Author Bud Smith is prolific with the pen. Since 2012, he's written and released two novels (with a third planned for 2019), two books of poetry, and two collections of short stories. Bud is currently celebrating his newest release, Double Bird, a memorable and adventurous collection of 40 short stories released through Maudlin House. The surreal assortment of stories features an underground tunnel to a new world, a bouquet of flowers stuffed into a wound, a giant egg in a truck bed, a family eating the American flag, and much more. While the oddball tales are hallucinatory and absurd, they're also packed with sorrow, love, uncertainty, instability. Like life. Like an episode of Animaniacs if the characters had the potential to break down crying at any second. As a means of championing the prose of Double Bird, I spoke with the Jersey City resident who works heavy construction and writes like a madman during his meal breaks.
The first collection of yours that I read was Calm Face, which is made up of grounded/realistic stories, and then I read Double Bird, expecting some of the same. Instead, the book is full of surreal tales full of moving and emotional and hilarious absurdities. Were these two styles written around the same time as each other? Or do you find yourself flipping the switch and spending months on one vs the other?
I was writing these stories while writing Calm Face, yeah. Since I've started, I've always had a surreal project going and a realistic project going, all pell mell. Double Bird is just a collection of my best surreal stories from the last five years or so.
There's not a switch, really. If I have an idea I try and follow through with it and don't filter it into something I suspect people would like better. I’ve got no master plan that survives an afternoon.
How old is the oldest piece in the book?
The oldest story is "The Moon." It’s a story about a man trying to recover from narcotics, who meets a girl who’s quit AA and instead joined a cult that believes they can leave earth and go to the moon to abandon all their troubles. I can’t tell if it’s sad or funny, so that’s a good thing for me.
Double Bird is full of mythological fabulism. Giant eggs, eating American flags, 400 forks and knives in an unreachable kitchen space, stuffing flowers into wounds. Some of these stories remind me more of cartoons than other pieces of literature. Thoughts? What's your favorite cartoon?
Most people I know in my life are cartoons. I see them all over the place, these animated people. I am in love with them. I don’t want them to be normal. These Double Bird stories are cartoons smeared onto plain white paper, built of the best sentences I could put together at this stage in my meager life. My favorite cartoon is my own meager life. I don’t think literature has to wear a three piece suit. Literature can be whatever it wants, and you as the author shouldn’t try to beat it into a certain shape. It’s my hopes that these stories aren’t just goofy, or wacky. I was trying to make a cartoon where it’s okay to cry. The real world itself, is the most unbelievable place.
When you think about the stories within Double Bird, what's the first one that pops into your head? Can you talk about that piece a bit?
The story "Junior in the Tunnels" is the one I built the collection around it, both thematically, and in a way, linked to 75% of the other stories in content one way or another. I like that "Junior in the Tunnels" is about a dead person and how that dead person is still controlling someone’s waking life. It’s not supernatural at all. I mean, it’s a story about how you will always base your next steps forward on the steps that you took before. Your future is of course your own, but you have to be willing to say fuck you to a ghost, whether you believe in them or not.
What are you currently working on?
Ah just working on my next novel. There’s no magic trick to it. You just sit there and think and type and try your best. I’m working on not quitting writing. I like it too much though. I’m working on lounging around in my imagination which is just something for me to do for a while, something to keep me out of trouble, there’s no cops in my head.
Word around town is that a writing retreat is going down at your parents' house. What are some of the candidate requirements?
Haha. I did get into trouble for that. My cousin Jaime told my mom that I was on Twitter giving out their wifi name and the password to it. I’d posted ‘best part of this retreat is that you'll never waste time online bc wifi password is like VYugjsb562HJUiop1996Stang’. Which is not their password of course, but Jaime didn’t know that. Now my parents are worried Russians and Satanists are going to show up at their house to hop on Reddit for free, code up a new anarchist’s cookbook or download Jodie Foster movies or something. So maybe no writers retreat, which I’d announced on Twitter in a series of tweets that went like this:
"Want to do a writing retreat at my mom and dad's house but not tell them. If you win you just go there for a week and work on your haikus.
My mom would be like, Oh Bud always does this crazy shit. Well, welcome, nice to meet you. Is he coming? No. Good.
And part of the writing retreat would be you help my dad fix his 1996 mustang in the driveway while the dog barks at you both. Dad yelling, Shut up!
My little brother would stop by and read your haikus and go, Cool.”
I don't know. You can follow me on twitter if you need more mean stupid content.
I recall you posting about picking up a copy of Tree of Smoke by Denis Johnson, and I recall someone else thanking you for recommending Train Dreams to them. What's your history/relationship like with the late author? Do you have a favorite of his books?
