INTERVIEW: Adam Gnade, Author of ‘Locust House’
Adam Gnade is the author of several books and zines, including the novel Caveworld and the underground self-help hit The Do-It-Yourself Guide to Fighting the Big Motherfuckin’ Sad. He’s just published the novella Locust House, a joint project between Pioneers Press and Three One G Records, which tells the story of an epic house party set in San Diego’s punk and hardcore scene in 2002. I recently reviewed the book for Cultured Vultures, and had the chance to speak with Adam about the book:
It seems Locust House has a lot of autobiographical elements from a particular time in your life. Can you tell us about your personal experiences with the era and place covered in the book?
That’s dangerous ground for me to walk. I used to be a lot freer in regard to saying where my plots, characters, and life cross over but I’ve pissed off my share of friends and contradicted myself enough in interviews that I’ve learned to steer clear of that. I’m pretty chill; I don’t need people trying to fight me in bars when I go back home to see my parents. That’s some awful Thomas Wolfe shit. I like Wolfe but I’d rather read Roberto Bolaño. Exile is always the more interesting side of that equation. To me, at least. I’m not on exile but I am away.
With that in mind, why write about these things as fiction rather than memoir? What does fiction allow you to do that creative nonfiction would not?
I like the Oscar Wilde quote that goes, “Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.” Also, with a few exceptions, I’m not a huge fan of memoir. Fiction, I love. Memoir (or more so, literary memoir) as a genre is boring because the people who write memoirs usually lead the least interesting lives but have the most self-importance.
Most fiction (good or bad) contains the autobiographical anyway, even if it’s just hidden in themes and the author’s own motivations. Even science fiction and fantasy can be just as much a portrait of the person behind the desk as the alien race or wizard or whatever else they‘re writing about. It’s the story of the author’s worries, their lusts, their fears and secrets, even if it’s not about the cereal they ate on some specific day or the drugs they were on or the last person they had sex with. That’s where people go wrong with “write what you know.”
I’m sure Homer put the opposition he was facing into Odysseus’ frustrations. His work wouldn‘t have been as good as it is without it. I’ve read the Odyssey so many times during dark, lost points in my life and I always took courage from it because it felt like Homer was talking to me through Odysseus. I could relate to being waylaid and collecting your strength again. I liked the whole “remembering you’re a warrior when the chips are down“ even if I didn’t like the ways Odysseus got what he wanted.
You left San Diego quite a while ago, and the book takes place almost fifteen years ago. Why write this now? What made it come to the forefront all these years later?
It takes place right after my last book, Caveworld, which ended about a year and a half before this one begins. It’s the sequel.
Tell us a little about the role some of the bands you mention in Locust House have had in your life.
It’s hard to sum up what those bands have done for me because it’s very close to my DNA at this point. The funny thing is I like Three One G’s newer records better than a lot of the stuff in the book. I think Retox is the best thing they’ve put out. Hot Nerds, Planet B, Warsawwasraw, I love it all. But of course the older stuff like Holy Molar, Swing Kids, Antioch Arrow, Celebration, Jaks, and the Black Dice book/7″ are gold. The Crimson Curse is pretty lovely if you like heavy, dark, grimy punk. If you haven’t heard them you should check their discography out post haste.
Many of your works of fiction share characters, continuing their stories across various books. Can we read about the characters from Locust House in any of your other books?
Yeah, besides the character you meet in the beginning (who shows up in the next book) the rest are in Caveworld and my first book Hymn California and some of the shitty novellas I wrote that are thankfully out of print. (Oh, and in all my “talking songs” of course.) Everything I write besides the Big Sad series (which was an accident) is about those characters. It’s not necessary to read them in order to have any idea what’s going on (they’re not that kind of book) but the more of it you read (or listen to) the clearer the picture will get. I want to write clearly but it’s still good to hold things back and hide secrets here and there and write some codes. I’m okay with some difficulty as long as you know what’s going on and where you are. I wouldn’t want to (or be able to) write The Sound and the Fury or Ulysses, as much as I love getting lost in books like that.
