The following interview comes to us via Shane Mehling, whose investigative reporting at eNotes caused a flood of internet traffic to overwhelm their servers, leading to the necessary, but unfortunate, termination of their book blog.
He also provided the links found in the interview, which I have not checked over but will likely take you to fan pages for Metallica.
Andrew Bonazelli Sucks At Baseball
Andrew Bonazelli and I are friends. We met in Seattle because of ties to the metal/hardcore scene and bonded over a love of Helmet. Since then he has moved to Philadelphia, and now looks over my e-shoulder for the magazine Decibel where he is Managing Editor. But regardless of all that, he is also an author. A great author. Seriously, and his debut novella, Mechaniks (McCarren Publishing), is a peek into the noir side of 60’s baseball which I’m pretty sure is a brilliant yet untapped genre. Andrew had a little time to spare for a discussion on how film can influence literature, his turndown of the traditional publishing route, and his thoughts on one particular comic strip.
Me: Why is the book with apologies to Morgan Ensberg?
Andrew: He is a currently washed up ex-Yankee that was kind of an inspiration for the conceit of the book. He was a rookie for the Astros and during Spring training he was living in the same kind of dilapidated motel that’s depicted in the first couple of chapters. He was robbed at gunpoint and made to go facedown, bag over his head, the whole thing with four of his teammates. It was just some random sort of thing, just some dipshits, and one of his teammates ended up overpowering one of the guys and ended up getting out of it. But I thought it was such a trippy story. Generally when you read about baseball players or any athlete it’s so fucking boring and lame. And I’ve been a baseball, and to a lesser extent, football fan for a long time and I’ve always had a hard time justifying to friends why I end up spending all this time watching games and learning everything about them. Reading interviews with Ensberg, he was really shaken by it and I thought it would be a good jumping off point to combine my infatuation of baseball with something halfway meaningful about it. In the one in a million chance he’ll read this, which will never happen…
Me: Have you thought about sending it to him?
Andrew: Well, I think he’s a born again. But I read an interview with him where he thought Chamillionaire, who wrote a song about The Astros, was really awesome so I think maybe he’s a cool born again guy. It’s just fantasy and speculation, taking that archetypal jock and adding some depth and intrigue into his personality.
Me: In that respect, do you think there’s a lot of underlying drama with these people or do you think they’re just fucking boring jocks?
Andrew: I think their drama is probably really lame, so I wanted to do something a little more fantastical. I’m going to assume that their problems are meager, but I always hoped these people who wasted a great deal of my adult and young life had fucked up issues with brotherhood and machinations of violence and any of those psychosomatic issues that could be extended into a book. Also there’s the fact that almost every movie about baseball is maudlin. I can’t believe anyone would like the sport with all the bullshit you see on broadcast and I decided it would be cooler to go for something more adult and subversive and fucked up.
Me: Because of the way the sport has changed since the 60’s, would it have been almost impossible to write this book in a modern context?
Andrew: I hate the modern storytelling contrivance of a plot based on forensics, and with the MacGuffin being what it is, I just wanted to get that entirely out of the way. And I felt putting it in the 60’s would allow for the more stylized Southern voice I used without being ironic which is how it would be construed in modern day.
Me: Speaking of that, you use a lot of slang. Was this from research or did you just make it up?
Andrew: Sometimes it was intentional, like how women are referred to as Annie’s. That was the character Susan Sarandon plays in Bull Durham. So I wanted to incorporate a few allusions just in case you’re a fucking dork. Without trying to be too Tarantino self-referential, there are some technically anachronistic baseball things I fit in for that purpose.
Me: But aside from that, were these phrases from anything you had seen or read?
Andrew: Not really, but I don’t want to make it seem like I imagined how people would address each other in the 60’s. I wasn’t really concerned with dialogue for this story. I was more influenced by something like The Last Picture Show where setting and emotion drive a story, not dialogue. I tried not to make anything too goofily dated.
Me: Bringing up The Last Picture Show, was film a big influence on how Mechaniks was written?
Andrew: It’s probably more film based than literature based. Literature wise I was reading Flannery O’Connor short stories and Dennis Cooper around that time. But the general mood and distance in it is from being alone in Philadelphia for two years after moving from Seattle and just renting Polanski or Antonioni which aren’t plot based as much as just odd sensations rather than conventional plotting. The films The Adventure, The Eclipse, and The Night; I don’t know if any concrete influences show up in the writing but those are movies I would watch over and over while I was writing.
Me: How long did this take to write?
Andrew: I think it took about a year. Back in Seattle I was totally into writing a screenplay. Like a lot of people I thought it would just be easier. Ninety pages, little exposition, dialogue driven. But then you realize you don’t know anyone that would ever get this made and you’re with a team of other people, and I thought a novel would be something where I have complete control. Where my fault or my awesomeness would help me get it out. You read Writer’s market and it says you have to get an agent and no, you don’t. You just need to find an indie press that’s sympathetic to your ideas.
Me: So how did you figure this out?
