Interview with Joe Smith

Describe your desk
I don't really have a desk in the traditional sense. I like to be able to move around, so I sometimes write at a little cart next to a window, sometimes on the stationary bike. Other times, I write while doing daily tasks, including eating, waiting on my kids, a few moments stolen alone in the bathroom, etc. So, I use mobile devices, including smartphone, ipad, and laptop to get it all done. Since it's the macbook which lets me final formatting and tweaks, that's where everything lives, for sure, when I compile my archive for each writing project.
Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I grew up on the East Coast, and, although I wasn't conscious of it at the time, I was very much a working class kid in a middle-class kind of town. I was always advanced in school--my kids are the fourth generation to be doing so, thankyouverymuch--so, my thoughts were generally taken up with the projects and work those classes needed. My folks never had much and worked and worked and worked, but we always had real food, an organic garden instead of a backyard, and no awareness whatsoever that we were missing something. As I moved from East Coast to West Coast just as I was finishing adolescence, that whole first two decades is a frozen holocube in my head, and I started my first collection where I did because of that. My "Jersey Me" is very much part of my self-narrative, but other than providing an outsider status to everything I have experienced on the West Coast and abroad--it's been twenty-five years but feels like yesterday, truly--I don't think it has had much direct influence (as of yet).
When did you first start writing?
That's hard to answer. Almost as long as I have been reading, and I was reading real books before five, I have been writing. I have always found both my spoken and written words to be persuasive, particularly in the nonfiction kinds of writing I prefer, where there is a clear narratorial difference between event and presentation/presenter. Because of the kinds of classes I was asked to take from a very early age, I have always had to write and respond. However, with that said, I had a very marked experience at sixteen when I failed a class and had to, essentially, re-learn how to write. Why this happened, I cannot explain, but it certainly opened my eyes both to the power of words and the people who struggle with them. My writing ever since has been about capturing the truths I see, good or bad, and given the broad range of weird shit I have experienced or been party to, there is generally a mix of both, imho. :)
What's the story behind your latest book?
My two current collections tell what happened when I moved from Jersey to Humboldt County and then from the Lost Coast to the Inland Empire, to Riverside, two hours inland from Los Angeles and a world of difference because of it, in particular.
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
I like that the style of nonfiction I write affords me the opportunity to remember, think about, and re-think about many episodes from my life. Often, I was not the direct participant, or the only one, is perhaps the better way to put it, so it is quite enjoyable to get to unpack memories, sift through them, and then write about them as if sitting at a bar, shooting the shit, drinking, surreptitiously taking pipe hits, and enjoying being alive. Not everything is rosy, of course, but that's part of the point of nonfiction: to capture the truth as it is experienced by real, living human beings, who then try to channel those experiences into sharp, crisp images, crafted from words.
Who are your favorite authors?
For me, it was Hunter S, Thompson. In particular, it was a line in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas which did it for me. In describing the high-water mark of his generation, HST laid out for me all I would need to tell true stories, which, of course, is not the same as just, easily, telling the truth.

His ability to combine the eye of the journalist, the depth of the researcher, and the words of poetic metaphor inspired me then, at eighteen or nineteen, high as fuck at three a.m., re-reading for the third or fourth time, his amazing testament to honesty and truth, not despite drugs and alcohol, not by being a sober wallflower coolly taking objective notes, but because of the drugs and alcohol–because he could validate his individual perspective through his power of words.

There was something about the combination of the drugs and the reporting. I think a lot of people misunderstood what “gonzo” was supposed to be. Yes, the idea was to get fucked up, but the goal wasn’t that; it was just a means to an ends. If one were to write about the machinations of deceptions so deep that they framed our understanding of the world itself, then the use of drugs to de-rationalize, to not accept “just because,” was a very, very powerful tool to be harnessed towards the real goal: changing the world through the power of words.
What inspires you to get out of bed each day?
Inspiration? Not so much. Duty. Obligation. Responsibility. Bills. I wish I could stay in bed all day, but that's not happening any time soon.
Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
No, but I remember the first one which won an award. It was for a Holocaust remembrance event of some kind, probably, given the timing, the fortieth anniversary, I would guess. I used facts but fictionalized it into an account told from one boy's perspective about the loss of his sister and parents. It won an award; I don't think it was first place. But there was a piece of paper for my mother to hang on the wall, and that made her happy, so that's where it went.
What is your writing process?
No lie, I generally need to use cannabis to get my words right. I've heard theories about what you do while high will come back while high, and perhaps that's the case, but it's more the loosening akin to drinking for some writers. Many of us need to lower the gate a little bit, allowing more words to slosh forth. Particularly if you're used to being an observer, saying more and recording less, if you will, is certainly aided by a bong hit or three. But that aside, I use the conventional writing process: outline for overall structure and then lots and lots and lots of thinking and prewriting to generate the words the right way. It's usually more the thinking than anything else. I can feel when something is "ready" to write. It feels differently in my head. I'm able to quickly pull ideas together, use pieces from prewriting, but, most importantly, I am able to express the connections I want to the way I want to. Better than sex or the restroom. Not by much, maybe, but better.
How do you approach cover design?
I have a strong graphic design background, so I know ways to "slick" things up and "dirty" them down, if you will. I go for unity within diversity, meaning there's an overall look to the way I have put the covers and interior layout together, but each collection is separate, so the design, from colors to copy to layout, is reflective of that particular set of stories.
Why do you always include a musical note at the start of each piece?
Look, there's no way I can recall with any true accuracy, in most instances, exactly what we were listening to, but the selections do reflect a representative sample of what would have been on in the background, and sometimes the foreground, when these events took place. In some situations, though, and as indicated in the appropriate stories themselves, sometimes an exact soundtrack is absolutely part of these stories. I certainly encourage a playlist of these tracks or others from their original albums as an excellent way to feel as part of the moment during my crazy, insane, unforgettable experiences.
Published 2015-03-18.
Smashwords Interviews are created by the profiled author, publisher or reader.

Books by This Author

Inland Empire: 1991-1996 -- "Why I Went to College"
Price: $0.99 USD. Words: 2,400. Language: English. Published: March 18, 2015. Categories: Nonfiction » Biography » Personal memoir, Nonfiction » History » Modern / 20th Century
Joe Smith found relocation from the Jersey Shore to Southern California’s exurbs, the Inland Empire, to be a crazy, drug-fueled view of the American Dream come home to roost. His stories are true to a time and place which have become the de facto template for 21st Century life across the land: go west and read its obituary.
True Stories: A Lost Coast Year in Humboldt County -- "A Garbage Bag Full of Dope"
Price: $0.99 USD. Words: 2,270. Language: English. Published: March 18, 2015. Categories: Nonfiction » Biography » Personal memoir, Nonfiction » Entertainment » Biography
Joe Smith moved to Humboldt County, California, in the summer of 1990. A year later, he left for college, never spending more than a week again in Northern California. These are true stories from that year. Step behind the curtain of the Emerald Triangle and experience the Lost Coast as locals did before the region’s celebration and notoriety in international pop culture.
True Stories: A Lost Coast Year in Humboldt County -- "Apple bong"
Price: $0.99 USD. Words: 3,010. Language: English. Published: March 18, 2015. Categories: Nonfiction » Biography » Personal memoir, Nonfiction » Entertainment » Biography
Joe Smith moved to Humboldt County, California, in the summer of 1990. A year later, he left for college, never spending more than a week again in Northern California. These are true stories from that year. Step behind the curtain of the Emerald Triangle and experience the Lost Coast as locals did before the region’s celebration and notoriety in international pop culture.