Monthly Archives: May 2012

Edward J Rathke

C&C: Climbing – Would you engage in a climbing contest with me? Say there were two trees side by side, similar in build, and I beat you? Would you be a gracious loser or a sore loser and claim ridiculous things like the branches were less evenly spaced or covered in excess sap on the tree you were dealt?

I would gladly take this challenge. In fact, I will challenge anyone to a climbing contest. Barefoot or shoed. I don’t really climb rocks, because it’s too weird to make friends with rocks, but trees? Yeah. A thousand times over. Trees are the kind of people you can trust not to drop you or push you off.

In the unlikely [impossible!] case that you did beat me, I would accept it and crown you Queen of the Climb, which is a title respected east of the Mississippi, probably. Though, maybe later, when telling someone else, I’d make my loss more heroic, by claiming you to be a 6’3″ amazon with hands so strong you could crush bones to dust.

But, yeah, the climb is on!

C&C: Does anyplace feel like home? And can you see ever see yourself staying in one place?

It’s funny, being asked this now. Even just a week ago, I would’ve said, No.

Home is a concept that just never fit well for me. I grew up in a city I never felt was mine, in a house that was only that. Family’s a hard thing for me to pin down, too. Biology, sure, but the only family I’ve ever felt was mine was my late dog, Lily Belle, and now with her gone, I mean, yeah. And what is a home without a family? It’s a place, I suppose, but, more than that, home is a state of mind or maybe an emotion, I think, more like Love or Death than it is like an address. But we need a home, yeah? Or probably we do. Hard to say whether that’s true or not, but I searched for one. Looked for it everywhere. All over Europe and all the way to the otherside of the planet just to see if maybe something clicked only to return with even less of an inclination as to where to look next. I thought maybe I’d go to South America, maybe try living in Japan or Hong Kong because Japan, while not feeling like home, felt like nowhere else in the world. I remember being completely lost on this sacred mountain in Kyoto, the sun dying, the cicadas screaming, drenched in sweat, and just thinking, There’s nowhere in the world that I’d rather be at this moment. It was an enormous feeling, like being filled by Moonlight, this calming sensation, the tide rolling within.

And so I had looked for so long, for my whole life, for somewhere just to rest my head and feel like I never had to leave. Waited for the world without and within to line up, come together, for the beauty I felt all around to rest inside me, give me that calm, let me share in the Light, in the Dream, and then, wholly unlooked for, I opened the door to a hostel room in Nice, France just seven days ago, and there she was, waiting for me.

And I don’t know if this can last, but I want it to. More than I’ve wanted anything before in my life.

C&C: Have you ever typed on a typewriter as opposed to a keyboard? Other than just for novelty?

I actually have not. I’m not even completely positive that I’ve even seen one, to be completely honest. Until I was probably twenty I could barely even type. I still can’t. Not really. Or, rather, not properly. I’m all index and middle with the occasional pinky or thumb thrown in, and somehow I can make pretty good speed that way. No idea how many words per minute, but when I get writing I burn pages down by the fistful. But, yeah, was always a handwriter, couldn’t even think on a keyboard, but now I dance upon them and it’s difficult for me to go back. Pens are all clumsy in my hands and now I prefer the keyboard.

But, man, a real life typewriter? I mean, surely those still exist, yeah? I almost feel like how my students probably felt when I told them that they’re younger than the internet.

C&C: Lefthanded or righthanded?

Naturally righthanded, but I’m pretty proficient with both. I’m a slow lefthanded writer and it’s kind of sloppy, but I do all right. I taught myself how to pitch lefthanded when I broke my elbow maybe ten years ago. Batting in baseball, I was a switchhitter, too. Mostly, I think, this all comes from playing baseball with my little brother in our way-too-small-to-play-baseball-in-backyard. Because it was just the two of us and we were being two different teams, we needed to invent extra players. So each batter had a different stance, a lot of them were lefthanded hitters [which was unnatural to both of us], and even the pitcher sometimes would be a lefty, just because why not? I mean, what kind of a team only has righthanded pitchers? Even as little buddies we knew that was silly, and so we tried to make the teams realistic. I even think I had a completely lefthanded team, if memory serves, which it might not. But, yeah, technically righthanded, but I’m okay lefty, and actually prefer to do a lot of things lefthanded, like driving and other such things that demand directioning.

C&C: What’s in your pockets?

I literally just dumped my pockets, so not so much. Cellphone in the left front, a pen and marker in front right with 1.30 euros, and then wallet in the back right. No cash inside.

C&C: Have you ever been in love. How many times?

Oh man. The big one, yeah? The don’t hold back question that begs for me to hold back, if only not to embarrass myself and maybe some other people.

I’ll be honest, though. Or as honest as I can be, and maybe it’ll help me sort out what these things mean, if they mean anything, because probably they do.

I think about love a lot. Maybe too much. Trying to sort where it fits in my life, how it fits there, what it means to me, how I relate to such a concept, how I feel about such a concept having the potential of existing. It’s enough to drive a body wild, swept up in a hurricane of emotional and existential quandary.

There are different kinds of love. And I don’t mean like maternal/fraternal/whathaveyou. I mean–okay, so to make it easy, I’ll just make a big distinction between Love and love. Cool? Cool.

I have fallen in love with every girl I’ve ever met, and even some I haven’t yet. This love is momentary, and in that way, it remains perfect. It may last a minute, the length it takes her to turn away, to blink, to sneeze instead of call me by name. It may last a weekend, this obscene and beautiful bubble that bursts the second you part ways though it seemed so strong when touching. I fall in love often. I’m reckless with my heart and I break my own against reality’s shoreline more often than should be reasonable for a man so optimistically misanthropic. The way she smiles or bites her lip, the way she says my name or refuses to, the way she dances, the way she looks bored and yawns when I hoped she’d sing, the ways she moves, the ways she touches me, the ways she doesn’t, the way she never even looks at me. I’m hopeless and dangerous. But that’s what this is for, this momentariness. It’s not about Love. Not really. It’s barely even about attraction and it’s definitely not about sex, at least not for me, and maybe it’s not even about the girl I tell myself I’ve fallen in love with for the night, for the month. It’s about this reality constructed around this impermanence, built because of that transience. And I have lived a transient life, a sort of foppish vagabond. There’s a japanese term, mono no aware, and it’s something I’ve felt all my life. This beauty that exists, and the sweet sadness that comes when beauty fades. Cherry blossoms are sort of iconic and related to that term. And I have chased Beauty. Chased Her everywhere. Rimbaud sat Beauty on his knee and reviled Her, but I only long to touch Her, to become one with Her, to feel that Light, and be a moment of the Dream.

And so, yes, love, it’s everywhere and it’s all around and it’s perfect because it’s built to fade and become only the ephemera of memory. And memory is our whole life. These moments make all that we are and all that we will be.

Love is the sun while love is the moon.

But Love becomes trickier, and I think it’s what the question’s really asking. If you had asked me this a week ago, I would’ve said, Once. But I would’ve made the caveat of my late dog, Lily Belle.

For the last fifteen years, she’s been here with me, through every nervous breakdown, through every bottomless depression, through all the happiness and sadness of my life, she’s been here, keeping me together, keeping my heart beating. And it beat because of her. She saved my life a thousand nights over, and even still, I hear her, can feel her, and I long to be with her again, and maybe she’s waiting for me just across the otherside. And I don’t believe in life after Death but I believe in her. To think about her makes me all teary eyed or straight up bawling. I didn’t think I’d live through the night she died and definitely not that first week. I wept for days, inconsolable, but I’ve recently been able to come to terms with her Death. I never thought I’d care about any person even half as much as her.

So the first human, yeah? I was sixteen and maybe I still am, sitting in the park all night, smoking cigarettes, drinking too much, wishing the sun would never come, praying to just feel her in my arms for a few hours more. She’s had a rather significant effect upon my life and maybe all the worlds I’ve made inside my head and all the words I’ve written have been to console myself, to make reality worth staying in since I must live without her. And maybe that’s sad. Probably it is, to Love someone and not have that returned. To meet someone you believed was perfect for you and to know that you’re not perfect for them.

So it goes.

But then I found her. And I’m afraid to say too much. I’ve never felt this way before. About anyone or anything. Like a maelstrom within. The moment I left her in Nice, I knew nothing would be the same, that I needed to see her again, that I needed to be with her. I cried on the train back to Paris and cried more on the flight home over the Atlantic. I had been keeping a travel journal for my trip through france because I had never done that before. A lot of it ended up being about Lily Belle and about my history of love. And then it all culminates in this. In meeting her. In leaving her. It was the happiest and saddest weekend maybe of my entire life. And so I filled out this notebook, all eighty pages in my cramped script, the last 30 or so pages being all about her, this woman I had only known for four days, but needed. She’s inside me, restructuring me from the atom up, creating worlds I never knew existed. It’s like I had spent my entire life asleep, dreaming, and then I opened my eyes to her. Like I spent my life staring at my feet believing it to be all of existence and then she raised my face to the sun and the stars. I burn for her. I burn because of her. I feel absolutely drunk, and we’ve been only able to communicate through facebook chat, each fingertip to key reaching thousands of miles across the ocean, and I’m swimming, barely able to see or breathe.

