Who, if anyone, was your main inspiration for the serial killer Jamaal?
When I was younger my mother went through a true-crime books phase, and I joined in on the fun for a little while myself; but I found myself drawn to the famous serial killers of the twentieth century. The psychological aspect of what makes a serial killer was fascinating to me—still is. That said, there isn’t any one person or serial killer who inspired me specifically. My mum asked me to write about a serial killer named Jamaal, I don’t know why she chose that name but she was fairly insistent. So I wrote a story about a serial killer named Jamaal, based on much of what I’d learned really about all of them. But it’s written from the first-person perspective, from Jamaal’s point of view. Which I think kind of adds to the sympathy factor. Jamaal comes across almost as a Golly Gee-Whiz kind of kid, not as a malicious killer and woman-hater. All the elements are there, just not so much the self-awareness. He’s just doing like he was taught to do, listen to Mother no matter what.
Some people might use the phrase “the long dark wander” in reference to death, or life after death. To what degree would you say this use of the phrase relates to your book of poetry, Dark Wander: poetry unintended for the faint of heart?
I wrote a lot of these poems while I was still drinking pretty heavily, and that shows through with some of the characters—specifically Reese, even though I don’t state it explicitly in the poems themselves—who is depicted as a hard drinker dealing with the loss of his stepfather to suicide. The title Dark Wander refers more to the autobiographical nature of many of the poems, in that I would consider those drinking days essentially as my own darker wandering through life. I didn’t lose my stepfather to suicide, he’s still alive and well; but my father was murdered while in prison, to my understanding basically because he refused to join one of the prison gangs and they didn’t want to take no for an answer.
Why did you decide on the subtitle “poetry unintended for the faint of heart”? Might that not be a little off-putting to potential readers?
I suppose it might be. But I feel that we’re not really living in a world where works like those written by the Marquis de Sade would be considered any kind of acceptable—at least, not on a grand scale. There’s a lot of sensitivity nowadays, seemingly more than ever before. It seems like a lot of people are on edge, whether due to the 2020 pandemic and everything that that brought with it, or whether due to perceived racial profiling or racially-based comedy, or even the most mildly implied or perceivable sexual phobias, whether intentional or skewed. And the politics, of course. But that in the by and by, the thing about a menu in a restaurant is that it should be honest and straightforward: What you read and order should be what you get, whether it’s a filet mignon or chicken fingers with fries for the kids. I take the same kind of approach when it comes to titling my books. I don’t want people to pick up Dark Wander (which is available as a paperback on Amazon) and think it’s all roses and perfume, you know? But even aside from general subject matter, which I think most people can handle (there are still plenty of crime tv shows on air, to be sure), sometimes the poems themselves, since they’re fairly nontraditional, can be a bit to get the head around. There’s no classic metre, there’s little-to-no rhyming, there’s no classic structure really at all. Which of course is purely intentional on my part, but for some it may be a bit different and therefore a little more or less difficult to digest.
A couple of the poems, including “Avadore” and “Jamaal”, seem to take place in the same run-down house. The cover also shows an image of an old building, falling apart and seemingly uninhabitable. Is this a real house, or is it metaphorical?
Technically it’s both, I suppose. Not any particular house in which I ever lived myself, but I spent some time west of the Tucson area while growing up, over in Avra Valley. There are a lot of cotton fields out there but there’s also an old house that you pass by on your way to my stepfather’s property out there. I stopped by once, years after no one was living in it, and just kind of wandered around. Probably not the best thing to admit to, considering I had no permission to do so, but I was just a kid and I didn’t really know any better. Also, I always wanted to write about a haunted house, but I never really wanted to write about a haunted house. It always felt some kind of disingenuous to me, like I was intentionally fleshing out an outline and then trying to call it a book. Lots of tropes. In all I think the house comes through more as a metaphor than anything else: A house is supposed to be a home. So, coming from a run-down, literally-broken home you get these broken, breaking, breakable characters, and they end up leading some pretty crazy lives.
Do you have a favorite poem in Dark Wander? Or a favorite character?
Certainly I like and dislike certain things about all the characters and poems, I think that’s something that happens with every writer and every book or poem or screenplay. Each has their qualities and fallacies. But I think “Avadore” is probably one of the favorites overall. It stayed the most original through all the edits, it always seemed the most “complete” out of all of them, over the years. Reese is the one most like me in real life, but I prefer the version of Reese who’s learning from his stepfather in “Man and Boy” and “Young Man Old Man”. I’m an observationist more than a conversationalist. I like to watch people and I’m always learning from others, even if indirectly. As far as what I might not like about some of the poems or characters, I think they’re kind of like children. I might have an idea for a character or a story, or I might think it’s going to go a certain direction; but then once I’m writing it, or writing about them, the poems or the stories just kind of go wherever they want to. I guess I can understand it the way some musicians talk about their music: The songs become what they want to become.