Grant Faulkner On Watching Objects Rust and the Slow Reveal

An interview with Grant Faulkner, from The Write Stuff series over at SF Weekly:

Grant Faulkner likes big stories and small stories. He is the Executive Director of National Novel Writing Month, the co-founder of the lit mag 100 Word Story, and a cooperative co-founder of the Flash Fiction Collective, a reading series in San Francisco. His stories and essays have appeared in dozens of publications, and he’s recently published a collection of one hundred 100-word stories, Fissures. He lives in Berkeley with a family of writers and a dog that insists on sitting on his lap each morning when he writes. Follow him at @grantfaulkner.

When people ask what do you do, you tell them…?

I’m a writer. It took me a ridiculously long time to tell people that, nearly 20 years, even though writing has always been the main activity of my life.

Sometimes, however, I say I’m a professional clogger. Here’s what’s interesting: When I tell people I’m a writer, they ask if I’ve published, what I write, etc., but when I tell them I clog, they never ask me anything. It can be tough for a writer to get respect, but, man, cloggers, they really have it rough.

What’s your biggest struggle — work or otherwise?

It seems that I’m never celebrated or loved quite enough. Yet I don’t really want to be celebrated or loved very much. Yet I do. It’s a Capricorn thing.

Other than that, I’m very upset by the way the clock moves.

If someone said I want to do what you do, what advice would you have for them?
I love pontificating about life and career choices, so this is a dangerous thing to say to me. Short of interning for me, I’d tell them a few shortcuts I wish I had taken.

Writing doesn’t have to be a solitary affair — opening yourself to a community of writers will spur your creativity and help you get published. Everyone’s afraid and insecure and weird and needy, so don’t worry about your “shortcomings.” Ask others for help, all kinds of help.

And it’s best not to have that one extra glass of wine. Except sometimes, when it leads to crazy unexpected adventures. But, still, a good night’s sleep is under-rated.

Do you consider yourself successful? Why?

I’m unsuccessfully successful. I’m successfully unsuccessful. I don’t think I’ll ever live in Tangier like my hero Paul Bowles, but I got a good taste of Mexico and France when I was younger. I’ve been in cars that drifted over the centerline, but somehow they drifted back. I experienced things the youth of today will never experience: the drive-in movie theater in Oskaloosa, Iowa.

My wife is pouring a glass of wine for me now in the next room. My children are reading books some say aren’t appropriate for them. My credit card hasn’t been declined of late. I’ve written extensive notes for 23 novels.

I like watching objects rust. It’s all good enough.

When you’re sad/grumpy/pissed off, what YouTube video makes you feel better?

It’s amazing how many times I can watch this video of Nicki Bluhm singing Hall and Oates’ “I can’t go for that” while driving around with the Gramblers. I want to live in that car:

Do you have a favorite ancestor? What is his/her story?

My grandfather on my mother’s side always held a book in his hand, and always treated all people with the utmost dignity. He listened more than he talked, thought more than he judged. He taught until he was nearly 80 at an all-black college in Tennessee, and was active in the civil rights movement. He imparted the benefits of the rigorous search for wisdom to me, and putting one’s knowledge to generous use.

Who did you admire when you were 10 years old? What did you want to be?

Ulysees S. Grant was my childhood hero. I wanted to be president. My presidential bid is looking increasingly doubtful, but I picked up a few of his other traits. A beard. A cigar. The occasional sip of whiskey. A love of horses.

Describe your week in the wilderness. It doesn’t have to be ideal.

I camp on a mountain overlooking Reno. I arrange for a pizza delivery after stocking up on beer, Pringles, and a trucker hat from a convenience store. I chant mystical incantations next to a bonfire, lose myself in the swirl of the cosmos, and then look for a hotel with cable.

Would you ever perform a striptease? Describe some of your moves. Feel free to set the mood.

One could say that every story is a sort of striptease. It’s important to establish a character’s desire, and then there’s the slow reveal, obstacles met with yearning. I think the most erotic stories move through hints rather than revelations. The unspoken invites a lifetime of imaginings. The lingering promise of a glance can beguile and taunt for years. Life is a striptease.

Oh, but I think I evaded the question. I guess it depends on who’s asking.

How much money do you have in your checking account?

