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Spooky Action At A Distance

Tom Bradley's FAMILY ROMANCE: excerpt and interview

By Tom Bradley, et. al.

Family Romance cover

Barry Katz: Let's start with the basic question: money. Are you for or against it?

TOM BRADLEY: A surprisingly large number of writers find it debilitating to think of themselves as anything more than hacks making a buck. They cringe away from even entertaining the possibility that they could be writing for the ages. If they are capable of producing nothing more than ephemera, it's the correct attitude. For them, time is money, and writing comes at a rate-per-word.

It gets interesting when there's not a buck to be made. Not even a chance to whore oneself. That's when the writers with the most intimate relationship with their muse become identifiable, if only because the hacks drop away in search of gainful employment.

Time is money—for hacks it's a truism; but for artists it's one of the most nonsensical, if not horrifying, notions expressible in words. Without exaggeration, I would rather be dead than linger under such conditions.

BK: Family Romance is your twenty-first published book. You've been at this for while. When did you know were a writer?

TB: I can nail it down to a specific moment. (Here allow me to paraphrase one of my two potted bios.) I received my novelist's calling at the age of nineteen. I climbed into the moonlit mountains around my hometown, where I got an unambiguous vocation with physical symptoms and everything, just like Martin Luther in the electric storm, and I don't recall necessarily being on acid at the moment. From that point forward all I ever wanted was time to write. Schopenhauer says such time is the only thing a writer should feel bad about not getting—that includes fame, fortune, multiple fornication partners, and even publication itself.

That's why I fucked permanently off from America in 1985, moved to Red China, and have lurked around the left rim of the Pacific ever since. It's been a search for sinecures that steal virtually no time and absolutely no mental energy from work.

BK: In your Author's Foreword to the second edition of My Hands Were Clean (Unlikely Books), you speculate about the origins of writing as a physical behavior, without regard to its societal function. Isn't a writer primarily a chronicler or entertainer, a story-teller, someone who calls the tribe together with his literal laryngeal voice? You make him sound, first of all, like a solitary tinkerer with silent bits of the alphabet.

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TB: I suspect writing has not evolved from yammering around the campfire. In fact, it follows a diametrically opposite impulse. I think you are right in seeing an evolutionary advantage in the latter. The former transcends the whole question of physical survival.

The difference between the campfire yarn and writing is the deferral of gratification. A talker gets a reaction as quickly as any mutually lice-picking monkey. For the chanting bard no less than the stand-up comedian, timing is everything, an exquisite awareness of time's passage.

The writer, on the other hand, in making an artefact, reveals an implicit awareness of time's paradoxical untensefulness. He is making a profession of faith in the illusory nature of cause and effect, which is a huge step in uncovering the procedures of existence—how they don't really proceed at all.

The writer is not just expelling carbon dioxide and sound waves, but is leaving behind an object that in some microcosmic way recapitulates those unproceeding procedures. What the writer does is less like monkeys grooming in a circle and more like Neanderthals sprinkling their dead with flowers.

BK: Do you think of yourself as fitting into any particular literary school, lineage or tradition?

TB: The banished: Ovid, Saint John of Patmos, Juvenal, Nabokov. Like most of the names on that roster, I will die far away from home. Unlike them, I don't give a fuck.

CHAPTER ONE of Family Romance

[In this book, Nick Patterson's ninety illustrations came first, and Tom wrote the novel around them.]

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Now go and smite the Amalekites,
and utterly destroy all that they have,
and spare them not; but slay both
man and woman, infant and suckling,
ox and sheep, camel and ass.

—1 Samuel 15:3

"Cover your face with both hands when you sneeze. You never know when a pathogen has fastened on your head."

That's Mom talking. As usual she's forcing herself on us and in us. She must control our reflex motions. Mom must micro-manage the gases and moisture that exit our faces. She gets fidgety and unfulfilled unless occupying other creatures' sinuses and limbs, the gluttoness.

I object to being mothered by a creature so ravenous (if intermittently shapely). And I'm sure my dear siblette would agree, if the sad child were still able to mull more than half a notion inside what remains of her mind.

As for the more explicitly testicular of our parents—who knows where absent Dad would come down on this issue? Mom and pathogens are the sole topics he's reluctant to discuss in secret letters from across the Judeuphrates, where has defected to please himself behaving like a traitor/apostate among the Relic Amalekites.

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In Dad's absence, Mom's favorite way to rape us of self-possession is immune system anxiety. She has taken the germ theory and twisted it into pre-moistened masochist porn. Her term for any well-being threat is "pathogen."

Not just bacteria and viruses, not merely lice and tapeworms, but psychosomatosis, connective tissue sprain, clinical depression, poor social connectivity, sulphurous flatulence, scrotal and/or labial fatigue from excessive "maestrobation" (as she taught us to mispronounce it)--all of these are brought on by pathogens. This is according to the fascist conjuress whom we are expected to call, for lack of a less inappropriate moniker, Mom.

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And yet, in spite of the pan-systemic pathogens that lurk everywhere, Mom was somehow persuaded (presumably by Dad) to grunt me out into this world, and to perform the same disservice for my emotionally vegetative little sissy. One after the other, Mom extruded the pair of us. She dragged our naked spirits down from the gritty smog overhead and enfleshed us, emboned us, left us to languish dadlessly on the planetary crust, bug-vulnerable and liable at any moment to succumb to the Sneeze Catastrophic.

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about the interviewer:
BARRY KATZ is a wandering Jew from Jaffa, where, as a kid on a kibbutz, he picked green grapefruits.

about the artist:
NICK PATTERSON currently lives in a city full of flowers on the western edge of Canada. His artwork has appeared widely in magazines and book covers. He and Tom Bradley have collaborated for a couple of years. Most recently they worked with the late Carol Novack on Felicia's Nose (coming soon from MadHat Press). As usual, Nick did the visuals, Tom the verbals. See Nickdjp.com

Family Romance
text: Tom Bradley © 2012
illustrations: Nick Patterson © 2012
Jaded Ibis Press, 2012
Jaded Ibis Press