Interview: Chuck Howe

If I Had Wings These Windmills Would be Dead is the latest collection of flash fiction pieces from New York writer, musician, and self-described “hippy” Chuck Howe. The collection is an autobiographical collage, following Chuck’s own journey through childhood into his adult years. We’ve previously featured an excerpt, “The Burning of Nag Champa”, here on the site, and now we present an interview with Chuck himself, as he chats with Matthew Guerruckey about his inspirations, his early writing, and what lies ahead.

Drunk Monkeys: Where are you from?

Chuck Howe: Westchester New York, about an hour north of the city. I was born and raised here, though I have lived in Oregon for a while, and traveled to Europe and South America a few times.

DM: What do you think you got out of growing up there versus anywhere else?

CH: It was an odd place to grow up. Too city to be a country boy, too country to be a city kid. But I learned to be comfortable in Greenwich Village or the middle of the woods. There was a lot of money in my area, but there was also poverty. I got a really good view of many different worlds. Though I have seen some beautiful parts of the world, and could see myself living everywhere, New York always feels like home.

DM: What are some of the beautiful parts of the world you’ve been able to see, and what struck you the most about them?

CH: I lived out in Oregon for a while and absolutely loved the mountains and forests.  I think Mountains and water get me every time.  Vancouver and Rio de Janiero are both favorites because they have both.  I always like to visit someplace new and find my next favorite place. I just love plant life and wild life so any change of scenery gets me going.

DM: When did you begin to write?

CH: My whole family writes. I feel like I have been writing as long as I can remember. I would write Star Wars or GI Joe fan fiction as a kid. I switched to poetry and music in my teens and twenties. Bad poetry, decent lyrics. It was the advent of blogging that really got me writing stories again.

DM: What were those first stories like?

CH: The GI Joe stories and the Star wars stories were probably pretty bad. The Myspace blogs were a mix of Multi-part stories and political rants.  I did a “Fuck you of the Week Award” that was fun.  I gained and lost readers all the time because I would go from a 5 part story about a hitman to a Halliburton Rant in the same day.  I had a lot of fun writing just whatever I felt like, and people I had never met before seemed to dig it.  I tried to post pretty consistently for three or four years, but then jumped back into music for a few years. I didn’t write anything except music for a while, until a piece for Volume 1 of Uno Kudo really.

DM: What blogs in particular grab your attention?

CH: It all really starts with the first Uno Kudo.  Erin MacParland, Aaron Dietz and Vincent Truman were all people I really respected from Myspace and they wanted to put something together. The whole book is writers and Artists that I love, both as writers and artists and people.  I was always a big Bud Smith fan, and kind of reconnected with him through Uno Kudo.

Now a lot of my favorite are putting out their own books, or submitting to web sites.  I love people like Heather Dorn, Erin Parker, Christine Conte, Gus Sanchez and Martha Grover, who recently posted the best blog I have read in a long time, about how to help your community while facing chronic pain or illness. I am absolutely horrible at bookmarking and subscribing, but if a few people I respect on facebook link to a blog, I read it usually.

DM: When did you get into music?

CH: Like with writing, I can’t remember a time before music. I had toy drums and guitars and we had a piano in the house. I think I was in first or second grade when I got my first electric guitar. I had a lot of fun experimenting with sound and noise.

DM: Do you approach music and writing differently?

CH: Actually, there are more similarities than differences. Both music and writing are fun. That is how I approach them. I like to explore, I like to learn new things. I find myself going on spurts of either writing or music, they rarely overlap.

DM: What bands have influenced you—and what writers?

CH: I could go on and on about bands for hours, but it is easiest to say, I am a hippy at heart. The Dead, Phish, Zappa. Those are my roots, but I have developed a great love of Orchestral and Operatic Classical music as well as Jazz and world music of all types. I like to hear the heart of the musician in their music, no matter the genre.

I could go on and on about writers for hours, but it’s easiest to say that I am a hippy at heart. Robbins, Keasey, Wolfe. I always loved guys like Burroughs and Bukowski. I like to think I am Hunter S Thompson sometimes, but I think every writer does these days. In more recent years I have found myself reading a lot of old Russian Literature, or new American literature. And bloggers. I have probably read more blogs in the past year than books in the past ten years.

DM: Where would you like your career to go?

CH: My writing career? Honestly, it would be nice to make enough to take my girlfriend out to dinner a few times. I don’t expect much more. I hope I entertain some people, I hope I help some people out, The very best thing that could come of my writing career is to inspire someone else to write.

DM: Have you ever gotten a letter from a fan telling you that your work inspired them?

CH: I while back I started posting daily assignments.  They started out easy.  Smile at a stranger.  Thank a friend who may not know the helped you. Things like that.  As the week wore on the got much harder, with the final day being “Forgive yourself for the thing you’ve never forgiven yourself for.” I had a friend, someone I always liked but never a close friend, write to me and tell me that she just couldn’t forgive herself. I told her to fuck the excuses and just do it.  A month later she wrote that she was happier than ever.  I had a few other people write over the next month telling me how much happier they were since doing my assignments.  These people never liked or commented on stuff, but they did it and it helped make them happy. That was the best thing ever, really…

DM: What’s your most inspiring place? Where do you get recharged?

CH: The only thing I can think of is the time of day when it is no longer dark, but the sun has yet to come up. I guess the stone wall in my backyard would be the place though. I’ve spent a lot of time picking at a guitar or banjo or bass sitting on the wall.

DM: What appeals to you most about flash fiction?

CH: Flash fiction doesn’t appeal to me at all. It actually scares me a little. My fiction needs to be well thought out and planned. I usually have 15 pages of characters, back stories and maps hand written before I even attempt to start writing the actual story…

Flash nonfiction is different. If I was a fan of someone, I can have a eulogy written in 10 minutes.

Chuck Howe’s If I had Wings These Windmills Would be Dead is now available from Unknown Press.Click here to buy it on Amazon.

(Image © Joseph Penaloza)