You can read the full introduction to the series here. In short The Conversations with the Bookless series is designed to raise the profile of and increase the exposure of some of the emerging writers we knew were out there.
In this installment we talk to Otis Twelve.
After the jump check out the full interview.
What happened to the other 11 Otis’s?
Otis I died at his own hands, as did II and III. IV finally moved the family out of the singularly unfriendly town of His Own Hands (Montana) to Kentucky, where, unfortunately, he was killed in a duel by a woman driving a pickup truck. Since IV had only been provided a muzzle loading wheelbarrow, many thought the fight had been unfair. However, the post-duel dance was starting and everyone was in a hurry, so the matter was dropped. Otis V lived a very very long time, in fact he lived so long, that all the people he ever knew died before he did. This presented a problem when he finally did pass away, as no one knew who he was and he was buried in an unmarked grave.
Geologists are still studying the Great Madrid Earthquake of 1812, a massive tremor that caused the Mississippi River to flow backwards. Otis VI, however, was a lepidopterist, and had never given a thought to the seismic dangers of living in Missouri. Ironically, the sway of his hanging corpse in the back room of the Louvre (a seedy tavern in St. Louis) may have been the only warning the patrons had before the slate roof of the establishment collapsed on their revelry. The surviving family changed VI’s son’s name to “G” for security reasons. He reclaimed his given VII after the posse had lost his trail, only to discover, to his chagrin, that they had not. The twins VIII and VIII led unremarkable identical lives right up to that rainy day in Johnstown, Pennsylvania when one brother strangled the other. To this day, no one is sure if VIII was the murderer, or if it was VIII.
Otis IX hoped to change the family’s run of bad luck, if for no other reason than they were finally clear of the letter “V.” Certainly in retrospect, IX was a lucky man by any measure. He was killed instantly by the cave-in and was not sealed in the tunnel to slowly suffocate like the rest of his co-conspirators. X made his living as an actor, gaining fame in the popular “You Are Here” shopping centre map series, and occasional appearances on pirate maps. His career, sadly, came to a end as a smudged X on seedy pornographic movie posters. Finally, my father, XI, a one-time Air Force reconnaissance painter (oils & acrylics mostly) is reportedly doing botanical research in Afghanistan attempting to develop an opium poppy that does not produce any opium. I have heard, through my State Department sources, that the Taliban are apparently not amused.
So then, that brings us to me, doesn’t it?
Hey, you asked – obviously unaware that I am known as the master of 80,000 word short stories.
Where are you, right now, as you’re writing these answers?
My office is in the back of the house, in a small addition we built years ago just to give me some privacy. I’ve planted honeysuckle up against the foundation and let it grow, unmolested, for years now. Combined with the parasitic wild trumpet vines that have subsumed the structure, only the brightest sunshine ever pierces the narrow high windows of my study, and then only as a greenish miasma of dim light, as if I were submerged in some algae clouded farm pond.
Who are your influences and what is your unlikeliest influence?
Let me start by saying that it’s always perilous to name writers who have had an impact on one’s work, as it is near impossible to avoid sounding pretentious. So my preamble must be clear, I am only claiming to have these folks on my book shelves, the ones closest to the keyboard, nothing more.
James Ellroy’s American Tabloid is an absolute masterpiece. His whole Underworld trilogy gets my frequent attention. One lucky weekend, I had a chance to workshop with Sara Paretsky up on Whidbey. I think the world of her as a person, and as a writer. Faulkner shows me story. Umbert Eco is the exemplar of intellectual depth. And I am in awe of Allan Guthrie’s work ethic and his fire. Disclaimer: Allan is my agent as well. I do not hold this shortcoming against him. His shit smokes.
I’ll leave that as the list of the writers I can reach without getting out of my chair. If there are any unlikely influences I must admit to a love affair with Kyril Bonfiglioli’s Charlie Mortdecai books – if not his cirrhotic liver – especially After You With the Pistol, and stretching for that pretentiousness I find so endearing, I secretly enjoy the florid secrets of Horace Walpole’s Castle of Otranto.
