Author Interview: Nick Flynn Watching His Demons Float Past
Nick Flynn came to the USC campus in early May for the "L.A. Times" Festival of Books and I met him after he gave a reading from his latest book of poems, The Captain Asks For A Show Of Hands. He signed three of my books and we talked for a little bit about anything that appeared in my mind.
Flynn has been called a poet of pain, his books exploring the fallout from a heady life of incredible and undue burdens, demons flowing from his mother’s suicide, his father’s homelessness, his dysfunctional relationships with women, his bewilderment at the indulgence of dark impulses in himself and the country as a whole.
His books include the poetry collections Some Ether, Blind Huber, and the new one. The Ticking Is The Bomb, his second memoir, was published in 2010. The film adaptation of Another Bullshit Night In Suck City is currently in post-production, starring Paul Dano and Robert DeNiro, written and directed by Paul Weitz. He’s also written a play, Alice Invents A Little Game And Alice Always Wins.
What sort of things did you write when you were in college (I know you were reading Bukowski, Faulkner, Beckett)? What kind of a college student were you before your mother died?
I wasn’t writing a whole lot, except in notebooks, though I did take a couple creative writing classes, and managed to write a handful of awful stories. My mother died when I was up at school, finishing my junior year—at the time I was just starting to get some traction, to get a sense of myself as a writer. Her death put that on hold for several years, drove the writing underground, though I continued to keep notebooks, but they were never meant to be read by anyone else.
If you had been a member of a younger generation, do you think the Internet would have affected the way you'd write/share your writing?
It likely couldn’t help but affect it, it’s so all-pervasive, although I have always been slow to get into the latest technologies. I still write everything out in notebooks before I go to a computer, just to see what energy is released through ink and hand. I do still love books though, and haven’t really gotten into reading more than passages on a screen.
Who was the first person you were excited about sharing your writing with?
A judge who was sentencing my mother’s boyfriend for smuggling drugs. I wrote a letter to ask the judge for leniency—it seemed like the most important thing I had ever written. I was eighteen, I think. His sentence wasn’t too rough, considering the amount of drugs he was busted with, though I can’t claim credit for it.
What changes did your prose style undergo before you were able to write Another Bullshit Night? What were the important things you learned to control? Is your prose style a choice or is it by now a natural release? How did you come to the conclusion to format your memoirs the way you do?
Ah, a bundle of questions….I think, or hope, that my prose style is always evolving, always transforming, I hope I am open to finding whatever form and tone each piece I am working on calls for. I really aim for a sense of inevitability in my writing, to find the form that already exists, just out of reach, in a future where the book already exists.
What sort of role has being a writer/writing had in your relationships with women?
When anyone reads a book or a poem that moves them, or if they hear a song or see a film, there will be some identification with the artist who made it, and so there will always be a level of projection in any encounter with someone who has an experience with something you wrote. This is a good thing, but it would be a mistake to assume this level of identification is anything more than a projection.
Have you ever been arrogant about your own writing?
In my darkest hours, which means nightly, I am full of senseless arrogance. Just as I am filled with senseless self-abasement. The whole trick is to just watch these demons float past.
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