Donald Goines: An Exciting Alternative to Other Interviews

When Manny approached me about “doing an interview” for Donald Goines I was clear with him that I was only interested in interviewing him about Goines. “But, I mean, you wrote it,” Manuel said and I said, “Yes. But you agreed to publish it.”

Manuel relented and agreed to an interview that met my own idiot guidelines. I asked that he join me on Discord where we could just talk about my book and I could ask him questions and he could maybe ask me questions and we could “see where it goes.”

Also, in the interest of keeping this interview as straightforward as possible, I, Calvin Westra, will be referred to throughout as Himalayan Quail. My esteemed publisher, Manuel Marrero, will be referred to as Cuban Macaw.

Cuban Macaw: I’ve been zooted for hours. Waiting for you.

Himalayan Quail: Yeah I know. I’m sorry it took so long to get back. But I’m glad because our interview needs to start there. How did waiting that long for me feel? Are you glad you didn’t do it sitting in a hot ass jumper?

Cuban Macaw: I was just reading the McLuhan interview. It’s epic.

Himalayan Quail: Just picture the fucking sun right now just beating its rays of heat into that jumper while you just sit there.

Cuban Macaw: Yeah I’m glad I was zooted in my centrally cooled apartment.

Himalayan Quail: What’s the longest you’ve ever waited for a person? And did they eventually arrive?

Cuban Macaw: Yeah is that some kind of metaphor, leaving something in a jumper you forgot about?

Himalayan Quail: A candy bar would literally melt.

Cuban Macaw: My father, and no they forgot to show.

Himalayan Quail: Aww fuck. That’s fucked. I’m sorry.

Cuban Macaw: You have two monitors.

Himalayan Quail: No. I have one monitor.

Cuban Macaw: Are we talking about Donald Goines or Moth Girl?

Himalayan Quail: We’re talking about your childhood, Cuban Macaw. Anyone in your family ever fuck up a can real bad trying to open it? Anyone get mad enough to throw the can at the wall?

Cuban Macaw: I saw you use two monitors, side by side, for rewrites.

Himalayan Quail: No, that’s still one monitor. Just two separate Word documents. But yeah, that’s how I write.

Cuban Macaw: Oh right.

Himalayan Quail: Early draft to the left, new draft to the right.

Cuban Macaw: I don’t know why I thought you had two monitors. That’d be funny though.

Himalayan Quail: It lets me connect lots of really small things. I also just don’t know how else I would do it. Eventually I’ll get like twenty monitors. And it will be like that Batman scene.

Cuban Macaw: Hell yeah.

Himalayan Quail: But it would just be my writing. Instead of all those cameras.

Cuban Macaw: Hold on I’m gonna smoke drugs.

Himalayan Quail: Do it.

Cuban Macaw: Goines? No more edits, right?

Himalayan Quail: Yeah. I’ve sent you, what? Thirty drafts? Forty? Also curious what percentage you would estimate you’ve opened and looked at.

Cuban Macaw: Many. I would say like forty. I’ve looked at them all.

Himalayan Quail: Hell yeah. Which one is your favorite?

Cuban Macaw: You were once telling me about this interconnectedness. How your books are about the ecosystem, the community, how they operate, something like that. The totality of the world. Jumpers.

Himalayan Quail: Yes.

Cuban Macaw: Do you remember what I’m talking about?

Himalayan Quail: Yeah. It’s not really about a character. It’s about everything that it’s about.

Cuban Macaw: My favorite is the final draft because of that last change.

Himalayan Quail: And that’s why all the rewrites. Or some things will get more connected than others. Yes same. I think Donald Goines novels, especially the more expansive ones like Dopefiend are like that. They’re about a bunch of characters and a bunch of things and in order to follow them you end up with all these different strands of yarn. And maybe you’re not really rooting for that central thread by the end, maybe you’re more attached to some other thread. Like Glahn is.

Cuban Macaw: It’s about the world and the community. How people interact in that world.

Himalayan Quail: Yes and how people change, specifically in a small town environment where you might be known to some people for what you used to be.

Cuban Macaw: It’s a very stark book. All the dialogue is very flat, crushed into a diamond. Or dusted into a diamond.

Himalayan Quail: Dust mopped into a diamond. I spent a ridiculous amount of time on it.

Cuban Macaw: Not sure which I like better there.

