Discover more from Practice Space
No. 18 - Feral Fun with John Chrostek
Writer, Poet, and Editor-in-Chief of COLD SiGNAL
Dear ones, Friday is upon us again. And not just any old Friday. It’s Practice Space Interviews Friday!
This week, meet writer and poet John Chrostek, a Bucks County native currently residing in Richmond, VA with his partner Amanda and their two furry friends Madeline and Zadie.
I met John during the pandemic, back when X was still Twitter and writers were still welcome there. From the start, I was blown away by the quality of his writing. John is one of the most talented short story writers I know, and consequently he’s been published in prestigious magazines like HAD, Maudlin House, and X-R-A-Y (twice!). Back when I was a fledgling little writer figuring out my schtick, John’s wisdom and positive attitude helped me out a ton.
Also, fun fact: for a short while I used to read for an indie mag called Little Engines, helmed by . In that capacity, I advocated for a story of John’s which ended up being accepted and published. It’s an awesome story, and reading it again all these years later, I stand by my previous position.
For a while I’ve wanted to see what’s hiding in John’s brilliant little brain. And now that he’s also started a literary magazine of his own, it seemed like the perfect time to invite him over for a chat.
Enough from me. Let’s hear from my man John Chrostek!
John! It’s nice to chat again. Let’s break the ice with something simple. When did you start writing, and what compelled you to do it?
Likewise, Andrei! Always a pleasure speaking with you, man.
To answer your question, I’ve been writing in one form or another since I was around 10 (a horror story about a purple orb in the woods driving people crazy, lol) but I had the storytelling impulse in me even earlier. When I was extremely young, my grandmother taught me how to read before she passed away, and after that I stayed a pretty voracious little reader. I also used to love walking around my neighborhood and creating worlds and stories with my friends and brothers based on the games we played or made up talking to each other. Even as a kid, when I read something life changing and exciting, I’d think “I want to be on this level.” Not in a competitive sense really (slightly), but more in a sense of communion. I wanted to share everything about my life, the spirit, the senses, the times, the way the best writers could. It was the most exciting, fulfilling thing I could imagine for my life. I’m really glad I still feel that way today. It’s just true fun.
Reading through your catalog of stories, I couldn’t help but notice a common theme: the disruption of order. You have a painter losing his touch with reality, a guy who steals his neighbors’ Amazon deliveries, and another dude who wants to break his city’s tradition of daily fistfights by refusing to fight back. Do you feel like order, in general, is a temporary thing?
Oh, absolutely. Though I guess it has a funny way of growing back when it’s picked out, so even ends are temporary. My family had a lot of minor collapses growing up, two big ones being my grandfather’s long slide into Alzheimer’s and my dad’s stroke and long road back to speaking after becoming nonverbal. Even the order of the self is always at risk. That scares the shit out of me, but I know there’s potential for transformation in it. I write a lot from that place.
Do you consider yourself a pessimist, an optimist, or something else? Explain.
I wish I knew, man! I think people who’ve met me at different stages of my life might be confused about where I fall on this, too. When I was younger, I was a dumb romantic. I thought it all worked out if you loved hard enough. Bad things happened, but good things always did, too. I still think that now, but I think I’ve just seen so much violence and foolishness roll through. I don’t have tremendous hope for the ambitions of humanity, but I still love people and think there’s beauty to be found in the world. There’s a lot of light in between the lines, I think, but the lines are the lines. The hope I live off of might seem harsh or cold from the outside, but it’s very real to me.
You’re a pet person. That’s partly why I like you. You’ve written an intimate piece about losing your dog, and now you’re the proud owner (see: father) of Madeline and Zadie. Can you introduce us to them?
Zadie was adopted by Amanda before we started dating. Extremely funny cat. She’s retained a kitten-like youthfulness that’s very endearing. She’s also extremely gifted technologically. She can operate record players, air purifiers, watches television, and has very distinct musical tastes. She does tend to blame Madeline for any loud outbursts of pain, though, even if Madeline is sleeping in another room. When I met her, she tried to take out my ankles AT-AT style. She used to hate being picked up but has always loved standing on my shoulders, like a bird.
