Welcome to Mourning Goats!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

#8 Joey Goebel

20 Questions With Mourning Goats


What can I say about Joey? Torture the Artist is on my list of top five books for writers and the guy that wrote it, is awesome. He's a short story writer, novelist, singer, songwriter, and an all around great guy. I'm excited for you all to read the second interview of 2011!

1. What comes to mind when you hear, “Mourning Goats?”

I picture some gnarly young billy goats at a funeral home—Dave Coulier types. You know, sophisticated and petite, but with a little extra torque in the squat-thrusting department. One of them arrives and signs in at the guest book on the little podium with the pull-string lamp and thinks, “It never fails—no one signs their address in these things. They only sign their name, even though it clearly asks for the name and address. Screw it, I’m signing my name and address. That’s what it asks for, so why shouldn’t I?” So then this goat walks inside and licks some asses and gets his ass licked, and he goes over to one of the sitting areas where the family has set up a computer slideshow of the recently deceased goat as a child, with his family, dressed as Brian Austin Green for Halloween, etcetera, etcetera, what will be will be. But then Lyle starts thinking, “Ah, man. That might make me look self-important—like I think I’m special in some old-fashioned way—the way I decided to be the first one to put my address, while so many others just signed their names.” So he goes back and eats the entire guest book and leaves.

2. One of my favorite stories of yours is The Phallic Artist, from a now defunct journal, Cellar Door, did you write that during the same time you wrote Torture the Artist? I felt like they were connected in a lot of ways.

I wrote it not long after I finished Torture the Artist, and you’re right; the theme of The Phallic Artist is identical to that of Torture. The story behind that is that someone at the publishing house asked me to write a companion piece to Torture the Artist, such as a short story that could be placed somewhere in order to spread the word about the book. I got the idea from a friend who was in a figure drawing class in college. He would call me up almost every night and share with me his acute anxiety over having to draw a nude male model. He was seriously considering leaving the drawing blank at the crotch area. To comfort him, I said, “Who knows—maybe because you’re so worried about this, your heightened emotions will come through when you draw dicks, and maybe you’ll be so good at drawing them that you will have found your calling.” I could see him screaming to the heavens: “Damn this gift I’ve been given!” He ended up getting through it without any trauma, and I got a story out of it. I don’t know what happened with getting it published, but a couple of years later I eventually placed the storymyself when Cellar Door asked for a piece. It was then made into a short film by Lucky Rabbit Films out of Austin.

3. I saw that Pat Walsh was your editor for The Anomalies, he’s lined up to do an interview for Mourning Goats, what can you say about him, before he’s in for the 20 questions? Also, editors in general, what have they done for you?

Pat is very intelligent and has a great sense of humor. Not only is he intelligent in terms of the writing side of publishing, but also the business side of publishing. There was a long stretch of time—I guess from The Anomalies on through Torture the Artist—that I talked to him far more than I talked to any of my closest friends. I loved talking to him. He was good at making me feel good—which I think is a good trait for an editor. We had a lot of laughs. I remember the one time he did not laugh is when I made fun of California for electing Arnold Schwarzenegger as governor. (I had to say something as it was nice to see another state embarrassing itself.) He took that one hard. He didn’t see any humor in that. What have editors done for me? Well, in Pat’s case, he got my novel-writing career started by reading my query letter and then asking for my manuscript. In general, I think editors are helpful for the author’s morale. The relationship with editors isn’t exactly what I’d thought it be; there haven’t been any in-depth series of letters about the writing itself, like with F. Scott Fitzgerald and Maxwell Perkins. Usually with editors, I talk more about business than the books themselves. I always enjoy talking to them.

4. I love the line you wrote, “Get mad at something and make it better through writing.” What did you get mad about for each of your books?

For The Anomalies, I got mad at how predictable everyone was. With so many people, you know what they’re all about without them even opening their mouth. Their appearance is their mold and everything about them fits into that mold. And as a result, so many people are basically the same, because they so often “look the part” and vice versa. (“Haven’t we met before?” I would find myself thinking.) For Torture the Artist, I got mad at how utterly stupid and talentless the entertainers of the 21st century had become. I was—and still am—gobsmacked at what passes for entertainment. And for Commonwealth, I got mad that American voters not once but twice elected a man into office who did not represent their economic interests. All the contradictions stared us in the face: a common man who was a member of one of the most elite families in the country, the more masculine choice who was also a cheerleader. All I can do is barf, and the barf comes out in book form. “Goebel” is slang for vomit in German, which I’ve been made aware of repeatedly when I tour over there.

