This interview is with Jim Eigo, who contributed “Bar Nextdoor” to Issue 3. As the issue was shaping up, I realized that all the work I had accepted was written by women. I had this whole thing in my head about making this “THE WOMEN’S ISSUE” and making a big deal about it because I don’t know, I’m a putz. In fact, I sat on this story about twice as long as I usually do (so probably three days?) just because I had become wedded to this all-female thing. The story was too good to let go, however. It is, I think, a very feminist piece at least, which you’d know if you had read the issue, which you should do if you haven’t. Anyway, here’s Jim.
Describe your work in 25 words or less.
I’m writing small, quirky tales that look at human behavior as an alien anthropologist might—sometimes capturing that behavior with outsider’s insight, sometimes misreading it.
Tell me about your story “Bar Nextdoor.”
Talk about outsider! I am a gay guy and often look at the love affairs and relationships of my straight friends and acquaintances with utter bafflement. Yes, we are all human and therefore share certain desires and emotions. But the codes are so different when the parties involved do not share the basic anatomy. In “Bar Nextdoor” I am the alien anthropologist. The story is kind an allegory for a type of straight relationship I think I see replicated over and over. I am sure I am missing lots of what is going on. But I hope my outside eye is capturing something that is not so easily seen from the inside.
Who or what inspires you to write?
A visual image, the sound and rhythm of a phrase, the tone of a character’s voice, a physical setting, a plot situation, the odd relationship of the narrator to any of those. Sometimes one of these inspirational “bits” will come to me with one (or more) of the others attached. Usually I have to explore the original inspirational bit to discover its potential in the other aspects of storytelling. I have been exploring the flash form for the past few years, stories of a few hundred words. Before a work is through, I like it to contain a memorable example of all the story bits that I mention in the first sentence of this answer, and I like for the whole to be quirkier, less expected than the sum of its already quirky parts.
What authors have influenced you as a writer?
I devoured Samuel Beckett, Jean Genet and the French absurdists throughout the second half of high school. Jonathan Swift’s tales and essays have been important to me. The care that early modernist novelists Henry James, Virginia Woolf and James Joyce took with the “how” of what they were saying has provided a model. I’m old enough to have been bowled over by the short-form early work of the post-modern fabulists (Robert Coover, William Gass, Donald Barthelme) when it first appeared. My background is in theater so the lushness and the rush of Shakespeare’s language are forever imprinted on my inner ear—something I love in the poet John Keats as well. Some W.B. Yeats poems still make me swoon. I love oddball American modernist poets W.C. Williams and Wallace Stevens, and after them, the New York School of Frank O’Hara and John Ashbery. Coming across the writing of utterly queer (in every sense of the word) San Francisco poet of no known school, Jack Spicer, in my mid-20s was a revelation that continues to this day. For many years I’ve lived a stone’s throw away from the St. Mark’s Poetry Project in the East Village, so I’ve followed the development of a lot of latter-dayNew York School poets I like. The way some Language Poets have used language refreshes my own use of language in a very different form, prose fiction.
Do you have a blog/website?
I do not. But examples of my writing are scattered across the web. Some of that writing deals with AIDS and AIDS drugs, and some of my speeches in that realm are available on YouTube. Several pieces of my flash fiction are out there as well. You can read recent flash work of mine at cleavermagazine.com.
What are you reading at the moment?
I am almost finished Junot Diaz’s first book of stories, Drown. For the past several weeks I have been reading a few pieces a night from the poet Clark Coolidge’s long prose work, Book Beginning What and Ending Away. I am re-reading poet Dana Ward’s Crisis of Infinite Worlds; the voice is non-stop ravishing, and every few seconds a piece of piercing human insight bobs to the surface and dazzles so much that it hurts. (And if you have an opportunity to catch him reading in the flesh, don’t miss it.)
What are you working on right now?
I have to give a presentation next week at Baruch College on the particular psychological blows sustained by gay men who survived the early plague years of AIDS; I am working on that. I am polishing several of the flash works that I mentioned for a chapbook-sized collection, The Clay Tablets. I am working on the second chapter of the third draft of a novel,Surprising Life. In a scattered way, over the past few years, I have taken several classes in typesetting and bookart. Some of the artwork I’ve done as a result was published last year in a limited edition book from Intima Press. I would love to get to a point where I am making little books of my work, in equal parts writing and art object.
Any advice for other writers?
So much of the advice that writers get these days reduces writing to a formula, little deeper than copy for infomercials. I have a hunch that writers who are reading Bop Dead City see what a soul-deadening “career choice” such writing is for a writer. Most writers for hire earn little better than the nothing you get when you write what you want, and the work is so much less satisfactory. I hope every writer finds the special thing that only he or she can get into words, and works to get it right, and sends it out into the world so the rest of us can experience this unique little world as well. (If you can write that unique thing plus write copy that helps pay the cellphone bill, more power to you.)
Anything else you’d like to say?
There’s a big, interesting, needy world out there. I’ve found that letting that world leak into my writing has often nourished and even replenished it, and I’ve found that the habits of analysis, development and expression that my writing has helped me cultivate have been my most useful skills when I venture out into the world and try to change it.