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September 9, 2014 | Self-Interview

Self Interview with a Hideous Man

Trevor Dodge

Self Interview with a Hideous Man photo

Q: ?

A: No, that’s totally fair. I can see why you’d start there, too. And yeah, I mean, it’s in the title of this and everything. You reading this, you probably looked at that title and even more probably rolled your eyes and maybe even grumbled out loud Oh Right/Great Here We Go. I get that. I’m pretty much asking for that. But you know, all of us prose writers in the United States have to deal with the shadow he casts and the work he left behind. Especially the work. Whether you’re a novelist, a short story writer, a critic, an essayist, a journalist, a whatever-ist and whether or not you’ve read or you even care about his work, if you are a prose writer right now in the United States, you are to some degree dealing with him. I know how it sounds, to say something like that, how reductive and narrow and fanboyish that sounds, but I think if you read most of what gets published these days, especially what gets published as prose fiction, it’s kind of obvious. At least that’s how it feels, especially among younger male writers, that they are chasing or racing a ghost. And I can’t at all be objective about this, either, because that’s me too. Ya know?

Q: ?

A: I mean……..just….oh man.

Q: ?

A: It is, it is. It is pathetic. But it’s true and I still do this kind of bullshit nearly 20 years later, like it’s an arrested development thing. Which is almost certainly what it is, by the way. It’s embarrassing how quickly it comes to the surface sometimes. I mean, right off the top like that? Maybe that’s what I’m talking about in essence, how there’s this intense drive for validation, and how as primal as that feels, if I can just stop myself for a second to actually consider it, it’s just like this mindless chewing, it’s almost like when I’m binge eating at night after everyone’s gone to bed and just pushing stuff into the maw underneath my own nose.

Q: ?

A: Yeah. Pretty much all my life.

Q: ?

A: Peanut butter and dairy products. Almost always. I did go through a pretty intense thing with Tabasco sauce and hardboiled eggs for a while. Right before I go to bed, too, so I’d always wake up with these searing stomachaches. I like how you’re pretending you don’t know this stuff already, by the way. This almost feels legit.

Q: ?

A: Sure. It’s a collection of 60 flash fictions that are mostly told by people drowning in an intimate relationship or being swept away by one. Because, of course, what we need is yet another book about the difficulties of human relationships, right?

Q: ?

A: I don’t see it as that, no. Of course not. Definitely not. I’m……okay…I’m just being self-deprecating in that way Kevin Smith does, you know, because I just really want you to like me. You in particular. Do you?

Q: ?

A: Like me?

Q: ?

A: You’re right, you’re right. It’s happening again. I’m sorry. Ask me that other thing again, please.

Q: ?

A: I guess the difference is that there isn’t the sense that these characters and situations are anything more than what’s on the page. And what’s on the page are the emotional smears of the characters, their elation, their pain, the absurdity and stupidity and heaven of what’s happening in the moment. These are characters who blister the walls of their homes in vinyl lettering, sayings like “Be Your Own Kind of Beautiful” and “Always Kiss Me Goodnight.” Who take bumper stickers and choruses from country songs as philosophical truths. Who have replaced real conversations with these things, who have replaced real relationships with stories about fake ones. The difference then, I guess, is that in other stories—or collections of stories—about relationships there is this underlying metanarrative about love as a redeemer. These stories might on the surface seem like they have that as a pretense, that all will be saved in the light and name of love, but it’s only a pretense. This might make it sound like I’m bagging on love, that I don’t believe it in or something because I’m saying what I’m saying right now. I do believe in love. And love itself? Love itself is true. But the stories we tell about it and through it, though, they are not. Just watch Catfish on MTV.

Q: ?

A: Teen Mom too.

Q: ?

A: Oh right. My bad. Teen Mom 2. Not Teen Mom 3. Feels like that got cancelled for good reasons.

Q: ?

A: Exactly. See, and that right there, that’s something these characters can’t see coming. And they can’t see it anymore than any of us can see it coming when it happens to us. Stories just don’t conclude or resolve in our culture. They tend to just stop abruptly. They get canceled. Maybe that’s why we are so prone to entangle love with our stories about love, because love also doesn’t conclude or resolve. Does a relationship actually really ever conclude or get resolved? Doesn’t it just get canceled?

Doesn’t it?

Doesn’t it?

Q: What?

A: ?

Q: Are you serious?

A: ?

Q: It’s not a problem, it’s just that I thought we were doing this a certain way is all. It’s cool.

So if I understood you correctly, the stories aren’t so much about relationships as they are about how relationships are stories? Do I have that right? Because if I do, I’m kind of surprised by how you think that would be an idea worth building an entire book around. And if I don’t, I’m not really getting what it is you’re saying. Which happens a lot, you know. And not just me. Lots of people have this experience with you, I think. They read something you’ve written or hear something you say, and they don’t really say it outright but it’s still pretty clear by their reaction or non-reaction that you aren’t making yourself clear in whatever it is you think you’re saying. Do you think that’s true? And if so, what do you want them to do? I mean, it’s not even clear to me what you want me to do right now? Does that make any sense? It probably doesn’t, does it?

A: ?

Q: Like……I don’t know, clarify?

A: ?

Q: Do you think this is funny? Or clever? Do you think you’re funny or clever? Maybe that’s what I’m trying to ask you, if you think particular states of confusion, especially ones you seem to create by the kinds of things you write about and the ways you write about them, like, are they funny, clever or……whatever?

A: ?

Q: So, yeah? And why would that be funny? Why would someone reading that even think it would be worth consideration?

A: ?

Q: Of course I like you. Can you stop?

A: ?

Q: I’m fine. It’s just……you know, it’s enough already. Maybe you don’t know this, though? Not in the sense that you don’t know it but more in the sense that you can’t help yourself?

A: ?

Q: I don’t think I’m phrasing these questions properly. Let’s step back a bit, talk about something else. Let’s talk about how there isn’t anything longer than 4,000 words in this book, that most of the stories aren’t even 1,000 words, that there’s fucking 60 of them, that the book comes in well under 300 pages. Is this something you’re proud of? Do you think you’ve actually accomplished something here? Because somebody could look at this……and…well, I mean, like I said, what do you think you’ve actually accomplished?

A: ?

Q: What do you mean, what do I mean?

A: ?

Q: Okay, yeah, I probably didn’t ask that the right way. I’m sorry. Let’s talk about the cover, then. Matthew Warren designed this book. Whose idea was it to put that necklace on the cover? The Mizpah coin thing. Is that supposed to be funny or clever or whatever?

A: ?

Q: I like it just fine, just like I like you just fine……and see, here we are again. What I was asking doesn’t have anything to do with that. What I was asking is what’s the thing with the necklace because that’s also a thing in a couple of the stories too, so it’s not an accident is what I’m saying. That Mizpah coin thing. Did you know a public library there in Oregon categorized the book as “Christian fiction” because of that cover? You knew that, right?

A: ?

Q: So what you’re saying is we like to say things like “don’t judge a book by its cover” but, then……what?

A: ?

Q: So people just like to say things to say things or to hear things said in response to the things they’ve said?

A: ?

Q: Totally, totally fair. Okay, last question here: why didn’t you have someone else do this with you? I mean, you have friends and a number of them seem entirely capable. Did you really not ask anyone else besides yourself?

A: Are you serious? Who else could I really talk to about this shit?

image: Tara Wray


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