If you missed Part One of my Interview with Joe Clifford you can find it here. For those of you who read the first thrilling installment, welcome back.
You have written a lot of short stories. What is it about this style of fiction that draws you so?
It’s manageable. Looking up at the mountain of novel writing is scary at first. A short story employs the same elements, beginning, middle, end, conflict, characters, etc., but you can see a start and finish. You don’t have any time to waste in a short story. You don’t have time to waste in a novel, either. But you have leeway.
You have one novel published and another ‘Coming Soon’. Can you tell us a little about these novels?
My hardboiled, old school detective novel, Wake the Undertaker (Snubnose Press) comes out March 29. It’s about a lounge singer who falls for the wrong girl and gets in trouble with the mob. Basically. It’s a fun novel, playing off my love of Chandler, old pulp fiction and comic books. A little superhero mythology. And Chet Baker. Then my autobiographical drug novel, Junkie Love (Battered Suitcase), comes out in April. That’s my darling. A book that I spent most of my life one. The first half fucking shit up, the second half writing it down. Both novels are love letters to San Francisco, really. Also Wake is set in the mythical “Bay City,” it is clearly SF. And Junkie Love is San Francisco. No way around it.
Was it hard to make the jump from Short fiction to full-length novels?
Well, I went to grad school to learn how to do it, so the experience was tempered a bit. It’s nice when you hit a sticking point when writing a novel and can drop a line to a professor, who is a respected expert in the field, and ask what the hell is happening. For a long time people didn’t think creative writing could be taught, and the talent part can’t really be, but you can learn craft, and shortcuts. That’s mostly what MFA programs do. Besides affording the time to write, they teach you how to avoid the traps and pitfalls.
If you could describe your fiction in three words, what would they be?
Same three I use to describe the non-fiction, true story reading series I produce in the Bay Area, Lip Service West (www.lipservicewest.com: “gritty, real, raw.”
Lip Service West, this was something you have created right? Verbal story telling. Can you tell us a little about it? Where the idea came from, etc.
Lip Service is something I was involved with in Miami when I was in grad school. Andrea Askowitz (My Miserable Lonely Lesbian Pregnancy) started it and brought me on to help her co-produce. When my time in Miami was up, Andrea gave me her blessing to carry on my own version out west. Lips Miami is still going, and is wildly successful. My version added the “West,” and while both have the same basic format, 1,500 (approx.)-word, narrative-driven true stories, the west version is decidedly more…Joe. In fact when Andrea saw our flyer with the blood splattered bug, she said it scared her. One of my personal mission statements for LSW was to seek out that old crowd I once ran with. Despite being notorious fuck-ups, junkies are often terrific artists and writers; they are certainly fucking storytellers. We get a lot of ex-addicts, ex-cons, various reformed screw ups. I think it’s important that the marginalized have an avenue to get their voices heard and their stories out there. (And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the San Pablo Arts District, who sponsor our reading series).
It sounds like quite the event. How often do meetings occur?
Seems like every month, honestly. We have the regular event, which is the second Friday, every other month. But then we were asked to read regularly across the Bay (we’ve based in the East Bay of San Francisco). And with all the special events we participate in–Litquake, Beast Crawl, the special Women’s Day even coming up, radio spots, etc.–well, it’s a lot of work. But worth it!
It certainly sounds like an interesting event. If I ever make it over to that side of the world, I will have to try and pop in for a meeting.
Do you think you could ever co-write a novel?
The only person I can envision co-writing a novel with would be Tom Pitts.
A lot of people talk about the whole indie scene and self-publishing phenomenon. It is getting to be a bit of old hat now. Both entities are here, and both are here to stay, would you agree that there is a sort of stasis whereby one cannot survive without the other?
