I first interacted with Chris Dankland when I asked people to help me review stuff for this site. I quickly realized he was one of the more well-read people and a big promoter of indie lit, by reblogging stuff and featuring stuff on a blog about cool mosquitos. There are more facts about him that I don’t know, I’m sure. Find at www.dankland.net and twitter.com/cdankland.
Do you consider yourself a ‘writer’? Like is that what you identify as?
I identify as a writer but in general I’m probably better known as a reader or a literary promoter, which I’m happy with as well. I’ve spent more time reading and promoting others than I have working on my own things. For most of my life I’ve been more compulsive and obsessive about other people’s books than I have about my own, although I feel like that is changing now. I’ve always been writing though, I write a lot more than people see. During the alt lit years I wrote two and a half books, and a bunch of different stories and projects and loose ends that I never really showed to anyone.
Are you writing any ‘longform’ stuff or doing much writing right now?
Yes, for the last several months I’ve been working pretty hard on a book. I’m also working on a project with the intensely talented writer Paige Gresty that will soon be conquering the world like Caesar. And I’ve been posting miscellaneous writings on my website, I’m going to start doing that on a regular basis.
I really like this quote from your recent deep sea post:
“Literature is supposed to be good for something, isn’t it? All this talking isn’t just for your own desperate little ego. Language isn’t some alien world unto itself. Language exists for humans. All this solitary work that eats a hole in your heart and burns your years away, isn’t it supposed to count for something beyond your own hollow amusement? Aren’t you supposed to be reaching people?”
What inspired that? a frustration that people only write for themselves?
I’m more talking to myself than saying that other writers should do this or do that. People write out of all sorts of different motivations and I don’t think there is a right or wrong way to go about it. I do have a little bit of a religious attitude towards literature though, in that I earnestly believe that it can save you. It definitely can’t save everyone, but it can save at least some people. If literature saved me, it can save others.
What can literature save you from? From meaninglessness and misplaced meaning. From selfishness and a narrow, inane point of view. From depression and darkness and death and wasting away. From sitting around stoned and staring all night. From your own bullshit and from other people’s bullshit. From whatever you need to be saved from.
An important figure for me is the Ancient Mariner from Coleridge’s poem, the one who grabs the Wedding Guest by the collar and shouts a story in his face. He’s saying wake up, look around you. Literature can do that to you. If I’m going to publish something that another human being will spend their precious time on earth reading—then I can’t half ass it, I need to go all the way and make it count. It’s so difficult to make a real connection with other people, but for me that’s the only thing that matters.
I do want to emphasize though, that I was mostly talking to myself. Everybody does things differently.
That makes sense. What pieces of literature would you say have ‘saved’ you?
There have been so many of them, it’s hard to narrow it down…
This year I’ve been reading some Marilynne Robinson and her books have had a deep impact on me. I’ve been feeling pretty pissed off and disillusioned with people over the last six months or so, which is not my usual state of mind. One of the main themes in Robinson’s fiction and essays is that human beings have such vast and nuanced and idiosyncratic interiors that they approach the sacred and should be treated as such.
One thing she says a lot is that the human brain is the most complex object known to exist in the universe, and every person on the planet has one. I’m doing a bad job of explaining her full philosophy right now but she’s so intelligent and so persuasive in her arguments, and her fiction is so beautiful and moving to me, that I can’t help but agree with her. If you can look at humanity not as giant indistinguishable herd of gobbling and excreting bodies but as individuals with unique feelings and imaginations and experiences, who have the potential to understand and accomplish incredible things, it drastically changes how you interact with other people and how you move through the world.
Do you listen to music or podcasts? What music or podcasts do you recommend or what are your faves right now?
Lately I’ve been listening to 45% Young Thug and 55% country. A list of some country music that I like is here.
I listen to Bookworm with Michael Silverblatt pretty regularly, and Other Ppl, and I’ve listened to every episode of Shitty Youth that I can find. Years ago I used to listen to Miette’s Bedtime Story Podcast a lot, she introduced me to so many great writers.
That’s a pretty sweet list of country music. I live in Nashville, but don’t like country music. I have “Live at Folsom Prison” by Johnny Cash, but only because I grabbed it from my Grandma. I went to Loretta Lynn’s ranch one time, which was funny. Do you listen to any contemporary country?
One of my favorite movies is Nashville by Robert Altman, and since watching that movie I always thought it’d be cool to visit The Parthenon, have you been there? I’d like to drop acid and wander around The Parthenon someday. Maybe the reality of it wouldn’t be as fun as I imagine to be, idk. I imagine Nashville at night has a lot of big colorful signs and blinking lights though, maybe it’s a good acid city? I’d like to do acid with Loretta Lynn on her ranch.
Some contemporary country musicians I like are Sturgill Simpson, Nikki Lane, Ryan Bingham, and Kacey Musgraves. There’s a group of younger country musicians that are influenced by outlaw country and that kind of stuff from the 70s, those are the types of acts I like.
I have been to the Parthenon, in fact I asked my wife to marry me there. I don’t know if it’s the most romantic place, but it worked. It’s kind of the Central Park of Nashville. Nashville has changed a lot even in the past three or four years. I like the movie Nashville a lot, but most people here don’t really get it, I don’t think.
That’s sweet, about the wedding proposal. Score another point for The Parthenon…
You’re pretty ‘universally’ recognized as a huge supporter of indie lit. what writers do you think are ‘overlooked’ by people right now?
