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As part of The Adventures of Tequila Kitty, an interview with each writer will appear within a few days of their chapter being posted. Christopher Chik, an emerging and very talented author, is currently working on his Master in Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Southern New Hampshire University. His work has previously appeared in One Forty Fiction and also at his blogs Chasing Dimaggio and Occupy Mars.

Q: Tell me about the novel you’re working on. When did you originally start the story? How did it evolve? What was the original kernel or acorn that became the story?

It’s the story of a baseball pitcher’s struggle with autism from childhood to the major leagues. I started the story around 2007 as a collection of my own autistic thoughts and tendencies fleshed out in awful scene snippets which would make even a bad experimental novel cry. The story was really born when I started the low-residency MFA at Southern New Hampshire University and my mentor, Wiley Cash, showed interest in the idea and pushed me to try other narrative approaches. I suppose the kernel was own experience growing up in an era when autism spectrum disorders were a relative unknown combined with my family’s history in baseball, particularly pitching.

Q: Give me a brief bio of your life:

I grew up and still live just south of Los Angeles and remember writing little stories of my daydreams since about second or third grade. As a child I loved sports, especially hockey and baseball and going to games with my Dad and Uncle David. I did a lot of camping and hiking with the Boy Scouts on my way to Eagle Scout. When I got older I took interest in philosophy which took my writing in a different direction for a while before I found my way back home to fiction again.

Q: What would you say are your strengths as a writer?

Most importantly, I take criticism well. I also read everything as a writer and editor, trying to dissect it and see what makes the heart beat and see how that applies to my own work, my own projects; to that end, I take a lot of notes while reading any book. I’m never satisfied and always try to learn and keep honing my craft.

Q: What are you working on now?

The novel for the most part, but I’m also working on some short stories, in particular a satire of the recent rash of American gun violence. My big project for the year, though it’s likely to take more than one, is a non-fiction effort about my favorite musician, Chuck Schuldiner, who was the front man for and creative force behind the band Death.

Q: What publications has your work appeared in?

OneFortyFiction

Q: Who are your primary influences, or inspirations, as a writer?

One of my best friends from high school has pushed me to write since I’ve known her, but I first got the idea of writing in my head at my local branch library. My parents left me there to read while they attended to something, and I found Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles and saw how a man put his daydreams, his fantasies, to paper. I was sold; I started dreaming of typewriters and, some years later, laptops. I’d have to sit around my parents’ offices a lot after school as well, so I’d find an unused typewriter and plot out my daydreams—at least, when I wasn’t making colossal paperclip chains. My mom has an English degree and got me to loving books real young. Seeing her write, even to little or no acclaim, gave me the affirmation I needed. Kids are so often short on confidence and long on doubts, it was nice having that as a beacon growing up.

Q: How has your upbringing influenced your work, if at all?

Being autistic obviously affects my WIP, the baseball novel, but having a physical disability probably had more influence. It hardened me, made me stronger, and gave me a more adult perspective to weigh my writing against. In elementary school, instead of stories about GI Joe and ninja fantasies, I’d write detective stories about serial killers and horror stories about things that go bump in the night.

Q: What inspires you the most (e.g. music, landscape/nature, written word, life, etc.)?

I’d have to say life, because I don’t really know otherwise. Sometimes you can’t sleep and are in bed watching Demolition Man for the five thousandth time, when epiphany strikes and the what-ifs start rolling around; sometimes a conversation sparks an idea for a story; sometimes the loathing of some existing aspect of human culture does it, especially when I get to writing satire.

Q: What are you reading right now?

Bang the Drum Slowly by Mark Harris and What We Saw at Night by my current and rocking mentor, Jackie Mitchard. The latter is really cool because the main characters have a genetic flaw that they don’t see as this big setback. I can really empathize with the way they think, that no holding back mentality. I’ve never had characters be so close to home for me.

Q: What authors, when you read them, make you think, “I’m giving up writing because I will never be as good as them?”

Raymond Carver comes pretty close. My writing mantra is “WWRCD?” Less is more, lean is mean, and all that jazz. Sometimes, though, a little poetry-spiced prose really lets that daydream form, and Toni Morrison weaves that into narrative with beauty and tension in the same breath. I try to strike a balance between the two.

