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: https://stevegergleyauthor.wordpress.com/. In addition to his own writing, he is also the editor of scaffold literary magazine.

Continue Reading...

BODY AS CURSED OBJECT: An Interview with Christopher Zeischegg

How do you know when you’ve arrived? Christopher Zeischegg’s Creation: On Art and Becoming (Apocalypse Party, 2024) presents the many violences we can inflict and invite, breathing breakneck life into fathomless yearning. In a series of essays and auto-fictional psycho-sexual fevers, Zeischegg delivers an examination of hunger. Appetite for sex and death, sure, but the book’s title points the way. One day will be the day of our death, and on that day we will have arrived at—something. If the fates back down and give us more time, it will be a day of becoming, like all days, like today. Zeischegg stalks this place in-between: on art, on extremity, on grace, and on coming out the other side. I talked to Christopher about the book.  Rebecca Gransden: Several of the pieces you've chosen to include in the collection address grievances of some kind. What is your relationship to revenge and atonement?Christopher Zeischegg: Regarding grievance...If I'm to poke fun at myself, I could say that most of the stories in the book have to do with me complaining. I mention in the preface that I wrote a piece of autofiction about my father. He ended up reading the story, which I hadn't considered a realistic possibility at the time.My father called me up to confront me about what this all meant, as I'd included some mean or condescending bits throughout.I tried to explain what I'd done in the context of autofiction (what that even meant), and in the context of other work I admired and was trying to reference – essentially a bunch of aesthetic jargon. At the end of our conversation, my father laughed and said that I just liked complaining. Maybe that's true.Regarding revenge...The more sincere reference comes in an essay about my last novel, The Magician. I'm not going to get into all of it here, but the beginning of the book has to do with a chaotic relationship I had with a woman during my transition out of the porn industry. Let's call her Andrea. Prior to moving in with me, Andrea lived in the guest house of an older man – essentially, her sugar daddy and drug dealer. The guy threatened to kill me on a number of occasions.In retrospect, this sounds very stupid. But I think there were some performative plans, realistic or not, to kill the guy, who I blamed so many of my problems on. Obviously, that didn't happen. And at the moment, I couldn't give less of a shit about him.The more contrived reference to revenge comes in the form of a love letter to Christopher Norris, the artist who designed my book cover. A while back, he'd asked me to write a short piece for the reissue of his experimental horror novel, Hunchback '88. I penned a short story that treated his novel as a cursed object. I thought it would be fun to expand the piece for my own collection; to be extra mean about it; make fun of him and the things we're both into but find embarrassing, like aging men who are into hardcore and graphic design or whatever.The whole story is a joke, and ends with a nameless first-person-narrator murdering Christopher Norris. He loved it, so I think the piece was a success. RG: The book's preface begins with a reference to your father. How does this presence impact the collection?CZ: I meant to draw attention to patterns in my work that no longer serve my life or relationships in the way I want. Plainly speaking, I wrote a story in a previous book that mentioned my father dying. A year later, he actually died of cancer.I don't necessarily regret the way I've incorporated friends, family, and other people from my life into autofiction, but it's often been a provocation. I'm not sure I want to keep dabbling in that world, where there's so much opportunity to hurt real people, or at least piss them off.  RG:  The body takes its part in the book in a multiplicity of ways, highly complex and difficult to decipher. One aspect I found interesting is that of the body as a signifier, that it becomes divorced from its material and physical meaning simply by bringing attention to itself in those terms. In this way, it takes on the quality of an indicator, always pointing away from itself even as it is engaged in the most intimate of human acts. For someone as versed in the body and what that means as you've found yourself, how do you reconcile your own body, that you very obviously live with every day, and what the body means for your writing?CZ: The more straight-forward reason I focus on the body in my writing is that my experience of life as a young adult was largely framed by sex work. I was a porn performer, cam boy, and to a lesser extent, hustler and so on. Most of  how I related to people, in terms of how I learned to get what I want, or my conflicts with people, had to do with my body – how others perceive me and how I perceive myself.At the same time, my interests and aesthetics were heavily defined by aggressive music subculture, like underground metal, and things like horror movies and (what used to be called) 'transgressive' film and literature. A lot of the material that shaped my youth was wrapped up in the language of violence, emotional chaos, and Satanic myth, or whatever you might call the language of early black metal.Because of my youth, I understood how to parse emotional experience through violent metaphor. I