Alec Niedenthal interviews Rudy Wilson
[Please welcome once again the incredible Alec Niedenthal, our to-be next Giant, herein talking language in a quite incredible Facebook-based interview with Rudy Wilson. Enjoy. – BB]
I have Blake’s original post on the book, and Peter Markus’s write-up on the same, to thank for running me into Rudy Wilson’s masterful and wildly original The Red Truck. Or, I guess, for running The Red Truck into me. If I’m remembering right, after one or two editions on Knopf, The Red Truck stayed out of print until Ravenna Press reprinted it earlier this year alongside Wilson’s new collection, Sonja’s Blue. The Red Truck is Lish-edited. Lish cut about two-hundred pages out of the book and carve(re)d the sentences to his liking. Blah blah blah. The result–though I’m quite confident that the original manuscript has the same beating heart–is haunting, colorful, relentlessly strange; The Red Truck has a light and sinister southern music very much its own. This kind of writing, to me, counteracts the sordid history of the South; it is evil confronted by the sleeping noise of a brain-fucked boy (though a girl does eventually narrate, there is really no differentiation between voices), by the rhythm of his throat. Not dissimilar to Peter Markus’s boy-based songs, The Red Truck is the record of a boy shrouding violence in his sound.
Here are two short selections from The Red Truck, and then an interview I did with Rudy on, um, Facebook chat. Yes, Rudy Wilson is a Knopf guy, and I interviewed him on Facebook chat. Well well, twenty-first century, looks like you’ve won.
“I remembered a day with my father and Ned and me, a day in the park where the white ducks walked in their green grass. We walked up near the merry-go-round. Ned and I had new crewcuts and new sunglasses. The ducks were so white. They crawled with orange feet and the sky was blue. That morning we made a record for my mother in a studio. My dad held me up to the sun. He looked at me. The bright yellow was blocked by my new round head. He looked at my face. He held me.”
“When Mama K died, the things in her pale room had a new line of silence around them. I felt smaller and colder in there. I lay on her bed and cried. The tears went into the white cotton bumps on her bedspread.
I sat up and watched my face get red and funny-looking in the mirror. The room was so still, and quiet, everything in its place but her. Mama K was up in the cemetery with Ned. I saw tears coming from my tiny-looking eyes that looked darker now. They were hot and my eyelashes got thick, and stuck together. Then there was a fist in my chest. It beat out at me. I squeezed my chest trying to get more air in, to smooth the cries I heard coming out. I gasped out; I moved up and down on Mama K’s bed. My feet barely touched the floor. I bounced, I got light-headed. I bounced harder, and screamed, “Mama K! Mama K!” I bent my neck back and saw the big spots on the old pink ceiling. Now they scared me. They were so cold. They were killers. Then they were just dirty spread-out stains on an old dead woman’s ceiling. I screamed and screamed. I bounced higher toward them and it was hard, very hard, to catch my breath.”
Alec: hi! yes
well..thanks for your appreciation….
Alec: thank you for writing such a great book! it’s actually in my lap right now
Rudy: lol..well thanks i was luck publishing it for sure/
Alec: well, if you want we could do an ad hoc funny interview thing right here over facebook chat, or
i could send you questions via email/facebook message
i’d like to read sonja’s blue before the interview, but is it even out yet?
Rudy: well i admit i type badly!! and spell badly but well….hmmm here is ok maybe but it won’t look good or if I correct a lot
yes to sonja’s blue…id love you to read and get yr real opinion
Alec: yeah, i can’t wait to read it, still have to order it
Rudy: the books were supposedlty NOW being sent to orders as of dec 9th…so anytime now…
Alec: i actually haven’t even ordered it yet but i’m going to get on that now, if it isn’t on backorder already
Rudy: thanks.. it’s a collection of short fiction btw…2-3 novel excerpts, none from Red Truck. u might like it
Alec: yeah i really want to read that story that was in the paris review
Rudy: i hate that backorder email people get! i sent like 1000 emails out 10 days ago and got so many people saying they were asked if they wanted to CANCEL! not a marketting dream.
thanks bad title originally though, IMPRESSIONS…. lish hated that.. it was my first real story… maybe 3rd i really wrote.. again.. luck
Alec: jesus! yeah, i got that email but immediately ordered it from ABEbooks
did lish edit that story?