I’ve met a lot of women in my life, from all over the world, and none of them, not a single one, does to me what she does. It’s insane but it makes sense to me. The only thing in a lifetime of wandering, of dreaming out loud, of imaging perfection, trying to create Beauty and be with her, only to meet this woman and realise my visions were all rags, the color faded, the fabric torn. She shines. She’s Light. To be apart, even this short time, even after only just meeting her, is unbearable, and so I’m already on my way back. Probably in April. I’ll be there by the time this is published, and she’ll read this, and I’ll be embarrassed and pretend, maybe, that a different, wilder ydde wrote this while I tugged on his shirt, telling him, No no no!

But the craziest thing, maybe, is that it’s all right here on the table. I’ve never been so open with anyone in my life or had someone be so open with me.

My friends can barely believe it. Their little ydde grown speechless but can’t stop talking about this woman, this beautiful creature I met, so much more perfect than I could’ve ever imagined.

And I don’t really know what any of this means, but I’m happy. Like I’ve never been before.

C&C: Is it easier for you to write long form as opposed to short stories?

Interesting. Now, I’d say long form, which is so very strange to me. Just a year and a half ago, I had never written anything longer than, I think, 16,000 words. I told myself, You know, ydde, sticking to short stories, no shame in that. In fact, might be for the best. Most of the best writers did their best work short form. And, like, what’s even weirder is that most of my stories around that time were under 1,000 words, but just a year before that I found it almost impossible to write anything shorter than 5,000 words. Though, I mean, that last bit was mostly due to inexperience and just being shitty at writing. But the more I wrote the shorter I got until I was writing stories without verbs, without sentences, just images flashing. Punching the reader with vision after vision, like a film made of close ups of objects, and telling a story that way.

Then one day, I sat in my bed and made a little joke to myself: ydde, I bet we could write a novel by Friday.

I didn’t think much of it the rest of the night but then I woke up the next morning–Monday–and started flying on the keyboard. And then by Friday afternoon I had a novel. Even still, about eighteen months later, I’ve made almost zero changes to that first attempt. It was like I was on fire and the visions took over and I was caught in the Dream, breathing it, being it, and everything just poured out of me whole and complete and perfect. I’m still quite proud of it, though I’ve done almost nothing to try to get it published.

But, yeah, four complete novels, five novellas, and two incomplete novels later, I’d say my brain just works at the long game these days. I think short stories are easier for me to write, but, even there, now I’m mostly at the 500 word length, which is funny because my novels are getting longer, but I treat the novels very much like I do short stories, in a sense. The same rules apply to both, except there’s more freedom and responsibility in novels. With a short story I can just go wild and juxtapose disparate images or scenes or whatever and put all my faith in the reader to find the ribbon within that’ll clear the picture. And there I can try to just carry the burden by making the words pretty or making them sticky. But novels are tricky, because, essentially, you want to do the same thing. You don’t want to tell the reader what or why you’re doing what you’re doing. You hand them all these pages and let the narrative happen within them, let them create the narrative from all the breadcrumbs you dropped in the forest. And it’s not to be unclear, but to be demanding, because I believe readers hate it when you give them the baby in the basket. I think they want the basket given but then want to create the baby themselves. You give them as much magic as you can to inspire them to pull significance or beauty or whatever from the starlight you shined in their direction.

Be a prude. Make the reader work for it. She’ll thank you for it. She’ll want it more. She’ll love it longer. She’ll come to you with open arms and share all that she has and create a novel you never could’ve imagined. A novel beyond words. Beyond spaceTime. An experience as well as a novel.

Running through my novels is this mythology. There are creatures who can perceive the Dream of all existence, but cannot understand it. And then there are those who cannot perceive but can comprehend the Dream. And maybe that’s the goal that I unintentionally built inside of all these novels. I can see the Dream but only the reader can understand it. It’s our Dream, but it took me to see it just as it took the reader to comprehend it.

C&C: What’s your favorite kind of candy and why?

Are we talking all candy? Like, do you count chocolate as candy? I don’t. Not really, because chocolate’s chocolate, but, if we’re talking chocolates, Kit Kat’s are the best. But only when eaten properly because there’s this secret little substance that’s between the wafers. Like delicious wafer mortar. So it’s kind of a process to get to it, removing the chocolate and then dissecting the wafers, but it’s worth it, probably.

But if we’re talking candy candy, which, to me, means has flavors like blue and purple and red and orange and yellow, then, yeah, gummy bears. Always and forever. Not only because they’re delicious and bears but because you can lick them and stick them to pretty much any surface imaginable. Some kind of magical candy bind. Also, yeah, so very and completely terrified of bears. Like, I’d say unreasonably so but people who aren’t afraid of bears are hopelessly irresponsible. Bears are legitimate real life monsters. But, yeah, loves me some gummy yummy. But also those ring shaped things that’re kind of orange and yellow? Those are delicious, and also classy sugar rings for your fingers. Or, man, too, starbursts. I lost a tooth in a starburst. No idea where it went but I probably swallowed the tooth and maybe it’s still inside me because I don’t recall it, um, you know, leaving…me. But, okay. Candy? Best kind.

I’m just going to say blue.

Because blue is always the best.

C&C: Where are you?

Read that completely the wrong way and had a momentary existential crises. Um, at this exact moment, I’m at my parents’ house in the suburbs of St. Paul, Minnesota, USA. A few days ago I was in France. A few months ago I was in Korea. A few days from now and I’ll be in Chicago. A bit after that I’ll be in Ohio and then maybe DC and then New York and then down around and through the south all the way to California and then up the coast to Portland and Seattle and finally back to where I am at this second, probably. Or that was the plan, but maybe now I’ll be back in France within a few weeks. If I could, I’d be hopping on a plane in a few hours and arriving in the morning.

C&C: Tell me about your love for ballerinas.

Good question! This might take me a while.

Polina Semionova (Swan Lake)

Ahem.

There are different forms of artistic language. Or, rather, not just limited to artistry. There’s vocal, acoustic, visual, and kinaesthetic. Vocal is the lowest form, I believe, because it’s the least true, the least accurate. That includes written language, as well, where maybe we tend to be a bit more accurate, but, even so, there’s so much of existence that can’t be expressed properly with words. Beckett said words are all we have but words fail us. Constantly. And probably that sounds strange to hear from someone who devotes so much time and energy to words, both written and spoken. But its very form is its limitation. It’s bound by itself, always forced to be imprecise by its own nature.

The others–acoustic, visual, and kinaesthetic–are substantially better and more precise. I would value kinaesthetic the highest, because bodies simply cannot lie. And ballet is the height of these three forms of language, to me. In this manner, for me, ballet is a pinnacle of artistry. Even just the music alone has the power to change your life. It’s not opera but it’s of the same order, wandering the same plateaus. Give me strings and keys! A violin can reshape the world, steal a soul, create one. And then when you get swept up by a cello or swallowed by the standup bass, or any other such instrument, I mean, all of life weaves through you. The boundaries of my body disappear and I become all the things that are outside of me. Unity, yeah? That feeling of oneness with all existence within and without you. But, so, yeah, even the music is enough to drive Beauty into you, to share in that Light.

Then visually, even without sets, ballet hits me so hard and so completely. The lines and the movements, the simplicity and the drama. Its utterly beatific. Transcendent. It captures all that I’ve ever hoped to achieve in my own fumbled attempts at artistry. That perfection of language. The bodies, the angles, their lust for air, their gravital relationship, and just the beauty the beauty the Beauty!  It saves me. It gives me peace. A tranquillity, even as I’m bursting from all that it fills me with.

Though I suppose I’ve not even begun to answer the question yet. So ballet is, to me, this height of art, maybe even just Art. Ballerinas, then, are its hands and feet, its breath and heartbeat. How could I love someone so deeply and not love that which makes her?

And I do love ballerinas. The shape of their legs, the poise of their bodies, the length and lines of their necks. That grace. That beauty. Seemingly so effortless but really the culmination of a lifetime. A lifetime chasing Beauty only to become Her. Even that transformation’s quite elegant and ecstatic in my head. Of course, not all ballerinas are equal, and even amongst favorites there’s difference. The character and artistry that individuals bring to different parts, to different performances of the same part. I can’t claim to be any expert of ballet, but I’ve watched a fair amount of it. Polina Semionova is certainly my favorite with Marianela Nunez not too far behind. If I remember correctly, they’re with Berlin and London, respectively, though I think I read that Miss Semionova’s moving on after this year. And those two, above all others currently dancing that I’ve seen, just stand out. Immensely. Physically beautiful, but more so in the artistry. Their brilliance is what shines more than their beauty. I’m in awe of them at times, the ways they can make me feel, the way they can open up worlds deep inside my heart, blooming inspiration for my own future stumbled attempts, fighting with the words that bind and free me, Prometheal. Or maybe Sisyphus is a better metaphor.

