interview

Radio Interviews with A. Razor and Duke Haney on the Unknown Show

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Last night, on the interview show, I talked to two really interesting peeps, A Razor: poet and publisher @ Punk Hostage Press and Duke Haney, author of Banned For Life and Subversia, and also the screenwriter for Friday the 13th 7.

Listen in here

 

Also: you can follow along with the Unknown Show on Facebook (I do a better job keeping it updated there, then here). ‘Like’ it for me, and pass the info along to interested parties. Thank you!

interview

The Unknown Show, guests Wolf Carstens and April Michelle Bratten

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Last night on my interview show, I talked to Wolf Carstens of Epic Rites Press and Tree Killer Ink, about his writing and publishing of others.
Second on the show was April Michelle Bratten, who read a lot of great poems and we had great fun picking on AC/DC, talking about balls, and me complaining about my landlord not turning the heat on when it hits 45.

Listen here

advice · interview · novel · on writing

New episode of the Unknown Show

So here we go, I’m gonna make a greater effort here on this site to keep things updated with the Unknown Show, providing links to the show every Wednesday after the show airs.

A little bit about the show:
Every Tuesday night at 7pm EST, I talk to some interesting peeps (usually writers) who are promoting a recent book, an event or whatever else they have going on. Sometimes on the show, I’ll try to pry some writing advice out of the guests because it seems that everybody has something to say about that. Generally, I have the guests read some of their work.

Last nights guests:
Dustin Holland, poet/artist and co-founder of Kleft Jaw Press. He recently released his new poetry book, Captain Head and came on the show to talk about his book and an upcoming cross country trip.

Paul Corman Roberts is the founder of the Beast lit Festival, he edits at Full of Crow, I greatly enjoyed his book Neo-commuter.

so here’s last nights show

Thanks for listening, and thanks for reading.

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advice · interview · non fiction · on writing · poem · short story

Interview: Frankie Metro

Here is an interview I conducted with Frankie Metro, a favorite writer of mine. I’ve known him online and in real life for about two years. His stuff always surprises me in the best ways. I met him through the publication of his excellent book of poetry, The Anarchist’s Blac Book of Poetry and a column that he used to write for Red Fez called the Left Handed Smoker. There’s a lot of links in this interview, take the time to check them out if you are able. Some real cool stuff.

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Frankie Metro is Chief Rocknrolla (music/book reviews editor) at Unlikely Stories Episode: IV and co-editor of the online/print publication Kleft Jaw. His first poetry chapbook: The Anarchist’s Blac Book of Poetry is now available from Crisis Chronicles Press. Someday, he’ll be dead. But until then, he’s not content until the stars burnout.

Thanks for doing this interview with me. Tell me about Kleft Jaw it sounds like a real interesting project …

Kleft Jaw stemmed from a lighthearted, extremely nerdy conversation I was having with co-editor Dustin Holland, about the Greek Klephts who fought against the occupation of their country by the Ottoman Empire. I remember Dustin was describing this book to me (Black Mask and Up Against the Wall Motherfucker) which had an interesting commentary on the activities of these “warrior poets”-they would light campfires on the hillsides and sing songs of battle and victory. the young men below the hills heard their songs and came up to join them. I’m paraphrasing of course, but the concept of attacking the conventions of monarchistic society really hit home for me, in that the current status of the literary world (small press, big press, medium press whatever) is filled to the brim with such nearsighted convention. So we took the name of the warriors, added a Jaw to it, like the donkey jaw Samson used to beat the shit out of Romans, and voila! Kleft Jaw. Our main objective is to further the cause of transcendental realism in literature i.e. realizing the full capacity/barriers of the human consciousness, and thereby breaking them and extending those barriers for further exploration. It builds upon itself, the human mind. And if there’s anything we can do to champion that progression, well… what the fuck else we going to do? I don’t have enough comic books to keep me busy these days.

You’re an avid reader, what’s the last great book you read?

I just finished David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, and I feel amazingly accomplished in saying that. I’ve met maybe 3 people that have sat through the entirety of 1000+ pages. For me, books are challenges. If there’s no challenge, then there’s no reason to talk. That’s how my wife Lindsey stole my heart actually, she sent me my very first Henry Miller book, saying, I think this would do you some good. It was Tropic of Capricorn. I was going through a very difficult time, had just moved back in with my parents after a failed stint in Florida, just released from jail, and this book made me realize that even though the settings are different, opposition and commonality are sometimes meant for each other. It can be the greatest inspiration, opposition. And books create the ultimate opportunity for commonality Therefore, when the 2 combine in a needed situation, it becomes the greatest love affair.

Where are you from? Where have you lived?

I was originally born in Iowa, was adopted at 2, moved to Ky, lived (if you can call it that) there for 23+ years, left for Florida, trekked around there for a few years off and on, and then got married and moved to Phoenix, during the summer, big mistake, left there after 4-5 months and several shitty phone jobs later, and now I love Albuquerque!

What do you like to do in ABQ? For instance, if somebody is coming to town, where should they check out, (i.e.. venues, bars, bookstores … food)

There are 2 sides of the street in downtown ABQ. One is the hipster side (the left) and the other is nothing but douches block to block (the right). For instance, on the right hand side of the street you have The Library, which don’t let the name fool you, they’re about as interested in books as I am in becoming a Klan member. But then on (the left) you have an equally pretentious set, but not as vocal about it. I do like the left, I really do. I love The Anodyne and the Sister Bar. But my own personal Cheers comes from the middle ground on 2nd street. Chama River. We hung out there right? The bookstores never seem to be open when i come around. Maybe they don’t like the middlegrounders here… ?

You work in a hostel on route 66. I was lucky enough to come and chill there with you and bunch of other poets for an event thrown by the lit. underground … what a great time  that was. What’s it like working in a hostel?

