The Write Stuff: Steven Thomas on Warm Nights and Consumer-oriented Space Travel

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

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Rebecca Podell
Steven Anargyros Thomas is a 26-year-old writer who is currently editing the manuscript of his first novel, M and the Hanged Man. His favorite time of day is dusk. He runs a blog, The Space-Time Continuum Has Collapsed, with his warrior-poet friend, Der Williams.

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

I defensively ask them what they do.

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

David Foster Wallace's 2003 interview for the German television station ZDF:

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

My Papou -- my dad's dad -- who passed away this September. I guess, typically, ancestors are supposed to be more removed than that, but I want to write about Papou, so that's what I'll do.

Up until a month before he passed, he continued to go to work everyday. He was 98 years-old. He made his first dollar when he was nine, selling "moonshine" in Chesapeake Beach VA. This was during the summer of 1923, the height of Prohibition. He was an ex-Circuit Court judge, and to the end his mind was much quicker than mine.

Last fall, I was visiting my childhood home in Baltimore for the first time in a couple years. I had just spent a year teaching ESL in a small town in Southern Thailand, and then spent a non sequitur year in San Francisco working in digital advertising. Neither of us was good at speaking on the phone, both too awkward without the requisite body language, so it was our first real conversation in two years.

Papou looked at me and the first thing he said was: "Do you know that the house fly's life span is only one day?" I told him that that I did not know that. He said, "Do you know why it's so short?" I said that I did not know that, either. "Because it spends its whole life in motion, constantly jumping from one random surface to the next. The fly thinks he's been so many places, but he hasn't even left my kitchen."

After that, he asked about my job in Silicon Valley and about my experiences in Southeast Asia. I told him my stories.

Papou was a very good winker and an accomplished deliverer of impromptu toasts at dinner tables. His speeches and toasts were too well structured to be convincingly improvised. The punch lines had too satisfying a punch, the pauses too controlled. I suspect that he wrote them down and then memorized them, but he would have fiercely denied such an accusation.

For precisely two years in his mid-60's -- while he was an active judge -- he became obsessed with painting, mostly water colors and acrylics. He painted ferociously and was prolific, considering he had never painted before then and that he only painted for two years.

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Papou's Clown by Becca Podell
Some of his figures are manically repeated throughout these paintings. The figure most often repeated is a Picasso-looking clown, with fishy lips and a long face, which ends at a pointed chin. There are several portraits of this clown, in many different color schemes. The red and black version -- the one with the dark green hat cocked nonchalantly on the crown of his head -- hangs on the wall of my apartment, between two IKEA wine racks.

I don't know why Papou started to paint, and I don't know why he stopped.

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

A tent, a sleeping bag, bugs, probably poison ivy, a bear box, a very heavy pack, sore legs, hunger. In other words, a week that I do not enjoy spent in total discomfort, which I will inaccurately remember with such fondness and self-satisfaction that I will be stupid enough to do it again in a month or two.

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

Depakote for epilepsy. Sci-fi and crime novels for boredom.

What is your fondest memory?

9 April 2009.

What would you like to see happen in your lifetime?

Consumer-oriented space travel. Think of the possibilities: a new wide-open frontier, a new generation of adventurers, a new itch to pull the youth out of their homes in search of strange worlds.

Or, if not that, then for some start-up to invent an app that functions as a backwards dictionary. It would work like this. You would be able to search by entering the definition of the word you're looking for; the app would be able to read and understand your definition; and then it would tell you the desired word.

What is art? Is it necessary? Why?

a) I don't know.

b) I think narrative, at the very least, is necessary. The ability to tell yourself some version of your own life story seems to be a major criterion that must be fulfilled if you are to be adequately described as a "human."

(But I might have just made that up. This kind of ambiguity is a prime example as to why I have a preference for fiction over nonfiction: when I make the world, everything I say is true.)

c) I don't know.

What are you working on right now?

I have recently finished my first novel, M and the Hanged Man. "M" is the name of new technology, which is essentially a super sophisticated virtual reality device. "The Hanged Man" refers to the Tarot card of the same name. It's the story about a wunderkind -- who started and sold an Internet company for an exorbitant amount of money before he was 25 -- and his deluded attempt to create a new religion by introducing what he purports to be a revolutionary technology, M, into the marketplace.

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If anyone wants to read it, and I mean anyone at all, reach out. I'll email you a digital copy.

After I finish editing, I want to write a Philip K. Dick-esque novel about a dystopian future. I'm still brainstorming premises. Random idea I had five minutes ago: Somehow the Internet is destroyed, just like the Library in Alexandria once burned. Did you know Sophocles wrote prolifically until he was 90-years-old? We know he wrote at least 120 plays, of which only eight remain, mostly thanks to that one fire.

What if the only cultural artifacts we had left were those that were saved to the hard-drives of a handful of personal computers? What if the only David Foster Wallace books that remained were The Broom of the System and the incomplete The Pale King and, perhaps, one of his lesser-known and more esoteric essays, or if the only Dostoevsky were Poor Folk and The Idiot and Notes from Underground? Or, if the only social media archives were those from Twitter because YouTube and Facebook and Tumblr had all been eradicated?

I'm only half-kidding. The question is: How was the Internet destroyed? Perhaps consumer-oriented space travel can also be involved - yes, now we're talking...

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

Warm nights, I would give San Francisco the occasional warm night. I wouldn't necessarily spoil the city. But two or three times a month, I would give San Francisco an East Coast summer twilight.

The important detail would be the addition of a warm breeze, which would wrap around our bodies like water and purr at the tails of the summer skirts and dresses worn by all the girls walking down Valencia Street.

On such nights, I would smoke a cigarette outside of Dovre Club in the Mission, watching the girls walk by. I would not have to wear a jacket, only a t-shirt. I would be in a very fine mood. The best way to smoke a cigarette is when the time's right around dusk, and you're coated in a warm summer breeze, a little buzzed, inwardly giggling for inexplicable reasons.

And then I would go inside and kiss my girlfriend on the temple and tell her, "I love you," and mean it. I would buy her a whiskey ginger and myself a Lagunitas. Dee, the redheaded Siren who tends the bar, would give me my change for the drinks in quarters. And I would play pinball till I ran out of money or accumulated enough free games to satisfy my pride.

But wishing for warm nights is probably just a way for me to idealize my East Coast childhood. It's probably just me thinking that, if only I had an East Coast summer night every once in awhile, then everything would light up with the glimmer of San Francisco's long-promised gold.

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

Hopefully, two things happen: 1) An inebriated sprint through Dolores Park, and 2) a late-night crazy-eyed conversation.

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

A bacon cheeseburger with a Krispy Kreme for a bun. It was a very strange thing, but it was very delicious, and it was also filling.

What are some of your favorite smells?

The somehow trashy, but also pleasant, smell of the Assawoman Bay at low tide.

A certain brand of Marc Jacobs perfume, which reminds me of Christmas and Billie Holiday, and of someone else.

The delicate concoction of buffalo wings with bleu cheese and pitchers of potentially skunked National Bohemian Beer mixed with some body odor and the soggy miasma of a water-logged bartender.

Wet snow in a pinecone forest in thin early morning light, a groggy sun casts the trees' long shadows across the blanketed ground. For this last scent, I have to be alone. If there's anyone else around, it doesn't smell quite right. Every time I smell this last smell, if only for a moment, I remember how I felt when I first visited Narnia -- which was a very fine feeling, indeed.

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 Evan Karp. Follow Litseen at @Litseen.

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