TRANSMISSIONS: nathan’s nook

Welcome to Transmissions, an interview feature in which X-R-A-Y profiles book podcasts and youtubers.Nathan is an aries who spends his time avoiding real life responsibilities with literary fiction and foreign films, having existential crises in dressing rooms, and drinking too much coffee. Hailing from Los Angeles, he currently lives in Korea where he tries to embody Joan Didion by day and Eve Babitz by night. His novella, Adolescence Leaves explores loss and love in memories of a relationship ripped apart between Los Angeles and Tokyo. You can find Nathan on Instagram or Youtube. Or at any of the links here.Rebecca Gransden: How would you describe the channel to someone who is unfamiliar with what you do?Nathan Truong: Tiny bags, big brain books, cold brews, and clubbing.RG: Does the channel have a mission or manifesto?NT: I make it known that: “I read because reading is sexy, and if you’re not reading, you’re not sexy.” I demand you pick up a book.RG: How long has the channel been in existence, and how have you seen it grow over that time?NT: The channel is a little over a year old now heading to year two in March 2024. Growth has been gradual, and it has been such an incredible experience discovering different booktubers. In the lit fic niche, everyone is so kind, smart, and wonderful. I’ve made such incredible friendships that I felt I’ve been missing my entire bookish life.RG: Where did the idea for the channel come from?NT: I originally started the channel because I never had a physical place or person to talk books with. Reading is such a solitary act, but when you come out of it, you desperately want to connect because the world that you encompassed yourself in after however many pages has ended. There is a reaching. So, I reached out online and it’s been incredible to talk about books with so many people now.RG: How did you decide upon a title for the channel?NT: I wanted alliteration out of the channel name with my own. Something easy, something simple. RG: Are there any channels that influenced or encouraged you to start the project?NT: I have to pay thanks to @rebeccaeatsbooks for giving me the jumpstart in starting booktube. She only filmed from her phone and I thought, why not? I also have to thank @cjreads for showing me the lit fic world and allowing myself to find a personal brand within how I wanted to present books and myself.My last thanks goes to @whatpageareyouon for his review of Ocean Vuong’s On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous for speaking so thoughtfully of the book when I had no one around me to talk to about it. His video appeared first in the Youtube search engine and validated a lot of feelings I had about the book. It also made me realize Youtube as a space to talk about books.RG: Which of your videos would you recommend to someone who is new to what you do?NT: It would have to be the Book Recommendation Tag Video as it’s a pretty good look at some of the books I read if you’re curious about my reading tastes.Another good video is this LA Vlog capturing bits and bobs of Sula, Breasts and Eggs, and my general life and vibe. It’s short, non-committal. So, a very good appetizer to the channel.RG: How do you go about selecting what to feature on each video?NT: I’m in the camp of long-form content, so whatever I have as backlog footage, I try to piece together to make a 30-40 minute video that is somewhat coherent. Otherwise, if there’s a specific book I want to feature, I will do a singular vlog on the book.RG: If your channel features guests, how do you go about finding them?NT: Location location location! I had the chance to meet Modern Ajumma (@yenasung) when I was home in LA because we live quite close to each other. And I had the chance to meet @bibliosophie because she lives in New York and I was there when I was on vacation. Meeting booktubers in person has been such a pleasure and I hope to meet many more in the near future.RG: If you are a writer, has the channel impacted your writing life? and conversely, has a writerly disposition influenced the channel?NT: I am indeed a writer! The books I read for the channel have lent an eye into what kind of fiction I want to create and has helped me with my proofreading and edits. What to keep, what to cut. Naturally, more reading calls for better writing.In the near future, I want to feature more writing/reading vlogs because, whether I like it or not, I’m a brand. And the brand has got to be branding!RG: Do you watch videos about books?NT: Being part of booktube ultimately means involving yourself in the worlds of other booktubers. It’s community I’m after. Watching booktube has also put incredible books on my never-ending tbr.RG: What do you dislike about book videos?NT: Hot Take: I HATE when people read the back of books (though I am sometimes guilty of this) but I don’t care for the synopses of books. I’d rather hear how a booktuber emotionally resonates with the book. The mood, the vibe, what it reminds them of. I think those emotional ties with the book are what connects me a lot better with the video and the book.RG: Who is your dream guest?NT: I hope to feature more casual chit chats with booktubers with Youtube Lives or Zoom calls. Would love to have a fireside chat with @alsopato about books, movies, music, etc.RG: Is there a theme, subject or book you are burning to cover?NT: I’m hoping to do a Clarice Lispector tier list video as I am a Lispector stan. We worship her!RG: Is there a lit channel that doesn’t exist, but you wish did?NT: I love watching vlogs. Combining the everyday with lit fic is something I want to see more of in the booktube-sphere. RG: Is there a lit channel that exists, but you wish didn’t?NT: The lit fic niche is so small. There are so many other genres of fiction that get a lot of love, but lit fic is incredibly important in how we navigate through the world and interlink our lives with others. We need more lit fic stans.RG: For techheads, which single item of kit do you consider essential for the production of the channel, and what would you say are the basics needed for those new to videos?NT: I think the big question is always camera-centric. The channel started out with an iPhone 12 Mini and is now filmed with an iPhone 13 Pro Max. In my opinion, Apple is the best in terms of sound, video, and stabilization for daytime and nighttime filming.RG: If someone would like to support independent creators, what are the best ways to do this?NT: The best way to support is to connect. You can do this with a comment, a follow, a like, a share. Because the booktube community is so interlinked, we’re all bound to be talking of each other, bouncing ideas back and forth, and, essentially, reading the same books.RG: Looking back on the channel, are there favorite videos, videos that stand out to you, or videos that didn’t go as you would’ve liked?NT: Yes, I play favorites. Everything is a work in progress, but I do consider "we just want to make our mistakes" vlog a shift in the way I read books and read a bit closer to the text by the line of life. The video is mostly about Parade by Rachel Cusk, but also about Heti's recent Alphabetical Diaries, and how autofiction is working between the two.Another video that I cherish a lot is my All Fours | Miranda July vlog. It's a special book with special times that capture the whimsy of the entire book. It's who I am.RG: What are your plans for the future?NT: More books, more coffee, more clubbing, and more honest, open, and compelling conversations around books. And I demand there be more sexy readers.RG: If you liked that, you may also like this. Are there any lit channels on a similar wavelength to your own that you would recommend to a viewer who appreciates what you do?NT: The best influencers are your friends. So check out all my friends. Love them as much as I do.@kiranreader @thelefthandedreader6632 @benjaminjournal @soireadthisbook @TheBarandtheBookcase @batumanslittleidiot @MatthewSciarappa @katsfieldnotes @DogEaredMusings @pleasuresofthetext @Grandpasbookclub @rebareads@benreadsgood@TheDiscoKingOfficial @lucyrutherford @nadsluvs2read @noorsbookshelf @jameskatie @savidgereadsnathan’s nook can be found on YouTube. 

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SPRINKLE WITH A BIT FANTASTICAL: An Interview with Shome Dasgupta

