Interviewing Icons - djkaktus
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This new series will focus on me interviewing famous authors or figures who have left their impact on the site in some way or another. When I first approached various authors about starting up this new series of interviews, I was pleasantly surprised at the reception I received. Among the authors who seemed excited to do this with me was djkaktus. Kaktus was gaining popularity when I first joined the site and never stopped. Being the author of some of my favorite works on the site, it was an absolute pleasure working with him to create this interview for the community. ~ WhiteGuardWhiteGuard

Who is djkaktusdjkaktus?

The user djkaktus became a member of this site on the 12th of May, 2014, and his top 3 most popular pages on the site by rating are SCP-049: Plague Doctor at +3184, SCP-1730: What Happened to Site-13? at +1879, and SCP-3000: Ananteshesha at +1818. As an author, djkaktus has written a total of 88 SCP articles, 33 Tales, 3 GoI Formats, and 14 other pages for a grand total of 138 pages contributed. From these pages, he has amassed 41596 net upvotes from the community making him the most upvoted author in the history of the site. He is also the only author currently with 6 articles that have +1000 or more upvotes on the site. The user djkaktus' Ouroboros Cycle marks the culmination of 4 separate 001 proposals linked together as a single narrative, something that has yet to be replicated. As the winner of the SCP-3000 contest along with his coauthors A Random DayA Random Day and JorethJoreth along with his other listed achievements, djkaktus has established himself as one of the great authors we have here on our site. The following interview will consist of 20 questions from myself with his responses.

The bold text represents the questions whereas the text within the boxes are djkaktus' responses.

Interview Questions:

First of all, I would like to thank you for agreeing to do this interview with me. Although a simple question, I always enjoy hearing how people first came across the site. Would you mind sharing your story? Something about Reddit and SCP-087 I believe?

I first heard about the wiki during casual internet browsing years ago, but I didn't discover it as a tangible thing until 2012. I posted on nosleep (I know, I know) back in those days and a comment comparing something that someone had written to 087 linked to that article. I started reading articles and was hooked from the word go, but lost the email address for my first account before I could even apply to the wiki and, in my great shame, decided to forget about it.

Years later the wiki showed up in my periphery again and, deciding there's no time like the present, I signed up with a different account in 2014.

Did you ever do any writing before you found the site? At what point did you realize that you wanted to contribute to the wiki? What about it compelled you to do so?

I very briefly worked editorial for a technical publisher just after college, but I've been writing fiction forever (most of it was very, very bad). The wiki, at the time, was captivating to me because it was one of those places that felt like something you weren't supposed to see. I never really fell into the trap of "scp reel" - I was a little too old for it at that point - but was a definite cursed quality of articles back then. The wiki was less ubiquitous (though the rapid response to Containment Breach would quickly dispel that) and the lower quality of those articles actually served to make them feel more mysterious, somehow.

I wanted to contribute back in 2012, even though I didn't have any idea what that would look like. Just before I joined the wiki for real in 2014 I spent weeks fretting over what my first article would be, knowing I wanted to come out of the gate swinging. I read so much back then - not just other articles, but critique threads and O5 posts - everything to figure out how to maneuver through the site like I knew what I was doing. I think I just didn't want to be embarrassed, but at the end of the day, it made the process of writing my first article that much smoother.

That was maybe what compelled me to actually do the thing most of all - the knowledge that I knew what the process looked like and knew how to react to it. I knew the first article didn't need to be perfect, it just needed to be coherent, consistent, and appeal to somebody. I also knew that if I could manage that, then I could tell whatever stories I wanted to tell - and that was the real appeal.

On the 14th of May, 2014, you posted your first article to the site, SCP-2812: Echoes of Yesterday. In the info section of that article, you mention that it was written while you were working for a dentist in a small town in southern Indiana. I remember reading this back in the day before taking a hiatus from the site, and the small-town vibes resonated with me. Take us back to 2014 djkaktus and remind us of the things you experienced writing this article of yours?

Oh boy. 2014 djkaktus had a much different view of the wiki and his place in it. As mentioned above, more than anything else I wanted to just get one, because I figured if I could just get that one I could figure out how to write others. I can't remember now if I wrote that article before or after I created my account - I think it's likely that I had a nearly finished draft ready for critique the day I joined the wiki.

I wanted to start with something small, and local, and unique to my situation. The town I worked in in southern Indiana was one of those old limestone towns whose heyday is just a memory and whose populace is generally isolated by both distance and culture from the rest of the world. That town, and the small towns around it that made up our patient base, felt to me (someone from Indianapolis) like they were evaporating away, almost like there was something within them that was driving people out (eventually I'd learn this is called "economic depression" and "basically capitalism in general").

