Courting Delirium: Max Talley and his Dark Zeitgeist

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Jack Eidt had a chat with novelist Max Talley about Delirium Corridor, A Dark Anthology, the recent book he curated and contributed two stories to, from Borda Books/Santa Barbara Literary Journal.

Delirium Corridor A Dark Anthology - Max Talleym Bords Books, Jack EidtThe Electric HandshakeInterview with Max Talley

JE: This is Jack Eidt and I had a virtual chat with author Max Talley, curator of Delirium Corridor, A Dark Anthology that stitches together 15 tales of psychological suspense, altered states, noir crime and the surreal from Borda Books/Santa Barbara Literary Journal.

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Max is a multi-talented writer of fiction in the mode of slightly skewed reality, who paints art with a dose of “Primitive Surrealism,” and can occasionally be found riffing on his guitar at a wine bar or sportsman’s cantina, all surrounded by chaparral-covered mountainsides in southern-coastal California.

Max has turned into a story creation machine and has published in the Santa Fe Literary Review, Fiction Southeast, Gravel, Hofstra University – Windmill, Bridge Eight, Litro, and The Opiate, among many others. He seems equally at home spinning tales of crime, science fiction, realistic-bizzarro, or straight-ahead stream-of-consciousness (sort-of) diatribes, overlapping acerbic social commentary, extreme satire, and subtle, future-dreaming. His irrepressible wit is the tie that binds it all together, and he seems to have hit on a publishing culture-zeitgeist as of late, with a story hitting another literary journal about every other month it seems to those of us marveling at his output.

His dystopic-near-future novel Yesterday We Forget Tomorrow, published by Damnation Books/Caliber Press, employs this voice in a world where a young man struggles to become himself in a world where identities are created and destroyed by multinational corporations and their conspiring shadow governmental entities.

Where this irrepressible voice emanates from is a secret he keeps guarded in his time spent holed up in Santa Barbara or Santa Fe, and let’s not leave out his former hangout in Henry Miller territory on the Big Sur Coast. Mostly, though, Max is an exiled New Yorker, which keeps him looking down at the rest of us with knowing eyes from 40 stories up. I assume it gets lonely up there, but that’s when his band comes out to play a gig.

This is a piece from the eponymous first story of the Dark Anthology Delirium Corridor by Max DeVoe Talley called “Delirium Corridor.”

Jeremy fished the keys from his pocket. He heard an agonized shriek, then silence.

                His body felt numb, but summoning unusual strength, he slid his cumbersome desk away and unlocked the three locks. A dank, moldy stench seeped out when he pulled the door open.

                The hallway was so dark Jeremy couldn’t even see to the connecting door. After finding a box of safety matches among the junk on his shelves, he lit one and proceeded through the corridor. Empty. Where had Christina gone?

                In the dim yellowy light cast by the match, Jeremy watched the hallway telescope outward. The entry door slammed shut, a gust of air blowing out the flame. Jeremy became disoriented. He pressed a hand against one wall, but it felt soft and wet, like the inside of a throat. Jeremy recoiled. Both sides of the corridor illuminated images formed like Medieval tapestries on castle walls; liquid paintings that moved in slow motion. Living. Breathing.

                On the right side, he watched a group of circus tents burn atop a hillside while people fled through billowing smoke. To his left, Jeremy saw weary man buried in the dirt up to chest-level. His arms flailed about as he struggled to fend off wild dogs. Jeremy continued forward in the hallway, entranced by the images, a traveling caravan of ragtag vehicles, followed by a woman cackling in a solitary confinement cell and beyond, he saw a deserted city sunken into a lush European valley. The city inhaled, exhaled, and sighed.

 

Max Talley curated this Dark Anthology, published by an upstart independent publisher called Borda Books. In addition to contributing two stories, he did the cover and some of the interior artwork. In the interest of full disclosure, I personally joined 11 other writers contributing to this effort. Other writers include Silver Webb who channeled vintage Hollywood-Palm Springs-noir and doubled as Editrix and publisher, literary-fantabulist Stephen T. Vessels on the dangers of a blank page, Trey Dowell’s corporate executive gone into Artificial Intelligence overdrive against a homicidal kitchen appliance. It goes on from there.

