Interview by Jerry Wheeler
What comes to mind when you think of dark fantasy? Human manatees? Alien landscapes fraught with terrible possibilities? Homeless girls turned rodent-superhero or suburban dread encroaching on an unlit front porch? Author Tom Cardamone pictures these and much more in his novel, Werewolves of Central Park, as well as his recent collection of short fiction, Pumpkin Teeth – stories so warped we just had to get to know him better. We’re convinced you’ll hear a lot more from from him in the future, but this conversation is a great place to start.
Jerry L. Wheeler: Your work reminds me of Ray Bradbury and his remarkably beautiful descriptions of the oddest people and situations. Was he an influence of yours? Who did you read in your formative years – and who are you reading now?
Tom Cardamone: Wow, thank you! That’s quite a comparision. And yeah, his Martian stories were a big deal to me as a kid, as were most of the big science fiction writers, especially Edgar Rice Burroughs and Jules Verne. When I was in my teens I was fortunate enough to discover John Varley and he’s one of those authors that really influenced both my style and subject matter; I felt that he aimed for a clarity in his images and that’s certainly something I try to do, and especially in his short fiction, he’s a master at making the unreal seem happenstance, expected, something I shoot for myself. At the moment I’ve been reading a lot of non-fiction. Literary history is always interesting, though when I want fiction there’s never a lack of good stuff out there. I’ve been reading Geoff Ryman lately. He’s one of those authors I discovered early on who just never stops amazing me.
JLW: Literary history? That’s interesting, but it doesn’t seem like it would provide a very fertile breeding ground for some of the stories in “Pumpkin Teeth,” for example. Do you somehow use the sane to find the insane? That is, when you start thinking about a story, do you first see the odd and try to make it normal or do you see the normal and twist it a bit?
TC: Well my real influences come from music. What I read informs my sentence structure, what I’m listening to while I write takes me much farther. I love the structured coldness of Love and Rockets, for example, and several of my stories have a sentence or phrase lifted from their lyrics. But if you’re wondering about where the ideas come from, sometimes I challenge myself just to see what I can come up with. For instance, with “Suitcase Sam” I really wanted to write something sicker and gayer than the stuff in Clive Barker’s “Books of Blood.” With “River Rat,” I wanted to write a female superhero, and had just leafed through a book about rats at The Strand and was suprised to learn that they are good swimmers and thought to myself “I gotta use that somewhere.” Beyond the starting point, everything else just flows. I try to keep it organic and usually write a short story in two days in two long sittings each. Otherwise once I know how it’s going to end, I’ll lose interest. Basically, if the writer’s suprised, the reader will be suprised.
JLW: Who else do you listen to when you write?
TC: It’s probably a cliche, but there is a lot going on in Brooklyn right now, so I’ve been digging some of the new bands coming out of that scene, Yeahsayer, The Liars, I think My Robot Friend is from Brooklyn. But I’m always re-discovering the 80’s. The music that I grew up with was just so rich, there are ton’s of bands I just never got to at that time that I appreciate now. And of course there’s all this intense re-packaging going on and I’m a total sucker for it. How many times do I have to buy the same Bauhaus album, I don’t know, but I’ll buy it!
JLW: Speaking of Brooklyn, two stories you mentioned – “River Rat” and “Suitcase Sam” – as well as your novel, “The Werewolves of Central Park” have urban backgrounds. How does living in New York City inform your writing?
TC: New York City is an intensely gothic place. When I lived in Harlem the post office was called Hell’s Mouth Post Office, that was the official name! And of course everyone bitches and moans that it’s all been gentrified, but if you go one block farther, or step into an outer borough, you’ll find what you don’t even know you’re looking for. As someone who writes dark fantasy, this place is a black gold mine.
JLW: How did you get to be a dark fantasy writer? What about the genre attracts you?
TC: It’s just where my mind is at. Growing up, I gravitated toward horror films. I didn’t play with plastic army men, I melted them down. I wouldn’t say I’m attracted to the genre, though, I don’t read much genre fiction these days, which I think is a plus, I don’t get stuck in having to satisfy common tropes, but I’m just not capable of writing a romance or “serious” fiction, whatever the hell that is. Whatever I do, it’s going to have it’s own set of bat wings.
