The Write Stuff: Joshua Mohr on Clutching onto Bigfoot for Emotional Support

josh mohr by kevin irby.jpg
Kevin Irby

The Write Stuff is a series of interview profiles conducted by Litseen, where authors give exclusive readings from their work.

Joshua Mohr is the author of three novels, most recently Damascus, which The New York Times called "Beat-poet cool." He's also written Some Things that Meant the World to Me, one of O Magazine's Top 10 reads of 2009 and a San Francisco Chronicle best-seller, as well as Termite Parade, an Editors' Choice on The New York Times Best Seller List. His new novel Fight Song comes out later this month.

When people ask what do you do, you tell them ... ?

I always tell people I'm a teacher. I find the word "novelist" to be infested with body odor. Yes, I write books, but first I'm a professor at USF. Plus, I find that teaching informs my own art. In classes I get to chat narrative with other nerds. It's a fantastic gig.

What's your biggest struggle -- work or otherwise?

I have terrible insomnia. As I'm answering these questions, it's 10:14 in the morning and I still haven't gone to bed yet. It works to my advantage when I'm finishing up a book, but sometimes -- like today -- it's brutal.

If someone said, "I want to do what you do," what advice would you have for them?

Being a writer is about muscle memory, putting your ass in the chair consistently. You can't smoke clove cigarettes, waiting for the muse to whisper in your ear. Brew some coffee. Get to work.

Do you consider yourself successful? Why?

My mind doesn't work that way. I focus on the things I can control, which is simply to write the best books I can. As the poet Jay-Z says, "Onto the next one." Once I finish a novel, I get busy cooking on what will be the next sordid romp.

When you're sad/grumpy/pissed off, what YouTube video makes you feel better?

Any glam rock clip. Poison. Motley Crue. Van Halen (with David Lee Roth). Hell, even the occasional Winger or Warrant salves my wounds. For whatever reason, spandex, hairspray, and cocaine make me feel better.

Do you have a favorite ancestor? What is his/her story?

My dad told me that one of our relatives is Joseph Mohr, who wrote the music for the Christmas Carol "Silent Night." I don't know if it's true or not, but I dig the idea of keeping the rumor going. So yes, my favorite ancestor wrote "Silent Night"!

Who did you admire when you were 10 years old? What did you want to be?

I used to want to be a stuntman. My friends and I would practice falling down, jumping off walls and whatnot. Then I realized I'm a pussy.

Describe your week in the wilderness. It doesn't have to be ideal.

Well, obviously, Bigfoot is there. He's having a kegger. But really it's just me and him. A two-man kegger. It starts off all hooting and howling and high fives. Maybe a round or two of grab-ass. A few hours later, though, I'm drying my drunken tears on his fur, clutching onto him like he's a life raft.

Would you ever perform a striptease? Describe some of your moves. Feel free to set the mood.

I have no moves. Dancing, strip teases, in my hands they're comprised of terrible gesticulations, facsimiles of seizures. Nobody wins when I cut the rug.

How much money do you have in your checking account?

I have no idea. I know it sounds like I'm avoiding the question, but I've never balanced my checking account. I just put checks in and take money out. And yes, I'm probably avoiding the question.

Are you using any medications? If so, which ones?

I take a baby aspirin in the morning. These days, that's as crazy as it gets.

How many times do you fall in love each day?

I'm married. And she knows how to read. So I only fall even more deeply in love with her every day. Obviously. Period. Right, dear?

What would you like to see happen in your lifetime?

A cure for cancer.

What is art? Is it necessary? Why?

Art can teach us empathy, and our world needs all the empathy we can get. In literature, a reader occupies a psychology that's not her own. She is plugged in and privy to different beliefs, traditions, morals, memories, etc. Maybe looking through a consciousness that challenges our world beliefs can make us a more caring species.

When you have sex, what are some of the things you like to do?

Appreciate my six pack in the mirror.

What are you working on right now?

My new novel Fight Song comes out this month, so I'm not really working on anything. I'm touring a lot with this book. But I do have a sense of what the next project will be: A woman gets a repeating sentence in her head, in a language that she does not speak. And the line is about a murder. She needs to try and save the doomed individual. That's at least what it's about right now. These things have a tendency to shift during the writing process.

What kind of work would you like to do? Or what kind of writing do you most admire?

I admire writers who are willing to fail, who string their high wire so far up in the atmosphere that falling off will lead to certain death. To create our best art, we have to be way out of our comfort zone, vulnerable and scared and emotionally uncomfortable. That's where the good stuff lives, at least in my world.

If there were one thing about the Bay Area that you would change, what would it be?

The 14 Mission. Every time I'm on that bus it seems like a 12 year old is giving birth in the back.

A night on the town: what does that mean to you?

Something interactive. A play, a reading, any excuse to be around other artists. We're so lucky to live in S.F., and I try to take advantage of all the creatively minded people. Our city is going through some sort of artistic renaissance right now. There's so much talent!

What's the strangest thing you've ever seen?

I saw a guy get on a BART train a few months back and he was wearing a woman's stocking pulled over his head, like he'd just knocked over a liquor store. Everyone got up and moved to a different car, so it was just him and me. At one point, he crossed his legs and looked out the window. Criminals can be contemplative too.

If you got an all expenses paid life experience of your choice, what would it be?

I wouldn't mind having a jetpack. Those things are pretty cool. And not some janky 2013 jetpack. I'm talking some soon-to-be NASA jetpack that can get me to Paris in just over an hour. Cartoons in the '70s promised us so many cool technologies that just haven't come to fruition. But I'm cautiously optimistic that pretty soon I'll be jetpacking my ass off.

For events in San Francisco this week and beyond, check out our calendar section. Follow us on Twitter at @ExhibitionistSF and like us on Facebook. This interview conducted by Janey Smith. Follow Litseen at @Litseen.

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