The Underground Author Series
Interview #9: Michael Hemmingson
Michael Hemmingson is the author, editor, and all around roustabout responsible for some of the most infamous literary hit-and-runs of our time. Read on to find out what makes him tick like a time bomb, and be sure to read his short fiction included below.
Q: You were getting published at an age when most people aren't even interested in writing. What got you into it?
A: Harlan Ellison. He was my earliest influence. I wanted to be just like him when I was 11-12. Maybe I still do—I mean I don’t want to be as short and cranky as him. He can be a real asshole, but he’s earned the right to be the asshole he is. I guess we should all feel lucky (and relieved) that he doesn’t wear platform shoes anymore.
Q: Your story "Flight 1266" (part of What the Fuck: The Avant-Porn Anthology) accurately describes my every flight experience. Is your work inspired more by daily encounters, or does it spring from imagined events? And, is psychotic experience a necessity for artists to be successful?
A: My work is inspired everything—the things in life, the things in dreams, the things that some people call "the paranormal" but is sometimes just the normal for me: depends on how you view it all. I don’t think matters of psychosis are necessary. It happens, and for some it helps; for others, well, their lives just blow up. Keep in mind that the psychoses of many of our favorite writers are born of pain, and that pain still remains for these heroes of ours, a pain I bet many would wish they didn’t have to have. "Flight 1266" was written while I was reading Ballard’s The Atrocity Exhibition, so you see what I ripped off…
Q: You have a knack for getting at the heart of precisely the type of thing people don't want to read about. How do works such as your poem "Rwanda" or your novella The Sonofabitch come into being?
A: "Rwanda" comes from my time as a foreign correspondent for a news wire service in 1993-5. I have yet been able to write about it in fiction—I had some chapters in The Comfort of Women, I thought it would be interesting to intertwine war and the political within a porn novel. The original publisher, Masquerade Books, was going to keep it that way, but the company went belly-up before it could be published. Blue Moon issued the book in 2001, but my editor had me take those Rwanda and Bosnia sections out, felt they were for some other future book. He was right. I have yet to write that book—I touch on it in a novel I recently finished, Pillow. Pillow is looking for a home right now.
As for "The Sonofabitch," that was originally a play I wrote in two furious nights in a cheap motel room after my ex-girlfriend, Christine, dumped me. I was Literary Manager of The Fritz Theater in San Diego at the time. This was, oh, May 1998. A week after writing it, I did a staged reading to see people’s reactions. I was happy how it came out. One guy there taught an anger management class and paid me $300 to use the first scene for his class materials. Hey, it was money. I tried to mount the play through my other small company, The Alien Stage Project, but various production and timing things got in the way and while I found two actresses, I could not find a male actor willing to play the asshole protagonist; they were too uncomfortable with the material, which I found. But if it had been a paying movie rather than a small theater project, I bet the tune would’ve been different. I couldn’t find any theaters to take it on, not even the ones who claimed to be "edgy and controversial." There was interest but there was always some kind of backlash with board members, etc. Which I’m used to. So I re-did it as a novella and I still can’t find anyone to publish it.
Q: Tell us a little about your stage experience.What caused you to pursue this branch of writing? Is the theater something that's still in your life?
A: I get involved in theater off and on, for various amounts of time. It’s hard because there’s no money in it and it’s very exhausting being a poor starving artist, no matter how rewarding the artistic experiences is. Doing plays is an immediate high, and instant satisfaction, you have an audience, there’s the energy…a lot like being in a band. But you see too many actors or musicians left feeling empty when the night is done and they go home and—at home they are just regular people, who have to get up and go to work. So they seek to keep that high going with drugs or sex or whatever. If you can learn to make the balance, it’ll work. I’ve done it all in theater—acting, writing, directing, producing. I’m more comfortable with the directing and producing, and that takes a lot of energy. And of course writing. I write one play a year, maybe. They get produced here and there, most I never see. Some are published. I got involved with The Fritz in San Diego when they produced my play, DRIVING SOMEWHERE, and I wound up moving in with my director. Then she and I were running the company by ourselves, until the people who left to seek fame in Chicago and NY and elsewhere failed, so they came back to San Diego where they could be big fish in the small pond, rather than an unknown face in a giant city. I’ve directed the works of David Mamet, Nicky Silver, and Erica Cressidan Wilson. I haven’t directed a play in two years. I miss it. I probably will do something theater-wise soon.
Q: Did you really walk into court on acid and impersonate a lawyer—and, if so, 1) how much do you charge your clients, and 2) do you have room for any new clients?
A: Yes, I went into Federal Court acting in pro per once, on an injunction I was trying to get (but didn’t) and I was coming down off a night of LSD madness. This was…1991? It was purely a Hunter S. Thompson-type thing. Completely nuts of me. I was sweating and freaking out and convinced the court clerks knew I was on something…as well as convinced I was being followed by a gumshoe hired by the other side to find out where I lived (all they had was a PO Box for me). Federal courts are big and ominous and the judge was like 80 and sitting what seemed to be 1000 feet above me, saying: "Never mind these horrible microphones, they date back to World War II. I was your age then." In his brief denying my application for injunctive relief, he called my pleading papers "incomprehensibe." My whacky law practice days are over, and I have a lawyer. I do give out advice. It’s probably bad advice.
Q: Godzilla vs. Gamera: who is the true king?
A: That’s a very hard question. Godzilla does have better enemies to fight, but who can pass up a giant turtle that saves mankind and loves children? When I was 7, I had a pet turtle…I took off some needles from a rose bush and glued them on my turtle’s back and proclaimed him the incarnation of Gamera.
Q: What influence has Art Bell had on your life?
A: Too much. Way too much. He’s been my night time pal since 1996. Of course, he’s only on weekends now but I listen to his weeknight successor, as I am right now, answering these questions. I used to call in a lot when I had a touchtone phone and used speed dial (doesn’t work as good with a cell phone). In Feb. 98 I was a guest for an hour, talking about an article I wrote about Art and the black ops payroll which was circulating all over the internet. It was weird — I turned the radio on one night and Art Bell was reading something on the air, and I said to myself, "That sounds like my writing style." Then I realized it was!
Q: What are some of your forthcoming projects?
A: There’s the HOUSE OF DREAMS TRILOGY, from Blue Moon. Book I just came out. Book II will be out in November and III will be out Feb 05. May be the last of my Blue Moons, under my own name anyway. Who knows. I’m moving away from the literary erotica. THE ROSE OF HEAVEN comes out this summer from Prime Books/Wildside Press, and the on line mag LENOX AVENUE will run the first chapter — I’m very excited about this one: a four year project. In the Fall, finally, Thunder’s Mouth Press will release EXPELLED FROM EDEN: A WILLIAM T. VOLLMANN READER that I co-edited with Larry McCaffery; that’s been a 3-year project. I’m slowly working on a critical history of The Red Cross and an academic book, UNDERSTANDING WILLIAM T. VOLLMANN for the Univ. of South Carolina Press. Some pen name commercial crap I don’t want to get into. Lots of journalism for The San Diego Reader. A few comic book scripts. A novel about a guy whose life goes haywire when he wins the California State Lottery.
Read Hemmingson's story Solid Memories Have the Life-Span of Tulips and Sunflowers.