Sound the alarms, Ghoul Friends!
This is a celebration of all of our writers, editors, readers, voters, and whomever has been a part of Grammar Ghoul Press’ success over the past year! Each month, we post a new interview. The idea of this project is to celebrate more about our contributors than just their writing, so these interviews help us get to know one another a bit more intimately than just through our writing. The questions that we ask in each interview are pre-determined and sent via email, but we follow up and dive into the content a little deeper to help make each interview more personalized. If you’d like to be a part of this project, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Look for these interviews on the last Friday of each month! The order in which interviews are published are usually based on when final responses are received.
On Halloween, our GGP HQ was invaded, and our monthly Celebrating the Ghouls post was heisted! The culprit? None other than the Wee Ditty himself, Eugene Uttley!
Luckily, we were tipped off by the authorities (a.k.a., Susan of The Abject Muse) and we were able to retrieve the stolen goods. Here, we present to you the stolen interview with Uttley. It is hilarious, heart-warming, and just a feel-good word salad ready to be devoured all over again! This time, though, I’ve peppered it with some extra crunchy morsels. I hope you enjoy this cat and mouse chase as much as I did!
Hello. I am a simulacrum of Tony Lovell. Ready? Let’s start with the basics. What is your name, online handle, and blog name & link?
My name is Eugene Uttley, and I usually go by just Uttley. My blog is ‘wee ditty’ and can be found at weeditty.wordpress.com…
What inspired your blog name?
Well, I composed a wee ditty, you see, which rides just under the title at the top of the blog… I think it’s the catchiest. Just by reading it, you can hear its music. And it’s very me. I think of it almost like a bio. So yeah, I named the blog after the little song.
You stated that your “wee ditty” at the top of your blog is “very you” and that you “think of it almost like a bio”. Can you elaborate on that? What is it about this line that describes you so well? “a little bit of tapwater in my coffee… little bit of menthol in my smoke… little bit of you to make me feel happy… call me up at midnight, tell me a joke…”
Well, I sing it, you know, when I’m making coffee (which is all the time). And I do put a little tapwater in with my joe. I’m nobody’s idea of a songwriter. It’s maybe the second or third song I’ve ever come up with. I do have one good hiphop line. It goes like this: “When I say ‘YO’ what does it mean to ya? It’s just TOYOTA without the ‘TO’ and the ‘TA’!” Not bad, right? Haha. But the wee ditty. Yeah. I actually do have a friend who calls me up in the middle of the night with dumb little jokes. Like this one: “What do you call a man with a rubber toe? … Roberto!”
How did you find out about blogging? What brought you become a blogger?
Oh, man, do I even remember? No, I don’t. I don’t remember.
So, you stated that you can’t remember what got you into the blogosphere originally. What, then, keeps you doing it? What drives you to continue sharing your words?
Blog-land is a writer’s playground. If you keep your eye out, there’s always a writing challenge – a photo prompt, a prompt word or set of words, a set of questions… And I’m a big believer that writing practice pays off. It builds confidence and integrity of voice and just fluency, really. So there’s that aspect: writing practice. But also, lately, I have been using my blog and other social media to fight the stigma on mental illness in general and schizophrenia in particular. I have Sz, and I have suffered the stigma in very real ways in my life. So that’s driving me to keep blogging now, too. Plus, when I’m writing, my symptoms tend to recede. In my experience, writing is like medicine for Sz.
Where are you from?
Do you currently live in Indiana? Have you lived there all your life?
Yes, I do, and no, I haven’t. I’ve lived in Alaska and New Mexico and Pennsylvania, and in South Korea for almost 5 years.
South Korea? What was it like there for those five years? Were you there for business or pleasure? Has your writing been directly or indirectly influenced by the places you’ve lived?
Yeah, South Korea. I really loved it there. Those years were probably the best of my life. I was teaching English as a Second Language in the public school system there – mainly middle schools – and I’ve always loved teaching. I lived on this fabulous island off the south coast of Korea called Jeju. Mountain in the middle (volcano, actually), beaches all ‘round, deep forest to explore, crazy tourist attractions, good food, great people… I had a motorcycle and a little car, an amazing girlfriend and a cat. What’s not to love? My writing… hmm… I did write a lot while living abroad, and like I say, writing practice is essential. I wrote travelogue while trekking around Asia on breaks from teaching, and those pieces are precious and delicious to me now. The writer writes, right?
