Tales of a Collapsed Lung and Other Tales, a Tao Lin Interview

I remember first encountering  Tao Lin and his writing through an Amazon “you might also like” advertisement in early 2009. I bought Shoplifting From American Apparel and kept thinking “when will chapter one fucking end?” and inadvertently finished the book in a single sitting.

Even though I didn’t like his book that much, I was obsessed with Lin and how he got to be so popular in the niche alt-lit world. I was determined to meet the guy. In December 2011 I invited Tao to come to  present his new art lecture followed by a Q/A at the Silver Tongue Reading Series [conducted in association with Columbia College in Chicago] I am a part of. He came and I was surprised by how aloof I found the man to be in person, one among many other things I learned about him.

The following is the substance of our conversation, told with as much inclusion of ordinary detail as possible. (Briefly, Steve Roggenbuck showed up little more than midway through the interview. While he may not have spoken as loudly as is rendered here in text, he might have. He did not speak in misspellings.)

Can of diet-coke and diet cherry coke is opened.

Ian Richard Jones: There are so many interviews with you it’s kind of (pause) I don’t know, I kinda felt like publishing one, well I wouldn’t even know where to ask.

Tao Lin: The best ones are when you like, you just, type it exactly, even with pauses, and um’s and like’s, there’s none of those with me, but I like those a lot. It’s just hilarious how, like inarticulate people really are.

That’s one thing I’ve learned. Because I interview bands, but they’re different, they’re like that.

I like being portrayed as how stupid I am. Yea.

Like a valley girl?

Yea, I would like-

My mom says we’re the “like generation” she even read Shoplifting and said, “why don’t you just get caught stealing?”

Minimal laughter

I feel like, like, I say like a lot, but I never say “you know”.

You never say you know?

I’m never like, “you know…” silence that’s at least something different.

Minimal laughter.

What about “you guys”? Cuz not everyone is a guy you talk to.

You guys… Well I don’t say that in interviews, that doesn’t…

Oh you mean just interviews.

Yea. Yeah.

What about “can you see that” or “can you see what I’m saying?”

Repeats: Can you see… do you understand… Do you understand what I’m saying? Yeah I say that. I pretty much say. Do I make sense. Does that make sense. But I never say you know, but it seems like everyone does. I just don’t understand what it means slight pause to say that. I don’t know.

Now I don’t know, about “you know.” Or think about it, or remember.

Jesus.

Points at diet-coke. That’s got a lot of high fructose corn syrup in it.

No it’s zero calories.

But doesn’t that still have the corn-syrup in it?

No, no. It just has artificial stuff in it.

Artificial corn syrup?

No, flavors. I think it’s way healthier than the calorie ones. Awkward pause I rarely drink stuff like this.

I was wondering, everything I’ve read, uh, you don’t like unhealthy things.

Yeah I’m usually healthy.

I remember in the meantime I was googling all these interviews of you for fun and it said that you only smoked weed in high school.

And then my lungs collapsed.

And it said it was unrelated.

Well um, the doctor was like if you smoke weed it increases chance of that happening 42 times. It was the worst experience of my life. They shove tubes in your lungs and leave them there for like three days to suck out whatever.

What was in there? You mean to like pump it back up? Cuz if it was collapsed?

Yea.

Do you have a scar?

Yea, it happened three times.

What?

And they can’t put oyu to sleep because they need you to tell them how much it hurts. But I smoked weed like, a few months, mumbles.

What about, well it said that you didn’t do drugs but now it’s like that article on Thought Catalog “How to do a reading on Mushrooms” did you bullshit that?

Yeah, no I didn’t do drugs through high school. Then after high school I did Adderall sometimes, pause and then one summer I started doing more drugs. And then I met what became my wife and we did more drugs. So my drug use has increased.

That’s funny. laughter What about when you write do you type fast? I imagine when you type it’s like painfully slow and it’s like slower then a typewriter and you like never change a comma.

When I first type… Like if something memorable happens to me I’ll-uh-the term is I think is shitting it out type it as fast as possible. And after that draft I don’t add anything, or I add stuff, but I take away equal amounts of stuff. Probably like 95% of the time writing for me is editing. I change stuff like commas and stuff neurotically. My next book I’ve worked on the first two paragraphs probably like um 150 hours.

Really?

Yeah, it’s like. I don’t know what I’m doing.

pause

DO you think a lot at the computer screen or do you get up and like go for a walk? Or sit at the computer screen like this (makes pose from statue “The Thinker”)

Like for two months I got into this thing. I’ll tell you a bit of backstory first. My wife and I are separated now.

I noticed on Facebook.

One time we were like lets go on an extreme adderall binge. pause Are you familiar with how big doses are? We took 160 mgs over three days and didn’t sleep. And the next day after that woke up and felt fine. So I felt okay about taking very large doses. So my routine for like two months was to take like 90mg and not sleep for like three days. And during that time I would be very fovused and not looking at the internet much. And then I’d have two days where I’d not be able to do anything except look at the internet. But outside of that special routine my nmormal working thing is to like, have the internet and twitter and everything and look at the file sometimes.

Um, this is so random, but did you know that there’s a uh,

Tao coughs.

Did you ever take Addy and get shaky?

Not focused

Or make you crazy?

It made me feel great, but it made have chest pains.

Well the government gives people these pills called Provigil, or Vigil, or they change the name in all the countries, it’s what they give the helicopter pilots and plane pilots and people to stay up for days and like focus, and not get jittery and stuff like that. I feel like that’s, well, sometimes that’s what I imagine your blood cells are made of when I’m imagining stuff, I have a bad imagination it’s like a runaway train. Is that what yours is like?

Do you mean like do I get jittery?

What’s your imagination?

Is my imagination what?

Is it wild?

pause

If I want it to be.

You can control it?

Yeah I can like go crazy. If that’s the kind of book I want. Like my first book.

Like the last 40 pages or so in that plane crash?

What?

Eeeee? [Eeeee Eee Eeee, Lin’s first novel]

No my first poetry book. A lot of things were just like me being crazy and not editing it. So I can be that way. But for most of my writing I, uh, I know what I wanna do and it’s not just like free association, it’/s like meticulous whatever.

Like honing and crafting?

Whenever I take-go on like 90 mg Adderall binges, I just think how like, there’s like single mothers who like pause work two jobs

Who sleep like one hour a week?

Yeah

To get yelled at by two kids who don’t appreciate the food they give them?

Yeah. So my Adderall binge is healthier than that horrible.. And people who binge drink each night. I still feel like I’m healthy.

Well you’re being productive. Like if you go to a party and get drunk and write 10 pages you’re productive, but that like never happens.

Yeah. And productive.

Do you go out?

No.

Never? How have you met the people that meant a lot in your life?

Well she had a blog and I liked her blog and we talked maybe like once every two or three months. Then she came to one of my readings and we hung out more, so the internet for that. Uhm. Another girlfriend pause she like messaged me “Do you wanna be my intern?” and that changed the relationship. Pretty much it’s just all the internet.

What did you do before the internet?

Hmm.. Well I always had the internet. The change is that now I have, uhm, just accomplishments. So there’s reason for people to want to talk to me.

Do you get like annoying emails from fans all the time?

Uh. pause

Or like messages from people and stuff like that?

Yeah, like really long ones.

receives text message from Lisa Horan.

My girlfriend might call when she’s here, she’s driving from Wisconsin to come see you.

