An Interview with Erica Crockett
Erica Crockett's first novel, Chemicals, exploring the dystopian nightmare of a world without pharmaceuticals, was released in 2014. Her newest venture is the twelve-book, serial killer thriller series, The Blood Zodiac, which released in March 2016 with The Ram. In addition to writing novels, Erica also writes comics, including the webcomic Kali and the forthcoming Subterra. She’s been delving into humorous picture books as of late. What Weeds Are Thinking drops soon. When not writing, she's traveling the world, adding to her list of countries visited. She's currently at twenty-three. Erica has been a book-schlepper, an adult educator, a marketing rep, and a gold miner. For more about Erica Crockett, including her humor blog, travel tips, and writing prompts, please visit ericacrockett.com.
Diana and Erica spoke over coffees at the Flying M in Nampa.
What form of writing have you found yourself gravitating to and where do you see that progressing in the future?
Well I started off with poetry and for years that helped me access my emotional side, and created a lot of the tropes in my writing that still come out today. Eventually I moved into short story and stayed there for quite sometime, but I have found that I’m expressing and applying myself most in my novels.
Do you care to elaborate on some of the tropes that you feel come through in your writing?
Yeah, babies, children, and birth have always been big for me, strange I don’t have any kids and don’t necessarily plan on having any, but it's certainly something I see come up over and over again. And not focusing on the more joyful aspects of parenting but the darker elements, It’s just really interesting to me how your core changes once you have kids. So it’s not really about the child as much as the transformation in parenthood.
Death: I’m fascinated with death in all forms, usually the process of dying specifically, but also the spiritual aspects as well. So in the series I’m working on now The Blood Zodiacit’s a lot more geared towards kind of a mass audience and entertaining fiction. And so I’m focusing more on the grizzly action of murder, but my plan is in the future to have novels that focus more on the spiritual aspect and what might be happening after you pass that veil.
Sexuality is massive in my writing. I like to play with the spectrum, what people fawn on, the grey area of people's gender identities and sexuality in general.
And violence, yeah.. lots of violence.
What is (if any) the basis in reality for these themes, and how did they personally become an interest?
I like the fringe. I like taking social norms and what’s typically acceptable and playing with it. I’ve always been the type that wants to put the uncomfortable questions or uncomfortable scenarios in front of people’s faces. Kind of get a reaction out of it; although I don’t think I do that to be intentionally controversial because I don’t feel like I push the bounds too much. I just like to play with people's traditional sense of reality and what's considered acceptable. That personally came about for me while searching all of those lines for myself. I had a very close friend die when I was about fifteen. It was a very sudden and violent death for my friend and that stuck with me. That started coloring what I was producing even at that age. Then my spirituality always has me playing on reality and approaching consciousness in different forms and what that means for my characters.
Do you want to discuss your spirituality a bit with us?
I was interested in the occult since probably Junior High and that came out in Wicca dabbling with the magical realm and changed over to chaos magic. I was also very influenced by Grant Morrison's work but I knew that none of it was quite the right fit for me. About six years ago I had the opportunity to undergo a shamanic practitioners initiation. So for about 16 months I did intensive experiential studying of shamanic practices, kind of a universal shamanism with preference to Teutonic and Nordic based practices (for which I felt a genetic pull), and that is definitely part of my path and it does come out quite a bit in my work. Telling myself to walk that path has also allowed me a channeling aspect in my writing.
You’ve mentioned to me before that with your writing you sometimes feel like you're channeling another voice or other entity through you, do you care to elaborate?
Yeah, so my first novel, Chemicals was very much me. That was prompted by a lot of personal events going on in my life and that was me exorcising those demons via the work. When I started work on The Blood Zodiac, my twelve book series, I knew there was a difference. I felt the difference. I felt I was doing that channeling. I think I was writing on behalf of entities that don't have fingers to write with. I feel every once in awhile -well, not every once in awhile- but frequently, I feel goaded into writing what I write not for my own interest but for some greater purpose. I don’t want to completely put a spiritual veil on it, but I do feel beholden to other entities and my shaman work comes into that.
