Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Interview with James Bernard Frost

Some time ago, some friends of mine over at The Velvet ( asked me to interview James Frost. Of course they also wanted me to do one with Peter Rock. I did neither, and don't remember why, really, except that Rock was on his way to an after-party.
That said, this interview is something like three years in the procrastinating, and it wasn't as viciously intimidating as I thought back when I was asked to do it. Though, I will admit, approaching Jim on facebook is a hell of a lot less intimidating than trying to snag some impromptu Peter Rock interview in a Powell's store.

CK -- First off, would you mind telling us a little of your background. Where are you from, if not from the Northwest where and what brought you here?

JBF -- I'm from Texas originally, moved to the Bay Area for college, lived in an ungodly number of different places in my early twenties, moved back to San Francisco for seven years, got financially obliterated in the dot-com bust, moved to a tract home in the swamps of Alachua, Florida to save some dough, and found my way to Portland, which seemed the most-San Francisco-like place to live that wasn't as expensive as San Francisco.

CK -- You also write travel books, or I guess that is what you would call them, don't you? Do any of those effect the way you write fiction, or the stories you tell?

JBF -- Totally. Writing travel guides—and in my case, I was writing for vegetarians—forces you to have a keen eye for cultural hotspots and weirdness. I like to write about the anomalies of the world, so when I came to Portland I immediately discovered C.H.U.N.K. 666, Voodoo Doughnuts, Stumptown Coffee, the I.P.R.C. and Reading Frenzy, hipster churches, and agro bicyclists. It seemed something necessary to write a novel about.

CK -- When did you start writing, and how was it in those first few years?

JBF -- You know, I wrote a twenty-page handwritten epic in 2nd grade about how the gods formed all the planets, so that was my start. It was really fine back then: I got an A, my mother was a supportive matron of the arts, and there wasn't a whole lot of pressure to publish ;)

CK -- When did you start to think that writing and you were getting pretty serious?

JBF-- It's funny. I got my first book deal before I got serious. I had this notion that someone should write a travel guide for vegetarians, and so I did the natural thing: I wrote a book proposal for it and sent to a bunch of publishers. A few months later I get a letter from Hunter Publishing, this outfit in Florida that specializes in travel guides for scuba divers saying they were interested. The writing of the book was horrible—I had never taken on a project of such magnitude, had no idea what it was like to write that many words, etc—but eventually I got through it.

So after I wrote my first book, I decided to get an MFA and learn how to write.

CK -- Who locally and in general has had an influence on you and your writing? Who are you favorite Northwest authors, and who are your least?

JBF -- I've always been a huge fan of Douglas Coupland, who lives up in Vancouver BC. The influence he had in defining my generation in his landmark novel Generation X goes completely without comment these days. I also love how unmoored his characters are, and how they struggle with their lack of gods. There's Ken Kesey as well—One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest—which was a huge influence on the novel I'm currently trying to sell, A Very Minor Prophet. Katherine Dunn, Ursula LeGuin, and Chuck Palahniuk should also be mentioned here.

I don't really have any "least" favorite authors here. Every writer who "makes it" out of the Pacific NW generally had to work their ass off to get there, and I respect that.
CK -- How would you define Northwest Literature? What characteristic's does Northwest Lit or Northwest writers have that is distinctly from here?

JBF -- Weirdness, maybe? Edginess? (Although, I hate that word.) Lots of trees in their landscape? We're just not as boxed in here. We're too far away from cultural centers and pop culture and the publishing world. We can't have our friend from Columbia U. send our books to their friend who is an agent. We tend, in our naivete, to just write, and every once in a while one of those works created under the rain and the darkness miraculously makes it to the surface.

CK -- A lot of people talk about Northwest Lit in relations with Literary fiction, what do you think about that? Do you think literary fiction is really a genre or more an ego stroke for literary people?

