An Interview With Brandon Vaughan
I can't remember how I became Facebook friends with Brandon. Since we have at least one mutual friend, I think it was recommended that we become friends. Anyway, Brandon is a writer, and he always has interesting Facebook posts, so I checked out a couple of his short stories, and I was struck by his vivid descriptions. They can be both tender and brutal, but you always get a sense of "being there" when you read his stories. I asked him if he would like to be interviewed, and he said yes. The following is a transcript of that interview. Wait--can I call it a transcript if the questions and answers were emailed?
It says you've been a writer since 1976. You're 38, right? That means you were writing since you were a baby! What the fuck, dude?
All writing comes from life experience. As soon as I could open my eyes, I began recording and storing away sounds, colors, and flavors. Writers tend to remember everything for later reference. Actually, no one has ever called me out on that statement before. I just tried to bullshit my way through that answer. Did it work?
Brandon in sixth grade. Photo courtesy of Brandon's Facebook collection.
Of course! I just got done reading your posts about your mom and dad. The one about your dad brought tears to my eyes. My ex-boyfriend has an alcoholic mom, and he won't touch it. What made you touch it and why?
I grew up around alcohol. My mother always had booze in the house. The adults imbibed, and the kids begged for sips. We (mother and step-dad) moved to Germany when I was eleven. There, if you can reach the bar, you can drink. I was angry at my displacement from Southern California to Wiesbaden, and I hung out with all the other military brats. We drank all the time, this bunch of pre-teens. Military housewives would supply us with liquor and let us hang out in their houses. It was surreal.
As a hat model. Photo courtesy of Brandon's Facebook collection.
Parenting seems to be the hardest job there is. Why do you think people continue to have/want kids even though their parents weren't the best?
Maybe everyone just wants to have a legacy. I don’t know. Some people have children as accessories. Others have them because they plan them. I know a lot of cats personally who did it just to break negative cycles, proving that they could love the way they never were by their own parents.
What did you write your first story about?
My first story was titled “Bucky the Beaver”. Bucky was the name of the mascot at Camp Cedar Falls, where I had stayed the previous summer. It was about a private detective (Bucky the Beaver) who stole Ferraris and dated models. My parents had shown me FRITZ THE CAT at an early age, and I suspect it showed a little bit in my story.
Sure sounds like it! My mom encouraged my writing, even when it might have been inflammatory. Why do you think your mom didn't encourage your writing?
I remember my mom always thought my writing was too dark and violent. People were always getting butchered in my stories, and this worried her. Plus, she had become a career woman by this time. She told me artists all died poor, but had raised me to follow my own drummer. Those hippie ideals became yuppie values. Writing just wasn’t a viable option to her.
Do you think her fucked-up relationships with men made it hard for her to see you as her son, and to treat you better?
Yes. Her father made no secret that he had always wished her a boy. He was a vile man, an abusive alcoholic incapable of loving. She compared every man in her life to her father. I think she saw her father in those men’s faces, and ultimately in mine. A few years ago, she told me all men were just like her father. Including me.
I was struck at your crystal-clear descriptions and your ability to write tenderly, and then lead me into a world of drugs. How do you do that?
I remember those situations I wrote about clearly. Part of me felt as if I were a reporter imbedded with these insane characters, helming a ship of fools. So when I write about them, raw emotions surface. I have wept at the keyboard more than once while writing about past experiences. If I can tap that energy, it hopefully translates to paper.
Do you like mafia stuff? I'm kind of interested in that, because it seems like a strange little society, within American society.
There is no Mafia.
What motivates you to write? I find when I'm angry about something, that gets me going.
Lately, I’ve been motivated by sobriety. When I drank I could barely put an idea together, let alone man the keyboard. After a few months dry, the dam burst with ideas. I had all these stories to tell. Anger is a terrific motivator. When I get sad, I love to write.
I had an acquaintance once who posted something extremely rude on my Facebook page on my birthday over three years ago. Since then, I've used her as the villain in one of my stories, and in my erotic romance novel. Do you use real people to create characters? Do you ever feel guilty about it?
I often use real people as characters. I never feel bad until their character loses a body part or drowns in their own puke. Sometimes I confess my transgression to that person. This is usually greeted with stark terror.
Do you write just short stories? Do you have anything longer, like a novella or an actual novel?
I write mostly short stories. I have been experimenting with three-page horror tales, but they can be a lot of work. Currently, I am near-completion of a novella. I’m planning some more novellas, and hope to eventually make that novel my bitch.
Do you have a book deal? Do you make money off your stories? Do you do other kinds of writing in order to earn a living?
No book deal yet. I haven’t made enough money from my writing to write home over. I used to write papers for college kids. That netted decent cash. I should look into that again.
What do you think about self-publishing? I've done it, because I'm not sure I want to wait until I'm nearly 70 to get a book deal, only to discover it was through some small outfit that wants me to bust ass to market it, just like I would a self-published book. It's satisfying to see my words in print.