Anycase, ballerinas, to put it simply, they’re embodiments of perfection. They’re children of the Dream.

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Pela Via

C&C: Have you ever broken into a pool and hot tub area at the Hilton in LA at 1am?

Ha. No. 

Okay, yes. But, it’s fine. Richard Thomas still believes he never left his room. I daresay you and I work well together, Ms. Curiouser.

C&C: What are you enamored with right now?

Films. I’ll sidestep the exact number I’ve screened in 2012 alone, because it’s triple-digits and I prefer the assumption that instead it’s constant travel and giggly days with my family that gets my time wholesale, which is also mostly true. But just as much, it’s cinema. I spend my time spellbound below a TV, making the same face now that I did during the video world premiere of Like a Virgin. I don’t want to move because I don’t want it to stop.

C&C: Tell me about the most awkward come-on that you’ve ever gotten.

I just don’t catch come-ons the rare times they occur for me. I’m more likely to dispute the comment, start some jovial argument, then see the subtext later. No question, I’ve been known to give men more credit than was due.

Either way, I’m not the woman in movies who laughs at guys with no game. I don’t fault anyone for awkward. It’s the reverse I despise—disproportionate self importance. I have had a ring on for fifteen years, am unspeakably enamored with my husband and constantly trying to impress him; any come-on will be awkward. When my status is known, it’s worse. It’s absurd.

C&C: What do you have in your pockets?

Chocolate. The ticking time bomb of pocket secrets. It’s always melting, but I won’t always remember it’s there. On my most dangerous days, Toffifay.

C&C: When you were little, who was the female you most admired?

As a girl, Punky. Her best friend on the show, Cherie, was actually the inspiration for the pilot, and I loved them both. It turned even sweeter when I realized my real-life best friend looked exactly like Cherie and I was a passable Soleil Moon Frye.

After that it was Maya Angelou, because she taught me how to apologize for my mistakes without apologizing for who I am, something I needed as a young person.

As an adult, Judith Regan because she seems to laugh constantly, joyously. I wouldn’t emulate her career exactly, but her whole presence is this gorgeous supercharged femininity that I love. She makes me want to surround myself with people who make me laugh and laugh. That’s a life, to me.

I nearly have that now, actually—the difference being that I may have to re-button the shirts or scrub the faces of the fellas entertaining me. In the full Regan-esque fantasy, I’m aging well and laughing at anecdotes by these same three people, all adults by then, across an all-white sofa. And it would never occur to me to make them stop talking and go to sleep….

C&C: Do you wear shoes in the house?

Shoes come off at the door. Then it’s EMU sheepskin mules. One of my favorite things in the world.

C&C: Are you afraid of the dark? (I am) Also, what monster/boogeyman/ irrational fear/phobia do you have?

My mother owned a redwood coffee table that was deadly from the right angle. Many stitches later, it’s not the metaphysical I fear in the dark, it’s jutting raw-edge tables. It’s knowing avoidable danger is there, and colliding with it anyway.

C&C: Do you dress up to take your kids trick-or-treating? Why or why not?

I don’t. My husband takes them. It was all adorable and perfectly absurd the first few years, and I’d love to watch. Now my guys are six and eight and they’re all business, where candy is involved. I stay back, get social. 

C&C: Do you dress up on Halloween as a rule, and is it your favorite holiday? If not, what is?

Do I give the impression Halloween is my favorite? It may be. 

We get into it. By fall we’re both usually feeling strangely expressive, and playing dress-up cancels the existential noise in my head so nicely. When I’m myself as someone else, I know why I refuse to take myself too seriously.

Adding to that, staging a photo shoot is a process not unlike writing—I love it. It’s one of my absolute favorite things to do, with both my husband and my sisters (including photographer Chelsea K).

I want to do a shoot inspired by Eastern Promises. Husband as Viggo Mortensen and me as the lusty-eyed Vincent Cassel. Yes.

Or maybe we should pull from real life and I can pretend to be Monica Bellucci.

I’m sorry, what were we talking about?

Some days, it can’t be helped—everything leads back to Vincent Cassel. It’s the same force that has my husband ending so many of his sentences with “… Alana[Blanchard].”

C&C: What was the first book you ever LOVED?

Philip Roth’s Portnoy’s Complaint. It kills me.

C&C: Cats, dogs, yes, no, why?

I like animals, more so when I sense a personality there. But I also like a low-effort life, so I avoid anything likely to shed or shit near my stuff. 

Recently a dwarf hamster caught my eye and I bought him, on impulse, habitat and all. But then he bit me, hard. I can’t recall the last time I had my feelings hurt by a person, but that did it. Little Hamsty was returned. I had loved him too much; it hurt too badly when he couldn’t love me back.

 

Michael Paul Gonzalez

C&C: You went to a dance class and that’s where you met your wife? Were you going specifically to troll for women?

It was a Salsa Club, and I was actually visiting another friend of mine in Chicago. It was more of a “I’m in your town, I will do whatever” kind of thing, and my wife and one of her friends were also friends with my friend. What a friendly sentence. There was no effort to meet women. There never has been as I have a distinct lack of self-esteem – not low self-esteem, just no self-esteem. “Why bother?” becomes my mantra for many things (not in too negative of a sense though). At any rate, she went to get some water for the table, I went along to help, and she said maybe three words to me. But I was persistent and annoying and it worked. The main thing I remember from that night is there was an unofficial greasy male gogo dancer going crazy on one of the podiums at the first club (Biology Bar, now closed or burned down I think) and at the second club (Liquid – maybe still open?) the friend I was visiting had a dancer get a little too handsy with her, which kind of ruined the night.

C&C: “Unofficial greasy male go-go dancer” is one of the most awesome titles for a ‘job’ I’ve ever heard. I assume you were in a gay bar, I can’t imagine why there would be a podium where a male dancer would be tolerated elsewhere.

Nope, a straight salsa club. I think that’s what I mean by unofficial, he figured the best way for him to get the chicas was to show off his moves on the box. Which, in a salsa club, where couples dancing is the key, gyrating and flailing solo at the club all night will probably just mean you’ll spend the rest of the night at home gyrating and flailing solo.

C&C: Was there a certain moment/time in highschool or youth, some specific lightning bolt that made you decide to become a playwright?

When I was super little, my brother and I used to trade stories with each other, one page fanfic Star Wars type stuff that was pretty incredible. I never did drama in high school. I found most of the people in that field to be… not my kind of people? Then in college, after switching majors several times, I had a crisis of confidence where everything else failed – music, business, etc etc etc, so I had to think of the one thing I was good at – writing. So, I switched my major to theatre (acting). And as part of that curriculum, I had to take beginning playwriting, and THAT’s where things finally clicked in. I wrote a horrific but well received comedy about two horrible roommates, one of whom has a lot of money and treats the other like crap. Very frat humor, very bawdy, but the pauses! The pauses we had to take in class while everyone laughed. Ahhh. So that sealed it. My playwriting professor seemed nervous about me switching focus at first until I told him I was very aware of how poorly constructed the play was. Once I got to grad school I figured out how to put all of the pieces together so I could move to LA to pursue screenwriting. So I landed in LA in 2002 and haven’t written a single script since. But I’ve been going pretty steady on short stories and novels. I think I work best at something when I want to do something else.

C&C: What do you have in your pockets RIGHT NOW?

I always wish I had a more exciting answer to this question. I have a wallet and keys. The wallet, however, is an amazing vinyl thing with a portrait of a space chimp smoking a cigarette.

C&C: How do you feel about David Bowie?

I loooooove Bowie. Maybe I’m in the minority, but I’ve enjoyed his later work a bit more than the classic Ziggy stuff, although I love that too. I mean Heathen, that’s a great album. When NY TV icon Uncle Floyd passes away, I secretly imagine David Bowie will slink out of retirement and lead this parade down the Canyon of Heroes singing “Slip Away” and the entire city will bow their collective heads. His songs are cinematic for me that way I guess, in that I imagine scenarios with all of them as I listen. When I was working on my book HELLO DARKNESS, the main character was inspired by a couple of songs: “Seven” and “The Pretty Things are Going to Hell”. I think that’s why I like Lady Gaga too, the whole larger-than-life character thing, the fact that you’re buying into a little bit of this mystery and fun and suspending disbelief in order to enjoy the music, but the line between reality and story is all blurry.

