Joyless House Interview with Blake Middleton
Blake Middleton is a millennial person from Jacksonville, Florida. He is a writer and a "friend of the arts". A seeker of knowledge, a short-order cook and a breaker of hearts. Or something like that. Blake has contributed to Joyless House in the past - with sexy results - and with his debut, College Novel, coming from Apocalypse Party in 2019, we thought it was time to catch up.
Joyless House: So now that you're a proper novelist, how soon do you plan on drinking yourself to death?
Blake: Haha shit. Who knows? I am a little drunk right now. I just got back from my girlfriend’s grandma’s 80th birthday party. It was at a Greek restaurant in a strip mall. There was a tiny man playing an accordion. Everyone was Greek dancing. Even this 90 year old man that may or may not have been a professional boxer at one point. But yeah, I don’t want to drink myself to death. I hope that I’ll never want to do that. We’ll see though!
JH: That's a good attitude. Since we're talking about grandma's and girlfriends and boxers and Greeks... do you identify as a "Writer" at this point? Or is it just something you do? Identity is very important these days - I'm told this by "my people".
BM: When people ask me what I do I’ll usually just say, ‘I work in a restaurant.’ Because that’s how I get money to exist and do things. If I got money from writing I’d probably say I was a writer. But personally, no, I don’t think of myself as a writer or as a waiter or anything. I’m just a person. I can quit writing whenever I want and do other things instead. Not that I want to, I just don’t want to forget that I have the freedom to do other shit if I feel like it. Like become a professional boxer or an accordion player. I don’t think anyone cares what I call myself or don’t call myself though. That’s just how I like to think about it.
JH: Fair enough. You've successfully navigated my most annoying question.
I was impressed with the energy of the scene I encountered when I visited Jacksonville (Note: Blake organized a reading for me about a year ago). Are things still pretty swingin' there, literarily?
BM: Yeah. I mean, I don’t know about Jacksonville as a whole, but the readings that me and Zach host are fun. All the readings I’ve been to have been kind of formal and weird so I wanted to do the opposite of that. They’re more like house-parties than readings. And they keep getting bigger somehow. I think we had about forty people show up to the last one. They started because Sam Pink had just moved to Florida and wanted to go on a tour. I saw that he posted on Twitter looking for places to read. I kind of impulsively offered to host one at my house because I had been a fan of Sam’s stuff for years. He said yes and I was like, ‘Shit, I have to do this right.’ So we promoted it a lot and probably had about twenty people show. Most of them were just friends of mine. We did the readings and Sam and his buddy Jereme Dean fucking killed it and then everyone just got drunk and stoned around a fire in the backyard all night. And I immediately wanted to do more. So we had yours and that was fun, too. And then another one a couple months ago. I read ‘2016 election poem,’ the one you published on Joyless House. It was the first time I really felt comfortable reading. It was like, ‘I’m actually enjoying this. I like performing in front of people.’ I never thought I would. We’ve got one planned for early next year when the book comes out, too. So that’s exciting.
JH: Nice to hear you're reading. The performance aspect is another way to engage with your work and with potential readers. It's fun to put yourself in uncomfortable situations.
So how did you find the whole process of getting published? Was it the long march through rejection and misery that writer memes on twitter would have you believe it to be?
BM: Not at all. I got lucky. I sent it out to Apocalypse Party, New York Tyrant, Disorder Press, and one or two others. Ben DeVos from Apocalypse Party got back to me in a couple days and said he wanted to publish it. He seemed like a cool dude so I went with it. And he’s been really responsive and helpful throughout the whole process. I think we’re gonna do a reading in Philly together when it comes out. Hopefully one in New York, too. So if anyone reading this wants to help set something up, that would be cool.
JH: Shit yeah, young blood. Come up to Wisconsin and we can hook you up. Artists that come around here are generally viewed as curiosities and assumed to be spectacular hedonists; an orgy of degrading behavior would be raised in your honor.
Now, certain questions are obligatory. What are your cultural touchstones: books, movies, bands, whatever. What art or pop phenomena has most influenced you?
