Interview with Sean Beaudoin, author of Welcome Thieves

…and from his high school graduation

I’ve got a fun interview today for you to read. It’s with Sean Beaudoin, finalist for the 2014 Washington State Book Award and author of the short story collection Welcome Thieves (Algonquin), which just hit the shelves.

Sean and I used to write together at Brad Listi’s online culture magazine The Nervous Breakdown. And by “write together,” I mean he wrote essays far more intelligent and witty than the inner ramblings my mind ever came up with—and for that, I am jealous.

Sean (@seanbeaudoin) is also the author of You Killed Wesley PayneThe Infects, and Wise Young Fool, among others.

Here’s the Welcome Thieves summary verbatim from the publisher:

Black humor mixed with pathos is the hallmark of the twelve stories in this adult debut collection from a master writer of comic and inventive YA novels.

A young man spends a whole day lying naked on the floor of his apartment, conversing casually with his roommates, pondering the past, considering the lives being lived around him. In the odd and funny, sad yet somehow hopeful conceit of Sean Beaudoin’s story “Exposure,” are all the elements that make his debut collection, Welcome Thieves, a standout. In twelve virtuosic stories, Beaudoin trains his absurdist’s eye on the ridiculous perplexities of adult life. From muddling through after the apocalypse (“Base Omega Has Twelve Dictates”) to the knowing smirk of “You Too Can Graduate with a Degree in Contextual Semiotics,” Beaudoin’s stories are edgy and profane, bittersweet and angry, bemused and sardonic. Yet they’re always tinged with heart.

Beaudoin’s novels have been praised for their playfulness and complexity, for the originality and beauty of their language. Those same qualities, and much more, are on full display in Welcome Thieves, a book that should find devout fans in readers who worship at the altar of George Saunders, Kurt Vonnegut, and Sam Lipsyte.

Buy: Amazon  |  Powell’s  |  Barnes and Noble  |  Indiebound

Jonathan Evison, author of The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving (now a film, starring Paul Rudd) and This Is Your Life, Harriet Chance! said of Welcome Thieves:

Thrilling and mercilessly readable, the stories in Welcome Thieves go off like a string of firecrackers, sizzling and popping with a narrative velocity that is equal parts grit and polish. Beaudoin is definitely a writer to watch.

And Garth Stein, author of A Sudden Light called it:

A deviously spellbinding collection of short stories in which strange and beautiful worlds, creations of Sean Beaudoin’s dark and sometimes brutal imagination, emerge as part of a tapestry so finely woven that we don’t see the thread. In the end, we can only stand in awe of Beaudoin’s immense talent.

Sean’s stories and articles have appeared in numerous publications, including: The Onion, The San Francisco Chronicle, Glimmer Train and Al-Jazeera. He is a founding editor of TheWeeklings.com. And you can also find him online at the cleverly named www.seanbeaudoin.com.

Before the interview, a little backstory that involves crippling anxiety and writer’s block

This interview was conducted a while ago (pre-NBA Finals 2015 as you’ll see with the last question) and requested even longer than that, so there’s no reference to his new short story collection in case you happen to notice. He was still marking it up with red ink at the conduction of this Q&A. Long story that begins with crippling anxiety on my part, but ends happily with the chipping away of a roughly six-year writer’s block partially due to some helpful words of wisdom from Sean that I won’t disclose because it was a personal conversation.

Sean’s probably wondering what ever came of this interview. Actually, he’s probably long forgotten about it. Well, it’s finally here. After dragging a–– for so long, I tried my best to time the publication of this interview with the release of his new book to give him maximum exposure to a new audience—the readers of my blog.

So, let’s get to it shall we.

JP = Jeffrey Pillow
SB = Sean Beaudoin

Interview with author Sean Beaudoin

JP: I find humor to be a very undervalued tool of a writer. I’ve started reading a number of novels that are quite often humorless, void of any laughable moments, and halfway through I find myself just trying to finish the book and be done with it as a result. I get that life is not always full of humor, but there is usually a balance of seriousness and humor in even the darkest of subjects. Perhaps one of the reasons I am drawn to your writing is the voice. Not your real voice, of course. That would be creepy. Your authorial voice in your essays or the narratorial voice in your novels. You weave in humor, with ease, which does not come easily for many writers. For you, it’s natural, not stilted. It’s also not overdone, which is equally important. You can add a dash of salt and pepper to a recipe or you can dump a pound of salt and pepper into a recipe, then some garlic and onion powder, fresh basil, red pepper flakes. You add a dash when appropriate.

SB: Thanks for saying so. I think writing funny is a lot harder than it’s generally given credit. Comedies never win Oscars, but it’s a lot harder to make people laugh than put Deborah Winger in a hospital bed and make them cry. For some reason we generally view humor as low-brow. In terms of novels, there’s really nothing worse that reading a passage where you can practically hear the author sweating because they’re working so hard toward a punchline. Humor is observation. Some people naturally see things in unusual ways. The perception of effortlessness is paramount. But the actuality usually comes from really hard work.

