xTx is a writer living in Southern California. She says nothing at notimetosayit.com.
After reading Normally Special, if I knew xTx’s legal name, I’d file a restraining order. Maybe she’s Aileen Wuornos. Maybe she’s a wiccan living under A.M. Homes’s bed. I don’t know, she freaks me the hell out.
Though sometimes brutal, sometimes devastating, I couldn’t look away. Especially not from the skill. Not from the beauty. Not from the truth. xTx is a voice unlike any other I know.
Understand that this is bone goodness wrapped in massacres of lovely, & if I wasn’t before, I am now an official fan of xTx.
xTx’s stories embody the terrors, wounds and deep emotions that tremor through our bodies as we walk around in our daily lives, pretending everything is alright. Nothing is alright of course, but xTx turning our hidden selves into meaningful stories helps a whole hell of a lot.
Where did the name xTx come from?
It is a shortened form of a longer name I used to blog under. It is the alphabetic version of a dick and balls. It is the stupidest pseudonym ever. It is a fortunate mistake. It is a shield.
Why do you call your pen name a “fortunate mistake?” This intrigues me. After all, your name is a “dick-and-balls.”
My pen name is “fortunate” because it seems to get attention/stand out and it’s a “mistake” because I never expected it to become “something” and now it’s more well-known than my real name is or will ever be (maybe) as it pertains to the online lit scene.
The “cock and balls” likeness was something I just recently realized it sort of resembles — in my twisted mind, anyway. Maybe I subconsciously equate being powerful/having a protective shield with the strength of a male, i.e. the cock and balls imagery. Maybe not. I dunno.
I’d like to know more about you. How old you are. What you look like. If you’re a mom. Were you sexually abused a child? What else do you do, aside from writing? Are you in school?
Those are the lots of things that lots of people want to know about me. If you want to know what I look like there are a handful of people that met me at AWP who can do some artist renderings. For the other things, well, when I finally meet you for burritos and margaritas at that place you mentioned, I will tell you all about them.
Have you discovered a particular freedom in anonymity?
Of course. I don’t (often) have to worry about what others think. I don’t have to censor myself. My tits out, paper bag over my head, sitting on a sidewalk.
Honestly, if I stepped out from behind the shield I would feel vulnerable as hell. I mean, sometimes I already do. This year I met a bunch of “online people” at AWP and kept thinking they were thinking, “She’s the one that writes all that fucked up shit all the time,” and then I think maybe they are judging me. I don’t know. Either which way, it’s nobody’s fault but my own.
But maybe eventually I would feel empowered, like, finally own my shit and be proud of it and be like, “YUP, THIS IS ME TOO!” Maybe that would be a huge relief. Maybe that would be a Sybil-like, multiple personality integration party in my soul. Double-lives are hard.
Do you think writing anonymously is one way to keep art and the artist separate? Should art always speak for itself regardless of the artist, like who he or she is and what personal stake he or she has in the material?
I do think the art should speak for itself. When I read a story or love a painting that is all there is. I wonder about the creator, but, really, the creator is separate. Sort of how a baby is born; first one with the mother and then separate into the world. They are always together, but yet, they are individuals. It’s interesting to know the parents, to get some background or perspective on the child, but in the end, the child is its own thing. I hope that makes sense.
Name three writers who’ve lent you courage as a writer.
Roxane Gay, Ethel Rohan, and Lidia Yuknavitch just because of the very personal and intense subject matter they write about USING THEIR OWN NAMES. Reading them makes me feel ashamed of how I hide. Their courage gives me courage. One day I hope I will act on that courage.
Do you consider yourself a feminist? An anti-feminist? What?
I’ve never classified myself as much of anything. I don’t think I’m either of those things. I hope I’m not a let down to my sex for saying so. Please let the record reflect that I’m a huge fan of boobs and vaginas and the owners thereof.
If you described Normally Special in one sentence, compound but not complex, how would you describe it?
A tiny, hardcore collection of brutal, ugly, and beautiful.
“Normally Special” is an oxymoron, isn’t it? Talk to me about that.
