FROM THE CREATIVE INDEPENDENT
"On maintaining creative control Author and recording artist Adam Gnade discusses the value of recommendations from friends, reading more to write better, and collaborating with people you trust"
By Madeline Howard
Q: You publish with indie presses. What are the benefits of working with independent publishers when publishing work?
A: You get way more money per copy sold. I’m able to make a living off my books, even though I’m on an indie press. Most people I know that work with major publishers have yet to be paid for their books because there’s so many middlemen and expenses, and they don’t make any money. Making a living is a big part of it, because I don’t want to work a job besides this. Writing takes up all my time.
And beyond that, you get creative control with independent presses. For instance, if one of the people that I’m working with tells me they think something should be changed, it’s coming from someone I trust. I know these people and I’ve worked with them. I don’t want anyone that I don’t trust and love telling me what to do, because they’re probably not going to understand me or be as invested in what I’m doing.
The negatives are not getting as much mainstream press, like in magazines, but I feel like I’m doing fine. My thing is this: When I’m dead, the major publishers can pick up my books and that’s fine. But for now, while I’m alive, and I have control of my faculties and my choices, I’m going to work with friends.
Q" You’ve said before that, through your books and audio recordings, you want to tell a “personal history of America.” What makes this important to you?
A: I first put it all together a long time ago, before I had a book published. I was working on my first book, I had my first audio record out, and I was on tour. I was going back and forth, because I was doing these things that they called “talking songs,” which are audio recordings of writing, and I was doing books. I was like, “Should I quit and be a person who does audio, or should I just do books?”
I was in bed beating myself up, hating myself, and it hit me: I needed to combine the two mediums, mesh the plot lines, and have it be one giant connected universe. Now, all my books and audio recordings are part of one world. If you spend time with them, you’ll start seeing the same characters pop up. The idea is all the books and tapes should be read as one chapter of a giant, larger book. I’m going to write until I’m not alive anymore, and then everything can be seen as a big saga. Or one giant mixtape.
The main throughline is that all my life I’ve been looking for safety, or the feeling of being safe, not just physically but emotionally. The big storyline in those books is a search for safety, looking for something that makes you feel like you’re protected, like you’re inside a big castle wall. That’ll probably change as I get older and come up with new ideas, but life has just seemed like tragedy after tragedy for the past few years. I personally am looking for a little rest, and to not be so beaten in the face all the time by existence.
Q: Who taught you how to write?
A: I’ve never had any teachers or mentors that were fundamental in my education. I learned to write by writing a lot, and writing really bad, stupid shit, failing, and having people hate what I do. I’ve also learned how to write by reading. I read a ton, and I think that’s the best way. That’s kind of an obvious thing to say, but it’s just like any animal. A dog learns how to be a hunter by watching another dog.
Q: What should an artist do if their tastes don’t match their capabilities yet?
A: One of the most important things that you could have in any facet of your life, writing or anything, is to be consistent. Put in the work. Do it every single day. For a writer to develop, to get publishable, and find an audience, you have to do it like clockwork. Keep pushing forward every single day and don’t take time off. This may not work for everybody, because I’ve personally structured my whole life around this, but I think you need to just completely live it. Everything in your life should be geared toward, in some way, furthering what you’re trying to do.
Whether it’s what you’re reading, or your experiences, or the way you live, you should exist in your work and your work should exist in you 24 hours a day. That’s a relentless, exhausting thing for a lot of people, but I’m pretty good at being relentless and exhausting. I know people that need more rest and want to have a more social life, which are two things that normal human beings do. But I like relentless, exhaustive work. Plowing yourself into the ground is the way to go. [laughs] That sounds like bad advice now that I’m listening to myself say it, but it works for me.
Q: What does your daily writing practice look like?
A: It changes depending on what I’m doing at the time. Right now, I’m writing a really large, expansive book. And so my routine is: I try to sleep in as much as I can, but I can’t sleep in very well. I usually get up at nine and I sit down and I just start working on the book until I start hating it, until it starts seeming horrible to me. And then after that I do all the other parts that are involved in writing, like answering a million emails, setting up tours, and talking to bookstores. There’s so much office work that goes into it.
At some point maybe I’ll eat food. [laughs] I live in the country, so I’ve got a lot of space and I’ll go outside to my deck or go to a lake and work. I can do work anywhere. I used to need a controlled environment. Now I can work on an airplane, work in the car, work in hotels, whatever.
When it comes to my social life, I’m selling myself a bit short. I do hangout with people, but I feel like if you’re being conscious with your work, it all comes into what you’re writing. Don’t worry about wasting your time, because all your social interactions are going to come back into your stories. Even if you’re fictionalizing the hell out of your writing, even if you write science fiction, it’s all going to come back, all of the things that you hear, experience, and see.
Q: Since you work in so many different settings, do you write longhand?
A: Yes. Usually I use those black and white composition notebooks. Once I have finished a draft of something, I type it. For [my sixth novel] The Internet Newspaper, the first draft took four days. I wrote every day for six or eight hours in notebooks. I went to San Diego where all the scenes take place, and I wrote them in those places, so I knew the geography, physicality, and weather. Then I came back home to the farm with a giant stack of notebooks and I typed everything into a computer and edited it for the next six months. It was a pretty fast book.
Q: Tell me about the lifestyle choices you’ve made to live an artist’s life. I know you live in rural Kansas, for starters.
A: I’m from San Diego. And after San Diego, I’d lived in a lot of places with culture and a good social group. In Kansas, it’s not there. But the reason I came to Kansas was to isolate and get work done. You can live cheaply. I live on a six acre rural property, and for the price that you pay for something like this, you couldn’t even get a shed in San Diego. I don’t want to work in academia. I didn’t even graduate college. I want to build my life around what I’m doing.
In the past, writers would go live in Paris when it was cheap. Kansas isn’t Paris, but it’s cheap, and there’s a little bit out here and I’ve got some good friends and collaborators. We all live alone and get work done. People might say it’s a sacrifice to not be living in a good city with a lot of culture. But I’m on tour all the time, so I get to go to all of those places. I think it’s more rewarding to just blast through for a few days and see all your friends and have it be funny and wild and crazy, and then go to the next place.
Q: In Kansas, how do you set up your home environment to foster creativity?
A: I’m very intentional about how my home functions. I want it to be beautiful, weird, and have a lot of art on the walls. I hate boring suburban houses and places that don’t have character. The place that I live in is beautiful. It’s got weird wall colors, sculptures, and weird ass shit everywhere you look. I need a fun house that feels like the inside of my brain. My home is a place where I can get work done. Like a giant studio space, it fosters what I need to do all day. I can write anywhere, but this is the place where I can get serious and feel motivated and safe.
Q: What is something you wish someone told you when you began to make art?
A: I wish someone would have been like, “You gotta read more.” Because when I was really young, I would just read the same authors for a year straight. I wish somebody would have been like, “You gotta be more diverse in what you’re doing, or you’re just gonna sound like a rip off of that person. Read more extensively.” And I wish that somebody would have told me to read everything out loud, because your ear catches bad writing that your eye doesn’t see.
Q: How do you define success and failure with your work?
A: The main thing that I want from what I’m doing—besides wanting to keep doing it, because it’s necessary to my survival and it’s how I find therapy—is I want people to read my books. Success for me is just knowing that as many people as possible are reading my books, and that they have either enjoyed or are taking something good from the books is a big reward.
That’s one of the cool things about the internet. People can reach out to you. It feels silly to say you like getting compliments, but everybody likes getting compliments, and to have somebody tell you something resonated with them feels great. I try to do that with people who make stuff that I love, too. I get in touch with them and say, “Hey, your record was amazing.” Or, “Your book was incredible.” I think if you like something, you should tell people about it. Don’t hold it in.
Q: What’s your relationship to social media? You have a cult following on Instagram. I personally hate social media, but I love the ability it gives me to connect with artists I like.
A: I’m exactly the same. I hate it and I wish it didn’t exist. But if it didn’t exist, I feel like I would probably feel a need to reach out to the world in some way. Sometimes I think it’d be so great not to have to do all this stuff. But there’s part of me that wants to be like, “Hey, look, here’s a picture of my house.” Or whatever else I’m doing that day. I like to reach out into the world, even to strangers. I’ve met some of my best friends through social media.
You have to use it, especially if you’re trying to do artistic work, because this is how people will reach out to the world. If you’re not doing it, you’re hurting yourself. Some people don’t because they’re a big enough artist and it doesn’t matter. That’s great for them, but most of us have to hustle. That said, don’t overthink it, like putting too much weight into likes or followers. That’s poisonous.
Q: How can people find creative inspiration, if they’re looking for it?
A: As far as finding new stuff, I usually find it through friends. Get some friends whose taste you trust. Listen to what they’re saying. I’ve got friends that are really into music, writing, or books, and if they recommend something to me, I immediately listen to it or read it. That’s one of the best things you can do. It’s also more special.
Q: Do you have any advice for artists who want to work with independent publishers?
A: If you want to publish with independent presses, find one that you like and read all their stuff. See if it’s a good fit for you. Always do your research first. Don’t submit a manuscript to a press that you don’t know anything about, because they’ll know. Research, read, and be mindful of what you’re looking for.
But if it seems like a good fit, most presses you can contact through their websites or social media. They’re real people. They don’t have watchdogs or secretaries. Most of the time you don’t even need an agent to submit to a good independent press. In this world of indie literature, there’s a lot of people doing real shit, and humans sitting in their houses answering a million emails a day. You should not be afraid to get in touch with somebody and say, “I wrote a manuscript. Can I send it to you?”
Adam Gnade Recommends:
Pokez: A Mexican restaurant in San Diego. Anyone who loves Mexican food at some point should eat at Pokez. It’s like a cultural center in San Diego. Get a burrito. You won’t be let down.
Sunset Cliffs: A beach in San Diego. As evidenced by the name, it’s cliffs and there’s an ocean that you can swim in if you want. It’s quiet and serene and wonderful.
Trident Press: A really good publisher. Some of my favorite books have come out of it, like Until The Red Swallows It All by Mason Parker, Selftitled by Nicole Morning, Cactus by Nathaneil Kennon Perkins.
“Salton Sea” by Neutral Shirt—a song by a San Diego band that everyone should listen to. It got me through the pandemic.
"When Food is Hope: Adam Gnade's After Tonight, Everything Will Be Different"
by Jessica Rothacker
After Tonight, Everything Will Be Different presents a true picture of jubilance, happiness, adrenaline, and exhilaration partnered with the depths of despair all framed by heart-wrenching, beautifully written descriptions of food on its most basic American level. The latest installation in Adam Gnade’s seemingly semi-autobiographical series of novels and audio recordings, We Live Nowhere and Know No One, begins as a hopeful, against-all-odds look at the narrator’s childhood and takes a dark turn when he hits adolescence. Each chapter is titled for the food that allows for an escape from or punctuates the distinct moment in the narrator’s life.
