Christopher Zeischegg is a writer, musician and filmmaker who spent eight years in the adult film industry under the name “Danny Wylde“. Upon contacting him in hope that I would be able to interview him, he was kind enough to send me his two books – The Wolves That Live In Skin and Space and Come To My Brother.
I read The Wolves That Live In Skin and Space first, wanting to garner a sense of Christopher’s life as I had read that it was semi-autobiographical. He draws upon many elements of his life throughout his work, interspersing some fictitious moments for the sake of the story, but the result is a very human novel. The same goes for his other book Come to my Brother. In examining our psychosexual patterns – be it through the lens of a burned-out porn star who acts as a conduit for our fantasy or that of a tortured boy who is turned into a vampire by his long-lost love – the same undercurrent of intimacy and closeness is brought up to a microscope. It’s not always through rose-tinted glasses that Christopher depicts these relationships, some of them are very toxic and damaging, but in creating these slice-of-life characters and their interactions we’re left with raw emotions that are honest, vulnerable and fascinatingly real.
The Wolves That Live in Skin and Space (TWTLISAS) was an unsettling, if slightly perplexing at times, read. The main character is, for the most part, the author – Danny/Chris – who is forced straight into the middle of a tangled, unstable family. It’s dark and evaluative and has you looking at people differently after reading it, wondering what’s behind a pretty face. Come to my Brother (CTMB) has similar features; David, the narrator, is essentially Christopher, with the same aspects of his life drawn in – porn, music, etc. I found myself more invested in the relationship between pseudo-brothers David and Daniel, the heart of the novel, with the vampiric folklore as more of an afterthought. While TWTLISAP is laced with deeper, nihilistic undercurrents, Come to my Brother is forthcoming with its principle messages and deliver them through a voice that is easily empathetic and understandable, if naive at times. It’s almost eerie how Christopher shapes two characters, two pieces of his own personality, and crafts their stories in a way that could easily put the reader into the place of the narrator. That kind of brave openness comes from the kind of soulfulness one cannot simply read about, but has to actively experience.
Where did the story for “The Wolves That Live in Skin And Space” come from? I’m assuming there are scenes in the book that come from real-life experiences, did that influence a lot of your work?
CZ: I didn’t know what the book was about when I started writing it. For the first 30 pages or so, it was like excavation. There was something there, but I had to find it.
The Wolves That Live in Skin and Space, I think, fits into the genre of auto-fiction. So it starts with the mundanity of my life, and then exaggerates whatever conflicts I was experiencing to their extreme.
Of course, the physical violence that takes place in that book is fiction. But that same violence is either a metaphor for my emotional states or it helps to get the point across. For example, the irrationality of love and sex.
You dedicate the book to the adult industry, claiming it’s been both your lover and enemy, which I found very interesting. Can you talk about that love-hate relationship you’ve had with the porn world and what it felt like to entitle this book a goodbye letter to it?
CZ: This is a very reductive thing to say, and not entirely true but I think, in many ways, porn helped me find my self-esteem.
I hear many porn performers talk about how they’re actually very shy and awkward in social situations. Porn can be a safe space to explore one’s sexuality, and to figure out how to be comfortable in one’s own skin.
And there’s everything that comes along with that: fans, praise, money, etc… I think the first person, besides my mom, to tell me that I was beautiful was some photographer who’d shot me jerking off. I mean, it’s silly to look back on. But that meant a lot to me when I was nineteen years old.
As far as my hate for the industry? It might have more to do with capitalism than with porn itself. On a long enough timeline, the job is draining, emotionally and otherwise. There’s social stigma attached to it. The money has really dried up, and it doesn’t look to be coming back any time soon. Like much of the entertainment industry, porn values youth. So how do I grow up and move onto something else? I haven’t entirely figured that out.
It explores isolation and the toxicity of co-dependent relationships – which both leak into your other book “Come To My Brother“. What makes those themes so prominent in your writing?
CZ: Well, I’ve been in a few of those relationships. They’re intoxicating, in a way.
I don’t know how else to answer this other than to say that I am the epitome of someone who writes what he knows. My literary work, thus far, is incredibly self-involved. Maybe to a fault.
The themes are there, because the books are very much about my relationships.
What is your relationship to the character of Daniel in “Come To My Brother”? Is he entirely fictional?
CZ: He’s not entirely fictional. Most of the details are. For example, I’m one of many step and half children. I’ve never had a sexual relationship with any of my siblings, as the book might suggest. And I’ve never wanted to.
But again, so much of that book is just taking events from my life and changing them to fit the narrative. Like, I was really into underground heavy metal subculture, I spent a year studying film at UC Santa Cruz, and I started out in porn as a submissive for a BDSM company. That’s all in the book.
What was the writing process like for both books, did one story come easier than the other?
CZ: They were both written in an on-again-off-again fashion.
I started writing Come to my Brother in my early twenties, and would stop for a semester of school, or whatever, and then pick it up again. I remember feeling discouraged when I finished a draft, because the Twilight series had just started to become popular. I’d written a vampire novel just in time for the genre to become a YA joke. Now I don’t care as much. The vampire part of the book is the least interesting to me. But it took a while for me to get over the embarrassment.