The land holds its own weather for Shome Dasgupta’s collection, Atchafalaya Darling (Belle Point Press, 2024). The rhythms of Cajun country make themselves known in the richness of the waters, the sly grace of the fauna, and the down-to-earth sensuality of the cuisine. Ghosts step between the living, and memories breathe in the wind. Dasgupta addresses longing, grief and struggle, all the while infusing the stories with enchantment for the region. There is music to be heard for those who know how to listen. I spoke to Shome about the book.Rebecca Gransden: We begin at the end. The collection opens with “A Familiar Frottoir,” a story that addresses the end of life. There is talk of ghosts, and many of the leitmotifs that recur throughout the collection are introduced here. Did the idea for the collection start with a conceptual framework or did its assemblage occur in a more spontaneous manner?Shome Dasgupta: “A Familiar Frottoir” was the last story I had written for the collection—I had no clue where it was going to go or how the narrative would journey. It started off with an image of a character “shucking” pistachios—I was obsessed with that wording mainly because we live in a state where shucking oysters is a common way of dining. The ghost didn’t appear until she actually appeared—meaning, I didn’t know that this was the way the plot was heading. I don’t think I had a strong idea of any kind of thread that would travel through each of these stories other than that they all take place in the Cajun South. Other than that, it was just fun to see any commonalities or themes because I think they were all unintentional. The way the story collection started off—I had an idea of writing one story about small-town Louisiana, a musician, who goes through the obstacles of alcoholism, but one where the character was able to overcome it, or at least cope with it. It was a story I wanted to write with the utmost sincerity—although I’m no musician at all, not even close, I am now living in sobriety after having gone through some very dark times in my life. I wanted to write it for myself while at the same time, hopefully being able to share this experience with others who might find some light in the words. I love writing about Louisiana, particularly Cajun culture because it’s what I know most about, where I’ve been immersed all my life. So after writing “By The Pond Back Home,” I became really excited about writing another one about the region. I just wanted to have fun, and diving into this collection was very much that kind of experience.RG: The stories are in touch with the forces of nature, with the elements a constant presence. This manifests in a multiplicity of ways, but I was particularly struck by the repeated use of bodies of water. What draws you to these places and what is their significance when it comes to Atchafalaya Darling?SD: Symbolically and physically, water is both destructive and nurturing—it’s a push and pull, a constant search for harmony. The Gulf Coast is especially storm-ridden—hurricanes, flooding, thunderstorms so it’s hard not to write about this area without including those destructive forces. While at the same time, the peaceful and soothing characteristics of bodies of water are as much apparent—wildlife, all of it—there’s some kind of reconciliation taking place, I feel like, a constant rebirth. The Atchafalaya is vast—seemingly endless or romantically infinite, but by creating an experience or a story taking place on the basin, I wanted to make such a world small and intimate, covering both the rough and calm aspects of that particular environment.RG: Many of the stories evoke the character of the folktale. Have folktales and myths influenced your writing, and if so, in what way do you incorporate that influence into your work?SD: I would like to think so—such styles of writing certainly influenced my reading early on in my childhood. That, plus the concept of oral storytelling, whether fictional or otherwise, always magnetized my interest. I don’t know if it was intentional or not, going into these stories, to create such a tone, but I’m really happy to see that it was apparent, at least a bit, the way Cajun folklore and universal tales, regardless of language and culture, kind of seeped into these words. I love magical realism, and I think it would be a part of the same Venn Diagram—I think my first pieces of writing prose, I was seeking to emulate such a world, and I’m sure my love for such a style influences all that I write. Sometimes, I find myself trying hard not to go that route. Like literally, I could write a sentence like, “she sat down in the chair,” and almost always, my next line would want to be something like, “one that was born from rock, carved by rabbit teeth right as the horizon tilted and blended into the eyes of a mother who had fallen from the sky while fishing for stars.” It’s almost natural for me to go beyond realism so I like trying to ground my words—whether it’s poetry, nonfiction, or fiction, and if anything, sprinkle them with a bit of fantastical, perhaps, which hopefully created another depth or layering.RG: A defining characteristic of the stories is the embracement of the simple gestures of life. Foodstuffs feature prominently, mostly uncomplicated dishes or edibles that hold significance in some way. What part does food play in the collection? SD: Oh gosh—one of the hardest aspects of writing about the Deep South is to not include its cuisine. It really is difficult, at least for me, to capture this area without using food as a character in itself. Its presence is a way of life—a tradition stemming from homes to cities to regions. I told myself to go with it instead of going against it. It’s just more fun to do so—I love, love Cajun food, so why tuck it away when it can be a driving force to show what it’s like to live here in Louisiana. I’m obsessed with the color of crawfish, the spices, and while it’s not specific to this culture, but definitely prominent, bread pudding plays a role in “A Familiar Frottoir” in that even though the character’s house is burning down, he’s more concerned in baking his dessert. RG: A raccoon scurried over the fence as the sun came down—its twilight creating a frame of faded solace, one that neither of them knew the importance of in that moment together.The presence of animals dominates the stories in a subtle way. They appear unobtrusively, seemingly engaged in their doings away from the human world for the most part. These encounters can be fleeting, or from a distance, but seem somehow cosmically preordained. Your use of the owl and of frogs particularly stands out, but there are many more examples. In some instances the animal presences, for me, take on the quality of signs, of shepherds, perhaps guides, and evoke the symbolism of fable and folk myth. How did you decide upon your approach to the animal imagery included in the collection? Has your experience with animals influenced your rendering of them?SD: There was an owl in our garage, and my mother pointed and said, “Look, that’s your Dida.” My grandmother had passed away only a couple of weeks before this visitor arrived at our home.  I think about that moment often, and how it guided me to approach and look at the animals around us in a very different way. Whether on the physical level, metaphorical, or spiritual level, and to be constantly surrounded by wildlife or any animal of any sort, it not only nourishes me, personally, but also my writing. Especially in Louisiana–whether it’s roadkill or a soaring heron I feel connected to them, or I guess, I’m searching for a connection to them, and they become characters, whether intentionally or otherwise, to become distractions, symbols, friends, or to add to setting and scenery. Dead or alive, there’s so much power there, and history, too. I love birds, especially—I’m obsessed, though I don’t know much about them, but it’s to the point that I have three tattoos: an owl for my Dida, a peacock for India, and a pelican for Louisiana and my grandfather or Dadu, and I’m constantly thinking about what will be next. Perhaps, a future drafted story will help me to figure that out.RG: Turnip nodded at Margaret and pulled down his baseball cap, a ragged and torn faded blue hat, one that he had received as a gift while he was in high school from Margaret when they were first starting to date. Though Turnip had stopped wearing it for a long time, when his tours became larger and larger, Margaret kept it under his pillow for the nights, weeks, months he was away.Objects take on weight. Seemingly innocuous everyday items are imbued with significance, sometimes in light of the history they invoke, the memories they trigger, or by the manner in which they change hands, for instance inherited, gifted or stolen. When thinking about story, how do you make use of objects?SD: I think—I think that any object can become a character in a story, and because of that, it can provide context, significance, obstacles, and comfort through just its presence. Such is the instance with the baseball cap—symbolic, perhaps, of their love when they became more than just friends. A cap, perhaps, that represents Turnip before his faults and afflictions which makes Margaret give him a chance, an open door to come back to a time when their relationship was true and stable. I’m a hoarder myself—I keep everything and anything, however small or large, and however seemingly insignificant because somewhere inside of me, I will look at these objects to bring an emotion or a memory, one worth feeling or remembering. In one of my drawers, there’s a paperclip. It was used to hold together a letter sent to me, and I lost that letter much to my sadness, but that paperclip—that particular one, among millions upon millions upon millions, takes me to a state of mind that I don’t want to forget. It becomes a friend to me, something living—giving breath, and I think that’s the same with what I’m trying to do with including such objects in my stories.RG: Outside, the frogs were loud—almost as if they were generating energy for the rest of the world.Song, tone, rhythm and music flow through the collection. A frog chorus opens ways to memories, muddy banks sing the song of the waters, and chimes resonate like an evocation. Musicians appear as conduits for strong forces, from the creative to the addictive. What part does music play in the collection?SD: Thank you so much for such kind comments—for this question, and for all of these questions. They’re so thoughtful, and I’m truly humbled from such care and generosity, and I’m so happy to see that you were able to find some rhythm and tone in these stories. I think I’m controlled by language and sound more so than anything else, and I try my best to bring such volumes to my words, which have this power over me than the other way around—much like music. Growing up here in Lafayette, watching local bands play was a large part of sharing time with my friends, and many of my friends were musicians themselves—absolutely so talented, and it kind of gave me some insight into this really, really nuanced world within a world within a world. Also, particularly, in addition to indie rock or pop or hip hop, there’s a music born from heritage and tradition, such as zydeco or Cajun music—dancing, too. I was definitely trying to reveal the importance of such a culture here in the Deep South. Much like you mentioned, there’s also the naturality of music—through frogs or birds or the wind, a constant surrounding us, and it was nice to attempt to blend the different forms of music that can be heard, whether created intentionally or unintentionally. Likewise, I try to emulate such sounds in the writing itself, to emulate or mirror what’s actually taking place in a story—maybe it’s choppy, maybe it tends to produce a certain rhythm, and ideally, or hopefully, it can be heard even though there isn’t any music actually being played.RG: The neighbor looked up at the sky to see a flock of birds making their way past a lowered sun—he squinted his eyes and nodded his head, whispering words to himself as if he was having a conversation with a ghost.There is an elliptical quality to the collection, a sense the themes ebb and flow as the passing of seasons. The common ups and downs of life become infused with profundity, and seemingly inconsequential trivialities take their place as part of a play on the grandest scale. What is your approach to repetition?SD: Oh I so love, love repetition on every level of writing, whether it’s repeated words, sentences, characters, narratives, themes—however unintentional, I think I rely on it way too much. It’s more natural for me to write that way, which in turn, guides me to those kinds of rhythms I’m seeking. Narratively, I laugh at myself sometimes, thinking that I’ve only ever drafted  just one story throughout my writing endeavors, conceptually—just told in different ways. On the word level, especially—I remember listening to Philip Glass’s “Einstein on the Beach: Knee Play 5,” and how it made me mesmerized or hypnotized, and it’s definitely an influence in my writing, whether it’s poetry or fiction or prose. I think, also, such a style relates to all that you’ve mentioned before—nature, environment, objects, symbols, animals, and they all relate to these circular or elliptical patterns of life replicated in these stories. I’m a huge fan of echoes.RG: What have these stories revealed to you?SD: I’m kind of laughing at myself because taking part in this interview has revealed so much more to me when it comes to these stories—aspects I haven’t really thought about before. Again, truly, thank you so much for such insightful questions and for taking the time to share such thoughts about both the subtle or larger elements of these stories. It was such a pleasure to think about these questions. I just wanted to write and have fun and not focus too much on all the usual components of a story—I didn’t think much about what’s at stake, but more so, setting and character and dialogue were my main areas of concentration, along with language and image. What that would create, I wasn’t sure, but I had such a great experience drafting this collection while not thinking about anything else other than just writing. I hope that makes sense, and I hope all of these responses make some kind of understandable meaning, and thanks again for your time and for reading Atchafalaya Darling. I’m so grateful for this opportunity.

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An Interview With Rick Claypool

