Matty Byloos has quite a diverse work history: a teacher, an online marketer, a painter, a musician, and a writer. He has a website - mattybyloos.com - that exhibits his work, which are definitely worth checking out. Matty's first published collection of short stories is called "Don't Smell the Floss". Dark and seedy, Matty demonstrates his flexibility as a writer by exposing the uglier, stranger side of humanity. He was wonderful enough to answer the following questions for us.
At what age did you start writing? Can you remember what your first story was about?
I think I took my book reviews in grammar school very, very seriously. Pages and pages of writing on things like *A Clockwork Orange* by Anthony Burgess that probably read more like fiction than a grade school report.
I think I took a stab at a short story towards the end of high school. I had this summer job working in a trade union in the motion picture industry, specifically at one of the main film labs in Hollywood. There were a couple of real characters there, especially in the shipping department, and they were always bantering about ridiculous experiences, probably blowing them all out of proportion. But I was a good listener, and intrigued. That first story was about a guy named Shithead Gary, who throws an old television in the back of his El Camino, convinces a co-worker to join him, and drives out to the desert to blow himself up.
A painter, a musician, a writer. Which came first? If it's possible to choose, which are you most passionate about? Which do you feel you
have to work harder at?
I think I'll have a different answer for this one every time!
Music feels like group sculpture to me, and I mean that in a way that should speak to the difficulties and nuances of getting a group of creative people together to work on one thing that exists in space. My experience of music has been very rewarding -- there is a real sense of freedom of expression, of immediacy, of trusting my gut with whatever part I come up with for someone else's material, or for a riff that I come up with that later becomes a song. But I'm a very independent person as well, and so the idea of a band being this unruly, ever-evolving thing, like a relationship or whatever, that's the part that makes it hard for me.
With writing, I feel like I can really get after an idea, write freely from an idea, and then use editing to go back in and analyze what's going on, try to make it happen more on purpose, change things around. I think both sides of my personality are represented nicely in writing, and maybe in a way that is difficult to get at for me with painting.
I do love to paint -- would probably argue for myself being a painter more than anything else if I had to put it down to one thing, but that might be shifting now. I don't do anything that I can't feel passion for, especially when it comes to creative pursuits. I think I have to work hardest at writing.
Describe your book "Don't Smell the Floss" in 5 words. How did you come up with the title?
Perverse. Probing. Baroque. Sensitive. Dangerous.
The title was just a phrase that came into my head -- and after picking it apart, it felt right to me. I think it's great to tell people to not do something, to not look at something or not think about it, because nine times out of ten, they immediately will. It's a weird part of human
nature. Like an inner rebelliousness or something, which I like to prod. Smelling the floss to me is like this impossibly visceral experience. It's unbelievable what the body is capable of making, the organic ugliness that can come out of us. I think there is something there that mirrors the
potentially awful behaviors we engage in as essentially socialized animals. All of this is intriguing to me -- those moments I think are where I've made camp for writing fiction. Dirty, visceral, ugly and possibly otherwise overlooked. There's a spot for me to feel comfortable being like an investigative reporter or something.
You recently toured to promote your book. What was that like? How have people responded to your book?
Still touring and about to get more aggressive about that, as so far, it's just been a limited west coast thing with dates in and around LA, and then up in San Francisco and Portland. I love to read to people, and if there is some sort of contemporary revival going on, sponsored by the good feelings people have about things like This American Life and the Moth in more mainstream venues, then so be it.
I think it's a lost art -- storytelling. I think that kind of sitting around the fire to listen to each other map out our collective histories is wonderful. I also am finding that on a practical level, getting one's book out to people is a really difficult proposition, and making an actual, personal connection is mandatory on some level. So you read directly to them, you talk to your audience, express gratitude for their ability to listen and their desire to be engaged by what you are making, and then people get a book. It's great.
I had my first experience last week of someone actually buying a book beforehand, and then bringing it to a reading to have me sign it. I was completely humbled.
Many of your stories contain dark, damaged characters leading sad, strange lives. Of the fourteen stories published in "Don't Smell the Floss", which are you most pleased with? Which story was the most difficult to write? Which stories resonate most with your fans?
Hmmmm... I'd have to say the pleasure of each story (and my problems with each too!) is quite individual in terms of my level of enjoyment and or comfort, and that seems to shift a lot depending on the day.
It's weird -- the stories, some of them anyway, date back quite a while, so there's a kind of ongoing process of discovery and re-discovery happening at any point for me. I love to read the character descriptions from "Conrad 'Connie' Borscht on Looking" -- those 2 actors feel very real and very close to me.
