Discover more from Message from the Underworld
Adam Gnade Is Not a Monster Anymore
Plus, a vertiginous trip to Mexico
If you’re looking for Inside the Outsider, my weekly conversation with horror enthusiast Ryan Bradford, it will run tomorrow at AwkwardSD. Apologies for the delay.
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.
Not a monster: Adam Gnade
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
Vertigo in Guanajuato
As I mentioned last week, the Sunday before last I woke up with a bad case of vertigo. I rolled over in bed and the room started to spin, but spin isn’t really the right word. Spin suggests a revolution, like a fan. The way vertigo affects me is the spins begin, re-set, and then resume, over and over again. It’s like an old-fashioned television set with a faulty vertical control. The point is it’s very unpleasant. When it’s really bad, walking is impossible and nausea is inevitable. There are pros and cons to having vertigo so I’ll try to quickly map them out.
Pros: There is essentially one positive thing about having benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (as opposed to another illness) and that is it’s easy and inexpensive to treat. The first thing I do is take Meclizine, aka motion sickness medicine. This ameliorates the spins because vertigo, like motion sickness, is a disruption that occurs in the inner ear.
When the vertigo is somewhat under control, which is usually after a few hours, I do the Modified Epley Maneuver. This involves lying in bed and triggering the vertigo until it subsides. Theoretically, once you do this enough times, the crystals in the inner ear re-set and you’re good to go. If this sounds strange, welcome to the mysteries of the inner ear.
The best thing about vertigo is that it doesn’t require an expensive prescription or doctor visits. That’s a minor miracle considering how expensive healthcare is these days. Now for the cons:
1. The first time is the worst time: Why? Because you don’t know what’s happening to you and it’s very easy to panic, which is not conducive to one’s overall well being. (How’s that for an understatement?)
The first time I had vertigo I was working on a book with Junior of the FSV Seabrook, an Alaska crab fisherman from the show Deadliest Catch. When Junior’s not fishing the Bering Sea he lives in Walla Walla, Washington, where he grew up. I spent the day interviewing him and then checked into a motel. I woke up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom and WHAM! I was on the floor, room spinning, wondering who hit me. I crawled back into bed, willing myself not to puke. When I gathered my wits, I started Googling terms like “morning vertigo” and “vertigo + brain cancer” all while thinking, Please don’t let me die in Walla, Walla, Washington.
Junior, being the salty dog that he is, recognized my vertigo as a species of inner ear disturbance that causes motion sickness, which he knows a lot about given his profession. While he was extremely helpful (i.e. he basically carried me to his truck and took me to the emergency room where the first thing they did was give me an Ativan so I would stop asking if I was going to die) he clearly expected me to get over it. Even though I was groggy from the Meclizine and Ativan, we went back to work that evening. The next day, he teased me that he had made me seasick with his stories. (If you’d like a copy of this book, name your price and I’ll send you one.)
2. Once you experience vertigo, you’re more likely to get it again. Obviously, I didn’t die in Walla Walla. I’ve had a couple of bouts since that first attack, but the one I just had ranks second in terms of severity.
3. No one knows what causes vertigo. I’ve had doctors suggest it’s stress-related, but here’s the rub: I’ve never felt stressed out before an attack, but dealing with vertigo sure does add a lot of stress to my life afterwards, especially if I’m supposed to fly to a foreign country, rent a car, and drive to a mountain town an hour away, which was the case on Tuesday, two days after my attack.
Thankfully, I was able to make my way to San Miguel de Allende without incident. I even felt well enough to walk from the condo I’d rented in Capilla de Piedra to a restaurant to meet Literary Death Match creator Adrian Todd Zuniga and his fiancé Morgan.
4. Vertigo doesn’t just go away; it dissipates. On Wednesday I drove into the city to find an ATM. My walk the night before had taught me that San Miguel de Allende sits in a bowl surrounded by steep hills carved up by narrow cobblestone streets. It’s a beautiful city, but I was anxious about driving. I made my way to the city center where I found a bank in short order. I pulled over, went inside, got some cash, and when I came back outside a policeman was unscrewing the license plate on my rental car.
I’ve driven all over Mexico, and for the most part, my experiences with law enforcement have been positive. In Merida, a highway patrolman let me off with a warning once he learned I was a Dodgers fan (he used to live in LA). If you read my Valentine, you know the police were very helpful in Bolenchen after my rental car broke down. But in Tecate I was pulled over for failing to stop at an imaginary stop sign and the cops tried to shake us down. Thankfully, Nuvia was with me. We had just come from a funeral and she was not in a mood.
So when I saw the policeman take my plate, I assumed it was going to cost me a lot of money to get it back. There were two police officers, a man and a woman, and although we had trouble communicating, they pointed out what I had not noticed before: I had parked in a handicapped-parking lane. In other words, I was the asshole in this situation.