There are some elements of 2812 that I probably wouldn't add now, but I had things I believed should be part of articles back then that I know now probably weren't necessary. Still, the writing process was made easier just based on how much homework I'd done prior to joining the wiki - I cannot tell you how many articles I read before creating my account, and how zealously I watched Recently Created to see what to do and what not to do. There were a ton of very bad articles being posted in those days so there were a lot of examples of what not to do.

I also got a lot of really great support on that first article. Chubert and Eskobar were both helpful and probably the reason I stuck around. I didn't know anybody on the site, I was just trying to stick my head in here, and these two people who didn't know me went out of their way to help me with my first article. That meant a lot to me.

How often would you say that you base articles and tales on your personal experiences and surroundings? You have mentioned before that you like to watch hospital dramas for writing dialogue for anomalies who are scared of their anomalous properties. Do you ever watch certain shows or movies with the intent of trying to gain inspiration for your own works?

It sort of depends. Experiences - yes, absolutely. 90% of what I write is me attempting to capture how a certain "something" made me feel in a moment. I've not been quiet about the fact that Ouroboros came about as a concept after I had spent a week listening to Tool's Lateralus on repeat during my commute to work. Early on it was much more locational - I wrote a lot about Indiana, because I'm from there, and because it was one of those places where you'd hear things or see something that would just catch you kind of funny and make you feel a certain way.

A lot of what I've done is like that - not just drawing inspiration from theme and plot elements, but from the impact a piece of media has on me in a moment.

In our preliminary interview, you talked to me at length about your favorite SCP article, SCP-1739: Obsolete Laptop by ChubertChubert. Would you please repeat what you told me about your fascination with this article and your belief about this article in regards to aspiring authors?

I think 1739 tells perhaps the most concise, well-rounded and impactful story in as many words anywhere on the wiki. I don't know if 1739 is the best article on the wiki - though I'd be hard pressed to find an article that is more efficient and compelling than 1739 - but I do feel that it should at least be considered something of a barrier to entry for serious writers on the wiki.

A lot of people make the mistake of believing that if you don't have flashy graphics or some kind of long-winded story then nobody will give a shit about your article or it won't be any good. This is an easy trap to fall into (one that I myself have likely perpetuated) but in truth, quality comes from within. 1739 isn't flashy or grotesque, it's not a multi-part supernarrative. It's short, contained, and powerful.

I strongly believe that if you aren't able to explain why that article is as good as it is, then you're not going to be able to succeed on the wiki long-term just by virtue of not being able to take away the correct things from pieces that you read (though - when I say correct things, I don't mean to imply there is an objectively correct takeaway from the article; simply, I mean the article itself has, I believe, inherent virtue that may not be apparent to someone with a base-level understanding of fiction in general and the Foundation/wiki specifically).

Let's talk about your highest-rated article on the site, your SCP-049: Plague Doctor rewrite. Why did it need a rewrite? What was your thought process while working on an already-established and famous article on the site? Despite some people disliking the rewrite, are you pleased with the result?

The original 049 was rough - something that the original author conceded as well. It was written for a different wiki, by a younger kid who was just getting into this sort of thing. 049's popularity came from, I believe, three places: it was a creepy monster man who talked, it was old, and it was easy to cosplay. Couple that with the fact that it showed up in Containment Breach and you've got yourself a recipe for a cult hit.

But none of that made the article itself good, which it very much wasn't. Aside from a lot of period-appropriate formatting and structure issues, the dialogue was pretty juvenile and the article itself lacked a narrative compelling enough to make up for its shortcomings. So it had to go.

When we sat down to rewrite it, I wanted to accomplish a few things: it needed to be the same character, even if that character was fleshed out more, so it needed to keep some of the same camp it had in the original version - it needed a stronger narrative to support what is, frankly, a pretty thin humanoid anomaly - and it needed to not deviate too far from the original version so as to not contradict the copious amount of material in various media about 049 that already existed.

To that end, we almost ended up writing a prequel to the original 049 - or rather, so far as I see it the article we have now sets up both the original article (sort of) and all of the other non-wiki iterations of that character (definitely). It does this all while maintaining - if not a tragic character - at least an interesting one.

The response was, at times, admittedly pretty rough, but for every one person complaining about us not leaving well enough alone (or the "if it's not broke" crowd who continued to miss the point) there were about fifty who had nothing but high praise for the update. Indeed - that article's rating has gone up substantially since the update, especially since it took pressure off the people who already liked the character of 049 but didn't like the article itself. We heard a lot of "I can finally admit to people I like 049 now, thank you" in the aftermath of that rewrite, which was super cool.

