Interview: Darby Larson 14
10. You are a sturdy man. How does that affect your writing?
Thank you I think. I’m taking “sturdy” to mean like level-headed or rational or maybe even relativistic, because I’m really out of shape physically. I think it helps but also hinders me (it’s relative!), see answer to #4 above. It’s not healthy to be so level-headed because it leaves little room for heart.
14. “Stop using words” is a pretty heavy thing to write on the page. Yet you write those words in The Iguana Complex. Discuss.
Well, the amount of revision and editing I did to The Iguana Complex is pretty unreal. The original version was literally three times as long and a lot more explanatory. It got so complex that it was caving in on itself, and I guess you can think of “stop using words” as me telling myself to do that. Something I really love about how TIC turned out, at least when I read it now, is that it feels like there is more happening than what is being told with words. In the end, I don’t really care what it is exactly that’s there, nor do I expect a reader to, but whatever it is I want it to be there.
1. Iguanas can see very well, yet usually remain unseen. The term complex is a complicated pun. I mean to say: Will you discuss the title?
Sure. There is a lot packed in to the title, actually, and I’ve never tried to put down in words exactly what my thoughts are on what it means, so this may be long and annoyingly textbookish. The title refers to a quasi-psychological complex, partly an inversion of the Cassandra Complex [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/(Cassandra_metaphor)], partly a kind of complex I made up that has to do with how a person receives information and/or being on the wings of Jung’s introversion/extroversion scale. In the book, there are two conflicting complexes, the Elephant Complex (which manifests as an opera onstage) and the Iguana Complex (which manifests as a dream inside Freeman’s mind). The former receives information externally (clairvoyance), and the latter develops information internally, or intuitively (comatose). Iguana and Elephant are nods partly to Jung’s I vs. E, and partly chosen because elephants have very large ears, the better to hear things that come at them externally, and iguanas have a third eye that they don’t see out of so much as sense things. And Complex is also a tip toward how ridiculously complex this all actually is, complexity for complexity’s sake, which is how I tend to think I guess. Is that saying too much? I fear it might be.
“It beguttons the buttoning of alarms or the on of the radio.”
“Three front knocks to the rocker of the door, three more.”
“They file, the crowd, out of our theater seats whistling like a bird‐caller army in their cars, near their dinners, at their desserts, within dreams, out from deserts, under oceans, sleepwalking‐whistling to kitchens preparing two egg in the morning salad sandwiches.”
2. Small presses are the advocate of the sentence. What do you think about the individual sentence, or even word?
Well, I think it depends on the work being written. The Iguana Complex takes place completely inside a dream and I felt I needed to convey that atmosphere in some way. But I don’t think every story needs to be word poetry, I guess, and I suppose some shouldn’t be. In general I do adore word level goings-on more than what-is going on, and marvel at writers like Gary Lutz and Beckett who can manipulate them so well. Every sentence I write I’m always reading again four or five times for the sound of it more than whether or not it makes sense. And this is what blows me away reading Lutz or Beckett is they are able to retain meaning and still come at you in a completely different way. I think this all comes out of having the sense that you’ve read every story out there and now, since you’ve already read the story you are reading, you’d rather the story do something different this time, like sing instead of just talk.
I am eternally grateful for the openness that small presses like Mud Luscious and Publishing Genius (and so many others…) have, not just in terms of word/sentence conscious works, but just anything. The small press world is an advocate of more than the sentence. It advocates experimentation in general. There is a sense that you can veer as far away as you want from mainstream fiction and still see a work published. It should be seen as an opportunity for writers to try new things and grow.
3. Who inspires you, and you cannot name a writer.
Haha. Beethoven? Even if I could name a writer, I’m taking many more cues from the music world than literature these days. Music is already doing really well that which I am often trying to do, which is highlight style over content. Content in music is allowed to be more atmospheric and open to interpretation, which I prefer.
4. Rachmaninoff once complained, “The new kind of music seems to create not from the heart but from the head.” Where on that spectrum is your writing, head to heart?