I didn’t really dig into Bowie’s catalog until after I played this game Omikron way back when, where he played a character (or maybe two) in the game, and there was a part where you wandered into this virtual Bowie concert. This was before advanced graphics, and looking back on it now I have no idea how I tolerated this clunky game, but it had its charms.

Iman even starred in the game with him. Iman! Is it fair that Bowie gets a wife that hot? It’s like he has a gravitational field that forces attractive and talented people into his life.

Then I found the album “Hours…” which had some of the songs from the game, but real versions that didn’t talk about whatever the game was about. Somewhere in digging in the bins at Amoeba Records, right behind Hours was Ziggy, and I thought since I’d heard so much about it over the years I should listen, and then I had to have everything. It’s weird talking about it, because he feels like such a musical staple, like people will scoff and say “*I* was listening to Bowie prior to my conception, I can’t believe you didn’t know about him…” But I was an early MTV-generation kid. Sure there was Modern Love and China Girl, but then there was also that godawful Jagger collaboration, and the whole giant Labyrinth crotch outfit.

He also has the greatest eyes. If I ever have a dog with heterochromia, I’m naming him Bowie. Look, I even made this answer have heterochromia!

Wow, that was all over the place. Isn’t he dreamy though?

C&C: God, he IS dreamy. That was a fantastic answer. I get all silly over Bowie, too. Characters in music are really underrated. I agree with what you said about Gaga. You just have to let yourself slip into the alternate universes of the songs. Like Elton John. His recent stuff has sort of overshadowed the beauty of Levon, which is maybe the most visual song I’ve ever heard. And Meatloaf’s “Paradise By the Dashboard Light.” Are you drawn to more theatrical music/performance-connected music in general, do you think? Queen, Jane’s Addiction, Marilyn Manson, etc?

Indeed, I love bombastic theatrical-style music. HOWEVER: I hate theatre musicals. I loathe them. I think the American musical is an awful thing, and the only time I’m into “showtunes” is when things get really tongue-in-cheek or very meta, like South Park, Little Shop of Horrors, etc. I remember being at this film screening thing once where they previewed the opening number of the Rent movie, 5,3838474755 minutes, or whatever that song is. And it got to the end, and this hush fell over the crowd, and a girl behind us whispered “That was incredible…” and I muttered “Are you fucking kidding me?”. There was a collective Vampire hissing in my general direction afterwards. Rent, Cats, Phantom, etc etc etc. And Wicked? People got excited about that?

I digress…

I think the best term is “cinematic”. Like, the music hits, and in the back of my brain the projector goes on and images just start floating in front of my eyeballs. Meatloaf, for instance, is pretty much writing rock opera in that song. But there are others, Bree Sharp (Ballad of Grim and Lily) that just make music and story and everything come together perfectly. And Levon is indeed a great song. I feel like Elton John kind of got swallowed in the great disco implosion of the late 70s. He didn’t make it out of Studio 54 alive, but some other creature in a tattered duck suit pulled himself from the wreckage and soldiered on as best he could.

And Queen? Don’t get me started on my Freddie Mercury kick. Bohemian Rhapsody is a great song and all, but the weight of it as a cultural touchstone eclipsed so many other great things the band did. I think they’ll have a renaissance if that Freddie biopic ever gets off the ground.

And the Gaga/Bowie thing, it’s not just the music. It’s like Santa Claus for cool grown-ups. Like, you watch these interviews with Ziggy or Gaga, and you have to just go with it, yeah, this lady spends her day in a meat dress, of course, why wouldn’t she? It’s a lot of work, I’d imagine, and psychologically, I wonder what it says about the performer. Are they keeping distance between their true selves and the audience? Are they afraid of exposing their simple selves to the public? Are they just making a buck? I think Ziggy broke Bowie and vice versa, and he just kind of kept it rolling and building and changing, figured out that being a chameleon was the way to go.

C&C: To back up a little, you mentioned the horrible play you wrote – but what was the first work of fiction that you had the sneaking suspicion might actually be GOOD?

In my mind, writing is writing, so I feel like I have to look at plays as my first solid writing. I wrote a comedy one-act called “Foul Territory” about two guys fighting over who had the right to catch a home run ball. Not award-winning writing, but I do remember finishing it and thinking it was pretty solid. Muriel’s Fourth Suicide was one of my next one-acts, and it got a great response from people, and that’s when things started to click for me about what worked and what didn’t. I was greeted after the play by the house manager and a teary-eyed girl who loved the show and said how important it was for her. “Well, this is the man that wrote the play!” he said. To which she promptly replied, “The actors were so good…” and then fawned over the acting for five minutes before I pointed her in the direction of the stage door to go meet the performers. The life of a writer, I guess. But still, I take it as a high compliment in terms of collaborative art, that I was able to write something that became transparent and malleable by two great actors, that it was something that worked really well on the page but breathed and moved onstage.

I can’t quite remember if there was a short story or piece where I felt like I was getting a good grip on fiction. I wrote one novel that will probably not see the light of day, as it’s too blatant of a Gaiman/Mieville homage. But then, first novels always tend to ape the writers we love the most, whether we know it or not.

Hello Darkness was my next novel, and I like it. It’s still rough around the edges, but that’s part of the charm of it, I think. I’m pretty sure I’m going to break it into three pieces and sell it as a Kindle single thing later in the year. Same with MURIEL, I’m either going to adapt the one-act into a novella-thing (the play is mostly done in traded monologues), or I might just publish the script as part of a collection of short works. Haven’t decided yet, but I do have a great cover image for it…

C&C: You recently visited Poland – did you get a tattoo? If not, why?

I wanted a tattoo, lobbied for it, but no dice. My wife has decreed that I can’t get any more tattoos, but I’m still trying. In the long run, it’s probably better that I didn’t. The trip was pretty non-stop, and who knows what could have happened in terms of medical emergencies, infections, botched tattoo jobs, etc. Still, a crest on my left arm with the Wawel Dragon to match the dragon on my other arm would have been pretty cool.

 C&C: Tell me about a few of the things you saw in Poland – cultural phenomena, natural sights.

Cultural Phenomena: Chuck Norris is the spokesperson for a bank over there. I’m a bit of an aficionado of horrible overseas celebrity ads, from my first encounter with japander.com many years ago, so it was awesome to experience it firsthand. Musically, on the radio, they’re keeping pace with our current tastes (can’t escape Gotye no matter where I go), but they also have a strong love of 80s pop. The younger kids love the clubs, the drinking, the carousing. And the older people I saw were all quintessentially Polish – well-dressed, but not extravagant, matching clothes, color coordinated. We kind of jaunted around the country from mid to north to south (Warsaw, Krakow, Sopot/Gdansk/Gdynia), so I didn’t quite get the pop-cultural immersion. There’s a big soccer championships coming to Poland and Ukraine this year, which means their roads are getting better, things are getting shined and polished and et cetera. They’re proud of their heritage and history, so many castles and churches and architecture.

Graffiti! I will NEVER complain about LA being tagged to death with graffiti again. EVERYTHING was coated in graffiti: old buildings, new buildings, fences, you name it. The only things people didn’t tag were churches and some of the major landmarks. I love taking photos of graffiti, so my collection grew by leaps and bounds on this trip.

AND – speaking of roads… Polish driving baffled me. There were street signs that I never figured out, a lot of X’s and blue shapes and arrows. Trams that run in the left lane, but when they stop, you have to cross a lane of traffic to board (most of the time people stopped and waited). Jaywalking like crazy, and we also saw a sign in one area that basically said in pictograms: NO MOTORCYCLES, NO TRACTORS. And people park on the sidewalk, and also turn around on the sidewalk, and sometimes briefly drive on parts of the sidewalk.

C&C: Does Los Angeles seem plastic after time away? Has it ever felt plastic to you?

Plastic is the wrong word. I don’t think it’s ever felt plastic to me. LA is just a big sprawling strip mall, and any semblance of great history we have architecturally is concentrated in areas that are falling apart and disappearing. [In Poland] I saw a baptismal font that was built in the late 1500s. I stood next to a church where a trumpeter has played a melody every hour, every day for 600 years. That kind of thing is daunting, but also very grounding. There’s change and forward progress, but always a sense of where you’ve come from as a people. LA is disposable. Bigger, better, faster, more. I remember near the end of grad school watching MTV once, where they had a show poking fun of all of the “worst” that MTV has ever aired, and they sat around making fun of videos from the 80s and 90s, and that kind of sums up LA. They will fawn over something in January, tell you it’s the newest, greatest thing, and then in July, tell you you’re an idiot if you still think that thing is cool. It’s necessary, I think, for American culture. LA is a bit like our national Id, constantly on the hunt for new stimulation. It seems like, culturally, we used to temper that part of our pop culture somehow, there was that balance between the NY mentality of being culturally refined and making the best things, and the LA mentality of just pumping out the new. Now everyone just pays attention to ratings and focus groups and all of the awful things LA has created in an attempt to maximize profit instead of staying true to vision. I think the internet is eventually going to play equalizer there (if they let the people keep control of it), where the passionate artists will find ways to get their projects funded and realized, and ultimately that will be a good thing (until the big money machine figures it out, re-orients, and digests the new system).

