I listen to Marc Maron’s podcast called WTF two to three times a week. He interviews comedians mostly but also all sorts of creative types including musicians (Keith Richards and James Taylor were two particularly good recent installments), playwrites, writers, actors, visual artists, record producers, magazine editors and screenwriters. Besides his quirky “I’m an asshole” style – which I find fascinating – he talks to people for 60-90 minutes a shot usually in his garage in LA and tends to go deep into family history to see if he can figure out what makes people tick creatively – of course all filtered through his own neurotic lens. He does not do short interviews. Oh yeah he recently interviewed Obama.
His interview with Annie Baker a Pulitzer prize-winning playwriter, on 10/12 was an interesting one. I found her mostly annoying but I also thought she had some thought-provoking things to say about writing that I was mostly able to hear through my own annoyance. She said she couldn’t write about her life or the people she knew because it was too close to home – that she needed distance from them. Maron’s comedy is mainly derived from his family and those he knows with no distance from his version of the truth whatsoever so the contrast was interesting.
It made me think about the old trope, ‘write what you know.’ I believe everyone writes from what they know (how could you not, it has to come from somewhere in you, right?), only some distance themselves from it to some degree and some don’t. As an example, in the book I’m writing now I had the following in mind:
When I was 13 I saw a guy put a hit on a bully in the hall right down from my locker. I believe I was the only witness. The bully’s name was Brad and he stole kids lunches in the hall, tipped their books onto the floor, and burned their lockers – you know, the usual. He stole my lunch once. I can still picture him running down the hall, meat loaf sandwich-stained lunch-bag in tow, his long hair flying in the air behind him as he ran past. He was left-back-one-year big. I didn’t have him in any classes but I knew him. We all did. He set fire to my friend’s locker two or three times a week, every week. He never got caught but we all knew he was the one who did it.
I played football with the guy who ‘hit’ him . His name was Michael. He was big, quiet, and scared people just by walking into a room. We both played linebacker on the football team, me the small blitzing LB, him the hulking plug-up-the-hole LB. We never talked.
One day I heard someone paid him $20 to put a ‘hit’ on Brad. The hit consisted of running into Brad and throwing him against the wall, punching him in the face and ribs. I saw it. Michael took him out quickly and efficiently without saying a word, then he left. I left too. As teachers arrived I slipped down the stairs.
I started this book 9 years ago with this scene in my head, and the scene of the protagonist in the principle’s office right after Michael takes Brad out, on paper. The protagonist refuses to tell the principal what he saw happen. The novel starts with this question and one step away from the reality of what occurred. The scene was three pages, maybe 500 words.
So to me everything happens from real life only the characters, as they come to life on the page and in my head, change things. They distance themselves from what happened to some degree, some of the time.
Here’s a few of my recent favorite WTF interviews:
I was on 7th Avenue and 24th Street, just come out of Whole Foods. It was late fall and cool, a breeze ruffling hair, skirts, jackets, and pant legs. I gazed down at the corner while I stepped off, next to a sewer drain clogged with cups from Smoothie King and Subway, then up at the oncoming traffic. There was a moment then, with a lull in traffic, nobody in sight, though cars down-stream were fading away and cars up-stream were slowly heading our way. I was about to cross when from the center of a manhole cover not ten feet from me, emerged a rat. It was not a mouse, I was sure of it. It was too big, too much haunch and teeth, maybe a full foot long, not including tail.
It squeezed itself out of the impossibly small hole and flopped onto the street surface, gasping.
I stepped back onto the curb instinctually. Nobody else seemed to see it.
It’s leg was smashed to a bloody pulp and it dragged itself a foot or so towards me. It looked at me and whispered, “Edgaaaard. Edgaaaard.” I heard the word from where I stood.
Then it turned toward the oncoming traffic and stared a moment. I saw the cars coming with my peripheral vision. My mouth dropped open. Realization seemed to dawn on the rat and it’s mouth dropped open too. It’s eyes widened. Then it tried to run towards the other side of the road. It should have come towards me. The distance was shorter. Maybe it was panic that made it choose wrong. Maybe it was something else. It could not move fast as its back leg was useless.
The first car ran over it but it still lived. The second car struck it on a low hanging bumper and flipped it into the air. Then a cab hit it and I heard a crunching sound as bones broke. Then the body seemed to disappear.
Pedestrians around me continued to walk and talk around me, heading into Bombay Gardens for lunch or hauling Whole Foods bags full of groceries back to their apartments or jobs. I put on my driving glasses and looked for blood stains from my perch on the curb. There were none. When the light changed I crossed the street but stopped at the manhole cover. There was a small patch of fur next to the opening attached to a strip of flesh. I shivered, shook my head, and went back to work.
I have not forgotten the look on that rat’s face nor the way it emerged from the underground. It’s been five years and I still remember vividly, as if it happened yesterday.
That’s a true story.
All except for the word, Edgard.
I couldn’t help myself. I had to add that in.
If you haven’t read my interview of EJ Patten – From Wargarous to Monocles at Gotteenfiction, check out part IV, the final episode in the four-part series.
Happy Thursday, Edgaaard.
If you haven’t had a chance to take a look at my interview of EJ Patten, author of Return to Exile – one of my favorite books of last year. I tried to think of what would make for a different interview and come up with this more in-depth format. I think you’ll like it. EJ is a fascinating writer with some interesting things to say about life, writing, monocles, and wargarous. Here’s some book trailers from his site and a song to my favorite character, Phineas Pimiscule. PS: Book Two. The Legend Thief comes out in the late fall… Oh yeah, he asks me questions too.
The interview is on GotTeenFiction.