Neck Goozle or Adult Acne: An Interview with Lindsay Hunter

This Fall saw the release of the debut collection from one Lindsay Hunter, aptly and majestically titled Daddy’s. If you’ve ever seen Lindsay read in person you probably were hiding in your closet with your head between your legs covering your junk quivering about this monster, a collection of short texts trapped inside a tackle box. Lindsay’s language is somehow both frightening, gut-bunching, weirdo, home, cover your face, open your mouth, transcendent, and of heaving sound. At times like if Gummo turned into words and date-raped Mary Gaitskill’s language then went to the gas station to buy tissues to clean up the messies and bought you a snack of discount heat lamp chicken. Underneath it all, this weird American convulsive heart that sounds like someone if we haven’t been, at least we remember getting beaten up in middle school.

Over email, so as to not get bit, I traded q’s with Ms. Hunter re: the book, humor, music, inspiration, fear, performance, and all the rest.

BB: I love how Daddy’s operates in reading almost as a series of rotations in a brain of what some would call trash life: each of the stories in the collection often concerns sex, food, and body fluids. The sky is referred to in turns from piece to piece as if it is shifting through a section of a place that does not change: and yet each story feels so singular. Was this variation something you were super aware of while you were writing the stories, or did the voices just keep coming out? By what means was this book written?

LH: I don’t know that I was aware of this as I was writing each story, but looking at the book as a whole, it definitely feels like there is a town in which these people live and it is the same town. I generally start with the first line of something and then see where that leads me. I’ll have first lines in my head for days, or sometimes I’ll get one and I’ll need to sit down and just fucking follow it. Every now and again I’ll have an idea for a story, like some kind of situation or glimpse–like in “That Baby” I wanted to write about the jealousy of babies–and I’ll wedge my way in and try to write what I see.

I think these stories are what they are because I tend to go sentence by sentence and edit as I’m writing–I can’t move on until each sentence is just right, and if I’m bored by a line it feels wonderful just to delete it and start over. That’s my main thing–I hate boredom and being bored and boring writing and cliches and puns and double entendres and cleverness. So I try to eviscerate all of that. But watch, I’ll open up my book and see the phrase “and that was the end of that” or “new lease on life” or “make love” and I’ll have to face some pretty ugly truths about my inner life.

BB: I find the voices that come out of you often really surprising, both as image and in the odd colloquial phrasings and manners of speaking. Is this entirely invention, or does it come out of a place you grew up or spent time, or a mash of both? Do you ever scare yourself?

LH: I think there is a more specific way to get at an image than to rely on something people are used to reading. Like “yellow sun.” Or “crowded teeth.” These phrases get the point across but they don’t tell you anything unique about the brainspace the character inhabits, and they aren’t accurate enough visually, they just aren’t. Like right now I am having a hard time not rewriting those phrases to something like “pee dribble in a sky wedge” or “gums like a collection of driftwood,” and even those phrases aren’t enough, aren’t it.

So I think the cadence in the language and the accent is maybe something that comes from a place I hold dear, but the phrasing is all invention, I feel confident in declaring that.

I’ve scared myself plenty, and I sometimes want to get up and walk it off, but if I stay and keep going, man that shit is good. That moment of surprise, if you can shock yourself like that, that’s all the reason in the world to keep going.

This is an aside but today my friend Sarah made me listen to “I See a Darkness” by Bonnie Prince Billy and after about 30 seconds of it I had stopped caring about the Word document I was formatting at work or any of the objects on my desk, or the thought of dinner and a drink, or anything really, I could not think of one thing I had the energy to care about anymore, and I had to listen to The Chronic after that, and then a series of YouTube videos that I knew would build back up my boner for life, and I went back to being convinced that formatting that Word table meant something, even if it only means something to a few people in this world. And I think writing can be like that – there are moments when you read something so fucking great that it just levels you, or you are just existing and you are leveled by something banal, like a Steve Winwood song that the last time you heard it you were depressed and sticking to your sheets, and you don’t care to go on, why would you really, you are bored and worse, you are boring, and the last sentence you wrote had the word “guiltily” in it…but then if you push through that ennui death wish, if you get pissed off enough at yourself, and you write something unexpected because you’ve given up so who cares anymore, or because it’s all you have, that one sentence, if that happens, and it does every once in a while, you remember why you do it, why it matters to write a sentence about something so recognizable but to write it in a way that is at first unrecognizable to yourself and if you’re lucky, to any readers who come across it. It’s tenuous – that filament that keeps you connected to your writing or the world or anything really, but it’s so precious.

