Scott McClanahan is the writer of Stories (published by Six Gallery Press). His other works include Stories II, Hillbilly, Stories and Revelations, The Sarah Book (Vol. 3 of McClanahan’s Lives), and Crapalachia (all forthcoming). He is co-partner of the company Holler Presents, which has produced such films as Preacher Man, Spring, 1386, The Education of Bertie Mae McClanahan, and Lil Audrey’s Last Day at School. He can be reached at email@example.com.
David F. Hoenigman: Can you tell us about Stories?
Scott McClanahan: NO.
DH: Can you tell us about Stories?
DH: Can you tell us about Stories?
SM: Sure. Stories is a spit in the face, a kick in the pants, a big book full of beautiful lies. Here is a Reader’s Digest version.
“The Homeless Guy” is a story about getting in a fight with a homeless guy after he threw a bologna sandwich at my car. I lost.
“The Firestarter” is a story about the time I saw 3 different people get hit by cars over the period of a month.
I have a few others that I didn’t put in the book. I’m saving those for the DVD extras.
I like stories when they have “the” in the title.
There are plenty of other stories in the book too. It’s selling for ten bucks on amazon.com.
DH: There are a few stories about amputees? What do amputees mean to you?
SM: Well, we’re all missing something aren’t we? I’m sure I have a million amputated arms inside my soul. Where I come from though it’s just a part of the physical landscape —sawmills, coal mines, etc. I’m sure you have a greater chance of losing an appendage working these types of jobs than playing grab ass or watching YouTube clips at some office.
Hopefully though, I’m not using it as a symbol of some sort or fetishizing it in some way (McClanahan says as he snaps the studded waist band of his leather bondage pants). I really kind of worry about this sometimes. I know Diane Arbus/Flannery O’Connor used to talk a load of crap about why they were interested in these things. I always find that sort of thing condescending. And you know what the 10th commandment in the amputee bible says?
…#10. Thou shalt not condescend.
I even had a cat, Razy, when I was a kid who lost his tail in the fan belt of our old Oldsmobile. He was trying to keep warm one winter night next to the motor. My dad was going to work. He started the engine. Bad things went down.
Razy, never had any balance after that though. He used to start fights with cats after that as well, especially if they were talking trash about his lack of a tail.
It’s all just part of the rich tapestry of life David.
DH: Why are the pages unnumbered?
SM: Complete ignorance really. I mean if I could have found the page number function on the PageMaker program I probably would have included them. Of course, I’m planning on including page numbers with the next book though. I’m just not going to have the page numbers in any sequential order–6,123,17,42. That’ll drive the bastards really crazy won’t it?
But seriously, I don’t have any page numbers in Stories because I wanted it to feel rough and raw. In music you have Velvet Underground feedback, strange out of tune voices in the Harry Smith Folkways Anthology. In film you have Altman’s overlapping dialogue, sloppy B-movie directors viewed as auteurs, Vertov’s schizophrenic cutting. The mistake is accepted in these forms. Why can’t we do the same?
I think shitty looking books are the wave of the future really. I’m starting a new literary movement called the Literary Terrorists. Please send a self addressed stamped envelope to Scott McClanahan, 105 Rider Drive, Beckley WV, 25801— and I’ll send you your membership card and your first Literary Terrorist activity book. Get your crayons ready children.
DH: Do you have a message?
SM: O God, I hope not. If I had a message though it would be this—
There’s a drunk who walks out of a bar one night and his car is gone.
He hunts down a policeman and says, “Somebody stole my car.”
The cop asks him where he last saw it.
The drunk pulls out his key and says, “The last time I saw my car it was on the end of this key.”
The cop notices the drunk’s fly is unzipped.
So he tells the drunk, “We’ll find it, don’t worry, but you should probably know your fly is unzipped.”
The drunk looks down at his fly and shouts, “Aw shit. They got my girl too.”
That’s a Susan Sontag joke. I heard her tell it in a speech once.
DH: Who or what has influenced your writing?
SM: This is where I give the stereotypical writer answer right?—the novels of Thomas Mann, the films of Oshima, the photographs of Cindy Sherman or Nan Goldin. Of course, an answer like that is usually just a bunch of bullshit though. The things that really influence you are your mommy or your grandmommy or your great grandmommy or your lack thereof.
