AN INTERVIEW WITH GREG EVERETT, AUTHOR OF SCREAMING AT A WALL, ASSOCIATE EDITOR, NEWTOPIA MAGAZINE, OWNER, GRUNDLEINK PUBLICATIONS
"And drugs are definitely an easy answer to the dangerous lack of stimuli most teenagers and college students experience. There's nothing going on intellectually or even emotionally. Drugs and alcohol provide some kind of fucked up chemical stimulation that doesn't really take the place of intellectual and emotional stimuli, but it fills the void and obscures the need for those genuine stimuli, leaving people experientially retarded and never realizing their full potential."
By Charles Shaw
COPYRIGHT © 2002, 3 A.M. MAGAZINE. ALL RIGHTS
Screaming at a Wall is an uncensored and realistic glance into young life, the antithesis of current teenage pop culture. It's the story of a kid growing up and all the trouble he gets into, like drug addiction and dysfunctional relationships, and how he escapes the traps and finds the inspiration he needs. And the kid happens to be Greg Everett.
Much like Henry Miller's main protagonist was "Henry Miller", Everett's fiction is more like Miller's "Fact-ion", an amalgam of real-life experiences with real life people thinly veiled just enough to avoid liability, but certainly not so much that the players can't recognize themselves and their idiocy. Yes, most of what Everett chronicles is idiocy, and he has a stunning grasp of the concept. What is most striking about Everett's prose is it's quality. He is quite simply an excellent writer. Considering he began Screaming at 19 and published it at 21 makes it even more astounding. He has a command of the art and craft I have not seen from anyone as young since Ellis released Less Than Zero back in 1985. You might even say Screaming at a Wall is like a new millennium Less than Zero set in the Sprawl, without the money, power, influence and glamour. So, basically it's just kids, their genitals, the drugs they take, the dramas they make, and the moronic things they say.
The experience of reading Screaming at a Wall is an exercise in amusing frustration. The unaffected repetition harkens a sort of monosyllabic Mamet play without the subtext, or maybe just entirely subtext. You find yourself getting exhausted reading page after page of teenagers droning on and on about the same things, passing back and forth interchangeable faces, going back and forth between interchangeable places. And just when you're about to say "all right, Greg, I get it, man…" Everett will jump ship on the setting and spiral off into this typical ADHDian moment of clarity that just leaves you gaping.
"It's like a voice you can't hear, pulling hands you can't feel. They know you name. They always know where to find you. They tell you what you want to hear until you can't hear yourself anymore. They push you into the corner and laugh when you crumble and slide down the wall, when you can't hide anymore, when you give in and let yourself slip away. You wrap your arms around your knees and watch your hands tremble in the fading light. It won't let you go. It won't let you stop. You search the mirror for someone you know, but all you find is a cold distance and eyes that have lost all their tears. You fall back into the only arms that never pulled away and left you shivering in the grey rain. You shake with your restless heart and try to blink the world from your eyes. They always leave you because you always leave them. You turn your back and slip into the shadows. You run without ever taking a step, stumbling into your blind desperation. You lose yourself in yourself and grasp at the fleeting escapes, but your fingers only close around the sinking emptiness and pull you further away. You need more, you need it right now, forever. You always need more. It's never enough."
This passage is about so many things. But really it's about cocaine, and there is one thing you should understand about cocaine: If true evil exists, it made cocaine.
The message imbedded in that passage is universal, but you have to know what I'm talking about to fully appreciate the totality of that passage. People don't understand drugs anymore, they've become mythic, larger than life, archetypal. Underneath all that is the truth: Most drugs can be managed in moderation; Cocaine can never be moderated. It consumes your whole existence, and after you quit it decimates your life for years. People who haven't done it ask what it is about cocaine, what does it feel like. None of these people will ever do cocaine, because now at least we know better and coke has been totally driven off the tabletop and back into the dark. But I can't describe it, I can only say, "If it can make people do the horrendous things they do for it, you have to assume it is unimaginably good." Everett's description is as close to the real thing as I have seen.
Most importantly, though-because this is not a drug book, it is a book where drugs are a character-Screaming at a Wall symbolizes the teenage attention span. Rapid cycles of the same conversations and confrontations punctuated by the fairly regular extended diatribe or interior monologue. It is within these intermittent ejaculations of clarity or rumination that he is at his best.
