Two of my best friends are releasing books this week, and, in spite of the all-consuming jealousy that’s overtaken me, I’ve decided to help them promote their works here. The first book that I’d like to tell you about is by my blog-hijacking friend Steve Hughes, the publisher of the often recalled zine Stupor. Here’s a little interview I just did with him over the internet. I hope you enjoy it.
Steve: Tomorrow is my “tentative delivery date.” Then I’ll have a book.
Mark: So, what is it? It is a Stupor compilation, or is it something altogether different?
Steve: It contains Stupors from 2007 to present. 14 issues, each designed by a different artist. 1/2 the book is color, the other 1/2 is in B/W.
Mark: Did you self-publish, using money from that big grant that you just won, or did you find a publisher willing to invest in it?
Steve: The money for the book came from a grant from Kresge. That’s on top of the fellowship. I did have to spend about 2 grand of my own, buying bar codes, ISBN #s, paying for shit I didn’t think I was going to have to pay for like taxes, oops! Fucking sales taxes on it are almost $1,000. Hell. Last time I printed a Stupor in mass quantity I spent $900 for 1000 copies. In the end, this is better and I’m getting 2000 copies. And yes, it’s still self-published, so that’s good too, only I had to do a ton of work to make it happen, and I didn’t know shit about publishing a book, especially regarding all the layout work you have to do. It’s not like doing a cut-and-paste zine where you just slap them on the copy machine and go. So I got frustrated and then I got lucky. I have some friends with design experience. They helped a ton and saved my ass. I still don’t know how to use those fancy book programs. Here’s the other thing — the book is getting delivered tomorrow, to my house. I don’t know how many boxes that is, but our place is already sort of cluttered. So I think we’re going to try and make a fort with them or maybe try and assemble some new sort of furniture.
Mark: My friend Jeff Kay, who published a zine entitled The West Virginia Surf Report, also has a book coming out this week. I feel totally lame… So, how much are you selling them for, and where can people pick up copies? Are you selling them at City Bird, Book Beat, Atomic Books, Reading Frenzy? How about on Amazon?
Steve: The West Virginia Surf Report is great. Hilarious. I love your friend Jeff Kay. I’m sorry we’re both making you feel lame. Maybe it’s time to get off your fat ass and stop feeling lame. Or think of it like this: My book is Your book. Just tell everyone it’s yours. Maybe then you can help me sell them. They’re going for $15 bucks a pop. It’s the same price as if you were buying all 14 issues separately — one’s a double issue. But the book is better and bulkier and all the color art is in color, where, if I was running them on my shit ass copy machine, it would all be in black and white and cruddy. Also, I’m having it printed on 70 pound paper, so it’s a nicer heavier stock than the stuff I normally use, and also, and probably the best thing about collecting all these issues together, is that the stories sort of build on one another to create this better cooler document with more meat. Bigger, Bouncier, and Meatier. Like the stories when you read them all together add up to something. So, I’m selling the book at Leopold’s in Detroit, Book Beat in Southfield, Printed Matter in NYC, and yeah, Amazon, why not. I bought a bar code after all. Quimby’s, sure, and the rest of them. Microcosm will probably do distro for me again too. And who knows, maybe even the store at MOCAD (Museum of Contemporary Art in Detroit) will carry them. They used to sell them years back, but declared them un-family friendly and pulled them when they had kids in and then just quit putting them back out. I was there in 2009 for some holiday event and they gave me all of them back and said, thanks but no thanks. So we’ll see about those guys. They’re a pretty sensitive bunch when it comes to reading material. Of course you might go in and see a photo of somebody doing crack, or cutting apart a chicken, or a movie with dicks flopping about, but books, now that’s different.
Mark: Could I convince you to come out to Ypsi for a reading? Maybe you could be a guest on Dreamland Tonight or something… So, for folks who haven’t had the pleasure of reading Stupor, what’s it all about?
Steve: Sure, I’d like to come out to Ypsi and read. I love Ypsi. Next to Hamtramck it’s one of my favorite cities… There’s lots of good stories festering in Ypsi… So, what is Stupor? For the past 16 years, I’ve been listening to people I meet in bars, diners, hardware stores and job sites talk about their lives. I write and then publish the stories they inspire — of infidelity, drunkenness, disappointment, and, sometimes, dumb luck — in my zine Stupor… That’s it in a nut shell.
