Thursday, October 20, 2005

Justin Holt

Justin Holt is a talented guy with a novel out that's sure to please. Stylistically Palahniukian but with its own quirky flavor and unique plot, check out the very entertaining and enlightening Payday, and say hello to Justin.

1: Who are some of your favorite writers, and do you think they’ve
influenced you?

There is stuff I like from Chuck Palahniuk, Max Barry, Stephen King, Hemingway, Nick Hornby, and there are the Canadian writers that I found in college, writers like Alistair Macleod, Wayson Choy, and Sheldon Currie, all of whom I find amazing. And a friend of mine, Jason Kane, I enjoy his stuff just as much, if not more than anyone else I listed. But my favorite writer hands down is Bob Dylan. His songs are leagues beyond anything else out there, and his memoir Chronicles: Volume One is brilliant.

As for influence on my own writing, I don’t know. I write to my own attention span. If something runs too long, I get bored. I like concise writers. Jay McInerney’s books, especially Bright Lights, Big City were huge when I was writing Payday. I probably read that book a dozen or so times over the course of two years. And the second person narrative of Bright Lights gave me the idea to do that with Payday.

2: What do you think is your greatest strength or asset in your
writing? Your biggest weakness or flaw?

My greatest strength as a writer probably stems from my greatest fault as a reader. Since I have no attention span, I write to cater to my own deficiencies in a way. I don’t waste time describing the stuff I don’t notice in real life. But what I do write about, people say that I do it in a way that’s familiar, that they can visualize and sort of touch it, even if only to a memory they have of something similar, and I do it in a way that’s concise. I like that, because then whatever they are reading isn’t something that it’s not. It just is what it is. The chapters in Payday are rarely more than a couple of pages. When I’m reading a book, the first thing I do when I get to a new chapter is to look and see how long I’m going to have to commit to it. If it’s too long, the letdown is quick, and I’m more apt to give up on it. In my writing, I try to avoid that feeling.

I have many faults. I’m overly critical. I’m disorganized. I’m not that good at editing my own stuff. I tend to overwrite the scenes I don’t understand. And a lot of people tell me that the one thing I claimed as a strength is a flaw. Apparently people want to be told every last detail about everything. I’m too damn stubborn/disinterested to do that.

3: Where/How did you get your initial inspiration for PAYDAY?

My ex-girlfriend got a speeding ticket and had to attend a Defensive Driving Course. I went with her, having nothing better to do with a Saturday morning/afternoon. After I dropped her off I needed to kill time so I drove around for a while. After realizing that I still needed to kill five more hours I headed over to the community college, but found it more or less empty, with everyone away on Spring Break. The library building was unlocked though, so I went in. On the upper floor there was a giant neon sign on the first door that said something to the effect of Theft Prevention. The people inside left the door open so I sat outside and listened. These people were telling some really incredible stories about their lives as thieves, describing their addictions to stealing, and their methods. The meeting was, I guess, a sort of a class for them to attend to keep them out of jail. I was blown away. I worked in retail, so a lot of what they were saying; I thought about, trying to think if I’d ever seen anything like that before. After they took recess I went off into one of the classrooms and just sat down with a pen and a pad of paper. Within ten minutes I had two pages of drivel about the classroom I was sitting in.

Fast forward a couple of weeks, a teacher of mine called and told me that I had to send her writing samples of mine so she could forward them to Chuck Palahniuk, who was going to teach a writing workshop at my school. It was really last minute, and the first thing I found was that bit I wrote while killing time in that classroom, so I sent that off. When the workshop rolled around Chuck and I talked about the piece. He wrote Genius Description on the top of it, but said that it needed more. That was all it took for me to want to keep going, so after the Conference was over, some fellow writer friends of mine and I started a writing workshop. The bit about the classroom and the bit about the Theft Prevention sort of meshed together early on and I felt right away that I had the foundations of something.

A couple of months into the workshop, after I’d moved back home for the summer, I continued to work in retail, and one day while a fellow associate and I were sitting around, she told me this story about someone who used to work in that store, who would steal big ticket items by pretending that he was doing carry outs for customers. He was taking televisions, and entertainment centers, and DVD players. I laughed, but as I drove home that day it hit me, she gave me the perfect catalyst that I needed for my story. The main character was going to work in retail and he was going to be a thief. And while I wasn’t a thief, I figured I could get my frustrations about working in retail out through this character at the same time. So that’s what I did.

