photocredit Thomas V. Hartmann

Let’s look over your writerly bio. It says here you’ve written two books on your love of the rock band Queen (God Save My Queen I and II), a book of poems (The History of My World Tonight), something called “humorous nonfiction” (How to Be Inappropriate), and edited a book of sestinas (The Incredible Sestinas Anthology). What’s this book called?

It’s called Shader: 99 Notes on Car Washes, Making Out in Church, Grief, and Other Unlearnable Subjects.


That’s a pretty long-ass title.

You can call it Shader for short.

author photo 2015, chair, b&wThe blurbs say your book is funny, and yet it explores that era just after the feminist movement. Feminism is serious, necessary. How did this turn out to be funny?

It’s not a slapstick book, no. But the gap between what you expect and what you get instead—the ludicrously unexpected—is the definition of a punchline. If readers find the book funny, that’s probably because it’s about a life in which incompatible values coincide. I straddled social classes. I straddled opposed definitions of womanhood. This made for predicaments: the wrong words and behaviors in the right setting; the right words and behaviors in the wrong setting. And I prefer being amused, not stricken.


Were you concerned that people would be put off by the story you were telling? It’s difficult material, your family with its two lobotomies.

I was worried all the time. I knew that life had given me an incredible story to tell—six siblings, two lobotomies: one third of my mother’s family.


Incredible, yes. But who would want to read that?

I’d tell people what I was writing and watch as they turned green when they heard the word lobotomy. But it turned out that there was a story behind the story. People have since come forward to tell me they too come from families with mental illness. Allen Ginsberg, whose mother was lobotomized, wrote: “It would seem odd to others…that is to say, familiar—everybody has crazy cousins and aunts and brothers.’ What I first thought was strange turned out to be a universal story.

Moore_DintyYour book is ostensibly about cannibals. Have you ever eaten human flesh?

My own, I suppose. I used to chew the ends of my fingers.


Have you ever met a cannibal?

No, but Montaigne did. You know, Michel de Montaigne, the founder of the essay, he who first gazed longingly at his own navel. Montaigne (which, by the way, is pronounced ‘Mon-taigne’) visited with three Tupinambá Indians who had been transported to Europe to show off as curiosities. Then he wrote a truly peculiar essay about the experience. He is my inspiration for this book: a collection of peculiar navel gazing with a dash of mescaline.

Bill Hillmann author photo

So, you’re an author, a journalist and a bull runner. Did reading Ernest Hemingway have anything to do with these life choices?

Hemingway has everything to do with those choices. I hadn’t read a book until I was 19. I took Professor David McGrath’s Hemingway class at College of DuPage and it changed my life. I sat down in the library with The Sun Also Rises and read it in one six-hour sitting. That experience made me want to be a writer and want to go to Pamplona and run bulls. When I want something, it usually happens, eventually.



My memoir: Gun Needle Spoon begins with the last years of my heroin addiction, my consequent descent into crime, primarily armed bank robbery, and my eventual incarceration. My final arrest was June 25, 1997, and I look back at the person that I was then and wonder who that person was. He certainly is not who I am today. Over the last 18 years I have worked hard to instigate such an internal psychological change. If you had told me then that I’d become a recovering drug addict, a published author and a college instructor, I would have laughed and told you, “no fuckin’ way, dude!” Heroin addiction’s mental and physical stranglehold combined with the junkie tunnel vision of procuring the drug at all costs, mentally altered me from the person I was meant to be and the direction I was heading. In 1977 I was an artistic kid at art school right as punk rock hit the radar and the music world exploded, flash-forward twenty years later, I was a semi-illiterate career-criminal facing a 25 to Life Sentence under California’s Three Strike Law, and wondering how the hell it had all turned out so wrong. Patti Smith said, “I never thought I was gonna make 30.” Well, I never thought I was going to make 21. It has been a long road to get to who and where I am now, and it makes me wonder what the “1997 Patrick” would have to say to the Patrick of today. 



Have we met before?

I’ve seen you around.


What’s it feel like to see pictures of your book in people’s social media feeds?

Like the first mug of coffee of the day.


What was it like to work with Michael J. Seidlinger and Civil Coping Mechanisms? I heard that dude never sleeps.

He doesn’t sleep, he hires people to sleep for him and siphons the resting molecules from their cloud accounts to recharge himself. Working with CCM was a dream. Great people, great work, great press. From the moment we came together to do the book, I felt safe and honored and like I was working with a press that understood what I was trying to do and gave me the room to do it.

Marian Lindberg

So you found out you’re really Brazilian?

Not exactly. Brazil is where the book’s central character disappeared, and where I went to understand why.


Every family has its dirty laundry. Why was it necessary to write about yours?

