Interview with Author and Poet Alan Catlin

Bio:

Named after grade B movie actor. Phantom Lady. Male lead. Mother’s Secret life as. Divorce year of 1953. Spent as Stranger in Paradise. Home as found. The Snake Pit. Visiting Days on Psychiatric Ward. High school as Hell. College as Ice Hell. Grad school a Lower circle of. Work as Cocktail. Living below the poverty line. A brief Walk in the Sun becomes Interviews with Hideous People. More Cocktail. Show me the way to the next whiskey. The Long Goodbye. The Book Lover. Sober as a judge in a tank full of Drunks. What I am today

What is your greatest accomplishment as a writer so far?

Longevity.

Why do you write?

Writers write because they have to. I know I do. There is no such thing as a writer who stops writing. There are writers who quit but the essence is still the word. You never stop writing, either writing stops you, or something else does. Like disability. Death.

What is your writing process? (Any favorite places to write? Any interesting quirks, traditions, or rituals you may have? How many times might you revise something before being satisfied with it? Besides you, does anyone else edit your work? Etc.)

Once upon a time, when I worked nights and I drank a lot, I used to write only at night. Often that would be at 2 or 3 in the morning until I couldn’t see straight any longer.  When I started working days, I still wrote at night though not as late.  Then I stopped drinking and could write any time, anywhere.  Doesn’t matter where I write or when. I’m not one of those professionals that sits down a desk or with an open note book and crank out a required number of words or pages.  I write when I have an actual inspiration to write. If I don’t, I take notes and come back to the notes for inspiration

 One place that always inspires me is Block Island a tiny island off the coast of Rhode Island (though on a clear day you can see Montauk Point so you could equally say just North of Long Island as the sea gull flies.) Offseason, when we go there, it is quiet and satisfyingly picaresque as it rarely is the same in one place from day to day no matter how often you go to a particular place and we have been going there for thirty years. And the sea air. There is nothing like sea air.

 Quirky? I write my poems by hand on actual paper so I will be forced to do close revisions. When I mentioned this to a college English class I was talking in front of, they thoguht that was hilarious.  Prose usually directly into the computer as my handwriting sucks and there is more editing to do.

As for outside editing, it depends upon the project. I have a friend now who is a professional editor/ghostwriter and a compulsive editor so when I send her something to look at for a reaction, she sends it back with comments. And edits, though I hadn’t expected her to.  It is enormously helpful as I seem to have slept through grammar lessons in high school and it is only recently that I have mastered most of the rudiments of spelling. And I am among the world’s worst two fingered typists. Touch typing ha! I have been known to destroy computer keyboards.  My first typewriter was a Smith Corona “portable” that weighed about fifty pounds.

My wife has helped me greatly with various projects. She’s a good editor but the process is painful. Tact is not her strong point.

How did you come up with the idea for your poem “Past the Point of No Return”?

Years prior to that piece, I wrote a long enjambed poem called “Marching North “which begins as soldiers in a place like Vietnam walking North through the jungle. Along the way they encounter the desolation of a ravaged land that becomes, elementally, increasingly hostile until they are in an Arctic like setting.  There is no reason given why they are marching north and no one appears to be compelling them or leading them, they are just marching because that is what they have to do.  It’s like a Beckett play in that respect.  After 9-11, I thoguht of using that concept only now it was marching to the city.  It is an urban dystopia we can all relate to perhaps inspired by McCarthy’s The Road, but not consciously so.

You could read the piece as a sharp story or as along poem.  Once at writer’s workshop at State University of New York at Albany, the visiting writer, Irishman John Montague said I wrote prosy poetry and poetic prose so take your pick.

What is your background in literature? How much reading do you do? How necessary do you feel it is necessary for an author to read?

 I studied English in college and have a BA.  I am an ABD for an MA that I completed the course work for at Albany but blew off the last steps once I got my draft deferment and I got full time work in my unchosen profession as a barman.

I have always been a voracious reader. I can’t remember not being able to read. Generally speaking, I read 300 plus books and chapbooks a year. I can say this with confidence as I keep track of the titles. I am what has been called an eclectic reader which means I will read just about anything not Romance, Cowboy or fantasy related.  My favorite used book purveyor says no one reads like you do and no one brings in more off the wall books to sell than you do.  I consider that a compliment. I read roughly the same amount of fiction as poetry in a year, though recently I have been upping my non-fiction totals. And I edit a poetry journal on line.  If you check out the review section you can get an idea of what I like to read. I am proponent f reading is essential to a writer. That’s how you learn stuff that might be useful later on.

Could you give us an idea of your upcoming works without spoiling anything?

I spent good deal of the Summer revising old work, most of it prose.  One good thing to come out of the year of reclusive living during a plague, is that I organized, well weeded would be a better description, my personal writing archives.  I literally found whole books of fiction I had completely forgotten about that were never published.  Apparently, I envisioned myself as a prose writer and novelist who occasionally wrote poetry up until I was around 30. I quite my “best job” (as in respected) as a bar manager in a supper club and wrote a half-decent novel that would best be described as speculative fiction/revised history. It was never published, and I sent I to the Brautigan Library of unpublished novels for safe keeping where, appropriately, it disappeared.  I have a certificate sayig that received it once upon a time anyway. Luckily, I have copies. Anyway, one of the first projects was to rewrite a chapbook that is a follow up (companion) to my poetry book Sunshine Superman (Cyberwit). Superman was about my college years in Ice Hell where I majored in English, Intellectual History and Substance Abuse with a minor in card playing.  The premise is a young poet, who just got a fatal diagnosis, writing his friends one last letter as a prose poem, not mentioning that by the time they get it he will be dead. It’s called Dead Letter Office and Cyberwit will be doing it later this year.