JLW: I’m a big horror film fan as well – what’s your top ten?
TC: Now that’s tough. I have a weakness for completely unnecessary sequels, like The Fly 2 or Jason Takes Manhattan, and I think all serious horror fans are ultimately a Freddie, Michael or Jason fan. I’m totally a Michael. The Halloween series really did it for me, the original scared the hell out of me as a kid, and I still like it and dig some of the sequels. I didn’t see the remakes, however. Sacred ground and all. What about you: Freddie, Jason or Michael?
JLW: Michael all the way, but Jason Voorhees comes in a close second. Freddie’s a distant third – I didn’t like the makeup or the self-mocking. You know, many – but not all – the stories in “Pumpkin Teeth” could translate easily to the screen, like a “Creepshow” anthology. Who would you like to see direct what?
TC: I wonder if Brian Singer could have some fun with some of these stories? -if I was ever lucky enough to get something I’ve written on film, I think I’d go for some Japanese directors, currently, they just do horror right. They keep the fantasy, the atmospheric elements intact and upfront.
JLW: What I like most about your work is its outrageousness and its fearlessness to go places others never thought of going – but is there somewhere you wouldn’t go? What, if anything, is off-limits to you?
TC: I never think I’ve gone too far, and if I ever worry about going too far, there’s a little part of me that will say “aw, go ahead, open that last door.”
JLW: When was the last time you opened one of those doors?
TC: Ha ha, I can tell you when I last closed one. I’ve got an intense horror story I haven’t finished, not because I’m afraid to go there, I just need need to consult a taxidermist and haven’t run into one yet.
JLW: How do you recharge? What stokes your muse other than music?
TC: Red wine. And riding my bike to Coney Island. The freaks out there can give anyone comfort that they’re on the right track.
JLW: I’m down with the red wine … and as long as we’re on the subject of freaks, one of my “PT” faves is “River Rat,” partially because of the superhero angle. Forgive the Barbara Walters aspect of the question, but if you were a superhero, what kind of powers would you have? And the costume. Don’t forget the costume!
TC: I would have the longest, blackest, velvet cape, luxuriently velvet, soooo thick, and when I wrapped it around any of my foes, they’d be absorbed by my shadow. And pointy ears, I think I’d like pointy ears. Actually, I saw an older gentleman rushing to catch the 6 train a month or so ago and he was wearing a black cape. It’s neat that not only can some people pull stuff like that off, but that they do it.
JLW: You mention on your website that you consider yourself a novelist who turned into a short story writer. Does the long form of a novel still appeal to you and do you see yourself going back to that any time in the near future?
TC: I’m most interested in the novel, and had completed two longer works before I ever tried a short story, then I spent one year working only on shorter pieces, and decided that it is fun, but I love the commitment, the landscape of a novel, though I don’t like those giant tomes, two hundred pages is enough for me, to both read and to write. One of the things that turns me off on so much genre fiction is the unnecessary length. Especially fantasy. My god they do like to go on long, drawn out quests …
JLW: Some people would consider your stories shocking or outrageous – what shocks or outrages you?
TC: When directors poorly remake perfect movies, when Christians act like anything but, when people don’t know how to queue up at bodegas, and like stand five feet away from the next person in line, or am I telling you what appalls me? And I didn’t pick any moving targets, did I?
JLW: Can you share a bit about what you’re currently working on or have planned for the future?
TC: I’m very excited that a book I’ve been editing for years, The Lost Library: Gay Fiction Rediscovered, will be released sometime next year. Quite a while ago I envisioned this project, wherein I asked gay writers to describe that one gay novel or short story collection that means a lot to them but that has gone out of print. Some really great writers of all different ages and backgrounds cover an amazing spectrum of work. I’d only read one of the books covered before I started this project, so it’s been an education for me, one that I can’t wait to share. So much of our literary history was decimated by AIDS that I see this an attempt to recover what we are close so close to losing: our own history.
JLW: Any last words for our readers about yourself and/or your book?
TC: Last words are for tombstones, so I’d rather thank you for your time and questions, Jerry, it’s been a blast.