Round 2 : Interview with James Nulick
December 18, 2020
MM) You are a brilliant writer. It’s not hyperbolic to say you are operating at a genius level, and we lesser animals can only regard your work with a kind of stunned awe.
JN) Thank you, you are very kind. I have accepted, more or less, career-wise, that I am doomed to be a David Markson and not a David Foster Wallace. I was bitter about it for the longest time, knowing my work is good, beyond good, great even, but there it is. I would never be a Random House or a Little, Brown author, forever relegated to the indies. But then something strange happened as my work started gaining recognition, and people started contacting me, telling me how much they loved my work, how much it meant to them. I discovered, either by fear or accident, that I no longer wanted to be a Little, Brown author, that the pressure would be too much, that literary agents and editors who do not understand literature would begin making demands of me, demands to change my work, to make it more sellable, whatever that means, demands made by people who were, more or less, ignorant pencil-pushers. Not to dismiss mental illness or depression, because I am very familiar with both, but I understand what drove David Foster Wallace to suicide, or at least what partially drove him to it. It was fame, being a performing seal, being forever switched ON, expected to be witty and all-knowing and everything to everyone 24/7. And I don’t want any part of it. I like that people love my work, I think it’s wonderful, but I’m not the gladhanding type, I’m actually quite shy, and being readily accessible to people 24/7 is a horrifying prospect, but saying all that, I do love interacting with people on Twitter – which means the occasional trapped-in-mamas-basement shithead will come along and try to fuck up the friendly loving vibes I give of so freely. And I will pound that motherfucker into the ground, thank you. You think you can hurt me? My birth mother gave me up for adoption, asshole! Try topping that one, you mouth-breathing motherfucker, lol.
MM) And yet, you make yourself pretty accessible online and seem to be a magnet for controversy.
JN) Well Manuel I don’t write books to exist in a vacuum with a bottle of Jergens® and a Tenga. I love interacting with people on Twitter! Twitter is the only form of social media I engage with, so when someone rejects my love, either due to supreme ignorance, stupidity, or perhaps because they don’t want love, it throws me off. So I get emotional – blame my Latin roots. The controversy, I don’t get at all. Someone recently publicly called me a racist on Twitter, one of your followers, one of my former followers, a person appearing in Expat 4, of all things. Family troubles! They prolly didn’t realize the man who infected me with HIV is black, bruh. And yeah, I can be friends with all kinds of people, likely due to the traveling circus family I was raised in. I’m a gay man, yet I can be friends with people who question gay existence, trans existence, etc. Another person, a trans person, publicly called me a hypocrite. Hypocrite how, for wanting to bring all kinds of different people together? Sit on your two inch dick and go fuck yourself. One thing I have found, which is very troubling, is that many young people today are very narrow-minded, they don’t understand how challenging it is to be queer, HIV positive, a minority, blah blah blah. Seems counterintuitive, but there it is. Open your windows and let reality in – the world is filled with many different kinds of people, not just a mirrored room full of yous.
MM) Well, now that I’ve coddled you, allow me to take you to task. Rejected by the big leagues and laundering it as a creative decision, I see. Some might call you eccentric, shameless even, in your endless campaign to toot your own horn. How do you respond to charges that you lay it on too thick when it comes to self-promotion? Is the cost of being a genius a penchant for being unpredictable and alienating? What is the cost of being a genius, in your view?
JN) Damn, Manny. Well to quote the late great David Letterman, if I could toot my own horn, I’d likely never leave the house. Lay it on too thick? I’m only on Twitter man, that’s all. Some of these so-called ‘indie’ motherfuckers have an agent, I don’t have shit, I’ve got a four inch dick and an ancient laptop, who fucking cares. If you don’t like the miniskirt I’m raising, drive to the next fucking corner. But yeah, being overly-intelligent can give rise to unpredictable and alienating behavior. I hear I’m not very popular in Canada.
MM) You have a very playful spirit online, and careful followers likely notice your avatar changes almost daily. Why the constant change?
JN) Well when I was young, I was very beautiful, Manuel. I’m not young anymore, so, you know – I’ve basically become Norma Desmond. Plus I like fucking with peoples’ expectations. He’s this, so he should look like this. He writes like this, so he should – I guess the simplest answer is I get bored easily. And I like being different people. Being a writer allows one the luxury of wearing different skins. It’s fun.
MM) The Moon Down to Earth has a musicality to it that is rare in modern novels. Is music really that important to you?
JN) Music is everything. Music is more important to me than writing. If I could be anything, I’d be a musician, a keyboardist. Jace Jason, one of the main characters in Moon, is a keyboardist. I know a lot of technical things about music, but that doesn’t make one a musician. I know all the ingredients in ice cream, that doesn’t mean I know how to make it.