Himalayan Quail: I wanted really specific things from the dialogue. And maybe not exactly what other people would expect.

Cuban Macaw: Right. It’s very deadpan humor. Very twisted in subtle but also blunt ways. Everything is a little different than in the real world but basically the same.

Himalayan Quail: Well and sometimes I want to do something with a scene but there’s something else the characters would more likely do (usually drugs). So we compromise. For instance, it’s very hard to get Kagu and Kakapo to put the puppets down.

Cuban Macaw: What is this theme of advertising and brands? Things as stand-ins for something else. The book itself is a quasi rewrite of Dopefiend, no?

Himalayan Quail: The book is, at its core, an adaptation of Dopefiend, yeah.

Cuban Macaw: Drugs and the way they’re administered.

Himalayan Quail: And I personally feel like Goines deserves to be a household name.

Cuban Macaw: An adaptation of Donald Goines the author’s body of work?

Himalayan Quail: I feel like in a just world we would all have Donald Goines parties in much the same way we all, from time to time, host Tupperware parties.

Cuban Macaw: Ah, I see.

Himalayan Quail: Or, in the same way that you and I and many of our readers drive Mary Kaye pink Range Rovers, in a just world those Range Rovers would be Donald Goines brand.

Cuban Macaw: You’ve thematized style.

Himalayan Quail: I have no idea what any of those words mean.

Cuban Macaw: So, in a just world, we would all read this book. We would read it with friends.

Himalayan Quail: That would be a good start, yeah. But honestly, until the Donald Goines brand game console (with extra hard drive) is a real thing, the work isn’t really done.

Cuban Macaw: Lizzie would have loved Goines. It’s candy. I’m sad she won’t get to read it, but real happy she got to see you read some of it.

Himalayan Quail: Yeah, she got to hear some, she read some, and she was by far the most active person involved in my secret Telegram channel. She would regularly quote my middle of the night notes to myself and comment on them. It was cool.

Cuban Macaw: So let’s get a little more under the hood. You got some mumbly stuff in there. Your dialogue is really brusque, emphatic, flat. Hard. Every sentence ends with the pig said or Honduran Emerald said. It’s one of the only books that benefits from being read in a monotone almost. The sense of humor is oddly specific.

Himalayan Quail: It’s largely factual. Except for where it isn’t. But, actually, even there too. I like adding “so and so said” to every line so you don’t have to worry about getting lost.

Cuban Macaw: Ah right, I hate that.

Himalayan Quail: You’re definitely welcome to skip them as you read it in your head.

Cuban Macaw: How in other books you forget who is talking. It’s a lot of onus.

Himalayan Quail: But by always having it, you just know. And I find that more accessible.

Cuban Macaw: Well I would agree. That’s why I’m publishing it.

Himalayan Quail: For the dialogue tags, yeah. I always kind of assumed that.

Cuban Macaw: Who is Orange Bellied Parrot?

Himalayan Quail: Six foot three chain smoking lunatic I went to high school with. Very smart guy. He and I used to drink cognac in his garage and then walk to school. Pregaming high school. Real rare bird moments. Special times.

Cuban Macaw: Tender. It’s a tender book for being so hard.

Himalayan Quail: Yeah I aim for both.

Cuban Macaw: It’s about drugs.

Himalayan Quail: I think Goines is cartoonish, but I don’t think that negatively affects its tenderness.

Cuban Macaw: And why we do drugs.

Himalayan Quail: I find it sad but the parts that make me the saddest, I think, are pretty subtle.

Cuban Macaw: Drugs.

Himalayan Quail: Yeah.

Cuban Macaw: Well isn’t that part of your lore? Being misunderstood?

Himalayan Quail: It’s definitely about drugs. Drugs bring everyone together. I don’t know what my lore is. You would have to ask the guy who waxes floors at Meijer. He’s the only person I talk to. The only person who really knows me, probably.

Cuban Macaw: It’s a lot more straightforward than Family Annihilator though, in my opinion. Maybe it’s just better.

Himalayan Quail: Yeah, I’d say it is more straightforward.

Cuban Macaw: But I think it’s really accessible in this new way.

Himalayan Quail: There are little pieces to Family Annihilator that are really really quiet. Whereas I think all the various components of Goines get more equal treatment. The callbacks and organization of Goines are like a ball of yarn. Whereas Family Annihilator is a set of Russian dolls, so the writing on the smallest doll is a little hard to make out.

