In today's Indie Spotlight, we welcome Rick Claypool, author of the recently released Leech Girl Lives. In the essay below, Rick explains what influenced him most as he put pen to paper and wrote his novel.
Things That Inspired Me While Writing Leech Girl Lives
I’ve always been into weird stuff. Weird music, weird movies, weird stories. As a kid, the Muppet I most identified with was Gonzo: the weirdo. As a grownup, I find myself writing weird fiction.
During the time I was writing Leech Girl Lives (Spaceboy Books 2017), I rekindled more than a few oddball childhood obsessions, discovered new things to geek out about, got pissed off about social problems. And I felt unusually productive while gathering all this strangeness around me, as the strange things I was appreciating were now the raw materials for my own creation.
For me, the writing process really is all about getting excited about the latest bizarre idea that pops into my head and running with it. It’s also about letting myself become unapologetically excited and passionate (or angry) about the things that spark my interest.
And so, dear reader, I thought I’d take this opportunity to share with you some of the things that were knocking around my head and exerting an influence in one way or another on Leech Girl Lives as I was writing it. (Because even if you haven’t heard of me or my book -- and let’s be honest, odds are, you haven’t -- I hope you’ll find the idea of mashing up this stuff into pulp fiction page turner more than a little interesting.)
Adventure Time - Pure imagination fuel. Equal parts silly and sharp -- and occasionally quite sad -- this cartoon helped me learn to be ok with embracing my weirdest ideas.
Final Fantasy IV - My ur-text for speculative adventure. Released as Final Fantasy II for Super Nintendo in the U.S., I spent an inordinate amount of time as a kid playing and re-playing this epic, and it's admittedly complex and convoluted plot is permanently imprinted in my brain, and it’s probably why I feel so drawn to stories populated with monsters.
Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Dispossessed - The smartest and most sensitive work of political science fiction I’ve encountered. The structure of my book, with its shifting chronologies, was largely inspired by the structure of this book.
Global inequality - When I’m asked what Leech Girl Lives is about, the first thing I want to say is “supply chains,” which I realize is probably not a very useful answer. My original idea was to write a book where, instead of geographic space separating exploited workers who produce goods from the comparatively well-off people consuming them, these groups are separated by time. The inevitable result: class tensions that span time, with the people of the future exploiting the people of the past.
Tardigrades - As an 11-year old, I was obsessed with bugs. In this context, tardigrades incredibly fascinating and frustrating to me. I pored over every photo, illustration, article, and book I could find for information about these strangely cute, practically indestructible microbes. This was before the internet, so this interest meant checking out stacks and stacks of biology texts, where each 500-page volume devoted maybe three paragraphs to tardigrades. Supposedly they’re everywhere, but invisible to the naked eye. So in the book, I made them the size of kaijus.
Sam Pink’s Person - Nihilism and absurdity and depression and poverty in minimalist prose, but funny. Reading Sam Pink’s novels helped me embrace my own minimalist tendencies. (Because, contrary to what I tried to convince myself for a time in college, being a writer doesn’t mean composing lyrical, meandering sentences like Proust).
Synthwave on Bandcamp - While I was writing the book, listened nonstop to retrofuture electronic music by the likes of Carpenter Brut, Perturbator, and Gost, which I stumbled upon among the many synthwave artists on Bandcamp. These artists became the soundtrack to my worldbuilding and writing.
Doctor Who - Full disclosure: I haven’t followed the show for a couple of seasons, but I was at the peak of my interest during the David Tennant and Matt Smith years, when I also was writing my book. Wacky, imaginative, and heartfelt, the best episodes expose unfair economic models, which no doubt had an influence on Leech Girl Lives.
Jasper Fforde’s Shades of Grey - If Douglas Adams wrote a surrealist dystopia and arbitrarily arranged its society around color. So clever it almost hurts and the most interesting contemporary work of dystopian fiction I’ve encountered, and I try to read a lot of this stuff.
Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission - For my day job, I spend a lot of time thinking about how the 2010 Citizens United ruling lets corporations and the rich spend as much as they want to distort our elections. The political debate between those who want election spending to be completely unregulated and those who want restrictions did much to inform the conflict in the book between makes of unsafe art and the inspectors who work to stop the unsafe art from harming viewers.
Four-hour commutes - For a few years, I had to travel to Washington, D.C., once a month for work. From Pittsburgh, that’s a four-hour drive without traffic. I would use this time on the road to think through narrative challenges and come up with ways to complicate the story. Occasionally I would write myself notes while driving 70 miles per hour on the Turnpike, a practice I don’t recommend.
Foxconn suicides - Foxconn is a manufacturing company that oversees Chinese factories where Apple’s iPhones are assembled. The company’s initial response to 14 people throwing themselves off of the factory roof, killing themselves, was to put up nets and add a “no suicide allowed” clause to workers’ contracts. Later scenes in the book were inspired this very real horror story.
Dougal Dixon’s Man After Man - When I was a kid, my interest in dinosaurs led to a general interest in evolutionary biology, and Dougal Dixon’s books are to blame. In this one, scientists genetically engineer humans to fill the ecological niches of animals we drove to extinction, only to be later repurposed as slaves and food. His art is incredible.
Being attacked by bird mites - Several years ago, I had to evacuate the cheap apartment where I was living because it became infested with bird mites. Pigeons, the foulest creatures on Earth, where roosting in the eaves. The mites are super tiny and they swarm at night to drink blood. I feel itchy just thinking about this traumatic turn of events. And my landlord was a real asshole about it.
Rick Claypool is the author of Leech Girl Lives, a weird dystopian story of resistance. His short fiction appears in TL;DR Magazine, The Mustache Factor, The Allegheny Review, and in the forthcoming Not My President: The Anthology of Dissent. For more, visit rickclaypool.org.