“Making SMUT”: A Google Docs Chat between Mike Corrao and Inside the Castle Publisher John Trefry

Ryan Bollenbach here. Starting today, Heavy Feather Review is publishing short pieces on the blog from writers who have collaborated on previous projects in order to give potential collaborators ideas and stoke excitement for The Zachary Doss Friends in Letters Memorial Fellowship (collaboration itself being the biggest takeaway I hope to create from all this). Please read about my late friend Zach and consider creating work for the fellowship. After May 31, I will award $50 to four pairs of writers who have collaborated, winning praise from friends of Zach, Brandi Wells and Leia Penina Wilson—and myself. The friends’/comrades’ work will appear in print in HFR Vol. 11.

I have asked numerous collaborators to contribute a piece about their process, and we’re taking a very liberal definition of collaboration here, so however they wanted to talk about their collaboration is welcome. Translators may make a run at collaboration in this regard. I provided sample questions but these features don’t have to be a one for one interview format, no siree. Collaborators might interview each other, or create some document such as Polaroids from a fake stan, etc. However, some collaborators have chosen to simply answer the questions, which is also great. Deviation is, of course, welcome.

 

 

 

 

I am Mike Corrao, a writer and multimedia artist, and I live in Minneapolis. I am the author of two novels, MAN, OH MAN (Orson’s Publishing) and GUT TEXT (11:11 Press), and I also wrote one book of poetry called TWO NOVELS (Orson’s Publishing). I have written two plays, SMUT-MAKER (Inside the Castle) and ANDROMEDUSA (Plays Inverse, forthcoming), and I have two chapbooks available, AVIAN FUNERAL MARCH (Self-Fuck) and SPELUNKER (Schism – Neuronics) … My books often explore the haptic, architectural, and organismal qualities of the text-object … You can learn more about me at mikecorrao.com … My new book / blocking diagram / set design document / lighting script, SMUT-MAKER, was just released by Inside the Castle, a small press operated from Lawrence, Kansas. From their website: “Our books are unique from one another but share a vision, that literature is not representational but incantatory, that books are objects that exist much like other objects in your life and home, only they have additional dimensions, not dimensions separate or distant from the ones you occupy, but involuted dimensions that only become apparent when you reach out to them” … So I reached out to my publisher, John Trefry, to see if he’d be open to doing a kind of examination of the design process for SMUT-MAKER. I thought it’d be fun to see his notes for a few of the 72 acts and what kind of logic guided his design in certain places … John and I ended up having a few hours of overlapping free time so we wrote up a conversation in Google Docs. Check out the fruits below.

 

 

 

JOHN (QUESTION) (RESPONSE) (INTERJECTION) / MIKE (QUESTION) (RESPONSE) (INTERJECTION)