Let’s take a step back. I am an avid food lover, and by that I mean a lover of all foods. Do I keep it high-brow sometimes? Yes. I am chef/owner of a farm-to-table restaurant that comes with its own pretentions. I appreciate a Grower Champagne served with caviar and crème fraîche and a dozen Maine oysters. Have I also downed that same caviar on saltines with sour cream, all served with a baby spoon (literally a plastic spoon for a baby), while drinking beer late-night on my front porch? Yes. All things considered, would I trade it all seventy-five percent of the time for a bag of Spicy Nacho Doritos and a chocolate malt? Also, yes. For me, food is work, food is play, food is a cure for deep sadness, and food is a celebration. Food is life and food is love.
Gnade captures all of this in After Tonight, Everything Will Be Different. He writes with a confident stream of consciousness—part prose poem, part personal essay, part coming-of-age novel, part manic depressive Kerouacesque road novel, part confessional outpouring floating above narrative—all a love letter to humanity full of beauty and heartbreak. Each chapter provides a glimpse into the narrator’s life, beginning with the struggles of his young, slightly rootless parents trying to make it in the world, provide the best life for their son, and keep him from understanding the depths of their struggles juxtaposed with the strained nostalgic innocence he places upon his former self and punctuates with vivid sense memory. The perfect friendship of butter & grilled sourdough, the hard-to-place fruity scent of cactus candy, the joy in anticipation of pizza delivery, all gloss over a deep, universal, inevitable melancholy.
Gnade intersperses an ode to the versatility of wheat with a longing for the simplicity of friendships of youth, pairing middle-school misfit angst with the true love of Nacho Cheese Doritos. As the narrator ages, a depression begins to take over and he sinks into the background while lifting the stories of his friends to the surface. While James (said narrator) is a character present throughout the works of We Live Nowhere and Know No One, Gnade doesn’t name him in After Tonight, Everything Will Be Different until page 147. There is a jarring shift in storytelling as James becomes more of an observer, floating on the waves of the dominant personalities of the people with which he surrounds himself.
When the most important person in James’s life moves to New York, despite being surrounded by people, a deep loneliness presides. It’s a loneliness that we have all felt in the past years, living in a world where our social circles, however tight-knit or wide-spread, were suddenly ripped from us and replaced by electronic facsimiles of our friendships. It’s clear that this novel was written during the COVID-19 pandemic and gives voice to the sudden universal mourning present in these last few years for a life that will never be the same.
The best thing about After Tonight, Everything Will Be Different is Gnade’s seemingly innate ability to provide a universal painting of humanity and the ability to find salvation in the loving of specific people and things through such a very specific perspective:
"After all, loving even the smallest number of people is a reason to stick around, a reason to get out of bed in the morning. Trying to love people while holding onto hope is a daily war where the enemy is so much stronger than you. The enemy has tanks and bombs. They have napalm they’ll drop on you, and you’ve got Nerf guns and wooden swords. It’s disheartening even on the best days. So you look for reasons, for evidence as to why you should keep trying. Is the fact that people love the American cheese taco evidence of humanity’s potential for goodness? Is it a reason to believe in something better? Today it is. In this moment it is. "
If we can’t find love in the little things, then all hope is lost. Find hope in this book. Find its complicated, manic, heartbroken beauty as evidence of humanity’s potential for goodness.
FROM SAN DIEGO READER
After Tonight, Everything Will Be Different, Adam Gnade's Love Song to San Diego
Aphorisms be damned, we judged Adam Gnade’s book by its cover, which was designed to look like something you’d find in the dollar paperback box in a used bookstore, complete with water stains at the edge and a crease near the spine indicating repeated reads. Something that was once loved, and that might be worth loving again. Then we read this blurb from San Diegan Julia Dixon Evans, author of How to Set Yourself on Fire: “Adam Gnade deftly captures the starkness of wading through life on the crux of happiness or despair, never fully falling in to either, and he does so with the same dreamy, exquisite detail by which he serves up meal after meal. It’s a love song for San Diego food (reading while hungry is a specific torture). It’s also a love song for an entire city and a love song for the people who call it home — and those who once did, and those who refuse to. Gnade’s restless, melancholy storytelling had me grieving characters even when they were right there in front of me. And sometimes there’s joy: a sincere, engulfing hope. After Tonight, Everything Will Be Different is memory, it’s honesty, it’s survival, it’s hunger, it’s home.” Then we read the introduction and its invocation of the final scene from the film Big Night, and here we are.
FROM SAN DIEGO MAGAZINE
"No Place Like Home: Adam Gnade’s new 'food novel' puts San Diego taco shops and dives in the spotlight"
By Seth Combs
Novelist, musician, and general multihyphenate Adam Gnade misses San Diego. Some might remember him as the editor of San Diego’s groundbreaking but all-too-short-lived alternative newsweekly Fahrenheit, while others may have caught his concerts at clubs like Space in City Heights. He’s also done well for himself as the author of moving novels and best-selling, zine-style self-help guides.
His new novel, After Tonight, Everything Will Be Different, is something of a love letter to San Diego, albeit one filled with hardcore punk kids drowning their sorrows in booze and greasy burritos. Quite a few iconic eateries show up by name in the book (more below), but we caught up with the author himself to ask him what places he still comes back to San Diego for, and what new-ish places he’s discovered on his visits.
Pokéz 947 E Street, East Village
“Pokéz is like a 1920s Parisian salon for San Diego punks, and the Tom's Deep Plate is their all-you-need number-one chart-topping hit with refried beans, rice, salsa, sour cream, guacamole, and great tortillas.”
Cotixan Mexican Food 4370 Genesee Avenue, Clairemont
“Just like with Pokéz, there's a chapter in After Tonight, Everything Will Be Different set at this trustworthy, venerable place. For years I lived off the chile relleno burrito at their Genesee location, but nowadays the simple, no frills, zero-BS veggie burrito is my guy.”
Saguaro's 3753 30th Street, North Park
“Order a beans, rice, and guacamole burrito to experience perfection. Also, the best flour tortillas in town. Go to Verbatim Books afterward, then Holsem Coffee, and have a perfect day like Lou Reed.”
El Veganito 5500 Grossmont Center Drive, La Mesa
“The lovely, picturesque burrito on the cover of my book is the eponymous "El Veganito" from this cool little gemstone in the Grossmont Center mall. Choice of adobada or carnitas, rice and beans, pico de gallo, and chipotle cream. Your heart shall be a marching horse.”
Donna Jean 2949 Fifth Avenue, Bankers Hill “Donna Jean’s pizza will make you feel happy and wild, like Godzilla stomping his worst enemies to tiny, stupid pieces. Try the Four Horsemen pizza—fermented wheat dough, mozzarella (both hard and soft), ricotta, Parm, garlic, oregano, pesto, crushed tomatoes, and the truest true love.”
The Plot 1733 South Coast Highway, Oceanside
“Order in courses here like a fancy French restaurant. Start with the Taköyaki hush puppies, then the unbelievably good Chronic sushi rolls, followed by the Chickën & Waffles as the final boss.”
By Leslie Henkel Fierro
I recently crashed at my old college friend’s place during a brief San Diego visit. This book was hanging around a table or shelf, and I picked it up for the look of it, but immediately felt something familiar in the author’s name. “Adam Gnade? Wasn’t that the radio station guy…that guy who gave us access to the TV studio?” Flashbacks of two freshman nerds broadcasting Pulp and Blues Explosion videos, interviews with random friends, and Titanic, after midnight to maybe a handful of dorm-dwellers. My friend suggested that my correct pronunciation of the name most likely affirmed the sameness of author and college radio guy. The author photo was confirmation. None of this is important. I managed to read the first chapter before hunger and nostalgia attacked and we went wandering down El Cajon boulevard, which in my 20+ year absence had grown slick and neon and unfamiliar, hotels and high rise apartments and restaurants pustulating the landscape, but none of this is important because we had really delicious spicy tofu larb or something like larb, and pineapple sour beers at a Thai street food place, and the next day I walked from North Park to Hillcrest to eat at Bread and Cie, where I betrayed my own nostalgia and impulse to just order a slice of fig and anise and a slice of olive bread with butter and a pot of Earl Grey, instead ordering a bougie smoked salmon sandwich and a stupid puffy cappuccino. It was fine and none of this matters, but I felt so fat with disappointment I had to walk past the old Che kid apartment above The Loft (which seemingly never tired of playing Cher’s “Life After Love,” and perhaps never has), where somebody’s friend would leave a black garbage bag full of Bread and Cie bread on the concrete patio after all his night shifts. Even though the patio now has a fancy wrought iron fence around it, I could see weird posters and candles shoved into wine bottles on the window sills, superficial signs of interesting inhabitants, and I smiled up into the tiny windows of the $150 a month closet I’d lived in, where the cats would ninja-kick through the weak wooden slats of my sliding door and once or twice relieved themselves on my bed which was not a bed, which was two stacked egg crate foam pads. Why didn’t I buy a mattress? I spent way too much of my early twenties without an actual mattress, and I can’t remember why I was that cheap. None of this is important. Especially in regards to this book, which I bought and quickly devoured, finishing it on Christmas Day in the worst place to finish a good book with this much food-nostalgia—the Hertz rental car office at Newark Airport, where I was stuck for 2 hours with only a day-old peanut butter and honey sandwich in my purse (#momlife) to sustain me. You pretty much need to be reading this book in your favorite taqueria/diner/dive with your mouth full if you don’t want to hate yourself and your situation.
I guess what I’m really getting at, what After Tonight, Everything Will Be Different is really getting at, is that all of this is important and all of this matters. These moments you live and forget about until someone like Adam Gnade revives them through familiar or relatable experiences…childhood bliss and trauma…friends of the charming dirtbag variety…rumination on films, books, albums, family, dirtbag friends, meals (especially meals) and so on. The novel (I had to check the back cover several times to confirm it was a novel, so much of it feels like memoir, like personal essay, but maybe that’s me projecting slivers of “radio guy” memories and assumptions onto the narrator) will fuel your appetite and your nostalgia such that you’ll go meandering down your own food holes, your own sordid and beautiful youthful experiences, and that’s a hell of a thing. There’s an amazing line about nostalgia that I sadly cannot quote because I gave the book to my sister-in-law, but you should go dig it up yourself.
“Thoroughly enjoying this.” Quote and book photo by aforementioned sister-in-law.
Note: The college radio thing is a case of mistaken identity though. That’s not me.
FROM PATTERN NEWSLETTER
"A Food Centric Book List" featuring After Tonight, Everything Will Be Different
Gnade’s self-proclaimed “food novel” frames each chapter around a meal. As his youthful characters navigate life at the end of the last century, their triumphs, pains, and joys, are all borne witness by the likes of deli sandwiches, eggplant parms, and box brownies.
FROM HAPPY SATURDAY RECORDS
Review of The Internet Newspaper
There’s an old saying that goes there are decades when nothing happens and weeks when decades happen. That’s represented fantastically in this book, set across four days in the early 2000s.
FROM VOL. 1 BROOKLN
"Life is Very Gothic: An Interview with Adam Gnade"
by Bart Schaneman
All across America, Adam Gnade knows the blue highways and the sad honky-tonks and the names of towns that time will one day forget. He’s traveled this country enough by car, bus, train, and plane to make anyone want to stay home for a while. His home is the rural Great Plains of eastern Kansas, where when he’s not on the road performing talking songs and giving readings he’s taking care of a mini Noah’s Ark of rescue animals. This is where he does his real work of figuring out what he wants from this brief time we have. At first glance, Gnade’s writing falls into the tradition of that simplest of literary pursuits — go out and live and tell stories. But where Gnade transcends that almost perfunctory role of the writer as casual observer is when he blends the technique with the system of beliefs he’s been refining over the years.