I’m still a little jet-lagged, so that one veered across lanes. What I mean to say is, Los Angeles was an awful city when I left and remained so upon my return. And I don’t mean that as a knock on the people here or any of that. Kind of like… if you had someone that you thought was an okay guy, and he wanted to be a painter, but he was just bad at it, but nobody wanted to tell him he was bad at it for a long time, but then they finally told him he was bad at it, only now he doesn’t care and thinks he’s wonderful… that’s kind of what LA is.

C&C: We’ve talked a bit about the negatives of Los Angeles – but you stay, you love it, you take beautiful photographs of the city. Will you stay?

It’s all up in the air. Rent gets higher and jobs grow scarcer. There’s a saying that’s been attributed to a few people in a few variations that’s essentially “if you live in LA for 7 years, you’ll never leave” (some have it at weeks, others months). That’s true, I think, partially because it costs so damn much to live here that you’ll have no money to make an escape. I picture that sometimes, loading up the wife and wordly possessions into a rickety Clampet-style truck and heading back east to find our fortune. I’d love to settle in Chicago, or maybe even in Boston or Poland or Ireland or… well, I don’t know where I want to go. I guess I’m still waiting for that big ray of sunshine to fall on a spot of land, angelic choirs singing, and a voice (probably Morgan Freeman’s) would boom down, saying “This is where you belong.”

But Los Angeles… yeah, I guess I could stay here if the situation was right. We need a house, or a better apartment, and a dog. It’s rough, because it’s so hard to meet people or make plans. My best friend from college lives about 12 miles from me, but we hardly ever get to hang out due to schedules and traffic and whatnot. LA is not a drop-by-and-hang-out city. I do think there are a lot more photos out there worth taking of Los Angeles, there’s miles of city I’ve yet to explore, but that’s about the extent of my love for the place. I feel like I’m urban spelunking, walking through the remnants of someone else’s dream of a city, some art deco paradise that everyone gave up on about 40 years ago. There’s beauty in that, and I like it and hate it, seeing these amazing movie houses form the 30s and 40s repurposed into office buildings and dilapidated churches, like maybe they’re just in hibernation. One day the temperature will be just right, the humidity perfect, and this great beast of a metropolis will come rumbling out of the flaky husk of a town. I think that’s part of what’s inspired the setting of my latest novel, taking things to their extreme end, watching LA dwindle away – not destroyed by a disaster or overrun in post-apocalyptic fury, but just dying quietly in a nice warm corner.

And if all of this sounds horribly maudlin/negative I don’t mean it that way. I suppose it’s a great town if you’re in the right spot for it. If you’re young and have a lot of disposable income, or you’re motivated and just want to find ways to hustle money out of people (be it in a corner office or on a street corner). There’s a lot happening here, but there’s no soul, no center, no LA Culture. My little pocket of the city, over here by the coast, is fantastic. Quiet, laid back. Close enough to Venice to catch a good buzz off of its energy, but far enough away not to fall into its stupor. You can jog here, you can see people smile as you pass them, and that’s nice. People let you pet their dogs, I mean dogs are the best conversation starters ever, but in certain parts of town people hoard all of their doggy-goodness, and I’m forced to make friends with puppies from afar. But in my neighborhood, they’re like goodwill ambassadors. You can have nothing in common with a person, but you can talk to them for ten minutes about their dog. Now I’m rambling.

I think the other thing I like about my neighborhood is all of the strange artifacts I pass by, objects that are part of a larger story I have to fill in in my head. There’s a parking lot I walk across to go jogging in the morning, and there’s usually one single spent condom there every day. One morning it was a condom, a wrapper, and a gas station gift card. Once it was a bra, neatly folded. Today it was a half a cigar. Most of the time I stop to take pictures of the artifacts (not the spent condoms, although I did take a photo of the gas card thing, but still, if a photo steals a part of one’s soul, then a photo of a condom must infect ones camera, or something like that). Anyway – dead seals. There was a month stretch last year where about every other week there was a dead seal laid out next to my jogging path. There’s one there now, I’m pretty sure, but it’s in a body bag – I can still smell it, but I don’t have to see his little seal face. Still, that’s worth a photo. I saw a guy punching a basketball pole once. A woman flagging me down while I jogged to ask if I’d found Christ (I told her he was further down the path and kept running). If I left LA, I wouldn’t miss the city, but I’d probably miss the experience of it, the everyday Twilight Zone-ishness.

(mike on the right)

 

Craig Wallwork

 

C&C: When you’re in the house do you generally wear shoes or are you barefoot or in socks? What about right now?

Genetics and altitude dictate that I wear socks whenever possible. My father has chimpanzee hands for feet. As a kid I remember seeing them hanging off the couch and I’d wonder if he was a government experiment gone wrong. My mother said it was due to ill-fitting shoes as a child, and maybe she’s right, but the toes would curl over as if holding an invisible roll of coins. The big toe was more thumb-like too, and leant away from the rest of the toes. When I hit my growth spurt during my teens, my feet began to get longer. I say feet, but it was my toes. The actual foot remained the same size. I’m a UK size 12, which is what, US size 12.5? Why is that? Why is everything bigger in the States? My feet have grown half an inch over there. If that applies to everything I can see why men emigrate there. But yes, I would say half my foot is toe. It’s split equally. Therefore, I hate showing them off. The first time I had sex, the girl I was with was undressing me and when she removed my socks she said, “Gross feet.” That’s not the lasting memory I wanted of my first time, but there you go. I think she smiled too when I took off my boxer shorts. Suffice it to say, I wasn’t feeling overly confident to begin with and she didn’t help one bit.

As for the other factor; we live really high on the Yorkshire Moors and we have our own weather system which is different to that in the surrounding valley. The cottage floor is covered in Yorkshire slate and no matter how warm the cottage, it’s like walking on ice. So I wear socks and slippers in the house because of the cold, and the fact the previous occupants, in their infinite wisdom, chose a beige carpet. Who the hell thinks beige is a practical colour for a cottage in the country?! In the city you’re never more than ten feet away from a rat in any direction. In the country you’re ten feet away from cow shit. Beige does not go well with cow shit. It’s just gone 4pm. I’m in bed typing this out and I have socks on.

C&C: Do you really do magic voodoo on the ladies writers/editors?

Ha. No is the short answer. I just try and be nice whenever possible. I’m a little flirtatious by nature, so maybe sometimes that comes through in text, I don’t know. Not flirtatious with intent, you understand, but I’m quite jolly around the opposite sex. It’s nerves really and has nothing to do with flirting. In fact, I’m a terrible flirt but I get giddy and end up making women laugh, which I guess can be interpreted as flirting. I was the guy who had to approach girls to tell them my friend fancied them. You know, like my friend would be hanging back looking cool, and I would be pushed to make small talk with these beautiful girls. It was no different to what those cattlemen did in Paraguay or in the Mato Grosso, or wherever it was, who sacrificed a decrepit cow to a piranha-filled river to allow the rest of the herd to cross in safety. I was sacrificed for their benefit, not mine. So yes, I wasn’t good looking so I leant on my personality and humour. Being thousands of miles away from any of these editors/writers with only email as a means of communication is clearly working in my favour. Seriously though, I don’t think think these women are being nothing but complimentary toward my work. It has nothing to do with me or my witchcraft.

C&C: What do you have in your pockets?

I have a lottery ticket and 55 English pence in change. I tend to buy lottery tickets and not check them. I like the idea that I’m walking around with potentially millions in my pocket. It gives me a different perspective on life. I’m more relaxed, carefree and not constraint by time and money. This is quite comforting to me. I also think it would be an interesting anecdote at a dinner party. When asked how I could afford such a wonderful house in the country that has beige carpets and no trace of cow shit, I would regale the patrons with the story of how I kept that lottery ticket in my pocket for three months, oblivious that I was a multimillionaire. There’s a time limit on lottery claims, right? I may need to check the date on this one lest it be nearing its expiry. I don’t want to be the guy who at the dinner party regales people with an unhappy tale of how I lost millions.

C&C:Do you have tea at scheduled tea times, and were you raised that way, or do you secretly love coffee, and do you use mugs for coffee instead of teacups?