SCP-1730: What Happened to Site-13? is your most famous solo work on the site, and it happens to be one of my top 5 favorite articles to date. Take us through your thought process with this massive work of yours. On the 15th of May, 2017, you added a new log to the end of the article. Why did you decide to add onto an already very successful article?

It was always my intention to get 1730 to the place it is now, but when I started that article I didn't really have the tools necessary to do it. I thought the idea of a horror story turned into an action flick was really compelling - something like Aliens, which I drew a lot of inspiration from (and Ridley Scott/James Cameron in general) for much of the stuff I've written here. That being said, once I got through the first half of the article I kind of cratered out and didn't know how to proceed with it, and instead of fretting about it I just chopped the back half off and said "good enough" and left it as that.

Some time later, though, I came back to 1730 with the notion of finishing it. I knew the scale I wanted to be able to achieve, and I knew the kind of stakes I wanted it to have, but being able to accomplish that without the article turning into a blender for MTFs would've been a nightmare. Fortunately, ARD and TyGently had written Samsara about a year earlier, which ended up being the cherry on top of the violence cake I wanted to bake. Finally, I could tell the story I wanted to tell, including all the characters and monsters I wanted to include, and do so in a way that didn't force me to throw dozens of lives away (in fiction) because Samsara were already an established entity at that point.

I know rating isn't the end-all-be-all of everything, but I like to think of it more as a function of audience interest and participation. With that framework in mind, the updates to 1730 have been almost universally lauded, with a few holdouts who pine for the days when it was just a horror article, and lament that I've usurped my own original vision. None of them ever stop to consider whether or not this is the original vision - which it is. It just took a while to get to it.

You won the site's 3000 contest with your collab article SCP-3000: Anantashesha alongside the authors A Random Day and Joreth. Would you mind providing some insight into how this article came together from the minds of three excellent writers?

Prior to the 3000 contest I had been working on a rough draft of an article called "The Gaslight" about a giant eel in a big underwater containment sphere somewhere in the ocean that changed your perception in malicious ways in order to draw you into the containment sphere so it could eat you. I had the image and a basic premise, but little else - so when the 3000 contest came along it felt like something we could roll with.

In our discussions about what actually scared each of us (for the purposes of a horror contest) a common theme was this idea of the obliteration of consciousness, a slipping away of your existence, and a realization the moment beforehand that there's nothing waiting for you beyond death - just annihilation. ARD introduced the Hindu aspect with tying that anomaly into Anantashesha, which was a really, really cool addition, especially since the site up to that point was sorely lacking for articles centered around or with a focus on Hinduism.

Joreth did a lot of framing of that article with regards to the environment we were trying to create. We had a lot of difficult conversations in those first few weeks about what we should do and how we can write something that not only scares us but scares the audience, as well. My original idea fell short, I think - when Joreth came on the scene and said "yeah but what if after that there's nothing" and that more or less wrapped that article up neatly.

I believe every SCP article you have posted to the site has some kind of image attached to it. You briefly talked about it during our preliminary interview, but what do you believe images add to articles, and why have you seemingly made it a point to add them to yours?

I think storytelling is at its best when the author or storyteller is doing their best to convey as much of what is in their head to the reader as they can. Fiction as a medium is a direct link between the dreams of an author and the imagination of the reader, and adding visual media to that equation feels like, to me, a way to grease the wheels.

Not to say that all the images I've chosen are perfect - plenty aren't. But I always feel like it gives the reason a place to start, something to ground themselves on. Less than that but still pretty important as well is the fact that opening your article with a flat wall of text is so boring. There are plenty of great articles out there that I had to be absolutely pushed into reading because opening them up was so dull.

I don't even believe that images need to necessarily be directly relevant to the subject of the article. So long as they are adjacently relevant, and you can justify them in-universe, then I think they are worth it.

TroyLTroyL was a great writer on our site as well as a great administrator who helped build up what the site is today. You have talked fondly about his writing prowess. What do you think made him such a great writer for you to say "his talents were severely underutilized because of the work he was doing on staff."?

Troy was a great writer who spent too much time dealing with bullshit and not enough time contributing. He was remarkably talented and immensely underappreciated. The fact that he's not frequently mentioned alongside the site's greatest writers is a crime.

