New Review: Charlie Huston

I’ve interviewed the extremely entertaining writer Charlie Huston twice now for The Bat Segundo Show: once in 2007, where Huston rather devilishly attempted (and failed) to employ a minor Yojimbo between the good Rick Kleffel (also a Huston fan) and me, and again in last February (accompanied by a short video excerpt). But as funny and as enthralling as his last standalone novel was (The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death, nominated days ago for an Edgar), Huston’s most recent novel, Sleepless, as I argue in today’s Barnes and Noble Review, represents a major step forward as a writer. Sleepless is an unusual fusion of dystopian cyberpunk, multiple perspectives, and fatherhood, and it really deserves more press. But, as John Fox has thoughtfully observed, today’s book reviewers have permitted idiosyncratic gripes and personal prejudices to intrude upon the sheer pleasure of reading. Small wonder that genre gets ignored or writers who attempt something different are castigated, and that today’s critics, with rare exception, remain about as adventurous as a company man too terrified of venturing more than six blocks away from his workplace during lunch hour.

Whether Huston will ever breach past these retrouss√©-nosed sentinels, now working themselves into a needlessly vigilant lather over Joshua Ferris’s sophomore slump, is anyone’s guess. The newspaper book review sections, for the most part, remain dull and uninviting in this volatile economic climate, too afraid to take chances or to offer space to thoughtful contrarians, and too diffident to hand over their column inches to anyone possessing even a modest strain of passion. But for those of us who still love fiction, and who can still remember the first time they were excited by a novel, I’m here to tell you that Huston is the real deal. In just five years, the writer who has savagely tortured animals and ushered his two series protagonists (bartender turned vigilante Hank Thompson and New York vampire Joe Pitt) through gritty and gleeful perdition is beginning to blossom before our eyes. As such, Sleepless is the first great novel I’ve read in 2010. And you can read why in today’s Barnes & Noble Review.

The Bat Segundo Show: Charlie Huston II

Charlie Huston appeared on The Bat Segundo Show #267.

Charlie Huston is most recently the author of The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death. To listen to our previous interview with Mr. Huston, check out The Bat Segundo Show #98.

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Condition of Mr. Segundo: Looking for an efficient and affordable cleanup service.

Author: Charlie Huston

Subjects Discussed: Huston’s concern for locative detail, unusual sentence structures, sequential details within sentences, the run-on sentence in relation to narrative action, the burdens of writing novels quickly, rhythm and alternating sentences, whether or not the word “motherfucker” haunts Huston in his dreams, sentences repeating and following a character demand, getting across pace without having characters describe the pace, working over sequences amidst restrictive writing conditions, pushing the story forward with aggression, trying to steer around cliches, being subconsciously funny with the books, the burden of the Joe Pitt books, masturbating on the page, avoiding violence directed at dogs in the most recent books, consciously playing down the violence, on “going soft,” slipping into habit, the typographical dash mistake in Mystic Arts, on whether John Wayne is the standard for the roundhouse haymaker, why almonds were chosen over pecans, agricultural hijacking, cockroaches, transcribed speech and fey okays, the culinary horrors of Slim Jims, and conducting research.

VIDEO CLIP:

EXCERPT FROM SHOW:

hustonHuston: Sometimes, if you use the same words, you can put a little tinkle of irony into it. In the fact that you describe him doing it exactly the way the person just told him. So you use the exact same words. It’s hard for me to answer questions about the writing that are that precise. Because so much of the process is not that precise for me. So much of it is shoveling. And you’re not too terribly conscious of how you shovel while you’re doing it. Whether you’re good at it or not.

Correspondent: But you just confessed to me that the “heartbeat” sequence was worked over. I mean…

Huston: That one, yes, absolutely. But in general, I’m saying. Like if you’re asking general questions about the way I use rhythm and use repetitions and stuff, I can draw out an example like that. Where it was very specific and where I had very particular goals that I’m articulating now with much more depth than I ever articulated to myself at the time. But in terms of being able to generally say why those rhythms appeal to me, why I use them, I don’t know. I’m kind of making it up right now the same way I’m making it up as I write it. Well, I think it works like this. But does it? That’s kind of where I am with that stuff.

Correspondent: Yeah. But this is interesting to me because you have such restrictive deadlines. And here you are working over a specific sequence. This is why I’m kind of interested in how you’re developing your rhythm, even with these constrictive conditions.

Huston: And that may also just be part of it. You know, some of those things. You know, Ed, I just don’t know, man. I mean, that’s really the bottom line. I don’t know how far I can penetrate into this and have it not just be bullshit at a certain point. I mean, it’s just coming out that way. It’s just coming out that way. And I don’t know if the time frame has as much to do with it. The time frame tends to play more into things that slip through the crack that might be messy. Like that long sentence that you had. And how it’s a combination of “I find myself making connections that I might not otherwise make because I’m writing clip clip clip” and also a situation in which “I find myself writing sloppy things that I might otherwise clean up if I had more time.” The time constriction tends to manifest itself more in pushing the story forward very aggressively. In sometimes making choices that, fifty pages later, I wish I hadn’t made. Because there were implications I hadn’t considered, but with enough time to go back and unchoose that choice. So I have to do some more tap dancing to make it all work. And it also plays a large role in the extent to which I will more willingly embrace some genre conventions and cliches that I might otherwise try to find ways to steer around if I had a little more time.

(Photo credit: Mary Reagan)

BSS #267: Charlie Huston II (Download MP3)

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