scarecrow interviews

Tuesday, September 11, 2007


It's generation-defining: HP Tinker

Lee Rourke: When was The Swank Bisexual Wine Bar of Modernity written?

HP Tinker: I began it some time at the end of the last century with a story called “Vic Chews It Over” which was published in Ambit. It was finally completed some time at the beginning of the new one by a slightly older version of myself. If you see him, phone the authorities.

LR: Is the short story important to you? Do you consider it relevant?

HPT: Is this a trick question? "Yes! Yes!" What else did you expect me to say?

LR: You have been quoted as saying that you'll never write a novel? Why?

HPT: Well, I am very interested in writing books . . . just not novels. There are too many novels nowadays. We need to encourage novelists to stop writing them. It’s a failing form that has fallen into the hands of Vulgarians. If it continues its present trajectory the novel will wither and die. Nobody will be remotely interested. Not even Richard and Judy.

LR: Who are your literary influences?

HPT: Alan Bennett, Joe Orton, Harold Pinter, Sam Beckett, David Mamet, Woody Allen, Morrissey, Nathanael West, Denton Welch, Leonora Carrington, Donald Barthelme, HP Lovecraft, Philip Larkin, TS Eliot, Dr. Seuss . . . to name but fifteen.

LR: Do you think that independent publishing is the way forward?

HPT: I think any publishing is the way forward. Not-publishing is the way backwards. Self-publishing is like hopping on the spot with an orange in your mouth, difficult, but oddly rewarding. A book is a book is a book. I think it's important people remember that.

LR: What next? What are you currently working on?

HPT: Well, I've just finished something called “The Fall of Bohemia”. I could be wrong, but I think it may be the best short story ever written. It’s a vast socio-political epic, similar to the Guernica, but with better jokes. Possibly it's Generation-defining, a signal post for distant literary movements. It’s a great work of art, absolutely. And as with all great works of art I’m totally prepared to sell it to the highest bidder.

LR: Thanks, HP Tinker.


My whole life: Dan Fante

Lee Rourke: It seems to me that you have completely eclipsed your father's long shadow - and a new generation of readers have discovered your writing without necessarily having ever heard of John Fante. How does this Feel?

Dan Fante: It always feels good to hear from people from different countries who say that my stuff has somehow touched them. That's a great gift to a writer. Consider, if you will, what a writer actually does. He sits alone in a room for months at a time - an exercise a lot like talking into a well - then hoping that in the end he has communicated something. Touched someone. Sounds a little crazy, no?

LR: How have you found your popularity here in England? And Europe on the whole? Do you feel we "get" you?

DF: In fact I think I am better understood in England and Europe than in America, oddly enough. I'm sure I get more e-mail from England and Europe than from the U.S.

LR: Is writing the most important thing in your life?

DF: Not drinking booze is the most important thing in my life. Actually the only important thing. I am 20 years without a drink. Just one little morning pick-me-up and it's all down the crapper. My whole life.

LR: Who are, if any, your influences?

DF: John Fante of course. Then Hubert Selby Jr. Then Tennessee Williams and Eugene O'Neil - Bukowski to some degree and also Edward Lewis Wallant.

LR: What next? Are you working on anything new?

DF: I'm just completing a new book of poems and then I will return to the novel I began last year. I'm 150 pages away from completing that.

LR: Thanks, Dan.

posted by scarecrow  # 3:12 PM

Monday, March 05, 2007


Ben Myers: DIY punk spirit

Lee Rourke: How long did the The Book of Fuck take to find a suitable publisher?

Ben Myers: It didn’t take very long actually. I was actually meant to be writing a collection of short stories for Wrecking Ball Press, but it turned into a novel of sorts, mainly because a lot of the stories turned out to be nonsensical, indulgent and unpublishable – a half-page story about a dog turd in a child’s sandpit sticks in my mind as being a low point. There’s a turd, there’s some sand. That was the extent of the story.

I honestly only wrote the The Book Of Fuck for my own amusement, and never showed it to anyone for a few months, maybe a year or so. Then Wrecking Ball read a few pages and said they’d put it out. The slow part was actually getting the book out. For various reasons it got delayed a couple of years, so it ended up coming out four years after it was written. I think the lesson learnt was: just write for yourself and assume it’s not going to be published.

LR: Are Wrecking Ball Press the unsung heroes of British independent publishing?

BM: Yes, I think they are. They are the most under-rated publisher in the UK. They have balls.

Wrecking Ball Press is what happens when high-brow poetry collides with the DIY punk spirit – but in a backroom of a Hull pub, whacked on real ale, all credit cards maxed-out in the pursuit of literary immortality. Money has little to do with anything.

They’re certainly something of an anomaly – simultaneously old-fashioned in their approach to detail, design, paper quality etc but forward thinking in their actual content. Anyone who publishes Dan Fante and Tony O’Neill, alongside unsung British poets like Roddy Lumsden has got to be doing something right. And anyone who can exist independently publishing poetry for nine years for the sheer hell of it deserves a medal for service to culture. Shit like this saves the lives of people like me.

LR: The Book of Fuck was translated into Italian; how was the book received in Italy?

It has only been out a few months, but The Book Of Fuck – or Il Dio Della Scopata – seems to be doing very well over there. For ‘well’ read: a lot of people were offended by both the title and my sarcastic and slapstick quips towards organized religion. Italians are very serious about their religion, whereas I’m not sure I’ve ever been serious about anything least of all some messed-up ideologies from a thousand years ago. I’m sure when those that get offended by the liberal use of a common Anglo-Saxon word actually read it they realize it's essentially one big joke without a punchline. I’m the guy in the corner at the party who starts to tell a long and convoluted anecdote, gets lost on the way, but ends up telling an equally as ridiculous story anyway. But that’s the thing about religion isn’t it? It breeds fundamentalism, which by its very nature can only exist without a sense of humour or an appreciation of irony.

There seems to be a small army of readers over in Italy who hassle book shops and spread the word. Most of them are young women. I don’t know why.

LR: Your writing style is a clever pastiche of good pulp fiction; who are your literary influences?

BM: The Book Of Fuck was essentially an exercise in writing that somehow got published. I’d written a couple of half-finished novels so decided to adopt a different tactic. The goal was to complete a book, which is the hardest part. Actually sticking with something to fruition. So I realized the simple way was to write a story about someone getting from A to B, and I gave myself a time limit of a week. It was done in seven days and nights of espresso and marijuana, a lot of time sitting in a café in Kennington, because my flat at the time had no heating. In fact, in parts it didn’t have a ceiling. A smackhead lived upstairs and he would occasionally invite me up there to shoot his gun. It was handy for culling the mice population.

Style-wise, part of the idea sprung from bad pulp fiction novels, but particularly Dreaming Of Babylon by Richard Brautigan, which itself is a pastiche of a pulp novel, about a hapless private detective and comprised of many digressions. And also The Case Of The Missing Blue Volkswagon by Gerald Locklin – another Wrecking Ball Press book about not very much. I’m no hard-boiled American hack, so I decided to relocate the story into the murky world of music journalism and the London music industry, which is possibly why a few reviews drew comparisons to Hunter S. Thompson. Other literary influences would be Henry Miller, Jack London, Dan Fante, Charles Bukowksi, Pedro-Juan Gutierrez, Jack Kerouac, John Fante, Jean Genet, Bret Easton Ellis, William Burroughs, Billy Childish and Jim Carroll.

LR: There are currently a glut of new writers emerging in the UK at present who are linked via the internet; do you see some sort of electronic-based scene developing?

BM: There’s definitely a – urgh - new wave of emerging writers using the internet to get published, to link up with one another and to cross-reference. The internet though is merely the tool, the medium. It doesn’t necessarily inform the writing, but it does render things such as geographical location or the long boring process of physically mailing stuff out as irrelevant. I think there are writers publishing stories online now who will be responsible for some of the most important literature over the next couple of decades. I truly believe that. Various tags have already been bandied about - The OffBeat Generation, The Brutalists . . . but only time will tell. Pigoen-holes can be damaging. Remember The New Puritans a few year ago? That name made me hate all involved immediately, so you have to be careful when identifying movements.

Some of the current best new writers you probably already know about as they’ve been published on Scarecrow: writers such as Tony O’Neill, Adelle Stripe, Travis Jeppesen, and Peter Wild. It is writers such as these who I believe will go on to create work as collectively significant as the Beats or punk rock were in their time. Though everyone has their own style, these new writers share certain common ground. I can’t speak for any of them, but I think it’s fair to say that all have been rejected by the mainstream publishers (personally, I have a book-length pile of rejection letters). All are around the 30 years old mark – or often younger. Narcotics may have informed their worldview too. And, crucially, all are as equally as influenced by music as literature – usually the spirit of punk, cool new underground sounds or the velocity of heavy metal. In these very pages Travis Jeppesen recently said:

“If I'm looking for inspiration, I won't go to a poetry reading. I'd rather go to a heavy metal concert. In fact, I think poetry should move in the direction of heavy metal . . .”

When I read that I let out a whoop of delight. Yes, finally! Someone who values Slayer or Black Sabbath or The Stooges as equally as, say, Bukowksi. This new generation of writers write like they’ve plugged into the mains. They’re punks, basically, but with pens instead of guitars. They’re all doing it for the right reasons: to preserve their sanity. To sidestep the tawdry aspects of modern culture. To feel alive where most people stagger around in nullified torpor.

LR: Do you see the internet as the next logical step for the modern writer? Is this the kick up the arse the industry needs?