It’s a challenge and a Godsend. I mean, I love the whole idea of working for room and board, no bills!, but I don’t know if I can say I’m a real people person. I’ve had numerous years in customer service and whatnot and the one thing ive taken away from it all, is that customers suck. But the guests that come through are for the most part, pretty kool individuals. I just met a guy last night who is mistaken for either Skrillex or Jason Schwartzman all the time. We talked about the Cannabis Cup in LA this weekend, until he asked if I had any pot, which i said no, cause I didn’t have enough to smoke with either Skrillex or Jason Schwartzman at the time. Sorry amigos

That’s funny as hell. What projects are you currently working on?

Currently, I’m really taking to journalism. I write a lot of book reviews these days for Unlikely Stories, but I want to pursure more Gonzo Journalistic endeavors, considering Gonzo Journalism was one of my first lit scene loves. I miss Hunter S Thompson. Other than that it’s all pretty much editing these days. We (Kleft Jaw Press) are putting out our first poetry collection for Andrew Boeglin come 4/20/13 entitled Galaxy vs. Sabretooth and it’s been a real fuckin blast working on this book. The kid is on fire!

Your Chapbook the Anarchist’s Black Book of Poetry out from Crisis Chronicle Press was a very tight work, what went into the writing for that? How long did it take? What is your self editing process like?

The majority of that book was written in 2010 and the recurring poem (Streets of the Pan Americano Nightmare) i.e. the base of the book, was written in one day during multiple/illegal breaks while working at another call center in Florida. Alot of it had to do with my times there, but there’s a mix of environments (physical and mental) that went into its production, including ABQ and Phoenix. When I edit, I can’t just get ideas down and move on. I get really OCD about it while writing, so if there’s a comma that’s off, and i dont change it right away, you can bet it’s in the mental log, position and everything. I can’t just write something and it not be professionally presented. It kills me. I drive my chief editors crazy with notes about typos and the like. It’s torture self editing.

You were in Florida … you were working at a call center, what else?

I was living with a woman and 4 kids at the time. I wasn’t really happy. It’s hard for me to rundown my environment on that book man. In all honesty, I don’t know where I was at during that time (mentally). It stretches from 2010 on to the (almost)-present? I guess, if you want me to size it up, The Anarchist’s Blac Book of Poetry is about being an individual haunted by individualism. In essence, that book was a great purge for me. I had to get some of that stuff out or it was going to eat me. I will say that at the time of writing it, I had a healthy obsessions with Henry Miller. Anymore, talking about it seems futile, ’cause I’m totally not in that space anymore. You ever get like that man? Were you just hate everything that you did before? That’s the book. Crisis Chronicles did an excellent job with it, and I guess you could call it a labor of love, but these days, it reads bitter to me, and i’m not that bitter anymore. I found a woman that I love, who is mentioned in one of the first poems (and possibly several after that) called Team Zen. That’s where I want to end up when they shut the casket yo. I want to be on Team Zen.

What’s your daily life like?

My daily life was once described, by Lindsey, like waking up everyday to a new slumber party/agro session. We keep it pretty loose around here, and typically shy away from looking at or using watches or clocks. ABQ is a really open place to live and thrive artistically. Sure you have your issues, but aside from the occasionally proposed knife fight or momentary scuffle, it’s a good life amigo.

Another project of yours that I was really blown away with was/is The Meth Lab, a website featuring some pretty wild poetry and prose. Tell me more about that:

The Meth Lab was started a few years ago by Newamba Flamingo. He asked me to help out and seeing as how Newamba Flamingo is like, almost literally a blood brother, I accepted. We’ve published all sorts of moral turpitude at The Meth Lab. It doesn’t get the kinda respect it should, in my opinion, because the name can have a less than favorable effect on those that skim by it. But man, since our induction we’ve published a shit ton of great writers and artists:

Ryder Collins- author of Homegirl!
Bud Smith
Jason Neese
Aurora Killpoet
Yossarian Hunter

just to name a few … shit

What do you get out of running your own publication. for instance, Kleft Jaw, from what I’ve seen so far is a complex labor of love … describe what goes into making your own zine/website/literary endeavor, ie. The Meth Lab, Kleft Jaw … ect …

I get to keep my sanity. I dunno man. I guess what goes into it is making love, sweaty stank brown sheet vinegar kinda love to it. You’re really asking the wrong guy what goes into making this stuff. Cause I’m still figuring it all out. Not a pro at this by any means. Luckily at Kleft Jaw I have a partner as well. Dustin Holland and I read submissions, we choose what we like, what we think fits the transcendental realist genre, and we do a lot of DIY shit to make it happen. We use glue and tape and paper cutters and rulers and we fucks with pictures ya know? We fucks with pictures hardkore. The biggest problem for me, editing a mag, is I have to deal with people that don’t read the flipping submission guidelines. When we see someone that obviously hasnt even glanced at our homepage, and they send us bios when we dont ask for them and they send us docx files when we ask that you paste it in the body of the email, that stuff is really testing, cause it’s a matter of courtesy endurance. I can’t be courteous to people I view as being condescending or fake. I just can’t. Fuck you if you are.

You’re a music critic too, can you recommend something(s)?

I would highly suggest The Mountain Goats. Funnily enough, I saw a FB ad here a couple weeks back, that was trying to get votes for their lead singer to be named Poet Laureate of United States. I think if anyone deserves that title, it’s that guy. Amazing lyrics. Pretty much the drive of the band. The music itself isn’t very special, but the words man. Goddamn the words will hit you from (left!) field. Also, Birdy Nam Nam. All of Tinyamp records. Nuff said.

Speaking of Tiny Amp records, Kleft Jaw is putting out a chapbook from their own Andrew Boegling (AKA: William Seward Bonnie) right? 

