Posts Tagged ‘Matthew Revert’

In Conversation: Matthew Revert and Michael J Seidlinger

Thursday, December 12th, 2013

Matthew Revert: Who friended who? I don’t even know anymore.

Michael J Seidlinger: How the hell did we start talking to each other? At one point we were both strangers, completely invisible to each other. Hmm, I think what happened, on my end, is that I friended you and didn’t reach out and talk for a long time. I tend to do that.

fuck you lolcat

MR: I remember you were posting about your insomnia, and being a fellow insomniac, we discussed it a lot.

MS: This is true. I am a raging insomniac.

MR: And I suggested you listen to earth2 by Earth. And friendship was born.

MS: And from there, it quickly spiraled into design. I think it was being mutually interested in graphic design that forged it.

MR: Design was the key. I’m not even sure if you knew I was a writer at the time.

MS: I actually did. I knew you were a writer. Ironically, I do remember knowing of you as a writer before the design.

MR: Oh? That actually pleases me.

MS: I think it was the book with all the people on the front, the carbon copies. A Million Versions of Right?

MR: Yeah, that was my first book. About to go out of print actually.

MS: Yeah, I bought that and read it and it wasn’t until we started talking about insomnia via comment threads and Facebook chat that I put the pieces together.

MR: Shortly after meeting you, I started investigating CCM and saw that you were a writer and also a designer. That parallel pleased me because I had always been shoved into the writer camp or the designer camp (increasingly the latter).

MS:  Since taking over CCM, I’m setting all my books originally published on CCM out of print; ethical issue.

MR: Yeah. That makes sense. I worried about that with my first books for LegumeMan.

MS: Ah, so CCM led the way? It’s interesting to meet people that knew of the press before they knew of me.

MR: Yeah. Pretty sure it did. And I purchased My Pet Serial Killer. And really enjoyed a lot of your CCM design work.

MS: That gets me to thinking…

MR: Yeah?

MS: How we’re both writers and designers. I do believe that you and I were writing the books at the same time, the books that we’re talking about.

MR: As in, when we first met, you were writing Laughter of Strangers and I was writing Basal Ganglia?

MS: I recall writing Laughter of Strangers around the time you were revising and “going under” and really getting into the thick of it with Basal Ganglia. We were already talking, but it wasn’t until that time that we started talking on a daily basis.

MR: Yeah. We were both working on our books. Did we know, at that time, they would both be released by Lazy Fascist in the same batch?

MS: That’s interesting. I don’t think so. I could be wrong but I do recall having many a late night talking craft.

MR: Yeah. We unloaded our various frustrations and triumphs on each other.

MS: Good days and bad: We discussed them all.

basal-ganglia-large

MR: Basal Ganglia was a very difficult book for me to write so there was a lot of ennui. How long did it take you to write Laughter of Strangers? You write much faster than me, I think.

MS: It took me about 3 or 4 weeks.

MR: Hahahaha. Basal took me 18 months and is half the length. You’re a machine.

MS: I think I write fast because I’m afraid of staying with a book for too long. As a result, I become consumed by the project. How many drafts did you have for Basal?

MR: Yeah, and that clearly works for you. I mean the end result says it all. I had upwards of ten false starts. I turn my book into a year-long lifestyle.

MS: So you “live” the novel—that’s awesome. Do you have any specific quotas/rituals?

MR: Getting right down to it, I started writing Basal Ganglia as a response to cognitive therapy I was undergoing. I wanted to understand that experience. That’s how it tends to be for me. I am responding to something that has happened. Something that has led to significant change within me. 

MS: From the beginning, the book delved right into the cerebral.

MR: Yeah, I’m in that place. I tend to live the book for long periods. Gradually eking it out.

MS: So you sort of have a period of “making sense of it?”

MR: Yeah. And that period often maintains well into the process, but as a result of that, it only had two drafts. My first draft is very close to the final draft. But Basal Ganglia was a real puzzle to figure out and I wanted to understand as many pieces of that puzzle as possible before I started writing it.

MS: I’m personally interested in the part of the writing process that involves not the initial process, or drafting, but rather how an idea becomes something more organic, something real. It’s interesting to see how you turned the book into a puzzle given how you were looking to make sense of a puzzle. You crafted a puzzle to make sense of a personal puzzle.

MR: It seems to me that so much of the energy in Laughter of Strangers would come from the way you’re able to almost purge the book in a shorter space of time.

MS: I believe I’m beginning to see that, yeah. I have this compulsion to chase after the perceived momentum of a piece. Everything hinges on the first 2 days of writing—that two-day stretch sets the pace. Most of the time, I write approximately 3000-5000 words, have the general structure and feel of the book. I’ll know where it’s going; from there, it begins to consume me. I can’t stop thinking about it. It follows me throughout my days. As a result, I write faster. Maybe it really does show itself in the stuff I write.

MR: Before I started writing Basal Ganglia, I knew I wanted it to be set in the human brain, with the “basal ganglia” of the title becoming the only characters within that brain.

MS: Do you outline, or plan out anything conceptually?

MR: Not on paper, no. I usually start writing a random chapter. I think the first part of Basal I wrote was chapter 7. This sounds kind of wonky, but the only real planning I did outside of my head was to have a print out of the human brain’s anatomy on my writing desk. I circled a part of the brain and said, ‘okay… now write this’.

