DOT MATRIX by JACK BINDING
“Horror to me is about tapping in to subconscious fears, writing a story that evokes fear or unease; it’s not about severed limbs and torture.”
Horror is not a genre I naturally think of as something I enjoy.
When trawling shelves in bookshops, my eyes don’t seek out blood spattered spines and gothic print. I don’t love the Dean Koontz’ of this world (gratuitous and predictable). I can’t even say I’m a fan of Stephen King (although stylistically I think he’s a genius).
I do find the supernatural fascinating. From the history of mythical monsters (such as the link between zombies with leprosy, or the development of the vampire myth) to the classic Gothic novel, stories of strange things that go bump in the night have always been a staple in my literary diet.
But what really intrigues me is the psychology of fear – what scares us and why. How our brains react. The difference between chills and thrills.
When I ran across Jack Binding online in 2015, it was the psychological element of his writing that first lured me into reading his blog.
There was a post about rats in the walls, about every day life and writing and depressive nights alone. It teetered on the edge of horror. Dabbled around the dark space many of us carry around with us. And it reminded me of one of my favourite poems by Howard Nemerov, Brainstorm (incidentally the poem that kicked off my own illustrious blogging).
Even better, his written voice was wry, strong, cynical and pin-point perfect when it came to imagery. Exactly the sort of narrator that tugs you along with them even when you want to duck under the duvet and cower.
And this combination – the psychology of fear, the twist on the mundane, the relentless narrative voice – is exactly what Binding delivers in Dot Matrix, his first published short story. Succinct, well-structured, sharp, with a hint of Stephen King for you horror buffs- if you’re a fan of goosebumps without the gore, then this 23-pager is for you.
A darkly amusing revenge story with a twist that’s perfect as the year creeps into winter. Happy Halloween, scribblers.
TALKING WITH JACK BINDING, AUTHOR OF DOT MATRIX
It’s been very positive. I was unsure how people would respond to it – it’s hard to be objective about anything artistic, and especially about your own creation. I’m just glad people seem to like it.
Have you always been interested in horror? How do you understand your relationship to genre?
I have little interest in gore and violence, but I’ve always been interested in things that creep me out, things that unnerve me. From watching Doctor Who in the eighties to reading Clive Barker’s Books of Blood some years later, I’ve always felt a rush from horror – good horror, that is.
How would you describe your writing style?
Choppy and profane! One of the wonderful things when reading fiction is that the reader can create their own images, so everyone’s experience is a little different. I find that if a writer describes too much, it can detract from the enjoyment. Obviously you need descriptive elements to the story, otherwise it wouldn’t work, but not so much it gets in the way of the plot or the characters. I think that mentality comes from reading lots of noir – James M. Cain, Raymond Chandler, that sort of thing.
In your writing you have a tendency to take some mundane – an experience or an object like a Dot Matrix – and make it uncanny? Is that a conscious choice?
Not really. I have vivid nightmares most nights and that’s where the ideas come from. I guess in that respect, it’s a subconscious choice. I often wake up and grab my laptop or a pen and start writing the nightmares down before I forget them. I guess you could say I’m a morning person.
Top three authors that have inspired your writing.
Graham Greene. Brighton Rock chills me to bone. And The End of the Affair is the most wonderfully bitter book I have ever read. Greene’s best when he’s pissed off.
Stephen King. An obvious choice, perhaps, but it would be remiss of me not to include him. Early novels like Pet Sematary and Cujo are so raw and angry. He has this knack of creating likeable, believable characters . . . which makes the reader give a shit when he kills them off.
Jim Thompson. The ultimate misanthrope. He has this louche style and when he’s writing first person, the internal monologues just crackle.
Why did you go the self-publishing route?
Aside from the fact I wasn’t sure if any publishing houses would be interested in anything I had written, the main reason was control. I can write what I want. Do it on my own timeline. Choose my own artwork. I’m not at the bottom of some PR person’s arbitrary pecking order. I’m not gathering dust in a slush pile. Quite honestly, I never considered doing it any other way.
You mentioned plans for more – when is the next story coming out?
Yes, I’m planning on one a month.
The next one should be out mid-November. I’m currently smoothing the edges (although not too much, mind).
[UPDATE: Property should be out November 7th and can be pre-ordered here].
What made you decide to publish one at once rather than several in a bundle?
I was quite excited to get out and publish something. I didn’twant to screw around bundling ten or so together. I wanted to do it now.
And releasing them individually, keeps it fresh. For the next year or so, there will always be something new, something just about to come out, something to promote.
Also, from a cynical marketing point of view, having 10 short stories out rather than 1 bundle gives me more exposure, more “virtual shelf-space”, I guess you could say. After all, I want people to read these – I’m proud of them.
Talk us through your writing process.
Everything is written on Scrivener.
Notes, first drafts, final drafts. Everything.
I start with an idea – usually from a nightmare – and then just begin writing. There might be a vague plot or a few characters I have in mind, but I tend to create on the go. I used to meticulously plan, but I found that took the edges off, dulled my writing. These days, the first draft is just a mental dump. It’s all over the place. Then I just rewrite and rewrite until I can’t write anymore, at which point I’ll send it to an editor. Upon their feedback, I’ll either get drunk and bin it or rewrite it a few more times. Finally I read it through on my Kindle during the morning commute – that’s the best test. If it reads enjoyably on a commute, it’s ready.
What would you say was the hardest part of writing Dot Matrix (or writing in general)?
Knowing when to leave it the fuck alone.
How important would you say editing is for you as a writer?
Hugely. It’s what tidies up the plot, removes the bullshit and brings the characters to life. Without editing, writing is very 2D. Editing is the point at which I plan, not before.
You’ve done the cover design yourself as well – how was that process?
Daunting at first, but eventually liberating. I went through about six or seven different designs before deciding on the dot matrix printer paper. Once I had that, putting a huge fucking blood spatter in the middle seemed the natural way to go. Also, it’s quite nice to work on something other than words after hours of writing and rewriting.
On your blog you’ve pretty much detailed your journey as a writer – how has blogging informed your fiction (if at all)?
I’m not sure it has, really. I see it more of a diary than a blog. The blog is where I can write without structure or meticulous editing. It can be heart-on-my-sleeve bile or a handy little tip on editing techniques.
You’re also pretty outspoken – do you think writer’s need to be ballsy?
“Gutsy” is probably a better word for it. I know plenty of people with balls who aren’t gutsy and plenty of people without balls who are gutsy.
But I’m not sure. It’s not a deliberate thing – I’ve always been slightly antagonistic.
You’ve given a great deal of consideration to branding – personal and literary – how valuable do you think this is to you as a new writer?
Massively, especially when you consider the rise of self-publishing. It’s important to stand out and it’s important to be easily identifiable. It’s hard enough to get a stranger to read something you’ve written, even when it’s free. Branding helps with that – embrace it.
Has it benefited to have pseudo-anonymity?
Yes, I can swear as much as I like and not have to deal with an irate phone call from my mother. But seriously, would I want my friends, my family, my potential future employers reading Dot Matrix? Probably not. Anonymity means I don’t have to tone it down.
How do you feel about Bob Dylan winning the Nobel Prize for Literature?
Love it. Anyone who has an issue with it has obviously never listened to his lyrics.
This place ain’t doing me any good / I’m in the wrong town, I should be in Hollywood
Reads like Cormac McCarthy. Although personally, I think Lou Reed would have been a better choice.
Song lyrics are essentially poetry.
Do you see yourself becoming a full time word slinger in your new life down under?
I would love to, but let’s just see how the next few releases go first . . .