Anarchic weirdism triumphs in Skull Slime Tentacle Witch War (Anxiety Press, 2024). Rick Claypool’s wild novel unveils new visions of absurd abandon, wrapped up in a hyperreal rush of cartoonish wonder. As a whirlpool of body horror kitsch drenched in neon trash nightmares, Claypool’s demented sensibility evokes creature feature mayhem and B-movie unruliness. Never did slime glow so good. I spoke to Rick about the book.Rebecca Gransden: When did the idea for the book first appear to you? I’m curious about the genesis of the characters and the origin of the world they inhabit. What came first, a character? an image? a concept?Rick Claypool: The idea for the characters Skullface and Tentaclehead came to me about five years ago, in 2019. They’re sort of a doomed comic duo, like Vladimir and Estragon or Ren and Stimpy. Skullface is the angry one, whose reaction to life’s frustrations is this uncontrollable destructive rage that manifests as killer puke. Tentaclehead is the depressed one, whose reaction to life’s frustrations manifests as self-loathing and suicide attempts, except he can’t really die. I thought it would be funny to have them be spurred into this adventure through their shitty, upsetting world after discovering this weird baby in a two-liter bottle of soda, an idea that’s a little bit inspired by people in the ’90s supposedly finding objects contaminating their cans of soda that should not have been possible to find in a can of soda. RG:  His neighbor is enjoying himself. Actually enjoying himself. His neighbor who just a few hours earlier was so overcome with despair he cut off his own head is having a lovely time. Early on, we are introduced to the characters of Skullface and Tentaclehead as uneasy neighbors. Any weird experiences with neighbors?RC: The guy who lived next door to us when I was in high school killed himself. I remember my mom bringing me home from a guitar lesson and there were all these cops everywhere. But also like, in general for me there’s always a weird tension with neighbors. Like, as a person who believes in existing in solidarity and friendship with the people around me, especially the people physically closest to me in my community, I think it’s important to try to have the best relationship with my neighbors that I can. But as an awkward introvert who is always carrying a lowkey fear of other humans, neighbors can be kind of terrifying. RG:  The world you’ve created is one that is hyperreal and colorful, filled with trashy neon and fluorescent slime. What is the pinkish glow in Skullface’s eye holes?RC: I love that meme with the skull-faced chair with the glowing eyes – it has this look that says “I’m powerful and deranged and overwhelmed.” You know the one? My therapist once told me human vision narrows when we become so upset we’re suddenly in fight or flight mode. (And paying attention to your peripheral vision is a strategy for calming down.) So it makes sense to have the glow appear as a precursor to when Skullface gets so upset he pukes killer pink foam, which of course creates many embarrassing situations for him.RG: Tentaclehead takes his place in the grand tradition of depressive yet endearingly maudlin inventions such as Eeyore and Marvin the Paranoid Android. How does your earlier novella Tentacle Head (2022) relate to the Tentaclehead of Skull Slime Tentacle Witch War?RC: Tentaclehead is such a fun character to write. I’m someone who is inclined occasionally to fall into these depressive doom spirals, and so Tentaclehead is sort of a ridiculous personification of that. My 2022 not-for-children children’s book Tentacle Head came out from Bear Creek Press a few months before its infamous collapse. That book is basically the backstory for a somewhat less developed version of the Tentaclehead character. Like, this was before I understood he should puke knives. Also I have to say Tentacle Head’s illustrator, Piper Bly, is an absolute genius. RG:  “WHERE’S THE MANNEQUIN?” Tentaclehead repeatedly inwardly screams. “WHERE’S THE MANNEQUIN? WHERE’S THE MANNEQUIN?” Tentaclehead possesses an unhealthy obsession with a mannequin. What’s with that?RC: Any desire can become an unhealthy obsession, can warp our view of the world and influence our decisions in unexpected ways, especially when the object of desire is just out of reach. It's the object petit a of Lacanian psychoanalysis – the acorn the proto-squirrel in the Ice Age movies is always after. In Tentaclehead’s case, I guess I’m a sucker for a tragic romance. What could be more tragic than falling in love with something incapable of loving you back? And which, despite being completely inert, remains somehow always just out of reach?RG: Absurdist humor is central to the story, with parts of the book taking on the quality of a deadpan domestic farce, the characters a type of dysfunctional pseudo-family in a surrealist soap opera, before the narrative moves to hijinks on a more epic scale. What led you to this approach? If you have comedy influences, who are they?RC: I’m always trying to balance horror and humor. Growing up, my mother worked in a hospital, and over dinner she would often share stories about awful, tragic things she witnessed – body parts on a lab table, that kind of thing – and somehow, her stories were always funny. So I’ve always been drawn to stories like that. As a writer, the bleak hilarity of Samuel Beckett, wild absurdity of Daniil Kharms and merciless deadpan humor of Joy Williams have all been hugely influential. I’m constantly being inspired by writers like Zac Smith and Ivy Grimes and Sam Pink and Claire Hopple. Also, if I’m being honest, I’ve been more than a little influenced by Adult Swim cartoons like Aqua Teen Hunger Force and cult films, like early John Waters movies and Troma stuff and Peter Jackson’s weird old gloopy pre-Lord of the Rings movies.RG:  Who is the hero of Skull Slime Tentacle Witch War?, and who is the villain? Is it ever that simple?RC: It’s never that simple. I think maybe just about all the characters are heroes but they all suck at being heroes? Like they’re constantly being overcome by their desires and their emotions and the material limits of their world. Which to me is a lot like what life over the past several years has felt like, where you can always be trying your best to make smart, good, ethical choices, but the forces you’re up against – pandemic, genocidal war, catastrophic climate change, rising fascism, and so on – are just too much to deal with, especially on top of personal mental health struggles, y’know? It feels like there is no dealing with any of these overwhelming forces without completely losing your fucking mind. RG:  Eat them all! Eat them all! Eat them all! At one point there is discussion among factions on who should be eaten. Of the three mutants under debate—Skullface, Tentaclehead, and the infant named Abomination!—which would you choose to consume? A general theme of the book is that characters ingest, or are ingested, in a variety of ways. Is a metaphor happening here, or are mutants natural eaters?RC: Skullface would be too spicy and Tentaclehead would be the most sustainable choice. I’m sorry, but Abomination! would for sure be the most delicious of the three. Which is horrible, right? You’re not supposed to eat the baby, even the mutant soda-dispensing baby. But like if there’s no ethical consumption under capitalism, what’s stopping you from eating the baby? And if you choose not to eat the baby, well, yay for you, but who’s to say the baby won’t grow up and choose to eat you? Eating is the purest form not only of consumption, but exploitation. You can be thankful for what you eat all you want, you are still literally taking another living thing and using its body as fuel for your own body. RG: One day Skullface reminisces aloud about different meatballs he’s been served during his time in the facility tasting somewhat differently. “They used to be sweeter and tangier,” he says, “but before they moved me from my old room into this room with you they became less tangy and more salty. Yesterday’s meatball was hardly tangy at all. Do you remember yesterday’s meatball?” What is it with mutants and meatballs?RC: Just one meatball contains all the vitamins and minerals a mutant needs for a whole day.RG: FUCK THAT, Skullface thinks. He tries to say it too. He realizes his jaw being all dangly is making it impossible for him to speak. He tries to grab it to lift it back up to his face but his arms don’t work the way they should and his jaw keeps swinging around on those slime threads in a way that makes it hard to catch. He just keeps getting slime stuck to his fingers. Oh fuck oh fuck.Mutant life can be challenging. Are there mutants you created that didn’t make the final book?RC: A few of the mutants went through different versions before I settled on their final forms. Like there was a version of Oogus Boogus where she had a stone for a head and a whole bunch of crystal eyes, and a version of Pegasus where they were more like a giant locust. I took a lot of inspiration from toys from my childhood when creating these mutants, like those little M.U.S.C.L.E. Man guys. And there are artists still designing amazing little weird toy creatures. Like there’s one guy who goes by Basement Puke. His stuff is amazing and fun as hell. RG: Did you listen to music when writing Skull Slime Tentacle Witch War? While reading, I kept soundtracking scenes with a particularly demented fantasy variety of psychobilly. How do you imagine the score?RC: The score, based on what I was listening to while writing, would include a lot of noisy, synthy stuff like Fire-Toolz and Black Moth Super Rainbow and Magic Sword. RG: Moontown’s lore suggests a rich history. Are there plans for future works to further explore Moontown, or Moontown adjacent locations, and the inhabitants? Prequels, alternate timelines? Any thoughts on how the world could translate to comic book, animation or live action form?RC: Yeah, there’s a lot there that might seem random to some readers, but there is an underlying system to things, which I will not be explaining. I don’t have any immediate plans to revisit the world, which came out of a particularly difficult time for me in terms of my mental health. I don’t want to say I’d never go back to it though. Honestly, collaborating on an adaptation would be a dream come true. I also have zero idea how to make that happen. I’m guessing I’d probably need an agent. So I’m not going to hold my breath waiting for Adult Swim to call me up, but like if some underground animator wants to talk about it, I’d probably fall all over myself trying to make it happen. RG: You’ve chosen to publish Skull Slime Tentacle Witch War with Anxiety Press. What attracted you to work with them and how have you found the process?RC: It’s been great working with Cody Sexton at Anxiety Press. He wrote a review of Tentacle Head in 2022 and loved it, so that was an early indication he might love Skull Slime Tentacle Witch War too. And he did. Also, Anxiety Press is keeping some of the weird vibe that went down with Bear Creek alive, publishing talented folks from that scene like Tyler Dempsey, Scott Mitchel May, and Jack Moody. But yeah I also had a particular vision for how I wanted the book to look and I wanted to include my goofy illustrations and to maintain a particular tone throughout. Cody was cool with letting me pretty much get away with whatever I wanted, which I know not every publisher will do, even in this offbeat little indie corner.RG: What’s next for Rick Claypool?RC: I’m a little bit addicted to writing short stories right now. So the immediate next things from me are stories that will be published in anthologies later this year – one in Monsters in the Mills (an anthology of Rhode Island horror writers), one in Dark Spores (a fungal horror anthology coming out from Crone Girls Press), and one I don’t think I’m supposed to talk about yet. I don’t know, maybe I’ll start thinking about compiling them into a collection. Once things settle down I want to get back to the next longer form thing, which is a sort of minimalist sword and sorcery-flavored novella I’m writing entirely in second person. I’m a slow writer – once I settle into working on that, that’ll probably be enough for me for a while.

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Welcome to Transmissions, an interview feature in which X-R-A-Y profiles podcasts and book youtubers.PaperBird can be found on YouTube: THE MUSE: PaperBird talks about obsession, recognition, and those damn teenage years.Meeting PaperBird was harder than I expected. It's not that he's reclusive or antisocial or anything like that; no. It's just that his house is damn near impossible to find. He warned me about this beforehand, on the phone, saying that it takes "a car with all-wheel drive, a mountain bike, and a pair of hiking boots," just to get there. I got directions to his house anyway -- pretty detailed, I must say -- and made about three miles into the forest before my car broke down. Then it started raining. I didn't have the requisite mountain bike or hiking shoes, just a few sticks of chewing gum for food. I didn't see another human for days, maybe even weeks: I'm still a little fuzzy on this. All I know for sure is that I woke up one morning in a hospital bed, with Mr. PaperBird right there beside me, looking concerned.Author of three novels (Bored and Aroused in Boston, Lonely and Anxious in London, and Puking Towards Paris), an autobiography (Baby Penis), and a self-help manual (Introvert's Guide to Being a Power Asshole), PaperBird has been getting a lot of attention. Not because of his books, which remain unpublished, but because of his YouTube channel. His blend of humor and absurd surrealism (or what he calls "absurrealism") has excited, frightened, and tickled mainstream audiences and academics alike. Looking at Mr. PaperBird in his loose-fitting clothes in a way reminded me of the under-nourished cats you find lying on the side of the road. The man can't be more than 120 pounds, if I had to guess. There's a mysterious scar on his nose. His eyes are so brown they're black. One eye is lazy.-Terri Bradshaw 

X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine: First things first. I'd like to personally thank you for saving my life.

PaperBird: (laughs) No problem. I have to do that once in a while. It's gotten to where no one comes to visit.

X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine: I was kind of anxious to see where you lived.

PaperBird: It's just a cottage, really. I built it a couple years ago with my brother. He's an architect, you know (not officially licensed). I think that was like his first real project.

X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine: But why out in a forest? Why so far away from society?

PaperBird: At first I thought it would be interesting, to pull a Thoreau or something, stay unplugged, but then I checked my finances and realized I had no other choice. Did I mention I have a Patreon? Just kidding. (It's a "Ko-fi" -

X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine: Speaking of platforms, you're mostly known for your YouTube videos. Those wacky book reviews. How would you describe the channel to someone who is unfamiliar with what you do?

PaperBird: I guess you could say I make videos that dive deep into books but miss the mark completely and end up getting shattered a few feet away where the book and the author (if still alive) glance over, shake their head, sip their margarita, and nudge the sunglasses back up onto their face.

X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine: How long have you been at it -- "diving deep and getting shattered"?

PaperBird: The channel’s been around since 2014… woah, almost 10 years now! That's really sad. Masochistic, even.

X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine: We do get some whiffs of that, yes, but we'll get to your fetishes in a bit. At first you posted these very lofi rambling videos filmed in your car during what appeared to be your lunch break at work. I bet it was hot AF in the summer but figured after filming you’d come back in all hot and happy, high on your own supply.

PaperBird: (laughs) Exactly!

X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine: Are there any channels that influenced or encouraged you to start the project?

PaperBird: Not really, I started posting videos as an excuse to not continue writing in a traditional sense but still stay connected to books. Being on YouTube though I got hooked into watching knife review videos, especially ones made by Nick Shabazz. On his videos, he never shows his face, it’s just his hands holding the knife as he’s reviewing it. That inspired me to move out of the steamy in-car POV and adopt the same top down / table top style, except with books instead of knives, kind of as a joke.

X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine: Which of your videos would you recommend to someone who is new to what you do?

PaperBird: Here's a good sampler pack: Gary LutzGerald MurnaneJon FossePierre MichonClaude Simon.

X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine: How do you go about selecting what to feature on each video?

PaperBird: It used to be as easy as grabbing the next book on the pile. I would read it a couple times, take some notes, talk about it on camera, then rinse and repeat. But over time I got tired of that, in fact now really dislike talking about books straight-on. It’s the same with the books I like to read -- the less hand-holding, the less information the better -- although in a “review” you kind of have to do that a little, give out information.

