On this month's Special Page:

Our Media Director, Trish Wilson, captured an exclusive interview with the New York Times best-selling author Billy Martin (aka Poppy Z. Brite)


Daniel Knauf
Tane McClure
Nicholas Tana
Elizabeth Massie
Jonathan Maberry

billy martin

Billy Martin is a multi-faceted artist best known for his works he had written as Poppy Z. Brite, including Lost Souls, Exquisite Corpse, and Drawing Blood. Many of his works feature openly bisexual or gay characters. He has also written the Liquor series, which is dark comedy about the New Orleans restaurant scene. In addition to writing, Martin paints and runs a shop called PZBaubles. Martin is a trans man who has talked extensively about transgender issues and his own gender dysphoria.


An interview with Billy Martin

by Trish Wilson


TRISH WILSON: You've written several collections, including Swamp Foetus and Are You Loathsome Tonight. What do you like about writing short stories as opposed to novels? How is writing a short story different for you from writing a novel?

BILLY MARTIN: I always liked the way you can hone a short story down to … not perfection, it's never perfect, but a single jewel-like state of being. Novels sprawl, and that's great, I love a good sprawling novel, but a short story can be so tight. 

TRISH WILSON: Who are your favorite writers? Which writers have influenced your work?

BILLY MARTIN: Well, I've just completed a nonfiction book about Stephen King, not a biography but an analysis, I guess you'd call it. So he's way up there, always has been; I think that's pretty standard for my generation of writers, and not just horror writers. I love Ramsey Campbell, Carson McCullers, Shirley Jackson. A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole, of course, the best novel ever written about New Orleans. 

TRISH WILSON: You went from writing horror fiction to your award-winning Liquor series, which is about the New Orleans restaurant scene. What inspired the big change?

BILLY MARTIN: Let me start by saying that after my first novel, Lost Souls, was published, a lot of people including my then-publisher would have really liked me to write a sequel. Lost Souls was kind of a hit and sequels are expected with vampire novels, I guess. But I couldn't do it because I'd already moved on to something else, and if I don't care about the fiction I'm writing, it won't be any good. So I wrote a couple more horror novels, and around the turn of the century I felt pretty burnt out on horror. I decided to write something just for myself, just for fun. My then-husband was a chef and I'd often thought of writing something based in the New Orleans restaurant scene. Of course I ended up falling in love with the characters, and all the Liquor novels and novellas and short stories grew out of that. Initially everyone hated them and it was hell getting them published, but they've found their own audience now, I think.

TRISH WILSON: You live in New Orleans and you've written a series of books about the local restaurant scene (the aforementioned Liquor series). Could you please tell me a bit about this series? What are some of your favorite Cajun and Creole dishes?

BILLY MARTIN: The Liquor novels have to do with a pair of New Orleans chefs, Rickey and G-man, who set out to open a restaurant with a menu based entirely on liquor. I still think this would be a hit in New Orleans. They don't really do a lot of Creole or Cajun food, but I do! My quintessential New Orleans dishes are seafood gumbo and fried oysters from Casamento's, crawfish etouffee from the Bon Ton Café, muffuletta sandwiches from Central Grocery, turtle soup and Tasso Shrimp Henican at Commander's Palace … and if you go to Cajun country there are the great little meat markets that serve links of boudin sausage and divine plate lunches. 

TRISH WILSON: Not only are you an acclaimed writer, you are an artist. How did you come to paint, and what kinds of subjects interest you the most?

BILLY MARTIN: I used to draw and paint a lot as a kid, and even in high school, but I moved away from it as I became more serious about writing. I started intensely painting and doing shadowbox sculptures around the time I started dating my now-husband, Grey, who is an exceptional artist. Between this and the restaurant books, you see that I take a great deal of inspiration from my partners. I had also just begun physical transition, which caused a tremendous upheaval in my life, and I was in an especially poverty-stricken phase when I decided to try selling some of my pieces online. To my surprise, they did pretty well. As far as subject matter, I'm fond of skeletons, sharks, New Orleans cemeteries, eyes, weird little bits and pieces of things.

TRISH WILSON: You are a trans man. Could you tell me a bit about your transition journey and how it inspired and influenced your art and writing?

BILLY MARTIN: Many trans people feel the wrongness of their bodies from a very young age. I didn't, but there was always something. As soon as I knew what “gay” was, I knew that's what I was -- but I wasn't attracted to women! It took me a long time to figure out that I was a gay man in the wrong body, but once I knew, I knew. In my twenties and thirties, though, I wasn't brave enough to do anything about it. I didn't start hormone therapy until I was 44. I haven't written about many trans characters, and the main one, Lucrece in The Lazarus Heart, was a trans woman inspired by my friend Caitlin. But probably something like 95% of my characters are gay men, because I was making lives in fiction that I didn't think I would ever experience in reality. 

TRISH WILSON: Did you have mentors early in your career who helped you? If you did, who were they? What kind of help did they give you? I've noticed some writers have had mentors and they've maintained professional relationships and even friendships with them.

BILLY MARTIN: Not so much in writing as in publishing. I gave a reading of my story Calcutta, Lord of Nerves at a convention, and Harlan Ellison and Dan Simmons happened to be there and were impressed by the story. They recommended me to their agent, who's now my agent. 

TRISH WILSON: How long have you been running PZBaubles New Orleans, which you describe as "specializing in quirky vintage jewelry, occult curious, holy objects, rare Tarot decks, metaphysical parlor games, and more"? You sell some unique and interesting items. Could you please tell me a bit about your store and where readers may find it?

BILLY MARTIN: The shop has two online branches, on Ruby Lane (https://www.rubylane.com/shop/pzbaubles) and Etsy (https://www.etsy.com/shop/PZBaublesNOLA). Aside from selling signed books on eBay, I'd never done anything like it before, and it's a ton of work but I love it. It gives me and Grey (Billy Martin's husband, Grey Anatoli Cross) the chance to frequent estate sales, yard sales, and flea markets and hunt down some of the best vintage/antique treasures of New Orleans. 

TRISH WILSON: It was a pleasure to meet you this past July at NECON, a speculative fiction convention held in Lowell, Massachusetts. You were artist guest of honor. How did you like NECON? I hope you and your husband Grey return in 2024. When was the last time you went to a con, and do you plan to attend any in the future?

BILLY MARTIN: We had such a wonderful time and would love to return, but it was a VERY expensive trip! Grey was born and raised on Martha's Vineyard, and I'd never been there, so we had to visit and I fell in love with it. I don't think we could bear to return to New England and not visit. Of course, Necon helped with the expenses and I sold quite a few paintings, but I'm still not sure if we will be able to return next year. Certainly someday, though. I'd never done such a long road trip before and I wasn't sure how my body would hold up, but to my surprise, I really enjoyed it.

TRISH WILSON: Please tell me about your non-fiction project, Water If God Wills It: Religion and Spirituality in the Work of Stephen King.

BILLY MARTIN: This was another project I'd been thinking about for a long time and finally decided what the hell, I was going to do it. I'm kind of an obsessive King reader and rereader, so I thought I might as well make use of that, and I've always found the spiritual aspects of his work interesting. It took ridiculously long, but it's now finished and being shopped.

TRISH WILSON: Please leave your web site, Patreon, and social media links. Also, what are your plans for the future? What future project may readers look forward to?

BILLY MARTIN: I'm working on a project that I'm not supposed to talk about at the moment, and I've written a couple of poems, which is something I've hardly ever done. After that, who knows? I'm just coming back to fiction writing after more than a decade away from it, and I'm still relearning how to find the story.

My Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/docbrite

My Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/billy.martin.127648

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