The writing process I developed For the Good of the Party was inspired by a generative project workshop with Matthew Rohrer at New York University in 2013. But it wasn’t until I traveled to Europe and encountered Surrealist poets Vítězslav Nezval, Rene Char, and Andre Breton, and more importantly Dadaist poet Tristan Tzara, that I unlocked the secret alchemical method that enabled me to produce a 517-page book in three-and-a-half years.
It goes like this. First, I select two books–rarely more or less than two–from the shelves of a library, preferably an academic library–which is by nature far less likely to give away old, outdated books that no one reads. I try to find books that show their age, books where people talk in an old-fashioned way, for instance. Look for battered, beautiful anachronistic tomes that would be right at home on the Island of Lost Toys.
Then I steal.
I don’t steal sentences. That would be actual plagiarism. I take three or four words, occasionally five or six, and then–this is what redeems the theft–I subvert those words by pairing them, in classic Surrealist fashion, with a phrase from a second book. Repeat until it feels done. It’s that simple.
Surrealists are known for pairing things that don’t usually go together. But it’s from the Dadaists that this “cut-up” method, popularized by William S. Burroughs, originates. I don’t literally cut books and newspapers to pieces, but it’s the same principle.
By the time I began writing OK, Forever in January 2019, For the Good of the Party just out on shelves, I had it down to a science. The best combination of books, it turns out, is a novel an a nonfiction book, preferably (for me) history or art or something technical.
I don’t know when OK, Forever will be complete. Possibly never.
Right now, I’m working on two projects: The Writing on the Wall (a novel) and Blue Man Saga (a long poem).
Blue Man Saga is a departure from the method described above. I began to feel like I’d mastered industrial surrealism and that it was time to move on.
Both projects have Facebook pages which you can follow for updates.