Your first 001 proposal was The Children. To you, what makes a good 001 proposal and what were you trying to accomplish with this one? Out of all of the proposals you ended up creating, where would you rank your first one?

I think the best 001 proposals leave the reader with more questions than they answer. I think a lot of readers go into reading 001 proposals expecting to gain some new and useful insight about the nature of the Foundation et all, but I've always felt like that's pretty dull. "This is how the Foundation was formed and that's it" is so uncreative, especially since the nature of the site's canon can easily consign those articles to obscurity.

That's one of the reasons why I like Past and Future so much, and still think it's probably the best of the group. There are a lot of questions asked and left unanswered by that proposal, and it's that sort of thing that sticks with me more than some of the more straightforward, explanatory articles.

That said, I think djk1 is probably the third best. djk3 is the best, tg/k is second, and djk2 is the worst. I still have a lot of work to do there.

The Ouroboros Cycle, the culmination of 4 different 001 proposals crafted into a single narrative. What made you decide to undertake something so unprecedented? You have spoken about wanting to work on part three in the cycle, your djk2 called "Atonement". What do you believe needs to be done for you to be pleased with this portion of the series?

So I didn't start thinking about the idea of a larger, overarching narrative until I was in the process of writing The Way It Ends, when I realized that my first two proposals were both located in Mexico. The characters in The Way It Ends were always supposed to be the same as those referenced in djk1, but I hadn't considered that connection too far past that relationship.

I think at the end of the day I just got to a point where I realized it would be easy to tie them all together (one way or another) but I was left unsatisfied with how Atonement fit into that story. Atonement has always sort of been the black sheep of that group - it was, for all intents and purposes, a failed contest entry with a couple of cool images that is not holding up its own weight. I made it fit within the context of Ouroboros as a whole, but it's just not there yet.

As for what I need to do - basically rebuild the narrative from the ground up. It's currently too swamped with cliche and bogged down with what was needed for the contest it was intended for. Cleaning that up, while taking the intent of the characters in a new direction, would probably go a long way towards making that article palatable again.

You are the highest rated author on the site and one of the most famous authors among the community. However, you also happen to be a seemingly polarizing figure. There have been times in the past where you have come off as abrasive to users criticizing your work as well as with other situations. Some people believe that some of the fame associated with your accomplishments has gotten to your head. Throughout my interactions with you and the people I have spoken with concerning you, you have come off as a very likable person. Why do you believe you have attracted this kind of attention? Feel free to share any thoughts you have on the matter.

This is a hard one because I don't know if it's possible to respond without bias. I'll try, though.

When I started writing here, I just wanted to write spooky stories on the internet. While my scope has changed somewhat over time, the intent has not. I don't make money doing this, but I do work hard at it and have always desired that people meet me (with regards to criticism) at the same place I'm at - a place of mutual respect.

With that being said, I am fairly confident that if you were to go back and look, in the overwhelming majority of cases where I've been accused of being too abrasive towards criticism, the critic in question has not exactly been operating in good faith. I've received plenty of criticism from people whose opinions I respected, even if the comments themselves were not necessarily positive, but the interactions we had as creator and critic were those of mutual benefit to ourselves and each other. Seeing another "buh scp-049 rewrite bad because old one was good" is not really beneficial to anyone.

Moreover, perhaps the most public cases of this have come from what I felt at the time (and still do, in many cases) were inconsistencies in staff's approach to the criticism policy. In the past, there have been a number of instances where criticism towards my works would toe or outright cross the line towards criticism of me personally, and there would either be no response from those charged with handling that sort of thing, or a response of "there will be no response". In those instances, yes, I have met those "criticisms" with what I felt like was an appropriate amount of sarcasm considering the circumstances. I know this is not popular, but it is frustrating to see a policy wherein your most vehement detractors are allowed1 to essentially say whatever they want about you, but a similarly-minded response to those remarks is met with a slap on the wrist - or worse.

I realize it goes deeper with that for most people, and I'm not going to pretend I've been some kind of saint - I'm too familiar with all of my many faults and failings to ever imply as much. All I mean to say is that I love the SCP Foundation Wiki - I wouldn't still be here if I didn't. I've had great success here, and I like to think I've managed to give back as much as I've gotten from the wiki and this community as a whole. It is just hard sometimes to get battered with bad faith criticism when you're trying something new and realize that the cavalry isn't coming. Besides, it's not like I'm showing up outside these people's houses with a knife. I'm being smarmy with them on the internet. I think they'll probably survive.