Yes! Galaxy vs. Sabretooth is Andrew Boeglin’s bleeding heart, diced, chopped, screwed, remixed. It’s all there. The kid writes love poems that are actually enjoyable to read. I’m just amazed he can pull that off. We’ll be releasing it on 4/20/13 and from what I understand, there is a release party in Denver in the making as we speak. Funny thing is, The recreational Cannabis Cup ceremonies are scheduled for Denver that same weekend. So guess what we’ll be doing m’fers… It’s going to be a 40 page, perfect bound glossy covered release, and it’s going to rip a whole in the time/space continuum. Yup.

When I hung with you in ABQ I was real impressed that you didn’t have to have a car. I think it’s pretty great. You skateboarding around alot … tell me about that

I’ve been skateboarding since I was 7. I hate water, so no surfing. I hate snow, so no snowboarding. I love the motherfucking streets. And there is (almost) no greater release when you’re super tense than ripping up some curb. I’m older these days of course, and not as risky as I used to be. But yeah, i’ve been that guy hitching on the passenger side door when you’re going 40 mph in your Toyota Tercel. Scaaaaary…

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I’ll leave you here with a poem called Pre-Nup that Frankie read on the Unknown Show last Tuesday:

“Pre-nup”
by Frankie Metro 

The Shattered, Unspoken
mouth of hell is asking for a divorce
from the Cruel, Unflinching nerve of
the egoist’s bedside manner. matter of
fact, it’s been given on good authority,
that once the theatrics are all but played
out every demon in the legion of the larynx
will come out with a gold or platinum tooth
that whistles like a catastrophe near a school
yard crossing. if there’s any chance for reconciliation
it lies in being able to recognize how much fun is
too much fun(?) we all know the ego is abrupt, forceful.
we know it as cunning & at the same time oblivious
to others pleas for rationality. but it’s a kinky game
it plays with itself, where instead of platinum plated
underlings with the capacity for independent vertical mobility,
the egoist sees progressive opportunity. each tiff with the Undoing
is like a phrenology course you mistake for church. every move
in the heart of a beast is effort toward strangling something
or the soft everlasting touch. there’s no real difference in species.
the nuptial between hell & the ego. it’s as sacred as the
hand brokered deal between piety & success. there’s just more
red in the color scheme.

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advice · flash · interview · non fiction · on writing · short story

FREE BOOK FOR KINDLE

Free kindle download of my short story collection Or Something Like That

Free today (Wednesday feb. 13th) and tomorrow ( Thursday feb. 14th)

Here’s a link to an audio recording to the first story in the collection Me, My Brother and Silver Bullet

Thanks, as always for reading. Please spread the word to anyone you’d know who’d like to read a collection of funny/strange short stories for the price of zero dineros.

Mucho gracias!

interview · on writing · short story

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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interview · on writing · poem · short story

The Unknown Show

I did my first radio show last night. It was called The Unknown Show and it functions as an interview show with readings of short stories and poems for those that are invited by me or who are gracious enough to call in.

I’d like to share the link with you here The Unknown Show with Bud Smith

Thanks for tuning in. If you’d like to come on the show and be interviewed or read, hit me up. The show runs at 7pm est. on Tuesday evenings and we’d do the interview over the phone.

Reach out if so inclined.

Sincerely

Bud

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interview

Uno Kudo Interview: Christine Conte

Today, I’d like to share an interview with you that I conducted with Christine Conte (CC) a writer I’ve known and followed online since 2005, who has recently had two poems published in Uno Kudo volume 2.

I conducted the interview by email from my desk in New York City beamed all the way to her desk up there in Maine. In the future sometime, maybe we could just teleport to a spot somewhere in the middle (let’s say Niagara Falls) and just shoot the shit in person.

CC neonChristine Conte (1968-) was born and raised in Connecticut, and through a very fortunate series of events, ended up in Portland, Maine. Over the years, Christine has published zines, written blogs, worked as a copy editor for the USM Free Press, and interned at Moon Pie Press, a well-respected small poetry publisher in Maine. Most recently, she has two poems published in the art and literature anthology Uno Kudo Vol. 2: Naked.

So, CC, first off thanks for doing this interview. First, let’s talk about your two poems from UK. Can you tell me a little bit about each one please?

“Persephone at Breakfast” is about feelings of regret and guilt after letting yourself be really vulnerable. The negative consequences of getting naked. That ugly morning after- it wasn’t a great idea, but you did it anyway, and now it’s time to beat yourself up about it. Yes, this is based on real events, but dramatized A LOT. I did drop a pomegranate on the floor while berating myself over doing something dumb. The pomegranate led to thoughts of Persephone, which led to the myth’s story of being trapped in Hell during the winter.
“Scenes From a Parallel Universe” was inspired by a Woody Allen short story called “The Whore of MENSA.” It’s in the noir style, a detective investigating a brothel filled with highly intelligent women for hire. It’s a place for men who crave the kind of intellectual conversation they can’t get at home from their trophy wives. They say the brain is our biggest erogenous zone, and my poem just took that idea to the most literal and absurd extreme. I had a lot of fun with the brains/breasts analogy.

  • here is CC’s poem “Scenes …” followed by the Woody Allen quote that inspired it——————————————–
    SCENES FROM A PARALLEL UNIVERSEBy Christine Conte

    Will you please stop staring at my brains?

    Yes, I’m aware– painfully aware– of how prominent they are.

    They’re inescapable, I know, and I try so hard to contain them.

    They just seem to have a mind of their own!

    I see your attention jumping from right to left hemisphere and back,

    finally coming to rest upon my corpus callossum.

    Don’t think for a minute I didn’t notice; I did.

    So, please stop. No, I am flattered, truly. But frankly it’s tiresome.

    Ever since I started developing intellectually, it’s been an issue.

    When my standardized test scores came in… oh! What a ruckus!

    But my heart aches for my dimmer sisters, watching them vie for attention

    from men who are only after one thing: evenings of lively intercourse

    and debate over the news of the day and existential philosophy.

    The world is unfair, for sure…

    Ahem. My eyes are down here, sir.

    No, no… it’s not your fault and I can’t blame you, really.

    I know you don’t see brains like mine every day of the week.

