MF: This is a terrible question to ask an author, but first off, can you briefly describe what Screaming at a Wall is about for those who haven’t read the book?
GE: The real problem is that there are a million different ways to describe it. I could call it an autobiography, but it even though it takes you through a few years of my life, the intention isn’t to share my life (even though my excessive sarcasm has been mistaken by some as arrogance); I needed to tell a story to make a few points, and the story I know best is my own. I could call it a 400-page smart-ass remark, but despite the abounding sarcasm, the underlying statements are entirely sincere. It’s been called just about everything by critics, from a new millennium Less Than Zero, to a piece of shit. And critics have compared me to everyone, from Kerouac to the local retarded kid. The problem with the book is that your attitude and your expectations going into it seem to determine the entire experience, and too many readers expect and demand a conventional book with conventional techniques and structure. But I wrote it for people who don’t read, and they have no expectations for literature, which is refreshing to me. They can read the book for what it is, not just compare it with the seventeenth century British literature they pretended to read in college. So that said, a basic description could be the story of a kid growing up and escaping a self-destructive life by rejecting convention and finding success on his own terms.
MF: Stylistically and emotionally, Screaming seems to be almost anti-literary; you avoid the kind of language and dramatic conventions that characterize most literary fiction or autobiography. Was this intentional on your part, and if so, why?
GE: It was entirely intentional. The reason I resisted writing a book like Screaming for as long as I did was because I wasn’t convinced I could do it my way, without compromising. I’m thoroughly unimpressed with literary convention, and I had no desire to write a book following that model. I wanted to write a book for people who don’t read. I wasn’t writing a book for the sake of literary art, and even more importantly, I wasn’t writing a book for financial success; I was writing a book because I had something to say, and that seemed like the most rational way to say it. I chose to write the book in the first person and the present tense because it gives the feeling of being told the story directly by me, which is exactly what I wanted. And I don’t know anyone who tells stories with highly Latinate language and bullshit literary devices. Unfortunately, that stuff has somehow become a requirement for a lot of readers, when really it’s just one way of doing things. I could have dressed the book up and brought in a lot of extra furniture, but that would’ve only distracted from what I was really saying.
MF: One thing that struck me about Screaming was how flat all the characters other than yourself seemed. You don’t really delve into these characters, and a lot of them seem interchangeable. Why did you decide to handle the characters in your book this way?
GE: Because developing them was unnecessary. I could’ve further developed peripheral characters, but it would’ve been a waste of time, and more importantly, counterproductive. The book isn’t fiction, and the flat people in the book are just as flat in the real world. That lack of personality and the interchangeability of characters just support some of the statements I was making about youth culture, and about myself. I fly through the characters because I flew past them in my life without seeing them developed. I knew very little about even my closest friends and girlfriends during that time. We didn’t care. It didn’t matter. We had other things to do besides sit around and talk about our childhood traumas and psychological fixations and try to understand the unconscious motivations behind our behaviors. I never took an interest in the people beyond what drugs they used and whom they fucked in real life, so why should I take any more of an interest in them just because they’re in print? All I did was honestly reflect my experiences, and their reflections happened to be a little dim.
MF: Do you see yourself as writing after a certain tradition or genre of literature?
GE: No, and I don’t want to. I don’t think I read enough to have that kind of stylistic influence anyway. And I actively try to avoid following any kind of tradition. The ones I know of are either worn out or weren’t any good to begin with. I have a big problem with tradition and convention. I think it’s restrictive and serves no real purpose other than to keep us safe. I could go write a traditional novel with a traditional storyline and develop traditional characters according to the traditional methods and receive some traditional critical praise. But what does that leave me with? The same goddamned book that’s been written by a million people before me with different names and faces. I don’t really even like writing to begin with, so I have no reason to waste my time on an unproductive venture like that. I started writing because I had to, and I write only when I have something to say. That means I write what satisfies me, not convention. Fortunately, the overwhelming majority of readers have loved the book, even most of the critics who’ve reviewed it. I think the literary world has confined itself to very tight quarters, and I have no desire to push my way in.
MF: What authors have had the most influence on your writing? Who are your favorite authors — or if that’s too difficult a question, who are you reading now?
