Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Razored Zen Interview: Chris La Tray


I think it’s time to run another author interview. My guest today is Chris La Tray. I first became aware of Chris’s work on Beat to a Pulp, with his story entitled “The Pickle”. Later, we exchanged blog visits, and then I got to meet Chris in real life when his job brought him to the New Orleans area for a visit. We ate some Italian food and had a few Italian beers. Then we had some American beers. There are plenty of geographical (beer) areas to explore yet on his next visit. Without further ado, here’s Chris. (RZ represents Razored Zen and I’m sure you can figure out what CLT stands for.)

RZ: Tell us a little about yourself outside of writing. Home town. Family. Job. That sort of thing.

CLT: I live in Missoula, MT. I was born and raised in the area, but have lived in other places (Pacific Northwest, Ohio) for enough years to know this is pretty much where I want to be. The University of Montana is here, so culturally we are kind of a little oasis in the midst of what is a pretty conservative state. I like that from my ass at my desk here, I could literally be on a trail in about 20 minutes where I'd be as likely to see a bear or mountain lion as I would another person.

As for family, I share the house with my 18yo son and my wife, Julia, who is a clothing designer operating under the name DonkeyGirl Designs (shameless plug, buy her stuff!). Both of them are wildly creative and keep me inspired with the things they do. We also have two cats and four dogs here -- three of which are Jack Russells. Those little bastards keep me on my toes too. In fact, I'm downstairs writing this with the music loud so I can't hear any mayhem they may be up to elsewhere in the house.

RZ: What made you want to write? Is it a desire that’s always been with you? Or was there some particular event or book that ignited the fire?

CLT: I grew up living kind of in the middle of nowhere and didn't have the opportunity to spend a lot of time with other kids when I wasn't in school. As a result, I read a lot, and that led to writing stories. I have this little blank book I received for the "Reading Award" when I graduated from 8th grade, and it has an inscription from my teacher that says something like "A little something to help you on your way to writing your first fantasy novel!"

When I got into high school I started playing in rock bands. That became my primary passion, but I always thought that writing a book would be something fun to do on the side (while on the tour bus, you know). When I realized that rock stardom probably wasn't going to find me (we arrived in Seattle in the late 80s/early 90s packing spandex instead of flannel), the rock band sort of went on the back burner, though I do still play in one. I wrote two fantasy novels back in the early 90s, then stopped for a few years. Started writing again, mostly record reviews and interviews and things, which led to some freelance stuff for the local weekly, and then I started writing fiction again after taking a couple local workshops. So I would stay it has been a path I've been staggering along since I was pretty young, really, with occasional diversions. Seems to be going pretty steady now, though.

RZ: Writers always get asked about their influences. Consider this that question.

CLT: I was into fantasy as a kid. Conan, the Lord of the Rings, stuff like that. When I started playing Dungeons and Dragons as a junior high punk, I used the "suggested reading" list in the First Edition Dungeon Masters Guide as gospel. As I've gotten older, the stuff I read and the writers I admire have become so varied that this could go on for pages and pages. What I like best, and what I try to create with my own writing, is the kind of stuff that reads quickly and tells a compelling story. I can forgive writing that could use some tightening up much more readily than something that is working magic with language but isn't saying shit to me.

RZ: Chris, you write both fiction and nonfiction. Do you have a preference between the two? Do you find one easier than the other? Is there any common thread between your fiction and nonfiction?

CLT: I love fiction, and I could go on and on with ideas of stuff I'd like to write, or stuff I've read that I had a great time with. But in the last ten years or so the stuff that really wows me the most, and inspires, and makes me say, "Damn, I wish I'd done that!" is all in nonfiction. Writers going out and learning about something and writing about it, having adventures, telling stories that are factual revelations. People like David Quammen, John Vaillant, Susan Casey . . . these are narrative nonfiction writers that have blown me away not just with their writing but with the adventures that drove them. I would LOVE to do that kind of thing.

As for a common thread, that sense of adventure is probably it. It goes back to stories of Conan or Tarzan exploring lost ruins, or Doug Chadwick chasing wolverines in Glacier National Park. I find it utterly thrilling, utterly compelling.

The majority of my nonfiction writing has been related to music, and I burned out on it. I got tired of finding descriptions and trying to find new ways to describe bands when it came to articles, record reviews, etc. I finally stopped doing it just because my heart wasn't in it. I would write a 200 word music review and get paid $15 for it. When I decided to stop, I was irritated that most bands, rather than send press kits with CDs and things, would send links to downloads. I didn't want to put in the time to find it, wade through all the MySpace bullshit (because that is where the majority of the links were directed), download it, and burn a CD, because I would do the bulk of my listening in my truck which would only play CDs. For $15 I didn't think it was worth my time.