Now it’s more about building a container to dump in whatever's going on in my life, and somewhere along the way, an author or a book gets sucked in and spread out as the foundation. After a few months, if the structure holds, that load-bearing book (pun intended) becomes what is featured.

X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine: You used to publish short stories, poetry, and book reviews in more traditional places, maybe 15 years ago, under a different name, and if I had to guess, you still scribble in your notebook every day, though it's more a stream that feeds into whatever video is bubbling up, like background processing, am I right?

PaperBird: Yes, well… when things are flowing, creating the video feels similar to writing, actually it’s more rewarding because things can happen quickly, moving things around, sometimes you get this euphoric mix of imagery, music, and voice that couldn't possibly have been planned. I remember this review I did on Wilson Harris which I gave up on midway and instead turned it into a meditation on death. Maybe the method is more like abstract painting or DJ'ing.

X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine: Or like that show Iron Chef? Where the grandmaster would announce the theme ingredient and the contestants would use it to make their own original dish? The ingredient in your case being the book under "review."

PaperBird: Something like that, literature as seasoning on the larger animal inside that you want to serve up and knock people out with. Hit them with your own spices and herbs. That’s the beauty of this medium, it’s like a blob of hot dough that stays gooey for longer and you have a bigger sweetspot in which you can shape it, even randomly sometimes, it’s that forgiving. And the synchronicities happen more often and more quickly. It's the best feeling in the world when everything clicks.

X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine: You mention somewhere in Baby Penis, your autobiography, that your creative tendencies really took off when you were in high school?

PaperBird: That's right. I'd say around the time I was a sophomore. And I had the strangest motivation for writing. I wanted to impress a woman. I'm not going to say who… Let's just say she's a celebrity. (I reveal who she is in my Esther Kinsky video.) But yeah, I was very lonely and thought that if I wrote a novel -- I was fifteen at the time -- I thought that if I wrote a quality literary novel, at the age of fifteen, I would get recognized and become a celebrity, too, and that way She would know who I was. That's all I wanted in life then: to be recognized by this person whom I was obsessed with. We're talking Taxi Driver here.

X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine: Good thing you didn't kill anyone.

PaperBird: Yeah, it was only a teenage daydream, but a really strong one. Writing this novel was all that I thought about. And Her, of course. She became a muse or mother goddess, the "female personage" that Gerald Murnane writes about. I began to see Her in others. The girl who sat next to me in math class (Lauren). The girl who also liked to write, whose house I rode past on my bike almost every day (Kathleen). The girl I once slow-danced with whose perfume I would recognize even now (Angela). They all had brown hair and blue eyes. But can you see what else they had in common? It's all in the letters in their names, the colors of those letters… I still sometimes… I still search…

X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine: Hello? Hello… Earth to PaperBird… (snaps fingers) OK, let's pivot from that for a bit. For the techheads and aspiring booktubers out there, which single item of kit do you consider essential for the production of your channel?

PaperBird: You mean other than a knife?

X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine: Ah yes! I was hoping you'd get into that! For those of our readers who may not know, you have this penchant for cutting up your books with a knife on camera. Before we get into exactly why, let me just say, I've noticed that your knife handling skills have really improved over time. I remember early on, maybe it was the video on John Yau or Samuel Beckett, where it looked like you almost cut off your thumb. But then you're starting to hold the knife better, dare I say with more confidence, as you slice through your books. Are you trying to turn them into chapbooks or something?

PaperBird: It's a way of getting the weight down. Some of my compatriots on booktube -- Leaf by LeafTravel Through StoriesW.A.S.T.E. Mailing List -- they gravitate toward the chunkers. I like chunky shapes too. But after years of typing, cooking, crocheting, saxophone playing, whatever, my wrists blew out. Can't hold up anything weighs more than a Kindle now.

X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine: I ask because I think it was in the Sally Rooney video, where you go off on this 20 minute tangent just "deconstructing" one of her books, and I must say, the knife handling in that video was superb. You said you cooked? It was almost like you had worked in a butcher shop for years. And in the Gordon Lish video, where you chop off what appears to be your penis with a meat cleaver, just incredible, the way you handle both heavy and lightweight cutlery.

PaperBird: Thank you.

X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine: There's this one digression in the Fernanda Melchor video that I haven't been able to get out of my head. It's the part where the twins are starving and Fernanda has to get them food somehow, and so she goes on this long hunt through the forest...

PaperBird: Yeah, she's chasing some kind of unidentified animal. A boar, actually.

X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine: Right. And so she slaughters the thing and drags it all the way home, where she has to dice it up before dawn comes and the twins awake. And through the magic of editing, you show Fernanda Melchor skinning and chopping up and preparing this animal for over thirty minutes, and the overall accruing effect of the passage is just mind-numbing. It's like nothing I've seen before.

PaperBird: That's one of those digressions that demand a lot from the viewer but ultimately pay off in the end, I hope.

X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine: It was particularly exciting for me, all the details you worked in there about, for example, the sound of the animal's hide ripping, and the texture of the animal's striated muscles, and the way the tendons and ligaments would stretch on the bone and then snap off. I think the sound they made was "tCHew!"

PaperBird: Um, actually it was "tCHaw!"

X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine: Watching that video repeatedly and its attention to detail made me wonder if you've ever had any actual hands-on experience slaughtering animals. I mean, the scene with the blood caking on Fernanda's hands and all that, the shimmer of the freshly-killed animal's intestines -- it doesn't seem like you could whip that up from scratch.

PaperBird: Well, there was some research involved. I read a book on general swine anatomy, and then visited a meat market where the butcher was kind enough to let me observe. But the rest I pretty much made up, although I did dissect a cat in the eighth grade.

X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine: How big was it?

PaperBird: The cat? I'd say about a foot and a half.

X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine: The reason I'm wondering is because I happen to work with animals. Mostly dogs and cats, but sometimes deer, possums, and armadillos. They're usually dead by the time I get them, or rapidly reaching that state, so I'd say I know more than your average joe about the death of animals. And let me be the first to attest to the accuracy of your scene concerning the boar's death and dissection in the Fernanda Melchor.

PaperBird: Thanks. (laughs) What is it you do exactly? Aside from working for X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine?

X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine: I guess you could say I'm a type of artist, or what some would call a "roadkill artist." Basically, I drive around interstates and highways and look for animals that've been run over or knocked dead by cars. I take the animals home and hack off as much meat as I can without damaging their skeletons, and then boil the rest off their bones.

PaperBird: Not for eating purposes, I hope.

X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine: (laughs) No, no. I'd say it's fairly dangerous to eat roadkill. What I'm interested in are their bones -- the ones that haven't been shattered or splintered by the impact. Sometimes the cars do so much damage I can only extract about 20% of their bones intact. Usually they're the small ones, like the carpals or patellas, but every once in a while I'll be able to get a whole femur or pelvis. Complete skulls are hard to come by, and always require that I drain the brain out through the nostrils.

PaperBird: No kidding.

X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine: The key to working with dead animals is to get to them before rigor mortis sets in. That way you'll cut your flaying time in half. And it's always important to know where the bone is in relation to the muscle, so you won't accidentally cut in too deep and make abrasions on the bone's surface. Usually I just feel for the bone and leave about a centimeter of meat on and throw the whole thing into a vat of boiling water. I have these vats at home for this purpose. They loosen up the muscles and tendons and kill off any bacteria. Then you just slide the meat off and you're left with clean bone. In my younger days, I used to just snap it off, like Fernanda did in the video, but I found that doing that'll strip away some of the outer layer, or what's called the periosteum. The ligaments did make a sort of tCHaw! sound when I ripped them off, though. Actually it was more of a tCHwee!

PaperBird: tCHwee?

X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine: Right. I guess the exact sound would depend on what ligament you're dealing with, but I think it was a tCHwee!

PaperBird: Hunh.

X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine: Anyway, getting back to what I was saying. Once you get all the muscle and connective tissue off the bone, you'll want to paint a coating of enamel over the surface in order to preserve it, keep it from deteriorating. Maybe also add a layer of glossy white paint to give it that clean look. I've heard of some roadkill artists working in ceramics. It's up to the individual. Myself, I like having a clean and durable bone because I work with furniture. That is, I make furniture out of bones. I've made tables, chairs, dressers, beds, and footstools. Once, I built a staircase for a friend of mine. That one took a couple years and an insane amount of roadkill. I practically had to drive cross-country for that one. And you can see why it's important, when building furniture, to want a bone that isn't splintered or damaged in any way. Especially for something like a staircase.

PaperBird: I see.

X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine: But there're probably limits to how much roadkill you can find in a given year. Sometimes driving around I'll get as many as two or three a day, freshly-killed. Then it might take weeks before I find another roadkill, and it might just be a bird or a squirrel. Which makes things hard for me because lately I've been getting lots of offers from clients. They want maybe a throne of bone by the end of the month, or some sort of man-sized bird-cage or what have you. They can get really specific, and that's totally appropriate because everything I make is custom-designed. Hand-crafted. I think the price is fair, and I always give a one-year service warranty. But lately I've just gotten too many offers. I only have so many resources stock-piled in my vault. Can you see my predicament? It doesn't help asking my friends and neighbors if I could have dibs on their pets after they die. Their pets, that is. But right now, I'm in the process of cutting a deal with a veterinarian who happens to like what I do, so there's some hope for me yet. And the other day I got contacted by a record-company who wants me to build an elaborate canopy-style bed that can be used to promote this death-metal band's next album. Have you heard of Sarcophagi? I think that's their name.

PaperBird: Not a fan.

X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine: But you know the name? I'm hoping this'll give artists like me the kind of exposure we need. Not that roadkill artists have an alliance or anything. I think we just need some credibility and recognition because things're really hard for us. I live out on a farm in Minnesota with a few of my carpenter friends. We built the place ourselves. They're all sort of marginal artists like me: Sherry makes Egyptian-style caskets out of papier-maché, Trent works with rubber, Steven's an engineer in roller-coaster design but so far no amusement park will contract his work because they think his stuff's "unethical." But what can you do? You just plug away at it and hope that something good'll eventually come out. That's my advice to young artists: never take the easy road and never give up. As long as you remain true to your work, keep your work genuine, you'll be all right. There will always be times when you really doubt yourself, like when you're not eating as well as you should be because you can't afford anything besides microwave dinners and corndogs, and you're working at the IRS or for some low-circulation magazine or newspaper writing soft journalism and counting down the days to your next paycheck, and you have no love- or sex-life because you don't have the time or energy for that kind of thing, although you really do want one, it's all you think about, having an understandable and caring person be there for you, to buffer the pain and constantly tell you that you're not alone in this world, and you wonder to yourself, Are these sacrifices I'm making truly worth it? Am I putting out anything into the world that will make it a better place -- or that will help me be remembered after I die? Will I ever achieve the sort of recognition I honestly think I deserve in this lifetime, or at all? Or am I just going to have to fantasize about it in very strange and elaborate ways? Is it worth it to even go on with my life? Sometimes you'll think that the world doesn't need another someone like you, another dreamer, another hopeful who for some reason couldn't make it and is relegated to a life of mediocrity, who doesn't make an iota of a dent along the passage of time, and passes easily through the anus of history as if they never existed. But you just have to keep at it. Even if your spiritual back is broken, even if you're down to your last can of Spam, even if you've wasted away to 120 pounds when you really should be 160, even if you truly are all alone in this world, you just have to pick yourself up and reach for the next bone.

