April 21st, 2011 / 10:47 am
Author Spotlight

A Lot of Them Ugly & A Lot of Them Dark: An Interview with xTx

xTx has two books published Normally Special and Nobody Trusts a Black Magician.  She has been published at Lamination Colony, Metazen, Word Riot, and a million other places.  I don’t actually know if xTx is a human being or a hamster but her book made me have a lot of emotions.  Her stories “Standoff” and “The Mill Pond” show an amazing understanding of the craft of writing but at the same time they don’t lose emotion.

NC: Who are some of your favorite authors and describe why you like them?  But also what writers have influenced your style?

xTx: I always feel like I’m going to take a bullet for admitting this but, whatever. I’m not going to lie so I can fit in with the cool kids.   The mainstream authors that always come to mind when I am asked this question are Stephen King, Chuck Palahniuk and Jonathan Ames.  Stephen King because I started reading him when I was super young and the stories he told blew my mind.  I loved the evil versus good and the ugly and the weird and the scary he always brought.  I love Chuck because that shit is fucked up good, yo; his stories, his characters, the detail, the uniqueness, the strange.  I can never get tired of Chuck.  I like Jonathan Ames because he’s so honest, self-deprecating and funny.

But to be honest, after I devoured all of their books, I really haven’t read these guys in a handful of years.  Especially since I discovered the online lit scene and started reading all the zines that were out there and finding out there were ‘regular’ people out there making words that could also blow me away.

The books/authors that have blown me away recently are:  Paula Bomer/Baby & Other Stories, Rachel P. Glaser/Pee On Water, Lindsay Hunter/Daddy’s, Danielle Evans/Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self, and Alissa Nutting/Unclean Jobs for Women and Girls.  Amazing books…all of them.

I can’t really say that any writers have influenced my style, at least consciously.  I mean, maybe years of reading King and then Chuck put me in a place that savors the fucked up, dark and magical.  Or maybe that place was always there and King and Chuck found them.  If anything, being exposed to so much online literature taught me that there are so many ways to write and so many ways to tell a story and that gave me the confidence to trust in how I wanted to write things even if I felt that maybe it was the ‘wrong’ way.

NC: Do you think that you are a minimalist or someone that just gets to the point?

xTx: I don’t know.  Do I just get to the point?  Am I a minimalist?  You tell me.  I tell stories the way I tell them because that’s how I felt they should be told.  Should I be adding more words?  More detail?  Silicone? I guess I don’t feel my writing is minimal.  If what I write is not full of fluff or filler it is not something I do consciously, it’s just how I decided that bread should be baked that day.

NC: How do you usually write, do you make notes, edit a lot, write on a type writer and then put it on a computer, write at night,  what is your method?

xTx: My writing usually starts with something/anything that hits me in the nuts on an emotional level.  That could be a song, a phrase, a feeling, a news story, an experience, a photo or a baked potato lying on the sidewalk.  It’s anything that gets really loud inside me and I know I have to “do something with it.”  It has to “become something.”  If I am by a computer, I’ll write that thing down in a word doc or I’ll email it to myself.  If I’m not by a computer, I’ll voice memo it into my phone and write it down later.  If I have time to write, I’ll just start writing with it.  See what comes.  Usually it will come out in a flow of maybe a paragraph or two or three and then I’ll put it away, take it out, write on it, put it away, take it out, write on it, etc., until it’s done.

I do most of my writing when I come in early to work and on my lunch hour and on weekends.  I try to sneak in some writing during weeknights but that’s hard because of my television addiction.

I am a slow writer and I like to get every sentence and every word ‘right’ before moving on to the next sentence.  I can spend my entire lunch hour on a paragraph.  It’s frustrating.

I use a computer mostly.  I write longhand in a notebook when I don’t have my computer.

NC: I like how in “Standoff” it features a mother.  I have seen almost no literature on the Internet that features what it is like being a mother.  The story really blew me away, the idea of the existential mother story.  I don’t think that has really been done often the way you did it.  Could you supply some information on that story, some background, how long it took you, maybe if you cried while writing it?

xTx: The background on that story is a friend of mine telling me how her in-laws repetitively complained to her that their grandson (her son) was too thin.  They would bring it up on every visit, which were many, and would question her about what she was feeding him or if she was feeding him.  They were her in-laws so she really couldn’t tell them to fuck off.  They never would complain to their son, his dad, only to her.  I felt bad for her because her son was skinny but he did eat and it was like they were deliberately attacking her motherhood.   It got me thinking about maybe a situation where a son was starving and about the helplessness of a mother to fix something like that.  About supposedly having control— because as a parent you are supposed to be in control—but at the same time having no control because, short of force feeding, one has little control of what another person puts into their mouth.  Then I had to think of a reason that maybe would keep a child from eating and that’s when I thought about the father dying.  It just created this double-whammy of emotion for this poor woman who had the bad luck of me writing her into this story of mine.  How long can a widow and a mother be strong before she just gives up and wants to sleep in a fort made out of blankets?  That’s the story Standoff tells.

