Saturday, March 3, 2012

Author Interview: Arthur Graham

"... eventually I realized what a debt of gratitude I owed the pious overseers of my rural  elementary school."

The author interview this week is with Arthur Graham, one of the reviewer "Pals" of BigAl's Books and Pals, as well as an author. Authors interested in participating in our weekly interview can find the details here.

Your bio says you currently reside in Salt Lake with your wife and her cat. I take that to mean you aren’t a native. Tell us about where you lived prior to Salt Lake.

I’m originally from Illinois, but I spent most of my formative years in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (or “da U.P.” to its “Yooper” locals). Not much to tell, really, but I could probably recommend some local brewpubs and hiking trails. The winters are long and bitter, the summers short and muggy. Still, without these inhospitable climes to keep them on their side of the bridge, we’d be overrun by “Trolls” (lower Michiganders) in no time!

Growing up in Utah, I always asked non-native Utahns why they moved there. In my mind there were only three acceptable answers. Religious reasons (“come to Zion”), work reasons (“my job, or one of my parents’ jobs made me”), or to be a ski bum. How did you end up there?

Actually, when my wife and I first moved to Utah, we shared a place with my two brothers who’d been living in Salt Lake for some time already. I used to jokingly tell people that we were setting up our own polyandrous cult to counter that of the polygamists, although no one seemed to find this nearly as funny as I did. Certainly my wife and brothers didn’t appreciate the implication!

So no, it wasn’t religion that brought me to Utah, but it wasn’t work either. Upon arrival, I spent nearly a month happily drinking beer and playing video games in my boxer shorts before finally landing my editing gig. Eventually I became so desperate for money that I nearly returned to manual labor, but in retrospect, I’m glad that I held out for as long as I did, since my brain seems to have outlasted my back thus far.

As for skiing, I’m afraid I’ve yet to work up the disposable income and/or suicidal tendencies required, but who knows? I could always lose interest in my boring old snowshoes....

You mention on your website having five years of professional editing experience. What do you do in your day job?

I pay my bills editing medical textbooks for a small publishing company in Salt Lake. I often tell people that “editing” is a one of two possible answers to the question “What can you do with an English degree?” (the other being “teach”).
In grad school, I corrected the spelling and grammar of college freshmen. Today, I correct the spelling and grammar of medical doctors. Based on what we know about the average prescription writer’s penmanship, is it really so surprising that their typing can be equally atrocious?

I earn enough money editing fiction on the side to supplement my drinking habit, but you can probably imagine how working on some books might lead to a vicious circle there!

Did you always know you wanted to be a writer?

No, but by 4th grade I’d already written a book that had to be burned. Back in those days I couldn’t get enough of magazines like Cracked and MAD. These inspired me to write my own knock-off called Slime, which was basically a sprawling, gross-out satire of everything I’d been taught to treat with reverence. In one strip, my poor teacher Mr. Grieman was hunted down and blown to bits by some cross between Bart Simpson and the Terminator robot. Then there was another in which my first heartbreak, Nicole, was comically dismembered by the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles from Hell. And who could forget the charming vignette in which the entire school was destroyed by a nuclear missile?

Cobbled together with glue, tape, and staples, the thing must’ve measured over an inch thick by the time it was finally confiscated by school authorities. Of course, this was well before the paranoid era ushered in by Columbine and 9/11, but my sole handwritten copy of Slime was put to the torch regardless…. It hurt at the time, but eventually I realized what a debt of gratitude I owed the pious overseers of my rural elementary school. In showing me the effect my writing could have on other people, they would never know the boost they gave to my burgeoning creativity.

Before you self-published, did you attempt to go the traditional publishing route? If so, how was that experience. If not, explain what led you to decide to go that way.

Sure, I submitted a few things here and there. I never saw anything of note accepted, but by the time I got serious enough to even stand a chance in that arena, self-publishing had become so accessible that I sort of lost interest in doing things the old-fashioned way. I’ll probably never earn as much money being my own boss, but if I ever end up hating myself after cranking out a string of smashingly successful mediocrities, at least I’ll have no one else to blame.

