January 25th, 2010 / 3:04 pm

An Interview with Mark Gluth

Brand new from Dennis Cooper’s Little House on the Bowery imprint of Akashic Books is a fantastic short novella by Mark Gluth, titled The Late Work of Margaret Kroftis. As with all the books on Little House, there is a certain air of magic, maze-making, language-play, and reinvention to be expected in those titles, and Gluth’s amazing webcomb of image and memory-tricks is certainly no exception. Reading this book it felt aurally pleasant in a way of great refreshment, with mirror time worming and layers of photography and weaving of levels of consciousness and continuity, all in very brief, clean sentences; a beautiful package with one of the most memorable endings I’ve read in a while. Feels of classical short French writing but in modern American scenery, which I can’t remember having happened in other books. A lot of people I will know will really like this.

Immediately after reading, I contacted Mark and talked to him some about the book, his process, language making, and so on. Our interaction follows, and I believe will make you, if you don’t already, want to get a hold of his beautiful text glyph.

BB: Hi Mark. Since I finished your book last night I’ve been stuck on rotating between versions of how I see the timeline in it playing out. There are several levels at work even in the less than 100 pages, both in continuity as time, and as consciousness (there are a lot of dreams, and daydreams, and sections that could be dreams, and implanted fictions, so on), each of which manage to embed themselves back in small ways to the other. There is also a strange mesh going on with the characters and how they inherit one another, and how they interact over those spans. It’s a big beautiful network of interruption and yet at the same time very calm, pleasant, because of the small sentences. I was wondering how this book occurred to you at first, and how it developed as you got deeper, and perhaps the way that jump of continuity began to either feed into itself as it came along, in becoming hybrid, or how it came out, in what way. That’s maybe a convoluted way of asking you to talk about the experience and method about the time in which you wrote this book.

MG: Hey Blake. Well it came to me in many layers over a long time. I started out with a couple images and moods tied to them and a vague idea re: some of the narratives that could kind of tie them together. A ton of experimenting lead me to the overall structure of the book and after that it was a matter of writing the book and nailing the language to a point where it was kind of transparent to me. I definitely got into the idea that what I was attempting was literally true but logically impossible and I kept testing it and adding to the blurry goal I had in my head. What I’m trying to say is that the core idea took time to develop but once I had it, it grew but did not really change. I wanted the book to be both really simple and really complex and for me simplicity meant readability, and complexity meant all the structural stuff the surface hung from. I also got into the idea that it was emotion, not logic that was the engine for the narrative. So it had to feel right, instead of be right if that makes any sense. One of the things I thought about a lot early on was that each chapter would mirror the others in some very key ways. Elements of that stayed on as I wrote it but that idea as a strict governing principle kinda fractured. Have you read ‘Understudies’ by Marie Redonnet? She does it really fully in that, and once I read ‘Understudies’ I pulled back on some of that a bit. Ultimately I just worked by intuition. So alot of the stuff you bring up about the book, came about from decisions I made re: what I thought would make the book as good as possible but I have a hard time explaining how I arrived at those decisions because I was so close to it at the the time.

BB: I like the idea of ‘literally true and logically impossible.’ It makes a lot of sense in the fact that I believe images recur in time and in people, not as ‘new lives’ but in some odd connection, like you say here, more one of emotional linkage than something else. I think that spirit is in the center of the book and the book itself seems to move and weave through and wrap around it in weird ways. Like painting a house that isn’t always there. I haven’t read that particular Redonnet but I can see her influence on you in nice ways. Would you say that a lot of these connections and fracturings occurred in revision then? How much of your creation came out of finding loops or holes or small doors in an original draft, say one that you wrote without knowing way, and then that you worked to build around, in these ways you are speaking of? How did the book change or develop as you continued to play with it, eek it out? I also wonder if other inputs or impulses had a big effect on these discoveries, over the period of that time?

