Interview with Scott Neuffer
Scott Neuffer—author of RANGE OF LIGHT (forthcoming) and SCARS OF THE NEW ORDER—is a writer, journalist, poet, and musician who lives in Nevada with his family. His work has appeared in Nevada Magazine, Foreword Reviews, Underground Voices, Construction Literary Magazine, Shelf Awareness, Entropy Magazine, Wilderness House Literary Review, Gone Lawn, and elsewhere. He’s also the founder and editor of the literary journal Trampset. His indie rock music is available on Apple Music and Spotify. Follow him on Twitter @scottneuffer @sneuffermusic @trampset
We know that you are handling both writing and making music. How do they nourish each other?
For me music always picks up where words fail. To create a mood out of pure sound is liberating because you can release emotion and shape experience without all the complications and infinitesimal power relations of language. But it’s not unlike writing. There’s rhythm and depth. Both are musical. Pure poetry can reach a state of music. Of course, I write lyrics too, informed by my literary work and vice versa. But I find when I’m struggling to write, I just get out my guitar and play.
You are currently working on a memoir. “Stay is a hybrid memoir-essay collection being written by as he & his father build a cabin in the Sierra Nevada” says the memoir’s Twitter page. Can you tell us, why did you decide to write that?
I’ve been through a lot in the last few years, and I realize I’ve been addressing my issues obliquely in fiction and poetry. I finally reached the point where I decided to address things head-on. I began building a cabin with my father in the mountains, and it became a perfect metaphor for rebuilding one’s self in the wilderness that is life. The themes began clicking into place, and I just dove in. So far, I’ve really enjoyed mixing essay and memoir, though I’m in the process of excavating some painful stuff.
How do you decide to write a review of a book? I think we can find all of your reviews on Shelf Awareness?
Yes, I’ve written for Shelf Awareness the past couple of years and actually got my start professionally reviewing at Foreword Reviews. Both publications give their reviewers lots of leeway in the books they choose to review. Though thoughtful criticism is welcome, they discourage strait-up pans or take-downs. They want well-written recommendations. So, I go through a stack of books every month and pick which ones really speak to me. I try to balance established authors with new authors. Obviously, I can’t review them all, and I’ve had to pass on some really good titles. But I love reviewing. It’s an art form. People think criticism is about being an asshole, but it’s really not. It’s about distilling a work and putting it in greater context.
You are also the founder and the editor of Trampset which is defining itself as “A literary journal for the tramps, Trampset publishes fiction, nonfiction, and poetry on a rolling basis. We welcome diverse voices, including writers working outside academia.” What was your main drive before founding Trampset?
I wasn’t able to get an MFA. I finished my undergrad degree at a community college because I had to move home and deal with a family crisis. It took years to resolve, and I was working odd jobs to support myself. Then I got married and had a family. I think there’s a lot of people in the same boat: talented writers who want to advance their careers but have had life and all its messiness get in the way. Trampset is for them. We don’t begrudge people who have graduate degrees; we publish a lot of them because their work is good. But we also try to find people from different walks of life, who have come to writing for different reasons and in different ways. This includes immigrants and people around the world who aren’t part of the English literary establishment. That edifice can be so intimidating and bewildering to people who aren’t part of it. Trampset is for them.
“(…) skullfucking dead Greeks to spill their secrets/and of course the Renaissance, the Enlightenment/the Modernism we could never disavow/because it made ourselves important/became the apotheosis of our loneliness/But something Romantic in me never died/and that’s what I had/this perfect day in November”. These lines are from your poem “Of Light and Cheese”. It feels like you are mocking the whole art universe/life, I find your style quite cynical. What do you think about this?
Ha, I feel like I was recapping cultural history more than mocking it, but I will say I’m kind of a Romantic in the literary sense of the word, and I think the Romantic experience begins the minute you let go of culture and traditional forms of knowledge and give yourself over to unmediated experience. We all have those moments that take us out of ourselves and our socialized ontologies, when we directly confront the mystery of reality. That’s why I love wilderness so much. I think that’s what I was getting at there.
When did you first realize your affinity for poetry? What is your “origin” story?
