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Posted by Marie on May 30, 2013 at 05:01 PM

Eric Raymond’s debut novel Confessions from a Dark Wood is the most hilarious, addictive and razor-sharp piece of satire we’ve come across in years: in revealing the inner workings and lingo and lunacies of a consulting agency called LaBar Partners Limited (also head over to through his protagonist Nick Bray’s report, Raymond manages to depict our degenerate corporate/branded world and “post-idea economy” in all its glory and perverted particulars – think branded terrorism, image obsession, vainglorious talk, an orangutan with a dildo, Humvees, enforced leisure services, the First National Dog Fighting League, and more. The opposite of a company that produces nothing but the myth of itself, it’s another stunning piece of fiction released by Ken Baumann’s Sator Press. We hooked up with Raymond to learn about that one place where the “antithesis of corporate jargon” still exists.

The world presented in your novel is crowded with all these hilarious people, troubled people, doomed people, tragically shortsighted people – is that what you see when you wake up in the morning and step out into the world? 
Hell, it’s what I see when I look in the mirror. I don’t even have to get out the front door. I think we are all more or less hilarious, troubled, doomed, and often dangerously shortsighted. It’s essentially human. The dangerous ones are the ones who forget it.

Is satire the only way to deal with it?
Satire does so much. It says to the reader, “Here, you’re not alone.” It also acts as a counter balance to the weight of what seems so insane, and it cuts the legs out from under the autocrats and companies with agency problems who try to coerce us into believing what’s insane in the world is right. We are often made to distrust ourselves these days. It’s easy to lose your conviction. Satire is the sharp tooth of dissent. It draws blood, draws the truth.

When did you first hear that voice of your protagonist Nick Bray?
In 2009. I was trying to make sense of my own two years working as a consultant and the eight or so years after 9/11. The banking collapse, the end of the Bush regime… it felt like the end of an era, or the first act in an unimaginable future. The death of my father in 2007 also kicked off a change, and Nick’s voice wasn’t possible for me until then.   

So it’s been a while since you wrote it; how come it took so long to get it out there? 
For a long time I didn’t think I would try to publish it. I felt maybe the value in the novel had been in writing it, and I had some ideas about how I might further revise it, but I made no effort to put it out there. That it was published at all was almost by accident. I had started using Twitter, and I put a page up with advance praise for the book from the characters (as it appears now in the published version). For a long time, the page just sat on my Twitter bio. Then one day I tweeted a Beckett joke that Blake Butler retweeted, and Ken Baumann happened to like the tweet, so he looked me up. He requested what I was advertising as an Advance Readers’ Copy of the book. I told him it hadn’t been published and I sent him a PDF, and then at the beginning of 2012 he made an offer to publish the novel on SATOR PRESS. And here we are.

Ideas like the one in the beginning with the guy following the Porsche to get good footage of the car in action somehow felt like reading David Foster Wallace a few years ago, where it’s always about that next level, the image rather than first-hand experience… was DFW’s writing an influence on Confessions? What else was? 
That’s a very Pontius J. LaBar thing, to cherish the image of the experience more than the experience. The image is what’s desired, not the experience the image represents. I did read DFW’s Oblivion while traveling. DFW did more, did it better. He wasn’t as conscious an influence at the time as Frederick Exley’s A Fan’s Notes, though. I kept a 1970s paperback of it with me almost every trip, my father’s from when he taught it, with his original margin notes. Vonnegut and George Saunders would have to factor in as well, plus John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces. Also the poet Joshua Beckman, especially his collection Something I Expected to Be Different. 

Tell me about those two years experience as a consultant – how insane and crazy were the things you heard or saw? I hope there were no orangutans involved?
There were certainly some orangutan-like executives in the mix, but mostly I saw enormous amounts of money wasted. Often it felt as though we were hired for a “public” reason, but the internal politics and careerist chess games were more complex. Were we hired to solve a problem, or were we hired to paint a target on a CMO’s back? Part of the job was simply finding out who had the access to the money and what we needed to say to keep that money flowing. Most of that depended on jargon. The novel exaggerates, of course, but there’s plenty of truth in there, too.

So has your relationship towards money drastically changed since quitting that consultant job?
Definitely. I have less of it. Money’s function for me is to buy more time to write, not to buy more stuff. The consulting didn’t buy time, because all of the time was spent consulting and trying to wash the taste out of my mouth from consulting. The killer, though, is debt. Debt is inherently toxic to free time and freedom of choice.

What would you do if someone actually hired you via that fake website Would you go back to consulting, in a way? It hasn’t happened yet, has it?
It hasn’t yet, but we’d have to take the meeting! I’d probably try and get Ken Baumann to step up and put on a suit so we could pitch the client, plus a good friend of mine in Portland who used to work with me. I’d give us a 70% chance to get a second meeting. The hardest part might be keeping a straight face. It might make an entertaining television show.

What’s your current day-job situation anyway?
Right now I ghostwrite letters, I freelance articles. I don’t travel like I used to, and I don’t write bullshit proposals. I’m working to shift the balance in favor of fiction-writing full-time. It’s not as though I expect to make a living as a novelist, but I’m not willing to write it off, either.

