Joe Bucciano and Christopher Conlon:
Copyright © 2016 Joe Bucciano and Christopher Conlon
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Christopher Conlon: Joe, in a way you started this project, without knowing it at the time. How did this whole thing begin?
Joe Bucciano: We’re both members of the Twilight Zone Café, which is a message board for fans of the old TV show. I discovered that you were a Bram Stoker Award-winning writer, and began looking up your books, figuring that someone who liked The Twilight Zone might write stories I’d like to read. I read The Oblivion Room and absolutely loved it! And I posted about it at the Café.
CC: The funny thing is, I really wasn't part of that board anymore; I'd dropped all message-board activity a couple of years prior. But I stumbled over your posting while noodling around on the Internet one day, and was obviously delighted. When I got in touch with you and found out you were a painter I sought out your website, and was floored at what I saw. Your work spoke to me in a very powerful way. I mean, a picture like "Dirge" just knocks me out. I remember thinking, "If I were a painter, these are the kinds of paintings I would do."
JB: What a compliment!
CC: So how did you get started in painting, Joe, and why do you think so many of your pieces have that sort of macabre tilt?
JB: I've been fascinated by painting as far back as I can remember. It’s just always grabbed me in a very visceral way. I did a lot of drawing when I was a kid, but didn’t really start painting until I was in my late teens. As for the macabre tilt, that’s very difficult for me to answer, Chris. The best I can do is to say that my paintings are of dreams and daydreams, pictures that pop into my head in idle moments. You know how you wake up with a dream in your head and immediately forget it? I try not to forget those strange and metaphorical and introspective moments.
CC: I’ve never seen you paint, Joe, but I read somewhere that you don’t use a paint brush. So how do you do it?
JB: I paint with my fingers. I get a nice rough texture that way that more closely duplicates what I see in my head. When I absolutely have to, I use a brush for small details, but it’s 99% fingerpainting. But while we’re on the subject, Chris, I’m wondering where your story ideas come from, and how you develop them. There’s a hint of how it works for you in the Author’s Note in A Matrix of Angels.
C: Well, I think "ideas" are overrated. Anybody can have ideas, by which I mean anybody can come up with a possible little kernel of a story. The important thing is the second part of your question, how a writer develops that kernel. That's the difference between a person who may come up to somebody like me saying, "I have a great idea for a story!" and somebody who can actually sit down and write the story. That has an awful lot to do with plain old discipline, practicing writing and practicing thinking as a writer, something I've done now for thirty years or more. With my short-short stories, which I call my bon-bons, the trick once I have the kernel is to figure out where it goes. When I looked at your painting "Balconies," I quickly decided those three women in the picture were dead. Why? Who knows? They looked dead, I guess. So, there's a kernel. Three dead ladies and a weird house. Now, what about that house? Clearly they have a connection to it. I decided that it was their house. How can it be their house if they're dead? Because they were killed in it. Okay, all well and good, but... where do we go from there? Well, what about that car in the picture? Whose car is that? When I had that figured out I had my ending, and "The Three Dead Women of Mercer House" was born.
JB: That's fascinating, because although I often have a specific meaning in mind when I do a painting, a specific story, I didn't really have one in that case. It was just a memory of a house with a lot of railings, so it was interesting for me to see your take on it. From now on I'll think of it as "Balconies (The Three Dead Women of Mercer House)."
CC: That's great to hear! When I write something based on a picture, keep in mind I'm not trying to interpret the picture per se. I'm not trying to do my version of what I thought the artist "meant." Instead I use the picture as a jumping-off point for my own imagination. Take "November Roses." There are no roses in your painting, but the image of the cake and the flies and the dancing couple somehow sparked something in me.
But let’s turn this around. How about when we go at it the other way? What about when it’s my writing that sparks your art? Talk a bit about your “Fantastical Night,” which I love.
JB: Thanks, Chris. Your prose never fails to bring images to my mind. In When They Came Back there are a series of descriptions of the unusual night sky: "it did register in [Morris Levitt's] mind that the encroaching dark seemed different, somehow." Sheriff Ryder sees that "the entire sky was different, indescribable. It was dark but not black, not any color he had ever seen.” So I’m reading that, and already I’m trying to picture what that looks like and, more specifically, how I would paint it – and then when I get to “Winnie stood at the open gash in the earth, noticing the fantastical sky above her, watching her sister” suddenly it clicks! And I knew exactly how I wanted to paint it.
CC: Here's to many more collaborations between us in the future, Joe!