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Well folks, December is here, and it looks like Santa is bringing the goods early this year. I am K. Banning Kellum, and once again, it is my honor to present to you our Writer's Lounge interview.
Tonight, I give you a man who needs no introduction. You may know him as that friendly admin that is always there to help, you may know him as an amazing writer who has brought some true classics to our little part of the internet. I was lucky enough to get to know both sides, and a bit more about amazing member of our community.
With no further hesitation, I am proud to present to you, EmpyrealInvective!
Banning: Ok, well, let's start off with the basics here. Tell us a bit about the man behind the Pastas. Tell us a bit about your day to day life when you're not moderating our site and creating stories.
EmpyrealInvective: Welp, my name is Travis. I am currently living in Colorado working as an animal care technician. A few big hobbies of mine are reading, writing (As some of you may know), and watching movies. (As can be seen by my horror movie marathon in October.)
Banning: Yeah, that was a great blog by the way. As a horror movie fanatic myself, I could certainly appreciate a lot of your choices on that list.
EmpyrealInvective: I'm saddened that I didn't have the time to check out your recommendation.
Banning: (In my best Scream Ghostface voice) What's your favorite scary movie?
EmpyrealInvective: Gotta say, hands down John Carpenter's The Thing. It was one of those rare movies that managed to inject a little humor (Playing the computer in chess and their reaction to the doctor's head sprouting legs and skittering off after hissing at them is just glorious.) into the horror and pull it off without compromising either genre. Plus the ending is just magnificently ambiguous.
Banning: Another fun fact, there wasn't a single female actress in that movie. Never realized that until years later when it was pointed out to me.
EmpyrealInvective: I have now just realized that. (How have I not noticed that after all these years?)It's like Dr. Strangelove
Banning: So, tell us about the Peace Corp. What was your motivation to join, and what was the enlistment process like? The training and preparation. And tell us about your time spent abroad.
EmpyrealInvective: Peace Corps were the two-and-a-half most stressful, fun, rewarding, and yes, pants-shitingly terrifying years of my life. I enlisted straight out of college as I figured that that would be the only time I would be able to have such an experience. One fun fact about time abroad (As I'm sure you can attest to) is that you always have so many stories; happy, sad, terrifying, absurd, and not enough time to share them. So instead of talking for pages about terrifying children with practical jokes, earning the nickname "Gringo Lobo", or being unintentionally over-dosed with corn. I'll ask that anyone interested in hearing more leaves a message on my talk page or messages me in chat. Training was intense and we started out with twenty-five volunteers and left with eighteen. The hardest part of training for me was learning Spanish and the horribly comical mistranslations that came about from my inability to speak with an accent and know key words and common slang.
Banning: That does sound like an intense conversation, and one that I will no doubt take you up on sometime. Now, what led you over to Creepypasta?
EmpyrealInvective: Actually trading legends and myths with the Nicaraguan kids made me realize that I didn't have too many stories they hadn't already heard/had a counterpart for. The headless Horseman/El hombre sin cabaza, goblins/duendes, even Bigfoot had a Central American counterpart (El Sisinique)
So I planned that the next time I went into Esteli (the closest town), I would find stories they hadn't heard. I Googled scary/creepy stories and voila! I stumbled across Creepypastas and spent a majority of the day and night (as I was too engrossed to realize I had missed the last bus back to my village.) reading. As my community all went to bed at around 8, I had two to three hours with nothing to do and I started killing time writing Creepypastas.
Banning: So, what led you from casual user to the admin we know and love today?
EmpyrealInvective: Know and love is debatable, but believe it or not, just a few minor edits here and there. Then a certain bureaucrat, then admin, gave me a slight nudge/strong kick in the ass towards VCROC, then Admin a month later. That person was Mystreve, so I guess you can blame him. Haha.
Banning: Ha, well, I will thank him rather than blame him. You've been an amazing help to me from my first days here all the way up to just a few days ago when I asked you how to upload a video. So, I think he made a good choice. So, were you a user for a while before you contributed your first story, or did you go right into uploading pastas?
EmpyrealInvective: I actually wrote ten or so stories (some currently on the site) while in the Peace Corps and lurked around the site until I got home. As soon as I officially signed up, my first action was uploading a horribly formatted story that I spent a while afterwards trying to figure out how to fix, which Sloshedtrain corrected for me. Thanks pal!
