Writing Stories that Sing: An Interview with Evan J. Peterson - Uncharted

Writing Stories that Sing: An Interview with Evan J. Peterson

By Kate Tooley

1. What is your hottest take on the age old genre vs. fiction debate and how do you see yourself and your work fitting into that?

Evan J. Peterson: You asked for it, so here goes. Genre is about money. Genres as we know them are made up to sell books, and they were made up by dead white affluent people, most of them New Yorkers. I work in many genres, I mix them, and I write things that sometimes aren’t easy to label. I enjoy being someone who can write a funny queer memoir one year, a video game the next, then an intense horror book. It’s not my job to categorize it; that’s up to an agent or publisher. I like to think of myself as “genrefuck” or “genrepunk.”

2. What people and/or work has had the greatest impact on you as a writer?

Evan J. Peterson: Aside from Mary Shelley and her mic-drop science fiction monolith Frankenstein, I have my shortlist of folks. As a kid, C. S. Lewis’s Narnia books. As a teen, Clive Barker and Anne Rice were my writing idols. In college I got very into Toni Morrison and Neil Gaiman, as well as Sylvia Plath, Allen Ginsberg, and David Bowie, all of whom are indispensable to me. Bowie’s lyrics and artistic vision are huge for me. Lovecraft, too, is as problematic as he is. At this point in my writing, my biggest inspirations are Angela Carter, Shirley Jackson, and William Burroughs. These are the folks whose work makes me envious, though not their personal lives. They write stories that sing.

3. Tell us about your writing process? Are you a plotter or a pantser? Where do you like to work?

Evan J. Peterson: Oh, I am a mother fucking PANTSER. Longer works may have a loose order of ideas and themes, but my fiction is something I write as I go. Video games and interactive fiction require a much more solid plotline to get a greenlight, though deviation from the plan is normal and usually welcomed in my experience. I tend to brainstorm and scatter my thoughts longhand, then write a first draft on the computer. I love working surrounded by my plants, or outside in a green space. I like to work around other people if I can; it’s easier to start my tasks. I have some neuroatypical brain stuff around starting as well as processing large amounts of information in a short span. 

4. We talk a lot about “queering the genre” — what does that phrase mean to you and is it something you intentionally do in your work.

Evan J. Peterson: This is one of my favorite topics. I try to walk my own line between being too strictly literal (which I don’t think is a very queer way to be, do you?) and being an utterly abstract theoretical gas bag. What I love about queering sci-fi, fantasy, and horror is that I can really bend and test the limits of gender and sex as well as genre itself. Genre is literally French for “gender,” so why not treat it the same way? We all love lesbian space witches; no shade there, only admiration. But I look at some of the weirder shit explored by Delany and Burroughs and Octavia Butler and even Grant Morrison’s X-Men. If my partner has no anatomical sex, what does that make me? If it takes more than two genetic parents to fertilize an egg, what social structures are created? If my partner is one hivemind inhabiting five bodies like the Stepford Cuckoos, is that polyamory or monogamy? What if I just like to fuck trees? Where’s my parade?

5. What projects are you currently working on? Is there any work you’d like to share with our readers?

Evan J. Peterson: My newest book, METAFLESH: Poems in the Voices of the Monster, is coming out this October (2021) from ARUS Entertainment! It’s queer, it’s very weird, it’s funny and sad and perverse. I wanted to write a book from the perspective of Shelley’s Frankenstein monster, and I ended up tapping into a lot of my own psyche around gender, surviving sexual assault, and body horror. I’m immensely proud of it as a work of cohesive, book-length narrative poetry. There are many layers happening from start to finish. Meanwhile, my serial novel, Better Living Through Alchemy, is coming out periodically chapter-by-chapter from Broken Eye Books. I love that house. I have a great relationship with my editor, Scott Gable, and he’s included me in several anthologies as well. He and I get each other on the capital-W Weird fiction.

6. What queer charity or group would you like to direct our readers to?

Evan J. Peterson: Any charity that gets queer kids off the street. Queer kids, especially trans kids, have a horrifyingly high rate of homelessness, compounded by high rates of violence against them. Help them get off the street, out of sex trafficking, etc. Give them job skills and a place to live and eat.

BIO: Evan J. Peterson is a Clarion West writer and author of  The PrEP Diaries from Lethe Press as well as the interactive fiction RPG Drag Star! from Choice of Games. His other books include the horror poetry chapbooks Skin Job and The Midnight Channel and the Lambda Literary Award finalist anthology, Ghosts in Gaslight, Monsters in Steam: Gay City 5.

Evan’s fiction, nonfiction, and poetry have appeared in Weird Tales, BoingBoingThe StrangerThe Rumpus, Best Gay Stories 2015, The Queer South AnthologyUnspeakable Horror 2Queers Destroy HorrorNightmare Magazine, Drawn to Marvel: Poems from the Comic Books, Arcana: The Tarot Poetry Anthology, and Aim for the Head: An Anthology of Zombie Poetry. Click around the site menu to read some of his work.

Evan was the founding creative editor and then Editor-in-Chief of Minor Arcana Press.