The fiction of Montreal writer Daniel Allen Cox is almost alarming in its intimacy. He leads readers into the heads of his protagonists, revealing their most private, dark, twisted and intensely sexual thoughts. The result is an unusual validation of his readers’ inner lives. Cox’s universe isn’t exactly comforting, but it’s certainly honest.
That quality is again on display in his latest novel, Basement of Wolves. It’s the story of Michael-David, a Los Angeles–based actor who turns that crucial age of 40 and loses a prized role to a younger actor. Desperate to keep working, Michael-David takes a part in a mysterious art film in which he is to co-star with a pack of wolves. But when the project begins to fall apart, he holes up in an old hotel, where he loses his grip on reality and descends into paranoid frenzy.
This latest story is distinct from Cox’s earlier novels for its more surreal flavour and its clearer narrative thread. “I guess this is my most mainstream book, whatever that means,” he concedes. “Though it’s possibly the only Canadian novel this year with a graphic rimming scene. And the word fuck appears more than 90 times, double my last book. I guess my vocabulary is getting better.”
Cox gives great quote, so interviewing him is always intriguing. Sitting in a bistro in Montreal’s Mile End neighbourhood, he sips his scotch with full, pouty lips. He speaks with a barely perceptible stutter, pausing on the occasional consonant. It’s endearing and ludicrously sexy.
“Sex and writing are both always on my mind,” he says. “Text is like fluid, so it’s inherently sexual. When bodies are interacting with text, whether writing, editing, translating or consuming, it’s like the exchange of bodily fluids. In my life, both sex and writing are liberating. So I like to mix them up and see what happens. The results, I hope, are sexy. Whatever they are, I get off on the process.”
Cox’s novels seem to lead readers to build imaginary cinematic landscapes. His 2008 debut, Shuck, feels a lot like an early Gus Van Sant film. The story captures the sleaze of New York’s gay-porn milieu extremely well, probably because Cox actually lived it. In fact, a large measure of his cachet comes from his time as a Manhattan sex worker and pornstar. Cox — yes, that is his real name — says those are defining experiences for him. He fondly recalls, for example, seeing a woman fist a horse in a seedy peep show in lower Manhattan. Sadly, the Manhattan he captured in Shuck no longer really exists.
The experience of reading Cox’s 2010 book, Krakow Melt, is also a bit like watching a movie. The story is a strangely revelatory romance among pyromaniacs fighting homophobia in Poland.
“The films of David Lynch have had a huge impact on me,” Cox says. “And Basement of Wolves is my most cinematic book, for sure.”
Praise has followed Cox with each new title. He has been shortlisted for an impressive basket of literary awards — ReLit, Ferro-Grumley, Lambda — but has yet to win. “I’m running out of Susan Lucci jokes,” he says. And just as Basement of Wolves launches, Cox reveals his latest bit of news: he’s collaborating with Toronto auteur Bruce LaBruce on a screenplay. The project already has a good deal of buzz surrounding it. Titled Gerontophilia, it’s the story of an intergenerational romance between a teenager and an octogenarian. Cox describes it as “beautiful and fearless.”
Still, Cox has mixed feelings about his growing notoriety. His Wikipedia page was hacked a few times by people with seemingly odd intentions. And a few of his fans seem to have a hard time separating fantasy from reality.
“Of course I’m thrilled when someone likes my work,” he says. “It’s such a great compliment. But recently I’ve had some run-ins with overzealous fans, people who have lost a sense of the boundaries between us. There were moments when it was physically threatening. At the same time, of course, the praise from critics and readers is flattering. It’s an odd combination.”