Thursday, June 26, 2008

DEEP INSIDE Polly Frost

Hey, are you a reader of TDSH who is under 18? Well, come back in a few days and check out the latest entry then. This post right here ain't for you, okay? Adults only please. (Kids, don't bother scrollin' down, because there ain't any naughty pictures. Just text for "mature readers.")

This is writer Polly Frost. Don't be fooled by the Serious Author look in this pose. She is the mad creator of "Deep Inside," a book of stories that will make your eyes bulge, your jaw drop, and your fingers rapidly turn pages. "Deep Inside" is a collection of stories of erotic horror-- many with a sharp comic edge-- and it is simply the best of its kind. Much of it has the added element of deftly done satire. Not only are some of the tropes of erotic horror and sci-fi sent up, but modern social conventions and personality types that need skewering are also Swiftly dispatched. (Well, Swift crossed with DeSade.)

I'm not a big fan of this particular subgenre, usually. But-- but, but, butt-- Ms. Frost's stories are not just the porno pieces with bloodletting or monsters that are banged out (pun intended) by other writers. No-- these are imaginative, disturbing, and FUNNY tales of pervy sex, spiced with supernatural or sci-fi elements, and complicated by the psychological hangups of her memorable characters.

Crashing into social mores in these stories are a dithering dominatrix, a lesbian couple with a magical dildo, piercing addicts, alluring tentacled aliens who bring the curse of blissful-but-addicting orgasms, Viagra mainliners, and the people of a future where all sex is sensational, though everyone has forgotten how to do it simply and directly.

The narrative drive of the stories in this book is revved up, and carries the vivid cast along in an anxiety-provoking but thrilling way. The prose isn't always buffed to a perfect shine, but this ain't Jane Austen, anyway. When Ms. Frost grabs you by the lapels in this book, you won't want to look at her nail polish anyway-- and how could you, when she's shaking you?!
But before you leave this page, read the conversation below I had with Ms. Frost, conducted by e-mail and by phone. She is a charmer! You'll be titillated, stimulated and gratified...

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Max TDSH: In an interview at Dark Party Review, you describe yourself as a "satirist". That is exactly the word that came to mind to describe you when I read "Deep Inside".

In "The Orifice" you seem to satirize the piercing trend, as a young couple who are the focus of the story get pierced in more and odder places and ultimately lose their identities, in a manner of speaking. Was this deliberate -- do you feel people are running away from knowing themselves, or were you sending up the piercing fad by taking it to the farthest extremes imaginable?

Polly Frost: Thank you for noticing that in the story! Sure, you’re absolutely right, I was having some fun with a contemporary trend.

I find piercing is a sexy body art form. I believe that body modification is a way of taking control of your own physical identity -- and I’m all for that. At the same time, I agree with you: I think that if you assert your identity too much, you can run the risk of losing it altogether.

Quite apart from the satirical side of that story, I also wanted to pay homage to some of my favorite Japanese tentacle sex anime! I’m a huge fan of Hideki Takayama’s “Legend of the Overfiend.” Imagine getting boffed by one those creatures!

Max TDSH: In "The Dominatrix Has a Career Crisis", you send up the self-esteem movement that began in the '70s, and educational norms that emphasize a positive self image over intellectual achievement.

Do you dislike those trends in modern America?

Polly Frost: People sometimes say that satirists are drawn to making fun of what they’re most attracted to, or guilty of. And that’s certainly true of me. In fact, if you’re satirizing stuff you don’t really care about, you’re probably writing poor satire.

I grew up in Southern California, and my education there was drenched in “self-esteem” bullshit. It has turned me into kind of a feeling-good-about-myself addict. I do a lot of self-esteem self-pumping during the average day. I’ll sit there and think that if I just felt better about myself, I’d do better work. Which, you know, is really silly.

Now that I’ve confessed to that, can I say that I hate the way that the self-esteem movement has shaped people’s ideas of how they can behave? The idea that people will do better if they just feel better about themselves is one of the oddest -- and most terrifying -- educational developments ever to come about, it seems to me.

I see no evidence that it helps people actually live more constructive lives. I do see plenty of evidence that it can lead to narcissistic and even sociopathic behavior.

The fact is, if you feel badly about something you did, maybe you should. It’s called a conscience, and it’s not a bad thing to have. There’s nothing inherently wrong with negative feedback or bad feelings. They’re just information, and sometimes what they’re telling you is really useful. Sometimes you really do need to adjust your behavior. This inability so many people have today to tolerate the occasional bad feeling is really striking, isn’t it? It’s also prime fodder for satire.

