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We Are All Just Above Ground Pools: Elizabeth Ellen Interviews Sean Thor Conroe photo

The last few days I’ve been watching the Kanye (Ye) doc Jeen-Yuhs on Netflix (capitalist!). and what struck me was how right from the beginning, Ye and others around Ye, were talking about HATE and how the second you get any tiny amount of success or notoriety or anything: ppl gna HATE. On you. D’uh. But I never seen it like I seen it w Sean Thor Conroe.

Idgi.

But let me set a scene for you so you can really get your hate on.

(I’m doing you a favor. Normally I would skip this shit. But I think you’ll like it, how it serves/fuels your hate. You’re welcome.)

Last summer I went on a little tour w Elle Nash. The first place we flew was L.A. And, because for years Elle and I had talked about one day staying at the Chateau Marmont together, we did. (Feel free to hate on me cuz my great grandfather left me $$$ and I’m still using it. I told you I was a capitalist! the worst kind too!) (Feel free to hate on Elle for befriending me, post-my essay  – I also published her – suspicious!? Problematic? You decide. You’re the boss. Today, every day, you decide what is moral, what immoral, what ethical, who is unethical. Yay!  Then we all die. Haha.)

After the L.A. reading at Stories, we were on the lookout – Elle and I - for a ride (back to the Chateau). Gene Morgan – long time friend, coolest guy in indie lit – had a truck. Elle and I rode w him. Sean Thor Conroe and Josh Hebburn followed. Or met us at the hotel. We tried to smoke in the restaurant. But we made the fatal mistake of asking permission. Rule Number One in life: don’t fucking ask anyone for permission for anything. So we got kicked out. Or we left. We took our drinks and went and sat by the pool. (Do you hate us so much?) it was actually the best time of the whole tour. Not because we were at the Chateau or by the pool, but because Gene and Josh and Elle and Sean are all super sweet, chill, unpretentious people. At one point I went to the bathroom and on the way back found a joint in an ashtray by the ping pong table (shout out to Somewhere, the Sofia Coppola movie. Sorry/not sorry: it’s my favorite) and brought it back to the table. I was a hero. We smoked cigarettes (Sean and I). We drank. We shot the shit. Then Elle and I had to get to bed because we were flying to New York in the morning.

This was my one and only time hanging with Sean.

Do you remember people’s hugs? I remember Sean’s hug felt sincere. Is that a bullshit thing to write? I guess that sounds like a bullshit thing to write. Guess what: I don’t care.

It was after we got back, about a month after, that the whole dust up (or whatever-the-fuck) happened re Sean, re Fuccboi.

I don’t know… it felt funny to watch ppl I knew were friends of Sean’s turn their backs on him. Funny. Like HAHA. Like Kanye in ‘90whatever. Like me in 2014.

The other day I was at my childhood friend’s home and her 17 yr old son was talking about a comedy class he’s taking and he was shit-talking rich ppl w problems like Kevin Hart, rich comedians, specifically…and Dave Chappelle’s name, of course, came up, and he was referencing the Sticks & Stones special, which just happens to be my fav comedy special of all time, which I just so happened to have transcribed last summer, listened to on CD (haha) in my car over and over… I told my friend’s son this, how it’s my fav comedy special of all time.. “oh, I’m sorry,” he said. As though he’d offended me by hating on Chappelle.

“No, it’s fine,” I said. “We can like different things. We can talk about them.”

But the thing he had been ragging on was how Chappelle “made fun of” Anthony Bourdain’s suicide. Or at the very least, made light of it. In his eyes. So later that night I was reading over the transcript I’d typed of Sticks & Stones and sort of thinking about what Dave was saying or trying to say w that opening bit about Bourdain … he says: “Nobody’s life is perfect. No matter what it looks like from the outside, you don’t know what the fuck is going on inside.”

Then he adds a punchline, cuz he’s Dave, he’s a comedian.

“I have a great life. But it’s  not a perfect life. But it’s good. My shit’s like an above ground pool. Ever seen one of them? Eeeeehhhhhh, … it’s a pool….”

Then he goes into jokes about cancel culture. I think the point is, be careful of trying to destroy a person’s life, cuz you never know how fragile a person is, what’s going on that you can’t see… 

All our lives might be above ground pools.