So that’s the pattern of his work — travel, gather stories, go home and write about that, too — and that’s all here in this new book, Float Me Away, Floodwaters. It’s one part A Do It Yourself Guide to Fighting the Big Motherfuckin’ Sad, one part Kerouacian travelogue and one part Southern Gothic life-as-it-is . All of it fiction, but told from the heart and soul of someone who has earned every story and bit of passed-on wisdom.
In this interview — full disclosure, I’ve been friends with Gnade for about 15 years and we consult one another on our work — I ask about his feelings toward this country, his fondness for autofiction, and how he’s able to write so generously about the people in his life.
POWELL'S BOOKS, STAFF PICKS
This is the End of Something But It's Not the End of You
Perfectly captures Portland in the year 2005. If you lived here when the dream of the '90s was alive in Portland you'll love this.
FROM TV IS BETTER
"Hello America Stereo Cassette"
by James MacDonald
One of the brightest lights in contemporary American prose, Adam Gnade (guh naa dee), has had a torrid year, as anyone supporting him through Patreon will know only too well. But he’s tough… he’s had to be, weathered for years as a genuine artist in a world where consumption is valued by its immediacy and contemplative reflection is a fusty notion that withers lest it can be abridged by a Tweet.
So still he fights on (“Again and again it goes on”, as the excerpt echos from his 2020 tale ‘This is The End of Something, But it is Not The End of You‘) leaving pearls of pure, shimmering beauty in tow. The latest is this: a new label boldly anointed Hello America, which offers a voice for short stories, novellas and poems, sometimes backed with noise, other times sold on cassettes. The Spring collection is a gateway into some of your new favourite artists so do explore it before setting your watch by upcoming releases.
FROM MEOW MEOW POW POW
Meet Author and Food Enthusiast Adam Gnade
by J. Richard Kron
Here’s a fun science fact for you: food is important. Not only does it make our survival possible (It’s true!), but it also stirs up a cornucopia of responses and memories. So why are there so few books that give food the proper respect? And by books, I don’t mean cooking guides or anything else you’ll find in the culinary section at Barnes and Noble. I mean literature that conveys dining as an important life experience, one that’s on par with if not more significant than human love. Such a work of literature has arrived. It is entitled After Tonight, Everything Will Be Different (Three One G Records, Bread & Roses Press), and the author of this book is rural Kansas-resident Adam Gnade (pronounced “guh-naw-dee”). The novel’s cover says it all: a hand is pouring hot sauce on a big burrito, a bottle of Jarritos soda watches from the side, and a blurry Mexican Food sign hovers in the background. Speaking as an Arizonan, this image strikes a massive emotional chord in me. And that’s the point: food=emotion. As Gnade tells stories about his upbringing in San Diego (the setting for a lot of his other books as well) and his travels across the country, the real stars include Cactus Candy, the Tuna Melt, the Wendy’s Frosty, Nacho Cheese Doritos, and so on. They’re the stars of their respective scenes, but they also coexist with all of the people associated with them. Which is another point: food=connection.
Every time a familiar name or line from one of the songs came up there was a great feeling of half-remembered recognition to it which made moments like the first appearance of Ben Frank weirdly thrilling. Ben Frank’s Kerouac-like combination of outward gregariousness and glimpsed inner torment made for my favourite character I think.
My experience of life has been a bit more tomato sandwiches and a bit less crystal meth, but the portrayal of being a bored and melancholic young person still felt very close to home-–sometimes uncomfortably so. A lot of the hanging around at people’s houses nursing small grievances would ring true for anyone I think. I really felt for Joey. I could especially relate to the kind of beach depression, crumbling resorts feeling of a lot of the scenery. There are a lot of places like that here in Norfolk.
I like that you weren’t afraid to make some of the drunken banter a bit stale or tedious. There’s a truth to that which I found quite refreshing. Many’s the writer who shies away from that kind of representation. I think a lot of people are put off by the beats because that style of writing presents the idea that every word of an all-night conversation is good. You go further I think by presenting how really, a lot of the time, it’s not.
The continuity between the parts of Merc that are uptight, puritan and humourless and the ways in which Joey is also this way–-albeit differently-–makes for ten out of ten character work.
I really liked the description of the Bright Eyes show which was never made explicit as such. Always really cool when real world pop culture and music are incorporated into fiction with the names left out. You really captured the shambling demeanour of the Obe.
Brilliant little touch I really liked–-as the Merc plot builds towards the inevitable fire, the couple of false alarms brought in that you imagine are going to be the source of the fire (the palm tree arsonist, the guy ordering the candles). I also liked the bit at the bowling alley where it comes close to Joey acknowledging his parentage with some kind of thought or utterance (with this basically being the union it’s all hurtling to) but the fake ID pretense means it can’t happen yet. The overall Ulysses-esque structure of a younger man and an older man headed towards each other, in this case never to reach each other, was put together beautifully. Ben Frank is a kind of older brother figure, I guess, in the middle of this son-seeks-father dynamic.
I liked that it was set in the early-2000s in America but didn’t culminate in some big 9/11 deus ex machina. However, at the same time, I couldn’t escape a sense of 9/11 looming not long after it all.
There’s a description on page 166 of a Mexican schoolchild knocking on a taxi window and holding up his art project to the glass which I found weirdly beautiful.
Ben Frank’s description of the situation of the modern train hopper kids was my other favourite part.
The food writing is incredible, especially in Mexico. I’ll have to grab your new one which promises more of the same.
FROM SCENE POINT BLANK
"Don't Quit Your Day Job"
by Loren Green
There are a lot of misconceptions about the life of a musician. And we want to prove them wrong, or at least make you think about it a little. Most musicians have day jobs –- and not just to pay the bills. Jobs provide new challenges, personal fulfillment and, yes, some rent or gas money.
In Don’t Quit Your Day Job, Scene Point Blank looks at how musicians split their time, and how their careers influence their music –- or, sometimes, how it’s a direct correlation.
In this edition, we chat with author/musician Adam Gnade about setting fiction to music and earning a living while doing so.
FROM VOL. 1 BROOKLN'S CURRENT SERIES
"Episode 14, with Adam Gnade"
by Brian Allan Ellis
ADAM GNADE (pronounced “guh nah dee”) lives on the Ruby Teeth Homestead and writes a series of novels and audio cassettes of prose that share characters and plotlines in the name of creating a fictional universe that will serve as a “history of the time in which I lived.” His latest book, Float Me Away, Floodwaters, was issued on January 5, 2021, as a collaborative release by Justin Pearson’s (the Locust, Dead Cross, Planet B) record label Three One G and Bread & Roses Press. Gnade also owns and operates Hello America Stereo Cassette, a record label releasing audio recordings of authors’ stories, poems, and books, some backed by music, others not. The label, launched in January 2021, recently celebrated its first release: a tape of poems by Jared Thomas Friend (backed by music from Margot Erlandson and Death Ribbons).
My current favorite author is: Roberto Bolaño. Dynamo and fireball. I’ve read all his books. Makes me glad to be doing what I do. So much of life is us feeling shitty about what we do and how we do it, but Bolaño is pure affirmation for me. His work tells me, “What you are doing is the right thing.” Heavy second place seven-way tie and high ranking in the Official Adam Gnade Hall of Fame of Good Works to Jesmyn Ward, Conor Oberst, Sandra Cisneros, Ocean Vuong, John Doe and Exene from the band X (single entry), Will Oldham, and the mighty Louise Erdrich.
My current favorite films are: Frances Ha and 20th Century Women. Someday I will write a book that good then promptly quit, move back home to California, live on the beach, and sleep all day like a dog.
My current favorite television show is: the view outside my window in the morning when it’s raining.
My current favorite song is: Townes Van Zandt’s live version of “Colorado Girl,” which segues beautifully into a partial cover of “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues.” Townes has been a steady rider for a while. He and I have been through some shit together this year. I love a lot of music, but it always comes back to that song.
My current favorite album is: The Basement Tapes [Bob Dylan and The Band]. It’s very late at night here in the country and you can do things like listen to The Basement Tapes extremely loud in the pre-dawn hours when you live like this.
My current state of mind is: hurricane… or electrical storm.
My current chemical romance involves: having a hard time being around most people. I used to think I had anxiety, but I really just don’t like the majority of humanity. Trying very diligently to get over this. I want to be a nice, friendly, social person because rugged individualism’s a farce and we’re nothing without help and fellowship. Still, it’s a struggle. Unfortunately, living rural feeds that particular fire because I can isolate myself for large chunks of time. I used to be fine with that, but I’d rather chill the fuck out and engage with people. I’ll get there. Maybe.
My current favorite phrase is: “Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales.” Say it out loud. Feels good, doesn’t it? Smooth like an English cream ale. I read it this year and liked it quite a lot, but maybe the title and his name are the best poetry of the whole thing.
My current mode of transportation is: a very dark blue, beat-to-shit 2004 Scion shaped like a baker’s truck with a shrine to Bruce Springsteen on the dash left over from last year’s tour with the good Nate Perkins. It will die soon and that is how it must be, as all old cars pass eventually, as do all things etc. etc. When it dies I will shoot its ashes to the moon.
My current favorite fast food item is: almond butter.
My current workout routine consists of: living rural. You struggle physically with the natural world when you live out in the country, and that’s better than any gym. Of course, there’s a difference between hard things that build you up and hard things that tear you down. You either get infinitely strong or old before your time. You have to be smart about it.
My current regrettable decision involves: every time I’ve ever bragged, because it often turns around on me. If there’s one thing to learn from the Odyssey—don’t boast to the Gods or you’ll get your ass handed to you. I have a big mouth and I’m kind of an asshole, but I’m trying to learn that silence is a sound too, or maybe a statement.
My current hopes and dreams are: to keep writing full gale and to spend as much time as I’m able with the very small group of people I like. That’s my meaning of life, the reason I’m still here and not in the ground. The rest feels insubstantial or at least inconsequential.
My current projects/hobbies include: …writing and managing the business side of my books takes up all of my time. I have no other job or hobbies and it’s all I want to do. I’m beyond happy to be doing this. On a good year I tour a lot, but that’s not an option at the moment, so I write and I plan and I work. I also collect coins from ancient Rome, and dinosaur teeth. Is a collection a hobby? If it is, mark it down.
FROM SAN DIEGO NPR STATION KPBS
"A New Novel by Adam Gnade is a Love Letter to San Diego--and to a Rocky Past"
by Julia Dixon Evans
In a new novel by former local Adam Gnade, San Diego takes on a starring role. But "This Is The End of Something But It's Not The End Of You" is not precious about it; this city, often caricatured, mocked or just scratched on the surface in its portrayals in media and art, is treated with a sort of in-depth obviousness. Like the boroughs of New York, neighborhood names are thrown out with a confidence, and more specific name-drops like taco shops, businesses, schools, sections of boardwalks and highways all contribute to a sense that San Diego is big and important, and if you don't know its ins and outs, that's your fault.