Tea is just the beverage equivalent of a cigarette in England. I’m not too sure there is a set time to have tea. It’s just as and when. You can have “afternoon tea” which consists of finger sandwiches, a section of cream cakes and a pot of your chosen tea; Earl Grey, Darjeeling, Assams, Green Leaf etc. Afternoon tea is best experienced in a traditional tea room. There’s a chain of them in Yorkshire called Betty’s Tea Room where the waitresses dress in aprons and pinafores. It’s all very Downtown Abby, but with less snobdom and more scones.

For a long time I hated coffee. It tasted like soil and made your breath smell like art teacher. I don’t mind it now, but I don’t have the tongue for espresso or Americano; lattes if I don’t know the place, and then when I’ve established how well they make coffee, I’ll progress to a cappuccino. We have a little cappuccino maker in the kitchen which we use with special coffee cups. Tea goes in mugs because in our home it’s volume over presentation. Bit like the X Factor.

C&C: Who was your first really hardcore crush?

Her name was Lorraine Cowie. I was 8 or 9 years old. She sat about four tables away from me in the class. She could make her gums bleed and suffered with a nasal passage problem. From time to time she would inhale through her nose and make the sound of a pig. She looked like a young Phoebe Cates, but with gingivitis. Because I was shy, I didn’t have the confidence to approach her so I used to offer all the other children in the class one of my potato chips from my packed lunch just to get close to her. I’d start at the table furthest away so it didn’t look too obvious. I’d eventually end up at her table with only a few potato chips left. She would always decline and it’d make me so sad. Then one day I had a packet of pickled onion Monster Munch. She took one. I never felt so happy. For a moment we were staring at each other, hands almost touching. The next day I stole a fake pearl necklace from my mother’s dresser and got my friend to take it to her after school finished. I gave him the instructions to tell her I loved her. He returned three minutes later with the necklace and a spiteful message. I went home and cried my eyes out. And this bit I remember clearly; during the chest contractions and tears, I breathed in through my nose and grunted like a pig. I felt close to her in that moment, I cried even more. Lorraine Cowie didn’t even know I existed. At best, I was the strange skinny blonde kid who gave his potato chips away to the whole class in attempt to gain favour or ingratiate myself. I can take solace in the fact she’s probably got no teeth now and suffers with chronic atrophic rhinitis. And fat. I hope she’s fat.

 C&C: Do you tell your family about ALL your stories that are accepted and coming out for publication? My first thought was if you’d be sending a copy of Midnight Movie Creature Feature to your mom…..

I’m reticent to tell anyone about my writing. I’ve mentioned I write to my parents once. My mother was overjoyed, but then again, I could crack open a walnut and she would be happy. Recently my wife had to push me into telling my brother-in-law that I had my novel accepted. I don’t know why, but telling someone you write sounds silly aloud. I don’t think people know how to react to something like that. If they’ve known you for a long time, like a friend or close family member, you can see that moment of confusion closely followed by a feigned interested that goes no further than, “What do you write?” Plus, my back catalogue of titles will only worry people. When the archetypal image non-writers have of writers are weary-looking academics who are worldly wise and articulate as they are morose, and I come along nervously fumbling over titles like Revenge of the Zombie Pussy Eaters, Anal Twine, The Whore that Broke the Camel’s Back and Human Tenderloin, well, I can understand why they’re indifferent and/or concerned. I won’t be dishing out copies of Quintessence of Dust or To Die Upon a Kiss to anyone other than the writers I know. A few friends will act interested if they ever see a copy at my home, but I know if I gave them one it’ll be a doorstop by the end of the week. I’m a firm believer that you should never allow family and friends to have copies of your work anyway. It’s not healthy. For me it’d be the literary equivalent of inviting my closest friends and immediate family members around to our home to watch a sex tape I made with my wife. While I may be satisfied with what I’ve accomplished, I certainly don’t want people I know looking at it. Writing is very personal, and what I write isn’t going to appeal to a lot of people. But I can handle that because most of those people I will never meet. I’d hate to be sat across the dinner table one Christmas and look over to my mother-in-law knowing she’d read Flaps. For that reason, and many more, I tend to tell no one about my work.

C&C: Are left-handers smarter than right-handers?

Isn’t there some statistic to say they are? I don’t know many left-handed people, and those I do know are no smarter than other people I know. My friend is left-handed and we used to call him Einstein at school. Not because he was clever, but because he had a moustache before anyone else, and he had this weird thing for his cousin. But I like the way they write, left-handed people, how they’ve adapted to compensate the difficulties that writing with the left hand poses, like smudging of work. I think it shows great versatility. Wasn’t Ghandi and Jack the Ripper left-handed? Weird that I pull those two names out.

C&C: Can you shoot a gun?

Unless you have elephantitis of the fingers, I would imagine most people can shoot a gun. I was into guns as a kid. My father bought me a GAT gun for my 12th birthday. It was a hand gun that fired metal slugs. The barrel would extend to twice its size to release its load. It was like the John Holmes of the gun world. It was really poor. I shot my friends a lot with it and they never felt a damn thing. It was much more advantageous to place the gun an inch away from the target. The power of the barrel extending did more damage than a pellet. I once tried to turn on a light switch doing this. I underestimated the distance and when I fired the gun the barrel shattered the light switch into many pieces.

I moved onto a 1.77 air rifle and then a 2.2 hand pistol before finally joining a shooting club in my home town of Salford when I was about eighteen. If you lived, or knew of Salford, you’d see the irony in that. The shooting club had those long ranges you see in movies. I shot a 38 revolver and 45 automatic. Pretended I was Martin Riggs for an hour. Some guy brought in a Magnum 45. He let me fire it once. Damn near took my hand off.

C&C: Are Brits privy to the awesomeness that are Superhero underoos as children? If so, were these an important part of your childhood? If not, would you be a different person had you been given the option to experience Superhero underoos?

I had to look them up. They’re awesome. I would have loved something like that when I was a kid. I wanted to be a Superhero so much that I convinced myself I was Superman. I’d ask my mother where she found me and what she did with my spaceship. I was like, five or six. She’d go along with it and make up crazy replies that had me believing I was from some other planet. One day she took me to the park and I totally freaked out because everything to me that was green was dangerous and would kill me. She had to carry me out because I was in hysterics. About the same time my parents went out and I was taken to my Nana’s place. To keep me occupied she made me a Superman outfit using stuff from around her house. The only thing was, she didn’t have any blue material so she used this translucent foam that normally insulated cushions and couch seats. She made it to fit, stitched it all together and drew a large S on the chest with her lipstick. But because of the material, you couldn’t get it on with clothes, so I had to take them all off. I was so happy I wanted to show my mum and dad. Reluctantly my Nan took me out to the pub where they were drinking. People on the street were looking at me and smiling and I thought it was because I looked so cool. I began to run up and down the street pretending to fly, pushing stationary cars and lifting small objects but pretending they were really heavy. I got a lot of attention. It was only when my dad pointed out that he could see my penis did I realise that all those  people didn’t see me as a Superhero, but instead a little boy running around the street stark bullock naked.

C&C: What is your favorite holiday? And if the answer is not Halloween (which is the correct answer) please explain why and how a different holiday could be your favorite.

Do you mean holidays in the American sense, like special occasions such as Halloween and Independence Day, or do you mean in the British sense, whereby we leave our home and go and stay someplace where people usually hate us? I’ll go with the latter because we don’t celebrate to the degree Americans do for Halloween, and Independence Day to us is a movie starring Will Smith. I don’t like holidays, if truth be told. I’m 40 this year and my wife is desperately pushing me into making a decision on where I would like to go this year. I’m not that arsed. Travelling and the seeing the world has never appealed to me. The only part of a holiday I like is the pool. I go under the water and get my wife to stand on my back to keep me down there. Something very relaxing about hearing the world through several thousand gallons of hydrogen atoms, covalent bonds, oxygen and piss. I would go so far to say that I’m at my happiest under water. If I won a lottery I would buy a pool and sit for hours at the bottom using breathing apparatus. Hours would turn into days, and then months and my daughter would ask, Where’s Daddy? And my wife would just point at the pool and say, Pretending to be Patrick Duffy.

Stephen Graham Jones

C&C: Do you dress up to take your kids trick-or-treating?

I dress up even when it’s not Halloween. So, yeah, definitely then. And, I guess I could use the kids as an excuse, but, I mean — it’s Halloween, right? How can somebody not dress up? Last year, or maybe the year before, I even won the CU costume contest. Had to do the (conventional) splits on-stage for it, though, which meant leg wraps for weeks afterwards. But it was worth it, and, if you’re a zombie cheerleader, you’ve got to sell it, too. And, of course the kids and me troll the neighborhoods for candy. And I usually abscond with all the Almond Joys, of course. They’ve got nuts, are just far superior to Mounds. And now they’re old enough — talking kids, not candies — to hit some of the haunted houses with me, which is great. Only bad thing there is I’ve usually blown all my money on costumery by then. My favorite part of any of it’s the eyeliners, though. Was so jealous of all the actor people in high school, how they could just wear eyeliner from rehearsal and it was okay. Out in the hackysack circle or laying under my truck, working on it, I had no excuse for eyeliner, so couldn’t walk away wearing it, and feel all serious and dramatic. Sucks. Or, sucked. Though I do recall in seventh grade getting an eye infection from letting all the girls in history class doll up my eyes like I secretly liked. That infection: completely worth it.