GE: The writer who got me started writing is Henry Rollins, which says a lot because he’s not a writer by profession. He was a heavy influence on me for a couple years, and it was pretty apparent in the first couple books I wrote. But I shrugged that off completely when I wrote Screaming. It was a complete departure from everything I’d done before. As far as whom I’m reading now, I’m partway into several books, mostly non-fiction, like Fortunate Son by JH Hatfield and You Are Being Lied To, from Disinfo, but I really don’t have any time to read. And even when I do have time, I have a lot of trouble finding books that can keep me interested, and that don’t completely repel me with their styles. I’d say 90% of the literature–just like music and film and television–on the market is complete shit and I couldn’t force myself to read past those books’ first lines. Luckily, I’m not a writer and I don’t have to include myself in that count.
MF: Screaming seems to be aimed at a young audience, teenagers and post-teenagers, but many people would say that these groups are among the least likely to actually sit down and read a book. (And as you describe your teenage years in Screaming, it doesn’t seem like books had much impact on your own life at the time.) Do you feel that writing is an effective vehicle for reaching young people?
GE: The book is primarily aimed at that young demographic, and I’m more aware than you could imagine that there is very little reading within that group. But one of the points of the book is to encourage youth to break from their routines, so why approach them in a routine fashion? And more importantly, I didn’t have many options. I can’t sing, I don’t like MTV, and I don’t design clothes. That doesn’t leave me with many channels to reach American youth culture. So no, I don’t believe books are necessarily the best vehicles for reaching young people, but since they’re my only vehicles, I’m doing my best to make them good enough.
MF: What are you working on now?
GE: Book-wise, very little. I’ve been sitting on one half-written novel for about 2 years, I’m slowly and intermittently starting another, and I have another writing collection finished and waiting to be put out. Mostly I’m busy with business. A couple publishing companies, a magazine, and a web design/book design/subsidy publishing/copyediting business. And I pretend to be a college student a couple days a week too. Doesn’t leave much room for writing. But when I have something to write, I tend to find a way to do it.
MF: As a writer, what motivates you to sit down and put words on paper? Screaming seemed like it was a vehicle for personal catharsis and also a book with a very specific message — so is writing for you more about self-exploration or trying to reach others?
GE: I really shy away from the writer label. It makes me uncomfortable. I don’t consider myself one. It’s not my profession, it just happened to be the main replacement for my former drug habits and the only thing I can fake well enough to get through. I just have things to say, and writing is the only way I know how to say them. And it’s a lot healthier than cocaine, reckless casual sex, and fistfights. So all my books until this point have definitely been cathartic. I think my writing has evolved in the last few years from being almost purely cathartic to being intended far more to speak to people other than myself. But I’m finding myself beginning to lean more toward conventional fiction now that I’ve eliminated or at least come to terms with most of the heinous shit that I used my first few books to expel. But that fiction still carries themes I think are important. Writing purely for entertainment to me is a waste of time. I’m not saying I don’t appreciate purely entertaining art, but personally I have to say something. Someone else can write the sitcoms for me.
MF: You’re the founder of Grundle Ink Publications, the publisher of Screaming at a Wall” and your other books. What do you envision the future of Grundle Ink looking like? Where would you like the press to be in ten years, what kind of work would you like to be publishing?
GE: The future of Grundle Ink is actually being an imprint of a larger publishing company. The process has already been set into motion. I’ve partnered with the founder of Newtopia Magazine to start Newtopia Books. Grundle Ink will continue to publish from within Newtopia the smaller, less-marketable titles we feel need to be published despite the unlikelihood of financial success. Newtopia will be more socially and politically leaning, more non-fiction, some exceptional innovative fiction. Like Grundle Ink, we intend to publish books based on their merit, not their place or lack thereof in the market. So in ten years, I envision Newtopia Books as having a market-wide reputation for consistently putting out excellent books that are ignored by mainstream publishers.
About the author:
Matthew Flaming is affordable, biodegradable, non-toxic in most applications, and comes in a variety of convenient flavors and packages including new Literary Purple. More information can be found at www.matthewflaming.com.