Some of the most personal passages were the last to be added. The writing brought me there, and they were integral to the story. In some ways, they were the story, explaining (to myself and others) why I was so driven to investigate the disappearance of the man who raised my father. While there are some unflattering aspects of family members on display, I don’t believe any of it is gratuitous. Patti Smith and Philip Schultz were two of my guides: their beautiful memoirs are revealing and discreet at the same time. Ultimately, I hope that my message will help others to communicate better within their families. In the short term, truth can seem like the more difficult choice, but my story shows that secrets can have far worse consequences for generations.  



This self- interview is answered by voices from the anthology Life is Short—Art is Shorter by David Shields and Elizabeth Cooperman.


How would you describe the brief selections in this book?

“ …ticks engorged like grapes” (Amy Hempel, “Weekend”)


What were you thinking about when you put this collection together?

“I was thinking about my body’s small, precise, limited, hungry movement forward…” (Wayne Koestenbaum, “My 1980s”)


You have said that Brevity personified came to you in a dream many years ago?

“His hands moved in spasms of mathematical complexity at invisible speed.” (Leonard Michaels, “In the Fifties”)

IMG_0011What was it like the first time you heard My Aim Is True?

Hearing My Aim Is True for the first time was one of those aha moments for me that changed everything. From the opening chord of “Welcome to the Working Week,” I knew this record was something special. By the time I got to track four, “Blame It on Cain,” I knew I never had to listen to Pablo Cruise or REO Speedwagon ever again. Someone out there was making music that spoke to me and it hit me like a punch in the gut. I heard the snarl in Elvis’s voice, the cynicism dripping off every line and for me that was the noise that art made. It was liberation from my small town.

So what, exactly, does “BodyHome” mean?

BodyHome means that our bodies are a type of home—that safe space we return to again and again in order to know who we are and who we have been. I’ve moved around a lot in my life and don’t have a “childhood home” to return to, so I look for my home in my body. It’s like if you can feel at home in your body, then you can feel at home wherever you are. Also, in the same way that an actual house can hold all of those memories, the body’s doing that, too. Right now. You’re breathing and it’s moving and when things happen to you—good or bad—your body will remember them and eventually start to talk about the memories through movements and gestures. In my writing, I’m always questioning “Where is the body in this essay?” It’s like our bodies are a great foundation and structure for spiritual and narrative growth—even if we’re just a little weed pushing itself up between a crack in a sidewalk in order to get some necessary sun, we’re keeping at it. Also, fun metaphors/comparisons: skeleton (of body, of house—our structure), insulation (does that word make me look fat?), plumbing (I almost pissed myself!).  

Andy Burns Headshot - cred Moment CommunicationsSo, you’ve written your first book. Is it a dream come true?

Um, sort of. I actually hadn’t dreamt of putting out a book for years. Back in my university years, when I was doing my undergrad in English and Creative Writing, creating a novel or short story collection was pretty high up on the priority list. But time and ambition changed my thoughts on pursuing that avenue. I’m an impatient person, so the whole process of sending out short stories for potential publication and waiting to hear back was just not in my make-up. Had two of the ladies from ECW Press not suggested I make a pitch for their Pop Classics line, I don’t think I ever would have considered it. I’m so thrilled it worked out, though. There’s something pretty damn surreal about holding a book with your name on it.

IMG_2891What do you mean by the Age of Consequences?

We live in what sustainability pioneer Wes Jackson calls “the most important moment in human history.” The various challenges confronting us are like a bright warning light in the dashboard of a speeding vehicle called Civilization, accompanied by an insistent and annoying buzzing sound, requiring immediate attention. I call this moment the Age of Consequences—a time when the worrying consequences of our hard partying over the past sixty years have begun to bite, raising difficult and anguished questions.

3SezwIbx_400x400Can you explain the significance of the title of your new book, The Good Luck Cat?

My cat, Ting—the subject of my book—is a Korat. They’re the “good luck cat” of Thailand. So there’s that. But, as the book goes on and bad things happen, the term becomes ironic…until, at the end, it comes to represent all the good fortune that comes from loving and being loved.


Your book is about the many birds who live with you—they seem to be in every corner of your house. How does that affect your writing?

Well, it is sometimes strange to have animals talking to me when I’m working. But they can be helpful. For example, our African gray parrot, Mia Bird, often sits in my office and commands me to “Focus! Focus!” as I write. That usually does the trick if I start drifting off. One time, a rainbow lorikeet named Harli was quarantined for a few weeks in my office—we separate and observe new birds before introducing them to the flock. As I worked, Harli would settle on my head and groom me, kindly plucking a hair or two along the way. By the time her quarantine period was over, I had a small, perfectly shaped oval of bare scalp on the top of my head. Still, I did get a lot of writing done during those few weeks.