Be careful of how you use the carbon copy feature on email.
Be careful of how you use the carbon copy feature on email.
FIN SORREL is the founding editor of Mannequin Haus, a journal publishing surreal and innovative writing. I sent MH one of my footnote poems earlier this year with little hope that it would be accepted. I’ve written a handful of these kinds of poems over the past year and they’ve been roundly rejected across the board. I know they’re good poems and innovative in a way that’s interesting, so it had been really hard to get those particular rejections. But Fin accepted one and has since published it at MH. An editor willing to go places other editors won’t was immediately intriguing to me, so I was happy to talk with him about MH and more about his aesthetic and how he came up with it. The interview took place over the course of a week and, as far as I understand it, on his cell phone for Fin, for the most part.
SHELDON LEE COMPTON: Hey Fin. Buddy it’s good to get a chance to talk with you. I feel journals like Mannequin Haus and a handful of others are the lifeblood of literature right now. Fiction and poetry has never moved an inch forward or in any interesting direction at all by playing it safe and moving away from the risks. Any writer or any journal doing this, working the front lines of change and innovation, has my immediate attention and loyalty. How much of this kind of thinking was at play for you when starting the journal?
FIN SORREL: A ton of thinking about the literary norm, the accepted status quo, and formalities had made me very angry as I cautiously, and with great disdain, began sending out my first book. Ten years prior, writing for me was an escape from the status quo, (I was reading Les Chants de Maldoror and living on the street, it was not a business, it was my passion, another an act of creation, just like painting was, or drawing. I was not as much the authority (or author) but something else, the wizard, casting long, aimless spells of reality-bending- surrealism like in Teacup Galaxy, a story I wrote during that time period, which is being released in a collection from Pski Porch Press in October. That story is a good example of how I approached the conversation with the literary underground world. As the rejections poured in for the first ten years, I realized I had to tighten up my style, or go back to painting, and normalize my experiments, if I wasn’t very strong, this would have killed me. I might have given up, and I think this is a real danger with some these journals, they are trying to act all coy, they act unapproachable, kind of reminds me of a yuppie attitude, looking down on a homeless man or woman. I saw a whole platform for the elite, and powerful, and rich. I felt the underrepresented people of this country and the world needed a journal they could send their weirdest, most ridiculous out of control, surreal writing to and have acceptance. That is why I started Mannequin Haus.
SLC: That’s an amazing reason for starting a journal, to give voice to the under-represented in the literary world. So you’ve went a level further than indie and started focusing on the underground, which is great. I’ve most frequently thought along these lines when considering journals such as The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, Playboy, etc. You’re not getting into to those places unless you meet certain strange criteria. I say strange, because exposure shouldn’t really depend on having already been exposed. But there is certainly a level of this sort of thing in the lower tier journals. So what if Mannequin Haus received a submission from George Saunders? Would you give him serious consideration or would you actually prefer work from new writers doing new things with new tools, so to speak? And, building on that question, what is the near perfect or perfect submission for you as an editor?
FS: If George Saunders submitted something to us, I’d probably be interested only if his work showed me something curious. Personally, I am a fairly moody reader, some days I want to read ancient Chinese fiction, and some days I want to read Harmony Korine. I publish a lot of authors who are experimenting with formatting, and I really enjoy seeing some new spin on how an author tells a story or presents a scene in a play, the voice they choose, diction, and I do really look for experimental authors who are breaking any of the rules. I get a lot of submissions from people who consider what they are doing experimental, and it is not anything of the sort, I also get a lot of stuff where people think cruel scenes of violence is surreal, I don’t normally take these kinds of things, unless the work can somehow reveal both sides. A perfect submission would be something that pushes the reader outside of themselves, and takes them to a new place. I really like the work Kobo Abe, and I would love to publish an author who is doing something similar to what he was doing. I’ve yet to see that.
SLC: I read Kobo Abe earlier this year (The Woman in the Dunes) and didn’t care for it very much. But I’m eager to read The Box Man. I feel like I was maybe in the wrong head space to read him at the time. I did enjoy his style, though. What aspects of his work are you thinking of when you say “doing something similar” for writers out there working? And building on that thought, do you think innovation in writing comes from experimentation or more from a sense of originality?
FS: I guess I shouldn’t name drop too much here. I haven’t read The Woman in the Dunes, but I saw the movie, and it wasn’t the best. I read The Box Man, and I loved it. A Face of Another is also good. Kangaroo Notebook was my favorite. I feel like authors today hide behind their voice, they maybe milk it too long. It’s interesting to see someone who can write many different styles, blending them together. I guess they call this a hybrid, which I like. It’s like a mixed media painting, art work. I request literary art writing in my submission page, so I call it literary art, but hybrid is similar, I suppose. Innovation in writing comes out in quite a few different forms. Sometimes it is from a life in academia, personal study, or diy. But the point is the innovations usually come way after the experimental stages, when an author has tried all the known styles and can now come into their work knowing how the will approach. Others may be natural story tellers, who once they can create a flow working with equipment like computers, recording devices, can delve deep into subterranean worlds and take us on wild rides. There are some who cannot see their work become too absurd, who create this other kind of absurd that is so close to reality that it almost breaks us in two, choosing which reality that we need to occupy.
SLC: That sounds really interesting, an absurd that is so close to reality it almost breaks us in two. What are some examples of work like this? If there are certain writers you’re thinking of, who are they? Do you have any links to their work you could include here? In regard to the second question, you are the one and only editor who has accepted for publication one of my footnote poems, the poem “Psychedelic Death Shroud” and for that I’m eternally grateful. I had given up on those poems (I have others and am working on a collection of them now) finding homes due to rejections that had piled up. Do you actively seek out work that seems innovative to the point of strange?
FS: I don’t actively seek out much work. When Cassidy Rios Kane was on board as editor, he did actively troll the internet in search of some of the most amazing authors. I leave it up to authors to approach me, but there is a rare case when I will approach an author, requesting submissions. I do, though, look for in people’s submissions, for something a bit amiss, something off in it. Something vulnerable, and strange and human.
SLC: At what point will innovative writing require a return to traditional forms and concepts? Or do you feel this circular tendency doesn’t apply to literature?
FS: I think it returns to traditional forms all of the time, and will most likely always do so. I think in anything there is a point where you get to diminishing returns, and a lot of experimental writing can risk this danger, I enjoy writing that follows some kind of theme, but goes off into many unsettling areas and returns in a way back to the place, I feel like there is a danger to go off the rails and lay there crashed. Instead of getting back on the line. The end, end of story, I find this to be a bit of a waste of time, and energy, but it happens to me personally in my writings all of the time. There is always this idea for me that I am having fun with it, so there are no risks, just the act of writing or not writing. If I am not writing, why should I beat myself up, I am not interested, do not have a plan, or the energy, if I am writing, why should I always push myself to make something like a Hollywood movie, or a Stephen King story if that is not how I write, I mean if I cannot get published so be it, I will continue to write no matter what.
SLC: Tell me a little about the first few months operating Mannequin Haus, the early stages, those first few weeks reading submissions. At what point did submissions begin matching the aesthetic?
FS: My first call was an awfully quick return, everyone in my circle is pretty odd, so it makes sense. I was staying with friends in a hotel room in Biloxi, Mississippi, basically draining off the gambling world, for free rooms and drinks, buffets, we had it made for a week. After three years of traveling, this was much needed down time, and I had already been getting submissions, Anyway, they have these free printers and computers that you can use if you’re a guest at the hotel, so I printed out my manuscript for Caramel floods, (Pski Porch Press, 2017) and built the first issue of Mannequin Haus. They tried to kick me out, the security thought I was a vagrant who had wandered in and was using the computers, which I essentially was, but not this time. I had a room number and they had to apologize to me personally, that was how i knew this would all work out in the end.
SLC: How often do you work closely with submitting writers on aspects of their work before publication? It seems editing is a disappearing art in the independent lit world. Do you accept a piece that shows promise but might need a little editorial guidance? And lastly, do you traffic in form rejections?
FS: I do not use rejections, I simply accept or you do not hear back, (unless I lost the email, this means I cannot use your work). I hate getting rejections, it slows my wave of madness. Creative intentions have a flow; rejections are a waste of time, and a waste of words in my opinion. I don’t want to do that to others. they will find publication somewhere, on their way to the top, if they send out only one thing at a time, I wouldn’t want to break someone’s heart, because it breaks mine to see half of the journals reject my voice. Timing is a big thing. If I have a ton of time and an author requests to work on their piece with me, I would be more than happy to help, or add my two cents, but no one has really done that yet.
SHELDON LEE COMPTON: You’re in an alternate universe where instead of presents people give celebrities for Christmas. In fact, it’s not even called Christmas; it’s called Celebmas. Who do you give? Who is on your list?
NATHANIEL TOWER: Well, I think I might start by giving my wife Justin Timberlake and myself Rachel McAdams. Then we’ll all get it on together. We’ll be so busy that I’ll forget to give any celebrities to anyone else. I had planned on giving Kanye West to someone, but I left him wrapped up under the guest bed. Oh, and my dad would’ve gotten Neil deGrasse Tyson, but someone else gave him away first. So I’ll give him Rush Limbaugh two weeks after Celebmas. Oh, and I would also give that lady from Supernanny to my kids.
COMPTON: The dentist accidentally pulled three of your front teeth and you have a reading that evening. You’re ashamed and want to give them a good story about how it happened. What’s your story, you toothless wonder?
TOWER: I was curbstomped by one of those Westboro Baptist asshats in the parking lot on the way into the reading. He said something about my book being the antichrist.
COMPTON: You just discovered that all medicine is nothing more than bullshit placebos, always have been. There’s a huge chance people are going to think you’re just full on crazy, but you have to share the knowledge. What do you do?
