J.J. Philips knows how to weave a memorable story, telling a tale from within based on life experiences. Drawing from inner darkness she creates and customizes characters to her exact specifications. Though, according to her, the characters do talk back sometimes.
The Colorado native has resided in the Buckeye State for years, four of which were spent on rewrites of the same number during the eight year Parental Bloodshed project with a re-write every two years.
Not everyone can successfully meld together a story about female supremacist cannibals who move to a mid-western city and make it must read. The story is set in the fictional city of Parkersburg, influenced by the industrial factory feel of Dayton, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh among others.
The genesis of the idea came from listening to House of 1000 Corpses and Rob Zombie. “I love him and people can make fun of me all they want, I don’t care. Thunder Kiss ’65 is my fav,” she laughs.
The idea of nature vs nurture is a prominent theme throughout the book, to find out which is stronger in the individual.
The Unshaven Modcast was recently quoted saying, “There’s no warm up, she just drops you in that world, boom, you’re there.” Parental Bloodshed also won SQ Horror Magazine’s Horror Novel of the Year in 2016.
For curious readers, it’s more like Hannibal ‘normal’ with elements of sophistication than Texas Chainsaw or The Devil’s Rejects, though Philips was influenced by Zombie. By all outward appearances, the characters are a traditional family, the rest you’ll have to read about.
Philips explains the main characters, “A female supremacist may or may not see any use in a man whatsoever. They don’t see men as equal or even human in a lot of ways.”
The main characters or ‘the family’ are (Sarah, Victoria, Mary, Daryl) with Heather written as support. Sub-characters include Vietnam vets Arthur and Neightball with Shelly and Lilly appearing later. “The main characters (and Arthur) are facets on my personality and they’ve been broken off, added to and expounded upon into actual feasible humans, but they’re all me.” The rest are inspired by other personalities she’s met, combining traits of different people.
Sarah, ironically, is a vegetarian, and a bit of a rebel. While she’s eating salad the rest are munching on body parts, she gets called Rabbit a lot.
Though even minimally, in the family’s world, there are some uses for men. “The way it’s done, there are some practical uses, but it’s very few and far between, they’re like cattle. That’s at least how they view it.” They prey on people who are forgotten and wouldn’t be missed. “They view men like men view cattle.”
Philips lays out a provocative body count in her pages though she can’t release or discuss details. There’s an accumulated rough estimate but no real figures.
While men are par for killing, women are highly regarded and only killed in necessity but not in the same manner or reason.
To get into the mindset of the women, if a man was around to do a job or service and would ‘be missed’ they’re probably safe. They would walk in and out of the house unharmed unless they did some ‘exploring.’
So, the obvious question, why cannibals? “It’s a way of life,” Philips says. “They don’t see anything wrong or different with their behavior. It’s just normal everyday things for them.”
It’s based in realism, “The goal is to show the depravity of humans,” she explains. “It’s based in a real world idea that this could be happening in your neighbor’s basement. It could be happening down the street, the nightmare next door idea.”
She also experiments with unseen human nature. “You don’t really know anything about anyone other than what they’re willing to tell you. It’s really true for most people. We keep the things we want to ourselves. We only let out what we want people to see. Who we are and what’s behind closed doors might be totally different.”
Pass that threshold or door is where normal ends, or the idea of normalcy.
The book comes wrapped in butcher paper like a piece of meat and is more than just a marketing gimmick. “I want you to experience and consume it. There’s a really, really cool butcher shop and deli in it. It’s like, when you went to the butcher shop, they’d hand you these packages with the name of the place on it.”
The paper is also more durable and better quality than a dust jacket she assures.
The term ‘parental’ in the title is amazing, once you read it. After reading, if you look at the tray in the group shot, it will make sense to you along with the butcher paper and sticker.
A sequel was written but she burned most of the script due to lack of quality content save for a few ideas. “I’m really melodramatic, I took what I wanted from it then got rid of it. I actually have the ashes of the sequel.”
The burned remains of a few charred pages sit encased in a jar as a keepsake. “It makes for a cool decoration and people ask me about it.” The sequel is coming along ‘glacially.’
