Interviews | An Interview with Danielle Willis

by Alexander Laurence

1. When did you first start writing?

Danielle Willis: I started writing when I was very little, mainly because I never liked the way most children's' stories ended - for example, I'd rewrite Little Red Riding Hood so that the wolf would win or at least live at the end. My teachers used to get very upset with me but later, when I went to college, I was told that this was something called "re-imagining" and that female writers did it all the time because there was never anything written from their point of view..

2. What do you think of sex scenes in novels? How do you approach the issue of "romantic interest" in your writing?

DW: I think a lot of writers fall prey to the notion that romantic interest is necessary to a good story when in fact it often slows the plot down or takes it in really obvious directions. As for writing sex scenes, very few writers do it well and most come off sounding like a cross between Penthouse Forum and a Hallmark card. There is nothing wrong with an original love story, but most writers approach it like it's a required element of plot development.

3. What sort of moral background do you see yourself working in?

DW: None, really. I guess I would have to say amoral.

4. Who are your writerly influences?

DW: Angela Carter, Jack London, K.W. Jeter, and Ray Bradbury.

5. What was it like growing up on Long Island?

DW: Pure hell. When I think about my childhood there the first thing that comes to mind is packs of bitchy little girls in tight designer jeans and wooden Candies high heels screeching " Oh my Gawwwd!!!" at the top of their lungs and clicking down the halls in little mincing steps. Me and my friends were referred to as "da weeerd chicks" and cut school as often as possible to take the Long Island Railroad into Manhattan, where we had the good fortune to see the beginning of New Wave. We would have gotten beaten up all the time if we hadn't managed to convince our less than brilliant classmates that we were witches. I was deemed "da evil-est" due to the necklace of chicken bones I wore around my neck.

6. Who was your first girlfriend? During my Senior year at high school I started going to the Gay and Lesbian Alliance on Stonybrook campus, which is where I met my first girlfriend, Jean. I was 18 and she was 24 and we took each other's virginity. She was really cute - sort of a tiny butch version of Meryl Streep - but we had absolutely nothing in common and we broke up during Finals Week of my Freshman Year.

7. What books have you bought recently?

DW: The Blood Countess by whatever his name is.

8. What movies?

DW: Species, Interview With the Vampire, Batman Forever

9. You went to London last year. Could you tell me about your visit and your experience with Customs?

Danielle Willis: At first it looked as though Jennifer Blowdryer and I were going to have some real trouble getting into the country because the day before we were supposed to fly another Smut Fest performer, Karen Greenlee, had been stopped going through Customs and detained for more than 11 hours after inspectors opened a sealed manila envelope containing her necrophilia-oriented poetry and a few newsclippings about her 1979 trial for stealing a hearse and its handsome young contents. They wanted to deport her but finally agreed to let her through after these German TV people who were going to be filming the Smut Fest threatened to make a big stink in the media. The problem now was that British Customs knew all about the Smut Fest and would be on the lookout for anyone else coming through, so we had to make sure we didn't have any books, flyers, correspondence or anything remotely pertaining to the event, "alternative sexuality" in general, drugs, etc. I'd already sent a box of my books ahead of me but Jennifer had been planning on bringing hers in her luggage and was furious that she wouldn't have any to sell. It took me all night to talk her out of doing it anyway, and she still thought I was just being neurotic even after I told her about my friend Daisy getting finger-fucked through her tights and customs officials breaking the heels off this girl's $300 platform boots and smashing them to see if there were drugs stashed in some hollowed- out compartment.

When we got to JFK it turned out we were the only people under 60 on our entire flight - the rest of the passengers must have been part of some senior citizen package tour or something. The whole flight I sat there envisioning gruesome cavity searches, figuring there was no way in hell we weren't going to be stopped. Jennifer and I haggard and exhausted to the point where you might as well have put a neon DRUG SMUGGLER sign on our foreheads, When we landed Jennifer and I did as much last minute damage control as we could, putting our hair in collegiate ponytails and rubbing pink lipstick on our cheeks for that wholesome, outdoorsy look. In the end, the customs officials were too busy ripping through some Rastafarians' luggage to even notice us and I had to listen to Jennifer bitching about how she should have just brought her books after all the whole cab ride into London. The whole thing was rather anti-climactic.