JBF -- There's definitely a genre—but I think a lot of people writing "literary fiction" don't understand how narrow a genre it really is. If you want to be the next Jonathan Safran Foer, you have to be really f-ing smart, and not many people are actually equipped to be that. As for me, there's literary fiction that I hate (Jonathan Franzen) and literary fiction that I love (David Foster Wallace) and I can't really account for my tastes.

CK -- How did World Leader Pretend come into being? How is it similar and different from your pervious writing and your future writings?

JBF -- I very distinctly remember jogging in Golden Gate Park in SF one day while I was getting my MFA in Creative Writing. I was angry with myself because I had spent the whole day gaming rather than writing. That's when I had one of those hair-standing-on-head moments—I should write a novel about gaming addictions.

CK -- Sort of on a side note, where did the title for the book come from, and were you pleased with the cover? (I ask because I can remember people on the bus asking me what I was reading, and the title and cover together made everyone think it was an anti-Bush book, I wondered if you ever encountered that).

JBF -- Funny. I wrote the book pre-Bush, so there was certainly no intention there. I got the title from the R.E.M. song World Leader Pretend—the lyric "I sit at my table and wage war on myself" sort of my theme lyric for what it felt to be writing. Of course, my original title for the book, The Strangely Peaceful Citadel of Blue Orcs, was way better, but the publisher wouldn't have it.

As for the cover, I hated that motherfucking cover. I even had a sticker artist create stickers so I could plaster it. That didn't make me many friends at St. Martin's, but I never really felt like I was a part of that world anyway.

CK -- Are there any local authors under the radar that you feel should get more attention and recognition? Are there any that you feel have been way over blown and overshadow equally, if not more talented writers?

JBF -- Damn you! So many questions! No one's overblown here, because honestly, even the people who might feel overblown to Portlanders are pretty much nobodies on the national stage. I'm a fan of Monica Drake and Lidia Yuknavitch's work—Lidia has a couple of books coming out though Hawthorne Press in the next couple years that are spectacular. Joe Sacco's graphic novels are incredible, and he stays pretty hidden.

CK -- I have you on my facebook, and some time back you mentioned that you had finished a book and as I remember, called it Jesus.... care to comment?

JBF -- Paul Neilan, a Portlander who's since moved to San Francisco, wrote a book that everyone should read called Apathy and Other Small Victories. Paul and I used to joke about the futility of the "Jesus novels" we were working on, because, despite their total unpublishibility (yeah, I know that's not a word), we were both writing novels that made fun of Jesus. (The title isn't Jesus, it's actually A Very Minor Prophet, but just calling it Jesus is a great idea.) Neither Paul nor I will ever be mainstream writers, because that's the kind of stupid self-destructive shit we do, but maybe that's what being a NW writer is really about—writing stupid shit that no publisher in their right mind would ever buy just to prove that nobody has us by the balls…

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

the challenge

You know what, my maybe handful of readers? It is time to put up or shut up. I, personally am an English major that has accumulated a staggering amount of knowledge on craft, editing, story structure, and voice. So, now I ask you (and myself) this: What have you done with this, Mister Pitts? If that is your real name?

My answer: Nothing.

The facts are as follows:
1 – It has been two years since my name has appeared in print.
2 – I am failing my best friend as his editor.
3 – The best idea I have had to date, has been allowed to stagnate to the point that I wonder if it can even be written.
4 – I am only as good as a two year old byline I submitted to piss someone off.

I have to start classes in a month to finish my degree earning process, and my writing ability has come in third to my card playing skills, and my unholy addiction to online video gaming. This is no way for anyone, you, me, or anyone else, who wants to be a writer to live. If this sounds like you, oh my handful of reading Droogies, then this month should also be a challenge to you. By the end of September, in the year two-thousand-ten (Ano Domini) you and I shall have a story worthy of publication. Worthy of us being called writers.

I leave you with this: You are only a writer if you are writing.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

On Editing, Editors, and new Writers

Lately, I have been working as an editor for a friend who has an amazing gift to put words on paper. His gift primarily is to do so in massive amounts, but he's also pretty fucking good for someone who is an untrained writer who jumped head-first into writing a two hundred page novel.