Honestly? Big mistake. When I consider the thousands and thousands of words of fiction I've written for zero, zilch, no money, that irritation over a "measly" $15 is pretty stupid. I could sure use the extra $45 - $75 a month I was getting for the reviews, not to mention the occasional feature article that might net me $60 or $80. It also taught me economy of words, because 200 words isn't much to work with, especially related to something I liked. Or 800 words, for that matter. Trying to write an article about the Melvins, a band who has been around a long time, while also including quotes from Buzz Osbourne -- who is one of the most entertaining interviews ever -- is a real challenge with only 800 words to play with. I probably learned more from the discipline than I realized, not to mention the process of working with editors, deadlines, etc.

What am I saying? The nonfiction stuff I was doing was much easier in a lot of ways, paid better, (i.e. at all) was excellent practice, but was also irritating and mildly soul-sucking. But I was an idiot for dropping a gig that paid pretty regularly.

RZ: Writing can be hard work. What motivates you to keep going? What inspires you?

CLT: I think watching my wife work so hard with her clothing design inspires and motivates me more than anything else, just to keep at it. It certainly isn't the money, nor is it the idea that I have something huge and important to say that hasn't already been said, better, many times before. It really is hard friggin' work, and I'd be lying if I said I don't struggle with that. Not the work so much as just the turnaround. It sucks to write a story, submit it, then wait weeks and weeks or months and months to hear anything at all about it, for better or worse. If one hears anything at all, mind you. I haven't submitted a novel yet, and I'm already gnashing my teeth over that. I've been writing songs and performing them for most of my life, and the turnaround there is way faster. I could write a song tonight, go to rehearsal tomorrow and be playing it as a band in a matter of minutes. Then unleashing it live shortly thereafter and getting some feedback. The wait when it comes to that kind of sharing with writing is the hardest part for me. But I keep doing it, and try not to bitch about it too much because there are so many of us in the same leaky boat. I realize that ePublishing and stuff can alleviate some of that, but I'm not thrilled to join the throng screaming, "Buy my stuff!" over and over again. Right now there are at least three collections out I'd like to pick up, and at least that many I already have but haven't read yet. It all gets pretty overwhelming, because I feel that if I don't buy and support other people's work, then what right do I have to ask them to support me?

But what can I say? I do it anyway. At some point, though, as the day gig becomes less and less capable of making the ends meet, I may need to find something different to spend this much time on that actually includes the occasional check. But I'm not to that point yet. And who knows, there might be spare minutes here and there while delivering pizzas, or standing on a street corner with a belly shirt and that spandex on I mentioned earlier, to jot down the occasional pulpy paragraph or two anyway.

RZ: What are you working on currently? And what’s next for you?

CLT: I'm juggling two novel projects and have a couple short story ideas I'm kicking around. I'm really trying to focus most of my energy on the novels, because I want to get them complete and submitted so I can be pissed off about that part of the process for a while, muttering the names of agents and editors into a growing pile of beer bottles, stuff like that. As for what's next, I have a story coming out at Beat to a Pulp at some point that I collaborated on with Grainger/Cranmer where I "cover" his Cash Laramie/Gideon Miles characters, adding in one of my own, but I'm not sure when that will show up, if ever. David is doing so well with his own work on those characters there's no real reason to publish it; I'd ride that wave too if I were him! Then I have a story coming out in a future issue of Needle; the Winter one, I think. Finally, I have a story coming out in the inaugural issue of Pulp Modern; I think that comes out before the year ends, but I'm not sure. Honestly, once something gets accepted, I don't really care when it comes about because by the time it does I know I will have a) forgotten what it's about, and b) will likely hate it when I re-read it. I'm just grateful to editors who actually respond to a submission at all, let alone say they will publish it. That tickles me to no end. Those people are the ones who are doing the thankless work, that's for damn sure.

My current band is in the process of recording our first album too, that should be wrapped up hopefully in October sometime. I wrote all the lyrics for that thing (except, now that I think about it, one song), and they're absolutely awful. But I love every damn word.

RZ: What work is available from you right now, and where can readers find it? Is there a place online where folks could go to learn more about you and your work?

CLT: My website, which is just a fancy word for "blog", is the best place. There is a page there with links to stuff that can be found online, both stories as well as some of the other articles I've written. As for the blog itself, it is probably a perfect example of what a writer shouldn't do, because it's totally all over the place, and is hardly ever about writing. One day I might review a movie, another day I might have pictures from a kickball game, and then another day I might have a picture of a pile of bear shit I came across out in the woods. But it's definitely a snapshot into my day to day life, and if it seems like I'm a jackass as a result, then it's probably because I pretty much am.

