We talk with author Jess Hagemann, whose impressive debut novel “Headcheese” explores the world of body modification and amputee festishism.
A few months ago I read a review of the new book, “Headcheese”. My interest was immediately piqued, and I needed to know more, so I looked it up on Amazon. As always, I sat with it in my cart for a bit, looking it over every few days, unconvinced that I needed it right away. This quote from world renowned body modification specialist, performance artist, and founder/Director of The RISE Suspension Crew, Russ Foxx, is what sealed the deal, however. And before I knew it, Jess Hagemann’s psychological medical thriller was on its way to me.
“A complete collection of psychological mind-fuckery; launching you into the dark depths of body modification and amputee fetishism. Headcheese is a trip down the rabbit hole into a world you’ve never seen or known.” – Russ Foxx
I’ve never been so happy to have purchased a book. I devoured it. I told everyone I knew that they needed to read this. I’m sad that I’ve finished it, and I want more. Beyond impressed that this was Hagemann’s first novel, I’m in awe over the amount of research and attention to detail. Headcheese is gritty, and unflinching. It will make you uncomfortable. It will make you question the ‘what ifs’.
I needed to know more, so I hunted down the author. She was more than happy to agree to an interview, and I was ecstatic. We talked about her process, cutting off her own toe, and of course, horror movies.
INTERVIEW WITH JESS HAGEMANN
1. What is your favorite book?
My all-time favorite book is Mark Z. Danielewski’s “House of Leaves”. There’s never been anything else like it on the market. It’s so complex that you can read it 20 times and catch something new every time, and so terrifying that as my friend Chris says, you only dare read it in public in broad daylight.
2. How did you come up with the idea for “Headcheese”?
It started with the genre. I wanted to write a psychosexual horror novel, and Googled “fetishes that can kill you.” While there are many, amputation grabbed my attention right away. I then fell down a Reddit rabbit hole of Ask Me Anything threads.
3. It’s obvious you did extensive research. What was your process, and how long did it take?
I wrote “Headcheese” exclusively on Monday nights, as part of an Austin-based Meetup group. Every Monday, we get together, sit down, shut up, and write. I wanted to show up ready to write on those occasions, so in between Meetups I was reading medical textbooks, scouring newspaper headlines, posting on fetish sites, and interviewing the real-life people who would ultimately become the novel’s 26 characters. All told, the research and writing process took 18 months.
4. Did you see any qualities of yourself in any of the people you spoke with in preparation for this book? Perhaps from when you accidentally cut off your toe?
At the end of the day, people with amputation fetishes or Body Integrity Identity Disorder are still just people. They eat their favorite foods and binge watch their favorite shows just like me. To write convincing characters, you have to understand the character’s motivation. Why do they do the things they do? When you know that, you know what makes them human. Certainly I recognized a shared humanity between myself and the people I was interviewing, and I hope that comes through—their complex ‘realness’ above all else, which includes but is not eclipsed by their sexual preferences.
Haha, I did cut off my toe (accidentally) when I was 13. While it wasn’t a sexual experience for me, it did give me a launching point for “Headcheese”.
5. Who inspires you?
Colin Meloy of The Decemberists. He writes the most amazing fairytale-esque lyrics. I’ve always struggled with short stories—I think they’re much harder to write than novels—but he builds whole worlds inside a three-minute ditty. Then, he went and wrote a whole series of children’s novels anyway, just because he could, and they’re fantastic, too!
6. What are you currently working on?
A new novel about Marie Antoinette’s reign as the queen of France, set in present-day Austin. With cults!
7. You offer ghostwriting services through your company, Cider Spoon Stories. What made you do ghostwriting? And what made you want to do your own novel?
I got into ghostwriting when I helped my grandfather write his life story as a book. Jack Schrader had been an arson investigator and had worked all these really cool cases that none of his grandkids knew anything about. It took a year to finish his book, and he passed away a few days later. The honor of working alongside my grandfather in such a meaningful way inspired me to offer the service to other families. Today, about 50% of the ghostwriting I do is legacy-based, like memoirs. Another 25% is business books, and the last 25% is fiction and screenplays. I have continued to write my own fiction because it’s not a choice: it’s a compulsion.
8. What’s your favorite scary movie?
In recent years, I’ve enjoyed Personal Shopper, It Follows, Evolution, and the 2018 Suspiria remake. None of them have upstaged Silence of the Lambs, however.