November 25, 2016
You’re very welcome. I suppose it must seem odd though, to be addressing questions to yourself.
Indeed. Yet at the same time, I seem to recall your remarking that when you reread this book, by which I mean your recently published story collection This is a Dance Movie!, it almost felt to you as though the work had been written by another person.
That’s very true. The majority of these stories were written and published between 2008 and 2011.
So would you say that you are now able to approach them with a fresh set of eyes?
Basically, yeah, it’s that defamiliarization. In a way, it makes me a stronger advocate for the work, I can talk about the book and promote it like an enthusiastic reader. I can read it and be entertained. And I do find this collection entertaining, though sometimes embarrassingly so.
Can you explain what you mean by that?
It feels like a very 20-something collection, in places. I find the voice of certain stories to be very self conscious. For instance, the two pieces about the blogger who seduces celebrities, or even Derrick Mickelson’s Cuddle Bed for Wayward Boys, which is a more traditional, “realist” short story about intimacy and problem drinking. There’s a lot of neuroticism, a lot of intellectualizing of feeling. But I appreciate these stories for what they are—If I’m cringing, that’s an authentic and embodied reaction, which what more can you ask for? That said, I think in my current work, I require a lot less scaffolding to just be weird AF, I’m more likely to just dive into excess, if that makes any sense.
Maybe. I might need to see an example of what you’re talking about to understand.
It’s like the difference between making a hyper-literate, i.e. excessively clever joke about masturbation, vs. just fingering yourself onstage.
Oooooookay. … (pause) … On social media, you’ve intimated that there were some delays bringing this book to press?
There were, but that’s not a very interesting story. I was one of the first people Roxane Gay solicited after she founded Tiny Hardcore Press. The initial publication date was intended to be early 2013, but because I did not respond directly to my acceptance email, she thought that I had opted to publish with another press, which I did not discover until I finally emailed her in 2014 to find out what was up. I could make some excuses about how the text of the acceptance email did not actually request a response, but I think that would be sort of immature and litigious and buck-passing in a Ross Geller, “we were on a break” kind of way. (I apologize for the Friends reference, Friends is pretty gross, IMO). The takeaway from this should be that this collection would not exist without Roxane’s support and encouragement. I had not even assembled a collection until she suggested doing so. Also, don’t be a big weirdo about communicating with your friends.
Your Friends comment reminds me of another question I wanted to ask. This book contains a lot of pop culture references. There are some who think that pop culture has no place in serious literature. How would you respond?
Well for one thing, I don’t know that I have any interest in “serious” literature, whatever that means. But also, TBH, I think this is a tired and boring debate. We are at a point now where pop culture so thoroughly permeates everything, the very air we breathe, that for artists not to engage it just seems absurd. For me, the more interesting question is how does one’s writing invoke pop culture, in what ways, and toward what affect or effects?
And your answer?
I’m inspired by things like camp and slash fiction, where pop culture become a vehicle for expressing perverse longing. I feel like queer (and often adolescent) longing and desire crop up as recurring themes across almost all my work, this book included, and I am often appropriating the language or images of pop culture as tools through which to manifest them. I try to avoid pop culture references that feel like empty signifiers, I try to fill them up, to saturate them with my stuff.
Some of your references are, shall we say, surprising. One doesn’t necessarily expect to encounter cleaning product mascots in a collection of literary fiction.
Ha! I assume you mean the protagonists of Chore Boy and the Brawny Man: A Love Story. With that story, I was interested in using the product mascots to try to accomplish something that is only possible with language. I remember that when Betsy Crane (who is awesome) gave feedback on this story via the Dzanc Creative Writing Sessions, she wanted me to clarify whether that story’s characters (who are all named after iconic, and in some cases, queer-coded, cleaning product mascots—Chore Boy, the Brawny Man, Snuggle Bear and Mr. Clean) existed in a world of other product mascots, and if so, how that world does or does not relate with our own, like more of a Disney Pixar-style worldbuilding project. Whereas I did not want to clarify for the reader whether I meant to refer to the mascot names literally or just metaphorically. I was interested in the linguistic potential of the mascots, how they enabled me to write about a familiar situation in an unfamiliar way, imbuing words and images from the mascots with multiple potential meanings. I often find myself activating my work through what I would call animating tensions. In this case, I hoped that by rubbing the tweeness of the mascots up against the adult material of an open relationship/threesome gone awry, I might generate fresh sparks.
It’s interesting to hear you say that. It seems to me that a somewhat childlike innocence frequently collides with mature subject matter across your entire collection, whether you are writing about a young boy who wants more than anything to get slimed, or a young mother who suddenly views her newborn infant as something monstrous.
You’re right. I hadn’t really thought about it before you mentioned it, especially as it pertains to the second story to which I think you’re referring, Everyday Zoology, which is about zoos, strange imaginary animals, and the alienation of motherhood. I’ve always thought about it as a bit of an outlier, I guess because it’s about straight people (eh?), or maybe because its tone is more traditionally magical realist than a lot of my other work. But I think your comment is quite insightful. As a reader, I love camp and I love transgression, so I love the juxtaposition of naivete and obscenity.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask you—what’s your favorite dance movie?
I think I would have to say Pressburger and Powell’s The Red Shoes. It sets the blueprint for the terminal ballerina, which is an obsession of mine, and is also a classic diva text, and poses a lot of questions for me about the queer aesthete’s exploitation of divas, if the diva is an agent or victim, and whether queer men’s appreciation of powerful and iconic women is toxic misogyny, devotion, or both. I appreciate how it’s so often misread as a tragic hetero love story, when actually it’s about the queerness of art, and valorizes utter devotion to excess, creation and performance, which mean the forfeiture of hetero life and happiness.
I hear that. But when I think “Dance Movie,” I think pure, unadulterated joy. And teenagers! A dance movie should have teenagers! Something like Bring It On.
I refuse to equate cheerleaders with dancers.
Fine, then. Center Stage. Or Girls Just Want to Have Fun.
OMG. Helen Hunt’s grasshopper hat is everything.
Helen Hunt’s grasshopper hat IS everything. And so are you. And so is this collection. What’s next for you/us?
My debut poetry chapbook, Become On Yr Face, will be released by New Michigan Press in November. I am completing a new collection of short fiction loosely connected by the theme of queer evil. And I am continuing to look for a home for my unruly prose manuscript, Strike a Prose: Memoirs of a Lit Diva Extraordinaire, which has placed as a finalist in several contests.
I don’t have a formal, discreet book tour scheduled for This Is a Dance Movie, but am planning to build in readings around my existing travel schedule whenever possible, while also scheduling new ones. Please HMU if you would like me to visit your city, university, etc., to read, dance or play.
TIM JONES-YELVINGTON is a Chicago-based author, multimedia performance and nightlife personality. He is the author of two prose chapbooks, Evan’s House and the Other Boys who Live There (Rose Metal Press) and Daniel, Damned (Solar Luxuriance), and one poetry chapbook, Become On Yr Face (forthcoming from New Michigan Press, winner of the Diagram Chapbook Contest), and a full-length fiction collection, This is a Dance Movie! (Tiny Hardcore Press).