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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

#27 Fred Venturini

20 Questions with Mourning Goats
Fred Venturini

A friend of mine told me about Fred and explained how nice of a guy he was and that not only that, he had a heck of a book out. Now that I've read the book and interviewed the author, I agree with both. Please read the interview and go pick up the book!

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

The Cubs have won the World Series, so a group of goats are standing around a flaming garbage can in a back alley, lamenting their fade into obscurity since no one will talk about the “Curse of the Billy Goat” anymore.

2. In a recent Facebook post you said that your new book is on pace to be four times longer than The Samaritan, can you tell us any more about it?

I’m jumping into a sandbox full of my favorite toys in the new book, that’s for sure. We have a young man, Ben, who is about to finish up college and has run into that “what am I going to do with my life” wall. Then he ends up becoming one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, but this doesn’t sit well with him because, by golly, he’s fallen in love. So he decides to stop the other three from unleashing the Beast and ending the world. I must add that the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse do not sparkle, not ever.

3. At one point you had some traumatic spinal injury, what happened? Have you ever been inspired to write from an injury?

Oh yeah, I’ve had a ton of injuries. I’ve been in a truck that got rear-ended so hard, we ended up in some guy’s kitchen. Broke my neck in another car accident. Got burned when I was ten years old; a bully set me on fire. I’ve just had weird things happen to me—a can of corn exploded in a bonfire, hit me in the chest. Once, in high school, my desk just fell apart around me for no reason and I got skinned up pretty good. I do write from injury. For one thing, recovering from injury or being on painkillers is a great time to do some writing. And, I mean, if you’ve been on fire, you kind of owe it to your audience to write about it at some point.

4. You’re a big sports fan, who are your teams for this year?

I’m a Chicago sports guy, through and through. Upcoming NHL season, look out for the Hawks. They have a chance to get it done. There’s no NBA season so far, so I miss watching Derrick Rose play. NFL, the aging Bears are giving me a heart attack. I live in southern Illinois, so it’s St. Louis sports country, so believe me, I have a great time because these fans are passionate and they love any reason to hate on a Cubs fan. They also love squirrels.

5. I read The Samaritan on my Kindle 3, is that the same one your wife got you for your birthday? Do you love it?

I can’t believe how much I enjoy the Kindle. I never knew how much effort it took to turn pages, and it really does look like real paper. Kindle Fire is already out, so like any good electronic device, I guess our Kindle is obsolete already. But you know what? I don’t want movies or apps mixed with my books, so this Kindle shall serve me well for years to come, I’m sure.

6. What type of writing would you categorize yourself in, you hit on a lot of areas in your short stories?

I’m terrible at self-categorization, that’s for sure. I try to mix it up, stay uncomfortable, not do the same thing over and over. It’s tough because you want to revert into your comfort zone. Sometimes I pitch my stories or ideas to a friend and they’ll say, “You really are f’d up, you know?” So that’s a good category for me, “f’d up.”

7. A lot of our readers spend their time on The Cult (Chuck Palahniuk’s website) and The Velvet (Craig Clevenger, Will Christopher Baer, and Stephen Graham Jones’ site), do you think that these writing communities are changing literature?

Changing it, no. Improving the hell out of it, yes. I’ve been on those sites and talked to a lot of those writers, and quite simply, the creativity and drive is there whether or not the website or community is there—it’s just that having that outlet, that networking capacity, that feedback and support improves the work. For instance, I have no doubt that a guy like Richard Thomas (a talented guy I met via The Cult) is going to write his ass off and make good things happen, but when he has access to The Cult, it’s like literary steroids—he’s going to hit .300 because he’s a hard worker and has passion, but The Cult helps him hit .330 and slug a few more jacks.

8. What was it like doing a virtual tour? Will you do it for your next book?

I’d love to do it for my next book. One word to describe the experience—unpredictable. You never know what a certain audience is going to think of your work or how they’ll react to it, so you’ve got to be ready for anything. Be interactive, be gracious, have fun, and it’s a great experience. Can’t wait to do it again.

9. Was being contacted about the TV and movie rights to your book a crazy experience? What went down?

Crazy, indeed. The big climax was, I ended up on the phone personally talking to a producer of a couple 100 million dollar films, and we talked hockey for about the first twenty minutes. Then it was an hour of insider film talk, just a treasure-trove of information, like getting a master’s degree in film over a one-hour phone call. I’ll never forget it, that’s for sure. I found out all the reasons my book would work as a film, who might make it, and what’s working against it being made, etc. The huge bonus was that he let me pitch all my other concepts (in a follow up call) and ideas and pointed out the ones that would be the most commercial. You don’t get a chance to do that too often. Let’s just say I’m trying to not waste the capital I built up in all these interactions.

