Nate Lippens’ novel MY DEAD BOOK was released in November, 2021 through Fellow Traveler Series and is available to purchase here.
Thomas Moore’s novel FOREVER was released in September, 2021 though Amphetamine Sulphate and is available to purchase here.
I want to start at the end. I know you work in an intuitive and instinctive rather than planned-out way, but I wondered if you had the end of Forever in mind when you began writing the book or if you found your way to it as you wrote? Was another ending possible? (I guess this is a writing and existential question––is there a difference?)
It’s kind of strange, because with the two books that came before Forever, I had the final line ready way before the books were completed, and I absolutely was writing towards them, knowing that they were there whenever I got to that place or somewhere when I just knew they should be placed. With this one the ending came – I think – and I’m sometimes terrible with this type of thing because sometimes things can be a blur when I’m writing – but I think the final lines came in as I got to the end of the book. I think that’s probably characteristic with Forever though – in terms of being different to other things that I’ve done – there were a few differences this time – the time it took to finish, certain devices I chose to use and certain stylistic choices. Forever seemed to come about in a different way to how my books usually appear to me.
I was actually going to start at the opposite end of your book, and that beautiful first line: My dead friends are back. I lie in bed at night and see them. I honestly got shivers when I first read that – it was like this siren – it signalled perfectly some of the haunting and gorgeously sad moments in the book that were to come. I wanted to know when this book started – there’s an emotional weight to it that makes me feel like it’s been in the works for quite a while now. I mean, I could be wrong, but is this the case? What was the starting point? Is there usually a specific way in which you create a text, or does each new piece dictate what it needs itself?
I think my method has changed a lot over the last few years. It used to be that I would get a first line and the story would build off it. I would have some sense of who was talking, and the first line would set the tone and I’d just go. But I started writing shorter scenes and then arranging and rearranging them. It was really intuitive. Something kind of musical. The arrangement would stick––if that makes sense. For My Dead Book, I had a lot of the scenes and vignettes in different forms. Many from much longer stories. Some dating back ten years. Some just lines in my notebook. As I looked at them, I could see the threads.
I’d written a lot about being a throwaway queer teenager in the 1980s and AIDS but over the last year I was talking to friends and remembering people and getting this sense we were all going through something. COVID brought up a lot of painful memories, Especially, around evangelical Christians controlling the response and the flagrant ignorance, and the way loss was being handled. The danger of touch. Of course, AIDS and COVID were different because of rabid homophobia and people with AIDS were treated as pariahs who deserved death, but there were enough resonances. I wasn’t sleeping well, and I started writing at night and that material became the core of the book. Once I had that first line the order started to present itself.
Forever opens with “I’m writing this instead of killing myself, perhaps more on a whim than anything else. It doesn’t mean that I’m not going to kill myself, it just means not yet.” Ambivalence, loneliness, and isolation––it’s all there. It’s harrowing, but what’s incredible to me is what spools outward from that. The narrator is traveling, cruising, and seeking connection but with an underlying resignation. He’s emptying desire. He’s finalizing. You mentioned Forever coming about differently than your other books. Did the subject matter dictate that or were there other factors?
I was going to get to the spectre of AIDS in your book. In some ways, that, and other things – the way the characters are spoken of so candidly for example – brought to mind some of things that I loved about the New Narrative movement. It’s a part of left field writing history that I’m always drawn to and have been immensely inspired by. I dunno, but something about your book really fell in line with a lot of the things that I loved about the New Narrative movement/style/whatever you want to call it and I wondered if that was also true with you? Is the New Narrative an influence at all?
I love what you said about my narrator emptying the desire. I was going to say that no, I didn’t think that the subject desire dictate how I wrote the book but after really thinking about how you described it, maybe it did – who really knows, with these things, right? It would make sense. I wrote this book faster than any of my other books – I wanted to get to the end and the completely ties in with the subject matter – that finalising. So perhaps you’ve nailed something that I hadn’t been aware of myself. Wow. Interesting for sure. I think the whole lockdown thing influenced the writing too – just in terms of me having some more time to write rather than the writing being disrupted by usual everyday stuff. It’s also different to my other stuff in that I use the idea of place a lot more obviously that I usually have. I name a place, which I usually choose not to.
