Can you share with readers a little about your latest book?
On July 7th, 2012, Jesse Burke passed away. He was my dearest friend. Jesse and responsibility is the fictionalization of our time together. In 2011, I quit drinking, which made me very sick. I knew Jesse in China as a roommate, bar buddy and Franc-o-fied-American away from home. He got married in 2011, and the month I spent in China celebrating with him, his new wife and our friends was the highlight of that year. His passing was a terrible loss. We were different and depended on each other. When I wasn’t in China we kept in touch with email and occasional phone calls. My last words to him were, “It was meant to be.”
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
After two years of studying Chinese, I did some written translations while living in Beijing. Translation is an art. The goal is “naturalness,” and it is difficult. Then I had a tongue in cheek construction advice column for a city-based magazine and wrote articles here and there. Afterward, I took Critical Analysis as a philosophy class at Bakersfield’s local junior college. That class had a profound effect on my understanding of premises and conclusions. It was invaluable for self-editing; as a logical discipline of cutting out what isn’t supportive. What is not cleavage should be taken out. Good writing makes supportive statements conspicuous because it is only common knowledge after you have said it.
I got a bachelor’s degree in my late 20s, and there were freshman or freshman-types, calling themselves writers. Despite translating, magazine articles and a slew of written project reports, I still didn’t consider myself a writer. When the freshman-types declared themselves writers I thought, hatefully, ‘no you aren’t.’
My thesis was part of my undergraduate work and I cut it from 40 pages to four-five pages in the Summer of 2010. Satisfied with the result, I started to consider myself a writer. Jesse and responsibility took five months of writing every day. Now it is selling in England, that is a singular thrill.
Why did you choose to write in your particular field or genre?
This is where it is important to differentiate style from genre. Jesse and responsibility is written in English with some non-tonal pinyin Mandarin. The style is “Ouvroir de Litterature Potentielle,” or “Oulipo.” It is a French experimental form that imposes constraints, resulting in hyper-structuralized, hyper-compressed story-telling. At 96 pages, Jesse and responsibility is a squeaker of a novella. Oulipo’s constraints bring prose to poetry and poetry to paragraph. I completed a selection of poetry before beginning Jesse and responsibility and ultimately found Oulipo’s constraints to be liberating. Jesse and responsibility was written sequentially: word, paragraph, chapter, without thought for genre. On the day of publication, I picked “Adventure” as the best fit.
What are some day jobs you have held?
After Jesse died, I stayed in. I was in Phoenix at the time. Then a neighbor told me he was working the Cardinals games. I needed to get out, and it was the kind of job you could get with a name and date of birth. The first game I worked they played the Philadelphia Eagles. I was in the parking lot walking around the tail-gaiting parties.
There was a big group of Eagles’ fans in the middle of the parking lot with huge kegs of beer, music, satellite dishes on the tops of cars for big screen TVs in truck beds and big gas BBQ’s grilling meat for Philly Cheese Steak Sandwiches. We called it Eagle Island. Cardinals fans had similar setups all over and some of them grilled Philly Cheese Steaks too because “We’re going to eat’em up.” Not a bad day.
Do you work to an outline or plot sketch, or do you prefer to let a general idea guide your writing?
For me, it’s swinging from vine to vine. Have you ever had a dream where you can jump really high? It’s like that but there is gravity.
Is there any marketing technique you used that had an immediate impact on your sales figures?
Last week, I took down some fence at my place and put an ad on Craigslist selling it for “Best Offer.” One guy offered me twenty bucks for part of it. I told him, ‘how about you buy my books on Amazon ($11.98 plus tax for a set.) That worked.
Who is your favorite character in your book and why?
I like Mr. Snudgeberry very much. I see a lot of fire in him.
Who is your least favorite character and why?
Dean Rangappa. She is incompetent, to the point of being “un-American.” She gives anti-feminists a lot of ammo. Not that I’m a defender of feminism. But she has bad values and is iconically stupid.
If your book was made into a movie, who would you cast?
Shia Labeouf as Mr. Snudgeberry and Ryan Reynolds as Dean Rangappa.
I took a break from Neidermeir’s Revenge back in October 2014 and wrote a short film called Drive Marty.
It is an alternate universe Back to the Future coming of age story…and it is charming. There is the death of Uma Thurman, a Glee Cast Cameo…trip to Canada, it’s got it all. And I wrote a part for myself.
What is your next project?
The next novel is Not often with Roger . It’s like Tuesday’s with Morrie but with more death and funnier. It will be published somewhere in the 2020s. I’m in the middle of Neidermeir’s Revenge Number Six.
What role does research play in your writing?
As a historical researcher I read books, look for interviews and cross-check. As a writer of fiction…it’s in the air.
How can you connect with Clif or buy his book?