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Some outtakes from our interview with Wilson:
"The last ‘real job' I had was when I was a Jagermeister Shot Nurse at a nightclub in San Francisco. I had a reclining dentist chair and a bedpan full of Jagermeister and a large irrigation syringe, and I would wear bondage-style nurse attire and shotgun blasts of Jagermeister down people's throats for $2. Most of the shot usually ended up being dribbled down their shirts."
"I have ADD, so I really couldn't read books until I was around 28, and medicated. Until then I mostly read comic books: Edward Gorey's stupendous Amphigorey and its sequels; Love and Rockets by Los Bros. Hernandez, Eightball by Dan Clowes, all of Lynda Barry's books, plus truckloads of Mad magazines and National Lampoons from the 70's and 80's. A friend of my dad's gave me all the Mad magazines -- a huge box of them, starting with Issue #1 and going all the way up chronologically until 1972. I adored them and read them every day and worshipped them and then one day I got home from school and my mother had thrown them away because she said they made me ‘too much of a smart-ass.' I like to torture her now by telling her how much they would be worth today on eBay, and how I will be denying her that dollar amount in future emergency medical expenses when she is dependent on me.
"My marriage recently dissolved, so Benicio, baby, I got an oiled bear rug and a bottle of Cold Duck and a with your name on it. Grr-wow. Come to Mami."
"I truly love miniature golf. And never stand between me and the karaoke machine."
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In the summer of 2004, Cintra Wilson took some time out to talk with us about some of her favorite books, authors, and interests:
What was the book that most influenced your life or your career as a writer?
It would probably have to be Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson. I was really young when I first read it -- twelve or thirteen -- and what hit me was the visceral power and swashbuckling hilarity of the language. So toothy. It jumps off the page and bites you on the nose. I wanted to do that: transmit that skull-cracking energy off a piece of paper. Zap somebody ten, twenty years later, 6000 miles away. Kah-BOING!
But to tell you the absolute truth, the most influential piece of writing for me wasn't a book, but a 1982 issue of National Lampoon called The Utterly Monstrous, Mind-Roasting Summer of O.C. and Stiggs written by Tod Carroll and Ted Mann. I carried that thing around with me until the pages fell out, then bought another one. Then wore it out. Then I Xeroxed the one at the library. I must have read it hundreds of times. I memorized sections of it. It's so funny, so rude, so wrong, so offensive, and so crazily original and free -- nobody censored those guys -- the freedom of that thing will shock the shoes off of anyone reading it today. I love it like it was my own filthy child.
What are your favorite books, and what makes them special to you?
I know I'll look at this list later and realize I left crucial stuff out, but:
The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky -- A painfully obvious choice, but I worship Fyodor. I love his morality, his empathy, his mercy, his intimacy with ruin. Plus I find his style really gossipy and brilliant and intoxicating. All his stuff wrecks me. I know -- it's like saying you'd want Shakespeare on a desert island.
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley -- I love everything about it: the language, the warning, the insouciance. Orwell-lite for the irreverence-inclined, and I mean that in the best possible way.
Mating by Norman Rush -- This book killed me. He wrote it in the voice of a woman and wrote such a true, fierce, fascinating woman that I was really sad that she didn't exist except in the mind of Norman Rush. But then again, Norman Rush is God.
The Lacquer Lady by F. Tennyson Jesse -- The first piece of 19th century literature I ever read. A really fast-paced historical novel about the fall of Burma. Nobody knows about this book, for some reason. My best friend brought it when we went on a three-week trip around Indonesia, and we both ended up enslaved by it. I was so into it I couldn't leave our room -- I was too stuck in Siam to be in Indonesia. The author, a woman, was the great-niece of Alfred Lord Tennyson.
The Road to Los Angeles by John Fante -- This book is so funny, so nasty, so perfect. It was Fante's first, and it wasn't published until after his death, because it was too provocative in the ‘30s. Nothing, for me, captures the savage, hubristic and risible nature of being 18 any better.
Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger -- Another obvious one: The Diamond Sutra for the young and disaffected. While I think the Glass family is a little obnoxiously wonderful, it's still the life, I think, that everyone secretly wishes theirs more closely resembled.
The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe -- This is journalism at its most ideal, for me. Wolfe seemed really sensitive to what was going on, on that magic bus -- he was the scribe for all the consciousness shifts and K-holes. I love it on the level of unfolding drama. I think that even as he was maintaining his cool New York literary distance from it all, Tom Wolfe was still entertaining the idea – open to the idea that it was possible that Ken Kesey just might be some kind of Jesus. I love that reluctant, subjective edge it has -- journalists aren't supposed to fall in love with their subject, that much.
Sometimes A Great Notion by Ken Kesey -- I think Kesey was a real phenomenon -- he had superpowers, and here they were at their sharpest. Then he fried his brains.
Valis by Phillip K. Dick -- I sometimes think I was grazed by the same "benevolent pink beam" that point-blanked Phillip K. Dick and drove him bonkers.
A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole -- I don't care how depressed I am, if I read this book I am plastered with mirth.
The Fan Man by William Kotzwinkle -- Breezy read of all-out hilarity.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson -- Another duh-how-obvious classic.
And I'm not even mentioning my Holy Trinity of Ladies: Carson McCullers, Flannery O'Connor, Dawn Powell -- I love all their stuff.