TOWER: I head to the five nearest drug stores and buy out their entire stock of meds. I go home and take five pills a minute for the next month, filming every second of it. Then I make it into one of those time lapse videos that always go viral. The soundtrack to my video consists of Placebo’s “Song to Say Goodbye,” “Meds,” and “Bitter End.” When people see how none of that shit has any effect on me, they’ll know the truth. And Placebo will become super popular.
COMPTON: You’re in the white Bronco with O.J. speeding down the freeway. What do you say to him?
TOWER: Dude, why the fuck are we riding in a Bronco? All that money and this is the shit you’re riding in? Whatever. Let’s stop at Arby’s and get some curly fries. And can we drive a little faster maybe? I’m hungry. And how long is this gonna take? I promised my wife I’d be home by 6. Can’t piss off the wife, ya know.
SHELDON LEE COMPTON: Thanks for agreeing to talk with me, Arielle. Let’s start with how I first got to know you, through your online lit journal Fair Folk. It’s a journal that, for my money, really seeks to find the imaginative in storytelling today. Share a little about the journal and also about how did the idea for it started for you? Where do you see it going in the coming years?
ARIELLE TIPA: Fair Folk began as an “I know this has already been done before, but I’m gonna do it anyway” type of thing, since there are thousands and thousands of lit journals out there seeking out similar content. The fantasy genre has always been a favorite of mine since I was a kid, both in film and in literature. I was obsessed with series like The Dark Is Rising by Susan Cooper and The Unicorn Chronicles by Bruce Coville, and my favorite movies included Thumbelina and The Neverending Story. I was always that weird kid who scoured through the (pitifully small) mythology section of a Catholic school library just for fun. As I grew older, I began to question why people were so enthralled with the mystical concept of being or even existing, as well as the complexity of what it is to be human, and speculative fiction was really the only collective genre which echoed my own curiosities. Fair Folk, all in all, really stemmed from this attraction to the enchanted and the unknown, which still grows with me today.
I never had the courage to submit to literary journals until late last year, and that was very much a catalyst for developing Fair Folk – it was almost as if I wanted to do something worthwhile during my waiting period of getting a “yay” or “nay” for my lit journal submissions. To be honest, I was very insecure while starting this journal, since I really couldn’t consider myself a published writer (I really wasn’t, save for some contributive articles). But, I realized that starting Fair Folk wasn’t about me. It all boiled down to sharing diverse voices of speculative fiction, and yes, it does seek to find imaginative storytelling, which is needed now more than ever as the world today seems to sink further into a lecherous love affair with political chaos and correctness. The journal seeks out not only escapism, but a temporary alternative to reality. I believe a story is only worth reading if we are able to forget our own for just a short while, which is essentially Fair Folk’s purpose.
In the coming years, I hope to see the journal doing what it has been doing since its inception, and then some. Do I see it becoming more successful? Absolutely. Do I see it going into print? Maybe not. I have been (to an insurmountable degree) honored by having the chance to read some of the greatest spec fiction by international writers which both adheres to and shies away from the mainstream, and I cannot wait for more submissions to pile up. Being an editor-in-chief (as some will agree) is very rewarding.
COMPTON: Of course I agree that there needs to be a little more imagination in today’s fiction and poetry and, well, everything else, really. It’s a worthy goal, I think.
It’s interesting you should mention that you’re not really seeing Fair Folk becoming a print journal. In addition to the fact that realism has sort of had its day, so to speak, I also think the same can nearly be said of the print journal. I can remember hoping to get into a print publication back when I first starting writing, thinking, of course then, that it was more esteemed. I’m of a completely different mindset today. Print doesn’t begin to compete with online in terms of readership. And readership is the whole point, I believe. So Fair Folk remaining on online venue to me seems like the perfect situation. We need more of those, not less. Who needs another print journal that takes 437 days to reply to your submission and only accepts stories via snail mail. Man oh man, those days are way over in my book. What are your thoughts?
TIPA: Although I really, really prefer to read books in print, since it’s more intimate and concrete that way, my preference for literary journals is the complete opposite. Because content on the internet seems to be so much more easily accessible (and affordable) nowadays, the reason why I’d prefer the journal to stay immortalized through pixels and magical data is pretty much a no-brainer. As far as this modern, new-agey kind of era of reading, I really admire digital platforms like issuu, where you basically have the best of both worlds – a virtual print publication. I may (may) consider converting Fair Folk into virtual print and make it more like a seasonal type of publication. For now, WordPress is the easiest and most affordable option.
COMPTON: Let’s talk about your own writing. You were mentored by literary folklorist Ruth B. Bottigheimer at Stony Brook University. How did that experience bring you to the type of work you do today, especially in terms of the stories and so forth that focus on, in your own words, “fabulist to feminist, macabre to bizarre.” How much of that kind of writing did you bring to Stony Brook with you?
TIPA: To be honest, I barely even wrote anything besides scholarly papers while studying for my B.A. I was basically in starvation mode as far as writing for fun rather than for grades. I studied Comparative Literature and English, so the material I was required to read was extremely diverse: philosophical texts, cultural theories, biographies, nonfiction, sci-fi, Shakespeare, Freud, the works. While reading to get my degree, I was also, of course doing the usual – blogging, writing rough drafts, and leisure-reading on the side, and that same leisure reading included my personal favorites: fairy tales and dark fantasy, appropriately. This ultimately led to me into gathering ideas for my research project.
I ended up getting paired with this Professor Bottigheimer by the head of the Comp. Lit department and was like “Oh, cool…..who is she?” I then proceeded to Google her name at home, and basically lost it at “She has been hailed as ‘one of America’s foremost Grimm scholars’”. I became so intimidated that my anxiety was at an all-time high during the 4-month period of writing this gargantuan research project. But, meeting and working with her was rewarding. We ended up coming to an agreement for me to read and research the tales of the Grimm Brothers and Giambattista Basile, and to write a lengthy, comparative analysis of their usage of bird and tree imagery in as far as gendered functions and so on. That experience with Bottigheimer very much encouraged me to continue this obsession with writing and the fantasy genre, and to use it to the best of my abilities no matter what odd job I’m getting paid to do.
COMPTON: That is fantastic. I am now inspired to go back and read all the Grimm Brothers material. Dig deeply, you know?
So what’s coming up in the future for Arielle Tipa. What are some of you serious plans and then what are some of your pie-in-the-sky plans. For instance, my serious plans are to finish a collection of poetry and a third collection of stories by the end of the year. My fantasy plan is to retire from the day job, move to Norway, and write and play guitar for the next twenty years or so.
TIPA: Well, it’s been a while since we last have spoken, and a lot has changed in such a short period of time. I’ve been unemployed since last October, and these last six months have been some of the worst I’ve been through. But, I recently got a job as a full-time fashion and music writer for a small publication on Long Island. I love it so far, and I feel so fortunate to (finally) get paid to do what I love. I actually gained interest in fashion writing three years ago, and it became something I wanted to hone and delve deeper into. Since then, I’ve contributed for a few small sites, and I love that I get to incorporate my literary and poetic impulses into this type of journalism. This is a big leap for me and a stepping stone for my career, since I’ve wanted to work for some type of publication since community college, whether it was focused on fashion or music or any of the arts in general. Of course, I’ll still be writing poetry and short stories in-between.
As for my pet project, Fair Folk, I was recently thinking of making it into what I like to call an “inheritance” publication. That is, I would like to eventually step down as EIC and pass it down to someone I find worthy *queue villainous laughter*. Because I’m working now and have less down time, I would like to publish a few more stories and poems for Fair Folk until I feel that my time has come to an end. I’m currently tweeting updates as they come.
Lastly, I am also (as you, Mr. Compton, already know) working on a small, in-between endeavor of translating every Marilyn Manson song into Shakespearean. Seriously, like, straight-up Elizabethan stuff. Except it’s Marilyn Manson. I guess this would count as my pie-in-the-sky plan, but with the artist’s permission (followed by giddy and tearful fangirl reactions, since there is a personal, emotion connection I have with his music), I would like to publish these translations into print. Imagine that. Just imagine a printed discography of Manson’s songs bounded in tanned leather or sheepskin. If that’s not NYT #1 Bestseller material right there, then I don’t know what is.
SHELDON LEE COMPTON: Really happy to have the chance to talk with you, Hugo. Thanks for taking the time. I want to start with your story “The Ritual.” I was proud as hell to get the chance to publish that at The Airgonaut the summer of last year. It tore me down in the best way possible. I knew right away I was in the hands of an extraordinary imagination. Do you mind starting with how that story took shape?
HUGO ESTEBAN RODRIGUEZ: It’s really an honor to me! I’ve always found that my fiction is a little bit weird and a little bit strange and when The Airgonaut gave me a chance I felt like I finally had that validation. On to the story! It’s really what happens when you get one particularly strong image and have it chug a whole lot of Julio Cortazar. In this case, the image was that of a diving board at a swimming pool I used to visit when I was a kid. I might have jumped from it once, but just once, and what I remember the most was how high it was, and the paint chipping off the blue metal rungs leading up to the platform. There wasn’t a diving board, either, just an elevated platform. The image stuck with me for a long time after, in a little folder in my head of random and disconnected images.
A few years ago, as a student at the UTEP’s online MFA program, I had the fortune of having Daniel Chacón as both professor and thesis advisor because he exposed me to the works of Julio Cortazar and Jorge Luis Borges and the power of magic realism, where the line between the real and the fantastical could be blurred to create the most powerful images and stories. One particular story we covered in class sticks out: Cortazar’s La autopista del sur. What Cortazar does with the concept of time and place in that story basically told me: “You want to get weird? Let’s get weird.”