I am not sure when you sent me SMUT-MAKER … my wires are so crossed these days, but I am certain it is after GUT TEXT and before the most recent of your other books … I am curious how you see this book in the constellation of your work? My work is very sedimentary, distinct layers that must be separate by definition, but can only stand atop one another … I don’t get that from you … I think it was after GUT TEXT … my wires are a bit crossed too. Seriously, do you think the fact that it took so long to hear back from me caused you to be in a different headspace when it was finally accepted? I mean, I get a lot of new drafts from people just during the time it is sitting in my inbox … I mean I don’t know that I would have the perspective to be able to revisit a book once it’s done, but do you think because your work is much more fast twitch you can revisit later and see it as a fresh thing? Definitely. By the time you had accepted SMUT-MAKER I had started experimenting with layout and design myself—with projects like GUT TEXT or RITUALS PERFORMED IN THE ABSENCE OF GANYMEDE which is coming out next year. So when we started talking about form I was excited to see what kind of potential the piece had … After we started talking about the various potential forms, I asked you if you would be alright with me re-writing the book. And I think that kind of distance between writing and accepting had a lot to do with it. It didn’t feel like my book anymore when I went back to read it. Maybe it does have something to do with the faster pace that I work at … I wrote this one before GUT TEXT (or at least the original draft). Initially I viewed it as the transition between the dialogic MAN OH MAN and the chaos of GUT TEXT. But now I don’t think that’s the case. My work is more chaotic. This set of ambiguously knotted layers. As an extension of that understanding of your work constellation, do you feel that the way you composed this work was of its own kinda selfsame fabric to itself, or was it something built logically on previous processes? The process was very foreign and still feels kind of unexplainable. I wrote it over the course of five days. After you had approved of my idea to re-write the book, I made of copy of the file and just went section by section, re-writing. I had this unofficial restraint of roughly maintaining the same word count within each act. I’m not completely sure why … I did this in APPARITIONS OF THE LIVING, at some point after having the basic diagram, which is like a string of beads, a necklace, I constrained the size of each bead and made them all symmetrical, and then this kind of determined what would happen in each bead, as in, a larger bead was capable of accommodating more information, so required a larger narrative contribution … in this way the “story” was facilitated by the form … I think for me it was a means of connecting this draft to the last. I also tried to hold onto certain phrases and motifs. The narrative is largely the same. But it was just this five day marathon of sitting down and just working until I had to eat and then working again until I had to go to bed. It was this really bizarre kind of manic compulsion. I had to do it. But I’m not completely sure why. I think that’s why I liked this idea of evoking the muses. It kind of gives weight to the lack of control I felt I had … The original version that I sent you was a lot more visually traditional. There was some unconventionality in the base format of the: “text” … “text” … “text” but there was no color, no set-dressing … In the acceptance email you talked about bringing in all of these elements. When you’re looking at submissions for Inside the Castle are thinking about what kind of formal / structural potential these pieces have? How they can mutate / take on new design elements? I can’t say that I am always doing that, no. Many of the projects I take on have something encoded in them that is visual already, like Doug Luman’s THE F TEXT. And sometimes a relatively conventionally visual text will come through like NYMPHOLEPSY and I feel like it is perfectly reasonable for it to stay that way. I don’t know what it was about SMUT-MAKER, or something like PERIPATET that seemed to ask for some other kind of situation. Perhaps it is that the text felt like it belonged to a world different from the world of “reading”, but a world of “looking” at text … PERIPATET had this goal of being “ambient”, which to me means you don’t read it closely, and if you are not reading something closely, why should it be presented to you in the manner of a normal text which aspires to being “read.” … In PERIPATET I think you achieved this in a really interesting way by making some of the text unreadable, allowing it to get lost in the gutter as it ran across the entire page spread … Interestingly somebody started DMing me pictures of pages they had torn out of PERIPATET and asking why certain pages wouldn’t come out of the spine. Ha. That’s beautiful. It is a book that feels like it should be torn in half. I felt like I was pulling it apart when I was reading it. Trying to better reach that interior. Interestingly with Grant and the inability to read things, in GAG the majority of the redacted text is stuff that I wrote, I added it because I wanted each section to end full-justified, so I wrote extra text to make it long