PaperBird can be found on YouTube:

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TRANSMISSIONS: Books of Some Substance

Welcome to Transmissions, an interview feature in which X-R-A-Y profiles podcasts.
Books Of Some Substance can be found at the website, Apple podcasts and YouTube.David Southard reads. He’s written a book or two. Maybe he’ll write another someday. He co-hosts the Books Of Some Substance podcast from his home in South Korea.Nathan Sharp is a graphic designer, an amateur motorcycle mechanic, an explorer of sounds, a reader of fictions, a collector of cameras, and a fixer of discarded things. He co-hosts the Books of Some Substance podcast and lives with his partner and his cat in California. Rebecca Gransden: How would you describe the podcast to someone who is unfamiliar with what you do?Books Of Some Substance: Imagine you’re at your local library’s book sale, rummaging through the vintage paperbacks and the yellow-paged hardbacks, buzzing with the anticipation for your next great find, distracted by the seemingly endless possibilities before you when you overhear an enthusiastic and wide-ranging conversation about a book you realize you’ve always wanted to read.RG: Does the podcast have a mission or manifesto?B.O.S.S.: Our mission on our website is ‘to inspire listeners to deepen their love of reading and expand their understanding of the world through engaging conversations about books of substance’. Basically, we want to spread the love of literature. We aren’t scholars or professors. We don’t know all the answers. But we believe in the value of stories. We see stories as perhaps the very source of what we call ‘meaning’. With so many different things vying for our attention, it is easy to feel like there is no time for Tolstoy, no time for Proust. We want to hold space for works like this and encourage others to do the same, not out of some aesthetic or scholastic obligation, but because they are beautiful and relevant. RG: Where did the idea for the podcast come from? How did you decide upon a title for the podcast?B.O.S.S.: The podcast started as a bookclub that met in a dive bar in the Mission district of San Francisco. Our cofounder, Nick, used the phrase while we were discussing what kinds of books we would read. Something along the lines of ‘we will keep it broad, but we should only read books we think have some substance’. That evening we set up a Goodreads account and made ‘Books of Some Substance’ the name, then Photoshopped a logo onto the back of a leather jacket in a photo of a Japanese motorcycle gang. David, who did not live in San Francisco proposed that we create a podcast, something none of us knew anything about. For the first eight years the local book club and the podcast ran more or less in parallel. As of November 2023, the podcast has become its own thing entirely. RG: What episode of the podcast would you recommend to someone who is new to what you do?B.O.S.S.: Start with an episode of a book you know and have read. We don’t do a lot of intro-to or summary-of-plot episodes. These are not lectures for a course, but conversations about the language and ideas of the book, conversations which often go in strange directions. So, start with a book you read recently or something you know. RG: How do you go about selecting what to feature on each episode?B.O.S.S.: As is stated in the name of the podcast, we aim to read and discuss books of some substance. What that means exactly is open to debate, but there are a few parameters we generally follow: the novel might be found in the literature aisle of a bookstore, it might be considered to have cultural or stylistic significance, it was published between the end of the 19th century and the late 20th century, and typically the author is no longer alive (although there are episodes where this is not the case). Within those parameters, we follow where our interests lead, whether those are informed by recent events or the last book we read. We try to balance episodes on books and authors that might be found in the traditional Western canon with literature from international, and lesser known authors.With the current season of the podcast, we decided to restrict our reading to the theme of Control. RG: If you are a writer, has the podcast impacted your writing life? and conversely, has a writerly disposition influenced the podcast? B.O.S.S.: What the podcast has been for us is a regular, semi-structured conversation about books. The fact that it is recorded adds a peculiar dimension to the conversation because you must always speak, respond, and question regardless of whether you quite know what you are going to say. This performative aspect engages a different part of the brain than a completely casual conversation. The risky part is that we are confronted from time to time with parts of ourselves that we might not be the most proud of (the foolish, the naive, the arrogant), but that are nonetheless true. The podcast becomes, in addition to an exercise in reading and understanding, an exercise in confronting, accepting, and growing comfortable with and even learning to trust that voice within that speaks without thinking. This trust is prerequisite to ‘getting out of one’s own way’ and is immensely helpful when writing as well as speaking. Perhaps it is the same desire to write, to articulate the strangeness of being oneself and perceiving the world from that particular perspective. It is not only strange, it is also somehow significant.RG: For techheads, which single item of kit do you consider essential for the production of the podcast, and what would you say are the basics needed for those new to podcasting?B.O.S.S.: A decent mic, solid internet connection, a quiet space, and a loving partner who accepts you for who you are and encourages you, or, at the very least, tolerates your hobby that eats up time and space.  Books Of Some Substance can be found at the website, Apple podcasts and YouTube.

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TRYING TO FIND SOMETHING BETTER: An Interview with Steve Gergley

Since 2022’s A Quick Primer on Wallowing in Despair: Stories (LEFTOVER Books) Steve Gergley has been steadily and consistently adding to an impressive body of work. The Great Atlantic Highway & Other Stories (Malarkey, 2024) is a showcase for Gergley’s specialties, and reflects the ache at the center of modern existence. Contemporary fables grounded in grit follow tales of high weirdness, and the mundane frequently threatens to be undone. A fuzz pedal is just as likely to be encountered as a strange angel. I spoke to Steve about the collection.   Rebecca Gransden: Like it always felt like no matter what I did, I could never find a way to get the words in my head out onto the paper in the right order. The above quote is taken from the story that opens the collection, “President Whitmore’s Basement.” Do you regard yourself as a prolific writer? Are there times when ideas fail to translate to the page? When thinking about this collection, do any of the stories stand out as having been particularly difficult or, alternatively, easy to write?Steve Gergley: I do regard myself as a prolific writer, but I try my best to never sacrifice quality for the sake of quantity. I just want to keep getting better, and one of the most important ways for me to do that is to get a lot of reps. So I’m always working on something. That being said, there are a lot of days when I don’t have a single idea of what to write about, or, if I do have an idea or two, I don’t know how to write those stories. Often, searching for the most interesting way to write the story I’m thinking about is more difficult than generating the idea for the story in the first place.As for this collection, some of the weirder, more high-concept stories such as “Thin Man,” “On Location,” and “Window Teeth,” flowed quite easily, while other, more “standard” stories like “All the Things You Do,” and, “A Text from Zoey,” required a huge amount of grinding, hard work, and refinement to complete.      RG: The collection frequently presents the world of work as insecure, confusing and in possession of inherent strangeness. Would you agree that a common theme of your work is the injection of weirdness and absurdity into the working day?SG: Yeah, I would agree with that, and that appeals to me because my own daily days at work are so boring and repetitive. So I’m definitely making up for the mundanity in my real life by writing these stories where interesting / weird stuff happens. But then again, I think it would be pretty stressful to be in some of these situations in real life, so it’s probably best they stay in the realm of my imagination, haha. RG: “A Face to Put on Top of Your Face” has the quality of a modern fable, taking your propensity for combining the surreal with the mundane into the realm of deep symbolism. Small, everyday details add weight to the more fantastical elements, grounding the story, and the narrative addresses fundamental psychological angsts. Did you experience discomfort or uneasiness when writing any of the stories for The Great Atlantic Highway & Other Stories?SG: It’s always uncomfortable for me to write about personal subjects like those addressed in that story, so that one was definitely difficult to write. But once it was finished and polished up into a state I was satisfied with, it was pretty cathartic. The whole purpose of any kind of artistic expression is to communicate an emotion of some kind, so it feels good to be able to do that. “Wes,” and “Thanksgiving Eve,” are two other pieces that were difficult to complete but satisfying when completed.  RG: A recurring theme for you is the inclusion of references to popular culture, most often in the form of TV shows, films and well known figures. A good example of this is “On Location” where a film shoot takes a wild turn. Why do you think this provides such impetus for your writing?SG: I include many references to those things in my writing because they have a big influence on my life in general. I love movies, TV shows, and art just as much as books, so there are so many images, characters, and lines of dialogue from movies and TV shows that have stuck with me for years after my first viewing. Also, I like to ground my stories in a world that is as realistic as possible, where other popular works of media exist. I don’t enjoy writing as much when the characters seem to exist in this weird parallel universe where TV shows and movies like The Wire and Independence Day just don’t exist. For some reason that feels a little bit phony and bloodless to me.RG: “I Smell Death on You” raises the eternal questions of life and death, meaning, and existence. Often these questions come at us from the most unexpected of places, and if we receive any answers they can be cryptic. When you look at the collection, which stories stand out to you as dealing with the ‘big’ questions?SG: I think most of them, if not all, deal with something similar to that. Whether it’s life and death, the appearance of unexpected pregnancy, the secret of a cheating spouse being revealed, how to survive during wartime, trying to re-enter society after a serious injury, the death of a family member, serious career uncertainty . . . I think all of these things are pretty big inflection points in a person’s life. RG: The stories selected for the collection vary in length, from flash fiction to long short story. How did you decide which pieces to include?SG: The most important consideration was to include the best stories. Or the ones I like the best at least. After that, I tried to sequence the collection to have a nice ebb and flow between short and long, and between surreal and grounded. I didn’t want the transitions between those two extremes to be too jarring.RG: A theme which recurs in the collection is that of chance encounters that possess a surreal quality, often suggesting a revelation or deeper meaning. Have you experienced this type of interaction in real life? What attracts you to this scenario?SG: I’ve had a number of interesting occurrences like that in real life, and I’ve always been intrigued by them. For me, it’s the possibility of an unexpected force or person stepping into your life for a short time and taking it in a direction you never could have predicted. The moment that person shows up, absolutely anything can happen. And that’s the most exciting thing any story can do. RG: Many of your characters are thinking about another life, either an alternative one or a projected future existence. Do you have any insight into why this might be?SG: I’ve worked soul-crushing retail and warehouse jobs for the past fifteen years, and during that time, I spent nearly every day trying to find a way to something better. So that struggle is something very familiar to me. The people trapped in those jobs and those lives are the ones who I know, and who I like to write about. RG: I am the hanging man. For two days I’ve hung from this elm. There’s a rope around my ruined neck. Flies walk on my open eyes. The stories “Hanging” (from which the above quote is lifted) and “Burning” act as a duo, and in their own striking ways address the profound mystery of religious experience. What part does faith, or the lack of, play in your writing?SG: You expressed it right there with the words, “profound mystery.” I’m not religious myself at all, but I am very interested in all the weird little mysteries that can be hiding in plain sight that nobody ever notices because they never look in that direction for very long. These two stories are about a much bigger, more grand event than that, but I’m very drawn to the mystery of that weird, tiny house at the end of the dead-end street with the boarded up windows and the brand new car parked in the driveway. Each time I drive by something like that, I always ask myself: why is a brand new car parked by a house like that? Does someone actually live there, or are they just cleaning it out before selling the land the house is built on? Or did they lose something in there? Or is something more sinister going on? In real life, the answer is usually very boring, but like you said, the mystery of the whole thing is endlessly fascinating. RG: “Do You Like Death Metal?”Well, do you? SG: Yeah, without a doubt, I’m a big fan. Some of my favorite bands are Nile, Ulcerate, Artificial Brain, Blood Incantation, Ruin Lust, Gorguts, and many others.RG: “Ghost Baby” addresses sadness that exists beyond death. How do you approach the use of melancholy in your work?SG: I try to make it as realistic and restrained as possible, or I try to hide it completely and have it leak out wordlessly in other ways. In real life, I feel that most strong emotions, whether it be sadness, anger, resentment, fear, or something else, are almost never expressed in clear, linear ways. They’re always hidden beneath the surface of the psyche, morphing into distorted thoughts, compulsions, and desires, and by the time those emotions do leak out, they’re warped and misshapen to the point that they’re not even recognizable anymore. And that’s much more interesting to me than something that’s clear and direct.RG: Several of the stories make reference to how religious meaning can be projected onto the physical body. I’m thinking in particular of “God’s Thumb” and “Richie’s Vacation”. What attracts you to this theme?SG: The deep weirdness of the idea is what’s really intriguing to me. It’s the practice of taking religion and religious meaning, which is something I consider to be a mental construct, and applying that to the human body, which is the basis of all physical experience due to it being the home of the senses. To me, those two realms (the mental and the physical) sit on opposite ends of the human experience, so trying to mash them together through (in the case of these two stories) painful and grotesque rituals is a compelling contrast. It’s like trying to jam the key to your front door into the lock of your neighbor’s house. There’s going to be a lot of struggle there, and if you keep pressing, either the key or the lock are going to get damaged.  RG: One of my favorite stories featured in the collection is “The Girl Who Was a Doorway,” which takes a simple but ingenious concept to unexpected places. When approaching high concept pieces, are you looking for a balance of elements?SG: Thanks for the kind words! And yeah, when working on something like that, I try to work out all the elements, no matter how weird or surreal, to make sure that the world of the story has a sound internal logic. In addition to that, I like to make sure the non-surreal elements of the story are as grounded in reality as possible. That way, it gives the reader the feeling that these reality-defying events could really be happening somewhere nearby in real life, even if they’re not front-page news stories. I like the idea of these kinds of events floating quietly on the fringes of society, being hidden away from everyone, except for the select few people who are experiencing it directly. RG: For “Howdy Stranger, This is Howser” you take on the world of online connection, and the difficulties that can arise when navigating it. How do you view your own use of online messaging and social media? Does the online space impact your writing life?SG: The online space impacts my writing life a little bit, but not too much. I don’t pay much attention to gossip or feuds or anything like that that happens in the online writing community. I just like to read the work of other writers, and if I enjoy a story or poem, I’ll highlight it and post a link. As for my own use of social media, I have a policy of 100% positivity. There is enough negativity online. I don’t need to add more to it. So I only post positive things. If I’m having a bad day or experiencing some strong negative emotions, I just step away from the computer and go do a workout or something.    RG: Clusters of bearded guys with shining, styled hair and analog watches of brushed steel joked loudly near flat screen TVs affixed to the walls. Mixed groups of men and women in their thirties sat at square tables and chatted over half-empty glasses and froth-stitched pitchers of beer. One-time acquaintances and people he had known but never met passed by with less hair, plumper faces, unfamiliar glasses, new piercings, fresh tattoos, glittering wedding rings, and grinning partners from other states. In “Thanksgiving Eve,” the protagonist Skip, having been struck by lightning and left with multiple long term problems, decides to visit a local watering hole where he’ll run into people familiar to him from high school. When there, he finds his issues amplified when faced with comparing his lot with the lives of his former peer group. There can often be an uncanny quality to a situation like this, or sudden feeling of existential dread. Is this story inspired by a specific incident? What is the role of fate in “Thanksgiving Eve”?SG: That story is heavily influenced by a night that really happened, and writing it was a cathartic exercise for me. Many elements are changed from reality and many are not, but the big takeaway for me is that every event in your life is a probabilistic roll of the dice that you have no control over, so all you can do is to keep trying to make the best of each new situation that comes your way, and continue moving forward into the future. Read more from Steve Gergley in the X-R-A-Y archives.Steve Gergley is the author of The Great Atlantic Highway & Other Stories (Malarkey Books ’24), There Are Some Floors Missing (Bullshit Lit ’24), Skyscraper (West Vine Press ’23), and A Quick Primer on Wallowing in Despair (Leftover Books ’22). His short fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine, Pithead Chapel, Maudlin House, Passages North, Hobart, Always Crashing, and others. He tweets @GergleySteve. His fiction can be found at: In addition to his own writing, he is also the editor of scaffold literary magazine.