So I wrote an entire manuscript with those ideas, with my heart set on releasing a book that would put me in a literary space somewhere between Raymond Carver, Neil Gaiman, and Sandra Cisneros. But The Ritual, for all its weirdness, didn’t feel like it belonged there. Once I made the edits to the manuscript, it was the first story removed. Coincidentally, the second story removed from the manuscript eventually became This Nocturne of Misplaced Questions, published by The Airgonaut earlier this year.
But on to “The Ritual” even after I had made some more edits free from the constraint of continuity or of the manuscript, something was not quite there. It wasn’t until I heeded the call for submissions from The Airgonaut that I realized what my problem with the story was. It wasn’t what I wasn’t saying, but rather what I was saying, and using the sharp 1,000-word cut-off requirement, I took a scalpel and removed all the excess fat from the story, resulting in what you see now. My belief with “The Ritual” was that there should be an emphasis on the real part of magic realism, where there was more creativity invested in writing something concrete than in something ethereal, vague, and abstract.
To sum it up “The Ritual” came about as a vivid image frozen in time bolstered by learning about magic realism and then using a scalpel to remove unnecessary detail in a weird story that’s both an ode to the Latino greats that influenced me and an introduction letter to the literary world broadcasting that I’m going to bring the weirdness.
COMPTON: I like that – an introduction letter. It has the feel of a story that is announcing something important, the arrival of a genuine storyteller. You mention some of the Latino influences such as Borges (who I’ve read extensively) and Cortazar (who I have not read at all, as of yet). I wonder when writing in proximity to these huge shadows of magical realism and innovation how does a writer manage to create his own voice and his own style, and so on? It’s clearly something you’ve managed to do very well. I only wonder was there a great deal of effort that went into it or were you able to open up in original ways without much problem?
RODRIGUEZ: I have kind of a simple view on things like that. I don’t see it as daunting or intimidating. I see what’s been done by people like those two and I think to myself: “Wow, that’s really cool! Now how can I do something like that with my own twist?”
It goes beyond those writers I mentioned and extends to poets and journalists and songwriters and what they’re able to do with words. That’s what inspires me and gives me the fuel to figure out the how to make my voice unique. And to answer that question, I think I benefit from an outsider’s approach. I only started writing literary fiction in 2013 and then only because it was part of my Advanced Fiction Writing workshop. Before that, the bulk of my writing experience came from six semesters as a journalist for my alma mater, angsty online journals, and writing bad genre fiction and even worse fanfiction. So you take that and then you add the fact that my main social circle isn’t writers or poets but rather accountants, engineers, IT professionals, and teachers and you get a guy who has no idea what rules and norms The Literary Establishment™ has set and decides to instead carve out his own place. That comes easy to me. The effort and the real fun*, I think, comes from the trial-and-error figuring out which inspiration will work with which weird/vivid imagery. I compare this to cooking, another hobby I go into with the same reckless abandon. Sometimes the idea will work, like the years-long process that’s helped me develop the best gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches. Sometimes the idea will crash and burn spectacularly, like the time I thought adding marinara sauce to ramen would be a good idea.
It wasn’t, and the effort resulted in the next two hours being spent in complete misery, but it was still fun attempting it.
*writers have quite the masochistic view of fun.
COMPTON: You say angsty online journals. I feel like I can relate. An online journal should be the rebel torch in the literary darkness right now, I think. Not a throw-away jumble of hasty ideas spread all over the place. Can you expand on what you mean and also share your thoughts on online work in general, especially as opposed to the increasingly uptight world of print?
RODRIGUEZ: Oh, to clarify, I meant angsty online personal journal sites, such as Xanga. However, there is one thing in common that those monuments to my teenage angst have with stories I’ve seen published: self-serving, navel-gazing bullshit. Not that there isn’t great work out there, because there is, plenty of it, but I feel like it gets buried in mountains of stories about sad people feeling sad about sad things.
Last year, I briefly worked as an assistant editor for the literary magazine Bartleby Snopes and one of the things that I loved the most about it, besides the fantastic people I got to work with, was that they weren’t afraid to push into the weird to get awesomely engaging stories. Editor Nate Tower had set a few submission guidelines for things that we would be wary of: “Stories written in present tense (especially third person present tense); stories with graphic dead baby scenes; stories about writers; stories about struggling marriages; stories set in bars; stories with more backstory than plot; stories with undeveloped characters; stories that are overly reflective; and stories that rely heavily on second person usage.”
It didn’t mean we weren’t going to publish stories that had some of those things, it just meant that writers should take risks and Bartleby was going to do its best to take away as many crutches as they could from those who submitted. That’s how the final issue’s dialogue contest winners included stories-in-dialogue about: a Godzilla-like monster who recited haikus; two men talking about pillows; two AIs talking at a bar; and one about a store receiving magical unicorn polish. I repeat: Bartleby Snopes was not a genre magazine, but it was a magazine that wasn’t afraid to get weird.
I’m a traditionalist in the sense that I prefer to work within rather than without the Literary Establishment™ to change things. Why? Because a lot of the criticism levied against it is completely valid. One of the biggest problems is the one you mentioned: We’re very uptight. We don’t want to mess with what’s established. We don’t want to take risks. We don’t want to try and take notes from the indie crowd when it comes to building up market. We act as if being able to interpret Joyce and loving the classics is the only way to enter this rarified air.
(And all of this just gives more ammo to those in the indie community who then claim we’re some sort of exclusive country club)
But these are not lofty spaces. What we do is really no different than what anyone with a passion/talent does. Success shouldn’t be defined by what you publish, awards, conferences, tenures, it should be defined by the simplest question: “Are you happy?”
And not in the blissful, okay-we-are-done-no-more-effort-required sense of happiness that’s fatal, but rather, the happiness, or rather, the satisfaction of knowing that what you do is what you want to do. That’s success. Y’all think some of these best-selling and allegedly “hack” writers give two shits that some stuffy professor with an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop thinks? They enjoy what they do.
That’s success. I consider myself successful because I get to do what I like to do on the side, but success comes with a huge side helping of hunger. There are still a lot of things I want to do and am able to do and I’m just getting started. I can’t stop. My grandfather once wrote to me: “Venado que se para, lo flechan.” (The deer that stays still gets killed)
And maybe, maybe part of it is that I just don’t “get it” and it would make sense. I’ve hated most of the classics I’ve read, I didn’t study literary theory until my master’s, got a C in the last proper English class I took in undergrad, and but for a few exceptions didn’t really like the rest of my English classes. There are things I still don’t like about the approaches: such as how anything published online is automatically considered published. Sure, Sturgeon’s Law applies but it’s also a good way to grow your market versus having to order a book that even with the author’s discount comes out to $10 if you want to show someone what you’ve written. (Don’t even get me started on submission fees)
But, to be fair, that uptightness extends to those levying that criticism against the Establishment, too. Writers who can’t take criticism at all. I have seen people say, and I’m paraphrasing only a bit: “Oh I had a story that got turned down by an editor therefore all gatekeepers are snobs. I am just going to throw a few words on CreateSpace and show it to people who’ll blow smoke up my ass and flip my shit when someone gives me three stars or less on my review.”
You have to have thick skin as a writer. You’re going to get rejection after rejection. That’s good! The first one’s always a little bit jarring but after that, they get much easier. The mentality should be that rejections are the expectation and not the exception. Eventually you start wanting to get rejections because you know every rejection is an opportunity to fix something and you know that in the end it’s a numbers game. Writers need to be able to handle that. Before I landed a book deal with La Casita Grande Editores, I had emailed around 60 different queries to 60 different agents. A year from now, I won’t necessarily remember the 60 queries or that of those, only 10 agents responded, with 9 of those being a variant of “thanks but no thanks” and one “wow sounds interesting, and thanks but no thanks”. I will remember that out of a hell of a lot of nos, I had one yes. That’s all that mattered.
This, by the way, is not a dig at the agents that turned me down. If anything, I’m thankful, because that’s 60 different look-throughs and edits that improved my queries each time. And as a Latino writer, I felt that it was my responsibility to go this way, because there is another very valid criticism about the establishment: it’s too white. You don’t see a lot of us in this space of literary journals and MFA programs. So I have to challenge my fellow POC writers who are tempted to go indie to not give up on their dreams of getting published the “traditional” way for the sole reason that by retreating we give the people who don’t want to see us there win by giving them exactly what they want.
If doors are closed, you kick them open. If they won’t budge, you open a window, if the window’s closed, you find another way in. If the space is too white, what is gained by leaving? How are you going to change the system when you can’t get traction at all? I may be just one person, but I’m there. I’m there because I saw other Latino writers and poets stirring up shit inside those literary spaces. My hope is I am able to do the same for even younger POC writers. As one friend put it: We should infiltrate, not segregate. Get your name out there, start a blog, go to events, change the system from within. I think online journals are a great way to start because it puts your story out there, one that’s vetted. Don’t hide behind paywalls. Get your work out there because people need to see it.
COMPTON: Oh man I love your views on all this. I think what you just said should be put in chapbook form and handed out to all young writers at some point in their lives, like a driver’s license, like a class ring, like a diploma.
So what’s on tap for you? What’s the realistic, day to day, version of what’s next and then what would be the next thing if you had a magic wand and could just make it happen instantly? In particular, do you have anything in book form that you might be shopping around in the near future?
RODRIGUEZ: Right now, I’m finishing up the edits to my manuscript and my editor and I are hoping for publication by February of next year, with as many readings and appearances to promote it as I can get in the fall. On the individual level, I’ll do a lot of self-promotion but I’ll do my best to be mindful not to cross over into the “we get it, Hugo, you wrote a book” point. I also don’t want to be that guy on Twitter only posting links to his book because that’s going to get old and annoying real quick. However, I’m still going to be active in my social media presence. I’m mostly on Twitter @HugoEstebanRC and Facebook (www.facebook.com/DosAguilasWrites) and I post a weekly writing-related (mostly) post on my John Scalzi/Chuck Wendig-inspired blog at www.dosaguilas.org/random-strands.