enough and then just blacked it out. Even Grant hasn’t read it lol. There’s something really incredible to me about a book that the author has not even read all of. It gives the book its own kind of agency. It feels less tethered to its origins. SMUT-MAKER being a dramatic work, one that doesn’t really have the expectation of being performed, seemed to be asking for the book itself to be the performance, so I guess that prompted reconsideration of its manner of presentation … I’m curious how you feel out what to do with these texts (specifically thinking here of PERIPATET and SMUT-MAKER). Right away with SMUT-MAKER you suggested color. And at the very beginning you were sending me images from Greek Archaeological folios that you were using as inspiration for the set-dressings … Honestly … it was around the time that we did the Inside the Castle 5th anniversary thing here in Kansas, and Mike Kleine was staying at our house and we were just shooting the shit. I had just gotten proofs of THE BLOOD BARN, which was our first color book, and Kleine was just fascinated by the possibilities, and we started talking about a book where every page was a different color and every text was a different color, and I think this was around when we agreed to work on SMUT-MAKER, so it kinda just broke something loose in my thinking about it. The archaeological look I think is just driven by Robbe-Grillet’s juxtaposition of graphic sexuality with ruins and classical motifs in TOPOLOGY OF A PHANTOM CITY, and maybe had a bit of Tinto Brass’s CALIGULA … ya know, nasty juxtaposed with what we see as elegance … I’m fascinated by the way that TOPOLOGIES OF A PHANTOM CITY seems to bleed into your work. It’s present here, and in APPARITIONS OF THE LIVING (which is also inspired by the book’s cover and typefaces), I’ve felt elements of it in what I’ve seen of your current work-in-progess, MASSIVE … Ach!!! APPARITIONS OF THE LIVING was my attempt at murdering AR-G, or exorcising him, the narrative is basically about me being his neglected (intellectual) kidnap victim and me allowing him to, I don’t know, die of rabies … I am sure I’ve not escaped from him, but I want to see MASSIVE as being my Sarraute book, where PLATS was Butor and etc … Maybe I’m looking at MASSIVE wrong then. It’s cool, I just hate you now. I think what’s forming this connection in my head is the detailed architectural qualities of the text. I’m not incredibly familiar with many of the Nouveau Roman writers. But that focus on environment over character felt somewhat unique to TOAPC. And that’s something I see in your work as well. With MASSIVE, you creating this structure of multi-pathway strata. Yes structurally I think it is actually more like Butor again, maybe like NIAGARA, which he described as “stereophonic” with lots of channels of text, but in terms of prose I am seeing more Sarraute and Simon, it doesn’t matter really … Going back to above when you were mentioning your 5 day writing marathon, did you have any other syntactical constraints besides the word count, or like, how were you working, like did you have an agenda of any sort for the rewrite? Was it different than the way you typically work? Is there a way you typically work?!I … I think the intention going in was that I just wanted to make it into something that I felt was mine again. Or to kind of take the initial concepts and emotionality and convert it into something more complex and intricate. When I first wrote SMUT-MAKER I don’t think I was ready to explore the THEATER OF IMPOTENCE or THE EROTICS OF JAZZ AND VOMIT. What are those things? Are those actual things?! Ha now they are that we’ve put them on the book … Oh so it wasnt that these were literary concepts that you were driven to incorporate, you know a lot more of those things than me! … It was more just me wanting to play with this base form … But going back to do the re-writes, I wanted to maintain the base narrative of the three sexually unsatisfying relationships, but then expand into this kind of wall of text-noise. I wanted to explore the potentialities of the disembodied voice in this format. I think this book is the first time I played with this idea of the Schizopastoral—the landscape of mouths / landscape of utterance … Over the five days I had this pretty rigid schedule where I would wake up, turn on my computer and put on some avant-jazz album (usually one of the noiser projects from Sun Ra) and then just write and if I would get stuck I would grab a book off the shelf and read it for a few minutes then put it back and keep going. It was just this marathon of like needing to expel all of these thoughts and ideas from my head … Typically I work a little less manically haha. I’ll usually—if I’m actively working on a book—try to work on it for a few hours a day. Or if I can’t then I’ll do a few days a week where it’s all I do. GUT TEXT took about a month to write. TWO NOVELS took about 3 months between the poems within it. ANDROMEDUSA took one month. It’s usually a relatively short process but nowhere near as short as SMUT-MAKER was … You worked relatively quickly as well. All of that in-depth formatting happened over the course of three or so months. What was that like? I only got to see hints of it—finished drafts of pages or elements that you were considering implementing. Did you operate in a similarly frantic