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“Buy the t-shirt on the way out ya filthy punks.”

December 8, 2010 \am\31 9:45 am

Remember this guy I was telling you about? Scott McClanahan? From West Virginia? Writes killer stories? I read his book, Stories II, and I asked him about it and about him. His answers he unfolded in all these little stories about girls’ skirts, love and satan and fate, having a buddy with just one testicle, Gogol, panties, eating your own arm, families—a bunch of awesome life things.

Seems like the first thing about you that hits everyone is that you’re a ‘ proper storyteller’. I picture a tiny little Scott on grampa’s knee (I didn’t have a dad so I may be projecting) listening to stories that were probably too mature for his age (but really, who knows what’s good for a boy? people didn’t give a shit in our day) soaking in something ancestral, something old as mountains, something maybe feral but unmistakably human (sorry if I am romanticizing you too much, just put me in my place). Where does your strong ‘storytelling tradition’ come from?

It comes from me. That’s the great thing about tradition. We usually look at tradition as something conservative or boring, but tradition is a real nasty fucker. There’s nothing more radical than tradition. Eating food is a tradition. The need to have an orgasm is a tradition. Dying is a tradition. You can’t change it. It’s just there like air. Stories are the same way.

There’s a great line about the Russian language being, “spoken flesh.” I’m trying to do the same thing. I’m just trying to reproduce flesh.

Of course, I grew up with stories. I’m surrounded by them. Sarah just told me one tonight about a patient she was taking care of at the hospital who she caught biting a chunk out of her own arm. The woman just bent down, bit a chunk out of her own arm and spit it at Sarah.

My tradition comes from that chunk of arm.

I hate the term “storyteller” though. It reeks of class. If you have an accent, they call you a “storyteller.”

I feel like that there is something important about the way you end stories. I don’t want to describe it too much because it’s fun to get to the end on your own (unlike life, ha) but I thought of old fairy tales, where the ending would jolt you awake, bring you back into you. How do you feel about endings, how do you move toward them, what makes you punch things to a halt or set them down warmly, what incites such decisive finishes?

You have to stop somewhere. It’s like digestion that way. Most writing advice is a bunch of dogshit, but I do believe in this (something a teacher once told me).

A piece of writing should be like a woman’s skirt. It should be long enough to cover what it needs to cover, but short enough to keep your interest, to initiate joy and mystery and wonder.

I know that’s a horribly chauvinistic comment, but so be it.

I think (maybe apart from Suicide Notes) the stories in the collection seem like they have faith, they’re hopeful while maintaining a little dirt beneath the fingernails, a little grit. Do you have hope for humans or like, how do you deal with life shit? Do you think about things like ‘why are we here’ or ‘god’ or something?

Yeah I guess. I’m not religious or anything like that but I do believe in miracles, and curses, and coincidences, and black magic and the concept of chance and fate and numbers. For instance, I’ve been followed by the number 666 for the past couple of months. I was doing a reading in Ann Arbor, Michigan a month ago and went to see where Iggy and the Stooges had their Funhouse. I bought a Mountain Dew and a beef jerky at a gas station and my change was $6.66. I drove all the way there and my directions said I needed to follow one road for 66.6 miles.

I mean think about how weird it is that we’re having this conversation. Here we are two people in the middle of the billions and billions of people and you’re asking me a question about God. We’ve never even met and we’re talking about God. That’s really fucking weird when you think about it.

People need to get out of their heads though with this whole existence/god business. If you don’t understand that God’s in your fingernails and the nasty smells of your body—then you’re really just lost in my book.

O yeah, Iggy’s Funhouse is located at 2666 Packard if anyone was wondering. Insert Paul Harvey moment here. “666… And now you know the rest of the story.”

Two things I saw you said in your Metazen interview that made more questions in my head:

1) I saw you said you wrote these stories for your wife, Sarah. Let us (i.e. me) live through her, and tell us (me) precisely what you did to make her fall in love with you, and do you read to her or does she read your writing, and do you ever write about her or only to her, and how and why, and what if anything can other wives do to become so special? (Sorry, I am excitable.)

I started writing her letters and stories and poems before we were even together really. This was almost fifteen years ago now. She’s older than me, so I was just a wild, dumb kid to her, but I would always write her these things and tell her I wanted her to keep these letters and stories in her underwear drawer.

She always responded with some smart ass comment. I figured she just threw them away. It wasn’t until seven years ago that I gained access (so to speak) to her underwear drawer. I was surprised to find the whole drawer was stuffed full of my stuff. She had been saving them the whole time amidst a cornucopia of panties.

I do read to her though. Not as much as I used to. And she’ll even read my stuff every now and then as well.

Really the whole act of reading is one of the most erotic acts in the world if you think about it. For instance, think about a poem. The poet is actually inside your mind. The poet is actually controlling your breath. The poet is actually penetrating and possessing you in some way. If they’re any good—they’re actually placing you under their spell. It’s an act of seduction to be honest.

2) I saw you said you are working on another book, a novel, and then you are done with “this writing racket.” Is this true? What’s with the new novel? How do you know you won’t feel like writing other more things again? Is this like all my days when I think ‘I am going to kill myself today’ and then I drink a beer and forget about it?

Yeah, I figure I have another five years. The world’s too crowded with words as it is. I mean I have a good four or five books ready to come out in the next couple of years, but I don’t see myself doing this forever. I mean I’ve been writing almost every day for hours since I was like 14. I’m sure I wrote a million words by the time I was 20.

I see other writers out there who I like and respect and it just feels like they’re trying to get a job teaching MFA workshops somewhere. They’re actually wanting to make a career out of it—a career of publishing books. That just seems like absolute hell to me.

Who truly wants to read Joyce Carol Oates’ seven hundred and twenty-third novel? I don’t.

It’s the nature of semiotics my dear Ani.

Why have you said that you think writing is a racket?

Have you seen these people? If I see another writer wearing jeans and a dress shirt that’s not tucked in or a sport coat or a sweater with a button up shirt underneath I’m going to give myself a stroke.

Besides that, they’re always going on about craft and method and revision. If you ask me, it seems like they need to revise a few more donuts out of their diet. They sound like plumbers.

Here I am trying to start a New American Romanticism, trying to be an American Gogol, and you’re dealing with people who look like substitute teachers and art school students.

What’ll you do when the racket’s over?

I’m thinking paint by numbers, or becoming a proper paterfamilias. I want an entire tribe of McClanahan’s. Don’t get me wrong, I love writing but this stuff is really not that important. Life is a hell of a lot more important.

Actually, I’m taking back the whole quitting thing. I should just change my name. I’ve always wanted to be called Walter. Watch out world—Walter and Stories 58 in the year 2045. It’s gonna be big. The kids will dig it. Eat your heart out Joyce Carol Oates. It’s the American way. Buy the t-shirt on the way out ya filthy punks.

I didn’t have a dad, not that I have daddy issues or anything (!) only I am curious: what are the most important things you will teach about boys to your little daughter when she grows?

I stay away from teaching or advice. That’s the quickest way to fuck up a kid for sure. For instance, a buddy of mine picked up a case of the crabs when we were in school. He asked his mom what he should do about it. She told him he should put some RAID on it. He didn’t understand her drunken sarcasm, and he actually did just what she said. The bug spray ate through the skin of his scrotal sack and he actually almost ended up losing one of his testicles from it.

That’s where giving advice to children lands you—only having one testicle, being known to all your friends as “uni-ball.”

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