I need to do more homework on self-publishing. I thought it would be simple. Nothing to it but to do it, right? Wrong. A lot of what I researched looked like all work with a minimal hope of revenue.
Do you think creative types are predestined to have substance abuse problems, or if not that, just to be depressed a lot? Because that's me, depressed a lot.
Someone said that artists create art in order to deal with their madness. We are an eccentric bunch. I know I deal with bouts of severe depression, substance abuse, and anxiety. You may be onto something there. There is something romantic about the idea of the artist’s head in the oven because of unrequited love.
How do you think that ties in with the creative process? The actress Patty Duke wrote a book that linked mental illness with creativity.
Sadness and pain have produced some of my best poetry/writing. Heroin helped me write some my most introspective ink-jazz. Meth would aid me as I curled in the corner, furiously scribbling sonic-speed thoughts in a notebook until dawn broke.
Would you trade your writing skills for anything else?
I would trade my writing skills for a bag filled with marbles. Marbles are tits.
You've posted personal shots on your Facebook page, so I kind of have a glimpse of your life. Do you get choked up when you go to weddings, knowing how disasterous it could turn out?
Did having a difficult childhood give you pause when you decided to have kids?
I hate weddings. I hate the pomp and circumstance. Hell, I hated my own weddings. These are not emotional events for me. They are pains in the ass. Unless it’s a wedding on my mom’s side of the family. Then I’m delighted by the fistfights, confrontations, and police lights.
How has your own experience growing up affected your relationship with your children? Didn't you post a FB update saying teenage boys were disgusting and that Axe shouldn't be used in place of showering?
My relationship with my children is tumultuous at best. I find myself imposing a lot of my own bullshit on them. Parents are the best at projecting their fears and failures onto their children, and I am a repeat offender. It is tough, feeling like I know the inevitable follies and traps that await them as young men, yet knowing I must allow them to experience life for themselves. I have to believe I am giving them the best possible life skills. It is not something in which I excel.
Boxers or briefs? (The ladies want to know!)
I go commando. I’ve never worn briefs, and haven’t worn boxers since 2006.
What's your writing routine? I blog twice a week, and write in my journal every night, but sometimes weeks go by before I work on my fiction, and I feel guilty about that.
Sometimes I will sit and barely accomplish any writing. Other times, I’ll write for six hours straight. I never go anywhere without a notebook and a pen.
How has technology affected your writing? I am thrilled that I can self-publish a book and not have to order a gazillion copies of it. I love print on demand!
Technology has blessed my writing endeavors. I love being able to instantly share links on social media. I’m a little disappointed in Twitter. Thought that was really going to do the work for me. On the other hand, technology has spoiled me. I whine about writing longhand because typing is so much faster.
You were adopted. Did you ever wonder what your life would have been like if your birth mom had kept you?
No, I never really wondered that. I have always wondered about my biological mother. Not my biological father (who disappeared upon news of my imminent arrival). Just her.
Have you ever met her? If not, why not?
I’ll never meet her. I didn’t find out I was adopted until 1986. I was born in Washington, where the state seals adoption records until the child is twenty-seven. By 2003, I no longer had any desire to disrupt her life.
How hard has it been to quit drinking? I know you are quitting smoking now, and it can be tough. Which has been harder to quit and why?
Quitting smoking has been far more difficult. Smokers program themselves to require nicotine at specific times. When do I want a smoke? After sex, before bed, first thing in the morning, after I shower, after I eat, after I smoke a bowl, and just after masturbating. And right now, after writing so much about smoking.
What do you hope to accomplish with your writing?
I hope my writing inspires others to write. Or to live their lives. Or how to locate the roses among the thorns. Or that a poor Spanish boy has skills beyond landscaping and customer service. Anything really, as long as it is positive.
Brandon in a particularly fierce mood. Photo courtesy of Brandon's Facebook collection.
What sucks in our society?
I hate that all the humanitarians in our country only seem interested in helping people in other countries. I’m not slamming them for their work. That’s more than I do. I just think there is so much that needs attention in our own neighborhoods, and it’s being overlooked. Also, I think it sucks the way society glamorizes bullshit. You know why the rest of the world laughs at us? Because we allow Kanye West and the E Channel to be our ambassadors.
What do you love?
I love the feel of grass beneath bare feet, a nice filet mignon, raspberry iced tea, Red Vines, sunflower seeds, a woman’s fingertips softly grazing my flesh, driving fast, explosions, Johnny Cash, and B-movies. On the real, I love life. Check that. I am in love with life.
I want to meet Tom Atkins so I can tear off his mustache and wear it over my own.
Where can we read and/or buy your work?
Read my blogs at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow me on Twitter @VaughanDoom, friend me on Facebook by pretending we were Army buddies, and check out Dark Places magazine at darkplaces.co.uk.