Next, I tackled my novel about my nightclub job which I bill as a fictional memoir, called Chaos Management which Alien Buddha printed a couple of months ago and is available on Amazon.  It only took me 14 years to get around to revising it and it took me about 4 hours to get a text together.  I have one last book of Noir movie poems to send out soon. I have published most of the others already under the working title Hollyweird, two as chapbooks Hollyweird (Night Ballet Press) and Blue Velvet (Slipstream winner of the 2017 Slipstream Chapbook contest). The full-length books of three chapbook each are Lessons in Darkness (Luchador Press) and The Road to Perdition (Alien Buddha/Amazon).  The last set for three is Desolation Angels.

I have a complete pair of Memories books ready to go that I am looking for a publisher for. These are abstract, fragmentary prose poems in the manner of the bio above.  I think of them as my unpublishable poems The first book, Memories, of 140 poems, was published by Alien Buddha and the second, Memories Too was published by Dos Madreswas published earlier this year.

Do you have any writing events coming up? For example: something being published/released? A reading of one of your works? Interviews? Any speeches or talks?

Alas no. I used to be fairly active in the area (Tri-city area upstate NY) which and literally dozens of opportunities but the trump Plague shuttered down and most have not reopened. I have done one live streaming at legendary Caffe Lena on Insurrection Day which should still be available through their archived U-Tube app. I did one live reading in the Spring but other than that nada.  Doesn’t look promising going forward either.

What do you hope to achieve as a writer?

I think all writers want to be read. I have had modest success doing that. As I have several books archived in various libraries, research and rare books like Buffalo and Harvard so my books may outlive me.

What do you think of bad reviews? Are they helpful or harmful to you?

The most scathing review I ever had was a rejection letter for Chaos Management which it took me about a decade to realize was, substantively, correct.  I rather wished she had been a little less forthcoming with the diatribes contained within it.  I think her judgment was somewhat prejudice by her intense dislike of the sample she read.

In general, bad reviews and sometimes good ones, just don’t get it and all they do is show how ignorant the reviewer really is. I have been guilty of this myself.

What advice do you have for novice writers?

Persevere. No one ever got anywhere giving up.

What do you feel are the most important resources a writer can use?

Your own imagination.  I think true creativity is in synthesizing what other people have done, prior to your writing, into a form that works or you and is entirely your own.  I credit Bernadette Mayer for the origin of my Memories series but as I went along with other influences equally as important, like David Markson, Carol Maso, helped shape poems and provide direction.  Still others occur as I work, too numerous to mention, though right now I am giving the project a rest after a huge outpouring of work. It’s important to know that every idea you could conceive of, every plot, every device, has been done by someone previously and probably better, though maybe not quite as uniquely as you have. There are no purely original ideas.  So read a lot and adapt.

Where can people find out more about you and your writing? (websites, social media, etc.)

I am editor of the online poetry journal Misfit Magazine. I write an essay for each of the most recent issues (there are 33 so far) and have done so for roughly six years.  I write most of the reviews so you can get an idea of where I am coming from that way. Any of the standard search engines will yield all kinds of leads though, I haven’t searched myself in years and I wonder what I might find now. The mind reels at the horrors such a search may reveal

How many collections of poetry and novels do you have to your credit? Do you have an agent? How hard is it for you to find a publisher?

I honestly have no idea how many collections, chapbooks anyway, that I have published since early 80’s.  A lot. Several dozen easily.  Most of my books are poetry and a good deal of them are out of print and totally unavailable.  The subjects of these vary from highly personal books about a schizophrenic parent, to a series of drink recipe poems, to bar wars, alien nations, and lately the more noir based Hollyweird series.  I wrote a novella called From the Waters of Oblivion loosely based on my last bar job that I self-published and I have some copies left. Also a group of stories called Death Angels.  And Chaos Management is the novel is easily attainable.  I am trying to decide where to send a loosely related series for stories after Chaos including a novella based on a real life, local serial killer. I’m spinning off a character from that novella in another novella about that character in and out of blackout drunk, fugue states in which he may be killing young women. Even he doesn’t know for sure. I know I don’t know if he did or not.

No agent. It was a bitch finding first publishers. I hit three after years of trying but had to wait years for two of them. My selected poems, Drunk and Disorderly took about five years after the guy who was going to do them literally walked off the street into the bar I was working and proposed a book. After you get to know people, establish a kind of reputation, or establish a relationship, it may get easier.  I have had a rich history of publishers either doing my book and the process failing or dying before they could do the book.

How did you find out about The Chamber Magazine?

A post in a call for manuscripts in a group listing on Facebook. One of the only ones I followed up on from there. I read your guidelines, and some stories, and I liked what I saw plus the layout is good. The site looked like someone was invested in the project and cared about it. I submitted despite not being a writer of horror or anything close to it though I can and will do darkness. Actually, if I were to say name on theme I do best or am most interested in, it would be darkness.

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