Sounds great with the fiction-writing plan – are you working on the next “big one” then?
The next big one is actually a little one. I wrote a novella last year based in part on the heyday of the text adventure computer games put out by Infocom in the 1980s, and right now it’s making the rounds with some friends and editors. I don’t know when or how it will be put out quite yet, but the more I talk to people, the more it seems like there’s a pretty strong readership for it. It’s still cooking, too. Perhaps it will merit a full-length novel one day, too. I don’t know yet.


How old were you in the eighties though? Is that sort of the kind of stuff you grew up with?
I was a young kid in the 80s; I’m 37 now. I grew up with one of the original Apple computers in my house and happened to be surrounded by adults who were all early adopters of the personal computing revolution through the 70s and 80s. It was also still an age of massive video arcades.

Got some advance praise for that one?
There’s no advance praise in this one, but there is a nod to Dr. Michael W. Bray, who provides the epigraph for the book in the form of an excerpt from an article:
“The early owners of personal computers tended to enjoy reading—a factor critical to the success of LoreSoft’s games.” - Bray, Michael W. “I See No Exits Here: The Rise and Fall of LoreSoft, Inc.” Techvestor Quarterly Review. January, 1997. p. 32.

Do you think people don’t read enough nowadays – spending too much time staring at images instead?
Everyone should read. People underestimate the intangible value it has. It’s a great mistake to think of it as an entertainment choice. It has a powerful impact on the imagination, on our ability to concentrate, on our undervalued need for solitude.

And do you really believe that “in the afterlife, books are our toilet paper”?
No, but maybe Dr. Michael W. Bray was driving at something else. Perhaps the role that literature serves after death pales in comparison to its value when we’re alive, dealing with our mortality.

Let’s talk about Florida for a second: do you think you’ve left that place for good?
One of the riskiest things you can say is “never.” It’s almost as if the universe is waiting for you to say, “for good” or “never” just so it can set the idea on fire and force you to put it out. I would never choose to move back to Florida. I already go back to visit family. There are people and places I love, but a lot of what is fundamentally wrong with America is at the core of Floridian culture. What’s wrong is so depressing that I couldn’t live there again. In San Francisco, in Portland, there I feel like I’m with my people. I know I’ll return to Florida in my writing, though. The gaming novella is set there, for example. Florida gave me a lot and it took a lot.

Can you define “what is fundamentally wrong with America” for me? And is that really just America, or all of the Western world (and maybe even other parts)?
Well, here’s what’s fundamentally wrong with Central Florida, which extrapolates to a lot of the country (and possibly the Western world). Trayvon Martin gets shot by a “responsible gun owner” because he’s a black kid in a hoodie. When Walmart decides they want to open a new Supercenter, they demolish acres of undeveloped land across the street from the smaller Walmart, and leave the old place to waste away. Surrounded by salt water and a declining fresh water supply, Floridians have no problem pouring thousands of gallons of water into washing their SUVs and unnaturally green lawns. Mass transit and pedestrian-friendly communities? Well, those are problems for poor people. The painfully oversimplified American mythology of rugged, revolutionary individualism is a costume people wear there to mask selfish self-interest. It’s an unsustainable view, both ecologically and socially. Especially on a crowded planet.

You ever thought of living outside the US for a while?
Is that an invitation? Absolutely. I’d love to.

Since we didn’t speak about your poet character Jake yet: You ever tried poetry?
I occasionally write poems. Mostly I admire it, especially the Wave Books poets. My closest friends tend to guide me to incredible poets. Larry Levis, for example. I couldn’t believe I’d never read him. I think the best novelists are poets at heart.

What is the most fun with words you ever had?
Around poker tables in home games. When you play in home games for years and years, a language evolves. The names of the games, the trash talking, the calling of the cards. It’s the antithesis of corporate jargon. It’s private, personal, and invested with a shared history.

And finally: I’ve once asked R. Coover this following question – and the answer turned out amazing. I wonder what you will write: do you think there is ONE essential story (that may vary in time, place, selection of characters etc.) that still turns out to be “THE basic story of human existence,” (and is thus: true) to some degree?
The essential story is that we’re dying. At different rates, yes, but inevitably arriving at the same final outpost. Every story, regardless of time, place, character, approach, or plot asks us about the manner in which we’re dying, even if the question is indirect. The question hangs in the air like an unfinished bridge, and here we are, each of us islands.
I used to believe that stories taught us how to live, but now I think they illustrate how to die. I don’t mean that to sound morbid. It’s more than just a semantic shift. When we say stories teach us how to live, we’re still trading on the idea of the infinite, our lives filled with infinite optionality. When we say stories teach us how to die, we understand the limit on our existence. With the limit comes value.
Paradoxically, stories transcend the very limit they remind us of. They highlight the limit, and for those stories fortunate enough to persist from generation to generation, they carry the truth of our limits beyond us.
Many people have a hard time with the thought of their death. A lot of energy is spent avoiding the idea. Of course, the thought comes, and people panic. But the story is always there for us, telling us in every sense of the phrase: Compose yourself.

Words/interview: Renko Heuer

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