Image of cover of Trapdoor

Interview : Vixen Phillips

Welcome Vix to Decoding Static, earlier this week I reviewed Vix’s novel Trapdoor, a rather wonderful book. Vix has kindly answered some questions for me, and what answers they are.

In our facebook exchange about Trapdoor, you mentioned it’s your version of stage fright, can you expand on this?

Oh, gosh, what a first question, heh! Yes…this was after you won a copy of the book and I’d just sent it off via Amazon. At this point, I began to fret about what you might think of it. I’m terrible at overthinking things, and the moment I find out an artist I admire is about to come into close contact with something I’ve created, I go into OMG-what-if-they-hate-it full panic mode. (A similar thing happened when I found out the brilliant Moxie Mezcal had purchased a copy.) It’s only “stage fright” because I’ve never had anything negative come from these interactions; much like before a gig (I’m a guitarist in a former life, and a future one) I’d sit there trembling and then get on stage and everything’d be peachy keen and groovy.

(Andy: This explains it; I thought you meant Trapdoor was your version of stage fright, not your own worries about me reading it! I also get stage fright if you like when I review a book I have enjoyed and only hope I can do it justice in my review. Another positive interaction to chalk up!)

Trapdoor to me came across as very sad, almost without hope, what inspired/led you to write it?

Trapdoor was the culmination of an idea, or a means of expression, that I’d been trying to get down over the course of about twelve years or so. It’s a confessional piece camouflaged as fiction, sprung from what one might objectively term a broken state of mind and an intensity of emotions, the way I viewed the world at that time (and in many ways still do)–the heart and thoughts of someone who wanted to burn themselves out for love. Not some corny, safe, greeting-card ideal of love, of course, but a love that devours and consumes and breaks and renews (if by that time there’s anything left to renew). In that way, I think it’s very much about life, and hope. It’s also what I think of as my seminal Melbourne novel; Melbourne in the 90s was for me a beautifully dark place, bone-shatteringly cold, and full of shadows and dreamshards lining the cobblestones and asphalt of its back alleys in lieu of broken glass. There were other inspirations too, of course. I was watching a lot of anime at the time, not mainstream stuff, but stuff that hadn’t been officially translated yet, and I found many of the more Eastern themes and imagery set a lot of wheels in motion in my mind. Somewhere in amongst that, I’d also discovered the works of Poppy Z Brite, and John O’Brien’s Leaving Las Vegas, the latter of which had a blurb that touted it as being kind of a literary suicide note. I became very enamoured of that idea, the novel as suicide note…

(Andy: To burn out for love, such a dark yet beautiful purpose to life.)

You deal with some very difficult situations in Trapdoor, was this difficult or was there a desire/a need to explore these situations and offer them to the reader?

Absolutely a need to explore and offer these situations to the reader. When I mentioned above that I’d taken twelve years to come close to perfecting the work…as a teenager, I knew there were experiences I’d need to go through, different levels of intensity I’d begun to sense but hadn’t reached yet, in order to create this story with the right degree of authenticity. (Although that makes it sound as though I went looking for trouble, heh. Call it prescience, if you will.) By the time I started work on Trapdoor, anyway, I had most of what I needed, though a lot of it is disguised through the veil of the story and characters, as it should be.

There is a lot of love between Pegasus and Raven, a love that is healing but also destructive, is it this love that makes that destruction beautiful? (I am thinking of the blurb, which mentions beautiful self-destruction)

I like to think so, yes. To me, there is something inherently beautiful about that notion of sacrificing everything, even what’s left of one’s own sanity, for that ideal of love. Or, as Jerry Harrison once put it, “On the wire, that is living.”

Do you think self destruction can be beautiful on its own or that it only becomes beautiful because of a romanticised state of mind?

From my own point of view, I’d tend to say no, that some sort of romantic (in the classical sense, at least) state of mind is required. For me, it’s the difference between–well, for example, take the beautiful love stories away from films like Natural Born Killers or Romper Stomper and you’re left with something shocking for most viewers but ultimately hollow. Kind of like Oscar Wilde’s seminal quote about how we’re all in the gutter but some of us are looking at the stars. That’s the key difference. Having said that, of course, I dislike absolutes, so there’s probably something out there that qualifies.

Is there a particular message/viewpoint that Trapdoor contains?

