January 20, 2013

Author Interview: Gordon Highland

I've talked and talked about my favorite writer's space here on the intarwebs. It's called LitReactor, and it's helped me find a writer's community I'm happy to call my own.


When I first started hanging out there, there were a handful of those Real Writers that everyone talked about and aspired to be. Up in what I imagined to be an ivory tower, watching down over us little wannabes.

Well. Turns out, those Real Writers people just like us. The more time I spend out there, the more I see that.

I've been having a good time getting to know one of those Real Writers in particular. His name is Gordon Highland, and let me tell you - he's a bad-ass. His stories are bad-ass. But he's also a sweetheart, and with two published novels and countless short stories that make up just a small piece of an artistic career that boggles my mind, he's got a lot of fun things to tell us.

Read on. Say hi. Let us know what you think.


LR: You, sir, seem like a jack-of-all-artistic-trades. Music, writing, visual arts – you do it all, don’t you? So…what’s your favorite medium right now? How has it changed through the years?

GH: Film has always been our highest artform, I believe. For a creator, it provides the biggest palette to manipulate the senses, especially when you factor in the emotional underscoring of music. As a consumer, yep, it’s still my go-to, whether that’s a feature or serialized television. But because I’ve been directing videos full-time since ’95 … eh, writing’s more fun. I dig that direct jack into the reader’s brain with no collaborative middlemen. No actor interprets the dialogue, no cinematographer’s lighting alters the mood, no production designer redecorates the room. Someone reads the exact words I wrote and projects their version of the movie in their own skull, filling in whatever’s missing. They participate.

LR: Two released novels (Major Inversions and Flashover), both involving former-rock-stars, or their close approximations. How autobiographical is this?

GH: That indeed was the easiest and truest aspect of those books to write. I lifted certain details—many exact—taking what I experienced and applying them to more inflated and exaggerated situations. Those anecdotes were either for character development or comic relief, not plot, ever mindful that just because something is true doesn’t make it compelling. So I also lied my ass off in equal measure.

LR: I’ve been told I’m mean to my characters – I put them in shitty situations, and have all sorts of bad things happen to them. Seems like I could accuse you of the same thing. You do, after all, throw Tobe Mohr off a rooftop after electrocuting him. I know I have my reasons for being so “mean”….what are yours? What do you accomplish by throwing these things at your characters?

GH: You learn the most about people, their true nature, when in crisis. Some of it’s writerly vicarious living, testing what you yourself would do in these scenarios, before realizing that, no, that’s the safe job-interview answer, and then filtering that through the character you’ve created. I love how writing fiction forces you to consider alternative viewpoints and the depths/heights you would endure to survive, to evolve. That’s where my plots come from: a character with a specific trait or occupation is thrust into a scenario in direct opposition to it. The musician struck deaf. The serial womanizer in a committed relationship. The photographer without a subject.

LR: Our paths crossed at LitReactor, my favorite FAVORITE site for writers. What brought you to LitReactor, and what keeps you going back?

GH: I was an OG on Chuck Palahniuk’s fan site since the turn of the century, so when they spun off its writing community and workshops into LitReactor, I followed suit. It’s been great getting to know all of you twisted souls over there, and the diverse forum discussion, articles/columns, and networking keeps things humming and me honest.

LR: What are you working on, writing-wise, right now?

GH: Short stories mostly, and songs for my duo, Winebox. There isn’t another novel on my immediate radar, but I’d like to put out a collection of shorts next year, while getting more individual ones published in the meantime. I’ve got stories coming out this year in the Booked. Anthology and The Tobacco-Stained Sky, both of which feature some authors your readers should be familiar with.

LR: Are you an outliner, or a seat-of-your-pants kind of writer?

GH: Outliner, for sure. I write so slowly, editing as I go, that I don’t have the luxury of exploring many dead ends in the long form, so I work most of that out in advance. Each of my novels took three or four years, and it was months before I penned the first word of either. It’s more about setting small goals and plot milestones that still allow for freedom for surprises between them to keep things interesting. And those outlines do adapt in the process.

LR: When you were a kid, were you a reader? Like, a hide under the covers with a flashlight to read after bedtime kind of reader? If so, were there any books that really inspired you as a kid? And any characters on whom you had a book crush?

GH: Oh, yeah. Always had a Mad or Cracked magazine, or a G.I. Joe comic splayed out on the table next to my cereal bowl and afterschool snack and dinner plate. And I’d sneak them into school and trade with others. Most of my books, though, were movie novelizations (when I wasn’t heisting my mother’s Stephen King novels). Understand, this was pre-VCR, so the only way I could re-experience those movies on demand was through their books. Star Wars, The Goonies—all that shit. What kid didn’t wish he was the one kissing that cheerleader girlfriend of Josh Brolin’s?

What probably foreshadowed my later interests, though, were those Choose Your Own Adventure books. Had dozens of them, even knock-offs from other presses. Oh, man … I just remembered this one series called Micro Adventures, where you’d read for a bit, then have to type a page of computer code into the ole Commodore 64, which, once executed, would give you the next clue in the story. Probably explains my adult fascination with metafiction.

LR: Ok, favorites time. Favorite book?

GH: House of Leaves by Mark Danielewski, which is the ultimate in metafiction. I admire it technically, for its craftsmanship. But my most-enjoyed read, my comfort-food novel, is Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon. A master wordsmith, that guy. He’s the yardstick I’m always measuring myself against, even if a ruler would suffice at this stage.

LR: Favorite movie?

GH: I’ve been telling everyone forever that it’s P.T. Anderson’s Magnolia. But now I think I gotta give the top slot to Almost Famous. It hits all the right notes with me, being a love letter to music, and you can’t help but share in that kid’s wide-eyed awe as he’s exposed to this whole new forbidden universe laid out before him. Plus, hey, Kate Hudson.

LR: Favorite album? (Bet this one’s hard for you…always is for my musical friends.)

GH: My artistic-cred answer would be Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here, or on a rainy day, maybe Jeff Buckley’s Grace. But if we’re being honest, I cannot deny 5150 by Van Halen. Yeah, that one, along with their former vocalist Roth’s Eat ’Em and Smile are the two albums that first dropped my jaw and made me pick up the guitar, woodshedding away most of my youth. Some of that material still trips up my fingers to this day. 5150 has a majestic blend of pop songwriting and sleazy fretplay that prickles up the arm hairs. Christ, please stop me; I sound like Patrick Bateman gone off on some Genesis jag.…

LR: And finally – tell me something I don’t already know. Something you’ve always wanted to tell people but have never been asked. Make it good.

GH: I wrote the Sanford and Son theme song. Always wanted to tell someone that, despite it never being asked, or true. 


So there you have it. One interview, including Choose Your Own Adventure, Michael Chabon, The Goonies and Almost Famous. Clearly Gordon and I were separated at birth, right?

If you'd like to learn more about him, drop by his site any time!


Gordon Highland said...

Hey, thanks so much for inviting me over. I really enjoyed our chat.

Leah said...

Come back any time. Next time bring some wine. Invite all your friends. :)

Seriously - happy to have you here! Thanks again!

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