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Short Sharp Stories

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Die Laughing Teaser: Q&A with Christopher McMichael

 

Screen Shot 2016-10-10 at 10.01.35 AMChristopher McMichael has a PhD in Politics and recently completed a research fellowship at Wits University. He is currently an editor for BubblegumClub magazine. This is his first published short story. Along with other short work, he is writing a novel about celebrity, power and the Johannesburg criminal underworld.

 

What is your take on humour SA- style? 

I think really good South African humour hovers around tragedy. The funniest humour for me is about the absurdity and extremes of life, something which this country has a surplus of!

 

 

Your DIE LAUGHING story, ‘Number One With A Bullet’, is a collision of forces, as ‘artists’ Savage D and Thugmatic both vie for prominence in the ‘rap’ world. Are you a DJ in your spare time? (If not, how did you immerse yourself in this world?) 

It’s not something I’ve done personally, but more from observation and rumours I’ve heard from others. There is a thing in South Africa of SA celebrities trying to copy their US counterparts, with often hilariously low rent results. There is a story doing the rounds at the moment about the rapper AKA trying to retrieve an expensive chain after he threw it into the audience at a live show to show how rich he is. That kind of posing influenced my story.

 

Do you listen to contemporary rap? Do you enjoy it? Or is it a vehicle to express the absurdity of the ‘rap’ lifestyle you talk of?

I’ve been a big rap fan since I was kid. I definitely feel its influence on me today. Artists like Wu Tang-Clan and Outkast had as much as an impact on me as Dostoyevsky or Kafka or whoever. I tend to like the heavier end of the genre, so this story was inspired more by really insipid musicians who will do anything for fame. That’s not unique to rap of course. I have a general fixation on the tacky and sleazy aspects of celebrity culture!

 

Your comedy of errors — the battle for prominence between your DJs — is largely orchestrated by Savage D’s so-called manager. How did you develop this voice, as the story unfolds from his first-person perspective?

I’m fascinated by how greed, ambition and desperation can lead people astray and make them embark on really ill conceived schemes. From the outside these are obviously doomed to fail, so I was interested in the subjective process of how someone’s life goes off the rails. So the whole story is basically them trying to justify their wayward venture

 

Your first line, ‘It all started a year ago in a mansion overlooking Sandton. It was the type of neighborhood where you couldn’t throw a rock without hitting a Lamborghini…’ How did living in Joburg influence the narrative?

Joburg is a city of excess with a rich criminal history. It can be a stressful, even brutal place to live but the swirl of transgression, baroque lifestyles and power make it an incredible place to write about. When I lived there I collected a lot of strange stories and rumours which have inspired my fiction. I also ended up living close to the home of Czech expat ganglord Radovan Krejcir, totally by chance. So I had the surreal experience of living next to a raging gang war with contract killings, car bombs and police raids happening on a regular basis. That really provided a lot of material to work with!

 

Although there’s an edge of violence, your story is very much tongue in cheek. I imagine you had a good giggle while writing…

If I stop to think about the story it is quite dark, but the tone is really light! I tried to make the story as ludicrous as the characters it describes!

 

Of course we are a celebrity-obsessed and power-obsessed society. With A PhD in politics, do you see this criminal underworld as a microcosm of the greater corruption in SA?

I would go further and say that there are intimate ties between politics, capital and the underworld. Take the many cases of hit men who are affiliated with taxi associations being used to ‘resolve’ political or business disputes for example… But while I feel SA is in a really cynical era it’s a mistake to think that it’s just us. It’s something that happens in the corridors of power and money throughout the world. It’s just that the more powerful you are, the less likely your dirty dealings will be described as crime!

Corruption and abuse of power are intrinsic to capitalism itself probably…  I’ve been very influenced by authors like Thomas Pynchon, James Ellroy and Marlon James (who won the Booker Prize last year), who explore this shadowy terrain.

 

This is your first published story. Are you inspired to write more?

Big time! I was having a small bit of success in academic writing but it felt creatively stifling. But without being too graphic, I had a real crisis last year through some brutal personal and professional rejection and that inspired me to make a serious effort at writing fiction. Having this story published has made me want to get even more serious. So I’m currently planning two novels.

The first is about washed up celebrities and Hollywood cults in contemporary Johannesburg. I want to cross fertilize the spirit of American Noir with the blazing Highveld sun! The second project started as a biographical study of Radovan Krejcir’s rise and fall. But I’ve shifted the focus so that it will be more a big, political epic about the drug trade, private militaries and other parts of the underworld RSA. It will be mostly set in Joburg as well, with some detours to Mexico, Somalia and Afghanistan. I really want to bring the scope and energy of dramas Like The Wire or Breaking Bad into local fiction. It’s probably too ambitious a goal, but at the very least I may write some ambitious failures. I think my heart in the right place!

 

On a personal note, you are now living in Japan. What motivated the change?

The job market for humanities PhDs is not great back home (or anywhere else for the matter). So I decided to try something different and ended up working in Japan. I’ve long been interested in Japanese film and aesthetics so it was a welcome turn of events. Now to get serious about writing those books…

 

Screen Shot 2016-08-22 at 9.00.45 AMBook Details:
Editor Joanne Hichens
Foreword Evita Bezuidenhout
ISBN / EAN 9780994680518
Publication date July 2016
Buy the book here!

 

 

 

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