I had no idea who you were this time last year. Then I stumbled into PANK, which was a rabbit hole of underground literature. I had no idea such a thing existed. It seemed weird, like an underground World of Warcraft fan club. But down I fell and xTx kept coming up.
‘Who the fuck is xTx?’ I asked myself. I bought ‘Normally Special’ and fell in love with the voices, the writing, the title story, but not the mystery. People fetishize the mystery of xTx. I’m like ‘Dude, it’s xTx.’ I think people are nosy; writers and editors are nosy, readers too. I blame memoir, but I also blame plain boredom.
How do you feel about people trying to poke through the xTx mask? I like the mask…it looks like the mask Racer X wore when he raced Speed Racer. They were brothers. I think. I’ll shut up now.
First of all, Thomas, may I call you Thomas?
Call me mensah. If this is a friendly chat, I’ll drop the professional moniker.
mensah, thanks for the drink. Please stop me after three or I could get us into trouble. How do I feel about people trying to poke through the xTx mask? I guess I feel it’s natural that they want to do that. I can’t blame them for it. It’s my fault, after all. By publishing under the stupidest “name” ever, I’ve pretty much set myself up for speculation and wonder. I didn’t mean for it to be like this. I am far less than the mystery I have inadvertently created. A disappointment in waiting.
I came across a post on HTMLGiant a few months ago, right around the time I read Normally Special. You know it, I think. It was about pseudonyms. The article wasn’t about you exclusively, but you were mentioned…and mentioned again in the comments…and I believe you replied. I could check, but we’re drinking and somebody chose a Bill Withers song from the jukebox. I’m not getting up and going to Google.
Yes, I am familiar with that HTML Giant article on pseudonyms. It was fascinating. No need to get up and Google, especially when a Bill Withers song is playing.
I’ve read every guess from protecting your family (a logical reason) to dealing with deep emotional pain which, for one, is ripe territory for any writer and, two, it’s no one’s goddamned business but your own. What are your thoughts on some of the reasons people attach to your usage of a pseudonym? Do you wish to use your real name or is there real, genuine comfort using the pseudonym? And is it you? Meaning, is xTx a true reflection of the woman underneath or a sort of literary caricature…a slight resemblance, but mostly unrecognizable relative to the subject?
It was interesting to see the speculations on the reasons why I choose to write under xTx. I felt like saying all of them were right and none of them were right and parts of them were right. I felt like saying none of your beeswax and also, I felt like asking, why do you care? If I never knew a thing about Stephen King I would still love his books. But I guess it’s natural to speculate, and again, by choosing a moniker that hardly resembles a traditional name, I have sort of pointed a spotlight on myself and I have to live with that.
There is a complete comfort in using a pseudonym. I don’t have to think twice about any of my subject matter, i.e.. “What if Aunt Martha reads this?” I can just write what I write and not worry about any personal fallout. Plus, I’ve been doing it for so long, it’s become ‘how i write’ which is writing without a filter, I guess.
And, as much as maybe I shouldn’t admit it, I do think xTx is a true reflection of me. Maybe the “me” that is always there but not completely “on display” like it is on the internet–for obvious reasons.
I don’t want to belabor the pseudonym angle because it seems like the most obvious thing to ask. One last point before we move on. The more I think about it, the more I wonder about the pen name. After reading your book and various short works, I keep asking myself, “Well what is she hiding?” I wonder how much of your work is truly fictional. It never matters with most writers in my opinion, and I wouldn’t even pose the question, except that you kind of put yourself in this corner with the moniker.
Lots of people love and respect the mask. I did the PANK reading at AWP and nobody blasted photos of me on the internet and even the lovelies at PANK were kind enough to black out my portion of the video so all you can hear is my voice. Plus, it’s a Lucha Libre mask and those things are badass.
In regard to how much of my work is fictional, well, that’s hard to say. I mean, it’s mostly all fictional but there are some truths sprinkled in or sprouted from. Get me drunk enough and maybe I’ll tell you what’s what.
I asked the guy at the jukebox to play “Use Me” by Bill Withers. I hope you like it. There was a strip club scene in The Wire…topless girls danced to this song. Seemed like it wouldn’t fit, but…hey…it worked.
Let’s talk about “The Chronology of Water.”