“When I do rewrites I’ll take some ideas or the idea of something and just rewrite the whole thing.” The car in the story has stayed the same through all four versions, a black ’69 Chevy Chevelle named Lynx with leather interior. It’s also a highly effective tool for what they do, customized for use. A Jeep Wrangler named Vixen is introduced later.
The first run sold out but a second printing is due out late summer, available on her site and Clash Dayton.
She’ll put identifiable music in your head in several scenes, “It’s really cool, there are several scenes that are very musically driven. It’s very dialogue driven as well.”
On the graphic content, “If you could make a book NC-17, this would be it. It’s an X-rated book with blood, gore, sexuality, drug use and the coolest strip club on the planet.” The lines between hero and villain are blurred. Most have enjoyed the world she’s created. Some of the characters do things we only wish we could sometimes. If it were on TV it would have to be on a pay channel or Netflix.” She’s been told several times, it reads like a movie.
In one scene above all, “I had a couple people tell me I turned their stomachs. So obviously I’m good at that,” she laughs. Some of her male friends looked at her differently after reading it. “I had a couple guys stop talking to me (which amused more than offended), but yeah, it’s very graphic.” Her mom won’t read it and with her permission Philips sold her copy.
Writing is her therapy, “I’m not a violent person. I started, writing in a journal. It was a way to get everything out and a way to move on with my life.” The last two rewrites were very different than the first three. The second was more plot-driven, the third got into the ‘meat’ of the story. It all came together in the finale.
“I write from a place of personal tragedy. When I finish things like this, it’s extremely emotionally overwhelming for me.” After it was done, she purged, “I sat back, and thought, I did it, that’s it. I cried for a while and that was awesome.” It was a cleansing of the soul.
Even when she’s in the zone, she makes herself take breaks or else she’ll get caught in the process and forget to eat, sleep and live. “I’m naturally a night person and it’s not good for getting things done.”
Her writing draws stylistic inspiration from Stephen King’s book On Writing. “It gave me permission, no matter how crazy the stuff in my head was, [he] gave me permission to write that.”
She reads H.P. Lovecraft to get a break from her own brain. “There’s nothing that really scares me but there are movies I enjoy.” She’s a big fan of Eli Roth’s The Green Inferno. Though, as a child, The Watcher in the Woods scared her. “I wouldn’t get out of my bed at night. It scared the ever living crap out of me as a kid and it’s embarrassing to admit because it’s a Disney movie,” she laughs.
She re-watched it later in life, feeling uncomfortable but not scared. “It was more like, wow I can’t believe Disney made this.”
She’s been to movie conventions before as a fan, realizing you need to have something that sets you apart from everything else. “It’s ridiculously hard.”
As odd as it sounds, she started the Parental Bloodshed experience, selling copies in local bars. Last year was her first convention as a vendor. “I learned it’s really about interaction. I went to previous [conventions] and people were always looking down at you because you’re seated.” She found sitting on a bar stool eye level was more engaging for conversation and interaction.
It was also an educational experience having just the small group picture as advertisement. “I was across from a woman who posed nude with masking tape over her nipples and a skull over her crotch.” Hundreds of pictures of her in different poses decorated her booth. “When people walked by my picture, they would cover their kid’s eyes but walking by hers, they didn’t do anything.”
Philips acknowledges there’s a certain double standard or societal acceptance level between male and female nudity.
She’s done conventions this year in Sharonville and Parental Bloodshed: The Bloody Tour will join the dead in Louisville, KY for a weekend in early September.
The group shot was a fun shoot. There was electricity in the room. They were instructed not to smile. “Everybody wanted to do the bench,” at the Sharonville convention.
Philips sometimes has to deal with her creations rebelling in mind and on paper. “I get in fights with them sometimes. When you’re in this world, you’re in complete control because you’re God. You make these characters into everything they are.”
Sometimes the characters argue with her on their direction and motivation. “If I write something that doesn’t fit, they yell back at me. They’re like, no I’m not gonna do this, I’m like yes you are and they’re like no I’m not. How are you gonna argue with me, I’m God [here],” she laughs.
“Arguing with characters is absolutely normal for me. They have a life of their own with their own being.”
Philips looks forward to spreading more bloodshed in 2017. Keep up to date on news and appearances here.