You may consider it no major feat for a young man to write a novel. But consider the fact that he not only wrote a good novel (something distinctly more difficult) but that it is his fifth novel. Add to that the fact that he started his own publishing company and self-published seven books, all of whom bear no credible distinction from their counterparts on the shelf from Vintage, Penguin or Knopf, except the obvious, which is that there are substantially more shelves for his counterparts books than his. And he does all this while allegedly pursuing a college degree (almost there) and working as a bicycle specialist (yes there is too a job called bicycle specialist). "Greverett" is really an amazing guy.
I mean, he's a petulant, sarcastic little shit as well. I should know, he works with me too. We decided to work together after I had read his book. . I was that impressed. Yes, I'm serious, he's that good. He's of that few that belong in the emerging circle of Early Internet age writers, the first generation of writers that have augmented the ever-reducing amount of available print exposure with greater amounts of unique and equivocal work on the Web: HP Tinker, Garth Buckner, Kimberly Nichols, D.A. Blyler, Andrew Gallix, Joel Schalit, D. Harlan Wilson, and a slew of other names the mainstream has yet to embrace. These people you read twice. Everett you read twice. I shudder to think what he'll write when he's 35, 45, 50. Some of us still favor a long career with an author rather than being over-saturated with one in too short a period of time. But nurturing talent goes against market presence. And yet writers like these need to evolve, and that only happens over time.
Last month me and Everett road tripped to the Underground Publishing Conference that Clamor hosted at Bowling Green University. Can you picture two former cocaine hounds, ten years apart, in a car for six hours, then trapped in Bowling Green Ohio for three days? It was like The Big Kahuna where three loudmouthed salesmen are trapped in a Tulsa motel room for a weekend waiting to "make the big sale". But we survived (although I don't really endorse going to Ohio), and emerged ready to launch a magazine, an altogether greater feat considering we don't have two buffalo-head nickels to rub together.
But this is 3am Magazine, so all that you are really interested in, and what you really need to know about Greg Everett, is that he is a prodigiously talented young author with more potential than common sense and a penchant for succulent irreverence. You need to read no further than the first few pages, which contain a Dedication, an Undedication, Acknowledgements, Unacknowledgements, Preface, Introduction, and Prologue. This is some funny shit, but what makes it noteworthy is that through twenty off pages you have a sort of indoctrination to the mind of the narrator before ever stepping into a scene with him. You and he are able to sync yourselves within the context of today's world, and then proceed into his. I respect Greg Everett because he has balls, because he crafts lean, immaculate prose, and because he gives a shit., something antithetical to the MTV Generation.
I highly recommend Screaming at a Wall¸ although I suggest you only approach its author with great caution.
3AM: In Screaming at a Wall, you chronicle the adolescence of a young man, yourself, and the interactions he has with his "peers." I qualify "peers" by explaining that in truth "Greg" acts as if he doesn't really have peers, but rather that these other youths around him are of another category altogether. Where does this feeling come from?
GE: It came from the fairly constant feeling of dislocation and alienation I've always had. More importantly, it came from my being too aware of myself to slip into the crowd. If you define "peer" in terms other than age, I never thought I had any peers, especially when I was a teenager.
When I was getting into drugs and no one else was, they thought I was fucked up. A few years later, when I was trying to get clean and everyone else was starting to use drugs, they thought I was fucked up. I was always a step off the trail at all times, and it makes it hard to slide along without constantly getting tripped up and falling completely out of line.
Sometimes that feeling of separation comes off as arrogance, which I think shows up in Screaming at a Wall, where at least to me it's obviously sarcastic. To be honest, I think at times I did have somewhat of an elitist attitude. When you're staying clean, but have to watch everyone you know stumble around and do all the stupid shit you know you've done yourself, you can't help but elevate yourself over them.
But I think that comes more out of knowing I had been there, I still was there, that I wasn't different, that I wasn't better, and hating myself because of it. So the knee-jerk emotional reaction is to assume some stoic untouchable stance that lets you believe you're stronger than they are, which is really only letting yourself believe you can beat your own weakness.
3AM: The predominant motif in this book is the massive use of drugs by your generation as what seems to be a placebo for intense boredom and disaffection, almost so much so that the drugs appear to be a metaphor for stimuli, or the craving for stimuli. What was your intention with this, and why is it such a prevalent theme?