BM: I just think that various internet sites and weblogs offer an opportunity for kindred spirits to spur one another on. From 2000 to 2005 I wrote hundreds of stories, poems and a couple of unpublished novels, but it felt like I was in a void. I felt alone, like I was losing my mind. And too much of that can make you lose direction. For that reason, sites like 3AM Magazine and Laura have been pivotal. Anyway - the poetry readings I was going to were stirring violent feelings within me; poets reading to poets, everyone patting each other on the back and having a jolly good time but never breaking out beyond the same little circles. Fuck that. In the end, it became all about the free wine for me. Horrible, sex-less, joy-less affairs. Then when I discovered – thanks to the ‘net – that there were in fact people out there doing similar things, feeling similar anxieties, it was indeed the kick up the arse that I needed.

The mainstream literary world is a million miles away from what’s really going on. I mean, when’s the last time you bought a big-selling book and enjoyed it? Only very occasionally, I bet. Maybe in time the bigger publishers and agents will try and skim the cream from the top of this new movement. Maybe in turn they will be rejected. Everyone knows all the best culture comes from a place of discontent or opposition anyway.

I don’t think books will ever be replaced though – they feel too nice in the hand and you can read them in the bath.

LR: What next? Are you working on anything else?

BM: My second novel, ‘The Missing Kidney’ is coming out in 2007 and I have a number of stories in a number of forthcoming collections – a book of writings inspired by Sonic Youth song titles, a story in a collection of ‘flash fiction’ coming out through Canongate. And some other stuff I can’t remember.

I’m also working on a collection of SPAM-based poems – a weird new form of literature written by viral marketers and silicone valley geeks as a smokescreen for selling things like Viagra online. My InBox is full of them every day and it all reminds me a little of William Burroughs and Brion Gyson’s ‘cut-up’ poems, but updated for the twenty-first century. Very twisted, but evocative. I’m toying with the idea of calling it ‘Increase The Size Of Your Dick: Virus Poems’ just to shoot myself in the other foot. I suspect I have a self-destructive streak. I’ve been posting some of the poems on my website

I also have a few other things on the go, including a collaborative book about fishing on drugs (research has already been conducted this summer – three rainbow trout fell victim, and I ripped my feet on some rusty barbed wire. Karma? Quite possibly . . .) and also a confessional novel of quasi-porn that’s quite heavily inspired by Henry Miller.

And I’ve written the lyrics to an album for a project called The Gulag. It’s a classical symphony in structure, but very dark, fucked up and willfully pretentious. And quite political in its own way. It’s coming out in 2007 and more details for that can be found at: The Gulag.

LR: So, finally, Brutalism?

BM: Brutalism is a reaction to our frustrations with the conservative publishing business. It is a term coined in the long hot heatwave summer of 2006 by myself, Adelle Stripe and Tony O'Neill, all of whom are of a same age/generation/geogrpahical/cultural background, and have similar tastes and ambitions. It not a scene or a set of rules or clique, but a shared energy which celebrates a kind of back-to-basics approach of unflinching, spare writing. We're inspired by the simplicty, urgency and productivity of punk rock and the freefrom approach of jazz, plus our own individual favourite writers (Dan Fante, Billy Childish and Herbert Hunke would be obvious references points, but also various poets less closely associated with the counter-culture). We acknowledge that what we are saying is possibly new or groundbreaking - I mean, does the world really need another scene? - but there is a definite groundswell of literary activity right now that we thought needed a name in order to ensnare some media interest. We're not all hot air either - we all have book or collections already our or forthcoming. 'Brutalism' doesn't mean the writing or subject matter is neccessarily brutal, but our attitude and endeavours to get noticed are.

The Brutalists as a collective of writers is closely alligned - or a sub-division of - The OffBeat Generation, another term applied to a bunch of disparate writers that include ourselves, Matthew Coleman, the chaps at 3AM, Joseph Ridgewell, Paul Ewen, Heidi James and some shady fella called Lee Rourke - plus countless other excellent writers.

As The Brutalists our only maxim is one we've ripped off from punk and adapted for the 21st centruy: "Here's a lap-top. Here's a spell-check. Go write a novel." We're starting with BRUTALISM #1, a collection of poems by myself, Adelle Stripe and Tony O'Neill, with more collections to follow. It's out May 2007.

Please visit:

LR: Thanks, Ben.

posted by scarecrow  # 2:18 PM

Wednesday, June 14, 2006


Travis Jeppesen Interview: A particular way of looking...

Lee Rourke: How did the idea for "Poems I Wrote While Watching TV" materialize?

Travis Jeppesen: After a string of bad experiences that led me to not write anything significant for nearly the entire year after Victims came out, I found myself alone for the first time in a long while, living in a big empty apartment in Prague. I was trying to improve my Czech, so I was watching TV a lot. But as anyone who has lived in this country can tell you, Czech television is notoriously terrible and boring, so I picked up my pen, more as a nervous reflex than anything else. A lot of the material is really raw, perhaps embarrassingly so. I took out the really terrible ones and replaced them with more recent poems, for better or for worse. Some of the remaining poems make me wince now when I read them, but I decided to leave them in anyway. They form a sort of constellation of where I was, where my mind was at during that time, and I'd rather have that to look back on than some polished version of it that serves no purpose other than to cover up the many cracks in the wall.

Jeremiah Palecek and I met not long after he moved to Prague, I imagine this was 2003. I instantly became interested in his work. He's incredibly prolific as a painter, he basically just paints all day. Only now he also makes music, as well. He knew my writing, and we discussed collaborating before, but weren't sure what form it would take. At the time, Jeremiah's paintings were all taken from stills from television shows. Then I remembered this TV Poems manuscript I had laying around, so it made sense that the two projects could potentially fit together as a book. So we started talking about it, then tried to figure out who might publish the thing, at which point I think I got depressed and lost interest in the project. Then, I believe it was late last year, we started talking about it again, and at one point just said, fuck it, we should put this out ourselves. And that was the beginning of BLATT Books. Josh Cohen and I, we were editing the PLR at the time and were already talking about starting a publishing imprint of some sort. And then Miro Peraica came along and offered to become the publisher of BLATT, and then the whole thing was cemented.

LR: Do you see poetry as a significant means of communication in today's media saturated world?

TJ: No, and to be honest, I don't see poetry as a vehicle for communication, period. Look, we have to face the facts here. Most poets I know are either dusty academics or stinky hippies rotting in the snotty tears of their own obscurity. If I'm looking for inspiration, I won't go to a poetry reading. I'd rather go to a heavy metal concert. In fact, I think poetry should move in the direction of heavy metal. What's at stake here is a poetics that's rooted in an amplification and subsequent distortion of pure thought. At least that's where I'm coming from: amplification + distortion. I mean, when I'm writing, and it's good, I don't feel like I'm writing a poem. I feel like I'm composing a fucking symphony.

So to answer your question:

communication -- no
disruption -- yes

LR: The death of Language - is it really dead?

TJ: No. Of course not. I think a particular way of looking at, of using language, is dying, though. Increasingly, language's sole function is to convey information -- nothing more, nothing less. This goes for literature, also, which is perhaps the most shocking aspect of the whole deal. The reasons are quite obvious, and so not worth going into at great length. The media-saturated age we live in, blah blah blah, but it's depressing to think that all these external factors have had such a strong impact on the way we view the function of literature. I'm coming out of a conception of literature based on pure subjectivity, in which each individual uses the units of their mother tongue to compose their own language. This is what writers are supposed to do. Fuck pandering to the masses, fuck the universal experience. We should be using language as a tool to create new meanings; not resonating with the conceits of a past-present that ultimately eludes us.

The problem is we've lost the readers who are looking for this kind of experience I'm attempting to describe. People read for other reasons now. Namely re-affirmation. Of what they already know, or a distant fantasy that they can somehow relate to their everyday lives, their aspirations. Not realizing, of course, that the present conditions are insipid, that we're drowning in a lake of stupidity. So this gives the writer a double task: not only must the writer effectively create a new language, we must also create a new reader. If you look at other art forms where "formal experimentation," for lack of a better term, is desirable, even expected -- music, visual art, film -- you'll find that the same people who consume the most "difficult" work shy away from literature that takes similar risks. No one ever asks why. It's time to start asking these questions.

The other thing I've noticed is that the only playfulness that's allowed has to come through the guise of irony. Everything has to be ironicized, and you see this in every single novel that comes along nowadays that is hailed by the literary establishment as the New Important Novel of the Year. Everything is so nudge-nudge, wink-wink, it makes me puke. Moreover, it's gotten to be like that in the real world, also. You can't have a casual conversation with anyone anymore about anything. Instead, the idea is to show off how clever and crafty you are by desperately loading every sentence you mutter with a double meaning. Sometimes I can roll with it, other times I just want to squish the other person's head under my armpit. In the end, you wind up saying nothing, and remembering nothing of the conversation. So there we are. That Warholian shallowness in the guise of "art for art's sake," which was never really art to begin with, has triumphed, and we're finally living in an era of profound emptiness and antipathy. What's next?

(On a related note, I have seen ample evidence that literacy is indeed dying out, at least in the English-speaking world. I’d say that when adults who have been using the English language for their entire lives can no longer express themselves in that language abiding by the written rules of spelling and grammar, then yes, our language is in trouble.)

LR: The birth of Blatt is quite an extraordinary thing - is it your ideal? Does a print-format literary magazine still sit above a growing tide of electronic-based Litzines/blogs. The PLR was primarily internet-based wasn't it?

TJ: No, the PLR was a print mag. We had more of an Internet presence than BLATT (always written in upper-case letters), though, for the simple reason that our art director, Mario Dzurila, had more time then than he does now. With BLATT, his duties have really increased, as the whole operation is much larger -- we now publish books, sponsor events, all this in addition to the magazine. On top of his duties for BLATT, he also has a full-time job, so at the end of the day, if one thing has to be sacrificed, then it's going to be the website, I'm afraid.

It should be stressed that I really don't do that much for BLATT. It's mostly the work of my colleagues -- Dzurila, but also publisher Miro Peraica and my co-editor Joshua Cohen. I think they're the real heroes in this story. I'm certainly present at all the discussions regarding BLATT, but I'm certainly not the mastermind behind it. I'm a small fraction of the equation.