The cop wrote me a ticket and told me I could pick up my plate after I’d paid my fine at the police station, but first I had to move my car. Where was the station? He pointed west. Unfortunately, the road west was blocked off so I headed north on the narrow twisty streets, and then east, and then oh fuck, I was lost. I spotted a parking garage, parked my car, and after an hour of wandering around I was able to make my way back to where I had been ticketed. From there I found the police station. My fine? Just $434 pesos, or about $25. I paid my fine, got my plate, and offered a sincere, “Lo siento.”
5. Vertigo is destabilizing. Throughout this adventure, I was constantly off-balance and more than a little stressed out. I had to steady myself against my car while talking with the police. I was terrified they would see me stumble or sway and assume I was intoxicated. I got lost on my way back to the garage and had to return to the scene of the crime, so to speak, and retrace my erratic path through the labyrinthine streets. By the time I made it to the welcome reception at the San Miguel Writer’s Conference & Literary Festival, it was almost over.
Despite not feeling my best, I had a great time at the conference. I went to see Tommy Orange speak and had a chance to chat with him. I performed “Stuck in Xtacumbilxuna’an” at Literary Death March and won a fancy medal. I met a lot of interesting writers, had great talks about art and commerce with Adrian and Morgan.
Adrian Todd Zuniga of Literary Death Match
Outside the festival, I reconnected with my old friend Shanna Mahin, went to an art opening, ate many great meals (I recommend El Manantial for casual dining in a bar setting and Fatima 7 if you’re feeling fancy), and got a lot of work done. The highlight was when Nuvia joined me for the last few days of the trip. What can I say? Everything’s better with Nuvia.
There was a moment when Nuvia and I went to the hot springs at Escondido on the outskirts of town when I felt particularly off-balance. It was a lovely day. Hot sun and a warm breeze that felt cool after emerging from the springs. In one of the larger pools, I pushed off against the wall, turned onto my side, and glided across the water, triggering a brief but terrifying bout of vertigo. Even though I recognized what was happening, and was in very shallow water, I felt deeply out of sync with the universe.
That’s what the last ten days have been like: refusing to let this condition inhibit me while getting not-so-gentle reminders of my limitations.
I’m happy to report that as of this writing, I’m feeling more or less like my old self. If you’ve experienced vertigo and have any tips or tricks for dealing with it, or just want to commiserate, I’d love to hear from you.
Lit Picks for February 20-26
Here are my recommendations for literary events in Southern California this week.
Thursday February 20 at 7:30pm (LA)
Emily Nemens, editor of The Paris Review, discusses her debut novel The Cactus League, with J. Ryan Stradal at Skylight Books.
Friday February 21 at 7pm (LA)
Amy Shira Teitel will sign and read from her new book, Fighting for Space: Two Pilots and Their Historic Battle for Female Spaceflight at Chevalier’s Books. From the publisher: “This dual biography of audacious trailblazers Jackie Cochran and Jerrie Cobb presents these fascinating and fearless women in all their glory and grit, using their stories as guides through the shifting social, political, and technical landscape of the time.” Plus, any author who mentions her love of punk rock in her bio is worth checking out.
Saturday February 22 at 7pm (SD)
Adam Gnade will be reading from his new novel (see above) at Verbatim Books with Julia Dixon Evans and Bridget McGee Houchins. Adam’s reading will be accompanied by ambient music from Demetrius Francisco Antuña. Don’t miss this one.
Sunday February 23 at 2pm (SD)
Damian Duffy and John Jeffries will discuss their adaptation of Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower into a graphic novel at Mysterious Galaxy. Duffy and Jeffries previously adapted Butler’s Kindred.
Tuesday February 25 at 7pm (SD)
Writer’s Symposium by the Sea kicks off at Point Loma Nazarene University. This year’s theme is “writing that liberates” with a series of interviews conducted by Dean Nelson. Tuesday’s session will feature journalist Sonia Nazario; Wednesday will spotlight “the world’s greatest travel writer” Pico Iyer, and Thursday will celebrate novelist Alice Walker. Note: these are ticketed events and will be held in different locations on campus. Please click the author names for additional information.
Plan B (LA)
Brandon Taylor will discuss his debut novel, Real Life, with Miles Klee at Skylight Books at 7:30pm.
Wednesday February 26 at 7pm (LA)
Elizabeth Little will discuss her new novel, Pretty as a Picture, with Sarah Weinman at Chevalier’s Books. I’ve not read Little but this book about an egomaniacal film director and an unsolved murder on a remote island sounds right up my alley.
Plan B (SD)
Writer’s Symposium by the Sea: Pico Iyer.
Plan 9 at 6:30pm (LA)