Mark: And the folks at the Kresge Foundation enjoyed the pant-shitting, drug-addled stories of infidelity and debauchery so much that they gave you a wheelbarrow full of cash?
Steve: You’re right about the drugs and the pant-shitting infidelity. Actually, I don’t have a “pant-shitting infidelity” story. I’ve got a bed-shitting story that involves watching the fabulous poop-smear of a movie, Dances with Wolves. But that’s different. Maybe one of your readers has one — a story for me. I’m working on a Stupor website right now where readers can submit their own whack stories. I was hoping to have it up and running by the weekend. Probably it’ll take longer. So try this, see if it gets you anywhere: stuporzine.com. If it doesn’t now, it will soon enough… And yes, God bless the Kresge Foundation for loving Stupor enough to give me a bunch of money. Although… Truth is, I’m not sure if the good people at the Kresge Foundation ever read a single story from Stupor. Maybe, maybe not. That’s okay, either way. They’re the folks with the cash and a enormous need to spend it. They’ve got this idea that if they inject cash into the arts community that it’ll somehow save Detroit. Maybe they will. No doubt that money came at a good time for me. I was broke. So, yes, they gave me a decent lift, and helped me pay off some troubling bills, etc. But, the guys at the Foundation, they’re not the guys making the call about who should get the dough. There’s a separate panel for that and they are all like from English departments and places like that, and how they decided to give me money? I sure as hell can’t say, but I’m not sorry they did, and I wouldn’t complain if they gave me more.
Mark: So, some of the money went to the book, and some went to the website…. any other creative endeavors get funded? Like, are you working on a musical version of Stupor. My friend Jeff Kelly did a zine called Temp Slave that got turned into a musical a few years back…
Steve: Not exactly. All the money they gave me for the book, I spent on the book, plus some of my own money. They didn’t fund anything else, but they are providing a keg of beer for my reading this Saturday the 9th at Leopold’s Books in Detroit. I’m reading at 8pm from the book. It’s right near the DIA. You should come… Your friend Jeff Kelly is a genius. Maybe he’ll step up and turn Stupor into something bigger and better, something with a busted electric guitar. I’m not much of a singer, but I know you are. Just the other day I was listening to you rip your throat apart doing “I’m a spy!” with Prehensile Monkey-Tailed Skink. Best song on my ipod. Best song ever.
Mark: I don’t think Jeff had anything to do with the Temp Slave musical. I think one of his readers just got motivated and did it. I guess you and I need a better class of reader… As for my music, yeah, it is kind of hard to imagine that we didn’t get more famous… So, back to the book, your reading at Leopold’s is part of a Kresge sponsored weekend of events, right?
Steve: Yeah, it’s called Art X. I’m going to drink beer and encourage everyone else to do the same, and I’m going to read something from my book and then drink beer, and then read some more, and drink more beer. Should be a good time. Just got to remember, it’s a bookstore. We can’t trash the bookstore.
Mark: So, what’ll you be reading? Have you decided? And will you have copies of the book on hand to sign and sell? And, most importantly, is the beer free?
Steve: I’m going to read one story from each issue of the 14 issues in the book. I need to time it first. I don’t want to go for too long, like that should probably take me about 45 minutes, I think. That’s maybe too long, 40 minutes is perfect. And yeah, I’ll have the book. It’ll be for sale and sure I’ll sign them and I’ll do my best not spill beer on them… And, yes, the beer is free! Free Beer is proof that Kresge Loves us and wants us to be happy.
Mark: Will there be other Art X stuff going on there, at the book store, on Friday night?
Steve: Right before I read, my good friend Lynn Crawford will read from her new book, Simply Separate People, Two. She starts at 7pm. I’ll be there early to see her.
Mark: Oh, and I didn’t ask about the dimensions of the book. Is it the size of a toilet tank lid, the same way the zine has always been?
Steve: Yes, the book is the same weird size as the zine. It’ll fit great on your toilet tank.
Mark: Not that I’m trying to blackmail you or anything, but what happens if the people at the Kresge Foundation figure out that you make a lot of the shit in Stupor up? Will they demand their money back?