Andrew: At first I basically read Writer’s market way too rigidly just like every other wannabe author and screenwriter. The idea was you have to get an agent, you have to fashion this great query letter and make it look commercial or viable to publish it. And everyone told me to fuck off.
Me: How many rejections?
Andrew: I sent out maybe 25, and I heard back from seventeen and they all gave me the same bullshit, the same I’m sorry but we have a full stable or It’s not right for us which is soul-crushing and you don’t know if they even read your smartly composed query letter and your excellent idea where you took your rich and complex theme and fucking drew it down to two sentences. That just killed me. And sometimes one of them would ask for the first two chapters and I’d never hear back from them. And after that I think the first impulse for a lot of people, including me, was give up or move on to another project because it’s so goddamn disappointing. Then I thought I’ve been working in the magazine writing business for long enough that I some people who know publishers. So I e-mailed a couple of writers for suggestions and my friend Kory Grow knew a guy who ran a press that mostly did music books, but he said I should give it a shot. And in that query I was a lot less formal because I stopped giving a shit about impressing people with the structure of the query letter. So I was like Alright man, I know you do music books but let me know if this works. And McCarren Publishing got immediately back and asked for the first fifty pages. I sent that along and two days later they asked for the whole thing. I thought this had to be some sort of scam, but within a week they sent me a contract and it was probably the most satisfying day of my life.
Me: But you still had to figure out it wasn’t exactly that easy.
Andrew: It’s a train wreck for everyone, pretty much. Writer’s Market says you should have been rejected fifty times and it should be your third book before you get anything to work for you. Every time I read about any of these writers breaking through it seems either like some sort of nepotism or people working to find that one connection.
Me: But after all this have you learned anything about publishing a book?
Andrew: No, I have no idea. I don’t know if this assures me a second book, no clue. I’m hoping at least a few people review it favorably and I’ll see how the publisher develops the book, but I don’t know anything. I could be back to square one two years from now, but I do know taking the route of the indie press is a pretty good way to not see it sitting in eight by eleven sheets on your fucking bookcase.
Me: You have another book already done. Is that the one that’s going to stay in eight by eleven sheets on your bookcase?
Andrew: Well, what I really want to do is see what happens with Mechaniks in the next couple of months. And I’m working on another one right now that’s a much bigger story. I don’t know if in two months I’ll want to pitch that or go back to my bookcase and look at those sheets of paper and work with that. I have no idea.
Me: How long did it take for Mechaniks to go from the first to final draft?
Andrew: They say you’re supposed to sit on your first draft for two months, but fuck that. I hate having shit to do. I just want to accomplish everything as soon as possible. I went through maybe four or five drafts, but I can’t remember what significant changes I made. I know I waited long enough that I could go back and say That phrase is idiotic and juvenile or where I’ll go back and know this is not what that character would ever do. I mean, I don’t have fucking dossiers in my head like JK Rowling, like what Harry Potter does on a Tuesday at 10 PM. I hate to go off on a tangent, but in some interview they asked Rowling what three characters she’d like to have dinner with and why and I can’t imagine a normal human being getting asked that question and answering seriously. I mean, your head is so far up your ass. But she immediately shot back with Oh, Hermione would blah blah and I’m like really? Damn. I’m totally into being thorough when you write, and of course your characters are extensions of you, but that sort of shit is just fucking goofy.
Me: So, now that you’re a novelist…
Andrew: I think a novelist is someone who gets paid for it.
Me: Ok, well do you want to be a novelist then?
Andrew: Oh, fuck yeah. Money isn’t that huge of a factor but I would love people to take it seriously. I would love to have an advance, where I could live off that while I write. I love my job, but there is an age limit when it comes to writing about music and the scene. Thank God I don’t write about hip-hop because those dudes stop rapping when they’re like 27.
Me: But are you looking to change anything to have that happen?
Andrew: Well I don’t really have an audience now but I would be so bummed out to have a small audience and then decide I wanted my next book to be a Father’s Day present. Like I want to be the next Mitch Albom. That would be sad.
But I would love to be compensated enough to be able to write full-time.
Me: Who’s an author you hate?
Andrew: This isn’t really an author, but do you know the comic strip For Better or Worse? Well the cartoonist Lynn Johnston just did this thing where her characters have always aged chronologically, and so she ended the arc and did the Hollywood epilogue and then the last panel is her, the cartoonist, and she says she’s going to go back to the beginning and re-do the story. It’s actually a really cool idea, revising the canon you and your readers have dealt with for thirty years. And for a second, I thought that was cool. But then I went to her page and saw all the calendars and mugs and merch and all this silly bullshit for people in the suburbs and then I’m just like fuck this bitch. For some reason she makes me want to kill people.
Me: That is one of the best anecdotes I’ve ever heard in my entire life. What have you learned from these last books that you’re changing for your new one?
Andrew: The new novel is a lot more expansive with much bigger arcs. Before I was really into how Dennis Cooper would only give you a quarter of a snapshot or what’s happening right outside the frame. Ideally someone can now get to know the characters more instead of dealing with fleeting moments. Some musician said your next album is the opposite reaction to what you last did, but better, whatever the fuck that means. I guess I’m going to find out.