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TRANSMISSIONS: Another Fucking Writing Podcast

Tyler Dempsey is the author of 4 books. He hosts Another Fucking Writing Podcast and lives in Utah with his dog. Another Fucking Writing Podcast can be found here and at Patreon.Rebecca Gransden: How would you describe the podcast to someone who is unfamiliar with what you do?Tyler Dempsey: It’s kind of a literary podcast. Kind of. I don’t know anything about writing. Don’t have the language to talk about craft or know what a Hermit Crabcake or Villanelle is. I just fell in love with books in college. And, when I’d finish a good one, always hunted information about the author. You’d probably think as a result I like biographies. But I don’t. I hate em. Cause they tell you what happened to a person but rarely anything about them. Their life. Personality. Whatnot. I’d find myself wishing we could have coffee and just talk about the ideas their book made me think about and learn what they felt like growing up and shit. So, that’s what I do. RG: Does the podcast have a mission or manifesto? TD: You know, that’s interesting. Not cause I have one. Not long ago, artists would find “their people.” Then make manifestos. It’s a funny word. Militant for what writing is capable of these days. Maybe I do need one? Shit. Okay. Here goes. I want writers to feel less alone. Like their books can come back to life after they thought they were dead. To be a doorjamb against the onslaught of reasons to give up.RG: How long has the podcast been in existence, and how have you seen it grow over that time?TD: The first episode came out January 15, 2023. Ten months ago. Course, there was research leading up. But not much. It’s kind of hard to track, in terms of “growth.” There isn’t the same sharing online as say, when a story comes out and everybody’s quote tweeting and it’s all right on display in front of you. And you watch the numbers climb as an artist gets bigger and bigger. Almost nobody shares podcasts. But they are listening. And I keep having surprises. Like when I reached out to Brian Allen Carr about an interview, and he was like, yeah, I’ve listened to a few episodes. We’d never spoken or interacted before. That was really cool. And recently I learned Scott McClanahan is a fan. Also, apparently, it’s getting discussed in graduate writing programs. Stuff like that. It’s growing through word-of-mouth or something. It’d probably help if I tried having a website or even creating an AFWP twitter profile instead of just posting from my stupid profile. For those curious about monetary gains, I have 12 Patreon supporters (shout out day ones!) who, before Patreon takes their slice, net me collectively $38 per month. Which, almost pays for the books I read to do the show. I think growth is more these experiences I get to have, and hopefully, you as a listener, have too. RG: Where did the idea for the podcast come from?TD: A new writer comes on Twitter/X. Sits in the pocket. Follows the shit outta writers and journals, trying to figure out who they want “to be.” Prodigiously sharing other people’s work in the mags they wish they could be in. Soon, they become those people. And there’s like a drug addict’s mentality, once you start getting pubbed, and other people are sharing your work, etc. Dopamine or not, it’s about as good a “community” feeling as they’ve ever had. Unless they’re a psychopath or independently wealthy and don’t have to work, there’s no WAY they’re going to keep in that game if they start writing books. Simply no time. In the couple years or whatever it takes to complete that novel that’s gonna rip indie lit a new asshole, the algorithm doesn’t remember them. And it’s really, really easy to be like, Why’m I doing this? It’s awesome people who’ve used social media to create community, but I feel as if that is an outlier. That’s where the idea for the podcast came from. I’m just trying something different. Hoping a real community springs from it. RG: How did you decide upon a title for the podcast?TD: Came up with a few and polled Twitter. This sweet baby was the winner.RG: Are there any podcasts that influenced or encouraged you to start the project?TD: I wouldn’t say influenced me to start, but WTF with Marc Maron is definitely an influence. All I’m doing is that, but with writers, not comedians. RG: What episode of the podcast would you recommend to someone who is new to what you do?TD: Maybe the Mike Nagel one? I think people just tapping in might expect more “literariness” to the show. And in that episode I’m pretty sure we don’t mention Mike’s book once. In my head, that conversation was even better without mentioning the book (which is amazing, if you haven’t read DUPLEX wtf are you even doing?) so yeah, that might give an indication what I’m aiming for.RG: If your podcast features guests, how do you go about finding them?TD: If you’re not a fan it makes for lazy interviews. So, that’s rule #1. Twitter’s my go-to for finding them. Seems the less “online” a writer is, the less chance they’re gonna talk to me. If I have to go hunting an author website or reach out to a publisher, I don’t have high hopes. If they have like four different publicist/agent emails as the route to contact them, unless you’re Brad fucking Listi, they aren’t getting back to you. Bout 1-in-3 authors refuse interviews for one reason or another or ghost me. So, it keeps you busy reaching out to people if you’re striving for an episode each week.RG: If you are a writer, has the podcast impacted your writing life? and conversely, has a writerly disposition influenced the podcast? TD: Michael Wheaton and I talked about this when he interviewed me on The Lives of Writers. Conversations stir up ideas, and those show up later in your writing. Or, in my case, monologues. The fact I meticulously prep for each conversation and strive for some semblance of an arc in the conversation as a whole, a kind of story or something, that’s writerly. I do a fair amount of editing to the audio, something else that sets my pod apart. Not only do “uhmms” and those little lip smacks get axed, also words/phrases I find myself cutting when I edit my writing. I’m considering the listener in a way that stems from being a writer. It all influences what ends up in the final cut.RG: Do you listen to podcasts?TD: Moreso now, then ever. I have a job that sees me alone/driving several hours a week.RG: What is the best podcast out there at the moment, the one you are excited for when each new episode drops?TD: May not be on radars, but The Martyrmade Podcast is hands down the best. Start with Episode # 8 on human sacrifice/cannibalism. If you aren’t hooked, you and I aren’t the same.  RG: What do you dislike about podcasts?TD: When it’s three or four people and sounds like a bunch of dudes who are all wasting really good hairlines, holding Playstation/Xbox controllers, bro’ing out. Thinking of shows like The Dollop.RG: Who is your dream guest?TD: A.M. Homes, Brian Evenson, William T Vollmann, etc. RG: Is there a podcast that doesn’t exist, but you wish did?TD: I wish there was a SNL/Mystery Science/Drunk History kind of vibe podcast where dead writers, played by live ones, are interviewed and sort of drilled or riffed on.RG: Is there a podcast that exists, but you wish didn’t?TD: It’s the Era of the Podcast. So, no. I think even more should exist. RG: For techheads, which single item of kit do you consider essential for the production of the podcast, and what would you say are the basics needed for those new to podcasting?TD: Big fan of my Focusrite Scarlett Solo Interface. Also, I bought a new laptop with a lot of processing speed before I started. A huge investment. But, kind of cross pollinates to other things. I mean, I wrote my previous three books on a tablet, so now it feels like I’m in that giant world in Mario when I sit down to write. All I’d say to newbies is you can literally do this shit with your smartphone and an hour of YouTube videos, so don’t let the tech side turn you away from giving it a shot. RG: If someone would like to support independent podcasts, what are the best ways to do this?TD: Find the Patreon or Kofi or whatever and sign the fuck up. There’s usually a $5’ish option, which, let’s be honest, you won’t even notice. Even if produced haphazardly, it’s a shit ton of work getting episodes together and put out. If it seems like it’s professionally done, even a little bit, I promise that person is dedicating a huge chunk of their free time toward getting you something you can enjoy by barely lifting a finger. We tip our barista for steaming some damn milk for 30 seconds, I mean, come on.RG: Looking back on the podcast, are there favorite episodes, episodes that stand out to you, or episodes that didn’t go as you would’ve liked?TD: They’re all favorites. Always something memorable/unexpected when you go into an interview having never spoken and without rehearsing questions. Plus, it’s close to a miracle these days getting anyone to sit down at an agreed upon time to talk to you. I can’t even get my friends on the phone.RG: What are your plans for the future?TD: I can barely keep up as is. So, I guess, planning/hoping to sustain this drive and motivation as long as I can.RG: If you liked that, you may also like this. Are there any podcasts on a similar wavelength to your own that you would recommend to a listener who appreciates what you do?TD: The Lives of Writers, Otherppl, Beyond the Zero, WTF with Marc Maron, I’m a Writer, But. Another Fucking Writing Podcast can be found here and at Patreon.