The initial bit about the classroom and Theft Prevention eventually fell out before it became Payday, but as my ex-girlfriend said, that was the best speeding ticket of all time.

4: Other than fiction writing, what’s the biggest lie you’ve ever

Its probably involved love. Most of my dating life has consisted of me dating women that I had no real connection with. I knew it each and every time going in, and I always had my “I’m sorry, but this isn’t going to work” line ready to go. I just never used them. Next thing I’d know, months or years had passed by and I was still with them, screaming inside to get the hell out. I guess there is a bit of that in Payday, in regards to a relationship the main character has with one of the women in the book. But I suppose it wasn’t so much a lie as it was the fact that I had no real backbone to just be honest. And in the end it wasn’t a series of lies, just one big one that I couldn’t stop telling myself. Love is a tricky thing. Especially when you know that it doesn’t exist in the situation you’re in. But, like most lies, it caught up with me when I finally did find love and didn’t know how to deal with it.

5: What can you tell us about what you’re working on now?

I got about 25,000 words into my next project before I realized that it had gone completely Adaptation on me, and I’d written myself into the story. I’m deciding what to do, whether to keep going, trash it, or find a way to totally funk the entire thing up. What I will probably do is write a novel that no one will ever read, and take the parts of it that I like and infuse it into something else that isn’t me.

6: Stock question: Dinner with anyone, dead or alive. Who is it?

My ex-girlfriend, hands down. I have no hero worship towards anyone, and I’m not intrigued enough by famous people, or even people whose work I respect, to ever want to meet them/have dinner with them. But my ex-girlfriend, she was the one person in this world I felt 100% comfortable around, even when I wasn’t comfortable with myself. And she called me on my bullshit. I’ve always respected that.

7: What do you look forward to most in the summer?

That’s easy. New York Yankee baseball is as close as I will ever get to religion. And after the last five years of futility, I’ve lost a good decade off my life from stress. I take it way too serious, but I’ve always been that way. Ever since I started playing baseball, I fell in love with it. And to be honest, since I stopped playing it after college, there’s been this enormous void that I can’t seem to replace. Watching the Yankees helps. But watching them lose doesn’t. And the worst part isn’t really them losing as much as it is having to hear all of the idiot “fans” who latch on to other teams just because they hate the Yankees and want to see them lose. If you’re a fan of a team, stay a fan of the team. And if your team isn’t the one who beat the Yankees, shut the hell up already, you have no place to say anything. These “fans” are always the same people who can’t name five players on the Yankees (they always stop after Jeter and Arod), let alone two people on the team who beat them. Ignorance fires me up.

This was supposed to be a happy question. See, I do take this stuff way too serious.

8: One cd, one book, one DVD and a desert island. What book, CD, and
DVD do you take?

My one material vice are CDs. I’ll cheat and say that I would burn a compilation that would include Dylan, Ani Difranco, dredg, Flogging Molly, Fiona Apple, Nas, Frank Sinatra, and others. But if I couldn’t do that, the album would be Blood on the Tracks by Dylan. The DVD, Braveheart. The book, if you mean novel, would be either Choke by Palahniuk or Empire Falls by Russo, depending what type of mood I’m in when it’s time to vacate to the island.

9: You can't have both: Would you rather have respect from your peers
and critical acclaim (but not be making cash from writing), or would
you rather be a best-selling author with the fat coin?

We all take the same amount of money with us when we die. I wouldn’t want the expectations or responsibility that money and fame involve. Respect and critical acclaim come with expectations too, and you’re set up for the inevitable fall when you put out something that someone with pen doesn’t like. Peers and acclaim are just as fleeting as money. If I can make the one person I care about most in the world smile, that’s enough for me.


Don Capone said...

I hear you, brother. Now we have to watch all these ex-Yankees pitch in the World Series.

Good luck with the book!

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If you know of any other blogs or websites that I could check out to get some more info on Defensive Driving, I'd be very grateful. I really enjoyed your blog - thanks for the great read.