A Conversation with Christopher Stoddard
Interview by Jameson Currier
Four years ago Brooklyn-based author Christopher Stoddard gained literary notoriety with White, Christian, a compelling debut novel about a twenty-year-old self-destructive “lost boy” on a downward spiral of crack and sex. He has now returned with a new novel, Limiters, a disturbing portrait of Kyle Mason, a sixteen year old in panicked flight from a dysfunctional family in Connecticut. Once an honors student who loved to read, Kyle has run away from home and seeks refuge in the underground rave culture—his only way of avoiding the trauma of the murder of his older brother, which has thrown his grieving mother into a shrewish, overly critical frame of mind.
Stoddard’s new novel is as dark, humorous, and fierce as his first, an addictive page turner of sparse prose and vividly depicted scenes. Author Jameson Currier recently spoke with Stoddard about the release of his latest novel.
Currier: Tell me about your new novel, Limiters.
Stoddard: After a sixteen-year-old boy’s brother dies, he flees a dysfunctional home life, searching for a new family amongst homeless ravers, predatory adults, and abusive addicts. It's a story about a teenager whose adult future seems inevitably doomed by unusually tragic circumstances.
Currier: The narrator of Limiters certainly has a wild youth. How autobiographical is the novel?
Stoddard: Déjà vu! I was asked the same question about my first novel, White, Christian. All I’ll say is, I’ve used some personal experience as inspiration, but if Limiters were autobiographical, I’d have called it a memoir.
Currier: Where did you grow up? Were you part of the rave culture of urban Connecticut?
Stoddard: I did grow up in Connecticut, and participated in the rave culture in all of New England, often traveling three or four hours just to attend a party in New Hampshire or Massachusetts, only to turn the car around at nine or ten in the morning, with a car packed full of intoxicated buddies, and make my way back—hoping I didn’t get pulled over or fall asleep at the wheel!
Currier: When and why and how did you end up in New York/Brooklyn?
Stoddard: I moved to New York to act when I was nineteen, which I did for the first three of the eleven years I’ve lived here.
Currier: Tell me about your journey as an author. When did you start writing? As a teen? Did you do an MFA program or were you part of a writing group or workshop?
Stoddard: Well, at the same time I was acting, I was writing (had been since I was a teen), and after performing in an Off Broadway theater company for a bit, I realized the stage was not for me—I had a strong need to express myself creatively, but I felt more when I wrote than I ever did when I acted. I eventually met a literary agent, who was interested in a very rough draft of White, Christian. And from then on that was my focus. He hired a few editors to work with me, eventually getting me involved with Bruce Benderson, who became my mentor and taught me everything I know. I have a Bachelor’s in English now, but at the time my first book was published, I was a high school dropout with a GED and hadn’t finished college.
Currier: How has your New York experiences shaped you as a writer?
Stoddard: In New York, I’ve made the best kind of friends—the legendary underground artists and writers who’ve kept culture alive in this city. Their bold, transgressive work and strong influence on me, has made me less inhibited as a writer; I no longer shy away from subjects about which I’m passionate that the mainstream deems too provocative for publication.
Currier: How long did it take you to write Limiters? What is your writing process? Are you at work on something daily? Or do you binge and write it all at once?
Stoddard: Even though it’s pretty short, Limiters took me roughly two years to write. I don’t write daily; I can sometimes go a month without writing. It comes in spurts that sometimes last a week, or even a day every few weeks.
Currier: What writers influenced you?
Stoddard: There are several writers who’ve influenced me, but the two who stand out the most are Hubert Selby Jr. and Louis-Ferdinand Céline. In Limiters I’ve married Selby Jr.’s raw writing style with Céline’s nihilistic ideas; I have a passion for literature that touches on the violence and bleakness of humanity.
Currier: Like Christian White in White, Christian, Kyle Mason’s teen years heavily influence his adult experiences. There is a coda to Limiters where Kyle is in his mid-twenties and living in New York. Kyle has progressed from a wild, teen runaway to a reckless sex-addicted adult. What do you think readers will take away from this? Has Kyle changed? Is he healing or is he headed downward?
Stoddard: In both books I’m not writing about redemption—these people are not meant to be redeemed. The sentimentality we find in so many books and films these days doesn’t often translate to real life. My books are character studies of that truth, taken to the extreme. In Limiters, readers will experience the domino effect of each stage in Kyle’s life, how every circumstance in every year has a consequence on the next, and the next. At the start of the second half of Limiters, Kyle explains the book’s theme in a daydream:
“In a cab feeling desperate for something, but I don’t know what. Whizzing by buildings, people and cars, I’m imagining destroying them all as easily as flicking a train of dominoes with my finger. The brick walls of this one building I’m passing are smashing into the washers and dryers in the laundromat on the first floor, obliterating the customers waiting around, soapy water washing away the blood. Other buildings are collapsing on pedestrians, bodies splattering on the pavement the way those of rats and pigeons sometimes do when the dumb pests try crossing a busy avenue and end up squashed by a car. Concrete sidewalks and potholed asphalt streets are caving in, angular pieces of rock slicing and dicing the subway riders in this hollow city.”
He’s subconsciously alluding to the chaos of existence. Nothing has meaning; there is no fate, only random acts of bad luck and violence, smoothed over by distraction: money, sex, love, and drugs in whatever form.
Currier: Do you expect to write more about Kyle?
Stoddard: I don’t. I believe there are striking similarities between Kyle in Limiters and Christian in White, Christian, but as I grow as an individual and writer, the narrators of my books evolve—or devolve—into someone new. I suppose both protagonists are alter egos of mine, but once I get them out of my head, a new voice emerges.
Currier: What books are you currently reading?
Stoddard: Nausea by Jean-Paul Sartre, Against Marriage by Bruce Benderson, and Black Boy by Richard Wright.
Currier: What are you working on now? What are your current new projects?
Stoddard: A new novel is brewing in my head, but I’ve not written much since finishing Limiters. More will come when it’s ready.
Currier: What do you like best about living in Brooklyn?
Stoddard: I live in Greenpoint; I guess I like it because it has a less corporate feel than Manhattan does these days. And I enjoy the quiet, as does my dog, Monte. But in all honesty, if I had my way, I’d have moved to Berlin years ago.
Christopher Stoddard is the Brooklyn-based author of the novels Limiters and White, Christian. White, Christian was chosen by the American Library Association for their 2012 list of commendable LGBT literature. His writing has also been published by Lambda Literary and Go Deeper Press. In December 2012, he and artist Gio Black Peter released the limited edition literary/arts magazine, Satanica.
Jameson Currier is the author of nine books of fiction and the editor of Chelsea Station Magazine.