If you are into the indie lit scene and you aren’t familiar with Bud Smith, you must be living under a rock. Your rock might be really awesome and you might be perfectly content beneath it, but I’m about to fuck that up for you. And you’ll thank me for it. Because what the rest of us already know is that Bud Smith is a goddamn king of words. He was the obvious top choice for Rabble Lit’s first author interview.
Bud is a novelist, a wildly prolific writer of short fiction, poetry, and nonfiction, a publisher, an unflagging supporter of the small presses and their authors, and he makes all of this literary magic while busting his ass in heavy construction. The maraschino on top is that Bud is a really genuine guy, and that comes across in everything he makes, whether you’re reading one of his books (like the newest release, Dust Bunny City, a collaboration with his talented wife, artist Rae Buleri), following along with his often hilarious and poignant dispatches from the blue-collar world in the Work Safe or Die Trying series for Real Pants, enjoying his reviews of real-life experiences like buying $100 worth of fried chicken or his stay at an “artisanal crack motel” for Barrelhouse, or just being blown away by his terrific short stories (like some of my favorites: Everybody’s Darlin’, Franklin, Double Bird, Wolves).
I’m thrilled that Bud agreed to email with me and answer some questions for our inaugural issue.
AJ: Bud Smith. You know how some people say they’re voting for somebody for president because that guy is the guy they’d most like to sit down with and have a beer? That might be a really dumb criterion, or it might be genius, I don’t know– but you, Bud, are the writer I’d most like to sit down with and have a beer. I could jump right in and go full tilt fangirl on how consistently fucking awesome your writing is, but I feel like before anything else we should get the most obvious and important question out of the way.
You grew up as a working class kid in New Jersey, so I’m sure we all want to know: you’re in a bar and Bruce Springsteen, Jon Bon Jovi, and Glenn Danzig are about to brawl, and as the melee begins they all three look to you to have each of their backs. Who is your homeboy?
BS: I’d have to help out Jon Bon Jovi. A cold breeze could kill Bon Jovi. He’d need all the help he could get. I picture Danzig and Springsteen in, like, an everlasting eternal fist fight like that showdown from Family Guy, Peter Griffin fighting the man-size chicken. Haymakers sending each other down stairs, through plate glass windows, through block walls, everything. I don’t think Bon Jovi has any good songs, but I’d defend him because I’d hate to see him killed by even a cold breeze.
[Imagine this, but with Bruce Springsteen and Glenn Danzig. Welcome to New Jersey!]
BS: Thank you for sending that question thing, I really appreciate it! I hit send without sending a hello or a goodbye but that was an accident. Didn’t mean to be rude. I hope you’re doing really good today and thank you again for reaching out.
AJ: Holy shit Bud, you’re such a sweetheart. First you fight for poor ol’ Jon Bon Jovi and now an extra email to make sure you were polite enough. Seriously, may somebody make you a big, tasty, free sandwich today.
AJ: Anyway, thanks for having Jon Bon Jovi’s back. You’re a good person. I was in love with him for, like, all of 1987, and I didn’t even consider taking his side. My husband’s instinct was also to discern the underdog, but he chose Danzig. He was concerned that Glenn might not have health coverage anymore. Then he made me Google “Danzig’s house.” Apparently there was this whole thing with a pile of bricks in his yard. I was not aware. [It is really worth it to listen to the podcast, just to hear the guy’s imitation of Danzig singing “HERE I AM MOTHERFUCKERS, JUST CLEANING UP MY MOTHER FUCKING BRICKS, BITCH!”]
So, the first time I came across your work was when I was reading submissions for Night Train. Discover Card Ending in 8093. Man, that story impressed me. The dialogue is so authentic, the characters so familiar. I remember thinking Goddamn, this guy has known some real people. And he’s sharp. Your style is keen. There’s no bullshit, and it makes every detail you give crucial and poetic. Is that your natural narrative voice, or do you do a lot of paring down when you edit? Are you a blast-it-out Shitty First Draft person, or do you build your language carefully?
BS: My favorite video on YouTube for a while was that clip of Danzig talking shit outside his own concert, and then Danzig getting clocked in the face.
[Honestly, it never gets old.]
I don’t know, I guess I just like video footage of people getting punched in the face while they are talking shit. But my favorite video on YouTube at the moment is the one with the cat who says heyyyyyyyyy.
[This cat is real mouthy, but it does not get punched.]
BS: But thank you about the story Discover Card Ending in 8093. I used to just be a Shitty First Draft person but now I’ve committed myself to being a Shitty Final Draft person too. I don’t feel handcuffed to the “craft” of writing. I don’t worry about the carefully constructed sentence. To me, stories are just raw communication. I admire painters who can fill a canvas without drowning in thought. I admire a comedian on stage who works off improv. I don’t want to live and die by the carefully constructed academically-approved vacuum-sealed-for-freshness sentence, paragraph, page. Grammatically correct. Devoid of flaw and feeling. About as fun as going to the dentist.
