I had the great opportunity to pick the brain of Portland-based writer Charles Austin Muir, author of the short story collections Bodybuilding Spider Rangers and This is a Horror Book.
Click here for my review of This is a Horror Book
ZÉ BURNS: When did you start writing?
CHARLES MUIR: I started writing when I was a kid. I wrote a fantasy trilogy that totally ripped off Tolkien. I wrote it in longhand on loose-leaf paper in binders compact enough to fit in your pocket. I also wrote a Star Trek-inspired novel with my stuffed animals as the main characters. I bound it in grocery sack paper and made my own cover art.
ZB: Who are your influences?
CM: Robert E. Howard was a big influence when I was a kid. In high school I went through phases of Arthur Rimbaud, Norman Mailer, Stephen King and Joseph Heller. In my early college years I got into Jean-Paul Sartre and Antonin Artaud. In my late college years I became obsessed first with William Gibson and second with Samuel Delany. Off and on after I started getting published, I found myself influenced by John Shirley, Thomas Ligotti and Edward Lee. More recently I’ve really been influenced by writers in the bizarro community. At one point a co-worker pointed out to me I wasn’t reading any women writers and she was absolutely right. I think Shirley Jackson, Angela Carter, Patricia Highsmith and Daphne Du Maurier are amazing.
ZB: What are you reading now?
CM: Zombie Punks Fuck Off edited by Sam Richard, Nightmares in Ecstasy by Brendan Vidito, Notes on the Propagation of Angels by Mark Zirbel and Long Live Crazy by Christopher Lesko.
ZB: What keeps you writing?
CM: Haha. I have no idea. I guess a love of language. Wanting to produce effects similar to what I love in a well-told story.
ZB: In the story “Chaos Magick for Scumbags,” the main character goes from small presses to mainstream horror. Is this an aspiration of yours?
CM: No. At least I can’t picture it. I do want to write a straightforward horror novel, though. I don’t really know what my aspirations are anymore.
ZB: Movie references are prevalent in your writing. How important is film to you? Or are these more nostalgic references?
CM: There is definitely a nostalgic element to the movie references. I would even say more grief than nostalgia—a lot of these movies or TV shows were part of my life when so many of my loved ones were still alive and I think I’m hanging on to them in a weird way through the references. But also, at least in my small circle of friends, movie references are part of how we describe the world. They’re a way to bond, understand each other quickly and pick out the tropes and clichés that sweep us up in the real world.
ZB: Charlize Theron makes multiple appearances in This is a Horror Book. Do you ever wonder what she would think if she read it?
CM: Oh, man. I hope she would get a laugh out of it. It’s all in the context of parodying bros, but Theron—particularly in her Furiosa character—embodies the archetype of the goddess for me. Strong, self-reliant, taking care of business and ready to rebuild what men have destroyed.
ZB: What can we expect to see next from you?
CM: I’m developing a novel right now. It’s still in its early stages, but it will center around a bodybuilding cult and it will ooze with body horror. Originally I was going to write a novella called CrossFit Shit Storm, but Christoph Paul (co-publisher of CLASH Books) talked me into taking the idea in a different direction.
Thank you to Charles Muir for his time. You check out his books here: