O humid world, O yonder fields of cane, O place of vine and mist, where alligators peer and vipers slide the broken face of black waters, and men and women in garments wretched bleed and sweat within mosquito gusts.
Last night we watched the brief documentary Glenn Gould: The Russian Journey, which is about Gould’s tour of Russia in the late 1950s and how the previously unknown Gould’s genius immediately shocked and transformed musical Russia. In the aftermath I’ve found myself thinking about what a rare beautiful thing it is to unwittingly confront an artist whose vision is so new and powerful (and how it becomes rarer each year we age) that our understanding of the possibility of art is reinvented. Doors previously unseen are opened, new doors constructed. It seems like this is the thing we should seek out and demand of our artists (and ourselves), but that impulse in our culture too seems more and more rare.
We begin with the king, his castle and his estates, his moat and moat beasts, his hounds, his advisers, his frolicsome maids, his dungeons and chains and devices, his political enemies, his emeralds and rubies and gold, his scepter and throne and the crown upon his head. We begin with his many subjects across many towns in many lands and the taxes they pay him, and the allegiance they owe to him, and the fear they know for him. We begin with the king and his greatness, his learnedness, his wisdom, his cunning and brutality and horror. We begin with his ships, his suit of armor, his loyal hoards who will die for him, his loyal hoards who have killed for him. We begin with his rifles and axes and muskets and stocks of gunpowder, his swords and battering rams, his cannons and cannonballs, and the royal standard he designed, and the march anthem he composed for drum and fife, and his wars, his wars, his wars, his wars, his wars, his wars.
In a cave before the waters you found a man hunched in the darkness, his pale loose flesh, toothless mouth and unintelligible gibbering. Upon his skull a tricorne hat stitched from lizard skins, and likewise crafted a kind of vest stiffly draped over his shoulders and breast, and a pair of what counted for shoes, although he wore no trousers, perhaps the cut proved too difficult, or perhaps he once swaggered about this isle, lorded over the lower beasts, suited head to toe in lizard leather. How they must have feared him in his salad days, the iguana king, romping and murdering and issuing proclamations onto the thorny masses, before the outfit deteriorated, aye, before his mind gave way. But all that was long done. Now his final hours seemed to play out, babbling and drooling in his defilement, fondling his lifeless prick, fallen onto tufts of white.
An entry from the “Bestiary in Progress” that the artist Matt Kish and I are creating is now up at the new issue of Split Lip Magazine. Matt illustrated and named the beast first and then I was tasked with creating the entry for the beast. We are currently eight beasts into the project, with a minimum goal of twenty-six. Working with Matt is always inspiring, but this is the first time that I am creating something directly from his work, rather than the other way around, and I have enjoyed the challenge of trying to meet his vision with my words.
Finally updated The Alligators of Abraham page with a number of reviews and so forth. I also added my story, The Greater Darkness (published in December at Untoward Magazine), to the short fiction section. I’m proud of the story and, if you’ve found yourself here looking for something and have not yet checked it out, I’d love if you’d take the time.
So, Amber Sparks (author of the marvelous MAY WE SHED THESE HUMAN BODIES) asked me to do this thing that people are doing, this self-interview thing. For some reason it is called The Next Big Thing. It’s like a chain letter, in a way. When I was a boy I did a chain letter. Someone slipped the letter under our door. I believed in the mystical properties of things, in those days. I was transfixed before this letter, with the crucifix drawn on the envelope. So, the letter itself was fever-driven, as these letters are. You had to copy out 10 copies of this two-sided letter about the powers and the glories of Christ and then pass the copies along. I believe it had something to do with not going to hell. So, of course, I copied them out, in a state of high anxiety the entire while. And then I secretly slipped copies to my friends at Sunday school. I remember blushing while they tore open the envelopes, while they furrowed their brows, failing to read my smeared pencil penmanship. They all threw out the letter. And so we are all doomed. What follows is like that, but probably more annoying.
What is your working title of your book? LET THE DEAD BURY THEIR DEAD
Where did the idea come from for the book? Books follow naturally from the failure of previous books, I think. Or the perceived failure. So the book I had written prior to LET THE DEAD, was something called THE ALLIGATORS OF ABRAHAM. And that book is a very dense, violent, nightmarish historical-satire. Or that’s what I wanted it to be. So with this book I wanted to write more about people, their fears and pain and sorrows, rather than manipulate the historical canvas. I ended up doing a little of both. It’s still a manipulation of history and biography, and it’s still satiric, but that’s where I started.
What genre does your book fall under? Literature.
Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition? This would be one of those movies with English actors you kind of recognize from what some call “quality television programing,” but you can’t remember which show exactly, and you certainly don’t remember their actual names. “Was he on The Wire?” I’d want this because they are all trained in Shakespeare and can actually act. When you see them in this movie you assume they are all American born, but when you later see them in interviews you are stunned to learn they actually originated from the English countryside. Perhaps they are interviewed with their sheep. Perhaps they are shearing the sheep.
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book? It is about the fevered rise of a religious movement and its fall into corruption and madness and ruin.
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency? Possibly neither. I mean, I won’t self publish. There are days I think, “I should just self publish this.” But there would be no joy, no purpose. I’d feel only regret. So, the short answer is, I have no idea. Would an agency represent this book? I suppose more shocking things happen in life, but I doubt it. I really do. So I suppose the actual answer is, NO.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript? I have no idea. I know it was something like eight months before I showed the manuscript to anyone. It was a longer process than my earlier books.
What other books would you compare this story to within your genre? All of them, none. I didn’t have anything in mind. Macbeth maybe. Absalom, Absalom. The Old Testament. I mean, it’s nothing like those books, and obviously those are some of the greatest achievements of human civilization and my book is evidently being considered for self-publication, but there’s little bits from each that maybe lend themselves to a comparison. Don’t go around saying I said my book was as good as Macbeth, please.
Who or what inspired you to write this book? Did you run out of questions? I already answered this. I suppose I can answer in a different way. Most books promise to be about one thing and then you read them and they are about people talking to each other. I wanted to write a book that focuses on the thing itself. I’m always inspired a little by my hatred for most books and my love for certain others. So there’s that.
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest? All I know is what interests me. I didn’t write it for readers. If the books people tend to buy and love are any indication of what will interest “readers” then this book is probably not what they will like. I would shy away from this book. There’s my sales pitch.
But, okay, you asked about the book: It is dense and slow moving at times. It is very brisk at others. It is filled with cinder and blood and anguish. There is a black winged creature that smells of sulfur. There are scenes of intense fucking. There is a black mountain and a forest at the base of this mountain populated with the bloated bodies of suicides. Churches are constructed. Children die alone in the forest. God gnashes. Men and women are slaughtered.
There are pockets of beauty and love but these moments are only there to give the obliteration meaning. To make the reader feel sorrow. I want a book to be a tidal wave of words and images and pain and beauty. The book, then, like all books, is a failure. You would maybe read it and think, “This isn’t the thing itself. This is words and people talking to each other.” But I like it.