Why do you write?
Writing is the best excuse for avoiding any actual human contact ever devised, and it is the only form of pursuit that requires no running. I do not like people, and I consider excessive physical activity to be a manifestation of a weak imagination.
What issues or ideas about fiction have been foremost in your mind of late?
If you are referring to academic concerns such as the issue of what books should be included in the “new canon,” or topical/political esoteria such as social progressivism, the third world perspective, neo-feminist revisionism, post-modern sensibilities or any such hoo hah… I am astoundingly uninterested and equally uninformed. The death of the traditional publishing model, now there’s an issue with real impact. I think many of us now can feel a tad bit of empathy for the Benedictine scribes who watched the quill and ink budget start to shrink precipitously after 1439.
When did you start writing and what prompted you to do so?
Speaking of Benedictines… Back in my O.S.B. years we novices were rigorously trained and exercised in classic rhetoric. We actually had to compose our own “commentaries” on Latin texts – Horace (Quintus Horatius Flaccus) was the bomb. This was writing at its basic synaptic programming level.
When I was touring with my band, the Ogden Edsl, I had to write quickly – lyrics, comedy sketches, “ad libbed” repartee. In my Radio and TV work, I did everything from copy, to news, to gag writing for the local cheap monster movie host schtick. I wrote a few radio-theater series that amounted to approximately 2 nine foot tall stacks of cardboard boxes of scripts and miscellany. Fuck you, Tolstoy.
Along the way I did some newspaper and magazine work, and ghosted a book for a seriously psychotic former three star “Nuke the Homo Goat Fuckers” U.S. Air Force general who, thanks be to Jehovah, dropped dead during a book signing a week after the release party.
So the motivation was simply, “It’s my job.” Though Mencken was right when he said, “There are only two kinds of writing that pay regularly, bad checks and ransom notes,” in my experience one might add “bad car commercials” to his list.
My attempt at full time “fictioning” came when I had finally been fired by every potential employer in the region, usually for being excessively iconoclastic. Some early successes including a $10,000 check and all the Dagger shortlists let me max out my credit cards while staying at the Uzbeki version of Fawlty Towers in Notting Hill, watch John Rickards eat, and smoke a cigarette with Val McDermid. I fell in obsessive, sick, co-dependent love with writing like I do most addictive indulgences, that is to say, excessively.
What do you most value in the fiction you love?
Honesty. I mean that’s the sex of it, isn’t it. When I find a writer, a story, a page, a book that shudders with true, I am in there. Whether it’s heady digression, nitro-methane pacing, or gonzo, I don’t really care. I want the writing in my head, gut, and groin. I can go with the words that hit one or two of those targets honestly. And when the thing rushes to all three I can skip the evening peyote tea.
How would you describe your style?
I was happy with the questions up to this point. Lord knows I lead an examined life. I analyze virtually everything I do from my motivations for brushing my teeth to the hidden agenda I have involving my menu choices. As for my writing style, I am afraid of getting over-analytical. Maybe that’s part of my attempt to just let the words flow like some kind of Microsoft induced out-of-body experience, or maybe it’s just because no one’s ever asked.
The best description that comes to mind is that my “stuff” is on the bad side of quirky, with humor and a touch of deconstructed sentimentalism. I’ll do Hemingway simple declarative and the next project devolve into James Fennimore Cooper’s resurrected complex sentence structure corpse. I’m a bit of a throwback with a neo-archaic view of the modern world and the craft of writing. But to boil it down for the elevator…
I’m the stand up comic who drops Kierkegaard into a profanity laced monologue.
Where can readers check out some of your work?
Ah, here’s the rub… or is it … there’s the rub? I’ve got a few short stories out there, but a reader needs a touch of researcher to find them. Probably easiest to get to is “Fluff”, my Triple XXX O’Henry story in a collection volume, Expletive Deleted. The amazing Jen Jordon, got a bunch of reprobates together to work on a response to the “Your-City’s-Name-Here Noir” epidemic. The book was to be titled Fuck Noir, a title that presented a few display problems. Expletive Deleted is from Bleak House.