C&C: The zombie class you taught – did that really happen? If so HOW did you pitch it, or do you just get to make some of your own classes? (I don’t really know how that works) And were you super serious for real about the whole thing?

It was deadly serious, yep. Done it two, three times, now. Another coming up. Love it. And, didn’t really have to pitch it. The way it works is somebody higher up in the academic food chain asked if I wanted to run a lit course, and I wrote back with “Zombies?” Was that simple. The first time around, though, I didn’t know much. I mean, maybe more than the average person, but still hardly enough. Now, I know so, so much more. Just back from talking to a zombie class, even, at an alt-high school around Denver (Longview). It’s happening everywhere. The plague is here, I mean. It’s on our shelves, in our catalogues, on our shirts. We’re all the walking dead. Ad campaigns and fast food chains are making sure of it. And work. And overstimulation, the correction of which is that kind of single-mindedness we associate with the shufflers: I’m not looking at any billboards, not looking at any of you. I’m just placing one foot after the other, plugged into my earbuds so you hardly exist.

C&C: The zombies – they’re pretty much the perfect blank slate for projecting the things we hate about ourselves onto an Other and then shooting it in the head, right? Also, I’m a firm believer that popular television shows – and especially since reality shows started, those specifically – are the perfect reflection of the U.S.’s weaknesses, Americans’ feelings of shame for their behavior. Do you get caught up in any of that, or do you watch much television at all?

Have never watched a reality show, so can’t say. I mean, I even skip the part in Jeopardy where Alex asks the contestants about themselves, because I see my manufactured interest in them as a gateway to reality television. Well. I guess I once or twice did watch part of that show where they build motorcycles. I was in a hotel room, had cable, which I don’t have at home (my television is either Netflix or Hulu). But it was infuriating, the way they kept cutting away from the bike-building to have people kind of monologue about what was in their head. Trick is, I completely don’t care what’s in people’s heads. I like to write my own versions of them, and then lay them over that person, then be surprised when it’s not a perfect fit. Anyway, my plan with reality television is to hold my breath long enough for it all to pass me by. You know in Eggers’ Heartbreaking book, where he’s talking about his efforts to be on some Mtv reality show thing? That was the exact point in the book where I disengaged. I mean, in a story, I can keep up with wanting to slay the legendary unicorn or find the ‘heavy water’ that’s going to save the steampunk world, but I just can’t wrap my head around wanting to be part of reality television. Or the gameshow stuff, either—American Idol, all that. I mean, Carrie Underwood can sing, and I’m glad she’s out there singing, but that doesn’t mean I don’t think that whole gameshow reality television thing’s not detrimental to our chances of making it out of this century as a species. Or, as a species with integrity, maybe worthy of crossing the void of space. However, Dead Set, man. Somebody asked me yesterday what my favorite zombie movie is, and I knee-jerked Return of the Living Dead, of course, but might have finally settled on Quarantine/[Rec]. Could I have included television, though, then Dead Set would top that list, for me. And it’s a reality television spoof, yes? Which, I’m sure I miss a lot of the nuance, as I’m not properly conditioned on reality television, but, just as a zombie story, that thing’s pure, and good, and I want more more more. So, of course, The Walking Dead. And what I’m most impressed with with it is how Kirkman isn’t making it strictly adhere to the comics. I mean, the comics rock, but they’re really improving the story for television. They’re finding those kind of dramatic throughlines which tend to only be findable with both retrospection and some group-think. I’m very satisfied. Only thing I’m worried about is that the Walking Dead story isn’t going to be at a good-enough stopping point by the time the money falls out of the zombie boom. But we’ve still got a year or two, at least, and the sellers of stuff’ll keep marketing zombies at us for a bit after that, so maybe Walking Deadcan get past the Governor, anyway. Hopefully. And, your take on zombies, how we shove our problems down their throats and then shoot their heads off, that’s what Klosterman says too, right? That plowing through your inbox on Monday morning is like mowing down a field of zombies. I think there’s something to that, yeah.

C&C: What did you doodle on your notebooks in junior high/highschool?

Trucks. Or, I should say: GM trucks. Chevy, GMC. Never Dodge or Ford, as they’ve always had rounded corners and edges, and that would take some artistic skill I completely don’t have. But Chevrolets, at least until . . . what? 1988, I think, when they dropped the body style they’d had since about 1973. I can’t draw any Chevy truck after 1987, and can’t do very well on the 1967 – 1972s either. Or, really, any make of truck before 73, they’re out of reach for me, drawing-wise. But there’s a span of years in there I can do. The Gentlemen Jims especially; I can do some half-ton long-bed action, and trim it out proper, give it some twice pipes, sometimes even an arm coming down from the open window. But, it always has to be either straight-on from the side, a kind of forced perspective where everything’s straight on, not just the centerpoint, or straight on from the back. And from the back’s my favorite, because then you can draw in the bolts on the rear-end cover, give a down-the-throat looking into the pipes, get fancy with the mudflaps, all that. I can do a truck from the front, but the results are never good. That’s not the most flattering angle for a truck. The back’s far better. You can even draw yourself drawing the truck as captured in the rearview, if you do it right. So, trucks, that’s what I was mostly drawing. I mean, band names as well, mostly Def Leppard. And in secret I used to try to draw basketballs, but I’d always mark those out fast. They’re seriously hard to draw. There’s no straight edges, and, for me, with a pencil, if there’s not a lot of straight lines, if there’s just rounded stuff all supposed to magically ‘become’ something, then game immediately over. I have no chance in that kind of arena. Oh, too, if we’re talking second grade, then, yeah, it was trucks by then, definitely — all my Hot Wheels, over and over — but it was also Battleship Yamato. I was a complete Starblazersjunkie at that age. And at this age as well. Just watched them all again with my son. If that’s not the best definition of true happiness, then I guess I don’t know what that definition might be.

C&C: You seem to be, maybe, a LITTLE bit accident prone…. Do you think this is true, or that it’s more of the law of averages at work? If you do X-thousand number of things you’re bound to end up in surgery Y number of times, or are you accident-prone?

Yeah, I think it’s just averages. I tend to jump first, look where I’m landing second. If at all. And I’m so fascinated with blades, forever. None of that adds up to zero stitches. But I am getting pretty tired of being laid up for months at a time, so am trying to be very aware of things that can hurt me, and things that I don’t think can hurt me but that can probably secretly hurt me even worse. Which, that doesn’t leave any room for things that can’t hurt me, but I’m hoping that’s the proper mindset to keep me out of the emergency room for a few weeks in a row. I mean, two, three months ago, just playing with my dog, I broke my nose, yeah? Then the doc had to set it twice, which mostly sucked. And, trying on basketball shoes two nights ago at Sports Authority (I still can’t do stairs so well, but I’m getting thoughts like I need to be playing ball again), I tweaked my knee, had to give those shoes their test-walk while limping, which I think kind of made the sales associate curious about whether I was making the proper purchase here. But, last night, in the howling stupid wind and the ridiculous snow, when my fence blew down and I had to go slam t-bars into the ground and stretch wire across all of creation to keep the world standing, I was actually able to not really hurt myself in a permanent way. My son did come up hurt, somewhat, but he’s young, tough, still has Wolverine kind of healing properties. Very unlike me. And I guess it’s a mark of getting old(-ish) that, reading the paper or a magazine, about some kid getting chewed half-up under a train, I of course flash back to all the bad-idea trains I’ve ran alongside, closed my eyes and jumped for, then held on screaming when the train chugged over some of those Stand By Me kind of trestle bridges. Or, I flash back and kind of shiver, I mean. And apologize in my head to my mom. But, also, just carrying groceries out, I’ve sliced my ankle wide open on baby food jars, had to get stitches. I was giving Boy Scouts a lesson in knife use once and just flayed my finger open, miserably deep, a scar I still carry. Second time I went skiing I came back with a skull fracture down the middle of my face. I’ve had bike wrecks that left bones pushing out through the skin, I’ve played games with bowling balls and heads, I’ve jumped from trucks that I probably should have parasailed from instead. And I guess I’ve had axe handles through my hand, I’ve had spiders lay eggs in me, have had all kinds of animals kick and bite (and pee on) me, have had way too many concussions to really remember, but none of it’s stuff I go looking for. It’s all stuff that just happens on the way.

C&C: Can you just tell me what happened in the events surrounding that fateful Boy Scouts meeting/demonstration on knife safety??

