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by Gabino Iglesias
Check it out, Show Me Your Shelves is featuring a couple for the first time! You know you like it. Tiffany Scandal is part of this year’s NBAS and Michael Kazepis’ debut novel is coming soon from Broken River Books. This is one talented couple. They also look cute together, just don’t let them know. Now dig the interview. It’s a good one.
Who are you two and what role do books play in your lives?
TS: I’m Tiffany Scandal. I’m a writer, Suicide Girl, and photographer. Books were my security blanket growing up. I was a weird kid with a lot of imagination and reading was my go-to for escaping reality. I remember going book shopping with my family, and getting into trouble because I would read the books they thought would last me a week on that same day. Teachers eventually started loaning me literature and by junior high, I was reading college-level material and was usually one of two kids constantly in the library.
While that’s cool to look back on, it was problematic at the time—in high school, I actually got kicked out of the honors program because my vocabulary was “too grandiose” and I was consistently given F-minuses (that shouldn’t be a real grade, right?), all because my teacher didn’t believe that a fifteen year old was capable of writing what I was turning in. No matter—books were there for me, and they didn’t care if I was a snobby little shit or not.
MK: My name is Michael Kazepis. Lately, I’ve been writing weird urban crime books. Being a military brat, fiction had always been this way to combat a loneliness that developed from moving back and forth between continents, never keeping the same people in my life. I started young with my brother’s comic books and Stars and Stripes newspapers, whatever was laying around, and it grew from there. As an adult, I’ve continued to change locations frequently, and whatever survival mechanism compelled me to escape into fiction seems like permanent function now.
What’s interesting (at least to me), considering how much I read, is that I’ve got crippling attention span issues and shouldn’t be able to. People often have to repeat things to me, even when I stare right at them, trying hard to concentrate. Most speech just drifts around me, dissipates. Notepads help a lot when I’m at work and I’ve developed an ace shorthand to keep me sharp. I’m lucky that reading has always been one constant I can lose myself in, narrow the focus a while. Never feels more centered than when I’m in the last stretches of a novel.
Did you guys put your books together when you moved into the same place? How does that work?
TS: Pretty much. Michael has severe OCD when it comes to bookshelf organization. When we recently rearranged furniture in the house, he sat on the floor for a few hours, organizing the books by genre and writer. Not all of his books are here, but if they were, I’m sure there would be lots of duplicates. Dude’s got good taste.
MK: I only brought a messenger bag full of books to Portland, but I’ve learned to prioritize between what I’m reading and what I can’t live without. Luckily for me, Tiffany came ready-made as a partner, so a fine collection was waiting when I moved in. The rest of my books are spread across three cities. It’s just easier to build anew than keep carrying it all around.
What are some of your favorites? Is there a book or books you guys disagree over? One you both really dig?
MK: No particular order—the first three Pynchon novels, HOPSCOTCH, BLOOD MERIDIAN, everything Sam Pink, AMERICAN TABLOID, THE DARK HALF, THE NIGHT GARDENER, WISE BLOOD, everything Cody Goodfellow, REVEREND AMERICA, the Gately stuff in INFINITE JEST. Cameron Pierce’s LOST IN CAT BRAIN LAND had some stories in it that made me feel. Daniel Woodrell’s BAYOU TRILOGY is meaty as fuck. I think my favorite has to be the ten or so loose pages left of my first copy of GRAVITY’S RAINBOW—I got so frustrated at that book the first time I read it that I tore it to pieces, distributing most of its pages across the Indianapolis loop. But for some reason, I couldn’t shake that book out of my head, and over the years it’s become the one I revisit most.
Tiffany and I don’t disagree much on books. I suppose I don’t get Sylvia Plath, so maybe that counts. But we like Bolaño’s ANTWERP a lot. We pick books to read to each other. Recently it was ZEROVILLE by Steve Erickson. Now it’s I AM GENGHIS CUM by Violet LeVoit.
TS: My turn already? Jesus. Too many to even know where to start. Uh, EVERYTHING AND NOTHING by Borges is my absolute favorite collection of short stories. OF LOVE AND OTHER DEMONS by Garcia-Marquez made me cry like a baby. HELL HOUSE, NEUROMANCER, THE SHINING, RAYUELA, THE BELL JAR, WRITTEN ON THE BODY, WISE BLOOD, the SHADOW OF THE WIND series. THE BABY JESUS BUTT PLUG was my gateway book into bizarro fiction. From there I fell in love with ROTTEN LITTLE ANIMALS, TRASHLAND A GO-GO, WE LIVE INSIDE YOU, PLACENTA OF LOVE, OCEAN OF LARD, TUMOR FRUIT, HAUNT; shit by Cody Goodfellow, Brian Keene, Shane McKenzie, and J David Osborne. I’m sure I’m forgetting to mention a million more books.