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LOSS, GRIEF, SADNESS, MAGIC: An Interview with Bradley Sides

In Crocodile Tears Don’t Cause the Flood (Montag Press, 2024), Bradley Sides folds heavy themes like grief and loss into lighter elements like magic, resulting in an experimental short-story collection that feels relatable even at its most uncanny. Set very firmly in the South, each of Sides’ stories hums with an inventive playfulness that always complements, never overwhelms, the narrative. Sides was kind enough to answer a few of my questions about his craft, his collection, and more. Elizabeth Crowder: What was your inspiration for Crocodile Tears Didn’t Cause the Flood?Bradley Sides: The book had kind of a weird, unplanned beginning. My first collection, Those Fantastic Lives, released in October 2021, and right when it dropped, a new story I’d been working on titled “Do You Remember?” came out at Ghost Parachute. I liked what the story did, with a shark boy trying to process loss, loneliness, and grief. It was a cathartic kind of work. The world was falling apart, and it seemed like there was a kind of collective experience of these particular experiences and feelings that I could explore further. With the publication of “Do You Remember?,” I knew I’d started my new full cycle, without a break at all. And that cycle had a focus. So I wrote and wrote and wrote. The collection was ready in less than two years.EC: Grief, loss, and longing seem to be major themes at play here. And yet, there’s almost a playfulness to the way you imbue these stories with magic realism; a playfulness that extends to the experimental forms you use to tell said stories. For example, “Claire & Hank” tackles subjects like paternal neglect and orphanhood but also there’s a Pteranodon named Claire who sleeps indoors and goes for walks on a leash. Or “Nancy R. Melson’s State ELA Exam, Section 1: The Dead-Dead Monster” which is essentially a horror story in the form of a completed and graded test. This juxtaposition of heavier topics mixed with lighter elements creates a welcome dissonance that is as comforting as it is discomfiting. Was this an intentional dichotomy? BS: I’m so glad you picked up on the playfulness! It was intentional. I feel like it had to be there. I mean, these themes you mentioned are heavy, and reading without some fun honestly probably wouldn’t be all that enjoyable. I found that the experimental form and odd situational happenings were a way to include some playfulness—some lightness. Both had to be there for me, as the creator, and also for future readers. We’ve all got to escape darkness somehow…EC: How did you choose which stories to include? BS: I treat my collections the same way I imagine a musician puts together a record. It’s a long, meticulous process. Lots of let me try this one. No, now let me switch to this story instead. Most are from a two-year period because I was writing about the same connectors so closely. Outside of this new set, I have lots of stories, and I went through my favorites. If a story feels out of place, even if I love it, I cut it from the manuscript. One example is that I had “Remembrance Day” in my first book for the longest time, but I wound up removing it near the last editing cycle because it just didn’t fit thematically as tightly as I wanted it to. It was a hard decision because I love this story. I actually read it at my first public reading when Crocodile Tears Didn’t Cause the Flood launched. But I’m so glad I cut it from Those Fantastic Lives because it’s absolutely perfectly placed in this new book. I also trust my gut. Hopefully that pays off. EC: If the tone of most of the other stories in this collection is Helvetica, “Dying at Allium Farm” is Comic Sans. There is a shift from sober to slapstick in this piece featuring a narrator who is a typical angsty teenager if that typical angsty teenager were also a vampire forced to work on their family’s garlic farm. Why do you think “Dying at Allium Farm” is such a good fit for the collection? BS: Haha! Perfect comparison there. So, I always had this story as a must in the book, and I never doubted the inclusion. It’s different, yeah, but it’s also fully engaged in the central themes of the book. I like to have one WILD story in my books—one that has been previously unpublished. It has to fit thematically, like I said of course, but I just love to hide a story inside that takes the expectation of what’s about to unfold and totally flips it. “Dying at Allium Farm,” while very much about grief and loss, makes me laugh, and I hope other readers find it to be a good, fun surprise, too. EC: I’m curious about your process for deciding how to structure this collection. How do you decide which pieces go in what order? BS: When I was getting my MFA, one of my writing mentors pointed out the space in which I end my stories. Many were either in the sky or at the edge of water. He suggested I give space between these stories with similar landings. I’d never thought about this kind of thing before, but I do now. I also think about tone and length. My ordering takes a long time, and it’s an exercise in balance. EC: “Nancy R. Melson’s State ELA Exam, Section 1: The Dead-Dead Monster” seems like it would be technically hard to create. You had to design a believable ELA exam and still stick the horror-story landing. I’ve never had a pie chart make me uneasy until now, so I’d say you did an excellent job. What was your thought process writing this story? Did you find it challenging?BS: Thank you! You know, Nancy’s story was one of the easiest ones to write. The draft came together without much trouble at all, and I just kind of went with my instincts. I wish I could’ve made it longer due to the amount of time I spent on the technical detailing, but it feels right with its length. I used to teach high school. For almost a decade, I dealt with constant state tests. Like many teachers, I struggled with the importance placed on them. I think I essentially personified my feelings of state test by creating the Dead-Dead Monster and the surrounding story. The grief! The grief!EC: Did you believe in monsters as a kid? How about now?BS: 100 percent to both! As a young person, I experienced sleep paralysis. That’s some scary stuff. For a while, there was a monster just out of my view, and I could hear it breathing. Or so I thought… I was also a kid with a big imagination. The dark offered possibilities for all kinds of creatures, and when you grow up on a farm like I did, there’s even more space in which to get carried away. To imagine possibilities. Now, well, I’m certain monsters exist. They might not be what I thought monsters were as a kid, but they are just as scary. Scarier even. Human monsters can be so much scarier than anything I could probably ever imagine. EC: What’s your favorite piece in the collection and why?BS: Gosh, it’s tough to say. If I’m honest, it depends on my mood, but right now I’m really into “The Guide to King George.” I like to read it aloud because I just love the voice of it. Ritchie is someone I still think about, and I rarely do that with characters in my work. Usually, once the stories are done, they are done. I also feel really proud of the story when I look at it from a technical perspective. The form is so cool. It had to be in a manual, I think, to work like it does. It’s also a very Bradley Sides kind of story. Loss, grief, sadness, magic, and a dash of hope, all put together in the South. For writers, it’s easy for us to be critical of our work. I’m trying to celebrate with this story—and this collection. I did something difficult, and I’m proud of the final product.

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LOVE IS A SHITPOST FROM THE SOUL: A Profile of Cash Compson by K Hank Jost

