There are definitely some similarities between The Show That Smells and your previous book, The Haunted Hillbilly, like vampires, costuming and country stars. What is your fascination with those elements?
“Well, I have a limited range of fascinations, and they last a long time, and I’m really, really obsessive about them. So, in fact, I always think of my books this way: I have a collection of disparate fascinations, and I try to find a structure that contains them all. Which is why the books end up being so ridiculous and absurd. But it’s the best I can do, to link these disparate things, like Schiaparelli and Jimmie Rodgers. My love of fashion goes back to when I was a kid. I remember the first Vogue I bought, and at my high school graduation I wore Gaultier, which I had to save up a long time to buy.”
What about country music?
“I grew up around country music, and I hated it. When I started writing, I discovered that I liked it, but also that it conjured a really lonely, desperate small-town isolation for me. My books start with these little coincidences. I guess with The Haunted Hillbilly, it was the fact that the first men to ever wear sequins and rhinestones were in country music, which seems wrong, given their reputation as honky-tonk heroes. With The Show That Smells, it started, in part, with me loving Jimmie Rodgers and him actually dying of tuberculosis, him basically dying on a Coney Island roller coaster. I loved that he had a massive collection of the finest French perfume, which he carried everywhere with him, to smell.”
And how did your interest in Elsa Schiaparelli come into play?
“I loved Schiaparelli’s circus collection, and I love those pictures of when she visited Neiman Marcus in Dallas and wore a cowboy outfit with pink embroidery. It would have been in the WWII era, pretty early for country, but she put a Schiaparelli touch on it. So all this stuff sort of melds in my mind. And then the Schiaparelli and Chanel stuff, as you know, was just this great hatred of each other and trying to kill each other.”
With their feud, it seems like Chanel was the instigator of the two designers. Chanel was pushing Schiaparelli into a candle or insulting her, so why does Chanel get to be the good guy in your book? Or is the vampire the good guy?
“Yeah, the vampire is the good guy in this. That’s my psychology, that the villainess is way cooler and smarter. And Chanel... I mean, I’m not crazy about Chanel. I have enormous respect for her, but she doesn’t interest me all that much. Schiaparelli, for me, being the dark one who disappears—that's a way better fate for her. But I do love the candle story; that was part of the genesis of the book. It was vicious enough dipping someone in a candle, but a way to kill a vampire, of course, is to burn them.”
In the book, you talk a lot about what Chanel and Schiaparelli wear, but you don’t talk about what you wear as a vampire reporter. What does a vampire reporter wear?
“That’s a hard question, and I want to get it right. It would just be a black suit. I gave it some thought, but it just didn’t fit into the book. But I look really good; I look really fucking good.”