What kind of stuff are you going to see there? Well, writing-related stuff, nonsensical musings about food, the occasional retweet of something political, and words of praise for heavy metal and the San Antonio Spurs.
On the other writing fronts…oh man, lots of writing ahead! I’m going to keep on writing short stories and flash pieces; I’m going to finish the edits to my poetry manuscript and start shopping that around; and finally, well, I really want to start making serious inroads into the fantasy epic that I’ve been developing over the last decade and change.
If the magic wand only applies to me and only my writing, I’d probably use it on having that genre project off the ground and at the very least having a manuscript I could start querying agents with. Like I said, it’s been about eleven years since I first came up with the original idea, and I have nothing to show for it. I’ve started to write something several times and gotten as far as 70 pages in before letting the crippling self-doubt get to me and forcing me to abandon the projects because they’re burning piles of garbage. If anyone were to read them right now I’d want them to sign a medical waiver; that way they wouldn’t have grounds to sue me after the neck injuries they’d sustain from cringing so hard.
But honestly? I want to get better, and I know I really need to just devote more time to actually getting better, devoting time to the process that I love, with all its highs and its lows. If I were to flick my wrist and poof I have a completed and non-cringy manuscript…it’d rob me of all of that, so…it’d be a really tough call.
That’s really pretty much it. I want to thank you so much for your time, and for any one interested in getting to know more, please feel free to reach out to me! I love talking to people about writing, and really, anything.
SHELDON LEE COMPTON: You own a small town. It happens sometimes. Three guys once bought the town of Wheelwright, Kentucky, a coal camp sold by the company back in the 1970s. What do you do during the first month of ownership?
STEVEN DUNN: Oh man, I come from a town of 400 people. So if this town I owned was about that size, I would seriously sit at the corner store and try to meet all the people I could. Then I’d see who’d be interested in helping with a town play (acting, writing, or whatever). We’d work and work on this play (maybe a myth about the town), and perform it. My thought is: we’ve all worked on something together, now we can move forward!
COMPTON: Matt Damon does a Bourne move and coverts his way into your house to hold you hostage to write the opening scene of his Good Will Hunting sequel. Let’s have that first scene.
DUNN: Opening scene to Good Will Hunting 2:
Matt Damon stars as himself as a washed up actor who and wants to write a sequel to Good Will Hunting. Everyone important has turned him and his proposal down. Down on his luck, he holds Steven Dunn (a young black writer) hostage to write the opening scene of Good Will Hunting 2.
Matt Damon tells Steven Dunn, “Make it cool, add some jazz or hip-hop, you know, kinda like Super Bad, that had a really groovy soundtrack.”
SD: “I know, Super Bad had a soundtrack from black artists from the 70s, but there were no black people in the movie, so it just made all of these white dudes look cool and edgy. Like there were no black people in the first Good Will Hunting.”
MD: “It was filmed in Boston for Christ’s sake.”
SD: “If it was really for Christ’s sake, you would’ve had black people in the film because Christ had an afro.”
MD: “That’s not the point, Steven.” [pointing gun at Steven]
SD: “Fuck you, Matt Damon. I know how you feel about diversity.”
Back in real-life, critics hail Matt Damon for hiring a black writer and starring a black writer. And Kevin Hart wins an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his role as the therapist in Good Will Hunting 2. And Michael B. Jordan wins Best Actor for his role as Will Hunting.
COMPTON: You can only listen to one more album and then that’s it, no more music. What album do you pick and why?
DUNN: Gorillaz “Demon Days” because it’s like three different albums in one. And the ending of that album, whoo! The last three songs: Fire Coming Out the Monkey’s Head, Don’t Get Lost in Heaven, and Demon Days, feels like one story and puts me in a weird trance. It’s my favorite album ending ever.
COMPTON: It’s retirement time for Samuel L. Jackson but he is absolutely not ready to go. Studio execs have asked you to break the news to him and convince him to go peacefully. What do you tell him? If you want to answer this in a slick Elmore Leonard dialogue exchange, feel free to do so.
DUNN: (I have never read Elmore Leonard. But I hear good things.). And as much as I love the word motherfucker, I can’t put it in this exchange. But considering that Samuel L. Jackson also loves the word motherfucker, I would tell him that I am personally revitalizing the Blaxpoitation film industry, and I want him to be the CEO of the company, and write, direct, and star in the first tow films: Bad Motherfucker, and Bad Motherfucker Too (which is about Bad Motherfucker’s son).
COMPTON: You’re an investigative journalist hoping to embed yourself as a tour guide at the Creation Museum for a Vice article. You have to convince the board of directors you’re a teetotal believer before you get the gig. How do you sell it?
DUNN: I used to go to church a lot as a child, so I’m familiar with that set of beliefs. And if I laid them out here in response to this question, it’ll seem like I’m making fun or being nasty. And I don’t wanna do that. But, on a similar note I’m actually interested in going to that life-size Noah’s Ark, in Kentucky I think. I’m not Christian, but that thing looks really cool. I’m amazed by it, the effort and the translated image.
SHELDON LEE COMPTON: You’ve been hired on to write the screenplay for Back to the Future IV. The studio has asked for a one paragraph summary for its afternoon pitch meeting. Go!
NICHOLAS GRIDER: Back to theFuture IV is a hilarious thrillride of hijinks and near-death experiences as Michael J. Fox enlists Christopher Lloyd to go back in time and, while retaining their profits, otherwise preventing Back to the Future II and Back to the Future III from ever being made––will they succeed? Will they tear a hole in the fabric of the cosmos? Will you laugh until you feel like your eyeballs will pop out? All that and more! Taylor Swift and Stephen Hawking costar.
COMPTON: If you could extend the life of one person from the past by a single year, who would it be and why?
GRIDER: Hopelessly sentimental and 100% sincere: my mom, completely healthy, so I could spend more time with her and she could get to see more of her granddaughter growing up. Then, because I’d pulled off the impossible by bringing her back from the dead, I’d tack on another twenty or so years so that she could see me become a Jew and become a doctor and get books published and see Rowan grow up and torment my sister and date and become the wonderful person she will be and graduate from whatever, Yale or Harvard.
COMPTON: Next year the government is going to require that every citizen get a tattoo in the middle of their forehead. Moving just ain’t an option, but you can choose your own. Show me an image of the tattoo you would choose.
GRIDER: I’d just get a small black dot. Simple, mystical, enigmatic, elegant: the face tat for every occasion.
COMPTON: Who would win in a fight between Emily Dickinson and Alice Munro? How do you figure?
GRIDER: Emily Dickinson would wipe the floor with Alice Munro, not because Munro isn’t a formidable fighter, quick on her feet, but because Dickinson spent so much time at home in her home gym getting ripped when she wasn’t writing poems, and because Dickinson will feint you like she’s favoring her right and going for the stomach a lot but then WHAM you didn’t see it coming but Dickinson is a southpaw with an absolutely lethal left hook. She will then sit on a KO’d Munro and jot down three or four more poems.
COMPTON: Ozzy Osbourne has finally forgotten everything he ever did. What song other than “Crazy Train” do you play for him as a reminder of his importance to the world of music?
GRIDER: The song would be “Paranoid” but rather than the original audio I’d sit Ozzy down and have him watch this performance of it, which features Phil Collins on drums and was part of the Queen’s Golden Jubilee, and I’d have him watch once or twice, inform him he was in a band actually called Black Sabbath, and inform him about Queen Elizabeth and Phil Collins (and of course Genesis) and congratulate him for having torn a hole in the fabric of the cosmos in a way and of a magnitude that Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd could never dream of.
SHELDON LEE COMPTON: I’m going to be honest here: I’ve always thought of you, firstly, as a poet. You just hold a line so well and have just amazing instincts with a phrase. Where does “Rusty Barnes the poet” fit into your idea of yourself and your work?
RUSTY BARNES: I began writing as a poet and that’s still how I think of myself. It looks like I write a ton more fiction than I do poetry, but that’s because the poems come between longer fiction projects. Whenever I cool off or finish something long, the poems start to come, and I write them for as long as the Muse will hang out with me, then start another novel or novella. It rounds out to writing poems three months a year and two or three novel(las) a year. This is how it’s worked for the past three years anyway. I’m in a holding pattern—this one is requiring a lot of research—with my current novel, and it feels weird not to be writing poems, but I trust everything will even out pretty soon. It usually does.
SLC: On Broad Sound is, I think, some of your best poetry. In particular, the poem “Lamp” speaks most clearly about your adoptive frame of mind in Revere. How long have you lived in Revere and what was the timeline for writing the poems in this collection?
RB: I lived first in East Boston, then moved to Revere–a move of only a half-mile or so–17 or 18 years ago. With one or two exceptions, the poems were all written in 2015 and 2016. I run in spurts. I usually take a break from fiction and write poems twice a year or so.
SLC: Do you have a favorite poem in On Broad Sound? One that stands out for you? If so, what’s the story behind that piece?
RB: I do have a favorite. My wife and I have been together for 26 years and I’ve never quite captured the dynamic of our relationship or said the things I want to say about how much I value her as friend and lover and go-to for basically everything in my life. She’s my first reader for all my poems. Sometimes we sit across from each other or move to our various places on the couch and email drafts back and forth for a couple hours a night after the kids have gone to bed. During one of those sessions came the last poem in the book, “The View from Earth,” the first poem where I thought I might have captured those feelings which usually stay unsaid. So yeah.
