Justin Sirois is founder and co-director of Narrow House, an experimental writing publishing collective. His poetry is wicked. He received Maryland State Art Council grants for poetry in 2003 and 2007. His books include Secondary Sound (BlazeVOX Books) and MLKNG SCKLS (Publishing Genius). He is a designer for Edge Books, and he's also responsible for the original Taxidermy Lodge (now known as TAX LO) dance parties. Currently, Justin is trying to find a publisher for his first novel written in collaboration with Iraqi refugee Haneen Alshujairy about displaced Iraqis living in Fallujah in April of '04.
What do you do? What are you doing the most lately?
Writing stories. I just finished a novel about two young men in Fallujah (Iraq) that I wrote in collaboration with Iraqi refuge Haneen Alshujairy. She’s amazing. We met on the internet and now she lives in Cairo. We’ve never met and she’s beautiful. A small press is reviewing it right now and I’m hoping they’ll publish it, but you never know. It’s tough, getting published and all.
Publishing Genius just released MLKNG SCKLS, the “deleted scenes” from that novel. People seem to like it a lot, especially the story where Salim, the main character, “uncooks” a meal for his girlfriend. It’s endearing and gross at the same time. Dehumidifiers line the kitchen counter. Everything sounds “undelicious”.
I’m about 2/3 finished with a new novel about two metalhead brothers growing up in New Hampshire in 1993. It’s a pretty sad story about disappointment (much like my other novel… oops), but it’s more about admiring the wrong people for the wrong reasons and realizing that before it’s too late. There are a lot of D&Dish hallucinations in the narrative – and the main character imagines he’s having sex with the drawings from The Joy of Sex.
It might upset my parents.
How long have you done these things? How have the things changed?
I’ve been writing all my life, I guess. I wrote a comic book when I was six and the spelling was so bad that my dad would read it to my brother and me and we’d fall on the floor laughing. Through high school I drew and wrote a comic/music magazine that I hope no one still owns, but people back in Florida mention it sometimes. It was named after a Sound Garden song. Yikes. Let’s forget that. Completely.
I wrote poems mostly between the ages of 18-28. They were easier to compose and manage. They changed a lot – confessional to language based then a combination of the two and then whatever. BlazeVOX published my book Secondary Sound in 2008. It’s about piracy and copyright law and sampling. But I always wanted to write stories. Now I’m trying to do that mostly. I’m a bit happier.
Why do you do these things? No, really, why? How does it make you
feel? What's it like when you are unable to do these things?
Because it’s absolutely absorbing and it’s impossible not to get these ideas/images/characters/issue out on paper. It’s good therapy. And it’s the closest thing to religion that I have at the moment. There’s no better feeling than writing a beautiful sentence or finishing a solid story. It’s literally the best feeling I’ve ever had. And if writing brings me closer to people – understanding and empathizing with strangers, observing behavior, both negative and positive – then it’s the best thing in my life.
Writing fiction is the only creative act that I can concentrate on for longer than an hour or two, everyday, no matter what. A disciplined schedule is essential if you’re working on one project for 10 months or longer – sometimes much longer. Between projects I won’t write for months at a time and it feels terrible; it’s close to feeling directionless and useless. Drinking happens more. Video games, too. Man! What a time vampire those video games are.
During that down time, I try to research as much as possible. Reading helps, of course. Eventually the next project bubbles up and I’m back to normal.
When was That Moment in your life that told you would become what
I think it was when I finished the first draft of Falcons on the Floor, that first novel. I felt completely high. It was a, “did I really do that?” kind of experience that built and built after two years of work.
Now I know I can do what I’ve always dreamed about, but with that realization comes a whole lot more pressure on myself to keep going.
How has your life changed to accommodate That Moment's effect on you?
Dramatically and not at all. Now I know I have the discipline to sustain a rigorous work schedule, I can stay motivated about a project no one knows a thing about, and there’s a building community of strangers who want to read my work, but, that said, I’ll always be suspicious of the quality of the work. It’s that inner voice that constantly tells you, “Man, you have nothing to offer… you’re so cliché.”
All creative people deal with that insecurity. You just have to work through it – keep making and loving and caring about what you do. Falling in love with your labor is just as important as loving your language.
How has your work affected your life in return?
I can’t imagine my life without writing. My best friends are in the creative community and I’d rather have massively great creativity surrounding me than a sweet house or car or whatever. I feel like I have the absolute best quality of life and I share it with the most interesting people in one of the best cities in the States.
What do you think of the future?
I’m excited about the new XBox hands free controller because I won’t have to buy a gym membership. Lifting Cuba’s embargo will be a beautiful event; generations have suffered for something they had nothing to do with. Maybe gay marriage and pot smoking will be legal one day – everywhere – even on airplanes. Gay marriage on airplanes, you ask. Yes. The Future. Goodness! I don’t smoke pot.
The future isn’t as bleak as people think. Now that DIY is mainstream and nerds are cool, life is better for creative people. We can make books or albums on the cheap and post them for free and if it’s good work people will pay attention. Wars are essential because they’ve always happened. That sucks. The planet is suffocating under the stress of irresponsible consumption. That sucks, too.
Would you vote for David Lee Roth in an election? Why or why not?
It depends what he’s running for. President? No. Sorry. NFL Commissioner? YES. Oh hell yes. I saw this YouTube video of an old interview Roth did for MTV and he was soaring on coke or some narcotic from another planet and I was like, “That man should be running the NFL.”