I know you attended the Burning Man Festival last summer. Tell us what this festival is and about your experience there. Was it your first time attending?

Last summer was my second time in Black Rock City, actually, but seeing as how Burning Man has been happening since 1986, I’m hardly what you’d call an authority on the subject.

Demand for tickets has reached such heights that they were actually forced to institute a lottery system for the 2012 event. Jayna and I were lucky enough to be selected, but none of the other people in our camp were awarded tickets. Sort of a bummer, I know, but discussing Burning Man on the blogsphere probably won’t help their chances in the future! I’ll just say that, for all our talk about “freedom” in this country, I’ve never been anywhere in these United States where that lofty ideal is more tangibly put into practice.

You have three books. Frog City Updike (a collection of short fiction), Editorial (which you call an “episodic novella”), and Non/Fictions, which from the description is impossible to put a finger on. All three are different, but all three share the characteristic of being hard to define by genre or any of the typical ways used to describe books. How would you describe them?

Taken together, I would describe them as very unsuccessful. I think this has had something to do with my stubborn refusal to write more marketable prose, but I see this changing in the future, as I learn to balance my own inclinations as a writer with those of the various reader demographics out there.

Editorial is essentially an experiment in science fiction narrative. It’s been called “strange”, “witty”, “intellectual”, “well written”, “tedious”, “confusing”, “hilarious”, and “obscene”, so by scientific standards the results are inconclusive at best. Still, it seems to be the most widely read and highly rated of the books I’ve written thus far, so I’ve always been happy enough to let readers decide for themselves.

Frog City Updike is decidedly more “family friendly” in comparison. It won’t keep your children or grandchildren nearly as riveted as the average Disney film, but you could probably read it aloud to them without overly censoring the material. It retains a lot of the same quirks that made its predecessor such a mixed bag, but it’s executed with virtually no sex, violence, or dark, demented broodings to speak of. Very whimsical in both structure and tone.

Non/Fictions is a collection of essays on various subjects from stupid to serious. You probably won’t agree with all of my views, but I probably wouldn’t agree with all of yours either, so we’re even there.

Take a look at the previews and reviews on Amazon if you’d like to know more, but readers with an interest in Editorial should check out the leaner, meaner Bizarro Press edition.

As you just mentioned, Editorial was recently picked up by a small press. Tell us about that process, both making the contact and your thought process in deciding to re-publish your novella that way.

Looking back on the first edition of Editorial, I’m actually quite surprised by how warm the reception was overall. Now that I’m reissuing it through Bizarro Press, I’m finding that there are just so many things to improve! The revisions have been quite hellish, to be honest, but the final product should justify the barrels of midnight oil I burned through in the process.

When Etienne DeForest from Bizarro Press approached me about publishing a new edition, I was a little leery at first, but since sales had stagnated and the manuscript needed a little polish anyway, I figured why the hell not? It ended up taking a lot more polish than I’d anticipated, but I can say with confidence that this will be the Editorial I always intended.

I assume that all authors are also readers. What are your favorite books or authors?

Ambrose Bierce is my favorite American author of the 19th century. He was sort of like a cross between Poe and Twain, but much more imaginative than either, in my opinion. His Devil’s Dictionary remains the bible of cynics everywhere, and his short stories (“An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge”, etc.) rank among the best this country has ever produced.

My own Frog City Updike never would’ve been without Brautigan’s Trout Fishing in America, the book that showed me just how loose I could get with form. W. S. Burroughs also had a profound impact on my literary development, particularly his nightmarish Western Lands trilogy. Hunter S. Thompson taught me the importance of maintaining some semblance of narrative, no matter how weird the going got, and Vonnegut definitely had a hand in nurturing my penchant for social commentary. I round out the Americans with Bukowski, not because I’m a misogynist or anything, but because I’ve read enough of his stuff to know that he was anything but, despite what some critics might say.