SLC: I love that, man. I just reread the poem. It’s one I had bookmarked as a favorite. It’s a piece that honestly does seem to pour out emotion, like an actual stream of total love, devotion, and sort of an awe for the subject matter, your wife Heather in this case, of course. It’s beautiful, Rusty. It seriously is.
After reading this collection, I’m now going to have to visit Revere, Mass. You make me want to move and take up a residence there, visit the local restaurants, stand on the shore. It’s as if you infused these poems with a hint of how it must feel to live there and raise a family there and build up years with a woman who fills up your heart. I’ve known you now for more than a decade and have thought of you in many ways as a regional writer. Do you have the feeling you’ll revisit Revere as a locale or inspiration?
RB: Thanks Shel. You can come up and visit anytime. I’ll take you to the SeaWitch and we’ll grub out on some fine fresh seafood. I hope I’ve captured something of what it is about Revere I like. It’s working-class and immigrant-rich still, but slowly gentrifying, which is a mixed bag. Still, within 20 minutes–a short subway ride– you can be downtown amidst all the culture you’d ever want. There are readings almost every night if you want to do that, great restaurants and a cool indie scene in general. For us, it’s perfect.
I will revisit Revere. In fact, I have already. My next big project coming out is Knuckledragger, from Shotgun Honey/Down & Out Books (October 2017) which takes place in Revere and surrounding towns, a book about a low-level Irish-type enforcer’s life, how he juggles his job and his women and gets in way over his head. I’m looking forward to seeing how folks like that, or whether readers will take to it knowing my past publication history, which is regional, as you say.
SLC: The SeaWitch and crashing a couple solid readings must be done. I remember telling you maybe a year or so ago that I had this vivid dream where I ended up at your house and, for some unknown reason, needed to crash there for awhile. You and Heather and the kids were awesome and took me in like family. I think I’m destined to visit Revere and hang with the Barnes family. And, of course, if you’re ever in spitting distance of Horseshoe Drive, you all need to stay for a bit on the farm. We’ll burn garbage and eat grilled ribs, just like good southern folk.
With mention of Shotgun Honey/Down & Out Books and the focus here on On Broad Sound, I have to wonder if you’ll ever wed those two sides of your writing life – the poet and the crime writer. I know you’ve been laying down a mighty amount of pages and cranking out several crime/thriller titles, such as Ridgerunner (which was solid as all hell) and the upcoming Knuckledragger (which I’m sure will be the same) but, like you said, you keep poetry there in the foreground with you. Can we expect a crime poetry collection in the future? And wouldn’t that be something that hasn’t been done before? Maybe ever?
RB: I’d love to get down to Horseshoe Drive. Someday. . .
I honestly have never thought of a crime poetry collection. This is what I know about crime poetry from my contemporaries though. Tony Barnstone wrote a very good book called Pulp Sonnets, which doesn’t quite match up with crime poetry but is, as the title suggests, full of love for pulp fiction and movies of all kinds. Also, my friend, the poet Joshua Michael Stewart–you may know him from Facebook–has had a book of very good noir poems in progress for some time. I’ve read some of them and published a couple in Fried Chicken and Coffee. The Lineup: Poems on Crime, cofounded by another Facebook friend, Patrick Shawn Bagley, is a small anthology that’s still available. I imagine there’s still a market for something like that, albeit limited. You may have just found me my next poetry project, Shel!
As for questions I wish you’d asked. . .I dunno. Now, I’ve got ideas for a bunch of crime poems, though, and I want to thank you for putting that idea in my ear and for doing this interview. Always nice to chat with one of the good ones.
SLC: Same to you, Rusty. Thanks for talking, and keep me updated on that collection!
Purchase ON BROAD SOUND.
Find out more about Nixes Mate Press.
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RUSTY BARNES grew up in rural northern Appalachia. He received his B.A. from Mansfield University of Pennsylvania and his M.F.A. from Emerson College. His fiction, poetry and non-fiction have appeared in over two hundred journals and anthologies. After editing fiction for the Beacon Street Review (now Redivider) and Zoetrope All-Story Extra, he co-founded Night Train, a literary journal which was featured in the Boston Globe, The New York Times, and on National Public Radio, ending its ten-year-run in February 2012, relaunching in 2014 long enough to do a best of anthology and one new print issue, ending its run (again) in 2015. Sunnyoutside Press published two collections of fiction, Breaking it Down and Mostly Redneck. MiPOesias published two chapbooks of poetry, Redneck Poems and Broke. Cruel Joke Press published his poetry collection, I Am Not Ariel in November 2013. Sunnyoutside Press published his novel, Reckoning, in March 2014. Ridgerunner, a crime novel, came out in May 2016 from 280 Steps. A follow-up to Ridgerunner, The Last Danger, will be published in Winter 2017. Also in 2017, Ravenwood Quarterly will publish a novel-in-stories titled Kraj: the Enforcer. His new poetry collection, On Broad Sound, is now available from Nixes Mate Press. His flash fiction appears in Best Small Fictions 2015, edited by Tara Masih and Robert Olen Butler.
Sheldon Lee Compton: A video of your most embarrassing moment goes viral. Do you venomously respond or stay quiet and suffer privately?
Jim Ruland: None of the above. I fire up the gunships and go “Ride of the Valkyries” on whoever posted the video.
SLC: You’ve been asked to travel to North Korea as a United States ambassador. Let’s see your agenda for the one-day visit.
SLC: So there’s this painting by Jackson Pollock called “Mural” and there’s this six-year-old kid who wants to know what it’s all about. Tell them whatever you think’s best and share it with me here.
JR: Look, kid, art isn’t “about” anything. It just is. Like when you pick your nose and wipe your boogers on the wall, that isn’t “about” anything is it? Fuck no. It’s boogers on a wall. Don’t tell your mother we had this conversation.
SLC: What Lead Belly song do you wish you’d written?
JR: “Angola Uber Alles”
SHELDON LEE COMPTON: You have died and need to decide the place you want to haunt and the form you want to take as a spirit. Tell me what you decide.
BERIT ELLINGSEN: I’d find a really old and run down cemetery of the type you’d expect or even want to be haunted. A cemetery full of ancient headstones and crumbling mausolea and tall grass and trees. Then I’d start haunting, moving things and making sounds and creating cold spots and such. I’d try to have the word about it spread to attract some fun and bumbling ghost hunters and scientists so they could actually get some measurements and pictures. I’d probably be a Lady in White type of ghost, or a tiny will o’ the wisp.
When the ghost hunters and scientists had gotten the recordings they wanted, I’d probably go to Venice and haunt an old palazzo there and scare some tourists. Unless ghosts are tied to one place, I’d go to Chernobyl since as a ghost radiation won’t be an issue. If possible, I’d travel the world as a ghost and see places I didn’t see while alive.
Maybe that’s what ghosts do when they’re not angry or bound to a certain place; they travel the world still. This makes me wonder if Facebook memorial pages can be haunted. I don’t think I would have bothered haunting a Facebook page. That would have been a terrible afterlife.
SLC: Full facial tattoo or painlessly losing your lips. One has to happen. What’s it going to be?
BE: I once wrote a story about a man whose lips had rotted off so it looked he was always smiling, but he was dead so there was a reason for the lack of lips.
For someone living, I think that having no lips might make it harder to eat and drink, which would not be a good thing. It would also be so scary for others it would be hard to have neutral interactions with just about everyone. Sad to think that that is the reality for burn patients and victims of acid attacks. The surface of our bodies has been given way too much importance in our culture, beyond skin’s basic function.
Full facial tattoos are also problematic. I don’t have any tattoos because I know I’d get tired of them after a certain while. I’ve seen pictures of some bad full facial tattoos and some that looked scary but were very detailed and well made. My issue with them though is that they do look as if the person is wearing a mask, and I keep thinking that it is not their true face, even though the tattoos are supposed to express what they look on the inside
The best facial tattoos I’ve seen have been mostly Maori, so I’d have to go with that. Although I don’t think Maori tattoos are given to non-Maori, so it would have to be a Maori-inspired tattoo instead.
SLC: You’ve somehow recovered the innocence of your childhood while still retaining your general adult knowledge. How will you best take advantage of this, if at all?
BE: I think some of that innocence, at least the capacity for wonder and surprise, if not naivete, must be present in order to write fiction. If one has no sense of innocence or wonder, how can one then write about the world, even if the world has many sides that are not innocent or wondrous.
The ability to wonder and have a childlike curiosity is probably also quite important to keep learning throughout life. When I graduated from university I thought my time of learning was over and that I’d never again be learning as much as I did then. But that’s been completely wrong and I’m still learning something new every day, whether it’s in writing or reading, or about science or current affairs. I think this continual learning is a good thing.
SLC: You can be shown every secret the Catholic Church may have to offer or every secret the Freemasons might have to offer. Which do you choose?
BE: Definitely the secrets of the Catholic Church hands.
I don’t think the Freemasons have that many interesting secrets beyond some intricate rituals and perhaps some intriguing books. Maybe the most interesting thing about the Freemasons is who is and has been members throughout history, and what advantages or not that has given the members.
The Catholic Church on the other hand, has existed for many centuries, amassed an enormous amount of wealth and store of ancient tomes, relics, artifacts, letters, and other pieces of information. I’m sure the Catholic Church’s objects of historical and cultural significance would take life times to catalog and analyze, even if you had no interest in the purely religious side of those objects.
I’m also sure some of their secrets would change the way we look at certain historical figures or events if they were made public, so I wish there would be more transparency. It would also have been interesting to see more information about the few female popes the church has had.
SHELDON LEE COMPTON: It’s Halloween but instead of dressing up in scary costumes, the tradition has changed. Now people dress up in sad costumes. What do you pick for yourself?