New Narrative is definitely a big influence for me. Dodie Bellamy, Kevin Killian, and Sam D’Allesandro. I discovered their work after reading Burroughs and Acker and then Dennis Cooper. There was a whole overlap of Downtown New York writing like Jane DeLynn, Lynne Tillman, and Gary Indiana––I think the critic Elizabeth Young called it post-realism––that had some of that texture too. First-person, seemingly autobiographical, including pop and art references that made a huge impact. Then came Semiotex(e)’s Native Agents Series with Eileen Myles, Michelle Tea, Cookie Mueller. Smart, funny working-class voices weren’t something that I’d encountered much before. It was either middle-class people writing about working-class people or stuff where the interiority is stripped away and everything happens on the surface. Reading a working-class intellectual like Eileen was a major shift in my perception and the poetry and stories I was writing. Or trying to write. I was in my teens and twenties when I was reading all of those writers for the first time. My night school.
Influence is something that’s always a little fraught. I have no problem showing mine because they changed the world for me and I always hope more people read them (Horace the main character of Lynne Tillman’s Cast in Doubt is still one of my favorite gay narrators). You’ve talked about Dennis Cooper and the power of his writing on you. What are your influences or the sort of tributaries and lineage for your work?
Yeah there’s certainly that overlap. I love Tillman and Indiana, too. And from the list, I think we have some very similar influences. All the New Narrative stuff. Then a load of French writers, I guess names you’d expect like Bataille, Genet, then the Nouveau Roman stuff – Marguerite Duras, Nathalie Sarraute. With my stuff I think my influences are often from other forms too – music, films, visual art. I get as much from that as I do from books. I could list stuff for days. I’m kind of constantly in this state of being enthusiastic and excited and inspired by stuff. I’m very rarely bored. There are always new things to read and see and hear and feel and get turned on buzzed by.
Actually, that leads on nicely to something I wanted to ask. There are several references to art and culture in your My Dead Book. For me, it made me think of one of the essays in Alain Robbe-Grillet’s For A New Novel, when he talks about how a writer should not try and be timeless but rather they should try and date their book in a certain way, I suppose as a way of making it feel more alive, fresher or whatever … I’ve found that stuff helpful in my writing. I wondered if there was a specific reason for the references you choose to mention – was it just what worked best with the story or did you choose certain reference points for a specific stylistic reason or as a device or something?
I definitely want my writing to feel of its time. I want it to age too. Posterity and timelessness seem so straight to me. Music, art, and movies inspire me so much and a lot of the references in My Dead Book were my way of paying homage to work that made me possible as a person. The photographs of Nan Goldin, David Armstrong, and Mark Morrisroe were huge for me. Old movies were how I connected with older gay men when I was younger. There was a cultural fluency that was expected. It’s a stereotype now, but that really was important. I think too because I’d left high school and didn’t go to college, I was open to a lot more. I followed my interests to a maybe extreme degree. Jimmy DeSana, whose photograph is mentioned in the book, did a lot of commercial work for bands and artists––he photographed John Giorno, Laurie Anderson, and William S. Burroughs for an album on Giorno Poetry Systems called You’re The Guy I Want To Share My Money With––and his art photos were very staged, very much about creating one indelible image. Sort of the opposite of Goldin. I love the mix of both things. That kind of intimate diaristic documentary feel and artifice and dream-like mythology. Those two tones influenced what art and movies and music went in.
Your writing about cruising is some of my favorite sex writing. You evoke all the wordless code and excitement and danger. There’s pleasure and also loneliness but you leave so much ambivalence in that it’s never one thing. It captures and expands so many of the themes of your work in this really intense way. I admit I worry sometimes that the sex in my work overshadows other stuff and I’m always trying to find that balance between content and aesthetic concerns. How do you approach it?
I can see a lot of those people in your work. The Goldin thing actually – that’s interesting – her portraits of friends who may be dead now, long lost lovers, private moments – I can definitely see that influence on My Dead Book, kind of like the book is an ensemble piece or something. And I’m totally with you about prosperity and timelessness seeming very straight.
Thanks about the sex stuff. That’s actually really important to me and very reassuring to hear. I’ve done lots of little experiments and tried to write about sex in different ways. It’s sometimes complicated more by the fact that it’s a loaded subject with so many people for different reasons – sex, I mean, rather that the writing of it – that they come at it with all their own baggage and it can be quite tricky. I think I just try and keep it quite flat, simple descriptions of the actual acts themselves – no metaphors or anything like that because I think that’s when stuff can get really quite bad and embarrassing. I try not to lead anyone in any clear direction.
Have you got any specific approaches when it comes to your use of dialogue? You nail it really well.
