Awful Interviews: DJ Berndt

10 Jun

DJ PicDJ Berndt is a nice, stoked writer guy. DJ Berndt just had a new (FREE) ebook, Sins of Omission, plop out from Housefire Books. DJ Berndt edits Pangur Ban Party. DJ Berndt’s new ebook is also on Goodreads. DJ Berndt is the world’s most eligible bachelor (or so I am told). DJ Berndt answered my questions below.

Your latest ebook, Sins of Omission, recently clogged into the world from Housefire Books. Housefire does books (as well as that journal of theirs) by prompt challenges. How did you get involved with them? How did this book roll out?

I met Riley while we were both working as editors for Metazen. He went on to start HOUSEFIRE and solicited me with some prompts for their website launch. Before long, I had a few pieces on the site and Riley contacted me again about doing a bigger project that would eventually become Sins of Omission. He asked me to send him 40 brand new stories in just under a week, and then we edited it down from there. It was a really fun process to write like a maniac for a week and then shape those raw ideas into something digestible.

Wow. 40 shorts in a week is definitely one way to make a writer (more of) a maniac. How did the challenge and this rush (both collapsed time frame and adrenaline of getting it done) change your process, both in obvious and less-obvious ways? I’ve been under the Riley-challenge spell before and I was surprised at how the changes to my process, when my time got pressed flat, shook up (and somehow improved) my writing. Were you surprised at the stuff (and quality of it) that this challenge inspired?

It changed my process a lot because I couldn’t stay in my head very long. Normally I edit a lot as I write, but with this challenge I had to just spill it out and move along. I think it improved the writing because it forced me to go with my first instinct and didn’t allow me to second-guess anything.

When I googled “Sins of Omission,” a novel of the same title, by Fern Michaels, popped up. Here’s a Publisher’s Weekly excerpt about that book:

In this modern-day melodrama of paradise lost, Reuben Tarz and Daniel Bishop are rescued from a French hospital at the close of WW I to share a luxurious chateau with Mickey, a sexy French marchioness. Their tranquil retreat is shaken up by the arrival of 16-year-old Bebe Rosen, daughter of an American movie mogul. Michaels creates a test of love for Reuben, Mickey and Bebe that each inevitably fails. The rest of the novel charts their punishment. Aside from Daniel and Reuben’s friendship born of the adversities of war, and Mickey’s maternal devotion to the illegitimate son born of Reuben’s rape of Bebe, no love endures, and any apparent understanding between the sexes is an illusion destined to be violently shattered. Michaels’s novels (the Texas trilogy) always evince a strong sense of morality, but here this has turned sour and vindictive. The Hollywood setting in which Bebe and Reuben work out their fates is a hollow, unconvincing cliche–as though Michaels can barely stand to ponder the ugly, despair-sodden world she depicts.

How does your book relate to that? How does your book set itself apart from the herd of “SoO” books that exist?

My book relates to this excerpt very well because while I was writing it, I received many invites to live with a sexy French marchioness at her luxurious chateau. Though in full disclosure, I receive invitations like these constantly, even if I’m not writing anything. It’s not easy being the world’s most eligible bachelor (ladies). This is also how my book separates itself from the other Sins of Omission books that exist: it was written by the world’s my eligible bachelor.

“DJ Berndt: The World’s Most Eligible Bachelor.” Man, that’s a pretty rad designation. But it must be a tricky and heavy banner to lug around. How do you handle the pressure of being the world’s most eligible bachelor? How does it affect your writing?

Being the World’s Most Eligible Bachelor is a pretty big deal. Not many people could roll with it as effortlessly as I do. But I learned a long time ago that the separation is in the preparation, and if I want to remain at my Most Eligible, I’ve got to have a plan. That’s why I spend every night alone and dateless, diligently strategizing everything I can do to stay super-duper-single.

In an interview with Meg Tuite at Connotation Press, you remarked that “When it’s flash fiction like this, I ask myself how someone like James Tate or Zachary Schomburg would do it, and try to copy that. Really most of my writing is just reading a bunch of a specific author and trying to imitate him or her. It’s hard for me to think of myself as “a writer”, and easier to think of myself as “a guy who reads a lot and can mimic what he likes”.”

I respect the straightforwardness of that answer, the honesty in that. There’s often this perception that it’s gotta be all you, or at least this super original equation of influences. I can definitely sense in this book that you’re working that skill you have, the mimicking. Who were some of the “influences” for these pieces? I saw Tate and Schomburg in here, for sure. Also, I was reminded at times of James Tadd Adcox’s book The Map of The System of Human Knowledge. Curious to see what others you were digging on during the writing of this book.

I’m a bigtime fan of Tadd’s writing, I’m glad that shows in my mimicking. The Map of The System of Human Knowledge was a game-changer for me. I also heavily mimic Socrates Adams in this collection, his style is definitely a huge influence for me. Socrates has a very special talent for making a character seem very real and common while also being completely ludicrous and absurd. I have to borrow from Socrates every time I try to write in the first person.

Between each story in the book, there’s an art piece by Lindsay Allison Ruoff, collage-type things that are their own pulsing works yet somehow they also inform the book in a rad way. I’m thinking of how you are open about your influences and how you take those into your process, your own collages of influences and styles. These pieces of yours also have a youthful liveliness to them, and I feel Lindsay’s art pieces strike out of a similar energy source. How did these come to be a part of the book? How do you feel they inform/relate to your stories?

Lindsay’s art is very rad. I was so thrilled when I first saw them. The collages seem similar in style, but also fragmented, and they build off of each other to make something much wider and crazier. I wanted my stories to feel like that too.

In the story “Always Chasing Pussy,” the narrator has a shirt with that phrase and the image of a man chasing a cat. I love the ridiculousness here, as the explanation of the shirt continues, ending in the idea that “It’s really hard to get laid when your clothes don’t fit.” Is this a real t-shirt? What’s the story behind this story?

Haha, I’m glad you like this story. A few of my relatives heard about the ebook and wanted to read it, and I would always be afraid of how they’d react to “Always Chasing Pussy.” It is a real shirt. I was in the middle of the writing frenzy that would become SoO and took a night off to go to a bar. I saw a guy wearing that exact shirt and thought “What in the world could he honestly be thinking when he puts on a shirt like that?” and then “I don’t know, but it’s going to make a hilarious story.”

What’s happening with you nowadays? What projects are you currently working on?

I’m not working on a whole lot these days. A few things are in the pipeline for Pangur Ban Party, but I think PBP is in its twilight years and doesn’t have a lot of mileage left. After the pipeline is empty, I’ll likely try to think of a way to give PBP a graceful exit. 5 years is a lot longer than I ever thought I’d be doing it, but I think it’s time to move on.

I haven’t written anything in awhile, but I’ve been reading. I’m almost done with my first time through Infinite Jest.

Do you believe in ghosts? Do you believe in ghost dogs?

I believe that ghosts and ghost dogs exist, but I don’t believe in them. Like I don’t think they have what it takes to ever realize their dreams or reach their true potentials. Ghost Air Bud would suck at basketball.

 

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