It’s funny you asked about crying while writing it.  I didn’t, though I remember being very sad while writing it; sad for the helplessness of the mom and how lost she was. But I actually didn’t cry over this story until I watched Michael Filippone read it during his video review of it on his book review blog, Wingchair Books. (www.wingchairbooks.com)   I actually was moved to tears in at least four spots while he read it.  It was odd, I mean, since I had written it and had written it so long ago, I didn’t think it would move me like it did.  It felt, sort of, conceited and wrong, like masturbating to a picture of myself or something.

NC: Could you give an explanation why you are so private. It seems strange, everyone under 30 seems obsessed with putting all of their lives on the Internet, and then there’s you, keeping your privacy.

xTx: The irony is that I do put my life all over the internet.  I just do it in a slightly creative and ambiguous way.  I might not give specifics, but it’s out there in one way or another; through my blog, twitter, through my stories and poems.  In a sense, I might actually give more of my life to the internet than I give to my actual life.  I just don’t assign my legal name to it is all.

The easy answer on why I am so private is because since I started blogging back in 2002 I’ve written a lot of fucked up shit that I don’t want people in my real life knowing about.  I’ve written a lot of private feelings, a lot of them ugly and a lot of them dark.  There is a freedom in being able to do that without having repercussions.  I like not having to use a filter.  If I used my real name I’d probably filter the shit out of a lot of things I write.  I think.  I guess. I assume.  I mean, I’m just not sure how that would affect the finished product.

NC: In “I love my Dad” you go very deep.  I really can’t imagine going much deeper than that.  Do you live your life in this deep manner or are you, say if we met in person, very normal and polite.  Because I know writers when you meet them, they are crazy emotional and all over the place.  What impression would a person have if they met you in person?

xTx: The fine people I met at AWP this year could probably answer this better than I could.  I would say that I am far from a crazy, emotional, deep, writer person.  I think most people that meet me think I am nice and funny and stupid and normal and polite. I do not wear all black and hide inside bulky sweaters.  I have no tattoos or facial piercings (anymore).

I think that the impression people would get if they met me would be that they couldn’t believe I wrote a story like that Dad story, but then, after hanging out with me over time, they might believe it after all.

NC.  How did you feel about Catherine Lacey’s article on HTML Giant

xTx: http://htmlgiant.com/craft-notes/fear-bravery-of-pseudonyms/#disqus_thread.

I liked that she liked my book and I didn’t have a problem with her assumptions about me.  I mean, with this blatantly fake name I write under, I think it makes people believe I am hiding terrible things and maybe I am.  Maybe I’m not.  I just think that the thoughts she wanted to get across didn’t come through clearly and maybe that’s what got everyone going in the comments section.

It was interesting to see all of the comments and thoughts about writing under pseudonyms; the pros and the cons.

Had I known I would’ve had any sort of ‘success’ with my writing I might’ve chosen a better fake name,   one that didn’t draw so much attention. xTx was a stupid accident.

NC:  How do you feel when you are in a grocery store?

I feel like a part of a bigger whole when I go to the grocery store.  It’s sort of like the same feeling I get when I use a public restroom at a large sporting venue or an amusement park with all of the people going in, shitting and pissing and going back out again.  It’s something we all do.  It makes me feel connected.  I smile more at people in the grocery store than I do in a lot of places I go to.  We are all there with our carts filling it with things for our lives.

xTx:  You repeat words a lot.  Like in “The Mill Pond” you write, “I feel like a stripe.  I am a stripe.”  Is there something that influenced you to do this or did this just come about naturally?

Any time I repeat words it’s because I am trying to evoke something; usually a mood or a feeling or a pacing/rhythm.  It usually just comes organically.  Not something I set out to do, it just becomes something that feels right for the story.

In the example you gave it is more specific to the character’s self-worth.  First she feels something and then she decides, separately, that is what she is.  If she had stopped at just feeling like a stripe that is one thing.  She takes the extra step at resigning herself that that is what she is.  For example, “I feel like a loser,” is different than saying, “I feel like a loser.” And then, “I am a loser.”

NC:  On page 21 of Normally Special” there is a paragraph that starts with, “Even though my touch knew better,” did you cry while writing that.  I mean, that paragraph it just breaks the heart.  I have been walking around since I read that paragraph just thinking, “God, what a paragraph.”  I think there are moments in art that are just so perfect, so heart breaking.  Like the solo in Jimi Hendrix’s All Along the Watch Tower, or the end of the video for Johnny Cash’s Hurt, or that scene at the end of “On the Road” when the old man says, “Go moan for man.”  When the Will of the human spirit, maybe the animal sprit, the primitive spirit that goes back the jungles of Africa, the Apacha hunting the buffalo, the spirit of the Romans riding their horses across Europe to conquer it. That thing, deep down in us, that is universal, and stretches across culture and time.  When I am trying to say, what did you feel like when writing that?

xTx: Wow, Noah.  Wow. Okay.  Well, to answer your question, I felt like I had lost someone while I was writing that.  I had to get into that space of what it would be like to wake up one morning with someone you love, someone that you thought you’d be spending the rest of your life with, lying dead next to you.  It wasn’t a pretty place.  I felt horrible for her and I never want to be her.    I don’t want anyone to have to be her.  That’s what I felt like.