Do you find that your writing is influenced by the culture there in Indiana, or do you try to steer your writing away from that? Why?
Indiana has a culture? Okay, yeah, I guess it has to doesn’t it. It’s just… it’s like our accent here – it’s as if we don’t have one, most of us. Of course, we do, but it’s not northern or southern or eastern or western… it’s the accent of the anchor on the national news. Our culture, same same. Nothing seems to stand out about it. There’s very little to grab onto and hold up to the light and say aha – Indiana culture! There’s no traditional clothing or dance, no unique holiday… unless I guess if you count red-and-white-striped cloth pants, a good game of cornhole with a Solo cup in your hand, and tailgating at an IU game. I don’t write that. I steer clear. Does that answer the question?
Yes, I’d say there is a culture to every city and state. I never really thought of Alabama having a culture before until I realized just how much I didn’t fit into that culture. So, since you’ve been to so many places, what is it about Indiana that makes you call it home now?
I came back to Indiana for love. I was struggling in the grips of my illness, spiraling downward out on the west coast, when an old flame came and got me and hauled me back here to the Midwest. What we had between us did not prove strong enough to last very long, sadly, but by the time we fell apart, I had realized a profound affection for this city. Bloomington. It’s a blue oasis in a red state. Lots of truly special people call this place home. And it’s a big college town, which means live music and fun nightlife and an impressive array of cultural events and exceptional restaurants.
So. What are you currently reading?
I have several Bukowski books which I dip into now and then, like on the throne you know. And a dear friend just sent me Lang Leav’s excellent Love & Misadventure. I spend a hell of a lot of time skimming blog posts and online articles and whatnot. Actually, I’ve done more reading (light reading) just here lately than I had in years before beginning to blog as heavily as I am blogging. I am blogging heavily. I am not reading novels. The last period in which I worked my way through a stack of books was a couple of years back – when I was gearing up to write Way Out. They were memoirs. Augusten Burroughs’ memoirs. You know Augusten? Running with Scissors?
I’ve been wanting to read “Running with Scissors” ever since I watched the film that was based on it. What were your thoughts on his memoirs?
Not for the faint of heart. Or the prudish. But Burroughs has a way with words and an undeniable knack for storytelling. These talents elevate the oft-tawdry details of his life into just really great prose. He rats himself out to the max – unabashedly – and I love that. It has inspired me to do the same. I’d say that if you have any inclination to try reading him, go for it. He’s very worth it.
Some people have expressed difficulty reading his books, and I haven’t even attempted to yet. What do you think interests so many people in them?
Well, he’s mad. And somewhat despicable. Or at least reprehensible on some levels. But he has this way with language… that his storytelling chops are phenomenal is simply undeniable.
His chops. I see. Well, belated congratulations on getting Way Out published. What are you currently working on, if anything?
The blog, man, the blog. Weeditty is essentially a creative writer’s playground. I work from prompts, mostly – small sets of words, or just one word or theme, a question or series of questions, a photo… Each prompt is provided by another blogger you see. And after I fashion some flash fiction or poetry or whatever after the prompt, I link up with other bloggers who have done the same. I show you mine you show me yours kind of thing. Lately though too, I have been devoting some of my energy to a sort of low-key advocacy for the mentally ill. Fighting the ungodly harsh stigma on mental illness. Through education. By example. By just keeping the issue in play. From the news media and the entertainment industry, we glean a very inaccurate impression of mental illness. I feel that working to educate people about the realities of M.I. is a worthy use of my time.
I will definitely be checking Way Out out soon. What inspired you to write this?
Honestly, writing Way Out was simultaneously therapeutic and a cry for understanding of Sz. It was therapeutic in that by writing down my experiences, I was putting them behind me. “This is something that happened to me,” as opposed to, “This is something that is happening to me.” It was a cry for understanding first of all to my friends and family. When I was in psychosis, I stayed away from the people who were important to me, for the most part. Ironic of course, because they were the very ones who might have helped me… But so they were almost utterly unaware of what I went through. I felt a great vacuum in understanding there, so I filled it with Way Out. It was also a cry for understanding to the world at large, where Sz is so often associated with violent behavior. With all that I went through in my year-long break with reality, I was never a danger to others. Gotta fight that stigma!
