Shimmer #16, author interview: Charlie Bookout

Charlie Bookout writes from Arkansas, and penned the haunting “Goodbye Mildred” in Shimmer #16.


Tell us how the story came to be.
Like most people my age, I used to have grandparents who lived through the Great Depression. I remember it feeling like time travel when Granny would tell stories about her boot-legging father and her bank-robbing uncle. I had wanted to do a story that flashed back to that period for a while. I guess it started to form in my head one night while I was in bed with my wife. Our feet still get tangled up…

How did you get involved with Mortuary Studios?
Gentry’s ‘state of the art’ mortuary and funeral parlor was completed in October of 1929. It closed its doors in the 60s and sat for decades, unused and full of junk, waiting for us to find it. In the fall of 1990, our band needed a place to practice, and the man who owns the building agreed to rent it to us. I guess we keep forgetting to grow up, because we’re still renting it. The place just has this way of amplifying creativity. We’ve never figured it out.

Did you enjoy haunted houses as a kid? What’s the appeal now?
Yes I did. The real ones and the fake ones.  Now, the appeal is the creative process of making one. When your recording studio is inside an old Mortuary, the law requires that every Halloween, you put on a free haunted house, and that you build it with the following supplies: duct tape, spray paint, black plastic sheeting, and faulty electric wiring.

I think photography is another way to tell a story. What draws you to photography?
I think our constant exposure to photographed images has caused us to overlook their ability to tell complex stories all at once.

The power of words alone is astonishing enough. I’ve heard that our capacity for abstract thought is what most sets us apart from other animals. For a cow, a tree is a tree. But when we humans remember a tree, the thought represents the tree. When we say, “tree,” the word represents the thought which represents the tree. When we write ‘tree’, the written word represents the spoken word which represents the thought which represents the tree.

Now imagine a man in a clown suit chopping down the tree. You just did, didn’t you? While it’s amazing that a series of tiny black characters on a screen can—will—quickly evoke a mental image, you would likely have an even more instant and visceral reaction to a photograph of the axe-wielding clown. Sometimes, photographs are just better at cutting to the heart of the matter.

(Oh, he’s chopping at the tree because it reminds him of his grandpa.)

What is your favorite Bradbury story/novel?
“The One Who Waits” knocked me over. I love stories written from an unexpected perspective. It would have been simple enough to have said, “Some guys land on Mars and get possessed by an ancient soul that lives in a well.” Instead, Bradbury writes it from the entity’s point of view. I also love how the short story form—particularly Science Fiction—begs to blur the lines between poetry and prose: “I live in a well. I live like smoke in the well. Like vapor in a stone throat… I am mist and moonlight and memory…  Sometimes I fall like rain into the well. Spider webs are startled into forming where my rain falls fast, on the water surface.”

What’s next for you?
Finish building my barn. Help Elliott with his spelling words. Fold the laundry. Check my email twenty times a day for rejection letters.

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