MM) This is a trippy book. I thought it was uncanny how earlier in the year I compared it to Sleep’s Dopesmoker and you made the connection. You’ve also referred to this as your “cannabis novel.” Do you smoke dope to write? Elaborate on what you mean by your “cannabis novel.”
JN) I don’t smoke dope before I write – you’re kidding, right? I can barely string a simple sentence together when I’m stoned. Doorknob… must… turn. I have to be stone cold sober to perform the narrative acrobatics I perform. What I meant by “this is my cannabis novel” is The Moon Down to Earth is a multilayered narrative with many facets, some of which are hidden, like buried treasure, underneath the seemingly smooth-as-ball-bearings surface. What I’m saying is, if you happen to smoke cannabis – and not everyone does, and that’s ok – I’d suggest smoking or partaking of an edible or three before reading The Moon Down to Earth, it will allow your transmitter reuptake and feedback functions to see things I have hidden for you, the loving reader, whom I love and care for very much. I can be a joker, sure, but at the end of all this, The Moon Down to Earth is a psychotropic love letter to my readers. It’s a fun book. It’s a dark book. It’s fucking weird, with weird body-horror shit going on. I just want my readers to enjoy reading what is, essentially, a very disturbing novel. Cannabis will help bevel the shock, allow the music to rise more fully to the surface. Think of Moon as a 24-track studio for your mind.
MM) You’ve often said every book you’ve written was “about someone I loved who didn’t know how to love me back.” What do you mean by that?
JN) There is a line toward the end of Distemper – “this has been an extended love letter to an audience of one” – which pretty much sums it up. All my books are shout-outs to beautiful illiterates I have known and loved. I won’t say who Distemper is for, Valencia is for a boy named Jaime Valencia who/whom I loved in sixth grade, he told me he loved me while we stood under the bleachers, he kissed me, which was like a miniature big bang, oceans parted, ferocious waves knocked down long-standing monuments, but then he didn’t know how to fulfill that love, I guess maybe because we were both eleven going on twelve? Haunted Girlfriend is for my favorite girl in the world, Nicole Hutchinson, who taught me what love was when I was seven. She kissed me in the laundry room during the agitation cycle. None of these people know how to read, alas, they don’t know how to love. I doubt they’ve read or are aware of a single word I’ve written. The Moon Down to Earth is beautifully written for the love of my life, Angelo. He knows how to read. Finally, he’s not just a pretty face and a tight ass anymore! I’ve become fully human.
MM) You’ve been a shut-in since March. Seattle was the first national epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic still ongoing. How has this impacted you specifically?
JN) It hit me pretty hard, Manuel. I’m HIV positive so I have to be really careful. My lovely and long-suffering partner (who is a very private man and has zero presence online, a very untypical Millennial), does everything for me – supermarket, cleaning all packages that arrive, making sure I don’t put my dirty fingers in my eyes – I’m a perpetual slob., etc. He keeps me alive! And I love him very much. But, well I weighed 172lbs when I left the office in March, I’m now down to 146lbs. My heavier frame was partially due to all the heavyset ladies in the office (I’m a programmer for a large corporation that shall remain unnamed)… I used to visit their desks, and their desks had candy dishes on them, so when I’d visit with the ladies, making my rounds, gossiping, batting my baby browns, I’d dip into their candy dishes like a hummingbird on crack, and I kinda ballooned up. Angelo asked me, are you sneak-eating at work? I’d always lie and tell him NO! I had lots of friends at work, I’m very lovable and gregarious. That has all withered and died. I never go outside anymore. I don’t see the sun, which admittedly only shines five or six days outta the year here in Seattle. I’m starting to feel like a sickly gamer, one of those screaming white creatures in The Descent.
MM) Let’s talk about the character Elizabeth Salas. She’s something of a voracious cradle robber, isn’t she? Do you think that’s okay? Should readers pass moral judgments on fictional characters?
JN) Elizabeth Salas is unlike any female character you’ve ever read. And I’m talking heavy-ass Russian novels, not just Elizabeth Gilbert. It came to me, about two years into writing this novel – I spent three years total writing it – that the only character I could think of who even comes close to Elizabeth Salas is Judge Holden of Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian, which I read when I was 22, which was thirty years ago. But yes, as I was about two years into the writing of Moon, I was thinking, damn, she’s kinda like Judge Holden, but with a vagina. But to answer your question, should readers pass moral judgments on fictional characters? I will forgive you for asking if you’ll forgive me for not answering.
MM) You’ve talked before of your process of invention. You use visual associations, stock photos, models and such, to render fully realized characters in your narratives. Could you tell us a bit more about how you go about inhabiting this novel, and others, in this freakish way?
