Interview with Curtis Eggleston
August 13, 2021
MM) You’ve lived all over. While Hollow Nacelle is decidedly a Los Angeles/American Southwestern novel, it exudes a kind of Zen, a mysticism, a preoccupation with nature and the nature of sound. Tell us about your physical and spiritual life trajectory and how it led you to expat. How has living in places far-flung from California informed this novel?
CE) I pray more than I used to. I travel less, too. There is no sense in praying for what you don’t have. You go searching yourself and find it.
Most of my progress came in a one room chalet, in the woods outside of Embu das Artes. Three months there in total, half without service, wifi, or a car. A forty-five minute walk to the nearest grocer. The front yard had bananeiras, troupes of monkeys through them. I still have recordings of what sound like fifteen species of bird, chirping awake, still dark out. It was productive, and with long, idle days. You learn the rhythms. Handwashing clothes, handwriting mornings, typing up afternoons. Evening walks at the edge of heat and mosquitos. The farther you go from somewhere, the further. As if you’d sped time, you look back from someplace nearer objectivity.
MM) Hollow Nacelle’s relationship with music is interesting. It contains passages that describe jam and songwriting sessions like liminal exercises between the two central characters Ash & Champ. It seems to parallel the process of writing, if only by virtue of its medium. With respect to your writing process, how would you describe the search for the perfect beat, so to speak?
CE) My taste is always evolving. I assume for the better. I guess there’s not really perfect, only different. You play with speeds with punctuation, space between rhyme, repetitions. You learn there’s no such thing as a synonym.
For shorter pieces, messing around, I like flashier styles, sacrificing a more serious tone in favor of warping the sentence, experiments for accident’s sake. Recently, my only rule is unexpected. Ideally, results feel inevitable.
In the Enlightenment novella, Marginal Angelic, I’ve been writing fast, trying never to stop to think, testing subconscious delivery. It means I often change my mind mid-sentence, which calls for verbal athletics to bring divergence back to its feet. Or I’ll use fifty commas until the branches of associative thought circumnavigate.
The process for Hollow Nacelle was different. Slow, methodical, intentional, patient. The momentum build, the novel’s shape, is more complex, so the beat of each sentence is simpler, to draw less attention, or else risk losing the feeling that carries it all.
MM) Let’s talk about projection. The title refers to the enclosed part of an aircraft containing, or not containing, the engine. Is Hollow Nacelle an aesthetic manifesto of sorts? What is hollow? How is the reader meant to engage with events that dovetail with surreal stream of consciousness and narrative nonsequiturs? This novel has a plot that feels beholden to the reader’s input, and a deeper intent than telling a linear story.
CE) Very difficult question, and the one on which the importance of this novel hinges. I’ll start by saying I’ve had the opportunity, working in education, to teach children. With kids, eight to nine years old, especially ESL students, one of their favorite vocabulary games entails my playing various songs for about a minute at a time, of genres as differing as possible: Kanye, Stevie Nicks, Aphex Twin, Neil Young, Rolling Stones, Grimes, Townes Van Zandt, Debussy, Death Grips, Elliott Smith, you get the idea. I then ask them to describe the song. Often, they’ll respond with the obvious: happy or sad, maybe tired, or weird. But when I play the same clips again, this time asking they doodle shapes while listening – lines, curves, circles, squiggles, or full-fledged drawings if they please – afterward, they come up with much better descriptors: energetic, sharp, crazy, violent, depressed, explosive. They relate the songs to the shapes they drew. If this song were an animal, it would be a tiger. This one would be a waterfall. It leads to enjoyable, abstract thought, both for them and for me.
My favorite example was teaching an eight-year-old girl, just recently. I played the song “Rhubarb,” an all-time ambient track, and the same song I listened to on repeat while writing Hollow Nacelle. At first, she said it sounded calm. After the second listen, we looked at what she drew. Her doodle was round, with amoebas in its middle, and with curved, raylike emanations bordering. I asked her if it looked small. She said yes, like something microscopic. I showed her zoomed out telescopic photos of different galaxies. She agreed it also looked super huge. She said then that the song was everything, extremely small, and simultaneously, super huge. I asked her what everything was made of, using the word bank we had in front of us, and she pointed at the word “gratitude.”
We, even as adults, have a better understanding of complexity of emotion without putting our feelings into words. Hollow Nacelle provides constant movement, description of image, with the intention of connection to arise at the reader’s subconscious and conscious levels. There is a plot, and exploration of contemporary themes, but while avoiding concrete declaration. The reader gets to fill the hollow spaces with the meanings they choose, and I hope the conclusions they come up with are meaningful to themselves.
