20 Questions with Mourning Goats
INTERVIEW FORTY THREE
David is one of the first authors that I saw a review about in some magazine and then couldn't stop running across his book, How to Sharpen Pencils, in the bookstore. It felt like I couldn't go into a bookstore without seeing the book, so I had to seek him out, and I'm glad I did. I loved reading about him, and his interview is a treat! Thanks, David!
1. What comes to mind when you hear, "Mourning Goats?"
2. Let's just start this with "How to Sharpen Pencils," you're honestly making money sharpening pencils? About how many have you sharpened for money at this point?
I've sharpened about 800 pencils for clients around the world.
3. What's one of your favorite pencil facts that you want to share with the Mourning Goats audience?
American pencil consumption increased 6.8% from 2010 to 2011.
4. Every time I see your book in the store, I think to myself, "that's awesome, he's really rocking pencils," how do you explain your success?
My goal was to celebrate the common #2 pencil as a nostalgic object and a highly engineered communication tool. I think people are happy to be reminded of how cool pencils are.
5. I love that you referred to your books as "coded memoirs," did your close friends and/or ex, get that sense from the book?
My ex-wife really liked the book and picked up on a bunch of references that most readers won't pick up on.
6. Are you living back in the city again? I read in one interview you said that the pencil-sharpening period of your life might be coming to a close after moving back.
I live in Beacon, NY but I take the train to NYC fairly often.
7. It feels as though you have specific blocks of your life and personality in each of the projects that you take on, your books, your stand-up, and your comics, care to comment on that?
I think I get interested in different things and then I explore them until something else comes along and attracts my interest.
8. Speaking of your comic, "Get Your War On," when you first started it, you were listening to slow-jams, like Jodeci and R.Kelly, is music a large influence of your work?
I listen to music a fair amount. Usually when I'm writing I'll listen to a single song over and over again. I probably listened to "The Box" by Johnny Flynn around 700 times while writing How to Sharpen Pencils.
9. I love how much emphasis you put on the importance of language and professionalism in your humor writing. Where did this come from?
I've always liked language. When I was a kid I would make up fake words and say them over and over again. It drove my parents crazy. Then I studied philosophy, and a lot of 20th century philosophy is about language and the use of language.
10. When Rolling Stone contacted you about putting the comic in their magazine, how did you feel? I couldn't imagine Rolling Stone calling me and saying, "Hi, we love what you do, want to do it for us?"
I was excited. I really liked being in Rolling Stone. It made me happy when people would write to say they read my comic while waiting in the dentist's office.
11. What was it like self-publishing a book and then getting it released by Soft Skull?
Self-publishing can be rewarding, but it's a lot of work. Soft Skull did a great job with the first GYWO book. They sent me out on a pretty extensive tour, and I had a blast.
12. I'm so impressed abut you giving away around $100,000 from your "Get Your War On" profits. Do you think that doing this set you up for future success, especially working for the census?
Well, it set me up for working for the census insofar as I had no money.
13. How did John Hodgman end up doing the forward to "How to Sharpen Pencils?"
John is an old friend and a supporter of ArtisanalPencilSharpening.com. He's a great writer who can balance funny writing with sincere writing, so he was the first person I asked to write the foreword.
14. You cut out an entire chapter about mechanical pencils from your book, can it be found anywhere? It makes sense to cut it, but I'm sure people would be interested in your thoughts.
It was an extended analysis of different mechanical pencils available at my local Rite-Aid. It was very detailed and very boring.
15. How long does it usually take to sharpen a pencil? I guess each technique is different?
I can sharpen, document, and pack about four pencils per hour. Five, if I'm in the zone. Different techniques take different amounts of time -- the technique that takes longest is using a knife.
16. Have you heard from a lot of your earlier fans from "Get Your War On" coming and reaching out when they read "How to Sharpen Pencils? What's that like?
Not really. I assume most people don't make the connection between GYWO and my pencil sharpening business. The vibe is pretty different.
17. What's your writing process like? Do you write every day?
Procrastinate, procrastinate, panic, write.
18. One of the funniest things I read was that you don't use pencils too much because your left handed, does it make you sad? A little ironic (don't ya think)?
It doesn't make me sad, but when I was younger it would frustrate me to get pencil smudges all over the side of my hand. I was jealous of my right-handed friends.
19. We know that you've been a cartoonist, writer, census worker, and pencil-sharpener (as noted on your wikipedia page), but what other positions have you held? Do you feel like they've made you the writer you are, today?
I've had lots of jobs over the years-- office jobs, teaching jobs, cleaning jobs, temp jobs. I spent two years working for a corneal surgeon; that was interesting.
20. What's next for David Rees?I have a project I'm working on that makes me more excited than anything I've done in years. It will be a 90-second video that will make you very happy, I promise. That's all I can say about it.