Interview with xTx
I’m not sure what to say about xTx that hasn’t already been said. Dennis Cooper says she is a “complete young literary god,” and that she’s “as great as it gets.” Alt Lit Gossip calls her a pillar of alt lit. Roxane Gay calls her “unreal,” and says that her writing “will surprise you with [its] depth, imagination, and emotional honesty.”
For me, I’ve always thought of xTx as a ballsy, fearless writer. But it wasn’t until I saw her read at 826LA last summer that I became a little obsessed: as some people would say, I developed a girl crush. But there is nothing girlish about my affections for xTx, and there is nothing girlish about her. The reasons that led to my affections have to do with her intensity; there is a look in xTx’s eyes of such fierceness that it scared the shit out of me — which is great, because I love to be scared.
This intensity is realized fully in her new book, Billie the Bull, which is on its third printing from Mud Luscious — the first and second both sold out in less than 48 hours. While less overtly shocking than her previous writing, it’s still got the same degree of stark frankness and almost sadistic emotional truth. These elements combine into a compressed little book that does exactly what good writing is supposed to do: stab you in the gut.
xTx is a secretive, private woman, and for good reason. Thus, I felt honored that she’d talk to me about her writing, her new book, and a little bit about her life.
JE: What do you listen to while writing?
xTx: I’ve been listening to more and more ambient music. Anything ambient that’s like, eight minutes long to an hour. I find it helps put me into a sort of writing trance. I like writing when my brain feels suspended and weightless.
JE: What was the process of writing this book? Was there a specific scene or image that served as the seed? Did you know you were working on a larger story from the very beginning?
xTx: The genesis of this book was from a story I wrote called, “Shopping,” that was published on Ha Ha Clever. (Sidebar: Reynard Seifert was the editor and asked me to write an e-book from him about a giant. “Billie the Bull” was the result of that. Things didn’t quite work out with the e-book so I ended up submitting it around to a few publishers and was thrilled with Mud Luscious chose it for their Nephew series. ) I liked the idea of a giant woman. At the time there was a reality show on TLC following two little people that had twin boys; one of them was a little person and one was ‘normal.’ I had no idea that was even possible. I thought that was so interesting, so I made my giant woman a mother to similar twins.
The Collector part of the book was actually incorporated from an unpublished short story I had that I really loved but never submitted anywhere.
I put everything together and Billie the Bull was the result. Science!
JE: What is your writing ritual comprised of (if you have one)?
xTx: I generally write before work, at my lunch hour and in the evenings whenever I can grab some time. Typically, in the morning, I’ll print out whatever section I had been working on the day before and read it ‘fresh.’ Then I’ll make any ‘gut-level’ changes and then add on a bit. At my lunch hour, I’ll go over the new bit and add on from there. Lather, rinse, repeat.
JE: What pen name would you pick, if you could do it all over?
xTx: Something more “porny” maybe.
JE: Have you observed anything ‘unhealthy’ or unpredictable, in regards to having two different personas? Has a splitting occurred, or is xTx merely an extension of your ‘real’ self?
xTx: I would say xTx is more of an extension of my real self. It’s sort of the “unafraid” me, which is sad because I think xTx is still a very fearful person. I say more with xTx. Things I wouldn’t say or share in my “real” life. Is that unhealthy? I’m not sure. It probably is.
JE: Does it bother you, that you haven’t yet been able to merge xTx with your IRL self? I mean, for one, Billie the Bull is really fucking good. Secondly, it’s definitely a strange book, but it isn’t as shocking or ‘offensive’ as your earlier work. And if your family and friends did read it, do you feel like they would ‘get it’?
xTx: At this point, yes, it bothers me that I haven’t been able to merge my ‘selves’ to the people that matter in my life. I’ve printed out select stories and given them to my mom to read and she loves them but it’s a small fraction of my work. She knows nothing about my books or the story award I received last year. Nobody does. I just feel like I’ve created work that I can be proud of and nobody in my life really knows about any of it. It’s stupid and I’m working on changing things.
And as far as them “getting it,” I’m not sure they would. They don’t really read things like my stuff. They tend to read the kind of books you can buy in a grocery store.
JE: Did you find any ‘themes’ that emerged in the book after you wrote it?
xTx: I normally write without thinking of themes, but, usually, by the end of what I’m writing, themes are definitely apparent. I think size is a big theme. What constitutes “normal” and how people who don’t fit into the norm are treated/acted out against. Greed at any cost is also a theme and also ‘never getting.’ How you can want for certain things your entire life and never know the getting of them while others around you seemingly get everything they want, or simply take it. How others that ‘get’ take it for granted. Yeah, those themes.
JE: What sort of ‘low-culture’ things do you enjoy? (i.e. celebrities, gossip columns, TV shows, etc.) Do you feel bad about liking these things?
xTx: I like too many low-culture things. It’s sad. Talk shows, reality shows, dumb stuff. I feel bad about liking them because I don’t think they add anything to my life, but I can’t stop liking them. They’re like Hot Cheetohs.
JE: Sometimes, I feel like the more ill-advised things we do in our lives tend to be the most defining, and, looking back, enjoyable. From your work and the few things I know about you, I suspect you haven’t had an ordinary life, and unordinary lives seem to often break the mold of good decision-making. What’s a stupid decision you made that you ended up being really happy about?
xTx: “Becoming” xTx.
JE: Do you have any food obsessions?
xTx: For the past year or two I’ve been obsessed with Brussels sprouts. I’ll go on binges where that’s all I’ll cook for dinner for like weeks. Oh, then there was the fateful “White Russian phase” I had late last year. I won’t do that again.
— xTx is a writer living in Southern California. She has been published in places like The Collagist, PANK, Hobart, Puerto del Sol, Smokelong, Monkeybicycle and Wigleaf. Her story collection, Normally Special, is available from Tiny Hardcore Press; her chapbook, Billie the Bull, is available from Mud Luscious press. xTx’s story, “The Mill Pond” just won the 2012 storySouth Million Writers Award. She says nothing at www.notimetosayit.com
— Juliet Escoria writes things. You can find her here.