    They’re real and they’re spectacular. I can’t hide that fact.

    But if you would only look a lot less deeply, you would see

    I’m not just a piece of gray matter.

    ————————–

    “Red flocked wallpaper and a Victorian decor set the tone. Pale, nervous girls with black-rimmed glasses and blunt-cut hair lolled around on sofas, riffling Penguin Classics provocatively. A blonde with a big smile winked at me, nodded towards a room upstairs, and said, ‘Wallace Stevens, eh?'”
    —- Woody Allen, “The Whore of Mensa”

I like how you blend what you do with what Woody Allen started there. That’s a very cool way to go about making your own art. A reaction to someone else’s.  What’s your writing process like?

It’s a very sudden and usually short-lived form of demonic possession. I get an idea- either spontaneously, or inspired by something I see or hear- and I just write until I’m spent. When I have a particular scene in mind, I write it before I lose it, and then fill in the rest around it. I’m very linear about most things in life, but writing is definitely not linear for me. It’s fragmented and piecemeal. I always struggle with plot and wrapping up a story is really hard for me. Not sure I could do a novel, but a serialized version of a longer story appeals to me. That’s probably what my biggest project will end up being. Discipline would be great.

Tell me about Maine, what’s it like where you live?

I love Maine! I’ve been here just about 7 years now. It’s a beautiful place, with a slower pace that suits my nervous system. I’m a super-introvert and get overwhelmed by too many people and too much stimulation. Portland is the best place I’ve ever lived. It’s big enough to be interesting and artsy, but small enough that there’s no traffic and you never feel lost in a crowd. Portland is all about bicycles, food, and dogs. I just need a dog and I’ll be a whole Portlander. Sometimes I’ll be driving around town and feel overwhelmed by how much I love it here.

Do you think living in New England gives you ideas?

Definitely. New England is old. It has history. It has a vibe. Maine in particular has a distinct vibe- there’s a certain creepiness that is, I think, I hope, mostly harmless. Stephen King never made much sense to me until I moved here. Now I’m a big fan. I have a few stories in the works that take place in a fictitious Maine universe where the creepiness is turned up to 11. I like to cut the creepiness with some humor, though. I don’t take myself that seriously. Christopher Moore is a writer whose writing is dark and macabre but very funny. I like that.

I whole heartedly agree with that creepy New England sentiment. My aunts house in New Hampshire was probably haunted. You ever come across that kinda thing up there?

We often joke around that our house is haunted. It’s one of the oldest houses in town. Weird noises at night, the occasional odd vibe. We call our alleged ghost The Captain, because the landlady told us a sea captain built the house. We got a shot glass with a pirate on it, and we’ll sometimes pour a shot of rum for The Captain. Too many times I’ve thought Matt was sneaking up on me, really felt a presence, but nobody was there.

 What’s been your proudest moment?

I finally got my bachelor’s degree last year! I went to college right out of high school. When I was 19, I dropped out and transferred to the University of Poor Choices, with a double major in Poverty and Shitty Jobs. I also minored in Photography and Writing, which were extremely satisfying.

When you went back to college was it like that Rodney Dangerfield movie, “Back to School”?

Hahahaha! No, hardly. I didn’t quite have his resources, and I wasn’t so obviously old and out of place. I don’t really look my age, so I mostly blended in. Never lied about my age if anyone asked, but I definitely kept it on the down low. It was kind of a culture shock, though. Kept reminding myself, I was once 19 and clueless, too. 19 and clueless was precisely why I was in my 40’s and still trying to finish college.

What’s been the weirdest thing you’ve seen?

Years ago, I was in a diner with my friend Dawn. At the next table, there was a family- grandma, mom, son, and daughter. The boy was maybe 9, the girl maybe 7. The boy was kinda cranky and whiny, pushing the food around his plate, pissing his mother off. She was harping on him for a while, nagging him to eat his dinner and stop whining. Suddenly, she’s had enough and yells “STATUE OF THE CRANE! STATUE OF THE CRANE!” The boy hangs his head in shame, stands up, and assumes the position right in the middle of the diner. So there he is, standing on one foot, his knee up high, his arms raised. Grandma, mom, and sister just keep eating like nothing unusual was going on. She made him stand like that until they were done eating, probably 10-15 minutes. It was disturbing. I also once saw a guy in a pink bunny costume riding a motorcycle.

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What kinds of jobs have you had?

I worked in the photo lab business for close to 20 years, but digital photography killed that industry a few years back. I’ve also been (in no particular order) a McDonald’s cashier, a Hallmark store cashier, a bank teller, a radio station receptionist, an ad agency administrative assistant, a Wal-Mart cashier, an ice cream shop scooper, a copy editor, a library assistant, a nursing assistant, and a customer service rep. I’ve done a lot of things, observed a lot of people. People-watching is always fodder for writing. Everything gets stored away in the mental file cabinet.

Working at Walmart had to be interesting. Tell me about that.

If you can endure your body and soul being devoured whole on a daily basis, it’s a rich source of writing fodder. I actually worked there on two separate occasions, entirely out of desperation. The most recent time, my co-workers included an ex-carny, a little person, and a legally blind guy who assembled grills and bicycles. You can’t make that shit up, and I haven’t even gotten to the customers yet. Speaking of shit, at least one customer defecated in the store each week. I mean, right out in the open, like in the middle of the aisle next to the kitchen tools. Just dropped trou and squatted right there. And even the ones who make it to the bathroom go on the floor or in the sink. I have to wonder what the thought process is, what makes this the best available option.

 Where in Connecticut did you grow up?

West Haven. It’s best known for sandy beaches, political corruption, and lots and lots of Italians. Kids from other towns called it “Waste Haven”. I once met a friend-of-a-friend in a bar, and he said to me, “You’re from West Haven? But your hair. It’s so… small!” The only thing I really miss about West Haven- and Connecticut in general- is the pizza. Mainers just can’t make apizza right. Joe Saldibar of Uno Kudo comes from West Haven, too, but we didn’t know each other until Facebook a few years ago. He probably misses New Haven pizza, too.

