Brian Alan Ellis interview with Meg Tuite
Here are some quotes from the three flash stories, “13 Down, 18 Across,” “Jen, Anita, Gretchen, Amy, Sasha, Sammy (or Linda), and Love," and "About the Sun," that are published in this issue:
“Look, the whole romantic notion about being with someone whose life revolves around crossword puzzles, being his muse, supporting him through good times and bad, will die out.”
“I dunno. According to the Code of Conduct book”—Daniel fetches a packet from off the floor, turns to a particular page and then reads from it aloud—“‘A No Call/No Show, or NCNS, is when you do not show up or cancel your shift. This is unacceptable. One NCNS results in termination.’”
“But I read somewhere that forgetting to do simple tasks is a sign of forthcoming madness. Senility isn’t normal for someone my age.”
“Sadly, I know damn well your thoughts:
They march through me like machine gun fire.”
“(His razor is very dull; he can’t even slash his wrists with it; and trust me, he’s tried.)”
These stories evoke that ‘love is hell’ feeling after it’s over.Are these stories part of the same collection?
I probably wrote them around the same time, which I think was in 2005 or 2006, working as a dishwasher and bumming out about some relationship that was either souring or had already soured. I guess all three of those stories are about loss; about being a dreamer; about jumping out of windows. I thought about jumping out of windows a lot. Still do, at times, even though my life is so much better in a lot of ways than it was then.
When did you first start publishing your work?
I self-published a poetry collection called Silent Crisis Center in 2004, followed by a short-story collection called Dreams from Hades. These were both fold-and-staple photocopied books, known as “zines” for people unfamiliar with what punk/hardcore teenagers did in the 1990s. My favorite of these was one called Unfurnished Rooms (To Die In), which is a title I wish I’d saved for an actual book. They were pretty terrible and nothing much came of them, just a few hundred or so distributed to mostly friends. I got “serious” and started submitting my stuff to journals in 2007. Thieves Jargon published my first story in 2008, under a pseudonym (Brian Rentchek) for some strange reason. I also got into it with the editor for publishing the story without showing me the changes he’d made. Even then, with no prior publishing credits, I was a pugnacious sumbitch.
As a well-established writer, how has the literary world moved for you? What changes feel positive and which negative?
To be honest, I don’t see myself as a well-established writer. Even though I’ve been writing fiction for 10 years and getting it published for 7, I still feel like a new kid on the block. I still feel like Jordan Knight. The Internet is both the most positive and most negative thing to happen to the literary world—or to the music world, or to the having-actual-friends world, or to the world in general. We must adapt and not let it destroy us, which it so clearly wants to do. Fuck it; I might let it get me.
I so agree with you on the Facebook insanity! What would you say to a new writer just starting to send work out? What would you have wanted to hear from another writer that might have helped you when you began publishing?
I would say, “You’re in for it now.” Honestly, there is nothing you can say to prepare anyone for the soul-crushing rejection they’re about to encounter—daily. They have to be obsessive compulsive, and they must love and hate themselves in varying degrees. It’s no picnic. As for other writers, I didn’t know any—for years! I didn’t even have a computer. I had to go to the library to type up and submit stories to places I only knew about from reading the publishing history of writers I’d read in anthologies checked out from the library, or from those published in McSweeney’s, which my girlfriend at the time subscribed to. Only up until recently did I start talking to or knowing other writers… other than the ones who’d publish me of course, but even then there wasn’t much correspondence. And also, I still need help. How can I help others when I can’t help myself? I’m still clueless. I’m still Alicia Silverstone.
Do you workshop your work? Any writers that you send your early drafts to, exchange with?
No. Writers have their own shit to deal with. But I have sent my friend Allie Marini Batts, professional writer badass, stories to check out. She’s definitely my writing BFF. We do readings together and she always makes me look bad because she’s so good at it, whereas I cuss and drop shit and move around too much and read too loud.
Hahaha! I adore the both of you and the two of you make we want to revisit Florida, just to read with you! How long do you sit on a story before you feel it’s ready to send out?
I’m always changing shit, even after a story has been published. It’s never done. Never Fucking Done: the Brian Alan Ellis story.
The Brian Alan Ellis story. I believe I saw that one on lifetime. What projects are you working on right now?
I’ve got a novella (or “novelette,” or something) called King Shit coming out this summer. It will be illustrated by my buddy Waylon Thornton. Also, I have another book of short stories (Something Good, Something Bad, Something Dirty) planned for 2015 (if we make it).
I love collaborative work, especially with illustrations. NICE! I so look forward to that.You write poetry as well as prose. Do you have a preference and why?
I don’t write poetry, really. I tried to, back in the day, but I can’t get past the line breaks; they do unpleasant things to my brain. I guess a lot of my stuff can be considered to be prose-poems, but I simply call it flash fiction. Or I don’t call it at all.
Where did you grow up and does place play a large part in your work?
I was born on Long Island, NY, but I grew up in a trailer park in South Florida. I shared a room with my grandmother. I never met my biological father. Also, I was briefly anorexic as a teenager. I’m sure all this matters in some way, but I could never pinpoint any of it. Can you?
I adore you and hope that you one day will write a memoir. And I love your grandmother. I hope she was nice to you!
What are you reading at this time?
I just finished a book about The Fleshtones, an awesome band nobody seems to have heard of. Right now I’m reading the Paul Stanley autobiography, Face the Music; KISS is my favorite band and, yes, I’m an official Army member. I really enjoyed those last two Scott McClanahan novels, as well as Tampa by Alissa Nutting. Don’t Kiss Me by Lindsay Hunter is insanely good. The new Robert Vaughan is powerful stuff. I reviewed Juliet Escoria’s book for That Lit Site, and it’s a killer. I’m re-reading all of S.E. Hinton’s books. I plan on reading the new Mary Miller novel, as well as those books you wrote that you were very kind in sending me (I should be interviewing you). So much shit I need/want to read. And there’s a new Lydia Davis book out! Fuck.
What is a quote that speaks to you?