Rudy: good thanks. i hope it gets together soonest!
Alec: it’s great that you’re still in contact with him, i know he can be a bit surly and unpredictable.
Rudy: no he never had that story…he published and didnt edit another story in 88, then called HORSIE-CHILD OF MINE. he re-titiled it Cake!?
Alec: hahaha, amazing!
retitled it, geez, that guy
Rudy: he wanted to call it MEAT! so we compromised on CAKE. it was in the quarterly etc.
yes he was very opinionated and yet kind.. i heard from him.. hmm maybe a year ago, a short post card… about his work or something…he’s still teaching workshops…
Alec: that’s what i hear. you said he told you that you haven’t changed enough, or something? has he read the stuff from sonja’s blue?
Rudy: i published a book called A GIRL NAMED JESUS with Primal Publishing in 2000. i dare you to find it
Alec: yeah all i can find are red truck and sonja’s blue. was that one a novel?
Rudy: i think he may have read most of the stoties. that’s a good question, hmmm. 7 or 8 were published elsewhere. and no, the novel excerpts were from 2 other novels he never read as he was long gone from Knopf.
Girl named jesus was a novel.. i like it a lot, but well, the publisher was around for 20 years and after he accepted this one he freaked out one night. i was there, in Boston at a reading, due to an error in printing, and had a literal fight with the printer, i heard, and soon went out of business, maybe sold 300? i don’t know, weird.
the novel GIRL was based on a girl …i was her so-called step-father. a wonderful amazing girl, now 33! hard hard life she had as a girl, etc
i have tried a couple times to get GIRL out there. Random House editor Ann Close..a LONG story, met her in 84! she is still at RH, said she wanted to publish it but her publisher said NO as they were now all about profit! i tried a few times but i think pubs dont like already published books maybe?
Alec: oh man. was the red truck based on autobiographical material?
harper perennial might be into it, did you try them?
Rudy: red truck? hmmm well a lot of the boy’s childhood was real… mama k was my wonderful grandmother in MS, and some details were charater-based but fictional. the feeling maybe, he color/image was autobiographical but the story was fiction.
i might try them
i think most of my work is language based, image/color, sentence, rhythmn etc. the plot is generally not so strong, or obvious. maybe even purposefully obscured or hidden and not overt.
Alec: well yeah, the red truck’s plot isn’t linear, doesn’t walk straight, but that’s what i love about it.
Rudy: thanks. i’d say maybe like 3 people really seem to notice what the book is REALLY ABOUT! LOL! it’s told clearly in a one-page chapter!
Alec: what does working out of language instead of plot do you for you as a writer? what do you get out of writing on the sentence level rather than on the level of narrated events?
Rudy: well for me, the structure, the feel, the syntax, the relationship between sentences, paragraphs, space breaks, etc., are the form, and FORM= CONTENT. I JUST LIKE HOW WORDS WORK TOGETHER, AS IN POETRY and the plot is incidental..i mean look at salinger. he can write about a little girl playing with a dog and make it amazingly eternaly woncerful. a tiny event, it’s the way he expressed it, etc.
sorry bad type, i’m happy u like this..i’m reminded of the whole thing…i enjoyed writing that book…thanks
the best Moments in writing were when my characters and language did it ON their OWN, and i just had to keep up, and teddianne [Note: Teddianne is the peripheral narrator of the novel, and central narrator’s lover.] for example did things i didn’t want her to do. but she chose.
Alec: so narrative, you think, is constitutive of sound? like the characters are strung along by the order, structure, and rhythm of the sentences?
Rudy: well not necessarily. i mean one could write about a bank robbery or murder, straight out, with minmal language use or original wording. just that with original, wonderful language, one creates feelings and deep intuitive insights and emotions i think…
i met a new writer, btw, that writes the most amazingly wonderful, unique sentences and syntax.. u know.. the way she forms and structure etc., and i dont care at all what the story is really about, not one bit! she writes it so well it could be about a bookshelf or a shoe, it’s so well done.
Alec: who is that?
Rudy: her name is Betsy Arant. she’s maybe 25? not too intense about publishing. hasn’t, i don’t think, but I’m trying to get her new work into UNSAID lit. journal edited by david McLendon etc.
i know her uncle and we met etc and somehow she sent me some writing and I loved it and so… she does short shorts like 9 pages but so, so well crafted as if she never had any schooling or influence as it’s so real and original. not uneducated i mean, but just so original, etc.