It's a presumptuous approach to writing a book where place is so significant — not just in the atmosphere, but also in how the tribulations of main character James Bozic unfold. James struggles through a beach-town childhood but it's the grimy, unrelenting underbelly and poor choices of beach-town life that drive both the plot and some delightfully familiar (and visceral) prose.
"That day at the foot of Zanzibar Court, the day I found out about Sonny's death, the ocean as seen from the boardwalk was dark, flat, wind-chopped into tufts of white spray-back. It was a warm, breezy day — overcast — the sand, sea, and sky the same dark hot gray. It was, in a fashion, a dramatic gray — alive, vibrant, tumultuous. It felt like change, like a new city on the desert horizon as you ride toward it."
James reads like an easy autofiction stand-in for Gnade, author of four other books, a recording artist and former editor of the beloved '00s-era alt-weekly "Fahrenheit San Diego." We watch James grow from a sullen, lost, awkward nerd kid at Pacific Beach Elementary into a somewhat more poised but still adrift adult, following the same trajectories as Gnade.
But Gnade welcomes — and resists — the speculation.
"To me this book and the rest of mine are novels in which everything is both made-up and true and there are no clear lines of distinction or designation drawn or boundaries imposed upon the plot and narrative," Gnade told me. "Sometimes it's better to let a question remain unanswered. There's a certain wonderfulness in having more questions than you've got answers."
The timeline of this book is sweeping and memoir-like, spanning from an opening scene with his first grade teacher reading "The Hobbit," through a year-by-year romp of his education, then into the mistakes, moves and dreams of burgeoning adulthood. By the end, we've accompanied James through his obsession with a family mystery and a set of ominous but poetic postcards; we've been through an unrequited love so powerful he settles into a presumed lovelessness; we've been through places that aren't San Diego: Portland, Baja, the desert, rural Kansas; and then, beautifully, we're somehow, sort of, back where we started but new and transformed.
The story is strongly rooted in home, but just as powerful is the way these characters are untethered. After a novel's worth of chasing dreams around the country, this city stands triumphant and uncontested, even if someone can't or won't return (or just hasn't yet). We're fed this triumph in small ways, but also in big, proud ways: A slice of a memory of the way Miss Shoac read about Thorin Oakenshield's death in "The Hobbit," a long, indulgent discussion of the superiority of San Diego's burritos mere pages from the end, and through it all, there's a type of aimlessness mixed with very specific, wistful aims.
"Throughout it all, even on the best days, I thought of home," Gnade writes.
San Diego has agency beyond just being a place to visit or escape from, but in "This Is The End Of Something," this is both challenged and accepted. It's okay to have a love-hate relationship with San Diego, but the city is also bigger than that and its impact on James outlasts his attempts to outrun it.
The book's actual, literal production is also a celebration of San Diego. Published in a collaboration from San Diego-based Three One G Records (run by Justin Pearson) and Pioneers Press, the book's acknowledgement page rattles off a list of local literary and music figures as early readers and Gnade's support system.
Unsurprisingly, music and local journalism have strong ties in the novel, bolstering the characters as they navigate getting older, grieving, finding careers and/or meaning. As his story comes to a close, James muses, "I thought of how sometimes in the midst of survival, life will jerk you away from your home, how it will push you out across the map, away from the people you love, or into the path of others. … Everything will change aways."
Gnade's relationship with San Diego is as complicated as his characters'. "I believe the San Diego I'm writing about is true, but it's a representation. It's art. Artifice. So by the very nature of me telling it, it loses some of its objectivity, some of its reality, and ventures into fantastical waters," he said. Simultaneously bird's-eye and in-the-weeds, Gnade's San Diego is glamorized from a distance and filthy with reality.
"44 Amazing Book Recommendations from our Favorite Indie Bookstores"
by Arianna Rebolini and Justine Epstein
Adam Gnade is a San Diego native and a big favorite with the locals. His latest novel follows the semi-autobiographical James Bozic as he grows up in the San Diego beach town of Pacific Beach — a place many spring breakers may be familiar with! As James encounters the many dreams and despairs of young adulthood, his experiences are shaped by his environment — San Diego, with its glaring sunlight, salty breezes, hole-in-the-wall taco shops and endless highways. The setting is immediately familiar to San Diegans and illuminating to others. Gnade's characters navigate a homey, authentic side of San Diego the tourists rarely get to experience. His book is a must-read for those who want to experience San Diego from a local's perspective. —Verbatim Books owner Justine Epstein
"How Frank Ocean, Warren Buffett, And Other Badasses Deal With Soul-Sucking Haters"
FROM FAST COMPANY
by Drake Baer
There is hope in the jealous working world, coming from Pioneers Press, the certifiably badass bookbinders from the prairies of Kansas. They recently blogged a few selections from their zine The Do-It-Yourself Guide to Fighting the Big Motherfuckin’ Sad, which is, according to author Adam Gnade, an antidepression handbook and a “guide to a freer, more lawless life.”
"Adam Gnade Has a Deep Love for San Diego's Darker Side"
FROM THE SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE
by Karla Peterson
If you have spent any of your formative years in San Diego, you will recognize many of the geographical landmarks in Adam Gnade’s new novel, “This Is the End of Something But It’s Not the End of You.” Perhaps you learned to read at Pacific Beach Elementary School. Perhaps you bought your after-school snacks at a mini-mart on Grand Avenue and Lamont Street. Maybe you acquired the makings of a massive hangover in a ratty party house on Zanzibar Court. Maybe you smothered said hangover with a plate of carne asada fries from Taco Surf.
If you did not grow up in San Diego, no worries. If you are now or have ever been a bullied kid, an alienated teen or a 20-something trying to find your professional groove without acquiring an ulcer, you will see bits of yourself in Gnade’s hero, the perpetually conflicted James Jackson Bozic. And you might also find comfort in James’ journey, which spends a lot of time in many dark places before finding its way to a welcoming patch of light.
“The book deals with a lot of hard ideas about death and the loss of friends and dislocation, but I wanted to give it a gentle, reassuring final word,” said Gnade (pronounced “guh-naw-dee”), who will be holding a book release party at Verbatim Books in North Park on Saturday. “It is pretty reflective of my life. I wouldn’t say I’m happy all the time, but I definitely have a lot of joy. I’m still struggling very regularly, but the struggle feels right. It feels like I’m on a good course to someday do something better.”
The thing Gnade wants to do better is the thing he has been doing for his entire professional life. The thing he discovered when his high-school self read an article about Portugal in a travel magazine and decided that he was going to be a writer, and that his writing travels would never take him too far from the place that would always be home.
A native San Diegan, the 44-year-old Gnade grew up in Pacific Beach, where he and his fellow latchkey kids explored abandoned houses, ate their dinners at 7-Eleven (nachos and Funyuns with ice-cream sandwiches for dessert) and survived the tortures of their middle- and high-school years with varying degrees of success.
Gnade graduated from Mission Bay High School in 1994 and promptly sold a story about a typical day in his young life to the San Diego Reader. He attended Mesa College “for about a second” before embarking on a writing career that included an internship at Revolt In Style, a few years at SignOn San Diego (an early digital version of the San Diego Union-Tribune), and freelancing for San Diego’s SLAMM magazine and other publications.
In 2002, Gnade and a group of friends started Fahrenheit San Diego, an alternative weekly that lasted for two stressful years, in which Gnade drank too much, slept too little and watched his co-workers struggle with ulcers and other health issues. When the magazine went bust, Gnade did a lot of road-tripping before settling in Portland, where he wrote for the Portland Mercury and began plotting the next chapter of his writing life.
“I have always wanted to write well and sell books,” Gnade said during a phone interview from the farm outside of Leavenworth, Kansas, where he has lived since 2010. “Struggling with that over the years has been great, and the pain of that has been good pain. Having one thing to focus all of your efforts on is very healthy and sustaining. I don’t know what I would have done if I hadn’t found writing.
Gnade’s literary career kicked off with the 2008 publication of “Hymn California,” the first in a series of autobiographical works that includes the novel “Caveworld” (published in 2013), the novella “Locust House,” and “This is the End of Something But It’s Not the End of You,” a bittersweet tribute to Gnade’s hometown that came out last week. On Valentine’s Day, appropriately enough.
In the novel, young James starts out as a happy Pacific Beach Elementary first-grader only to become a miserable Dungeons & Dragons-obsessed middle-schooler and then an anxious Mission Beach High student. Teen James somehow survives both a hellacious acid trip and a friend’s suicide before finding his place with the goth kids, artists and free spirits of San Diego’s underground punk and art scene.
Other adult adventures ensue, as James moves to Portland, gets his heart broken, launches a writing career, and eventually moves to a farm in the Midwest, where the California kid finds the peace, quiet and distance he needs to write about the town that made him who he is. A town of perfect burritos, unexpected shadows and a love that will never fade into the sunset off Crystal Pier.
“San Diego is always home to me. That is one of the reasons why I will always write about it,” said Gnade, whose parents still live in the house he grew up in. “One of my plans is to come back at some point. It’s like in a fairy tale, where you go out and seek your fortune, and you can’t come home until you have found it. I think that’s what I’ve been doing since I left. And when I find that unknowable thing, then I’ll come home.”
FROM NPR AFFILIATE KCUR
"This Kansas Author Finds Solace in Isolation"
by Anne Kniggendorf
On a chunk of unincorporated land outside of Leavenworth, Kansas, Adam Gnade has more or less been self-isolating for 10 years.
He's quick to say that he has a lot of friends, it's just that as someone who spends his days writing, that lifestyle makes sense to him.
Like the protagonist of his third novel, "This is the End of Something but it's Not the End of You," Gnade's migration to Midwest farmland was slow and intentional. Part of a process, even.
"It's always been a dream of mine to live rurally and have a lot of space to roam and kind of call the shots a little bit more in my life," Gnade (pronounced guh-naw-dee) says by phone. "And you can't really do that in places like San Diego or Portland. Out here you can."
His creative endeavors are widespread enough that the desire for extra physical space makes some sense.
In addition to his novels, he's also recorded what he refers to as "talking songs," mostly spoken stories with musical or ambient accompaniment, available on Spotify and Apple Music.
He says the recordings and books form a continuous storyline, though they need not be listened to or read in any particular order. The stories aren't serialized but make up a world where certain characters, like James Bozic in this newest novel, always appear.
"I hope to leave behind a substantial body of work one day that tells a personal history of America in both books and recorded form," Gnade says.
Gnade and the character, James, have a good deal in common, so much so that his work might be classified as "auto fiction."
In a 2017 interview with Bandcamp Daily, he commented that the recurring character is "as close to my own self as any of the characters are."
From afar, the clearest similarity is that they were both born and raised in San Diego, blew tornadically between Portland, Oregon, and Norfolk, Virginia, then back to California before putting down roots in Kansas.
The constant relocation reads like self-harm for a character who struggles with depression and anxiety. In fact, various forms of self-harm and subsequent self-healing make up the bulk of the story.
