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Interview: Nathan Alan Schwartz

Burbank native Nathan Alan Schwartz is a busy young man. At only 25 years old he manages to juggle his responsibilities as an editor on Sopphey Vance’s Enhance Magazine, his studies as a Film major at Los Angeles Valley College, and work on his first book of poetry, the upcoming The Melancholy Spectator. In addition to all of that, Schwartz will be launching Five 2 One Magazine on the On Impression network (the parent network of Drunk Monkeys) in November.

In spite of what he refers to as his “shyness problem”, Schwartz sat down with Drunk Monkeys’ Matthew Guerruckey at Los Angeles Valley College for a long, heartfelt discussion about the drive to create.

Drunk Monkeys: Was there one specific moment in your life when you decided you wanted to become a writer, or was it a gradual process?

Nathan Alan Schwartz: It was a gradual process. But, at some point I did realize that I wanted to become a writer, because my day care provider had kind of laughed at me because I liked making up stories that I told her were true. Like, I told her about jumping beans that jumped off diving boards, and I told her that was true.

DM: And you’re how old then?

NAS: I was eight years old. So I told her all those things were true and then I started to write things down, because she told me to do it as an exercise. So eventually I started writing stories down, and I didn’t like it all that much, and that was when I started getting into poetry, and poetry was really my main source of writing. Short stories were on the side, I wrote them every once in awhile, and then I started getting back into them again a few years later, like in twelfth grade.

DM: What was the subject matter of these early poems?

NAS: I was very inspired by Edgar Allan Poe, so they were very dark. I kind of made up stories in those, too, like the electric chair, a guy in the electric chair…

DM: Like, from his point of view as he’s being shocked?

NAS: Right, and what he was doing in the electric chair in the first place (laughs). I remember this one poem I wrote, it was about a baby that had died, that was a stillborn, and my teacher asked if it was a real baby, like I was in tenth grade and she asked if I had a baby (laughs).

DM: Well, it must have been pretty vivid, then.

NAS: It was.

DM: It made an impression.

NAS: Yeah.

DM: What do you get out of writing? What part of you does it satisfy or touch?

NAS: It’s just my whole body i guess you can say. I get pleasure out of it, not to be gross or anything (laughs).

DM: So you’re saying in your body, like where physically? Like you feel it as a sensation, or it just infuses your whole person?

NAS: My whole body. It’s my brain, my feet, my hands, whatever. Mostly my hands, because it comes directly from my hands as I’m typing on the keyboard or writing from the pen.

DM: Do you write more longhand or do you type more?

NAS: I write more longhand, then I go back and type it up, and it ends up as what you see on the screen.

DM: Do you find any difference when you’re writing longhand versus typing?

NAS: With writing longhand it’s like I can just write, write, write, write, write, because of my stream of consciousness, but when I’m typing it’s like I freeze up, it blocks it.

DM: In a broad sense, what do you think the role of the writer is in society or in the world at large?

NAS: To give ideas, the explain the world from a different point of view, to show what life is like somewhere else. To make people feel emotions – especially a poet makes people feel emotions.

DM: What works have you read that have given you that emotion? When you say you want to cause that feeling, what are the works that have caused that feeling in you?

NAS: It’s kind of strange, but Post Office by Charles Bukowski. It made me see the life he had, and in a strange way I liked it (laughs).

DM: What was it that you liked about it?

NAS: He didn’t care. He was just living by his own rules. He didn’t care – he’s gonna drink, he’s gonna fuck even though he has a girlfriend, whatever he wants.

DM: Right, and that was the life you wanted, or there was something about that inhibition that appealed to you?

NAS: Not that i wanted, I just found beauty in that life.

DM: Who else has influenced you, aside from Bukowski?

NAS: Tom Waits.

DM: What does his work mean to you?

NAS:  He’s God spelled with T. He is a genius in the devils body, okay I’m using his words there a bit. He has such a way with words that I have heard no other musician or poet use and when I listen to him I am inspired to use his way of writing with a bit of my own. He not only makes you think about what he is talking or singing about but makes you laugh while doing so. My friends make fun of me because its like I have a man crush on Tom (laughs). But how can you not?