Banning: Sounds about like my first time uploading. So, I am a huge fan of your work, and while reading through your stories, I found some that I simply had to ask a question or two about.
Banning: Let's start with one of my favorites, Black Hole Sun. Tell me about the inspiration for that one, and what was your method for tying together several different lives into one plot.
EmpyrealInvective: Oddly enough, I was driving to work (midnight-noon shift then at a hospital as a security guard, ala A Night in the Hospital) and the Soundgarden song "Black Hole Sun" came on the radio. I cranked it up and just had an odd thought about what would happen if the world were ending and I had this distinct image of a heroin junky (Spoonman, because why make only one reference? Go for broke.) Driving to a place to seek an attrition of sorts and the idea just started taking shape.
Banning: Now, you listed Billy's Wish as a Trollpasta, but I personally thought it was brilliant, and terrifying. What was the inspiration for that one?
EmpyrealInvective: I really wanted to try my hand at a Trollpasta and thought, what is the most absurd thing I could think of. Which turned out to be a boy who used wishes to create a world he understood/loved and the horrifying consequences that arose from that. (The great cootie plague and manipulation of the world into cartoon-esque monstrosity.) I guess it wasn't the wacky kind of funny, just dark humor.
Banning: Honestly, it made me think of the portrait, The Garden of Earthly Delights. From a distance I can imagine it looked bright and beautiful, but upon closer inspection, it was hell on earth.
EmpyrealInvective: Hieronomous-Bosch? That's quite the compliment
Banning: Yeah, that portrait has blown my mind since back in my college days. The devil really is in the details with that one, just as the terror was in the details in Billy's Wish.
EmpyrealInvective: Also saw that when I was at Washington College, wish I could claim that it was my inspiration. (Maybe I will...)
Banning: Now, speaking of college, I really enjoyed A White Horse. Now, did you do a lot of research into the different schools of psychology before writing it?
EmpyrealInvective: I really enjoyed Psychology while at college, despite not having anything to do with my major. I loved reading about Freud, Jung, and some of the earlier psychologists. So when it came time to write, like most of my stories, I researched the hell out of it and tried to keep it as factual as possible while still trying to keep it an interesting read.
Banning: So, you have a massive pool of stories, and they are all incredible. But tell us, which is your favorite? What do you consider to be the crown of your collection?
EmpyrealInvective: In all honesty, I have a special place in my heart for my novella We R Leejun, but I know probably one of my better crafted stories would be Ad Nauseam, Ad Mortem, Ad Infinitum that should really be on the top tier.
Banning: Yes, that one was an amazing read. Tell us a bit about the process in writing Ad Nauseam, as it certainly does deserve a top tier spot.
EmpyrealInvective: It actually began as me wanting to write a three-part story with each story being a standalone. With a slightly more existential ghost story with the question "What happens when we die?" And the most terrifying thing I could think of would be living out your last moments on repeat (ad nauseam) in some Kafka-esque nightmare. The first stories I actually deleted as a VCROC were Ad Nauseam and Ad Mortem so I could re-work them and consolidate them on one page
Banning: Well, it was beautifully done. You seem to have a knack for combining themes to create amazing collections. So, besides your own successes, what are some of your favorite pastas from other writers on our site?
EmpyrealInvective: Actually, between you and me (and... the people reading this.), I have a few users on my followed pages so I can stalk, er, observe when they upload a new story. The top three (of an absurdly long list) are: CharminglyShallow (When Gods Blink), The Koromo (I loved "The Legend of Hightown Crow", Lovecraftian horror at its finest.), and Grizzly Bear (The Hands I Never Felt and No Safe Haven which she is re-working and I am anxiously waiting for.)
Banning: I think we can all agree with your top 3 list. When Gods Blink for example was one of those stories that I can go back and read over and over again. So, for a bit of a twist, what is your personal opinion on the Jeff the Killer debate? Do you believe that classics deserve a place regardless or current quality trends, or would you say that the standard is the standard, regardless of popularity?