There is probably always going to be a prejudice against self-publishing, which of course can be negated by an author with a good book, who knows how to promote and who can prove naysayers wrong. The problem with self-publishing is that is no one regulating that book’s creation and publication. So you have to be your own editor, and we don’t always do the best job judging and assigning value to our own work. It is an avenue, though, and with the big houses being ever more selective about what they take on, and with e-publishing offering such a clear path to one’s dreams, you can see why people go that route. I don’t think I could ever self publish, which is why I went with the smaller, indie houses. I need someone on the outside to tell me if it’s worthy. It’s a process. Most writers have the same goal: write book, get agent, land 6-figure deal. Which is a bit like applying for a Grammy. Writing as a career is a process. You want to keep moving up the ladder: better book, bigger audience. Keep moving up. At least that’s how it works for me.
Are you an early bird or a night owl?
I can write either time. Although with a kid now, I tend to go to bed pretty early. But there are some nights where I’ll stay up late and write. There is something magical about the middle of the night, the house dark, everyone asleep, the soft glow of the city illumined in the distance, moonlight softly shimmering off the bay as the sea salt fog tumbles down the peaks, rolling across the water… Probably goes back to the shit-ton of speed I used to do. But I like that time of day, when it feels like you might be the last person alive. The only time I can’t write is the afternoon. Between 3 and 5, I’ve got shit.
What does the typical (writing) day look like for you?
My writing week is usually Tuesday – Friday. Starts at 10-sih and goes till noon, lunch, then writing till 3. That’s the basic set up. I workout around that (had a bad motorcycle accident so exercise is paramount). But I work pretty much around the clock. Writing is so much more than just writing. There’s the sending out submissions, correspondence with agents, interviews, whatever. And then I have the magazine, Flash Fiction Offensive, and the reading series (Lip Service West), both of which involve reading subs, editing, formatting, posting stories, videos, setting up readings, etc. And Gutter Books (www.outofthegutteronline.com), where I edit, just opened up subs, so there’s full-length manuscripts to go through. AWP is this week; I have a little book tour planned for May. So you add to that the other editing I do for money, and I am pretty much on my computer all day.
Inspiration is vital to a writer, (even with the perspiration rule being in effect). How do you combat those days when the words just don’t seem to flow?
The mind is a muscle. You need to move it to get it to work. That probably isn’t how muscles actually work, but I was an English major, and it serves well as an analogy. Not sure I buy “writer’s block.” To write you need to sit your ass in the chair and write. That is the fight. Some days I lose that fight. A lot days I lose that fight. But I take it on. That is still the formula. I seem to perpetuate a cycle. I’ll know it’s time to write something new—a new short story, novel, whatever—and I don’t want to. I don’t like feeling compelled to do anything. So I’ll drag my heels, spend too much time reading www.cracked.com, put off the process however long I can. And I am miserable while I am doing this. Then I eventually capitulate, start writing the damn thing, one painful word begets another, and I plug and plod, and soon enough, I feel good about myself and the project, and then I get to the only enjoyable phase of writing for me, the endgame, and I have my product, and I am happy I wrote it. Then it’s time to sit down and write something new. And I am back on Cracked.com.
Do you have any strange idiosyncrasies that are so common to us writing folk?
If there is a psychological malady, I have it. Anxiety, neurosis, OCD, the panic attacks, depression, all that funky fun shit that goes along with artistry. I was just in the studio yesterday, recording tracks for the new EP (I play guitar and sing in a band called The Wandering Jews), and three of us were standing around drinking coffee, and it was, like, “Oh, yeah, panic attacks, I got them.” And “Oh, fear of squirrels? Me too.” It was pretty funny.
What does Joe Clifford do to unwind after a tough day (or at the end of a lengthy interview)?
Today, I am heading back into the studio to finish that record. All the Pretty Things. Our best yet (I think.) Most of my days though? Same as they begin. With my wife and son. I am a family man these days.
You can find out more about Joe from his Website www.joeclifford.com
You can also visit his Amazon Author Page for links to all of his available works.
Joe Clifford is the editor of The Flash Fiction Offensive and producer of Lip Service West, a “gritty, real, raw” reading series in Oakland, CA. His short story collection, Choice Cuts, is out now, and his hardboiled novel, Wake the Undertaker, will be published later this year (Snubnose Press). His novel, Junkie Love, is slated for 2013 release (Vagabondage Press). Much of Joe’s writing can be found at http://www.joeclifford.com. He has been to jail but never prison.