Juliet Escoria is the author of Black Cloud (2014), a collection of related stories, each of which features a corresponding video and is introduced in the print version of the book by an image of Escoria that represents its themes. Lazy Fascist Press will publish her debut poetry collection, Witch Hunt, in May 2016. Black Cloud was named a best book of the year by The Fader, Salon, and Flavorwire, among others. Escoria’s work has appeared in publications including Electric Literature, Hobart, Vice, The Believer, and Guernica. Escoria holds an MFA in Fiction Writing from Brooklyn College. Born in Australia and raised in Southern California, she now resides in West Virginia. Escoria has been called “a gutter punk Grace Paley” by none other than previous Fiction Points participant Adam Wilson.
Two nuns and a penguin approach you at a bar, and you tell them you’re a writer. When they ask you what you write about, how do you answer?
Last year, I went to AWP [the Association of Writers & Writing Programs’ annual conference] for the first (and so far, only) time. When I was waiting in line to get on the plane, this guy said “How many of you here are going to AWP?” No one responded and I felt sorry for him, so I admitted that I was. For the next ten minutes, I found myself trapped in a conversation about what I wrote about, what I did, etc. He seemed like a very nice man, but when I have those types of conversations, I can feel my soul slowly dying.
I told him I wrote “Thinly veiled autobiography,” which is the line I tell everyone, unless they are friends of my parents, and then I just tell them “short stories” and refuse to go any deeper. So I would probably ignore the fact that they were nuns and penguins and tell them that.
Points is a blog primarily for drug and alcohol historians. What do you think this audience would find most interesting about your work?
Apparently some people have a name for the kind of drug user I was: A garbage head. I don’t like this term. Sometimes I used shitty drugs, but I’m from San Diego and we’re right near the border and generally the drugs I used were pretty fucking good.
So I used a bunch of different kinds of drugs. Some of them I got really into; others, not so much. I guess you could say my work is a nice little scrapbook of experiences resulting from a cornucopia of drugs.
What led you to write about drugs and alcohol in the first place?
My urge to write is specifically to write about myself. I completely do not understand why anyone would want to make up imaginary scenarios and worlds. Maybe this means I’m self-obsessed.
I’ve done quite a bit of drugs. Therefore, I write about drugs.
How would you describe the way that drugs function in your work, whether in terms of thematic concerns or the choices you make about how to craft a story? Do you think there are things that you wouldn’t be able to explore as successfully if drugs weren’t in your writing arsenal?
When I was in writer school, I decided one day that I was sick of writing about people with drug and alcohol problems. So I wrote a story that was based on my life, but I removed the substances. The people in my workshop were like, “What is wrong with this girl? Why is she doing this stuff? It makes no sense.” I ended up rewriting the story, but this time I made her an alcoholic. Nobody had a problem with it anymore.
What do you personally find most interesting about how drugs work in your writing, and where do you see that interest leading you in future projects?
I think I’m not necessarily interested in drugs; I’m more interested in acts of self-destruction. We are hardwired to live – we have adrenaline, we like sex, we like food – yet despite all this, some people just want to blow their lives up. I was (and sometimes still am) one of those people. I don’t understand where that urge comes from, and this makes it interesting subject matter for me.
BONUS QUESTION: Let’s hope that Black Cloud gets made into a major motion picture. What song do you fantasize about hearing as the credits roll?
This one. [Skeeter Davis’ “The End of the World”]