I am an Asshole Projecting the Future

The phrase "literary bad boy" has been thrown around a lot since the emergence of the founding fathers of Generation X, but the insistent buzz surrounding first time novelist Mark Osborne seems to suggest he warrants it. Ever since his debut novel Blood Ampersand Ink cracked the New York Times Bestseller's list stories started surfacing about black magic, cross-dressing, and his scandalous girlfriend SG's own Mewsette Suicide. We sent Gene Grey out to the wilds of Vancouver to meet the self proclaimed Rock Star Novelist to sort out fact from fiction.

Gene Grey: I checked the NYT Bestsellers list on the way here, and Blood Ampersand Ink was eighth. What does that feel like?

Mark Osborne:
Ambivalent, I guess. I like the idea that I can walk into any bookstore in at least two countries and see my book there, that people can get a copy from Winnipeg to San Diego. That's a nice feeling. But the Bestseller's list doesn't mean anything real. It's all about putting product in stores.

GG: So the numbers don't really concern you.

MO: The real numbers do. I worked at the lowest rungs of the book industry, both in retail and distribution. I know how many copies of my book are going to be shredded or recycled or whatever. At some point, I'll prod Vintage into telling me how many people have actually read my book. It'll mean something when I start my book tour and people actually show up to listen to me. That will be a real trip.

GG: It seems like authors in general are very divided about doing public readings, where do you fall in?

MO: I love reading my stuff, far more than I do handing it to someone and waiting for them to read it. I get anxious, I interrupt them. I'm a real asshole when someone is trying to read my stuff in front of me. (Laughs) When I read something out loud, I can gauge the reactions in real time. I can see people responding in real time. Back before we were even dating I used to read my blogs to my girlfriend over the phone because I didn't want to wait for her to read them.

GG: How does that compare to reading to an audience?

MO: Well, as I found out later, she was mostly masturbating the whole time because she likes the sound of my voice. It would be pretty awkward if I caught people doing that at a reading.

GG: (Laughs) Then you'd be Chuck Palahniuk.

MO: Chuck's gay, you'd have to feel for any poor girl getting off on his voice.

GG: Your girlfriend is Mewsette Suicide, how does that impact your relationship?

MO: My relationship with her, with my peers, or what?

GG: Let's start with her.

MO: I don't know that it really does. She probably denies this now but I harassed her into applying for ages. I was wearing a Suicide Girls t-shirt the day we met, she didn't know what it was yet. At one point she talked about how she had too many tattoos to be in Playboy. I just sort of scoffed at that because to me Suicide Girls was something so much more interesting, and yeah more titilating. Playboy just seemed too manufactured or whatever.

GG: Just to clarify, we aren't paying Mark to say that.

MO: (Laughs) To be fair, she bought me my first issue of Playboy.

GG: That's one hell of a woman, to buy you a Playboy.

MO: Sure, but she knew damn well I'd spend more time geeking out about an interview with Norman Mailler than leering at Kim Kardashian.

GG: It's kind of inescapable that tattoos are an important part of your novel, what kept you coming back to that?

MO: Well, I started the novel at a time in my life where I think that I'd fallen away from myself to work through some issues and try to get back on track. It was months since I'd drawn a thing or even thought about trying to get an apprenticeship in any productive way, so at first it was a bit of a reminder that tattooing was what I was trying to work towards and then it just kind of got a life all of it's own because of how how potent and contemporary it is.

GG: So writing this novel was a kind of therapy for you?

MO: Aversion therapy, I guess you could call it. The idea to write this first came a few months before I started writing, when [Mewsette] suggested I write her a novel as a Christmas present, with the stipulation that it had to have werewolves and vampires in it. We had a bad fight not long after Christmas- nothing to do with the novel or lack thereof- and it was looking like I'd never talk to or hear from her again, which was a very special kind of agony. So, when I sat down and started writing it, the initial idea was to sort of eulogize our friendship and all the ways that in the fairly brief time we'd known each other that she had changed my life.

GG: One of the criticisms that you've faced in the media recently is that you're, and I'm quoting this, "wildly inconsistant" about just what the novel is, what it's about, and what it represents.

MO: Oh sure. A while back, a buddy of mine who appears in my comic that I've been working on, was privy to a conversation where I was asked what the story I was working on was about, and I was struggling with coming up with what Bruce Sterling would call a bumper sticker. Chris just kind of waded in there and he said that based on my influences he'd figured that the geometry, the cross section of my work to be non euclidian. You can't just map it in normal 3d space.

GG: What exactly does that mean?

MO: You'd have to ask Chris, I just like that line. I just sort of, as a consequence of how I think, work on a few different levels at once. I'm never happy doing something simple and straight forward, I have to be hiding shit and pushing a few concepts at once. In one sense, Blood Ampersand Ink is a narrative guidebook to the city of Vancouver. Taken a different way, it's a post feminist subversion of classic vampire fiction. Read it again and you might see it as an attempt at codifying Generation Y into the canon of western literature. I tried to do a lot of things and hopefully there's someone out there to respond to each one if not all of them.

GG: You mentioned that your methods are a consequence of your influences. Have you used a certain methodology or technique that you gleaned from a specific writer?