Jesus. How far?

Oh it’s like, right on the border. The McDonald’s of the town is in Illinois. It’s basically like a really long drive to the suburbs.

So what is your topic for this?

For this… well. I wanted to know-well like every interview I read where it’s like “what are your influences” or “how did you do this” it just like bores me to death and I feel like I don’t get anything out of it and I don’t understand the person at all, and I understand them even less.

This seems good so far. I’ve said things I haven’t said. Or I’m interested in stuff.

Well I’d be interested in talking to you. Cuz I feel like most interviews are like : like “Hey Tao” (laughter} and they don’t care like, “oh that was great answer, I’m going ot ask a question that is totally unrelated that I wrote down four days ago.”

Steve Roggenbuck walks to the table we’re seated at.

The main thing is that just everyone wants to focus on the internet. And… on… yeah, just like, how do I use the internet. And.

I feel like you don’t even give a shit (Steve Roggenbuck laughs) or like. I mean like, you do, but it’s like…

The internet is just what everyone uses. So it’s just not abnormal.

Like “do you have a marketing plan, Tao?” people ask you that shit?

Yeah, yeah.

I think that’s stupid. I think it’s either you got it or you don’t. Like do you think the Ramones had a marketing plan?

Well they’re much more famous than me. The big misconception is, uh, that I’m like super famous.

That’s why when I asked people who you were (referencing video) nobody knew who you were. I asked so many people. But when they did.

Wait are you that guy? With the white glasses?

Yeah.

Oh you were acting so well I couldn’t tell.

Really?

Steve Roggenbuck: YEAH.

I just made it up in my apartment in like five minutes. I was like, well he likes Mumble core,

So you’re Lucas?

My friend is Lucas. He filmed it.

Ohhhhhhhhhh.

He was standing there this huge camera, and he had to wear it, and it looked like one of those deep sea diver helmets and I would be like “hello” and he’d be all (makes snickering noises) and I had to go to work and then I got really drunk before work.

Good job getting some really attractive girl to say “I love Tao Lin” as the first thing.

Yeah, no she was like “did y’all know Tao Lin is coming?” and I was like Emily… (Steve and Tao snicker) Of course I do. Yeah, but some people, they just didn’t know, they just didn’t know.

I only have, um, 8,000 followers on Twitter. And like any random people without any books out, a lot of them have like 12,000 followers.

Or like 100,000 followers. Like Rob Delaney writes for Vice, I don’t know what he writes I never read it. I just followed it randomly.

I don’t know who he is.

I don’t know who he is either. Sometimes he tweets and he’s like “I don’t know how I got this many followers” it’s something like he didn’t even know.

I think maybe I just have like, I’m, my, I’m too depressed or pessimistic, mumbles.

I don’t think Twitter matters. I mean maybe. But didn’t somebody give you money off Twitter?

Yeah yea.

That’s crazy.

(iPhone recording interview rings, slight disturbance)

You came here by yourself? (said to Steve)

(everyone high fives)

Steve Roggenbuck: YOU’RE IAN RIGHT, THAT’S YOUR FIRST NAME?

Yes.

Where’s Stephen [Tully Dierks of Pop Serial]…Um…

I DON’T KNOW. STEPHEN GOES UH… STEPHEN WAS AT GROUPON BEFORE THIS SO I DON’T KNOW.

Oh yeah.

Where is? Sorry.

He’s interviewing me.

You can be interviewed now too though.

You know each other?

THROUGH TWITTER.

Like a day ago. I’ve only had a twitter for a month, or month in half. Okay maybe like three months, of six that I’ve used it sparingly since I’ve created it.

YEAH, I REMEMBER ONE TIME YOU RESPONDED TO SOMETHING LIKE TWO WEEKS AFTER.

(laughter)

It’s just twitter. I don’t think anyone’s going to live or die. We were talking about the emails. I was wondering what emails his fans send him.

Emails???

Or like messages or whatever. Do they like, do you ever get like scary ones? Like people that are crazy stalkers or stuff like that?

No. You mean like that are, that say they don’t like me?

No they’re like “I love you Tao I wanna blah blah blah blah blah.”

Uhm no. A long time ago I sent like crazy emails to writers I liked. Mary Robison. So I feel like I understand those people.

I did that too.

I feel like I’m normal now. And I sent crazy emails so I feel like those people will become what I am later on.

Yeah?

(Steve and Ian laugh)

Okay…

Sometimes they’re just so long that I can’t respond as long and I just have to respond like ‘thank you’ or something.

Mhmm.

YOU SAID SOMETHING LIKE, YOU GOT ONE WHERE PEOPLE ARE LIKE REQUESTING NAKED PICTURES OR, LIKE, OFFERING TO PAY YOU FOR SOMETHING, WASN’T THAT SOMETHING?

I knew a girl once…

mumblesSomething like that.

SOMEBODY OFFERED LIKE $5,000 OR SOMETHING?

Oh that was a gay porn company in Canada. It didn’t work out because like, their main person went to Israel, and he like got detained or something. And then another person at the company was like, I just got breast cancer.

No more porn after cancer. I knew a girl who was kinda like the internet girl sorta thing who doesn’t have a band or anything, like Bebe Zeva or is that how you even say it? Do you ever read things a lot and then not know how to say them out loud because you never talk about them with people?

Yeah.

YEAH.

Only Schopenhauer.

THAT’S HOW I…

I don’t even know what that is. Or Nietzsche. I don’t know how to spell Nietzsche, I never read him.

I’ve just recently known it’s niezenie.

I Knew it was neinize before. I wanna make shirts that say “kon” then nzeinzen then “wah” then a picture with him wearing those headbands, not with the

The dot?

Yeah.

Camus.

Camus (said cam-iss). Do you ever hear people say it wrong then wanna correct them?

No I never. Well I don’t know. If they seem like they won’t feel upset I’ll correct them… Sid-dar-thuh. Sid-dar. I prounouced it Sid-dar-tuh once and someone corrected me and I felt embarrassed.

It was like someone corrected you and your mouth did something weird even though you know how to pronounce it?

No-I don’t.

So how did you two meet?

IN PERSON? OR?

What was the start?

You review something?

YEAH, WELL I REVIEWED COGNITIVE BEHAVIORAL AND THAT WAS THE FIRST TIME THAT YOU LINKED TO ME. AND THEN I BECAME A LOT MORE PART OF THE COMMUNITY. AND THEN STEPHEN FOUND ME AND BRETT. I HAD EMAILED YOU A COUPLE TIMES BEFORE THAT. MISCELLANEOUS  THINGS.

When I watch your videos now I start girnning before it even starts.

Yeah like the still screen of the dubstep one. I love that, the dubstep.

Dubstep?

I don’t even, like, you had glowsticks in your mouth?

NO I JUST WROTE DUBSTEP ON MY FACE WITH MARKERS.

Are there like more people that like, in the other rooms, that like hear you scream?

OH, USUALLY I DO IT WHEN I’M HOME ALONE, WHEN STEPHEN’S NOT THERE BECAUSE STEPHEN”S LIVING WITH ME RIGHT NOW. BUT I’M SURE THERE”S PEOPLE UPSTAIRS OR DOWNSTAIRS THAT CAN HEAR IT, BECAUSE I CAN HEAR PEOPLE IN THE HALLWAY, AND I CAN HEAR MY NEIGHBORS HAVE SEX, SO I’M SURE THEY CAN LIKE, HEAR ME SCREAMING.

