Interview with Editor Matthew Guerruckey

I recently had the oppourtunity to sit down with Drunk Monkeys Editor Matthew Guerruckey for a quick interview at Stories Books and Cafe in Los Angeles. Matt is one of those amazng, generous folks in the literary world that go out of their way to help others before helping themselves. Check out the Drunk Monkeys site and their recent issue dedicated to Orlando.dm

Now imagine us sitting across from each other on the patio, and this is how it goes:

Ashley: What prompted you to start Drunk Monkeys?

Matt: I’ve answered that question a lot of different ways over the past few years, but it’s only recently that I’ve come to realize that it was desperation. I was in this job that I said I hated, but it was less the job itself, or my boss, but the idea that my course in the company was set. I had gone as far as I could there. I was respected within the boundaries of what I did, but it was also a really clear boundary. There was never any call for me to think creatively or to act creatively, and so I had all of this junk just sitting in my head. I had this urge to express myself, but no outlet.

I had just begun to write stories again at the beginning of 2011, but I had no idea what to do with them. I didn’t know anything at all about the literary world. I knew that there were underground publications and zines that would publish short stories, but I didn’t know anyone who had ever had their work published in any of them, so I had no idea what the path was for that sort of career. I had written a blog, about five years before, mainly on comic books and movies, and I thought that if I could build some sort of online zine then I could have an excuse to publish my own work, and that would be a reason to write.

So I jumped into this whole thing completely unaware that other people had been doing this for twenty years, and that there was this entire community out there. I started with this really vague idea of what we should or shouldn’t publish. Lawrence Von Haelstrom, who’s a Contributing Editor on the site, and one of my oldest friends, was really helpful in narrowing the scope, because in the beginning I wanted to publish literally everything that was sent to us. But Lawrence had more familiarity with the online marketplace, and he, rightly, said that unless we had a focus, we’d just be another shout in the void. So that led me to the dual focus on literature and film. And I think that if we didn’t have that, it would have been a colossal mess that would have lasted a month.

A: What would you say is the seed for your writing?

M: There’s this show called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend that I really dig, and whenever someone asks the lead why she’s acting the way that she is (which is crazy), her standard answer is “low self esteem and a genetic predisposition for anxiety and depression”. I think you can say that about nearly any writer. My mother is a poet, and so there was always literature around, there was always mythology, there was always history. On top of that, she was bipolar, and that made things chaotic. That led me to seek escape in books and movies — they were something secure in an insecure environment.

I didn’t think of writing in serious way until high school. We were given a creative writing assignment in my Junior year, which was the first thing I ever really went all out on, and when my mom read it (when my mom snuck into my room and read it, that is), she threw me into therapy. That proved to me that I was able to be really expressive in my writing, but it also instilled a really strong block against sharing my work with others.

But I had always made up stories. I could never play, as a kid, without creating an entire world for my characters, with detailed backstories and mythologies. I had a real visual sense of what the characters looked like. When I was a teenager my goal was to write and direct films, and I think if I had ended up on a straighter path out of high school, that might have been what I ended up doing. But it wasn’t until an English class in my early thirties that I began to write, and get real feedback from my work, and get excited about the idea that, yes, there’s an actual career path here. This is a thing that I can do.

A: On a similar note but not altogether the same, what first inspired you to start writing?

M: I wanted to write, to create my own worlds, because I was so caught up in the worlds that I explored as a kid through literature or movies. Star Wars, in particular, is a thing that has always existed for me, and it’s this entire world that you can just walk around in, and there’s so much depth and character. It’s a world where you start out as a nobody and you become somebody, become the thing you are meant to be as long as you stay on the right path. That idea’s had tremendous resonance for me at every point in my life.

Beyond Star Wars, there were books, like the Chronicles of Prydain series by Lloyd Alexander, which is filled with sweeping, grand adventure, but also this melancholy underlining that one day the adventure ends and you’re left with responsibility.

As I got older, I discovered people like Kurt Vonnegut, and his writing was just so funny and wise that it really blew my mind. I find it hard to respond to anything that doesn’t have any humor. I find that trouble with a lot of “literary” fiction, a lot of it is a snooze, or just a drag.

A: What is your favorite thing about the LA lit scene?

