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Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Writer Spotlight: xTx

xTx writes beautiful stories. By beautiful I mean she writes stories that stick daggers in your stomach and then draw exquisite paintings in the sand with your blood. She writes stories that are edgy and dangerous and make you feel a little uncomfortable, like you stumbled on your boss and his secretary banging in the utility closet and they didn't see you and you start to walk away, but then something in you keeps you rooted to the spot, and instead you watch. xTx writes stories that feel like memories you never had, or acid trips you're glad you never had, or something you saw on TV while falling asleep. She is not safe for work. She reaches into your subconscious and takes the bad stuff and the good stuff and squishes them together until you're so mixed up that you can't tell whether you're enjoying the heel to your neck, or if she's just told you that you like it. She writes stories like that, and that is why she is one of the best writers around.

I managed to stop the Mad Typer long enough to get some witty and insightful answers to a few of my questions about her evocative and brilliant writing. You can read the interview after the jump.

Ed. Note: At some point this interview became a launching point for a theory about the underground writing scene that I've been kicking around for awhile, that I may or may not regret airing the second I post this. Pardon my indulgence.

Oh yeah, and there's swearing in this interview for those of you who may want to turn back now.

Tres Crow: Well, normally I would start off by asking my spotlighted writers to tell me a little about themselves, but you have a well-defined interest in fiercely maintaining your privacy so I will instead cordially ask that you lavish me with a short, invented bio for yourself. Feel free to add as much or as few actual facts as you like. I'm sure my readers, and myself won't know the difference anyway.

xTx: I was born in San Francisco, a 6 lb. 8oz female to a mother and father who enjoyed throwing house parties and who didn’t protect me very well. Let’s just say there are a lot of men with mustaches in the 1970’s that enjoyed the time they spent with me. The feeling is not reciprocal. I wore corduroy pants a lot and had really good rollerskating and tree climbing skills. I was a bit of a tomboy. One time I killed a dog. I killed it by tying it up to a tree in a gulley behind my elementary school. I wanted to see how long it would take for it to die. Every day after school I would go down to see the dog and he would look at me like he was thinking yes please, and when I would just stop and stand there and not touch or talk to him he would start to whine and bark and then I’d get nervous that someone would hear the barking and I’d leave the dog and walk home and watch cartoons and play Atari and shit. After a few days he wouldn’t look at me with yes please in his eyes, but more like, I get it. He stopped standing. He didn’t bark or whine. His tongue never went into his mouth all the way. He didn’t look too skinny like I was expecting, just mostly like he had given up. I remember forgetting to go see him when the weekend came and when I went to see him on Monday he was mostly dead because there were flies in his eyes but when I kicked him he moved a little afterwards so I knew he wasn’t all the way dead. I bet myself a pack of Now and Laters that he’d be dead by the next day and I was right. He was a Schnauzer. You know, those terriers that sort of look like they have mustaches? A month later he was just a flattish, rotted space of fur tied to a tree. I didn’t even bury him. Fuck him and his mustache. All of them.

Then more things happened until I got grown up until right now.

TC: Slightly related to the first question, let's just get it out of the way early: Is there a contradiction in seeking publication, which is an inherently public act, while maintaining a nearly opaque "public" persona? I will assume you have a very good reason for the psuedonym, and I certainly won't presume that I deserve to know that reason, but you are an extremely talented writer who is beginning to gather quite a bit of attention and it seems that there will come a point when xTx (the name, the persona) will start to dominate the discussion of your work (to get a little meta here: just like the way in which the name is sort of already dominating this conversation). Is there a point when you will leave the name behind, or is xTx an inseperable avatar for your writerly voice, in the way that, say (and pardon the horrible comparison) Rowan Atkinson is inseperable from Mr. Bean?

I'm not sure these questions are coherent, but it seems your success, the uniqueness of your pseudonym and the persona you've fostered on your blog, and the public nature of publication just scream for some sort of analysis about privacy, the internet, and modern literature/art/celebrity. You are like a walking case-study for the modern state of literature, and the complex interplay between anonymity and the vicarious (over)sharing of ourselves, which is something that has been inherent in publication since time out of mind, but which the internet seems to have enhanced, or highlighted in a new way.

