Peer Review: Giancarlo DiTrapano Interviews Scott McClanahan
, November 17th, 2013 14:36
In the first of a series of editor-on-author interviews, Giancarlo DiTrapano of Tyrant speaks to his friend and author Scott McClanahan about life in West Virginia, respecting your audience and having (or not having) beef with George Saunders
Asked to interview Scott McClanahan, a writer I edit and publish, I was a little weary. I have no questions for Scott. I already know his answers. But I came up with a few anyway, just for shits and giggles.
Scott and I met a couple of years ago and considering we don't see each other that often, it's curious how close we are. I miss him sometimes. More than sometimes. We grew up about 30 minutes away from each other, but never met until we both got into the publishing world. Guess that's one good thing you can say about the publishing world. I like drinking with Scott, I like talking with Scott, I like seeing Scott. But I also like to read him. And I like to hear him read. So here are a few Q and A's for you. Do enjoy. And buy Hill William which Scott wrote and I published. I promise you, it's just what you need.
When did you first write stuff down?
I started around the 9th grade. I mean writing for two hours everyday. I wrote a bunch of stuff from my dreams. Like I used to dream I was covered in these bumps. I mean a million bumps all over my body and the kids at school would hold me down and touch them and I would see this beautiful light, but then they would always keep holding me down and snip off my love bumps with fingernail clippers.
I think it was maybe the strangest castration story ever.
I also remember writing a story about a booger that talked. It was like Gogol before I'd even read Gogol. My parents used to find my notebooks and throw them away. That's why my handwriting is so bad. I did it as a defense so my parents wouldn't know what I was writing. Now I can't even read my handwriting.
Did you know you were sweet already?
I thought I was mentally ill. The story about the booger who could talk wasn't even comedic. I thought of it more like a booger opera. I sent away some poems when I was in the 9th grade to this little hippie lit magazine that you would find in the Writer's Market. The guy who edited accepted them and wrote back and my mom got worried. She thought these "writing" people were all pedophiles and scumbags and rapists. And you know what? She was right.
I also bought a copy of Naked Lunch around the same time. My mom threw it away because she didn't want us (insert my mom voice) "giving a man money who has a drug problem."
So it was like that. But of course she was always showing me art without knowing it was art. I'm talking about old movies like The Quiet Man, sentimental poems, the bible, etc.
Talk to me about West Virginia before and after OxyContin appeared.
WV has always felt like the cover of the Wheaties box to me. You know on the Wheaties box where there is a picture of an athlete holding a Wheaties box and on that cover of the Wheaties box the athlete is holding is the same picture of him holding a Wheaties box and of course this means that the Wheaties box goes for eternity.
So in the Wheaties box of WV there's always been something gnarly about the place. It used to just be booze and homebrew. I had friends who huffed. One of my friends from high school died from huffing cooking spray. He blacked out with a bag around his head and ended up suffocating.
After pills it was like this:
My friend Chris' grandma was walking around the house one day and was fixing something. She thought her husband was taking a nap on the couch. She kept talking to him, "Roy, what do you want for lunch?" etc. but Roy never answered. Then she looked outside and saw that Roy was not asleep on the couch but he was outside washing the car. The guy on the couch was a complete stranger so high on pills he wandered into the wrong house and passed out.
That's what it's like now. It feels desperate. I've felt desperate for years though. So who knows.
I tell people your readings are so good because you commit.
Would you call it that? Most people just get up and are like, "Ooh, my fans just want to hear me read," and their readings are so boring. I feel like you should respect the audience enough to at least give them something more than that. Much more than that.
There's a great Orson Welles quote where he talks about how frightened he is of driving. So he goes 80 miles an hour to just get it over with. I find it to be the same with readings. The more frightened I get the harder I go. It's like loving. I just find writers and most writing so boring. They all dress the same and they all look the same and they all sound the same and they all listen to the same music and they all read the same books and for the most part they all write the same way, too. And the people complaining about most writers are wearing even more of a uniform than the writers they're reading. So I guess I'm guilty as well.
I guess the only thing I try to do is excite and stay an amateur. Instead of the auteur theory we've always believed in, the amateur theory. It's why amateurs make the best soldiers and the best whores.
Why doesn't West Virginia produce that many writers? Or do they?
I think there is still an element of living that people do here. Writing is so silly in a certain sense. I think most of the guys I grew up with would rather ride four-wheelers and kill things. And there's something truly artistic about that. Living. Why isn't mud bogging an art form? Only the middle classes and upper middle classes have time to sit down in a chair and do something like writing.
It's like that great Robert Mitchum quote, 'I've always wanted to be a sex fiend, but I never could pass the physical.' That's kind of us. We really haven't even had the doctors to give us the physical yet. We're waiting though. Prostates and all.
Would you take a bullet for a good person? Would you take a bullet for a bad? What about a 90-year-old who was thought at one time to have shit-talked your family?
I think it depends more on who is doing the shooting.
Can people change?
Do people change?
Yes, but only because we are looking at them differently. We're not individuals really. We're just the person who other people think we are.
You dated my cousin for a few months (you son of a bitch). Though it ended, I thought it was a good thing for both of you. Do you think something is bad just because it ends?
Remember when we joked that I should now try to go after the entire DiTrapano clan? Like, I should try to make play with your older brother next and then an aunt.
No, but honestly, I think Eleanor is one of the best people I've ever known. I mean that. Just one of the great people in the world. That was a real dark period for me and I only think of her fondly. Hell, I put her name in Crapalachia for fuck's sake.