Are there certain writers (or comedians or whoever, even the Vandals) that have influenced you to fine tune your craft in this way?

Definitely. Hunter Thompson. Jim Carroll. H.L. Mencken. Evelyn Waugh. Saul Bellow. James Salter. Robert Stone. Kingsley Amis. My favorite comedian was probably Greg Giraldo. Also Monty Python, and the Christopher Guest ensembles.

Was it a conscious act, a driving force behind certain characters when mapping out Wise Young Fool or You Killed Wesley Payne, or other stories?

Nah, that’s just the way I write. I’ve tried to write differently, but I can’t. I sit down and whatever comes out, comes out. I gave up trying to be Samuel Beckett a long time ago.

Or does it just happen organically when you’re putting pen to paper?

At this point I’ve been writing for so long it’s just second nature. I don’t really even think about it much. Which, you know, could be part of the problem.

What’s the method to your madness (Pomodoro timer to keep a concentrated effort, outline, character sketches)?

I have no method or madness. I guess I’m lucky in that I seem to have a glut of ideas and a limited amount of time to work on them. My real problem is occasionally getting paid. If I could get paid for spooling off genuinely actionable ideas, I’d be a thousandaire with a Tesla.

Any particular routine you follow, such as how much you write in a day or the time of day you write?

I treat it like a 9-to-5, because it is.

You’ve got kids — a daughter, right? How did the writing process change when she was young or even now? As the father of two little ones (4 and 2), this question interests me strongly because quiet time gets squeezed big time and those swathes of free time sort of become a thing of the past.

It’s pretty much the same. I drop her off at school, write, pick her up. At home I only do email and dumb music stuff. I find it impossible to write unless I am completely without distraction.

How do you manage this work/life balance while also not ignoring your spouse during those last few hours of the night when you get the kids down?

My wife has a really interesting and creative job that eclipses mine in many ways and at almost every turn. My routine means I’m more the Mr. Mom who hopes not to be ignored by the exploding nova of their spouse. We have a mojo we’ve had to work out on the fly.

Any particular music soundtrack in the background that puts you in the writing zone (instrumental, Nels Cline Singers, Thelonious Monk, Mr. Big’s “(I’m the One Who Wants) To Be With You” looping for eight straight hours, Meat Loaf)?

I love a wide variety of music in most settings, but while writing cannot listen to anything with vocals. I mostly listen to string quartets or pre-atonal jazz. B-3 soul shit really gets me going word-wise.

Amazing the name Meat Loaf stuck and the record company didn’t force a change.

Only in the 70’s. Plus, even Ahmet Ertegun would be hard-pressed to admit that the dude wasn’t completely rectangular… what else could he possibly be shaped like? Plus covered with ketchup and grated cheese.

Are you a full time writer or do you have a 9-5? Or as I like to call it, an 8-5.

Full time with side gigs.

How long have you known you wanted to be a writer? Or, I should ask, how long until you stopped suppressing it and started writing terrible love poems to your high school girlfriend and jotting down short story ideas on the back of McDonalds napkins?

High school. Teachers kept telling me I was good with words. Everyone else kept telling me I was bad at everything else.

How many shitty novels did you write before landing an agent or your first book deal?

I spent years writing a 600 page very shitty crime novel that somehow got me a very big name agent who sent it to everyone in publishing, and then after no one bought it, immediately dumped me. I came to Young Adult by accident, but those first chapters sold almost immediately. Now I’m back to adult short stories. So, everything is parabolic, or relativistic, or as Tesla intimated, circular as an irregular electrical current.

Black Flag pre-Henry Rollins: Keith, Ron, or Dez on the mic?

Dez, by a very long shot. Also post-Henry.

Ever drive through the ‘burbs with the windows (of your minivan) down blasting “How low can a punk get,” and think to yourself, will I always be this awesome of a dad, only to respond immediately with the nod of your head yes?

We mostly drove around in a ’83 Renault.

Oh, no, I’m not talking about then, I’m talking about now. That’s what I do now — in my wife’s minivan. Speaking of Bad Brains, you’re on a deserted island with electricity and your choice of a record player, Walkman with rechargeable batteries, or iPhone with Spotify. You can only pick one: self-titled 1982 debut album or Rock for Light. Which is it?

Rock for Light. If I’m on an island, I gotta have “Joshua’s Song.”

You’re a Bernie Sanders supporter and have been from the jump. I’m going to speculate you voted Nader and the Green Party in 2000. Am I speculating correctly? It’s okay if you answer yes. I did too. The C-Span televised rallies with Patti Smith, Eddie Vedder, and Jello Biafra got me hype. Plus, Virginia was too far in the red, unlike Florida. I didn’t feel bad voting my conscience.