“You ever waste much time with this guy?”Cash has removed from the bookshelf a tattered volume of Hunter S. Thompson. He holds it aloft with a smirk I will come increasingly to recognize as punctuation to a dry joke. The both of us are now newly in our thirties, young but fresh in our next decade, and our trip to the bookstore has largely been a coming to terms with all that we once read and held sacred. Kerouac. Bukowski. Thompson. Hemingway. All the etceterated, quintessential, sensitive but itchy-fisted guy-reads. The one, though, that we mutually hold in unshakeable esteem is Faulkner, blooming a brotherhood, a surprise in finding your counterpart sits on the same side of the great modernist divide as yourself. Had Cash been a Heming-bro, I don’t think we would have gotten on as well as we did. We both like a ramble. RE: Faulkner—: “What is it about him, do you think?”“I couldn’t tell you, man.” Cash says, flipping through a brittle-spined Absalom, Absalom!, “It’s just good. The best anyone’s ever done it…”I’m tickled to bits…Here’s the thing: Cash Compson is a Connecticut boy. It may seem, and certainly is, retrograde, especially coming from someone who gave undergrad a shot in Indiana only to move to NYC on young man’s gamble, but I grew up in Georgia—deep swamp and red clay Georgia—and I still carry with me many of the class-anxieties and regionalist biases that a backwoods, guns-for-Christmas upbringing will imprint on the softer parts of one’s soul. All to say, Connecticut doesn’t register much for me as a place folks I’d get on well with originate from, much less proudly hail as home. Regardless, a friendship formed fast and the day passed, honestly, too quick.I’d reached out to Cash about a week before to do an interview. Seeing as he’s close enough to the City, I figured best do it in person, make a day of it, see how deep we could get the thing going. Sweat-palmed and nervous in a way our mutual literary hero (and many of his characters) would surely understand, I met Cash out front of a coffee shop in the East Village to kick the thing off.Any anxiety I had toward meeting a stranger from a strange land was quickly quelled. Cash moves through interactions with all the humility one would expect from a poet. I’ve mentioned above the dryness of his humor—but, there’s more to his mannerisms. Though he claims to feel he gesticulates too wildly or meanders too widely in his discourse, I found nothing further from the truth. Cash speaks at a sure and pointed clip but is never one to fill dead air for the sake of its filling.  Perhaps I’d read too much into the title of his debut poetry collection, People Scare Me (published by House of Vlad), which occasioned this interview. I’d expected someone much haughtier or even brooding. My private reading of the collection ought to have prepared me for the generous soul with whom I was about to share the totality of a NYC St. Patrick’s Day…After the bookstore, we arrive at a bar in which I used to work—I’ve convinced the owner to open up early for us and lock us in so that Cash and I can speak uninterrupted. The green-clad masses peer in during our conversation, knock on the glass front, ask us in window-muffled shouts when the bar opens.I have one great burning question regarding the collection: “These are love poems, right?”“Oh yeah,” He says, grins.“But there’s, like, an arc to them.” I’m unsure in my questions, wary of possible misreadings. As a prose writer, my conception of poets—regrettable, and with apology to any who may be reading this…—is that they’re precious about their work.“What do you mean?”And here the fear confirmed—that I’ve overstepped, proposed some great hermeneutic architecture on a text meant to be opposite of whatever it is I am about to say. But I say it anyway, stuttering all through: “I mean, like, look, at the beginning there’s this idea of love all over the place, this consumptive, all-consuming, nearly destructive, eviscerative, notion that I don’t know: a turn-me-to-mush-put-me-in-a-bucket-and-carry-me-around-in-that-bucket-forever idea of love, but then by the end—I mean there’s that beautiful moment of the poet, the narrator, you or whoever, looking at his wife while she’s sleeping and… The idea of love changes over the course of the collection. You know what I mean?”“Oh yeah, for sure. I mean, listen,” Beer down, brow thought-twisted, “Where the book begins—to be totally honest, I started writing a lot of these poems in 2020, going into 2021, a relationship had ended, and I was living alone. It was still COVID times, and I felt very isolated and, yeah, there was this idea of love as this kind of intense, all-consuming thing—a toxicity that I’ve identified with a lot of relationships and loves over the years. Later on in the book it’s not that, it’s like actual real love that I found. The first chunk goes from somebody who’s very scared of everything, of people, of everything around, of myself—I don’t know if I identify it in the book, but I have bi-polar disorder, and that’s something that has shaped my life—and in that first chunk of the book there’s a lot of feeling unsafe, and then by the end we’re looking at a sense of safety, and nobody’s made me feel more safe that the woman I married last year, so… for me that’s the narrative push, the arc, that’s what I latch onto, it feels like the collection is telling that story…”Now we’re cooking: “For sure, but at the same time I don’t want to make it seem like the idea is that this collection comes to a milquetoast, middle-class, panacea point about love—the chaos remains in these poems. Love doesn’t serve to abate the chaos of life and mental illness, it doesn’t get rid of it.”“Yeah, no… I’m still myself… Falling in love is happening while all the rest is happening.”“One of the big things I noticed in the book is this wild, sometimes line-by-line, oscillation between the poet’s feeling very small and very large—the jump from the squished and smothered to this almost heroic or epic grandness…”“Sure thing. I mean, I’ll have a feeling or be in a mood of a certain way and I’ll have this thought of like, is this the bi-polar making me feels this way, am I having the beginnings of an episode, or am I just feeling life? And in the book there’s that constant toggling between the two, and honestly that’s just kinda something that for years I’ve felt in my life, for years I’ve wanted to make that go away, and I’ve just had to realize that that’s how I am. If we’re looking at one line or page versus the next—I mean, there’s a section of the book called Blowing My Brains Out on Your Foliage!! It’s all there! Honestly, the poems are just me writing down what’s going on and I think it all shows up there, it’s just a big pile of a lot of different things…”“But, how do you go about getting that stuff down? There’s so much life in this collection, real lived-life, true shit—what’s the process like for you? Are you setting time aside or—?” “When I was growing up I’d read about writers like Stephen King getting up and writing 10,000 words, I’d be like ‘Oh my God, I didn’t write 10,000 words today, I must be a loser!’, or reading about Toni Morrison who talks about getting up at the absolute crack of dawn—that all sounds great, and that’s awesome, but me…I’ve just constantly had a notebook with me since I was a teenager and I’d slip off to the bathroom or go somewhere and write a couple lines and revisit it later, or more ideally I’d sit down and write for three to five minutes and it’s there, you know, that feeling where it’s just coming out and you’re not really thinking at all, you’re just doing something—and then afterwards you do a lot of revisions and stuff like that. So, I’m just writing poems at random times and then going on the computer at home and editing them that way, and honestly once this collection got going it was just a word document with a lot of poems in it: I’d have more poems, put more poems in the document, and it would just be like a line or two that would start it. Long hand, occasionally typing on my phone—I get obsessive though, once something starts, I’m not moving until it’s done, obsessively returning… I’m glad this book is out in the world so I can stop fucking writing it… I haven’t heard from a lot of people who are like ‘These are brilliant love poems’ I’ve mostly heard that ‘wow, there’s a lot of fucked up shit in this book…’”But People Scare Me is, in fact and without a doubt, fundamentally a book of love poems. And they’re damn good love poems. The aforementioned arc toward that purity of care and fascination which defines true love aside, it’s the fact that the love survives within its environment of chaos, not only of mental illness but also the general anxieties that plague our generation here at the edge of apocalypse. This positioning has too often made writers of this generation ironic or flippant in their tone—trafficking so much in ‘a lot of fucked up shit,’ and the fucked-up-edness acting as the metric for their work’s value. Everything must be crazy, twisted, and fatalistic in its humor. What stands out about Compson’s collection, other than its clandestine centering of the arc of learning what love really means—and it is clandestine, covered over with all the internet’s baroque referentiality, irony, and shit-posting—, is his treatment of these millennial trappings, superseding the merely ‘fucked up.’If you’ll allow me a moment’s exegetic digression, there’s a few poems that stand-out most clearly to my reading wherein the indie-lit, internet poetry mode reaches a clinamen, twisting and breaking onto a path of sublimity:The first of these blasts its colors in the title: I Watch TV All Day: If Gilmore Girls Was Rebooted by HBO. The following several pages of verse reimagines the saccharine, no-stakes comfort watch with all the egregious grit we’ve come to expect from so-called ‘premium’ television—the imagery itself imbued with the purple, blue, and orange of Euphoria and A24’s ‘bisexual lighting.’ It’s a brilliant dig, a funny thought to spend some reading time with—but, it's masterfully underpinned with complex feelings beyond the joke’s wit. The central question is our relationship with media, particularly television, and what we expect it to tell us of the world we live in. Even an updated Gilmore would be as much the lie as the unremarkable innocence of the original—the amount of evil and venom Cash imagines in the gritified version is almost too much to bear, bounding into the hilarity of its spectacle only a few short stanzas in: ‘Richard Gilmore makeshis moneyfrom child laborand wears a monocleand Emily is nevermoreafter an uprisingof all her fired hired helpleaves her hung crookedfrom a chandelier in the roomwhere they once had drinksat Friday Night Dinners.’ In a poem reflecting on the practice of writing in the present day, Why I Am Not the Next Great American Novelist, Compson tackles again the question of whether or not things can ever be as they were—this time, though, without any nostalgia and a tad less venom. The question posed is one woven through much of the collection’s work, and perhaps the reason my reading became so hung up on the love poems—in that they build an argument for some forever-notion, some attempt at truth in the storm. It’s that anxiety over forever, over having missed out, over the words we grew up knowing the definitions of changing their definitions—the fear that there might not be any more great writers, not because nobody reads, but because the world won’t allow for a sustained moment of silence and calm, because no writing can get done anymore:‘He [Jonathan Franzen] does that. He isthe Great American Old Unfazed UnWoke UnBravenovelist whois a flash of ludditebrilliance and he does not say sorryeven when what we do nowis say sorry, a lot.’ And this sentiment reaches its highest expression in the closing poem of People Scare Me. I’ve half a mind to print the whole thing here.  It’s a perfect cap on the building gesture of the collection. Here, just listen a moment:‘So this is as good as writing into nothingness, vacancy,about you and the way smoke clingswhen the air is almost all ocean. I do itbecause we’re here.Hello, wind.Hello, Keats.Hello, Sexton. Vuong. Lowell. Emily.In 70 years we’ll be the same.Unremembered. Beauty-less and unnervedAt the end of us. I hope it’s a pasture.I hope I’m never alone.’ …In 70 years we’ll be the same…The collection’s end, expressing an increasingly common anxiety among millennial artists, myself included: That we’ve missed the opportunity to leave our art to the future, because there’s no future to have. The fatalism in this sentiment is one that every artist I know is currently fighting against. Some have cow-towed the certainty of extinction and history’s end by giving up the grind altogether, plowing headlong into games of clout and short-term ladder-climbing, or they’ve surrendered art completely and sat themselves in the dying stream of bourgeois aspiration, clambering at fake email jobs, bullshit startups, or the hollow promise of crypto-currency’s supposed and soon-to-be-seen supremacy—either way, all grabbing what little flotsam of economic security they can before the imminence of collapse becomes the immanence of regular catastrophe.Here too, in the fundament of love Cash has built his debut upon, lies the sweetening of this millennial bitterness: this arc of love, from selfish and destructive to selfless and constructive, is one that hinges upon the hope for things to come. ‘In 70 years we’ll be the same…’ We’ll still be in love. We’ll still be writing poems. We’ll still be celebrating the poems of those who inspired us to write poems. We’ll still be inspiring others to write poems. We’ll still be… Together…About a month after Cash and I spoke, had our rollick about town, and formed a friendship, KGB hosted the release party for People Scare Me. If the singe and cinder of nostalgia for a literary world that matters encapsulated in those few lines of his collection’s last poem could be prescribed a salve other than raw, naïve, dumb hope, a reading and party like this would surely be the first course of treatment of most medical professionals. A near-carnival of twitterati, NYC locals and travelers alike. Jillian Luft, Bud Smith, Lexi Kent-Monning, Danielle Chelosky, Emily Laura Costa, Kirsti Mackenzie, Catherine Spino, and, of course, Cash himself. That’s just the readers! In the audience that night, and spilling over into the bar downstairs for lack of seating in the upper room, were yet more indie-lit writers, people known mostly by their posts and publications in our little rambunctious internet rags. …In 70 years we’ll be the same…Brother Cash, we’re the same now! The Algonquin folks got nothing on the party that followed that night—whether it was the East Village spanning bar-crawl after the fact or the reading itself! This is the literary world now! The Beats ain’ shit! Big 5, take a hike. We spend an afternoon perusing the bookstore, nostalgic for days and movements dead long before our birth. And good, we learn from that stuff. We’d be nowhere what we are without Daddy Faulkner! But, damn, look at us go!We’re the same now: chasing something worth building a forever on, redefining love, smoking too many cigarettes, drinking the sun up, publishing in our generation’s versions of those lost mimeographs, zines, and reviews, partying with our peers, reading each other’s work.Goddamn right, ‘Hello, Keats!’ It’s nice to see you!

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This joint is crooked n criminal wit how it breaks the law bout WUT a book shood be. And I love dat shit.

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