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Basal Ganglia by Matthew Revert

Monday, November 18th, 2013

basal-ganglia-jacketBasal Ganglia
by Matthew Revert
Lazy Fascist Press, Oct 2013
120 pages / $9.95  Buy from Amazon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the evening of July 25, 1965, Bob Dylan strapped on a Fender Stratocaster and gave the audience at the Newport Folk Festival an electric rendition of “Maggie’s Farm.” The switch was received with a cacophonous chorus of boos and hisses. Dylan had gone electric, but the audience wasn’t ready. Almost fifty years later, author Matthew Revert is doing something akin to that with his latest novel, Basal Ganglia. One of the best absurdists in contemporary fiction, Revert has built a cult following based on his previous works, all of which have used humor as the cohesive element that keeps his mixture of bizarro, surrealism, and literary fiction together. In Basal Ganglia, the hilarity has been replaced with it’s exact opposite, but the sheer beauty and elegance of the final product is much more gratifying than any of the author’s previous efforts.

Rollo and Ingrid met when they were teenagers and escaped the cruel, abusive world they’d known by moving into an underground fort made from pillows and blankets that mirrors the structure of the human brain. The lovers spent 25 years building the fort and subsequently became slaves to it. The narrative begins years after the fort is finished and Rollo and Ingrid live only to maintain it. They lead an isolated existence in which words have almost disappeared, communication is practically nonexistent, their past has been forgotten, and their love has morphed into silent tolerance. To bring them out of this situation, Ingrid decides they should have a baby. However, afraid of what another person would do to their dynamic and way of life, she opts to build one from the same materials they use to maintain the fort instead of having one the traditional way. When the baby’s done, instead of bringing them together, it makes them paranoid and each believes the other will hurt the child. What follows is a strange and heartbreaking psychological war in which Ingrid and Rollo will be forced to realize how their seclusion has changed them and how important the past is when trying to regain their individual and communal identities.

Basal Ganglia is not an easy read. Revert has a way of stuffing his prose with meaning, but the nature of that meaning changes constantly. He loves language, but expresses it by deconstructing it and putting it back together in ways that change the original meaning and create new ones:

“Goodbye is the most dishonest word language has conjured. It is a muscle we flex to intimidate and impress. A word without flesh. Goodbye is simply a word preceding hello. To truly leave another, one must never seek contact again. Only death is goodbye.”

On the surface, this novel deals with universal themes like lost love, faulty communication skills, identity, parenthood, fear, distrust, and isolation. However, there are a plethora of underlying elements that make it unique and give it depth. For example, Rollo and Ingrid’s relationship is exceptional because it’s hermetically sealed from the rest of the world. When they feel lonely or scared, the emotion is augmented by their self-imposed confinement. The outside world was mean to them, but hiding in the fort eventually made them victims of their reclusiveness. Also, Ingrid and Rollo are trapped in a perennial state of agitated stasis, and it only gets worse whenever they try to figure a way out of it. Their stagnation is never a calm one, but their growing awareness of the situation and perceived powerlessness turns it into a maelstrom that affects their sanity.

Revert has a knack for storytelling, but what makes this one an outstanding novel is the stylish, smart prose. The microcosm Ingrid and Rollo in habit is exclusive, but the author takes their circumstances as a way of exploring collective truths:

“We refuse to acknowledge the bulk of who we are. Conflict abounds between emergence and suppression in all things. Raw feelings and thought are born and sculpted into a fathomed unit before our conscious understanding is permitted to interact with it. The process separating who we are from who we really are enables us to form relationships with ourselves and, eventually, with each other. Relationships based upon the interaction of lies. This dynamic is known. Anyone who understands the extent of what they suppress from others understands the extent of what is suppressed from them. A relationship, in order to operate with continuity, must nurture the continuity of suppression. The relationship with others, and with the self.”

The truth is often sad, and that’s exactly what it is in Basal Ganglia. Neglect, worry, and solitude all lead to a razor-sharp sadness that cuts to the reader’s core throughout the narrative and keeps cutting after the story’s over. Sure, Ingrid and Rollo survive an imaginary loss, a confusing revelation, and find a way to move forward even with the understanding that the cyclic nature of most things is inevitable, but those silver linings arrive after Revert has fully exposed the bleakest corners of the human condition. The characters are forced to find a reason to reconnect with themselves and with each other, and the reader is there for every step of that psychological/emotional journey.

Basal Ganglia offers an immersive and very satisfying reading experience. The novel’s merits lie as much in the secluded universe Rollo and Ingrid inhabit as in the author’s beautiful use/celebration of language. By abandoning non-stop weirdness and hilarity, Revert has taken a giant step in a different direction, and the outcome is cause for celebration. I really hope he keeps walking that way.

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Gabino Iglesias is a writer, journalist, and book reviewer living in Austin, TX. He’s the author of Gutmouth (Eraserhead Press) and a few other things no one will ever read. His work has appeared in The New York Times, Verbicide, The Magazine of Bizarro Fiction, Z Magazine, Out of the Gutter, Word Riot, The Rumpus, and a other print and online venues. You can reach him at gabinoiglesias@gmail.com.