Peter Wild redefines multitasking. The longtime proprietor of popular book review site Bookmunch is also the editor of half a dozen books scheduled to come out in the next few years; a talented writer recently short-listed in storySouth’s Million Writers Award Notable Stories list; and a devoted dad of 2 and 8/9th (any day now, folks).
Wild’s latest project is an anthology of 100 pieces of flash fiction appropriately titled The Flash (Social Disease Press). Contributors to the collection include Rick Moody, Sam Lipsyte, Jonathan Lethem, Steve Almond and Word Riot publisher Jackie Corley.
Wild took some time out to discuss The Flash and give a preview of the other projects on his plate.
WR: How did you first come up with the idea for The Flash?
PW: I guess I’m a huge fan of what people call flash fiction or short-shorts or what have you. Books like Richard Brautigan’s Revenge of the Lawn, Dan Rhodes’ Anthropology, J Robert Lennon’s Pieces for the Right Hand. I love it when writers pare everything down. With The Flash – that’s just a book I wanted to read. I wanted to read a book of lots of different people writing flash fiction and I wanted all the writers in there to be writers that I read, writers whose stuff I like, writers who I admire. All of that.
WR: WR: You gathered together a pretty eclectic bunch of writers — from well-established authors to up-and-comers. How did you decide who would be among the 100 writers included in the anthology?
PW: I had a wish list. I drew up a wish list of all the people I wanted. Some people I got. Some people I didn’t get. As is the way with these things, some people I approached who either did or didn’t want to get involved suggested others. It was always my intention to have 100 writers. 100 writers and 100 stories. I think I got maybe 50 writers confirmed in about a month – and the other 50 took me about six months! As for how I decided – in the beginning, if I got a great story it was in. As the book progressed, it changed slightly, a story had to fit. Certainly when I was in the 90s (which was the point I opened the book up to submissions, receiving over 850 stories for something like 7 spaces), it became much more difficult. I had to start rejecting stories that I really liked that just didn’t fit the book anymore, the book being the kind of book it is. When I was fine tuning things towards the end, I had to be feel like I was able to put my hand on my heart and say that I love every story in there. And that’s how I feel so I think I did alright.
WR: You enticed some pretty impressive names to participate in The Flash — Rick Moody, Jonathan Lethem, Sam Lipsyte and Steve Almond, among others. How did you convince these folks to submit their work to the anthology?
PW: Some of the writers in the book – Jonathan Lethem, for instance – I’d interviewed previously on my website Bookmunch so when I approached him, it wasn’t just ‘hi, I’m some guy’ – I was ‘hi, I don’t know if you remember me, but…’ Other writers, I approached through their agent or whatever (after hours spent Googling) with a short email outlining the idea for the book and mentioning some of the people already involved and adding in the charity angle – which was that all proceeds from the book would go to a charity nominated and voted upon by all of the contributors (when all of the contributors were confirmed). I’d say maybe seven times out of ten that was enough… Some writers I approached just weren’t able to do it, didn’t have the time or were snowed under. Some writers I approached thinking there is no way on EARTH you’re going to do this (that’s true of Lethem, Rick Moody, Sam Lipsyte but also writers like Dermot Bolger, an Irish writer I’m a big fan of, Percival Everett, Damon Galgut, Aimee Bender). I asked for submissions at one point and got great stories from up and coming writers like Avital Gad-Cykman and Darran Anderson. When I look at the back of the book, though (where it lists all 100 contributors) I just get a real kick out of all of the names. There are lots and lots of great people in there. It’s a total thrill. The fact that I’m involved with it is just the icing on the cake, you know?
WR: How did you get involved with Social Disease?
PW: I was aware of Social Disease as a result of Tony O’Neill’s Seizure Wet Dreams(which is a great book, you should read it if you get the chance) and then, when I was having trouble placing The Flash (all the big UK publishers rejected the book because they said it was uncommercial), Andrew Gallix over at 3AM Magazine suggested I try sending an email to Heidi James, who is the proprietor of Social Disease. I did and she was interested and we went from there.
WR: Who came up with the cover design of the older woman flashing a breast?
PW: Man o man, I love that cover. It’s a painting by one of my favourite authors, Steven Sherrill. I interviewed Steven a couple of years ago when his first novel, The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break was published in the UK and then we met up briefly when he read at Hay on Wye (which is a sort of sleepy Welsh hamlet that becomes the focal point of everything book-y each May). We stayed in touch. He was kind enough to let me read some unpublished stuff, which I considered a real honour. Then, when I was commissioning The Empty Page: Fiction inspired by Sonic Youth, I asked him if he wanted to contribute and he said yeah and wrote this really cool story called ‘Flower’. All of which led to us talking some more and he told me that he paints as well as writes and I asked if I could see some of his paintings and he showed me three, I think, from a series of 23 – and the cover of The Flash was one of those three. Straight away I wanted to use the painting as a cover but it took me a while to work up my nerve because – after all, who am I to be asking someone if we can use their painting as the cover of a book?!? But when I did finally get around to asking, Steve was really pleased we wanted to use it. I should also say (my favourite thing about the painting) – the boob isn’t physiologically possible. Take a good look at it. The woman’s blouse or whatever it is she’s wearing is buttoned up to the neck. It’s not possible for her boob to be on display in the way that it is. Which means that either the viewer is imposing the boob (looking at the woman and seeing a boob) or the woman is fucking with our minds somehow. I get something different out of it every time I look.