Am I getting this right, or do you simply have a job that would fire you if they found out you write about sex on the internet?

xTx: Yes, I think there is a contradiction in being a ‘private’ writer, hiding behind a pseudonym, yet vying for publication. One of the definitions of publication is, “the act of bringing before the public” so it’s a very awkward line I am walking; trying to maintain a level of privacy, yet trying to get published and read in as many places as will have me.

When I first started sending stories out, it was more of a lark for me, just to see if I could get accepted and if people would like what I wrote. Well, turns out I did and they did, so I kept on doing it. Now that I gained a sort of momentum and now that getting published is more than a lark, I may have some decisions to make in terms of leaving xTx behind and continuing on with a name that contains more vowels. So, yes, I do consider leaving the name behind, but I’m not sure if my writerly voice is inseparable from the avatar of my pseudonym. I guess I will be forced to find out when the time comes.

I probably am a good case study for internet over-sharing/privacy/literature/anonymity. I didn’t mean to be, but it seems I am here and if any sort of college person would like to do a study on me, my contact details are readily available. I would like to know the results of the study as soon as possible as it will help my decision making in regard to what I discussed, above.

And yes, at one point I might’ve had a job that would’ve fired me for writing what I do on the internet. Or maybe one of my husbands would’ve divorced me or one of my parents would’ve abused me more or my Amish brethren would’ve had me banished or one of my girlfriends would’ve moved out on me more dramatically or one of my boyfriends would’ve beaten me beyond recognition. It’s self-protection, plain and simple.

TC: When did you realize you were a "writer"? Was it an epiphany, or a gradual understanding of yourself in relation to the world? Or have you always been a writer?

xTx: I have always been a writer but haven’t started calling myself one until last year. Up until last year I would’ve told you that I liked to write. My earliest memory of writing was when I did an illustrated and fucked up story at age 7 which my mom made a copy of and mailed to Stephen King who actually responded with a typed and signed postcard that my mom has framed and hanging in her office at this very moment.

TC: What is your writing process? Are you a first-drafter? A manic editer? Do you listen to music? Are you inspired by music? Art? Other people's writing? What do you find is the hardest thing about being a writer?

xTx: Those are a lot of questions. Let me start with the standard inspiration question which will lead into the standard writing process question. I am inspired by most anything that impacts me in such a way as to where I cannot shake the source of impact. This could be a phrase, a thing, a scenario, a mood, a sound, an event, an idea or a combination of any of these things. Its significance will be made evident as if by a highlighter pen on the skin of my existence. It will be as though its volume is just a bit louder than anything else nearby; like a crying infant in church that won’t shut the eff up. It will be a thud in my being. It can take many forms and I can’t explain them all because they are intangible and some of them have yet to happen. Suffice it to say, the impact source will develop into an ache or an itch or a swelling inside of my head or chest that I will feel the need to get rid of. “Write it out” as it were. Now, this is where we segue into process. If I can sit and write it out, I will. I will (usually) open up a blank document on my laptop and start with whatever made the impact…especially if it’s a phrase. If it’s a feeling, I will sink into that feeling and roll my eyes back into my head until it generates a direction based on that feeling. I will write and see what comes. If I feel I am getting off track or lost, I will go back to the ‘impact item’ re-feel what made it so, and continue. If I am not near my laptop or writing implements, I will make a voice memo of whatever the impact source was via my iPhone to work on it later. Once the initial vomiting has a basic form; beginning, middle, end, etc., I will go back and tidy it up until it is pretty. The tidying up part is usually where a lot of nice things happen. I like to leave the cake in the cupboard and look at it the next morning to catch new details I might’ve missed before or so that I can see where something might have been lacking or where something needed to be changed. When all feels right I will serve the cake and hope that everyone will think it is delicious.

For me, the hardest thing about being a writer is the writing.

TC: Do you have a day job, and if so does it hurt or hinder your writing?

xTx: Yes I do have a day job and it hurts my writing because I spend most of my time having to work and not write but it also helps my writing because it gives me a solid lunch hour for me to be alone in my office, undisturbed and able to focus on my writing without interruption. I look forward to my lunch hours not for the food, but for the writing time.