For Madeline, Amanda and I picked her out together. We went to an animal shelter in South Carolina when we were living in Savannah, GA. The whole shelter was full of (understandably) loud, excited dogs, but Madeline was just this little ball of calm in the corner. Amanda and I both somehow knew her name was Madeline at the same time, even though it said “Fluffy” on the paper. She’s become this really beautiful spirit. After some bad experiences with other dogs, she’s skittish around them, but her love of humans is obvious to everyone. She always crosses her paws when socializing. When we were moving cross-country in 2019, she got off her leash in a park in the Rocky Mountains and she just bounced around like a baby deer or a fox, bounding through the tall grass.
For a while now you’ve been working on a book manuscript and sharing your progress on X. You’re probably keeping the plot under wraps, so I’ll just ask one thing: what makes this book important to you?
Seeing the new name in your question has really thrown me for a loop. I guess I’ve gotten good at ignoring that little rebranding exercise, hahaha.
Back on topic: The book’s a lot of things to me! I’ve been working on it since 2020, piece by piece, so I’m very satisfied to see it in its current finished draft form. That being said, the fixations in the book go back way longer, so it feels very cumulative. I tried to bring everything I had into it, genre and literary, and make something that builds on itself in a very particular way. The book has also been very therapeutic for me in a lot of ways. I put a lot of thought and care into it about the soul and the body and labor but it’s also very much an adventure story and it's meant to stay propulsive and dreamy and strange. I have no clue who will want to publish it but I’ll be very excited to share it when the time comes.
You’re the editor-in-chief of the new literary magazine COLD SiGNAL. Between your short stories, your manuscript, and your pets, you’ve got your hands full. What made you decide to add “big bo$$ of cool new lit mag” to the pile?
Lmao. Forgot that was the official title!
Well, for starters, I’m an idiot. I’m terrible at overcommitting myself and running myself ragged chasing what’s exciting. Amanda and I both have talked about doing literary magazine work before and COLD SiGNAL just felt like the right choice at the time. When the image generators and LLMs were rolling out, I felt like it was signaling this new big change in art and how we engage with it, and that’s definitely borne out. Everyone’s constantly talking about it now, either shilling about their appropriative systems and chasing the clout of expertise, or railing against it with existential fury. I think, in putting the first issue together, what I found was that there’s this shared undercurrent in all the pieces in the issue. This disconnected, kaleidoscopic view of humanity. I want to encourage and support writers exploring this place because I think it has so much to offer us right now. I know I owe so much, mentally and emotionally, to the writers who have participated so far. Their work will stay with me forever.
What’s the story behind the magazine’s name?
Wish I had a cool story! Just found it when I was searching for a name and it instantly felt right. The art of today, raging against the machine, being eaten by it, is a cold signal blaring into space. Or something like that.
Last question, John. What are your plans for the future of COLD SiGNAL?
I had put work on CS on hold until I finished the WIP draft, but I’ve picked things back up in earnest. The vision for the mag is simple: A few more issues, whenever I’m capable. It’s meant to be more of an anthology series than something consistent and major like Apex or The Dark. I enjoy the smaller scope, the limited artifice. I think strange, deep work can live in it without worrying too much about scale or ambition.
I have a theme and a title for Issue Two. Unlike Issue One, where I found the central theme of Mnemosyne/memory in the submission process, I want Issue Two to be reactions to the prompt, even if the reaction seems vague at first glance. I love when someone shows me something that seems totally unrelated but actually speaks deeply about the core issue.
I’m in the process of redesigning the site, piece by piece. The art style is changing. I don’t feel comfortable using AI imagery in any shape any longer. The abuses against the creative classes have left a pit in my stomach, and even in the context of a free online magazine using it transformationally, I think it’s entirely unnecessary to keep using it.
I’m replacing every AI generated image on the site with new collages. It’s very time consuming, but I am deeply proud of the issue and I want the writers included to feel unashamed of being part of it.
I want COLD SiGNAL to be a proud, small collection of weird genre fiction that resonates, featuring writers I admire and want to support. At the heart of it all, the collaboration, the support and friendship I’ve found doing CS has changed my life for the better. That’s the real focus for me. That’s the vision.
That’s it. I enjoy doing these interviews a lot, and I think John is a very interesting guy. If you agree, mind showing us both a little love by clicking on the little 💙 button below?
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