Do you ever get embarrassed, like, have you ever watched porn and been embarrassed of it?

Of what?

Of watching it?

Hmm No.

Have you ever listened to it in headphones?

Yeah, yeah.

I kinda feel like that’s cheating life. Having.

I don’t even need sound most of the time.

Really?

Well if it’s just pictures then I uh. It’s not required for me.

That’s so strange I’m the exact opposite, I could be like this and all I want is sound. Like it could even be mis-matched sound like it could be sheeps or something and if I hear a girl I’m just like yeah.

What’s the first place you’re going to?

I THINK NYC, I WAS GONNA GO TO ROCHESTER, BUT THE PERSON I WAS GONNA SEE THERE IS GONNA BE IN NYC.

I might go to Taiwan. But like, in February. But if I did I was gonna stay you could stay in my place. I have a studio apartment with no roommates.

I HAVE ONE FRIEND IN NYC WHOSE ADDRESS IS 666 PARK PLACE.

Omg

AND HE SAID I COULD STAY WITH  HIM. THEY HAVE A BUNCH OF PEOPLE THOUGH.  IT’D BE GOOD TO HAVE A PLACE WHERE I COULD DO MY VIDEOS BY MYSELF. BECAUSE THEN I LIKE. BECAUSE I FEEL LIKE, I WAS DOING, TRYING TO DO A COLLABORATIVE THING WITH JOHN CAMBELL YOU KNOW, AND I WAS DOING BETTER THAN I THOUGHT, I DIDN’T THINK I’D BE ABLE TO GET IN THE REALLY LIKE, ZONE WITH ANOTHER PERSON THERE AT ALL. I KINDA GOT IN THE ZONE, BUT I STILL FEEL LIKE I WOULD HAVE BEEN MORE ENERGETIC AND LOUDER IF I WAS ALONE. YOU KNOW? SO.

Have you experimented taking drugs and taking videos? I made some bad ones getting drunk until sunlight and then I would strip down naked and cover Pixies songs. And it wouldn’t work.

The sunlight?

I would drink all day, or all night until the sun came up and then I’d cover a Pixies song. And people said like “ur covers are so bad” and I don’t even know how they thought I was trying.

I HAVEN’T REALLY DONE THAT.

I wanna poo before my thing. Do you have any more specific questions?

I can’t think of anything not dumb. (pause)

I feel like you got a lot.

Yeah, and I get really distracted, and then I didn’t remember what we were talking about.

Is there any specific thing?

I’ll check the notes. I made a note that says “Tao”.

Do you have an iPhone? Tao starts spinning his already cracked screen iPhone very awkwardly on the table.

YEAH I DO.

Tao keeps spinning his phone more aggressively.

You gotta have one. Nope. I was just gonna ask you about Stephen and Pop Serial. Don’t do that, it’s gonna break.

It looks, IT sounds cool. keeps spinning, Ian tries to spin his and fails. 

Well mine’s in the case.

So no?

No… Do you ever go through your visual stuff liie when you draw or to you just draw it and it’s done forever.

Do I edit?

Yeah.

Well I edit a lot. Like if you look at my, if you, I have a lot of drafts.

And then what makes you want ot like.. DO you like see something in your head that you imagine you wanna draw or do you like, see a blank thing and draw it, and then imagine something afterwards? And then create…

Both.

Both?

Just all of it at at once.

Everything all at once.

Yeah.

Okay.

Is there a bathroom?

Yeah. Thank you. Thank you though. That was good.

Thank you.

Um its straight this way, we might as well walk.

An Amazingly Adult and Fantastically Giant Interview with A D Jameson, Part 2

Briefly stated, this is the continuation and conclusion of an interview with A D Jameson begun last week. – Matt

MATT ROWAN: We left off last time speaking of horrible writing. About which Mike Kitchell over at HTMLGiant recently wrote:

“It strikes me as an incredible exercise in futility to waste energy writing negativity. […] I don’t think it’s a bad thing to be able to articulate why you don’t like something, but it seems to me much more progressive & useful to be able to articulate why you do like something.”

With all the hate that tends to thrive on the Internet, is this a refreshing and viable alternative?

A D JAMESON: I review regularly for Dalkey’s Review of Contemporary Fiction, and they have a policy of not running negative reviews. I see the value in that: “Space is limited; we’d rather talk about things we like than things we don’t like, &c.”

Although, personally, I don’t share this view. The way I look at it is, the culture is out there, and I want to talk about the culture. This will involve me looking at things I like, things I don’t like, things I don’t have an opinion about either way. And I want to be able to discuss it all. (Adding, of course, that I’m probably best known, if I’m known at all, for a negative review.)

Ultimately, however, I’m not all that interested in reviewing. Will someone like or dislike something? I myself often like and dislike things simultaneously. I’m more interested in criticism, in saying something pertinent about a cultural artifact. Even with that Inception post, I was less interested in making people “not like the movie” than I was in contributing to the conversation the culture was having about it—to point out other ways of viewing the film. At the end of the day, whether someone likes a thing or not is between them and their god.

I do have a few ground rules, though. I won’t, for instance, negatively review a book by an author who’s just starting out; that’s just cruel. I’d rather reserve my critiques for those in power.

OK, so here’s something for you. Something having to do with neither negative or positive criticism but writing in general. I wanted to get your thoughts on the process of writing a piece of fiction. What’s your process? For instance, do you work strictly on one piece at a time?

No, I work on many, many things at once. Right now, for instance, I’m working on…fifteen different books? (I’m not joking.) As well as dozens of reviews and articles and posts for Big Other.

But they’re all in different stages. My process is to revise heavily. I begin with very scattered notes, which I then reorganize and add to (I’m very organized). Some of those thoughts become projects, and others drift away; I let them go.

And when I finally get going on something—when it accumulates a certain momentum, or critical mass, and I know I want to finish it—I become more and more obsessed with it, so it crowds out everything else.

For instance, when I wrote my first novel, Giant Slugs, I grew very obsessed with it, and started dedicating all my free time to working on it. I stopped working out regularly, and being careful about my diet, and I fell out of shape. I also neglected a relationship I was in at the time, which is something I regret. But GS demanded my constant attention. I can see now that I was neurotic about being able to finish my first novel; I had to devote all of my energies to it, because I was deeply afraid that I wouldn’t be able to finish it. But I did finish, and afterward I resumed exercising, eating properly, relaxing (some!). Since then, I’ve tried to be a lot more balanced, and to worry less about my writing, too. (I just do it.)

Speaking of athleticism, I’ve read a handful of books and stories on that subject: DeLillo’s End Zone (football), Roth’s The Great American Novel (baseball), Jim Shepard’s “Trample the Dead, Hurdle the Weak” (football again) … We might also include Infinite Jest because of the Enfield Tennis Academy and Orin Incandenza’s professional football punting career.

Don’t forget John Cheever’s The Swimmer!

Well, why, then, do we have the stereotype of the author as an unathletic nerd who’s hostile toward sports?

My guess would be that, as far as that stereotype goes, a lot of people who aren’t interested in physical activities devote their time and attention to things like writing, instead. Certainly I know plenty of people like that.