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  1. Richard

      First: Great interview!
      Second: I’ve been thinking about the Lacey thing for a while and still don’t understand the issue. Would we really know xTx better if we knew her real name? Just because someone’s name is out there doesn’t mean we actually “know” them…

  2. gavin

      Thanks for this. Normally Special is a gem of a read.

  3. Catherine Lacey

      I think part of the reason xTx is so fascinating to us is the enormous freedom she has by disconnecting from her ‘legal name life’ and writing with a ferocity that answers to no one. I am envious/in awe of that freedom (and I don’t think I am the only one,) but I think it’s something everyone can strive for– pseudonym or none.

      Great interview, Noah & xTx.

  4. Taylor

      I liked this interview. I should be getting a copy of Normally Special today, and now I’m even more hyped up about it.

  5. Michael Filippone

      I really liked this interview. Standoff still breaks my heart every time I reread it.

  6. DJ Berndt

      Great interview by two great people. I had to go back and read “Standoff” again after reading this interview and I might cry now. I think xTx is the only person who can make me cry by reading a story on the internet.

  7. stephen

      I enjoyed reading this. Noah, I like what you say in the last question

  8. Richard Thomas

      Loved this. Makes a lot of sense now why I love xTx’s work so much. I also grew up reading Stephen King, and evolved to Chuck Palahniuk, and have moved into the indie lit scene as well, digging authors like Amelia Gray and Lindsay Hunter and Mary Miller, so many others as well. If you’d like to read my glowing review of NS up at TNB, head on over there. If that doesn’t seal the deal, then man, you’re not breathing:

      Great interview Noah, great answers xTx.

  9. Don
  10. Nathan Huffstutter

      If you read the comments in this section, I think you’ll see that people are responding to the goods on the page and not the name-game. The freedom to write with “a ferocity that answers to no one” is not something to regard with awe, envy, or striving. The blank page offers that freedom, every day. Inhibitions are, you know, inhibiting, and writers get past their natural inhibitions in a lot of different ways – meditation, whiskey, exercise, practice, and, yes, pen names. Don’t envy or quibble with how one writer transcended their inhibitions – just figure out what you need to do to get the goods on the page.

  11. Dawn.

      Fucking love this interview. Well done, xTx and Noah. Especially that last question/answer.

  12. Scott mcclanahan

      Nice. Great interview.

  13. Carolyn DeCarlo

      xTx is epic.

  14. Afternoon Bites: Coates on Wharton, Bomer on Munro, The Outlet on Vol.1 | Vol. 1 Brooklyn

      […] At HTML Giant, Noah Cicero interviews xTx. […]

  15. Catherine Lacey

      The “ferocity that answers to no one” is what is on the page and that is what I am responding to, and I think it is something to regard with awe. Awe is motivating. Awe gets me to write. Awe gets me past my inhibitions. Awe is what I have when I read a writer I admire (or envy, an emotion any person who is honest with their self experiences.)

      Also, to be clear, I am not envious of xTx’s use of a pen name, if that’s what is bothering you. I am envious of how brave her work is, but probably ‘envy’ wasn’t the right word to use. I should have said respect. Really, I feel, it’s a mix of envy and respect– I don’t mean envy in the sense of resentment, but rather in the sense of something that inspires one to emulate a certain quality. Envy in the inspirational sense…

  16. Shannon

      I really love this interview. xTx I think you are fucking fantastic.

  17. Nathan Huffstutter

      Sorry if I put you on your heels, I wasn’t trying to be confrontational or to bait you into treading back over well-trod ground. You wrote that “part of the reason xTx is so fascinating to us is the enormous freedom she has by disconnecting from her ‘legal name life’,” and I was trying to suggest that everyone has the same freedoms at their disposal. Personally, I think awe and envy are counterproductive and I prefer to view writing as the work of contemporaries, but that’s just what works for me (or, according to prevailing opinion, doesn’t work in the slightest).

      And speaking of counterproductive, why am I back on this website anyway? Someone needs to invent some kind of gum or a patch for this, it’s getting ridiculous…

      Head down, back to work.

  18. Bcganesh

      “The whole job is to write yourself into confusion and humility.”

      George Saunders

  19. Frank Tas, the Raptor

      It is always so satisfying, finding out that a great artist is also a great human being!

  20. Cassandra Troyan

      I think this is great, especially since the honesty/sincerity of the interviewer and interviewee both shine through in a rare way.

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      […] HTMLGiant provided a cool interview with the author. […]

  25. Marcus Speh

      Wonderful interview, thanks. I love her writing and you asked good questions. I want you to interview me when my book comes out. I might go into hiding just for that. Considering pseudonyms like “yOy” or “oMg”.