I do think that the self-esteem movement has made it hard for a lot of people raised that way to go out into the world. The world doesn’t care how you feel about yourself. The world isn’t always going to make you feel good about yourself. Parents who encourage this kind of “self-esteem” in their children are really just infantilizing them, making them eternally dependent on them. Maybe young people could do with a little less positive ego-stroking and a little more help learning how to tough it out when the going gets tough.

Max TDSH: How critical are you of yourself and your achievements?

Polly Frost: One of the things you have to learn as a writer is to see your own work pretty objectively.

All that said, self-criticism isn’t always the answer either. Self-criticism can be just one more way of focusing too much on yourself. We all know people who are disarmingly self-critical. Then, after an hour of listening to them go on about their faults, you wise up and realize it was a just a very good way of commanding your attention.

I think that artists have to walk a tricky line between being self-critical and being able to make an artistic choice and go with it. If you’re too self-critical, perhaps you’re masking a cowardice about putting your work out into the world.

My own solution to the dilemma -- what I try to live up to, anyway -- is to try to think less about myself and more about the characters in my fiction. It’s important to let them come to life and make their own choices. It’s a really wonderful feeling when it happens.

There’s nothing quite like the experience of entering into another character. My husband sometimes teases me, saying I’m 60 percent actress and 40 percent writer, and he may be right. I’m not one of those writers who loves endlessly fussing with words. I’m one of those writers who does everything she can to enter into her characters and bring them to life.

Max TDSH: Can you name some short stories that made an impact or are memorable for you? These are the writers whose stories have unnerved me: Ray Bradbury, Ramsey Campbell, Robert Chambers, Dennis Etchison, Fritz Lieber, Karl Edward Wagner. Oh, and Lovecraft, Bierce, and Charles L. Grant have also all left me with lasting chills.

Polly Frost: You’re listing a lot of my favorites. I would like to point out two short stories I recently reread. One is Patricia Highsmith’s “The Snail-Watcher.“ It’s creepy, it’s brilliant, and it’s in “Eleven,” a collection of amazing chilling stories. The other story that recently knocked me out was “The Tattooer” by Junichiro Tanizaki. It’s in a collection of his called “Seven Japanese Tales.” It’s a story of erotic obsession -- and body modification too. It’s sexy psychological horror that I think you might really like. Like Highsmith, Tanizaki is someone I think your readers would find fascinating. He was both literary and sensational -- he was influenced by both Oscar Wilde and Poe.

Max TDSH: Another question that comes to mind after reading your stories is-- would you become a member of the opposite sex for a week if you could? Me, as a former actor in a lot of community theater and a few semi-professional gigs (I once played Yorick in a production of "Hamlet") I have often wondered what if would be like to truly be someone else for a brief while, and switching genders is as far as one can go.

Polly Frost: What a fun question! I’ve never gotten that one before in an interview. Do I get to pick the man I’d be for a week? If so, I’d like to be a Japanese samurai in the Edo Period. Maybe I’ve just watched too many Toshiro Mifune and Tatsuya Nakadai movies, but the idea of swaggering through villages in a kimono with my hair in one of those amazing top knots, and then pulling out my swords to successfully battle dozens of opposing samurai, seems like a good way to be a guy for seven days. Hopefully, I wouldn’t disgrace myself and have to commit hara kiri by the end of the week.

Max TDSH: I know you're married. I'm curious, however, to know what kind of pick up line an erotic horror writer might use, or have used in the past?

Polly Frost: Funny you ask that, because one thing I love doing is writing pick up lines for fictional characters. I especially like giving them to actors to read. Because I think that in order to pull off pick up lines you really do have to be a good actor. It’s all in the performance. And while my husband may think I’m part actress, that part-actress in me is a very bad actress. Trust me about my acting talent. I know my own limitations.

For example, I’ve just been in a sound studio with 30 actors recording the audio play, “Sex Scenes” that my husband and I co-wrote. “Sex Scenes” is set in Hollywood, and it’s episodic, like a radio play, only with x-rated humor. It’s going to run a total of 14 hours and we’ll be releasing it this summer as an audio download.

At one point in “Sex Scenes” one of the young female characters (she’s an Eastern European hooker) uses the pick up line, “Hey, baby, wanna fucky fuck?” We gave it to a wonderful young actress and said, “Here, say this with a straight face.” Which she did! Not to mention a convincing Eastern European accent.

That’s what I love about actors. They do my pick up lines with such conviction. Me, however ... well, I couldn’t say any pick up line, let alone that one, without cracking up.

Max TDSH: While talking with you, you mentioned several film directors you like, all of whom tend to take their subjects seriously. But when I read "Playing Karen Devere", I thought of John Waters directing it. How do you react to his films? Or perhaps the Coen brothers would be a good match for a screenplay by you. (I'm not sure any of them would want to direct someone else's script though.)

