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Interview: Nathaniel Tower

When we last interviewed Nathaniel Tower, back in 2012, we called him the hardest workin’ man in indie publishing. Somehow, in two years, he’s gotten even busier. 2014 has been a banner year for Tower, who’s released a well-regarded collection of short fiction, Nagging Wives and Foolish Husbands through Martian Lit and continued his serial novel Misty Me and Me at JukePop Serials, all while continuing his work at Bartleby Snopes, the literary website he founded in 2008. This month, Tower is releasing a digital novella, Use, Remove, Repeat.

Tower spoke to Matthew Guerruckey of Drunk Monkeys about the ways his life has changed in the past two years, where his surreal story ideas come from, and what lies ahead.

Drunk Monkeys: Since the last time we’ve talked to you, you’ve moved up to Minnesota. How’s life in frozen north?

Nathaniel Tower: It’s not frozen quite yet, but it might be by the time this goes to print. It’s good. New house, new kid coming in a couple weeks. New career. It’s almost like I’m a completely different person.

DM: Have you noticed your new surroundings affecting your work in any way?

NT: Not that I’ve noticed, but it inevitably does. Every experience helps shape a writer. I haven’t written any stories with a Minnesota setting yet. At least I don’t think I have. The novel I’m working on now is set in St. Louis, but I started on that back when I still lived in St. Louis. I think the setting makes more sense now that I don’t live there anymore.

DM: Where did you get the idea for Use, Remove, Repeat?

NT: I am going to be 100% honest with you. A friend of mine (I won’t say his name, but I’ll identify him as the bird man) asked me this question: “Would you have sex with Sasha Grey if you had a disposable dick?” I’m not sure exactly how the conversation transpired after that (or what led to the question), but that was without a doubt the inspiration for the story.

DM: What is the biggest change in the story from your original conception to its current version?

NT: It became less of a bizarro piece and more of a satire. A friend read over the original incarnation and said it had the potential to be the best thing I’d written. But it needed to be twice as long and to get a little more “political.” And that’s how the disposal dick story became a satirical commentary on medicine, sex, and relationships in general.

DM: What do you think the final version of the story says about society?

NT: We’re too concerned with immediate gratification and not enough long-term consequences. Society is always in a rush to find the next big thing, the next magic bullet.

DM: Your stories can be surreal, humorous, and perverse–usually all at once. What is the strangest reaction you’ve ever received from them?

NT: A woman once came up to me at the grocery store, grabbed my hand, and said, “Thank you, you sweet man. Your ‘boot’ story saved my marriage.”

Wait, a second. That didn’t really happen. Nothing strange happens to me. Maybe that’s why I write strange stories. Or maybe everything is so strange that it feels normal.

DM: What do you think draws you to your subjects?

NT: I think my subjects are universal, but I don’t like writing about universal things in a universal way. Some people can, but I can’t. I have to do the unconventional. So I bring in the most absurd things I reasonably can.

DM: Use, Remove, Repeat is being released as a novella in digital form, an increasingly popular release strategy. As a writer, and as an editor, what are the advantages of this format?

NT: Your kids can’t rip up an e-book. The pages won’t get bent. It can be read when all the lights are off.

DM: What’s next for you?

NT: As a writer, I need to finish my novel The Funeral Attendee. It’s been a work-in-progress for almost five years. I’m in the process of rewriting it now, but I’m not happy with the overall revisions. It needs to be much funnier than it is. But I’m going to keep at it because it is my masterpiece. We each get a masterpiece, right?

As a person, the next thing will be adjusting to having two daughters.

DM: Can you tell us what The Funeral Attendee is about?

On the surface, it’s about a guy who gets paid to attend funerals. It’s a darkly humorous but revealing story about the funeral industry and our obsession with death and the dead.

DM: Finally—In one sentence, what is, as best as you can figure, the meaning of life?

Do what you want without fucking it up for everyone else.

Nathaniel Tower’s novella Use, Remove, Repeat is now available on Amazon.