5. Do you write every day? Every week? What does the writing process look like, for you?I do write every week, normally Monday through Friday.

I’m still trying to find the best process. Sometimes I do it according to time: As long as I put in approximately seven to eight hours a day into my book (as well as in book-related tasks, like answering e-mails or going through my notes), then I’ll be satisfied. Or lately, I’ve been doing it by quota: six pages a day. This is in an attempt to get the first draft done for my new novel. It’s a triumph psychologically to finish the first draft, which I find to be the most difficult.

6. In Torture the Artist, you described something beautiful and horrible rolled into one, what do you think about where entertainment is going these days? Should we start some experiments, see what we can create?

Entertainment is as ghastly as ever. It’s gotten worse since I wrote Torture the Artist. My views on this topic can best be expressed in a song I wrote for my new recording project (which I’m calling Nervous People). The song is called “Bodies Writhing (the American Music Awards)”: Bodies on the TV, dancin’ up a stormCallin’ themselves artists, I’m callin’ it pornI can hear the message, rubbin’ it’s way through:You were awful slutty, now I’ll have to outslut you
Yes, sweeheart I see you, yes, you’re all grown upMaybe someday we’ll forget your Mickey Mouse ClubYes, I said I see you, you’re bringin’ sexy backSubstituting lust for the talent that you lackChorus—Looks like they’ve made love obsolete Where once there was warmth, there’s only heat And bodies writhingThis is what it’s come to: Ga Ga Boom Boom PowBaby caveman orgies make that future soundNo imagination, but man, they sure can moveLooks like they’re thinking anything but thinking ought to do
Repeat chorus.Bridge: Touch my body, won’t you touch my body?Repeat chorus and bathe. I don’t think any experiments would succeed. The best we can hope for is that the occasional work of true originality and imagination will reach mainstream audiences. LOST would be an example. I am a full-blown LOST fanatic. From a writing standpoint, I’ve never seen a show that’s so ambitious. And the different narrative techniques they used throughout the six seasons always impressed me.

7. You were awarded Romania’s Ovid Festival Prize in 2009. How did an author from Kentucky win this? What did it entail?

My novels were published in Romanian, and the judges noticed, I guess. And the reason I was published in Romanian is because I was published in German by Diogenes, the largest independent publisher in Europe. They are well-connected all over the globe, and they handle my foreign rights, so that’s how I ended up getting published in all the various countries. To receive the award, I got a trip to Romania, and I brought my wife with me. We were right on the Black Sea in a town called Neptun that was formerly a resort for the communist higher-ups. I attended some conferences and went to readings, and it culminated with the awards ceremony. I tore it up, author-style. The whole trip was surreal for me, and the prize money allowed me to focus solely on writing and doing water colors of ear lobes for several months.

8. With that, it seems that you have a huge following in Europe, do you think America will catch up?

Well, check this out: ELLE Magazine in Romania made my book one of their book club picks, and so I did an event in Bucharest, Romania, where all these young Romanian ladies were gathered to discuss my book. My wife and I got a kick out of that, especially since it took place in a high-end furniture store. I’ve never read ELLE, but I would imagine the American version of ELLE doesn’t offer much page-time for authors or books. Who would want to read about books when we can read about which cast member of CSI: New York Angeles has the best set of abdominal muscles or learn about how great Kate Hudson’s fallopian tubes are? So from what I’ve observed, authors aren’t as marginalized by the media in Europe. Let me put it this way: If America “catches up” as you put it, I’d be surprised, unless I come up with some good plots for lonely vampire wolves.

9. You’ve been doing some freelance work this past year, how did it go? Anything you’re particularly proud of?

It went well. It’s sad how much more money I could make writing an article about Michael Jackson than I could being an educator. I liked the Michael Jackson piece because it made me feel like I was a part of this big news story, rather than just an observer. DIE ZEIT contacted me, like, the Thursday after he died, and I had to have it turned in by Monday. They wanted a younger American’s take on what he meant to pop culture. I discovered that with my ability to get published in the German papers and magazines, freelance work is relatively easy money, but what I don’t like about it is that it took away from my creative writing time.

10. You did your MFA in a low-residency program, after you’d already been published, what did you think of the program, and why go back after tasting success?

