I'm honored to finally have the chance to interview one of my most favorite Transgressive Writers, Vicki Hendricks author of noir novels such as Miami Purity, Iguana Love, Voluntary Madness, Sky Blues, and Cruel Poetry, the latter an Edgar Award Finalist in 2008. Most of her short stories are collected in Florida Gothic Stories. She lives in central Florida, the rural locale of her most recent novel Fur People, which reflects my interest in animals and nature.
It's a great honor to interview you, Vicki. You can't imagine how happy I am for this opportunity. I would like to start with the time that you decided to become a writer in the Transgressive Genre as I see this as normally a genre mainly male dominant.
Until a few years ago, when I was included on a transgressive website, I hadn’t heard of the genre, so the tendency must have been natural. My writing has always rubbed some people’s fur the wrong direction, mainly because of the graphic sex, but I didn’t set out to do that. I write what I feel will be interesting and transgression often happens. My overall goal is originality, and I suppose that’s transgressive in itself. My first reviewer for Miami Purity found it necessary to check to be sure I was a woman, not a man with a female pseudonym, because I sounded too tough, and possibly males were expected to dominate the tough/transgressive genre in 1995. My editor at Pantheon called the novel noir, but I hadn’t realized I was writing noir, though I should have. I knew I was writing in the style of James M. Cain, one of my all-time favorites, but hadn’t paid attention to the category. After that, I was forced to become something of a noir expert since I was called on to define noir on panels at conferences for years.
There are many similarities between Noir and Transgressive Fiction. What about Transgressive Genre attracts you?
It’s the sexual aspect overall. I’ve concocted all sorts of unique pairings to fit a variety of circumstances and to include important animals, bestiality, that’s generally frowned upon. Again, all in the name of originality. I was shocked, however, when my story “Stormy, Mon Amour” was criticized with outrage, not so much because of the sex scene with a dolphin, but because the offspring was a mermaid. Apparently, mermaids are sacred and should be given an elevated status. Apes involved in murder plots, iguana “rape,” and various men with unusual perversions probably qualify as transgressive, although I’m not good at judging. However, as I realized how my unplanned style and subject matter drew attention, I kept it up. Being one of the few transgressive or noir women, that tendency worked in my favor. For the last twenty-five years, at least, one woman writer has to be included in each noir, or transgressive, short story collection, whatever you want to call it. Over the years, I’ve gotten too many invitations to keep up with. A good thing, of course. Besides the sex, I’m attracted to the daring subject matter. Transgressive and daring aren’t exactly the same, but they share the quality of getting gut-level reactions.
I totally agree with you. So, in your perspective, what makes a good story?
I completed an MFA in creative writing at Florida International University, and I would have to repeat everything I learned in four years to give you a decent answer to that question. Skimming across the top, I would have to say interesting characters, again originality, and an ending that can’t be predicted, but is perfect when it arrives. Meaning “just deserts” for all. A role of fiction, I’ve been told, is to make up for life’s inequities and bad luck. To me, it does a great job, and I’m thrilled to be able to contribute to it. I don’t know how people can live fulfilling lives if they don’t read. Your own thoughts and limited world get tedious after a short while, I think.
That's true. I met many youngsters who want to write but don't want to read. I don't think, without reading anyone can really write and develop a style of their own. Now, let's get to my favorite part. Tell us about your books, which one is your favorite and why?
Of the noir, Voluntary Madness is my favorite, but Fur People might be my overall best. It’s somewhat out of “my genre,” which is generally considered to be crime, but it’s certainly transgressive. The idea of an animal hoarder trying to survive in the woods with a bipolar guy helping her out probably doesn’t appeal to many people. If something appeals to me, I can be assured that it won’t be popular, but the people who like it are often fanatical.
The characters in Fur People are extremely transgressive, but not in a murderous fashion, misdemeanor rather than felony stuff. I did the print version myself with only Audible as the publisher. It seemed a good idea at the time, and I had a deadline to meet, but I’m no publicist and have little motivation to sell books on social media, so few people have heard of it. I don’t mind admitting that I love many of my short stories: “Must Bite,” “Boozeanne, Lemme Be,” “ReBecca,” “Stormy,” and others. They’re probably the most transgressive of all because I can stretch into the bizarre and sustain it for the short length. I call them gothic because they contain grotesques, among other Southern gothic characteristics. My sister has an upper-level degree in experimental psychology, brain science, and we agree that “normals” are much less interesting than “abnormals,” despite the fact that abnormal is often unacceptable to society. We grew up with that feeling, enjoying being different. I guess it’s hereditary.
I was wondering how long does it take you to write a book? Do you have any writing routines? What is your work schedule like when you're writing?
Trigger alert: This is a terrible admission and might cause people who read it to start bad habits!
So far I’ve spent seven years on the current novel, Chez Usher. I hate writing so much that I have to tell myself that I’m only going to write for 15 minutes each day. Often it turns out to be only 15 minutes. Sometimes, I get going and do 30-45 minutes before I know it, and on rare occasions, even 2 hours, but normally I don’t have that kind of time available. My cats don’t understand “dinner will be late,” and they’re persistent.
Luckily, when I open the document, my head usually snaps into the right place, and I can actually accomplish a paragraph or some valuable rewriting. I try not to miss 2 days in a row, or it doesn’t work anymore, and I have to waste a lot of time “warming up” again. This week, I finally got to the end of Chez Usher but I’ll still need months or maybe years to rewrite. I can’t call this a first draft because I’ve taken so many 6-month breaks and started over that the first two-thirds has probably been rewritten at least 5 times already. I do advise rewriting and rewriting—sometimes for years.
That's interesting and I can say, I'm exactly the same. Sometimes, I hate writing so much that I prefer to pretend my current project doesn't exist. So, to finish this interview, may I know what was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your books?
When writing Iguana Love, I learned that a woman will grow a penis if taking enough of the steroid Dianabol. Women bodybuilders tape the penises under their bikinis. They are non-functional, however, and I never tried growing one myself.
Thank you so much much Vicki.