What were your sixteen months of Shamanic study like for you?
It was an intensive small group of women; actually kind of a women-only initiation. We learned how to journey and access these other realms that have been a part of humanity's spiritual heritage for as long as we've been around, but have been for the most part lost to those of European descent, due in large part to the witch burnings through the middle ages, so we were kind of denied that heritage. We would meet one or two times a week for a few hours at a time, and our teacher would lead us through how you go about shifting consciousness, how you use tools here in this realm to aid you in your journey. They would also lead us through the aspect of crafting in shamanic work, and the aspects of service that you provide in a community when you do walk that path. It’s not for you it’s for everyone else.
Has it been hard for you to be honest about your spiritual endeavors?
Yeah it’s always been difficult, I really don’t get into my spiritual practice unless people really specifically ask me because it’s just one of those things that’s easier not to talk about. Even though people aren’t being hung or burnt for it anymore it’s still not looked at kindly in a lot of circles. I feel like what my parents supplied me with was a fertile ground for whatever I felt inclined to look into. In my education I’ve always applied rationalities to my spiritual practice. Everything needs to be experiential; I don’t take anything via dogma. That’s why I’ve steered clear of organized religion for the most part; I don’t operate on the same sense of faith. I want to experience something and see if it can be reproduced. That's why certain magical practices and shamanism is attractive to me because it is reproducible. I can estimate what a result will be and usually get on point with that result.
How do your spiritual practices play into your new series The Blood Zodiac?
That series I first thought of in a dream. It was very powerful and vivid; I saw a woman on an operating gurney in a morgue. She had severe head trauma. They were about to do an autopsy on her and I was standing in the operating theater and staring at her and I asked out loud why was she killed. I was told that it was because of her zodiac sign and when she was born. That was it but it stuck with me for over a year before I allowed that to sort of flesh itself out, and it progressed into The Blood Zodiac series where I wanted to tell the tale of these characters that are very dependant and controlled by theses outside, paranormal, and misunderstood forces. Another big theme in my writing Is our notion that we're controlling our decisions, when I'm not so sure that free will is a thing at all. One of my degrees in college was in Philosophy so I’ve gotten really into free-will and predestination in my writing as well. Over the course of these twelve books my two main characters start out thinking they’re creating new identities for themselves and we see by the end of the series what that exactly means, and how much control they’ve ever really had.
So the Blood Zodiac all takes place in Boise, Idaho with some locally famous establishments or landmarks incorporated into each book in the series, such as The Torch Lounge (a long standing gentlemen's club in the area). How did you decide to set the series there and is there intentional purpose in setting the series in Boise?
I Keep it in Boise because I knew the setting was very important to the antagonist of the series, I wanted to be familiar in the city I set it in. I didn't want to make a fictitious setting. I wanted it to be a series that a reader from Boise could pick up and think, “I know that place, I know what she's visually referring to even though she changed the name of it” and I think that’s just another fun layer to add to the story. A lot of the settings that are written into the books some way represent some of the elements or the associated aspects of the zodiac cycles. For instance in the first book The Torch Lounge became the inspiration for the strip club “Blaze Lounge” where there is the sexual aspect of that place, but more so the representation of the fire element is why i chose it. Fire is the element associated with the zodiac sign Aries. As you go through the series you see locations like The Old Idaho Penitentiary, Lucky Peak Reservoir, stretches of downtown and several more that set the tone throughout the books.
Do the Astrological elements of the novel have a personal connection to you?
So that's the strange part because first I have that dream showing me that woman who fascinated me but I’ve never been into Astrology. I was never one to really care what signs supposedly meant for your personality, but this ties into that aspect that I feel like I’m channeling or doing work for other entities. It doesn't feel like I am directing this process. Now I know a great amount about Astrology because it’s huge thematically in these books and I care about it more now and try to engage people on their signs but even now it still doesn't feel like me. I actually had a horoscope chart done by a professional astrologer and friend. It was fairly spooky how on point that chart was with things personal to my past and present, and things going on currently in my life. It was very specific about, for instance, when I would start or end a project, or past events being close to the actual date they occurred.