Q: I know this is the hated and borderline unanswerable question, but it has to be asked. Why do you write?

I daydreamed a lot as a kid. Writing them down as stories was a way to share the process of make-believe outside of the playground. More than anything else, writing is a way to give the daydreams a reason to be, like an action figure is a reason to be talking to yourself, belly-down on the carpet.

Q: If you weren’t writing, what else would you be doing?

Playing and teaching guitar probably. I used to be on track for a career in law, but I wouldn’t trade writing for that ever.

Q: Name your top five favorite books and/or top five favorite authors?

In no particular order: Brave New World, Aldous Huxley; To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee; What We Talk About when We Talk About Love, Raymond Carver; anything by Ray Bradbury; Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert M. Pirsig.

Q: What is your non-writing claim to fame?

I got my picture in the paper as a kid for being a wicked awesome Push-Cart Derby driver who could make the Kessel run on a wooden palette in under twelve Parsecs.

And now we get into the non-writerly, more silly-ish questions of the interview, as paraphrased from James Lipton of Inside the Actor’s Studio:

Q: What is your favorite drink?

Rum and Coke with a lime twist.

Q: What is your favorite curse word?

Asshat, though my favorite cursing of all-time is the chained diatribes of the dad in Christmas Story. That guy could out-swear two sailors and a pirate with mere gibberish.

Q: Favorite food.

Pepperoni, black olive, and roma tomato pizza with Newcastle or Longboard beer, and I’m a big fan of Señor Fish’s fish tacos.

Q: What is your most vivid memory?

I’m not sure I have a most vivid memory, but I can remember almost everything since age three. My second earliest memory is dancing around in my parents’ living room to Michael Jackson’s Bad playing on a little Fisher-Price tape recorder.

Q: What is your favorite sound?

Ocean waves lapping on the beach, that steady rhythm of the Earth’s pulse.

Q: What is your least favorite sound?

Dog alarms, like people mount on their fences. Any real high frequencies like most people don’t hear really. Forget ADT, I can be stopped dead in my tracks by a dog alarm.

Q: If heaven exists, what do you think god will say upon meeting you at the pearly gates? What would you want it to say?

Probably, “I told you so, jackass.”

I’d want a god to tell me the journey isn’t over yet, that I was interesting enough to merit a sequel. Truth be told, I’d like to make the Singularity and live forever. Wouldn’t it be cool to see the Sun eat the Earth from the safe distance of some colony on one of those Kepler planets? What happens when the universe ends or does it?


 
 
In my previous post I discussed my love/hate relationship with the work of the unfortunately late David Foster Wallace, and my analysis of how the always reliable and psychologically accurate Facebook quizzes determined he was the author I most wrote like. (I also discussed the scourge of pretentious hipsterism, an illness I used to suffer from, but with the help of Scorn-away (a new drug from Pfizer) I have been able to overcome this debilitating malady.)
At the end of the post I mentioned I had written for grad school a paper on Foster Wallace's essay "The Nature of the Fun," where he discussed why he wrote. I have attached my paper below.

Enjoy.

In Will Blythe’s collection of essays Why I Write, Blythe asked many famous and not-so-famous, or not-so-famous at the time but now very famous, writers and novelists to expound on their reasons for writing, why they hole up in rooms and attics and offices, why they shun people and society like well-read, non-contagious lepers, why, even if they are morning people, they treat themselves like they are vampires, keeping themselves locked in a room or house as if contact with the sun might disintegrate them and turn them into a gossamer skein of skin, bone, and lots and lots of caffeine. Most of those essayists told about writing to find out the truth about themselves and about the world. Tom Chiarella wrote about all the things he couldn’t do—play basketball or cook or fix machinery or build a bookcase or balance his checkbook—and, when left at the bottom of that list, writing was nowhere to be seen: he wrote because it was something he could do, something he was good at. Same with Mark Jacobson, it was something he was good at. Thom Jones writes because he wants to be Wile E. Coyote and catch that fucking roadrunner just once (and when he’s done catching that roadrunner, he probably wants to smoke up or drink with Wile E. Coyote). And Stephen Wright has been staying at the Overlook Hotel for far too long. He needs to go stay at the Ramada or Best Western: more people stay there, he’d have more human interaction.