Normally Special is taken from the last story in the book which is a story about a woman obsessed with a man but who is trying to convince him that her obsession is a safe one, but in the convincing she is making it obviously clear that it is not safe at all. The full sentence is, “I did not Google Earth you, so none of these thoughts took place and you can go on speaking to your neighbors who think you are only normally special.” I love the contradictory nature of the term, “normally special” because how can one be both?
On the cover for Normally Special we see a man first and then in the distance a small girl. The photo seems to represent a power dynamic going on in the book, between men and women. Talk about that power dynamic and why it became so central to your stories.
I love the cover shot. I can’t get enough of this photo which is why I chose it. (“Little Girl in Yellow in SoHo” taken by my friend, Robb Todd.) The tininess of the girl, the way she is framed in that huge doorway making her appear even more tiny and vulnerable, the faceless man in the foreground wearing a color that makes bulls charge, the contrast between them that evokes a subtle feeling of danger, the fear of the obvious vulnerability of the little girl. How I worry about her. This cover does sort of capture a lot of the themes of Normally Special.
I can only speak from my experience of being a girl and a woman, but I think I am drawn to the men/woman power dynamic because of how much shit women are subjected to along the path of their lives by boys/men. I think we have a lot of stuff happen to us because of our sex. I just think that’s how it’s always been and how it always will be and I like to “look at it” by writing about it. I wish I could protect all the little girls in the world so they don’t have to write stories like mine.
But this power dynamic in the stories. “The Duty Mouths Bring,” for instance, has a great deal of this going on, a competition between the sexes. When I read your stories I feel like being a woman is a slippery slope, fucking precarious. What about this attracts you as an artist?
I guess I am drawn to writing about the woman as a victim in a lot of different ways; a victim of circumstance, a victim of a man, of herself, etc. I’m not sure if this is considered a “power dynamic” or if it’s just showing how someone might struggle when faced with dealing with different life events/experiences. One woman is forced by her husband to fold towels “properly,” one woman is abused by an “uncle,” one woman gets almost taken advantage of in a bar bathroom, one woman struggles to feed her son, one young girl gets abused by her brothers; I like to explore the ugly most of the time. It just always seems to be man vs. woman in most of the cases.
You tackle a taboo subject in Normally Special, incest. The story “I Love My Dad. My Dad Loves Me” opens with, “It is difficult to masturbate about your father, but not impossible, as it turns out,” and walks a thin line between titillating and horrifying readers. Talk to me about the genesis of this story.
Incest is a horrible thing. It’s disgusting. It’s probably one of the hugest betrayals that can be perpetrated on another. It fascinates me. It’s probably ugly to say that but I am hiding behind my fake name so it makes it easier. The inner workings of a parent who uses their child as a thing for sex is crazy fucked up shit. I don’t understand it. I think that’s why I have written about incest, in various forms, from time to time. Especially the aftermath. How does a child “go on” from something like that? How does that affect them later in life? The confusion of loving a dad despite what you know he did was wrong and that you might even hate him for it but the child’s voice still whispering to you, “but he’s my daddy” and “but I love my daddy, my daddy loves me.” How the desire for a father’s love can make a little girl/woman’s voice of denial so loud that she chooses to believe nothing ever happened, even when she goes looking for it and maybe even thinks she finds it. It’s easier to cope with what we tell ourselves.
I won’t talk about the genesis of this story.
What are your thoughts on “Writers should write what they know?” Does an artist have to be or come from a place in order to write about it? Or are you able to relate to characters unlike yourself because you’re able to identify with like emotional experiences?
I guess we are all a bit limited to the things we know but I don’t know if that means we don’t write about the things we don’t. Maybe they won’t be written as well as if we did, and if a writer wants to take that chance, go for it. I stay within whatever I feel comfortable writing about. If it begins to extend into unfamiliar territory, and I feel the story needs it, I’ll do my best to learn as much as I can in order for it to be as “true” as it can be.
Dads show up a lot in your stories, don’t they?
Well, now that you mention it, I guess (they do.) I probably will never show my dad this book.