Chris, thanks for visiting Razored Zen.

And thanks for having me, Charles!


31 comments:

Paul R. McNamee said...

Always enjoy learning about new writers.

And, yeah, I tried the rock god thing, too, so I understand the more immediate feedback of song writing vs. prose writing.

Charles Gramlich said...

Paul, I was in a band for just a little while, in high school. I did the singing. We called ourselves Crash.

David Cranmer said...

Our story is called "About a Horse" and introduces a sharp new character of Mr. La Tray's named Blood. When? As soon as I get off my ass and edit it. It will probably be closer to the end of the year.

I would like to add that working with the Sage from Missoula is always a lot of fun and I hope we can collaborate again in the future.

Charles Gramlich said...

David Cranmer, I'm hoping to collaborate with him on some more beer one of these days. :)

BernardL said...

I enjoyed the interview. It was a good one.

X. Dell said...

La Tray sounds like a creative type. As a recovering musician turned writer myself, I can certainly relate.

Deka Black said...

I always enjoy learn about wordsmiths.. Thanks Charles and Chris for the interview ;)

Charles Gramlich said...

Bernardl, thanks, man. Chris is a great guy.

X-Dell, I have zero musical talent and can only look on in awe of those who do.

Deka, glad you enjoyed!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Another D&D geek! Too cool.

laughingwolf said...

thx, c & c...

charles, seems you found another genuine fella, instead of some shithead with never-to-be-realized pretensions of grandiosity!

Jess said...

The good, the bad and the ugly of NF writing--it's exactly what he says it is--easier, more opportunity and it pays. I like the honesty in this interview. And I love those Donkey Girl Designs! Ohhhhhh, to be young again... and much smaller. :)

Charles Gramlich said...

Alex, there seem to be a lot of you folks out there. :)

Laughingwolf, well said.

Jess, yeah, those designs are pretty cool. Glad you stopped by.

Steve Malley said...

Pretty awesome! :)

Charles Gramlich said...

Steve, thanks for dropping by, man

David J. West said...

Great interview Charles/Chris

Interesting I relate to the rock background.

I'm from Hamilton just barely south of Chris (and hope to return sometime soon...and to stay) Glad there are other pulpsters in the neighborhood.

Chris said...

Thanks for all the great comments, gang. It is much appreciated. I'm way behind on account of being on the road at the moment, but it's cool to see all the cool remarks.

As for beer drinking with Mr. Gramlich, I urge anyone with the opportunity to absolutely do so. Consider that NOLA's esteemed beer is called ABITA, which is named after the town where the man dwells. Coincidence? I think not. . . .

Charles Gramlich said...

David J., I'm sure you and Chris would get along.

Chris, yeah, Abita is good beer, man.

Carole said...

Great interview. Thought Chris has a pretty realistic look on the writing world. I'm from Plains, and it is nice to hear from Montana writers.

Charles Gramlich said...

Carole, for some reason I've always had a dream of living in either MOntana or Wyoming. May never get to do so but I've thought about it a lot.

Sidney said...

Very nice.

Charles Gramlich said...

Sidney, thanks.

Sean Patrick Reardon said...

Great interview. Always enjoy learning more about a writer. Loking forward to catching up on Chris' stories that I have not read yet.

I think Alice in Chains, who I really dig, traded in the spandex for the flannels

Drizel said...

Awesome interview, enjoyed reading it.
:)

Charles Gramlich said...

Sean, I have to admit to liking the music of spandex crowd better than the flannel crowd in general.

Drizel, thanks, glad you are enjoying.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

I didn't live around a lot of other kids when I was young, which was another reason I read so much. I write both fiction and non-fiction, and while I enjoy the fiction more, the non-fiction sells better.

Charles Gramlich said...

L. Diane Wolfe, thanks for visiting. My experience was much like yours. I grew up on a farm. Yes, nonfic pays better but I prefer writing fiction.

Erik Donald France said...

Thoroughly enjoyed this, and took me far away from Texas for a while . . .

Chris said...

Erik, I was just in Texas. A couple thousand miles and about 40 degrees later, and I'm glad to be gone.

Charles Gramlich said...

Erik, sometimes it's good to get away.

Chris, hot and dry down there right now, that's for sure.

jodi said...

Charles-nice interview on an interesting writer!

Charles Gramlich said...

Jodi, thankee.