Yours, mine, Sean’s, Elle’s, Josh’s, Gene’s, Kanye’s, Dave Chappelle’s, my friend’s 17 yr old son’s, …

from Jeen-Yuhs:

Kanye: I said that Dug Infinite put me on in a magazine, then they didn’t print it, then you make a song dissin me cuz XXL didn’t print it? and I told you…

Dug Inf.: the magazine… you said, you said No I.D. helped you with your style, man, you know I was that … I don’t wanna be X’ed out of the history, of the city.

In the end, Fuccboi is just a novel.

A funny, entertaining, stylistically-interesting, slang-filled, coming-of-age, of-the-times book.

But just a book.

And there’s no denying Sam Pink was an influence. No one is X’ing him out.

“Nobody’s life is perfect. No matter what it looks like from the outside, you don’t know what the fuck is going on inside.”

We’re all just above ground pools.

And it was cool hanging and smoking cigarettes with Sean. It was cool hanging and smoking cigarettes with Sam in 2009.

We are all just above ground pools.

Motherfuckers.

-ee

 

I’ve never seen so much buzz around a book as there’s been about Fuccboi. Not all of it good (tho you’re getting reviewed and interviewed in some huge publications!) to put it mildly LOL. Just keep thinking of Kanye telling Kim at some point the cliché quote abt no publicity being bad publicity, right? I mean, damn. You really pissed some ppl off. How does that feel? Do you care? Is it part of the pkg/buzz? Feel, personally, like most of it’s tied to money. The pissed off part, I mean. Like, “sell out” goes w $$$. What do you personally consider “selling out” and do you think you have (if you could look at “you” now when you were, idk, 17, 19, 21, would that version of you see the now version as having sold out in some way or would he think all the bad buzz is bullshit?)? how are you processing this? if this had stayed a Tyrant book how would shit be different do you think? 

“Selling out,” to me, is when you compromise your art for a check. When Gian passed away last March, literally while the agent he’d referred me to was in the process of vetting the contract he’d thrown me, it no longer had a publisher. Over the next month, we were seeing if there was a possibility of his press continuing—the book, from the final edits, to the cover, to the blurbs, was done. Once it became clear there wasn’t, my agent sent it out to a long list of publishers. When Jean at Little Brown made the offer on the book, the day after my agent sent it out, my only condition was that Gian's vision would be honored. Jean gave me her word that I wouldn’t be forced to change anything—she’d stayed up all night reading it and felt it was polished and done. And she stuck to that. The book as is is how me and Gian decided it would be. Jean’s a real one for that.

If it was still a Tyrant book, the internet would be a much more friendly place. 

 

I was actually working all day on an essay I’m going to publish soon that reflects on Claire Vaye Watkins’ on pandering essay, so was thinking about how hard the tides have turned to the literary world being dominated by women… I couldn’t even think of a male fiction writer making buzz today when I was offline and then first thing I saw when I got in email was our friend Elle Nash emailing me some question about your book from a student of hers, asking Elle if all the bad talk was jealousy cuz from what the student had read, your book sounded like something they’d dig…. So then I was like, oh right, Cherry. Fuccboi and Cherry (Nico Walker) are the only novels by men I’ve really seen get a lot of hype in the last cpl years (I know I’m going to get ppl tweeting at me all the other authors I’m forgetting or don’t know abt now). I’m going to be so curious to see how the book does, sales-wise, like, outside the literary world. I would think there would be a market for a young male writer, like back in Fight Club days, like back in Less Than Zero times… Trainspotting, High Fidelity, …

Who were you reading as a teenager and young twenty-something and how important were books by male writers to you then?

DFW, Nabokov, Bolaño, Joyce, Nietzsche, Steinbeck, Salinger, Murakami, Dostoevsky, Proust. And the beats—was on my Kerouac shit for a minute there. Thoreau, too.

Important, for sure. But not categorically more important than female writers, I’d say. Those were just some of the books by men I happened to be reading.

 

Let’s talk about mentorship, something else that seems to be part of the bad buzz around you. Ppl have chips on their shoulders abt perceived slights or idk accused you basically of stealing their, what, personas? Style? Ripped them off somehow? 

I mean, I have mentored a shit ton of writers. Male, female, whatever… I have helped many many many writers to develop and get book deals I’ve never come close to getting. It never occurred to me to rip my vagina over it. why do you think this happened in your case? Do you feel you took missteps of any kind? Any regrets? Or do you think it was misunderstandings? How instrumental have mentors been to your career? 