The dialogue often comes to me before the full scene or even a clear character. I’ll have a line and then bounce something off that and that’s when I get a picture of who’s speaking. The syntax and pauses and euphemisms people use really fascinate me. I’ve always had fast, funny people around me and I think that rhythm is just ingrained. My mom was a marathon telephone talker when I was a kid––like a midwestern Brigid Berlin––and I inherited that. I also try to vary spoken and embedded dialogue, so sometimes the characters are recalling someone else saying something or the narrator summarizes what’s been said to him. But I’m old-fashioned enough that I love quotation-marked back-and-forth. It’s stagey but still real.
Forever has an almost monologue or soliloquy-like directness and how it played with that. Parts of it reminded me almost of Sarah Kane’s work. Intimacy and vulnerability that also has blunt beauty to it. I know you said film and art are big influences. Could you see adapting your work for theatre or film, or writing something specifically for that?
I often play around with dialogue a lot, too, which is why I was asking. I was interested in your approach. I mean, with my last two books dialogue hasn’t been that heavy in the text but previously I did it a lot and still intend to. I like playing around with anonymous voices with random entities having conversations until something sticks or until I hit on something that feels like I need to use it.
Yeah, I love Sarah Kane’s stuff. It’s so heavy and overwhelming. I’ve dipped my foot into writing for theatre stuff when I’ve been given the opportunity. I’d love to try more. It’s a form I know very little about really, which is always exciting. And yeah, I think that I’d love to be able to have a go at writing a screenplay or something like that. If the opportunity arises then I’d probably jump at it. How about you? Have you wrote for other mediums?
In my twenties, I performed solo plays and I learned a lot about writing and delivery and pacing from that. I’d written and published poetry starting in my teens and done reviews for zines but writing something to be performed and stand as something off the page was really incredible. I’d love to write something like that again. Probably for someone else to perform.
Your poetry is so strong and singular. Did you start out writing poetry and then move to prose?
Oh awesome – zines have always been a great love of mine. What kind of zines did you write for? Was there much of a writing scene or community when you were growing up? Do you plan to publish a collection of your poems at any point?
I’m trying to think. I published poems first, for sure. I think I’d always wanted to write prose too. It just took a while to work out how to do it in a way that worked. It took and still takes a lot of work. I think poems sometimes come a lot more naturally. I still think I look at my prose with a similar lens to my poems, actually. They’re definitely linked.
I wrote for Punk Planet and for small punk and queer zines. I also published Mattachine Gun which I called an effeminst zine and that turned briefly into a band. I didn’t really have a writing community. It was mostly musicians and performance artists. It felt a little lonely at the time, but now I think it helped me learn to be inspired by a lot of other types of work. And I have a probably peculiar but broad knowledge of a lot of underground art because of it.
I would love to publish a poetry collection. I’ve slowly accumulated poems over the last decade that I’m satisfied with. To me, it’s the most difficult form, which is why I’m so impressed that you write novels and poetry and there’s such a seamless tone and power to both. The compression and juxtaposition of poetry has had a huge influence on my prose writing.
Are you working on something new now?
The loneliness of writing zines. Yeah, I remember that too. I remember it dearly these days. I used to make my own zines and send them off to other people in the UK and other countries. I remember buying these riot grrrl zines and just feeling like I had the most explosive stuff ever in my hands – it was completely thrilling. I never quite enjoyed all the cutting and pasting, for whatever reason. I guess l’d make a poor visual artist. I still have a very close friend that I made years back when we used to trade zines and write each other letters. The internet changed all of that. And also, as I got older I started meeting artists and writers and musicians in real life. But I will forever be grateful to how zines saved me and put me in touch with people at a time when I really wasn’t.
Yeah, I’m working on some stuff. I shouldn’t say too much because it’s early days and I don’t want to count the chickens before they hatch but I’ve been writing some poems, there’s a collaboration with someone that I’ve been trying to get my head around and also in the last few days a new fiction seems to announced itself to me and I started going with that and tentatively writing some new paragraphs the other day, so l’ll see where that goes. How about yourself?
That all sounds exciting. I’m working on a short novel and revisiting a bunch of stories that are turning into a different novel. I really love writing these 80-120 page things. I spent so many years doing stories, which I did enjoy, but getting them out into the world is really draining.
It feels like something has shifted since My Dead Book came out. I feel some freedom and maybe less pressure, or a different pressure, I guess.
Nate Lippens is the author of the novel My Dead Book (Publication Studio, 2021). His short fiction has appeared in Catapult, Entropy, and Fugue, and is forthcoming in the anthology Pathetic Literature, edited by Eileen Myles (Grove, 2022).
Thomas Moore’s books include A Certain Kind of Light, In Their Arms, When People Die, Skeleton Costumes, Small Talk at the Clinic (with Steven Purtill), Alone, and Forever.