Do you have plans to write more about the time and era you cover in Locust House?
Not right now. The next book is current, or close to it. I’ve got my series all mapped out and the map covers a lot of ground. It’s nice to feel comfortable in a world you’ve made and roam around in it. Caveworld took place from the ’70s to the turn of the last century but it also goes back to the ’60s in some scenes (especially in regard to the Vietnam War section). I consider the structure I work with a big, messy, weird, over-full, rundown museum with exhibits you can follow but also a lot of tiny, well-lit, seemingly random dioramas tucked back into holes in the walls that are actually very important to the story but in a kind of secret way. A museum with a lot of strange, dark rooms that might not seem to make much sense (or maybe only a fragmented sense; a sense in a dream) until you think about them for a long time and unpack them a little. There are also dead-ends, places that are off-limits or closed for construction, locked offices, false floors that lead to somewhere else, bookcases that turn and let you into extra rooms …
As far as time goes, a couple of the older novellas and the talking record Greater Mythology Blues have gone pretty far back in time, all with the aim of showing America as I know it, whether from personal experience or imagination or from studying history and reading endless amounts of cowboy novels as a kid and hearing the stories of my older family members who aren’t with us anymore. Greater Mythology Blues actually follows a family line from prehistory up into present day which is impossible, of course, except in fiction.
Tell us a little bit about Pioneers Press and the farm you help run in Kansas.
Jessie Duke started Pioneers in 2012 after she split away from an older publishing house a bunch of us who became Pioneers’ original staff were involved in. I don’t work for the press anymore on a day-to-day basis but a big part of its operations are run out of the farm. I’m mostly kind of an in-house author for the press but I help out here and there when needed.
The farm is called the Hard Fifty Farm and it takes its name from the backstory of a previous tenant who was a drug cartel hitman. We have livestock, raise hay, crops. Not for money. Just for fun. All the money comes from the books. Living rural is shit a lot of the time. I won’t pretend it’s all romance. That’s there too but it can be a struggle. We work very hard to be where we are. Living close to the land and having wide open spaces makes it all worthwhile. It’s also good to use your body in very physical ways when you spend a lot of time in your head. A vigorous physical life is good for your mind. If you’re lucky enough to be able to do it, you should go see the world as much as humanly possible.
Pioneers Press partnered with Three One G Records to release Locust House. Why work with a record label to publish a book? What did they bring to that process?
Three One G was one of the main inspirations for starting Pioneers. We’ve always loved their records and books but also the way they run their business—impressive work ethic, total hustling, willingness to take chances and do risky shit and say Fuck You to whoever needs it, a complete lack of douchebaggery, that sort of thing. As far as what they brought to it, the book was heavily inspired by the world they helped create so it owes a huge debt to their work.
Also, Justin who owns Three One G wrote the introduction and their designer Brandon put the layout together. He’s designed a couple of the other books Three One G has released in the past so they all look good on a shelf together. Some people grew up with Dischord or Soft Skull or Chess or City Lights or Death Row or whatever. I grew up with Three One G and being on their roster makes me feel like I can tie Poseidon to a tree and beat him with a stick then go sailing all the fuck around the Mediterranean and not worry about a thing. (Though of course I’m sensible enough to know I can’t.)
What are you writing next?
I’ve been working on a new larger novel every day for the past few years. Way I work it is I start on the new thing the day the last one is published. Caveworld, which took me five years, came out in 2013. That’s when I started this next thing. Locust House just popped up in the middle of that like an unexpected bloom of frogs or something. The new one won’t be out for a while. It’s a little too ambitious for my abilities at the moment but I’m working pretty hard at getting better. I want to make a big jump forward with this next thing and really surprise people and show them how hard I’ve worked. To me the most admirable thing is hard work and getting something real and alive and important out of it.