But you’re an athlete; I’m an athlete. I run, bike, swim, do yoga. Recently I’ve gotten back into weightlifting (which I love). My life would be just as incomplete without sports as it would be without writing. Actually, I might even give up writing before I gave up athletics… Although they’re both things I feel compelled to do every day, so I don’t think I’d have to choose.

Although they often do conflict with one another. And it’s easy, in this day and age, to neglect the body. US culture is rather unhealthy, physically. There’s not much pressure to eat well, stay fit. And sitting around in front of computers doesn’t help. Our culture is, overall, very Apollonian: enamored with wit and with the heady. Very little priority is given to the Dionysian, but both are necessary. I’ve been trying more and more as of late to spend less time in my head, and more time on my feet, and in my body as a whole. (I should also specify that by “our culture” I mean “white, middle class culture,” which in turn dominates so much of the US.)

Lately I’ve been trying to think about ways in which writing is a physical activity. My friend Jeremy M. Davies and I have been conducting a series of interviews with authors, asking them questions about the physical and material aspects of their respective writing practices. And I’m planning a series of essays with various walking artists I know, all of whom are also writers (as walking artists tend to be).

Walking artists?

It’s a subcategory of performance art (arguably), somewhat in vogue in the art world these days. (It deserves to be more in vogue.) Some famous walking artists include Hamish Fulton, Richard Long, Marina Abramovic, Andy Goldsworthy, Francis Alÿs; there are also historical precedents, like the Situationist dérive, Charles Baudelaire’s flâneur, even perhaps the gleaner (especially when viewed through Agnès Varda’s perspective). In Chicago I’ve been fortunate to know and work with Michelle Tupko, Aurora Tabar, and Amira Hanafi. (We’ve done some dérives together, and I participated in some conceptual walks they organized.)

I do a lot of walking myself—it’s my favorite way to get around—and I like to walk an hour or two each day. Marrying walking with art and writing is gravy.

It’s been mentioned outright a few times already in this interview, but you have a novel, Giant Slugs, just released by Lawrence and Gibson this month.

Yes. And there’s a lot of walking in Giant Slugs!

Broadly speaking, what else can we expect to see in it? And how much does it depart from Amazing Adult Fantasy?

All of my books differ from one another;  I conceive of each one as its own project, with its own unique identity—conceptually, thematically, stylistically. No doubt there are still similarities—I’m drawn to certain aesthetic principles time and again, despite my best efforts to often resist them—but I try to make each book its own unique thing.

I wrote Giant Slugs between 1998 and early 2009 (although that included a few false starts). It’s a much longer book than Amazing Adult Fantasy, 100,000 words, and literally epic in scope, spanning years and numerous cities, and with dozens of characters. It’s loosely modelled on the Epic of Gilgamesh, one of the oldest surviving narratives. I took the overall structure, characters, and plot points, then adapted them to my own ends. (Actually, I modelled Giant Slugs on the well-known twelve-tablet Akkadian version of the Epic, composed between 1300–1000 BCE by Sin-liqe-unninni).

The story involved many ins and outs—the book is very plotted—but in short, the narrator, the spoiled heir to the kingdom Uruk, gets forced into exile when giant slugs invade that city. He then dedicates his life to finding a way to regain his hometown and his crown. (Whether he deserves either remains an open question.)

Stylistically, the novel takes the pun as one of its central organizing conceits. Most sentences contain one; language play is dominant. It’s also a fairly Maximalist work. One of my rules when writing it was that anything I thought of, I had to put it in; I had to find a way to make it work. There’s also a lot of poetry in the book—I wrote perhaps thirty poems for it, and the final chapter is entirely in verse.

But Giant Slugs also shares some concerns with Amazing Adult Fantasy; I wrote them at roughly the same time. They’re both bildungsromans, both absurdist. And they share a fondness for pop culture references: GS has a Super Mario Bros. theme running through it, as well as numerous references to ALF and Batman. There’s also a pornographic parody of The Legend of Zelda which I’m rather proud of. And there are ninjas. The whole thing is rather prurient, in fact—the narrator is a teenager, and very immature—despite being fairly well educated and verbose.

GS was also, like AAF, partially motivated by political concerns. The Epic of Gilgamesh is a work of Iraqi literature (the word “Iraq” descends from the city name “Uruk”), and I wrote Giant Slugs during the US-Iraq War. So it contains my thoughts and concerns about that fiasco. The Sumerians who built Uruk and wrote Gilgamesh also invented written language (cuneiform); they invented many of the basic building blocks of present civilization. So it just infuriated me that, about five millennia later, the United States was so concerned with “saving” the region. (I even heard people say that we were going to bring civilization to Iraq—what arrogance!)

But I’m an artist, not a political scientist, so my thinking and criticism is more artistic than explicit. For instance, I was fascinated by the fact that the Sumerians used clay not only to build bricks and buildings and walls, but also to write their literature. Walling in a city gave them time and space to write; writing helped them administer their burgeoning agriculture-based government.There’s a poetic circularity—as well as a physicality—to it all that I find rather beautiful.

And of course most of that culture, physically, has not lasted: the tablets have shattered, and Uruk has been swallowed by the desert (and bombed repeatedly by the US). All this despite the fact that Gilgamesh ends with the title character—the greatest king the world had known to that point—taking solace in the fact that, even though he himself was mortal and doomed to die, the walls of Uruk would outlive him, their millions of bricks gleaming beautifully in the desert. I find that conclusion terribly moving and sad (and not at all unfamiliar); hopefully Giant Slugs captures something of those emotions.

Because even though the authors of Gilgamesh were working thousands of years ago, I feel a kinship with them. I am a descendant of an artistic lineage that they started. And although they couldn’t imagine our modern world, our world today is not so terribly different. Gilgamesh is, if it’s anything, an expression of the fear of death, the fear of change and loss. It’s an attempt to make something that will outlive the self. Writing my first novel, I felt what I think was the same anxiety; I would lay awake at nights terrified that I would get hit by a bus before I finished a single book, or a novel.

Once I finished Amazing Adult Fantasy and Giant Slugs, as I said, I learned to relax a little. Maybe writing Gilgamesh did the same for the Sumerians. It’s pleasant to think so.

That’s an extremely fascinating way to think about completing a novel, to think about the kinship inherent to contributing your own unique work to the great artistic tradition, whether or not it survives beyond you — which in a certain sense seems arbitrary. But I’d like to talk about that anxiety you went through while writing Giant Slugs. It seems it definitely colored your experience of writing the novel, but can you think of any particulars? And were there ever any times when, more than anything, you just wanted to be rid of (i.e. finished with) the story, if only to relieve this anxiety?

Most definitely. It was in 2008 that I buckled down and wrote Giant Slugs (following, of course, the aforementioned years of research and false starts and other preparations). And since it was my first novel, I didn’t know how long it would take to finish. Starting around October of that year I could tell I was in the final stretch—I’d completed a third draft, and had started polishing, plus correcting the remaining logistical errors—but I had no idea how long that work would take. Some days I felt I was nearly there; at other times, I thought it might be another year. And that uncertainty was often frustrating. (As it turned out, I had only four months left; I finished in late January 2009.)

But I remember reflecting at the time on how much fun I was also having, and knowing that I would be terribly sad when I finished. Writing Giant Slugs was possibly the most pleasant writing experience I’ve ever had. I don’t know what others will make of the thing, but I loved writing it. (It is, above all, meant to be a fun, playful novel. Well, a fun, playful, mournful novel.)