also felt that the most interesting thing about me, for a long time, was that I fucked for a living. So, most everything I've written over the past fifteen years has started with those presumptions.RG: We all invent ourselves. Your work deals with the question of facade, veneers, and the creation of persona. How have you utilized invention? Do you think about authenticity and does that have a bearing on your art?CZ: I'm very self-involved, and up until recently, have had a difficult time writing outside my own experience.Beyond that, writing has often been an act of problem-solving for me.Again, I return to sex work as this monolithic experience of my twenties, which I have a difficulty describing in black and white terms. The fact that I was best known by my stage name, Danny Wylde, a moniker given to me by some gonzo porn company, that so much of my early sense of sexuality was shaped by other people's direction and other people's fantasy... I can't help but be interested in shifting identities or personas while I try to get to the root of my own bullshit, or how I 'authentically' feel about anything.  RG: This is a necessarily reductive question, but who is Luka Fisher to you?CZ: Luka Fisher is a close friend of mine. She's also, in part, the subject of my new book, Creation: On Art and Unbecoming.We met on a porn set over a decade ago. She was an extra in a zombie parody. I was at the height of my career as a XXX performer.At the time, she was putting out a lot of collaborative zines, and she'd volunteered herself as an A&R rep for this indie label called Records Ad Nauseum. So, I think my interest in writing and music immediately overlapped with some of the projects she was involved with back then.Luka wanted to produce all of these underground films, records, and performances, but would talk about them through the lens of having idolized old Hollywood producers, people who would implement unorthodox techniques or come up with insane publicity stunts. In retrospect, we both probably had some delusions of grandeur. But it was nice to spend time with someone like Luka, who had all of these big dreams. Especially around the time I felt my life was falling apart.She and I began most of our work together on the heels of my porn career ending, which was one of the more chaotic times in my life. She was going through her own shit, and dealing with gender dysphoria and beginning to transition. I like to think that we offered each other support.I wanted to include a few essays about her in my new book, to honor her, and to explain how she shaped my life in important ways.  RG: An idea that has lingered with me since reading the collection is that we choose to undertake relationships with those we can accept to receive hurt from. Even in the most functional relationships we will get burned at times, and when it comes to artistic partnerships, especially ones that endure, there will be incidences of wounding, whether intentional or not. Has your perspective on the connections you have to others shifted as you've matured, and if so, how is that represented in the collection?CZ: Well, the relationships in the book – aside from my real-world relationship to Luka – are mostly fantastical extensions of my transactional affairs. No one really gets what they want; the sex, for example, is a bummer, either explicitly violent or a letdown.In reality, I do feel I have the capacity for gratifying relationships, more so than at any other point in my life. At the same time, I'm less open to artistic collaboration. I simply don't have the patience to deal with other people's meanderings.I'm often hesitant to discuss my marriage in a public space, because I find my relationship to my wife sacred and don't want to exploit that as spectacle. But I think our dynamic is relevant here. My wife is probably the most ambitious visual artist I know. We both have immense respect for each other, artistically and otherwise. We also have a rule that we don't work on each other's projects, at least not in a creative capacity. If she has a technical question regarding compositing software, I'll help her out. Or she'll take my author photos. But our work is our own, and our visions are extremely specific. Any collaboration on that front would turn into a fight.More broadly, I'm getting older and have more of a sense of what I'm good at and where I'm lacking. And I've embraced a certain mentality in terms of interacting with other people in an artistic capacity. Meaning, I'm nearly 40 years old. Anyone I consider a peer, who I respect, who I think could add something to whatever I'm doing, has been working on their craft for at least a decade. If I want their help, I better be able to pay them or at least offer them something useful in return. Otherwise, I feel this will turn quickly toward resentment. RG: In 'On the Moral Imperative to Commodify Our Sexual Suffering,' you make sobering points regarding the adult entertainment industry. Here, it is suggested that the promotion and normalization of porn that has taken place at a cultural level has broken down the business model – when scarcity becomes plenty there is a downgrading of value. This has led to the situation where those who proselytize sex positivity have put sex workers out of business. Familiarity and overstimulation also create numbness and boredom for the sex act itself, where all novelty in sex is eradicated. It's a world that provokes ambivalent feelings. The issue is a wide one, but have you gleaned any lasting conclusions