This week, publishing house Farrar, Straus and Giroux released “Dead Pig Collector,” a new shortform fiction story by esteemed author Warren Ellis. And while the release of any new Ellis work is worth noting, the unorthodox format of this project (a 99¢ ’digital ebook single, with no physical edition planned) makes it even more of a special event – this is FSG’s first exclusively digital release, and inspires all manner of interesting discussion about the distribution of novellas and short stories as stand-alone releases, and the flexibility of format that digital publication can provide. So, in the excitement around this release, we took the opportunity to ask Mr. Ellis some quick questions about this new story, the method of publication, and his creative process.
MTV Geek: For some of us, “a new Warren Ellis story” is all we need to know to purchase any given title. But to those who may not be familiar with your work, how would you describe “Dead Pig Collector”?
Warren Ellis: It is a love story about the efficient disposal of corpses. Sort of.
Geek: This format (an e-novella with no print edition) is something that’s only recently been played with by publishers, and even then, usually only to provide teasers for larger books – not to showcase stand-alone works. But then, you have a long-standing history of breaking out of established formats – you’ve always seemed to relish the challenge of finding new ways to get your stories out into the world. Why that experimental impulse?
Ellis: It’s really only about finding the format that best suits the story I want to tell. Form needs to follow content. For me, ’Dead Pig’ only worked like this – forcing it into a different can would have harmed the story I wanted to tell. Simple as that.
Nothing’s ever easy. But you do what’s best for the work.
Geek: Following up on that, as you’ve worked in so many different fields, how do you determine which format to use for a given idea? Is the medium determined at the moment of conception, or do you take the time to develop the story and then decide?
Ellis: It’s an instinctual thing, maybe. I knew from the outset that the story needed to be told in prose, and that it wasn’t going to fill a novel, but that it wanted to come out. I mean, I wrote the thing in four days, it wanted out.
Geek: How did this story itself come to be? Did the character or the plot come first, and how did it develop?
Ellis: Neither, really? I happened on a news story about certain current conditions in China, and there was a phrase in there that just resonated with me – I’d been thinking a lot about crime fiction, still, and finding new ways into the genre, and what came from that phrase was a job description, and then a character and a plot, all at once – everything just exploded out from a crime-fiction reading of that phrase.
Geek: Does this story accurately represent your personal opinions about Los Angeles? Or is the disdain expressed simply a point of view that’s necessary for your protagonist?
Ellis: In general, I don’t like LA all that much, but it has wonderful parts. The extra level of grimness very much comes from Mister Sun. But then, he doesn’t work in Hollywood, and I sometimes have traffic with the film/TV industry, so we have different perceptions of the place right away. I mean, it’s not a proper city, and a lot of it is awful, but I’ve had great times there.
Geek: This book, like many of your works, focuses on a character that is oddly likable, but in no way sympathetic. How do you walk that line, creating a character that’s both fascinating and repulsive, without making the reader give up and stop caring?
Ellis: Well, that’s not really my call. If you found Mister Sun interesting, that’s great, and I thank you, but I’m sure not everyone will agree. There’s no magic trick. You just have to be as honest to and about the character as you can, and hope that makes the character rounded enough to at least be somehow empathetic.
Geek: Particularly with something like this book, where you need to research bizarre practices to create a believable story – how do you go about conducting that research? And are you ever concerned that you may have to come up with a creative defense when the police subpoena your communication records?
Ellis: Oh, that ship sailed long ago. Did you ever read ’Crooked Little Vein’? I was probably on a watch list even before that book.
But you would, perhaps, still be surprised at what you can find out there. I found many, many slabs of text on exactly how to nicely clean away dead bodies. I think ’Dead Pig’ required less than five hours’ searching and reading for me to be able to write it.
Geek: And now that this story is finally out in the world, what’s next on your agenda?
Ellis: ’Spirit Tracks’, a non-fiction book about the future of the city and the Science Fiction Condition, will be released by my ’Dead Pig’ publisher, FSG, next year.