GE: I didn't have a conscious intention with it. It's in there as a primary theme of the book because the book is a record of my life and my life consisted of heavy drug abuse for a few years.
I do make the point at least once in Screaming at a Wall that my friends and I didn't do much more than go to school, work, fuck, and use drugs. I didn't get to fuck enough, so I had to make up for it with more drugs.
I guess we were bored, but it was never really recognized as boredom. I know for myself, and I think for a lot of my old friends and other teenagers, there's a lot of social insecurity and a real lack of ability to interact on any kind of genuine level. But add alcohol and drugs to a situation, and everyone's best friends. I still see it everywhere. I don't think I've seen a sober conversation between college students last more than an awkward five minutes, excluding conversations about last night's binges. But get those people yanked, and they'll talk for hours.
And drugs are definitely an easy answer to the dangerous lack of stimuli most teenagers and college students experience. There's nothing going on intellectually or even emotionally. Drugs and alcohol provide some kind of fucked up chemical stimulation that doesn't really take the place of intellectual and emotional stimuli, but it fills the void and obscures the need for those genuine stimuli, leaving people experientially retarded and never realizing their full potential.
3AM: Why is your generation so apathetic? Why do they act so put upon and put out by having to do anything? What is with the intense sarcasm when, in truth, they're really too young and naïve to understand much of anything, especially how the world really works and the hardships of trying to make one's way?
GE: It's not just my generation that's apathetic. It's the entire non-conservative-Republican demographic. Collectively we allowed George W. Bush into the Whitehouse illegally, and we're allowing him to remain there.
And really what do you expect of my generation and those younger in a corporate country that force-feeds us all the same art, the same music, the same fashion, the same culture, the same everything? On top of that, domestic and international problems are just multiplying and becoming so thoroughly overwhelming that it's difficult to not just say fuck it and slip into complacency.
This last presidential election was a perfect example of why my generation is apathetic. If a little bitch like Bush can get into the Whitehouse without even being voted in, why the fuck should they vote? Look at the direction the world, and particularly this country, is headed. Too many of us just feel like it's too out of control. And what's easier? Getting involved and being active in politics, or watching MTV while you drink shitty domestic beer and have sloppy sex with every single girl at your high school? It's difficult to not be complacent and apathetic when everything you see and hear tells you that you should be.
3AM: Now that you are in your early twenties, what, if anything, has changed in your view of this particular theme you write so prevalently about?
GE: My views on everything have changed drastically in the last year or two. I completely cut myself off from any kind of social interaction and drug use when I was 18, and spent almost 3 years in an isolated experience vacuum. I maintained this attitude that I could never allow myself to be around people and their bullshit social habits, which helped me stay clean. But I've loosened up a lot lately and actually talk to a couple people on occasion. I'm still pretty asocial, but not to the point of being emotionally damaging like in the past.
I've actually been with my girlfriend (Taylor in Screaming at a Wall) for almost a year, which is ten times longer than any other relationship I've ever had. She's the first girl who's ever heard me say, "I love you." That's a big change in lifestyle and perspective right there. I used to fuck whoever showed up at my door and then walk away when I got a bored a couple weeks later.
I'm moving out of the hood and into a house in October, which demarcates a big shift in my perspective. I used to believe I had to suffer to be legitimate, the feeling that kept me living in complete shit holes with nothing but cardboard boxes and milk crates for furniture for so long. Now I know I don't have to torture myself, but I'm still pretty low-rent and really don't like excessive living accessories. I have shitty furniture, like a coffee table made of milk crates and a sheet of plywood and a free broken futon couch, but they do the job and I don't need anything more.
I don't buy shit other than music, because I constantly need music or I'll lose my fucking mind, and sometimes movies and books for additional stimulation. I wear white undershirts and uniform pants every day and don't feel any desire to buy anything else. I figure I'm all right living in a decent house in a decent part of town as long as I stay humble.
So really what's changed is my attitude. I'm finding a balance between the extremes I've been at. And my blood pressure is actually back within safe limits.
3AM: What do you think is the biggest disadvantage or detriment facing kids today? And while you are discussing that, can you comment on the role of Pop Culture in the lives of American youth today?