Mike and I actually enjoy a lot of books together. Picking up books we’re both excited about and taking turns reading chapters/sections to each other—yeah, we’re gross. We haven’t really disagreed on books, but there have been excerpts I’ve read by Sylvia Plath and Jeanette Winterson that he didn’t seem overly impressed by. So my queer/feminist section may stay relatively untouched by him, which is funny because Michael loves hanging out with lesbians.
MK: That’s true. Lots of my friends happen to be lesbians.
Writers are divas. How do you guys deal with each other when the “writing blues” attack? How do you go about offering support?
MK: Writers are tough to be around. Most times we communicate it’s easy to just imagine actual vomit or shit seeping copiously from our mouths. I’d be afraid to hear my own conversations from a distance. Often with other writers on social media, both professional and not, I find myself wanting to type “shut the fuck up” into the comment sections. I always manage to stop myself, thankfully. But they’re also my people, so it’s love-hate. I’m sure someone feels like that about me.
One way that having a partner who’s also a writer has been beneficial is that over the past six months, she and I have supported each other when pressed with deadlines. You learn that there are some moments to provide someone with space and other moments for bridging that space. It’s also nice when we have time to proofread each other and can immediately point out oversights, shit that on its own takes days or weeks, maybe longer. There’s a scene in my upcoming book that Tiffany actually wrote for me, because I was clueless as to its execution—she was sketching out an example of what I could do with the idea and her version turned out better than what I had tried to do, so I pilfered it.
TS: Ha! Have fun trying to guess which scene that is, I guess. Michael and I are wondering which scene I might get incorrectly credited for. Now, going back to the question, writers are total divas. I was gonna write some witty banter about conversations with writers, but I like Michael’s answer better. So we’ll just go with what he says about puke and shit. As far as our relationship goes, I feel that it helps that we’re both writers. We understand each other pretty well and have been able to navigate proper support based on that. Space, pep talks, forced breaks, coffee refills, food. It’s kind of awesome. I also love that we can bounce ideas off of one another. And when we get stuck on scenes, we tackle them together. I’ve lost track of how many times we’ve both thrown our hands up in defeat over a scene, and the other comes in with a calm voice, asks about set up and goals, and offers a suggestion. We both love seeing the ideas we give each other click and hearing the rapid progression of keys being hammered at immediately afterward.
Okay, so you both have books out there. Tell us about them so we can go buy them.
MK: I get bummed by certain aspects of the writing industry, particularly salesmanship. I was explaining this to David Osborne, who’s publishing me, and he said “Well, tough shit. Go sell your book.” So in as few words as possible—LONG LOST DOG OF IT is Mediterranean neo-noir—an homeless detective in a strange city, a mob enforcer whose last job leaves a witness, an expatriate intent on murdering her unfaithful girlfriend, an assassin with a striking resemblance to the 35th President of the United States. Overlapping lives, etc. I like the logline for Lynch’s INLAND EMPIRE, “a woman in trouble”—this is like that: some people in trouble.
THERE’S NO HAPPY ENDING is bizarro horror. A love story at the end of the world. Everything falling apart in the literal way. Dresden and Isobel get separated right around the time things go to shit. Lots of memorable scenes: the ark, the aquarium, the infinite room, the ending. Real simple conflict: Will they find each other again? The situation says, Outlook Not Good. It’s part Y: THE LAST MAN, part ANGEL DUST APOCALYPSE. Deathly bleak at times too, but with a real sense of humor about it.
TS:Uh, they’re awesome! My book, THERE’S NO HAPPY ENDING, is an apocalyptic love story where two lovers are fighting impossible odds to find each other before the world physically disintegrates into nothing. It’s violent, gory, kind of funny, and heartfelt. People other than my own family seem to really like it. It’s available now through Eraserhead Press in paperback and Kindle on Amazon.
Michael wrote a punk-as-fuck crime noir book. LONG LOST DOG OF IT feels like what you’d get if maybe David Lynch directed a Bikini Kill video, but with badass action scenes. The imagery in this book is both haunting and boner-inducing. It’ll be out on both paperback and Kindle through Broken River Books on February 1.
Gabino Iglesias is a writer, journalist, and book reviewer living in Austin, TX. He’s the author of Gutmouth and a few other things no one will ever read. You can find him on Twitter at @Gabino_Iglesias