Bud Smith and Drunk Monkeys go way back. We first featured Bud’s work in the summer of 2012, months after our launch. In the years since, we’ve published more of Bud’s flash fiction, some of his poetry, and featured him in our Online Reading Series. Our Editor-in-Chief, Matthew Guerruckey, worked with Bud on his 2013 collection of poetry, Everything Neon.
Now, with the release of his critically acclaimed novel, F 250, Bud begins an exciting new phase of his writing career. After the West-Coast leg of his book launch tour, Guerruckey sat down with Bud to talk about about where he’s been, where he’s going, and how he manages it all.
Drunk Monkeys: So we just saw each other in L.A. on your book release tour for F-250 -- how did you enjoy California?
Bud Smith: I love California. Beautiful place. Palm trees and lemon trees in people’s yards? Los Angeles is a weird heaven to me. All grungy and weeds growing up out of sidewalks, like no one can stop the flowers and tropical explosion of vegetation. It overtakes mansions. Cutting back bushes is a full time job there. And you can walk around in the moonlight with just a t-shirt on. Plus people have such a different style in LA, half the girls I saw are dressed like witches, kind of, all in black with these big brimmed black hats and black lipstick. The guys are walking around in cut off flannel shirts. It just feels like this marvelous time warp for me to be there. This was Echo Park I’m talking about. Loved it there, all high swooping hills and the bright spot diner and Stories bookstore. Yeah, more of that.
DM: Are L.A. readings any different from New York readings?
BS: Los Angeles readings seemed a little more keyed into the nuance of what people were saying. That’s probably because the people who go to readings in LA are mostly driving, so they’re probably not getting as wasted as the kids in NYC who come on the subway. I’ve had some great times at Brooklyn readings (Mellow Pages and Molasses, specifically) where everyone was getting plastered, but after it was over, I couldn’t remember what it was I read or what it is I heard. Haha. The California readings, the Los Angeles reading in specific with Brad Listi, xTx, Mira Gonzales, Ben Loory and me … I remember that reading vividly. And it was great because there was a lovely audience. Got to meet Roxanne Gay for the first time, J Ryan Stradle and so many other writers I admire.
DM: You taught a fiction workshop for Small Prestivus this year. How was that? What kind of advice are you giving the next generation of fiction writers?
BS: I taught a two hour class on “how not to take your ideas too seriously” and just create something, by using prompts and newspaper clippings or just by listening in to people’s conversations at the supermarket or wherever.. It was a crash course in doing things differently. I have never taken a writing class before, so I was a little nervous talking about what I know, but, the people who took the class seemed to enjoy it ...
I actually have a PDF of the work book I taught and I’m going to drop a link here:
DM: If you had the opportunity to leave your construction job--if this novel, or the next, really took off and you had Steven King money--would you do it? Do you think it would affect the way you write, or what you write about?
BS: I’d probably leave my current job, yeah, because life is too short, but I doubt I would stop working. I’d just do some other forms of work that I could choose. I’m kept tethered to a specific area, the east coast, because like any working class person, I’m doing the best that I can with my circumstances. If I had stupid money, I’d do the best I could with my circumstantial stupid money.
My writing would change a bit, I’m sure. But I think everyone’s writing is changing over the years anyway. We’re evolving as we get older and moving away from the person we were when we started.
I haven’t even written down any of my construction site stories yet. That’ll be a trip.
DM: In your interview with The Rumpus, you mentioned that your job installing waterfalls in private pools made you a more creative person. How exactly did that work -- both the mechanics of the job itself and how it affected the way you think? And how soon after that job did you start writing?
BS: My jobs before that were all cutting lawns and raking leaves and unloading trucks by hand or with a fork lift, so when I finally got the job building the waterfalls, I was addicted to the buzz that I got from doing the creative work.
We’d get hired to dig a pond at someone’s house usually. So I’d show up with a couple guys and we’d dig a big pit in a yard and throw the dirt in a pile. A rubber liner went into the pit, and the liner was filled with water. We stacked rocks on the edge of the pond as coping rock and then built a waterfall into the pond.
Sometimes we got real lucky and got to build the waterfalls into swimming pools. Which would work like this. We’d build a block wall about four feet high out of cinder block on the edge of the swimming pool, back maybe two and a half feet from the edge of the pool We’d get pick up trucks full of fill dirt, and backfill against the block wall. Fill in the blocks with cement and rebar. Then put a rubber liner from the top of the pile of dirt, draped down the face of the concrete wall, and into the swimming pool. Next, I took boulders that weighed about two hundred pounds and I placed them on the rubber liner, leaning into the concrete wall. I stacked as many boulders as I could to make a solid base, cemented them together, then continued to build up the rubber liner with smaller flagstone, cementing things together. When the height was good, I put a large sheet of stone for the waterfall to cascade off, and ran a line from the return on the swimming pool pump.
That’s all there is to it.
DM: What Unknown Press projects are coming up through the end of 2015?
BS: Erin K. Parker has her debut story collection coming out, it’s called The Secret and the Sacred and it’s really incredible. Meg Tuite, David tomaloff and Keith Higginbotham have a split poetry/prose/art book coming out that is full color. A beautiful thing. It’s called Grace Notes. Robert Vaughan and Kathy fish have a collaborative collection of flash fiction called RIFT that has approx. 25 new stories from each, it’s a crusher of a book.
DM: How do you approach a project as an editor? What are you looking for in a story? What gets you interested?
BS: I look for stories that turn the mundane world inside out and show the blood and guts and skeletons. I want to have fun in a story. I want to be taken somewhere weird and I want to know that I probably won’t ever get a chance to go back there, because even the author didn’t know how they found it.
DM: Every time your name gets mentioned at least one person will wonder aloud how you manage to all that you do. It seems like you’ve got more on your plate than any writer that I know: novels, short stories, poems, Unknown Press projects, workshops, and a time-intensive, deadly serious day job. But it gets done. So, on behalf of anyone who’s ever wondered aloud, how the fuck do you manage it all?
BS: There’s no trick to it. Every day is a obstacle course of things trying to get in the way. I just try to stay on my toes and look for some spare minutes that I can feed to the art monster that lives in my brain. The only thing I can say is, if you can cut things out of your life that you’re not getting joy from, do that. Do a lot of that.
F 250 is now available from Piscataway House. Click here to buy it on Amazon.
The Secret and the Scared by Erin K. Parker will be available soon from Unknown Press.