I know my grandma wore a breast cancer survivor pin for sympathy. The only problem was she never had breast cancer in the first place.
Besides that, one of my friends got fired from his job at KFC when we were kids because he was always huffing the cleaning supplies and then wandering around the restaurant trying to find the Colonel’s secret recipe of 11 original herbs and spices.
I’m sure this had to have influenced me.
You’re not going to find any life like that in a Thomas Mann novel.
DH: How has your environment/upbringing colored your writing?
SM: My environment colored it purple. My upbringing colored it green.
I come from a place (West Virginia) where the largest insurrection since The Civil War took place against the federal government. I’m kind of proud of that. There is still a rebellion and wildness here that I don’t see in other places, but maybe I’m biased.
I mean this is a place where a man will still wave at a stray dog when he passes it in the street. This is a place where an old man had himself buried on his stomach because he never could rest on his back. This is a place where arm-wrestling still has some kind of cultural importance.
I guess what I’m trying to say is the external world exists. It influences you. I’m sure some “hipper than thou” person will quote Walter Benjamin or Nabokov’s lectures on the novel and argue against it. That’s fine though. From what I hear Nabokov hated Armenians. It’s true.
Alright I don’t have any proof that he hated Armenians. But I’m going to start spreading that rumor and watch it spread like wildfire. Wildfire baby!
DH: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
SM: I never did. I still don’t. There’s a great Gertrude Stein essay where she says poets are only poets when they don’t consider themselves poets. Boswell was Boswell because he practiced law—the same with Kafka. Kathy Acker was Kathy Acker because she was Kathy Acker. I think writers should get jobs and quit thinking about writing so much and talking about it too. Therefore, I make a declaration from this point on that I will stop talking about writing. Here goes…
… 1 minute passes
… 2 minutes
… 3 minutes
Damnit, Hoenigman your questions are much too powerful for me to resist and maintain this declaration. So, I’ll simply answer more.
DH: What book are you reading now?
SM: I just finished Edna O’Brien’s great bio of Byron’s love life—Byron in Love. Here are a few things I learned from it.
There’s nothing that women in early 19th century Europe loved more than a man with a club foot.
1. Byron chastised his wife for refusing him intercourse during her menstruation.
2. Byron seduced his sister and impregnated her as well.
3. Byron’s wife left him after he sodomized her and she decided to prosecute.
4. Byron left for Italy to escape the charge of sodomy. While there, he impregnated his mistress and then he abandoned his mistress.
Sartre says Hell is other people. The lazy eye was wrong though. Hell was Lord Byron’s loins.
DH: Do you have a specific writing style?
SM: I just try to write like I talk (maybe this is where I’ve been going wrong all these years). I don’t really like writing that sounds like writing or instructions for putting together something. We always confuse sophistication with complexity rather than simplicity. I guess I hear other writers talking very seriously about writing that is based in “language” or pushing language forward from the “internal” “artificial” experience of the writer.
Half the time though it just feels like you’re trapped in some crappy discussion with a bunch of graduate students. Sartre would change his idea of hell if he had to hang out with graduate students.
I mean in the past 40 years we’ve had one of the most powerful art forms in human history turned into a “fine” art. I think probably ballet is better off than writing right now (And you have to be in a pretty shitty place to be worse off than ballet). So I’m just here to help kill off this writing racket with the rest of the kids.
Sometimes I do feel like Dee Dee Ramone surrounded by a bunch of people who love Jethro Tull. I guess what I’m trying to say is that we need to get the afghan coats and the flutes out of our rock music. I don’t know if that example makes any sense or not?
DH: What projects are you working on?
SM: I’m finishing up another storybook. There’s a story in there which is the greatest story ever written about passing a kidney stone. It’s a strange thing to know something is growing in you (even now) and it’s going to bring you pain. When I passed it (in a nasty gas station bathroom after passing out on the greasy floor), it was shaped like a cross. I took this as a sign. If you love stories about kidney stones, then STORIES II by Scott McClanahan will be the ultimate collection for you.
About the author:
David F. Hoenigman is the author of Burn Your Belongings.