Nader was an egoist and self-promoting fraud and I wanted nothing to do with him. His former work with seatbelts was like saying we should all vote for the guy who invented not loading shit-tainted beans into cans of beans, and therefore was brilliant enough to run the free world. He saved us from the runs! He can definitely negotiate a trade agreement with Shanghai! The world would be very different today, in terms of how much of it was irreparably melted, conflagrated by insane wildfires, threatened by rising seawater, less fracked, Exxon paying a penny of taxes on their 18 billion dollar profit, Canadian tar sands a laughable notion, and how much of the Arctic methane permafrost would be due to be released in the next few years, if Gore had been elected.

Looks like I speculated incorrectly. Present day then. What is it about Hillary Clinton that she always finds herself fighting an uphill battle? She’s supposed to be the clear cut Democratic nominee from start to finish and Bernie Sanders is making her work.

She’s got more baggage than Nancy Spungen. She’s a centrist shill from a dynastic family who’s managed to appear progressive by staying to the slight left of blood-guzzlers like Cheney and Bush III, while still engaging in exactly the same cynical politics, appeasement, and lobbyist payoffs that render her one actual quality (being female in a male police state) utterly moot. Forget Hillary. She’s doomed.

Have people forgotten who Donald Trump is — as in, it’s Donald Trump, people? Donald f–––––g Trump!

Best thing that ever happened to this election.

Little story. My dad voted Republican his entire life up until McCain/Palin, and he just refused to vote for that ticket. A member of the local Republican Party gave him one of those giant yard signs with McCain/Palin written on it, and he hid it face down behind the fence in his backyard. I saw it one weekend when I was home visiting, and asked him about it. He said he couldn’t bring himself to put it in the front yard, that he was embarrassed of what the Republican Party had become and was still becoming. The Iraq War is what started his shift, but he was also dismayed at how the moderate wing had been pushed out the door by a bunch of people in a race to see who could say the craziest s––t you’ve ever heard. He liked McCain, but said, God forbid something happened to him while he was president. America would be screwed with Sarah Palin at the helm.

Yeah, I found it weird that there wasn’t more of this sort of reaction… or at least that it wasn’t reported more widely. What happened to all these old-school Goldwater guys, or even the Agnew contingent, who were able to identify the line between political difference and pure comedy? All those old hard-on cold war Curtis LeMay types were pretty terrifying, but at least they were properly misogynist enough to know that Sarah Palin was genuinely dumber than even George Lincoln Rockefeller, and for the sake of The Republic, we should all vote for the person who’d actually read a single book all the way through once in their loves.

Which brings me full circle. It’s Donald f–––––g Trump, people!

Really, what I’m imagining here is that he’s sitting in his Trump Tower at night drinking Trump Wine getting his Trump balls powdered and looking at his iPhone and tweeting to his followers and thinking, you suckers. I’m just messing with you dumb a––holes. This joke’s gone too far. I can’t take it any longer. I’m secretly hijacking the election to drive the final nail in the coffin of the Republican Party #Hillary4Prez2016 #suckers #winning

Dude is this a prompt? I wrote on him dismissively, and at length.  True, he’s an easy target, but I wrote this months before he announced for president, and stand by every word.

Guy’s beyond hilarious.

Okay, enough politics. Golden State or Cleveland for the crown?

I’ve been a Warriors fan since I moved to SF in 1989. I’ve suffered greatly through many, many years of horrible teams and terrible management. I remember when we had Mookie, Muggsy, Bimbo, and Vonteego on the same team at one time. I remember Todd Fuller and Shaun Vandiver and Epke Udoh. Not to mention Carlos Rogers and Jason Caffey. I remember trading Chris Webber for a bag of hammers. I remember giving away Mitch Richmond. Yes, I do believe we are due.

(Author’s note: This question was asked pre-NBA Finals 2015)

Literary equivalent of Steph Curry and LeBron James, and why?

Steph is Vladimir Nabokov. A prose lepidopteran, a butterfly baller, a genius on a sentence-by-sentence level, playful, wicked, speaking in a language none of the rest of us really understand.

LeBron is that short story where all the semis and 18 wheelers come to life, Maximum Overdrive, and LeBron is the biggest truck of all, ready to run down such puny humans as have the nerve to think they can ever leave the parking lot again.

#

So that’s it folks. If you made it this far, well, it means you probably read books too, so yeah, check out Sean’s latest book Welcome Thieves and some others in his archive. One of the most fun, fast-paced books I’ve read in a while was his YA crime/mystery novel You Killed Wesley Payne. Get it. Read it. You won’t regret it.

BTW Golden State beat that a––.

Thoughts? Do you like those binded things with words in between the covers? Share in the comments below

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