MO: Not directly, no. You could call it gonzo to a degree. I've done things that were called "pure one hundred percent wild turkey gonzo" before, even though I generally drink Jack Daniels. I have adapted some of Thompson's methodology in writing the novel, for sure. I don't do anything crazy like cocaine or LSD, but I do make liberal use of alcohol, caffeine, and sleep depreviation. There's a lot of emotionally raw stuff that I had to write to make this feel legitimate. I couldn't just clam up and shut down the way I would if I was dealing with someone during a situation like that. I suppose I could write Yayo clamming up and fucking off, but when you're writing the narrator doing that, you have to lend it that authentic voice, describe the thought process behind that action.

I've read up on hallucinogenics and drugs. Kesey, Huxley, all kinds of reports of the halluciongenic experience. These drugs, they interrupt the way your brain usually communicates with you and you get this outpouring of sensory information from parts of the brain that do not usually do that. I'm probably doing a really shitty job of paraphrasing something that Pinchbeck or Rushkoff said in a talk somewhere. My point here is that when I'm writing those tough parts, and what I mean isn't how I justify Yayo getting ahold of a kalashnikov and using it to shoot at angry biker werewolves but how I get into the frame of mind where he's standing there on the deck of a ferry talking about how mythology has abandoned him, there's nothing to hold onto, nothing to give him comfort and he is going to die, I have to get in the way of my ego. I have to interrupt my shame and insecurities about laying myself bare. People say shit, real honest unvarnished shit, when they're drunk or sleep deprived or whatever. They lose their filter, put their guard down. So I just had to duplicate that, demolish myself down to that kind of ugly place.

GG: You talked about writing the novel under the impression that [Mewsette] was out of your life permanently, but obviously that isn't the case. What changed?

MO: I don't think anything really changed per say. I think it was more that we both came back to where we should have stayed. It isn't as if we had this big long cry and worked out a ton of deep seated issues or anything as banal as that. I just used her birthday to test the waters. I sent her a text, she responded and we just picked back up into that odd space we occupied before. It was the exact opposite of The Notebook. Neither of us wrote letters destroyed by an evil parental unit or pined away or whatever. We just tried to lose ourselves in whatever came naturally, which always involves alcohol and sex with other people, but for me it was mostly the writing. Then it was her birthday and we were talking and we just sort of started to surface again, until we got back to that part where we remembered that we're stronger together than apart.

GG: Were you finished the novel by then?

MO: Christ, no. Let me tell you it almost sunk the entire novel, getting her back into my life. It's hard to write about falling in love with someone who disappears when they come back. That feels about as phony as mourning Jesus on Good Friday knowing he'll be back in a few days. At the same time though, it completely re-energized the first two acts, where Cat is this amazing whirwind that just sweeps into Yayo's life and flips it completely upside down.

GG: Did you begin writing the novel hoping that you would hear from her again?

MO: Oh absolutely. I started out pretty naive, thinking that oh maybe if she saw it on sale somewhere, that kind of Slumdog Millionaire logic that she might look me up and we could work things out then, at some magical future interval. That she'd crash a book signing. If I wasn't feeling so cynical and down on myself at the time, I probably would have been more honest with myself and known that the act of writing would bring her back into contact with me.

GG: In what sense?

MO: In the sense that for a long time now, I 've had an odd relationship with what I create. When I first met her, there was something that I felt was familiar about her despite the fact that I had never met anyone remotely like her before until one night I was digging through my notes on an old comic idea I'd had back in 2004 and that was 2007, and I found this character who was predicated on Catwoman that had these biographical details that matched her perfectly. I didn't create this character with the idea of her being any kind of ideal mate, but I could see where the signals got crossed somewhere between my creative process and a spell or two I'd fired off since then. It was a really peculiar sense of malaise, given that there were even some dates that correlated between when I'd worked on this character and when certain things had happened in her life that brought her closer to me, closer to meeting me.

So of course I went to my mentor, who I figured would get this. It usually has a more intentional aspect, but it was close enough that I figured he could help, I told him that I had apparently somehow created or manifested this woman in my life. He was very calm about the whole thing, and made it clear I couldn't let it go to my head or anything, that the key was to ask her when she invented me.

GG: That's a lot to process. You're saying that you created each other.

MO: That's the simplest, but not necessarily the most accurate way of putting it. I think something happened for sure. I don't know that anyone's biographical details got retroactively changed because of someone else's daydream or doodle. For all I know, the inspiration for the character was the result of some kind of premonition or omen telling me that she was coming. I can't say that I know in any concrete sense where artistic inspiration comes from, none of us do. But I've seen too much to be able to say that words on a page are never more than the sum of their parts.

GG: You believe there's a mystical aspect to writing.

MO: That sounds a little too pretentious for me. I think that a better way of putting it is that fiction and reality, life and narrative have the potential for a far more open dialogue than most people are willing to allow. There's two breeds of writer in that sense; the kind that read Borges and feel kind of whistful like they think some of his ideas, what he portrays would be amazing if it were real the same way that kids naturally have more interest in going to Hogwarts than a real school, but realize that there isn't an owl coming for them. The other breed reads Borges and decides they're going to make that happen. Guys like Burroughs and Dick.

GG: Burroughs and Dick went crazy, though. Is that something that concerns you?

MO: I'm already crazy in the sense that people like to write off what I say as the product of mental illness so that they don't have to contemplate the implications of it or they write me off as saying whatever to get attention and boost my circulation. But if you're asking am I worried about becoming mentally ill to the point where I become completely incoherent or unable to function normally in every day society because of my pursuits in metafiction, my answer is no. Burroughs and Dick did a lot of hard drugs.


Kristiine Havener July 11, 2009 at 5:55 PM  

You're not a asshole, you're just getting prepared.

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