There are a million pros and cons on each side of the print vs. online debate. Obviously we can't be as inclusive as we'd like, because we have limited space. In the real world, as opposed to the virtual world, space equals money. In a way, I wish it could be a much bigger thing than it currently is, the magazine, I mean, but we just don't have time. We all work, we have our day jobs and our multiple projects. But we're increasingly trying to filter everything we do through BLATT somehow. This includes taking it out into the "real world" by organizing regular events featuring writers from the magazine. We're doing a regular reading series in New York now at the Galapagos art space in Brooklyn, and of course we have readings at Cafe Metropole in Prague -- we just closed our first season of that with a five day festival that brought together important writers from all over the world. It was really more like a five day party, a lot more fun than your average literary festival. I'm still trying to remember it.

The other major part of the BLATT project is our new publishing imprint. We're hoping to put out 3-4 books a year to begin with. Our next project will be a Raymond Federman reader. We're also hoping to put out books by Peter Sotos and Stephen Rodefer in the near future.

LR: You're the author of a wonderful novel Victims - any more novels in the pipeline?

TJ: Yesiree, thanks for asking. My new novel, Wolf at the Door, will be published sometime in late 2007 by the great Twisted Spoon Press. There's another novel sitting around, growing fungi. I'm not sure what will happen to it. I try not to speculate.

LR: Who, if any, are your literary influences?

TJ: I had a few very important teachers who showed me possible directions. Naomi Iizuka was there early on, when I was still in my teens, really. Lynda Schor. Reading Kathy Acker marked a huge transitional point in my writing. These days, I find solace whenever I read or speak to Peter Sotos. His voice is kind of a light at the end of a dark tunnel for me. Bruce Benderson has also been a tremendous presence. I could listen to him speak for hours (and sometimes have!) He taught me basically everything I know about translation.

It might sound corny, but I really like taking walks. Any kind of movement, really -- that's where the real writing happens. I live in the middle of an average-sized continent; I really like being able to board a train, then in two hours time, I'm in a completely different country with a history and culture all its own. There's nothing quite like the sense of displacement that travel induces. No drug can replicate that.

Other than that, and this might be obvious, but I like to look at things. I'd say I'm more influenced by what goes on around me, by art and film and movies, than I am by most literature. Cy Twombly and Sunn 0))) are just as important to me these days as Beckett, Mallarmé, Bernhard, Stein...

LR: In light of 3AM's least influential list could you point us towards any writers, editors, freaks and publishers you feel worthy of more attention?

TJ: Oh yeah. Joshua Cohen, Stephen Rodefer, Mario Dzurila, Howard Sidenberg of Twisted Spoon Press, Brane Mozetic, Ewald Murrer, David Markson, Peter Sotos, Clark Coolidge, Michael Brodsky, Joanna Gunderson, Tod Thilleman, James Chapman of Fugue State Press. These people are all gods who would normally be celebrated, were we not living in such a ruinous era.

LR: Thanks very much Travis...

Travis Jeppesen © 2006.

Travis Jeppesen was born. He wrote a novel. It's called Victims. It was published in America by Akashic Books, and in Russia by Eksmo. His new book is called Poems I Wrote While Watching TV. It has illustrations by Jeremiah Palecek, and will come out in March. His work has/will appear(ed) in Purple, Prague Literary Review, 3am Magazine, Another Magazine, ZOO,, New York Press, Bookforum, Pretend I Am Someone Else, Thee Flat Bike,, Pavement Magazine, Shampoo Poetry, Can We Have Our Ball Back, and a bunch of other places you've probably never heard of. He edits BLATT.

His new collection of poems [Poems I Wrote While Watching TV] can be ordered HERE.

posted by scarecrow  # 2:34 AM

Sunday, March 19, 2006


Dan Fante Interview: Behind the Mask...

*This interview was taken, with kind permission, from the Burning Shore Press website. For the original layout [and more photos of the great man] please visit Burning Shore Press.

On a warm fall morning in 2005, Dan Fante sat down for an interview/conversation with fellow writer Rob Woodard on the outdoor patio of a coffee shop in El Segundo, California, just south of Los Angeles. Though many topics ended up being covered, plays were the main focus of the discussion, as the interview was planned to coincide with the publication of Dan's latest drama, Don Giovanni. During their talk, artist Michelle Murufas clicked away with a borrowed Nikon, taking breaks only when Dan needed to bum a smoke off her and stopping only when she ran out of film. The following is a slightly edited version of the proceedings illustrated by Ms. Murufus' photographs.

RW: Were plays important to you when you first started writing, when you first started becoming interested in literature? Or was that something that developed along the way?

DF: That's a good question. I remember seeing Long Day's Journey Into Night when I was a kid of about twelve. It was a film version with Dean Stockwell, Jason Robards, and Hepburn, and I'll tell you it had such an effect on me, such a profound emotion effect, that I knew that that's what I wanted to do. It was one of those moments. I was twelve-years old and I knew I wanted to be a playwright.

RW: So before you never thought about novels or anything, plays were --

DF: [Interrupting] Oh yeah. There was an interim of many many years where I didn't write anything and I began to write poetry when I drove a cab. Then when I quit driving a cab in my early forties and started to write prose again, it was Selby who influenced me as a novelist. But as a playwright I was most influenced by Oneill.

RW: I've heard that you were an aspiring actor. Is that true?

DF: Yeah. Mostly in New York -- not in Los Angeles -- I studied acting. I was a failed college student, but I went to UCLA. I didn't flunk out of Santa Monica College, I just had so many incompletes it would have been miserable to go back. So I went to UCLA extension, an acting course at UCLA, and I did very well at it. The guy said you're a brilliant actor. So I went to New York thinking I wanted to be an actor when I was nineteen.

RW: So you made the full round of the auditions and all that?

DF: Yeah, I did. But the amount of the energy and commitment some of these actors have is really stunning. I mean, what they'll do, the ends, the lengths they'll go to was something I didn't have in me. And then, it's interesting, because of my acting history -- in 1969 or 1970 while I was driving a cab -- I started writing. I was involved with a theater company and I started writing little pieces for them. Then I met a guy at a rehearsal studio who had airtime at one of the stations the FM stations in New York and he offered me an airtime slot at 4:30 on Sunday morning if I would write original plays. So I did original theater on the radio for a couple of years. I came up with a radio drama called Smoke and the tagline was "They called him Smoke but his game was fire"; it was this black James Bond. It was this first kind of superhero, a black superhero, and it got a little flash of success in New York. Finally it made it to the biggest black station in New York, WBLS, and it was a syndicated station that had a really strong following. And then I got drunk and pissed off at somebody and I just chucked it, just walked away from it.

RW: So were you writing plays before this -- when you saw the Oneill play at twelve -- or did it come much later?

DF: I was involved with theater, so if there was some need for an original play and somebody said, "Hey we need this or that," I'd say, "Oh shit, I'll just do one." I mean, I had no resistance to writing. So I wrote a short piece and the guy really liked it and from that somebody else offered me another chance to write, and you know one thing leads to another ... I wasn't a writer or an aspiring writer or anything of the kind. Then I started a theater group on the west side of New York for a couple of years and taught acting. I had no business whatsoever teaching acting. But I would get drunk and then get up in front of these people and pontificate and I managed to bluff my way through it and charge them a monthly tuition. I was drinking pretty heavily at the time, so I would walk to the Blarney Stone at Fifty-Sixth Avenue and drink for an hour. Since I could only drink for an hour I would only drink, like, four or five drinks, so I wouldn't be wacko but really loose. So I could conduct this class ...

RW: Interesting. So you came through from acting to playwriting?

DF: Yeah. And then in, I guess it was '71 or '72, I just chucked it all. At this point I was really having a hard time with alcohol. I just couldn't sustain anything. Then I had some kind of a nervous breakdown. Some kind of a thing that involved drinking and just so much physical exodus ... driving a cab eleven hours a day and drinking all night and sleeping four, five hours and getting up and doing it six days a week for a year or two years in a row, never taking a vacation, never taking any time for myself, and I just kind of collapsed. Right around that same time it just cleared, and I saw that I was screwed physically and emotionally. Something happened to me-it was bad. I was crazy. I was living in the East Village with a black chick I really loved and we split up because she couldn't put up with me anymore. She just couldn't stand it. And that was the end of my playwriting career until I came back to California. I came back to California in '75 and so it was '85, '95 ... twenty-two years until I wrote another play.

RW: Would that be The Boiler Room?

DF: Yeah. I wrote [The] Boiler Room after I wrote Chump Change. Chump Change took me three years and it was just really ... just the amount of energy and preoccupation with those characters living in my mind, and then the revisions ... so it was just draining for me and I didn't want to not write but I didn't want to write another novel.

RW: I thought they came the other way around.

DF: No. But the plays, writing the play was like a vacation from writing a novel; it was a joy. I don't think it took me ... it didn't take me six months to write that play.

RW: How much revision was involved? Was it one of those pieces of writing that just flows out of you in almost one piece or was it --

DF: [Interrupting] Well, it was a lot longer originally, another sixty pages. Remember, my main theatrical influence was Eugene Oneill -- and fucking Ice Man Cometh is a three-hour-fifty-minute play! So what we did -- my friend Jolene Adams and the actors at the theater where we put the play up -- was get it down to a manageable hour and a half. But it was very uncomfortable, very uncomfortable ... because I had monologues that were fifteen minutes you know? It just went on and on and on and I thought it was brilliant and she thought it was too long. But what was there was the essence of a really good play. That's a really good play.

RW: While we're on the subject. You were kind of comparing Chump Change to Boiler Room. Did you approach them differently? When you write a play or a novel do you have different goals? Do you have any goals?

