Smile Politely

Getting Lit with Scott McClanahan

In order to properly introduce you to the wonder that is Scott McClanahan, I think I can do no better than quoting this bit of advertising from his website:

Tyrant Books, Holler Presents and Fat Possum teamed up to bring you this limited edition book and 7″ package. Scott McClanahan’s writing has drawn comparisons to the absurdist humor of National Book Award finalist George Saunders and the southern home-spun melancholy of Larry Brown and Breece D’J Pancake. We present his latest book, Hill William, based on Scott’s childhood in rural West Virginia, along with a 7″ from his band, Holler Boys. Scott and Holler Presents co-founder Chris Oxley play folk filtered through an Appalachian fever dream. Sometimes that sound is a gentle prayer; sometimes a shrill, isolated scream.

As we continue our path toward this weekend’s Pygmalion Literary Festival, I had the opportunity to speak with Scott McClanahan, another of the writers who will be featured.

Things got strange.


Smile Politely: Tell me a good story about a reading you’ve done, also tell me a bad story about a reading you’ve done.

Scott McClanahan: I used to run into prostitutes in Pittsburgh before readings, but without realizing they were prostitutes. One time a woman asked me if I had “two quarters baby.” I just pushed my hands in my pockets and felt around for quarters like a big dork, and I said, “No, ma’am. I don’t believe I do. I have a couple of nickels.”

She just threw her head back and laughed and laughed.

Of course, I didn’t realize she was asking if I had 50 dollars for her services.

Another time in Chicago for Lindsay Hunter and Mary Hamilton’s Quickies reading series I was going to do this fake blood thing. I thought an Elton John/Flaming Lips aesthetic thing was the future of readings. I was going to have a CD playing behind me, and then I was going to push my hands down in my pockets where I would have these bags of fake blood. After I pushed my hands in my pockets I was going to raise them up and let the fake blood run down my arms. It was going to be great.

But I got so drunk before the reading with Sam Pink that I ended fucking up the whole thing. I got up on the stage without realizing my CD had fallen out of my CD player. And then one of the plastic bags full of fake blood ended up busting before I went on, and so I had all of this fake blood all over my pants and crotch. I had to walk the streets of Chicago afterwards with all of this blood all over me. It was humiliating.

SP: What is it that you think defines your writing style?

McClanahan: Swiss Cheese and almonds.

SP: How is your writing process different from other authors?

McClanahan: I just looked over Juliet’s shoulder. She was talking to a friend of ours on Facebook about how I quit drinking and have lost weight. He said, “I really don’t miss the fat and angry and drunk Scott.” Juliet said, “Yeah, he’s even meditating now.” He said, “Oh god. What the fuck is happening in this world?”

SP: Whose readings are you looking forward to seeing at the Pygmalion Lit Fest?

McClanahan: I don’t really like readings. I couldn’t imagine wanting to go to one. I’m being serious.

SP: Do you ever edit your own Wikipedia article?

McClanahan: No, but my wife and my roommate do. I’m too busy Googling myself.


Told ya so.

Scott McClanahan is scheduled to read (along with Alyssa Nutting, Rachel Cantor, and Tom Williams) at Mike N Molly’s at 9:30 p.m. on Saturday, September 27.

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