What are some of your favorite films, and what makes them unforgettable to you?
I know I'm forgetting a bunch of stuff I adore, but:
Red Beard by Akira Kurosawa -- Actually, just about all the films of Akira Kurosawa. Akira Kurosawa is the moral equivalent of Dostoyevsky. Red Beard is really sentimental but it turns me into the kind of sobbing, heart-clutching mess that Bambi did when I was five.
Network -- Such brilliant subversive language, with passionate social conscience and hot Faye Dunaway too.
Fitzcarraldo Werner Herzog -- Actually, anything by Herzog with Klaus Kinski in it -- the sickest actor who ever lived. The Herzog/Kinski grudge-match is a source of infinite pleasure to me.
The Philadelphia Story -- Such language. I want to live in that posh, silky, mid-Atlantic world.
I, Claudius (The Masterpiece Theatre Series) -- Not really a movie, but key viewing, for me. I try to watch the entire series once a year. It just doesn't get any better than John Hurt as Caligula and Sian Phillips as Livia. It positively inspires one to tyranny.
A Thousand Clowns -- I just love the text, the iconoclastic, anti-social message of it. And that kid actor is incredible -- an eleven-year-old with Woody Allen's timing.
Night Porter -- Liliana Cavani is a monster director, and the film is so kinky and twisted and remarkable -- Dirk Bogarde and Charlotte Rampling perving each other to death.
Time of the Gypsies by Emir Kustarica -- A little-known coming-of-age wonder from Yugoslavia which I have thought, since it came out, is one of the best movies ever made. It's just magic.
Harold and Maude -- Another anti-establishment, beautiful morality fable. I'm a sucker for that stuff.
Black Orpheus -- Dead beautiful from start to finish -- almost exists on the level of pure emotion. I think some other critic might have said that about it, but it's true.
Rushmore by Wes Anderson -- Total enjoyment, for me -- I loved that whole, dippy, invented world, all the school plays Max writes. I think my favorite scene is when Jason Schwartzman goes vigilante and imports a bunch of bees into Bill Murray's hotel room. The music is perfect -- I think it's the Kinks. Max walks in slo-mo through the hotel hallway, cigarette hanging out of his mouth, pushing a coffee-cart full of smuggled bees. A poem.
What types of music do you like? Is there any particular kind you like to listen to when you're writing?
I can't listen to music while I write -- I wish I could, but I can't -- music is too transporting for me, so it's totally distracting. But I love a very wide and often questionable variety of music, from the sublime to the schlocky. If I could, I'd listen to salsa or Mingus or Black Sabbath or King Pleasure or Sam Cooke or Brazilian stuff or Astor Piazzolla or Stevie Wonder, my personal savior. I will not lie: I have both El DeBarge and Skid Row on my iPod. I am not ashamed. Much.
If you had a book club, what would it be reading?
At the moment, I'd be making people read DBC Pierre's Vernon God Little because it just fell out of the sky like a full six-pack from the table at Valhalla. It's killer.
What are your favorite kinds of books to give -- and get -- as gifts?
Funny ones. A really good, funny book is one of the things I love most in the world.
Do you have any special writing rituals? For example, what do you have on your desk when you're writing?
I'm more of a roaming writer. I walk all over the house with my laptop and do it everywhere. No special time, no special place, I type in spurts all day long. I write a lot of stuff on my arm, if I'm out in the world, because if I put it in a notebook I'm liable to forget about it. I've always got ink all over me.
What are you working on now?
I've been writing essays about actors I think are underrated for Salon, which will get polished and tightened and become a collection called 19 Men and Judy Davis. I've started trying to chisel out a new novel, tentatively working-titled The Abounding Gutter.
Many writers are hardly "overnight success" stories. How long did it take for you to get where you are today? Any rejection-slip horror stories or inspirational anecdotes?
I just want to savor this moment of being asked, for the first time, how long it took to "get where I am today." This question implies that I am in a place I had not, five seconds ago, thought I was.
I've been writing for a really long time -- professionally since I was 19, nonstop. I have countless horror stories. The main point to be gleaned from the fact that I have a career, I think, is the fact that I very jealously and tenaciously stuck to my guns, in terms of not letting people (magazine editors, in particular) mess with my voice -- I stayed with Salon, which offered a lot less money and a lot more freedom. I had some very lean years but I think it ended up paying off in the long run, because Salon enabled me to develop as a pedal-to-the-metal, balls-to-the-wall, freak-flag-flying Writer, instead of learning how to write in the vapid, dinky, gutless voice of some big, glossy, sellout magazine.
If you could choose one new writer to be "discovered," who would it be?
Camden Joy. He wrote Boy Island and The Last Rock Star Book and The Greatest Record Album Ever Told (about Frank Black's Teenager of the Year) and a baseball book called The Long Ball: The Summer of '75: Spaceman, Catfish, Charlie Hustle, and the Greatest World Series Ever Played under the name Tom Adelman. He's a wonderful writer whose books have been kind of held captive by publishers who, I think, weren't quite sure how to pigeonhole him. He has a cult following but deserves to be really well known -- he's really passionate about his work, really selfless.
Ira Sher is another great writer who deserves to hit it big -- I think he will. He wrote Gentlemen of Space and is finishing up a new one.
What tips or advice do you have for writers still looking to be discovered?
Write only what you really want to write for anyone who will print it.
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