copyright October 22, 1997, Tisiphone & PZB.
Me: Whose idea was it to write this book?
Poppy: The Courtney Love book?
P: Oh it was my idea. I got the idea to write it a few months after I had met Courtney. And of course I ran the idea by her of an authorized book, wondering if she'd want to work with me. She didn't want to be involved with any authorized biography. She didn't hate the idea of my doing the book. I wouldn't have gone ahead with it if she had-because she was a friend. It was obviously made a lot easier by knowing her and having access to friends from her past and records.
Me: Especially the notebooks. I was really struck by how immediate it seemed.
P: Yeah, definitely.
Me: So it made the researching easier. Did it make the writing easier?
P: Yeah, it did actually, because it was the first time that I'd ever had anything laid out for me like that, and that I knew what was going to happen next. That's not how I work on my novels. The researching was actually pretty tough, because I had to talk to a lot of people, which I'm not used to, but the writing was infinitely easier because of that.
Me: Did it threaten your omnipotence, writing non-fiction?
P: Well, I just tried not to have as much emotional investment in this book as I would in a novel, and I don't think that I do. I cared about, I wanted it to be a good book, but it wasn't like a novel, where I have to be God.
Me: It's a different sort of caring about it.
P: Yeah, definitely.
M: Is this something you plan to return to, non-fiction?
P: I've written a lot of nonfiction, I'm not planning to do any more biographies in the foreseeable future. I've written lots of articles for various magazines. I'd love to put together a book of my nonfiction pieces, but I haven't done anything about that yet.
M: So this was just kind of like a chance confluence.
M: That's cool. There's always a bias in every report. Did you find yourself pulling back form stuff because she was your friend?
P: She was not real picky about what I put in and what I didn't. At that point she had no intention of airbrushing anything. I think that with her new image and her new publicist, if she were to see the book now, there'd be some stuff that she'd rather not put in. But at the time, I didn't really feel the need to censor myself, because she really didn't give a damn.
M: That's kind of funny, because the chick who wrote the 1st biography, Queen of Noise, is very angry, and thinks that this was an airbrushed biography to fit her new image.
P: Well, she's entitled to her opinion. I saw that in Entertainment Weekly, and I think that's pretty funny. It makes her look bad, so I'm going to be big about it, and not comment on the whole thing.
M: Did you actually read her biography?
P: Yeah, I did. it came out mid-way through my research, so I felt that I should read it & see what else was out there. What I've been saying when people ask me about that book, is that I thought that book was about the Widow Cobain. She meets Kurt in Chapter 3 of that book. And the rest of the book is her effect on Kurt and Kurt's effect on her, and it didn't seem to examine her life as a discrete thing, as an interesting life in and of itself. So that's what I wanted to do with my book. And if she's accusing it of being airbrushed, it's because she thinks Courtney had a hand in it. She has this paranoid theory that Courtney kept her book from being reviewed. And that I don't know about, but my book hasn't been review in Spin either. I don't think Courtney had a whole lot to do with that.
M: Also, that book went straight to paperback.
P: Yeah, and a lot of straight-to-paperback stuff just doesn't get reviewed.
M: It looks cheaper. It looks like something more to fill the public's need.
P: And I think it was. It seems like it was written very, very quickly.
M: Courtney Love did come to the world's attention as the wife of Kurt Cobain, so that's the easiest way to present her. But it doesn't really serve her.
P: She's so much more than that, she's so much more interesting than that. And now I think she's left it way behind.
M: I hope not.
P: She commented on that in Us magazine. A lot of fans want her to go back to the old nasty image. She said that "I'm not going back there, because I would die. And I'm not going to die to satisfy my fans." Fair enough.
M: You're always going to find that in alternative culture. I'm sure that some of your fans say that the best thing you ever wrote is Lost Souls, and that you're selling out.
P: Oh God, if I listened to some of my fans, I'd still be writing vampire books. I respect them, but I can't worry about what they want or don't want. If I worked that way, my work wouldn't be any good anyway.
M: That's the paradox of great art: you have to do it for yourself; it has to be about yourself.
