Interview: Matt Guerruckey

I was in LA recently for the West Coast release of Uno Kudo. We threw a pretty big party at an art gallery in downtown Los Angeles and holy smokes … there was even an orchestra that showed up to play. (Those things are usually at VFW halls with punk bands providing the music) (so … whoa!)

Matt Guerruckey came out, we had a few drinks, and were able to meet in person for the first time  since knowing each other for about a year online. We just did a radio interview with Matt on the Unknown Show, so click on that lovely blue text if you want to here me talk like I have 27 marbles in my mouth, or if you’d like to hear Matt’s great insight on modern lit. running your own website … ect. ect  … if that’s not enough for you, there’s a whole goddamn print interview below. Holy Cow, that’s a lot of Guerruckey!

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Matthew Guerruckey is the Editor-in-Chief of the literary web zine Drunk Monkeys. His short stories have appeared in Connotation Press, Five 2 One Magazine, and upcoming editions of The Weekenders and Bartleby Snopes. His pop-culture writing can be found at Screen Spy. He can be reached at guerruckey@hotmail.com or on Twitter @guerruckey

Matt, thanks for sitting down with me here. You run the website Drunk Monkeys. What interests you about running your own site?

The random nature of it all. I love that I get correspondence and submissions from all types of people from all over the world. We’ve run pieces from China, Australia, Nigeria, and that’s been an interesting view of different perspectives. Writers—and especially beginning writers, where most of our submissions originate—haven’t learned yet how to hide their perspective in the mechanics of storytelling, and it just bleeds all over the page. When I read through our slush pile I really feel like I’m seeing these people at their most honest. There’s a vulnerability about that I find really engaging.

Do you consider yourself more of a publisher or writer, or are the lines blurry?

I think of myself, first and foremost, as a writer. Part of the reason I launched Drunk Monkeys—and definitely the reason I made a very public show of it to friends and family as I did—was to have no excuse to be lazy about my writing. I didn’t just want to be one of those people that make big plans and pronouncements and then never follow up on it. Part of what fueled my productivity in the beginning was the fear of falling flat on my face.

Over the course of last year, though, I did begin to feel more like a publisher because submissions became so overwhelming, and work so busy, that it took away time that I would have been writing. Though, in all honestly, that’s a justification for not getting to work on my own stuff. This year I’ve recommitted to writing, and it’s been incredible—but I have to keep that work ethic going.

What are you interested in covering with Drunk Monkeys?

The only thing that would concern me is if readers ever knew exactly what to expect from the site. I like knowing that we’re going to publish a poem each Tuesday and a short story each Friday, but that’s just for my own peace of mind planning things—I want the content of those pieces to be as unpredictable as possible. And on all the days in between I want to hit readers with things they might not expect, whether it’s a humor essay, a horoscope, or an interview with someone they may never have heard of, but who has a fascinating take on life. Whether or not they realize it, the thing that most people love about the internet is its randomness. You go online to research wildebeests and end up watching the intro to the 80’s Gummi Bears cartoon—for the site to continue to be successful it has to retain some spontaneity.

What are you aiming to cover in your own writing?

I have pretty lofty goals, but part of the fun of the writing process is seeing what burbles to the surface on its own (well, sometimes fun, sometimes alarming). I have a very humanistic take on life, but that’s tempered with this obsessive-compulsive need for structure and ritual. So I end up fascinated with the push and pull between chaos and order, and of there really is any purpose to life. The only meaning that I’ve been able to determine is that we’re here to be nice to each other—and I don’t mean that in a weak, polite way, I mean that in the sense of helping the person right next to you with whatever they need to get through their day, because without those basic kindnesses life rings hollow.

Here’s a link to one of Matt’s short stories, Trail of Fire.


Take a peak! It’s Meg Tuite’s website, who rocks with a capital R. Click everything.

Freelancing sounds like most writer’s dream. Working from home and being able to write under your own watch. Is it daunting? Are there unexpected sides to it you didn’t foresee? 

It is daunting if I give myself time to think about it, which is why I keep myself as busy as possible. I’ve had periods of significant depression and self-loathing in my life, but if I let that creep in now it would derail a lot of planning, practice, and sacrifice—not just on my part, but from people who love me and support me. I don’t take that responsibility lightly. Every day is a recommitment to my goals and my future, and it has to be for this to work.

I’ve always worked best independently, but in the past I’ve not been able to prioritize things well enough to get anything off the ground. The good thing about my previous work experience is it gave me an in-depth understanding of things like time management. So far, I’m surprising myself with just how much I’ve been able to get done and how much easier it’s getting to express myself.

How do you do your writing?

I use Scrivener, a program that helps organize notes and drafts together. It’s got a split-screen feature that’s the best thing in the world. I like to think it allows my creative brain and my editorial brain to work together rather than tear each other apart. Whatever the reason, it’s freed me up to just write without stopping to think too much about structure, while also providing an easy way to plan a structure that I can implement later.

How do you edit yourself?