Honestly the writers who I think are the most overlooked are the old dead ones, the writers that lived more than 200 years ago. I think there’s a great power and a relief in being able to enter the mind and life of someone who lived hundreds or thousands of years ago. Sometimes I worry that we are becoming more and more like the people in Fahrenheit 451 who can barely remember last summer. The world is going through so many changes right now—we’re moving at warp speed—which means it’s more important than ever to remember the past and keep a hold on it.
‘Overlooked’ is a pretty subjective word depending on the audience, but I’ll say some contemporary writers I’ve read recently who I think are amazing:
Cult of Loretta by Kevin Maloney is one of my favorite novels of the year. I liked it so much that as soon as I finished reading it, I flipped back to the beginning and read it again.
At the beginning of the summer I ordered all of Dorothea Lasky’s books and I’ve been reading her poetry pretty regularly since then, I am in love with her.
Scattered at Sea by Amy Gerstler is a great book. I guess Penguin isn’t ‘indie’ but I think Gerstler is indie if that means badass and original. In my opinion she has a some of that rebellious kind of alt lit attitude, which I appreciate.
When Norm Macdonald’s book finally comes out I predict that it’s gonna make a lot of headlines, check out this story and this story and this thing. He’s a very legit serious writer, I feel. I don’t think that anyone in the literary world really sees him coming…ugh that sounds dirty sorry
I thought you were talking about someone other than the comedian until I clicked all the way through…
He’s the best. It’s maybe not too surprising that he’d be a natural writer though, it takes a lot of skill to craft good jokes.
Would you say you’re kinda doing the same stuff on NeatoMosquito that you were doing on Alt Lit Gossip? Just promoting and talking about writing you like?
I’d say it’s pretty much the same. Nowadays I basically treat Neato Mosquito as a personal blog where I post things I like, things that I want to remember. With ALG I was much more conscious of the audience and that it was a blog I was sharing with other people, but I was mostly just trying to post things that interested me and that I thought would interest other people too.
Safe to assume ALG Is over? I mean, it kinda makes sense to end it. It’s all so….but I noticed there was a few posts from like March or April.
Yes, I’d say the site is retired. People still have access to the site and I think Lucy used the tumblr a few times to help promote Shabby Doll House, which makes sense because ALG has a large number of followers and actually the site has still been gaining followers this whole time. I might do something like that in the future, if I have some really big thing that I want to promote. But yes, I’d say it’s retired.
How’d you get into indie lit stuff anyway?
For a long time my main source for finding out about contemporary writers was Michael Silverblatt’s show, and maybe occasionally a New York Times Book Review article or something. Michael Silverblatt had interviewed Dennis Cooper several times, and eventually I read a handful of his books and was very moved by them. I found out that Dennis Cooper had a blog where basically anyone who wanted to could talk to him. So I wrote him a blog comment about how much his books had meant to me, and then I started commenting on there pretty regularly.
Dennis is constantly promoting books, most of them published outside of the major corporate presses, so it was through his blog that I discovered writers like xTx and Frank Hinton and Steve Roggenbuck and Richard Chiem, and one thing led to another. I feel very grateful and very endeared to Dennis because he turned me onto a lot of literary things that I wasn’t really aware of before, and because his attention and friendship meant a lot to me and gave me a lot of confidence and a stronger sense of direction. Finding that blog was a turning point in my life in a lot of ways.
I tried to read some Dennis Cooper stuff but couldn’t get through it. I do read his blog on occasion. Silverblatt is very distinctive and I would get lost listening to him and The Bat Segundo show, because unless you had read the books, I never felt like you could get into it. That said I think Brad on Other PPL could read a few more of the authors he interviews…
I think Cooper’s The Sluts is one of the first great internet novels, and The Marbled Swarm is worth rereading ten or twenty or thirty times. Guide is one my favorite books, and My Loose Thread. This 100 word story about Dennis’ friend George Miles, who killed himself, is very moving to me.
What I like about Michael Silverblatt is how intelligent and eloquent he is, how he treats his guests with consummate respect, and I like how he only talks about books he enjoys. I feel that life is too short, and there are too many books in the world, for critics to spend time trashing writers they don’t like. Sometimes critics get assigned books to review and I can see how that can create a sense of resentment, because their attention is mandatory. But there are some critics who seem to mostly write about books they hate, which seems like a giant waste of energy to me. If you don’t like something, why don’t you spend your time pointing to something that you think is better instead? So in that sense Silverblatt was and is a big model for me.
I like Other Ppl because it’s like how it would be if you just had a regular conversation with the writer. You get a glimpse of what their personality is like. It turns the writers into regular, accessible people. Silverblatt’s show is a lot more erudite and intellectual. It’s just two different styles, and I like them both in different ways.
Have you always lived in houston? what should we know about it?
I went to college in a small town in North Texas, but except for those four years I’ve lived in Houston.
I’d describe Houston as a giant sprawling city that is mostly blue collar. There are almost no zoning laws here, so everything is smushed and jumbled together: a very poor area can be right across the street from a very rich area. Houston’s population is exploding right now because it’s a good place for jobs and the cost of living is low. It’s the most diverse city in the country, with a lot of immigrant communities from around the world. I grew up in Houston’s Chinatown, where all the street signs are written in two languages–I didn’t have any white friends until I was twelve or thirteen. It’s a gulf coast city and the air is very thick and muggy like New Orleans. The city has sort of a slowed down, laid back atmosphere. We have a big rap scene. People smoke blunts. Houston has the second largest port in the nation and a lot of things gets smuggled into the country through it—aka we have the best drugs. It has a good side and a dark side. But I love this place a lot, it’s my home and I’m very happy here. The book I’m working on right now is basically a big love letter to the city. H-town #1
Ed. Note: I didn’t know what Houston rap songs to include, so here are 50 of the best ones from Houston, according to Complex magazine.