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The Definitive Scott McClanahan Interview: Everything else is just an unofficial boring part of Ohio, or Pennsylvania, or Virginia. by Timmy Waldron | Word Riot

February 15, 2010      

The Definitive Scott McClanahan Interview: Everything else is just an unofficial boring part of Ohio, or Pennsylvania, or Virginia. by Timmy Waldron

Timmy: You ever hear of Melungeons?

Scott: Of course. I dated a melungeon girl about 10 years ago. They’re like hillbilly gypsies.

Timmy: Did you ever hang out with her family?

Scott: No, I never met her family. Well, I did meet her Mom though–really distinct physical appearance. Actually some of the foot washing, Pentecostal churches around here believe the Melungeons are one of the lost 12 tribes of Israel. There is a tiny tiny bit of evidence they were here before Columbus.

Timmy: Don’t they have any Native American roots?

Scott: Yeah, I think it’s a mixture of European, Native American, and African American blood (I think some say North Africa). Also, I think there’s a theory that they’re the descendants of King Powhattan in Virginia, which would be more of a mixture of Native American and European blood. That’s really all it is.

Timmy: All I know is from a short story I read some time ago, will have to look up the author, but thought it was set in West Virginia. There’s a group called the Jackson Whites in Jersey that seems very similar. They live up in Paramus and the Ramapo Mountains, not too far outside of NYC. They’re attempting to be recognized as Native Americans descendants and interested in getting a casino license. My Uncle George is a card carrying member of the tribe. He swears he’s part Native America, but the stories I’ve heard say that Jackson Whites are descended from escaped slaves and Hessian deserters.

Scott: There are a ton of different groups throughout the US that recognize themselves as Melungeon. I think it’s kind of a generic term, but I don’t really know any more than that.
We also have a few American born Travellers (Scot-Irish gypsies). They’re the ones who ride around in RV’s and work scams on little old ladies–like the famous sealing the driveway scheme.

Timmy: The famous sealing driveway scheme? Like they would take money and just spray a driveway with water or something?

Scott: Yeah, I think they put a little bit of tar in the water. They spray it on, you pay 500 dollars, and then it washes off when it rains a day later. It’s like the major topic of our local news once summertime rolls around. That and exploding meth labs, which is actually a yearlong local news event.

Timmy: Meth labs aren’t so prevalent in these parts, but I hear they are making their way through the state. Locally the big news is always house fires and snow storms. The anchors get so excited for both. You can tell they are praying for the day the two stories combine and a snow storm puts out a house fire.

Scott: I’m telling you Timmy–New Jersey and West Virginia are at the end of the day spiritual cousin’s man.

Timmy: I’m starting to see what you’re saying. I’ve only laid rubber on West Virginia asphalt, through Wheeling I think, on I-80 West. But, I know you’ve been to Jersey, I’ve seen you there. What were your impressions of Atlantic City? I remember a God awful stink that day, like hundreds of crabs had died and were then stored in the same port-a-john.

Scott: Wheeling is one of the great weird towns in all of the country. It’s where the West Virginia Snake handlers association is housed. Actually, West Virginia only exists south of Charleston if you ask me–the coal fields. That’s where I’m from. Everything else is just an unofficial boring part of Ohio, or Pennsylvania, or Virginia.

I’ll be honest with you. I really love New Jersey. Atlantic City is weird. I told Elizabeth Ellen that I thought a snuff film had been shot in my hotel room the night before I got there–messed up carpet, faint smell of bodily fluids and blood. Also, the New Jersey countryside is beautiful. There’s nothing fake about it.

Timmy: I think a lot of AC hotels are like that. Did you stay in the Irish Pub? I mean there are the super nice casino hotels, but the affordable stuff has that dead hooker under the mattress feel. The Hojo I stayed in was clean, more or less; but I’m pretty sure it was being run by the Russian mob. It had that faint smell you mentioned. But my room smelled more of human trafficking than bodily fluids.

Scott: Yeah, I stayed at the Hojo too–I picked up on the Russian mob vibe as well. It was kind of like being trapped with Dolph Lundgren in Rocky 4–(insert Russian accent here) “He strong like bull.” You’ll have to come and visit WV. We’ll ride 4-wheelers without a helmet on and blow up some shit.

Timmy: I’d love to blow some shit up. I think every rightly constructed American should feel the same. In the story we’re running this month, Kidney Stones, your character passes a stone in a gas station bathroom. Rightly or wrongly I get the impression that many of your stories start out as events in your life. Have you or will you be writing a story about having the swine flu?

Scott: Holy Shit Timmy. We’re operating on some kind of weird level today. I’m FOR sure getting ready to write a story about the swine flu. I actually went to a Leonard Cohen concert in Asheville NC a week after I had it, sweet talked my way behind the theatre (where the bus was warming up), and shook the grand old man’s hand.

For some reason instead of saying my usual stupid, “I’m a huge fan,” I was nervous and blurted out, “I had the swine flu last week.” Cohen took his hand away, and his handlers pretty much kicked me out of the bus area. It was pure humiliation.

I was also a little disappointed about the meeting with Cohen as well. In my mind I pictured him surrounded by beautiful women with exotic accents, smoking hashish, but it was more just like an elderly man trying to get on a bus. Oh the idealist in me.

Timmy: Do you get yourself into situations so you can write about them? Or does stuff just happen and you bend and work events into fiction?

Scott: I do what people used to do, I just make stuff up. I mean you only think your daddy is your daddy because your mommy told you so. Right?

Timmy: Sounds right.

We ran an interview with you a few months ago and there is a huge list of upcoming projects. Will all this work be published with the same model as the two Stories collections, or are different publishing houses involved? Would you let Harper Perennial or someplace like that pick up Stories and Stories II and publishes them as one collection. Any interest in that, or are you strictly small/Indy press for life?

Scott: I’m willing to sell out to anyone tomorrow–Harper P., McDonald’s, etc. Actually, I feel more like the Stone Roses “I don’t have to sell my soul, he’s already in me.” It’s hard to sell your soul if you don’t have one to begin with. “Soul” is fake anyway if you ask me. Now spirit–that’s a much more refreshing, beautiful, animal.

    1 comment to The Definitive Scott McClanahan Interview: Everything else is just an unofficial boring part of Ohio, or Pennsylvania, or Virginia. by Timmy Waldron

    • I’m a Melungian, from the Tennessee hills Collins feuding family. They say parents warned their kids about the lawless scary folk. Melungians are often said to be part Moorish, part Native American, part Turkish, part Portuguese.

      Great random interview. And I love the synchronicity of the swine flu question, and the hilarity of your comment about it. Very awkward of you! And endearing.

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