"Every day I wake up and I think, this feels like an ending," James tells a friend. He explains that as a child his head was full of possibilities, the feeling that anything could happen.
In that same conversation, he confides that, as an adult, "I feel like instead of possibilities and an exciting future, I have finality showing up behind every door."
All the same, he knocks on one "door" after another, peering through the peepholes of people's eyes searching for the one who'll provide refuge and comfort. Then, another break-up, another move.
An aspiring writer, James secures employment at various small publications, but none of that sticks either. He writes:
"I used to believe the most important thing was to survive, but when you start looking at your life as a war you inherit the bad traits of a soldier. I don't want to settle for survival anymore. What I want is to find the healthiest, safest, most rewarding life I can while taking the rough days as they come. You try to be as ready as you're able for this, and that is as much as you can do."
Then James and a couple of friends stake out a piece of Kansas farmland. His drinking binges decrease as does his self-loathing.
It's as if the geography externalizes his inner landscape in a way that's healing.
"On the border of Kansas and Missouri, it was jungle hills and fireflies, lake swimming, dramatic thunderstorms. In the spring and long into summer, it felt more like a Southern state than Midwestern. It was soft and gentle and giving, but if could also be mean. It could crush you and fray your nerves and wear you down. I saw a new hardness in people I'd never noticed. The strain of disappointment, long winters, vanishing resources, a dying job market."
Gnade says that the coronavirus has interrupted his plan to move even deeper into the country. Car crashes and sirens make more frequent appearances on his road than they did a decade ago, and he no longer has the level of solitude he craves.
He says that while it helps to be alone all day while he channels all his energy into writing, it's also not great because it can lead him to "darker places."
In order to avoid the darkness, he says, “I think while you’re doing this you need to find things that you do every single day to give you some kind of order and some kind of stability in the chaos."
by Ryan Bradford
San Diego-based writer/artist Adam Gnade announced this week that he had COVID-19. This comes after what sounds like a very stressful move after the owners of the farm where he lived decided to sell it. He’s not asking for help, but I’m sure he’d appreciate it if you ordered his newest book This Is the End of Something But It’s Not the End of You. It’s a wanderlusty, sad bastard of a book about finding connection and authenticity in love and art, and it’s set largely in San Diego. I doubt I’ll read a more lovely book this year. Highly recommended. Get well soon, Adam.
"Adam Gnade Is Not a Monster Anymore"
by Jim Ruland
Some things you should know about Adam Gnade: He’s a writer and a musician. He lives on a farm, and his new novel This Is the End of Something But It's Not the End of You came out last week.
I had the pleasure of writing a blurb for the novel and here’s what I said, “Adam Gnade cuts through the clutter of late capitalism’s excess, exposing the raw, pulsing core of American loneliness and heartbreak. Read this book.”
Adam will be celebrating the release of This Is the End of Something But It's Not the End of You at Verbatim Books this Saturday, so asked him a few questions via email to find out what we can expect.
JR: This Is the End of Something But It's Not the End of You is an autobiographical novel set partly in San Diego. Can you talk about your San Diego roots?
AG: Grew up in P.B., North County a little, Point Loma, various trailerparks during some harder times when I was small—Campland-by-the-Bay at De Anza Cove, Santa Fe Trailerpark alongside the 5 by the canyons. Wikipedia says I lived in Clairemont. Not at all true. Lived in Golden Hill as a young adult. Golden Hill is still my favorite place in town. Left ages ago and spent a long time on the road before ending up where I am. San Diego's in my blood. Best burritos, greatest bands, coolest neighborhoods. I'm an awful snob and I love good things and San Diego gives you some of the finest things of all. Pokez, Verbatim, Kindred, all-things Three One G, Ohcult, Demetrius Antuña, the Che Cafe, Black Moon Design, Chicano Soul Food, Acamonchi, the Casbah, Gravity Records, Vinyl Communications, the Relics, Beehive and the Barracudas, all-things John Reis, Heartwork Coffee, Rival Squad, Physics, Burn All Books, Sdzinefest, Tristeza, El Cotixan on Genesee, Saguaro's, Rancho's, so much love. It's also the place I write most about and I believe wholeheartedly that bit from A Moveable Feastabout how it's easier to see a place clearly in order to write about it once you've left.
JR: That’s a great endorsement for this city! Why did you leave?
AG: I left because I was looking for something. I didn't know what that something was, but I was dissatisfied and felt like I was dying or becoming a vampire or cracking up. I spent a lot of time looking for it. I still don't know what it is and once I find it I'll move back home. For now I'm on the endless pilgrimage from Southwark to Canterbury, making shit up to try to win the challenge of the Host, but my stories have cowboys and depressed art kids instead of knights. I guess cowboys are kind of our version of knights, at least in a completely unrealistic mythic sense. I mean us as Americans.
JR: To what extent does the novel reflect your experience in San Diego print media?
AG: I quit journalism to write fiction quite a while ago, but I cut my teeth in print media and it works its way into all my books. This one less than others, I guess. A few mentions. Bigger one in the Mexico chapter. A magazine internship. (It's also in the half of the book that takes place outside San Diego, the Portland chapters mostly.) I love journalism in a very idealistic, fundamental way. It's a noble pursuit, and it's important, increasingly so as the weeklies nosedive and as our current shit-lord turns his followers against the free press. Nonpropagandist journalism is vital to the health of the state. Much more so than fiction writing. Fiction is what I want to do most, but I grew up wanting to be Joan Didion and Jessica Hopper.
JR: You have a knack for captivating titles, like Do It Yourself Guide to Fighting the Big Motherf**kin' Sad. What kind of feelings are you hoping to stir up with This Is The End of Something But It's Not the End of You?
AG: The book is largely about death and change, and the feeling that things are constantly ending. The title is sort of about survival, but it's also to remind people that most ends are really not ends at all—they're changes. It's meant to be hopeful. That all gets spelled-out at the end of the book. The last three pages if anyone wants to skip ahead.
JR: Have you had any interesting responses to the title from readers?
AG: I've had some people say they didn't feel like they necessarily had to read the book. The title was good enough and they got what they needed from it and were satisfied. I guess it's like reading the headline of an article, but not the article itself. We all do it. I don't have a New York Times subscription, as much as I want one, so I read a lot of headlines. I read a lot of headlines and think, "Oh that must be interesting." The online subscription isn't expensive, I don't think, but I'm fundamentally opposed to auto-payments. I know too many people who have dozens of them, but never have gas money. I opt out entirely. My income isn't stable enough. Sometimes I make tons of money off my books and some months it's close to nothing.
JR: I really admire how you combine punk DIY aesthetics with 21st century technology to promote and sell your work. I hear writers say, “I hate marketing my work” or “I’m no good at self-promotion.” But your approach seems to get to something deeper and more authentic. Can you talk about that?
AG: I don't know if I have much of a plan in that regard or whether it's authentic and deeper in any sense; I've never had anyone tell me that before, but cool, thank you. It's mostly just hustling constantly on all avenues I know of in order to pay my way through life. I don't have anything else to fall back on so I'm always fighting to keep the lights on. There's not much thought into it besides that. I guess my motto with the Internet is something like "Get in and then get out." I'm very much an obsessive planner, but not with that. I guess it's the consistency that counts. But also not being overly consistent.
JR: You have a relatively new project called Hello America. What’s that about?
AG: It's a literary magazine at Hello America with the aim of publishing the work of writers living in very small towns and in rural situations. It's a voice that's often under-represented. I should say I don't feel at all marginalized myself; I've been very fortunate with my writing career, but there are a lot great writers out there who are overlooked because they don't live in New York City or because they can't afford an MFA or don't teach. I've been doing the magazine since October. I really don't know what I'm doing, but I also don't care. I'm just kind of letting it happen.
JR: What can we expect from you reading at Verbatim Books on Saturday, February 22 at 7pm?
AG: Well, I'll be reading two pieces. Each about ten minutes. One is from the new book and the other is an unpublished thing I've been messing with. Demetrius Francisco Antuña will be backing me up with some live ambient music as I read. Julia Dixon Evans and Bridget McGee Houchins are opening the night with readings from their books, so show up early and catch them too. Should be fun. Anyone who might be apprehensive about the show after seeing a couple of my Casbah talking-backed-by-music events, don't worry. I've stopped drinking pint glasses of gin and throwing mic stands into the audience ages ago. This'll be a chill night. I'm not a monster anymore.
READ ORIGINAL FEATURE
FROM AWKWARD SD
by Ryan Bradford
Even though Adam Gnade no longer lives in San Diego, his writing courses with the blood of this city. Tonight, he’s releasing his new book, This Is The End Of Something But It’s Not The End of You, which is a fantastic, slightly Kerouac-ian chronicle of San Diego/Mexico in the late-‘90s/2000s. It’s full of heartbreak and hope, and I highly recommend it if you want to feel something. Demetrius Antuña (from dark post-punk band Tulpa Luna) will provide musical accompaniment, and special guests Julia Dixon Evans and Bridget McGee Houchins—two very talented writers—will also read.
FROM THE PITCH KC
by David Hudnall
August 13th, 2014
On the day after Christmas in 2008, a dispute over drug debts resulted in a man named Matthew Astorga driving to the Leavenworth, Kansas, home of Ruben Rodriguez and shooting him in the stomach. Rodriguez died.
Police picked up Astorga after a short car chase. Astorga, who had previously served six years on second-degree murder charges in New Mexico, was convicted of premeditated first-degree murder in Rodriguez’s death and handed a life sentence with no parole opportunity for 50 years. In the Kansas criminal system, that’s called a “hard 50.”
Today, Astorga’s former residence — a modest rental on three acres of land off Kansas Highway 5 in Lansing — is home to Portland, Oregon, transplants Jessie Duke, Thaddeus Christian and Adam Gnade; two toddlers (the offspring of Duke and Christian); two sheep; three ducks; three dogs; five goats; seven barn cats; and a pig named Hank Williams. The property serves as a homestead and an animal-rescue operation.
It’s also the headquarters of Pioneers Press, a publishing house and small-press distributor that sells books and zines on topics such as anarchism, sustainable living and cross-country dumpster-diving. Duke, Christian and Gnade call it the Hard Fifty Farm.
“The place was supposedly under long-term surveillance by the DEA,” Duke said in July. It was Independence Day, and Duke, Gnade and Christian were sitting outside on the west edge of their property, sipping beers pulled from a picnic cooler. Flies buzzed around a halved watermelon from which a large knife protruded. Two friendly chickens — Plymouth Rock chickens, Duke was pretty sure — loitered nearby.
“It took awhile after moving in to convince the farmers and ranchers around here that we weren’t criminals,” Gnade said. “We also have a pact that if we find a stash of cash when we’re planting crops, we’ll put it back in the ground. We’ve all seen No Country for Old Men. We don’t want any trouble.”
Gnade occasionally wandered over to the garden and returned with handfuls of snap peas. The Hard Fifty Farm Zine Mobile, a traveling gallery of nearly 2,000 handmade publications built with help from the Charlotte Street Foundation and the Spencer Museum of Art’s Rocket Grant program, sat parked in the dirt driveway. Beyond it was the state highway. Then it was all green fields, blue skies, white clouds and wide-open spaces: rural Kansas.