I loved that book. LOVED loved. I read it back in March. I was HOOKED from the first page.
I read it because Roxane Gay wrote so highly of it. Personally, I haven’t been the same since I finished the last page. From a technical standpoint, it opened new windows with respect to writing memoir…writing in general, really. Deeper than that, it just seemed…I don’t know…so damn wet. Bloody. Visceral. I’m grasping, here. I haven’t seen many men discuss the book, so I’m trying to find my own language here.
Anyway, what are your lingering thoughts of The Chronology of Water? Do you find yourself flipping through it occasionally…or even picking it up from the shelf at random, glancing at the breast on the cover, and following whatever train of thought that ensues?
It was one of those books that I couldn’t stop reading. I had to gorge on it until it was done. The way she puts words together astounds me. I was jealous of her writing. I was inspired by her writing. And that is JUST the writing I’m talking about, I am not even talking about the story. That is on another fucking planet! To read about what she went through…all of the things in her life…and how brave she was to put it all out there for everyone and the WAY she put it out there. It slayed me. I need to read it again, and I will, before the end of the year. I want it to feel like a new book again.
Okay, ONE more round, but that’s IT! I told you 3!!
I better move on to some writerly stuff.
In regard to Normally Special, was there a specific theme…or texture, maybe…you wanted to achieve? Each story in their own right contain punch & grab the reader by his throat, some more than others but that’s the nature of collections. In whole, however, there’s a wink, I suppose, to the absurdity of everyday living and what that entails, everything from the mundane to the horrific to projections of the future. I’m curious as to what you wanted to accomplish in creating the book, even if it was a matter of “feeling.”
What I wanted to accomplish when writing Normally Special was, honestly, just a book that didn’t suck. I didn’t want it to be boring. I wanted a book that people would not want to put down because “OMFG, THIS IS SOME CRAZY SHIT, WHAT IS THE NEXT STORY GONNA BE LIKE?!?” and then I wanted to hit them with softballs and then hardballs and then mediumballs. I wanted them to be on an amusement ride of sorts but with words. I wanted to make a salad of awesome with all different sorts of tastes in each sporkful. I didn’t write thinking, “This will be for my book,” i just wrote. If it was “good” I put it in the “for my book stack.” That’s how I did it. I am happy with how it turned out.
Some pedantic writerly questions, if you don’t mind. Hell, if The Paris Review can do it, so can I. Do you have a set writing schedule? If not, how often do you like to write/revise your work?
I try to use my lunch hour to write. I write before work when I can and on weekends when I can. My writing time is sporadic and limited. But i think i am most productive in the morning.
Computer? Pen & pad? Both? Neither?
Computer mostly. But i have written some of my “favorite” stories longhand, in a notebook. It’s weird.
Do you prefer shorter works over longer ones? I can’t recall coming across a story from you that was more than 3,000 words…my personal “sweet spot” for short stories…but there’s a lot of so called “flash fiction” in Normally Special and in various publications.
I prefer writing short but that’s mostly because I am a super slow writer, so, to make a long piece, it takes me WEEKS and i don’t have the patience for that. Writing a short piece is easy. I am lazy maybe.
What are some of your favorite literary magazines, both online and IRL?
Favorite lit mags, of which I will forget some: PANK, >kill author, decomP, Hobart, Monkeybicycle, The Collagist, Necessary Fiction, Wigleaf, Smokelong, Metazen, and all the ones i am leaving out.
A question I may ask of all of my interviewees in the future. What images or adjectives come to mind when you hear the phrase, “the modern experience?”
The images or adjectives that come to mind when you mention, “the modern experience,” is “what the fuck?”, a camel wearing a fez and “Rockabilly.”
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Tiny Hardcore Press, the micropress which published Normally Special and where you’re associate publisher alongside Roxane Gay. Overall, what’s your role at Tiny Hardcore and can you speak to some of the challenges/joys you’ve experienced as a publisher of other “indie” writers.
Roxane is the creator, heart and soul of Tiny Hardcore. I am a mere afterthought. However, I’ve enjoyed reading submissions even though it’s broken my heart a few times when I’ve had to turn down some folks. My role is to help Roxane out in any way that she needs to be helped. I will say, though, that THP is and will only be releasing books that will leave marks on people. I am proud to be a part of it.
Man, I’m drunk. Call me a cab?