Pure Slush’s ongoing examination of the writer’s craft today grills Con Chapman, author of two novels, a book about baseball, ten published plays, a book of light verse and forty e-books of humor. Here to put the heat on the self-described “Hardest Working Man in American Literary Humor” is Etaoin Shrdlu, a professor of comparative American literature at the University of Missouri-Chillicothe, who has written extensively on the man many call the “King of the Electronic Penny Dreadful.”
Shrdlu: Welcome to Pure Slush’s “A Writer’s Diary.”
Chapman: Thanks — glad to be here.
ES: Let’s start with a question I know is on the lips of many of your readers: Where do you get your ideas, or translated to the vulgate, where the hell do you come up with this stuff?
CC: Well, Etaoin, it’s a gift, it really is—I just thank the Big Guy Upstairs for it. I don’t know how to explain it, but if I had to put my finger on it, I’d say it’s a lethal cocktail made up of equal parts blunt trauma to the head during my promising but injury-shortened high school football career, and my brief flirtation with psychedelic drugs.
ES: So — you don’t know where the inspiration for your stories comes from?
CC: I certainly don’t sit down and produce an outline like my high school English teachers said was the best way to write something.
ES: They just come to you?
CC: I woke up at 3 a.m. last night with the headline “Grammar Police Brutality Charged in Response to Subject-Verb Disagreement” staring me in my mind’s eye.
ES: This sort of inspiration must come frequently, since you’ve written 2,000 blog posts in five years, an average of 400 a year.
CC: You are very quick with figures!
ES: . . . and now you’re packaging them into e-books?
CC: The way Swanson’s takes white chicken meat and turns it into frozen TV dinners. Why not? It’s the only way I know to make money out of them. I’m sure not going to retire on my crummy Google AdSense checks. I follow the example of A.J. Liebling, who said he tried to write faster than anyone who wrote better, and better than anyone who wrote faster.
ES: Do you ever suffer from writer’s block?
CC: Not when I’m writing utter crap. More serious stuff is sometimes a problem.
CC: Well, I’ve been working on a boxing book for about a decade, with no end in sight. So as far as I’m concerned, there’s the writing you work on, and the writing that works on you.
ES: I get the sense that’s more than just a handy aphorism for you. Could you elaborate?
CC: The boxing book is an idea, not an inspiration. I need to use the thinking part of my brain to write it, instead of just the voices I hear.
ES: You hear voices?
CC: (*sniff*) They won’t stop!
ES: Do you write every day?
CC: I try to. It’s like saving for retirement—your imagination is your greatest asset, you need to pay yourself first, then take care of trivial stuff like food, clothing and shelter.
ES: What time?
CC: Three times a day, morning, noon and night. I try to write after meals when my blood sugar’s highest. Otherwise, I tend to produce gibberish, like “My parrot admires your sister’s armpit.”
ES: ( . . .) You actually wrote that?
CC: Not only wrote it, I entered it in a writing contest and made it to the finals!
ES: What the hell kind of writing contest was that?
CC: Absurdist humor. I had ‘em rolling in the aisles at Les Deux Maggots.
ES: You’ve written longer stuff, two novels and the baseball book. How did you begin those more ambitious works?
CC: As the Chinese say, a journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single stumble off the curb. In the case of The Year of the Gerbil, I had the first sentence-- about the three most tragic events in the living memory of a Red Sox fan—in my head for years. With A View of the Charles, I had the opening scene—a guy walking to work reading a book on how to sail who begins to tack back and forth up the street—playing in my head until I got it down on paper, then figured out what to have him do next.
ES: So the process is accretive?
CC: You make me sound like the alluvial plain at the mouth of a river.
ES: Well, you do have some kind of goober at the corner of your mouth ...
CC: (beat, as writer wipes mouth) Hmm—I think it was a yogurt-covered raisin.
ES: I believe you’ve written a poem about yogurt-covered raisins, no?
CC: You believe that, and yet you say no--curious. The answer is “yes,” A Culinary Proof of God’s Existence.
ES: And is there any possibility that that poem will ever be published?
CC: Depends on what you mean by “published.” It’s on my website, and it appears on three different blog sites, so it’s certainly out there for the public to see. If you’re asking will it ever appear in print in an edition funded by somebody other than me, it’s unlikely.
ES: So you’re not hung up on print vs. internet, self vs. commercial publication?
CC: If I were, I’d be in the same mental hospital that Jimmy Piersall was committed to when he went nuts playing for the Red Sox.
ES: As depicted in the movie Fear Strikes Out?
CC: Right. The guy who said, “Going nuts was the best thing that ever happened to me. Before then, nobody knew who I was.”
ES: Also, “Nutrition makes me puke.”
CC: That’s him.
ES: Any advice for aspiring young writers out there?
CC: Out where?
ES: Out there at the other end of the internet reading this?
CC: Just because you can put a sentence together doesn’t mean you can write. You also have to have an inexhaustible flow of cockamamie ideas. On the other hand, if you have the cockamamie ideas but can’t write a sentence, you’ll end up like Jimmy Piersall.
published 1 October 2011