My assignment here started as just making the work he had already done more readable, and formatting it in an acceptable way to be sent to a small scale publisher. However, I no longer feel this is doing this friend justice. His talent, and his story deserve more than a little sandpaper. Here is why:

A writer does not need to agree with his editor, and the editor with the writer, either. But, the writer should know enough about craft, agreed with or not, to defend his work with the editor, with the publisher, with the critics. A writer worth his pages knows why he did something this way, and not that way, and more importantly should be able to argue his correctness. And even if that writer does not win that argument, plant a seed of doubt in his detractors. That writer should know why people he disagrees with do the things he disagrees with. That writer should know the rules he is breaking or following, and how they are being broken or followed, and why.

The editor is only around to push the writer, make the story better, but remain invisible in the finished product. Your editor cannot make you a better writer, but he can point you to your strengths and weaknesses.

Assault Prevention

I stole these from a post on, but i thought it was funny, and it has just maybe inspired a satirical story on my part...

Please distribute this list. Put it up in your place of work, in your university’s library or wherever you think they might be read:

If you or somebody you know is thinking about sexually assaulting a loved one, co worker, stranger, or mail man, please read the following.

1. Don’t put drugs in people’s drinks in order to control their behavior.

2. When you see someone walking by themselves, leave them alone!

3. If you pull over to help someone with car problems, remember not to assault them!

4. NEVER open an unlocked door or window uninvited.

5. If you are in an elevator and someone else gets in, DON’T ASSAULT THEM!

6. Remember, people go to laundry to do their laundry, do not attempt to molest someone who is alone in a laundry room.

7. USE THE BUDDY SYSTEM! If you are not able to stop yourself from assaulting people, ask a friend to stay with you while you are in public.

8. Always be honest with people! Don’t pretend to be a caring friend in order to gain the trust of someone you want to assault. Consider telling them you plan to assault them. If you don’t communicate your intentions, the other person may take that as a sign that you do not plan to rape them.

9. Don’t forget: you can’t have sex with someone unless they are awake!

10. Carry a whistle! If you are worried you might assault someone “on accident” you can hand it to the person you are with, so they can blow it if you do.

Monday, July 26, 2010

On Writing and Other Things

Yikes, sorry for the delay. Just realized this thing actually had a small mass of followers. Maybe it still does. Shame on me using the past tense.

On writing and other things I have been lax, as my duties to other things have become more important lately. Life changing stuff happened and is happening, and maybe one day it can be discussed as writing, but for now, lets leave it where it is.

What brings me back here today is the notion that writing would be therapeutic. I have spent years preaching this to people out there who need help coping with things, or just need an outlet for some of their excesses of energy.

Now, I suppose I should sit down and follow my own advice.


Tuesday, June 1, 2010

starting out

for me writing is a lightning bolt moment. these do happen more if you write every day and you have habits, but its still just a bolt from the blue. for me, it starts with a character name. some weird part of me can picture a whole person from a name.

of course, sometimes it starts with a scene. this is most common if i have not been writing for a while. the best way to get writing again (for me, anyhow) is to set a scene, to jabber about a storm, or a diner, or who the fuck knows. the canary yellow first page of WAR DANCES that vibrates with each pull of a tension headache. just whatever.

very rarely do i start a blank page with a fully formed idea.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Mondrian from Below

as advertised, i do have a 12 ft by 12 ft mondrian painting.

the door is in the corner of that shot, sorry.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Stylized Destruction

Literature, or more precisely 'literary fiction' has no real set of rules. There is, though there is the vague notion that it should be about people coping with something, and not the event itself. Literary fiction defies classification. If you can explain to someone what kind of story you're reading (or writing) in a sentence, then you, my friend are likely in some genre or another. Literary fiction defies cliché. The literary author can take something cliché, like the amnesiac story arch, and manage to make it his own.