Relating to the characters’ desperations, I wondered if fame in itself was hollow, compared to the practice required to achieve it. And what if a musician became famous without completing a single song?
I thought about the loves we design for ourselves. How a long-distance crush may never come to fruition, but still, daydreaming of that person can provide meaning to your life, so is it still hollow?
I don’t know if it’s an aesthetic manifesto. I guess that’ll depend on if the reader thinks I did my job.
MM) We’ve had many long-distance conversations. If you don’t mind, I’m going to tell the world a little about you. You’ve fought fires in Mato Grosso, and work in education in São Paulo. You had a stint in LA which seems to inform the novel with a bittersweet appreciation and equanimous exploration of the self-perpetuating hype machines of social media and click culture. You yourself have been very spartan on social media. Can you talk a bit about yourself and your interests, and about your ultimate commitment to writing literature? How did you end up here, and do these disparate facets bleed into the work? Tell us about your time in Los Angeles, and how living in a major cosmopolitan American city contrasts with living in a barrio in Brazil.
CE) One key aspect of my personality, and of my writing, is that nowhere have I ever felt at home. In Brazil, there’s an excuse for this. I’m not expected here, to be or do anything. The quality of life, in many ways, is worse. You get electrocuted more often, for example. But there are countless reasons for preference, and I don’t know if I’ll ever return full time to the US. South America contains a magic inaccessible to anyone Stateside. I believe it to be essential for my writing, not to mention spiritual enlightenment.
I lived in Los Angeles for two years, the opposite of enlightenment. I did get to share an apartment with some of my best friends, and write often, and meet some extremely talented, intelligent, and kind people. I also had some interesting sights of fame and fortune, but as if I were visiting an aquarium, not swimming, I never felt at risk, nor quite within reach.
I’m hesitant to call Hollow Nacelle an LA novel, or a social media novel. Not from any angle of critique. I don’t think to critique spotted rays at an aquarium in Albuquerque. Even if I think it’s funny that they have to fly to swim, I have no idea what it’s like to exist as they do.
MM) There’s a love story here between Lov and bb, the other two central characters. How do they and their relationship fit into the story? It’s elusive to me, and this seems intentional on your part, what we’re invited to take away from their deceptively slight romance.
CE) Great question. The elusive nature must be preserved. I love Lov and all her faces.
MM) Hollow Nacelle is very cool. It is youthful, attuned to the zeitgeist, written in a style that feels innovative and unclassifiable. Somebody on twitter said you’re the coolest living writer. Will you accept that? Who are your style icons, both literary and otherwise, living or dead?
CE) It’s a great tweet, I’ll take it. He also said he’s the coolest person he knows. Either writing inhibits one from peak cool achievement, without extra classification, or the writer asterisk protected me.
I associate coolness with effortlessness and mastery. Mastery requires immense effort. Maintained perceived effortlessness, an evolving mastery. Unclassifiable, for a writer’s style, and maybe anyone segmented, gunning for “coolest,” is a worthy place to start, so thank you.
As far as my literary style icons, I care less for personages than work, and less for entire works than moments within them. Passages that seem to have been written by the soul, not the vessel, sections I can’t help but assume were penned in one sitting, and subconsciously. I’m thinking of a passage early in Orlando when the great freeze melts and goes flooding. It’s not her best book, and not even my favorite scene of hers, but it provides insight into essence, spontaneously. The Whiteness of the Whale chapter, especially in the footnote about the polar bear: “that the irresponsible ferociousness of the creature stands invested in the fleece of celestial innocence and love.” The Eschaton Chapter. Nabokov decoding horizons in Speak, Memory. The gaucho story at the beginning of 2666. I forget the character’s name trying to perfect his hammer swing in The Melancholy of Resistance. Byron the Lightbulb. Emerson, “Circles.” Pessoa, Disquiet, passage 458. These are more relatable examples. We could go back and forth awhile. It’s not about any particular style, but a pledge to language and a self-unearthing, seemingly accidental, of an author’s basis.
Non-literary style icon? Look up Sebastião Salgado’s photos of Siberian Eskimos.
MM) Circling back to social media and modern LA culture, how do you see modernity affecting the circulation of important artistic works? Does grassroots word of mouth matter? Does social media buzz for our benefit? Why have you thus far deferred to the work while keeping your personal life mostly out of it? Are digital curations of the self mediations of the physical, and is it healthy?
