An Interview With Jesse Bullington on THE SAD TALE OF THE BROTHERS GROSSBART
Have you always known that you wanted to be a writer?
To the best of my memory I’ve always wanted to be a storyteller but I wasn’t always sure in what medium I would most prefer to work. I was writing short stories as soon as I could spell, and my first rejection letter was from Highlights or Cricket, one of those children’s magazine, when I was maybe seven or eight years old. At first it was just an innate desire to tell tall tales, and as I grew up I vacillated amongst ambitions of working in film, television, comic books, theatre, and fiction proper, if there is such a thing. In the end I lacked the social-herding abilities required to realize your vision on stage or in front of a camera, and comics were likewise out as I was never able to either render the imagery myself or con a skilled friend into illustrating my stories. This is not to say that I became a novelist by default, but rather that for these flippant reasons combined with a strong literary inclination I found novels to be the ideal medium to transmit my stories.
How did you get your big break into publishing?
By striking up a conversation with a stranger when I was working in a video store. That stranger wound up being the brilliant and generous author Jeff VanderMeer, who offered me greater advice and assistance than we mortals are accustomed since our oracles fell silent. After checking out my novel Jeff blogged about and posted an excerpt on his website, which was seen by a very talented agent who offered to read the manuscript. That agent, Sally Harding, loved the novel and things progressed rapidly. The moral here is obvious, I think.
When you aren’t writing, what do you like to do in your spare time?
Hiking is one of my favorite activities. I love few things more than a vigorous walk, regardless of the setting, season, time, or weather. Nocturnal hikes are preferable as starlight and shadow render mundane landscapes far more interesting, and the increased risk of an animal mauling or a twisted ankle imbues such sport with the heady cologne of menace.
Who/what would you consider to be your influences?
All the usual sources—history, folklore, musicians, artists, filmmakers, actors, my friends, my family, my dreams, my experiences, cultures both foreign and domestic, the world around us, and other writers. In general I wear my influences on my page but, that said, I am never one to pass up the opportunity to promote my favorites. Confining myself to a baker’s dozen of all sorts of creative collectives and individuals and resigning myself to thinking up an even better list as soon as I’m finished, my influences include the Tiger Lillies, Vincent Price, Angela Carter, Roald Dahl, Alan Moore, Edward Gorey, Clive Barker, Kentaro Miura, Irvine Welsh, the Coen Brothers, Italo Calvino, Nick Cave, and the Weird Tales Triumvirate.
The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart is an amazing novel that’s truly like nothing else out there. How did you derive the idea for this novel?
A question I find every bit as tough as its reputation. I wanted to write a novel set in medieval Europe containing as many of my favorite aspects of fiction as was feasible that also satirized dull literary devices and archetypes. That and I wanted to take the romance out of grave robbing. A different sort of protagonist was mandatory, and once I had the brothers themselves sussed everything progressed naturally.
As per your studies, are Hegel and Manfried based upon any real characters in history?
The Brothers Grossbart are not based on any particular individuals but history is rife with their ilk. Modern society as well, for that matter.
Do you think the novel is controversial? If so, why?
I think most things worth talking about are controversial if one asks around enough, but I didn’t give much thought to whether or not my novel would qualify as such when I was writing it. I did intend to subvert some of the conventions of mainstream fantasy fiction, so it may well end up being divisive anyway. Much of what I love about fantasy, horror, adventure, and historical fiction seems at odds with what is currently popular in those genres, and this novel probably reflects that.
Now that The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart has been published, what will be next for you?
I have several projects percolating at any given time and anticipate completing two more novels in the next couple of years. One is a collaboration and the other is a solo project, and both are set, as with this novel, in medieval Europe.
Finally, as a first-time author, what has been your favorite part of the publishing process?
Meeting individuals at Orbit and the Cooke Agency whose humor and friendliness are surpassed only by their wisdom and keen insight. Also, having such a stunning artist as Istvan Orosz create a beautiful cover to house my humble words has made me a very happy fellow indeed.