For the last year and a half or so you’ve devoted much of your critical energies to the group blog Big Other. You’re also someone who’s by your own admission not terribly plugged into contemporary pop culture (I believe you’ve mentioned you haven’t owned a TV in quite awhile). How has this helped / hindered your contributions to the Internet? Do you feel at all an outsider or on the margin in the great big world of blogging and other web communication?

I’ve started watching TV again, recently, after a break of nearly ten years; I watch it while on the elliptical machine at the gym. (I work out every day.) Mainly I watch sitcoms: Friends, Seinfeld, The Office, Sex and the City. Three of those shows I’d never seen before (I watched some Seinfeld in the 90s). And it’s a fascinating thing to look at, because so much cultural information is delivered through television—as David Foster Wallace said, it’s our “main artistic snorkel to the universe.”

This is changing—the Internet and its devices are replacing television—but television is still a very primary source of popular information.

When I stopped watching TV in the late 1990s, I very quickly stopped understanding the popular culture. I was working as a technical writer at the time, and on those rare days when I went into work, it was as though my coworkers were speaking a different language. And I realized that all they ever talked about was what they’d seen on TV the previous night. Which sickened me, and caused me to retreat further from the mainstream: I stopped going to cineplexes, and listening to commercial radio. I became something of an art snob, interested only in books and Peter Greenaway films. Moving overseas after grad school didn’t help matters; to this day, I don’t really know what happened in the US between 2003 and 2005.

All of that changed about six years ago, when I relocated to Chicago. Gradually, I found myself being absorbed back into the larger culture, or larger subcultures. I’d go to a coffeehouse, and The Killers would be the PA. Friends would want to go see some new movie. And throughout I was reading some pretty mainstream websites, like Pitchfork and Topless Robot.

I like pop culture a great deal; I’m just suspicious of it (but I’m suspicious of everything, even Peter Greenaway films). I’m always wondering, why does the culture want me to think this at this moment? (Because—make no mistake!—the culture wants to do your thinking for you.) And of what value is it to me to think this? And, more importantly: where is all this stuff coming from? What is it teaching me? Who’s profiting from it? These are questions I learned to ask in college and in grad school; they saved my life.

Do you see the Internet as more of an outlet for niche groups to meet and share opinion or as a place for something more widely inclusive? Or is it more of a conflation of these two?

It’s many things and more. Mostly, it’s a waste of time. An entertaining waste of time, but still.

I don’t read many blogs, myself. I don’t own a data phone. I spend as little time as possible online. When I look back at my life, I don’t want to remember it as something I did staring at a screen.

Keeping all of the aforesaid Internet-related questions in mind, then, is there a “good” Internet and a “bad” Internet? If yes, how might you define them?

That’s a very interesting question; it reminds me of Curt White’s distinction between “good” and “bad” Enlightenment. Because the Enlightenment has given us not only secular humanism and penicillin and the Internet, but also bureaucracies, packaged food that’s drained of all its nutrition, mass extinctions, genocides, the ability to destroy nearly all life on the planet. And the omnipresent cell phone (which many people are using, quite loudly, in the computer lab where I’m typing this). (For more on this distinction, see Curt’s 2005 book The Spirit of Disobedience.)

The Internet is a tool. Obviously it can be used to do wonderful things: like most, I love having email and Skype and Google Books and Netflix. When I want to hear a song, odds are I can find it at YouTube. (I’m listening to a YouTube mix as I type this.) What did we do without those wonderful things?

But what doesn’t bring its own problems? I’m sitting in a chair (not a particularly comfortable one) in a computer lab with horrendous fluorescent lighting. I’m not typing properly (I never learned how to do it), and so I’m damaging my hands second by second. (When I relax my hands, my fingers curl up, a result of all the typing I do.) Staring at screens so much is hurtsome to my eyes; I get headaches if I work at a computer too much (which is why I do most of my writing by hand). Meanwhile, it’s a pretty nice day outside, and I’m not out there, enjoying it. And even though I can tell myself that I’m talking to someone else—you, whoever else might be reading this—the truth is I’m really sitting by myself—as you might be right now, you, whoever you are.

And do people read books any more? And if they don’t, is that a bad thing? &c. All those costs must be taken into account.

Let’s end on a happier note, and a question near and dear to Untoward. How has humor impacted your writing?

I’ll take that happy note and turn it sour (my mutant talent). To be sure, I’ve always gravitated toward funny writers—James Thurber, Jane Bowles, Stanislaw Lem, Donald Barthelme—so I like to think that much of my writing is funny. And when I was younger, I wrote mostly comical stories and poems.

And yet the past ten years have seen lots of funny writing, very clever and ironic writing that’s primarily intended to be arch and witty, and which has caused me to steer away from such humor. I find it pretty easy, in fact, to write that kind of stuff—abstract, clever, purely intellectual prose. But as I’ve already said, I’m suspicious of what comes easy. (I’m a contrarian.) For some reason or another I like writing things that don’t yet exist, stuff that’s out of step with what’s dominant in the surrounding culture. And so I’ve come, in fact, to mostly despise irony, and to be increasingly suspicious of what is clever. Rather, I find myself attracted to more sensual, intensely emotional art, more Dionysian than Apollonian, which is what I find myself wanting to make.

This desire no doubt has a lot to do with the fact that I’m a pretty rational critic. Anyone who’s read my work at Big Other knows that it’s pretty methodological, exacting, hyper-articulate. These are things I consider important, if not necessary, for criticism. (I’m a formalist, and I don’t have much stomach for the obtuse, highly-metaphorical Theory so popular today.) But I’m drawn to extremes, and making art and making criticism are totally separate enterprises, in my estimation, and so making very irrational, emotional art is one way of distinguishing my artistic self from my more rational, critical self. This also creates tension which is, I’d argue, absolutely essential for any artwork to be successful. Good art needs some kind of conflict, some internal struggle or sense of mystery—it needs for something to be at stake. And sometimes humor can come about, as one result of making art like that, but, no, it’s never my ultimate goal.

All right, well that’s it. “That’s a wrap,” as folks say. A special thanks to A D Jameson for answering our questions here at Untoward. Fortunately for you all, I am willing to attempt to undue A D’s “sour” ending by instead ending with a word I find funny: potato. (It looks as hilariously malformed and lumpy as it is in tangible form.)

Read Amazing Adult Fantasy and Giant Slugs!

 

An Amazingly Adult and Fantastically Giant Interview with A D Jameson, Part I

I don’t want there to be too much ado to this introduction. A D Jameson has had quite a year so far, publishing a collection of short stories, Amazing Adult Fantasy; a novel, Giant Slugs; and continuing to write prolifically and thoughtfully for the group literary blog Big Other. His short story “5000 Units of Product” was also our May 1st Featured Fiction at Untoward. In the midst of all that he was able to answer a few of our questions regarding all these things and more. What follows is Part I of a two part interview. Enjoy!

MATT ROWAN: There seems a certain cohesion to several story collections I’ve recently read, often tied together with a thematic title, which goes beyond just coolness and the salable qualities of its being catchy (e.g. Lindsay Hunter’s Daddy’s has much to do with daddy-child relationships, in their many and sometimes creepy forms). What was the impetus and/or guiding philosophy for Amazing Adult Fantasy?

A D JAMESON: I prefer writing longer pieces to shorter ones, and I think in terms of books. So whenever I write a short story, I think about how it might fit into a larger project.