Alec: oh man, that sounds wonderful! i hope her stuff makes it into unsaid, seems like a good fit.
okay. when you get back, i’d like to ask a few specific questions re: the red truck.
Rudy: strange junkie chick came by. LONG story…LONG…she left…always NEEDS
Alec: oh man, that sounds rough
Rudy: well she’s sweeet and crazy nice but… we met in a weird way… and she doesn’t come around too much… but she’s had a very hard life etc. anwyay that’s not the pt!
it’s not like NYC alleys, small town, sad/etc., so…
lets drop that whole aside! i care for her… just intense
Alec: now, there’s a lot in here about young death, but the voice always narrates around, instead of about, the actual death. so there’s at once a weight and a levity ascribed to death, a presence and an absence. why is that? what is it about death that seems to simultaneously compel and repel you? and could you describe your process as regards writing about death?
Rudy: hmmm lemme think.. haha
Alec: take your time!
Rudy: what just came to me based on yr question was that my childhood died, in some very intense family stuff, at about 13-14, and maybe that’s it. i feel i never grew up much and well, it was a death somewhat, and part of me doesnt really want to be here. well, maybe i look for closure. it’s a good question. there is a lot of young death in RT and in some other books. perhaps fear of aging and life itself. i’m pretty badly self-destructive. badly actually.
Alec: so there’s a sense in which the life you are living, you feel, is not your own?
Rudy: see i didn’t want Teddianne to lay down in the bloody bed or die and well, she did. but she was prolly a cutter and so out of mainstream. you will see more of the likes of her in sonja’s blue for sure.
there are many ‘girls’ that are hurt or self-hurting, or die in my writing, i see that. hmmm, long story.
well the ‘life’ i’m living.. is well not really MY LIFE, just an infinite stream of ISNESS. and i’m in the river and well, i often feel i’m drowning lol, and not doing what I need to really do, and often just wanna be asleep or somewhere else,.. easier! don’t we all?
Alec: i know i certainly do.
Rudy: but i will say on a more positive note, language and good writing is so much fun for me…
lol ‘i certainly dooooo”
good alanis song
Alec: yes, great one! [Note: I have never actually heard the song in question.]
Rudy: u were born in 1990?
Alec: well, let’s take a passage out of the red truck and look at what you’re doing
Alec: yes, embarrassingly enough!
Rudy: ur 19???
it’s good dude…wow at 19 i was on the highway
lol… amazing days and… well
Alec: well i’m not on facebook chat ALL day [Note: I am.]
Rudy: i assume not
i’m here a lot as I’m on the comp a lot so i leave it on etc.
i try and write and edit and etc. have a new book, BLACKOUT, tentatively 800 pages so it needs a lot of editing.
Alec: oh wow, geez! that passage from RT can take a backseat for a second. an 800 page manuscript?
Rudy: u remind me i reallly need to be sending my stuff out more….
Alec: what’s it like? are you going to show it to lish? i bet he’d bite into that one
Rudy: lol, yeah it just came out, took maybe a year. finished it a yr ago and am daunted, but slowly editing
lish! well he might throw it back at me! i’m no real big guy! if McCarthy wrote it! well. have u read THE ROAD?? i havent but hear it’s amazing. i loved his early stuff etc
i think he is an example of major language use
Alec: i’ve only read the road, nothing else by him. i hope to read suttree over the holiday if i can find time
yes, certainly. who else, would you say?
i love the southern writers i admit…all faulkner, eudora welty (lucky to have met her in 1984), and flannery o’comnor, harper lee, cason mccullers. but also wow salinger and the russians
Alec: that much is clear from the red truck, it’s got a great southern music to it
Rudy: thanks well i grew up in a small town in MS until age 10… lucky to get out i think.. to the North
Alec: i’m from alabama–which is where i am now–and definitely agree
Rudy: well it’s different now i’m sure but i loved my early childhood there. dirt roads and dogs and fun…
Alec: not many dirt roads anymore
anyway, the red truck!
now, there’s a lot of “I felt” in the novel. i always try to stay away from the “I felt,” because it seems too easy, but you pull it off deftly; it opens up whatever subject falls under your gaze in a way that’s both poetic and emotive. what attracts you to that kind of language?