TC: Who are the authors knocking your socks off right now?

xTx: Mel Bosworth, Sheldon Lee Compton, Roxane Gay, Len Kuntz, Robb Todd and other people I am forgetting because my brain tends to not work this way.

TC: Your blog is a unique experience. It is at once an extension of your writing, which is both surreal and gut-punchingly blunt, and also a fully fleshed-out experience in its own right. Why did you start the blog? Where do you see it fitting into the greater pantheon of your work? On the surface it appears confessional, but in comparison to something like Roxane Gay's hyper-confessional blog, yours is an acid-trip stroll through your memories and experiences, where the reader is never certain what is the truth and what is fiction or even if you are talking about yourself, a carpet, or someone else. Do you spend much time thinking or writing your entries, or are they as in-the-moment as they appear?

xTx: I started my blog the minute I found what a blog was. All of my life I have had a desire to show my tits to the world with a bag over my head and a blog was the perfect way for me to do that.

I do not know how it fits into my “work”. (Sidebar, “pantheon” = hilarious.) Sometimes my blog becomes my work. Sometimes it is just my blog. I love my blog. I love the people that take the time to read my blog. If I found my blog on the internet and didn’t know it was mine, I would totally read my blog. I hug my blog and hold it by its armpits and tell it how much I love it. My blog is a three legged puppy that never feels good enough because it’s not even though everyone who looks in the window points to it first. It knows it’s not good enough because nobody ever takes it home. That is my blog.

My blog is a lot of ‘in the moment’ and is written as such and then refined until it says what I want it to say. I take as much time as is necessary. When you see things on my blog it is because I do not care about them. They are ‘whatever’. I do not care if they are not perfect or if they say things that make no sense or if they say too much or if they had bad grammar or speling mistackes. I am not trying to impress anyone with things I post on my blog. I am mainly posting for me and my readers. It is different than writing and sending to an editor. Sometimes I will get a large response on a thing and then I will think maybe it could be a thing to send to a magazine and then I might do that. Otherwise, I just post things that I need to ‘write out of my system’ so that people will like or love me. It is probably my biggest cry for attention. It is pathetic.

TC: As I stated in the previous question, your writing could be generally classified as surreal because so often you paint in broad strokes that give the reader an impression of the action or emotions, and yet one can never be entirely certain what's going on. But then, in the middle of it all you'll throw a hard, sharp fact which cuts bone-deep. Reading your work reminds me a little of when I had my wisdom teeth out and I was laid up on painkillers for three days. Most of the time I drifted in a fog of tangled memories and dreams and real experiences, and then occasionally I would hit my face and the pain would cut through the fog and remind me I had a body and it was frail and beat up at the moment. I find that those hard moments are what make your writing so beautiful, not just the language but that you are unwilling to let the reader simply float on a cloud of pretty surrealism, you make sure they know the trauma that's necessitated the painkillers, if you will.

So, how did you cultivate such a unique writerly voice? What authors inspired you? Are you making a grander statement about the fog of communication between people, or the existential crisis of the internet age, which has all of us absorbing enormous amounts of information and spewing it out on others in variously complex rearrangements?

xTx: First of all, I’m sorry about the taking of your wisdom teeth. I am due for x-rays myself and I have been putting it off due to immense fear and dislike of pain. But after your description, it sounds like something I would like to endure. I must find that paperwork and make the appointment.

I do not know why I write how I write or how I have come to write the way that I do. Is it sort of asking one why they walk the way they do or dance the way they do? I think you just do it and maybe along the way you get better at it or learn new moves and depending on the applause or how it feels under the strobe lights, you keep it as part of your repertoire or you throw it out. I like fucked up things but I also like pretty and nice things. I especially like when those things meet and I like trying to lay them on top of each other and forcing them to rape and make babies. Sometimes I like to make it all a gentle blur, like you said, with triangles of knives sticking out at random intervals in the dark of it. I think it’s because, as a reader, that’s how I sometimes want the writer to treat me. I like it when a writer treats me like a princess and then a whore and then a princess again, like, slap, kiss, slap, kiss until I don’t know if I am being loved or hated. And, at the end, despite the blood and bruises, I am thanking them for every bit of it. That’s how I sometimes like to be treated. And I like to treat my readers the same way when I can, I guess.