CE) To garner attention is as easy as being contrarian. An important artistic work may be considered because it became popular quickly, just to be razed by an internet rabid to crush what it created. As a fan right now, by loving something, you risk yourself more than by spitting bile. For an artist, social media buzz is an imperfect tool. You try to share without people getting sick of you. The slow burn has always seemed more effective.
For me, ideally, an artist’s popularity builds slowly, and is about the work itself, not the artist. I believe this is important to keep someone humble, and hungry. Word of mouth is crucial for organic growth. Hype can kill, and while it might garner sales initially, it can poison longevity, if only due to a disconnect between the real and expectation.
On a personal level, I keep a small circle. If I admire someone, and want to show off for them, I’ll move to their country, or at the very least get their number.
The last question is interesting, especially for someone who built their career online, propagating their image. Are we more impressed by someone who is the opposite of how they act online, or the same? I’d rather not box myself into an image, even if the box I create is my own. That’s my self-consciousness, or self-awareness. The internet is reductive. That’s what I like least about it.
As for health, I feel comfortable sharing what I consider substantive. My writing, or images of the city or nature. An obese caterpillar I saw the other day, or a convolution of wires strung before a sunset-lit skyline. Anything to remind of gratitude.
MM) I know poetry is a big part of your life. How has poetry enriched your prose? I believe the best prose aspires to poetry and that Hollow Nacelle fulfills this.
CE) Thanks, man. I appreciate that.
I wrote Hollow Nacelle without hardly having read Emily Dickinson. Now though, I believe she is the greatest writer.
I take inspiration from other poetic forms than writing. My favorite athletes are Jokic, Jeter, Federer, Bode Miller. More than their talents for winning, they are all artists, and this makes them my favorite athletes, in their respective sports. Of course, Jokic hasn’t won a championship, Jeter doesn’t have the most golden gloves, Federer looks to be surpassed by Djokovic, and Bode…is Bode, but more important than quantitative measures, they performed with an artistry never seen before. Bode skied the wall, ran a downhill on one ski, won a race by ten seconds, won the overall skiing as an independent so he could sleep in his trailer. Federer’s balletic ease can’t be matched, even if there’s a more winning formula, that formula is robotic, and less poetic, for sure. Jeter has his jump throw, combined with pure class on the field. Jokic is subconscious, he slows down the game to his own pace.
Sports are great because the competition forces ingenuity, or else you’re out of the league. A lot of art, as product, sadly rewards mimicry, of another, and of self. There is a time and place for everything. I never need to hear another surf rock band. A lot of writing doesn’t strive to change the game, simply because it doesn’t have to. Put it out by all means, but why sell something packaged as fresh when it adheres to a formula?
MM) Hollow Nacelle never deigns to polemicize, but it has something to say about western medicine. Are drugs and pharmaceuticals infrangible from this future we’ve inherited, the future you are writing in and into for posterity? How do you feel about the medicinal and therapeutic properties of mind-altering substances?
CE) There is a comparison in the book between Instagram and Valium. One character advises not to trust western medicine wholeheartedly the same way one wouldn’t trust, say, Facebook. I’m skeptical of anything so lucrative.
As far as indigenous medicine goes, a shaman rubbed frog venom into burns on my arm, for a ritual called kambô. You basically turn into a frog, your face swells up purple, you have to chug two liters of water beforehand because you vomit for half an hour or so. Then you feel great, as if you’ve had a popcorn kernel stuck in the gum of your soul lifted free. He said I wouldn’t get sick for five years. It’s been six, and I haven’t gotten sick once since. Maybe it’s time for a checkup.
And I guess you’re asking about ayahuasca. Yes, I believe ayahuasca has helped me profoundly, to grow, in terms of maturity, personality, spirituality, and as a writer. Each time is different, and you notice the effects sometimes even a year after your ritual. It’s just something you have to do yourself to grasp, and multiple times to reach a real understanding. I can’t do it more than once a year. It’s intimidating, and exhausting, and scary, and euphoric. The most you can learn from it without actually doing it is how differently each experience becomes depending on how you treat your body, preceding. Eating food for its nutritional value as opposed to how it tastes. Not smoking, drinking. I don’t believe there are health benefits to veganism, but I do believe it has spiritual value, after I eliminated animal products for a few weeks leading up to a ritual. Same goes for discarding orgasm. You reach a higher level. Up to you if it’s worth it.
