Brian Alan Ellis on Making “Garden Variety Pain” Readable and Unique
In Conversation with Kirsten Reneau for the Micro Podcast
Micro is a podcast for short but powerful writing. Each week features a few short pieces of fiction, creative nonfiction, and/or poetry read by the author. In the accompanying interview series, 5 Qs with Kirsten, Kirsten Reneau chats with a featured reader.
NaNoWriMo—National Novel Writing Month—has the ability to evoke feelings of pride, confusion, and general disgust in writers. It’s the time of year when some sit down to try and write a novel in a month and others tease those trying to write a novel in a month.
Brian Alan Ellis’s “Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month), or, the Part of the Novel,” is part nonfiction, part surreal horror story, part obscure (and not so obscure) pop culture, all broken down into 30 days and 30 parts of an imagined novel. In the piece, Ellis forces the reader to confront a meta de-evolution of a novel—and those who choose to try and write them.
Listen to Brian Alan Ellis read “Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month), or, the Part of the Novel,” on Micro. Subscribe and listen in full, wherever you get your podcasts!
KR: This is such a fun structure! So fun, in fact, that I have a two-part question to start with. Where, exactly, did the idea for it come from? And when you’re working on a piece with a unique structure, do you find yourself considering content or style first?
BE: I put the “Nanowrimo” piece together in early November, during the time when all the serious writers start on their National Writing Month bullshit. It was a tough time. I was going through the throes of a pretty messy breakup, self-medicating (as I do) when my mom passed away. I wanted to scream my hurt, but in a funny, relatable way.
I needed a certain device to structure all these Twitter shit-posts and phone memos I was collecting, so the National Writing Month challenge seemed as good as any. To spice things up, I threw in the part about the cat being stolen, which actually happened to me a year prior (I got her back). Part satire, part memoir—all great, painful fun, yee-haw! As far as your second question goes, style just gives you parameters to how you want the content showcased, I guess. It’s important to make garden variety pain both readable, unique, and flashy to the reader so that they hopefully aren’t bored reading your crap.
KR: Something I especially love about this piece is that within the tight, small paragraphs, we’re following a spiral that could have gotten out of control. With that, how did you decide on the organization of this piece?
BE: I scattered all the individual trauma pieces into a Von Dutch trucker hat and chose blindly.
KR: Can you talk some about your decision to include such a wide range of pop culture references?
BE: It’s just how I view and relate to the world, which is through popular junk. I appreciate a good Ronald McDonald or Saved by the Bell reference in the art I consume. Instead of applying big words, big plots, or big ideas to get my point across, I use obscure references to corny 90s teen comedies that not too many people remember. Maybe I’m like the Walt Whitman of the American strip mall.
KR: If you were to purchase a bath bomb made in the likeness of any celebrity, who would you choose?
BE: I’ve thought long and hard about this, Kirsten, but it’s either “Macho Man” Randy Savage or ALF.
KR: Can you talk a little bit about your writing process in general, where you find inspiration, and walk us through the submission process for this piece?
BE: I honestly don’t write and submit very often these days. When I do write, outside of just shit-posting on Twitter, I either throw it up on the Neutral Spaces blog, send it to a newer journal that has solicited work from me, which happens from time to time, or just reach out to an editor I’m close with and ask them to publish it through their journal. For “Nanowrimo,” I just e-mailed Elizabeth Ellen, who I’m friends with, and was like, “Hey EE wazzzuuuup!? Can you be a dear and throw this up on Hobie [Hobart] when you get around to it? Love ya babe,” and she usually will. After “Nanowrimo” went up, Micro asked if I’d read it for their podcast, so I did. I don’t have the desire or patience to fuck with Submittable anymore, like I did in my twenties and thirties. To quote 90s country star Joe Diffie, my give a damn’s busted.
Micro is edited and curated by Dylan Evers and produced and hosted by Drew Hawkins. Theme song is by Matt Ordes. Follow the show on Twitter at @podcastmicro.
Brian Alan Ellis runs House of Vlad Press, and is the author of several books, including Sad Laughter (Civil Coping Mechanisms, 2018) and Hobbies You Enjoy (serialized daily on Instagram: @hobbiesyouenjoy). His writing has appeared at Juked, Hobart, Fanzine, Monkeybicycle, Electric Literature, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, X-R-A-Y, Heavy Feather Review, and Yes Poetry, among other places. He lives in Florida.
Kirsten Reneau is a writer, teacher, and interviewer. She received her MFA from the University of New Orleans in 2021 and lives there now with her dog. Her personal work can be found online at http://www.kirstenreneau.