Tuesday, February 15, 2011

interview with jason gusmann

as those ancient beasts the book and the novel carefully peer at and circle the new beast the internet, wondering if they are about to be devoured, the "cell-phone novel" and the "twitter novel" are two little birds which have perched on the new beast's powerful shoulders.
jason gusmann is one of the few (so far) american practitioners of the twitter novel. some (not all) of jason's efforts - including his completed novel "richie" - have gone into this form. more details on jason can be found at his website fictional mixtape, and on the website of the tribe literary agency, which represents him.

Why do humans talk so much?  Why do they write?
The first question is much easier to answer - humans talk so much because 75% of you are Extroverts and you love that shit.  The 25% of us that don't - Introverts - are primarily responsible for the writing and reading that goes on in the world because it is our favored form of communication.   

If you break the second question down further it becomes why does a smaller percentage of Introverts choose to write fiction?  (Never trust any fiction written by an Extrovert.)  I assume it's the same reason for the others that it is for me: there really is no choice in the matter.  Fiction writing is like a steam valve, and if you don't pull the lever and release the steam every once in awhile the engine blows itself apart.
Are writing and talking the same thing?
I don't think so.  I often talk just to make sure that I'm still real and I often write to make the world seem less real. 
Does the blog/twitter/internet novel have a future?  Does it have a present?
Blog/twitter novels absolutely have a present, but it's one of those "if a tree falls in Wordpress and no one is there to read it…" situations.  The question if they are any good is also moot - one quick perusal of Dan Leo's brilliant Railroad Train to Heaven will put that to rest.  If blog/twitter novels have a future is a much tougher question because in this country there haven't been any real success stories involving blog/twitter novels yet, although the "keitai shoustesu" (cell phone novel) has been big overseas for quite a while now.  To my knowledge, the only American novel that has made the transition from blog/twitter to dead-tree version is Matt Stewart's The French Revolution and you all know how that turned out.  *sound of crickets chirping*  


 Did discovering the twitter novel form turn you aside from some other mode of writing? Was it a fall off your horse revelation, or just "hey maybe i'll try that?"

The twitter novel was a real “road to Damascus” moment for me, not so much due to the immediate electronic transmission of it (although that was a nice bonus) but for the endlessly winding sentence melody that could then be broken up into verses or stanzas that enforce a kind of poetic focus on the minutiae of each little 140-character section.  Just prior to making the discovery I had written a novel which was very traditional grammatically and in narrative as well.  It was awful.  Richie, my twitter novel, started off life in this manner also and probably would’ve ended up just as bad if I hadn’t found a form that matched the freedom being sought by the characters in the narrative.  As it is, I’m as happy with Richie as anything I’ve ever written

 Does the zeitgeist have clutching tentacles or warm caresses?

Oddly enough, the zeitgeist has warm, caressing tentacles.  Go figure.

Do you have any interest in out and out cutups? Does the phrase "rub out the word" make your heart beat or your blood boil?

I definitely dig cut-ups.  In fact, in “Agent Stax / Agent Volt”, a collaboration with the incomparable Rhoda Penmarq, all of Agent Volt’s dialogue is a cut-up of computer code and a softcore vampire novel.  I tried to make Agent Volt sound as much like Kenji Siratori as I possibly could.

Are all humans "writing" in their heads all the time, just not being recorded?

That is a really cool theory that holds no water whatsoever.  Most people are no more “writing” in their heads than they are “writing” on Facebook or twitter.  Now, “writing” in their dreams, however...
The "conventional" narrative novel has been pronounced dead over and over for almost a hundred years, but is still being written and sold and read.  Is this good or bad?
It's not really good or bad, but just kind of absurd.  The fact that we are discussing the current writing, sale and reading of books that could conceivably be read and understood by someone living a century ago is bizarre when compared to the advances that have gone on during that period in the visual arts or music that would render them incomprehensible to someone of that era.  It's been 50 years since Naked Lunch was published and 40 since The Atrocity Exhibition came out and writers are still concerning themselves with plot structure and characterization and subplots?  Unthinkable.   

  Is "conventional" writing a form of gravity whose pull overcomes everything "experimental"?
The pull of narrative isn't necessarily a bad thing, despite what I stated above, because it can provide something to work against.  I suffer from option paralysis, so it's good to have something or someone attempt to indirectly rein me in and create some friction to stimulate the creativity in a new way.    
You have a list of favorite books/writers on your agent's site. Care to update it?
I would!  That list is way too narrow – it needs Flannery O’Connor, Doug Kenney, Terry Southern, Hubert Selby, Jr., David Foster Wallace (for A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again),  Leonard Cohen, Dashiell Hammett, Jim Thompson, Van Morrison, Lou Reed, Alex Chilton and the guy* who wrote How To Eat Fried Worms – I stole everything from that guy.

* Thomas Rockwell


Dan Leo said...

Ha -- I never realized till now that Agent Stax utilized cut-ups!

I like your points about extra-and-introverts. How can anyone do any writing or drawing or creating if they're chattering all the time?

That first picture, rhoda --my word machine fails...

(Oh, and thanks so much, Jason, for the shout-out!)

kathleenmaher said...

Great interview. I hadn't realized how beautifully you work together, rhoda and jason.
The next three months or so I'm up against some rough stuff: this may cheer me up when I'm able to stop crying and screaming at people.
Oh yeah, that extrovert/introvert theory: it's not air-tight.

Matt Stewart said...

Hey Gussman - Matt Stewart here. I see one of your turn-offs on the Tribe site is "mean people."

How delicious ironic!

You also say here that my novel The French Revolution launched to crickets - which is not only mean, but also dreadfully false. My novel was covered in CNN, NYT, WSJ & more, and listed as a Best Book of 2010 by the SF Chronicle and a Notable Debut by Poets & Writers. And it was the first Twitter novel - not a copycat.

Compared to a blogspot page?

We're in it together man. Power to you. But being a dick in the name of snarkiness isn't helpful.


Jason Gusmann said...

Matt, if The French Revolution was such a huge success, why are you so threatened by a little blogspot interview with a little blogspot writer?

Better luck next time you google your own name.


DanaeAyusso said...

I think I should point out that it's rather obvious that Matt constantly Googles himself (how kinky does that sound?) to see what pops up (still slightly sexual in reference) and if anything new surfaces on this thing called the internet, or interweb (as old people call it...personally I call it the free-porn-highway) and stumbled across the amazing wit and skills of Jason Gusmann......I just thought I'd point out how it appears.



Dan Leo said...

Great, now I'm gonna have Jonathan Franzen on my ass...