GE: The biggest disadvantage or detriment is American Pop Culture. Masses of otherwise intelligent kids with endless potential are being fucking ruined by MTV and its associated corporate media dumb-machines. We're being overwhelmed by a constant blanket of tepid, mediocre, conservative bullshit called "art" or "music". It's hard to escape it.
The pop-culture machine is consuming everything, and it only spits out one voice, one opinion, and one perspective, which are being absorbed and internalized and then of course regurgitated by the crowds of 15-25 year-olds who aren't even given an opportunity to experience real art or music.
Fred Durst and Puff Daddy, or whatever the fuck that wanker calls himself now, are a couple of the most disgusting examples of the completely out of control marketing monster that's killing off all the real artists and creating a total cultural vacuum that can be easily filled by whatever talentless but well-promoted flavor the machine decides we will like and buy for now.
We're being subjected to continual excessive exposure of certain key individuals in the mainstream media, or really, the medium, exposed to their alleged lifestyles and fashion and other personal accessories, and over time these things seem real, and we unconsciously imitate them. That's why 15-25 all look the same, talk the same, dress the same, smell the same, and taste the same.
That's also why 15-25 year-olds' brains are atrophying to the point of mental retardation. On a research exam last year, the majority of graduating seniors at Stanford University didn't even know within a 50 year period when the American Civil War was fought, but they sure as fuck knew who Britney Spears and all the other little interchangeable pop culture parts were.
3AM: You are one of the few people your age to start such a complicated venture as your own publishing company. So far you have released seven books, most written by yourself, while most people your age are still in college or wandering aimlessly, still living off their parents. How did Grundle Ink come about, and how do you feel about your experience thus far, and the fact that other young people have hardly done anything to compare?
GE: Grundle Ink was basically a product of self-doubt, confidence, isolation and its associated free time, and residual drug-induced brain damage. When I was 18, I finished my first book, which I later recognized as a complete piece of shit and rewrote, and had this need to get those words in front of eyes other than my own.
I had no idea how the publishing business worked, so after short and random series of failed manuscript submissions, I decided it would be a good idea to just hand-bind copies of the book, which is a horrible and tedious process involving a lot of contact cement fumes that probably eliminated any brain cells I still had. Those books didn't really get me anywhere, but I was still inspired by mild psychotic delusions produced by aforementioned brain damage, so eventually I made the company legal and immediately published two of my own books. Now I've got 7 books out, 2 by writers other than myself, and I'm losing even greater sums of money.
I have mixed feelings about the experience. Sometimes it's just such a fucking drag watching my money burn up while Fred Durst gets even richer making the same bullshit song over and over again and acting hard when he's a complete herbert. But enough of the time I stay inspired and know I'm doing something I need to do. Publishing is probably the worst, most financially suicidal business I could have chosen, but I didn't go into it for business's sake. I went into it because I was writing books I knew would be ignored by mainstream media, and I wasn't willing to compromise.
I wanted complete control over my own work. I wanted to determine everything from content to appearance to promotion. I can put out a book that contains the word "fuck" 656 times, has half an ounce of cocaine on the cover, and openly ridicules George W. Bush and other pieces of shit. And I wanted to provide that freedom of expression to other young, unknown writers who are ignored by conventional publishers.
I don't want to play games with other companies and conform to their standards, which tend to be safe and comfortable and produce some really shitty books. With it being my own company and my own financial risk, I can put out books I love and really believe in, not books some anonymous, functionally illiterate suit thinks have market potential.
I'm not willing to compromise my work or myself by conforming to conservative cultural or corporate standards or markets. I'm not willing to write what I'm told should be written, and I'm not willing to conduct business along the guidelines of obsolete and meaningless traditions and practices. I don't accept criticism from conservative religious wankers, like one who recently told me by email my publishing company looked like "the dirty corner of a frat house" and that I needed to clean up my act and get serious. Well I am serious. And I like the word fuck, I like my middle fingers, and I intend to use them as I please. I don't do these things simply for the sake of being profane or obscene. I do them because they are real and pure and honest. I'm not prepared to compromise and let anyone take that freedom of expression away from me.
As far as being an exception to the rule among my generation, one of the things I'm trying to accomplish with Grundle Ink, and one of the points I made in Screaming at a Wall, is that I don't have to be an exception. I'm trying to encourage some action and some passion, inspire my generation to step up and take control. They've got all the potential I did, and seeing as I have no real skill or talent, I'm sure the majority of them could do a hell of a lot more than I have.
