The Write Stuff: Joe Clifford on Making Up for Lost Time
The Write Stuff is a series of interview profiles conducted by Litseen, where authors give exclusive readings from their work.
Joe Clifford's work has been called "beautiful and vicious." He is the author most recently of Junkie Love, and producer of Lip Service West, a "gritty, real, raw" reading series in Oakland. He is acquisitions editor for Gutter Books and managing editor of The Flash Fiction Offensive.
When people ask what do you do, you tell them ... ?
Depends on the day, the person. Usually I'm straight up: "I'm a writer." I've been a struggling artist for so long. This is the first I've ever been able to wear the badge proudly.
What's your biggest struggle -- work or otherwise?
Time. Fucking Internet. A large part of writing these days involves networking. You can't just be slapping up links saying, "Read my stuff." People forget the first part of "social networking" involves actually being social. But the Internet is a time-sucking vortex. I feel like I waste so much time. Then again, last year I published three novels, wrote another, outlined yet another, had a dozen short stories placed, including several in anthologies. And I recorded an album with my band. So I guess I'm still getting some work done. I just wish I could work 24 hours a day. I really mean that. I feel I need to make up for the time I lost to drugs.
If someone said I want to do what you do, what advice would you have for them?
Someone, I think it was author Amber Sparks, was complaining about this the other day... on the Internet. She was saying she hated when she tells people she's an author and they say something like, "Oh, I wish I had the time to do that." As if the only requirement for playing in the NBA is being tall. Writing is hard work. You want to write? Then write. Learn the craft, sit your ass in the chair and put in the hours, take the rejection, take the snide comments like, "Oh, that must be nice not to have a real job." Then deal with the publishing industry and the gatekeepers and more rejection, and then finally get an agent and realize that means jack, all the while managing to pay the bills by doing whatever you have to do. It's not as glamorous as old photos of Hemingway make it look. It's a job. And when you finally do get published, there are no trumpets and golden angels singing. It's endlessly checking your Amazon rankings and wondering what's next.
Do you consider yourself successful? Why?
Depends on the day. I had a good session with Dr. Goldberg this afternoon. Plus, as I write this I'm preparing to fly back East, where I've been invited to read at my alma mater. I guess today I'd say I'm successful, at least moderately. I get to do what I love every day. Even if the road getting here was unconventional and hardly a straight shot. And even if the payoff is somewhat lackluster. I mean, that's life, right? You work so hard to achieve your dreams, but by the time they come true you're too damned old, tired and broken to enjoy them. I'm a sort of miserable bastard, to be honest.
When you're sad/grumpy/pissed off, what YouTube video makes you feel better?
I'm a big fan of grumpy cat. Really any cat videos. Also I love Taylor Swift. Despair.com is fucking awesome. [...] Oh, and No Children by the Mountain Goats always puts a crooked smile on my face. I want that song played at my funeral.
Would you ever perform a striptease? Describe some of your moves. Feel free to set the mood.
When my wife, Justine, and I first started dating, she'd drag me out to clubs and, because I was trying to woo and win her, I had to fucking go. And I'd try to dance. After a few attempts, she told me to just watch her purse.
Are you using any medications? If so, which ones?
I had a near fatal motorcycle accident a few years ago. Shattered pelvis. Broken back and femur. Acetabulum snapped off. Ribs cracked. Lung collapsed. I've got three screws holding my hip together, traumatic arthritis, and a lifetime of chronic pain. So I have a doctor who oversees that. Given my history I have to be careful. I need my hip replaced. I'm not in a hurry to do it. My wife keeps telling me to do acupuncture and yoga, but that shit's so goofy.
What is art? Is it necessary? Why?
For me, it is. For the version of this world I'd like to see. Does it matter a whole fucklot to an Exxon executive raping the Earth and subjugating the poor? I don't know. I hope so. They're the ones with the disposable income who I'd like to buy my books.
What are you working on right now?
Mostly promoting my two books that just came out -- Wake the Undertaker (Snubnose Press) and my darling, Junkie Love, my autobiographical drug novel chronicling the 10 years I spent as a hobo in San Francisco. I also completed a new mystery, Lamentation, which my agent, Liz Kracht (Kimberley Cameron & Associates), is currently shopping. I have another new novel, Skunk Train, about halfway done. Plus, I recently became an acquisitions editor for Gutter Books, where I also serve as co-editor of The Flash Fiction Offensive, an e-zine I run with my former running partner (and fellow Snubnose author), Tom Pitts.
What kind of work would you like to do? Or, what kind of writing do you most admire?
I strive to be accessible. Good writing is communication, a dialogue with an audience. It's a give and take. It's not selling out. It's growing up and joining a greater collective dialogue. It's about recognizing that if you are going to make it as an author, you have to consider the public buying your books. That said, you stay true to yourself, remain uncompromised in your artistic vision. Which may sound like two mutually exclusive ideals. To me they're not.
If there were one thing about the Bay Area that you would change, what would it be?
I love the Bay Area. It's why I live here. I love its progressive politics, its empathetic attitude toward the marginalized. But after a while you're like, "Really, six bins for recycling?" I just get tired of all this "let's make the world a better place," even though I agree with the sentiment. If that makes any sense. Which I guess it doesn't.
If you got an all expenses paid life experience of your choice, what would it be?
I already did that once. I ain't doing it again.
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