Brite, Poppy Z. 1967–
Brite, Poppy Z. 1967–
(Melissa Ann Brite)
PERSONAL: Born Melissa Ann Brite, May 25, 1967, in New Orleans, LA; daughter of Bob (an economics professor) and Connie (Burton) Brite; married Christopher DeBarr (a chef). Education: Attended University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, 1987. Politics: "No affiliation; primarily concerned with the interests of south Louisiana." Hobbies and other interests: Birdwatching, restaurants and dining, football, basketball, cat rescue, collecting Victorian hairwork and mourning jewelry, Louisiana politics.
CAREER: Writer. Worked as a candy maker, short-order cook, mouse caretaker, artists' model, and exotic dancer, 1985–91. Appeared in erotic underground film John Five, 1992.
Lost Souls (novel), Delacorte (New York, NY), 1992.
Swamp Foetus (stories), Borderlands Press (Fallston, MD), 1993, published as Wormwood: A Collection of Short Stories, Dell (New York, NY), 1995.
Drawing Blood (novel), Delacorte (New York, NY), 1993.
(Editor, with Martin Greenberg) Love in Vein: Twenty Original Tales of Vampiric Erotica, HarperPrism (New York, NY), 1994.
Exquisite Corpse (novel), Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1996.
(Editor, with Martin Greenberg) Love in Vein II: 18 More Tales of Vampiric Erotica, HarperPrism (New York, NY), 1997.
The Lazarus Heart (novel, part of "The Crow" series), HarperPrism (New York, NY), 1998.
Are You Loathsome Tonight? (stories), introduction by Peter Straub, afterword by Caitlin R. Kiernan, Gauntlet Press (Colorado Springs, CO), 1998, published as Self-Made Man, Orion Publishing (London, England), 1999.
Seed of Lost Souls (chapbook), Subterranean Press (Burton, MI), 1999.
(With Caitlin R. Kiernan) Wrong Things (a collection of three stories), Subterranean Press (Burton, MI), 2001.
Con Party at Hotel California (story fragments; chapbook), Gauntlet Press (Colorado Springs, CO), 2002.
Used Stories (chapbook), Subterranean Press (Burton, MI), 2004.
(With Christa Faust) Triads (novel), Subterranean Press (Burton, MI), 2004.
Crown of Thorns (chapbook), Subterranean Press (Burton, MI), 2005.
Courtney Love: The Real Story (biography), Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1997.
(And illustrator) Plastic Jesus (novella), Subterranean Press (Burton, MI), 2000.
Guilty but Insane (essays), Subterranean Press (Burton, MI), 2001.
The Value of X (novel), Subterranean Press (Burton, MI), 2002.
The Feast of St. Rosalie (chapbook), Subterranean Press (Burton, MI), 2003.
The Devil You Know (stories), Subterranean Press (Burton, MI), 2003.
Liquor (novel), Three Rivers Press (New York, NY), 2004.
Prime (novel), Three Rivers Press (New York, NY), 2005.
Soul Kitchen (novel), Three Rivers Press (New York, NY), 2006.
Waiting for Bobby Hebert (novella), Subterranean Press (Burton, MI), 2006.
Work represented in anthologies, including Borderlands, 1989; Women of Darkness 2, 1990; Dead End: City Limits, 1991; Best New Horror, Volume 2, 1991, and Volume 4, 1993; Still Dead, 1992; Year's Best Fantasy and Horror, Volume 5, 1992, and Volume 6, 1993; Splatterpunks 2, 1993; Queer Fear 2, 2002; Shadows over Baker Street, 2003; The Last Pentacle of the Sun: Writings in Support of the West Memphis Three, 2005; McSweeney's Enchanted Chamber of Astonishing Stories, 2005; Fear of the Unknown, 2005; Outsiders, 2005; and Best of the Borderlands, 2005.
Contributor to periodicals, including Gauntlet and Horror Show.
Brite's work has been published in Dutch, French, German, Russian, Japanese, Portuguese, Italian, Polish, Greek, Finnish, and Spanish.
WORK IN PROGRESS: Dead Shrimp Blues and Hurricane Stew, both from Three Rivers Press.
SIDELIGHTS: Poppy Z. Brite's first novel, Lost Souls, was described in Flagpole magazine as "an elegant mixture of vampires, blood, sex, drugs, 'rock and roll,' and violence set in the modern South." In an interview with David Ferguson in Flagpole, Brite explained: "Morals strike me as what society decides you should think or do…. The line between my good guys and my bad guys is pretty damn blurry, if there at all." Commenting on Lost Souls, a Kirkus Reviews contributor noted that "Brite tosses out any idea of good taste and remakes the language of horror with a bloodlust that reduces all competitors to dust." Booklist reviewer Peter Robertson added that "what emerges from this hormonal witches' brew is a gloriously sensual first novel that may herald the arrival of a major new voice in horror fiction."