(I am listening to Thunderstruck by AC/DC on a loop right now.)

BB: I love the way you said that. Exactly. Exactly. Was there a time in your writing when you hadn’t figured this out yet? Like, did you have a period where you were learning and maybe wrote more traditional or boring to you things and then found this mode of sudden juxtapositions and self terror? If so, or if not, what jarred you into finding those modes? What, if anything, outside you was an influence on Daddy’s?

LH: (Now I am listening to “Zombie Prescriptions” by Snapcase on a loop)

Hell yes there was a time when I was trying to be Alice Munro and feeling really frustrated. I wanted to make people feel the way she can make people feel, but her style is just not my modus operandi, it’s just not, and it took a long time to find out that was okay. I remember taking grad classes at my undergrad and being told there were very specific rules to fiction writing, like you couldn’t write from the perspective of a dead person or an animal, and everything had to have that narrative arc with the denouement and the climax and and and and

So then I went to the Art Institute and I remember reciting these rules for a professor who looked at me like I was vomiting from the eyes, who finally cut me off and said “Yeah, you can do whatever the fuck you want.” And I took that to heart, it was wonderful.

But even then, I was writing things that were weird just for the sake of being weird, but they weren’t really weird in any sort of authentic way. And I’d be hearing these sentences in my head and trying to lay them out nice and run an iron over them so they’d be presentable, and then one morning I just dumped them on the page in this kind of breathless rage, and when I sat back and read it over I felt pretty good about it, I felt like I was finally working, I was making something that was mine.

There’s a lot that influences me. For Daddy’s specifically I was reaching toward awkward, ugly moments that seemed (and seem) more real, more telling to me than when people are at their best. So Cruddy is a huge influence, as are country music and shred metal and coke rap and Cormac McCarthy and (this shames me to admit but I will devour) anything murder-related, like one of my prized possessions is a book of 19th century¬†daguerreotypes¬†of all these murdered people in France…obviously my childhood provided ways in to some stories as well…so ultimately my fascination lies with the ugly parts of people, the awkward, from farts during sex to that trapped feeling you get when everything is fine to what drives a plump quiet nerd of a man to choke his sister out.

And I’m always listening for voices. When I was little we were pretty religious and my brain used to play tricks on me by saying “I worship the devil” or “I love Satan,” and that scared the shit out of me, I had no control over it, and that’s kind of how the sentences come now, they just slide in, only now I want them to.

BB: I think in addition to being brutal, Daddy’s is hilarious. I found myself laughing out loud, or repeating phrases incredulously throughout, which is really hard. What writers or other things do you find funny? Are you parents funny?

LH: In my house growing up you didn’t get any respect unless you could laugh at yourself. My dad was downright vicious sometimes, picking one of us at the dinner table to ream each night, pointing out zits and big feet and chubby knees (“just like your mother”) and wayward hair until we’d run from the table, but the next night it was someone else’s turn and we’d laugh and laugh until they ran to their rooms to cry. It could be brutal but man, we learned quick how to laugh at ourselves, which was the only way to get him to let up. When we got older, we turned this same laser focus on him, pointing out his neck goozle or adult acne or general old mannishness, and he still laps it up, I don’t know if he is ever more proud than when my sister says something like “Shut it, fatty” to him.

So I’d say my dad is a huge influence on my sense of humor. He also obsessively taped comedy shows on HBO and Comedy Central and would watch them over and over again, and I am pretty sure a large part of my family’s communication was and is just repeating lines we stole from Brian Regan or Richard Pryor or whoever else.

I respect comedians as much as I respect my favorite writers, and just like my dad I’ll listen to their albums over and over and over, deconstructing them, or trying to. Patton Oswalt and his extremely precise word choices are a current obsession.

Writer-wise, I think Amelia Gray is stunningly funny. Her fiction is like a bus to the face. I will probably get shit for this but I think A.M. Homes is hilarious. Frank Stanford had a great sense of humor. Lynda Barry, yes please. Sometimes I laugh reading Cormac McCarthy because he is so brutal and he is so right. Like, it’s funny because it’s true.

