Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Escape from Jimbobwe: Interview With Rob Rummel-Hudson

Over the weekend, writer Rob Rummel-Hudson was kind enough to answer some questions, to accompany yesterday's review of his memoir, Schuyler's Monster: A Father's Journey With His Wordless Daughter. I was pretty intrigued by his plans to eventually write something on music by amateurs.

-How’s your summer been, and how’s your family? It's been a good summer, or as good as a summer can be when it hits 106 degrees three days in a row. Julie's originally from Michigan, so I think it boggles her mind that people live in a place like this. Schuyler loves the summer, she spends as much time as humanly possible in the pool. She claims to be a mermaid, and she makes a pretty good argument for it.

-What music are you recommending these days?
I've been all over the place musically lately. On one hand, I've been really getting into a lot of independent artists like Andrew Bird and Joanna Newsom and M Ward, people who are writing and performing stuff that just makes you go "Huh? This isn't like anything I've ever heard before!" And then at the same time, I've been reconnecting with Beethoven, but specifically as performed on period instruments and in the style of his time by John Eliot Gardiner and this amazing ensemble, the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique. Isn't that the most awesome name for an orchestra ever? They strip away all the marble and blow away the dust and approach Beethoven the way his contemporaries heard him, as this revolutionary who wanted to burn the music world down and rebuild it into something crazy and new. They make Beethoven sound like the kind of guy who would trash a hotel room, which of course he absolutely was. He probably did that at some point.

-How important is music to your creative and writing life? You know, it's important in the sense that I tend to immerse myself in music that compliments the mood of what I'm writing, but I don't think I'm really driving to change what I'm writing by the music I'm listening to. It's more of an amplification of my mood, and also a way to concentrate. Certain kinds of music tend to focus my creativity and make me think a little more clearly. I go to that stuff a lot. Shostakovich's Twenty-four Preludes and Fugues is a favorite. Wow, I sound like such a snob.

- Does Schuyler like music? If so, are her tastes typical of young girls, or do they follow yours? She really does, although yeah, her taste runs in different directions than mine. She loves to listen to classical with me, but I think that's mostly because it's a shared experience. She loses her mind for stuff she can dance to. Some of it is age-appropriate, but then she will get into stuff like house music and just lose her little mind over it. Musically speaking, Schuyler seems destined to hang out in gay dance clubs, which as an overprotective father doesn't actually sound like such a bad thing to me. I'm clearly not ready for boys in her life just yet. Well, not predatory straight boys, anyway. Maybe I'll keep encouraging the house music thing.

-What is it about West Texas that produces good writers with an “expatriate” bent: Gail Caldwell, even McMurtry. Did you have a moment in your early life when you figured out you were going to leave? I knew for sure I was going to leave when I was in seventh or eighth grade, I think, and had the opportunity to visit my older brother, who lived in Chicago at the time. I think growing up in a place like West Texas gives you a real sense of isolation, and it affects how you develop, sort of like all the weird species of animals that evolved in Australia. Maybe that's what has informed the work of so many writers. I remember visiting Chicago and being amazed that these places that I saw on television really did exist, on the other side of the desert. I'm glad I grew up out there, I think it gave me an interesting perspective on the world around me, and an appreciation for other parts of the country and how different they and their people could be from what I'd ever known. But yeah, I'm pretty glad I left, too.

-Ralph Ellison said writers choose their own literary ancestors. How do you respond to that? Who would you say are your ancestors, and was it by choice?
Oh, I think that we begin that process long before we become writers ourselves, and before we're aware of the process. It's not just a matter of finding writers we like, because there are plenty of authors whose work I love but which hasn't really influenced my own style very much. Even now, there are writers whose work I leaves me standing in awe, but which probably doesn't change my own work very much. I've been reading William Vollmann's Europe Central now for a few years. The thing is massive, and I'll read it for a while and then put it aside. Will I ever finish it? I have no idea. But I love it. And yet, it's so far from my own kind of writing, just light years away. I think ultimately, we gravitate towards writers with whom we resonate on some level, and they really change the way we develop as writers ourselves. And that's a very different, very specific set of writers, beyond just the ones we like to read.

The writers who have informed my own work tend to be the ones who write in a very personal voice, not divorced from their own experience or perspective. The two that come to mind are Anne Lamott, who is extremely popular, of course, and Bill Bryson, who has become more widely known in the past decade or so, fortunately. He started off as a travel writer, but now he touches on all sorts of subjects, and always in his own very personal, funny observational voice. He's probably the closest thing I have to a literary ancestor, when I'm getting it right. Which hopefully I do from time to time.

-Where do you go next as a writer? That's been on my mind a lot lately. I had hoped to go in a completely different direction and write a book about music, about amateurs in America who are creating this amazing, high quality music simply out of their love for the art. But I find that the world of broken children and their families isn't done with me yet, not even close. My music book is going to have to wait, I guess. The book I'm writing now feels important, almost like a manifesto. Hopefully I can give some of these families the feeling that they've got a voice speaking for them, a little like I did in Schuyler's Monster but on a much larger scale. And then perhaps I'll feel like I can get a little selfish and write something a little less heavy.

Related Links:
Schuyler's Monster website

Rob's blog, Fighting Monsters With Rubber Swords

Rob's Twitter