WR: You have a book series in the works through Serpent’s Tail featuring stories inspired by the music of Sonic Youth, The Smiths, The Ramones, Joy Divison and The Velvet Underground. You’re also editing a book featuring the writing of folks who are better known as musicians and singers.
PW: I’m a busy boy, aint I?!? The books inspired by bands kick off in June with Perverted by Language: Fiction inspired by The Fall. Each of the others follow at six monthly intervals from then (so Sonic Youth and The Smiths will appear in 2008, Joy Division and The Ramones will appear in 2009 and The Velvet Underground will appear in 2010). The Star Shaped book (which is the book in which musicians write short fiction) is just starting to build up a head of steam. I’ve got about 25 contributors for it (people like Curt Kirkwood from The Meat Puppets, Juliana Hatfield, Joe Pernice, Laura Veirs, Willy Vlautin, Kat Bjelland, Mark Mulcahy, Holly Golightly, Damien Jurado, Vashti Bunyan, Guy Garvey, Tara Key, Lee Ranaldo, Eliza Carthy, Robert Fisher…) and the stories are just starting to roll in…
WR: What’s the relationship between writers and musicians? Is an author just the shy kid in high school aching to be on a stage? Is a musician that cool kid who just wants to be taken seriously as a poet?
PW: I think there are a lot of writers who write while listening to music. There are probably a lot of writers who were either in bands when they were younger or experiment with music now (Stephen King is in a band isn’t he? and both Rick Moody and J Robert Lennon do things with music… and of course you have writers like Carlton Mellick III who straddle both writing and music…). I think – and this is true for all the books I’m involved with – that writers and musicians are just people who are up for what you might call different cultural challenges. All of the Fiction inspired by… books – that’s just writers listening to music by a particular band and seeing if they can’t cover a song they like in short story form. The Star Shaped book, that’s the same idea in reverse: musicians seeing if they can take on a different form, people who write songs seeing if they can write in a different medium. And, again, with each of the books, there are always people who come back to me after struggling for a bit and say no, no, I can’t do it… Just as there are people who come back to me and say, wow, wow, I did it, look at this, what do you think?
WR: Could you talk a bit about how the musically-inspired book series came about?
PW: Well… The Bookmunch website I mentioned earlier. Way back in the day that was me and another guy. Between us, we sortof started kicking around the idea for a publishing house. The Fall book, Perverted by Language, an anthology of short fiction in which writers took a song by The Fall as their jumping off point, was something I brought to the table. I thought it would make a great short series of books. My idea was to have three UK bands and three US bands and then, when all of the books were published, release two box sets, each with three books in… The publishing house idea fell by the way side but the books themselves built up a real head of steam. They were picked up by Serpent’s Tail who are an amazing UK publishing house, one of those rare publishing houses who aren’t afraid to publish short fiction and fiction in translation and all of that. They picked up Perverted by Language and they’re going to publish The Empty Page and Paint a Vulgar Picturein 2008. Perverted by Language is also going to be launched at the inaugural Manchester International Festival at the beginning of July. It’s going to be so cool. There’ll be readings by three contributors to the book and then a gig by The Fall themselves and Playstation are producing cartoons of certain stories from the book… Then, later in the summer, there’s a music festival in the UK called Latitude and a bunch of the people from the book are gonna read there too… It’s all very exciting!!
WR: How did Bookmunch originate? What led you to develop the site?
PW: Bookmunch kicked off about five, six years ago. It was me and three other people, to begin with. We worked this shit job, we were editorial in a two-bit publishing house that was driven by ad sales so we spent the better part of our days writing copy that justified some piece of shit advert. It was just… really awful, soul-destroying tedium. Although not the worst job I’ve ever had. Anyway. The four of us got to talking. We all read a lot, spent a lot of money on books – I’d written for various magazines and things before so I knew you could get review copies of things provided that you, you know, reviewed the damn things. So we got into it, initially, to get free books. Wasn’t long though before the site developed a life of its own. You review books, you write about books, you interview authors, you get talking to various people via email, things develop. Eventually the four of us whittled down to two and then the two of us whittled down to just one – so now Bokmunch is my show and it’s me and a bunch of contributors. But I’m enormously thankful to have been in the place I was with the people I was because everything I’m doing now comes from Bookmunch.