I could go on, but I think what it boils down to is that a lot of people, by their exposure to my stuff off the site or by interactions they've had with other users, have got this image in their head of what "djkaktus" is. They're convinced that this image they've created is an accurate representation of reality, which may or may not be true, but provides them an easy voodoo doll to stick any perceived sleights into. There are users on the wiki right now, some of whom I can count my interactions with on one hand, who have longstanding grudges against me for reasons I can't understand - and I believe if pressed they would probably have a hard time expressing those reasons too. A lot of very vocal people have got it in their heads that "djkaktus" is somehow out to get them, or belittle them, or that "djkaktus" is the enemy, which just isn't true - partly because I'm legitimately just here to write fiction on the internet, and also because I barely remember half of these people and don't actually know the rest. There are probably only a handful of people I've had such negative interactions with that I would even consider carrying a grudge for, and most of those are permabanned2.

tl;dr: I'm just trying to write stories.

You used to be a member of staff for the SCP wiki. Would you mind sharing the ups and downs of your time serving as a staff member?

I had a really great experience as a staff moderator and disciplinary head, right up until the moment I didn't. I don't want to go into too much detail because it's really not worth dredging up all these years later, but suffice to say I really enjoyed working with that staff team at the time - especially Troy, Moose, Roget, etc.

Wish things had turned out differently, but I know of at least a few people who are thrilled to pie that it worked out like it did, so it's probably a wash.

Onto the topic of SCP-5935: Blood and the Breaking of My Heart, this was a difficult article to read through for me after understanding the story behind it. I am truly sorry to hear about the loss of your grandmother. Death is a painful reality, but sickness is cruel. Is there anything you wish to elaborate on concerning this article?

Blood is maybe the most esoteric thing I've ever written here, but a lot of that is just a reflection of where my head has been at the last year or so. I don't think I can add too much else without giving anything away, but suffice to say that everything in that article means something, even if it doesn't necessarily mean something.

You began writing in 2014. It has been 6 years now. What changes have you observed concerning the wiki? How do you think you have changed over the years?

There was a time when I would have told you that I didn't know if the wiki would be able to maintain the pace set in 2012 indefinitely, but there was a moment a few weeks ago when I was flipping through recently created and didn't recognize any of the author names. So many pieces of great fiction, and not a single person I recognized. That, I think, is what makes the wiki special.

A lot of the big names from when I was coming up are gone now. I've persisted, in a way, but who knows how much longer that will last? But seeing new authors bringing fresh ideas to the wiki and making their own space on it is something that brings me no shortage of joy.

I think a lot of people pine for "the way things were", but I don't think I've ever felt that way. Fresh blood brings new experiences and injects new life into this thing. I was that fresh blood once, and then a few years later it was Hippo, and then it was Kirby, and then it'll be someone else. The wiki has definitely changed, but that change isn't bad. It's just change.

As for me, I've certainly slowed down. I'm taking my time now on the projects I'm working on. I still have a lot of gas left in the tank, but I want to do the thing right, and not rush through it.

In 2014, you started a podcast entitled KaktusKast where you would have authors from the site join you as guests to discuss various topics and articles on the site. Can we expect any future episodes as the last episode aired in 2018?

As an interview show, I can't really imagine going back to that now after all these years. I really enjoyed when I was doing it, but the dynamic between myself and the other authors has changed, and those interviews don't really feel appropriate anymore - besides, there are plenty of other people doing that sort of thing that do it better than I could. A discussion show, maybe, but I can't even begin to think about it until I get some of these other projects off my plate! Maybe in 2021, if that year isn't shite as well.

Are there any projects outside of the wiki that you would like to talk about? Anything applies.

Go listen to Tanhony and Darnell's Discovering SCP podcast. It's hilarious and very good.

So, after all of that, who is the person behind the name "djkaktus"?

My name is Ben. I grew up near Indianapolis before moving to Atlanta after college. I like writing fiction on the internet and napping on the couch. I've got two real dumb cats and some really great friends and family.

I know I'm not perfect. I know there are probably some people out there who grind their teeth because I somehow ended up #1 in votes. I try really hard and I really love what I do here, and I'm sorry if I'm not what you wanted. I'm going to keep doing what I'm doing, and hopefully you'll enjoy the stuff I make.

Shoutout to the lads and lassies of the orbicular wigwam, and to all of my other mates on staff and elsewhere. Keep doing what you're doing.

Does the black moon howl?

Only when it upvotes djkaktus.

This concludes the interview. I hope you enjoyed it! I would like to thank djkaktus for agreeing to do this with me. It was a blast. I intend to continue this series, and I still have several other authors scheduled for the future!

Thank you for reading!

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