P: And according to a lot of people, I'd sold out by the time Lost Souls came out because it was put out by, God forbid a major publisher.
M: Did you treat her like a character in a fiction?
P: I tried to, I tried to tell it as a novelistic story, because that's what I know how to tell. And that's probably the reason I took on the project, because I hoped that it would force me to do that, in a way that I hadn't managed to do in fiction. I don't have enough perspective to say whether it'll affect my fiction, but it was certainly a very interesting project.
M: Like a crash course.
P: Yeah (laughs).
M: Will this affect your female characters?
P: Well, like I said, I'm too close to it now to have any perspective. It all affects my fiction eventually. But it hasn't started to yet. The book that I'm working on right now has a transsexual character, who's male-to-female, and she seems very female to me, but it's not the same thing as a biologically born female who grew up that way.
M: People don't really expect a female-female character from you.
P: Yeah, but I don't want to be limited. I want to be as versatile as possible. I've just followed my obsessions. If a story calls for a strong female character, I'll do it. I'm not going to force myself to. I thought the Courtney book would be a good way to get some practice in.
M: She's very larger than life. One of the things that was interesting about Lost Souls, was that it was more about Goths than about vampires. Vampires were used as a metaphor.
P: Yeah, that was the whole point. I set out to write about Goths, and I didn't even mean to put vampires in there, they just sort of turned up because they're such an important part of Goth culture at the time. And then they sort of took over the story. I never intended to write one book about vampires, I'm certainly not writing another one. I get a little exasperated when people ask me when the sequel to Lost Souls is coming out, and when I'm bringing back those characters, I mean, what else could I do with them, really?
M: It was something that you were very into at that time. How did it feel to dish dirt about Trent Reznor?
P: (laughs) Well, I would've loved to do an interview with him, and let him tell his side. I asked him several times, and he just didn't want to do it. And so I had to tell what I knew. I tried not to make it too ugly, because I really do admire him, and I do like his music, but he had his chance. And all he's done in the press is deny that it ever happened, which I think is ridiculous. I know Courtney is certainly capable of telling lies, but I don't think that she would've made up an entire relationship. There's just so much correlation with other people that it did happen, that I think he's kinda made himself look like an ass by saying it didn't.
M: Some of my friends who're really into Nine Inch Nails totally hate Courtney because of the relationship.
P: No doubt. I think she certainly realized that possibility.
M: They're just jealous [sounds like "I'm jealous" -which I am.]
P: (laughs rather ironically) Well, she's certainly paid.
M: You've said that music is essential to you when you write. Was listening to Hole & Nirvana necessary to writing about Hole & Nirvana?
P: Of course, I had to become really familiar with the music. I didn't actually listen to them while I was writing because I was referring so much to my notes, and to the journals & letters, and to the research I had done, that I would've found having music on a distraction. I don't play music when I'm actually writing as much as I used to. It's more of an inspiration.
M: It doesn't seem to be the kind of music you're drawn to.
P: When I met Courtney, I wasn't familiar with her music at all. Of course I'd heard a little bit of Nirvana; it was in the culture at the time, and you really couldn't escape it. And I liked them OK. But I actually got to like Hole. I was afraid that I wouldn't. After I met her, it was like, "I should listen to her music. What if I don't like it? What if it sucks?" But I thought it was really good. I don't really like female vocalists, and she was definitely an exception. I really like her stuff.
M: There are a few points in the book when the authorial voice takes over. Did the parallels to the work you've done in the past suck you in? Was it hard to pull back afterwards?
P: I don't know if I was conscious of that while writing. It was more of a question of adopting a journalistic voice when I needed to, and then going a little wild when I had the chance to. And having fun when I had the chance to. But mainly I wanted to tell the story, rather than go off in high-flown descriptions & such. So put a few in when I could.
M: I thought it was interesting that the exerpts in People were very close to your fiction...
P: They exerpted in because it was the part about Kurt, and that's what everyone's most curious about, because he was more famous. But yeah, I agree.