MG: Well I wrote the book 1 chapter at a time, and just worked and revised each one until I was done. When it was assembled at the end I was happy with it as it was. I expanded some parts but there was no significant re conceiving of anything. So I kinda missed out on the experience of revising the whole thing and re-conceiving of parts as I revisited them. What I did get by doing it this way is that each chapter could, in many ways, incorporate and evolve the one(s) that preceded it but not vica versa. (This was after I figured out all the key plot points, and the plot structure that held them together.) So it did definitely evolve, but more in a modular way. I kinda hoped it would and that’s why I kind incorporated all the different characters, fiction within fiction, etc..that kind of structure would be more forgiving of the evolving and building upon I was doing As far as changing from my original conceptions…well I originally pictured it as much tighter, structurally, especially in the third chapter. But as I was writing it I started to rebel against that instinct and go for looseness. So there’s more stuff in the 3rd chapter that doesn’t move the plot forward, stuff that I thought of as dissonance. I got into Language for language’s sake and narrative for narratives sake. It all worked with where the plot was at that point too. The plot and my language kinda fed off each other in the end.

As far as inputs it’s kinda weird because I’d go through these periods of time where I totally doubted everything I was attempting and then I’d see or read or hear something that would blow my mind and i’d be like ‘if they can do that, I can do this’. so these inputs would salvage me from despair. Redonnet was one, Derek McCormack was another. His writing is not really like mine, but does something that showed me that there is another way. So their writing gave me the self confidence to discover what I needed to do. ….At a more day to day/non despair level Music played a big part and was a huge input. What ever music I listened to always influenced my writing, but what I was writing also influenced what music I wanted to listen to. For example I wanted the book to have this autumnal, end of the year feel, like even the summer chapters occur within a larger sense of fall for me, anyway.. an album that really really nailed that for me was Precis by Benoit Pioulard. I feel that I learned a ton from listening to that album, and that what I learned, in turn impacted my writing. Just word choice, mood, scene, everything. It was like set dressing for my mind.

BB: Set dressing for the mind is really a nice way to say it. I am always cautious and careful of what comes into me, especially of words and sound, when in those periods, and it is nice to hear you talk about it in that same way. I often wonder if books as objects would have turned out differently if the author had listened to something else or read something else at a certain juncture, and if you knew the input therein you could see it bleed out in certain aspects of the sentences. In that way a book can feel like a cut of flesh from a certain period of one’s life.

Was this true with things you wrote before this novel? Do you see a vast difference in the periods of your becoming? Like I wonder if there is a beginning point in you that you began to feel you were breaking the ground you wanted to break, and what was coming into you or going on in your life at that time?

MG: Well, for some reason your question made me think of this, but I should probably jump back a couple questions. I dunno: So early on I kept thinking of the story, the narrative, plot or whatever you can call the structure of my book as this invisible thing, and the characters, images, language setting, basically all stuff that makes up the surface is the stuff that reveals the shape of the narrative, like how smoke reveals the shape of wind. So at least initially I really saw the plot, as separate from and abstract compared to the characters. And the characters and stuff were just tools that would reveal the structure that was the true mind. I think that faded as I wrote the book over 5 years. I mean it was something that was always there but it became less of a focus as the language became more of the thing. But the importance of the actual shape of the narrative was very key. Anyway, I kinda discovered/got into the new acoustic/americana type music that started to come out. A ton of mood in this kinda music (Iron and Wine, Califone, Boduf Songs, Bon Iver…that kind of thing) is kinda haunted and rural. Big sections of my novel could be described that way too. I feel like I was drawn to that music because of what I was writing. But then I fed on it. I’m always open to music as an influence but I don’t end up actually reading very much whilst writing. It’s weird cuz I remember in college reading this interview with Raymond Carver where he basically said when he’s writing he couldn’t really read. I remember thinking he was full of it. I was reading everything I could get my hands on, on top of school, and trying to write too. I kinda thought he was a wimp for not doing it all….but I was young and stupid. But now I know what he meant, kind of. When I’m full swing into writing, I totally can’t read anything. This sounds selfish, but I compare what I’m reading to my writing and I’m all like ‘this sentence should be re written, this paragraph feels awkward..’ because the only filter I have then is my stuff. So everything has to fit into my stuff, at least in my head. So I usually take breaks from writing, a couple days or a week, where I’ll read fiction, or watch films or do something else to recharge my batteries. I need to call out that there’s one small section in my book that was totally influenced by the story ‘Bloodthirsty Man’ by Benjamin Weissman. That story so totally blew me away when I read it, early on in the writing of my book, I dunno. It still is too much for me to wrap my head around. As far as what was going on, and as far as me actually answering your questions as opposed to just babbling…It took like 5 years to write, so it was back in late 03/early 04 that I kinda hit my stride, finishing the first chapter, and coalescing everything into the plot, such as it is, for the rest of the book. Back then I was working a ton at my day job- managing a financial operations department, working 60 hours a week- so just on a basic level I didn’t have much time for writing, and on top of that I ended up very exhausted from work a lot so I’d have these brief snippets of time where I could write. So a lot of time I spent writing I would look at something I’d already written and edit a paragraph or so. That would be an accomplishment for me. The time I had was conducive to that. I was feeling creative but sometimes I just couldn’t move forward and come up with new language. So the book moved forward slowly, but I obsessed on the language. I no longer have that position so I work 40 hours/ week, and I have much more time for writing. Other random stuff that goes through my head when I think about when I started writing the book: Bush winning his second term, becoming vegan after being a lifelong vegetarian, stopping daily coffee, starting daily tea, getting into British Murder Mystery TV shows, discovering a ton of music because of electronic distribution, becoming a beer snob, learning how to lay ceramic tile, figuring out that, at least for me, basic domestic stuff can be compelling in fiction.