BB: One thing I love about your writing and performance of it is how well you traverse that black humor, in such a way that people just eat it up. So much black humor to me will be really funny but no one else will be laughing, but you have this weird hyperstance that kind of feeds it in exactly, it’s so powerful. I feel like the performance of the pieces is almost inherent in the language, like they are monologues written both for speaking and for the page in different ways. Like heaving heard you read I can’t get your voice out of my head but on paper the sentences take on this other logic also. It’s a wonderful translation, and nice to be able to do both. Did you ever perform theater or music or something? You also keep mentioning bands, what you are listening, does music influence your writing specifically? What were you listening to when you wrote Daddy’s?

LH: I wanted to be an actress so bad growing up. And to me being an actress meant having this power to make people feel–sad or happy or disgusted or aroused or angry, whatever it was. So I did some theater and I studied a semester at the Lee Strasberg Institute in New York, and while I was there I realized Fuck, I don’t love this enough to spend my life hoping for that one good part that is nowhere near guaranteed to come around. And my whole life I’d been writing, it was just what I did, no big deal, I wrote stories and I had a zine (ugh) and for a while I wrote poems (UGH) and I thought maybe I could make people feel through my writing, and when I got back from New York I set out to see if that could work. So I got pretty serious about it after that–the writing anyway, not the reading. The reading in front of people came later, and I sucked at it. My first reading I had the flop sweat and I couldn’t breathe, it was awful, and I thought maybe reading is like that, you stand in front of a silent crowd and just have a complete meltdown. And that reading happened to be with Peter Markus, and I remember asking him if he was nervous, and he was like, Naw man, I love reading, I’m excited! and I thought, Well, he’s a fucking liar. But he killed it and there was no flop sweat. So a while later Mary and I started Quickies!, and the audience was mostly our friends at first, and reading in front of your friends is such a pleasure, because you get to fuck it all up and not hate yourself afterward. So we got to experiment, and come out of our shells more, and find our voices in front of an excited crowd, and my style just evolved from there. Now I get what Peter meant about loving to read and being excited, the man is not a liar. And it is possible to make people feel from your words–it’s incredible, the varying emotions you can bring out of people that you never even expected.

Music is huge, huge, huge for me. My mouth waters just thinking about music. I will listen to anything, I don’t give a fuck. Most of my favorite bands are the ones that were really hard to listen to at first, and then slowly over time the beauty and the sense starts to surface, and God that’s so rewarding…my dad is also obsessive over music, he’d play the same song over and over and over (You hear that? That right there!), and I do the same thing, I just can’t believe what I’m hearing sometimes, how lucky I am to be hearing it. Lately I’ve been really into metal–sludge metal, shred metal, drudge metal, drone metal, whatever. Some of that shit is really hard to find a foothold in, but once you do oh man brace your balls…I also love country music and rap and I am not fucking kidding when I say I will search out the adult contemporary station in any city and be elated when they play some Genesis or some Steve Winwood or some Fleetwood Mac.

I don’t generally listen to music when I write. Sometimes I will pre-writing, but once I’m in something I don’t listen to music because it distracts me…like the song is going in one direction and I’m going in the other, or something.

BB: So, how does it feel to have your book in the world? Does it feel like you would have imagined? What is coming now? I know you are working on a novel. I know you are on fire.

LH: It feels great and strange and terrifying and blasphemous and awful and wonderful. I don’t think I had any expectations in terms of how it would feel, other than that I’d be glad and proud, so all the rest of it is a surprise. I continue to be shocked at how grossed out people get about some of the stuff in the book, and the ways in which people are touched (angered, titillated, horrified, amused) are so varied and amazing. Recently someone pointed out that there are two instances where cheese is melted over a dessert. Someone else asked me if I ever thought about hurting myself. Every piece of feedback is like a gift.

Now I’m working on a novel. However, currently that novel is a mere pile of pages brooded over by a cumulonimbus of thought. And peppered with doubts about my capability to write something that length that is any good at all. Also part of what surprised me about the book coming out was how much work it is to put a book out, after it’s out. And I have a day job too, so the time I’ve had to work on this novel has been paltry and sporadic. But it’ll happen! I might take a month off from everything and get it all out, because it’s there, I just have to type it.

Amid everything I continue to write stories. I like to read something new at every reading, it keeps my shit fresh.

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[You can read excerpts from and pick up a copy of Lindsay Hunter’s Daddy’s now from Featherproof.]