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
Hmm. You know how early childhood is shrouded in a sort of fug of forgetfulness for some reason? Well I came out of that fug a full-fledged writer. In first grade, I got a kindergartener who could draw a bicycle to illustrate a couple of my short stories. I have a poem I wrote sometime even before that. It’s great. It goes like this: “I like hats. There’s hats on my coatrack.”
Whatever happened to those first grade stories? Did you hang onto them? Do you ever feel a pull to rewrite them now that you’re older?
I’m pretty sure Mom has them somewhere. I could never rework them. They’re too morbid. People bursting into flames and people bleeding out on the sidewalk… Not my focus these days, you know.
Do you write for a living or pleasure? If pleasure, what do you do regularly? If for a living, tell us all about it!
A finished book is a lottery ticket. There’s always the possibility that it could go. So in a way, with three completed titles to my name, I am at least throwing my hat into the ring – putting myself in a position where it is possible that writing could put food on the table. But no, no. Pleasure. I take great pleasure in the writing process. My own favorable estimation of the writing I do counterbalances my typically low self-esteem. So it’s powerful medicine for me, writing is. It balances me out. Being balanced is pleasurable.
Three published works? Do you have links that can direct us to these?
Oh, sure, thanks for asking. Both Way Out and The Diamond Grenade are free right now; interested parties should just have a look at weeditty.wordpress.com for details. Way Out is available on Amazon (under Arthur Thomas Morton) and at http://www.pen-l.com/WayOut.html. The Diamond Grenade is on Amazon, too (under Daniel Julian). Here is that ungainly link: https://www.amazon.com/Diamond-Grenade-Novellas-Daniel-Julian-ebook/dp/B01M3Q9AUB And just to spread the love around, I’ll give the B&N link for The Boon, though it’s available on Amazon, too (under Eugene Uttley): http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-boon-eugene-uttley/1114076977
If you were to create a title for your first collection of short stories/poems, what would it be? Why?
Funny you should ask. I just created a title for a collection of poems earlier today. After some lamentably uninspired brainstorming, I decided to take the title of the poem I liked best of the batch, and put “And Other Poems” after it.
Does your collection of poems have a similar theme, or are they all very different? I love poetry, but I’ve never done well with rhyme schemes and poetic resonance. Most of my poems are free-form with no proper construct. Do you tend to follow a proper poetic standard while writing poetry? (i.e. a sonnet for example.)
All different, all different… and, like you, I tend to go with free-form. I’ve written in plenty of forms (haiku and senryu, tanka and haibun, villanelle… there’s a trimeric in the collection at https://issuu.com/eugeneuttley/docs/chap.docx…), but the poems I truly love writing and reading are all over the place in terms of rhyme scheme and form. I recently came across something Ursula Le Guin has said about poetry: “… we define poetry now, not by rhyme and meter but as a patterned intensity of language…” Isn’t that awesome? It really resonates with me. A patterned intensity of language…
Do you have any hobbies besides writing?
Is writing a hobby? Is blogging a hobby? Doesn’t ‘hobby’ connote a certain fruitlessness? To me, these are labors. This is the good work. My hobby, maybe, is… no, I don’t think I have any hobbies. I was going to say listening to music, but that’s more like eating.
Okay, let’s get real. What was the last thing you binge-watched? Do you find yourself going back to one or more shows all the time? (I do! I watch shows over and over again…) What are your favorites?
Stranger Things. That was my last binge. No, wait, after that was Luke Cage. I don’t have favorite shows that I rewatch though. Watching TV is too passive for me. Even movies… I mean, you’re just sitting there, right? No interactivity. No expressing of opinion to speak of. Unless I guess you’re watching with someone and talking over the show. I wouldn’t know much about that. I am el lobo solo.
Stranger Things was absolutely fantastic! I loved the 80s throwback and the sci-fi plot. I’m eagerly awaiting the second season. I’ve had Luke Cage in my queue for a couple of weeks now, but just haven’t gotten to it yet. What are your thoughts on both of these shows?