DF: It's such a different --

RW: [Interrupting] Because I've never written a play in my life and I have no idea what the process is like, how it compares --

DF: [Interrupting] Yeah. I wanna give you an intelligent answer and I'm not sure I have one. It's very different for me. It's as different as writing poetry is from writing a novel.
RW: Very different then. Let's talk about Boiler Room for a minute. Mainly I want to discuss how The Boiler Room and the novel Mooch compare, because they're obviously covering similar ground. I was just curious, was it a situation where you wanted to say more, or just approach it from a different angle--

DF: [Interrupting] I'm trying to think which one I wrote first. I think I wrote the play first. I wrote Boiler Room first and it was good enough as a play, but there was something I wanted to say about it as a novel. There was another way of telling the story that I wanted to experiment with. So that's why I did it. I wrote Mooch because it is from two different points of view. Mooch is from Dante's point of view, as Chump Change is, but Boiler Room
  • is really from Eddie Kammegian's point of view. So they are different protagonists, therefore they are different, quite different pieces, you know?

    RW: Let's talk about Don Giovanni, your latest full-length play.

    DF: I wanted to write a play about my father [John Fante], and it's interesting that my mother said to me, after she read it -- my father had been dead many years -- and she said: "Oh my god, it's like having your father sitting here next to me!" His style of delivery is kind of wry, cynical, and his ease at antagonism was, is captured in that play. I also really wanted to capture my father's personality, to kind of give a glimpse of in real time the kind of person he was. He comes alive again, and that was very important to me because I wanted ... It's kind of a biography of my father.

    RW: So would that be a representative portrayal of life in that house at that age for you?

    DF: Yeah, the characters are different. My brother wasn't gay but there was something I wanted to show ... My brother was a great disappointment to my father, as I was. I mean, I was a complete failure, but my brother was a genius and got art school scholarships when he was a kid and was really just, artistically he was a genius and he just didn't give a shit. He was just a drunk and he drank himself to death. My father never let go of the fact that my brother had all that promise and just did nothing with it.

    RW: So making the character gay is a way of showing the disconnect?

    DF: Well yeah, and also it gives more opportunity to show his contempt, to show conflict.

    RW: OK. I think Don Giovanni is really strong, I mean, really strong. I'd rate it over The Boiler Room.

    DF: Thank you.

    RW: I'm just curious, you mentioned something about it being performed, or maybe being performed --

    DF: [Interrupting] Two theater companies are considering it now. The Odyssey on Sepulveda, a big theater company, and another one in Burbank.

    RW: I know you're probably tired of these questions, but we're talking about Don Giovanni and it is so based around your father and he has this increasing presence in American literature, which is really fascinating. Was he an influence growing up, as far as your writing goes? There is a certain similarity in your styles. For instance, if your dad would have been born at the time you were I could easily picture him writing similar types --

    DF: [Interrupting] Yeah, he was a modern novelist and I'm post-modern; but if he had written post-modern literature as say, Bukowski, if he had had that freedom of expression, which he never adopted, he would have written much more like me.

    RW: I think you get a little hint of it in [John Fante's last novel] Dreams from Bunker Hill.

    DF: And you get it in Ask the Dust, too. That self-deprecation and the rage and the judgment -- it's so alive and so personal. It transcends modern literature, it transcends Holden Caulfield ...

    RW: When I read Ask the Dust, or any of his novels, I am always kind of struck by how far ahead of their time they are, as far as language. I was just curious if you think that may have hindered his success.

    DF: No. The knock against my father was that he wrote about his family too much. And he was also his own worst publicist. My dad was not an easy guy. He was very defensive and he would take offense to things that would bother nobody else. I remember [screenwriter] Robert Towne called him once -- this is in the early seventies -- when I happened to be in California visiting him [John Fante], and my father said, "What are you doing? You've had the novel for a year and a half. What are you doing? What the fuck are you doing?" You know, he's like, attacking him on the phone, and Towne said, "John, John, don't be paranoid." "Paranoid? Fucking rarara." He hangs up, "Cocksucker! What does he mean by paranoid?" Just ranting. And I said, "Jesus, pop, the guy is just trying to make a movie." He'd just get unglued.

    RW: So he wasn't really a specific influence since you came to writing later.

    DF: You know what, he wasn't. People say, "What's it like to be the son of the great John Fante?" Well he wasn't the great John Fante when I was a young man, a kid or a young man or an adult -- until I was in my late thirties/early forties he wasn't anything. He was just a cynical, angry old screenwriter. You couldn't come near him because he'd cut you off at the knees if you said the wrong thing to him. His sensibility toward literature, toward writing, was what filtered, was what impacted me, his judgment of literature and his extreme sensitivity and passion for it was, you know? ... You live with somebody like that and you can't help but assimilate his headspace; it can't help but rub off on you. That's it, he was an influence that way, his artistic authorial sensibility was something that he communicated. But not in regards to my actual writing.

    RW: Let's talk about influences. You mentioned Oneill earlier and you also mentioned Selby. At what point did you start reading Selby?

    DF: I read Selby when I got sober in '86.

    RW: So that's when you first started reading Selby?

    DF: Yeah.

    RW: Wow, that late?

    DF: I tried to read him before that and couldn't. But when I got sober I was hyperaware emotionally and then I read Last Exit to Brooklyn and I was like -- wow! Last Exit to Brooklyn did for me what Ask the Dust did for the half a million people who have read it.

    RW: Just a bedrock.

    DF: It just blew me away! This guy told the truth about his experience and it was post-modern fiction and it was brilliant. First person narrative, post-modern, you know? I'll genuflect to Bukowski because of his influence as a poet, but Selby just smoked him as a novelist -- he was better than everybody.

    RW: What do you think of his later works or his other works?

    DF: I don't think much of them, actually. I've tried to read his later stuff, but it's not worthwhile. That group of novels, The Room, Last Exit to Brooklyn, there was one more, the one they didn't --

    RW: [Interrupting] Requiem for a Dream?

    DF: Requiem for a Dream wasn't bad, but it wasn't a great book. But then the one he wrote when he was in jail, um, it's one word, he wrote a book about a guy in jail, incarcerated, and it was just brutal. That was so intense, I mean, Selby was really a nut, and he could just go ... but those were ... that was Selby at his best, he was at his peak.

    RW: You met him --

    DF: [Interrupting] I met Selby. I even wrote an open [on Selby] for a British magazine.

    RW: How'd that come about? Meeting him.

    DF: I was a Selby groupie. I heard he was reading somewhere and friend of mine, who'd just written a novel, said he'd read in the L.A. Weekly that Selby was doing a reading on La Brea Avenue and I said, "Oh cool!" So we went and I said hello and then subsequently I went to a number of his readings and every time I wrote a book I found him. I knew where he hung out. And I went to these places and I would find him and give him a book.

    RW: So he was very approachable.

    DF: No, he was not very approachable. But he did read my book and he actually called me after Chump Change and said he really liked it. And that really changed me, changed my life. He called me about three months after I gave him the book and left a message on my answering machine about how great he thought this book was. I kept that message. I must have played it about three hundred times. And I would play it and walk around the house. And then I ran into him at some joint on the west side, and he was with a famous actor, whose name I can't remember, we were all talking, and the guy [Selby] said wait a minute, that's Dan Fante, he wrote Chump Change, let him talk. So cool, so cool ...

    RW: That's a good life moment, isn't it?

    DF: He liked my stuff, Selby liked my stuff!

    RW: Well, who else?

    DF: Well, probably, Oneill, my father, Selby, some Bukowski ... People are so enamored with him, they treat Bukowski like a fucking rock star and its just --

    RW: [Interrupting] I've always thought he was a very strange phenomenon, how his career worked out.

    DF: His stuff is very uneven. It's Ben Pleasants who knew Bukowski very very well; for years they drank together. So Ben really has a legitimate right to speak about Charles Bukowski. I was talking to Ben one night, I don't know where we were, a reading or something, and I said, "Frankly I don't see it about Hank. I mean, I like him, we got along well when I met him a few times, but I'm not a ... I don't see him as that ... Post Office is a decent novel but its not a great novel. Factotum is OK ..." But he said, "Dan, he was a poet, his contribution was poetic. He changed modern poetry." As a novelist, he was just a decent. But really his contribution was through poetry.

    RW: That's interesting, because I think Factotum, whatever its worth, is incredibly influential. I read so many books by, I don't know, underground writers, if you want to call them that, small-press-type writers, who send me these books that have the same cadences, the same kind of extremely aloof perspective ... I keep running into Factotum over and over, essentially.

    DF: That's too bad, because people confuse stylistic element with content. Bukowski wrote the way he did because he had to -- but his content, that's the important part. People don't understand his subtlety and they just think if you write about people puking in their beds and having sex with hookers and vomiting that you've made it -- and there's so much more to it. Because it's the novel that's the important thing, the content; it's the feelings conveyed in the novel.

    RW: I just thought that was interesting how, for whatever reason, there's a hook for writers in that book. I think it's because of the extreme simplicity --

    DF: Well, I don't want to be indelicate, but though Hank was a decent novelist, he basically emulated my father and he couldn't come close. He couldn't come close to depicting those emotions that my father depicted in Ask the Dust.

    RW: He dedicated at least one book to your dad, so I guess he paid his debt a little bit.

    DF: Oh yeah.

