Where did the idea for The Paperwork Rebuttal come from?
The initial idea came from credit reports. Years ago, prior to the housing bubble popping, I was working for a major mortgage company. I was required to analyze people’s credit to determine if loans met company guidelines. As I looked over credit reports I realized there was personality in expenditures. How people spent their money gave a hint of who they were and the drama in their lives – child support, medical bills, student loans, etc. I was fascinated by the contrast of an otherwise dull document containing glimpses of intense emotions and stories – separation, cancer, graduation. Unfortunately back then little came to fruition as far as writing was concerned. It was an idea, nothing more, nothing less. It wasn’t until I started working for a small accounting firm in San Francisco while attending graduate school that the idea finally blossomed. The accounting firm was older, the average age was 70, and the president was a WWII veteran. I used a typewriter on a regular basis. In looking over tax returns I noticed ‘DECEASED’ was written on more and more Form 1040s. The firm’s client base was passing away due to old age. And when I was given a return of a deceased client who had been with the firm for 30+ years, I sensed a sadness amongst the accountants. These clients were more than just a social security number and receipts. The archives felt like a tomb. In addition, in looking over a return, I found people filed jointly one year, separately the next, a new dependent was born, or an exciting business started and then failed years later. Hundreds and hundreds of stories were processed by this small firm. Millions when you consider the IRS as a whole. I wrote ‘Anatomy of a Broken CPA’ to hopefully encapsulate one of these stories. From there I sought other forms.
On a side note, I’m happy to say the accounting firm in San Francisco is still running strong, including the WWII veteran and president of the company at 91 years young.
Would you call yourself an ‘experimental’ writer?
I’m afraid it depends on the project, the characters, and the story. As far as The Paperwork Rebuttal is concerned there are several narratives/poems I would consider ‘experimental’. The words rely on a precise placement on the form in order exemplify a specific emotion or necessary pause. Often boxed-in by sections, some words purposely appear trapped and alone, which I believe deviates from a more typical free-verse poem or short story. However, ‘Anatomy of a Broken CPA,’ ‘Jury Duty Summons,’ even ‘S.E.C. Love’ follow a fairly traditional story arch. The physical shape of the story is unique, with necessary pauses and breaks placed throughout the forms, however the overall content would make Aristotle proud.
Who are your influences?
I would like to think every poem, play, and story I’ve read has left some kind of residue in my writing, in addition to watching theater, listening to opera, and viewing art. However, Woolf, Joyce, Blake, Williams, and Emerson have been writers I always return to.
How would you describe your writing process?
This may sound a bit off, but I try to remember new unwritten projects. Prior to writing a single word, I convince myself the entire project is already complete. I imagine seeing the poem finalized, the actors on stage in full costume, or being able to see the last page of a story. Of course each new project is blurry at best, as if I read the words or saw the play years ago. Regardless, the project is finished, I only need to remember how it was written, what was said. I’m not sure where this technique came from, but it instills confidence knowing my job as a writer is already done, I simply need to recreate it from scratch. Beyond that, I treat writing as a job. It’s no different from working in the mortgage industry, accounting, or education.
Is any of the book based on your own experiences?
Some, but not all. ‘Army Sworn Statement’, for example, is about sexual abuse in the military. I’ve never served in the military nor have I been sexually abused, in which case I constantly asked the question, “What right do I have to address this heavy issue?” The result, I kept a great distance between myself as the writer and the subject matter. I did this by keeping the exact number of letters in my interpretation as found on the original form. Each letter, word, was simply replaced. In contrast, ‘Divorcee’ is incredibly personal, in particular the last paragraph under ‘WARNING – IMPORTANT INFORMATION.’ Overall, ‘Paperwork’ it’s a mixture of personal experience and complete fiction.
Is there a story behind the cover art?
The cover is the work of the talented artist and illustrator, Eric Piatkowski. I’ve had the fortune of knowing Eric for nearly two decades. We met in middle school, were on stage together in high school, we lived together in college, and I had the pleasure of reciting a poem at his wedding. Needless to say when I approached him with this opportunity I had the utmost trust in his work. While he was reading ‘Paperwork’ the image on the cover repeatedly came to mind.
How do you feel about non-profit publishing?
Non-profit publishing is an opportunity to showcase raw expression and art that may otherwise be overlooked by the larger more traditional for-profit publishers. It provides writers a wonderful platform to share their work without any inkling of salesmanship or commercialization. In addition, the reader is comforted in knowing the only demand placed on them is the written work itself. However, most importantly, non-profit publishing (as well as small for-profit publishers who rarely, if ever, turn a profit) exemplify the passion and devotion people have to pushing the written word to new heights.
Are you working on anything new at the moment?
As far as writing is concerned, I’m working on a collection of stories tentatively entitled ‘Detox in Chini Town.’ They’re written in first and third person depending on my comfort in addressing certain issues. Each story stands on its own, however there is an overlying arch. Essentially it’s a collection of short stories as a novel. Alcoholism, China, and reincarnation are recurring themes. Beyond that, I’m currently developing and teaching the first creative writing classes offered at a small college near Huadu, China. The latter keeps me fairly busy, but it’s also fascinating and fulfilling.