What’s New Haven pizza like?

It’s like the smile of an angel, but edible.

Ever been arrested?

Not yet!

Ever been seriously injured?

I fell off a pool slide and broke my elbow when I was 6. The ER doctor asked me if someone hurt me, but I really did fall off the slide. My mom was immensely pissed when I told her that.

What are you interested in that would surprise people who think they know you?

It’s a weird interest, and morbid to most people, but I’ve always been fascinated by old graveyards. They’re places where you can get an education in the humanities- history, art, religion, anthropology. The art of old gravestones is pretty amazing. Connecticut has some graveyards dating back to the 1600’s, but Maine wasn’t populated until much later, so there’s not much to see here. Evergreen Cemetery here in Portland, though, was designed according to romantic Victorian ideals- a beautiful park meant for lingering and reflecting quietly, that Victorian image of the mourner plucking petals off flowers at a loved one’s grave. I don’t find it morbid at all.

Tell me about your daily life.

I live with my darling boyfriend Matt in an old house built in 1807. We’ve lived here three and a half years, and we love the neighborhood, if not always the upstairs neighbors. One day while doing yard work I found a Bruins hockey puck, signed in silver paint marker by Ray Bourque #77, in the bushes outside. I looked around, and then up, and saw a puck-shaped hole in the upstairs kitchen window. Those kids were a huge pain in the ass. Anyway, I read and write a lot, am into all kinds of domestic stuff (knitting, sewing, crocheting, cooking, baking), and have a shop on Etsy where I sell my crafts. Still struggling to find gainful post-college employment. I work in customer service on second shift right now, and expect to be laid off at any time. I hope the whole writing thing works out some decade.

What kinda stuff did you copy edit.

My college’s student newspaper. Mostly music reviews, opinion pieces, and sports. It was a good experience. I learned a lot about the writer-editor relationship. Some writers can’t stand being corrected, even if you can point to an entry in the AP style book that explains the rule. Others are very appreciative and just want their piece to be as good as it can be. Gentle diplomacy goes a long way in life.

What are your plans for 2013? Are you working on a book?

Getting published in Uno Kudo in 2012 was a huge accomplishment, and I hope to do much more this year. I have any number of unfinished stories in the works, and hope to finish at least some of them. I’ve been wanting to publish a literary magazine of my own. It would probably be online, as much as I love print. 2013 may be the year for that. I used to publish a humor zine called Postmodern Toad back in the 90’s. I miss that. My eyes are on Uno Kudo 3, too.

I love zines, hand made ones, they really do it for me. I send submissions to them sometimes. Places like Citizens for Decent literature made by Michele McDannold, the Filth, the Idiom by Mark Brunetti, Martha Grovers excellent Somnambulist out of Portland … What interests you about zines?

I’m not too familiar with the current state of zine culture, so I’ll have to check those out. But the 90’s were a great time to be creative and have access to a copy machine. Factsheet 5 was a major zine that reviewed zines. It was THE source. My zine was reviewed in F5 a few times, and people from all over saw it and sent me their zines to trade. I love getting mail, and it was so much fun to see what other people were thinking and doing. Self-publishing fascinates me- bypassing The Man and doing it yourself. Getting your ideas out in the rawest form, cut-and-paste layouts, crazy Dover clip-art, hand-drawn cartoons, rants and reviews and conspiracy theories. There was a zine for every occasion and every philosophy. Obviously, there were some zines I didn’t care for, but that says more about me than the people who made them. I always respect people who do creative things, even when I don’t get it.

What would your zine be like if you made one today?

My old zine was all cut-and-paste, because I didn’t have desktop publishing software to lay out the pages. Just printed out the text in columns from MS Word or whatever I was using. Glue sticks and scissors. My bosses let me use their copy machine, I just had to buy my own paper. So it was pretty cheap to do. Print everything out, collate, staple. If I did a print zine today, the layout would be a lot more streamlined. I would probably find somebody who prints on inexpensive newsprint. Print-on-demand would be ideal, so I wouldn’t have to pay up front. I know lulu doesn’t do anything like that, but somebody must.

What would your website be like? Have you thought of a name? What would you look for?

For Senior Project, we Media Studies majors each had to create an online portfolio showcasing our work. Mine had writing and photography. The writing was mostly stuff I wrote for classes. That portfolio is on a free site. That’s about all I have for a website. I do own the domain christineaconte.com, but haven’t done anything with it.

When you say, “if the writing thing works out some decade” where do you see yourself if it does work out. What would you want to do if you could?

Realistically, I’d be happy to make some money from writing. Haven’t been able to quantify exactly how much “some” means, though. I need to set some solid goals.

That’s a noble and totally achievable goal! I’ve known you since 2005, we’ve never met in person. Will we meet in 2013?

I hope so!

CC

Also of note: Uno Kudo submissions for Volume 3 are open: send your poetry, fiction, non-fiction and artwork to unokudo@gmail.com

interview

Uno Kudo Interview: Gus Sanchez

Today, I’d like to post an interview I conducted with Uno Kudo writer Gus Sanchez, who’s two stories were published in Vol. One and Volume Two of Uno Kudo’s art meets lit. yearly anthology.

Gus Sanchez is a friend of mine originally from Queens, now living in the American south. Whether I’m talking to him on the phone, via text or reading his blog, one thing seems to shine through the conversation and that is his pursuit of information pertaining to “becoming a better writer” the craft of it, the implement of new techniques. He posts about writing and other interest at his site Out Where the Buses Don’t Run, which got it’s name from an episode of Miami Vice … but as far as I know, Gus doesn’t own a white blazer or a handgun or have a mullet or a speedboat, whatever.

Gus Sanchez is a writer. Not an “aspiring writer”. A writer.