I think she knew the writing was on the wall when I made her participate in the Day of Debauchery. I've been doing this thing called the "Day of Debauchery" for years, where you just pick a day and you can do whatever you want. You can get drunk at 6 am or eat five hot dogs and twenty bowls of ice cream - or masturbate continuously. I even had a girlfriend one time who was bulimic and she used her day of debauchery to binge and purge all day.
However, this is why I think gluttony is the lesser of the sins - because you can do it in public.
Isn't it amazing how two West Virginians found each other like this?
Of course it is amazing. We grew up an hour away from one another and finally met in New York some thirty-odd-years-later. But, really, every meeting is a miracle. Think of all the history that is inside of us – the waves of Italian immigrants and Scot-Irish immigrants – and here we are having a conversation about miracles and people and life. Perhaps there is an invisible force inside of people that science hasn't discovered yet. Perhaps this is what draws people together and it's called our lives. I knew it the first time I saw you that we had the same look in our eyes. Julia calls it "a look of sadness plus a deep anger that we don't understand."
Give some bad advice to writers.
Keep writing. Don't quit.
Will you ever move away from West Virginia?
I'm going to try. I know the woman I'm in love with doesn't want to live here, but I have to still be within a couple hours from my kids. So we'll compromise. My girlfriend’s lived a hard-ass life but has made it through. I don't think I'd be alive without her to be honest. She told me months ago that I looked better than when we first started hanging out. I asked her why and she said, "You don't look like you're going to die."
But I love this place. I love this place because I can be honest about it. Most porn feels so boring to me because it's so airbrushed: this place still has a pimple on its ass. It still means its moans. Geography is overrated and underrated at the same time.
There's a great story about Kristofferson and Waylon Jennings where Jennings was talking shit about France. And Kristofferson says, "How in the hell can you not love France? It's full of wine, and the greatest cheese in the world, and movies, and beautiful women." Jennings is quiet for a second and then he says, "Yeah, but so is Fort Worth."
The only thing different about WV is when you get on a flight to come to WV the seatbelts are all stretched out and there's ranch dressing in the seats.
I Heard Jason Molina was not far from you in WV when he died. He was so good, no?
Yeah, I had sent him a Holler Boys CD two weeks before he died, so I guess he never got it. His songs are all about these places around here. I'm ten minutes away from 'Crab Orchard.' One of my great friends is from 'Gauley Bridge.' Molly Philpott helped turn me on to Songs: Ohia.
What's the beef with George Saunders?
There's not a beef. I got drunk one night and I said his hair was a dick and I tagged him on Facebook. I didn't think anyone would get mad about someone calling their hair a dick, but the next day I received this long-ass message. He's sensitive about his hair. I guess it bothered him so bad he deleted his Facebook account. He is now called Facebook User...
Hey Scott. Sorry you think I'm "a dick.' Strong words, brother
I’ve been writing for a long time but this book is the first time I’ve been out in the public in this bigger big way. So to have a total stranger who, as far as I know, I’ve never met, call me a dick and then go to an extra effort to bring it to my attention that he’s called me a dick (“This means YOU etc etc”) (and after he was the one who sought out the FB “friendship” in the first place) was new to me, and kind of weird. I didn’t like it. And I expect you wouldn’t either. And then to find out, via quick google search, that this person is a fellow writer, made it even weirder. Why not write an essay or a review or, best of all, a real letter, saying why you don’t like it – people do it all the time, and I like it, and write back, and it’s a good and enjoyable thing to do, and it's helpful. As a writer I’m sure you know that when a person writes a story, he’s not saying: this is the only way to write. He’s just saying: this is the best I can do. So if you want to talk more about writing, in a real way, please feel free to write me back here, or email me any time at [redacted] . Anyway – I’ve taken the liberty of unfriending you, as I expect I’ll be posting more annoying public appearances in the future. And of course, I expect that your TV has on Off switch. As for my hair being a dick – well, I hope you’ll email me when you’re 54 – believe me, the hair has a mind of its own, and is not in our control. :)
Best wishes with your work.
Ah, come on George. We were just taking the piss out of you. We were drunk and thought it was funny. That's all. Could you imagine Mick Jagger writing something like this when someone calls him a "twat" or whatever in the press? I really do appreciate the email address so that we can talk about writing in a "real" way. That's not condescending at all. And as for my hair. My hair will always be a thick world of raven tresses. I accept your facebook defriending. However, please understand that facebook "friends" are not your real friends. They're just a bunch of people you thought looked attractive in their profile pic. Thank you, George.
So these are the rebels of our generation. This is what we get from big time NY publishing. Folks who get hurt feelings over their hair. In MFA world Twain could have never took down Jane Austen or Fennimore Cooper in a newspaper.
What writers do you love from the past?
Suetonius and Hesiod.
From the present?
Suetonius and Hesiod. The thing about writing and art and music is it's always in the present. Even if you've looked at a Francis Bacon painting before and you see it again. It's still a new painting. It's still optimistic. It's still saying death hasn't caught me yet. It's saying my flesh is rotten but my real flesh regenerates. It grows a new for a time. Perhaps forever.
If you could change the state motto of West Virginia, what would it be?
Forget the state motto. Why don't we just change the name of the state to Ditrapaclanahan. Consider it done. You know people in power my sweet brother. Let's lobby the legislature. Get Rudy on that today.
Hill William is out now, published by Tyrant Books