from your time spent immersed in the lifestyle?CZ: In full transparency, the piece is a bit dated. I think I first wrote that in 2015, prior to the popularity of platforms like OnlyFans, and prior to PornHub changing their business model to include revenue sharing with content creators.That said, my feelings haven't changed much, albeit they're less severe than what's portrayed in that story.Anyone who creates 'digital content' in 2024 probably operates with some cognitive dissonance. It's easier than ever to make stuff. But it's probably harder than ever to stand out or make any significant money from selling digital media, porn included.From my vantage point, porn as an artform is complete bullshit. It's not art. Of course, there are many examples of films that have attempted to imbue it with some kind of aesthetic or ideological significance. And every so often, I have a conversation with someone who wants to make elevated, artistic porn – as if this hasn't already been attempted a million times over. It never works.When your body is aroused, you're not interested in aesthetics, other than the aesthetics of the body (i.e. Am I attracted to the person in front of me?). Part of your brain becomes stupid. So, if you're thrust into an aesthetic environment, where you're interested in narrative, composition, lighting, etc... and then you're introduced to hardcore sex for more than a minute or so, you're either going to get turned on and forget about everything else. Or you're going to get bored.So, for me, the purpose of porn and sex work is explicitly financial.I've worked on so many 'feminist' porn sets or films where there's some progressive ideology attached to the production. It's often just as good or bad as working on any other movie. What's the actual difference in the experience? Maybe there's more progressive language used by the director. Or maybe there's more oat milk on set.Typically, the days are longer without any kind of pay bump. And I've been fucked over financially more often by directors who boast some kind of ideology, usually because their utopian vision knocks up against the reality of how few people actually give a shit.I don't have a strong grasp on how the market functions these days. I just remember having my porn career fall apart, being broke as fuck, and then going on PornHub to find a video of me having sex that racked up something like 17 million views. I realized I would never see a cent more from that scene than what I made from my day rate.I'm not special. Most people in most jobs are going to hit a point where they realize their complete and utter lack of value. You can either fall apart and get into socialist cosplay or whatever. Or you adapt.It took me about ten years to figure out a different path, and it's still a struggle. But I make more money now. And my clients aren't trying to fuck me, figuratively or otherwise. RG: The end of the collection allows for an element of self reflection, and at one point, in reference to themes to which you cycle back, you say you are repeatedly “writing myself as a piece-of-shit hooker who dies.” Looking back on the collection, the time it was inspired by, and the writing of it, what is your opinion on the repetition now?CZ: The essay at the end of the book is the most recent addition to the collection. I wrote it last year, during the summer of 2023, right before my friend, Luka, went into gender affirming facial feminization surgery. I'd talked to her about wanting to include some essays about her in the book. She suggested we take photos of her, bruised and bandaged, after surgery and use them for the cover. It's a bit hard to tell now because of the graphic element; she's separated into puzzle pieces. But her face is the main feature of the cover.This is relevant because I wanted the book to suggest a kind of transformation. Not that my experience has anything to do with issues around gender. But Luka was crucial to the book's narrative, so I found it appropriate to use her image in that context.Anyway, during my conversations with Luka, I told her that I considered it a failure on my part to write another book like this. I've published three novels, a sort of porn memoir, and now a short story collection. They're all more-or-less about the same thing. A porn guy or hustler, loosely based on me, is depressed and doesn't get much of what he's after. Then, he gets brutally maimed or dies. I mean, I hope they're a little bit more complex than that, but...It was probably important for me to write those books, to work through whatever I was feeling about those experiences. But I don't want to get stuck there, to spend the next 10 years, or the rest of my life, waking up most mornings to revisit that material, to recycle my own trauma, or even loop the stuff I look back on fondly.Ultimately, I can't escape the things I'm interested in, my thought patterns, etc... But I'm at least going to make a conscious effort NOT to write another book about a porn guy named Chris. Put him in the grave already. 

Continue Reading...

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.

Continue Reading...

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.

Continue Reading...

DUVAY KNOCKS RECOMMENDS

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

Continue Reading...

Transmissions: The Book Chemist

What I never do is read a book with the specific intent to review it (e.g., because I think it will be popular on the channel). It would take all the fun out of reading!

Continue Reading...