Polly Frost: What a great idea to have John Waters direct that story! Waters’ approach to filming the bizarre gives his movies a sci fi or horror feel. And the Coen Brothers are incredible. Yeah, it’s too bad for me that those guys write their own stuff so well, because I’d love to see waht they’d do with that story!

Max TDSH: Does your upcoming film "The Fold" have any satirical or darkly comic elements in it? Tell us more about it. ["The Fold" can be seen here: http://pollyfrost.vodpod.com/ ]

Polly Frost: “The Fold” is a satire about sex and time travel. Need I say more? OK, there’s a cum blanket scene in it, a chastity belt exchange, tasteless jokes about people with Asperger’s Syndrome and a seventies hot tub porn homage.

My husband, Ray Sawhill, and I co-wrote it with the director, Matt Lambert. “The Fold” stars some of NYC’s best young actors, including Jake Thomas, Karen Grenke, Stephanie Sellars, Francesco Paladino and Josh Matthews. Plus we were incredibly lucky to have the award winning stage actor, Jeremy Lawrence, in it. It’s also got burlesque superstar Julie Atlas Muz in it -- she plays Joan of Arc.

It’s a web series, but unlike any web series you’ve seen!

That’s all thanks to the incredible talent of Matt Lambert. He’s like a cross between Takashi Miike and Trey Parker. Matt has this completely insane sense of humor, while somehow managing to also be completely sane at the same time. Everyone loves working with him. Even when it was freezing weather, he kept the actors and crew in good spirits on "The Fold". He’s so together at 27 it’d be only natural to hate him but that’s impossible -- he’s too much fun to work with.

We’re now working on a horror movie together that’s a satire. Kind of like “Juno” meets “Hostel.”

Max TDSH: Optional, nosy question: Can you relate a time when you made love--or had sex-- and were frightened, and why? (I don't mean the first time, when you might have been nervous, unless you were REALLY frightened.) I understand this is a question that might touch too deeply; and I don't want to seem insensitive. But you may be open to answering the question, and it might be fascinating to read your response, whether it be candidly sobering or humorous. But I don't expect an answer.

Polly Frost: I wish more interviewers would ask me questions like that. I just wish I could come up with a good answer for it. I’ve never had a really frightening moment with anyone during sex. Maybe it’s because I’m six feet tall. People are very respectful of you if you’re a six feet tall woman. If anything, it’s more like they look to me to be a scary dominatrix, or dungeon leader. After a recent reading I did, for instance, a very nice man in the audience came up to me shyly and told me he’d love it if I dominated him. He seemed very interested in being walked on by high heels. I had to turn him down, of course, but it was really very sweet. I was flattered he saw me that way.

Despite this, I’m drawn over and over again to the theme of fear and arousal. Come to think of it, maybe that’s why I return to the theme -- I like imagining what it would be to experience terror during sex.

You’ve opened up a whole new thing for me to think about!

In any case, I sure do like to create strong female characters who are driven to put themselves in risky situations. I love inhabiting those characters when I write.

I think that the best horror movies have that combination of eroticism and terror. It’s why I love Argento and Fulci, Polanski, Cronenberg and Jess Franco. It’s what drives me crazy about the current PG-13 plague on horror movies. But don’t get me started on that. Rant alert!

Max TDSH: Hmmm. I take it that something like "The Others" from 2001 was not your cuppa tea.

Polly Frost: I’m not just a gore junkie! I liked “The Others”! I love psychological horror, and when it’s done right, it’s as effective as any hardcore screen carnage. Roman Polanski’s “Rosemary’s Baby” remains one of the creepiest, best horror movies I’ve ever seen and it works on a psychological, not a gore level.

David Fincher’s “Se7en,” which I consider a horror masterpiece, is effective because of the gloomy urban atmosphere, non-stop tension, the psychological games playing and that brilliantly cruel twist at the end.

Still, I’m a girl who does enjoy splatter movies! Peter Jackson’s blood bash, “Dead Alive,” is about as blissful a horror movie watching experience as I can imagine.

Max TDSH: My wife and I watch horror movies together all the time. (I'm lucky that way.) She tends more to later and current films, where I tend to the classics. As a kid I watched horror and monster movies with my mother, and later with my older brother. So a fairly gore-less monster flick is fine with me, although I appreciate any film that frightens me. Are there any older horror, science fiction or fantasy films that appeal to you?

Polly Frost: I’ve watched -- make that studied -- the classic horror movies. I don’t think you can call yourself a true horror movie fan if you haven’t studied F. W. Murnau’s “Nosferatu,” or James Whale’s “Frankenstein.”

I’m also very fond of fifties and sixties horror and sci fi films. To name but a few of my favorite: Don Siegel’s “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” Hitchcock’s “Psycho” and “Vertigo,” “The Thing,” “The Fly.” And how can anyone not enjoy the Japanese horror and sci fi movies from the fifties? “Godzilla,” “Mothra” and “Monster Zero” -- those movies are profoundly silly. And I do have a weakness for Ed Wood’s films.

