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Q&A: Theodore Carter talks abstraction and convention

Frida Sex Dreams and Other Unnerving Disruptions

Theodore Carter, Run Amok

We’re quickly becoming fans of new, upstart indie press Run Amok. Last year, they published the excellent noir western The Green Ghetto, and now they’ve followed it up with this compelling string of disturbing yarns. A mix of magic realism and Freudian nightmare, Carter’s wild imagination gifts us a winged woman yearning for freedom (and sex); a marriage torn apart by Frida Kahlo fantasies; and let’s not forget the alien horny for President Jimmy Carter. All that and so much more!

Frida Sex Dreams and Other Unnerving Disruptions is part of our Summer 2019 Indie Book Picks.

Q&A with Carter

Both of your books (Frida Sex Dreams and Other Unnerving Disruptions and The Life Story of a Chilean Sea Blob) are full of stories that are ultimately about facing the unknown. The combination of fantastical escapism with these deep, human fears we can all relate to feels quite timely — can you speak to this? 

Some stories started as realistic pieces about things like mental health or social ostracism but became unique and compelling once I added dark humor or an element of the fantastic. For instance, I wanted to write about the challenge of being a good person while being a good leader. That turned into a piece about Jimmy Carter’s sexual encounter with an alien. Abstraction is a great way for me to wrestle with real-world ideas in a new context. As a reader, I love slipstream fiction and anything that defies clear genre categorization. A good comedic horror story is a rare gem. This reflects what I try to do as a writer.

Frida Sex Dreams raises many questions about societal norms, lust, jealousy and human nature. When Melissa said, “maybe we can be messy but okay”, we felt that! What was the inspiration behind the title story in particular?

I went through a phase when I read everything I could about Frida Kahlo, and I remember trying to imagine what it would be like to have dinner with her and Diego Rivera. I realized I’d be a dud of a guest compared to friends like Leon Trotsky and movie star Paulette Goddard. I’d be dizzy on Tequila and marijuana when Frida and Diego were just getting started. They’d bicker about something trivial or fling insults about past affairs, and I’d stare at my plate and scrape up my mole sauce. I sat with this longer. Why would I be such a bad dinner guest?

What I admire most about Frida Kahlo is the her unabashed embrace of her own proclivities. She eschewed convention and bent gender norms from the time she was a teenager. So, I decided to see what would happen if I put a repressed suburbanite through a series of wild imagined sexual encounters with Frida Kahlo. I think a lot of us follow a conventional life path without ever stopping to consider why, and this makes us bad dinner guests. We should strive to be more honest with ourselves and each other even if it hurts a bit, even if it’s messy.

What are you reading these days?

I’m reading Karen Russell’s “Orange World” and “Inseparable: The Original Siamese Twins and Their Rendezvous with American History” by Yunte Huang. Karen Russell is my favorite living writer, and who wouldn’t want to know more about conjoined twins who fathered 21 children and backed the confederacy despite being the victims of rampant racism?

What’s on your mind? What’s next for Theodore Carter?

This fall, Run Amok Books will publish my novel “Stealing ‘The Scream’”. It’s a comedic crime novel about the 2004 theft of Edvard Munch’s iconic painting. I’ve also pulled off several street art projects in the Washington, D.C. area, and I’m expanding my foray into visual art. After that, it’s hard to say. My projects slip and slide into one another like a hard-to-contain amorphous sea blob.

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