NA: Tell me about Black Scat Books?
NC: When I was in the eighth grade I was given detention for clowning around in class. When the teacher left the room briefly (probably to have a smoke and calm her nerves) I started snooping around her desk and discovered a copy of Ginsberg’s HOWL. I started reading it and it changed my life. It was my introduction to the Beats, which inevitably led me to the avant-garde, pataphysics, and surrealism.
I grew up amid piles of books published by City Lights, Grove Press, Olympia (Paris), and Gaberbocchus (London). Those are the publishers whose footsteps Black Scat tiptoes in. I don’t think there’s anybody doing quite what I do…and that may explain why there’s no money in it.
NA: I think that everyone should look at your website before we talk more. You have to see the covers and read the descriptions of the books. It’s a beautiful website. Could you provide a link?
NA: Are you the sole editor of the press?
NC: I founded the press in July, 2012 here in the Bay Area. Artist Farewell Debut, in NYC, was in on the ground floor, and without her support and inspiration Scat would be a scrawny shadow of itself. Farewell and I go way back and have indulged in various art-lit conspiracies. From time to time I also get enlightened editorial assistance from Ryan Forsythe and Jim McMenamin.
NA: Farewell Debut? She’s a photographer? I think I saw her on the website.
NC: We published a book of her photographs:
NA: What attracts you to absurdist texts?
NC: We live in an absurd world. This point of view, this philosophy if you will, is a survival mechanism… a rational way of coping with the inherent strangeness of this planet and its day to day horrors. I don’t waste my time trying to decipher, define or make sense of things beyond interpretation. I embrace the absurd. I dance with it. And sometimes I kick it in the ass.
NA: How did you come up with the title, Black Scat?
NC: It morphed from my personal blog, Le Scat Noir (“where art & literature hit the fan”), which started out as an imaginary newspaper with concocted stories accompanied by odd illustrations. I don’t post there much now since Scat gobbles most of my time.
NA: What’s the origin of the Black Scat clown logo? I’d love you to attach a jpeg of the logo and one or two more of your covers.
NC: I came across that face in a 19th century French lantern catalog. I traced the image and altered it a bit to achieve the perfect grin. The rest, as they say, is history.
NA: I just read one of your recent books, Hotel Ortolon, by Tom Whalen, http://blackscatbooks.com/2013/08/31/your-room-is-waiting/, which is a book of prose poems, accompanied by dream-like photographs by Michel Varisco. The text reminds me of a Kafka story. Tom is fantastic writer. How did you come across Tom’s work?
NC: I’ve been a fan of Tom’s work for many years. He’s one of the most innovative writers working today. His wicked little Doll with Chili Pepper was the second book published in our Absurdist Texts & Documents series.
NA: I thought maybe I should include Tom in this interview and ask him to talk about Hotel Ortolan . . .
Tom, How did this book come about?
TW: Michel Varisco's foreword states:
"The text for Hotel Ortolan originated in a dream of the author’s in Münster, Germany. [...] The summer after I first read the story, I went to stay at an empty cottage owned by some friends that was located in the Languedoc region of southern France. It was Bastille day weekend, July 13th (my birthday), when I entered their three-story intensely vertical house, and noticed a cemetery marker on the fireplace mantle reading 'here lies Marcelle Marie Portal' with the date 'le 13 Juillet'. Out of that disorienting set of circumstances and the intrigue of Tom’s writing came the photographs."
She is right. This is one of the rare instances when I dreamed something worth recording. (Readers will recognize the section.) Over the next few weeks, as I wandered around Münster in a Westphalian or perhaps Annette von Droste-Hülshoffian daze, I would pause wherever and jot down the pieces that eventually became the text for Hotel Ortolan.
It's Michel's analogical faculty, her poetic eye that placed image to text so aptly and mysteriously. (For more on her work, see www.michelvarisco.com) We both loved the project, but it took several years (with an infamous hurricane in the middle) before we admonished ourselves for not trying to publish it. After extensively revising some of the sections, I suggested we submit it to Black Scat Books, in large part because I thought the press would do her photographs (and the writing) justice.
NA: Tom, how did it happen that you and the photographer, Michel Varisco, began to work together?
TW: During my last three years at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts I was lucky enough to have Michel as a colleague. She in the art department, I in the writing department. I liked her work and wrote a short piece on her "Cotton Mill Series." It began, "The rejected objects of our world have something to say to us, but we seldom hear them." I linked her photographs to Wright Morris's "transient ruins." Also she let me sit alone in her darkroom at the school, which I found very therapeutic.
