Being Scott McClanahan
Scott McClanahan interviewed by Andrew Worthington.
3:AM: I love the cover of Stories V! It is a woman in a pose. She is wearing a purple bra and purple panties. Who is she?
Scott McClanahan: Actually it’s a man. Or, maybe it’s a woman. I’ve told so many lies about that cover over the past couple of months that I’m having a hard time keeping it straight myself. I was told by some “new puritans” and some graduate students that it’s a “misogynistic” image though. Maybe it is. Of course, when it comes to people I always follow the Marky Mark philosophy on growing mushrooms, “Feed em shit and keep em in the dark.” So actually it’s just a really hot man. I mean I don’t think there’s anything wrong with lust and desire. Lust and desire are the reasons why the world exists. I’m really glad the world exists.
3:AM: The covers of your books are all distinct and eye-catching. How did you choose the covers for your books?
SM: Yeah, the covers feel real personal to me. For instance, the first cover is a mugshot of my grandfather Elgie from the 30s. He had just been arrested for beating up a cop over some illegal alcoholic beverages he was selling out of the back of his truck. He spent three months in jail for the beating, but he was actually only sentenced to two months (I guess beating up a cop wasn’t such a big deal in the 30s). He stayed the extra month because they were feeding him so well.
3:AM: Damn. Has your family lived in West Virginia for several generations?
SM: I have that black Irish blood running through my veins – so, yeah, like most of us, we’ve been here for about 150 years. The first McClanahan of my bloodline that I can find in West Virginia is from 1872. The census has categories for age, height, weight, and then employment. Under employment it says, None. Things never change! I have some Swiss blood in me too, and that’s good because I’m not into this whole idea of dying young thing. I’m not dying at 25 (with all apologies to that fake Mr. Bowie). I plan on living until I’m 756, and I mean that. I see myself surrounded by 5,000 children, 10,000 grand-children – a goddamn paterfamilias if you will. I’m ready to be an amazing old man.
3:AM: Speaking of alcohol: there’s drinking and bars in your book, but have you ever lived in a dry area? I’ve been to dry areas in Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Kentucky. Why do you think there are so many dry areas in Appalachia?
SM: No, I never have. I’m not sure why counties ban it, except most of the time you feel so helpless in this life. I think telling somebody ‘no’ makes you feel a little less dead. Our culture has a weird fascination with this type of junk – exercise, diet, healthy living, 12 step programs, keys to financial health, etc. It makes me think of a Peter O’Toole story. They asked him he ever thought about exercising. He said, “No. The only exercise I get is at funerals following the coffins of my dead friends who loved to exercise.”
3:AM: On Facebook you said your new novel is called Crapalachia, but the excerpt that was published at BombBlog says its called Hill William. Can you elaborate, both on the former title and why there’s two different titles?
SM: No, they’re two different novels. I don’t even know what a novel is really, but I’m calling them novels. I really think they’re more like “books.” Hill William is for the ladies, and (like Wu Tang) Crapalachia is for the children.
3:AM: Stories V almost felt like a novel. Each story seemed to come from the same first-person narrator and the setting was the same town. And yet, like your two other books, it’s called Stories. Did you intentionally hope to distort classfications for fiction based on length, plot, etc.? Do you like writers like De Quincey, Kundera, and Noah Cicero who write relatively short form semi-autobiographical fiction that blurs lines of novel/novella/stories and fiction/non-fiction?
SM: Um, I’m not sure about intention or wanting to distort something. I just want to get to a place where my inner becomes my outer. I think I’m almost there. It’s much more interesting trying to be Emma Bovary than yourself. Most people are just trying to be “writers.” I don’t know of a more boring pursuit in this world. I know a shit ton of them, and the majority of them are just loathsome. To know them is to loathe them. I love the writers you mentioned though. Cicero is a peach. Thomas de Quincey is one of the greatest writers ever, and Kundera is one of the few contemporary writers who can write in third person and not make you want to catch the “ebola” virus. Kundera’s collection Laughable Loves is one of the great books of stories of the last century. The Joke and The Book of Laughter and Forgetting are fucking alive man. Also, I find myself wanting to sleep with Milan Kundera. Do you hear me Milan? I want to sleep with you. There is no such thing as good writers or bad writers – only writers you want to sleep with.
3:AM: You’ve done some film work with Holler Presents. Have you ever considered trying to make a film for one of your stories? Your story ‘Chapter from a Book I Will Start Writing in 2012’ was one of several that I felt could be visually stunning on screen, with the nurse who can’t find the fat kid’s penis. I guess it might be hard to find an actor for the latter part, at least, though.
SM: Yeah, we’ve talked about it. I really like what Riley Michael Parker and Marika Haskins did with their Chelsea Martin film. Actually, finding a fat actor without a penis may be the easiest part of that film. It would take some balls for someone to do it, but having balls is overrated. I want people in my life who have big ovaries.
3:AM: I don’t know if I agree with what you said earlier about the idea of being a “writer”. I have always wanted to be a writer because the entire concept of “occupation” seems pointless, and being a writer seemed to almost be a “middle-finger” to the entire idea that a person should be identified by their job. You know what I mean? Also, if you don’t consider yourself a writer what do you consider yourself?
SM: No, I don’t really know what you mean. I guess I would consider myself Scott McClanahan. I’m much more interested in people who are trying to be human beings. It’s the wildest and most outrageous and radical thing left in this world – being human. Sadly, our numbers are decreasing rapidly. John Updike was a writer. Samuel Pepys was just Samuel Pepys. That’s why Samuel Pepys is the shit and John Updike is just the remnant of fart. Rod Stewart is a singer. John Lennon is just John Lennon, and that’s why he is John Lennon. That’s why he is an amazing singer. I’m not a writer, I’m just Scott McClanahan. I’m just trying to be Scott McClanahan.
3:AM: What is your writing process like? I write from exhaustion or boredom a lot, but I always hear stories saying the great authors wrote when they first woke up in the morning. Do you write early and late in the day, or neither really?
SM: I don’t think I have a process. I guess most writers are lying when they babble on about their process. It would be like talking about how you pray or make love. You don’t really think about it, you just do it. You do it because you’re infected with it. I just write when I want, and I write what I want. I think I was a really bad writer when I worried about process. Of course, maybe I’m still a really bad writer. I think people should quit trying so hard. I haven’t tried hard in years. It’s like people who say that relationships are hard work. No, they’re not. Maybe if you’re in a bad one.
3:AM: Do you have hope as a writer? Or as a person in general? I feel you do, at least as a person.
SM: No, I’m pretty full of hopelessness too. I think that’s probably what makes this life so much fun. People with hope eventually think they’re going to win a Publisher’s Clearing House Sweepstakes or something. I know better though. I have nothing to lose. I’m just made of flesh, and flesh rots. I don’t have shit. I’ve been through some real hells, and I still wake up every morning thankful for lungs and my heart and that I can go and eat a whole bucket of chicken at KFC. Of course, I may be thinking about suicide in the middle of that bucket of chicken, but this life is pretty damn amazing. That doesn’t mean I’m going to rattle on about hopelessness and boredom all of the time. What the hell is there to be bored about? There are babies to be held, old women to help across the street, drugs to be had, alcohol to be consumed, women and men to have sex with, curses to place upon people who have wronged you. I don’t know if it’s hope. I think it’s just called breathing.
3:AM: Any last proclamations for the people reading this?
SM: Don’t follow leaders and watch the parking meters.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Andrew Worthington is a writer. He lives in New York. He exists on the Internet at http://fuckingbigthoughts.blogspot.com/.
First published in 3:AM Magazine: Tuesday, December 27th, 2011.