RRR: First of all, would you like to live in Punktown, Jeffrey?
JT: Maybe not live, because it’s such a dangerous place, but I’d certainly love to visit there regularly, because it’s also a richly fascinating place. That’s the thing with Punktown – I don’t want it to be only scary. Our own world isn’t only scary. It’s so many things, and Punktown is the same – only magnified. So I really don’t think of Punktown as a total dystopia. I think it is also beautiful there, in part.
RRR: If I take a look at you bibliography it seems that the author in you "slept" a long time. When did you start to write and how did you "invent" a whole city?
JT: Actually I started writing at a very young age (I completed my first novel at 14); it’s just that it took a long time to become published. I started selling short stories to small press publications in the late 80’s, and my first two books – the English-language edition of PUNKTOWN and my horror collection TERROR INCOGNITA – appeared in 2000. I’ve had many books published since then, some translated into German, Russian, Greek and Chinese, and these books include some that I wrote back in the 1980’s but sold much later. As for the origin of Punktown, the idea came to me whole – as if it had been waiting, growing in the shadows of my subconscious – in 1980. It was then that I started writing novels set in Punktown, and later came short stories set there, so I probably have as much unpublished Punktown material as I have published Punktown material. And I keep writing more!
RRR: Somewhere I read something about a mysteriously "lost" Punktown-Homepage? Is there any truth about that and if, what happened?
JT: In 2000, to help promote the original edition of PUNKTOWN, I created a free web page called “Punktown City Limits,” and I got pretty inventive with it. When you looked at various pages, music and sound effects I had distorted would play in the background, and I put up weird photos and artwork I’d created and wrote original mini stories about them. I posted full-length sample stories (that have since been seen in various collections). Then, without sufficient warning, all these free web pages were discontinued before I had a chance to move or save them somehow, or at least print them out, so I lost those mini stories. It’s sad – it was a fun little site, and I’ve never had time to do anything like it again.
RRR: If I visualize Punktown as a movie I see something between the Sin City movie-style and Blade Runner meets Lord of the Rings. Are there any plans to bring it on the big screen?
JT: Ha…people sometimes draw a comparison to Sin City, but I was writing about Punktown long before that movie – even a couple years before Blade Runner came out! But those movies do capture some of the Punktown feel, as does The Fifth Element (perhaps even more closely). Lord of the Rings? I’m not so sure…but then, I’ve never seen that one. There has indeed been some interest in my Punktown work. Ridley Scott’s production company asked to see a copy of my Punktown-based novel DEADSTOCK when it received a “starred” review in Publisher’s Weekly, and New Line Cinema recently asked to see all my Punktown books. Nicholas Cage’s production company was looking at my dark fantasy novel LETTERS FROM HADES, and other Hollywood types have considered that novel, too. Right now, I’m discussing it with the director of The Blair Witch Project. But to date, no one has actually offered me a deal. So I wait, and hope that someday it might actually happen. My stories are very visual, which is what attracts these film makers, but they also have complex and unorthodox plots at times that might make them difficult or challenging to translate into film. At least, a number of my Punktown stories have been dramatized on a series of audio CDs, in German, by the company Lausch, and they’ve done a brilliant job with that.
RRR: Is Paxton still growing or will you concentrate on other stories in the future?
JT: Both! Punktown will continue to grow and evolve, I’m sure, even behind my back if I leave it for a while. But I suspect I will continue to set many of my stories in Punktown forever, because anything can happen there. It’s a setting that can support so many types of plot. But I also like to be free to write about other environments, including our own world. I just sold a short story that takes place in contemporary Viet Nam (which I have visited six times), involving Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos, and I am currently working on a novel set in Hell called THE FALL OF HADES, a sequel to my LETTERS FROM HADES.
RRR: Your speech is radical, sometimes you disgust the reader. Are you a friend of radical words and speech in real life or is this "just" your written voice? Do you disgust yourself sometimes while writing?
JT: I have a bad habit of cursing a lot, as many Americans do, which you could tell if you’ve ever seen a Martin Scorsese movie! A writer’s job is to get a reaction out of the reader, whether that be fear, or tears, or laughter. Disgusting the reader is a legitimate aim, when it’s something valuable to the story. Sometimes it is a good thing, an important thing, to disgust the reader. If I am disgusted with murders done in the name of religion, for instance, I may want to get that disgust across to the reader in a fictional context. But disgust can be linked simply with the desire to unsettle the reader, to provoke fear in them, for sheer entertainment rather than to stimulate thought. Disgust is just another color on the artist’s pallet. Do I disgust myself with my writing? Not really, any more than I frighten myself. Since writing is an intellectual exercise, I may realize what I’m writing is scary or disgusting – I might realize that if I read this same material in someone else’s book, it would scare or disgust me – but I seem immune to it, myself. Curiously, though, I can make myself cry, laugh, or become aroused by reading my own stories. So I don’t entirely know why I can’t frighten or disgust myself.
RRR: Where did you get your inspiration? And how do you like the fact that your novels are covered by images of HR Giger in Germany? Is his aesthetic in your head when you think of Punktown artwork?
JT: I get my inspiration from everywhere. From real life, from places and people I know, from dreams, music I hear, books I read, movies and video games (but one has to be careful to separate “inspiration” from “influence,” as I always say). Giger has been my favorite artist since I first saw his work thirty years ago, and yes of course he has inspired me – he is the single most influential artist the fantastical genres have ever known. So it was a dream come true – beyond my dreams, really – that he agreed to let his artwork grace the hardcover edition of the German-language PUNKTOWN, from Festa Verlag. And he signed every copy of that edition, too! It still seems hard to believe, for me. Incidentally, he chose exactly the painting I had hoped he would select for the cover. He is a genius whose work can not be topped for its idiosyncratic blend of the beautiful with the revolting, the organic with the mechanical.
RRR: You got famous with your short stories. In many countries (like Germany) there is almost no market for short stories (there are no magazines for that or something). Do you think it’s more difficult to write a short story or a 300 page novel?
JT: It can be more difficult to write a short story, because one has to be concise. You have so much less room in which to develop a character, establish a plot, to engage the reader. But it can be done. I’ve read poems that got a stronger reaction out of me than entire novels. It all depends on the writer’s skill. But for some reason there is less of a market for short story collections than novels. I don’t know why – short stories are so easy to gobble down in one’s free time. And it can be argued that horror stories are better suited to a short form, since they have evolved from creepy camp fire stories and scary, cautionary fairy tales.
RRR: At last our trademark question: If you would be a character of the Simpsons, who would you be and why?
Master Chief, Junge für alles, Fotograbenkämpfer und Textakrobat. Herausgeber und Erfinder.