In 2005/6, when I sat down to assemble my first prose collection, I gathered every short story I’d written and that I still liked. It turned out I had enough for two books. About twenty or so shared a pop culture interest, so I threw them together, and that became the seed of Amazing Adult Fantasy. (The other stories went in my second collection, “Distress,” which is still unpublished, although many of those pieces have appeared in various places.)

Such as “5000 Units of Product” , which appeared at Untoward! (I cannot stress that enough, people.)

(I appreciate it!) For about a week, I allowed myself to pretend that I was finished. Then I came to my senses and realized that my plan wouldn’t work; I had the beginnings of two collections, but nothing more. I set “Distress” aside (I later finished it in 2009), and went to work on AAF, since it interested me more at that time. Over the next few months, I cut out maybe half of the stories, and started writing new pieces to replace them. The value there was that I was able to write in a similar vein to the original pieces I was keeping.

I also took the opportunity to bend or stretch the stories toward one another, mainly by repeating certain images and phrases. And so the whole collection grew rather recombinant. For instance, the shaggy creatures in the story “Shaggy Creatures” are echoed in other stories’ characters: in Oscar the Grouch, in Snuffy and the Brother Bear brothers, in Buzz Aldwin’s fur coat, in the band “Shaggy Creatures” (which is also a Shaggs reference, natch), and in the dog/elephant hybrid in the title story—and no doubt elsewhere. And of course they’re all deformed versions of Chewbacca, who puts in an appearance in the Star Wars story.

Considering the various ways AAF is tied together, then, how does its demarcation of two parts—the untitled first half and the second, “The Solar Stories”—fit in? Why split the book at all?

That first batch of stories consisted largely of pieces I wrote between 1998–2005. They’re mainly pop culture fantasies—riffs on Indiana Jones, Star Trek, Star Wars, etc. And I liked them, but I didn’t see how I could keep writing them—they felt too juvenile to me by then—and I didn’t see how they could form a collection on their own.

In what way?

Well, for one thing, geek culture was transforming around me. Many things that had until then been mostly underground phenomena, like X-Men comics, were becoming mainstream, culturally acceptable properties. It may be hard for us to recall now, but in the early and even mid-1990s, Star Wars wasn’t a daily topic of conversation: few people thought much about the original films. That all changed between 1998 and 2003, during which time we got the first two Star Wars prequels, the first two X-Men films, The Matrix, Spider-Man, and the three Lord of the Rings adaptations. After which point, everyone was a geek.

So those stories, rather than being satires, or critical, were now not really all that different from what I was seeing increasingly all around me. This trend has only continued; visit any geek site (e.g., Topless Robot) and you’ll see, every day, some new Star Wars or Muppets parody that someone has posted somewhere.

But I still liked the stories, albeit guiltily, and more than that I liked this conflict they presented. The challenge was that they needed something more, something that would criticize them—and criticize me, and my desire for wanting to write them. I needed something that would highlight that they were guilty pleasures, amazing childish fantasies.

So I wrote the second half, “The Solar Stories,” as a kind of “dark mirror” of the first. In that part of the collection, the pop culture references disappear, replaced by a more insular, private mythology. (I think of the first half as childhood, and the second half as adolescence.) But that brooding teenage mythology is still based in the childhood loves; the Solar Stories are in a sense rewritings—perhaps even parodies—of the stories in the first half. For example, in the Solar Stories, characters like Rock Albany and the Duke replace Indian Jones; stones and child sidekicks serve as connections (although Rock and the Duke behave much more malevolently toward children than Indian Jones does).

What do you find so wrong with geek culture—comics and Star Wars and the like—being mainstream?

Because they’re stupid!

No, obviously that isn’t it at all. I was an English major; I can successfully argue how and why a Wolverine comic is in fact a rather complicated cultural artifact, a social text. I can deconstruct it and formally analyze it and tell you which writers and artists are more interesting than others. (Larry Hama, who wrote Wolverine for many years, is in fact an amazingly talented writer.)

The main problem is the one that the social theorist Theodor Adorno described. Adorno (whom Curtis White got me reading) was a major influence on the collection. To put it rather succinctly, Adorno decried how monolithic the culture, thanks to mass media, was becoming—how everything was increasingly always the same, homogeneous. Have you tired of Spider-Man movies yet? If so, that’s too bad, because Hollywood isn’t finished making them. (They will never be finished.)

The other problem is that a lot of geek culture is eternally juvenile. Isn’t it troublesome that I can spend my adult days fantasizing about the same pop culture franchises that I wasted my childhood years fantasizing about? I don’t want Tron or the Transformers sold back to me, thank you very much. Well, many folks have written about the infantalization of US culture. What’s particularly sad is that this is precisely the wrong time for the US to become obsessed with superheroes, vampires, zombies. Our economy has been gutted, our environment has been trashed, our infrastructure is crumbling all around us—we are, put frankly, in the twilight days of our empire. I wonder what’s playing at the cineplex?

So is there a solution here? Or is it just as some have predicted, another arm of our slow entropic fate?

Entropy is constant. And the culture is probably no stupider now than ever before—it’s just stupid in a way unique to now.

My main concern is that the present moment, which I’d argue is a time of great crisis, is not necessarily the best time to be more concerned with who’s playing who in the new Spider-Man adaptation. And yet, from many of the websites I see out there, that seems to be a chief preoccupation for many.

As for how to solve that—? Make people aware of the problems that exist, I guess? And the ways in which art can be relevant to one’s life, and productive, and not only entertainment. Criticism and creative thought will always be useful.

In other words, art should be provocative.

Yes. I am a disciple of Viktor Shklovsky, who wrote that the purpose of art is “to make the stone feel stony”—to wake us up from daily life, the routines of which dull our senses. And art should also be Utopian, actively creating the world we want to live in. (That’s Curt again.)

That makes a nice segue to your piece “Ota Benga Episode Guide: Season Three.” I really loved that one.

Don’t feel like you need to hold back! But that does seem one of the more favorite stories, so far. Although a few people have told me they consider it somewhat amoral. (I somewhat agree.)

While reading it I thought, “This is so horrible that it must be true.” And that—unfortunately—is the case. There was a real-life Ota Benga who was kept in captivity with animals at the Bronx Zoo in the early 1900s. Does stuff like this just make you want to give up on the whole creative endeavor of telling stories, since how can you compete with humanity’s sordid past (and ongoing behavior)? And secondly, what about the story of Ota Benga attracted you, apart from the man’s ludicrously cruel circumstances (especially with respect to the ways in which you wrote it—as a guide to the episodes of some imaginary TV show, complete with many of the tropes of a supernatural / cop drama)?

I first learned about Ota Benga in 2002, I think. I was so fascinated by his life that I planned to write a whole book about him. The question was, how to do that? Because of course I was just some middle class white kid from Scranton, Pennsylvania who grew up in the 80s and 90s; what did I know about his life? I began thinking about how my culture would have presented him to me, and hit upon the idea that it would have tried to recuperate him as a Saturday morning cartoon show. The perversity of the idea appealed to me, and I started writing a novel about that show. But I couldn’t make it work—I wouldn’t finish my first novel until early 2009—and so I reduced it to writing an episode guide to that show. Which I wrote in 2003, I think, then heavily revised in 2006.