Literary fiction exists to break the rules, by sacrificing technical perfection to achieve a voice that is the author's own. You could compare two literary authors and tell the difference, almost instantly from one to the other. On the reverse, comparing two 'bestsellers', or, one, and a piece of dime-store smut, and that difference in voice most assuredly goes the way of the dinosaur.

Literary fiction also tends not to offer closure, in the traditional sense, but rather a pragmatic, functional ending where the players continue their lives, better or worse, for the experiences they have encountered in the story.

The literary author is recognized, sometimes more for his stylized destruction, than anything. When looking at Raymond Carver, for example, it is impossible not to notice how blunt and cold his descriptions are, or how his characters relate to one another. But at the same time, that is what makes a Carver story so distinct to Carver. Almost everything that does not need to be said is cut away, and what is left is barebones story. When this is compared to someone like Tolkien, the difference is immediate. Tolkien spends pages and pages describing a field, or a sword, or a lake, or a mole on someone's ass.

Some literary authors take this a step further and eliminate whole sections of the language. Adverbs, and pronouns are common enemies of this writer, for example. An adverb is something that the literary author destroys to create voice. People can do things stupidly, we all would agree, but the literary author cares more about what that looks like, or smells like, or sounds like. What is stupidly really saying about this action, or this person? The personal pronoun “I” is often eliminated from first-person writing because it can act as a speed bump, every time a reader hits it, he is removed from the story and the disbelief the author has created for him. Cliché expressions, such as 'wringing your hands' may also be cut away in the name of explaining them physically.

You might also see these writers use a lot of comparison. Everything is something else. The moonlight is the color of ice cubes, maybe. This puts the reader more into the story, and also makes their picture unique to them. The writer might go further though, and incorporate a body part. A foot, or penis or something of that sort, so that the color of ice cubes effects a specific skin tone. This might also further differ the reader's picture.

Physical descriptions of the characters are also kept to a minimum by some literary authors. All of this is to keep the reader picturing. The literary author has no need to describe a person's whole wardrobe, or every curl of their hair, or the exact shade of green their eyes might be.

So, that about covers it. Wouldn't you say?

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Alphabet Game and other prompt talk

So, someone does read this thing. My likely first follower has sorta become my accountability at this. We have even started playing “The Alphabet Game” wherein we go through the twenty-six letters that comprise our linguistic discourse. This is not to say we do the kindergarten A is for Apple deal, but we use it to limit our prompts to a word, and therefore much more of concept than a setting. This is pretty interesting since I have always done prompting the old-fashioned-way. Me and my girlfriend used to do them daily with song lyrics, or quotes, or a setting. I still start out a lot of my writing with lyrics which have become entangled in my brain. Sometimes I erase them, since that can be construed as plagiarism, but other times I leave them in as the character seems to call for it. We all know people who speak in lyrics and proverbs and riddles. Besides, some bands really like that you do this, as a fan, and will get behind you and be very supportive.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

long time no see

Long time no see...

So, my little experiment is obviously somewhat of a failure. Being that I am neither writing, nor am I progressively talking about writing in any coherent sort of way. However, the existence of this little corner of the internet has led to discussions which have in turn led back to me being here.

For now, I will run totally counter to anything I would have said whenever I was here last. This is not to say any of the past ranting about writing has been proven wrong, or anything. My past rantings fell out of training and a growing understanding of a very specific style of writing. Why we're going counter to that is because when you're not writing, your writing muscle starts to atrophy. When your muscles start to atrophy, you can not just jump back into your regimented workout schedule. Easy does it, and that, yeah?

This is my stipulation for now: Just write. Fuck voice. Fuck style. Fuck. Your voice and your style will keep themselves up. They do that. They'll be there when you find them again. Will they be there the way you left them? Maybe, maybe not. With everything you write, and everything you learn your voice changes. Just like as you get stronger that workout changes.