One of the most fun books I read last year was the bizarro Sword and Sorcery epic, DUNGEONS AND DRAG QUEENS. I appear alongside the author, MP Johnson, in the Fall 2014 Issue of Blight Digest, and got to meet him at Bizarro Con this past November. I’m thrilled to have him featured on my blog this week for an interview, where we discuss the book, drag, bizarro, punk, and upcoming projects.
LM: Tell us about your latest release, DUNGEONS AND DRAG QUEENS.
MP: It’s an epic fantasy book. Except, instead of having a boring, shirtless muscle dude wielding the sword, this book has a badass drag queen taking on dragons and other creatures. Oh, the things she has to do to keep her makeup right and tight!
LM: Based on our conversations at this past year’s Bizarro Con, I gathered that the novel had a lot of your passions in one place. What were some of your primary influences during the writing of DUNGEONS AND DRAG QUEENS?
MP: First, I love the whole sword and sorcery genre. I lean toward the gritty, blood-soaked books of Robert E. Howard, rather than the magical elf shit though.
Second, I love drag queens. I love the art of drag. I love that drag represents a subversion of the gender concepts that so many people hold dear, concepts that are complete bullshit. One aspect that’s really exciting to me is that most queens don’t come into this art with a political agenda. It’s like, “Oh hey, I’m going to make this fabulous dress and do the fiercest makeup and dance my fucking heart out and, oh yeah, I guess if I totally destroy your concept of what makes a man a man and a woman a woman that’s pretty cool too.”
I didn’t go into the writing process with any overt influences in mind, but I think a bit of Conan slipped in, and I’ve always got Troma and John Waters on my brain, and I was listening to Sharon Needles a lot.
LM: You’ve spent a lot of time writing and publishing short stories. Do you prefer writing longer or shorter pieces?
MP: My preference is to make sure I never get bored. That means mixing everything up. I’ll work on a longer piece. Then I’ll set it aside and work on a short story or some flash fiction.
That being said, I’m putting more of an emphasis on books lately, because it’s a bit more fulfilling on the publication side of things. Markets for my type of short stories are rare. If a story does get published, a few people will read it and then it will more or less disappear.
There are so many more markets for my books than for my short stories, so I feel like my luck with books has been better. If all goes according to plan, I’ll have three new books out this year. That’s a lot more fulfilling than short stories, because I can take those books and have release parties and sell them at readings and sell them at tables at conventions. Books give me more of an opportunity to bring my writing out into the real world.
LM: Where can we find some of those short stories?
MP: Check out the bibliography section of my website, freaktension.com. It contains a constantly updated list, which is currently 50 strong. I recommend starting with “The Songwriter’s Fingers” at Revolver, which I consider one of my best pieces, and a quick read too.
LM: As a reader, do you prefer one length over the other?
MP: I tend to go back and forth between everything. I’m trying to work more poetry into my reading routine, but that’s not going very well.
LM: What’s a favorite passage from DUNGEONS AND DRAG QUEENS you would like to share here?
MP: How about just one word: “Slopulating.”
LM: DUNGEONS AND DRAG QUEENS was definitely one of the most fun books I read last year. I understand it’s the first of a series? When does the next entry come out?
MP: I’ve been telling people it’s the first in a series, but it’s not really. I’m going to continue to write books featuring drag queens as protagonists. Characters may pop up in multiple books, but ultimately each book will stand alone. The next drag queen book is tentatively titled Drag Queen Dino Dance-Off and is tentatively scheduled for October release from Eraserhead Press.
LM: I read somewhere that you do readings at punk shows. What’s the response been like? Do you sign books at these shows as well?
MP: Generally speaking, my MO is that I will do readings whenever and wherever. Just ask. I’ll do a reading in your bathroom if you can cram five people in there to listen to me.
I grew up in the punk scene. I’m familiar with that crowd, and to some extent, that crowd is familiar with me. The first writing that I put out to the public was in my zine, Freak Tension. It was filled with spiteful music reviews, awkward band interviews and fucked up fiction. I used to give copies away at shows and people loved it.
Anyway, I’m friends with a lot of people in bands. Once in a while, someone will ask me to read between sets at a show, and I’ll say yes. The response has been really good. I’ve been to shows where people have done poetry or political spoken word between bands, and that often sends people running to the door. But I do fucked up comedy stories about people summoning demons with vagina mouths. Punks dig it. I’m practicing my hand-eye coordination though, because someday I’m going to get a bottle thrown at me. It’s inevitable.
When I do readings at shows, I’ll usually stake out a spot at the merch table. I’ll sell a handful of books and sign them if people want. I think punks want to read more, but have trouble finding stuff that fits their aesthetics. I’m trying to get bizarro fiction into their hands.
LM: What’s a fun fact about yourself you would like readers to know?
MP: I recently beat a guy up at a bar because he tried to steal my pretzel.
For more info, check out MP Johnson’s site: https://freaktension.wordpress.com/