NA: Could you provide an excerpt from the book?
TW: "In the room next to mine live angels. Sometimes when I pass their room during the day their door is partially open and I step in. They hang from the ceiling, one in each corner, their dark wings enfolding them like the wings of bats. Always one opens its eyes, which are as gray as the sea, and I politely ask if there is anything I can do for them, but the angel only shudders inside its wings and closes its eyes. I do not stay long, the smell of the room, like that of dead birds, is too strong. I have never seen them in the halls or outside the building. But often at night I hear them stirring about, hear their wings thump against my wall, and their soft moans to one another, like those of people making love." (page 27)
NA: Back to Norman, your latest book is a Tintin book. Tintin Meets the Dragon Queen in the Return of the Maya to Manhattan. Could you tell me about it? And provide a link to it?
NC: Tintin is but one of many characters in this extraordinary novel by Alain Arias-Misson. You’ll also find Captain Haddock, as well as several characters out of ‘real life,’ i.e., the Spanish philosopher, Ignacio Gomez de Liaño, novelist Walter Abish, and others. The adventure begins when ghostly Maya pyramids suddenly appear in the streets of Manhattan.
Arias-Misson is a writer who doesn’t fit into a familiar niche. He’s completely unique and quite a character himself!
NA: If you could pick any three authors to publish, dead or alive, who would you publish?
NC: Stefan & Franciszka Themerson; Georges Perec; Russell Edson. Oops, that’s four—sorry--and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Publishing translations from the French are a particular thrill for me. I’m fortunate to have John Crombie of Kickshaws Press (based in Paris) and Doug Skinner in my corner. John translated a collection of microdramas by the French humorist Pierre Henri Cami; and Doug has translated works by Isidore Isou (the founder of Lettrism) and the great Alphonse Allais (1854-1905).
Allais, I should mention, represents the heart and soul of Black Scat Books. He was the first writer I published and is totally unknown in the U.S. He was hailed by Breton and included in his seminal Anthologie de l’humour noir.
NA: How many books do you publish per year?
NC: About 20. I’ve been traveling all around northern California recently, so I’m doing much of my editing in motel rooms. It’s a bit chaotic.
NA: How do you find your authors?
NC: Most I’ve solicited directly, although a few have arrived unannounced and knocked on my in-box. For example, the British writer Samantha Memi was a pleasant surprise. I’ve known Nile Southern for years and together we assembled a collection of unpublished works by his father–Terry Southern–one of my favorite satirists.
NA: I’d love to close with a selection from one of your books.
NC: Here’s an excerpt from TINTIN MEETS THE DRAGON QUEEN IN THE RETURN OF THE MAYA TO MANHATTAN, a novel by Alain Arias-Misson
Augustus pivoted on his knees and scuttled back down the Pyramid in order to intercept this childhood hero lookalike, and even so, with his head lower than his posterior as he hurried on the downward slope, he experienced no pull from gravity, the inclined plane of the Pyramid's surface maintaining all the characteristics of a horizontal. And as he caught up with the odd-looking personage below, the latter glanced up with that perfect 0 of a face, empty except for the pin-pricks of eyes and stubby turned-up nose and taut line of a mouth, his expression not one of pleased recognition but of utter disbelief. Eye-contact was brief, a shock of recognition, and he realized the young man before him actually was the real Tintin—or better, the unreal Tintin. However real Tintin had always appeared to him, his appearance here was out of the question—some fraud, some masquerade. And the same dismissal of his presence was evident in Tintin’s eyes.
Self-uneducated, Norman Conquest dropped out of the Art Institute of Chicago and, in 1989, co-founded the anti-censorship art collective, Beuyscouts of Amerika. He has produced book-objects, verbo-visual multiples, mixed media, and collage. Several of his book-objects are part of the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in NYC. He is the author of many books, including the A BEGINNER'S GUIDE TO ART DECONSTRUCTION (Permeable Press), WHAT IS ART? (JEF Books), and THE NEGLECTED WORKS OF NORMAN CONQUEST (Black Scat Books).
Nin Andrews received her BA from Hamilton College and her MFA from Vermont College. The recipient of two Ohio Arts Council grants, she is the author of several books including The Book of Orgasms, Spontaneous Breasts, Why They Grow Wings, Midlife Crisis with Dick and Jane, Sleeping with Houdini, and Dear Professor, Do You Live in a Vacuum. She also edited Someone Wants to Steal My Name, a book of translations of the French poet, Henri Michaux. Her book, Southern Comfort was published by CavanKerry Press in 2010. Follow Nin's blog here. Follow Nin on Twitter here.