Discussing her second novel, Drawing Blood, Brite once commented to CA that the book is "the story of Trevor, whose father—a famous underground-comics artist of the 1960s—murdered the rest of their family and committed suicide, leaving only his five-year-old son alive." Brite stated that "the action of Drawing Blood opens twenty years later with Trevor returning to the house where his family died in the strange, small town of Missing Mile, North Carolina." An essayist in the St. James Guide to Horror, Ghost & Gothic Writers noted that the novel "moves away from the explicit supernaturalism of Lost Souls, its horrific materials being based on the paranoid intimacy of madness and hallucination," and went on to comment: "Again, the strength of the novel lies in its continual efflorescence of brittle and darkly luminous descriptive prose."
"Blood-soaked sheets, cannibalism, rotting, half-dissected corpses: this gruesome psychological horror novel has all the gruel a reader might—or might not—want," commented a Publishers Weekly contributor in a review of Brite's 1996 novel Exquisite Corpse. The plot of the book centers on the meeting and subsequent rampage of two homosexual serial killers, Jay Byrne and Andrew Compton. The characters are based, as several reviewers noted, on the American Jeffrey Dahmer and the Englishman Dennis Nilson. Other characters include a gay Vietnamese, Tran, and an HIV-positive radio shock jock, Luke. "Brite tries hard to get interested in Tran's conflict with his traditionalist father and Luke's self-hatred," commented Kim Newman in New Statesman and Society, "but there's a sense that she races through their chapters to return to the lurid viewpoints of the murderers … her favorites." Newman found Exquisite Corpse to be "rather childish in its love of grue," and also stated: "Brite's studied lack of moralizing about violent sex and sexual violence is clearly an invitation to be offended, but it comes over as oddly (and surely unintentionally) reactionary." The St. James Guide to Horror, Ghost & Gothic Writers essayist expressed a similar viewpoint, remarking: "The novel's insistent linkage of homoerotic lust with extremes of violence and insanity might seem to interested readers to be a curiously repugnant, if not outrightly malign, expression of the author's admitted obsession with male homosexuality."
The Lazarus Heart is a commissioned book, part of a series of novels written by different authors and based on James O'Barr's The Crow. The premise of the series turns on a man returning to life, with the aid of a crow, to seek revenge on those responsible for his death. Brite's resurrected character, Jared Poe, is an S&M photographer who was sentenced to death for the murder of his gay lover—a crime he did not commit. Brite is also the author of two collections of horror stories, Swamp Foetus and Are You Loathsome Tonight?, and has co-edited two anthologies of erotic vampire stories, Love in Vein: Twenty Original Tales of Vampiric Erotica and Love in Vein II: 18 More Tales of Vampiric Erotica. Reviewing Love in Vein for Booklist, Whitney Scott wrote: "Celebrating 'unspeakable intimacies,' the stories explore the subversive appeal of vampirism in all its manifestations."
Brite finds Southern settings to be an important inspiration for her work. She once commented in CA: "I love writing about the South: the kudzu, the abandoned train tracks, the swamps and bayous, the decadent cities, the juxtaposition of beauty and ugliness. I am interested in all kinds of freaks and fringe cultures, those who deliberately alter their bodies and their minds and those who have alterations thrust upon them by the universe."
Brite has branched out into genres other than horror. In 1997, she penned the biography Courtney Love: The Real Story. Singer-actress Love's controversial career has included drug addiction and a tumultuous marriage to rock idol Kurt Cobain. Brite first met Love when the latter contacted her in 1994 after reading one of Brite's novels. The idea for the biography developed as the two women grew to know one another. Writing in Billboard, Doug Reece found Courtney Love to be "a highly sympathetic portrait" in which Brite "tends to romanticize and defend her subject to a fault." Yet Reece still praised Brite's thoroughness and felt that "the book's greatest treasures come from unearthed personal journals and letters." Dana Kennedy of Entertainment Weekly, however, questioned Brite's decision not to explore the reasons behind Cobain's suicide in contrast to Love's survival.
Brite returned to fiction—but not horror—with the short novel Plastic Jesus, a highly fictionalized tribute to the rock group The Beatles, overlaid with homosexual plot elements. In Brite's version of the Fab Four, the creative forces of the group, Seth Grealy and Peyton Masters, have a working relationship that develops into a gay relationship, that in turn leads to the dissolution of the band and Grealy's murder. According to a writer for Publishers Weekly: "Brite is sensitive in her portrayal of Grealy and Master's relationship."
Brite's subsequent work has been a mix of horror and non-horror fiction. "I started another horror novel in the summer of 2000," she told Entertainment Weekly interviewer Troy Patterson, but then "one day, I said to Chris [her husband], 'I'm just so sick of my stupid depressing novel, I'm just gonna go upstairs and write something fun.'" The result was Liquor, a novel that satirizes the life of restaurant owners and workers in New Orleans. Brite drew on the experiences of her husband, a professional chef, for the background to her tale of two young gay men, Rickey and G-man, who dream of starting a restaurant where every single dish contains some sort of liquor. "Characterization has always been one of Brite's strengths, but she writes about Rickey and G-man as if she's known them all her life," Marshall Moore wrote in Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide. Moore continued: "There's nothing quite like a novel written by an author who's creatively at the top of her game, having fun with characters and a city she loves, and writing about a subject she knows well." Brite followed up with a prequel, The Value of X, that earned praise from Lambda Book Report reviewer Elliott Mackle. "I love [Rickey and G-man]," Mackle wrote. "The novels they inhabit offer a five-star menu of satire, wit, colorful characters, soft-focus sex and butt-tingling action." She has since expanded the tales into a full-fledged series with Soul Kitchen and the forthcoming Dead Shrimp Blues and Hurricane Stew.