M: When I think about the L.A. lit scene I just think about people the people I know, people that I’ve met, the people that I’ve enjoyed working with and just being around. So my experience of the literary scene is Gatsby Books, it’s Kevin Ridgeway and Erin Parker and you and Seth and everybody else that I get to see at readings.

What I love the most about attending the readings, or hosting them, is that here’s this person in front of you, and maybe you know them well, or maybe you don’t, but regardless, they’re sharing this thing that they created — they’re sharing a piece of themselves. No one else could possibly create the exact thing that they have created, it’s this magical combination of their beliefs and fears and experiences. And there’s a really spiritual thing that happens, you know? We’re all silent for a little while, and our focus goes entirely toward them, and we become connected, all of us, in that silence and that one voice.

But, because so many of the writers I work with on Drunk Monkeys are from New York, or Pennsylvania, or Australia, it’s really just in the past year that I’ve become more involved in the local scene. It’s amazing to go to a really energetic reading series like Roar Shack, or to a place like Beyond Baroque, where you feel the ghosts of the words that have been spoken in that room all around you. That’s what I’d like to explore more in the new year, because L.A. is filled with ghosts and history and art that you can’t always see on its plastic surface.

A: How has running a literary site changed your relationship to writing?

M: I think the main thing that working on the site has taught me is what works and what doesn’t work, and how quickly you need to establish your voice and your story. Don’t waste the reader’s time.

I started the site, in part, to have a reason to write, and to give myself deadlines, but once I started getting submissions and having so much work to do on the site itself, it became an excuse not to write. But when I started working from home and writing full-time, I just exploded with all of these words, it was phenomenal. I finished about twenty stories that year, eleven of which were worth publishing, and that was on top of doing TV recaps of Community and Breaking Bad, and writing a novel for that year’s NaNoWriMo and half of a science fiction novel that hasn’t become anything yet.

But then the next year, I hit the wall. I mean, I had an actual breakdown, and I just lost the ability to write. This year has been about finding a balance between working on the site and nurturing my own writing. It’s a little odd, because I feel like I’m doing this writing in secret because I’ve been working all year on this novel. It’s slow work, but I’m enjoying it.

A: What are you working on now?

M: I’m working on a novel that keeps expanding as I go along. I’m trying not to get ahead of myself, but I realize there’s an entire world (and an entire series) there that’s a mish-mash of everything that I’ve learned and loved over the years. So there’s mythology and spirituality and elements of Arthurian legend and all of these different intersecting characters and the band Journey somehow figures prominently in it. And it’s all told through the eyes of a 17-year-old Cambodian girl, and I’m just waiting for someone to tell me that I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing. But if I can pull it off, it will be something really special.

The book is actually an expansion of a story that came out of that big writing explosion of 2013. Back then, it was a fairly simple coming-of-age story. The girl at the center is essentially the same, but there’s an entire supernatural element that was only hinted at in the original version. Honestly, I can’t wait to let Nathaniel Tower read it, because he was the editor that I sent the original story to, and I think it would blow his mind to read what it’s become.

A: What are you reading at the moment?

M: I’m always reading three or four things at the same time, almost always non-fiction, usually about religion or mythology. I don’t read as much fiction as I’d like to, but when I do I try to just focus in on that one book. Right now I’m reading this really amazing book on the history of Christian mysticism and I’m also reading through the complete Bloom County comics, because that was a formative influence for me, at ten-years-old, the way that Vonnegut would be for me again at twenty. And I’m almost always reading one Star Wars book or another. They’re hardly ever good, but they’re usually fun.

The last fiction book I read was F-250 by Bud Smith to review it for Five 2 One Magazine. That really knocked me out. I’ve known Bud for a few years, and I’ve always enjoyed his writing, but that book was a leap forward. It’s amazing to see a friend do that well, and as a writer, there’s also a feeling like I’d better catch up.

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Matthew Guerruckey

Matthew Guerruckey

MATTHEW GUERRUCKEY is the founding editor of Drunk Monkeys. He lives in North Hollywood, California with his wife, poet S.C. Stuckey.

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Editors Note: There may be a part two to this interview if I can get my audio files to work!

Thanks for stopping by,
Ashley

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