I’ve been rereading stories and decided my favorite is “An Unsteady Place.” Where did it come from? When did you write it? What was going on at the time?
I wrote this story while in a beachside vacation rental house on the Oregon coast. I wrote the first section longhand, in a notebook, sitting in a sunroom on the top floor. Man, I loved that sunroom! I could’ve written there for a month! The first paragraph of that story is basically what I wrote in my notebook, no revisions. The décor of that house really was ridiculous. You couldn’t get away from the seaside imagery. It was literally everywhere. The ridiculousness made a feeling in me that had to get out which is my “writing feeling” and so that’s where I started; the décor. When I got to the part about all of the little instructions everywhere — notes on how to use the microwave, the oven, where to put the trash, etc. — and I wrote the line, “There is no way you can make a mistake here.” I think that set me on the path of, “What IF you could make a mistake here? What would that look like?” and that’s when I think I knew the story would be a dark one. I love the contrast of what is supposed to be this happy, family getaway turning into one woman’s unraveling. I love how the rest of the family just goes on like nothing is happening and still expecting her to be a mother, a wife. As I said before, so much is put upon that dual role that people who depend on that dual role forget the person is breakable, can be broken. And, quite often, the mother/wife feels obligated to her duty so much so that she sacrifices herself in the process.
Were you and I discussing “unreliable narrators” on Twitter? The narrator of “An Unsteady Place” is certainly unreliable because she’s going crazy. Did you consider allowing readers to see around her as a way to reveal the validity of her perspective?
It wasn’t me you discussed that with on Twitter. I think if I let readers “see around her” to really know if she was going crazy or not, the story wouldn’t be the way it is. It would be an entirely different story. I like the not knowing. I like how it isn’t grounded all the way. I think we all feel a bit unsteady in our lives even when beautiful things are all around us. Sometimes we are living her without the imagery. I wanted the reader to be able to feel that/relate to that.
Ernest Hemingway once said the best writing happens when emotions run high. Talk to me about tapping high emotion. Do you find power as an artist in anger? Is it a traditionally impolite thing for female artist to do, get pissed off?
Emotion is imperative for writing. Dead cannot write exciting. I frequently have to put myself into an emotional place in order to get what I need to get for certain stories. If I am losing a vibe in a story, I have to stop, sit, and put myself in the proper feeling and write from there. I have to feel what the narrator feels so I can tell the reader properly. I like showing my readers my guts. I want them inside my skin.
Anger is good. Anger is impolite if you are a woman, which is stupid. Which is why I would write about something like that. I like making people look at things they don’t want to look at. Car crash, eye surgery, aborted fetus.
A couple stories in Normally Special come across as letters, don’t they? Talk to me about how this worked for you as an artist, writing stories addressed to a “you.” How do you think they work on readers? For instance, does it create intimacy between writer/reader?
Ha, I do that all the time — writing to a “you.” Anytime you see a story I’ve written addressed to a “you” know that it was an easy story for me to write. I have a lot of “yous” in the world who I (insert strong emotion/feeling here) and those pieces usually start with one of those feelings and move on from there. I’ve never thought of them as letters, but I guess maybe they are. I could probably print them out, fold them three times, stick them in envelopes and mail them to the people who inspired them. Some would be happy to receive them, some would be horrified and some would be scared. A lot of times when I write them, I am glad I use “you” because I know a lot of people will think, “Me?” and I like having thin walls between us — me and the reader. I want people to want to be the “you” in my stories. I usually want to be the “you” in other people’s stories. I like the intimacy of it. I wish I could do one on one readings with each of my readers in dark rooms with thighs touching, both of us with nervous hearts.
Who did you picture as your audience while writing Normally Special?
Honestly, I am a pleaser. I have a huge problem with wanting people to like me. When Roxane (Gay) asked me to do this book, all I cared about was impressing her. The mantra of, “I hope she likes this,” was always humming away, always in the back of my mind pushing me to do my best. I didn’t want to disappoint her. If she was happy with my stories, then I knew everyone else would be. I don’t write with an audience in mind, unless, of course, I’ve been asked to do so. I just write. The audience will come.