ASW: Thank you so much, Brian and Jordan, for visiting with me today about your new anthology that you edited, Southern Gothic: New Tales of the South. Would you provide us with your definition of “Southern Gothic” and an overview of this wonderful anthology?
B: This was something we actually talked in depth about over the course of the open call and well into the publication process.
J: Oh yes! We talked about that a lot. So much so that at one point we both sort of scratched our heads and asked ourselves, “Why did we chose this as the genre for our first anthology?! We don’t even know what the hell Southern Gothic is anymore!”
B: (Laughs) It’s true! “Southern Gothic” as a genre encompasses so many things and that makes it hard to grasp. We wanted to make sure that the elements at the heart of this traditional literary genre were all present yet reflected contemporary issues. I mean, we do emphasize the “new” in “New Tales of the South.” What we wanted to represent was a slice of Southern Gothic today though we admit we weren’t quite sure what that was at first. So we asked our contributors what Southern Gothic meant to them because it’s clear, if you read the stories themselves, each person has a slightly different take.
J: We saw that with the art submissions too. A lot of people hear “Southern Gothic” and they think of cemeteries and horror and stuff like that. Yes, those things can be part of Southern Gothic. But that’s a very simplistic understanding of the genre. For me, personally, I am more interested in the magically real, as well as the “everyday gothic” that you find all over the place in the south. You don’t have to delve into tales of cemeteries or horror to uncover the south’s dark side!
B: NLSP was conceived on the idea that words and art should and could coexist. We treat them equally. One is not more important than the other.
J: Our combined interests and talents in both the literary and visual worlds made for a perfect match to focus on this ideology.
B: So when we opened the call for both writing and art we were not sure where that road would lead us. Our first book I Voted Biddy for Biddy Schumacher: Mismatched Tales from the mind of Brian Centrone was collaboration between the both of us. We took my stories with photography by luke kurtis [Jordan M. Scoggins’s artist name].
J: I guess we were creating the aesthetic we wanted for our press with that title, and in many ways it was a controlled experiment: One writer, one artist. We knew what the three stories in that collection were going to be and we chose/created the images to work alongside those stories.
B: But when the time came to do Southern Gothic, we had no idea what we were going to be working with or how the art and the writing would work together.
J: And then that magical submission from Nathan Mark Phillips came in! I saw it first and was just sort of stunned at how perfectly his submission, titled “The Arrival,” fit what we were doing.
B: Yes, and when you showed it to me, I immediately thought it was a fit for Hardy Jones’ “Visitin’ Cormierville.”
J: It really was. It was like Nathan had already read Hardy’s story. But, of course, that wasn’t the case.
B: It was a bit of that magical realism!
J: (Laughs) That’s right! And of course it got us wondering, would Nathan be up for the challenge of creating original art for each story and poem?
B: Lucky for us, he was!
J: Yes. That visual consistency and level of detail really takes the book up several notches. We really like the approach and plan to do that going forward with our future anthology projects.
ASW: These fifteen poems and stories reflect a diverse range of Southern experience. The stories “Them Riders” by Eryk Pruitt and “The Phrenologist” by Shane K. Bernard explore racial tensions. Like bookends, “Them Riders” is the first story, and the last story is “The Phrenologist.” What caused you to place these stories of race first and last, and what statement are you making, if any, as editors with this sequence?
B: Sequencing an anthology is not an easy task. It was actually our line editor, Casey Ellis, who selected where each piece should go, and he did a tremendous job of it.
J: So much of the South’s identity has been shaped by issues of race.
B: Right. And I think if we’re trying to make a statement, that’s what it is.
J: Also, because “The Phrenologist” is the most historical of all the stories, it’s kind of like a final nod to the past amongst all the “newness” represented by the rest of the book.
ASW: Other stories in the collection address post-Katrina New Orleans as evidenced by Rose Yndigoyen’s “Long Gone Girls,” and all of the poems, stories poke at the heart of Southern distinctiveness. From Mark Pritchard’s exploration of fundamentalist Christianity in “Instrument” to Hardy Jones’ meditation of “family roots and home” as explored in “Vistin’ Cormierville,” you really cover the gamut of Southern themes. What else would you like SLR readers to know about this anthology?