TC: In reading your work and blog, as well as the work of the writers that you link to and praise on your blog, I see the nascent shape of a new literary vanguard in the loose conglomerate of writers grouped around the likes of PANK, and JMWW, and Monkeybicycle, et al. I don't think I'm being hyperbolic when I state that far from the 20 under 40 crap the New Yorker is jabbering about, some of these writers, yours and my contemporaries, will be the voices remembered by our grandchildren. Not just because the writing is good, but because these writers better capture the current zeitgeist and are primarily publishing in the burgeoning and dominant medium...the internet.

A few characteristics of this new vanguard I've noticed, of which you are an important part (bear with me, this might take a moment):

A.) The primary point of connection is the relatively small nucleus of online and print markets which are edited, written, and read by this new vanguard (markets include the aforementioned ones as well as
Storyglossia, Hobart,The Foundling Review, Necessary Fiction, Kill Author, etc.). These markets all share a similar literary asthetic, and also by allowing the members of the new literary vanguard to both publish, and edit each other's work, creates a literal marketplace of ideas for the new online literary elite, in which the nucleus of the movement are constantly influencing one another in real time, which has historically been paramount in all new art movements, that cross-pollenization. The point being that a relatively small group of authors and editors are creating a secondary literary movement apart from the traditional, and decaying literary establishment.

B.) The generalized asthetic of the new literary vanguard is a Carver-esque gritty/minimalist realism (which you, xTx, do not actually fit into all that cleanly) which can include magical realism or fantasy, but only insofar as it is used to emphasize the realistic. But additionally the new vanguard is unabashedly sincere about this realism. It is not an affect or a device; it is the truth as best as these authors can present it, which is unique because, though linguistic irony and sarcasm are employed, the sincerity underlying the emotions in the work make the new vanguard effectively
post-irony, and hence post-postmodern.

Personally, I like the term Neo-Sentimentalism because it is directly lifted from David Foster Wallace's essay "E Unibus Pluram" in which he basically predicts exactly the coming of this movement. In that essay he states that irony as a dominant linguistic vehicle and postmodernism in general create nothing new, they simply eat themselves until all that's left is a self-referential soup that no one understands except the author (i.e., a world where everything is
Finnegan's Wake). So, DFW posits, we are left with only two options for the literary world after postmodernism: 1.) literature and culture are effectively dead or 2.) the next literary movement will be a group of Neo-Sentimentalists who reclaim irony as a literary tool and espouse sincerity as the new dominant linguistic vehicle. He thought that in a world where irony was king then only sincerity would be truly radical. I see this happening in your writing and in Roxane's and Alan Stewart Carl's and David Erlewine's and Ethel Rohan's and, hell, even in mine, where we have a generation of author's who were raised in the postmodernist soup and are no longer interested in hipster detachment, but rather in getting to the meat of human connection. The most curious aspect of this is that 30 years ago literary fiction was busy becoming more academic and meta- and sincerity and naivete was primarily the domain of popular fiction (Stephen King, Dean Koontz, etc.) but now popular fiction (Dan Brown, Michael Connelly), even popular literary fiction, has become crass and cliched and literary fiction is the place to find sincerity and honesty.

C.) The new vanguard have appropriated the internet, and effectively oligopolized it, in order to popularize its literary vision. While the
New Yorker and Atlantic Monthly and The Paris Review may dominate the print market and hold sway with the dominant media, markets like PANK and Kill Author are busy building a vast internet empire that is relatively unknown to the literary elite (for now) but is well-known to this new literary vanguard. These internet markets are starting to have the sort of sway that the New Yorker used to have (albeit nowhere near the monolithic status of the New Yorker) but in the literary world of the future, control of the internet will be/is important and these leading online markets are doing their part to stake their claim. Hence, the use of the social-networking capabilities of the internet has made this new vanguard the first decentralized, geographically-speaking, art movement of the postmodern period. It used to be that in order to have the sort of intense cross-pollenization occurring now, artists would have to be in close proximity to one another, but now writers can influence each other's writing without ever even really meeting in person.