It is a surprising destination for three 30-something West Coast punks, writers with zero country-living experience. In Portland, Christian worked as a sound engineer at several music venues. Gnade was the music editor at The Portland Mercury, an alternative weekly paper. Duke worked for Microcosm Publishing, a countercultural zine distributor and publishing company.
They came to Kansas four years ago, ready to start Pioneers Press and live what they believed would be more sustainable, cruelty-free, self-reliant lives. Adjusting to the country grind has been a constant dance of improvisation, but they’ve seen success. Gnade’s book, The Do-It-Yourself Guide to Fighting the Big Motherfuckin’ Sad, was the top-selling small-press title at Portland’s Powell’s Books, the largest independent book retailer in the world, in 2013.
None of the three holds down a second job. Duke and Christian (as well as their children and animals) subsist entirely on the profits of Pioneers Press. Gnade, who is also a musician, lives off touring and sales of his books. Duke estimates that food they’ve grown on the farm now accounts for 90 percent of their diets.
“Book sales are highest from about October through January, which keeps us busy with Pioneers stuff,” Duke says. “That’s also when the farm is quiet, and there’s not a lot to do outside, so it works out. We eat the food we canned the previous summer and fall. Then, in the spring, the farm kind of wakes up, and we start tilling the fields and cleaning the barn and fixing what broke over the winter. And that’s when sales start to slow down. Book sales in the summer are usually terrible, and there’s almost no money coming in. But it’s OK because we’re busy on the farm, and we’ve got food growing in the yard. It’s kind of perfect.”
Even with bare-minimum expenses, though, they’re living right on the edge. Last winter, Duke and the kids went to stay with family for a month when propane prices shot up and they couldn’t afford to heat the house. And Duke faces a debt disagreement that could cause Pioneers Press to cease operations and Duke to file for bankruptcy.
There’s also the more macro matter of the righteous, healthy, off-grid way of life they seek slipping further away as the Monsantos, Cargills, Wal-Marts and Amazons of the world tighten their grips on rural America.
In this way, what Duke, Christian and Gnade are doing in Lansing is a layered experiment with all sorts of questions baked into it. How sustainable a business is independent book publishing this deep into the age of the Internet? How can success in that industry be defined outside the parameters of capitalism? How do you grow enough food to support a family year-round? Is it still possible in America to forge a life distanced from all the bullshit of modern society? Are even proud exiles like the Pioneers founders too dependent on what they abhor to allow the freedom they want?
“I believe there are certain people whose lives are arguments for the world they want to see,” says Frank Farmer, an English professor at the University of Kansas whose area of study includes outsider writing. “And I think the folks at Pioneers Press are living those arguments. They’re doing what all good outsider literature does: They provide an alternative vision of what democratic life can be like.”
Duke’s connection to Kansas is through her father, a military man who brought the family along when he was stationed for a year at Fort Leavenworth, when Duke was 10.
In her 20s, Duke met Gnade while they were both living in San Diego. Gnade worked as an editor for that city’s daily newspaper, and later as a staff writer for a wire service. Duke was writing freelance while working at a health clinic. In 2003, with backing from Gnade’s wire-service publisher, they founded an alternative weekly called Fahrenheit San Diego to challenge the existing weekly, San Diego Reader.
“The Reader was horrible,” Gnade says. “There was very little arts coverage. The bands they’d write about had all been irrelevant for 10 years. Everything in it was geared to people who had a bunch of money. Meanwhile, there was this amazing art scene that was getting no attention. We wanted to put together something that would really support that underground scene. Like, ‘Hey, there’s this cool punk show happening in the sewers. You should go.’ “
Fahrenheit managed to reach a circulation of about 30,000 for about 18 months but ultimately folded. “The publisher decided he wouldn’t pay for a sales staff,” Duke says. “It just wasn’t doable after a point.”
Bart Schaneman, a Fahrenheit contributor whose 2012 book, Trans-Siberian, is distributed through Pioneers Press, says, “It [Fahrenheit] was great while it lasted. They [Duke and Gnade] had a clear vision of what they wanted to do and, for the year or so it was around, they made that vision a reality. For that brief time, they unified the scene in San Diego.”
Duke and Gnade spent the next year as transient punks — “I think we crossed the country 13 times, signing short-term leases, sleeping on couches,” Gnade says — before ending up in Norfolk, Virginia, where Christian was stationed with the Navy, and Duke worked briefly for PETA. (Duke had met Christian in San Diego when she was 14.) Gnade was offered the music-editor position with the Mercury in Portland and headed back west. Duke and Christian soon joined him.
“For about three years, starting around 2005, we were totally absorbed with the culture in Portland — out every night, as engaged as you can get,” Gnade says.
Duke took an internship at Microcosm Publishing that led to a full-time position. Microcosm is not a huge operation by the standards of mainstream book publishing, but the Portland company is a trusted brand, with a distribution deal that gets its products inside Barnes & Noble and Urban Outfitters. That makes it a giant in an industry that consists mostly of kids leaving photocopied zines at punk shows. Duke managed a storefront location and worked closely with founder Joe Biel. “It was a really amazing education,” she says.
By 2009, though, Duke, Christian and Gnade (who had quit the Mercury to tour and work part time for Microcosm) were ready to leave town.
“I think of Portland as kind of like Pleasure Island in Pinocchio,” Duke says. “You move there, and everything you could possibly want is there, and you play and play and play until you turn into a donkey. It exists in this total bubble. I couldn’t take it seriously after a point.”
“I still can’t watch Portlandia,” Gnade says.
“Yeah, that show is to me what M*A*S*H must be like to Korea vets,” Christian says.
Duke’s father had moved back to Leavenworth County to retire, and Duke and Christian decided to stay with him and scout places to live in the area. It was not a new idea to the trio.
“I grew up in Southern California, so until I started touring, I’d never seen the Midwest,” Gnade says. “I’d never seen fireflies or farm fields. And I kind of fell in love with it. I started talking to Jessie’s dad about starting a farm. That was the plan for a while.”
Duke and Christian found the Hard Fifty Farm in late 2009, and Gnade joined them in Kansas shortly after that.
At the time, Microcosm was structured as a collective, and Duke and Gnade had permission to continue working for Microcosm remotely.
“It reached a point with Microcosm where order fulfillment was being done in Bloomington, Indiana; PR and editing was done here in Lansing; and then the storefront was in Portland,” Gnade says. “It was a total clusterfuck — communication was difficult, and eventually everybody started hating each other.”
Two summers ago, Biel and Duke entered into an agreement (signed without legal counsel) to split the company in two. Biel would keep the publishing side (Microcosm Publishing), and Duke would spin off the distribution side into a separate entity called Microcosm Distribution. What happened next is the subject of two lawsuits: one filed by Biel in Oregon, and a countersuit filed by Duke in Kansas.
Biel contends that as part of the contract, Duke agreed to assume half the existing debts of the original company, and that she has failed to pay those debts, which he alleges now amount to nearly $50,000. The two parties signed the agreement in June 2012, but the split was not final until August of that year. Biel says the debt accrued in July.
“We had a really slow month in sales and a heavy bill cycle come due,” Biel tells The Pitch. “We got stuck with the responsibilities of those liabilities.”
Duke’s attorney, Dan Curry, of Kansas City firm Randles Mata & Brown, says those debts were not disclosed to Duke, and the last document she saw before signing the agreement was an accounting statement indicating a surplus.
“They signed the contract, then Biel sends her a letter two months later saying there’s $14,000 in debt she’s responsible for,” Curry tells The Pitch. “Then another letter saying the number has gone up. Then another. And he has no documents to justify any of it. No traditional accounting documents were being kept. He’s just saying, ‘Pay me $48,000, and I’m not going to tell you why.’ “
Curry goes on: “Part of the issue is that it was a disorganized collective. It was a bunch of anarchists running a company. But would any rational person say, ‘I’ll take over this distro company that consists of a bunch of zines in cardboard boxes, and in exchange you give me an incredible amount of debt that’s never been disclosed to anybody before’? I don’t think so. My impression is, he [Biel] is just trying to get a default judgment. He filed in Oregon knowing they [Duke and Pioneers Press] have no money and no way to defend themselves in the suit. No small-time, radical publishing company is generating enough profit to sustain professional legal defense in a different state.”
An Oregon hearing to determine whether the case will be heard in Oregon or Kansas is set for this week.
“It’s been suggested that we set up a legal-defense fund so people can donate,” Duke says. “But it’s already been such a waste of time and money. It’s over a year now we’ve been dealing with this, and I can’t imagine it’ll be done in the next six months. I’d rather the company go down than have kids with already-limited funds spend their money on me paying my lawyer.”
Duke’s split with Microcosm included a clause granting her leeway to start her own publishing imprint, which she did: Pioneers Press. And so far, it’s doing well — other than the legal battle.
“That’s the really frustrating thing, is that we know we can make this work,” Christian says. “We had a great first year. We had a staff — even a full-time employee — and this really creative, productive work environment, where we felt like we were supporting a small community. It felt great.”
Gnade likens the Pioneers business model to that of pre-Internet touring bands. “You go on the road, table your stuff, meet people directly, stay at their houses, build relationships,” he says. “We have a Web presence, too. But us hitting the road and doing events at small vegan cafés is what keeps us going. And I think people want that, too. I think a lot of people are sick of everything existing on the Internet and want that real connection.”
Yet the Web has also been a great friend to Pioneers Press. In addition to selling e-books to a growing overseas audience that it would not otherwise be able to reach, a big reason that Pioneers Press can keep the lights on is that Gnade’s zine, The Do-It-Yourself Guide to Fighting the Big Motherfuckin’ Sad, went viral online — as viral, anyway, as a literary self-help zine can.
“I was dealing with some hard times, and I made a bunch of lists that were these kind of pep talks about getting through hard times,” Gnade says. “I ended up posting a few of them on the Internet. Then we did a zine of them. Then, about a year ago, some girl did a really positive Tumblr post about it that got reblogged and reblogged and reblogged, to the point where there would be an order coming in for the zine every three minutes. It was like that for weeks and weeks. And it’s still kind of paying the rent out here.”
Duke rushed out a better, printed version of Sad, then packaged it into a small, 60-page book to keep up with demand. Since the initial spike, there has been steady press on Sad, sustaining the momentum. It’s now available in bookstores all over the world.
“I feel like it is kind of spearheading a movement showing that zines can go from these handmade pamphlets to more formally produced, perfect-bound publications,” says Julia Arredondo, whose Guide to Being Alone (Vice Versa Press) is one of the Pioneers Press distributing arm’s best-selling zines.
It’s also of a piece with the other nonfiction lit that Pioneers Press has begun publishing. There is, for instance, Matt Gauck’s Next Stop Adventure, a pocket-sized book about touring the country by bike. And there’s Dear Shane: A Mental Health Resource About Staying Alive, by Craig Kelly. Pioneers also distributes publications made by other outfits, with titles such as The Urban Gardener; Eating Wildly: Foraging for Life, Love and the Perfect Meal; and The Greenest Home: Superinsulated and Passive House Design.