BB: Now that your work schedule has changed, and your first book is out there in the world, how will you proceed? What do you have your hands in and how has the publication of your first book changed you or your perspectives, if at all?

MG: Well, as far as proceeding, I’m working on a couple things: I’m working on a novel. It’s about a brother and a sister, but in a weird way. I want it to be structurally interesting and the language to be a little more free, a little looser than TLWOMK. Another thing I’m really excited about is I’m working to put together a short story remix project where a group of mostly unpublished writers and poets whom I totally love and respect are rewriting ‘The Immortal’ by Jorge Luis Borges. So we’ll have like 6 or so versions of the same story. It should be awesome to see what comes out of that, and if it’s successful artistically I would love for it to move on to other stories and involve other writers. I’ve also been writing some record reviews and journalism for Thefanzine.com which is fun and makes my brain work in a different way than fiction. As far as perspective I guess I have more confidence than before my book was published, is that the same for you? I mean I try not to seek validation from others when I’m writing, but at the same time it’s nice to get that validation.

[Pick up Mark Gluth’s novel available now through Akashic, or wherever fine books are sold. To read an excerpt, go here]

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  1. Thomas Moore

      Excellent to see the spotlight here turned onto Mark Gluth’s work. I’ve recently been interviewing him myself for a celebration of his book that’s gonna be over on Dennis Cooper’s blog. The Late Work of Margaret Kroftis is a remarkable piece of work and Mark Gluth is really tremendous writer. Great interview Blake. Cheers!

  2. Thomas Moore

      Excellent to see the spotlight here turned onto Mark Gluth’s work. I’ve recently been interviewing him myself for a celebration of his book that’s gonna be over on Dennis Cooper’s blog. The Late Work of Margaret Kroftis is a remarkable piece of work and Mark Gluth is really tremendous writer. Great interview Blake. Cheers!

  3. Blake Butler

      thanks Thomas… excited to see the DC post!

  4. Blake Butler

      thanks Thomas… excited to see the DC post!

  5. Jeff

      Really insightful interview. Thanks for this. Can’t wait to read the novel – been intrigued by Mark’s work since the first excerpt of this appeared in Userlands.

      Haven’t read all the LHOTB books yet but DC seems to have to have an amazing track record picking top drawer work. Any particular favorites out there?

  6. Jeff

      Really insightful interview. Thanks for this. Can’t wait to read the novel – been intrigued by Mark’s work since the first excerpt of this appeared in Userlands.

      Haven’t read all the LHOTB books yet but DC seems to have to have an amazing track record picking top drawer work. Any particular favorites out there?

  7. m t fallon

      really great exchange, thanks to both

  8. MoGa

      I bought this book today. Can’t wait to read it.

  9. MoGa

      I bought this book today. Can’t wait to read it.

  10. Peter Hook

      Power, corruption, & lies. I dig it.

  11. Peter Hook

      Power, corruption, & lies. I dig it.