I've never met Brandon Vaughan, but I feel like I know him. I did an interview with him almost three years ago. Time flies! Read on for an entertaining look into one of the PacNorthwest's best writers! Also, there's important advice regarding stuff you should not do during your first year of sobriety, because Brandon has done all three. Learn from the man, kiddos.
How's the sobriety? Still off booze and cigarettes?
This week I’ll be forty-one months sober. To me, that simply means I’ve almost lasted three and a half years without touching a drop of alcohol. Which isn’t shit, frankly. If I allow it, my sobriety will evaporate. I can’t relax for a moment in recovery. Sobriety is a fucking full-time job. In order to remain sober, I constantly evaluate, process, observe, and remain self-aware. I stay vigilant. When something feels off, I run a system check using the H.A.L.T. method. Am I Hungry?Angry?Lonely?Tired? If I feel one of those things, then I immediately remedy the problem. If I feel two at once, I have the tools to correct them. Three or all of the above, and I’m in big trouble. Knowing this, at the very minimum, I must eat and be well-rested. If angry and lonely, I then must examine the reason honestly; this way, unchecked feelings won’t fester and ultimately cause even more harm. Sometimes this all happens before I’m out of bed.
I am a casual smoker, I suppose. If I do buy a pack, it lasts for a week. I seem to only justify smoking cigarettes after stressful situations. It’s not a habit I can afford anyway. That six bucks could buy me a sandwich.
I gave up soda for Lent. Seems like I can stick to Lenten promises, and I'm not religious. What did you give up for Lent?
I don’t practice lent. The whole ritual is silly to me. My Pops was a devout Christian, and I can’t recall lent ever being discussed. Theoretically, If I can give up something for a month, then I can give it up for good. That is something I would do for myself, for the long-term enrichment of my life. Not as part of any archaic religious ritual. Not for “God”.I have long regarded myself an agnostic. However, in the past year I have begun to explore atheism. Atheism is the most compelling concept yet.
Also, I am currently reading Ash Wednesday by Chet Williamson. I think this is vaguely lent-related news.
Tell me about your work. Any more short stories. You've got a publisher now, right? Did you finish that novella?
Dynatox Ministries will be publishing my debut novel DIE WITH YOUR BOOTS ON. I pitched it as The Warriors meets 3:10 to Yuma. It is an outlaw biker story set in the ashes of 2023. Initially I envisioned it as a story about lemur biker clubs, but Jordan (at DM) flat out said he didn’t want to do any stories with animals acting human. I’m really happy he put down his foot. It feels like an embarrassingly juvenile idea now. I can’t say much more about the novel until contracts are signed.
I’ve been writing lots of short stories so far this year. I wrote a bunch of silly ones about Pauly Shore, and half-jokingly floated the idea of a Pauly Shore anthology on social media. It received a huge, positive reaction. I think it would be great. Someday I may pitch the idea.
Ultimately, i scrapped the novella. I lost interest in it. Zombies have saturated the market. I can barely stand to watch The Walking Dead because ohmygod, more zombies this week. So the idea of writing The Nursery made me sick. I have nothing new to say on the subject of the undead. I just don’t care about zombies anymore.
What's your take on the current political climate? You've posted a few things on Facebook, like that family who was told by a customer to “build that wall” and they responded they weren't going to fucking build anything. What else have you seen that horrifies you?
The current political climate scares the shit out of me. I’ve been notoriously uninterested in past presidential campaigns. I listened to the candidates this time around, made up my mind, and let it go. I remember thinking There is no way that fucking idiot will get elected. Bernie will step forth and lead this country. But it didn’t happen that way, and the real shitty people suddenly had a mouthpiece, a slug to worship in their own shitty images.
A customer told me if the wall was already built, people like me would finally be sent back home. That is the extent I will comment on the stuff that personally horrifies me. I was primed with dozens of examples and stories, but I don’t want to shine any more light on that topic. The pigs have finally unmasked, and now we know who they are. We have met the enemy, and they are EXACTLY who we fucking thought they were.
Even though I hate Trump, in a crazy way, he IS making America great again by galvanizing people who are horrified by him to volunteer, protest, call their representatives, and step up. I'm doing my part by pestering Trump with a postcard every day asking where the jobs are and that I hate NAFTA. Are you doing anything like this?
My revenge--my protest--is to show anyone interested that a Spanish high school drop-out drug addict/alcoholic ex-felon can get still rise up in the Trump era to make something better of himself. I’m working harder than I ever have. I’m hungry. I want more. I want that management spot at work. I want that corporate seat. They don’t want that. They want the poor beneath the poverty line. They want people like me to stay desperate, to develop Stockholm Syndrome with the boot on my neck. Not this cat. Not anymore. More to the point, I want to show my sons that if I can get my shit together, then anything is possible. I am not the man I once was.
In the last interview, you said you'd never meet your birth mother. Since I follow you on Facebook, I know that has changed, and it seemed like a really positive experience. Discuss.
None of it feels real. It’s been two years now, and we are still complete strangers. I have yet to meet my sister (who has remained suspicious of me since first contact). My mother took me to Seaside for an overnight trip. We walked barefoot up and down the Oregon coast, holding hands and talking about forty years worth of experiences. She pushed me on the swingset on the beach. We ate double-stuffed Oreo cookies and drank Mexican coffee and played Uno. She gave me her sunglasses (dark Ray-Bans). We text a lot. It is amazing just to be able to tell her I love her. Spanish is her primary language, and mine is English, so there are always interesting exchanges.To be able to hug her and to finally have so many blank spaces filled in is the ultimate catharsis. Ultimately, nothing seems impossible to me anymore. Because forty years ago, neither of us ever thought we would meet the other.