I don’t know. I want to think it’s somewhere near the middle, but maybe tipped slightly to the head side? What do you think? It’s probably more on the head side than I’d like it to be honestly. I think my writing comes off as more heady to people than hearty. It’s something I should work on.
5. Is there a town you really don’t want to die in?
Nah. There are towns I really don’t want to live in though. Like Baghdad. I don’t understand the question, actually. Absent the inability to regret anything after you die, it doesn’t really matter. You can’t pre-regret where you might die.
6. Are there too many or too few literary magazines in the world?
There are probably just about the right number. Whatever number of them there are is the number there ought to be. There should be a balance of few enough to encourage quality and increase value of a publication credit, but also enough that writers who need validation to feel like it’s worth continuing to occasionally get that validation. In the end, the market will determine which literary magazine has value and which one doesn’t. In the meantime, there should be no limit on the number that are allowed to exist.
8. The Iguana Complex is musical. Almost a natural music, like the notes dandelion seeds play as they ride the wind, etc. This isn’t a question, but an observation.
This is, yes, a flattering observation. Thank you.
7. Is word-of-mouth about a book a type of pheromone? How does this relate to the idea behind your publisher, Nephew? What do you think of this idea?
It’s interesting to think of word-of-mouth as a type of pheromone. I think successful word-of-mouth moves more like a virus that grows into space, while scent moves more like a cloud that dilutes into space.
The Nephew idea has been fascinating and fun to be a part of. It’s awesome that J.A. Tyler and folks at Mud Luscious thought it up. I feel like I’m pretty novice at this whole game though. I’ve been writing and publishing things for a long time, but this is really the first time I’ve ever had to think of my writing as a product that needs to sell. To be totally honest, it’s not a mindframe I’m comfortable with but it’s what you have to do. I like that the Nephew imprint encourages word-of-mouth though, it gives everyone who buys a copy a little incentive to pass the word around.
9. What causes you despair?
The fear of not having a job. Bukowski had the same fear. Thankfully I have a job that is stable and I enjoy doing it, but if I really go to that point of what would I do if I was laid off, it’s pretty scary, especially now that I’m mid-thirties and the idea of interviewing for a job would be terrifying. I’m a horrible interviewee in person. I think this whole thing has a lot to do with the fact that I’ve been employed by institutions pretty consistently since I was 16.
11. Do you carry a notebook with you to put these things in? Or keep a diary?
Nope. I am horrible at the physical act of writing, of holding a writing utensil and pushing it around on paper. I loathe any time I am forced to do this. My brain is completely wired to a keyboard now. Although my wife and I have recently joined the 21st Century and bought iPhones and I have started using the Notes thingie on there, and I’m surprised that I am actually like keeping notes on ideas for things there now, so there’s that.
12. In much of your writing I have read, you break down forms, shuffle scaffoldings, fade in and out, move things about visually on the page. Is that important? How words look and talk to one another, as in close/distance one another on the visual page?
Yes. Very. I have always been interested in the intersection between art and literature, and I feel part of that intersection exists at the text itself. I am always very conscious of how a page of text looks, whether it is a long dense paragraph or a Cummings poem. In “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius” by Dave Eggers, the section I remember the most, after having read it like eight years ago or something, was this point at which there is a really long paragraph that suddenly stopped and was proceeded by a few pages of very short, like staccato dialogue. It was such a jarring thing to see these two textual atmospheres juxtaposed on the page like that. Another weird thing is I’ve been trying to read a book on the iPhone with the Kindle app for the first time and it’s bothering me to not be able to see a whole paragraph at once, or to not get a sense of how the full pages of text look. It forces me to only care about what the tiny window of text I see is saying.
I am also conscious of this when choosing work for Abjective, the journal I edit. I love to see text used in ways other than just to say something.
13. Have you any superstitions about writing?
Nah. I’m not a superstitious person. I am the least superstitious person in the world, probably.