10. The Samaritan is your fourth novel, are you doing anything with your first books? Do you think you ever will?

Right now, they are collecting virtual mold in some hidden folder. I’m not sure I’ll revisit them; sometimes what’s done is done. But it’s fun to look back at the writer you used to be, before your work took a leap, just to remind yourself that it may not feel like it sometimes, but you’re getting better with every page.

11. You mention your MFA in a lot of interviews. Where did you go? Would you do it again if given the chance?

I went to Lindenwood University, and yes, the MFA was lights out awesome. I know a lot of people are getting a similar experience for less in an online workshop, but let me tell you, the friends and contacts that I made, the leap my work took, the quality of the instructors I studied under, it was just an unbelievable experience and if you’re thinking of the MFA route, just do it. You won’t regret it.

12. In one interview you said that you’re now interacting with authors that you were previously a fan of. What’s it like to get praise from your own literary heroes?

Distilled down, the feeling I get is “I do not want to disappoint them; I do not want them to take back their praise.” Once you get by the “wow this is cool” reaction, that’s the feeling I’m left with. Quite motivating and scary at the same time. Never once does my mind allow me to put myself even close to their level. Fanboy for life, so to speak.

13. You did a visiting writer series Kaskaskia College, what was that like? What did you do?

That’s in November, but I’m excited for it and I’m pretty sure it’s another opportunity to swear in public.

14. Did you go to Bouchercon in October? How was it?

Different, for me, since I’m not a mystery guy. I was a little unfamiliar with the territory, but like any good writing convention, you meet some people, catch up with some people, have a beverage, read some stuff, and walk out with a stack of great books.

15. Who’s your first reader? What do you ask for on a first read?

This might be dodging the question, but I’m my first reader. You could say I’m really insecure with my early drafts. I have a group of writing friends that I’ll ask to take a look at stuff, my publisher reads stuff, I can always hit my online avenues, but usually they get a second draft. But when I do hand it off to someone, the answer is, whoever has the free time to take a peek. My trusted readers have busy lives as well, so I don’t like to burden them.

16. Do you enjoy reading in public? How do you prepare?

Once I start reading, I love it. I do get nervous during the run-up to the reading, but hey, if you don’t get nervous, where’s the excitement? I take a long time picking out stuff to read, practicing it, getting the rhythm down. First person is great in public; dark humor is great in public. I read perhaps my “sickest” story recently and the laughs didn’t stop.

17. You first considered yourself a writer when you wrote the poem, “The Midnight Walk,” was it about a girl? Do you still dabble in poetry?

No poetry for me. I’m officially retired. But no, it wasn’t about a girl, it was actually about a guy trying to convince a stranger that the USA is the best place to live, but the stranger is unconvinced and ends up being Satan. So when it came to horror stuff, I got an early start.

18. Do you enjoy working with a small press?

I can’t imagine what it’s like working with one of the huge publishing houses. Emails get returned, the attention to detail and outside-the-box thinking are just incredible. I love the support I get from Blank Slate Press. The Samaritan would never have been finished without them.

19. What’s one of the biggest things you’ve learned from publishing your first book?

A few things. One, it’s hard. Two, you can’t do it alone. Being a writer and an author are two different things; I’m grateful for the audience I’ve built with this first book and I hope to keep them as this ride continues.

20. What’s next for Fred Venturini?

In April, fatherhood, so I’m excited about a whole new chapter and challenge in my life. As for writing, my plan for the future is simple—stay humble, stay hungry, keep writing. Cream rises to the top so I’ll just keep my fingers crossed that I am actually creamy. Only one way to find out, and that’s to keep going . . .

Thank you!


Tuesday, November 1, 2011

#26 Mykle Hansen

20 Questions with Mourning Goats
Mykle Hansen

Mykle has some of the most amazing book titles I've ever read, Help! A Bear Is Eating Me!, The Cannibals Guide to Ethical Living, and my favorite, Rampaging Fuckers of Everything on the Crazy Shitting Planet of the Vomit Atmosphere. The titles brought me in, and the stories kept me around. Please read a fantastic interview with an fantastic author.

