Sex, Drugs, and Lit: Ten Authors Who Personify Edge

We all have our biases. When it comes to literature, I have a strong preference for transgressive writing. Transgressive writing has little regard for the niceties of polite society, or what’s respectable to the traditional turtlenecked literary man or woman. Transgressive writers are outlaws, and as such present life on the edge. As someone who writes transgressive literature, these ten authors are huge inspirations.

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  1. Charles Bukowski

A red pill writer on the nature of romantic relationships, the horses, and life in general, Bukowski is still the ace of the field.

Representative Work: Women

2. Hunter S. Thompson

He rode with the Hell’s Angels and took more drugs than thought humanly possible.

Representative Work: The Rum Diary

3. Bret Easton Ellis

An LA bad boy, with work filled with the glitz and sleaze that permeate the world of the rich elite.

Representative Work: American Psycho

4. Junot Diaz

Both socially aware and extremely raw, Junot Diaz might be the best writer alive.

Representative Work: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

5. Irvine Welsh

He wrote the book that inspired Trainspotting. Nuff said.

Representative Work: Skagboys

6. William S. Burroughs

He shot his wife, was a heroin addict, and did some of the most interesting experimental prose ever written.

Representative Work: Junky

7. Terry Southern

He co-wrote a borderline pornographic novel based on Voltaire’s Candide.

Representative Work: Candy

8. Tao Lin

The godfather of hipster lit.

Representative Work: Taipei

9. Chuck Palahniuk

The first rule of Fight Club is you do not talk about Fight Club…

Representative Work: Fight Club

10. Daniel Clowes

He introduced Enid and Rebecca, two of the biggest BAMF’s in comic history.

Representative Work: Ghost World

Honorable Mention: David Foster Wallace

Did I miss anyone? Who is your favorite transgressive or alt-lit writer?

Performance Swagger

I recently had the pleasure of attending the Boundless Tales Reading Series at The Astoria Bookshop. The lineup featured three very accomplished guests, poets whose work had been featured in top journals like Tin House and Ploughshares, and one poet whose work had been published in ONE journal – a journal that wasn’t Tin House or Ploughshares, or any literary magazine of comparable esteem.

The poet who came out of nowhere blew me away. His work was impressive, though not nearly as polished as the other poets at the reading, yet his charisma won me over. I was impressed by the other three poets. Their work was legitimately stellar. They deserve to be published in literary journals of the utmost quality. Their sets were not devoid of personality, either. However, as an equalizer, the unheralded poet brought us completely into his world – a world of drunken poetic rants written on bar napkins.

The point is, regardless of how accomplished you are, or how subjectively good your work is, when you give a reading, or are at an open mic, knock the audience out. A bit after the reading, your audience will not remember the specifics of your work. They won’t remember all of the journals that have published your writing. They won’t remember your credentials. They will remember your presence.

Writing is a solitary effort. However, getting known as a writer can often involve the deepest interpersonal skills.

As discussed in previous posts, my decision to take poetry seriously was largely spurred on by my friend Russell Jaffe. In the excitement, I made a rookie mistake of focusing on the aspect of performance. I imagined a grand spectacle – reciting poetry in a drunken slur, cigarette hanging from my mouth in imitation of Anne Sexton or Chuck Bukowski. The greater task – writing good poetry – seemed to be outside of my mind.

Russell set me straight. While showmanship is important, it must be fused with content. You already are working to improve your writing. Now the next time you’re reading your work in public – set out to leave an impression.

What have been your experiences with giving readings? I’d love to hear from you!

Maslow for Writers

Charles Bukowski is one of my favorite writers. The man, before achieving his literary renown, lived in abject poverty in bug-infested apartments without light or food, with nothing but bottles of wine and his typewriter. The man did it, he got his work out there, but it doesn’t have to be that hard to make it as a writer.

If you want to be a great writer, aside from making a habit of writing on a consistent basis (ideally daily), you should strongly consider working on meeting your basic needs, and then ascending past that towards having a degree of creature comforts. If you have some other way to make money, if you can move to a pleasant environment, if you can do what you can to treat yourself well, your mindset will not be in survival mode. Then, you can really plug forward with your writing.

Abraham Maslow was an American psychologist. He’s most known for Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, a theory that proposed that people move from meeting their most basic needs (food, water, sleep, etc.) to their highest ones (creativity, problem solving, morality). You can read more about Maslow’s theory here. Essentially, Maslow postulates that as people progress, their needs become more refined towards the process of self-actualization.

Writers are no different than any other individual. If you are struggling to find stable housing, food, or any semblance of peace, you may amass plenty of material to write about, but it will be incredibly difficult to find the time to write – let alone have the peace of mind necessary to focus on crafting excellent literature. It’s hard to take time out to write when your life is utterly unstable. I know that there are many exceptions, those writers who compose incredible works, even in profuse amounts, while buying their meals from the dollar menu, but it’s a lifestyle that is inherently untenable. While you work towards your goal of becoming a successful writer, if you happen to be in dire straits, try working simultaneously towards meeting your basic needs.I guarantee it will only help your writing going forward.

The takeaway? There’s a great novel by Chuck Kinder called Honeymooners: A Cautionary Tale, loosely based on Kinder’s friendship with the acclaimed author Raymond Carver. It talks about how chaotic their lives were until they made it as writers, and how their crazy lifestyle almost killed them, how their lives were like nightmares. It doesn’t have to be this way until you make it. You can choose another narrative.

Personal Rejections Are Good!

For most writers of short fiction or poetry, publishing your writing in top tier literary journals is the goal (Yes, we write because we love it, but we also write because we want our ideas, our thoughts, our worlds to be shared with others). Acceptances are great; however, don’t underestimate the value of personal rejections.

I don’t remember the exact quote, but I believe that Charles Bukowski, in a clip from Born Into This, explained what he read into his early literary rejections: “It’s not that you’re not good, son – it’s that you’re not good enough.”

If you are receiving personal rejections from competitive literary journals, you ought to be downright ecstatic. While of course, acceptances are the goal, personal rejections are hard to come by in the literary world. The criticisms you receive may cut to the bone. Still, for your own sanity, you should be aware what the editor is doing is performing a service. S/he took time out of their busy schedule to offer their thoughts. If your work wasn’t close to making it, an editor would have responded with a form rejection.

As writers, we have a misguided tendency to believe that our work is always without flaw. It never is. However, if you receive a personal rejection for a piece, know that you are VERY close. Know that you are knowledgeable enough to be submitting your work to appropriate markets. Know that you are skilled enough of a writer to warrant a response. You’re on the right path. Personal rejections are good. Let them spur you on to making the necessary changes, and finding a new journal to publish your work!

And please, whatever you do, don’t try to argue with the editor’s points. Just don’t.