    RW: What I think is really interesting is this notion of the L.A. writer. One thing I've noticed in interviews with you is that I keep reading the same interview: it's always the post-Bukowski tough-guy L.A.-novelist thing. Is there any validity to this notion? What is L.A. writing? Do you fit into it if there is such a beast, or is it all just kind of a post-Bukowskian invention? Because everything I read lately seems to have something to do with Bukowski --

    DF: [Interrupting] I don't know, Rob. I don't know if we could define the L.A. writer because nobody is from L.A. They all come here and are all cynicized by this vacuous dream that is Los Angeles. We are all consumed by smog and heat and freeway shootings ... so people from the Midwest or from the east are influenced; they think about Bukowski living in east Hollywood in a busted out apartment and drinking Budweiser, and my father ... It's poor, struggling, and passionate that I think qualifies the L.A. writer. I don't know if I'm that ... cuz I spend my ... Chump Change was written about Los Angeles, but Spitting Off Tall Buildings was written about New York --

    RW: [Interrupting] That's one of the things I wanted to ask you about, it's one of the reasons I brought up the subject. Chump Change and Mooch are very L.A. books, and it kind of surprised me that Spitting Off Tall Buildings is very New York -- because people tend to transplant their background wherever they go. There is less of that in your situation than any book I've ever read.

    DF: Less of ? --

    RW: [Interrupting] Less of that transplant. I mean, this guy [Bruno Dante, the protagonist of all three novels] is obviously not a fish in water but he doesn't give off the L.A. vibe running through New York either.

    DF: Yeah. It's interesting because New York had a profound influence on me, much more than Los Angeles. You really have to survive on the street in New York. You don't drive in New York, you're on the street. You're in subways, you're interacting with people, you're belly to belly with people all day long -- you're a pedestrian, so you have to contend with the city. In Los Angeles we've got our metal box and our stereo and our you know, our Glock, and we can contend with the people on the freeway. That's how Angelinos socialize: we socialize on the freeway by giving each other the finger. That's where we meet and greet our fellow Californians, on the freeway. In New York the soot just gets into your bloodstream, you can't help it. So I was very affected by that. I was affected by New York the way my father was affected by Los Angeles.

    RW: Why did you come back to LA?

    DF: Because somebody offered me a job running a limousine service. I was a chauffer after I was a taxi driver in New York for years. Then I did those plays as I was driving a cab. I was in a movie theater one night and I got drunk and I lost my hack license; it was just big enough to fit in the back pocket of a pair of Levis and it fell out somewhere in this porno movie I was at, and I just couldn't get, I just couldn't get enough ... couldn't go down to sign the papers to get another one -- I couldn't do it! And I kept driving and they'd say, "Where's your hack license?" So I'd just give them an excuse and I did it for a year and a half. I just couldn't get the license renewed -- I hated it so much! I hated the people who ran the union, they were assholes, and I just had contempt for them and I argued with them and we had these union discussions and I thought they were just fucking the cab drivers. It was real exploitation and the people in the union had all the power and were asking for these fucking dues, a hundred dollars a month from cab drivers who didn't make much money anyway. I was just furious about it. And then this guy said well, one of the dispatchers said I had a business partner who has a limousine company why don't you go apply to work with him and I did. And two years later he wanted me to go [to L.A.] because I had no life, because I was living in this apartment, this rubble infested awful, horrible ... in New York. I took this apartment -- you know how people love brick walls, bare brick walls? Well, I bared a wall that was really an exterior wall but it had another building adjoining, but that building was torn down, so in winter time its fucking fifteen, twenty degrees in January in New York, and I took all the plaster off this wall and it was like freezing and I could never get the apartment warm. I was having such a problem with booze I could never seal it. I needed to get sealer and paint this wall and I wouldn't do it and so I was living in this freezing apartment for ... so a guy offered me a job as a chauffer and I had my answer, I was never home anyway. I slept in the only room, I slept in the kitchen, where the bathtub was because it was the warmest room in the apartment. And I slept there and drove this limo and I had this rubber suit they had you could just stand it up; no natural fabric could ever come close to this fucking thing. And so I could wear it and take a sponge and clean it. And so I drove a limo seventy, eighty hours a week. And the guy thought I was psycho ... Actually he thought I was a great chauffer because I was always available. And he offered me this partnership to come back to L.A. and open the limousine company and I did.

    RW: And you ended up staying?

    DF: Yeah. I ended up staying, but after two years my alcoholism was really bad and I could no longer hold it together and I let him buy me out.

    RW: But why did you stay here? You could have gone back to New York after that, or somewhere else --

    DF: [Interrupting] New York is too tough a town, too tough. The weather is hard, spending time on the street ... You can always sleep on somebody's couch in L.A. You can always glom a hamburger from somebody. If you know when the fast food joints are offering one of those dollar hamburger deals you can always eat. It's just a lot easier in L.A. My mother was here too, and I figured I could take advantage her from time to time, tap her for some money. So that's what I did.

    DAN FANTE is the acclaimed author of the controversial novels Chump Change, Mooch, and Spitting off Tall Buildings. He has also written an influential book of poetry, A gin-pissing-raw-meat-dual-carburator-V8-son-of-a-bitch from Los Angeles. His most-recent effort is a book of short stories entitled Short Dog: Cab Driver Stories from the L.A. Streets (published in the U.K. under the title Corksucker). Burning Shore Press will soon be bringing out two of Dan Fante's plays: Don Giovanni, in the spring of 2006, and The Boiler Room, in the summer of the following year. Dan lives in Los Angeles with his wife Ayrin and his young son Michelangelo Giovanni. He can be contacted through his website:

    ROB WOODARD is the author of the novels Heaping Stones (Burning Shore Press, 2005) and What Love Is (to be published by Burning Shore Press in the summer of 2006). He is currently writing poetry, book reviews, and a journal. He lives in Long Beach, California. Contact:

    Copyright © by Dan Fante and Rob Woodard
    All Photographs by Michelle Murufas
    Special thanks to Kiley Zahn for transcribing this interview.

  • posted by scarecrow  # 12:53 PM

    Thursday, February 23, 2006


    Tony O'Neill Interview: Getting it down...

    Scarecrow contributor Tony O'Neill's debute novel Digging The Vein has just been published by Contemporary Press, New York's burgeoning Independent Publisher. Quite frankly the novel is a triumph. It is published over here in July by Wrecking Ball Press. Digging The Vein is sure to become a classic of it's genre and sits comfortly beside Algren, Burroughs, Carroll et al. It is a novel that will have an impact on many, many readers. It is with great pleasure to introduce to you Tony O'Neill:

    Lee Rourke: When and where was Digging the Vein written?

    Tony O'Neill: I started writing Digging the Vein in London in early 2003. I had reached a point in my life were I felt as if I had hit a brick wall in many respects. I made the decision to come off of methadone and heroin because my life was a complete fucking mess. I had stopped writing altogether back in LA when I first got strung out. But back in London I was in a new relationship – with a non-addict – and suddenly my perception of myself started to alter radically. Up until then I had completely embraced the persona of the full-on junkie. That was all I aspired to being. I thought that anything else was a sell-out. I had abandoned music and all of the arts in favour of what I saw as the truest art form there was – getting high. But after Vanessa and I got together there was a real discord there between what I perceived of myself and how I really felt. Travelling to New York was one of the big deal breakers. Having to beg and cajole my clinic to give me enough methadone for the 7-day visit. In the end they refused and I had to buy a large amount of stuff off the black market and take it with me in a mouthwash bottle. I really felt like the walls were closing in on me and I wanted my freedom back. So that’s when I decided to try and withdraw from methadone again – and that’s why I started writing the book. The book – at the start – was literally something to do while I was detoxing. Something to keep me sane. And I started writing about incidents that I wasn’t proud of in my life, almost to purge them out of my system. And after a rickety start, I felt the words start to come. I felt like a retired boxer going back in the ring for one last fight. It started to come easier and easier. At the start I was sat by the computer, you know, in tears. Dope-sick. Shaking. Throwing up into trashcans. And getting it down a fucking word at a time. The depression lasted months. Months and months. And I wrote through it. There was no thought of publishing it at the start. It was just to keep myself sane. But once it started coming I couldn’t stop. I took a job at a music store in the basement of the Virgin Megastore on Oxford Street, when Vanessa was pregnant with Nico. And I’d disappear off, grab a bottle of cough medicine from the Boots around the corner, drink enough to feel normal and sit in the café during my lunch break writing the book onto napkins, or pieces of paper stolen out of the boss’s office. Then I’d go home and transcribe ‘em. And my excitement was building and building – and even though at the time it didn’t feel like it – my system was returning to normality for the first time in years. I finished the book 2 nights before Nico was born. And there it was – I had two babies.

    LR: Can you talk about your past life as a musician? Have you always written, even when touring, and can the two disciplines ever be compared?

    T O'N: My time as a musician was certainly an interesting one. I got the gig playing keyboards for Marc Almond 2 days before I was due to start university. I didn’t show up, went to London for the audition instead. My stint in Kenickie ran pretty much parallel as Marc wasn’t playing too many live shows at the time. I could never do it for a living again. It encouraged all of the worst, most excessive parts of me. For me being a musician was unrelenting. You’d be touring for extended periods of time and it was all one big party. Then you’d be dropped off at home and have months of nothing. So you’d get wasted to fill the time in. Lauren, Emma and Marie from Kenickie were some of the coolest people I’d ever met. Really good people. Marc, well he was one of the brightest most fascinating people I have ever come across. But the label people, and my manager, and a lot of the peripheral people were fucking scumbags. Over in LA when I was playing it was always the business people who were the problem. So far I find writing to be far more satisfying if only on the superficial level of I don’t have to deal with a bunch of bastard cocksuckers to finish a book. Unless you’re U2, try and record an album for a major label, and you’ll have people in there and interfering on every level from morning to night. I suppose I have the benefit of being with people like Contemporary Press, who are a new outfit and genuinely good people who believe in the book. They are – in the most positive sense – the exact opposite of what dealing with a major house would be like. They go with their gut and they aren’t afraid to take risks. They were publishing kind of neo-pulp stuff, and took my book on even though it didn’t exactly fit into that mould. And that’s what makes a great company – they aren’t afraid, they take risks and they go with their gut. The UK edition is coming out on Wrecking Ball Press and it’s the same deal. They’re independent, they’re young, and they’re risk takers. I don’t have the energy to spend on people like my old managers any more. I’d rather go to fucking jail that be involved in the music industry again.