Cuban Macaw: I see. You’re very interested in what a book will do to a reader. You yourself presumably being your ideal reader. But Family Annihilator was partly about telling a story that nobody gets, right? Agonizing over it? You agonize over every book you write.

Himalayan Quail: I agonize over every damn thing.

Cuban Macaw: Do you write, to some extent, for yourself? Or thinking that only a very special reader will find a connection?

Himalayan Quail: I write for myself. Legitimately, I write books I will be happy returning to.

Cuban Macaw: I love that. So you care, but you don’t care?

Himalayan Quail: I’m more oriented towards the internal logic of the story being perfect.

Cuban Macaw: Hell yeah.

Himalayan Quail: I think that it’s okay if some stuff is confusing on a first read—though. I work pretty hard to keep it simple in a way that prevents that.

Cuban Macaw: Love internal logic. I don’t think your work is confusing.

Himalayan Quail: But if it’s really tightly organized, a reader can return a lot of times and get lots of out of it, without even necessarily getting more than they did on a previous read. Like, you can read a book without reading it to “get more” out of it. You can just enjoy its movements.

Cuban Macaw: Right, you get more knowing the treats to anticipate, you view the journey there through the outcome. Or something.

Himalayan Quail: I’ll probably read Goines tonight.

Cuban Macaw: I’ve read it a lot.

Himalayan Quail: I think going to New York, reading, and discovering new changes I wanted to make—in that context—helped me realize new things I wanted to incorporate into my process. For instance, I later read the whole book to my mom while she crocheted. And made a few small changes based on that. And then I listened to Kelby read the whole ass book to me.

Cuban Macaw: Beautiful.

Himalayan Quail: And I made one final change. So the process of reading the book out loud to another person can do a lot, I think.

Cuban Macaw: Man this is really late for me. And I have to get up early tomorrow.

Himalayan Quail: Yeah for sure. We can finish this tomorrow if you want.

Cuban Macaw: I’d like that, yeah. I’m down to my last banana, I think.

Himalayan Quail: Pizza ordered. Gotta find the right music.

Cuban Macaw: Yo. Sup.

Himalayan Quail: Hot pizza is on the way!

Cuban Macaw: Beautiful. I have Thai leftovers in the fridge.

Himalayan Quail: Donald Goines is a book about friends. And it’s a book that couldn’t have been written without friends.

Cuban Macaw: It feels good to have you say that, confirms my suspicions about the book. It’s some kind of fringe manifesto. Donald Goines is cartoonish, just to brace people, it has a very deadpan, wry sense of humor and the characters are in a puppeteering troupe, right? Is that the right word?

Himalayan Quail: They are, yes. The rare birds are a puppeteering troupe, sort of. At least two of its members are pretty dedicated to their craft.

Cuban Macaw: It seems like the book is set in a couple timelines, to begin, the past and present.

Himalayan Quail: Yeah it wraps around quite a bit.

Cuban Macaw: But the present is kind of inert. Like it never culminates. Is that right?

Himalayan Quail: Yeah, it just is. It’s more like a lot of cycling little patterns.

Cuban Macaw: Right.

Himalayan Quail: That lead to different places but where they end doesn’t matter too much. It’s how people get to where they’re going that Goines is about. Like you said, it’s a time and a place.

Cuban Macaw: It’s more about the way the patterns carom off each other. The way a community functions.

Himalayan Quail: If I was talking to anyone else I would assume carom was a typo or something.

Cuban Macaw: Like you said.

Himalayan Quail: But apparently carom is a word.

Cuban Macaw: Maybe I should take a moment to eat.

Himalayan Quail: It’s really true what they say. No one out pizzas the hut.

Cuban Macaw: Why are there concepts in Goines you just made up? Like slang, like zebras. Jumpers. The way drugs are done. You care about the totality of this book world like someone like Joyce might but it’s also this remarkably breezy book to read. It hurts though. I guess I’m asking why you use interesting, intentional names and motifs, techniques to evoke things.

Himalayan Quail: I make up concepts, names etc. for a couple of reasons. So one, drugs change. And what I was doing in the mid 2000s isn’t really the same as what Donald Goines and his characters were doing in the 1970s and that isn’t the same as what people are up to now, etc. but I also like the aesthetic that Goines novels create and how I run into slang in his books that doesn’t make sense to me because it’s so outdated. And I have to figure out what it means through inference. To carry that a step further, there are lots of behaviors and underground businesses and things that exist in Donald Goines novels that aren’t common knowledge. But Donald Goines, when he wrote, he just assumed you would know what he was talking about. And I think that’s pretty fucking cool, stylistically.