JE: I have known you since 2007 Santa Barbara Writers conference and you were looking around like the rest of us to find a writing community and connect with the publishing industry. Also, you grew up in a publishing family. What made you jump into the world building realm of writing fiction?

MT: I have always been a reader and been surrounded by books. I was a songwriter and wanted to tell stories there. I liked the idea of escapism in stories. So, it’s something I wanted to do, but various things, like playing in bands and painting and trying to make a living got in the way. I did write here and there, wrote short stories, and they were okay, but nothing great. I did not realize then how much time was involved to be a decent writer.

JE: Yeah, that is for sure. So, you mentioned you navigate the world of rock and roll performance and primitive, surrealistic art and you continue to perform publicly and create a lot of art.

MT: Not so much gigging this year.

JE: I hear that. So how do you reconcile the three? Do they work together?

MT: Sometimes they work together. It is not like, you know, you do them all at the same time. There are probably some people who can do that. I’m not one of them, but one sort of leads to the other. You get a temporary writing block and then maybe you do a painting and then you are painting something. And most of my paintings were sort of a scene from a story, so they might jog my mind. And I might think, Oh, that would be kind of cool if I work this into a story. So then, on the other hand, if I’m writing well and I get a painting block, I’ll think of one of my stories and say, “You know, this story could use a painting,” and that actually happened in the Delirium Corridor collection. I thought, I need a painting for the storyteller in Corridor. So, I did the back cover over the summer specifically for that. The front cover was for the other story, “The Man with the Acid Handshake.”

STORY: ‘Medicine Walk’ Featured in Santa Barbara Literary Journal

JE: As we mentioned, your anthology that you put forward here Delirium Corridor — tell us what inspired this multifarious trip into the beyond?

MT: As a kid, I’m sure you remember watching TV reruns of Twilight Zone, Outer Limits. More recently, there has been a good series called Black Mirror where strange things happen to people. And it is not purely Science Fiction, not purely horror. It is any kind of thing can happen to anyone. It could be a crime. It could be near future dystopian thing, but they are single episodes, and they all have a state of being that ties them together into Delirium Corridor, sort of like Twilight Zone, is a transitional space.

It is not a place you go looking for. It’s a place you end up. It’s kind of by mistake. It is the possibility in the moment when we do something, when we improvise that will lead to something beautiful. But there is also the possibility that it will take us to some unknown space. Maybe a strange town filled with inbred circus carnival people. Not that all circus people are inbred, but in Delirium Corridor, they would be.

So, for instance, you Jack, are heading home. And you are eager to see your lady friend or whomever, and you go running, and you fall on your face. You wake up in the hospital thinking, “Oh, God, I must have conked out.” And then you hear a doctor, and someone is revving up a bone saw, and they’re like, “We gotta do some exploratory surgery.” That is when you know you are in Delirium Corridor.

I think you would probably agree that there is a limbo, a purgatory. If not literal, then possibly mental. States when we are in between, and do we come back out of it to where we were, or do we go further into the void? I think that is the question in these stories. Some of them end badly. Surprisingly enough, Stephen Vessels’ story had a very happy ending, so you don’t know. And it’s an unexpected place you find yourself in, and you hope to get back to where you were. I think in your story, “City of Illumination,” it’s not guaranteed that the character is going to survive where he goes to. And maybe he did survive. But another person might go there and perish.

JE: I think you have taken the concept of Delirium Corridor a little more literally in the story that kicks off this anthology.

MT:  I agree. The story was literal, and then I wanted to be a little bit more vague so that it could embrace a whole series of different approaches from different authors like yourself.