    I was writing a lot before and during my time on the road. But I never had the time or the drive to follow through. And most of what I was writing was piss poor, in retrospect. I hadn’t hit upon the revelation: write what you know. I was always aping my heroes. I suppose it wasn’t until I was in a situation were I had nothing but a blank page in front of me and what felt like no way out, that I was able to produce something that I could be proud of.

    LR: Your writing has been compared to Dan Fante, how does this sit with you and where do you feel the comparisons begin and end?

    T O'N: Well, that’s a big compliment as far as I’m concerned. I don’t know who compared us – and it certainly wasn’t me, I wouldn’t dare – but I suppose any comparison might come from our emotional honesty. I wasn’t looking to glorify myself, or make myself look good. It was simply a matter of telling my story the best way I could. I had already started writing my book when I first read Dan Fante’s stuff, and I suppose the big drive it gave me was that it proved that good books – great books – were still getting published by someone. Because up until then all of my favourite authors were either dead or past their prime. So Chump Change – and all of the others – were kind of a revelation for me in that sense. But I feel that we’re different writers – we deal with different themes… but also, I’d hope that someone who really liked Dan’s writing might dig my stuff too.

    LR: Whose writing could you seriously not live without?

    T O'N: Well, for me the greatest is still William Burroughs. I have to be careful not be influenced too much by his style because it’s so distinctive, but his stuff… I can just dip in and out of my well-read copy of say Naked Lunch or Soft Machine and experience something new every time. I’ll never get tired of reading his stuff. I know there’s so much stuff tied up in the legend or the persona of the man, but strip all of that away and you still have one of the greatest minds of the 20th century.

    LR: There is an underlying soundtrack running through Digging The Vein; do any particular songs say more to you than, say, a work of literary fiction ever could?

    T O'N: Oh sure. They hit you in a different way. Some music is so literary – yet something about that perfect juxtaposition of words and music is incredibly powerful. There’s something more visceral about it. They say something different to me than a work of literary fiction could, but that works vice versa too. But some of the best stuff of say The Clash, Lou Reed… I mean ‘Berlin’ is one of my favourite albums, so stunning and literary in its scope. And the music is perfect, perfect. Or Tom Waits. His stuff can be as evocative of a time and a place as any work of literature. But that said there’s no musical comparison for something like Celine, or Burroughs, Fante either. I dunno, I can only think of the 2 being exactly comparable in a negative sense. Say Coldplay and Zadie Smith.

    LR: The James Frey debacle. Discuss?

    T O'N: Well that’s a funny one for me. I’d never heard of James Frey and then I came to the states and suddenly everybody’s talking about this book about an ex-addict who quit without the aid of AA or NA… which was unusual in this kind of book and similar territory to my own… and then he’s on Oprah, and then he’s number one… and I tried to read the book, but… I don’t like that kind of stuff. I never wanted mine marketed as a memoir, it’s too obvious and it takes some of the art out of it for me. I mean Bukowski’s novels were broadly autobiographical, but they weren’t sold as memoirs. This insistence of labelling books like this shows more about the lack of imagination of modern readers and publishers than anything else. But after picking up the book I really didn’t like his writing, and it boggled my mind all the attention he was getting. And then, boom, it all collapses around him. It’s hard to pick sides because I have no more sympathy for the Oprah side of the argument that I have for Frey. I mean, fuck Oprah Winfrey, it’s sad to me that in America a book goes to number one because a fucking chat show host endorses it. I mean who cares what she thinks? And then for her to act as if Frey personally insulted her by lying in the book… I was just struck by how ugly and massive her ego is. But Frey, I think he’s a second rate writer to be frank, and I think the things he lied about are so petty as to be comical. Acting like he was a hard man because to took on some cops and spent a week in jail. Listen, if you’re a crack head you ain't gonna do NOTHING that’s gonna get between you and your next pipe. Nothing. Certainly not punching a fucking cop who has got a gun. Yes, the cops are assholes, but you still call them sir and play nice because unless you’ve got a bigger gun than them you ain't gonna win. I ate shit from the cops plenty, because my m.o. – and every junkie’s m.o. - is to get away without incident, go home and go fix. And I wasn’t afraid to put it in the book. When a cop kicked my ass outside of the emergency room I did nothing. Nothing. Because he’d either have shot me or locked me up. I stayed on my knees until he left and then I split. Why recast that in my book to make me look like some kind of hard man? I don’t have anything to prove to anyone reading my book. When you’re in the street drug scene in LA for a while, you don’t have to make shit up. The truth is bad enough.

    LR: What next? Are you working on anything else? Many of your short stories and poems have been published both sides of the Atlantic (including here at scarecrow), are you currently compiling any collections for publication?

    T O'N: I’m compiling a poetry collection for the US on a really great new indie press called Burning Shore Press, based out of Long Beach, CA. They’re putting out Dan Fante’s plays and they put out a really outstanding novel called “Heaping Stones” by a guy called Rob Woodard. So I was flattered that they wanted to put out my poetry, because I know poetry collections are not an easy sell. So in a way the poems evolved the same way my book did – I was just writing for myself. I again had no hopes of getting them published. But they give me a lot of satisfaction to write and now I’m very excited about the book (“Songs From The Shooting Gallery”). In the UK a really talented writer called Heidi James is starting a publishing house called Social Disease and we’re putting together a collection of poems and short stories. That one is still evolving because the material just keeps coming and so the title is still up in the air. But Heidi is a really great writer – extensively published on the web and in literary magazines – so it was very flattering for her to approach me about this. My big thing is my next novel. I’m trying to move away from writing about my own life and want to use those themes to create something much more expansive and challenging. I started work on a follow up; I’m about a third in. The interest in Digging the Vein has been a big motivating factor. I feel very proud and very lucky to even have a book out there – it’s such a tough industry. But I’ve always had that kind of pit pull attitude about things – I’m constantly pushing my stuff, looking for angles. Being a junkie was the best apprenticeship I could have asked for. I simply hustle like my next bag of smack is depending on it. I hustle relentlessly. And I’ve got to say, along with raising a daughter, it’s the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done with my life.

    LR: Tony, thanks for your time.

    posted by scarecrow  # 1:58 PM

    Wednesday, February 01, 2006


    Mark SaFranko Interview: Hating Olivia...

    Someone did a sales job on me on Mark SaFranko’s book Hating Olivia. “Oh you’re into Bukowski, Fante, Celine, those guys? You’ll LOVE Hating Olivia “ -- that type of thing. You know how it is: I thought that they were talking the book up as everyone in the publishing world does. Everyone wants to think that this book or that book is the best thing since the last great thing. The guys who published Hating Olivia seemed to know their stuff though. We got talking about the book after a long email correspondence about writing. So I trusted their taste more than most, and my curiosity was piqued.

    What I expected from the book was another good Bukowski facsimile at best, at worst another piss poor attempt at imitating the work of the greats. What I received was a book which stands proudly alongside the giants: a book so packed with blood, poetry, heart and pain that I could barely believe, after I put it down, that the author wasn’t a household name already.

    The book starts with a line that later earns a distinct ring of irony “The war was over.” You see the book is the story of a man at war -- with himself, with the woman he loves, with the world in general. Hating Olivia is the story of Max, a struggling writer living on the breadline in a roach infested rooming house, and the destructive love affair he begins with the mysterious, troubled Olivia.

    This is a book that doesn’t need the kind of bravado and liberal exaggeration that something like the work of James Frey needed to find publication. It is a book of quiet horrors and beautifully expressed longing. Whether describing the attempted extraction of a still wriggling cockroach from the ear cavity of a screaming fellow lodger, or the endless, burning rage of an abused and abusive lover, SaFranko’s prose is precise, flawless and the work of a man who truly loves and understands great writing. To be a fan of Mark SaFranko is to belong to an exclusive club: to appreciate the work of a man who is a truly great American writer, yet who has not been commodified, exploited and repackaged for the masses. Yet, that is.

    I was lucky enough to get to interview Mark about Hating Olivia and his varied body of work. Take a look:

    Q. So Mark, tell me a little about the history of Hating Olivia. How did you come to write the book?

    A. The events in Hating Olivia happened at a really nasty, ugly, critical time for me. Frankly, I’m lucky I survived them. I think I had a mental breakdown and was hanging by a thread, but nobody put me away. Then the thread got cut and I went into free fall. That’s when I became a writer.

    The book itself has quite a long history, actually. I couldn’t even go near the material for ten years after the events. I always felt it was going to be a novel, but I just wasn’t ready to deal with it. Then, when I did, I couldn’t get the voice right. There were a couple of false starts a few years apart. The problem was trying to get too much in…. I ended up having to toss out enormous amounts of material. It wasn’t until I shortened the sentences that it began to work. I was sitting there looking at the Hudson from my apartment in Hoboken when I said to myself, “Ah. That’s it.”

    Part of the problem of course is the deficit in attention span, These days, unless you can make something move, you’re pretty much dead as a writer, especially if you’re not Stephen King or somebody like that. So much, both internal and external, has to be sacrificed to pace. I don’t think Henry Miller or lots of other people could get their stuff into print today.

    Then there was the time between writing the novel and publication – about nine years. In the U.S. I couldn’t even get anyone to look at it. One New York micropublisher agreed to publish it, then backed out. TF Editors in Spain was going to put it out, but then changed their mind. Pretty typical, I guess.

    Q. The writing in Hating Olivia really suggests that you have had plenty of first-hand experience of being a struggling writer, of the dehumanizing effect of the corporate world…which period of your life did you draw from when writing Olivia?