The Wolves That Live in Skin and Space seems like it came easier to me, but I don’t remember why. It’s not like the process was quicker. I took three years, in total, to write the first draft.
The endings of both books feel very final but are cliff-hangers in a sense. Danny loses what made him a conduit for people’s fantasies and David is in limbo, about to come back to life from Hell or die for good, is there a reason you wanted to ensure the books didn’t have traditionally happy endings?
CZ: I’ve always been drawn to kind of pessimistic work. Also, I have trouble with endings.
With both books, I felt as if there could be another novel that started where they left off. But those imagined stories would be so different in style and tone, because of how drastically the characters and settings had changed.
Porn is featured in both books but gay porn is never really delved into, why is that?
CZ: This is more heavily discussed in my upcoming book, Body to Job.
Simply put, I have less experience with gay porn. The straight and gay sides of the adult industry are similar in many ways. But as a male performer, you have to make a choice as to which side you want to be on. Industry politics make it nearly impossible to work in both for any extended period of time.
While I would describe my sexuality as some variation of “queer,” I’m still interested in women and have had several long-term relationships with women. In fact, I’m in one now. It’s easy for me to exist in the world and be assumed a “straight” man. There are a lot of reasons, tied up in that, which made me decide to stay predominantly on the heterosexual side of the industry.
Some critics have categorized your writing into the horror genre – do you think that’s an accurate representation of your work?
CZ: Well, I’m definitely interested in genre writing. I think some of my unreleased work is more heavily ingrained in “horror” than CTMB or TWTLISAS.
Even though I’m interested in continuing to write horror, I wouldn’t define my work as scary. Like, Come to my Brother is a vampire novel, but it’s more of a interpersonal drama or coming-of-age story than a horror fiction.
I would say that The Wolves That Live in Skin and Space is a dark. Sometimes, I describe it as horror. But there’s nothing supernatural about it. There aren’t monsters or masked serial killers, or anything like that. Maybe there’s some existential dread. I’ve heard people describe the violence as unsettling or extreme. All in all, the elements one might describe as “horrific” are relatively brief.
Music is also featured quite heavily as part of both main characters’ lives in each respective book. What was your musical upbringing like and how important is it to you as of now?
CZ: Yes, that’s true in both CTMB and TWTLISAS. The character that most resembles me is always in metal band. Hah.
I’ve been playing guitar since I was ten years old. All throughout high school, I played in metal bands. That was my life as a teenager.
Even now, I’m in a band called Chiildren. We aren’t very active anymore. But we may put out a new single every now and again.
There are plenty of writers who have developed their characters by giving them interests that match their own. I think this is just one of the ways I do that.
What was the last book you read that really changed the way you thought about the world?
CZ: I think that Dennis Cooper’s The Sluts and Michel Houellebecq’s The Map and the Territory changed the way, at least, I thought about novels. After reading both of those books, I felt as if I’d been relegated to the kid’s table for all of my life prior. I thought, Where was this kind of literature the whole time?
I’d read about pessimism and violence and sex and art, but always in a cheesy or arduous context. If the work was serious, it was boring. If not, it felt inauthentic or silly. Cooper and Houllebecq were a pleasure to read, and had such dismal points of view about the world. They were also immaculate in their craft. I still view their writing as something to strive towards.
How was the reception of your books changed the way you go about writing now or has it at all? From what I’ve read, most people see your work as very philosophical and allegoric.
CZ: It’s nice to see feedback. I think an audience is an extra motivation to write. But so far, I haven’t changed the way I write to better serve my audience. First of all, they haven’t asked for it. Second of all, I don’t think my audience is big enough to warrant an overhaul on my part.
I’ve had a few bad reviews, but I solicited them. They weren’t written by people who sought out my work.
Do you have any advice for aspiring authors looking to break out into the industry?
CZ: Well, I haven’t exactly “broken out” into the industry. Writing is not my primary source of income, by any stretch of the imagination.
But if I’m to look at the tactics that allowed me to get published, I’d say: write a blog or submit articles to a website that needs content; see if people actually respond to your writing (and not just your friends) before you throw a manuscript at a publisher or agent; write as much as possible; ask for help from those who are a few steps ahead of you — not miles (because they don’t care, and whatever advice they can give you is irrelevant, because they ‘made it’ at a time when the rules were different). Be patient.
Can you reveal anything about your upcoming third book “Body to Job”?
CZ: Body to Job is as close to a memoir as I’ll likely ever write. It’s a collection of interwoven stories that explore my career in porn and the several years after my retirement. Like TWTLISAS, there are bits of fiction interspersed throughout. Some of the fictional elements are very exaggerated, and deal with extreme sexual violence. I guess I’ve been into writing that kind of thing for a few years now. There are also positive and kind of sweet-and-vulnerable depictions of my life in the industry.
In any case, it’s the most all-encompassing text I’ve written thus far, and the work I’m most proud of.
Body to Job should be out in February 2018 through Rare Bird Books.