I’ve got a story that Richard Russo singlehandedly named runner up for the North American Review 2005 Kurt Vonnegut Prize. “Life Among the Bean Bugs”, is all about life and love through the eyes of a man with a head that was flattened by a tractor when he was a child. It also includes tips on displaying the body of an alcoholic at a small town funeral home, and the wondrous beauty of old women. I quite liked it.
(Nota Bene: I have been published under the absurd non de plume of D.V.Wesselmann as well, especially where short stories are concerned. Or, believe it or not had my poetry painted on walls under the moniker A. Devabohdi.)
“The Goodness of Trees” got me a check for 10K. It’s in the Templeton Power of Purpose Anthology from Cosimo Press. It has it’s moments but was written strictly for the cash.
I did a story for Crimespree a few years back as well. Those lovely, dedicated fools could help you find that back issue. An excerpt of my Poe novel Imp is still up on the CWA Debut Dagger pages. Google should take you there.
Readers who work for publishers should, of course, get on the line to Jenny Brown’s in Edinburgh and ask for Al. He’ll get you copies of Imp: Being the Lost Journals of Rufus Wilmot Griswold in the Matter of the Death of Edgar Allan Poe or On the Albino Farm, the novel all about a sociopath who manipulates a psychopath to kill a pedophile… the novel that doomed my career by winning the London Book Fair Lit Idol competition. Yes, I am a Lit Idol… fucking shoot me… really… fucking shoot me.
What are you working on now?
Hard to say. I couple years back I got custody of a three year old. I am her “mom” and do all of the “mom” things. The experience has been a joy and a horror movie depending on the day. I am writing a series of radio programs about the great composers, Beethoven, Mozart, Ditters von Dittersdorf, all the young dudes. That commission is part of my work for the local university. I have completed 45 episodes to date.
A short story entitled, “Scrumpy” is just finished. “Beer will make you piss. Stout will make you ill. Whiskey will make you fight. And Scrumpy’ll make you kill.” I haven’t submitted it anywhere, due to the Midlands envelope famine.
I’ve been writing a lot of poetry, a genre that lends itself well to those brief and unpredictable “idle” moments when I can sit down at the desk unmolested by the lovely resident tot. No big cash advances have been offered.
I am mightily impressed, nay, awed by women with children, those other “moms,” who manage to write anything longer than a grocery list. I know more than a few who have completed more than one novel between stints as chauffeur and short-order cook. They are the real Übermensch – if you pardon my ignorance of converting the German gender. I am of the weaker sex, and I struggle with the challenges of multi-tasking.
I have also been working on a long delayed novel that began life as a old hippie take on Henry James. Guthrie judged it a pile of shit, I disagreed, of course. I thought the draft was more a fetid clot of smegma. Having thrown most of that away, I am crawling, clawing, my way upwards with another attempt at the summit.
How do you plan to rectify your booklessness?
Early on this was an obsessive, almost pathological quest. I was writing full-time, eight hours a day. Plenty of time to badger first prospective agents, then my actual agents (God bless Al) A fair number of editors at very fine publishing houses loved the novels. A unanimous number of marketing departments did not.
I went through all the stages of artistic angst – despair – despair – despair – angry despair and finally, suicidal (but first take out the crowd at the football match) despair. But, before I could put my bloody plot into motion, thanks to modern pharmacology I realized that the innocent should be spared. To repeat the words of a wise man, “Fuck it.”
Now my goal is to write when I can, and, if possible, send Mr. Guthrie something that would not be a waste of time to read. Then he can worry about my booklessness and his rent. I am a beaten man facing my miserable end in an obscure suburban cul-de-sac, waiting in existential obscurity for the angel of death to end my tribulation.
Meanwhile my computer mad son wants to put it all on Kindle. But I have an orthodox Luddite’s suspicions of those contraptions. They can steal your precious bodily fluids, haven’t you heard?