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Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Write Stuff: Andrew O. Dugas on Assuming Something's Wrong with Society

Posted By on Thu, Sep 25, 2014 at 8:00 AM

The Write Stuff is a series of interview profiles conducted by Litseen, where authors give exclusive readings from their work.

click to enlarge andy_dugas_by_vince_donovan.jpg
Andrew O. Dugas' work has appeared in Instant City, LITNIMAGE, Mixer, the SoMa Literary Review, and many other places. A graduate of Ithaca College, he's also a two-year veteran of the Creative Writing Workshop at Cornell University, where he studied with Robert Morgan. Since March 2012, he has mailed out a daily haiku postcard to a randomly selected recipient. Maybe you got one. His novel, Sleepwalking in Paradise, was published this summer by Vox Nova, an imprint of Numina Press, and is available at local booksellers Alley Cat Books, Dog Eared Books, Green Apple Books, and Viracocha, as well as the dreaded Amazon.

For Litquake 2014, he will be reading at The Californian Novelist with Josh Weil, Elizabeth Rosner, Judy Juanita, and Anne Germanacos on October 11.

When people ask what do you do, you tell them?

I just go with "writer".

What's your biggest struggle, work or otherwise?

Making time. Finding time is easy. There are many random swaths of time in even the busiest day, but harnessing those swaths into something creative is the challenge.

If someone said I want to do what you do, what advice would you have for them?

First, I'd advise them to get to it. There's no "wanting to do". You either do or you don't do. You want to be a writer? You should be working on something right now, even if it's just a revision or random segments of dialogue or sketches of stick figures battling it out on a desert planet. Second, I'd advise them to do something creative but small every day, no matter what format. Take a photo of a leaf every day; it can even be the same leaf. Buy damaged poetry collections, cut out the poems, and hide them, one at a time, in places where they will jump out and surprise people.

Do you consider yourself successful? Why?

Yes. I have a wonderful wife and a grown, self-supporting son. I (partially) own a home in the greatest city in the world. I have wonderful friends and am part of a wonderful and supportive creative community. More strangers around the world know me as an artist and a writer than as just another human being on the planet. My work is generally well received. People who read my novel seem to mostly like it. Thousands of people, most of whom I have never met, have enjoyed my daily haiku. Then again, my art has yet to make me rich, so, wow, maybe I am a failure. Crap!

When you're sad/grumpy/pissed off, what YouTube video makes you feel better?

I usually look for some standup comedy or a funny clip from a movie. The Robin Hood scene from Time Bandits ("Is that absolutely necessary?") gives me a lift every time.


Do you have a favorite ancestor? What is his/her story?


I've always been curious about my grandfather, who died before I was born. He was a con man and womanizer, but he also flew with Eddie Rickenbacker in WWI and was awarded a medal by the King of Italy for his service. After the war, he went down to Dahlonega, Georgia, where he rebooted the Georgia Gold Rush by salting the old Calhoun mine with gold blasted from a shotgun. He managed to attract, and ultimately disappoint, a group of investors from up yonder in New York City. One legend describes how he drove around town in a Cadillac with gold-plated fixtures, offering teenage girls rides home from school. After burning down my grandmother's ancestral home for the insurance, he dumped her for her best friend, whom he would later also dump for wife #3, a lady lawyer, who should have known better. Did I mention that my grandfather was a short, balding man with a large gut and thick glasses?

Whom did you admire when you were 10 years old? What did you want to be?

Bob Hope. I can't remember exactly why, but I watched his old movies obsessively.

At age ten, I already was a writer. Whenever I got bored, which was a lot, I would grab one of my mother's prized writing tablets and scribble away. When she let me, I would seat myself at her typewriting table and bang away at the keys. I wonder what happened to all those stories and sketches.

Describe your week in the wilderness. It doesnít have to be ideal.

A loaf of bread, a jug of wine, and a baggie full of mushrooms.

How much money do you have in your checking account?

Enough to keep the wolf from the door for the foreseeable future, but not enough to quit my day job.

What's wrong with society today?

The tendency to assume something's wrong with society. It may be far from perfect, but everyone has a different idea of the perfect society. As long as it's evolving, that there are processes in place that eek us towards greater fairness and kindness and community, it's fine. When something bad blows up (like Ferguson, MO), it may serve the greater good because we are forced to confront the unfairness, unkindness, and non-community of it. It's an opportunity to evolve, even if that evolution is just one heroic kid committing his life to justice because of what he saw on the evening news.

Are you using any medications? If so, which ones?

See response to wilderness question, above.

What is your fondest memory?

Too many to pick from. Witnessing the birth of my son, a literary idol reciting my own lines back to me from memory, my mother showing me how to use her typewriter without bunching up all the keys.

How many times do you fall in love each day?

Zero. Unless you count the rapture of being alive. Then 1,962, give or take.

What would you like to see happen in your lifetime?

A paradigm shift away from crass materialism and toward embracing the incorrigible fecundity of Life.

What is art? Is it necessary? Why?

Art is the necessary unnecessary. Art is a made thing that does not need to be made, except of course it must. It seems to serve no direct or immediate evolutionary purpose, except of course it must. A made thing becomes art when it communicates something to anyone other than the artist. Art requires both a maker and a spectator. Engagement. If a statue of David falls in the forest, and no one is there to hear it, it does not make a sound.

When you have sex, what are some of the things you like to do?

Fiddle with ALL the strings.

What are you working on right now?

A few things. My ongoing haiku project, in which I write a haiku every day, inscribe it on a postcard which I then photograph in some random setting and finally mail to someone selected at random. I'm working on a series of short stories about a paperboy in the late Seventies, two of which have been published. And I'm gearing up for a big novel whose story has been obsessing me for years.

What kind of work would you like to do? Or: what kind of writing do you most admire?

I'd like to be free of my day job so I could devote myself to literary pursuits: writing every day, running a reading series, and helming a literary journal or small press. Maybe even teach, if my accomplishments justified it.

If there were one thing about the Bay Area that you would change, what would it be?

I wouldn't change a thing. Anything I'd do would probably just screw things up more. Otherwise, I'd improve non-scholastic education, maybe, that encourages neighborhood-based solutions like growing food, raising our kids together, building community resources. The usual hippie stuff.

A night on the town: what does that mean to you?

An exciting event. Literary, musical, etc. Hanging with friends at that event and afterwards, which includes an unexpected moment of personal vulnerability in which a friend reveals something about themselves that causes me to see them in a whole new light. Finally, deconstructing the evening with my wife as we settle in.

What's the strangest thing you've ever seen?

Female genitalia, up close and personal. That very first time anyway. It was foreign yet familiar. A meat flower with a strong funk and lacy tendrils that both intrigued and repelled. I grew up without sisters, so I was wholly unprepared for its reality. I think I just gawked at it for several long moments before proceeding.

What can you do with 50 words? 50 dollars?

Write a handful of haiku. Buy us a couple of rounds of drinks, generous tip included. Who knows, it might lead you to reveal something about yourself.

What are some of your favorite smells?

Rain after a dry spell. Bananas. Sandalwood incense. See response to "strangest thing ever seen", above.

If you got an all-expenses paid life experience of your choice, what would it be?

I'd like to visit the moon. Second choice: circumnavigate the rim of the Mediterranean on land.


For events in San Francisco this week and beyond, check out our calendar section. Follow us on Twitter at @ExhibitionistSF and like us on Facebook. This interview was conducted by Evan Karp. Follow Litseen at @Litseen.


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