Recently, I had an opportunity to review Cinestate’s Headcheese by Jess Hagemann. You may read my review here. Jess Hagemann is no stranger to writing, and her short stories have won multiple awards. Her debut novel, Headcheese, was a semi-finalist in the Subito Press contest last year. She also owns Cider Spoon Stories, a ghostwriting and editing business in Austin, where she helps people write their autobiographies. I wanted to know more about this talented author, and she kindly agreed to speak to me. Let’s find out more about Jess Hagemann!
Jess Hagemann: Honestly, since I learned to hold a pencil. My earliest attempts were elaborate greeting cards for family and friends. From there, I graduated to re-writing my favorite R. L. Stine books as short stories and trying to pass them off as my own. The first short story that was all mine was about a homeless girl who lived with her Dalmatian in the woods. I was 10 and obsessed with a Ty Beanie Baby Dalmatian named Sparky.
PopHorror: Talented from a young age! That’s a great story. I totally forgot about that Ty Beanie Baby until just now. (laughs) What was your first published work?
Jess Hagemann: At 13, I had a poem accepted for publication in a national teen anthology. It was heavily moralistic – “don’t party or your grades will suffer” type of stuff. I was very repressed and carried a lot of Catholic guilt.
PopHorror: I was raised Catholic, so I definitely can relate to “Catholic guilt.” Can you tell us about authors who inspire you?
Jess Hagemann: Mark Z. Danielewski (House of Leaves) and Chuck Palahniuk (Fight Club, Haunted) are my two favorites. Through Chuck, I discovered the inimitable Lidia Yuknavitch (The Chronology of Water). Chris Kraus and her road memoir I Love Dick fascinated me.
PopHorror: I admit, I haven’t read any of those and will definitely be putting those on by TBR list. Headcheese is so unique. How did you develop the idea for the book?
Jess Hagemann: It started when I decided to write a psychosexual horror novel. I Googled “fetishes that can kill you,” and, while there are many, amputation fetishes felt like the storyline that I personally could do the most with. Once I started looking for it, I found amputation – and Body Integrity Identity Disorder – everywhere: in the news, on TV shows, in the people who rode the bus around Austin with me. I researched, interviewed, wrote, and re-wrote until 26 characters took definitive shape.
PopHorror: That is fascinating! I hadn’t heard of it until I read this book. But you are right, once I found out about it, it seems to be everywhere now. With the vast amount of characters in this book, are there any qualities of yourself in any of them?
Jess Hagemann: The whole book is very meta. By its nature, it documents my research process and the things that I was learning/thinking/exploring at the same that I was writing. While most of Headcheese is third-person, there’s an “I” voice that occasionally offers commentary, and some of that is mine.
PopHorror: That makes total sense. How long did it take you to write Headcheese?
Jess Hagemann: Eighteen months—writing just one night a week. Seriously! I belong to Weeknight Wordsmiths, a meetup group-slash-accountability group for writers in Austin. We meet every Monday night. I wrote for one hour every Monday, then spent the intervening week thinking about what to write the following Monday. Eighteen months later, it was done.
PopHorror: That is crazy! Little things add up to big things for sure. So, I have to ask this: Panster or Plotter?
Jess Hagemann: Panster with a plotter flavor, in the form of artificial constraints. The constraints in Headcheese were that I wanted the stories to be true to real peoples’ experiences, and I didn’t want to ‘explain away’ BIID through too much backstory or rationalization… how the amputee fetishists got that way. Because it doesn’t matter. I wanted the book to capture their experiences today, in the moment, without judgment or agenda. Other than that, I had 26 characters, and knew that I wanted their lives to overlap by the end of the novel, but had no idea how that would happen—until “Church,” an underground amputation show – sprang into being one night.
PopHorror: I love that description – panster with a plotter flavor. Let’s switch gears for a moment. This is a question I ask because it is so fun to hear about the answer. What is your favorite horror film and villain?
Jess Hagemann: Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs. That movie is the perfect combination of gruesome gore and psychological mind fuckery. For a long time, I wanted to be Clarice Starling and work for the FBI.
PopHorror: I am a Hannibal Lecter fan as well! That was my first rated R film I saw in the theater. My parents took me when I was 14, and I thought I was so cool. I definitely wanted to be Clarice Starling. Thomas Harris’s book is excellent as well. If you could meet any author, dead or alive, who and why?
Jess Hagemann: If I could meet any author, alive or dead, it’d be Ayn Rand. An objectivist at heart, I aspire to the sheer scope of her stories and the passion that fueled her particular perspective.
PopHorror: A great choice! Which leads me to my next question: How do you feel about being a woman writing horror? Is there anything women bring to the horror genre that men don’t?
Jess Hagemann: I love it! As a female horror writer, I hope to bring the emotional nuance and the eye for detail that can elevate horror to high art.
PopHorror: I definitely agree with you, and I believe you do bring all of that to your writing. What projects do you have coming up in the future?
Jess Hagemann: Right now, I’m working on a contemporary retelling of Marie Antoinette’s reign as the queen of France set in present-day Austin. She still gets married off at 13 and beheaded in her 30s, but it’s 2019 and subjected to Texas’ religion-informed politics.
PopHorror: That sounds like a interesting read! Thank you for taking the time to speak with me. We’re wishing you continued successes and are all looking forward to your future books!