Persona Cracked is a series that explores the intersection of artists, their work, and social media. My next guest, Lucy Leitner, is author of three novels and writer of transgressive fiction whose work contains strong elements of horror and satire. Her latest book, Bad Vibrations, is set for release October 19th and has the subtitle: Yoga, Sex, Blood. Lucy works in advertising and lives in Pittsburgh with her boyfriend and punk-rock drummer/vocalist, Benj.
What is transgressive fiction and how do you think your work typifies or pushes this label?
To me, it’s work that challenges norms and pushes boundaries — both of cultural conventions and the medium. I like to blend genres and experiment with form while also challenging the way people may think about a topic using horror and pretty dark humor.
Some have been broadly applying the term to anything taboo, gross-out, shock value books, etc., but that’s not how I think of it. To me, comedians like George Carlin and Bill Hicks and musicians like John Lydon, Mike Patton, and Amanda Palmer are transgressive. Think of a song like “Missed Me” by the Dresden Dolls. If you don’t know it, go stream it somewhere. To me, the form and the content are the definition of transgressive.
Most of the art I love — from music to movies to literature — blurs boundaries in some way. How do you define the music of Sturgill Simpson? Psychedelic country? You can’t define it because as soon as you put a label on it, he goes and records some distorted rock album with Japanese influences. In literature, it’s why I love what Max Brooks and Paul Tremblay are doing as well as early Chuck Palahniuk books (pre-Haunted). They are tough to categorize. Hunter Thompson’s Gonzo journalism inspired me to become a writer 20 years ago. If there was anyone that played with the medium, it was him.
For me, stand-up comedy and music are just as great, if not greater, influences on my writing than other authors.
After publishing Working Stiffs, you spent 10 years writing and revising before releasing your follow-up novel, Outrage: Level 10. Why did it take that long, and what else were you doing during that time?
I’d step away from Outrage for years at a time. I wrote the first draft in 2013, revised in 2015 then again in 2017. I wasn’t happy with it but didn’t know why. Finally, in 2019, I sent it to Dave Barnett at Necro, who published my first book. He sent some insightful feedback that was exactly what I needed to be satisfied with the book, and what he needed to publish it in 2021.
During that time, I also wrote another novel, which will be the first in a series of three about a unique punk rock private investigator. I also co-authored a book with my dad, which we will be releasing soon.
I was getting my career outside of horror writing on track as well. Prior to Working Stiffs, I had a hard time securing reliable employment as a writer. It was partially due to the dearth of jobs during the Recession as well as my lack of experience out of college. Oddly, being the copywriter candidate with the funny zombies-in-the-office book made me memorable to the hiring managers. I finally got a chance and it’s been — mostly — up from there.
Since the publication of Outrage: Level 10, you have been making a name for yourself within the horror community. Your work has been featured on Godless Horrors, and your new publisher, Blood Bound Books, is set to release your latest work, Bad Vibrations, which took you less than a year to write and set loose upon the world. What is inspiring this burst of creative output?
I actually started Bad Vibrations in 2020. The idea of a horror story set on a wellness cult compound came to me in a conversation with one of the guys at the gym where I coached in February of that year. I formed the plot enough in my head to start writing the first draft by hand right when the pandemic hit.
I think I’ve finally found my little niche in horror. I’ve been inspired by many observations and have felt much more comfortable experimenting recently. It’s also been helpful working with Blood Bound as S.C. Mendes and I have a great collaboration going and I know when I complete my stories, they will have a good home.
Your stories often experiment with form as much as content. I’m thinking in particular about your Instagram-Live presentation of “Get Me Out of This Shimmering Oasis,” and the multi-media mimicry employed in “Puritea,” both of which I enjoyed immensely. Is there anything unexpected we should expect with Bad Vibrations?
Not to the extent of either of the two titles you referenced, but there is a bit of experimentation with story structure in Bad Vibrations. There’s also a character in the book included solely as a challenge to myself to write without using any pronouns.
Writing is one thing, marketing is another. You’ve pioneered experiments with social media to make you and your work known. The bio you provided on Facebook last year was a hoot. You co-host a podcast, Horror Business, with S.C. Mendes, and you turned yourself into a popular voice for all-things horror on TikTok. Finally, your story, “They Say The Sky Is Full Of Snakewolves,” part of the Blood Bank Charity anthology, has been adapted into an audio narrative that is available on YouTube. What has your recent writing-related business taught you about the business of writing?
There are certain things that will always limit me in the writing business. The big one is prioritization. Publishing at the rapid-fire pace of some other authors will just never happen for me. Hitting the gym 4–5 days a week is more important to me. Balance in my life is more important. Baking with my parents over FaceTime every Sunday, spending time with Benj and my friends in Pittsburgh, watching horror shows over Messenger with my sister and my friend Jake every Thursday night — these are also more important than achieving great success as a horror author.
So, I prioritize my marketing efforts. For social media, most of my focus is TikTok because there is a massive community there that is interested in indie horror books and is easier to reach. The Snakewolves reading on YouTube was a major opportunity facilitated by Drew Stepek from Godless, so I took it. For me, in writing and marketing, it’s about doing less, but doing it better.
In addition to writing, you like to cook, exercise, and paint. What do these pursuits do for you that writing does not.
Those activities are more fun. I love writing, but publishing is usually more stressful than it is rewarding. It’s volatile and your success is not always dictated by the quality of the book you put out there. So many factors determine the fate of your book.
The things you mentioned are under my control.
Training CrossFit is extremely fulfilling. For one, it’s like meditation. For an hour every day, I can go somewhere and challenge myself physically alongside some of the coolest people I know and totally escape everything else going on. And it’s better than meditation because I’m getting stronger or learning a new skill (which is as good for long-term cognitive health as it is the body), not just sitting.
Art I do just for fun. I’ve been painting and drawing my entire life and I was an art major in college. I only sit down to paint now if I have an idea that is forcing me to pick up the brush. That’s actually the same thing with fiction writing. It’s why you’ll never hear me complain about writer’s block or a lack of ideas. If I’m inspired, I’ll write or paint. If not, I’ll go to the gym or read or something.
What are you looking forward to in the near future, besides publication of Bad Vibrations?
Halloween! I’m visiting a Halloween-obsessed friend in Philly to kick off October. On the 5th, I’m releasing an experimental short story Xorcize.Me on Godless. Then I have tickets to the Electric Six (another transgressive band)/Supersuckers show back in Pittsburgh, followed by Evil Dead: The Musical two days later. My also Halloween-obsessed little sister is visiting right before Bad Vibrations is released, so my October is filling up fast. Soon after, I’ll be looking forward to seeing my family on Thanksgiving.
Thank you for sharing your story!
Ryan Hyatt, September 28, 2022
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