I was telling them that old thing about ‘point the knife away from yourself, always,’ no matter what, and, to show them how it was foolproof, I angled my blade away and ran it down the long side of a piece of construction paper — we were in some Sunday school room of a Baptist church — only, since my hand was at the end of that piece of paper, I of course sliced right into the top of my left middle finger. Didn’t hit the bone, quite (which I’ve done, with my thumb, so know that scrapey feeling well), but did go deep and ugly. But I covered it in a flash, too, even though they all saw it happen. Then I wrapped it in a clump of paper towels and tried to keep teaching stuff — non-knife-stuff. Except, every time I’d raise my left hand, blood would slip down my arm, into my sleeve. And then it kept dripping all over the Sunday school room, on the counters, the supplies, so finally I got somebody else to cover, slipped down to the bathroom, tried to freeze the cut with cold tapwater. Which didn’t come close to working. Nothing did. By the time I came back I had scotch tape and more paper towels, but was bleeding through all that. Didn’t get infected, though, so, you know. There’s that. I don’t think anybody learned anything about knife safety that day, though. Least of all me. And that troop didn’t learn anything about knife safety from their next teacher, either. He wound up on the news, for stabbing somebody. He was a pretty good guy, just, you know, had to stab somebody, one day.

C&C: When I asked your birthday you mentioned you shared it with Robert E. Howard. Does your birthday feel a little more special, being connected with the Conan-creator? Like it’s an important day anyway?

I wish I’d known it when I was first discovering Conan, then it might be more special. I mean, it still rocks, and makes me secretly think I’m his reincarnation, except of course I can’t write like him, and can only dream of making somebody like Conan up. But we are from the same part of the country. I know his Hyperborea. It’s bleak, and the wind blows a lot, and you can see your enemies coming from a long ways off.

C&C: If you picked your soundtrack, say, just 5 songs, to your actual life so far, what 5 songs would you pick? AND, from the other side, if you could pick 5 songs for your soundtrack to what your life ideally would have been like, what would THOSE 5 songs be?

Wow. This is something I’ve never even once thought about. Five favorites, sure, but five that could serve as my soundtrack? Man. I’d say Don Williams’ “Good Ole Boys Like Me,” I guess. Which isn’t the Waylon Dukes one. I identify with so many of the turns of that song. Like, every one. And Meat Loaf, “Paradise by the Dashboard Lights.” Just because of that high school . . . I don’t know: desperation? But a kind that’s freeing, somehow. It’s as real as anything I know, and is maybe what I’m made from. Then Alabama’s “The Boy.” Now that I’m a dad, I know that story from both sides, but forever and ever, I just knew it from the kids’ angle. And that was more than enough. Twice more. And, everybody would say this, but I’ll say it too: Springsteen, “The River.” Every line of that’s like something I’m remembering, that he just happens to be saying. And, last, I’m thinking probably Mulehead’s “Baby Brother.” Either that or Keith Whitley and Earl Thomas Conley’s “Brotherly Love.” But they’re kind of the same song, too.

And, ‘five from the ideal version of me,’ man. I mean, I’m pretty happy with the five I’ve got. I guess, I don’t know — Mac Davis on “Hard to be Humble,” say. I’ve always dug the attitude of that one, and the fun. And Waylon with “Gemini Twin.” I always wanted there to be another side of me. To be complicated like that. To be unpredictable. And Bob Seger, “Against the Wind,” because, when it’s all said and done, I think that’s what you want to be able to say about yourself. But it’s important to be the guy from Alice Cooper’s “No More Mr. Nice Guy,” too. If Reverend Smith punches you in the nose, you’re doing something right, right? And maybe . . . I know: “Let’s Hear it for the Boy,” Deniece Williams, from Footloose. Because, even in my ideal version, I think I’m always still broke. Don’t really understand any other way to try to be.

C&C: You obviously collect t-shirts, either on purpose or accidentally – what t-shirt are you wearing?

Right now it’s a City Light t-shirt, though earlier today — this is my dress shirt, to talk to that zombie class — it was a five-dollar Walmart shirt. Walmart and Target are my go-to places for clothes, really. Well, western wear places for pants, but this is a shirts question. And of course all the used stores for shirts. That way you can get them already broke in. Problem is, sometimes a girl’s worn them, and sat with her knees up under it so it’s all stretched out. Anyway, the other day I thought I needed to save room in my closet so I cut the sleeves off about half of my shirts. But, I don’t know. I have a lot more rags, now, but I’m not sure I have more room. But, yeah, t-shirts, they’re intrinsically good, I think. They’re like a tattoo you can change when it’s not really ‘you’ anymore. Also just blank t-shirts can rock. I was so sad when Walmart quit carrying this three-pack of my all-time favorite shirt. And now I can’t find it anywhere. I have one left only — well, two if you count the trashed one. And the one I have, it’s got a hole at the neck already, from where I clip my pen in. So love it, though. It’s got the one pocket, is kind of mottled grey so it doesn’t show ketchup or dog hair too much: perfect. Probably my favorite of all my shirts is this Waylon one I have, though. It matches my Waylon buckle and Waylon keychain, but I try not to wear them all at once. Figure it might overload somebody, if they see me in just the right light. Or, I say it’s my favorite, but I guess I’ve also got a box of real favorites. Just, all of them are now too delicate to wear anymore. Sucks. One of them you can’t really even tell it’s a shirt so much anymore. I stole it from my girlfriend (now my wife) probably twenty-two years ago, I guess. Then there’s a Mickey Mouse shirt I think I also stole from her. Stolen shirts are always the best, right? Just pick it up off somebody’s floor and slip into it, and, man, you can tell right away. It’s like Arthur pulling that sword from that stone. You know this is it, that you and this shirt, you’re going all the way, are going to drive holes in the night, are going to be together for days at a time, one of you spilling Dr. Pepper, one of you sopping it up. Pretty much I try just to wear black or dark grey shirts, for obvious reasons — am I talking too much about t-shirts here? — but, when they start getting all those nicks in them like shirts do, especially if you’re welding or cutting, or just working (especially fencing), one trick I’ve found is, if you have to go out later but don’t want to look like your shirt has holes all in it, you can cut little squares of electric tape. But, don’t put them on the shirt. Shirts are insulted by those kind of make-do bandaids, will shrug them off almost instantly. And anyway, it messes the hang of the fabric up. However, you can put those little squares all over your body, lined up with the holes, and just not move too much. Only bad thing might be, late that night, stumbling in, peeling out of your shirt, you’ll be scared for a moment. All these little black splotches on you. Like, Where have you been? What have you been doing? Is this a technovirus like from Batman Beyond or Scooby’s Cyberchase? Luckily, nope. But tell your heart that.

C&C: What do you have in your pockets?

My wallet, this old biker wallet I’ve had for so many years I don’t even remember when it’s from. It’s cheap, all the fake leather cracking, the blue underneath showing, and has been attached to so many versions of the same chain. And it’s not a real Harley wallet, either, but a Jack Daniels one. I’d forgot that. It used to have that patch on it, though, except that patch would always make it hard to stuff in my pocket, so it had to go. And, okay, I’m lying: just actually looked at it, and I don’t know what I’m talking about with a ‘Jack Daniels wallet.’ This is Harley, OEM. And that’s my left rear pocket. Left front: nothing. Ever. Well, every once in a while chapstick, but I suck at carrying chapstick. Right rear: nothing either. Ever. Sometimes a folded piece of paper with something I really need on it, but it always goes through the washer, so all I get are flecks of white. And, right front’s my Spyderco Police model. Used to be Spyder-edged, but now’s ground down to just plain, as keeping that serration sharp’s a serious chore. Especially when, if you’ve got that aggressive of a serration, you kind of want to cut everything. And, no keys in my pockets because I’ve lost too many sets of keys, learned back in high school that the only way to go is to clip them to my beltloop. And, maybe I should mention I’m not wearing Levi’s 517s or 501s right now, like usual — and only — but some stained old Carhartts. Because it’s ridiculous snowy today, and I thought I was going to be walking through a lot of it, so needed some pants I could do that in. Nothing against all my Levi’s, but Carhartt’s are, finally, tougher. Even if the first pair of them I put on this morning finally had too many holes to try to teach in, or from. These ones now, though: just oil and grease and bloodstains. Oh, wait, just checked: I do have something in my right front pocket. Can’t believe it: my cell phone. Can’t carry it anywhere else. And, it’s not that it and my knife are in the same pocket, as is always the case with my jeans, it’s that Carhartts have this cool little skinny pocket at your thigh on the right side. Two of them, really. Love those pockets. No clue what they’re for. Knives, I think. My cell will fit in one of them, but it’s hopeless trying to extract it. And, that’s the story of my pockets. For today. Wish I’d known this question was coming, I’d have baked a cake.