INTERVIEW: Clancy Martin, Author of ‘Bad Sex’

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A bit ago, we had the pleasure of reviewing Clancy Martin’s Bad Sex, released by the great Tyrant Books. Since then, I’ve thought a lot about it. It hasn’t exited my mind to be replaced by the meaning of life, sex and drinking, like most other books do. Perhaps that’s because Bad Sex focuses a lot on the meaning of life, sex and drinking. Regardless, Clancy was kind enough to answer all the questions I had for him, and gave so many memorable and brilliant quotes that I want to carve this interview into stone.

So, lots of your work revolves around sex. Is there really such a thing as Bad Sex?
When I was a freshman I once disappeared for three or four days with a woman named Leslie. I met her in her dorm room. After I emerged and went to the cafeteria, my fraternity brothers were all saying: where have you been? Having sex, I explained. Too much sex. There’s no such thing as too much sex one of them said. I used to think that, I said, but in fact that’s false. Too much bad sex, maybe, he said, and they laughed. No, it was good sex, I said. Just too much.

Bad Sex, for Brett, is sex that destroys your life. Bad Love. Bad Romance.

And did you have the urge to bring it all round together and wrapped up, or was the idea of one mistake being tempting to continue the end goal in the novel?
Temptation leading to desire leading to addiction leading to self-destruction. The chain of psychological cause and effect, when, sometimes, a love affair is overwhelming. Of course for Brett it’s also wrapped up with booze. But yes, I wanted to show how it destroys her, but is also weirdly exhilarating.

It’s a very tough question: why do we feel so alive when we’re so miserable? My childhood: almost unrelenting misery. But also, like Fern Hill.

I do think it’s important to ask: does life have meaning? I don’t think it’s all a big description. At least, not for ordinary mortals like me.

So, one of the stand out quotes, “I drink, I hurt myself and the people around me, and then I write” – We could assume there’s some sort of autobiographical element there?
Yes, that was true of me, at the time when I was living a life very similar to Brett’s. I don’t think it’s the only way for a writer or a drinker. But it was my way for a while.

Self-destruction can be educational. Destruction of others, less so, I think.

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Did you find the meaning of life between that point and getting a PhD in Philosophy? Some would argue those two lifestyles are polar opposites.
Of course! When they give you a PhD in philosophy they tell you the meaning of life. Unfortunately, it is a closely guarded secret. in the jewelry business, once they trust you, the tell you The Ten Secrets That Will Sell Anything. Similar deal. Well, being a philosophy professor gives you a lot of free time. And idle hands are the devil’s plaything, as we know. So I don’t know about polar opposites. Now being a Buddhist, if you have a good teacher, he or she won’t let you misbehave very much, happily.

Is there ever a conflict between academic, Buddhist, fiction writer and expert of jewelry?
Ha! Great question. Constantly. I have to prioritize. Meditate first, write second, teach third, stay away from the damn jewellery except when I’m buying it for my wife or daughters or writing about it for this TV show we’re working on.

Must take a lot of will power to keep those separate. It must be surreal sometimes, knowing you’ve worked with both Oxford University Press and written about people in difficult places.
I’m currently working on a book about death that I think I’ll publish with OUP (or possibly Princeton University Press, I love the philosophy editors at both places). talk about people in difficult places. I dissected a human cadaver as part of writing this book. Met with a fellow who delivers the news to parents every week, at his hospital, that their new-borns aren’t going to survive. Went to see Hospice patients. Very difficult.

But all of us have to do it. Die, that is. And we don’t know when or how.

Apparently Freud still has me in his grasp: Sex and Death.

So, do you see your writing as academic? Or do you have a clear split between the fiction and nonfiction and the philosophy pieces
I think it’s all mixed together for me. I know that I am supposed to sort it into categories: serious philosophy; fiction; nonfiction essays; etc. But I’ve decided that I should just write about what interests me. Sometimes that means writing a novel: I’ve been working on a retelling of The Medea for five or six years now. Hopefully I’ll be done this year. But I’m also finishing a piece for Vice about the several times I’ve been in jail (sigh). And I’m finishing a book about professional ethics. I hope it all somehow works together. In my mind, there is some kind of architecture that structures it. I suppose it’s fair to say: existentialist.

Do you ever tire of writing of these previous exploits? Or does it help you deconstruct and analyse?Excellent question. I do think that confession–the many different modes of confession, nonfictional, fictional–helps us to analyze, to clarify, perhaps to improve, hopefully to make someone else’s similar experience less lonely.  That said, increasingly I find myself less inclined to write about my own actual past and more inclined to write about the intricacies of what might be going on in any of our heads. So, for example, what is it like to think about death, really? What are all of the different ways you can be jealous? What might it be like to imagine that you don’t exist, that only other people do? Etc.

 Is it ever tough to form these into positive realisations than negative ones about yourself and your past?
Yes. Very hard. That is my goal. That is what I am trying to learn to do now. I think, if I can learn to do that, I can be the kind of writer I’d really like to be.

Did Bad Sex help you realize any of this? It felt a lot more personal than just a 2nd novel.
Yes, it did. So did How To Sell, and so did Love and Lies. They were all very personal and they all helped me, in different ways, to see that it is important to find and write about the basic goodness in people. Even–however uncomfortable this might be–to try to find the basic goodness in myself.

Do you ever look retrospectively on your work?
No, I don’t. Unless, as at present, I am rewriting it for a different format (presently I’m rewriting How To Sell as a TV show with the help of my wife the writer Amie Barrodale).

And even then I prefer to try to write something new.

So, I’m cautious of taking up your time. What are you working on now then?
Mostly, this novel called The Primitive. It is about a woman who is betrayed by her lover after having his child. In the most terrible act of revenge, she murders their child. It is about jealousy, and the aspects of ourselves that cannot be “civilized.”

Seems to be that Clancy blend. Philosophy and the psychology of oneself, plus sex.
I think you’re exactly right. It is that Clancy blend, isn’t it? Phil + self-knowledge (or self-deception, or narcissism, or egoism) + sex. You nailed it. Sigh.

 If it helps, I’d order it all the time. As would plenty others, by the sound of it.
Very kind of you, Jay. I’ll try to get it right.

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