Twenty Questions with Mourning Goats
For the 30th interview on Mourning Goats, we have the triple threat, Phil Jourdan. He's in the band Paris and the Hiltons, he writes some fantastic fiction, and he wants to make YOUR writing better at a site he co-founded, called LitReactor.com. Read on to see what it's like to live through some hard times only to come out on top.
1. What comes to mind when you hear, "Mourning Goats?"
Sad goats. Goats sad because childless.
2. Your first book, Praise of Motherhood, is coming out May 25th, what was it like getting it published? How has Zero Books been?
It was a smooth process. Zero Books hasn't done any autobiography titles before me, so I was happy that they took a chance with my book. I really like the Zero Books collection, and it's cool to be a part of that group.
3. Recently, you agreed to run your own publishing imprint called Perfect Edge Books. How did this come about? What are you looking for?
The company that runs Zero Books, John Hunt Publishing, has many different imprints, and I'm going to be heading a new one for works of fiction that don't typically sit well with the "mainstream." The project came out of talks with the company, and I was interested in doing it because of my good experience in working with them. I like how they work. So if I'm going to be involved in a publishing project, of course I'm going to pick them. You hear a lot of horror stories about misunderstandings between authors and publishers; one thing I liked about John Hunt Publishing and Zero Books is that there's no bullshit. Things are transparent. If you have a question, the answer will be public. I like that.
Right now I'm approaching different authors with active platforms and small, dedicated followings. We're not accepting submissions out of the blue yet, but we will eventually. The fiction we're aiming to publish is dark, intelligent, all those adjectives, but I'm going to refuse to publish works that go for shock for shock's sake. I hate those books. There are too many of them being written. They're boring.
4. So, in 2012, your first book comes out, you're running your own publishing imprint, AND you're working on your PhD, how do you time-manage all of that?
I get bored easily. I like working on stuff like this. It means I'm not wasting my time. Plus, I'm aware that I'm in a privileged position, with all these cool things going on, and I want to make the most of it. And I drink coffee.
5. In one interview, you said you threw away 50,000 words that you needed to get out of the way when writing Praise of Motherhood, can you elaborate on this?
They were too personal, and they lacked focus — I'm sure someone might have found them interesting as a text written immediately after the author's mother's death, but that draft had no real merit otherwise. I wanted to make it less about me, and less about my mother, and more about our relationship. So I chopped it up, fucked around with it, and it didn't satisfy me, so I got rid of everything. It's still somewhere, I think, but I don't know what the file is called. Those pages were breathless and agonized, and I wanted something more controlled and contemplative. So I rewrote it bit by bit, and eventually almost nothing remained of the original manuscript.
6. This first book is a memoir, but published as a novel, why not publish it as a memoir?
It's a memoir, and it doesn't call itself a novel — but I call it a novel, because no matter how true to life it is, it still feels like a forged document to me. It paints a picture very similar to the real world I experienced, but putting it into words, omitting details, etc, all of that makes a life seem less real than it is. So I often refer to it as a novel, even though if it were marketed as a novel it would probably fail completely.
7. The book is very matter-of-factly written, is that what you were trying to go for?
It's matter-of-factly written up until the last few chapters. After that, it stops being factual, it stops even knowing what the facts are, and I make stuff up — like my mother coming back to life, all that stuff. But yes, it's important to me to be straightforward. The book deals with one fundamental fact: my mother is dead. It doesn't get simpler than that. So I had to get as close to the sun without blinding myself as possible — that way, nobody could accuse me of being too sentimental, though there is that too.
8. You also have a band, Paris and the Hiltons, do you think the creative juices that make music and literature are in any way connected?
Yeah. I think so. But they produce very different reactions in me. I make music because it's fun and exciting. I write because I have long stretches of feeling like shit without knowing why, and writing helps to make sense of that. The music is for the maniacally productive Phil; the writing is for the depressive Phil. They're both enjoyable, of course, but I take writing more seriously.
9. I love that your latest release with the band is based around William Faulkner, how did that come about?
I love Faulkner, and I wanted to base an album on his novel, Absalom, Absalom! — a very tricky book to read, let alone make music out of. But I told my bandmate, Sam, that it would give the new album a focus, and I gave him pretty much free reign to do the kind of music he wanted. Then I wrote some of my own tracks, and we worked creating something like a harmonious whole, connected by the lyrics and some self-referential musical nonsense, etc. It was an amazing time, but stressful as hell, because we knew not everyone was going to "get" it. It mixes so many genres — classical, rock, IDM, jazz — that the people who liked the early Paris and the Hiltons sound were, on the whole, disappointed, I think. But that doesn't bother me, because I think it was our best effort up till now.