Cuban Macaw: At the center of Goines is a pretty sentimental love story, for such a kind of grotesque book. It’s really sweet and it’s bound to sell books. Tell me a bit about what went into writing Dunie and Honduran Emerald.

Himalayan Quail: Yeah I tend to write sentimental relationships into the center of my books, it seems. I think, in writing Donald Goines, I wanted to ape a core structure from Dopefiend where Sandy and Teddy run around getting drugs for Teddy. And Sandy eventually gets sucked into it and while it’s definitely a drug novel cliché, it’s a cliché for a reason. It’s an extremely normal and relatable phenomenon. You do drugs and you think you’re just poisoning yourself and then, over time, you realize you had a negative impact on people around you.

Cuban Macaw: Gotcha.

Himalayan Quail: And maybe it’s that you fucked their head up or maybe you got them hooked on drugs or you taught them to accept a shittier level of treatment than they deserve. It’s impossible to be aware of all the things you touch but, when you’re high, it’s impossible to be aware of basically any of the things you’re corrupting.

Cuban Macaw: Yeah, you aren’t really present. You’re trying to obliterate your memories and personality.

Himalayan Quail: So I wanted to drill deep into the dual layer of Honduran Emerald being very focused on his own survival while, without much thought of self-awareness, he leads Dunie in a pretty terrible direction.

Cuban Macaw: Is the cover supposed to be the pig?

Himalayan Quail: Yeah, definitely.

Cuban Macaw: Kind of just want to talk about the pig.

Himalayan Quail: First time I saw the painting I was like, okay, this has to be the cover.

Cuban Macaw: The character got moved around a lot during rewrites.

Himalayan Quail: He’s definitely the most sinister, but also the character with the most real shit that gets explored within the book. Which is how I prefer to write sinister characters.

Cuban Macaw: There’s a thread about growing up in a small town, kind of peaking badly in high school, and having all these demons.

Himalayan Quail: Super common Midwest small town story to be real.

Cuban Macaw: Kind of like an arc of redemption that never comes.

Himalayan Quail: Yeah, exactly.

Cuban Macaw: Yeah, but. Doing drugs to escape that. I don’t know, for me that really resonates. The world has never been more crippled by addiction for this to come out. What do you think influences your humor? Donald Goines is easily one of the funniest books I’ve ever read.

Himalayan Quail: Or doing puppets. Hell yeah it is. I’m just too funny and handsome for my own good. It can be a burden at times.

Cuban Macaw: Ah, yeah. So is everything like drugs? Is everything hollow?

Himalayan Quail: Probably.

Cuban Macaw: Even love? But not friendship!

Himalayan Quail: I mean, I think there’s a reality outside drugs where things begin to have the exact value you personally give them. For an example of this, consider how programs like AA invite people to have a higher power, but they don’t really give a fuck what your higher power is. Your higher power could be Donald Goines. The brand, the author, the novel. Doesn’t matter.

Cuban Macaw: That’s beautiful. Holy shit. But wait. The brands are kind of used irreverently if not disparagingly, and definitely the drugs. Are you saying the novel is the light? Like, not this novel. But a novel. Or the written word, stories, I don’t know. I’m just stoned, thinking about your book. I’ve got it open, just flipping through it. Still can’t eat.

Himalayan Quail: I’m not stoned yet and I have no idea what you’re saying but yes, that is the exact meaning of Goines. This is why I wanted to do an interview this way. Where I interview you.

Cuban Macaw: So like the ubiquity of commerce.

Himalayan Quail: You have to know by now that I have zero idea what ubiquity means, but yes. That is also the meaning of Goines.

Cuban Macaw: Everything is kind of bullshit, isn’t it?

Himalayan Quail: There are a lot of humans named after birds. And then there’s a bird but it has a human name. I really have no idea what my book is about. I just know it’s good.

Cuban Macaw: I know that too. There’s a great economy to some of these sentences. Check this out. “Dunie stopped at Cigarettes and bought a pipe.”

Himalayan Quail: Yes.

Cuban Macaw: There are 166 appearances of “fuck” in your book.