I think a lot of people can relate to how Gus feels about wanting to improve. We shot some questions back and forth and talked about his process, his love of music and his creative output over the last few years.

Werd.

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At one time in his life, Gus Sanchez wanted to be a lawyer. Then a drummer for a jazz/funk band. He even entertained being the leader of his own cult, but abandoned it due to a lack of interest on his part. When he’s not busy selling his soul to corporate devils or bitching about dead lawns or griping about the laundry not putting itself away, Gus is hard at work at (finally) completing his first novel, which he hopes to have ready for publication sometime before 2013 ends. Gus Sanchez is a liberal living in the thick of Republican country (Charlotte, NC), along with his wife Jaime and daughter Sophia. And, for the last time, that was not him streaking naked through the cafeteria at St. John’s University, as much as he would love for you to believe it was him.

  • Bud: First off, you’ve been working on a novel, about superheroes, or specifically a super hero. Tell me about that.

It’s about a superhero who must break free from the clutches of his arch-nemesis and rescue both his girlfriend and all of mankind. It’s also about a man who’s in the throes of a schizophrenic episode, and the only way he seems to cope with his psychosis is to imagine himself as a superhero. So the novel has a parallel storyline: is it about a superhero and his conflict, or it is about this mentally ill man and his conflict?

  • If you could have a super power what would it be?

I wouldn’t want the super powers, so to speak. Being able to fly, or become invisible is okay, I suppose. What I dig most about, say, Batman or Iron Man, is that they’re self-made. They have all the coolest toys their billions can buy, but really what they most rely on is their mental strength and their advanced intelligence. It’s one thing to simply beat up your enemies. It’s another to outsmart them. So all I want is the ability to outsmart, provided I have a cool jet-copter, or a fancy-dancy suit of armor that I can fly in and go PEW! PEW! with.

  • Why do you write?

This is my mantra: I write because I am a writer. I write because my very existence depends on it. I write because there’s nothing else I’d rather be doing than write.

  • So, you’ve written a novel … some short stories … Are you interested in screenplays?

Not so much writing them as much as reading them. Screenplays help to illustrate the importance of dialogue, which is very important for me as a writer. I’ve read every screenplay Tarantino’s written, and I’m amazed by his uncanny ability to use dialogue to drive his stories along.

  • What’s your writing process like?

I start with a sketch, and that’s often involving me writing longhand. I’ve filled notebooks up with lengthy scenes and ideas. Once I get something I like going, I’ll commit it to disk, using Scrivener, which allows me to see the edits and drafts I’ve compiled so far.I’m also pretty ritualistic when it comes to writing. If it’s just me and my notebook, then it doesn’t matter where I am. But if my story is taking off, and I’m in the throes of 2,000-3,000 words, where I’m writing is important. Either I’m at my desk at home, or my local Starbucks. Regardless, there’s a playlist I’ll listen to that I’ve compiled solely for this novel, and plenty of caffeine to keep me going.

  • You’re always talking about music … Do you find direct connection between music and your writing itself. You made a playlist to write you novel to, tell me about that?

I’m auditory stimulated. Music is my muse, and I pick up a lot of my writing cues from songs and lyrics. Besides, I can’t write in total silence. Sometimes I’ll want the sound of people talking when I write dialogue, so I’ll listen to podcasts. But for the most part, I listen to music when I write, always.

I put together a playlist of 18 songs that directly and indirectly helped me get inside my characters’ heads. I’ll give you a couple of examples: one song on that playlist is Iggy and the Stooges’ “Search and Destroy.” My main character is a charming asshole who tends to walk a fine line between chaos and genius. He’s sort of the hit-first, then ask-questions-later kind of superhero. I figured my hero needs a theme song, and what better song is there for a possibly unhinged superhero than this gem from one of the most unhinged bands, fronted by one of the most unhinged lead singers ever?

There’s another song on that list by a band called Au Revoir Simone called “Shadows,” which I’m using as a POV from the protagonist’s ex-wife. Despite the fact they’ve divorced, there’s still some unresolved feelings – lots of bitterness not towards each other but against the circumstances that drove them apart. The chorus of this songs goes “I’m moving on/I hope you’re coming with me/’Cause I’m not that strong/Don’t blame it on your shadows/’Cause I know all about you.” I won’t give away what happens, but hearing this song put me inside her head and her longing for a different time in her life.

I’m writing this right now, and listening to Led Zeppelin’s “Physical Graffiti,” by the way

  • Writing takes time. It’s all stumbles and falls and getting back up again. Practice. It’s practice … Tell me about your failures at attempting to write a manuscript in the past.

I wrote an entire manuscript about 15 years ago. It’s pure shit. I still have it, in a storage box in the garage. The biggest takeaway for me is how little I really knew about writing then. I didn’t know the golden rule of “show, don’t tell,” so those ill-fated manuscripts had a lot of expository prose that never seemed to go anywhere. I wasn’t exposed to a lot of writing groups, and I didn’t feel my writing was strong enough for me to apply for a spot in creative writing programs in New York. But that was insecurity talking.

It was only until 8 years ago that I met an editor who was running a writer’s critique group, who helped me understand the fundamentals I was lacking. That saying that you can’t teach writing? She proved that wrong.

  • What’s different with your process or mindset now then it was then, when the writing wasn’t coming smooth?

Up until this year, my writing process was pretty haphazard, as in I wrote when inspired. I suppose that was something of a fallout from blogging so much throughout the years. I was a pretty lazy writer, let’s put it that way. But I got myself into the habit of writing daily, whether it was in the morning, during lunch breaks (great time to write, as you no doubt know) or late at night. One thing that’s also helped my writing a great deal is to stick to one project at a time, which, for someone with mild ADD like I have, is pretty challenging, but I stuck through it. I write a lot of short pieces, but since I decided to finally shit and write this damned novel that’s been brewing in my head for the better part of a year, I made that my primary focus, with the exception of “Room 505,” which came together organically and rather quickly.

