By Sean Tuohy
Reading Bucky Sinister is like reading the inner workers of a dream being created. Bucky’s new novel Black Hole is a cocktail of dark humor mixed with characters ready to leap off the page.
Sinister (what an awesome name!) took a few moments to sit down and talk to me about writing, punk rock, and creative fuel.
Sean Tuohy: When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
Bucky Sinister: In 1987, I heard Black Flag's “Family Man” record. There's a whole spoken word side of that record. I had never heard anything like it. I was immediately captivated. I wanted to do it.
I grew up with aspirations of being an evangelist, but earlier that year I had lost my faith. I had no more place in the world. Society as a whole looked like a lie. The church offered nothing for me anymore. I turned to them for help and got none.
That's when I found the punk world, and subculture in general. I can't explain to anyone who grew up in an Internet world how difficult this was to find. Everything was like a secret you had to uncover by knowing someone cool or reading a zine. I wanted to belong in this world, not just watch it go by, and here was this thing I could do: I was good at talking to groups of people.
I was doing a lot of tape trading then, which is what we did before file sharing, and I ended up with these cassettes of Giorno Poetry Systems albums. It was this really great record label that put out comps like the “Smack My Crack” record. It was where I got exposed to a lot of bands like The Swans and The Butthole Surfers but also to writers like Jim Carroll and William S. Burroughs.
I still didn't really connect it with books. It was more of a performance thing. I wanted to write for spoken word shows. I didn't care about anything in print.
I moved to Los Angeles in 1988. I went to open mikes, partly because they were free. I heard real poets there, who were also really good live. I had no idea you could say the things they were saying. Their message was so far beyond the punk band lyrics. That's when I found the little magazines, the local poetry rags, and such. There was one reading in the Midnight Special Bookstore, which had a really good poetry section. The open mikers showed me which books they liked. I would show up there early and stand around in the poetry section and read. I think that's when I wanted to write a book.
ST: Which authors did you worship growing up?
BS: I grew up fundamentalist, so I loved CS Lewis. During a hard time in high school, I was befriended by a great group of nerds, who loved The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series. I read those pretty much to be in on the joke.
I didn't really have a fire lit under me until I read Charles Bukowski's Ham On Rye when I was 19, after I had moved to Los Angeles. I moved to all the obvious counterculture stuff: Hunter S. Thompson, Burroughs, beat poets, some of the Black Sparrow authors like Wanda Coleman, Eileen Myles, and Jim Carroll. Then there were harder to find books like Adulterer's Anonymous by Exene Cervenka and Lydia Lunch, and Rollins was putting out chapbooks that I bought at Hi De Ho Comics.
Bukowski freed me. It was the first story I had ever read about a kid who grew up in an abusive childhood, and he just shook it the fuck off. Somehow I would be okay. He also destroyed all the rules for American poets. There's a lot of obnoxious Bukowski fans, and a lot of people hate him without reading his work, but I don't know if anyone's ever written anything better than his output from 1960–72. I catch shit for liking his work, people put it down, but I still reread it and find things in there at 46 I didn't notice at 19.
I moved to San Francisco and met a bunch of people who were into cyberpunk stuff, so I got into William Gibson, Bruce Sterling, George Alec Effinger, KW Jeter, and John Shirley. This also led me to Philip K Dick, which was a huge deal for me. This book definitely would not be the same without Dr. Adder or City Come A-Walkin'. This also coincided with a big meth streak I was on. I'd get high at a party and go home and read all night.
There were also a ton of local writers in San Francisco. Black Hole was heavily influenced by Jon Longhi and Peter Plate. I was part of a scene there that included Michelle Tea, Beth Lisick, Daphne Gottlieb, Justin Chin, and many more. A. Razor was, and is, a close friend of mine from those days, and we had a lot of adventures together. There's like, 30 people I've left off this list, whose writing I competed with week after week. I was pushing to keep up with them.
ST: Where did the plotline for Black Hole come from? Was it based on anything personal?
BS: I had a recurring dream where I worked at the mini-whale company. In the dream, I would remember my waking life as if it were a dream. It was really messing with my head.
I tried to keep the dream structure for the novel. I wanted it to be in and out, recurring imagery, inconsistency-ridden, and just not make sense in the way that dreams don't make sense when you're thinking about them.
When you're doing drugs, especially meth, you end up talking for hours and hours, sometimes days. You hear the weirdest shit, and people tell you with the utmost sincerity. I wanted this book to have that feel, of the rambling nightmare conspiracies you hear on the second day of meth, when you're trying to not come down.
This is all either stuff I've dreamed, seen, or heard, and some of it is true, but only believable when I wrap it in bullshit. I did know a conspiracy theorist who covered himself in shit and got 5150'd and had both his arms amputated and was found dead with a syringe in his neck. I did know a 500-pound crack head junky thief who lived in the Tenderloin. I did move to the Bay three months after Op Ivy broke up and regretted it ever since. Last week I met a bodybuilder who gets $800 to let fetishists touch his arms while they masturbate, and I really thought I made that part up. So I'm not sure what is real or not.
ST: The opening paragraph to Black Hole is one of the funniest and most honest things I have read in a while. How important is it for a writer to set a tone early in their work?
BS: That paragraph was originally about 40 pages in. But I really loved how it sounded. So I put it first. In standup comedy, you find a few jokes that are essential: your opener and your closer. I read that paragraph on my second draft, and knew it was my opener. I thought it was abrupt, but fuck it.
ST: What kind of connection do you want to form with your reader?
BS: I hope this book entertains the ordinary reader. I hope recovering drug addicts find another layer of humor. We're funny people. You will never find darker humor than in recovery.
ST: What kind of writer are you: Outline and then write or just write and see what happens?
BS: I write everything I can think of, and then remove what doesn't belong. Then I rearrange it. I don't write sequentially.
ST: What advice do you give to aspiring writers?
BS: Read at least one book a week and write 10 pages a week. After two years, you'll have read 100 books and written 1,000 pages. If you're not better after that, quit. Your last 10 pages should be drastically better than your first 10 pages.
I came up when television sucked and there was no Internet. I had little else to kill time with other than reading. I read a lot. You need that. A new writer today needs to sacrifice other distractions and get those books in.
A lot of people can't get that first manuscript done. Just get it done, It's okay if it's bad. Just finish it and write another one. Too many writers wait for some thing that will never come to get started. Start now.
This is my seventh book. I'm 46. I can't get literary representation. I want to. I hope to. But if I don't, fuck it. The literary world knows who I am, they just don't care. Still want to be a writer? It can be done. It won't be on your terms.
A lot of people want to be authors, but not so many want to be writers. They want to sign a hardcover for a line of adoring fans after whisper-reading the first chapter to a crowded bookstore. They want to be interviewed on NPR. They want to complainbrag about how different the movie is from their book. They want to be at whatever events Dave Eggers and David Sedaris go to. They want to say something insightful to the press when David Foster Wallace kills himself. But they don't want to write, they don't want to go through the extraction process and run the gauntlet of rejection trying to get it published.
ST: Can you tell us one random fact about yourself?
BS: I compete twice a year in Russian kettlebell sport.