I'm happy with the weird poetics and strangeness of each of them and the pages dedicated to putting flesh on their bones. People seem to respond nicely to "...E. Leon Spaughy," the story about the Buddhist skunk who appears as a wandering spirit guide to the distressed and lonely copywriter. There are video pieces or slide shows that accompany many of the stories so far, and I've partnered with an artist named Josh Atlas to bring something different to my live readings (www.JoshAtlas.com). A different dimension, something tangential or metaphorical or at least visually compelling to allow me to read 20-30 minutes of text to a stranger without necessarily losing their attention.
I just read the "Brief History of the Tupperware Party" story for a podcast, and was very happy with that -- it was my first time reading it, and it felt very touching, this story about this sad, insecure Sasquatch-like figure trying too hard to be accepted and loved completely by his little wife. The dentist/jack-off-club/nativity bukkake story (that should be enough to make ANYONE want to read it, or you might actually be dead) is always a crowd-pleaser. For the video component, we actually got a group of dudes together to simulate some of the scenes. Cue riotous laughter and embarrassing here, please.
Are you currently writing anything? Are there any characters from "Don't Smell the Floss" that may make an appearance in future stories?
I am hard at work on a new book of short stories, all of which have been vaguely mapped out, a few of which have been completed. Something I didn't do with the first group of 14 was to get them published in journals and magazines before the book, so I'm trying to build some relationships there in order to get the work out in another way to a different audience before I go looking for someone to help me get out a second book.
Like I said earlier, the characters from "...Connie Borscht" (Pygma Meadows and Clara Latch, Connie himself and Darby Ammon), I could see myself spending some extra time with them. Not sure, though. "...Dangersby" really reads like the very confusing end of a relationship, and I could see writing my way into more of that, backwards, I guess.
What book(s) are you reading right now?
A few more pages left to go in *Platform *by Michel Houellebecq, my second read of his. Essays from Kathleen Rooney (*For You, For You I Am Trilling These Songs*), finished up Kevin Sampsell's memoir a couple of weeks ago and highly recommend it for sure (*A Common Pornography*) -- it's one of the smoothest reads I've had the pleasure of picking up recently. Also have gems from the WB press on my pile and sorting through them, Paul Maziar's *What It Is, What It Is*, and Michael Roberts, *No More Poems About the Moon*. Both lovely reads. Picked up or traded for works by Tao Lin, Matthew Simmons, Matthew Stadler -- all very exciting to me and hard not to quit my job and just read all the time....
Which 5 books would you save if your house were to catch fire?
I gave my girlfriend a first edition, signed copy of an Anne Sexton book of poems for her birthday last December, and seeing as we will be living together soon, I'd definitely put that at or near the top of my list. It really is marvelous -- being able to give someone something so precious, and also being able to imagine the poet's actual hands holding the book, and a pen, and them signing it. Super freaky to me but amazing somehow. *The Loser*, by Thomas Bernhard. A large catalogue of Peter Doig's paintings, and another of Francis Bacon's paintings. For number five, maybe something sentimental. My copy of *Catcher in the Rye* from high school. I'd also have to cheat on the total amount and can imagine grabbing *Butterfly Stories* by William T. Vollman. That would be a must read over and over again.
What is your take on eBooks and eReaders, as an author and as a reader?
My take so far is just from the gut. I hate 'em. But I also don't have one, so on a technical level, my opinion is totally worthless. I get the convenience aspect as far as traveling is concerned, and having less stuff to carry, but whatever on convenience -- sometimes I think we make things a bit too easy for ourselves, maybe. I just tend to be a bit of a romantic, purist, traditionalist, etc. about the experience of the book as an object, not a file full of neatly organized 1s and 0s. The whole thing is special, and always will be, at least to me. Buying a book, the smell of the used bookstore, unwrapping a book for a present and reading a hand-written dedication, meeting a favorite author and getting a book signed, the object itself.... I guess I just don't think "progress" is always for the best.
What authors/books/websites would you recommend to your audience?
I read Big Other, The Fanzine and HTML Giant religiously. I also like The Nervous Breakdown, Dennis Cooper's blog, and a few others. I think my audience, if I have one, might be all over the map, so I'm reluctant to say that maybe there is a site or two that perfectly suits them. I'll be starting up my online magazine again after a few years of it being dormant. Maybe that one? Smalldoggies Magazine dot com is the address, and it'll be up and running in another month or so.
(Photo:Copyright 2009 Anela Bence-Selkowitz)