Today’s interview is with Martin Smith, author of All Tomorrow’s Parties.
LC: All Tomorrow’s Parties is a very intimate look at a specific part of North Carolina, a specific time, and a specific subculture. How did you manage to mine all of those details for this book project?
MS: It’s a long story – but then, with a writer, what isn’t?
I “discovered” live local music after moving here in the spring of ’82, right out of college. One of my housemates was in a band, so I’d go to the Cave and other locales to see them. Before this, the only shows I’d been to were a small handful of national acts at the arena back in Omaha: Famous People At Expensive Ticket Prices, far away and very small down on the stage. At the Cave, the musicians are right there in front of one, and usually socialize with the audience, which often contains local musicians too. Through friendship with the one I met others, as well as through various jobs I had, and began following their shows as well. They were all in their mid-20s like me, doing music as a hobby, not making a living at it but maybe hoping to; they were always glad to see familiar faces, like mine, at shows, and presently I’d become a part of their informal extended “entourage.” I was enthralled – these Incredibly Cool People are actual humans that one can talk to; and what’s more, they like seeing me, and even let me party with them!! That was my “conversion” to the “religion” of live local music, which I’ve been following ever since.
Chuck McDonough’s experiences in the “back catalog – chuck” section of All Tomorrow’s Parties are thus autobiographical, not in specific incidents but in his thoughts and feelings. All the music-related (and party-related) stuff in the book is reconstituted from the thirty-years’ worth of shows and parties I’ve been going to. (Likewise with John Overstead in the “hey mr. dj” chapter: I was a volunteer DJ at WXDU for 23 years. And I faint at the sight of my own blood.)
LC: Tell me about your publishing journey with All Tomorrow’s Parties.
MS: I wrote All Tomorrow’s Parties between 2004 and 2011. I sent out query letters to every agent that seemed remotely likely to have interest. The response was a handful of polite “No’s” from some and dead silence from the rest. I knew that was par for the course, having been writing and submitting short stories for the past thirty years (when I wasn’t out seeing shows). I had planned all along to try the self-publishing route if no agents or presses took the bait. I’m just starting that adventure now, with my new author website and ads for the novel in local papers.
LC: Do you play any instruments yourself? How well?
MS: I don’t play anything; dearly wish I did; but am mulish about putting in the necessary time to learn, and especially practice. I did take organ lessons in junior high, from a guy named (I kid you not) Mr. Cheeseman, but never kept up with it.
LC: Does music interact with the creative act of writing for you? How so?
Music doesn’t interact with the writing. I prefer quiet when I’m working, on anything. Since I’m a “words” guy, lyrics that are catchy, or stupid, can distract me.
LC: You also run a literary magazine that has one of the largest print circulations in the nation. How have you managed to keep that alive for so long?
MS: That’s easy: I’m a trust-fund slacker (thanks to Grandpa Knapp, who traveled the world designing factories for Johnson & Johnson, and left all five of us grandkids plenty of stock). I support it financially. Garry the editor supports it artistically and editorially, which I think is probably much more complex. I keep it going because I’m proud of it; because I like Garry’s enthusiasm, inimitable ways and the choices he makes; and because it gives me a sort of “position” in the community when out seeing shows: I’m the “Blotter guy.”
LC: How do you interweave working on The Blotter and writing your own projects?
MS: I try to keep every weekday afternoon open for writing my own stuff. I do Blotter business in the morning, between breakfast and exercise. After lunch I work, until my creative neurons burn out for the day or until it’s time to start fixing dinner, whichever comes first.
LC: You’ve posted a number of free stories on your website. What moved you to do that…a deep and abiding love for your readers? Or something more sinister?
The four free stories have been published (my website tells where & when), which sort of means to me that they’re already accessible to the public. Also, maybe if people like them enough, they’ll want to buy the for-sale ones.
LC: Tell me, tell me, about that ink! (Click here to see the groovy tat!)
The tat? Got it done in ’04. Passed out in the tattoo chair from the hurt (most embarrassing; that should only happen to boastful hetero yuppies) and was revived with Pixie Stix.
There’s a quarterly zine, “White Crane Journal”, now online only but formerly print as well, which focuses on gay spirituality. They published my stories “Dream Lover” and “Fairy Tale.” The picture illustrated an article, and I thought, “That’d make a cool tattoo.” So after six months of working up the gumption, I went and dood it.
A hetero friend calls it “Jesus of Finland.” If people give me weird looks and demand “Is that Jesus??” I reply, “If you want it to be.”
LC: What are you working on for your next book?
It’s complicated. I have a title (Masters In This Hall), an assortment of characters, and several plot threads to try and work out. One theme will be power and powerlessness. I want to write out the dark memories and fantasies that fuel my obsession / depression, much of it stemming from junior-high-school bullying and other childhood scars. But I also want to put in something of my love for passenger trains and geek-out knowledge of their pre-Amtrak history; a thread where the main character, an ordinary guy, inherits a ginormous mansion and even more ginormous fortune for no apparent reason; and Parallel Universes, because why not?