When I’m writing the first draft, I’ll write it out long-hand. This way, it just come all out, without the urge to hit the Delete key. Some people think writing long-hand is crazy, but I like the freedom of pen and paper.

  • You’ve had a few stories published by Uno Kudo. Tell me about your short story Room 505 that appears in Volume 2:
“Room 505” is the story of two people who are damaged in their own ways, who meet by chance. The man in the story is in the midst of reacting negatively to changes taking place in his life. The woman is reacting to the news that she’s dying. They meet by accident, and, as quickly as they meet, they soon walk away from each other, but what happens in the end is what makes the story. For me, at least.Most of it was a result of my frustration with my career, especially where I was when I first drafted it, around November of 2011. The whole bit about his terrible relationship with his new manager was me, in a nutshell. I came this close to actually writing that resignation later he writes in the story.
The part about the trip to Houston was a recollection of a business trip to Houston back in 1998. That was actually a pleasant experience, and the hotel I described in the short story is the Hyatt Regency. It’s one of those 70s-era ones with the open format, where you come out of your room and you can see down to the lobby. Perfect for someone who wants to throw themselves off the ledge. If I’m not mistaken, I think that’s actually happened, but I can’t recall where. That was me sitting at the bar at the hotel one night, watching a ballgame and eating nachos, all on the company dime. Actually, there’s a pretty funny story to this: because the company I worked for allowed its employees to comp all alcoholic beverages provided there was a meal included in the bill, I ordered some nachos and a Shiner Bock on draft. And another, and another. Apparently I’d stayed at the bar watching an entire ballgame and chatting with the bartender – I remember we were debating on who was the bigger trash talker on the basketball court, Michael Jordan or Larry Bird – and when he called closing time at 11pm, he handed me the bill – I’d downed 12 pints of Shiner in 4 hours! And I wasn’t even drunk. How the hell did you let me drink so much, I asked the bartender. He figured I was staying at the hotel, and not driving anywhere, so what the hell. He got a fat tip for his presence of mind.

The woman in the story was someone I came across during a stay in Hilton Head, SC. The exchange the dying woman and the man have in the elevator was the same exchange, verbatim, I had with this woman at the elevator at the hotel I was staying. I later saw her that morning eating breakfast alone, looking as if she was carrying the burden of some terrible news. I imagined something horrible, like a death of a loved one, or learning she has months to live. Oddly enough, she looked like Joan Didion when she was younger. At first, I gasped, thinking it was Joan Didion, and then realizing, nah, she’s too young to be her, without noticing the woman in the elevator was getting impatient.

  • You call yourself a cubicle monkey. I’ve never had a desk job in my life. What’s it like?

Yeah, it’s a badge of honor, or dishonor, I guess. Because I work in information technology (which I’ve been doing so reluctantly for the past 17 years), I’m often assigned to a cubicle. Also, because I’m in information technology, I work freelance, so there’s an unwritten rule that freelancers aren’t given offices, just a desk with three-and-a-half walls. The pay’s great, and I pride myself in being good at what I do, but I know I’d rather be doing something else.You’re not missing anything, by the way, because you’ve never had a desk job. There’s a huge part of me that says I should quit being a cube monkey and go work construction, since I’m good with my hands; I’m no slouch with heavy tools, and I’ll put my cursing skills up against any hard-hat schmuck from Staten Island.

  • What’s been your worst job?

Right out of college, I took a job working as a sales rep for a building construction supplier. Selling contractors and sub-contractors ceiling tile, floor tile, black iron, drywall, plaster, you name it. Totally fucking hated the gig, but one of my best friends worked for the same company, different branch, and heard there was an opening, so he put in a good word for me. I took the job because frankly, the phone wasn’t ringing, and i really wasn’t busting my ass trying to land a job in the legal field – I was a pre-law major in college. Anyway, the job sucked in the regard that no one showed me the ropes, I had to learn everything myself, I fucked orders up frequently, and when I finally started figuring things out and cold-called enough contractors to win some new business for myself, the branch manager decided he was going to give these new accounts to his senior sales reps. He wanted me to just take orders. That branch manager was a cunt, pure and simple, a dishonest twat. The office manager was a born-again Jehovah’s Witness who bummed smokes from me all the time, and when he finally did buy me a pack of cigarettes, he bought me a cheap pack of no-name smokes. Plus, he was also a dishonest prick. The accounts payable manager rode my ass all the time about why I should bust my ass and learn the ropes so I could earn a lucrative living as a salesman. There’s great money in sales, she said. Why would you want to be a lawyer?

The worst of the bunch were the sales guys. That senior salesman was a shit stain named Dennis Murphy who never hesitated to tell anyone within earshot that he had cancer and probably didn’t have much to live, all the while saying this with a cigarette in his mouth. He put his arm around me my first day and said, “Kid, stick with me and I’ll show you how to work this game.” And show me he did. His con game was stealing clients from other sales reps so he could earn their commission, then claim he needed to build a savings fund for his family to live on after he died. Turns out the mother fucker was thrice-divorced and up to his ass and elbows in alimony payments. He pissed off one new sales rep so bad, he was told he’d have his cancer-ridden ass kicked across Long Island City if he ever stole another account again. But Dennis raked in big bucks, and that’s why he got away with fucking all the sales reps, me included.

It got so bad I swear at one point I was at half a pack of Marlboro Lights and 4 cups of coffee by 10AM each morning.

I don’t know why I didn’t just up and quit. The job was totally wrong for me, but I gutted it out for 4 1/2 months until I finally got fed up and handed in my resignation. That shit eater of a branch manager decided to fire me on the spot instead. I didn’t care. I’ve been fired from other jobs since, and I never sweat it, because I know i’ve been fired from worse jobs; this was that worst job.

  • What’s the strangest thing that ever happened to you at work?