10. As a co-founder of LitReactor.com, what do you want to see come of the site?
I'd like to see it grow into a really invaluable resource for writers. We're still working on things, but so far things have been smooth. Because we're not relying on anyone else for funding and stuff, we can take risks, which is nice. And with enough people participating in the (already really active) workshops, we should be seeing some really great writers emerging soon.
11. I see that you're fluent in more than one language, do you think this affects the way you write? Wording, tempo, flow, etc.?
No doubt. I speak Portuguese and French aside from English. It's useful to know languages with different origins. I particularly love Portuguese literature (Jose Saramago, Antonio Lobo Antunes, Jose Luis Peixoto) so it's great to be able to read them in the original Portuguese, when I'm feeling brave — highbrow Portuguese lit is pretty challenging. I read a lot in French, too, mainly works of philosophy and psychoanalysis, for the academic work and for my own intellectual pleasure. Seeing how different languages work around the problem of saying stuff is fascinating.
12. What's going on with your other band, Dawn of the Gecko?
It's on hold. Once upon a time, Paris and the Hiltons was just me, and Dawn of the Gecko was a comedy-cabaret duo for live playing. Now that Sam, the other half of Gecko, is part of Paris and the Hiltons Gecko is on hiatus. But we had some fun times playing that music.
13. What made you go after the MA in Philosophy? Do you think it's helped in your own writing?
I switched from English Lit to Philosophy because I wanted a change. It was a good decision. Whether it helped with the writing — maybe. Not at the level of composition, but I'd say being away of the questions raised in the last 40 years about the nature of "writing" certainly made me aware of many possibilities in literature that I might not have been aware of otherwise.
14. You seem to have your name all over the interwebz, but your personal site is lacking, do you have plans for it?
My blog, www.slothrop.com, is basically "my personal site" even though I share writing duties with my friend Jack. But eventually there will be a real "personal" site where people can find out stuff about me, if they're bored enough.
15. It looks like you've had books published before, but consider Praise of Motherhood your first, why?
Because those books weren't serious. They're experiments in self-pub from a bygone age. I didn't think I was going to take writing as seriously as it turns out I do. And Praise of Motherhood is the only one that feels like it actually says something interesting about the world. So it's the one I'm officially beginning my career with.
16. You're a world traveler, do you think that seeing all of these cultures has changed your own view of the world? Your writing?
Certainly. You can't write the same way you used to when you've seen India, Turkey, Namibia — all these places filled with weirdness and new things to do and feel. Suddenly the little world you grew up in seems less interesting on its own, and it becomes part of a map, not the map.
17. For some reason, I think you want to talk about your "husband," Jack Joslin, you can do that here.
He's a great dude. We've been Facebook-married for a number of years now. And he's writing a novel about my band. How could I think anything bad about him? Although he has a habit of screaming late at night — so loud that it wakes me up. And then I walk to his room and he's lying on the floor covered in sheep's blood, scratching at his face, saying, "I just want my father to love me." That gets a bit depressing. I have lots of sleeping pills.
18. What does your writing schedule look like? Are you an every day writer?
I write when I feel like it. Otherwise I do something else. I don't understand why so many people try to force themselves to write if it's not coming out. I try to go for at least 500 words at a time, but that's just a rule of thumb. I can write 200 words or 2000. I don't beat myself up about it.
19. As an early adopter of Facebook, do you see social media becoming a bigger part of our lives? Author's lives?
I've been on Facebook since 2006, which I guess is early, but I'm still ambivalent about it. I love posting moronic updates, and it's nice to keep in touch, but I don't feel comfortable being "serious" on Facebook. Too many privacy issues. However, when I post a link to my blog or something on there, I often get 50 or 60 views just from that, which is cool. I hope that goes up with time.
Eventually it's going to be completely unthinkable for most authors not to use social networking. Even now it's kind of weird when an author doesn't have an online presence. I don't think anything gets "cheapened" by that.
20. What's next, other than running the press and the PhD, of course?
A new novel, a new album — and a lot of screwing up, so I can get that out of the way.