Brite teamed up with Christa Faust for Triads, another novel about gay love. Triads contains three interwoven stories, with some characters appearing in more than one. The book begins in Hong Kong in 1937, when two boys run away from their de facto slavery with the Peking Opera. By 1945 one of the two has made it to Los Angeles, where he works as a stuntman and falls in love with a transvestite singer. Another young Asian gay man, one who is having difficulty coming out of the closet, is the protagonist for the final section. Although elements of the horrific feature in the tales, particularly the second, "the true horror lies in homophobia and anti-Asian bigotry," commented a Publishers Weekly contributor. A Kirkus Reviews critic warned that the graphic sex "won't be to everyone's taste," but "for the adventurous, then: wonderfully well told."
Some of Brite's many short stories are collected in The Devil You Know, which was published in 2003. The stories offer an assortment of Brite's styles, including some fantastic tales, some horror, and a few stories about gay couples who are involved in the restaurant industry. Four of the pieces feature Brite herself, reinvented as Dr. Brite, Orleans Parish coroner. The "stories are spirited and snappy," Kristine Huntley concluded in Booklist, while a Publishers Weekly, reviewer commented that "Brite emerges as a writer of honesty and wit who may yet find favor with a broader literary readership."
When asked about her writing, Brite told CA: "I guess a writer is in trouble if he doesn't think his best book is his most recent one. The one I most enjoyed writing, though was surely Liquor, because it was such a departure for me, yet it was something I had been wanting to do for years. I always thought it would be tremendous fun to write a novel set in the New Orleans restaurant world, and in 2000 I finally went ahead and did it. I never expected it to turn into a series of novels—not to mention the additional short stories and novellas I've written about the characters and their families—but I think it happened because Rickey and G-man gave me a new way of looking at New Orleans. It's my hometown and I love many things about it, but I'm not entirely satisfied with the way I portrayed it in my work so far. I am proud of that work, but I feel I was somewhat guilty of perpetuating an incomplete stereotype: dark, romantic, haunted, lushly gorgeous New Orleans. That side of the city does exist, and it's wonderful, but I have become more interested in writing about the ordinary folks of New Orleans: the cooks, the bartenders and barflies, the regular Joes and Janes you see and hear on the street every day. There's a way of life here that I call Divine Stupidity, which is the subject of John Kennedy Toole's novel A Confederacy of Dunces, the best book ever written about New Orleans. Living here is very much like living in the Third World. Particularly post-Katrina, you have to be tough and you have to learn to laugh at things that would enrage people living in a sane, sensible place."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
St. James Guide to Horror, Ghost & Gothic Writers, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1998.
Billboard, October 11, 1997, Doug Reece, review of Courtney Love: The Real Story, p. 85.
Booklist, September 15, 1992, Peter Robertson, review of Lost Souls, p. 122; October 1, 1994, Whitney Scott, review of Love in Vein: Twenty Original Tales of Vampiric Erotica, p. 239; February 15, 2003, Kristine Huntley, review of The Devil You Know, p. 1059; April 15, 2004, Paula Luedtke, review of Triads, p. 1431.
Entertainment Weekly, October 10, 1997, Dana Kennedy, review of Courtney Love, p. 84; April 30, 2004, Troy Patterson, interview with Brite, p. 120.
Flagpole, October 21, 1992, David Ferguson, interview with Brite, pp. 6-7.
Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide, June, 2004, Marshall Moore, "Confederacy of Lushes," p. 44.
Kirkus Reviews, August 15, 1992, review of Lost Souls; May 15, 1996, review of Exquisite Corpse; October 15, 2000, review of Plastic Jesus; March 1, 2004, review of Triads, p. 192; January 15, 2005, review of Prime, p. 66.
Lambda Book Report, October, 2001, Greg Herren, "On the Corner Of: A Conversation with Poppy Z. Brite," p. 12; April-May, 2005, Elliott Mackle, review of Prime and Liquor, p. 45.
Library Journal, October 15, 2002, Caroline Mann, review of The Value of X, p. 93.
New Statesman and Society, August 9, 1996, Kim Newman, review of Exquisite Corpse, p. 48.
Publishers Weekly, September 7, 1992, review of Lost Souls, p. 78; June 24, 1996, review of Exquisite Corpse, p. 45; September 21, 1998, review of Are You Loathsome Tonight?; September 4, 2000, review of Plastic Jesus, p. 88; September 16, 2002, review of The Value of X, p. 51; January 20, 2003, review of The Devil You Know, p. 62; April 12, 2004, review of Triads, p. 43.
Dispatches from Tanganyika, http://docbrite.livejournal.com (February 22, 2006).
P.z.B: Poppy Z. Brite—The Official Web site, http://www.poppyzbrite.com (January 20, 2006).