I went back after being published because I wanted the security of having a master’s degree so that I could get a “real” job. When it comes to my books, I never know from one year to the next how much money I’m going to make, so getting an MFA was something I decided to do when I knew that I would be getting married and eventually reproducing. So basically, it was the decision of rational guy being uncertain of his financial future. Oh—and I wanted to enrich myself intellectually. I was more than pleased with the program. I chose Spalding University, which is in Louisville. The workload was daunting, but I thrived under all the deadlines, and these deadlines helped me write Commonwealth, probably the longest book I’ll ever write. It was actually such a positive experience that I found it disconcerting. I kept thinking, “Why is this going so well?” The teachers were wise and my classmates were supportive. Some people say that the problem with these MFA programs is that they churn out batches of writers who all write the same way, and that they are therefore institutions breeding conformity. But you hear that argument so often that I think it’s just become something that people think they are supposed to say, kind of like when people say that Kanye West is a musical genius.

11. I read on a German site, that you’re teaching now, what books are you using with your students? Any of your own? 

I teach English 101 and 102, so they mostly have to read textbooks. However, I make it a point to have them read one novel, and one of their essays is supposed to be about that novel. I make them a list of novels that are either classics or ones that I think they’d like. I also usually pick short ones, for obvious reasons. One semester, I assigned only five novels, so that we could have five in-depth discussions about some of my favorite novels. These novels were: Cat’s Cradle, The Metamorphosis, The Great Gatsby, The Catcher in the Rye, and The Stranger. It amazes me when someone doesn’t like any one of these books.

12. What’s happening with the Torture the Artist movie, with Lucky Rabbit Films?

I don’t have much to report. The producers have optioned the film rights a third time, and they are very much interested in making the film a reality. They flew to Kentucky to meet me and my wife. I liked them, and I patiently await to see what they do with the book.

13. Last year you wrote, “The song is so bad that while I was listening to it, it made me dislike life,” in reference to an Owl City song, topping the charts. I laughed out loud, or lol’d as the kids are saying, when I read that, any new songs you particularly hate or would like to rip apart?

I LOVE this question. I had forgotten that line, which I used on ye ol’ Facebook, I believe. Since you’ve brought it to my attention, I think I’ll make a place for it in my new novel, so thanks. There are so many new songs that I hate, and you might think, “Why do you listen to them, then?” But I think it’s good to be aware of them. It’s kind of like checking the pulse of youth culture, to see how much longer it will be before the world dies off. So every once in a while, in the car, I’ll listen to the pop stations, and I also watch the big music award shows, and I’ll sit there in a state of pure wonder, saying to myself, “This is REAL. This is not a Saturday Night Live skit. This is not meant to be a joke. And people LIKE it.” A perfect example would be the Black Eyed Peas updated version of “I Had the Time of My Life.” Okay, that in itself is stupid enough (Can’t you hear them pitching it to the record execs—“Yo, we wanna take that Dirty Dancing song and make it our own.”) But then—after Will I Am and Fergie struggle out the chorus, they inexplicably start saying “dirty bit” as the song falls apart into a techno atrocity. It is SO BAD. And then—this was at the aforementioned American Music Awards—when it was over, Will I Am yelled, “Welcome to the future.” So here is the future, everyone: the song from Dirty Dancing and the repetition of the words “dirty bit”…the complete absence of creativity or originality…And have you seen how they dress? My twelve-month-old niece has a cooler fashion sense than the Black Eyed Peas. They look like idiots. A couple of more observations from the American Music Awards: When certain buxom chanteuses like Katy Perry and Rihanna came out wearing dresses that actually covered themselves, I announced to my wife, “That dress is coming off within thirty seconds.” And I was right… You know those background dancers who basically just straddle things and writhe on the floor? I always think about how they have parents: “Hey, Mom! Be sure to watch me on the American Music Awards tonight. I’ll be dryhumping Ne-Yo’s thigh. Be sure to tell all your friends.” Why the hell hasn’t Justin Bieber’s voice changed yet? Isn’t he going on 18 by now? Does he have some sort of developmental problem? Is he a castrato? Sidenote: My sister always comments about how Justin Bieber gives her the creeps, which I think is hilarious, and I kind of see what she means. And two more songs that I’d like to address: Bruno Mars has a hit song called “Just the Way You Are.” Why?! You know that he or someone in his camp HAD to know the title was already taken by Billy Joel. I think it was an arrogant choice to call the song that. I mean, how did it even happen? Was he listening to the radio and heard the BillyJoel song and say, “Hmm. Since I can’t come up with an original idea, I’ll just take that chorus word-for-word but change everything else about the song.” Bruno’s song is melodramatic, with a melody that I would call “obvious,” and “easy” lyrics. There isn’t a tenth of the melodic appeal of the Billy Joel song. (And don’t get me started on how Billy Joel is always considered “uncool.”) And Ke$ha has a lyric in her song that says “we’re dancing like we’re dumb.” Finally, a 21st century performer who sings the truth.