Oh man, Stranger Things blew me away. It wasn’t just that I was one of those kids, but also how well each episode was made. The series wasn’t one long build-up to some special effect at the end; there was plenty of pay-off in each installment. It was well-acted. It was an intriguing concept, excellently executed. Huge fan, obviously. Luke Cage was fantastic too for other reasons. There was real depth of character and of location. There were a lot of heartbreaking moments. And the overarching theme of false-accusation I find to be very compelling. Cage is a genuine underdog.
So you prefer a more interactive form of entertainment? Is that where blogging comes in?
Absolutely. You said it. My thought, your words.
I’m an avid television and film watcher. I, personally, love the passiveness of it. Take Grey’s Anatomy, for example–it’s very much a soap opera-ish television show, but there’s something about it that comforts me. I’ve rewatched so many episodes/seasons that I know many of them by heart. I like to escape sometimes. Since it’s the lack of interaction that puts you off, what do you like to do in your “free” time–when you’re not writing and blogging, of course?
Before a month ago, which was when I rejoined the blogging fray, I was spending all my free time on a great online game called The Settlers Online. I’d been playing that almost constantly for years. I’d call it a city-builder, time-management, free-market masterpiece of a game with a realtime-strategy combat element to it. Very cool game. Then there’s the mental health support chat room where I’m a moderator. That has held my attention and put a large bid on my time over the years. I’ll admit here that I don’t have much going on offfline as far as hobbies go. I visit a few friends now and then and just watch tv with them or have coffee and chat about life and current events. I work. And I ride the old logic engine here!
I see. What inspired you to start writing? Do you recall? Was there a favorite book or story as a child that possibly inspired you to begin writing?
Well see, there we’re back in the fug. I came out of the fug reading voraciously. I remember the first time I independently perceived, um, symbolism I guess, in writing, was when I saw that Aslan in the Narnia books represented Jesus Christ.
You have written three books, right? Please tell us about them.
Haha. Can I just refer you to a blog post or two? I’m forever injecting synopses of my books into whatever post I happen to be building. In fact, I’m about sick of huckstering my books. Do you mind if I defer?
Well… I understand your latest work has been a series of novellas. What inspired you to choose that format, that form, that vehicle? I’m always interested to know what inspires people to write certain things, and a series of short novellas is so unusual, really, that I’m incredibly curious.
My concept was that the publication of each novella would influence the course of events in the next. Is that abstract? In the first novella, a man is framed for robbery and subsequently murdered in such a way that the murderer goes unpunished. In fact, he is rewarded. But then the book comes out, the authorities get ahold of it, and the jig is up. They know it was a frame-up. So the murderer goes to jail. But his family members bust him out. The jail-break occurs in the course of the second novella. So when the second novella is published, the details of the jailbreak come to light. And so on. The narrator is essentially ratting out himself and his accomplices right and left.
Are experiences in your writing based on someone you know, your own life, or completely fictional?
The novellas are pure fiction. The other two books. You already know this. The other two books are faithful to reality.
Do you have a particular writing style? Describe it to us.
The voice I found in which to write my first book, The Boon, was very true to my own. I wrote it as if I were speaking to the reader. Writing Way Out was a bit different, because it involves a remove. It is a memoir, but mocked up as a biography. I told the story of my life and times from the perspective of a confidante. Is that clear? As if I had told my story in intimate detail to a friend, who had then put it down on paper.
Do you have any strange writing habits (like writing in the shower, writing by candle light, writing in the nude, or only using a pen and paper first)?
I marathon-write. I’ve always written more successfully when I put down big chunks every sitting. I don’t just add a few sentences to what I’ve got. I add a novella. I don’t eat. I chainsmoke and go through pot after pot of coffee. I don’t quit until I come to a grinding halt. I don’t write long-hand first, and no, I can’t recall ever having written much in the nude. Underwear, a t-shirt, and a ballcap.
“Underwear, a t-shirt, and a ballcap. Never have words made me giggle so heartily! So, all that along with coffee (pots and pots of coffee) and a little chain smoking gets you through a heavy writing marathon session? Why do you think you write better like this? Do you think it has to do with the creative process and you just freely giving into the inspiration, or do you think the creative forces will diminish and fade if you don’t get it all down at once? Have you ever hit a point when you weren’t sure how to move on in the story during one of these marathon sessions? Did you stop at that moment, or did you push through? I’m always interested in hearing what other writers have to say about that, because I always tend to stop when I hit that point, and I often don’t pick it back up for quite some time.