Steve: I’ve got a good claim and a disclaimer at the beginning of the book. It explains what I’m doing. I’ve also got one at the beginning of each issue where I explain that the stories come to me in a skeletal form, then I put skin them. Still, and always, I feel like there’s truth in my telling of it, and that’s a big part of it. If I can take something that’s told one way, and then retell it another way but somehow make it seem even more true, then maybe I’ve achieved something. Maybe I’ve dug up a truth that was there before, but unrealized, or maybe I’m just practicing lying, and getting better and better at it. Anyhow, that’s how I roll. Kresge doesn’t care. They just want us to be happy. That’s why they’re buying us beer.
Mark: One last thing… I’m curious to know if you looked for a publisher before deciding to do it on your own. Even with the downturn in the publishing industry, it seems like you might have found someone out there willing to take a chance on a brilliantly written book full of wild fucking and drunken bed-shitting.
Steve: I got the go-ahead on the grant at the end of January. I had to get everything to the printer by Feb 28, and I did, but even that was pushing it. There was no time to horse around with a publisher, so I figured I’d do it on my own and then look for help afterward. One little step: I just set up that website so I could sell the book over the interweb. What I know for sure is that tomorrow I’ll have 78 heavy boxes in my garage. I’ve got to get them out of there as soon as possible. Here’s the good thing about self publishing: I’ll make 13 dollars on every book I sell for 15. That puts food on the table. A publisher would never give me a deal like that.
Mark: Is there anything else that you’d like to say?
Steve: There is something else. I owe a big special thanks to you and Linette for the small kicks in the pants you all gave me by continuing to involve me in stuff even when I had quit writing. There was like almost a 5 year slump I hit right after the millennium. That first Shadow Fair, was it 2006?, marked a real return for me, a reinvention of Stupor too, and there was like suddenly new good air around me again. I’m grateful to you both for suggesting that I do that, and for Linette for getting me out to read at EMU and all that that meant. Thank you. You all are both good friends.
Mark: When I said, “Is there anything else that you’d like to say,” I really wasn’t fishing for a compliment, but that’s nice of you to say, Steve. Linette and I have been big fans of your writing forever, and it makes us happy to see that all the hard work is finally paying off. Speaking of this brilliant writing of yours, is there perhaps a short paragraph or two that you could share, that you think kind of conveys what Stupor is all about?
Steve: Sure. This is from the issue titled A Hole for Brains and Candy, 2010. There’s a lot of stories in this one involving kids. This one is told from the perspective of a neighborhood boy. The title, Male, Hamtramck, tells you the sex of the teller and the city tells you where the story takes place. The stories are anonymous but I realized a while back that these two bits of information can totally change how you read the story.
Yesterday, me and my brother and Dvante were over at the garage behind the house where nobody lives, and there was this cat in there and it had something wrong with its eye. It was busted and squeezed shut with white stuff coming out of it. And it seemed to want something from us because it didn’t run away. It wanted help or maybe it just wanted a scratch under its chin, but Dvante picked it up and bent it in half. He twisted it around at the neck until it cracked and then he threw it on the ground and stomped on its head. I yelled at him, and my brother screamed. Dvante looked down at the cat and the blood that had squished out of it. And then he looked at me and said, “You better not tell no one.” Me and my brother went running out of there. We ran all the way home. We were both crying because the cat was dead. I told my dad. I blurted it out, and so did my brother. Dvante jumped on it! He killed it! I said. And Dad told me that Dvante is messed up bad. “What a piece,” he said, “what a piece.” He said, “Stay away from him. He is disturbed. He is crazy. He is just plain bad.” Then Dad told us to get our PJs on and watch TV. We got to see some “World Heavy Weight Wrestling,” and it was sweet. I kept thinking about how if I had to fight Dvante, that I could beat him good. He knows how to kill little cats, but he doesn’t know how to fight people his own size, and then that night I dreamed about it. I dreamed that me and Dvante were in the wrestling ring, and I was wearing a red mask and I had yellow and blue ribbons shooting from my arms and boots that laced up to my knees. I got on the ropes and leapt so high I could feel the air hiss past, and I came down on him with my elbow right on his dumb, blank, mad face. I hit him so he was bleeding, and that blood was running out between his nose and mouth, and then I did a flip and landed my knee right on his chest. He was so mad that his eyes were bulged out, and he wanted to kill me, but I’m no cat. I was here to help the cats. I just wanted to make things better.
And, yeah, I probably wouldn’t take young kids to the reading on Saturday night, what with all the blood, shit, drugs and semen.