But of all the essays that resonated with me, the one that resonates with me easily the most, especially at the point I am at right now with my novella, was David Foster Wallace’s “The Nature of the Fun”. A book- (or story) in-progress is, as Wallace wrote, “a kind of hideously damaged infant that follows the writer around, forever crawling after the writer (dragging itself across the floors of restaurants where the writer’s trying to eat, appearing at the foot of the bed first thing in the morning, etc.), hideously defective, hydrocephalic and noseless and flipper-armed and incontinent and retarded and dribbling cerebro-spinal fluid out of its mouth as it mewls and blurbles and cries out to the writer, wanting love, wanting the very thing its hideousness guarantees it’ll get: the writer’s complete attention.”

At least Foster Wallace’s creation has a mouth right now, has arms, albeit flipper arms, but arms nonetheless. His child spits and leaks cerebro-spinal fluid because it has a mouth, it can drag itself across the floor and make noise, because it has arms and flippers. My novella, as it stands right now, has maybe an ear, or an eye, and I think there are the beginning formations of a toe or two, and every day I wake up (or after the Mets game is over) I look down at my feet or across the apartment into the dining room, or behind my laptop, and peeking over the top is this amorphous blob of pulsating cells and discolored organs. But, after I finally shake it off my leg, I start molding my lovable blob and by the end of the night I have created a face, or an arm, and the very next day I can recreate that face, and maybe form a nail for that toe that I made the night before, and I should move on to creating a face, a skeleton, but oh what an exquisite toe it is, so instead of creating a face, some legs for it to stand on, a skeletal structure in which to add adornments and decorations later, I’ll paint that toenail instead. But I must keep working, because no one wants to create just a toe.

A farmer came up to me once and said, “Here! Do you see that massive stretch of land over there?”

“The one with the giant mound of dirt that doesn’t stop as far as the eye can see?” I said. “The one with the enormous house on the hill?”

“That’s the one,” the farmer said. “And it’s yours.” He gave me a giant ring of keys and I felt like a janitor, flipping them around in my hand, one key for the tractor, another for the hay silo, yet another for the house and so on and so forth. The next day I went out and planted a flower, out of all that fertile soil and machinery and animals and time and money and land I had been given for no reason other than this farmer wanted to give me this extremely valuable gift and I just happened to walk across his determined path that afternoon, I planted a flower. After a couple of weeks a purple bulb sprouted and unfolded its pretty little fingers to the sky. But I did nothing else with the thousand acres of land, content to have grown just a flower that, after a few weeks, had its leaves fade in color and wilt and wither like human skin, until the petals fell off into the soil I had been given. And I did nothing else with the land, I just watched it grow fallow and parched and cracked, and the tractor and backhoe and rakes rusted and flaked, the handles on the shovels splintered and rotted away, filled with termites and wood fungus.

Obviously that’s an invented scenario, and probably an even more tortured metaphor, but you get the point. If someone gives you such land, such tools, such machinery, why would you stop at having just created a flower, one small piece of beauty in a massive all-encompassing dirt heap possibility? Why would you not want to create more beauty? In the story that follows me around the house, that bites at my ankle as I fill my coffee mug, that hovers over my head like a monolithic shadow as I lie down on the couch to read a book, that stands in front of me as I try to watch TV, I have created an ear, a perfectly formed ear, and then a toe, and then an exquisite toenail, and I spent about a day or two polishing the toenail, a palimpsest of a digit, erased, recreated, erased, recreated, instead of creating more body parts, but tomorrow (or when I’m finished writing this essay) I’m going to jump back in and create more of a person, try to hone my child into something presentable, something beautiful, something that would make Anne Geddes call and offer me money so that she can take my no longer hideously malformed infant and dress it into a pumpkin. And just so I can turn her disturbing, treacle-filled brain down, I will continue to mold, shape, trim, and stretch my quivering gelatinous goop of a story into something that I wouldn’t want to keep locked in the basement dungeon out of fear that it might eat the neighbors, but into something that I would want to introduce to people and show off to the world.

And why do we keep doing this, continue to write, why do I keep doing this, why did David Foster Wallace keep doing it? Because, as he said, “it’s still all a lot of fun.”