Not as much as the debt on my credit card. Still, I’m lucky. I’ve always been able to afford what I consider to be life’s essential luxuries: a double espresso, a good burrito, a decent bottle of wine. I can’t remember a book I didn’t buy or a movie I didn’t see for lack of money.

What’s wrong with society today?

The definition of what passes for progress.

Are you using any medications? If so, which ones?

I’m a lifelong insomniac. At first it was an ailment, but now it’s more like a religion. I have a whole cabinet of medications from days of yore, sleeping pills and muscle relaxants, all of which give sleep, but take away something more important.

The pill bottles call me like a symphony in the frightening maw of an insomniac night, but I resist. I don’t throw them out for some reason. I suppose it’s good to know there’s backup. I do take melatonin each night, and I sometimes take valerian root.

What is your fondest memory?

Driving aimlessly on country roads in Iowa in the middle of the night, listening to Joy Division and losing myself in those urgent, deep conversations with friends that can only occur with the passion of youth.

How many times do you fall in love each day?

When I was younger, it seemed that I fell in love every day, maybe even several times in a day. So I don’t fall in love often enough now. Because falling in love is the joy of it all, right?

What would you like to see happen in your lifetime?

The resurgence of tap dancing. And world peace. But they go together, of course.

What is art? Is it necessary? Why?

Art is ripping, playing, dabbling, chain sawing, melding, frittering, splattering, slashing, dancing, weaving—and then searching, of course, always searching. Is it necessary? It illuminates life. It connects people like nothing else. So I suppose it’s necessary, placing third after oxygen and food, just above shelter.

When you have sex, what are some of the things you like to do?


What are you working on right now?

For better or worse, I’m scattered across several projects. I just finished a novel, Elsewhere, about a man who in trying to find himself by traveling around the world, loses himself. I’m revising a novel formed around letters from a lover that are never sent (I miss the age of letter writing, so it’s been a joy to work on). I’m nearly finished with a script I’ve been working on with my friend Laura Albert (who some might know as JT LeRoy) for three years.

And then I just published a collection of one hundred 100-word stories, Fissures, so I’ve been doing a lot of readings for that.

What kind of work would you like to do? Or: what kind of writing do you most admire?

I think often of Camus’s statement, “A work of art is a confession.” He’s not talking about personal confession, but taking the risks of telling the truth and being vulnerable as a writer. I don’t think a writer can ever take enough risks. Life is so mysterious, nuanced, ineffable — equally disturbing as it is beautiful — so I think it’s every writer’s duty to be brave enough to risk ridicule in order to bring truths to light. So that’s the kind of work I’d like to do.

If there were one thing about the Bay Area that you would change, what would it be?

If you can tell a man by his shoes, then you can tell a city by its cafes. When I first moved here, in 1989, the cafes were wondrous places of life, filled with all sorts of people singing, telling stories, playing chess, reading, and writing. There weren’t any laptops or devices. I miss those scenes, the feeling of people living their lives together in public, talking in big, passionate ways, thinking of how to best live instead of thinking of their next career move.

A night on the town: what does that mean to you?

At its best, it involves the words “gallivanting,” “festoon,” “ribald,” and “dreamy.” I shouldn’t forget, though, that the most memorable nights of my youth always involved the word “desperate,” no matter the tinges of rollick that clung to it. A good night out always includes something unexpected, whether finding oneself in an odd party or an odd conversation. It’s hard to plan to get lost, but getting a little lost is a good thing.

What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever seen?

When I first decided to be a writer, I lived on my grandparents’ abandoned farm. The house was uninhabitable, so I stayed in a chicken coop renovated as a one-room shack. One morning, I found a dead rabbit right outside the door. I thought perhaps a coyote left it there, but the next day I found another dead rabbit. The third day, after a sleepless night (yes, I was scared at this point), another dead rabbit awaited me.

Someone didn’t want me there, so I decided to sleep in town and write at the farm during the day. I always felt someone’s eyes upon me, though.

What can you do with 50 words? 50 dollars?

I prefer 100 words and 100 dollars.

What are some of your favorite smells?

Chicory coffee. Laphroaig scotch. Black licorice.

If you got an all expenses paid life experience of your choice, what would it be?

To go on a road trip and see how far I could drive before I got tired of it. My theory is that I could go forever, but I’d love to test that.

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