I’m leery of messages or morals in fiction. I find them distasteful, and I think that tends to stem from early high school literature classes, where we’d dissect poetry like so many lab rats. I mean, there’s the classic example of people interpreting Lord of the Rings as being about Hitler’s rise to power and World War II, and I once read somewhere that there are people who interpret Jack and the Beanstalk as being a metaphor for penis envy. In light of such eyebrow raising WTF-ery, I can’t help but think that the world might be a better place if such minds did the rest of us a favour and refrained from ever picking up another book. But each to their own. Personally, I’d rather evoke an emotional response in a reader, something more akin to listening to music, than send a message on how to live one’s life, or that such-and-such a lifestyle is “right/wrong”, or this character “deserved what was coming to them”, etc. Perhaps in the eyes of such literary critics that might expose me as an anti-intellectual, and make what I do pointless, but meh. I think if there is any viewpoint in Trapdoor, it’s that love can last through everything, even death, and suicide isn’t always the pursuit of the nihilist. Which isn’t glorifying any of it, of course, it’s just a different way of looking at things, genuinely, from the inside.

Could you tell us a little bit more about your writing and your other stories?

I tend to label my writing “lyrical trance”, which is joyfully meaningless on the one hand, and on the other describes a style that’s intended to be very introverted, lyrical, and at times trance inducing. In terms of what’s out there for people to read, my output must look rather…contradictory, to use a word that would cause the least offence. Trapdoor is long, and intense, and life-consuming, and then there’s this short story I decided to put up on Kindle et al on a whim, called Narcissism, which was written in a single night’s sitting, and basically dark but frivolous too in many ways. I don’t see writing as therapy, or a cathartic release–many things I go through seem to be fodder for the fiction, rather than me needing to write to get rid of this stuff. I’ve also got some stories floating around as part of a world-building exercise for this ginormous biopunk series that erupts from my mind in fits and spurts, called Subtransience–I’m horrible, I really have to organise all of this stuff in one place on my website one of these days.

What inspires your writing?

Music, definitely. Every project has its own soundtrack, and while I’m listening to a song I’ll visualise scenes from the story, or get a better take on a character’s emotions or state of mind. Places, weather, the night sky. Often television, or film; not in the sense of wanting to emulate a plot, but if the interactions between particular characters intrigue me, I step back and try to figure out the whats and whys of that, and a story is born. Life, too, but again that’s more introverted–I don’t really people-watch, or scurry everywhere with a notebook in hand. I guess the real inspiration comes from a need to express an emotion–the “what if” stuff comes later on, once the story’s underway.

(Andy: I am not alone then in my obsession with music and writing, Joy Division is currently sound tracking Deception – I really do think that the right music helps me get into the story and the mind of my characters. I like your list of songs on your site that sound tracked Trapdoor – will give them a listen)

Have any particular experiences, philosophies, theories influenced your writing?

Yes, but try as I might they’re not ones I can untangle and put into words with any real clarity. I mentioned Eastern philosophies above… I guess stories where death is more like living, that dying doesn’t mean an end to it all and is not something to be feared if it means truth can live on–you know, like the Chinese Butterfly Lovers legend, or the end of Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon (or Romeo and Juliet if one needs a Western example)–I find that’s something that tends to come up a lot in my work. As far as an approach to writing, there’s a Guardian piece written by English avant-pulp novelist Jeff Noon that evokes an excited “Yes, This!” response whenever I read it. As do many of the thoughts espoused by fellow interviewee Dan Holloway. I think those are more confirmations in an otherwise lonely writerly existence, rather than influences, though. Being an Australian has shaped my viewpoint, too (as inevitable as that sounds, it’s not something I consciously think of). I don’t have a lot of respect for the overwhelming and sometimes cheerful mundanity present in my country’s classics; I think I revolted against that fairly early on.

What is next for you?

I really have more ideas than I know what to do with at any one time, which seems to me as debilitating as having no ideas at all. So I’m currently working on something that’s more steampunk-influenced, called The Amorpheum Key, and hopefully will do so until it’s finished without getting side-tracked again. I started writing it in 2008, but backed away for a while. Looking at the words now, I figure I’ve got about half of “the middle bit” sketched, so for the last month or thereabouts I’ve been scratching my head over where the best place to start is. I’m also trying not to think about the ending. It’s one of those Big Ideas, you see, where Lots of Stuff Happens, on a far grander scale. But it comes from a similar kind of place to Trapdoor; I’ve not eschewed emotion for plot.

Anything else you like to add?

Well, if you’ve read this far, thank you! And thanks to Andy for inviting me over to have a chat about my work. If you are reading this, and you’re a writer (procrastinating, no doubt, I know how that one goes) then always be true to your work and your process–don’t cave in to how someone else thinks it should be done just because they’re adamant about their One True Way. (A pet peeve of mine, with all the Thou Must! generic writing advice I’m seeing spring up all over the ‘net these days.) Beyond that, live long and prosper, and cheers! 😉

Thank you Vix for your insightful, honest and head nodding, yes I like this, answers.

To read more about Trapdoor and to buy visit Trapdoor at Lost Violet Press.

Posted: 20 April 2019

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