B: I think what we would like SLR readers to know about this anthology, and I am sure Jordan will agree here, is that this collection represents the best writers and artists working in the genre today. Southern Gothic, as a genre, is almost always thought about in connection with the modernist era with figures like Flannery O’Connor, William Faulkner, Harper Lee, and Tennessee Williams.
J: Yes. And what we ultimately wanted readers to realize was that Southern Gothic did not die with those authors. It has evolved, like all genres of literature, and for us, Southern Gothic: New Tales of the South is proof of that.
B: It is definitely what’s going on in the genre today, and it couldn’t be more exciting. The diversity and talent of our contributors is inspiring.
ASW: Anything you want to share with readers about yourselves as artists, writers, and editors? I have a feeling you are not done chronicling the literary South, and readers will want to become familiar with your names.
B: In terms of NLSP, we are getting ready to release our second anthology, Behind the Yellow Wallpaper: New Tales of Madness, edited by Rose Yndigoyen (one of our Southern Gothic contributors) and featuring original art by Loreal Prystaj. It’s an incredible collection, inspired, of course, by the classic Charlotte Perkins Gilman short story, and, interestingly enough, by a submission we received for Southern Gothic. The story was “Last Caress” by Leah Chaffins and we loved it as a standalone piece but it didn’t quite fit the southern theme the way we wanted. But when I read it, it gave some structure to a sort of nebulous idea I had floating around in my head for another project.
J: Brian and I were together on a NLSP retreat when we read that story. I could see the gears turning as he mulled over his thoughts. I knew he was about to come up with some grand idea. And then he said it: “Behind the Yellow Wallpaper! I think this is our next anthology!” I immediately thought it was a brilliant idea.
B: We contacted Leah right away and told her how much we loved “Last Caress” and how we wanted to reserve it for an upcoming anthology she had helped to inspire. Not only was she thrilled, but gracious enough to let us hold on to the story for almost half a year while we firmed up the details for Behind the Yellow Wallpaper. What we didn’t know at the time was that Leah was a writing student of Hardy Jones’. Talk about keeping it in the family!
(They both laugh)
J: But seriously, that’s how it came about. Behind the Yellow Wallpaper really is the sequel, if you will, to Southern Gothic. We’ve christened the series the NEW series, because each anthology will take a genre or topic and let writers loose to explore it in a contemporary way.
B: And even though Behind the Yellow Wallpaper is not Southern-themed overall, there is one southern story in it, “An Obedient Girl” by Amy Bridges. I remember when Jordan read that story he messaged me, “We could have included this in Southern Gothic!” Because it really did fit. So there’s that element of connection between the two books, which is a nice way to bridge two different worlds.
ASW: What are some forthcoming projects we can look forward to from the both of you?
B: We’re developing some more anthology ideas for the NEW series, and that includes looking for artists and editors who want to work with us. So if you’re interested, give us a holler! We’ve got some unique titles planned. We also want to publish more single-author titles. In fact, tell Amy about your book, Jordan!
J: Well, we’re planning to publish my debut novella, which is written under my artist name, luke kurtis. We’re looking to 2015 for that one. It’s a southern story for sure and definitely a slice of the south you’ll want to read about. And as diverse as our representation of the south is in Southern Gothic, I think this novella goes places that book never did.
B: Yes, I’m working with Jordan to bring all of that together. All I can say is that his unique experience of being a southern expatriate allows him to mine some interesting territory!
J: But we can’t tell you anything else about it yet! Top secret!
ASW: Thank you so much Brian, Jordan. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed chatting with you about your wonderful, thoroughly satisfying anthology, which in my mind, floats around like a big stew of “Gothic Southern,” nourishing my brain for many days and weeks ahead, I am sure. It is my hope that all SLR readers check out this wonderful and much needed anthology.