Once I’m done with the Scrivener draft I go over the resulting Word Document for grammatical errors and read the entire thing out loud to pick up on any clunky phrasing. That’s probably the number one piece of advice I can offer any fiction writer—listen to how your stuff reads. It’s an entirely different experience hearing it from your voice than in your head. In your head you make a lot of automatic connections because the ideal form of what you want to express is rattling around in there, but you can’t guarantee you’ve gotten it on paper until you read it and notice something’s missing.

What advice do you have for young writers who would like to have their own blog or website but struggle with getting it off the ground?

Just go for it—it’ll turn into whatever it’s meant to be. The platforms are free and easy to learn, and the only way to become a writer is to write. There’s no other time in history where it’s been so easy to get your stuff out there for someone else to read. But, also, don’t expect the world to beat its path to your door. It takes time to build an audience, but sooner or later you’ll find it, if you stick with it. Be cautiously daring.

What’s your daily life like?

At the beginning of the year I started working from home full-time (freelance writing), but before that I worked office jobs for fifteen years. So to help that transition, and to make sure I get to spend time with my wife at nights, I try to keep as close to a steady schedule as possible. I get up, make breakfast for us, and see her off to work, then I start free writing on whatever project is most important. I keep mornings for the bulk of my pre-editing writing, because my censors haven’t woken up yet. Then after lunch I do website work—reading submissions, formatting posts, talking to writers, etc. Late afternoon is for taking a first editorial run at whatever I wrote in the morning—or for finishing up a story that’s got momentum. I’m also, as needed, running errands and doing chores all day. This year is a crazy, once in-a-lifetime opportunity, and it really matters to me that things are going well in our home life as well as my career.

A lot of writers would love to try their hand at writing freelance. What advice could you give them for cracking into that side of things? Where do they start? What would help them get going with that?

Honestly, I’m just at the start of that process myself. Figuring out the proper form for cover letters and what markets your work really belongs in takes a steep learning curve, and I don’t know that I’d be qualified to give anybody advice on that yet. It definitely takes humility, though. You’re going to get notes. You’re going to get rejections. Learn to love rejections more than acceptances, because you get to take an awkward idea and make it whole.

Matt, you’re an LA guy, what’s it like living there?

Bright. In the 70’s, every developer in the San Fernando Valley decided that cream stucco was the way to go for every condo and apartment complex, which makes it blinding out here.

Los Angeles is just a big suburb, with all of these amazing little pockets of activity, but none of it feels like a unified structure. Every neighborhood is trying to be another neighborhood, and they end up all homogenizing each other—Studio City wants to be Beverly Hills, Beverly Hills wants to be Bel-Air, Bel-Air thinks it’s Monaco. The beautiful neighborhoods are boring and the exciting neighborhoods are ugly, but I don’t think that’s just an L.A. phenomenon.

The shitty things that people say about Los Angeles are all true, but I like it here. I split time growing up between here and the Midwest, and I’m definitely glad to be out here. I love more densely populated areas like Chicago and San Francisco (or Toronto, where my wife is from), but there’s something comforting about Los Angeles once you accept the fact that it doesn’t give a fuck about you.

Do you believe in the east coast versus west coast stuff that 90s rappers carried out? Are you still living that dream? Stand up comedians did that too …

Well, East Coast and West Coast people are definitely different, but I don’t see the need to feud. Although maybe Brett Easton Ellis and Jonathan Safran-Foer can get a couple of hard-hitting crews behind them and take it to the streets. Imagine those two tied to each other with switchblades like the “Beat It” video.

Have you ever been to the east coast?

I’ve never been to the east coast, no, but I’ve been to every state west of Chicago. I’d love to go, especially since so many of the writers that are working with me on Drunk Monkeys are from the east–New York, Pennsylvania, etc.

Well, when you get here, we’ll drink some beer. It’s EZ. Where did Drunk Monkeys come from?

The seed of the idea came from, of all places, Cracked.com. I read an article about the bizarre drawings in the margins of medieval manuscripts, which I thought was fascinating. Back in those days the only way to reproduce a work like The Bible was to write it out longhand, and they were these gorgeous artifacts. All of that monotonous work and sexual repression comes out in the margins there—so you’d be reading about Onan getting blasted with lightning for spilling his seed and here a half-inch away is a monkey with his finger up the Pope’s ass. There’s something so human in that, placed on the edge of an object that’s supposed to be sacrosanct. The vulnerability of that appealed to me. It really seemed to be a cross-section of what humanity’s all about, this beautiful juncture of art and literature and the sacred and the profane.

So I was thinking about that seeming contradiction, and how I could carry forward that feeling into the world, and the idea for the site just sort of came fully formed into my head. I think that’s what carried me through the first few months, when I was basically just publishing whatever I could put together or my friends and family (and I was lucky to know quite a few great writers, including my wife) I just had no idea that I could fail because it seemed like I’d already done it. I’ve only had one other experience like that, and that was on my first date with my wife.