AJ: So tell me about how you decided to be a writer. How long were you writing before you started publishing? And how did you get into welding? Something you hear a lot of, guys saying I should’ve been a welder. That or plumber, but I figure welding’s probably got less human feces in the mix. Did you go to a vocational school, or apprentice with a union? Do the guys you work with know you’re an author? Have any of your coworkers read your books?
BS: I decided to spend more time doing writing and less time drawing and playing music because it was cheaper to do and I was broke. I was around twenty when I thought to send my writing out. This was at the tail end of putting things in envelopes and mailing them to publishers. I didn’t like that because I had to pay for stamps and the whole point of focusing on writing was because I didn’t want to buy music equipment or pay for recording time, or buy paints or canvases or whatever. When online lit sites started popping up more frequently I was all in. It was free, and a person could be totally broke and still do art. They could go to the public library and write on the computers, go on the interwebs, put the poems up in the electric net.
I got in the union and learned to weld through an apprenticeship that lasted four years. It was a free school of sorts and I liked that because I didn’t want to pay to go to college. I didn’t want to have a desk job either, and I figured learning to be a writer was also free, and also just something you did from, ya know, going to the public library. If I’d gone to school for writing, I would have wound up either teaching other people how to write at the same school I’d gone to probably, or I’d have a desk job somewhere. I didn’t want either of those things. Not that I want to weld either, but you don’t get the privilege of avoiding everything shitty in this world, but you can duck a couple things that look like obvious traps. I do like working outside and I do like working with my hands, so it’s all good.
My coworkers don’t read. They know I write, but it doesn’t mean much to them because they don’t read. The other day my one friend at work said he’d rather drown than read a novel. Not my novel, a novel. Any novel. He’d still rather be drowned than read my novel. There’s nothing special about this relationship. It’s like this all over the universe. Coworkers don’t care what you do and what you make outside of work, but luckily, you don’t have to care about what they do or what they make outside of work either. You can all just talk about the newest freshest internet memes, or reminisce about the history of the world through MTV’s Jackass, The Jerky Boys, whatever new Fast and Furious movie is out, stuff like that. Until Picasso gets a reality tv show or plays short stop for Cleveland, we won’t discuss him at work.
AJ: Thanks so much for taking the time to answer my questions, Bud. I want to ask you just a few more things. One, who are the writers you loved who made you want to start writing and how did you discover them? And since you mentioned music, howzabout you pick three songs for Rabble’s playlist of “working class anthems”?
BS: Reading was always something I saw my parents doing, so like all their other bad habits, I picked up that one too. My mom read those dime store horror novels, and my dad read spy novels and treasure-hunting novels. I read them too, but they didn’t hook me and make me want to try to write. The plots were good, but I don’t know, I didn’t really care about plots then, and I kind of still don’t. My favorite movie was Clerks, at the time, and my favorite TV show was Seinfeld. It wasn’t until the first couple days of seventh grade, when I went to the middle school library in my little rinky town and found Kurt Vonnegut‘s Breakfast of Champions, that I really thought I could write a book. It had a bright orange hard cover, with seemingly unimportant, semi-normal people as its main characters and secondary characters, and there were childlike drawings. There were no swamp creatures or diamond thieves … I think I’m still writing my version of Breakfast of Champions. Other writers/creators who I thought were great, still do, were the Coen Brothers, Warren Zevon, and Bill Watterson.
The reason I keep returning to literary fiction as a default read, no matter how silly or sad or boring or thrilling the individual work is, is probably because I think literary fiction is a guidebook for living well on planet earth. As a kid I didn’t know that a book could do that. I thought a book was just about a hero killing a monster, or a hero getting rich by finding a famous submarine that was sunk into a nest of coral, full of Nazi gold. But Kurt Vonnegut was the first hint that there was more to a silly joke. I’m attracted to artists who make it look easy, like anyone can do what they do, like things are joyous, like life doesn’t kill you.
Bud’s Picks for the Rabble Rousers Playlist
Pretty Good- John Prine
I haven’t gotten too into John Prine, but I think this song sums up conversing with oddball coworkers. The small things that get said.
🎶pretty good, not bad, I can’t complain, pretty much everything’s about the same🎶
King Fish Pies – Midlake
It’s a joyous song about working in a factory and being abused by the management such that you lose your hand into the pie-making machine but keep on going.
Working In the Coalmine – Devo
Dun-da-dun, dun dun da-dun da-dun x infinity
Thanks again, Bud. You’re the best!
Bud Smith is the author of Dust Bunny City, among others. He lives in Jersey City and works heavy construction. www.budsmithwrites.com
Anna Lea Jancewicz bears no ill will toward Glenn Danzig. Once, he grabbed her left hand with his left hand while singing Left Hand Black and, at the time, she thought that was probably the most wicked awesome thing possible.
Header Image: Creative Commons, photo by Todd Lappin, modified.