way to what I was doing? Was it more deliberate and thorough? It was not especially methodical. I mean, it had to be to a certain extent, at least in my workflow, and I was actually disappointed with myself frequently throughout the process to not have a kind of diagrammatic armature for organizing when I used what set-dressing, when I used what color, when I introduced ribbony texts versus text boxes, but I just don’t think I had the mental headspace to coordinate it in such a grand way, I just took fucktons of pictures from archaeology folios, imagetraced them all in Illustrator, had a bunch of Illustrator tabs open at once, and pilfered as I went … it really was improvisational, which is nice to hear that is sympathetic with your approach … but I really just was in somewhat of a trance, because I was working in inopportune times, like when I was in class with students, working in 5 minute bursts, or putting the computer on the counter while the baby was eating … it really was intuitive because it had to be at this point in my life, not necessarily because I thought it was correct I think the trance is an interesting connection between our methods. Both of us working in these less than ideal parameters. There is this way that the work is no longer about intention. It doesn’t operate with the investigative labor that a reader might feel in a traditional novel. The trance feels like a means more of mapping out a space. Utilizing the page as this surface for events to play out / occur. Although it seems that these events are specifically aesthetic events. The interaction between different modes of language or presentation. I can’t imagine having to so carefully assemble a project like this. I think it would imbue the chaos with too much meaning. It would make it a chaos that could be unraveled and organized … Do you ever do anything on purpose? Never. It all just comes out of me and I have to try to interpret in the aftermath. Sift through the mush so to speak … So is that the trance thing? I mean you must be “conscious” right? Haha yes I try my best to be conscious while working. More I mean that I don’t feel like I’m guiding the trajectory of the project while writing it. It forms in real-time without me planning it or mapping it out. It’s driven by whatever is lying in the subconscious / unconscious. I think automatic writing is related to this. Although I think how I work is more just operating with an eclectic set of structural and linguistic references rather than pulling from the aether … Do you ever do anything on purpose? I think the answer is yes. Because your work often has very intricately thought-out structures / patterns … It is rather similar, or at least it has been in the past. I tweeted the other day that there are 3 types of writing: ekphrastic, automatic, plagiaristic … I was being serious, at least in relation to myself. None of those types of writing are particularly conscious I would say, and in my work from like 2000-2016 I was working in those ways exclusively, which led to me not knowing what the book was that I was writing for a number of years. In APPARITIONS OF THE LIVING I wrote for 4 years without knowing even remotely what was happening or who was who … and I would say that was the point when the writing concluded and some other process took over, a methodical process … but currently, because I have an external matrix structuring the categories I am writing about, and the charge of not deleting, or abandoning any of what I write, I am being rather deliberate in the composition process, although I would say the quality of prose I care about is really only possible when one is not super deliberate in the writing process, I don’t play an instrument, but I would imagine it as something like that, more like a muscle-memory sort of approach to prose … Muscle-memory feels like a really adept way to frame it. With SMUT-MAKER there was no deliberate writing out of each voice. It was more my body just setting into motion and doing what it knew how to do. The reference base there being the abrasive music I was listening to and the earlier draft that I was deleting and replacing … Do you play music at all? I don’t but I did combat sports growing up (MMA, wrestling, nogi jiu jitsu) which gave me this strong relationship to muscle memory. Having practiced those moves / positions for years on end. It’s been almost five years and I still feel like I could go back and do a lot of it without thinking. That info is still stored somewhere in my body … That is crazy … hmmm, I guess when I talk about muscle-memory it is super analogical, because I am not a physical person at all, it is just how I would imagine your body being able to react to things, perhaps for me it is more about the concept of “flow”, as in mindfulness. I think that flow is certainly part of that. I view muscle-memory as your body’s ability to enable that flow. That you’re so familiar with this mechanical process that it can occur without your having to activate it. Sounds like our shared writing tip might be, don’t “write.” Ha. I think so yes. Maybe in the future we will teach a class on assembling / putting-together a text, rather than writing it.

Buy SMUT-MAKER from (AMAZON) or (INSIDE THE CASTLE) … Excerpts provided by the publisher …

 

 

 

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