1. What comes to mind when you hear "mourning goats?"

On a damp hillside under oppressive gray clouds, a cluster of hairy, horny, smelly goats surround the cairn where they have buried their assassinated leader.  In the middle of the night his head was kicked in by paratrooping giraffes. The goats swear vengeance!  They are already constructing a huge inflatable sheep. They will take the battle to the skies.

2. You have some of the best titles, ever. Do you have a favorite?

Thanks!  Titles matter! I briefly considered calling my next book MY PUBLISHER SAYS THESE LONG UNWIELDY BOOK TITLES SELL REALLY WELL SO HERE'S ANOTHER ONE.  But I've recently seen a lot of other writers using the same trick -- sometimes really well, like when Josh Lieb called his book I AM A GENIUS OF UNSPEAKABLE EVIL AND I WANT TO BE YOUR CLASS PRESIDENT. So now I'm trying to be both clever and concise, which I find is harder than being clever and long-winded.  My new book is called HOORAY FOR DEATH!, and that's definitely my favorite title at the moment.

3. Who's your first reader? Why?

My wife, Gesine.  She is the one who encouraged me to take all this seriously in the first place. She's a voracious reader -- she reads way more than I do! -- and although she's totally fluent, English is her second language. I think she's very sensitive to English in general and specifically to what I'm trying to do. She notices when I do it wrong, and I trust her enough to take her advice to heart.

4. What goes down at bizarrocon?

First we fill the hot tub with buttered unicorns ... actually Bizarrocon is the occasion when all the Bizarro writers and promoters and supporters, and even a few plain-old fans, descend on this weird psuedo-gothic former insane asylum in suburban Oregon.We talk, we drink, we strategize the takeover of your planet. It's fun!  There's panels, discussions, an Ultimate Bizarro Showdown, and usually the publisher of Eraserhead brews a bunch of beer.

5. I feel like Portland is where most of my favorite writers come from.  
What is the draw out there for art and writing?

Portland is so positively overstuffed with amazing artists and writers that it's becoming difficult to even obtain basic art supplies like marijuana.  Therefore we have all recently gotten together and sworn an oath to discourage any more of you from moving out here! Our talking points: Portland is dry, ugly, miserable, expensive, tornado-prone, plagued by syphilis, and there is a giant Turd Monster in the river that climbs out at night to eat bicycles. All of our police have OCD and all of our strippers have mustaches.  The food tastes like cardboard and the beer tastes like Zima.  And the people are mean -- especially me.  You'd be much happier in Detroit.

6. Do you think location dictates the type of stories you write?

I'm struggling to find a more interesting answer than "no," but ....

7. What's your process? Do you write every day? Pen and paper? Computer?

Typewriter.  I try to write first-thing in the morning as the coffee hits.  When I'm working on a story, whether it's a novel or a short thing, I spend time with it every day seated in front of the typewriter in my office-slash-trailer. No music, no other distractions.  It's torture, but it works.

8. What's your definition of bizarro fiction?

I think what SF does -- loosen the bounds of the plausible in order to explore ideas and possibilities -- is analogous to what Bizarro does, but Bizarro does it to prod and provoke much lower level stuff: fears, taboos, fetishes, the dusty junk in the bottom of the brain.

9. Do you ever write in any other genres?

The lowliest genre I know is computer programming, and I've done tons of that. I'm not a stickler for genre; it's something to think about when selling a book -- and yes, I care about sales -- but it's not something to be concerned with when writing.  I have been working on a little biography of a pen-pal of mine who passed away, which is not Bizarro at all.  And I've written some children's books, and children's television projects, which probably have some strain of that weirdness running through them but are much gentler. I keep thinking I'd like to write a nice normal story about nice normal people and their lifelike problems, but I don't even know anybody like that.

10. What's your favorite thing to write? Are you more a fan of short or long?

I really do adore short stories.  Conciseness is beautiful. I try to keep everything short; my stories only get longer if they absolutely demand it.  Even my novels are pretty short by novel standards. Omit needless words!

11. How have you gone about getting your work published? Did you go through an agent?

Short answer: I went from photocopying my own 'zines to photocopying my own first book -- a very awkward route -- because I never really considered the possibility of success.  Then various people "discovered" me. At some point I realized I had been doing everything wrong, but by then it was too late.

