Chad Martin Stassel
Chad Stassell is just one of those guys who will always fascinate me. He writes strange, erratic tales that range between adult/children’s stories to whiskey fueled ramblings that poke into the heart of some universal Truth. After reading several of his short stories, when I heard he was finishing up his first novel, “Lucy the Elephant”, I knew it had to be a part of the MNE catalogue. You can find more blubber and writing by Stassel on his personal website or by looking deep into the MNE archives (Group Picture Vol. 3 Zine) to read his past MNE writings. If you’d like to purchase the novel, ‘Lucy the Elephant’, you can meander over here. Enjoy!
– Who are you?
Chad Martin Stassel. Known in darker, and notably scarcer, parts of the world as C.M. Stassel. I have a hard time talking about myself directly, though – I feel cheap doing it. I wish I could do it without shame. I can do it when I’m high on wine, red wine, or whiskey but that’s it. I suck at pitching my own stuff. For that kind of thing I’ve split my personalities, and also acquired a manager type person. She’s a saint. A beautiful, powerful left-handed woman. I’ve seen her do incredible things. She speaks parsel tongue…in her sleep…always.
– Why do you write?
I guess because I want to leave something behind…
I want to do something I’m proud of, that other people can be proud of, that my family can hold and read and smell and feel. Ultimately, when I write, I want it to be genuine and simple and funny…I want people to laugh and also feel sad, but also be entertained. As far as why I’ve chosen writing as my craft, I chose it because I do love it. I don’t love the process during, but the finish, after the perseverance, after those horrible, horrible times of draught and frustration it’s wonderful to feel finished. With Lucy, I feel finished…I mean I guess I could write and rewrite and edit and rewrite for a long, long time and it has been a long time for Lucy…I wrote the first draft when I was 23, I’m 26 now. I set Lucy down for about a full year, though…I needed to do that. That time away was important, the most important. After that I rewrote it probably three times from start to finish, which was probably a bit much, maybe not. The writing, though, it’s when you start out and you have a good idea of where you want to start and go and take it, and then finally, after hours and hours of running it over in your mind, thousands of showers that are far too long because you’re stuck in the water writing, or thinking, the story through…then, finally, you’re brave enough to just go and wander and see where it takes you. Put your sweet, little fingers to the keys and let them play. I can’t remember most of the stuff I write. I’ll read it later and think to myself, that’s good. When did I write that? It’s nice that way though. Like I’m tapping into something I’m barely conscious of…it makes me feel like I’ll never lose it, I don’t think I can. Or maybe I can, but I think as long as I commit to writing in a way that I find enjoyable, and telling stories that I like then I can’t lose that. It just becomes more of a waiting game then. But, and I forget who said it, I think it was the poet Rilke, but he said to write as if you have eternity. Something like that. That’s alright to do, but I think it’s good to force yourself to write and to just write as much as you can as if you might not have eternity…write both ways, I think. I did that when I was in Kauai. There was a hut out in a field next to the mountains and no one was allowed to live in it because it was the nicest hut on the property. We were all living in yurts, but I would go out there on my days off from the restaurant with a bottle of wine and a sandwich packed in tin foil, my computer and a jug of water and spend the entire day out there. Ten hours. I rewrote Lucy in one sitting while out there. I did some good things out there. That was one of my favorite places to write…one of the best I’ve found for me. I felt comfortable out there.
– What is your ideal writing situation?
The hut in the field on the north shore of Kauai. I have to be alone to write well. I’ve never written anything good with other people in the house or around or anywhere near.
– Who are your influences / what are your inspirations?
Nicholson Baker is an influence right now. James Salter is an influence. Roald Dahl is an influence. I remember reading The Boy Who Talked to Animals while I was on a trip with my family in Bermuda, and thinking that I wanted to write a story like that… and that I thought I could write a story like that, it seemed fun. While I was on that trip, I wrote a great short story about Amelia Earnhardt and my take on her disappearance – it wasn’t a disappearance at all but rather a romantic runaway. I was proud of that story. I only know of one hand-written copy of that story and sadly I don’t own it. I lost the copy that was on my computer. I lost that computer. It was thrown from a building. Had the machine landed on someone, a poor hotdog eating bystander, maybe a mailman or a seamstress or a pizza delivery boy, I might not be doing this interview with you. It found cement safely.
– What is good and bad writing?
My writing is good and…that’s all I know. The bad is somewhere else, away from my pages. No. I think a lot of good writing started out as bad writing. It doesn’t just fall onto the page beautifully. Most times, it is crude and raw and needs to be shaped and molded and made to be good. Sometimes it just is good, though. Those are the times. But Lucy did not happen in one try. Nothing good happens in one try, I think…except for accidents. Most accidents happen in one try.
– I hear you are a well traveled man, tell us about your travels. Feel free to brag.
I’ve travelled. My next travels will be on a train. I have an idea for a story on a train. It won’t end on a train but it will start on a train. It’s about a woman named Olive Pedersen. She’s brutal.
– Where did the idea of Lucy the Elephant come from?
Lucy came out of necessity. I was a surf camp instructor for many years and I was in charge of the educational part, you know, teaching the kids about the tides and moons and different kinds of waves and beaches and how to avoid stingrays and escape from riptides, that sort of thing. The lessons were good sometimes but usually I would end up telling stories to the kids and they loved them. I could keep 30 kids stuck in the sand, silent, enthralled, desperately needing to know the next moves of the various animals in the story – the characters were always animals. That’s where Chuck, the Tailless Rat came from, that’s where she initially came from, too, but I never wrote her down until this novel. I got to a certain point in the story and I suddenly remembered her, and immediately realized that she fit perfectly and it was the ideal situation to write her down. I didn’t have to fit her in, she was already there. The story led right to her. I think, without knowing, the whole story was constructed around her, even though she didn’t exist as ink on a page, yet.
– Who is Humphrey Orlando?
A dead person, but also a great person. A liberation. He is all of my worst parts and a few of my best, but he’s not me. He can’t be me…he’s dead.
– How long did this book take to write?
Probably a year and a half if you exclude the times spent away from the writing, but altogether it took three years…like I said before I wrote the first draft when I was 23. The draft was much different than what it is now. It did not start where it does. I wonder if it’s clear what I wrote first. I didn’t write the beginning first, though. I’ll tell you that.
– What was the hardest part of writing this novel, and what was the most rewarding?
The writing was the hardest. The finishing was the most rewarding.
– Does writer’s block exist? And what is it?
I’m not sure. What does exist is this certain difficulty to begin. What also exists is this hand and through its fingers water slips – that water is a writing schedule, a habit, a consistency. It’s hard to maintain a schedule because noone is there to monitor or enforce. It’s only me. That’s the most difficult for me.
– My friend Walter told me you guys once compared writing to masturbating. What’s the deal with that?
Ha ha ha! It’s because when you’re masturbating everything changes, everything slows down and also speeds up and then, without warning, without concern, without any mark of remembrance it’s done and you return to the person you were before it all begin…before you embarked down that salacious road of temptation. Also, for me, I can’t masturbate with anyone in the house, either.