Brian Alan Ellis is the author of the story collections The Mustache He Always Wanted But Could Never Grow (2013), 33 Fragments of Sick, Sad Living (2013), and Something Good, Something Bad, Something Dirty (2014), as well as King Shit, a 2014 collaboration with illustrator Wayne Thornton. His fiction and nonfiction has appeared in journals including Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Electric Literature, Juked, Atticus Review, Monkeybicycle, The Heavy Feather Review, Zygote in My Coffee, and many, many others. His short story “Jerry’s TV”, which originally appeared in the 2011 flash-fiction anthology The Incredible Shrinking Story, was adapted for the stage and performed by the Buntport Theater Company in Denver, Colorado. Ellis lives in Tallahassee, Florida.
Two nuns and a penguin approach you at a bar, and you tell them you’re a writer. When they ask you what you write about, how do you answer?
I’d be scared if that happened and I’d probably just shriek, “But I’m a writer!” while gradually creeping towards the exit. If they managed to ask what I write about before I made it out I would probably shout, “Escaping!” which is generally the most honest answer I could come up with under regular circumstances.
Points is primarily a blog for alcohol and drug historians. What do you think this audience would find most interesting about your work?
Well, being that many of my characters have a history of drug and alcohol abuse, I think they’d be inherently interested, though I doubt they’d get any new information on the subject, unless of course reading about someone drunkenly masturbating with a woman’s shoe is still considered an alcohol/drug-related taboo.
What led you to write about drugs and alcohol in the first place?
Well, they always say, “Write what you know,” and drugs and alcohol were a big part of my life for several years, perhaps too many years. Still. Also, I blame Bukowski. Jim Carrol. All those great writers who intentionally/unintentionally romanticized the marriage of writing and bad behavior. Also, I’m self-destructive by nature and so that may have something to do with it.
How would you describe the way that drugs and alcohol function in your work, whether in terms of thematic concerns or the choices you make about how to craft a story? Do you think there are things that you wouldn’t be able to explore as successfully if you didn’t have drugs in your writing arsenal?
When I started writing, and maybe even some years after, I used to always have my characters smoking cigarettes. Not sure why. It still creeps up but I realized eventually that if something didn’t benefit the story then it should be cut. Now, I’d like to think that there’s reasoning behind someone doing drugs or drinking in a story, that it serves a purpose, whereas before it was just kind of like scenery, or something.
What do you personally find most interesting about how drugs work in your writing, and where do you see that interest leading you in future projects?
I’ve found that the less I drank or did drugs in real life the less it appeared in my writing. It’s practically gone, at this point, being that I’ve stopped doing drugs and smoking cigarettes and drinking to excess. The thing about doing drugs and drinking is that it cuts you off from lots of other things. Addiction is really insular, so I feel that cutting back on that lifestyle can only open you up to new experiences, not necessarily pleasurable ones, just new and different ways of looking at life. Also, Hubert Selby Jr. mentioned somewhere that once you quit drugs you start to discover how really dark and edgy you are because there’s no filter. The skeletons come out, and they’re fuckin’ thirsty and pissed. So now I write about being middle-aged and adjusting to a more sober lifestyle. Being miserable, but in positive ways.
BONUS QUESTION: Let’s hope that one of your books gets adapted into a major motion picture. What song do you fantasize about hearing as the credits roll?
Great question. I’ve always wanted to hear Germs’ “Caught in My Eye” played during the credits of a movie for no particular reason other than the fact that the song goddamn rules. I would probably pick that for Something Good, Something Bad, Something Dirty ’cause the book is as grimy as the song. For The Mustache He’s Always Wanted but Could Never Grow I would probably pick Sparks’ “Moustache”, just because. For King Shit, I would have someone, probably my friend Waylon Thornton, cover “King of the Road” but have him change the lyrics to “King of the Commode”. I could also always use a song from my band, Ex-Boogeymen, or my girlfriend’s band, Girls on Film. That would be pretty sweet.