BM: I’ll just focus on books, I think. The writers that made me want to start writing are Noah Cicero, Sam Pink, Scott McClanahan, and Tao Lin. I discovered these guys about five years ago, when I was 19. I found out about Sam Pink from reading one of Blake Butler’s ‘All The Books I Read This Year’ articles on Vice. I bought his first novel, Person. I had never read anything like it before. And Sam was 26 or 27 when he wrote it. I didn’t know you could write and publish a book at that age. That’s how I found out about Lazy Fascist. I bought ‘The Collected Works of Scott McClannahan’ because I liked the cover, and ‘Hill William’ from Tyrant. I was born in Texas and when I was five my parents moved to Ringgold, Georgia, and we lived there for ten years before moving to Florida. So I read all of Scott’s stories about growing up in West Virginia, and related to them. I thought ‘I can write stories like these.’ I think there’s still a handful of Ringgold stories somewhere on my computer. I mean, they suck, they’re embarrassing, but that’s how I learned to write. I just started off by imitating these dudes. Because they all have different styles. I tried all of them. I found Noah Cicero through a Sam Pink interview, and he had some books published by Lazy Fascist, too. He wrote the Human War when he was 23 or something, and Tao was publishing books when he was the same age, too. And I decided I wanted to write a book. So when I was 21 I started writing everyday. A year later I had about 300,000 words, and I turned that into ‘College Novel,’ which is a whole lot shorter than that.
JH: It's good that there are more accessible avenues to a "career in literature" now. Lol.
BM: You're right though. I mean, maybe not viable as a career, but none of my favorite books would exist if it wasn't for small/independent presses. Mine wouldn't have been published. Or maybe it would have, but it would have taken forever to find an agent and then have them send it out to get rejected a shitload of times. Now that there are a good number of small presses I can send the thing out, one person is going to read it, and if they like it, then that's it. I think that being a writer is a lot like being a musician now. You start off on a small record label/press and as you build more of a following you move on to bigger labels/presses. And just like certain record labels, there are presses you can rely on to put out consistently good books. So if you can manage to get published by a press that has a loyal following, then you're on your way.
JH: You visited Paris recently, correct? Were your horizons broadened? Did you experience an "artistic awakening"? Did you have an illicit, coming-of-age affair with the Parisian of your choice? Spill the beans.
BM: Yeah, I went to Paris about a year ago, I think. No artistic awakening or anything. I just like to travel. I'm here on the world and it's fucking huge and I want to see as much of it as I can while I'm young. That's kind of why I don't have a real job. I can take off as much as I want, pretty much. That, and I could never sit on my ass all day. Me and my girlfriend both work in restaurants. We'll work and save money and as soon as we have enough to leave this country for a week or so we get the fuck out. So we went to Paris. It was awesome.
One night we went out to this little British bar called Stolly's. And there was a guy wearing a Jacksonville Jaguars Hawiian shirt. So I asked him if he was from Jacksonville. He said, 'I'm from Ireland.' He had bought the shirt at a thrift-store. We ended up talking to him and his buddies for a while, and they took us to an American bar where they knew the bartender, and we all took shots of something, and drank Budweiser from the Czech Republic. Then we headed over to this underground Scottish bar, and on the walk there these Irish dudes gave us a tour. They were all tour guides. We walked right past the Notre Dame and along the canal Saint-Martin. And in the basement of this bar there was this tiny little room. Probably five foot by five foot wide. It had a little chimney so you could smoke cigarettes in there. They were doing an open mic and the guy that brought us there pulled out a ukulele and played a beautiful song. And I was in this little smoking room drunkenly shit-talking America with these French dudes. There was a massive protest going on when we were over there, and I was complaining that Americans don't protest enough. And how Americans are generally just, you know, dumb fucking idiots. It was a good time. I feel like I learn more about the world and other people from traveling than I do from any book. I just went to Mexico for the first time a couple weeks ago, too.
JH: Right on. Have adventures when you're young. Either that or fuck your life up so bad that you have something to write about that way.
So what's next for Blake Middleton? You know, no resting on your laurels and all that. Is there another book in the works?
BM: Oh man, you don’t have to tell me. As soon as I finish something the sense of accomplishment lasts about an hour. I’ve been working on another novel. I’m also writing a screenplay about John Brown. He was the abolitionist that directed the killing of five assholes in Kansas, and later raided the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, and killed some more motherfuckers. He pretty much started the Civil War. I’ve been obsessed with him for a few years. It’ll almost definitely never get made, or sold, but it’s something I want to write, just to see if I can. I’ve been reading nothing but John Brown biographies and books about pre-civil war America for the last couple months.
JH: Damn, a man of varied interests. If you find somebody to do the John Brown thing, send them my way. I have a musical based on the Rosy Crucifixion called 'Henry Miller's Ghost Revisited' all loaded up and ready to go.
I think we've covered a lot of ground here. Is there anything else you'd like to touch on, Blake? Anything the people should know? What are these kids supposed to do with themselves in these hellish times?!
BM: Conquer yourself, rather than the world, kids. Or conquer the world, if you want. Overthrow the government. Be sweet to your loved ones. And buy my book when it comes out.
JH: Huh. That's a nice sentiment. And succinctly put. Buy Blake's book indeed. Apocalypse Party, 2019.
follow Blake on twitter: @blaketheidiot