3AM: What's your take on our "President" and the current state of affairs in America?
GE: I don't have a president. There's a borderline mentally retarded piece of shit in the Oval Office, but he isn't there legally, and I sure as fuck didn't vote for the guy.
I was asked in another interview last week what I thought of when I heard the word "Bush". My answer: Total global destruction. Whether by war or the Bush administration's fundamentalist Christian imperialism, which are inherently connected.
That guy is just bad news. George W. Bush is the ultimate representation of everything that's wrong with this country. He's in office illegitimately, his policies are bringing the world back to the stone age in the arenas of civil liberties and social equality, and everything else about him and his politics is disgusting, insulting, and completely fucked in every way. This is a guy who said it's not unconstitutional to say "one nation under God" in the pledge of allegiance because our rights came from God. He's an incredibly poor excuse for a human being, let alone a president.
His associates, like John Ashcroft, are easily the most dangerous individuals in the world. They're pushing their fundamentalist-Christian-women-pregnant-in-the-kitchen-with-their-mouths-shut-and-their-legs-spread-rich-white-man-dominating-the-world-of-minority-slaves agenda, which is conveniently obscured and out of the spotlight because of this "war on terrorism", which is neither a legitimate war, or a genuine attempt to eliminate terrorism, but just another issue of oil, money, and Corporate American Imperialism. Fuck that guy and his whole crew.
3AM: You're often dismissed by your detractors as just being negative. Why is that and how do you fight it?
GE: I'm not negative. I just point out negative things. That's not the same thing. There are a lot of people out there who want to breeze through their lives with a smile on their faces because they're "positive". If you're happy because you're ignoring the truth, you're not positive, you're just stupid. You can still be positive while pointing out negative things by figuring out a way to change them and taking according action. Being negative means you just find the worst in everything and complain about it just for the sake of being negative. I point out the negative because it apparently needs to be brought to a lot of people's attentions, and I don't often point out the positive, because everyone knows it already. Calling me negative is just an easy way to dismiss me and pretend what I'm saying isn't true. Too many people just don't want to hear it. They don't want to know it if it threatens their imagined stability and security. I'm just not willing to walk through life smelling the roses when there's someone in front of me smearing shit on the sidewalk.
3AM: What advice would you give to young writers?
GE: Write. The best way to improve is to do it. Over time you'll find your own style and your own rules.
In terms of technical advice, you can go to the Grundle Ink website at www.grundleink.com for our writer resources, which include rules and examples of proper manuscript format. Get a book about grammar to learn proper English so you're able to use it when necessary. If you're submitting work to publishers or magazines and your cover letter or first page of manuscript has even a few grammatical errors, editors are going to immediately be turned off. You have to know the rules so you can know how and when to break them.
And in terms of real advice, write what you want to write. What you need to write. Have an audience in mind, but never allow that audience to sway your content or style. Writing is a tough business, and you can't expect to make money. Your primary objectives should be expressing yourself, and if you believe what you have to say needs to be heard, trying to get your voice out there to the crowds.
3AM: What are you doing these days?
GE: Ordering Chinese food. And working on promotion for Screaming at a Wall and Grundle Ink; kind of writing two more books and two more screenplays; begging for any kind of media attention; associate editing, webmastering, and writing a column for Newtopia Magazine; working at a bike shop again and getting dirty; going to college and not really paying attention; watching Law & Order with my girlfriend and hoping for marathons; picking up heavy things and putting them back down again; hating George W. Bush and trying not to vomit on the couch every time I see his stupid fucking mug; not sleeping enough; and too many other things to discuss.
3AM: Tell us about Newtopia Magazine. I hear the Chief Editor is a real pill.
GE: Newtopia Magazine has the potential to be the single greatest and most powerful online sociopolitical magazine in existence, primarily because of my involvement, but also because of its format and style. It's very interactive and allows readers to voice their beliefs and opinions openly and honestly, as well as be exposed to voices from a wide range of the political and social spectrum.
I'll be doing a regular column called Tap Water in which I'll use my mediocre writing talent and plainly juvenile style to express my opinions on whatever the fuck I happen to be thinking about at the time I write it.