(Incidentally, “Ota Benga as superhero” isn’t too far off from what happened in Tarsem’s film The Fall (2006), where a much much more muscular Ota Benga adventures alongside the Black Bandit, the central protagonist. I didn’t see that film until last Christmas, though.)

Also incidentally, the plots of those Ota Benga episodes should prove familiar to anyone who grew up, like I did, watching G.I. Joe—and which I was enamored with. I adored the comics, too, which were written by the wonderful Larry Hama, a brilliant writer of pulp. I have scans of all of them on my computer—both the original series and G.I. Joe: Special Missions—and I still read them from time to time. As well as dream of my ideal G.I. Joe movie.

Which is?

Gay fashion parade! Because, seriously, the cartoon was obviously all about the colorful costumes; the weapons were just fashion accessories. Cobra Commander is the ultimate diva! (And check out how Destro and the Baroness dressed! No wonder they’ve become cosplay staples.) The comics were more techno-fetishistic, and interested in the military, but the whole thing was still wondrously campy. Indeed, I ultimately trace my love of camp back to G.I. Joe.

To return to Ota Benga: I know more—far more—about G.I. Joe than I do about that man, or even US history. Which is a problem, don’t you think? It’s curious what the culture selects as its priorities. When I was a kid, barely old enough to think, the culture found it extremely important to indoctrinate me in the ways of all things Joe. It still wants me to spend all my time thinking about those made-up loons (as well as Transformers, and Tron, and Star Wars, and Star Trek, ad nauseam).

Did G.I. Joe also inspire the characters in the story “More About Ninjas”?

Probably. There’s no getting away from those fellows. Or from ninjas.

That piece does quite a lot in very few lines, and actually, it does quite a lot in one paragraph in particular, over and over again:

“The littlest ninja married her former sensei. Here the story traditionally switches to the first person. The night before our wedding, Melissa died of cancer. The next day, ninja doctors found a cure. I became a sensei. My fiancée, Melissa, killed herself because she didn’t want to die a lingering death from cancer. I became a sensei. The next night, ninja doctors discovered a cure. Melissa became sick and asked me to marry her before she died of cancer. She died on our wedding night. I became a sensei. The next day, ninja doctors discovered a cure. I was dying from cancer and was waiting for ninja doctors to find a cure before proposing to Melissa. The next day, Melissa killed herself. I became a sensei.”

What is the origin of this piece? And what, specifically, inspired your repetitive streak here and the ninja subculture you invented?

That story is also an artifact from a failed novel, my first draft of my first novel, GiantSlugs (which was just published by Lawrence and Gibson). (Note that there’s a slug in the final paragraph.) I wrote that draft in the late 1990s, while I was working as a technical writer. It was meant to be a found diary of a man who’s living in a city that’s been invaded by giant slugs. The slugs build their own environment inside the city—clear plastic tubes and chambers that cut right through other structures (Gordon Matta-Clark was obviously on my mind). The narrator spends a year or so documenting the slugs’ behavior. He also reports on the ninjas, a minority group living in the city (indeed, he lives in the ninja quarter).

Since I didn’t know at that time how to write a novel, I structured the book by means of some arcane system of repetition and variation. (I was listening to a lot of Philip Glass and other Minimalist composers at the time, as well as watching every single one of Peter Greenaway’s films.)

Needless to say, my plan didn’t work out all that well. I enrolled in a grad writing program so I could learn how to write, and ended up scrapping the whole project; I kept only that tiny sliver. A few years later, after I’d learned something about narrative, I wrote a completely different draft of Giant Slugs, keeping only the title (and the presence of ninja characters). (I modeled it on the Epic of Gilgamesh, one of my favorite stories.)

You’ve done that in other places, too, I think—modeled your fiction on another work.

The aforementioned Curtis White, with whom I studied closely while at ISU, encouraged his students to do this. He argued that using a familiar story as a base left more room for innovation, since the reader would already know the basic narrative—very similar to how jazz musicians improvise with familiar tunes. And I enjoy narrative a lot, and enjoy monkeying with it, so I see the sense in Curt’s advice. Just like Matta-Clark drilling holes through buildings, I want the reader to see the cuts I’m making in the story.

You’ve told me that “Rock Albany!” is based on Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead (in particular the opening scene in which Howard Roark is standing naked, cliffside, much the same as Rock is depicted).

Yes, that was a deliberate parody. There’s also some riffing off Orson Scott Card in there, too, but I forget which Ender novel I took as a model. (I’ve read The Fountainhead, but I’ve only ever skimmed Mr. Card.)

Satire and parody seem great avenues for political dissent in literature, but do you think they strike at the heart of issues to the extent that they can effect change / inspire people?

I think that sometimes it does, and most of the time it doesn’t. Literature is as capable of changing the world as anything else.

Is that a goal of fiction? Should it be? (Should fiction ever have goals, either consciously or unconsciously attributed by the author?)

I think authors should have whatever goals they want to have. I’m not trying to be evasive, mind you; rather, I think literature’s capable of a lot. Because while we call “literature” one thing, but it is in fact a great many things: art, entertainment, essays, speeches, emails, graffiti, etc.

I ask because of the increasingly polarized political climate we’re in today, and the fact that literature and “literary” authors seem to be looked to less and less for any sort of political guidance. Writers with a transparent purpose, such as Ayn Rand or even George Orwell, seem much better remembered by mainstream culture.

I think that any serious person would do well to know something about Ayn Rand. She was a marvelous idiot, but she was also a powerful idiot, and her ideas have really taken root. We won’t be rid of them in our lifetimes. And so I don’t think that pretending Objectivism will go away is a proper answer.

As for George Orwell—I adore his work. Nineteen eighty-four is one of my absolute favorite novels of all time, ever. It’s so beautiful! And horrible. And yet I’ve noticed in the past ten years or so a distressing tendency for liberals to disown him, claiming that he wasn’t that great a writer; meanwhile, conservatives (such as Andrew Sullivan) have been very eager to adopt him as a patron saint of the right. Orwell’s own politics were of course complicated, and evolved throughout his lifetime, but I can’t see why any progressively-minded person would want to discard him. He is invaluable.

What is it about absolute statements of any kind (i.e. political, philosophical, emotional, etc.) in fiction that tend to repel authors?

Do they? I’m not sure that they do. I just finished reading Dan Brown’s Angels & Demons; I’d hardly call that a restrained piece of writing. (I rather enjoyed that novel, by the way—The Da Vinci Code, too.)

OK, well maybe not repel as much as tend to be avoided, at least when an author is asked to explain “The Meaning” of something he or she has written?

In my experiences, authors are the worst people to ask in regards to what their writing means. Writing isn’t reading, and it sure as anything isn’t criticism. Although writers probably do have opinions about what they wrote. It’s just that they often are thinking about what they intended to write, and not what they actually wrote, which they’ve often never read. (I still haven’t sat down with Amazing Adult Fantasy and read it cover to cover. No one should believe a single thing I say about it!)

Rather, I could tell you what I was trying to do with Amazing Adult Fantasy, but as to whether or not I did that—. (And I still haven’t wrapped my head around the fact that other people are now actually reading it.)

I tend to write a lot, and move on quickly. I finished AAF five years ago, and have written four more books since then (and am working on a few more at the moment). So it’s fun to go back and look at it now—and I’m thrilled that people are enjoying it!—but I also feel a considerable amount of distance from it. I know that at one time it was intensely personal to me, and I obsessed over it for hours and hours every day… I imagine it’s something like parenting. I changed its diapers for a long time, and now it’s headed off to college (or the military academy—it could use the discipline).

