Search on that – have a read. I originally was thinking of the Wesley Snipes character from New Jack City though. The character Nino Brown says something like, “it’s this glass dick you been sucking on”.
Shane Jesse Christmass is the author of the novels, Xerox Over Manhattan (Apocalypse Party, 2019), Belfie Hell (Inside The Castle, 2018), Yeezus In Furs (Dostoyevsky Wannabe, 2018), Napalm Recipe: Volume One (Dostoyevsky Wannabe, 2017), Police Force As A Corrupt Breeze (Dostoyevsky Wannabe, 2016) and Acid Shottas (The Ledatape Organisation, 2014).
He was a member of the band Mattress Grave and is currently a member in Snake Milker.
An archive of his writing/artwork/music can be found at www.shanejessechristmass.