“Self-reliance and self-empowerment, done with a DIY ethic,” is how Marc Saviano, a Kansas City artist and zine maker who has befriended Duke and company, describes the Pioneers aesthetic. “They’re interested in stuff that looks at creating your own communities and getting away from depending on the system.”
“I think of what we’re doing as being about answers,” Gnade says. “After 2001, or 2008, it’s harder to survive in America anymore. So how do you find a way to survive that’s easier, quieter, better for the land? There’s a lot of literature out there that’s inspiring, that’s about finding a better life. We’re more interested in real-world solutions about how to do that — action over theory.”
“There’s publishers our size or a little bigger — like AK Press or PM Press — that are really good at presenting the politics and theory of nonmainstream living,” Duke says. “The gap we’re trying to fill with Pioneers Press is presenting what that looks like day to day. And it’s important to me that we’re actually living that lifestyle, that we’re trying stuff out, seeing what works and what doesn’t, and showing it to readers, warts and all.”
The Hard Fifty Farm was without an Internet connection until recently, so there were no how-to YouTube videos to guide the three 21st-century settlers. Much of what they’ve constructed — fences, gates, chicken coops, garden beds — has been from materials they found abandoned on the property.
“Obviously, we’re not working with a big Home Depot credit card out here,” Gnade says. “We use a lot of nonideal building materials. I never fixed or built anything in my life before coming here. But you just take a day, fully commit yourself to some project, screw it up, cut your hands a lot, and then slowly it starts to make sense.”
Farming has been a whole other set of lessons. Duke, for one, had little interest in growing her own food before moving to Lansing.
“When we started, we knew basically what everybody else knows about gardening: You dig a hole, put the seed in, pour some water on it, and hope for the best,” she says. “We got lucky the first year, and the garden produced some food. The next year, we planted more. This year, we planted a bunch of smaller batches of crops to see what worked and what didn’t. Next year, we’re going to do a whole field of quinoa. And throughout the process, it’s a lot of me learning about soil management and pest control, saying, ‘What is this bug?’ and flipping through books to figure it out.”
Christian, who until earlier this year worked for Mother Earth News, the national environmental magazine based in Topeka, has been perhaps the most vigorous advocate of the group’s back-to-the-land commitment. “Once you see your kid walk outside to the garden and eat a fresh tomato off the vine, it’s hard to go back to a different kind of life,” he says.
A kid walking in the Hard Fifty garden today would see chia, dill, basil, six types of tomatoes, 10 types of peppers, pumpkins, summer squash, zucchini, snap peas, pinto beans, quinoa, strawberries, mint, sage, corn, Brussels sprouts, lettuce, broccoli and spinach. There’s also a pear tree.
Having taken herself and her partners from neophyte homesteaders to semi-confident food growers, Duke hopes to set up community skill-share events for people to gather and learn agriculture techniques from one another. It’s part of her vision for the Normandy Farmstead Organization, a nonprofit she’s putting together.
She intends for Normandy to have an online magazine (tentatively set to launch this fall), a quarterly print journal, an animal rescue, a homesteading library, internship programs and those skill-sharing workshops. All would revolve around promoting the self-sufficient, DIY existence that the three Pioneers founders have undertaken through farming, art and literature.
“We’ve gotten to know some of the farmers in the area, and they’ve been so helpful,” Duke says. “We know a farmer across town who raises pigs for meat, and his wife gives horseback lessons on the side. They’re making do with what they’ve got to work with. More and more, I look at what we’re doing that way: What value do we have, what can we do, and how do we share it? That’s kind of the idea with the Normandy project.”
There might not be room to hold the Normandy events at the Hard Fifty, which they may soon outgrow. The first year, the farm’s garden patch was 6 feet by 6 feet. Then it was half an acre. This year, it’s a full acre. And there are the additional animals they have rescued. Duke says they can’t afford to buy property while the lawsuits are pending, so they’ve been scouting northeast Kansas for farm rentals. No luck so far.
“It’s tough,” Duke says. “We’d need several acres, three bedrooms. We’ve got chickens, which is sometimes an issue. The landlord would have to be OK with our pit bulls. And then it’s like, ‘Oh, by the way, can we run a radical publishing company out of the basement?’"
FROM THE PITCH
"Pioneers Press Lawsuit Advancing"
by David Hudnall
A few weeks back, I profiled Pioneers Press, a group of farm punks who run a radical publishing company in Lansing, Kansas. Since the story ran, there’s been a bit of news from their camp.
Positive stuff first: Adam Gnade’s new zine/pamphlet thing, Simple Steps to a Life Less Shitty, is now out. It’s a sort of follow-up to his surprise hit The Do-It-Yourself Guide to Fighting the Big Motherfuckin’ Sad, which was the top-selling small-press title at Powell’s in 2013.
Drearier news: A lawsuit that threatens to torpedo Pioneers Press — which Pioneers Press contends is meritless and rooted in malice — is advancing. A judge in Oregon recently denied Pioneers’ motion to dismiss, so they will have to travel to Oregon to defend themselves in court. That’s not an easy prospect for a group of off-grid anarchists who live on almost nothing.
“To give you an indication of how dire our situation is, we received a ‘final notice’ from the IRS today warning us that they are going to levy our assets because we haven’t been able to pay our quarterly taxes,” says owner Jessie Duke.
Duke has been adamant throughout the ordeal of the lawsuit that she didn’t want to set up a Kickstarter or take donations to cover legal fees. (“I’d rather the company go down than have kids with already-limited funds spend their money on me paying my lawyer,” she told me.)
FROM SCENE POINT BLANK
by T. Vegas
"Locust House Book Review"
This one is short, immersive, dense, turbulent and poignant.
A novella-length rumination on a time, a place, and a culture.
Less a story and more of an experience – the literary equivalent of an intense, noisy and hectic live show that catapults one back to something that feels universal - a rite of passage that despite the confusion it brings, forms an integral part of one’s upbringing and DNA as it is essentially uniquely yours like few other things later on in life.
An ode to San Diego’s envelope pushing noise punk fringe music scene, circa 2002, embodied by a home-turned –concert venue, which is orbited by a cast of misfit characters.
Alienation, frustration, rebellion, existential angst, half-baked political convictions, relationships on shaky grounds and the desire for something real, raw and unfabricated in a post-9/11 brave new world.
Adam Gnade paces Locust House accordingly: It feels like one shot, one big breath and the fact that it can be easily read in one sitting adds to it.
A collaborative release by Three One G and Pioneers Press, this is a novella that will resonate with anyone who found his / her way to punk rock as an escapism from a world that denies.
FROM TYPOS OF LIFE
by Brendan Rhyne
I had an opportunity to finish reading This is the End of Something But It’s Not the End of You by semi-local author Adam Gnade. The book is a perfect blend of literature and grit that reminded me a lot of What We Talk About When We Talk About Love by Raymond Carver. You never go wrong in writing when you remind someone of Raymond Carver.
I was sucked in from the very beginning when Gnade wrote in the voice of the protagonist James Jackson Bozic as a child. It’s rare to see an adult write in the voice of a child while making it relatable to an adult reader. Gnade nailed it. I love a good coming of age story with a relatable, extremely human protagonist. This novel hit a spot and quenched a thirst I hadn’t know I had.
The book closes with “It’s alright, we can breathe again, wake up again, stand tall again, love again, make our lives in the image of our dreams again. We might leave our past and the places we came from, but we remember them. We tell their stories as we move forward. Again and again, it goes on. Again and again.”
That sounds like a perfect place to start the next week of my journey.
FROM TV IS BETTER
"2013, Prime Time - Adam Gnade"
Adam’s one of the good guys. His work is vital and succinct; released as a series of books and records that share characters and continue each other’s plotlines in an attempt to document a personal history of America, in a tone which is unmistakably his own. With regard to the sonic, this year has seen the release of two EPs (AMERICANS on the Blessing Force label and Greater Mythology Blues on Punch Drunk Press), while his first nonfiction book, The Do-It-Yourself Guide to Fighting the Big Motherfuckin’ Sad, has since sold out of 11 printings, and is the subject of an indigogo fundraiser for it to remain available. His next novel, Caveworld, will be released on December 6th via Pioneers Press, thanks again to a hugely successful crowdsourcing project. Speaking candidly to TV is Better, Adam fills the plot holes in his extraordinary journey to date.
Q: Where do you find inspiration?
You name it. Everywhere. Listening to people talk. The quality of light in certain places and on certain days. Feeling close to death. Doing shit I’m afraid of. Good people who remind me that not everyone is shitty and evil. And William Faulkner.
Q: How do you personally approach the writing process? Is there a long period of drafting and character development, or are the core ideas already in your mind when you take to the keyboard?
Well, I have a map of all the characters and plots and how they connect in my head, so it’s just a matter of choosing a section from that story and sitting down to write it. Caveworld’s story was more or less done before I put pen to paper. I’ve been asked a bunch of times to draw out the map and timeline and how everyone connects, but I don’t think I’m going to do it. It would cover a wall.
Q: How much of yourself do you see reflected in your characters? It must be impossible to remain completely detached from them…
My characters are fictional as much as anything can be fictional, but I put a lot of myself into all of them. Especially the bad stuff. I’m a little wary of saying what’s what and who’s who, but there’s no detachment at all. I love all my characters. Even the assholes and villains, of which there are a few. Caveworld’s pretty devastating I’ve been told. A lot of people doing a lot of terrible shit to each other. Jessie Duke, who edited it, and read it first, said: “If Trainspotting was a 10 in the whole make you feel awful scale, your book is at least an eight.” She meant that in a good way, but it’s definitely a brutal ride. There’s humor and fun or whatever but it’s a dark fucking book.
Q: How hard is it to crowdsource an unwritten novel, and how much of a validation is it to receive such support based purely on your concept?
Well, the novel is very much written. It’s written, laid-out, and in the hands of the printer awaiting payment. Finished it this summer. As far as the validation and all that, it’s overwhelmingly incredible. When Rio from Pioneers Press pitched a crowd-sourcing campaign, I was pretty pessimistic. I figured we’d clear a thousand bucks in all (maybe) but we did that in one day. Now we’re about $1500 or $1600 something shy of getting it funded with 12 days to go. I think it’s actually going to happen. I never thought I’d get this far. I think my audience might be bigger than I thought.
Q: When was the last time you drank Mad Dog 2020?
Not since I left Portland. Once I discovered moonshine everything else dropped by the wayside. I also don’t really have time to drink. My rule is don’t drink until the work is done but lately the work is never done. It’s been a busy year. There’s a lot I want to do before I die.
Q: Is there anything you’ve written which hasn’t felt complete? So as to say, you didn’t convey what you wished, or it didn’t come out as you’d intended? Further from this, is there a particular topic or theme you’ve had to shy away from because you felt you couldn’t grasp it in prose?
Pretty much everything. I’m never happy with the completed thing. The only records I like are the one I did with Youthmovies and the AMERICANS EP (Blessing Force) that came out this spring. As far as topics, no, not really. If I’m afraid of writing something I go for it.
Q: Do you ever find yourself being precious with your prose when it comes to backing it with music, or do you work closely with the musicians so that the theme and tone is clear?