Think I’m kiddin? That’s my uniform, Tony! That’s what I’m wearing right this moment. Haha. Yeah, coffee coffee coffee and cigs cigs cigs. I’ll tell you what my father, an MD, told me when he first twigged to the fact that I was a smoker. He said, “Nicotine is a stimulant.” Smokes and coffee quite simply are my fuel. Something like 75% of people with Sz smoke heavily. I’ve heard that there is research currently underway to do with actually including nicotine in antipsychotic medications! Very interesting question about hitting a point during a writing binge when moving the story on becomes problematic. I think my mechanism when that happens is just to jump ahead in the story and leave the tricky bit for later. I like to keep my momentum up. I don’t let myself get bogged down.
Is there any particular subject you believe you will never write about? Why?
I won’t dishonor my mother. Not that there’s anything… any grounds to do so. What I mean is, I’m not going to follow in Augusten’s footsteps and demonize my parents.
You know, you could technically chop your foot off and send it to somewhere in the Southern Hemisphere. Wouldn’t you want to set more than just a foot there? (I’m half-joking, of course. Only half, though). Why the southern hemisphere, though? I find it interesting that you didn’t specify some place south of the Equator. What is the pull to be on the other side of the world?
Haha. Nice. But I need my feet! Naw, it’s just that I’ve seen good and plenty of the northern hemisphere, so I’m dying to round off my world-traveled-ness with some escapades under the southern stars. I’d like to see the Andes mountains, go wow out in Madagascar or some other African setting, take a slow train across Australia, study under some wild guru in India…
How important are names to you in your books? Do you choose names based on liking the way it sounds, do they have a special meaning, etc.?
Names within names upon names… some meaningful to me, some plucked from thin air. I can’t say I’m prepared to answer that question, really. Sorry.
No worries! Is there anything you find particularly challenging when writing?
I have to be careful not to become bogged down in a character’s thought processes and internal dialogue. I’ve received some very valid criticism in that regard. Also I am a klepto of words. Images too. If I ever get my hands on any money, it may well be taken from me on grounds of intellectual property theft. I’m picking your pocket as we speak. Hope you don’t mind. Hope I hope I hope.
I’ll let it slide. What books or authors have most influenced your writing?
Influences. Okay. Here goes. Haruki Murakami. Charles Portis. The Amises: Kingsley and Martin. J.P. Donleavy. D.F. Wallace. Thomas Pynchon. Jack Kerouac. Alan Watts.
I don’t think I’ve ever heard of J.P. Donleavy before. If you could put your finger on one thing, what do you think it is that you learned from him which has informed your writing?
He writes. Like this. In bits. Broken down. Mere clauses. Terrible grammar. I love it.
Characters often find themselves in situations they aren’t sure they can get themselves out of. When was the last time you found yourself in a situation that was hard to get out of and what did you do?
My friend, you’ve really got to look at Way Out sometime. I’ll give you the ARC.
What is something you want to accomplish before you die?
I want to set foot in the southern hemisphere.
What secret talents do you have, besides writing?
I am a tournament-level Scrabble player. And I can juggle.
What were you like as a child? Did you have a favorite toy/game? Do you find your writing to have any inspiration from your childhood?
I collected comics. Marvel, almost exclusively. My favorite game was ‘school’. I was always making my friends let me teach them things. I played RPGs and was usually the DM. That means I put my friends through mazes and fed them riddles. I also very much enjoyed being the president of the club. Up until the age of maybe ten, I always had a club. A gang. And I was Spanky.
Okay, Spanky! I’m incredibly envious of your childhood. I didn’t have many friends. I take it you played D&D (Dungeons & Dragons)–I assume DM stands for dungeon master. If my hunch is correct, and though I’ve never played it (though I really want to), what was it about those RPGs that interested you? I see you have a fondness for fantasy. How heavily does that interest play into your writing? That which you share, and that which you keep to yourself. All writers do, right?