He was a conflicted person who seemed to be trying very hard to figure things out and be better in any way he could manage. That’s how I see myself and that’s how I see all the other writer’s I look up to. But you know, I also cringe at the idea that artists are supposed to be good people. All of them are just humans in trouble and doing something with the trouble. Denis Johnson was important to me from my free reading away from high school because he seemed kind in there somewhere, even though he would be writing these cruel things. He seemed to treat the world like a junkyard dog that you could sometimes, on a perfect day, take out of the junkyard and onto the beach, where it might just kill someone, but certainly not on purpose, it was just chasing a tennis ball into the waves, and he was throwing the ball far, and maybe a person got in between the ball and rabid dog. I don’t have a favorite book of his, because I’m reading them slow. If I’m lucky I’ll die before I get to the last one.
What's your ideal environment / space for productive writing?
I just need a little quiet for forty minutes. A lot of times I do my writing sitting in the machine shop at my job while everybody else is eating their lunches in the trailer and yelling at each other. When I write at home, I write in any room and I don't have a ritual about it, except unfortunately I've gotten in the habit of wanting to read drafts of whatever I'm writing on paper rather than a screen, so I waste a lot of printer ink and paper. But maybe it is an okay thing. I try and make the drafts count more now, before I'd mess around too much and think I'd edit it later. I'm in more of a rush now.
What's your favorite place on the planet? It can be as big as a city or as small as a bathtub.
I like Jersey City, New Jersey because no one else does.
I think "Gling Gling Gling" is my favorite of your pieces. "E-A-D-G-B-E" is also incredible. Both of those stories have this freeflowing pace that's chronological and highly unpredictable. Do you map out your stories or do you let the pen lead the way?
I don't know what I do, really. Anybody who tells you 'this is how you write a story' is lying to you. I saw this documentary where Tom Petty said he writes his songs just by catching them out of the air as they fly by, as if they were birds. My stories are like that, just not as good as Tom Petty songs, and my stories don't fly, they are snakes speeding through the high grass and I catch them by putting my bare foot gently down on them and then getting bitten repeatedly, sometimes poisoned even. I’m forever never learning not to try and catch those snakes.
What's the rest of the year looking like for you?
I'm going to drink beer with my wife Rae and laugh my ass off. We are going on some big family vacation to a tropical island in October with her parents and her sister and her sister’s husband and a little baby, named Autumn. I like them all very much. I'll be editing my next novel that's being released by Tyrant Books in 2019. That book is called Teenager. It’s my best book by far.
Outside of your own work, who/what have you been reading recently?
I just read Motherhood by Sheila Heti, thought it was great. Also just read Motherest by Kristen Iskandrian, and Whiskey and Ribbons by Leesa Cross-Smith, both really excellent books. Next up is Chelsea Hodson's Tonight I'm Someone Else, and then Stephen Dixon's Gould. I usually read two or three books a week. Whatever my bookworm friends with good taste say changed their lives, that's what I read.
For this ongoing author interview series, I'm asking for everyone to present a writing prompt. It can be one that you craft out of thin air, it can be one you created a while ago, or it can be one you adore from an outside source that was passed down to you.
Take a spoonful of cinnamon and try and swallow it without a glass of water. If you swallow the cinnamon you get the Pulitzer Prize.
No, I’m just kidding. Everything is a writing prompt. Just don’t take it all too seriously. Like you said earlier about things being a cartoon, that’s perfect advice. Let it all be full of wonderment and chance. A cartoon can do anything because there are seldom any rules that can govern it. So, write that way. But don’t make it a gag. Let the universe come to you right outside your window, or better yet, open your window and let it come in your room. Write a story that would embarrass your boss to know you. Write a story that would get you sprung from jail.
Do you have any advice for writers/poets working on their craft?
Try not to think about your craft. Try to think of your work as an alien thing that operates apart from other people's ideas about craft. Write in a way that nobody else can mimic without kidnapping you and putting a knife to your throat, screaming at you, "Make that poem!" I don't know. The best advice anybody ever gave to me was my mom who said, "No you can't have a toy but of course you can have a book." We were a struggling family financially but there was always money for a book. Or, "Yes, of course," she’d say, "I'll drop whatever I’m doing and take you the library, that is important." Or once I got my driver's license, I could not borrow the car, forget it, and so'd say, "What if I go to the library?"And she’d answer, "Then of course, here's the keys to the car." My advice to writers is to make books more important to yourself than they were before, whatever that was. They are holy objects.
My advice to writers is what everybody else says, read a lot of books. I think a novelist has to read about 400 novels to write one good novel of their own. Why? Because it makes you as patient as you have to be. My advice to young writers is also to lie to your parents and say you are taking their car to the library but instead of that, go off and get laid.
Any final thought / words of wisdom?
Helping other people is never a waste of your time. Find a way to be kind to people who could use your help and lend them a hand. But also, shut up about it afterwards. Travel as much as you can. Do things that are bad for you because that’s usually the fun stuff that makes life partially tolerable.