I don't have time to go into a lot of detail about my experiences in England so I'll summarize by saying that everything you've heard about the food is true and that you have to literally rev up the toilets to make them flush. On the subject of toilets, the high point of my entire trip was on the third night of the Smut Fest when Tuppy Owens accidentally shit on stage: She was standing on top of a ladder in an angel costume trying to piss on this Saran Wrap-clad drag queen Burnel while he knelt below her lip-synching to "Singin' in the Rain" when all of a sudden she lost control of her bowels. Karen and I were hanging out in the dressing room and had no idea what had happened until the shit-besmeared Tuppy came waddling in, casually remarking that she "seemed to be leaving a trail of little turdlets in my wake." Amazingly enough, a similar accident occurred the very next night, prompting Karen and I to re-name the proceedings "Scat Fest".

10. This year, you went to New York City to participate in The Smutfest, that was eventually taped by HBO. Could you talk about what happened there?

DW: Basically, Jennifer Blowdryer and HBO culled the acts they liked from the London Smut Fest and re-mounted it in this absolutely gorgeous abandoned synagogue on the Lower East Side. The show was great but unfortunately hardly anybody got to see it because HBO didn't bother to do any publicity, preferring instead to simply stock the first four rows with "alternative"-looking audience members and instructing us to act like we were in front of a huge crowd. I was a little pissed off at first, but in retrospect they probably wouldn't have gotten as good footage with tons of people there. I definitely missed the energy of a real audience, but I think I gave a good performance anyway. I guess we'll find out in February when the show is aired. It'll be an hour-long "Real Sex" special focusing on five women artists who are also in the sex industry - me, Annie Sprinkle, Jennifer Blowdryer, Jennifer Kabat and Lily Braindrop.

11. You have done some theater performance in the past few years, with Breakfast in The Flesh District and The Stepford Wives. What theater projects do you see yourself participating in the future?

DW: Right now I'm not performing all that much because I'm in the middle of both a novel and the screenplay of Dogs in Lingerie, but I've recently been approached by Linda Serbu about filming "Womyn's Weekend Massacre", a satire of slasher films set at a really obnoxious women's' music festival where such groups as the Womanfire Incest Survivors' Baking Collective use their own vaginal yeast to bake bread and "differently-abled" folksinger Autumn Peacewind comes back from the dead to take bloody revenge after getting fried on the festivals' brand new electronic wheelchair access ramp. I'd also like to take "Breakfast in the Flesh District" to New York and eventually re-mount my first play, "The Methedrine Dollhouse", with a real budget. I've been doing the Writerly Hermit for so long now it'll be fun to get onstage somewhere other than a strip club again.

12. There was an article written by Eurydice called "Scar Lovers" which was about people in San Francisco involved with cutting and drinking blood. This article has gotten a wide response. How do you feel about this controversial situation?

DW: At first I was really pissed that whoever was in charge at Spin decided to change me and Violet's names to Claudia and Blue, because the only reason we agreed to do the fucking interview in the first place was for the exposure, but after reading such brilliant observations as "their scars seem like metaphors for the scars of an increasingly violent and hollow society" I was actually grateful our real names weren't mentioned. I should have realized something like this was going to happen the minute we showed up at the hotel room and Eurydice showed me her book F-32, which was written entirely from the point of view of a vagina that has detached itself from it's owner - your basic "Women's Studies Major Tries To Write Like Kathy Acker First Novel." Supposedly the one she's working on now is going to be called Moby Cunt. Perhaps if Violet and I were vaginal discharge fetishists instead of blood drinkers she would have gotten it. Oh well, my mother doesn't understand it either.....

On the subject of vampirism, no I don't think I'm a real vampire but I fully admit wanting to be, tacky as that may sound. Me and my lover Violet drink each others' blood and we both got fangs last Valentines' Day - permanent porcelain caps that we can have chipped off if we ever want to get a job at B of A. Until then, it's really fun scaring children on the bus.

13. You have been working on a novel for a while. How is that going?

The novel is about 2/3s done and as far as I'm concerned it's going really well. The section that's in this issue of Cups is from the point of view of this vampire Miranda who's been a prostitute since the Middle Ages and is now living in a squalid flat on 18th and Mission doing tons of heroin to dull her annoyingly sharp senses. The narrative wanders between her dreary present and her drug-induced recollections of the Middle Ages. If you've read Dogs in Lingerie, the novel is basically an expansion of the themes introduced in "The Gift of Neptune", "The Pillow Bone" and "Leeches".

I was originally against prematurely revealing anything about the book at all, but since both vampires and heroin are trendy right now I figured it's only a matter of time before someone else came up with a junkie vampire and I didn't want to be accused of copying anyone.

from Cups Magazine and Pucker Up 1995/early 1996, "An Interview with Danielle Willis" by Alexander Laurence, September 1995