When Gian finished reading my first final version in April 2020, he said “This is it bro. However I’m able to publish this, I’ma publish this. Might take a sec but I’m gonna.” I’d really not thought about it as publishable at that point, the amount of permissions we’d need, all the other writers I cite in it. I knew it would take a sec, so that was fine with me, that he’d need a sec too.  

That’s when I started emailing everyone for permissions to cite them. These writers included Sheila Heti, Sam Pink, Eileen Myles, Gina Myers, the Bolaño estate. How I approached each writer depended on my relationship to them, or the nature of my citation. I didn’t do all of them immediately—I only got the Bolaño permission like the week before the book dropped. And some of the writers I thought wouldn’t mind, so I just sorta threw them a lotta love. I got almost all of the permissions. The ones I didn’t get, I removed those lines. 

But nah. Mentors are important, for sure. You think this book would be a book without Gian? There’s no fucking way.

 

How do you feel abt the ‘autofiction’ classification and do you think Fuccboi fits it? I haven’t seen it mentioned w regard to your book but every fking female writer of a novel seems to get it so…lol…why not you? I mean, Fuccboi reads to me like “this shit prob happened to Sean” or most of it. and also: 

The I-Novel, my mama explained, was a Japanese literary genre dating back to the turn of the century. To the Meiji era.

A type of confessional literature where the events of the story corresponded to the events in the author’s life. Meant to expose the ‘dark side’ of society/the author’s life. Its foremost formal requirement being that it was written in the first-person. An early attempt for Japanese writers to strive for a more Western form of individualism and authenticity.”

Having the narrator share the name of the author creates a sense of intimacy that I enjoy as a reader. I wanted to recreate that experience for the reader. Where you’re not sure whether what happened happened to the author, where you’re trying to figure that out. That’s how all good literature is—an investigation of something personal, based on something in the author’s life, explored and turned and altered in the fictional realm of the novel. It just slaps even harder when that play is made explicit.

I think Westerners, and Americans especially, struggle with “autofiction” since their conceptions of self are so fixed. That goes back to the enlightenment, the idea of the individual as sovereign and separate from the contingencies of the group (from the church and the state), from nature. The enlightenment obviously had countless positive implications in terms of individual liberties, inventions, medicine. The question becomes, can that energy be taken too far. In the Japanese, Buddhist outlook, there is no enlightenment sense of a fixed, discrete self. The “self” is much more bound to the group, defined relationally according to different social contexts, and is ultimately seen as just one small part of a much bigger, ongoing whole. This is even reflected linguistically: the word for “I,” there are a bunch of them, that change according to social context, the gender/age of the speaker, the relative status of the listener, etc. There’s a much stronger sense of the self as changing constantly, throughout the day even, according to the specific context it’s being performed in.

This understanding has implications for how a narrator can write about him or her “self,” or selves, knowing each self is but one of many.

Every chapter of Fuccboi is a performance of a different side of “Fuccboi”—“Postmate,” “Broke Boi,” “Outdoor Dude,” etc—with the unifying principle being that he’s being a fuckboy, is on some fuckery, in every chapter. And none of which chapter-selves are “me.”

 

Fuccboi is such a fast entertaining read. Slang, slang, slang. Humor, humor, humor. I can see why Gian took it. I would have taken it. for SF/LD. But it has that mainstream vibe too. Like ppl who aren’t fkn writers will want to read it and enjoy it too and wtf is wrong w that? isn’t that the goal? Why would you want only other writers to read your fkn book? How much did Gian help shape it/edit it/get it to the book it is today? How much did whatever Little Brown editor do to change it? 

Yeah, that’s the goal.

Gian directed me to tend to parts that needed tending to. He told me to double down on my slang, to alienate as many people as necessary, to provoke as many basic triggered bros as necessary. At one point, I tried to make an “Abbreviations and Special Slang” page, for words that deviated even from the online dictionary definitions, or had expanded meanings in how he used them, and he was like “Fuck that. This shit is Clockwork Orange. Shakespeare. Let em sit with and struggle with it. Unintentionally reveal their classism in self-righteous, sneering takes they think they’re winning.” To do that to the whole culture.