WR: You’ve conducted interviews for Bookmunch with a pretty big-name list of authors. Is there anyone you’ve ever been intimidated by?
PW: A good number of Bookmunch interviews were undertaken via email and email is great. You can say what the hell you like for one thing. Meeting up with people is slightly different. Talking to people on the telephone is different again. I interviewed Julian Barnes over the phone a few years back. That was a bit nervy because Julian Barnes is a clever chap and the last thing anyone wants is to come away feeling like a fool (which is something I do a lot – come away from things feeling like a fool, I mean). I met T Coraghessan Boyle at the Hay Festival three, four years ago. That was intimidating just because I’m such a huge fan – but he was great. He’s about twenty eight feet tall and very Californian but a total and utter dude. And I’d have to say Bret Easton Ellis. I met Bret Easton Ellis the year before last when he was out and about publicising Lunar Park. That was incredibly intimidating. I was so nervous about that. But he was money.
WR: Who do you consider your best interview?
PW: I could reel off about thirty that I think are my WORST interviews. That would be easy. My best interviews… The best ones are probably the ones where I was really enjoying myself. Tom Robbins was a blast. Jim Dodge. I interviewed this insane writer called Kenji Siratori. Blew a gasket on that one. Michel Faber. Jonathan Lethem. David Peace. About four or five weeks ago I interviewed a guy called Steven Hall. He’s a debut novelist who’s just published a book called The Raw Shark Texts. Steven is great and thoughtful and considered and… that always makes for a good interview. You want people to think about the questions you ask and give you a good answer. A lot of the time it’s like squeezing blood from a stone. So, when it isn’t like squeezing blood from a stone, it’s great, you know?
WR: Between Bookmunch and your assorted editing gigs, how do you find time for your own writing?
PW: For a long time I sort of sat on all my writing. I’d write, mostly short stories, in between all of the other stuff but I didn’t do anything with what I did. Then, when Serpent’s Tail accepted Perverted by Language (which is almost two years ago now) I started thinking about the contributor info at the back of the book and I didn’t want my contributor info to read, Peter Wild is a total fucking joker with nothing to say for himself and nothing published anywhere else. So from about two years ago I started sending stories out and since then I’ve had about fifty short stories, stuff I’d written previously, mostly, published in various places (online and in mags and journals and in anthologies). I’ve even started making a bit of money out of it, which is nice, and I’ve been nominated for a few prizes and things which makes you think that you’re not completely on the wrong track. As for finding the time… It’s weird. I have two kids (a little girl and a little boy) and my wife is about ten days away from having another bambino and… kids have a huge impact on your time and your mindset. Because my time is regulated, I guess I operate like a guerilla or something. If I sit down to work I work. You know? I sit down at my computer and I think, right, I have to get this done and I have to get it done now. My boy gets me up at 5 most days and so he parks himself in front of his garage and does his thing with a mountain of cars and I write. Most days I have something like a two-hour window in which to write. Then, at 7, I stop wherever I am, get ready for work. Go to work. Do my day-time-job-type-job. Then, when I come home, I concentrate on the editing gig. The books don’t require me to work every night. There are peaks and troughs. Stories are submitted and I’ll edit them and return them to the author in question. There might be a bit of to-ing and fro-ing. The work peaks when I’m a week or two away from submitting the manuscript or from sifting through final proofs and stuff but… It’s just a case of juggling stuff. And there are massive downsides. I’ve got maybe a dozen unfinished novels because writing anything beyond 25,000 words requires a sustained effort that I just have huge problems with at the moment. In order to write a great novel I’m going to need someone to give me a big pile of cash so that I can quit work and just concentrate. So if there’s anyone out there with a huge pile of cash… Heh heh heh…
WR: Finally, what’s your long-term goal in the literary world? What’s the one thing you haven’t accomplished in publishing that you hope to do?
PW: I don’t know if I have a long-term goal. I’m having a lot of fun with the Fiction inspired by… books. And The Flash was a blast. I’d like to do another couple of those (I have it in my mind to do The Flash, Bride of The Flash and then Bastard Son of The Flash — have those appear at something like two year intervals). The Star-Shaped book is just starting to ramp up now. All of these books are going to keep me busy until about 2010. Which seems hilarious to me. I’ve been working on a collection, Sad Stories for Dirty Lovers (the title is pinched from an old album by The National), which should see the light of day in the next year or so. And I have a novel called Espionage. That’s being serialised over at Dogmatika. If I can carry on conjuring up the kinds of books that I like to read, if I can carry on writing and being read – what more could I possibly ask for?
About the author:
Word Riot is Jackie Corley’s secret identity.