LEESA CROSS-SMITH: I’d make a dress out of the saddest stuffed animals from Goodwill. They make me so sad I can’t even go near them. I’d also walk around listening to The Carpenters, because listening to The Carpenters makes me so sad. (I never listen to The Carpenters.) Sheldon, I am getting sad typing this so I am stopping.
SLC: You’ve been hired to develop the latest reality show. You have complete creative control, but there’s one stipulation. The studio demands that Gordon Ramsey be in every episode of the show, even though it has nothing to do with cooking. Tell me about your big reality show idea.
LCS: The reality show is just me and my commentary on the things I read, things I watch. While this is happening, Gordon does all the things I don’t like to do, like dishes and cleaning my glasses and cleaning the bathtub. He goes to the grocery store for me and makes my phone calls and when I need him to cuss and yell at people, he does that for me too. He does all of my shopping because I hate shopping. He never complains or feels taken advantage of because he wants to be helpful and we get along really well. And secretly when the cameras aren’t around sometimes, like in the middle of the night, he grills steaks for both of us but we don’t tell anyone about that part. In the morning, we just pretend like it didn’t happen.
SLC: Pete Rose. Hall of Fame or no? Whatever your choice, convince me.
LCS: I am trying to convince you that I need to talk to Pete about this. I need to see contrition in Ol’ Petey’s eyes and see what kinda energy he has going on in 2015. I don’t know, Pete. I just don’t know.
SLC: There’s a new rule. Every American must have a minimum of ten animals in their house at all times and only one cat and one dog are allowed in the mix. How do you stock your zoo?
LCS: One dog. One cat. One guinea pig. One capybara. One rabbit. Three baby goats. One baby otter in the bathtub. One sloth. Ten.
SLC: You’ve been asked to write the definitive history of rock and roll in one tweet as part of the Condensing American History for the Tech Generation (CAHTG) educational initiative. Let’s see it.
LCS: SEX! SEX! SEX! (and this picture of Robert Plant holding a dove and this video of Jimi Hendrix setting his guitar on fire)
Leesa Cross-Smith is the author of Every Kiss A War (Mojave River Press) and the editor of WhiskeyPaper. Find more @ LeesaCrossSmith.com.
SHELDON LEE COMPTON: Let’s say you were given a bar and grill in a dead relative’s will. What would name this fine establishment. Any particular reason?
BRIAN ALAN ELLIS:
SLC: You have to get rid of at least ten of the books on your bookshelf before the end of the day. What ten books make room for ten more and why?
SLC: The Pope has to make an overnight stop at your house on his tour of the United States. You want to impress him. How do you go about doing that?
SLC: Bacon or sausage?
Brian Alan Ellis lives in Tallahassee, Florida, and is the author of The Mustache He’s Always Wanted but Could Never Grow, 33 Fragments of Sick-Sad Living, King Shit (with Waylon Thornton), and Something Good, Something Bad, Something Dirty (forthcoming). His writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Juked, Crossed Out, Zygote in My Coffee, Monkeybicycle, DOGZPLOT, Conte, Sundog Lit, Connotation Press, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, HTMLGIANT, That Lit Site, Diverse Voices Quarterly, flashquake, Out of the Gutter, Spittoon, Spry, NAP, The Next Best Book Blog, Entropy, Skive, The Round Up Writer’s Zine, Gravel, and Atticus Review, among others, and was also adapted and performed by the Buntport Theater Company in Denver, Colorado.
SHELDON LEE COMPTON: You’re stuck forever in a movie. What movie do you pick, and give us at least one scene from it.
LUKE B. GOEBEL: My life the reality art film. The scene: hahahahhaha. Man, I just want to keep doing this forever, and I don’t want to get any older. Okay, okay, movie…Easy Rider…at the campfire drinking after the diner scene, Billy, Wyatt, and George Hanson and me (I can drink again since this is a hypothetical movie-life, right?) “Man this used to be one hell of a country.” “Talking about it and being it, that’s two different things…It’s real hard to be free when you’re bought and sold in the marketplace…of course don’t ever tell anybody that they aren’t free because they’ll get real busy killing and maiming to prove they are”…out in the swamp. Oh, I get to smoke again! This is the best. Swamp. Swamp. Swaaamp. The next morning never comes, George doesn’t get killed, we ride on.
SLC: Jack White just gave you a 1967 Silvertone guitar. The only thing he asks is this one thing. He says, “No one ever asked me about the mountain. Tell them I said that. Tell them the story.” So what the hell do you tell the first person who asks you about how you got the guitar? What’s the story?
LBG: I don’t know where this guitar came from. Some guy from the mountains name white pipes gave it to me. You ever seen it? Wanna trade me it for a spread out in Joshua Tree? About five acres with some water and a building already standing, worth about 10K tops, with joshuas on the land, and it’s yours? Okay? I’m probably getting ripped off, but I don’t give a shit about any wipe strips.
SLC: It happened. You’ve been thrown in the drunk tank and won’t get out for another twelve hours. Some guy wakes up beside you in the first hour and says, “I had a dream I was you.” He wants to talk about it. Tell us about that conversation.
LBG: Man. I have been to the mountain on this one. I have seen it. And it’s a guy who poops in front of you. Let me tell you, I don’t care buddy. You were me, I was you, we both need a meeting.
SLC: Tomorrow you’re homeless but can pick any vehicle you want to live in. What vehicle will it be? How come?
LBG: HA! HA! This is my dream life! Any vehicle? YOU kidding me? MAN! I want an aircraft carrier with an Elvis Presley’s 1959 FLEXIBLE VL 100 COACH CUSTOMIZED FOR ROAD TOURS BY GEORGE BARRIS IN CALIFORNIA and a plane that doesn’t work but I can put out on my land in Joshua Tree as my house, so make it a big one! Also, I kind of want my BOUNDER back…put it on the aircraft carrier next to The King’s bus.
SLC: A cop pulls you over and demands you change clothes with him, gives you the keys to his cruiser, and then drives off in your vehicle. What’s next?
LBG: Well, shit. He got my Elvis Presley 1959 COACH. I’m going after him and I’m gonna shoot him if he doesn’t give me back my bus.
SHELDON LEE COMPTON: You’ve been given three pardons you can hand out to death row inmates at your discretion. Choose wisely and let me know who you’re sending home. Oh, and one more thing, they have to live with you for one month when released.
SHANE JESSE CHRISTMASS: The first prisoner is a person called Houston C. Houston C was sentenced for the capital offense of murder relating to a racketeering offense. He has a broken back and wheelchair. He always makes loud, derisive inquiries. Always tries cop Winston cigarettes. He’s addicted to Ibogaine. He told me his last meal request is for eight Coney Island Hot Dogs. He always makes thundering hand gestures. I’d release Houston C so he could stack cardboard boxes and recite football scores to me.
The second inmate I would release would be Rabbit Burton. Rabbit was sentenced for the capital offence of willfully wrecking a train that resulted in death. He is also addicted to Ibogaine. While on death row, Burton wrote the now-classic expose detailing how sea-goddesses didn’t exist. That was pure MK-ULTRA baloney. Oddly enough, Rabbit Burton married a woman called Athena. He met Athena via the Prisoner Pen Pal Exchange. They were married last Spring in the prison chapel. I would release Rabbit Burton because he once told me, that in the rural woods behind the prison, his ghost would come back after his execution, and pull thunder from the sky.
The third inmate I would release is Ronald ‘Ronnie’ Waldcott. He is a scion from the Virginian Waldcotts. Ronnie was sentenced for the capital offense of murder relating to a car-jacking. Ronnie took charge of a 2013 Tesla Model S and drove it to Choudrant, Louisiana. Ronnie wanted to conduct a fifty-year reign of torture; however, he murdered the owner of the Tesla and didn’t begin his reign of torture. Ronnie gets paid $12.00 an hour for running the prison library. I would release Ronnie as he talks about building a compound in South-East Asia for scientific cultish activities. He may or may not be addicted to Ibogaine.
SHEL: You happen to walk around the corner just as this guy is running away from a wall along the sidewalk with a can of spray paint. You see what he’s written on the wall and are given the ability to change one word. You’re in London and the phrase the guy wrote is: “Clapton is God.” What’s your phrase?
SHANE: “I’M NOT GOING TO HURT ANYBODY / TRANSPARENT EYELIDS OF SNAKES / MOST OF THE PARANOIA IS HERE…”
SHEL: Look at the pictures in your wallet. Let’s theorize that you can travel in time through pictures. Choose one picture and describe your trip.
SHANE: Picture #364582384: Living room of the apartment where I grew up. Someone is carrying a tea tray stacked high with biscuits. Another man indicates for me to sit in the chair opposite him. He holds a big roll of currency. I’ve been awake for a few minutes. Brooding fertilised eggs on the pet Pleopod. The physical behaviours between the man holding the tea tray, and the man holding the bag of currency, are different. The man holding the bag of currency hunches over. The man holding the tea tray dribbles saliva and bile on my shoulder. I vomited a couple of hours earlier. It is going to be great. I seriously believe this. I walk onto the balcony. I light a cigarette. This apartment is situated in the city, it is a place of business, but I’ve never been able to work out what they do here.
SHEL: You have to spend the day as either Prince William or Andrew Carnegie. Who do you choose?
SHANE: Prince William has got nothing going for him; well nothing that interests me anyway. Prince William has never hated his work. He’s always tended to his status, or fostered his employment relations, the upper authority, gotten cosy with his boss. He exists to keep productivity up. He’s never compared himself with the other Royals, and then reflected on it. He’s never motor-pooled, or expressed an interest in signalling the stock market, or buying into a business. I’m not familiar with Andrew Carnegie. The separation and departmentalizing of people’s personalities has the police squawking, loud, explaining nothing. I’d rather watch Weekend At Bernie’s.
