20 Questions with Mourning Goats
INTERVIEW TWENTY SIX
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.