Blake Butler's writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Caketrain, DIAGRAM, Ninth Letter, Phoebe, LIT, Action Yes, Unsaid, New York Tyrant, and other places. He is the author of Ever, a novella forthcoming from Calamari Press (Winter 2008). He is the author of Scorch Atlas, a novel in stories forthcoming from Featherproof Books (Fall 2009). He coedits No Colony, edits Lamination Colony, edits the internet literature magazine blog of the future: HTMLGIANT, and blogs at blakebutler.blogspot.com. He lives in Atlanta, GA.
I emailed him the questions and he emailed me back his answers.
1) Can you talk about your history with writing? How did you get started?
I have hands and a brain so writing I think just happened, it might be as arbitrary as getting really into eating pretzels, is there anyone who is so into eating pretzels and spends so many years at it in intense daily practice that they've become demonstrably better at pretzel eating than anyone else in the world, or at least of a class above the average citizen deserving of a benchmark equal to publication as a writer? I have no idea. I remember once I got to hear Allen Ginsberg say 'fuck' in my high school english class, I thought that was really awesome, I think I started trying to write poems after that, I think I wrote shitty poetry for 5 years before I read INFINITE JEST and started writing shitty fiction, I think it took another 5 years before I started feeling anything I wrote could be classified outside 'shitty' in a way that meant I wouldn't feel embarassed to show it to someone else or something, but still shitty in a good way, in that I see it as covered in shit, which is one thing I like to see in fiction. Words covered in or made of shit, though not necessarily about shit. There should be more figurative 'shit' in writing. That's not trying to be funny. Cool.
2) You write a lot of lists, it seems, when you're not working on novels and stories. "List Prayer," which we published in issue seven, follows that standard format of 50 items and is part of the project you call 2500. You told DIAGRAM that you write these lists in your Gmail browser. Why do you like the 'list' format? Do you write these lists quickly or does it take a lot of time for you to move from one number to the next?
I started writing lists in the mornings at work when I worked at a law firm and always had to be on the phone, I was supposed to be calling out or answering calls x # of times an hour or something, and I hate feeling like I've spent an entire day in the service of someone else, so in the minutes between calls I started making lists one or two lines at a time, and it actually served me well I think to have my brain pulled out between each item like that, as it caused a kind of jumping in the early lists that I am having trouble finding the same cause for in the later ones now that I no longer work there. I think the first one happened because my boss at that job said good morning to me for the x #th day in a row and I hate being told good morning, especially when I am coming in to work for some fuck, so the first list started like that and I think I did 13 of them before they laid off half the office. I usually write them in bursts, when I get into the mood of making a list, though I've been stuck on 46 for like 6 months now, I don't know if I'll ever finish the set of 50, or if I even want to now.
More so, though, I think all writing, in essence, is based on lists: if you can make a really good list you can effectively create the chain of momentum or logic or language that makes up stories or novels or poems or whatever, however deeply or not deeply veiled it appears to the reader. Even the fully language-based writing in which there seems no linearity or sense of order, those thoughts 9 times out of 10 were culled out of the author's head in some ordered form or linear cause: there is some embedded structure that moves in ways counted. The further I've found myself delving into this idea of learning to understand list formats, the more 'successful' I've felt in figuring out what was coming out of me, which is not necessarily the same thing as 'what I was trying to say.'
3) Recommend for us some recent favorites: stories, books, literary magazines, authors, etc.
Rachel B. Glaser's PEE ON WATER in New York Tyrant 4, an unpublished, untitled story about muffins and Simon Cowell by some 11 year old kid from Alpharetta GA, Sean Kilpatrick's HUBBY, both published novels by Eugene Marten, Nina Shope's IN URBEM (excerpts) in Salt Hill 21, Derek White's MARSUPIAL, Sam Pink's YUM YUM I CAN'T WAIT TO DIE, Stanley Crawford's LOG OF THE S.S. THE MRS. UNGUENTINE, Johannes Goransson.
4) Give us some news on current projects and publications. What's going on with you?
I am finishing up final edits my novella EVER which will be out from Calamari Press by Jan 09. I have another book lined up for release in fall 09 that I have not announced yet [Blake Butler has since announced this book: Scorch Atlas, forthcoming Fall 2009 from Featherproof Books]. I have two more surrealist novels I am sending around. I am writing what I think will be a very long very ridiculous novel called RICKY'S ANUS about a guy named Ricky and his body and his mother, which I daily variate between planning to delete when I am done and sending around to be laughed at by publishers who are in no way interested in getting past the scene on page 2 or something where Ricky is jacking off his grandmother in the slurred backyard in front of a pack of dogs. I don't know what's going on with me.
5) Where do you see your writing in 5 years?
As far as process, I will either be doing the exact same thing I am doing right now every day I think or I will have given it up entirely. I don't know which I hope for.
As far as content, maybe that scene in the Shining with that sentence, but a different sentence, one that means even less.
6) Mike Young taught twelve year olds last summer. He says that together they read a few flash fiction pieces. Mike Young wanted to know how you would teach flash fiction to someone half that age, a six year old?
I would give them a crayon and a candy and lay down in the floor.
7) What are your interests beyond writing?
I don't have any. I don't even like writing that much. Yeah I do. Writing kicks total ass. Other things kick ass too. I like to eat. I think I played tennis once, I couldn't get it back across the net. I like to take a shower. I like when there is someone knocking but then they go away. I like candy a lot. I like going to movies by myself or with other people. I like kicking Ryan Call in the head. I like entering. I like, um, going for a run if there is going to be an old woman walking her very small dog in my way. I like to put cheese on pretzels and then leave it sitting. I like to leave. I like to come back. I like to look at a piece of paint under my head.
8) Word association game with words from the first book I blindly pulled from my bookshelf, The Collected Stories of Peter Taylor. Okay, now I randomly picked words from the titles of the stories. Type whatever word or some text that comes to mind:
Pilgrims = James Brown cooch pants
Drugstore = Dogs are going to look
1939 = 20 20 is a tv show
Heads = A brandy and a spinach teeter totter
Spinster = I hate this
Fancy = Nancy + I feel bad that I said I hate this, but that's what I really thought
9) Don't feel bad.