    A. An early, very, very confused one. I’m still confused as hell, but back then I was really fucked-up. On every level. I could barely function most of the time, but I had to get out there and work. Whether it was the factory or the office, you had to do it to make the monthly nut. I could say that I think my brains were still scrambled from the hallucinogenics I took once upon a time, but there were a lot more things involved. The only thing I knew was that I wanted to be an artist. Coming from my blue-collar background that was like announcing that I was planning to fly to the planet Mercury. I’d already been writing, music, then I decided to compound my misery by writing books. And that’s when my struggles really began – about thirty years’ worth.

    Q. Could you tell me a little more about the other novels? I found 2 by searching the net – Hopler’s Statement and The Favor. Are they in the same autobiographical vein as Hating Olivia or are they separate entities altogether?

    A. They're both crime novels, actually, and different from Hating Olivia. They had their merits, I think, but no one actually ever saw them, really. Hopler's Statement was optioned by an independent Hollywood director, I wrote a screenplay for it, and nothing ever happened. The Favor is going on 30 years old. I shudder to think of its youthful flaws, but there are some people who like it.

    Q. In his introduction Dan Fante paints you as something of a workhorse. I have this impression of you from reading his intro that you are literally dragging boxfuls of genius, unpublished novels and plays around with you. How close to the truth is this?

    A. Well, the workhorse part is true. There are a dozen novels or so, a dozen plays, a couple hundred songs, a hundred stories, poems, a few essays. Oh, and paintings. And I’ve done a fair amount of acting. All this is sandwiched between the survival jobs. And believe me, there have been lots of those.

    But a good deal of the material has been published. Around fifty of the stories, some of the poems, a couple of the novels. Lots of the plays have been produced in Off-Off Broadway theaters and in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

    Q. Talking of your theatre work, you are a pretty successful playwright. Can you tell me a little about how writing for theatre is different from writing straight fiction? Do you get more satisfaction from one than the other?

    A. There is no feeling whatsoever for a writer like seeing his work come to life in front of an audience. It’s electric. The problem is having to deal with everyone else involved – mostly the people who decide whether or not to produce your stuff. That can be hell and enough to make you want to walk away from it for good. I’ve always wanted to write novels and stories, though. When you sit in your room alone with your typewriter, you’re king. You can do whatever you want. Nobody can say “do this, change that.” You’re the Lord of All Creation, at least for a few hours.

    Q. Tell me about Lounge Lizard. Is this a full-on follow-up to Hating Olivia? Do we find out what comes next for Max?

    A. Lounge Lizard is the sequel to Hating Olivia; it picks up right where Olivia left off. Max gets sucked back into corporate America as a matter of survival during the Reagan years. Max drinks. Max prowls the bars and clubs of New York and develops a sexual addiction. Max gets his head shrunk. Max’s teeth begin to fall out.

    There’s also a prequel to Olivia that I hope sees print one of these days.

    Q. How did you hook up with Murder Slim Press?

    A. Through the incredibly generous Dan Fante. I owe him an enormous debt that I can never pay back. And he actually hooked me up with the British publisher that was supposed to publish Hating Olivia originally, too. But they hemmed and hawed and dragged their feet for nearly four years until I had the feeling they weren’t going to do it, though they protested that they were. When the Murder Slim opportunity opened up, I had to jump at it. Murder Slim is run by great, great people. I was very lucky to find them.

    Q. Which writers do you feel were an influence on your style, and could you talk me through some of your favorites?

    A. There are so many that it’s hard. None of us are originals. You try and find your own voice among that clatter of the ones who came before. But here are some: Dostoyevsky. Zola, especially Therese Raquin. Hamsun, for quirkiness of vision. Henry Miller for everything, especially for painting a full portrait of a whole human being, including all the shit. Georges Simenon (the “tough” novels only). He ripped out all the adverbs and adjectives. Bukowski, for his humor. I’m also a great fan of his later work, by the way, when he penetrated to the very core of contemporary middle-class life. Actually, I’m one of those in the minority who thinks that his later poetry is absolutely masterful – when he talks about stuff like having his car fixed and living with a woman for a long time and paying the bills. Because that’s the stuff of everyday life. It’s relevant, more relevant than drinking. If you can make that stuff come alive, you’re really doing something. Celine – he’s one of my great, great favorites for his absolute madness and hatreds and angers. Cain. Jim Thompson. Ross McDonald. Hermann Hesse. Patricia Highsmith. Michel Houellebecq. Pedro Juan Gutierrez. The Fantes. Bill Naughton – I love those Alfie novels.

    Actually, some books that had a great influence on the writing of Hating Olivia were Marriage With Papers by Mohammed Mrabet. And Sylvia, by Leonard Michaels. Betty Blue or 37,2 le matin, by Philippe Djian.

    In my short fiction, Paul Bowles. Raymond Carver. Highsmith again. IB Singer. That’s just the tip of the iceberg. I could go on and on. I know I’m forgetting lots of them.

    Q. Finally, where does your drive to write come from? And what kept you writing and creating during the periods when there was nothing but rejection?

    A. Now they are two really good questions. The best questions, really, because they're so goddamned tough to answer. I'm an obsessional type of personality, and I think, simplistically, that it's the answer to the first question. But there's a lot more involved floating around in the murkier regions of the psyche. At the end of the day, it's a mystery.

    Regarding the second question, there were many, many times when I begged myself to go in another direction because it was so patently obvious that nothing was happening and that nothing was likely to happen. I tried to get interested in other things -- jobs and the like, but nothing ever took. I tried to stop and do absolutely nothing. The strange thing was that writing and composing and the like was always easy -- and fun. It was the business end, trying to get my stuff out there that was torture. Any sane person would have stopped. Highsmith once said: "Art is an addiction. That's why there are so many bad artists." I think there's a lot of truth in that. I'm crazy -- that's probably the answer. And as someone else said, what else is there to do?

    Tony O’Neill © 2006.

    Hating Olivia is available direct from Murder Slim Press as well as from Amazon and other online retailers.

    In a previous life Tony O’Neill played keyboards for bands and artists as diverse as Kenickie, Marc Almond and The Brian Jonestown Massacre. After moving to Los Angeles his promising career was derailed by heroin addiction, quickie marriages and crack abuse. While kicking methadone he started writing about his experiences on the periphery of the Hollywood Dream and he has been writing ever since. His autobiographical novel DIGGING THE VEIN will be published in Feb 2006 by Contemporary Press, in the US and Canada. Wrecking Ball Press plan to release a UK edition Summer 2006. He lives in New York where he works a variety of odd jobs and writes.

    More details can be found at

    posted by scarecrow  # 12:20 PM

    Stewart Home Interview: Writing about writing...

    Stewart Home needs no introduction. A short preamble here wouldn’t do our subterranean behemoth enough justice. His latest novel Tainted Love has been labelled his most mainstream work of fiction yet. Stewart Home? Mainstream? Scarecrow’s editor Lee Rourke just couldn’t resist and had to investigate this straight from the man himself. Enjoy:

    Picture courtesy of Andrew Gallix, 3am Magazine.

    It is with great pleasure to introduce to you Mr Stewart Home:

    Lee Rourke: Do you see Tainted Love as your most mainstream book to date?

    Stewart Home: For a number of reasons this might be considered my most mainstream novel. I was interested in the ghosted autobiography as a literary form, and it’s a very mainstream phenomenon since it’s the rich and famous whose books are ghost-written, but I think I twist the genre considerably. For a start I’m quite upfront about the fact that what I’ve produced is a novel. Then, if you start thinking about what I’m doing, writing as if I’m my mother, then it’s coming from somewhere pretty weird. Also, my mother wasn’t really a mainstream person. She came to London from south Wales in 1960 at the age of sixteen and very shortly afterwards was hanging around at least three very distinct scenes. She was a club hostess in Soho working alongside Profumo scandal girl Christine Keeler, she was hanging out in the philosophy department in Gordon Square - where Stuart Hampshire had just taken over from A. J. Ayer as head, and while we might laugh at logical positivists these days, they were taken very seriously in the Anglo-American academic and media worlds back then – and my mother was heavily involved with the Notting Hill beatnik scene, and this entailed some pretty hardcore drug taking as a means of inner exploration. So although some of this stuff became mainstream, my mum was actually a hipster. One editor at a big publisher who really wanted to publish my work thought the book was some kind of joke, Stewart Home writes a commercial novel, and so he wouldn’t touch it. I presume he was worried about being made to look stupid, since he feared I might reveal I’d written a ‘mainstream’ book to hoax him. But this is the book I wanted to write and also the sections about R. D. Laing and the film-script in the middle of it are post-modern explorations of modernist experimentation. This constitutes about twenty thousand words of an eighty-thousand word book. So at most you might say the book appears three-quarters mainstream, but actually even this 75% is pretty whacked out when you start thinking about it. Tainted Love tells my mother’s story in a very thinly fictionalised form, and I dealt with her story in the way I thought was appropriate. I’m very proud of this book, and a lot of people have said they think it’s the best thing I’ve done.

