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Mark Gluth

Mark Gluth lives in Bellingham, Washington with his wife and their 3 dogs. His first novel, The Late Work of Margaret Kroftis, was published by Dennis Cooper's Little House on the Bowery in 2010. His second novel, No Other, was just released by Sator Press. He has a collection of interrelated short stories, The Goners, coming out from Kiddiepunk Press in 2015.

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No Other

An Interview with Mark Gluth

11/08/14

It’s not uncommon to put down one of Mark Gluth’s novels and feel physically exhausted. His stripped-bare sentences come at you like a relentless barrage of fists, jabs and blows that break a bone at a time until you, the reader, are rendered breathless, spent and broken. Works that are built like tragic dynamos, intentionally fraught machines which whir themselves to pieces before your eyes. And yet it is within these terrifying worlds that Gluth is able to reach heights of beauty and pathos that are totally unique and elsewhere seldom seen.

His first novel The Late Work of Margaret Kroftis was released on Dennis Cooper’s brilliant and demented imprint Little House on the Bowery in 2010. Now, four years later, Gluth has released a new work through Sator press, a slim and powerful volume called No Other.

I had the chance to speak with Mark about his new book.

* * *

The influence of music on No Other

Mark Gluth: Well, early on, Black Metal became a big influence on the book. What’s great and special about really good Black Metal is it captures, or more specifically embodies, this sense of despondency, failure, forsakenness etc. . . . That was something I was going for specifically in the book. So I drew inspiration from the music and my writing probably colored my listening of the music, highlighting the aforementioned elements. I mean, one of the first thoughts I had about No Other was that it would be broken, structurally, that it would be a failure, a lesser version of what it could otherwise be and, so far as I’m concerned, no human created culture product has this ‘lesserness’ the way Black Metal does. Great Black Metal just feels so fucked, down to the soul and cell by cell. My prototypical Black Metal track in this mold is Prison of Mirrors by Xasthur. Along with that longer form music, Drone, Ambient etc. . . . became something I got really into. I really wanted the paragraphs to be longer in No Other (compared to The Late Work of Margaret Kroftis) and I kinda half assed my way through looking at the machinery that operates in a piece such as  dlp 1.1 or dlp 5 by William Basinski or stuff by Stars In The Lid. The truly amazing composer / musician Kyle Bobby Dunn turned me on to Spem In Alium by Thomas Tallis. I remember the moment I heard it so clearly. Little in my life has released as much dopamine in my brain as the first time I heard it. Anyway, that piece became a kinda theoretical cement as I finished the book. Oh, and the My Bloody Valentine album that came out last year. I listened to that on repeat a ton towards the end of the writing process. I couldn’t tell you what effect it had but it’s a good celebratory record. It’s inspiring.

On the differences in process between ‘The Late Work of Margaret Kroftis’ and ‘No Other’ 

MG: Well, it basically didn’t differ significantly. I started writing it in December of 2007. I’d finished TLWOMK and Dennis hadn’t picked it up yet. I’d no idea if TLWOMK would ever get published so I just focused on moving forward. There were big interruptions in the writing process, doing readings and press for TLWOMK, then doing some music journalism. Also I ended up going back to TLWOMK and expanding some stuff. These are all things that took me away from No Other. And then two of our dogs died suddenly within 4 months which was a horrible nightmare. I also  had all these self created issues. When I started No Other I was very happy with how it was coming, but then when TLWOMK was well received I started to doubt what I was doing with No Other. Just by way of the difference. I was sick of all the story in story stuff, the meta fiction in TLWOMK, and I intended for No Other to be a ‘straight’ story but by 2011 or so I just doubted my abilities to bring off something without all the textual effects of the 1st book. The last  2 sections radically changed from my initial conception so I spent a long time experimenting with how that would work. It really felt like I was writing a separate book from the 1st 2 sections. So that took forever. I write by hand in notebooks, then type those up, then edit on the typed sheets, then type that up . . . it’s a circuitous process that probably doesn’t make me any more efficient. So I would say it was a different version of the same process as for TLWOMK, except that I forced myself to write in cursive for about a year, to see if I could still do it, and that I had a father when I started the book, but I didn’t when I was done because he died suddenly several months before I finished.

On how his novels function

MG: I wanted TLWOMK to have a cohesion that I feel is provided by the emotional undercurrent that runs through it. No Other, like I’ve said, is designed to be broken. So yeah, the narrative, such as it is, is logically impossible but hopefully that’s beside the point. Hopefully the failure of the text renders the idea of a reader looking for logic in the text kind of ridiculous. To put it this way, TLWOMK is a tidy package, whereas No Other is, at least to me, just a mess that’s falling apart. Having said that I don’t like to think about how my books function so I could be totally wrong.