DM: What do you hope to accomplish with your writing?

NAS: Just to get it out there and let people know my point of view on things. To inspire people as well as I got inspired.

DM: Do you struggle with words or do they flow easily?


NAS: It depends on the day. Sometimes I have writer’s block and the words just don’t come out.

DM: I’ve read the posts (both laugh). I’ve seen the frustration.

NAS: Yes, yes. And other times it just comes out of me like a waterfall, you know?

DM: Can you ever tell the difference? Do you ever know when you’re sitting down whether your writing session will be fruitful, or if it might be frustrating?

NAS: Yes, I can tell because when I’m writing a poem if the first three stanzas some out I can write the entire poem, but if I get constipated on the first two stanzas then it’s… (throws up hands)

DM: When you do hit those moments of struggle, what gets you through them? Or do you have to abandon that project and move on to the next?

NAS: I have to move on to the next thing. But sometimes I close my eyes, and this may sound weird, but I close my eyes and I just start writing, and that really helps, just to visualize.

DM: A more automatic process.

NAS: Yeah. I kind of go into a coma.

DM: And when you see the finished product from those kind of coma writing states, are they different? Are they markedly different than what you normally write?

NAS: Yes. Yes.

DM: What do you attribute that to? Is something coming through you?

NAS: I guess it’s like the possession of a writer or something (laughs), I don’t know.

DM: Why did you decide to start Five 2 One?

NAS:  Honestly, because I was an editor for Enhance Magazine and I thought ‘I can do this, I can be an editor for my own magazine’, and also I feel like there’s not enough magazines that have weird poetry, and I just thought that it would be great to have a magazine and meet writers that I wouldn’t be able to meet.

DM: How do you define weird? What makes a work weird to you, or what makes it appealingly weird to you?

NAS: I’m going to sound like a hipster right now (both laugh), but not mainstream, like not giving into what the mainstream idea is, like if you want to write a one word poem, that’s awesome. That’s weird to me. Or if you want to write a poem about…anything, not about just the normal poetry love crap. Like I said on the website, rainbows and unicorns are not welcome.

DM: What does the name Five 2 One mean?

NAS: It is actually a reference to a Doors song. They sing “five to one/one in five/ no one here gets out alive”. Kinda explained how I felt about creative weirdos, meaning we are stuck in this life as creative people. The lyrics in actuality have no reference to that at all but I  interpreted it as that. Also I kinda like the way it looked as Five 2 One aesthetically.

DM: What would you like to see Five 2 One become?

NAS: A physical magazine. An independent physical magazine. Kind of out there so people who like poetry and short stories can read it.

DM: Since you’re still in school, what have you been assigned to read that changed to way you thought about something?

NAS: In college (laughs)?

DM: Well, college or high school, sure.

NAS: High school, it was Catcher in the Rye.

DM: What was it specifically that drew you to Holden Caulfield and his world?

NAS: He was kind of an outsider, like me, but he was an outsider in a different way though. He was an outsider and I could relate to him.

DM: In what way did you feel like an outsider?

NAS: I felt like no one understood me. No one understood my need to write poetry or short stories, no one understood that drive that i had, no one understood my learning disabilities. I was kind of made fun of for that, so that made me an outsider.

DM: How would you explain the drive? Do you even understand the drive?

(both laugh)

NAS: Well, I do understand the drive. It’s, everybody has something that they’re good at, and something that they’re passionate about. That’s where my drive comes from, because writing is my passion, and it’s what I’m good at. Nothing else I’ve ever been good at. I tried baseball, basketball, nothing.

DM: Looking forward, where would you like to see your career go?

NAS: I would like to be a professional screenwriter, or somewhere in the professional movie business, or perhaps have my other works published as well.

DM: If you had to pattern your career after anyone, living or dead, who would you pick?

NAS: Um…

DM: And Bukowski is a dangerous road (laughs).

NAS: Not Bukowski. Bukowski would be a little weird. I don’t know, maybe the Coen brothers.

DM: What is it about their career you’d like to emulate?

NAS: Well, they started off very small, short films and stuff like that, and they went big and that’s kind of what i want to do.