I had the chance to send a few questions over to both Matt Bell and J.A. Tyler, and would like to extend my thanks to them now (again) for taking a few minutes to answer them. First up is Matt Bell, whose most recent book (still forthcoming), Cataclysm Baby, I reviewed right here. J.A. Tyler, who runs Mud Luscious Press (publisher of said book), bats second.
Mud Schematic: Your fiction is always beautifully crafted, making it a pleasure to read aloud. So, two questions. One: if the fiction police instructed that you quit the club and choose some other genre to consider your work a part of, what would you land on? Two: sure, you’re a fiction writer (pre-police), but try crafting a top-three list of your favorite poets.
Matt Bell: If I still wrote at all, I’d probably end up writing either plays or essays—but those are both areas I’ve already dabbled in. If I had to do something else completely, maybe I’d give poetry another go: It feels like it might be rewarding to pick the form I’m the worst at and see what gains I could make.
Favorites are always a hard thing to nail down, but James Tate would be up there for sure, as his work was a huge influence on me, and is still a joy to read. Jack Gilbert would be another pick: His “Hunger” is one of my favorite poems, and feels like it contains most of what you need to know about the point of life and writing in one place. I’m so happy to finally have his Collected Poems out so that I can catch up on all the books of his I’ve missed. Final slots get tough because you don’t want to leave anyone out, but I think I’m going to give it to Hiromi Ito, whose book Killing Kanoko is probably the best book of poems I’ve read in the last few years, and one I’m constantly digging out and opening back up.
Mud Schematic: I’m always very interested in list-making or categorizing or cataloging in literature, including my own poems. You took part in that quite a bit with How They Were Found, and I see it again here. Can you speak to that a bit? What’s fun/beneficial about that style/structure, and where do you find yourself struggling with it (if anywhere)?
Matt Bell: I think that a lot of my characters are obsessives, and that the listing and cataloging comes out of that, or creates it. There’s also a bit of megalomania to it too, I think, at least as it sometimes manifests in my work: There’s something to trying to list everything that reminds me of Adam in the garden of Eden, trying to name all of the animals. It feels often like a searching for control or command, and I like the desperate hubris of that.
Of course, some of it is just the power of repetition as well, and also my use of the fragment, which is probably the dominant mode of my thinking and writing. The struggle is really trying to know when those fragments are strong enough to work on their own, and when they need to be sewn together into scene and more linear narrative. There’s a balance between the two that tends to work best, I think, and figuring that out is a decent-sized part of my rewriting process: Work tends to start out more fragmentary, more list- or catalogue-like, and then move toward something more traditionally narrative over time, even if it never quite gets to the kind of extended scenes you might see from other writers.
Mud Schematic: What’s the Ann Arbor fiction/poetry scene like?
Matt Bell: There are so many great people here in the Ann Arbor area, both at the university and unaffiliated with it. I’ve been helping sponsor a reading series in Farmington with a number of other publishers (it’s Dzanc and The Collagist, plus Absinthe: New European Writing and Midwestern Gothic), and we’ve just had a parade of great local writers through there. There’s also Hobart and Short Flight/Long Drive Books and Dogzplot in the area, plus everything coming out of Michigan. I think as a whole we’re doing a better and better job of bridging the independent community and the university community, which hopefully makes it a better place to be for everyone.
Mud Schematic: What’s next for you? Any big projects?
Matt Bell: I’ve been fairly exclusively novel-writing for the past three years or so, so that’ll be the next book. Beyond that, I’m most excited about the books I’ve had the pleasure of working on at Dzanc, as we’ve got an incredible 2012 list: Eugene Cross’s great debut collection Fires of Our Choosing is just out, and next up is Jac Jemc’s gorgeous debut novel My Only Wife, and beyond that we’ve got books coming from George Singleton, Luis Jaramillo, Matt Dojny, Josh Russell, and Jennifer Spiegel, among others. I can’t wait to get these books out to more readers, and to follow them with the rest of this year’s books. I’m excited to be on both sides of the editorial desk this year, with both a book of my own and with all these other books I’ve had the privilege to help publish at Dzanc: It’s a lucky life, and I’m very grateful for it.
Matt Bell is the author of Cataclysm Baby, a novella, and How They Were Found, a collection of fiction, as well as three chapbooks, Wolf Parts, The Collectors, and How the Broken Lead the Blind. His fiction has appeared in Conjunctions, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Gulf Coast, Willow Springs, Unsaid, and American Short Fiction, and has been selected for inclusion in anthologies such as Best American Mystery Stories 2010 and Best American Fantasy 2. His book reviews and critical essays have appeared in The Los Angeles Times, American Book Review, and The Quarterly Conversation. He works as an editor at Dzanc Books, where he also runs the literary magazine The Collagist. In Fall 2011, he began teaching writing at the University of Michigan.
He lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan, with his wife Jessica, and can be reached via e-mail.
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Mud Schematic: This book sort of straddles that line between novel(la) and short story collection. What persuaded you to categorize it as the former?
J.A. Tyler: The novel(la) series with Mud Luscious Press has always straddled the lines of length, genre, approach, and narrative – so a book like Cataclysm Baby is a perfect fit: it is prose yet poetic, dense in language but slim in size, and, as you point out, short stories that ride the narrative wave of apocalypse and parenthood, creating an overall narrative beneath a really beautiful vignette structure. In that way, it was always easy for us to call it a novel(la).
Mud Schematic: What benefits do you see in making books that are a little smaller or blockier in shape than perhaps most other books being published? I’m thinking also of smaller objects like Howl and such.
J.A. Tyler: In terms of physical / production aesthetics, I’m very particular. The way that a book feels in my hands – the size, the paper weight, the ink, etc. – means almost as much to me as the words, so Mud Luscious Press has been bent on ripe and slick production from the beginning. I’m not sure if there is any ‘real’ benefit to producing books in the shape, size, and style that we do, but there is certainly a benefit in terms of the ‘vibe’ it showcases, and the way in which Mud Luscious Press is defined by a reader’s hands.
Mud Schematic: Where do you hope to take this novel(la) series? Any aesthetic(s) or style(s) you’re leaning toward?
J.A. Tyler: With every new title we become more conscious of our style and what we want for the future, but we evolve too with every new book, finding new veins to mine. 2013 will give us a few books with a more ‘clever’ edge than previous titles, like Michael Kimball’s Michael Kimball Writes Your Life Story (on a postcard) and Gabe Durham’s Fun Camp, and Ryan Ridge’s American Homes will be our first title to include interior illustrations, a fun new hurdle that will give us an even brighter interior aesthetic. We don’t know what is beyond that, but we will find the words – and when we do, we will publish them.
J.A. Tyler’s work has been featured in Dzanc Books’ Best of the Web, StorySouth’s Million Writers Award, & Wigleaf’s Top 50 Short Fictions & has recently appeared with Black Warrior Review, Diagram, New York Tyrant, Redivider, & Cream City Review. He is also founding editor of Mud Luscious Press, housed in northern Colorado.