Long answer: I tell that story better in the afterward to the new edition of EYEHEART EVERYTHING, my first book.  And that afterword was published online at a great site called THOUGHT CATALOG, so you can just go read that to get the nitty gritty details of how to succeed the Mykle Hansen way.

12. If one of our readers finds themselves being eaten by a bear, what advice would you give them?

There is a complete (and handy!) step-by-step guide to being eaten by a bear at helpabeariseatingme.com, and Google can also offer a wealth of advice.  If you're heading into bear country where smart-phone reception can be poor, it's probably a good idea to print out the whole internet and take it with you.

But if the bear is already eating you, chances are you have already flubbed the first several steps of the encounter.  Sorry to add insult to injury.  The good news is that few bears are hungry enough to consume all of you.  Most likely you'll only lose some limbs and die. If you've carried a copy of HELP! A BEAR IS EATING ME! with you, this is a great time to smear it with your bloody hand prints. That'll give your next-of-kin something valuable to sell on eBay.

13. Do you believe that the naked pictures of your cat on your website show her in a whorish light?

Actually, LOL is a boy cat.  But he'll still sit in your lap if you dangle enough string.  Some people would call that prostitution, but I think LOL would prefer the term "hustling."

14. I heard that you're also a musician, what do you play? Do you think writing and music go hand in hand?

I played drums in my last band, guitar and singing in the one before that.  I'm teaching myself trumpet at the moment, much to my family's chagrin.  I do think that language is full of rhythm and music. I strive to write prose that sounds good to read, and I read everything out loud as part of the revising process. For the podcast of HELP! A BEAR IS EATING ME! I went overboard on that, re-writing each chapter from the recording but then editing the recording from the rewrites.

It's very tricky, trying to communicate this music of language, because every reader applies their own voice and timing to written prose. I think that's why sometimes a given reader can't enjoy a given writer on the page, but when they hear it spoken they suddenly get it. I often wish I could write actual notes in text -- especially rests! 

I am always struggling with how to express various pauses, often by abusing commas.  In sheet music you have very specific symbols for time: half, quarter, eighth, whole, et cetera.  In prose you can only assign different durations of dead air to periods, commas, colons and semicolons, paragraphs and line breaks and chapters, and hope that the reader has similar ideas.

15. Do you think having a child changes the way you write and the subject matter?

Certainly. I spoke about that a little bit with Patrick Wensink for his blog project a few months ago.  Having a child broke down some of my pretensions about art and literature and put me much more in a mood to appreciate the things kids appreciate.  But now that my daughter is eleven she's developing her own pretensions.  We can be elite aesthetes together!  Such fun.

16. What's it like being a stay-at-home dad? Is it as great as it sounds?

It's been a lot of things.  I'm fortunate to have a really nice home, the remodeling and repair of which has been our other major art project for the last decade.  But I need outside stimulation.  People who commute to work get a certain amount of that for free, but I have to go looking for it.  If I don't, I'll get stuck in a rut.  

When my daughter was small I'd just strap her on the back of my bike and ride off in pursuit of adventure. These days she's old enough to stay home, so I have a bit more freedom to take risks.

17. When did you start writing? 

I can't even remember not writing.  My mom let me toy with her electric typewriter when I was a toddler, and I used to play it like drums. 

18. Who are some of your favorite bizarro writers? Or, writers in general?

Bizarro is a big family and I haven't read all of it, but Carlton Mellick III has been doing it longer than almost anybody and he's still great. I also really like Anderson Prunty and Cameron Pierce's recent books.

I just discovered Sam Lipsyte and read everything he ever wrote. I like writers, like him, who understand poetry and use it to write prose. I enjoy beautiful language, but not for its own sake. Joy Williams is another great writer like that. I'm also very keen on the generations just previous to mine: Martin Amis, Jim Thompson, Raymond Chandler, Donald Barthelme ... I'm largely ignorant of the classics, but I do like Moby Dick.  I got to read a chapter of that aloud last winter as part of a 24-hour marathon reading of the whole novel . It really holds up.

19. What advice do you have for the writers out there?

Get thee to a well-maintained typewriter.  It's the best tool for the job.

20. What can you tell us about your next projects? 

With HOORAY FOR DEATH! coming out in November (oh boy!) I'll be focused on promoting that for a few months at least.  Then, I'm either going to finish my novel about porn robots, restart my other novel about gay unicorns, or develop a children's television show about mutant squirrels. Or some combination of those.


Thank you!