    You also have to remember that I don’t just do one style, I switch around and experiment, which confuses people in the trade because they’re used to authors who can’t or won’t write in more than one way. It’s definitely not commercial to change your style as radically as I do between different books. A lot of people who liked my early novels, all written in the third person and in a self-consciously pulp-splatter style, were very pissed off when I dropped the simulations of narratives in my fiction and published Come Before Christ & Murder Love. I’d always been interested in experimental writing, but the fact that Alain Robbe-Grillet, for example, had always been a big influence on me, wasn’t picked up by the critics until I did that book. But I was always, even in my earliest fiction, among other things, writing about writing. Perhaps not bizarrely, my most commercially successful novel prior to Tainted Love was 69 Things To Do With A Dead Princess, which on completely goes against the grain of the ‘mainstream’ sensibility. Dead Princess sells because people who grew on fifties and sixties experimental writing (a lot of whom weren’t born until the sixties and even seventies) aren’t at all well served by the publishing industry these days. That book also continues to sell well because it’s been picked up by people teaching English at universities. They teach Burroughs and Beckett and they’re really pleased to be able to set their students a contemporary book with lots of modernist tropes which have been twisted to reflect the way the culture has developed and atrophied. There is still a lot of interest in non-narrative literary explorations, but most publishers just won’t cater for it. Therefore if you can sneak a book into print that doesn’t patronise the reader, doesn’t assume they are thick, then despite the fact that according to the those running publishing houses it’s uncommercial, it is potentially an extremely commercial proposition if it’s well done – and Dead Princess is very well done – because there is absolutely no contemporary competition. But on the basis of the criteria used by the trade, Tainted Love is undoubtedly my most ‘mainstream’ book since Slow Death. Those two books and my first novel Pure Mania are generally judged to have the potential widest appeal by editors. But I don’t think too much about that sort of thing, I just write the books I want to write. Some are easier for the trade to deal with than others. I just do what I think is right for the book. I also like the challenge of trying new things.

    LR: Is the sixties as a cultural influence over for us?

    SH: It depends on what you mean by the sixties. The whole stoner culture which came out of the sixties, and which my mother was very much a part of, permeates everything these days, not just records but TV and cinema. But a lot of the more interesting literary and cinematic experimentation has been dumped. Most people’s idea of non-linear these days is more MTV than Last Year At Marienbad or Ann Quin. But people are increasingly bored with the blanding out of the culture that’s been going on for some time, there will be a resurgence, reinvention, redeployment and some completely unexpected new developments of all the best things about sixties modernism. It’s a matter of using elements of sixties culture to do something new, not simply replicating them. And it’s not really just the sixties we’re talking about. It’s about recognising we all have a stake in modernity, and moving on and off from that. So what really interests me is modernism as a whole, not just in its sixties guise, and in a lot of ways I’m most interesting in taking that up from where people like Rudy Ray More left off, fucking with the conventions and doing so with both attitude and humour. What we need to get away from is the obsession with cultural objects, so that we can put the focus back on the social relations within specific communities and between groups of people from which cultural forms emerge. The cultural industry will have to take this onboard eventually, because in its obsession with gaining the largest possible audience for a small number of cultural objects, it is ultimately on a hiding to nowhere. A book or whatever that is put together in the hope that it will appeal to everyone, ultimately appeals to no one. It misses the mark by aiming too wide. That’s what the current blanding out is all about, it entails removing all the elements that appeal to specific readers because these might be found difficult or offensive by someone else. People end up having best-sellers foisted on them rather than books they’d actually enjoy reading. It’s the mental equivalent of junk food. People don’t develop if they don’t read things that challenge them, that they disagree with, that they find disagreeable. You haven’t grown up until you’ve understood the value of reading a bad book, and the trade sells itself on enjoyment, on not offending. I read shitloads of books I dislike, and watch shitloads of films I think are shit, because I’m continuously educating myself. If you read something you disagree with, it can force you to develop and sharpen your positions, if you only read writers whose opinions you agree with then you’re not going anywhere.

    LR: Do you see the writing/publishing of the memoir as a worthwhile literary form?

    SH: I wrote Tainted Love precisely because I don’t find most memoirs worthwhile. They’re formulaic, particularly the celebrity memoir or autobiography. I wanted to create the double of the memoir, something with a twist and that recorded a genuinely interesting life. Celebrities are never interesting, they’ve become pure image with all their humanity removed from them, celebrities are just an abstraction of what it is to be human and their pseudo-lives aren’t of interest to me at all. I’m more interested in people who can’t afford to do rehab in The Priory, but unfortunately it’s the rich and famous who most usually get their memoirs published. Not all memoirs are bad, and since we’re dealing with the sixties I might as well mention some examples which address that era. I thought Brian Barritt’s autobiography The Road Of Excess was very interesting as far as it went. The problem with the book is that because Barritt wants to be perceived as a psychedelic warrior, he doesn’t really detail his involvement in a whole range of drug dealing, and knowing about this makes a bit more sense of his life. Barritt only really touches on stuff like pot and LSD which are acceptable to weekend hippies, although he does at least mention his smack use. He’s also very funny on Alex Trocchi, so the book is well worth reading despite a few reservations. I also liked parts of Hammond Guthrie’s AsEverWas: Memoirs of a Beat Survivor. He’s very good on the early psychedelic scene in California, some great stuff about the scene there, I’m not so interested in his juvenile pranks or the breakdown of his marriage, but he writes well.

    LR: As most of your fiction is an anti-narrative, is Tainted Love an anti-memoir?

    SH: It’s definitely an anti-memoir, and it’s more truthful than most memoirs because it presents itself as an anti-novel, as fiction. Probably more of the book is literally true than most people would imagine, but it wasn’t possible to tell the whole story because the guilty must be protected, in part because of the ridiculously stringent libel laws in the UK. One day, perhaps, the whole story can come out. But that said, my novel is a far better approximation of ‘truth’ than any ghost-written ‘autobiography’ that presents itself as ‘non-fiction’.

    LR: Patti Smith is ostensibly an influence. Discuss.

    SH: I was telling someone the other day that I acquired Patti Smith’s first album Horses when I was fourteen, and the woman I was talking to said that was very early, and I replied that the album came out in 1975, the year before, so it wasn’t that early. I always thought Patti Smith was hilarious, like all her shit about. It was so pretentious, in the literal meaning of the term, that I just loved it. Patti Smith was speaking in tongues, and she didn’t seem to know what the fuck she was singing about. But the spirit was great. I loved "Gloria" and "Land" on that first album. The sound was perfect, but she sure as hell wasn’t hip, like she could have gone for Villon, or someone, but no Patti opts for absolutely the most obvious romantic poetic cliché in the form of Rimbaud. If she’d been less pretentious, if she’d actually known what the fuck she was talking about, she wouldn’t have been as good. I loved "Piss Factory" and her version of "Hey Joe", but when I was a teenager back in the late seventies for me the best thing she’d done was the live version of The Who’s My Generation. I’d just crack up every time I heard her scream ‘John Cale bass guitar solo’ and you’d get about two notes. At that time I also got hold of the Nuggets double compilation album put together by her guitarist Lenny Kaye, and that was a revelation, all those groovy garage punk classics from the sixties by The Electric Prunes and The Seeds, I loved that stuff when I was teenage. As soon as The Pebbles albums started coming out, I got those too, from Pebbles 1 onwards. The sixties seemed so long ago to me then, like it was the stone-age, although those garage punk recordings were only a decade old. Back then, those recordings felt to me to be a lot older than stuff that came out in the late-seventies sounds to my ears now. Even the sixties sounds like yesterday now, whereas when I was fourteen or fifteen I thought stuff from 1966 sounded positively antediluvian.

    LR: Are there any writers you admire who you feel do not get the attention they deserve?

    SH: There are lots, and among contemporary writers I think Lynne Tillman stands out in particular as someone who really ought to be much more widely read than she is at present. Her new novel American Genius is coming out on Soft Skull, I’m really looking forward to reading that. My favourite Tillman book is Cast In Doubt, which is about a gay writer called Horace and his obsession with a girl whose disappeared called Helen. On a meta-level Horace represents classicism or modernism, and Helen stands for romanticism or post-modernism. So the book is all about Horace’s quest for Helen and his inability to find her, and the complete meaninglessness of her diary to him when he acquires that. But Lynne has done a lot of really good books. Anything by her is worth reading, fiction or non-fiction. To take just one more writer, an older one this time, I really like Clarence Cooper Junior, who Canongate republished in their Payback series of classic black writing about ten years ago, but I think he’s out of print in the UK. No doubt you can pick him up used or on import. A lot of people think Cooper’s last novel The Farm is his best. It’s about being forced to clean up from heroin addiction as a con, and his sexual and other obsessions that accompany this, the minutiae and inhumanity of prison life etc. It’s fairly autobiographical but Cooper presents it as a novel. The Farm is a stunning piece of writing, but I also really like his earlier books too.

    LR: What next? Are there any more novels on the way?

    SH: In terms of writing, I have a novel I wrote before Tainted Love that still isn’t published called "Memphis Underground". There was an independent publisher interested in that, but it contains four basic strands and the editor I was dealt with only liked three of them, so he wanted me to remove the final strand and replace it with something else. I didn’t want to do that, so this novel will come out when I find a publisher who likes all of what I’ve done with it. The first half "Memphis Underground" uses that classic sci-fi device of cutting two narratives together which turn out to be the same person’s life six months apart, so in the second of the cut narratives he’s taken on another identity. It’s about all sorts of things but other than using this sci-fi trope, it isn’t science fiction. I’ve got another novel I’ve done called "Mandy, Charlie & Mary-Jane", which is about a drug-addled college lecturer who turns into a serial killer. I want to do some revisions on that, but it’s written in draft form. I’ve also done a non-fiction biography of my mother, but I’m not ready to publish that yet because of potential legal problems. So that will have to sit in a draw until certain people have died, it could come out in two years time, or it might have to wait twenty-years before there’s any chance of it being published. Sometime within the next year I’m also planning to start work on a new novel called "Blood Rites of the Bourgeoisie", it will be set in the contemporary art world. However, I’m also learning ventriloquism. I just got a £8800 grant from the Live Art Development Agency, which enables me to take time out to learn some new skills. I’m exited about the prospect of presenting readings from my fiction wrapped into a ventriloquist act. That’s what’s really keeping me busy right now. I love ventriloquist dummies, they’re such an archetypal symbol of modernism…

    LR: Stewart, welcome to scarecrow, and thanks for your time…

    For further information please visit The Stewart Home Society.

    posted by scarecrow  # 10:35 AM


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