M: I thought the story was told with precision, and that the exerpts didn't really reflect that.
P: I just didn't want my voice to take over, and I felt like it easily could. I wanted Courtney's voice to really come out through the letters and the journal entries, and I figured most of the readers are going to be more interested in her than with me, and if they are interested in me, the novels I've written are listed in the book. They can go buy them. I didn't want to overshadow Courtney. As if.
M: Do you think that there's more than a superficial similarity between the two of you?
P: She's had a hell of a lot harder life than I have. I was raised by my family. I wasn't shuttled around. I was treated well as a child. You certainly can't say the same for her. I think the main similarities between the 2 of us are that she used to be a Goth and so did I, so we both went through that. And that we're both always looking for the disenfranchised, the queer, the alienated. We've always had a strong interest in that. I think that's what first interested her about Lost Souls.
M: Do you see yourself continuing to chronicle Courtney Love's life?
P: No. I've maintained an interest in her, and I felt like I had to keep up with what she was doing recently. All the interviews asked me what she was going to do next, and I felt that I had to make an educated guess. But no, I don't see myself writing Courtney Love biography: the sequel in 20 years. I think, as I said, she may very well do that herself. I think that I'll stick with fiction and probably more personal non-fiction.
M: Were you pleased on a personal level with her "rehabilitation."
P: I can't say that I identify with it. She said in Us that she liked going to the gym 4 times a week. I'd rather chew nails than go to the gym 4 times a week. When I first knew her, she was not at all happy. It was very soon after Kurt had died, she was very screwed up, coming out of a bad relationship with Trent. It was a terrible time for her, and if she's happier than that, I'm glad. I don't want her to suffer simply because it's an interesting public spectacle for the rest of us. So yeah, I guess I am. I don't necessarily believe every single thing that I hear, but most of it seems to be true. I know that the last time I talked to her, she sounded better & more together & happier than I'd ever heard her before.
M: It's just hard not to second-guess her, what might've happened if she'd stayed in the rock n' roll world. If Kurt was still alive.
P: I think people have always had a death wish for her, and expected that to be fulfilled. There wasn't much chance of that after the first few weeks after Kurt died. It could've happened then, if it hadn't been for Francis. But after that, I think she was just too much of a survivor. I don't think she ever had any intention of dying. She will mourn Kurt forever, but she was so young when it happened, and he was so young, there's just no going back to it. And she's got a child to raise, and I think she'd like to have more kids.
M: There's always a life after rock and roll, always living and raising children.
P: I think that's what surprises a lot of people, that she's managed to have a life afterwards. I think they expected her to die or go away or something, and she certainly hasn't.
M: So you're going back to fiction?
P: I'm days away from finishing my 4th novel. And then I'm going to Italy. And when I get back, I'll be starting on a new novel.
M: What's this one about?
P: It's about a photographer who's framed for the murder of his lover, and not only for that murder, but he's blamed basically for being a serial killer.
M: Thanks for your time, and I hope the Canadian TV thing goes well.
P: I hope so too. I need to wake up a little before that. I'm sorry if I sound a little lackluster today, I got a bit of a stomach flu yesterday, and it's not quite gone yet. I just want you to know that I'm usually a bit more livelier in interviews. I feel like I sound like hell.
M: You sound serious. Like you're taking me seriously, which I'm not used to people doing.
P: I try to give reviews that courtesy. Unless they're rude or something. I get the clueless: "what draws you to write horror?" I can't tell you how many times I've been asked that fucking question.
M: "Where do you get your ideas?"
P: Yeah, all that kind of shit. You can probably guess the other ones.
M: I remember reading articles when King was really big, and they had no idea why he was so popular or anything.
P: It's a marketing label, and not a particularly good one at this point. People don't sit down and think "horror" when they sit down to write, at least not if their heart's in it. I think there was some of that in the 80's when King made it big, and people wanted to crank out a horror book because they thought that's where the money was. But God, the field's so bad now that anyone who's still doing it now has got to be doing it for love.
(c) tisiphone & poppy z. brite: toronto & new orleans: october 22, 1997.
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