JE: So your story left me with the notion that this hall of mania is a rich and vibrant place where lots of surprises come but also dangerous and deadly. At times, laugh out loud humorous. A land of karma coming at you like a tidal wave. From your story, I was reminded of the visionary nature, I’m not sure if you read, Steppenwolf.

MT: I love Hermann Hesse, as a teenager I read all of his books.

JE: Yeah, So the Magic Lantern Theater is something that it’s sort of a point when he enters this abstract section from the Treatise of the Steppenwolf, and what it says over the entry is Not For Everybody.

MT: Yes, and above that on the sign it says: For Madmen Only.

JE: Could be, you know, it has been a while since I read it, but the point is, there’s these visions that come through it that are really apocalyptic there. But some of them are inspiring. So does Delirium Corridor for you, tell the future as sort of a dystopia, something we’re really not gonna be thrilled about, or is there something that will bring positive change and overcoming for all of us?

MT : I wasn’t looking at it as a dystopian thing, though I’m not sure it was hopeful either. What I did see in my story is that the Corridor is a sort of zone that separates. I mean, one of the characters says “It’s a passageway between matter and anti-matter, between logic and other chaos. A DMZ – Demilitarized Zone. Whatever beings live beyond the other door or not sculpted of flesh and bones, they appear as toxic clouds, poisonous viruses and nuclear explosions.” So it’s kind of a separation zone to keep two worlds apart from each other, and both worlds probably have value on their own, but could destroy each other if they were allowed to completely commingle.

Occasionally, things do come over from somewhere else. We see visions, phantoms. People see faces of Christ in a tree. Little things appear that don’t make any logical sense, and it’s almost as if they came over from this other side. We can survive with little bits of it, and we can have our superstitions and myths, but we cannot allow them to completely come together, or chaos. And Delirium Corridor is not only an interstitial zone, but it’s also a protective zone, keeping one away from the other.

STORY: Max Talley Story: A Secret Utopia Called Devorah

Max Talley NovelJE: Do you have favorite writers? Or conversely, are there writers you hate?

MT: The writers I hate? The writers I like will never hear what I said, but the writers I hate will somehow hear about it. That is just the way of the world. Lately, I really like Don DeLillo. Underworld by him is stunning. He breaks every rule. No teacher or workshop leader would ever tell you to write like him, and he does it with fierceness and fearlessness.

You know I am a fan of Denis Johnson, who died a couple years ago. A huge loss. Another guy who breaks the rules. He started as a poet. I don’t know if plots were that important to him. If you are looking for a good plot, his stories might be unsatisfying. But they always have incredible imagery, writing that is jaw-dropping. I find myself cursing when I read some of his stuff like, how did that motherfucker write that?

I’ve recently been reading Zadie Smith. Grand Union, her recent short story collection is really good. And then Aimee Bender. She does fantastical short stories, and I think she’s sort of the reigning queen of whatever exactly that is. Surreal. Magic realism.

In the Nineties, my two guys were T. C. Boyle and Paul Auster. Complete opposites. Boyle never found a metaphor or simile that he didn’t like. He was the over-abundant writer who was very much the antithesis of the minimalism that I that I did not care for. He reminded me of the modernists or postmodernists like Barth and Pynchon that I had read as a teenager. I am still a fan of his short stories. He wields humor almost as a weapon.

Paul Auster had a simpler style, totally clear. But you could tell he worked on it to make it clear, it was not just written simply, it was precise and surreal. A huge influence on me in the sense that he’d write a detective novel, but it would be as if Franz Kafka or Samuel Beckett wrote it.

For the rest of the interview, listen to the podcast – click here

Updated 14 January 2021

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About Jack Eidt

Novelist, urban theorist and designer, and environmental journalist, Jack Eidt careens down human-nature's all consuming one-way highway to its inevitable conclusion -- Wilder Utopia. He co-founded Wild Heritage Partners, based out of Los Angeles, California. He can be reached at jack (dot) eidt (at) wilderutopia (dot) com. Follow him on Twitter @WilderUtopia and @JackEidt