D.) The new vanguard is dominated by short story writers, though that's changing. Since the movement is primarily centered on internet-based publications it necessitates that the short story and flash fiction will be the dominant literary vehicles, however several of the writers I would place in this movement are either working on, or soon to publish short story collections, or novels.

So, having stated all that, my first question is: Do you see the same thing, and if so where do you see yourself fitting in all of this? I personally put you in the thick of it (despite your not necessarily "fitting in" stylistically) because you have been referenced as directly influencing some of the movement's leading figures, you've been published readily in the movement's leading publications, and your writing exudes sincerity (even with the whole pseudonym thing).

In relation to Item D, the dominant popular vehicle for fiction is the novel, and so I suppose much of the relative anonymity of the new vanguard is due to the short story being its dominant vehicle. However right now several writers are working on novels and will be seeking publication going forward. If this is indeed a movement, who do you see "popping" first (you can include yourself, I won't fault you)?

Sorry for the long-winded explanation, but this stuff has been rolling around my head for several months. I truly think y'all are on the edge of something big. Too many writers share too many features and are simply too darn good to remain on the fringe for much longer. And if one pops I think the rest will too in a sort of literary daisy chain (ala Seattle and Grunge circa early-1990s).

xTx: I’m afraid I’m probably going to give you a disappointingly simple answer to your very impressively long question that I needed to consult both a dictionary and Wikipedia in order to try to understand it.

I’m afraid I do not evaluate the internet literary ‘scene’ in the same big picture way that you and others do. I work on a very small scale vision that is selfishly focused around myself as I am sort of new to how all of this works. I have always tended to ‘learn as I go’ in my life and writing/publishing is no exception. I walk my path with a flashlight and not a search light. I am really only thinking two steps ahead most of the time, therefore I really find it hard to comment on this.

I mean, in my limited understanding I feel like the magazines you mentioned are publishing so much great work that I would have to believe that it’s only a matter of time before some of the authors break through and get more worldly recognition and by doing so bring recognition to the magazines themselves. For me it feels like a bubbling up waiting to fully boil period for online literature. I think online literature will begin boiling within the next five years. How can it not? There are too many amazing writers fueling its heat.

Where do I fit in? Dude, I’m just one of the many trying to make people see me through my words. It’s all a bit like reverse fishing; we (writers) sit in this crowded little pond all day waiting for a hook to pull us to the surface. In this scenario we WANT the fisherman to catch us, take us home and feed his family with us. The pond is crowded. I wear a bright shirt and hope for the best.

Who do I see “popping” first with a mainstream novel or whatever? Well, I don’t really keep track of what everyone in the online writing scene is up to, but Matt Bell seems like he’s on track for that, but my money is on Roxane Gay. Her writing slays me. She’s a bottomless pit of talent. Mark my words when I say that I will be first in line at her Barnes & Noble book signing.

TC: What is next for xTx? Are you working on a novel? Any big projects in the pipeline?

xTx: I have three projects that are in the works, but nothing so close to existence that I could share them with you now. They are all books or book-related. Also, I have several movies coming out soon in which I play secondary roles alongside big name celebrities. My hidden identity is actually a very public one. It is very funny that I am a very famous somebody pretending to be a very infamous nobody on the internet. It will be so funny when everyone finally finds out that I am Cameron Diaz or Sandra Bullock or Angelina Jolie Pitt. You will piss your pants laughing.

xTx can be found everywhere, but mostly on her blog, Nothing To Say.


Roxane Gay said...

This was a really interesting interview where interesting = awesome.

Tres Crow said...

Well, with a subject like xTx you're practically guaranteed awesomeness. That girl has talent growing out of her like hair.

Charles Dodd White said...


Interesting comments about the "literary vanguard". You've articulated something there that I've been thinking for a while.

Also, great interview, of course.

Tres Crow said...

I'm glad to know I ain't alone in this. Of course, it isn't some catch-all theory for the entirety of modern literature--you, for one, are doing some very interesting things without strictly "belonging" to the new literary vanguard--but there is definitely a theme developing that one can discern if you are reading the right 'zines.

BTW, I've started "Lambs" and am already blown away. As soon as I finish I'll write up a review for the blog. Unfortunately I read about as fast as a five year old, but I'm thoroughly engaged.

Thanks for the kudos on the interview.