First, a little backstory: for a while – say, 18 months – I wasn’t working as a cube monkey, and doing real work, in this case working as a maintenance tech for a senior living community. It wasn’t a retirement home or assisted living; the seniors were still active and didn’t require any medical attention, so we rented apartments to them. Since it was Section 8 friendly, this community was pretty much in demand for seniors in the area, and there was at least a 2-year waiting list for apartments. As such, residents were required to undergo a Housing and Urban Development (HUD) inspection from the local HUD office so they could continue qualifying for Section 8 housing.

I liked working there, though. The residents were nice, if a bit unruly at times. The elderly can be like children sometimes, so I found myself, along with the property manager – who also happened to be my mother-in-law – having to play lion tamer with a few residents bickering over bullshit like someone’s TV being too loud. Still, it was a pretty rewarding job; we did a lot for the residents in terms of providing them with social activities – I ran Tuesday Night Bingo for a few months; man, that was some cutthroat shit! – and if a resident needed a lift to run some errands or even visit the doctor, I’d offer them a ride. I was friendly with a few. Two come to mind: one was Margaret, who, let’s say, was around the block several hundred times. She ran with some fast company, and looked the part. Rode hard and left wet, if you know what I mean. She could be be pretty snide at time, but deep down inside she was a softie, and we got along fabulously, if only because we were both terribly cynical about everything. She’d died suddenly, and it broke my heart. Another resident was Henry, total life of the party. Ex-Navy, quick with a joke, long with a story, first to offer his help with just about everything. After a while, I’d let him tag along; I “groomed” him as my replacement when I decided to go back to life as a cube monkey. But Henry was a chronic gambler, and his gambling addiction got him killed a year or so ago; he was on his way to a casino, speeding, when he collided with another vehicle that was also speeding, killing him instantly. Henry was a good man with a good heart, but I hated that he could never walk away from his addiction. I knew someday his addiction would be the end of him, but when it came, it devastated me.

It wasn’t the most demanding job – I worked maybe 20-30 hours per week – and it entailed me doing stuff like landscaping and changing the lightbulbs out, or renovating an apartment once we got a vacancy so it could become move-in ready. More often than not the residents that vacated left the apartments in very good condition, but on occasion we had a few incidents. One resident, a paranoid schizophrenic, pulled a “midnight run” and broke her lease; when I went to inspect the apartment, she’d managed to duct-tape every air duct and electrical outlet, and had even glued the windows shut! It took me 6 days non-stop to get that apartment even cleaned out, let’s not even talk about painting it!

Anyway, that’s not the weirdest thing that happened during this job. Remember what I’d been saying about the HUD apartment inspections? Well, there was a resident named Bill, nice man, bit of a doofus with a terrible case of generalized anxiety disorder, not to mention all kinds of ailments; he was 55, but he looked 20 years older. I reminded him that Loren (the guy from HUD – who, by the way, was like some outdoorsy hunk sort of guy, the kind of guy you’d find modeling in an LL Bean catalogue, and let me tell you, when the ladies learned Loren was coming, you’ve never seen elderly ladies get so dolled up so quick!) and I were going to be inspecting his apartment Tuesday afternoon, so don’t forgot. He nodded, yeah, yeah, I won’t forget. He was a forgetful bastard.

Tuesday came, and I knock on his door. I can hear his TV, so I know he’s home, but he won’t answer. After a few more knocks, I let myself in with the master key, and find Bill asleep on his recliner.

“Hey Bill, wake up!”

Bill is ice cold, his skin is blue. There’s no telling how long Bill had been dead. It took every ounce of strength in me not to freak the fuck out. Loren, on the other hand, yeah, this was old hat for him. He calmly advised me to inform the property manager – my mother in law, who had the day off – and call 911. The worst was having to explain to the residents who saw the cops and the EMTs pull his body into the ambulance that Bill had died. No way I could explain my way out of that one.

Ugh. I got chills just writing this.

  • Where are you from? Where’d you grow up?

I was born and raised in NYC. A true New Yorker in a sense; born in the city of New York, county of New York, state of New York. But I was raised in Elmhurst, Queens.

  • What are your BIG books. And what’s the single book that’s had the biggest influence on your own writing.

My mom instilled in me this love for reading. I never saw her without a book. She was the one that marched me down to the library and got me my first library card, and corrupted me ever since. I remember thinking I was such an adult because I was reading Agatha Christie when I was 10 years old, even if about 70% of what was going on was going over my head.

I don’t know if any single book’s had the biggest influence on my writing. I’ve gone through phases where I’ve tried to emulate certain writers. At one point, I was trying to write like Thomas Pynchon, all elliptical and bordering on paranoiac, and clearly going nowhere with it. Then I read David Foster Wallace’s “Infinite Jest,” and thought, fuck it, DFW did it better, so I better stop now.

I seem to be more influenced by short story writers. Raymond Carver is a gigantic influence for me. He taught me the importance of being economical with words. John Cheever, Flannery O’Connor, as well. Right now, Junot Diaz is my biggest influence, and I really love that he’s close to my age – he’s 3 years older than me – and we’re both Latino, and we wear our nerd hearts on our sleeves. “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” was a revelation to me in that Diaz was able to marry so much of what makes genre so demanding (the insistence on fantastical accuracy, if that makes sense) with the character development that’s so crucial to literary fiction. When I read that novel, I thought, finally, someone gets it. You can write genre AND literary fiction at the same time, and not lose what makes both important. His new collection of short stories is simply a gut-punching knockout, and he’s working on a 80’s-themed apocalyptic novel that sounds like it’s going to be hilarious and terrifying and brilliant all at once. I’m gushing, so I’ll stop.

So I guess I take back what I said about a single book being an influence?

  • Do you think you’ve grown as a writer since writing for Uno Kudo? And starting up your own blog OUT WHERE THE BUSES DON’T RUN?

Absolutely. Being around like-minded writers has been a massive shot in the arm for me. When I see my fellow contributors succeed, it only spurs me to want to pursue my own successes.

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