I read Ginsberg’s Howl in college, and it changed my impressions of the world, and I saw how words could not only represent experience but expand it, create new universes. A few books like that opened the doors for me. Another early one was Look Homeward, Angel by Thomas Wolfe. And of course, there’s Virginia Woolf, one of the most gifted and expansive writers in history. I know those two aren’t poets, but at some level it’s all the same deepening and enrichment of life through language. Those early encounters with literature are my origin story.
Do you feel like your poetry falls under a certain category, such as experimental, contemporary, etc.? If you could have your work associated with another poet, who would it be and why?
I think my poetry is a little experimental but not as much as the Language poets. I’m attracted to imagism, the precision of imagism, but I’m not sure I achieve it in my own poetry. Hard to say about whom I’d associate my work with because I wouldn’t want to belittle any contemporary poets by thinking I’m on the same level. I just finished reviewing Danez Smith’s new collection, and I really respect the way he mixes slang with incredible, intricate imagery. Of course he’s a black man in America, so he comes at his work with different experiences than I do, a white boy from small-town Nevada. But I really like the idea of mixing the colloquial with the profound, the vulgar with the elegant. There are times I’ve tried to do that in my poetry.
When writing poetry, do you write from emotion? What usually inspires you? When putting together a chapbook/collection of poetry, what do you keep in mind? How do you keep it a cohesive piece of work?
I haven’t put together a collection of poetry yet, but I’d like to. Poetry, for me, is always a spilling over, a brimming of spirit born of the moment. I never try to write it on purpose; it just comes when it comes. I’m sure if I looked at my poems stretching all the way back, I’d find some common themes. Maybe then I could put together a book.
I know a lot of poets/novelists, writers in general, struggle with marketing themselves and their services. Have you ever encountered this feeling? If so, how did you overcome it?
Oh, yes. It’s the curse of trying to be a writer, the paradox that good writing necessitates vulnerability but that you must be as tough as nails in marketing your work. Because rejections will come. It’s part of the life. It’s never something we overcome, our aversion to careerism, but I’ve found the best thing to do is surround yourself with other writers who inspire you.
Do you feel that social media has helped poets? Why or why not? If so, what platform do you believe has helped you the most with marketing yourself?
Twitter’s the best by far. The medium is ideal for writerly kinds of people. It’s easy to use to express oneself and make connections without the pretense of friendship. No offense, Facebook. I think overall it’s helped writers connect, not only to an audience but to each other. Can it be scary when the Twitter mobs cancel someone? Yes. But in the long run, it’s a good thing, as long as it’s not abused.
What are your methods for overcoming ‘writer’s block’? What do you do when you can’t seem to find inspiration?
Listen to music, drink coffee, smoke cigarettes. It works. Playing guitar also works.
A lot of writers struggle with time management. Do you have a day job? If so, how do you balance work, writing (poetry and your novel), family, and personal time?
I work as a freelancer from home, so I’m trying to balance everything all the time. Kids come first. They have to. But when their needs are met, I go to work hardcore, often getting work done in intense bouts, fueled by caffeine and nicotine. I used to work at a newspaper where deadlines were the main drivers of activity. I try to set my own mental deadlines, to feel that pressure, because I respond to that pressure.
What change would you like to see within the writing community and why?
People could be nicer to each other. I see these little fights on Twitter that are unnecessary and could be resolved if people talked directly to each other and spent time together. More conflict-resolution, I suppose.
Where do you expect to see yourself (as a writer) in the next five years? The next ten years?
I have a novel coming out next year, and the publisher has the rights to it for seven years, so seeing how that goes will be interesting. I hope to find a good publisher for my memoir. I would love to make more of a living from my writing. And to stay passionate about it, despite the challenges. It’s always been a fundamental part of my life. Literature undergirds my existence. I need it. And I hope someday readers need me.
Interview conducted by Nazlı Karabıyıkoğlu, who is the Interview Editor for Marías at Sampaguitas. She is an author from Turkey, enthusiastic traveler, Feminist activist, and Mother of four cats and countless animals all over the world. Full-time resident in Georgia, escaped from the oppression in Turkey. Has 5 published books in Turkish. For further information: www.nazlikarabiyikoglu.com.