SHEL: For the next year you’ve been given the green light to roadtrip the entire country. Any other commitments you have will be placed on hold, but you have to figure out how to cover your own travel expense. Take me through that first week.
SHANE: Bowling Balls. Up and down the eastern seaboard going to bowling alleys. Do you know how easy it is to run off with a bowling ball? I’d pinch the balls from various bowling alleys. I would hit up a bowling alley everyday and then travel to the next town. At the next town, I would sell the ball on EBay. It’s a fall safe scam.
SHELDON LEE COMPTON: Tomorrow the world is made of food. Everything can be eaten. At some point you’re going to get hungry, so where do you start? You can explain what shit is made of what if you want. I think it’d be fun.
BUD SMITH: That podcast, This American Life had a segment about the artisanal toast movement. If the world had a section made of artisanal cinnamon and sugar toast, I’d probably start there. Also on the podcast, there was a coffee shop that only serves halved coconuts, shots of grapefruit juice, coffee and the cinnamon toast I mentioned. If tomorrow the world doesn’t turn into an edible wonderland, I’d like to go to San Francisco and check out this Trouble, Coconut and Coffee Club place. We feed the squirrels in the park up the street halved coconuts sometimes, and I was only in San Francisco for a day, in 2001, and it was Fourth of July.
SLC: Did Proust waste his time?
BS: Nah, he’s cool. He didn’t waste any of my time. I haven’t read him yet. On his Wikipedia page I see why you asked that question. Wrote those books related to time. That’s great. Wikipedia wastes my time. That’s what wastes my time. Start out reading about Proust and that sends me to reading about hard boiled eggs and that sends me to read about Stonehenge. I just looked up from the computer at the clock and I haven’t been at work for three day. Thanks Wikipedia.
SLC: Are you Patrick Swayze or Sam Elliott in Road House? Or neither? Basically you’re a guy in a movie who can kick some ass. Who are you?
BS: I’m probably the garbage man who picks up the trash that comes to that real serene ranch that Swayze stays at. I ride on the back of the garbage truck and don’t fight anybody. I fight bags of garbage.
SLC: You’re planning to rob a Shell Mart gas station, the ones with the insanely good pizza rolls, with your favorite author. Tell me about how you two go about it.
BS: I’d give my favorite author a gorilla suit and a rubber gun and send them into the shell station to get the money while I stole all of the window washer fluid stacked on pallets outside by the pumps. I’d be dressed in a Godzilla suit.
SHELDON LEE COMPTON: You can time travel to once place in your childhood but the catch is that you have to stay there forever. What age do you quantum leap back to and why? Also, as in Quantum Leap, who would be the Al to your Sam?
JULIET ESCORIA: I don’t think I would do that. I think I would prefer to stay in the present. Eternal childhood seems kind of boring. Like, I would be obsessed with cats and Green Day for all of time, and that sounds shitty.
SLC: With same crazy luck, you inherit half a million dollars and a 200-acre farm but hate farming. How do you make use of the money and land?
JE: I’d hire Lonnie from the movie Hud to take care of everything, and then I’d sit back and reap in the profits. Maybe I would let him keep Hud around, just to look at, but I wouldn’t allow Hud to stay on my property or talk to me. I feel like a farm lifestyle would be good for writing, although I might try to sway Lonnie from livestock in favor of crops, because livestock smells bad. I think citrus and avocado trees sound really nice.
SLC: Tomorrow you wake up and have a crippling phobia of anything wood, particularly paper. Write a paragraph detailing how you get through the day.
JE: I don’t like this question. There’s no way to escape paper or wood. It’s impossible. As a teen I was in a school for people with behavior and brain problems. Part of the school was going on these long-term extreme wilderness trips. The wilderness trips were so extreme that we weren’t allowed to bring toilet paper. We were instructed to use a rock the size, shape, and texture of your elbow. I feel like doing this would cure any fear of paper (although to find one, you would surely have to go near some trees).
SLC: On your way into your favorite book store you run into a guy who says he’s ready to leave commercial fiction behind and read some indie lit but he’s forgotten what’s what. What five books do you steer him away from? What five books do you insist he not leave without?
JE: I would tell him to stay away from books about murders, books about teens with superpowers, books with men who have long hair and no shirts on the covers, John Grisham, and anything with an Oprah sticker on the cover. I am cheating because I am giving you categories of books and not single titles.
I would tell him he needed to read Black Cloud by Juliet Escoria, Crapalachia by Scott McClanahan, Rontel by Sam Pink, Selected Unpublished Blog Posts of a Mexican Panda Express Employee by Megan Boyle, and Meat Heart by Melissa Broder. Those are all amazing books and I think they would give him a good range of all the neat shit that indie lit can do. (It was really hard to limit it to five books btw.)
SLC: Goonies or Ghostbusters? Cyndi Lauper or Madonna?
JE: Goonies because goonies never say die.
Madonna because she’s amazing. Go watch Katy Perry’s tour diary movie and then go watch Truth or Dare. Go watch some Beyonce videos, and then go watch Madonna’s. 1980s and even 1990s Madonna will rip the shit out of Katy and Beyonce. (I love both Katy and Beyonce but shit, they are some sugarfree bubble gum compared to Madonna.)
SHELDON LEE COMPTON: You move to Montana to get away from it all. Turns out Ted Kaczynski, the one and only Unabomber, is your neighbor. He comes over the second night you’re there and confesses his twisted plans. What do you do?
xTx: With Ted there is a warm ringing and we embrace like brothers begging before our brutal step-father. This, after our hands were writhed. A progression of understanding, compassion and love that knit the evening. His beard I breathed. This, after I shaped his jaw with my palms. A mandible meaty and wide. Strong. The beard a white cloth covering a David. It was hours I listened. The pour of wine deep between us. It was not minutes it came to that, it was one decade.
I moved to Montana a ten years-lonely woman who wanted to die underneath a sky I would never deserve. The shame in that heating my loins. When Ted appeared on my doorstep, madness in his gaze, I clung to him like a bundle of rebar thrown into a very deep lake. A quick and easy way to go down.
No one will ever know Ted the way I did. The mushroom-smell of his hair. The way he’d hitch and Gollum-sputter nonsense sounds in between monologues. How he agreed to a promise he eventually kept. How, these years later, I still keep that promise, metal-tubed and ticking underneath my mattress, Ted-set for a day he doesn’t want me to wake up. I often wonder if it will be the same day of his not waking.
I often pray for that.
SLC: Tomorrow you show up for work and the whole damn place, the entire building, is gone. There’s a note in the place you used to park that reads, “They know.” Walk me through the rest of your day.
xTx: 1. I say, “Oh shit” and get back in my car.
2. I drive to Venice Beach.
3. I find one of those “Pot Doctor” places and pay $50 for an exam so I can get a “Pot Card.”
4. I walk around without an iPhone until I find a Pot Store.
5. I go in to the Pot Store and buy pot in the shape of a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup.
6. I ask the Pot Store Guy if he knows what they know and he nods and hands me an envelope.
7. I leave the store and open the envelope after I eat the Pot Reese’s.
8. I start every sentence in this thing with I.
9. I find a feather smeared with feces inside the envelope.
10. I get mad at the Pot Guy because I realize he did not know what they know.
11. I drive back to where my work was.
12. I lie down in the parking lot and make snow angels against the asphalt that has no snow until my clothes wear through and my skins rubs off exposing my yellow fat and muscles and eventually bone.
13. I die.
14. I know.
SLC: The 1980s or the 1990s? Let’s talk about that.
xTx: Let’s not. But, the 80’s man……
SLC: Fifty percent of the U.S. population can manipulate one of the four basic elements. You’re among that percentage. Which element, and what will you do?
xTx: I’m not sure what elements are and I’m not going to Google it so I can just write whatever I want to write on this question.
I’m going to guess that elements are things like rain and the waves of the ocean and how those new-fangled kitchen drawers stop a half-inch from closing all the way and then slooooowly close all the way shut. I didn’t go to college so hopefully that helps explain my guess if I am, like, way far off.
So, taking the path of my guess, I’m going to say that I would probably manipulate something really small and stupid because I’m sure all of the other people picked all the cool elements (like tidal waves, Beyonce and fire smoke) and are all acting like they are bad-ass while actually they are just a bunch of sheep. So, I will pick the element of the slam dunk. I will make bets on basketball games and then control all the basketballs to be slam dunks in my favor so I will win lots of money. I will also use my powers to blow men’s minds at various playgrounds, gyms and recreation facilities all across the land. Especially at those courts in Venice Beach where they filmed White Men Can’t Jump. Man, I will fuck their shit UP over there!
SLC: Ants and humans switch size but retain their intelligence. What the hell do you do first?
xTx: Get out of the way of the ants.
SHELDON LEE COMPTON: You’re traveling in Logan, West Virginia and your car breaks down. You manage to get it to a shop but it’s an overnight fix. What do you do during your day there? Feel free to research the town for your answer.
ANNA LEA JANCEWICZ: You’ve got to be fucking kidding me. Shel, is this your way of saying you’re stuck in Logan, WV? Are you fishing for a ride? Because I don’t think my Volvo would make it. I will probably have to steal my husband’s Prius. And I’ll probably have to rob a liquor store or something for gas money. I’ve always seen myself as the kind of woman who would show up for a crime spree in a sort of femme fatale noir style, not just looking like a regular meth whore, so my dirty sweatpants and Star Trek t-shirt are not going to cut it. Now, I’ve got a cloche hat, and I have a dress that might do okay. It’s gray with paisleys and has flared three-quarter length sleeves. It’s super cute with a nice cardigan. But it’s in the wash, so you’re going to have to wait on that. My only available firearm is not going to be period correct, and I can probably let that slide, but I’m definitely going to need to buy some lipstick. So I’ll have to swing by the Rite-Aid, too. In the meantime, I see there’s a Holiday Inn Express on George Costas Drive. I guess you should hang out there. See if room service has pancakes, because I figure crime is going to make me hungry for pancakes. Also, the juiciest thing about Logan appears to be the 1932 murder of Mamie Thurman. Her throat was slashed from ear to ear and then she was shot twice in the left side of the head. Her mortal remains were discovered in a blackberry patch by a local boy (How poetic!). Since I’m kind of going to be dressed for it anyway, I figure once I get there we’re going to have to do some kind of scam where I pose as her ghost. You start thinking on that. I’ll be on my way soon.