I’m not the first person to say this, but it’s absolutely true: the thing about horror movies is they need to be made with utter conviction. So even if they go wrong and become camp hootfests, they still endure. The only horror movies I have contempt for are the ones made by meek committees, trying not to really offend anyone while cashing in on the appeal of the genre.

Speaking of camp horror classics, I’m particularly fond of the Palm Springs weekend horror movie genre of the sixties. Have you ever seen the movie “Eegah!” directed by Arch Hall, Sr.? It stars Richard Kiel as a caveman who’s somehow been living unnoticed in the Palm Springs desert and becomes obsessed with the girlfriend of guitar strumming, dune buggy driving hero, played by the director’s son.

Max TDSH: Sometimes our past terrors set our later tastes. Anything odd or atypical thing that frightened you as a kid? (Santa, clowns, pets, etc.)

Polly Frost: Tsunamis used to frighten me, not that I ever experienced one. But I grew up not far from the Pacific and as I’d go to sleep I could hear the waves, and my imagination would take off as I fell asleep. But not just tsunamis. I was terrified of many off-the-wall things as a child, god knows. But I think the weirdest was the locker that my school assigned me one year in eighth grade. I don’t know why, but I couldn’t bring myself to open it. And I mean ever. During that whole year I never opened it once. I used to hide out when they’d have locker inspections so I wouldn’t have to confront it. I had no idea then why I was scared of it, and I still have no idea what I was thinking. But isn’t that the way irrational fears are?

Max TDSH: And do you have any horror film or weird memorabilia in your house? (Posters, autographs, stills, collectables, shrunken heads, etc. Us, we got all the above.)

Polly Frost: That’s so cool you do. Nah, unfortunately if you live in NYC, you gotta keep it simple. There just isn’t the space.

Max TDSH: Do you enjoy "dark rides" or "haunted house" attractions?

Polly Frost: I would love to go on a dark ride. I haven’t been on one for years! Got any suggestions? There’s nothing I like better than being scared. I’m always trying to get my husband to watch more horror DVDs with me, but he’s just not the horror junkie I am. I’m still working on him, though.

Max TDSH: Tell me a memorable Halloween experience.

Polly Frost: When I was a kid, my mother would dress up as a witch for Halloween. She’d have me dress up like a corpse, and together we’d make a coffin for me to rise from. That was our Halloween thing -- we’d scare the kids who came to our front door that way.

And I guess we were a pretty effective act. I remember one Halloween one of the fathers was trying to calm his kid and said to my mom, “Please take off your mask so my son can see it’s all make-believe.”

My mother laughed and explained that she wasn’t wearing a mask, she’d just been contorting her face. They were amazed -- they knew her as this beautiful woman. Me, I thought it was a wonderful moment. It made me realize the power of suggestion and atmosphere when it comes to horror. As an aside, I should say that my mom always had a lot of acting talent.

Max TDSH: As a drunken severed head, I have to ask you what your favorite drink is.

Polly Frost: My friends would all say that my drink of choice is pinot grigio because that’s what they usually see me drinking. I love to cook for friends, and you know how cooks are with white wine. “Where’d that bottle go? I just opened it.” And then you realize you drank the bottle while sautéing the chicken and there’s none left to pour into the mustard cream sauce. Can you be a Drunken Severed Head and drink pinot grigio? Please say you can!

But, as much as I love my white wine, I have to say that my really favorite drink is a margarita. I make my own at home following a recipe by Tyler Florence here:

http://www.foodnetwork.com/food/recipes/recipe/0,,FOOD_9936_25192,00.html.

Put me together with a margarita, some chips, and a bowl of homemade guacamole and I couldn’t be happier. Why anyone would eat store-bought guac when you can make it so easily is beyond me. Just mash avocados, lime juice, jalapenos, red onion, chopped garlic, cilantro and olive oil. There’s nothing better. Can you tell I’m a serious foodie? Now, can somebody please put a good gory horror movie in the DVD player?

Max TDSH: Now you're making me want to plop down in front of the tv with some serious snacks. But I've had a great time talking with you by phone and e-mail. Thanks for the wonderful, thoughtful and fun answers!

Polly Frost: Thank you for your wonderful questions!
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Ms. Frost has written for The New Yorker, the New York Times, Harper's Bazaar, and Elle.

3 comments:

Pierre Fournier said...

Excellent interview/conversation. Thanks for sharing this!

act3prods said...

Terrific interview: good questions prompt good answers. Well done, sirrah!
-- Ted Newsom

Max the drunken severed head said...

Pierre and Ted: Thank you! You make my day!

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