Over that last New Years in Sezze that we finished editing it, he did this toast he’d planned, where he was like “To a New Year, and to a new language.” I felt so sweet towards him for that, and think about that a lot. That was big for him, having new literature employ an entirely new language.  

Jean Garnett at Little Brown streamlined an italicized rant that I agreed could use streamlining, made sure a bunch of timeline stuff matched up, and really rigorously combed through it, every bar, to make sure each line hit as hard as it possibly could. And just fought for the book. She and everyone at Little Brown have been really incredibly, sorta unbelievably supportive.

 

autonomous bae”  “editor bae

lol how many diff baes are there (in Fuccboi)? And how did you first decide to use this way of referring to women Fuccboi fucks w in the book?

I don’t know, I just blacked out and started doing that. It felt right. From the naming conventions, to the turns, to how long I gotta sit on a chapter till I know it’s done, I just try to listen for what feels right.

Bae is a fun, playful term of endearment that retains some ambiguity about the degree of intimacy that’s being implied. It’s unique in that way. It’s also, uniquely, gender non-specific.

 

quit basketball”

“The Sunday before flying back, I hit the park and hopped into a full-court 5-on-5 game since it was Sunday and folks were balling full court. ‘Taking it easy’ bc all the internal roids I’d been on, and internal roids weakened the bones.
Only we won. So played another.
Had to.
The second game I took it to the rack, took the contact, only when I hit the defender mid-air we jackknifed each other and my feet swung out from under me. 

Landed like thwack on the edge of the court, where it switched to gravel, on my spine. 

Was so keyed up I not only finished the game but played another.”

…i wanna talk abt basketball for a sec cuz I so rarely if ever meet a writer who used to be an athlete and I came late to sports (watching/obsession w) and am currently doing march madness 2019 research (re-watching games, post game interviews, etc) for a novel I’m working on… do you miss it? did you play all through, like, middle/high school? How does writing compare to playing ball? Anything? 

Love that. That novel sounds like it’s gonna slap. 

Yeah it was initially soccer. As a young boy in Scotland. 

I started playing basketball in fourth grade, when I moved to Sacramento, and played through high school and for two years of college.

There are for sure similarities. If you do it every day, it starts getting easier every day. In sports, you learn that all the preparation you do matters, has tangible outcomes. You learn that everything in life is preparation. And that how well you prepare has tangible effects on how you confront important, rare moments—of inspiration, in a game, in life—when they arise. 

 

lmao all I’ve ever wanted is a novel that quotes Chris Brown:

“I’d been a ho; I hadn’t been, like Chris Brown says hoes ain’t, loyal.” 

Music comes up a lot in Fuccboi. Feel like there should be an official soundtrack for it. To nod to Hornby (Nick), what’s your top five picks for Fuccboi? And did you ever read High Fidelity?

I haven't, but I will now.

I don't know about top 5 but the project I most associate with the book is Painting Pictures (2017), I’d listen to that when I was biking around Philly circa 2017 just totally washed and broke. That first track, when Kodak’s like “This my muthafuckin album,” how he says that, that’s how I feel now about my book being out.

 

What’s your deal w Sheila Heti lol? She, like, your first literary crush? (Lit crush bae) Your Dave Eggers (mine)? 

Ever since I torched How Should A Person Be? over a single night, by candlelight, in the box van I used to live in, in the spring of 2015, Sheila’s outlook has been hugely influential. That book, how it straddles the sacred and the profane, how philosophical it is, how readable yet substantial, how intimate, how personal, how funny, and how she toggles between those modes so seamlessly, that’s always been the model for how a full-fledged, novel-length novel can move. 

Excited for Pure Colour to be out in the world.

 

Last Q: did you ever expect this? for your ‘debut novel’? the big publisher, the big publicity? Big $$$? How’s it gna affect your next book, the writing of it if it’s not already written, your perception of yourself, as writer/artist? 

As I asked in my first email reply ever to you: what’s your deal? 

You can never know what to expect. Everything can change in a second. 

I don’t think it’ll affect my writing, no. I’m gonna keep doing what I’ve always done. Gonna keep going in.

Haha idk ee I’m just out here tryna save literature. What’s your deal??

 

Bonus final Q: what do you think Gian would make of all this….shit? re Fuccboi? Re you? All the “hoopla”? 

He’s watching. I imagine him laughing at it all. Thinking, Everything with the book is going just as it should. Going exactly as I said it would.

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