As for the wider world of literature, there’s Nabokov (Despair, Transparent Things), Peter Carey (“American Dreams”, My Life As a Fake), Beckett, Borges.... I could go on, but this is already getting boring, and if it’s starting to bore me, I can only imagine what it’s doing to your poor readers!

Of your fellow Indie authors, are there any you’ve read and would like to recommend?

Roland Denning has an absolutely stellar novel called The Beach Beneath the Pavement, which is basically a satire on conspiracy theories and their darkly comic reverberations throughout this Kafkaesque charade we’re pleased to call modern life. Like most of the books I’ve reviewed for Books And Pals, it probably isn’t for everyone, but readers with a taste for well-written dystopian fiction are sure to love it just as much as I did.

Wol-Vriey Jesuto’s stories are about as weird as they come. You can download his Invasion of the Ass Chickens for free through his blog, and The Bizarro Story of I is selling for a pittance on Amazon, which I also reviewed for Books and Pals. Contrary to what you may have heard, he has no interest in obtaining your social security number or bank account info through various email scams.

Jon Konrath (not the Konrath you’re thinking of) has been publishing his surreal/experimental prose in books and zines since I was just a lad in short pants. He has a blog with many strange-smelling posts.

What are your hobbies or favorite leisure activities?

When I’m not spending sunny days indoors, writing stories or answering interview questions, I often enjoy hitting the trail with nothing but my pack and the bare essentials of survival. Speaking of, there’s a yurt in the Uintas I’d best be getting back to. Ciao!

For more Arthur:

For more, visit Arthur's blog or like his page on Facebook.


Frog City Updike           Review Amazon US  UK  B&N   Paper
Editorial                                 Amazon US  UK           
Non/Fictions                                                             Paper

Also mentioned:

Roland Denning - The Beach Beneath the Pavement
                                Review Amazon US  UK  B&N   Paper

Wol-Vriey - The Bizzaro Story of I
                                Review Amazon US  UK           Paper

Jon Konrath               Amazon US  UK


Nancy Wennerberg said...

Well done Art ! I still remember the "Slime" days -even then I knew you were destined to be a one of a kind weirdo.

Imogen Rose said...

Good interview, Al! (with a real author this time :D)

Nathalie Brault said...

What a great interview, I'll be reading and reviewing Arthur's book The Editorial in about 2 week or so, and after reading this interview I just can't wait. And he seems like a really super guy.
Thanks for posting this interview for us

Jon Konrath said...

Great interview! I'm working through the reissue of Editorial too, and it's some awesome stuff - I'll have to post a review, too.

-Jon (the other) Konrath

Arthur Graham said...

Thank you, everyone, for the kind comments and support.

mhmoore said...

I too have Art's book, Editorial. I follow his web site. His book creepily reminds me of King, without the big $$$. Thanks for the interview Al(I just found your site), and thanks for the answers Art.

For those reader's out there, two things about Editorial, you will either hate it or love it, there is no in between, you also won't be able to put it down till the last page. I finished the book, felt like I'd been smacked between the eyes and sat there for a while going "WTF, wtf, did I just read?" I have read it several times now and it still makes me go "WTF?"

Spinal Cracker said...

Really nice interview.

Arthur Graham said...

Hello again, Marell. I'd have to say that your estimation of the 1st edition is 100% correct - Whether readers enjoyed it or not (very little middle ground there), the consensus seemed to be that it was a page turner either way!

I'm hoping to reach a somewhat broader audience with this 2nd edition, which has undergone MASSIVE revisions based on feedback received over the past two years. Shoot me a message at (at) gmail (dot) com and I'll be happy to gift you a copy!

Karen Wojcik Berner said...

Great interview, Al.

Arthur, congratulations on getting picked up by Bizarro. I am looking forward to the new edition of "Editorial."

Arthur Graham said...

Thanks, Karen. Just do us both a favor and "Look Inside" first - While I stand behind my writing, there really is no accounting for taste!

BooksAndPals said...

Thanks for all the great comments.

Jeffrey Miller said...

Great interview!