Speaking of discipline, what are the worst habits a writer can fall into?

Not writing. And not revising.

I can only speak for myself, of course, and the problems I had to overcome. (Well, I suppose I also see the problems my students are having.) Writing takes a lot of time, and it takes a while to appreciate that. It’s a massively time-intensive activity. And it’s a very different form of thinking than speaking, with a logic all its own. It takes a while to learn that, and not just write the way one speaks.

I don’t entirely know how I learned to be a writer. I know that I always wanted to be one; I started writing stories as soon as I could. I kept doing it all through grade school and high school, and when I got to college, I took creative writing courses. I learned that I was good at some things and miserable at others. I figured I was good enough, though, that in 1996, I’d decided that I would “be a writer.”

I wasn’t one, however. I didn’t write much; instead I spent my time thinking about the books I’d write—another bad habit. I certainly tried writing longer stories and novels, but after a few years I realized I didn’t know how to do it. So I studied a lot more, and practiced more, and maybe by 2005 or I started getting the hang of things.

So the biggest challenge I had to overcome was actually disciplining myself to be a writer: sitting down every single day for a couple hours a day, and writing. That took me about a year. Then I had to learn patience: that I had to revise my work a lot, and not expect to be finished with the first draft. Luckily, I’m a pretty obsessive, dedicated person, so I was able to teach myself these things—to train myself.

After that, everything got a lot easier. So, from 1996 to 2006; eleven years to be able to finally do it. (This is why I don’t expect my freshmen comp students to write better papers.)

[All right, so that’s it! That’s all for now, BUT check back with us for Part II of this interview, which will be posted next week! — Matt]

An “Everything that is the case” Sort of Interview with Lindsay Hunter

So recently I importuned Lindsay Hunter to answer a few questions regarding her short story collection, Daddy’s, which came out last September. (And yes, I realize that was a while ago, but I never said nothing about being really on the ball, topical-stuff-wise). Thankfully, she caved to my nettlesome ways, and I got answers I sure think are illuminating. (You are, as always, free to disagree.)

Besides I’d like you to think of this interview as a more “holistic” and “all-encompassing” sort of interview, that touches on things no interviewer has ever touched on before. That’s what I’d like you to think of this interview as, so do that. Besides, how’s this for topical, Lindsay Hunter and Mary Hamilton’s joint hosted reading series, QUICKIES!, kicks off again tomorrow night (March 8, 2011) at the Innertown Pub (1935 w. Thomas) in Chicago, IL. So go to it if you happen to be in the neighborhood. (See, how’s that for your topical? Editor’s Note: not particularly topical if you’re reading this anytime following March 8, 2011.)

Matt Rowan: Firstly, I’m convinced calling your collection Daddy’s is no coincidence. I imagine this is something no one else who’s read your collection has picked up on. Making full use of my shrewd and incisive acumen of greatness, I notice the term is featured in near every story, and sometimes many multiple times, too. So what’s the attraction to writing of fathers by the colloquialism “Daddy”? (I further noticed not one “Pops” throughout my reading, though I may have glossed over its use.) There’s certainly something darkly ironical to the term in your fiction.

Lindsay Hunter: You are the astutest of the astute! There are bad dads all over the book, and when Zach [Dodson of featherproof books] and I were first talking about names I said I wanted to name it “Daddies,” and then we kind of looked at each other and said, No, “Daddy’s.” It just does so much, that little apostrophe—it boldly claims.

I think the colloquialism “Daddy” is used because the stories all take place in the south, and a lot of the protagonists are female, and Daddy just flowed right out of the ol’ fingertips. In fact, “Pa” never crossed my mind. There’s also a grossness to the word that I really like—it sort of reveals the dumb violence of a character’s brain in a really efficient way.

You don’t shy away from grit. In fact grit seems to be essential to your work. But it’s purposeful, not provocative, grit. How do you channel the unseemly, to the stuff between a guy’s toes and cluttered in doorways and orifices for your literary purposes? Whence come lines like, “See that moon? It’s a disc of aspirin? See that moon? It’s a dollop of jizz”?

Man I’ve asked myself that question too many times. It’s definitely never something I force, or set out to do. It’s just what I see, I guess. And I think there is so much you can learn by the objects in a person’s environment, in the way that person understands and uses sex, in the way that person feels power or lack of power by whatever situation they’re in—whether that is beneath a pumping redneck or sitting in a lawn chair in an empty living room.

That particular line you quote—that character is naming and claiming in a way he feels is powerful and flirty. He will have what he wants because he has claimed all that is around him, just by calling it as he sees it.

I’ve noticed other interviewers reference your extreme comfort with talking and describing sex and sexuality. Sex seems by turns something violent, a necessary compulsion and a rote act. Is sex a stand-in for a greater affliction dogging your characters, or is sex in itself the affliction?

Good question! I think sex is a form of communication in some instances, and in others is just simply a desperate act. In that sense I think it is a stand-in for a greater affliction dogging my characters, that affliction being boredom or rage or bored rage or rageful boredom. Sometimes in life there just are no words.

Then, sort of a tie-in question, babies have a strange role in the various stories in which they appear prominently, too, with “That Baby” being a good representation of this. How do your ideas of sex inform your ideas of procreation (at least in a literary context)?

I’ve actually never bridged that in my writing—that of sex = baby. But I suppose it’s just another bodily function, bodily functions being perhaps my favorite thing to write, read, and talk about. It’s just so human—farting, spitting, sighing, flopping around on top of each other, birthing. It’s so primitive that it almost makes me itch. I think sex in my stories, though, is less procreation than anti-climactic, ill-advised catalyst.

There’s a kind of beauty to the dysfunction that colors your characters’ actions. I mean for all the various hard-hearted or dark qualities the characters display there seems also to be genuine and not necessarily unhealthy feeling there, beneath the surface. The father and daughter of “Love Song” in particular come to mind. What would you say is the ethos of the characters who inhabit your stories, on the whole? Are they mostly good people who occasionally do bad and / or harmful things? Or are they bad people doing those things?

Another good question! I think some of the characters are bad, definitely. I think all—or almost all—of the protagonists aren’t “bad,” however, in the sense that they’ve never pondered what makes a good person good. They are just living lives, following or ignoring instincts. Though having said that, I think in some stories, like in “Finding There,” the character is wrestling with something similar to good vs. bad—though maybe it’s more like the character is tired of ignoring what is true about himself. So maybe it’s more that—a sometimes misguided search for truth, whether it’s good OR bad.

What sorts of philosophy do you read / have acquaintance with?

Dang, that’s a big one. I don’t generally read philosophy, but in some of the classes I have taken over the years, I’ve had the pleasure of being assigned some really great stuff. Martin Buber’s I and Thou had a huge impact on me personally, and I can’t help but make the assumption that it thus affected my writing. I also will always remember Wittengstein’s “The world is everything that is the case.” Fucked up, right? I’d say my main philosophy would be something my dad always said, and that is, “Kids, you gotta grab the world by the short curlies.”

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There you have it! Lindsay Hunter urges you to read more Wittgenstein. Can’t say I disagree, as I do not. So I urge you to read Daddy’s and go to QUICKIES, Chicago!