JN) Freakish, lol. I’d call it closer to psychopathy. Let’s not cut corners – a great writer is basically a sociopath, a liar, a mirror, a chameleon. There are 8 – eight! – distinctive voices housed in The Moon Down to Earth. A writer worth the label ‘writer’ is, at best, a sleazy schizophrenic, an invisible sponge with antennae finely-tuned to everyone else’s problems. In the last three years I have been a three-hundred pound woman, a very forgiving, exquisitely-dressed young black man, a satanic mother, an old white man hell bent on self-destruction, I could go on. And don’t talk to me about cultural appropriation – fuck off! I am a writer, a writer must be all these things. So I cheat, so I download pics off the internet and build personalities around them – how else does one effectively treat schizophrenia?
MM) Why do you hate the genius of James Joyce? I would think fellow geniuses should get along. How would you like it?
JN) I’m a better writer than James Joyce. Plus I’m Mexican, naturally I’m a lot smoother on the eyes. Why are you asking me stupid shit like this?
MM) What are you working on next? Will you ever top this masterpiece?
JN) Top this masterpiece? How do you top The Iliad? I guess you write The Odyssey. Wait which one came first? Well I’m finishing my second short story collection for Expat Press, the title of which can only be ascertained by purchasing a copy of The Moon Down to Earth – it’s nestled in the About the Author section. In late spring I’ll start work on my new novel CANDYFLIP.
MM) This is a violent book in some ways. Without giving too much away, what about love do you think casts a violent shadow? Is romantic passion different from love?
JN) Romantic passion? Hmmmm. You know I’m 50, right? The only thing I get romantic about now is Friday night, 5:31pm. But yes, Moon is violent. Not inappropriately so, but yes. Love does weird shit to people, makes them do weird things, like drive cross country in Pampers to execute someone. And especially so when the person you love does not love you back. That kind of shit really pisses people off. To quote Elizabeth Salas in The Moon Down to Earth, the human heart a map I have underscored many times yet still do not understand.
MM) How are you so preternaturally extraordinary at writing female characters, adolescent characters, characters of all different ages and ethnic backgrounds, careers, vernaculars? Other than being well-read and experienced, to what do you attribute this? What does a writer have to do to be as good as you?
JN) A writer can only be as good as me if they are me. I keed, I keed! Well, being abandoned by your biological mother when you’re twelve seconds old helps. Feeling like total garbage, like a fidgety loser, like a shitbag, like no one has ever loved you. That’ll kick start your heart. I’m adopted, you see. I grew up in a very large family with lots of brothers and sisters who/whom I’m related to only on court-approved paper. I was raised by a nice white Southern man from Arkansas, my father, Mr. Nulick, who (or is it whom? – that’s what editors are for!) I love very much. Mr. Nulick always told me my real mother was Spanish. Turns out she’s Mexican, which I didn’t learn until I was 21. When I met her, for the second time, I asked her exactly where are our roots in Spain? I was visiting her in her ghetto little apartment in Los Angeles and she laughed ferociously and said Right over there, pointing towards Mexico. It was hella funny but it also does things to the soul, makes you question everything, look at everything twice, three times. Does being Mexican and not Spanish mean I’m not good enough? Shit like that. Then in 1975, the Nulicks divorced, and I met yet another man with another family, my adoptive mother’s new beau. Who’s now serving a life sentence for an extremely violent rape. He’s where he belongs. I’ve met all kinds of people, I’ve hopped all over the globe, I’ve made love to women, I’ve made love to men, I’ve woolgathered useless educations several times over, and the only thing I’m 100% sure of is people need love, and lots of it. My biological mother basically turned me into a Harlow monkey, but I learned how to love people, despite my weird self. I have a big heart, despite my small size. To be honest, I don’t know how I know everything I know. My emotional intelligence, my perspicacity with regards to intuitively understanding the written word, is a weird, unasked for, alien gift. It would be a lot easier to be dumb. Maybe I’d be happier. I don’t know where it comes from. Perhaps this isn’t my first time around.
MM) How’s life? You’re about to turn 51 years old. Any regrets?
JN) Why did you have to mention my age? Is that really necessary? That’s kind of a low blow, Manuel. My readers are all young people, you’re ruining the illusion. Perhaps you need to learn how to have some respect for the elderly, maybe? I have a new book coming out, my best book yet, I’m pretty fucking sure I have finally painted my masterpiece, but to be honest, my life kinda sucks right now. I never go outside, except to take the garbage out, I’m down to 146lbs, and my legs, which were once these beautiful powerful all-knowing ramrod pistons, are complete shit. They fucking look like Chick-O-Sticks now. Regrets? Yeah, that nice girl I met at a loft party in New York a few years ago, who told me she worked for Random House AFTER I told her how much all the books published by Random House suck. I never saw that one coming, she seemed so clueless. Perhaps I should have kept my mouth shut.