Rudy: hmmm, see i havent ‘read’ red truck in awhile… “i feel”… hmmm, just a way in, a way to see the inner life. an easy way to express what the character is really about. maybe too easy, as perhaps it needs to be shown more.
Alec: it’s risky, yeah, it’s definitely a tell-not-show move, but as i said, you pull it off gracefully
Rudy: i wantd to show the inner depths, .the unconscious even. the imagery, even the colors and images and details of real self
Alec: i think it might be bound up in Billy-Billy’s [Note: Billy-Billy Jump is the novel’s central narrator.] peculiar sensibility, his keen access to his “insides.” at least it seems so to me.
Rudy: well thanks but it’s a serious point. i always tell any writer to balance tell-show. it’s so imprtant to show, and not become a journalist but a fiction writer: perhaps i missed the balance…
i’m very self-absorbed… and perhaps i made Billy be that way. he is so self-centered and it’s all about him, really, and his perceptions. he is self-centered due to pain i think and dysfunction and his odd curiosity about life which became Teddianne, as some kind of outer self. maybe he’s a sociopath.
Alec: right. and you’re using a lot of unspecific imagery, like “dark house” and “colors,” but it all jumps out at you–i think it works because of the voice you’ve set up, Billy-Billy’s (and i think his voice echoes down the novel even when he isn’t telling the story).
Rudy: it’s all about his inner life really, almost as if nothing really happens. teddi is a tool, a way for him to connect. he is not functional. he’s an idea really, a wind, a color, an idea. hmm, but some of us live that way, don’t we, hidden and out of the real world?
the NY times called it a long prose poem
Alec: i had never thought about that–that the events of RT are so deeply through the narrator’s lens–whoever he or she is–that they are nothing more than his inner life
Rudy: so it’s really about color and feel and image and angle and maybe a shoe here and a roof top there and a bird lighting there, more like pieces of a fragmented vision
Alec: is that a compliment, to you? from the NY times?
Rudy: it is, sure. the book, well, once it was about something more and then became more like a flash of senses, and some pain and love maybe.
Alec: ok, one last question i think.
Alec: you’ve got some extremely disturbing stuff happening here–necrophiliac rape is among the most fucked–yet it all comes out soaked in Billy’s childlike music. this is perhaps what is most compelling to me about the book. how do you get away with harboring such gruesome events in such a clean, elegant voice? where, in your work, does moral urgency lie? the gap opened up between events and the voice which sings them? where?
Rudy: moral urgency… let me ponder
well as i’m impulseive…
Alec: oh fuck. do you have the full transcript of this chat open on your computer?
Rudy: maybe i’m angry or hurt and i lashed out with this book. that’s possible. and morality is very much an imposed thing isn’t it? don’t we all wanna, well, do things that are not right, all u said, and also we see the horrors around us, and so i maybe gave a small voice to some of them: death and pain and unconnectedness and fear. morals, hmmm, necrophila. well, i don’t really see that any of that “matters” i mean, well, to whom? God? I believe in “God,” personal and impersonal, but i assume most morality is laid on us to control us, which is probably best, etc. idk what do you think?
Rudy: i do have it all and i copied and emailed it to yself just now….
Alec: wonderful, phew
Alec: yes, that’s a great answer, but one quick follow-up
Rudy: i can send it to you…email???
Alec: yes: email@example.com [Note: Please send me emails because I am very lonely.]
Alec: so would it be reading your answer wrong to say that, ultimately, you want the reader to look evil–whatever he or she knows as evil–in its eye?
Alec: that you aspire to a certain fearlessness in fiction, maybe?
Rudy: look evil–whatever he or she knows as evil–in the eye? …brb
well no, not literally, i think these people were just living in a sort of “enlightnned ignorance,” not really aware of looking at good or bad, just seeing and feeling and reacting
and yet they seem awake, and not dulled to God’s presence and evil as something that just happens. ‘evil’ is just an opinion isnt it?
i wish i could reaslly talk or answer this stuff
i mean these characters are condensed… compressed
they experience intensity and inner life and color and image and touch and subtlety and emotions and then die and are not real, and well, hard to explain, it’s an odd story about sick misfits but maybe they could love