14. When you wrote Torture the Artist, you said that you had a much darker ending in mind, before meeting your wife, where did you originally see it going?

I think I was going to have the Harlan character just wither away in his hotel room. Strangely, even with the way I ended up writing it, I’ve had a lot of readers and interviewers comment on what a sad, bleak ending it is. But it’s supposed to be happy.

15. You wrote four screenplays earlier in your career, do you ever think about turning any of the three left into novels (The Anomalies was a screenplay before being published as a novel)?

No, because they’re low-brow comedies, and anyone who still reads novels in the 21st century would not be interested in reading stupid comedies. Here were the titles: FRANKY DANDELION, THE SCHOOL OF WHATNOT, and GIRL HUNT. I’ve written several more since I became a novelist, and I plan to continue writing them. For me, screenplays are much, much easier than novels.

16. When you send out books to fans, I’ve seen on more than one occasion that you send out old pictures of teen idols, what’s the story behind this and do you still do it? (I personally got Bruce Springstien and Rob Lowe)

Ha! You fared better than most. Just yesterday I sent out C. Thomas Howell and Rachel Ward. My sister was a teenager in the 1980’s, and she would buy the Teen Bop magazines, and I’m assuming they still have magazines like this—each page would simply be a photo of a teen idol, everyone from the cast of the Breakfast Club to Andrew McCarthy to El Debarge to Scott Valentine. My sister would cut her favorites out and cover an entire bedroom wall with them, and because I wanted to be just like my big sister, I did the same thing, even though it was probably inappropriate for a six-year-old boy to have his walls plastered with pictures of Judd Nelson and Patrick Duffy. (I also really liked female soap opera stars of the ‘80s and had an album full of pictures of Emma Samms and Finola Hughes and Felicia from General Hospital. I was a weird little dude, even back then.) So my sister saved these old magazines. What people get in the mail from me are the pictures of celebrities that my sister and I didn’t deem wall-worthy. Yes, I still do it, though my supply is nearly depleted. I do it just because I like the idea of sending something extra, and because people tend to get a kick out of it. There’s no meaning or message behind it.

17. You said to a fan on your facebook page that the newest book, Commonwealth, took, “so long and was so much work that it made me start to hate writing,” can you go into more detail for us? What do you mean by that?

Oh, I meant exactly what I said. That book exhausted me. I know that it is a privilege to be a published author, but one big hardship of being an author rather than having a regular, nine-to-five job is that the work never really ends. You might be away from your computer, but you can’t get your brain to stop tinkering with a certain plot point. So with Commonwealth, I’d go to bed, but after I turned out the lights, I would think, “Well, I’m lying here doing nothing. The lights are out and it’s quiet so I have no distractions. This would be an ideal time to have my brain work out some details on the book—just until I fall asleep. And then, of course, the sleep wouldn’t come. So, yes, writing is an art form, or a craft, but I also think of it as work, and just like with anything, if you work on the same thing so hard for so long, it will leave you soured on that particular type of work. But I took some time off from writing novels. I worked on screenplays and the freelance articles. And now I’m deep into my fourth novel, but I’m sleeping well and trying not to completely give myself over to the book.

18. In November, you had a short story come out that you described as, “Mad Libs meets Choose Your Own Adventure meets 21st century marketing,” what can you tell us about it?

Strange career development: Mercedes needed an author to write a story, one which requires the person at the computer to enter information, so that the story becomes interactive. Because of my following in Germany, I was offered the gig. It’s surprisingly dark and surreal for a story on a Mercedes site.

19. If you had to give one piece of advice to aspiring writers about life, not writing, what would it be?

I think the single best piece of advice I could give them would be for them to protect their health. This is something I’ve only recently learned myself. For instance, I’ve learned that exercising thirty minutes a day can help me sleep better at night. The older I get, the more I realize how if you don’t have good health, you don’t have much of anything. Since I’ve started taking better care of myself in way of diet and exercise, I’ve noticed that writing isn’t as exruciating.

20. You were working on a new book this year, what can you tell us about it? Do you have a title yet?

It’s set in high school and it’s in first person point of view. This one has some really nice words! Nouns, verbs, a couple of prepositions—the whole deal, y’all. It’s funny and sad and might be described as a geek fantasy. No title yet. I have two of the three words of the title selected. The third one keeps eluding me. Maybe “goat” will do.

No comments:

Post a Comment