I work very closely with the musicians. Most of the time I record it all myself, but lately I’ve been playing with a full-time band. If I don’t do another solo acoustic record again I’d be very happy. Sick of the sound of myself. Better playing in a rock ‘n’ roll band. I want to be in the Rolling Stones when they made Exile on Main Street.
Q: What in particular about documenting the EP left you with "pretty much shit for brains?"
We wrote and recorded everything in something like five days. Sixteen-hour writing and recording sessions. It was a lot of work, to say the very least. I was only in Georgia for that week and we had to get things done. Felt really good though, working that hard. I believe in hard work above all. I always hate my records, but that one worked. I gotta give it to Blessing Force for believing in that one and putting it out. They did it justice.
Q: You focus on three characters, were they always the ones intended for the EP (they’re key in the book) or were they reflective of the music?
They’re three characters from the Caveworld novel. One of them (I won’t say which one because I don’t want to spoil anything) is only briefly mentioned but shows up in the newest record, Greater Mythology Blues, which is AMERICANS’ sequel. The other two are the book’s main characters. Those two records are companion pieces to the book. I mean, all the records and books are connected, but those three are linked pretty heavy.
Q: "Supper’s Waiting on The Tabl"’ is a real watershed moment for me, but it’s wrong to highlight one track on that release… can you summarise your thoughts and feelings towards the record?
It’s everything I wanted to say at the time.
Q: How’s life on the farm and what, if anything, do you miss of the city?
It’s hard. It’s very hard as someone coming from the city but at the end of the day I feel pretty good about it. Living deliberately and all, like Thoreau said. I miss the city all the time, but I travel a lot so I get my kicks out. I was just in New Orleans. That’s a damn fine city. Off to London next week and they don’t get any finer than that. I need the balance.
Q: Do you feel any pressure when working on new projects and how have you learned to deal with that? Do you ever feel like you have a responsibility to your audience?
Yeah, pressure, definitely, but only from myself. My general idea is everything I do needs to be better than the last thing I released. I don’t always pull that off, but that’s the plan. As far as responsibility to my audience, yeah, for sure. I want to give them something good. Again, I don’t always pull it off, but I try. I’ve done a lot of failing. Bad experiments and all.
Q: Your recently published DIY Guide addresses "the root causes of sadness, anxiety, and general malaise/boredom." What drove you to confront these issues? Was it something you were experiencing in your own life at the time and if so, was the writing process cathartic?
Yeah, that’s how I deal with a problem. I make a list and go at it from there. Those lists (written in a very dark period) became the book. It was necessary to my survival. I can’t understate that enough.
Q: Considering the deeply personal topics you had to face in Big Motherfuckin' Sad, how do you feel knowing so many others were able to take solace in that book?
I don’t believe in destiny or fate but I think that book might be the reason I’m here. Knowing it’s helped people makes the hard stuff at the end of the day kind of dissipate. I get a lot of letters and emails about it and it makes me feel like I’m on an okay path, which is a good thing to be able to say. We’re all just blindly stumbling ahead, but sometimes the moon is out and you see a little bit of where you’re going. That’s an okay thing. You take what you can get.
Q: “Don’t sabotage yourself. There are enough people out there who’ll do it for you. Don’t let the assholes win.” When was the last time you felt they were winning?
I don’t let that happen anymore. I believe too much in sticking around and doing the right thing to let them gain any ground. For instance, Joe Biel, the owner of Microcosm Publishing, is suing Pioneers Press for $48,000. We were just served with the lawsuit papers this week. Most of it is what he considers character defamation for Jessie speaking out about how people shouldn’t do business with him because she believes he’s unethical. Is he winning? Not at all. Don’t ever let anyone silence you. Speak out. Always.
Q: For you, what is the importance of having something like Pioneers Press existing today? As an outsider, publishing books seems a very exclusive world, so would you agree voices aren’t being heard as an immediate reflection of this?
Small press is incredibly important. Big publishers are all driven by capitalism and while great books do squeak by, most of what comes of it is pretty weak and lifeless. People read differently now, so you won’t see a Joyce or Faulkner popping up in the majors. Small press forever. Pioneers Press is fucking great. I’m glad Jessie Duke lets me be a part of it.
Q: It’s great to hear that you’ll be back in the UK soon, especially due to the collaboration with members of Youthmovies. Can you still drink like you used to on tour, or do you see it as a young man’s game? Do you remember the final Youthmovies show and any overriding feelings from that?
Well, it was just a few years ago, so give me a decade or so then ask me about failing memory and drinking. Youthmovies’ last show was great, but I spent all the after-time in the hospital with Al, sitting in the waiting room. He got a nasty head wound on stage and I took him to the ER right after the set. We were there until dawn. No party. The best part of that 24 hours though was leaving the hospital at 7am and getting bottles of wine with Andrew and drinking them in the park while the heavy clouds rolled in. I didn’t sleep for a long time. I think I flew back that night.
Q: Is there anything in particular you love about the UK, or at least, anything you find more comfortable or suitable to your morals and personality that you can’t find in the States?
Maybe too many things to mention. Friends, mostly. And vine leaves. They’re really expensive in the US. I also miss the way things look, the stone walls, the architecture, packaged food, Turkish bread, the cars, Purdy’s, the way the grocery stores look, the way the rest stop gas stations are lighted, the sky, which is different than our sky. I love England. It has my heart.
Q: Can you imagine a day where you wouldn’t want to do this any more?
At this point, this is such a part of who I am, I’d have to become a different person to do something different. You never know though. One thing life has taught me is never make definite statements because you’ll always change; you’ll never be the person you were before.
FROM THE PITCH KC
"Interview with Adam Gnade"
by Anne Kniggendorf
Adam Gnade has never read a self-help book in his life. On the couple of occasions he started to—perhaps unwittingly—he dismissed it after only a few paragraphs.
“I have no patience for self-help or spiritual stuff. I’m not a very spiritual person, at least not in a religious sense,” he says.
So, the release of not one, but two books that smack of self-help came out of left field for the novelist and recording artist who lives on acreage near Tonganoxie, Kansas.
Gnade moved to rural Kansas from Portland, Oregon 11 years ago for perspective and space. Maybe he was seeking a type of geographical therapy, or maybe it was a bid to add light into his life as he struggled with depression.
Even so, not long after that relocation, he was struggling, as were a lot of his friends.
Gnade started writing down survival tips for his and their sanity. Most of the tips found their way into publications prior to 2014, and both those and some newly added tips are now part of two books: The Do-it-Yourself Guide to Fighting the Big Motherfucking Sad (Bread & Roses Press, 2013) and Simple Steps to a Life Less Shitty (Bread & Roses Press, 2021).
They’re not self-help if you ask Gnade. In fact, he thinks they fly in the face of traditional self-help, or work as a response to that genre.
“There’s not any psychological jargon. There’s no new-age platitudes. It sort of cuts a lot of the bullshit, I guess,” he explains.
Among many other things, the books coax readers to be gentler with themselves. In Simple Steps under the heading “Being Good To Yourself Is Not Self-Indulgent,” he writes: “Alright, let’s get the most obvious shit out of the way first. You have to eat—well and healthy. You have to drink a lot of fucking water (a lot more than you probably think you do).”
Gnade says that back in 2012 his life and his friends’ lives seemed to just get worse and worse. Grappling with “existential BS,” depression, general hurt, mortality, and so on, was bogging down their psyches.
While Gnade normally writes auto-fiction, which is also what he prefers reading—thinly-veiled fictional accounts of his real-life and circumstances—with his world crashing down, he didn’t think that would cut it.
“Everyone I knew was sort of in tailspins and nosedives, and imploding and exploding,” he says. “Me being able to give somebody something, and then later on the book, felt a little more worthwhile than just writing stories.”
It turned out that writing with an eye toward making his life better helped him a lot. That’s partly why he decided to gather up the pieces that comprise Simple Steps at this precise moment; mental wellness is a hot topic as the world enters its second COVID-19 autumn.
But, also partly, Gnade has just had more time to sort through projects and complete a lot of new writing—he’s managed four new novels in the space of 18 months.
Moreover, in February of this year, he began a record label called Hello America Stereo Cassette that releases audiobooks and collections of poetry on cassette tapes. He makes one cassette a month. August featured a collective of rural Canadian writers, and soon he’ll release a recording by a man from Yorkshire, England.
Gnade’s recent fiction has featured characters digging themselves out of bad places with tactics very similar to what he offers in Simple Steps and Big Sad.
While Gnade insists he doesn’t take his own advice—he says he’s too close to it now and has probably already internalized it anyway—his fictional avatar, James Bozic, does. James is the hero of more than one novel in Gnade’s written universe that he hopes someday will stand as a sort of personal history of America.
In his novel, one of now seven books, This Is the End of Something But It’s Not the End of You (Pioneers Press, 2020), James, like Gnade, has battled the beast that is depression. He vacillates between self-harm and self-healing until he literally buys a farm and rests in semi-peace.
On Gnade’s real-life farm that he shares with his wife Elizabeth Thompson, life seems to be good. The two were evicted in 2020 from the first farm they lived on near Leavenworth. The owner sold the property out from under them, and, in order to have the space they wanted, they bought a place of their own.
Their animal collection wasn’t right for a rental anyway.
“We have, I think, 14 chickens. We lost like half of them to a coyote a few months ago. We have two donkeys who are really nice,” Gnade says. “We just got them this summer. And we’ve got four cats inside, two dogs, and three outside cats.” They also recently released a blue jay they nursed back to health in their attic.
And don’t get him started on the garden.
He says something about the soil helped them have the most amazing garden this summer.
“It’s on the wane right now, but we grew so many things and put up canning jars of tomatoes and freezers full of squash and green beans and carrots. It was just a phenomenal garden,” he says.
The garden fits right in with his advice about eating well, but Simple Steps has a charming bent away from the sort of self-reliance one might expect from a man intent on living off the land.
In fact, he writes, “Rugged individualism is self-sabotage.”
He urges readers, instead, to rely on friends and to ask experts for help.
“Don’t be afraid to reach out to people,” he writes in Simple Steps. “The worst thing you can do in that situation is sit and let your mind run through an endless fucking cycle of, ‘Is this really bad enough to ask for help?’”
And, similarly: “When it feels like the world is ending, you need to find someone to tell you it’s not. Never underestimate the benefit of a fresh perspective.”
That advice is precisely what’s carrying him through the pandemic. In the spring of 2020, he was under the impression that he was already a very solitary person, writing alone for hours on end. However, having suffered through two waves of the pandemic and experiencing true isolation out on the farm, he realizes that he actually was very sociable pre-pandemic.
“It’s like one of the things you don’t really notice what you have until it’s gone,” he says. “I probably still was more socially isolated than most people, but at the same time, I’m noticing all the things that I’m not doing now, which is, you know, kind of hard.”
In Simple Steps, Gnade urges “communal work (and work in the service of others)” as a remedy. He goes so far as to instruct his readers to get out a Sharpie and write, “Your friends will carry you home,” on their office supplies.
And he certainly does take this advice. Even if socializing is still a trick, Gnade makes trips to town for provisions and chats with people in stores.
He says, “Every single one of those interactions—I’ve left feeling stronger and more energetic and more hopeful.”
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