Himalayan Quail: Goddamn right. I like the placement of “oh, fuck,” a lot. My “Oh, fuck”s are extremely surgical. And speak to the structure of the book significantly. There are also fucks that serve similar but lower purposes. The surprise is gone in the “fuck.” Or it’s just a “fuck” of resignation.

Cuban Macaw: Beautiful. Everything kind of ends badly.

Himalayan Quail: It’s quite possible something great happened in the basement of Gods.

Cuban Macaw: What’s wrong with puppets?

Himalayan Quail: Nothing.

Cuban Macaw: Seems better than drugs.

Himalayan Quail: You’re doing the wrong puppets, man. Wait. No, yeah, I said that right.

Cuban Macaw: Do you feel putting things in an unusual context, like a cartoon, kind of amplifies them?

Himalayan Quail: Yeah it’s like a fishbowl.

Cuban Macaw: I’m wondering about the ubiquity and interchangeability of place names and character names.

Himalayan Quail: I want a reader’s total focus. So I blur out everything else.

Cuban Macaw: Gotcha.

Himalayan Quail: Which is also why Cigarettes, Calls, Tacos, Gods etc.

Cuban Macaw: You make bold, imperative, inflexible stylistic decisions. The Westra sauce.

Himalayan Quail: Oh yeah.

Cuban Macaw: Yeah but you’re writing about what drugs do to people, that’s moral. It doesn’t really glorify drug use. It’s humored but sober. Can we talk about the new book you’re working on?

Himalayan Quail: Sure.

Cuban Macaw: You’re completely on to this next thing, you don’t even really think about Goines.

Himalayan Quail: I just read Goines for enjoyment at this point.

Cuban Macaw: You’re struggling with this one but it’s very ambitious and takes everything to the next level. You’re working with very intricate structure. And a lot of it is text messages.

Himalayan Quail: Yeah, it’s based around a massive transcript of text and phone conversations. Lots to write. But it’s also in that phase where I have like eight to ten epiphanies a day.

Cuban Macaw: You just wanna get it all down and see what it says about these people.

Himalayan Quail: No, I know what the characters need to be. So I have to capture the right dialogue to showcase it.

Cuban Macaw: You’re very fair to your characters. You care about each one.

Himalayan Quail: I do, I really do.

Cuban Macaw: Yeah but, there’s a process then of filtering reality or something. Reality is too cruel, or banal, or crude.

Himalayan Quail: Yeah, true. I think that’s more just me, naturally, than it is me, my writing process. I engage in a lot of magical thinking or I dumb things down and make them funnier/weirder in my head until I forget the originating event and I seem to do that in my writing a lot too.

Cuban Macaw: How did you become Himalayan Quail?

Himalayan Quail: I just hung around Kagu’s garage drinking cognac until Kakapo named me.

Cuban Macaw: Ah. And you named me.

Himalayan Quail: I did. It is the rare bird way.

Cuban Macaw: You try to capture a lot of nuance and eccentricity to people, and much of your work is based on real people you know. You’re a very sensitive observer, which is the source of your powers. Have I sucked you off enough?

Himalayan Quail: About to finish. Keep going.

Cuban Macaw: Can you talk about what catalyzes your writing? It’s usually like, someone you met right? You try to capture something about the world that is fundamentally Westrian. Goinesian in this case.

Himalayan Quail: I would say I mostly think about books I like that had problems that annoyed me and I make my own shit that’s better.

Cuban Macaw: But there’s a lot of emotions too. Or are you not an emotional writer in your opinion?

Himalayan Quail: I try to, politely, nudge a reader to feel very specific and heavy emotions in as few words as possible.

Cuban Macaw: You’re not just having fun. You’re struggling with shit.

Himalayan Quail: For sure.

Cuban Macaw: It bums you out. It makes you care. Feel alive or whatever. It’s what you live for.

Himalayan Quail: I definitely wrote a lot of real shit that makes me sad into Goines. At times, without even realizing it.

Cuban Macaw: That’s art.

Himalayan Quail: Definitely. Who are you rooting for? In Goines, that is.

Cuban Macaw: Man, I gotta eat. I still haven’t done it. Honduran Emerald and Dunie.

Himalayan Quail: Want to take a break and come back? We probably have enough. I can twist it into something monstrous and good.

Cuban Macaw: We can come back and do some more later.