SLC: There’s a cooking competition, sort of Hell’s Kitchen style situation. Only thing is, they’re asking you to come up with the dish for the renewed Fear Factor series pilot episode. How disgusting can you make your dish? Hit us with it!
ALJ: Obviously, the unbeatable taboo here is cannibalism. But that’s pretty hard to get away with. So I’m going to roll with the almost. The best you can get without killing anybody. If there’s one thing being a sainted mother has taught me, it is that America finds my body, its organs, and all its fluids to be absolutely disgusting. Placenta pot pie, anyone? I’ll make it really savory, with plenty of fried onions, garlic, and sage. Maybe top it with some mashed potatoes, like a shepherd’s pie. And throw some nice chunks of carrot in there. Definitely some wild mushrooms. Serve it with some frosty breastmilkshakes. Strawberry’s my preference. The true crowning glory of the meal, however, will be my menstrual blood sausage. I am totally going to rock it on this show. It will air on Mother’s Day. I am Champion.
SLC: Your artist friend has painted an unflattering portrait of you and made it their Facebook profile picture, along with Twitter, etc. In fact, they’ve decided to vigorously pursue a gallery in their city to feature it for an entire month. What do you do? How do you handle it?
ALJ: I’m embarrassed to confess I’ve not planned for this particular contingency. I’m going to start this very night training an army of evil rockabilly raccoons. They will wear little black leather jackets, carry switchblade knives, and have pomaded pompadour hairdos. They will be quick, clever, and obedient. I will accustom them to acts of great depravity. If anything goes wrong at any point in my plan, they will throw themselves upon their switchblades and die with my name whispery upon their devoted raccoon lips. They will learn to bake tomato pie spiked with rat poison, and pick locks. My nemesis will return home one balmy evening to a find a fresh and tasty surprise cooling on their kitchen counter. After the writhing in agony and dying part, my ghoulie minions will devour the corpse and fall dead themselves, leaving no loose ends to betray me. The surprise here is that they also built a time dilator out of stolen scrap metal (none of yours, don’t worry, sweet pea) and plutonium (nevermind you how we got that, it’s none of your beeswax), and went back to destroy all evidence of the portrait beforehand. At this point you may ask Why not just settle for the time travel and obliteration of fine art? Why the murder most foul, Anna, why, God Gawd, why? To which I will laugh with a very unsettling gleam in my eye, and hold up my fist, so you can see R-V-N-G-E tattooed across my knuckles. The E might be a little hard to see on my thumb when I’m making a fist, but you’ll get the idea.
SLC: Cheers was a real bar. Let’s make that true first. Okay, you wander in and, eight years later, you’re a regular. What’s your deal, you know, what character are you? The new feisty kid? The pool hustler who always sits in the pool room in the back. Who are you at Cheers?
ALJ: I am the plucky con artist who showed up claiming to be Coach’s illegitimate daughter. Carla’s onto me from the start, and makes many wisecracks at my expense, but poor corn-fed naïve Woody falls for me hard. So, naturally, I seduce him and then get to make out with young Woody Harrelson a lot. I even convince him to get rid of his gawd-awful weak-ass 80s mullet and instead rock a green Mohawk. Cliff and Norm think that is totally hilarious, of course. Sam is really concerned about the degradation of Woody’s virtue, though, and probably pretty jealous too over all the attention people are paying to Woody’s awesome hair instead of his, so he takes Woody aside and tries to counsel him. Then, as Woody is just about convinced that I am a she-devil slut-monster, there is an intricately absurd slapstick accident with a pool cue while Cliff and Norm and I are playing a game in the back room, and I am knocked unconscious and wake up with amnesia! My personality keeps shifting! Hilarity! Sometimes I am a New Orleans Voodoo Queen, sometimes a Russian Cosmonaut who thinks it’s 1963, sometimes Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz. Oh, the comic gold that ensues! Everybody learns to love me. Alas, nobody ever does know my (real) name.
SLC: It’s 1984 and the talent agency you work for has asked that you get them the next hot band. It’s the morning of the pitch meeting where you have to turn them onto your new discovery. Only thing is, you ain’t discovered shit. You’re going to have to wing it and buy yourself some time. It’s a five minute pitch, so I figure about two paragraphs should do it. Go!
ALJ: First of all, if it’s 1984, I want Cyndi Lauper hair.
Suck it, mom. I’m not ten this time and you can’t tell me no.
Okay. The thing is, Fancy Executives, the future of music is NOW. We are standing on the threshold of the greatest time in human history, the finest hour pop music has ever known. Do you see this bagel in my hand? This bagel is round. This bagel is a circle. This bagel is infinity. This bagel is not a fresh, chewy, nourishing breakfast staple. It is the ouroboros of creative renewal, of revolutionary re-creation. This schmear? This schmear is the substance of genius itself! Would the greatest of music gods run scared from sinking their teeth into this sesame-seed-encrusted symbol of rebirth and innovation? No! Hell no! Beethoven would bite this bagel! Mozart and Bach would bite this bagel! David Lee Roth would eat three, and ask for more lox! All the rock royalty of today, the indestructible legends of tomorrow—Madonna, Prince, Huey Lewis—know that the time is NOW. The time has come to devour the future, to seize the day, to bite this bagel of imagination and reinvention and totally rad brilliance!
You look at me now, hungry like the wolf, asking yourselves What is this future of which she speaks? What is this NOW? What is, after all, the Heart of Rock and Roll, and what makes it still beat, not only in the great city of Cleveland, but all around the world, into the farthest reaches of the universe? What is it that really makes humanity Cum On and Feel the Noize? What makes the girls rock their boys? I tell you this morning, that I have found it. You have been told that the future is electronic music. You have been told that the future is rap. You have been told that the future is punk rock, that the future is heavy metal. I tell you today that these forecasts are all wrong. And yet, they are all right. The future is a synthesis of all of these, a new hybrid genre of music. The band I have found is everything. They are the feral bastard lovechild of a super-gross coke-fueled orgy between Run DMC, Kiss, The Sex Pistols, New Order, and um, I guess there has to be a girl, right? So, let’s throw in Cyndi or the hotter Wilson sister, whichever you like. Anyway, they are the Next Big Thing, the maximum rock gods of tomorrow, the new It Band for the 80s, the 90s, and beyond. They are the future, NOW. I have come here today to tell you, without a doubt, the name that will forever change pop music, and that is—
[This is the part where I fake a seizure and piss my stirrup pants.]
SHELDON LEE COMPTON: If you could be a dragon, what would you do as one?
JACOB S. KNABB; I’d spew a shitload of fire, all over the place, for a long time. And then once I’d tired of recklessly burning everything in front of me, and assuming this rampant fire-spewing hasn’t resulted in my untimely demise at the hands of a knight or Tomahawk Chopper, I’d fly around thinking about things that make me sad and I’d keep flying and flying and thinking and being sad until something breaks inside of me and I stop wanting to spew fire or be sad. On that day I’d announce my candidacy and begin my presidential campaign.
SLC: You find a book and begin to read and realize pretty damn fast it’s the story of your life. Do you read up until the point in the story where you find the book and stop or keep reading into the future? Explain your decision.
JSK: I would read that book cover-to-cover. People who say they wouldn’t are damned fools lacking in sense and deserving of the random fates coming to them. I would want to know how it all ends and how I get there and see what I could do to make that journey as good as it can be. And of course I’d most likely mess with the plot a little. Add a new character here and cut one there. I like some stories better when I tell them.
SLC: You become so well-known that every single human being on the planet knows who you are. You need privacy and so your press team releases a one-paragraph statement asking for fans to give you space. Write that press release for me.
JSK: Jacob S. Knabb has purchased an island. It is remote and tropical and contains several waterfalls and shimmering pools of water and he intends to bask in those pools and cleanse himself in those waterfalls. He isn’t bringing any of you with him. It’s likely he’ll return to civilization a few times a year and you’ll see him if he wants you to see him and otherwise you won’t. But don’t worry you can still buy his merchandise and enjoy his image in the privacy of your own homes.
SLC: God shows up. He’s all like, “I’m God and I’m tired of turning the lights on and off. Pick one and let’s stick with it.” Do you go with infinity daylight or infinity nighttime?
JSK: Infinity Nighttime.
SLC: Technology has advanced to the point that robots are a commercial reality. To promote this advancement, the government gives everyone the funds to order one custom made robot. What the hell do you do with this offer?
JSK: I get me a robot! I’ve seen all the movies and TV shows. That robot’ll come in handy in times of trouble and may even be witty and charming when life gets dull. My robot and I will drink beer together (because aren’t robots fueled by beer?) and I’ll teach him to play guitar. We’ll start a country band called Harold Ray & the Dixie Cup and we’ll take that shit on the road until we have enough money to buy a tropical island.
(I think my memory is correct that Naomi Jackson was also on this panel- I saw her read separately that same day at the festival– but there is a chance that I’m misremembering as the DBF website from 2015 says that is not so; however, I do quote Naomi below, so I’m trusting my fuzzy nearly-year-old memory.)