EmpyrealInvective: I believe quality is a major factor on what should be accepted. By having Jeff the Killer as an accepted/'quality-approved' story on the wiki, it resulted in a lot of formulaic/cookie-cutter knock-offs from people looking to imitate it. In my opinion, a story should not been accepted regardless of quality just because it has an avid fan base and has gained popularity. Take Eyeless Jack for example. The author recently commented that he wasn't as big a fan of his story as he once was and now viewed it as something needing work. I believe being able to look at your stories in a critical light is key in becoming a good author. (Be your own harshest critic so-to-speak. As is apparent in "My hall of Shame" section I have on my user page highlighting stories that I wrote that weren't up to snuff for the site
Banning: Yes, that is a trait about you that I have long admired. It takes a certain degree of integrity to compile such a list, and it certainly speaks volumes about you as both an author and person. So, here is a question that I know I have longed pondered. What is the right way to pronounce your user name? Break it down for us...ha ha!
EmpyrealInvective: Oh, here comes the fun stuff, etymology! It is two words. Empyreal (Being ethereal or heavenly.) and Invective (a curse) I guess there's some dichotomy there in a Heavenly Curse. As for how to pronounce it... that will remain one of life's mysteries (until someone Googles it.)
Banning: Ha ha, excellent! I guess the users will just call you Empy for the time being. Now, speaking of users, I have to know, during your time as an Admin, what is the craziest, angriest...reaction you have ever gotten from a user after his story was deleted?
EmpyrealInvective: Ah, more fun stuff. Most of the time, users will ask politely why I deleted a story and I will respond in kind. One user (who will remain nameless), however decided that the best way to get his story put on the site was to blank my story list from my main page and replace it with a link to some pretty graphic porn while threatening me all-the-while. Suffice it to say, his gambit did not work and he received a, in hind-sight, fairly lenient one week ban.
Banning: Wow that is actually pretty scary that someone would go that far over a story. I would agree that a one week ban was almost like giving that person a gift instead of a punishment.
EmpyrealInvective: I like that people have that much determination and passion, but sometimes I wish they'd realize that there is no such thing as a perfect story and stories need to be re-worked sometimes. Instead of being angry at the person who deleted it, they should focus on how they can possibly improve it.
Banning: Agreed there. Well, we're getting close to the end here, so let's close with some good wisdom. Now, it is common to conclude these interviews by asking what advice you would give to a new user. But let's mix it up a bit.
EmpyrealInvective: A curve ball!
Banning: What advice would you give to a struggling user? Some guy who writes 5 stories and gets 5 deletions. You can tell he wants to write, but just can't seem to get it right. What would you tell a guy in that situation?
EmpyrealInvective: The first thing I would say to them is to not give up, but try a different approach. We have the writer's workshop for a reason, if not this exact reason. (To help struggling and new authors) It helps to think of the main site as trying to submit a story to a magazine, not all stories will be accepted and need work. Whereas the Writer's Workshop is a place where you can post, receive feedback; edit/improve your story to bring it up to standards. That forum is frequented by some amazing critics (Yourself included) who take the time to really analyze a pasta and give feedback. (Is it over-cooked and too descriptive/self-referential, undercooked and lacking plot or character development, does your terror-tortellini need more a-fraido sauce, or some other spooky spaghetti -related puns about writing.)
On a final note, no one starts out as a good writer. My first story written when I was ten had no punctuation, paragraphs, numerous spelling/malapropisms, and was so nonsensical that even David Lynch would scratch his head in confusion if he read it. Zombies attack a school Resident Evil style and apparently a bunch of fifth graders are able to fend them off via kung-fu (uh oh.), magic (oh no), and gunplay. (Oh god!) And the worst part was that I was so stubborn that I refused to accept it needed work. When I finished it, it was 100 pages of pure wall-o-text. I still have that story and look at it from time to time to realize how much I've improved and how much more I still need to improve.
Banning: And it still sounds like a better story than Cloverfield...lol!
EmpyrealInvective: Haha, well maybe one day I'll submit it on the wiki as some form of flagellation for feedback/review.
Banning: I'll totally read it, just for that sweet kung-fu and gun play. Well Travis, it has indeed been a delight sitting down here and picking your brain. You're an outstanding author, a fair and balanced admin and an all-around well-traveled and brilliant human being. Thank you so much for your time, and most of all, for all that you do on our site.
EmpyrealInvective: Thanks for taking the time to sit down and pick my brain. (Hopefully not literally, that's quite the small target to try and hit.) I enjoy working on the site and helping people. Also as a final note, I'd like to thank you for all the help you've done on the wiki, giving insightful reviews, editing, writing delicious (one more pasta pun) stories for us.