On the epigraphs of No Other

MG: Well somewhere through the writing of the book, early on in fact, I decided I was going to name the chapters after songs. It kind of freed me of having to think of titles or whatever, and allowed me to pay homage to music that inspired the book and tie specific moods, from external sources into the text. Like, for example, one of the first big influences on the book was the album Red State by the band Gowns. So much of the feeling surrounding the family came from that. So that’s why I named a chapter after one of the songs on the album. The first chapter is named after a Black Metal song that, while it’s kind of good, I really just loved the title. So I guess it’s complex.  Each of the quotes . . . in each case those were lines that blew my mind with regards to how they unlocked a piece of the book for me, when I first read them. Especially the Gibson quote.

On certain sentences in No Other that seem like very basic truisms

MG: I’m glad you caught the tautology. That was something that was intentional from the get go. Obviously not every sentence, but yeah . . . it just felt right to build these sentences that operated as if beneath some burden, or against some self-inflicted restriction. I guess maybe one thought is I wanted this failed and deflated language and the awkward sentence structures, the duplicating of words, the duplicating of sounds . . . they all played into that. For example, my favorite sentence in the book, and my favorite sentence I’ve written is the dissonant mess: “Flooded floodplains were glassy planes.” I liked the idea that the sentences were over built, top heavy, all façade. I have no idea if I accomplished that, and I have no idea why I wanted to really but that’s what I was going for.

On the role of alcohol and alcoholism in No Other

MG: You know I’ve never experienced alcoholism or addiction of any sort in my family or anything. I have no knowledge of it. I barely drink, don’t do drugs or anything. The fact that one of the characters is an alcoholic and one is dependent on alcohol, that just really served to support the role those characters played in the overall narrative. For the narrative I envisioned to work, I needed characters that were desperate and grasping (in the Buddhist sense). For example I see Tuesday being deeply depressed about her brother, as just as ‘grasping’ as being dependent on alcohol.

On whether he lacks empathy for his character

MG: For me the main character of the book is the shape of the narrative, the overall form of the story. So the individual characters exist as cogs within that machine. I care really deeply about their experience coming off as and seeming authentic, emotionally, but only in so much as that serves to highlight the strengths of the narrative. So bearing that in mind, no I don’t hate them. I do view their lives as tragic, though I’m not sure what I get from that aside from the fact that the overall narrative contains tragedy. Like, if I was building a house and I had to cut a board as part of building a wall, is that tragic? So is it tragic that I have character die to shore up a narrative strand? Hopefully I don’t come off as sarcastic because I don’t mean to. I probably have as much attachment to my characters as someone playing a video game has to the character they are playing as. I want my books to seem real, or even hyper real, but I’m well aware they are not real.

On eschewing description in the novel

MG: Really I just work on my sentences until they work for me, I guess what works for me doesn’t include that much description. I really tried for this book to have more robust language, compared to my first. I wanted to have longer paragraphs and stuff, and I think there is more descriptive language than my first but you are probably right in that there really isn’t that much. I’m always trying to show, not tell.

On closing off his character’s inner states

MG: There are probably multiple reasons for this. The main one again is about showing, not telling. Also, I wanted the book to have this kinda muffled vibe to it. In musical terms I envisioned there being a thick low frequency filter running over the book, so that very little detail emerges from a general textual murk. I wanted there to be these moments where stuff does bubble up, but for that to be rarer than not. Also, although this book is 3rd person, each chapter strongly identifies with one character, so hopefully on some level you end up sharing some headspace with them and if that is the case then describing what’s in their heads is moot. Also, at least in this book, I was aiming to portray how, at a core level it’s so difficult to identify a specific thought or emotion separated out from all the other emotions and thoughts . . . specifically for the characters in this book, who aren’t particularly self-confident or self-aware.

On the influence of film on No Other

MG: As part of my goal for No Other, right from the get go, I wanted to figure out how to write a book that had a realistic portrayal of a character’s life, but in a way that was compelling to me. The Exploding Girl is an American film that captured an authenticity I’d not seen before, in film. It felt emotionally true, though so much happened off camera, or below the surface. So much went unsaid, which I loved and which allowed me to gain some sort of confidence about what I was trying to do. Another film, a French one, ‘35 Shots of Rum’ did kind of the same thing for me, but perhaps at a more narrative level. Again, coming off having written TLWOMK it was nice to see these ‘straight stories’ play out in a way that, though without structural embellishments, managed to create something really compelling.

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