MM) On that tip, how do clinical notions of paranoia and hallucination factor in? There’s a phenomenological component…and the reader is invited to make connections and form explanations intuitively. There are many ways to interpret what occurs in the novel, and there’s the temptation to chalk it all up to the nonsensical. Tell us about where and under what states of mind Hollow Nacelle was written.
CE) Well, if a reader decides the novel is nonsensical, then it is decidedly hollow. It’s the nihilistic viewpoint, and I can’t be mad at it. I believe the intuitive connections, the gut feelings, are more important than exhaustive analyses.
Social media is phenomenological. Relationships with someone transcending physicality. Instant dissemination of thought, as if by telepathy. Which rolls right into paranoia. Who is watching you? What do you they think of you? Was that post about you? The second you think so, it turns out it was.
Though I haven’t used substances to write in awhile, it has played a role in my past. I’m not writing it off for the future, either. Developing my style as a writer in general, I experimented with pretty much everything, from amphetamines to hallucinogens to weed, alcohol. Besides alcohol, which is the only drug I still use, and only socially, I think they’re all helpful at small doses to tap into different mentalities. You lean into new voices, and find under varying states of mind proclivities for vocab and rhythm. That said, Hollow Nacelle required intense focus and intention. The final draft was written and edited thoroughly sober. My best writing comes sober, every time.
Touching on hallucination as a device, I didn’t feel comfortable to write in the third person. The hallucinatory stream of consciousness evolved the plot organically and gave the narrator the ability to follow the characters while keeping the story in the first.
And one last thing about phenomenology: I believe in God, in aura, in spirit, all that is invisible, I feel it, laugh in it, and cry to it. Those are the connections that give this book its legs.
MM) What are you now working on? Will you endeavor to carve out a literary scene in Brazil, or are you happy with your relative isolation in that regard?
CE) Zyom is translating Hollow Nacelle into Nacela Oca as we speak. It’s beautiful, something completely new, thrilling, and I get jealous sometimes because I think some sections are more beautiful in Portuguese.
We will see what the publishing process looks like. She’s fairly well connected here, and we’re always meeting new people. I’ve met some talented, passionate writers, and readers. There’s certainly a space for it. Anything I can do to keep writing.
There’s another novel. It’s third person and sprawling, ambitious and maybe impossible. I wrote a couple hundred pages and trashed them and restarted. I’m another forty pages in, it’s looking good so far.
MM) How would you describe your place in literature? You interrogate, and processions are revealed subjectively, but the novel doesn’t feel in any way tendentious. People say you should write the book you’d like to read. Do you feel you’ve done just that? Have you expressed from your heart of hearts? Are there absolute morals or philosophical imperatives that this book is meant to capture?
CE) I wrote two books before this. They will not be seen. I’m cool with Hollow Nacelle as my debut. I loved writing it, and reading it, and rereading it. I’m always growing and will never write another book like this.
Nothing’s absolute. It’s just meant to capture the feeling of the reader. It’s meant to help the reader capture their own feeling, I guess. I hope I succeeded for them. I did for myself.
My place in literature is born right now. I’m just a writer who’s competitive and wants to keep improving, melding, and surmounting language. I hope everyone around me, writing and otherwise, is inspired by Hollow Nacelle, and I hope they continue to push me to achieve a superior version of myself.
MM) What would you say to everyone considering impulse-buying this book on expat’s recommendation and what they now know of you? How about aspiring and current writers and avid readers? How about everyone in the world? You have the largest mic, what song do you sing?
CE) Yeah, I mean, buy it, for sure. There are tiers to what any profit would afford me. Tier 1, of course, by proportion means more time to focus on the next book. Tier 2 is a flight to Tennessee, to my grandmother, and then home to Colorado. Next would be health insurance. I’m not banking on anything. If everyone in the world bought it, that would be interesting. I’d try to install free showers somewhere for the homeless population in São Paulo and continue from there.
I think if you’re an aspiring writer, start with Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, then skip ahead to Hollow Nacelle. One serious piece of advice I would give, that goes against the grain, is just to go ahead and write long pieces as opposed to short stories. That way you don’t have to come up with a new premise, a new universe, and its constraints every week. The first novel, and maybe the second, you’ll end up throwing away. But that’s a couple years now you’ve progressed, writing daily.
Thanks Manuel, and to everyone, for any and all support.
I am grateful.