Aw. Yeah, I was blessed with a lot of great pals growing up. I was especially close with outsiders like foreign exchange students, minority kids, and, you know, geeks and freaks. Seen that show? As a TV-head, you really should. Apatow is amazing. Anyway, yep, Dungeon Master. The guy who runs the game for the players. I loved being DM because it gave me a space in which to be creative not all alone and lonely, but with other people. And when my friends were really getting into the world I was building for them, the feeling was truly wonderful. Fantasy, yes, yeah, I read fantasy voraciously as a kid. Looking back, I think the real allure for me was the extension of possibility in all directions. With more realistic stories, there are concrete limits in what’s possible. The train stays on the tracks. With fantasy and, say, horror, and suchlike, those limits crumble to dust. Anything is possible. The train can leave the tracks.
I always wanted to be Ororo Monroe (Storm). I thought the ability to control the weather was awesome! What was your favorite superhero?
Hawkeye. Or Nightcrawler.
Hawkeye or Nightcrawler. Those are two very different people. One is blue and furry and has the ability to transport himself in seconds. The other shoots arrows and doesn’t have much in the way of a “super” power. What was it about these two characters that you like(d) so much?
Well, Hawkeye was a ‘Spanky.’ He led the West Coast Avengers. He had mad gadget arrowheads, a sweet girlfriend, a hover-cycle, and purple tights! Plus he was funny. The movies are not doing him justice by any means. Nightcrawler: also hilarious. And teleportation would be so handy! *bamf*
Do you have or have you had any recurring dreams/nightmares you’d like to share?
What is your biggest fear? Logical or irrational.
Frankly, I fear that the medication I’m on is going to cause me to develop tardive dyskinesia in the long run.
While I could totally Google “tardive dyskinesia,” I sort of don’t want to. Could this impact your ability to write? If so, stop! Stop immediately! Based on what I’ve seen, the world cannot afford that!
Aw, that’s a swell thing to say. You’re a great guy. Lovell. There’s no stopping, though. I need the nasty meds to keep the house of cards from crumbling down. You know – apartment, car, job… that cardhouse. Now if I were willing to give up on supporting myself and living independently, I could go off the meds and let my nature have its way with me. Then TD wouldn’t be awaiting me, but I’ll tell you straight: the symptoms I experience without the meds are by and large nobody’s idea of a good time. Imagine your harshest critic being just over your shoulder, scrutinizing everything you do and criticizing. Now imagine he’s psychic, too, and criticizes every thought you have. Go with me a little further. Imagine that you’re convinced that you are of utmost importance – that you are protecting or saving the world. All that and more is the face of Sz for me, and…. It. Is. Ugly.
What literary character do you think you are most like, or that is most like you?
Ooh. Good one. I’ll go with Ingatius J. Reilly from Confederacy of Dunces.
I think that choice potentially says a lot about you as a person–or at least how you see yourself. Or are you just being silly?
Serious as a housefire.
If you had a superpower, what would it be, what would your costume look like, and would you be a hero or villain? Why?
I would be able to see in pitch dark, be pressure-proof, and breathe water. That way I could go to the bottom of the ocean. No costume. Neither hero nor villain. Neutral.
Would you go to the bottom of the ocean just for the fun of it, or would you be looking for something? A buried treasure? Atlantis?
Well… that’s where the aliens’ spaceships are parked, isn’t it? In the truly deep deeps?
What drew you to Grammar Ghoul Press?
Oh, I noticed a post on a blog I follow, made by a writer I admire, entering into a flash contest with you guys. Monkey see, monkey do!
What value do you place on writing and reading, in general, in society?
Inestimable value. Engagement with the written word is evolutionary and revolutionary. Pardon the word salad. This has been a long interview. We done?
I like a little word salad every now and then. Before I call the authorities, what drove you to this heist?
Oh, I was just following along as you interviewed Yeshasvi there, and I started thinking, man, these questions are really on point. They would be a pleasure to answer. A lot of interviews tend to strike me as stilted or too formulaic… So yeah I got to envying your interviewee, and then it struck me: it’s Halloween! Perfect night for a bit of a trick! And who better to play a Halloween prank on than GrammarGhoulPress? Haha. Hey, thanks for being such a good sport and for all the swell questions. I do look forward to keeping up with your work. I’ll be seeing you.