Do you go to any writing events like workshops? I know they are pricey, but I went to the San Francisco Writer's Conference, and I will do whatever it takes to go back there. So worth it.
I’ve taken several online writing workshops run by authors I admire in the local/Bizarro/weird fiction scene. Currently, I’m taking one hosted by an author/editor I have known for a few years now. He has edited some of my work, and helped me produce some of my strongest work. Much of it has been--or will be--submitted for publication. A workshop over the summer helped develop a great working relationship with one of my favorite East Coast author/publishers. The exercises and feed-back are terrific. Not to mention rubbing elbows with the cool kids. Plus, starving artists can afford the workshops.
What's the writing scene like where you live? I'm pretty isolated, because I live in a conservative town, and it seems like the weekly writer's groups are led by a lecturer, and we don't get to read each other's stuff. Maybe that's changed. I'd almost rather post stuff on Scribophile, or NovelTrove, and get feedback.
There is a massive writing scene thriving in Portland. But I live in Silverton (forgotten farm country/soft nuclear target) and bum rides off of my room mate so I don’t really know what it’s like. However, November each year promises the return of BizarroCon. BC is a beautiful, magical, psychedelic trip of immersive sensory overload guided by the sexiest, sharpest, strangest literary minds in the burroughs. These incredible people--performance artists, writers, actors, and musicians--converge on a haunted hotel for three days. There are readings unlike any you’ll likely encounter. For instance, last year a reading of a book about a drunk driving race featured volunteers pretending to drive in circles throughout the Ad House kitchen/living room. It’s a festival atmosphere filled with kind, talented souls. I’ve been fortunate enough to attend the past two. Oh, and the Ultimate Bizarro Show-Down: a talent contest where ANYTHING can happen. After the mayhem of the showdown, I usually find myself smoking a metric ton of pot with rock star authors.
I'm sorry I didn't get the questions to you by the anniversary date we agreed on. I suffer from depression, and it was really bad this fall. I hate that it has me gripped. I literally didn't get out of bed unless I had to. Please forgive me.
My doctor diagnosed me with severe depression. Although I take Zoloft daily, I still suffer from deep periods of overwhelming depression. You never have to apologize to me when something is delayed because you are taking care of yourself.
As someone of Spanish heritage, but with a non-Spanish first and last name, do you feel people make assumptions about you? Meaning, do they think you're not Spanish and they make racist remarks? I feel because my last name is Diaz, they automatically assume I'm on welfare and have lots of kids and that I don't speak English.
I am a guero. I’ve encountered plenty of Latinos who dismissed me as a white boy. I’ve dealt with plenty more white boys who treated me like a spic. I’ve put up with casual racism my entire life. My step-father (an Air Force officer) was a bigot. My adoptive father told racist jokes in hushed tones. More often than not, I will feel a connection with other Hispanics at first. Until they discover I am not fluent in Spanish. I can sort of see the connection dim in their eyes. Although if I bat my eyes enough, we usually find common ground fast, lol.
Are you still in love with life? Sometimes I think I would be, if I had the things I want, like to be paid lots of money for doing the things I love, and a flexible work situation so I could fly somewhere if I wanted to.
Still in love with life? Ha ha, I said that in the last interview, didn’t I? Man, that sounds like such a grandiose, naive bullshit statement to me. I remember the night I answered those first questions. It was a sticky summer night, and I had just walked away from my third marriage. I barely had a year of sobriety under my belt, had a brand new girlfriend, and was moving to Milwaukie (one of Portland’s burroughs). I was riding my pink cloud pretty hard that summer. I later learned that the three things you should never do in the first year of sobriety are: move to a new place, start a new relationship, or make a massive life-altering decision like divorce. I committed all three sins simultaneously.
So no, I am not in love with life. I love the unexpected, wonderful moments in all their glorious clarity. I love the smell of the produce as I walk through a grocery store. I love when I see an act of kindness. I love when I can see tangible results of hard work in my daily life. But life is fickle. Life can beat you down, strip your soul, and cast you into the gutter. Life can shake you from slumber, and when you’re sober there is no place to hide. You have to face it. You have to face reality and life on their terms, which means playing fucking roulette. You have to accept the bucket of warm shit with the five-course dinner. People I love die. People I love leave me. But a desert sunset is still breathtaking.
Do you get up to Portland much? Is it really as cool as everyone says it is?
Not very often. Last time I went up to Portland was in mid-November. Prior to that, I hadn’t been in the city since March 2016. Portland is exactly as cool as you think it is, by way of experience. Portland gives off a very shiny, hip vibe. The air seems fresh, and the hustle and bustle of daily life can be a turn-on for weirdos like me. It is a pretty cool place. Of course, I was raised a city boy. And once I spend any real amount of time in a city/borough/town I start to see it with less-starry eyes. Like any other city, it is congested, expensive, filthy, and there’s no fucking parking. Everyone is flocking there, driving up the cost of everything. Every person I know living in Portland has forty-seven roommates. The place just really feeds my anxiety, unless I’m on the MAX (Metropolitan Area Express). When I’m watching the city through the light rail windows, I find it tranquil. I find it beautiful.
Congrats on graduation! How is the love scene? You were recently in Sucker Free City--How was your visit? When are we going to grab a cheeseburger and talk internet dating, defunct writing groups, celebrity encounters, French press coffee, and Game of Thrones?
And a big shout-out to my sons (Pops loves you!), Skurvy Ink for teaching me how to fold a T-shirt like a goddamn screen-printer, and Jordan Krall at Dynatox Ministries/Dunham Manor Press for liking my insanity enough to publish it. Say Rah!!!!