How intricately do you go into astrology in the series?
I don’t go into rising signs or anything in that facet but I do use the colors, stones, the houses, and placement of the stars. My antagonist is very interested in utilizing ritual to access a different kind of self, that's her main motivation. She takes the elements of each sign that she adhered to and weaves them into this cat-and-mouse violent, sexual, ritual magic. Like the house associated with Aries is the house of Identity, which comes into play with the flashbacks that you read in the first book; they all relate to the protagonist and antagonist sense of character. Those details inform the plots of each book. If you do approach the books without having some knowledge of astrology, Peach (the antagonist) does come off as chaotic free-willing being that does these bizarre actions.
When I was reading the first two chapters of The Blood Zodiac: Ram I felt the line between good or evil was blurred, is that purposeful?
That’s awesome yes. That was very much intended. As much as light and dark does play into writing, I don’t like taking a firm stance on where people actually land on the spectrum. I focus on the grey, it about building characters that are human, and full of faults. Riley (the protagonist) isn’t likable. He’s dirty. I wanted him to be prone to addictive behaviors, womanizer -borderline misogynist- he’s always trying to shirk his financial and career responsibilities for the easier path. Riley is the douche-bag of the world. But in the first chapter you see him have an accident, and you can still relate and understand that he can suffer and be wounded physically. How he interprets those pains progresses throughout the series, the wound itself has implications well into book twelve. As for Peach who is technically “the bad person” in these books, I wanted the character to be female. I think women are underrepresented in the villain world. It's usually men with their bravado and mustaches and whatever. I feel there's a lot with female villains to be intriguing and I didn't want her over sexualized either, she's for the most part actually what you would consider a good person, at least in her day-to-day actions. Her profession is a counselor; she cares about the people close to her even though there are only a handful of them, loves animals, and is always trying to do better for herself. How she goes about that, however, is not socially acceptable. I think Peach being a villain with one major flaw, and Riley being unlikable with many flaws, but none taken to the same level that peach takes her to, adds to the layering of a realistic experience.
H.P. Lovecraft’s process involved finding universal guidance in the dream-state; do you see any correlations with that idea in your own process?
Yeah as much as I think that Peach and Riley are these entities that exist in their own right and I just displaying them to the world in a written form, I do see both of them within me as well. People say crying gets the sad out, for me writing gets the dark out. It's always been how I am because, those who know me well, know I’m a very light person, but I think I can display that in my day to day life because I have this outlet for the dark aspect of my personality. Peach does some very violent and destructive things - I have that within me. I do feel, in terms of the Lovecraft correlations, like I’m tapping into this mythos, and I know he experienced that as well, but writers after him kept that mythos alive for generations to come. I wonder if I’m just a link expanding on this particular mythology or if other people might expand on what I started here. The first book we have a bit more myopic view of Riley and Peach, it’s really tight to their worlds and identities at the time. But as the series goes on it expands on the forces that are coming into play in their life, like mythos from Mediterranean areas, Greek, Rome, and Egypt are huge elements in the series. I do feel like I’m bringing a part of those pantheons back into existence and not in like a Percy Jackson and the Olympians way where it has more of that commercial veneer. Granted I’d love to see this series reach a mass audience because I think a mass audience would enjoy it, but I think there will always be a subset that will get a lot more out of it and see what I’m actually doing.
What is your ultimate goal as a writer?
First and foremost I want to entertain people, I know that sounds a little trite but I love high concept plotting, and I love, personally, to be entertained. I respect the craft of writing and I want to sit down with a great piece of literature (short story, novel, poetry) and really get into the diction and imagery. I think that's a very different thing then how the bulk the of world processes stories. I like to have a fair balance with my more literary work, and I’d like to tap into an audience that enjoys the craft, but with my novels right now I want them to be scared, I want them to be turned on, I want them to question what's going on in these books and maybe even their own realities. It’s fun for me to burrow into readers minds and playing with stories. I’m putting my work out there to influence others, that's the end goal. I think.
July 11, 2016