But I was out of the loop, and had no idea that there was this vibrant community of people who had already had the exact same idea and had been doing this kind of stuff for years.  The site really started to become what I hoped it would be when we got guys like Gabriel Ricard and Donald McCarthy writing regularly for us. It helped to solidify this identity, and made me feel like it wasn’t just me standing alone looking out for this project. That sort of grab-bag nature is really important to me—I want to be the kind of site where you’ve got Gabriel writing about anime or wrestling right next to Donald writing about politics and Nate Graziano’s short fiction. Because, again, that was the kernel of inspiration in its founding, that it should and could be anything.

What are your plans for the future of your website?

Right now we’re in a transition. We’re moving toward making exclusive content available as an eBook or PDF download, while still publishing free content on the website. I’m hoping that will bring some revenue in. We’ve had to stop paying writers for works published on the site, which I don’t feel great about, because one of the founding principles of the site was that writers deserve to get paid for their efforts. We will still be paying out for the anthology.

But that’s another good thing about Drunk Monkeys, it’s always evolving. Right now we’ve got more eclectic content than ever before, and I’m really happy about that.

Are you planning on venturing into print at any point?

I think we’re going to explore doing print-on-demand for issues of the magazine. I’ve always loved the idea of print, because, again, there’s something special about that work as an artifact that you can hold in your hands, but it’s just too cost prohibitive for us now. But going forward, it’s definitely something I hope to see us involved in.

In your own writing life, what are you working on?

I was just able to begin writing full-time, and I’m tearing through short stories while also picking away at my first novel. It’s been really gratifying to dive into writing. I’ve surprised myself with a few things and gotten good feedback on others that weren’t quite as successful. A big surprise for me was finding out that my style would be so dialogue-driven, almost every story I’ve written hinges on an important conversation, things said and left unsaid. That’s definitely not the style of writing I began with, but it makes it more engaging for me, it ends up very improvisational, and I’m never quite sure (even though I’m a meticulous outliner) where the characters are going to steer the ship.

My short story “The Lonely Funeral of Arturo Gomez”, will be popping up in the February issue of The Weekenders Magazine, and I’ve got a few other stories out in the market that I’m hoping get picked up soon.

You cover a lot of TV, movies and music at Drunk Monkeys, what are your current favorites from each category so far for 2013?

It’s pretty early in the year to say as far as movies go, and my favorite new TV show, Ben & Kate, just got cancelled. So 2013’s not off to a great start for my own personal pop-culture tastes, but there’s a lot coming up. I’ll be glad to start covering Community again, beginning this week. I love the show, but I have no idea what it is without Dan Harmon. I’m trying to keep an open mind. Last season I did that on Drunk Monkeys, but this season I’ll be writing recaps for Screen Spy, where I’ve done a few columns and covered this past season of Breaking Bad. I’m also really excited to cover the final episodes of that show this summer.

I’ve heard a lot about Breaking Bad but I’ve never seen an episode of it. Describe to me why the show works so well and why it’s such a hit with people. Analyze it as a piece of art and tell me why it works, please.

It works because it’s the perfect mixture of crime-genre pulp and character study.  The underlying situation—a teacher cooks and sells meth to provide for his family after a cancer diagnosis—is intriguing, but what makes the show so addictive is how attached you become to the characters. If Walt was not such a well-drawn character, we wouldn’t care so much about the danger he finds himself in, and caring for the characters makes the action scenes even more intense, because you know enough of their internal battle to feel like you’re inside their heads as the action unfolds. The final scene of the third season will make you fucking cry yourself to sleep.

It’s interesting, Breaking Bad premiered a full year before the market tanked, but from the very beginning it’s served as a metaphor for America’s collective lust for power and money, and the dehumanizing effect of losing sight of all other goals. In the beginning, Walt just needs enough money to provide for his family, so why doesn’t he stop when he’s far surpassed his own lofty benchmarks for that security? Viewers know the answer, because we’ve come to understand Walt so well (a testament not only to the sharp writing but to the way Bryan Cranston disappears into that role), and the show respects its viewers enough to let them come to their own conclusions about whether Walt is making the right decisions. I personally find Walt infuriating, but that’s because the people he’s endangering—especially his partner Jesse and his brother-in-law Hank—are characters whose humanity I really identify with.

Anyone who cares about the craft of writing and building characters really owes it to themselves to watch Breaking Bad. It’s narrative storytelling at its very finest. I think the only show that comes close to what it’s achieved is The Wire. We’re at the head of a sea change in pop culture, where the best writers are going to seek out opportunities in television rather than film. The broad story canvas that TV allows lets you build a world in ways that film never could, and I think that it’s time to reappraise TV as a vehicle for artistic expression.

What’s the oddest experience you’ve had in the small press/website scene?

Well, there was this one time that an explosion came out of nothingness, sending dust and gasses spiraling through the void until they congealed into solid matter which eventually formed into living cells which multiplied and evolved into more complicated forms until ape creatures came down from the trees and started walking upright, building cities, and fucking a whole lot. Positively everyone had a literary blog. It was great.

Thanks Matt, mucho gracias. Here’s a pic of Matt with that dude from the Shining.

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