The Foundry is our shiny new literary reading series, launched beautifully this spring. Our second installment is this month, July 30th, at the delightful Tiger Eye Hair in Golden Hill. As we approach the show, we’d like you to get to know the readers a little bit, and today we land on one of our heroes, Jim Ruland. Jim will be joined by many other greats: Aaron Burch, Jean Guerrero, Juliet Escoria, Uzodinma Okehi, and Scott McClanahan.
We love Jim’s writing. It’s intimate and obscure at the same time, delivering the fringe in oddly palatable and approachable ways. One of our favorite pieces is Cat Party, published this spring at Shadowgraph Quarterly.
So Say We All’s production director (and Foundry host) Julia Dixon Evans had a little chat with Jim recently.
Jim Ruland: pretty talented his entire life
JULIA DIXON EVANS: Jim! Thanks so much for agreeing to read at The Foundry, and for all your support in general. You’ve been a friend and volunteer of So Say We All far longer than I’ve been around. Tell me how you got involved?
JIM RULAND: I went to San Diego Animal Control and saw Justin Hudnall huddled in the corner. The rest is history.
JULIA: You’ve collaborated on some phenomenal co-writing projects lately: Giving The Finger, and My Damage. Co-writing seems like an incredibly daunting undertaking, mostly because I imagine you and your cowriter sitting together in someone’s dining room, typing and reading out loud together. I’m sure that’s not the case, but were both of those projects similar in how the work and the writing got done? That is, did you spend a lot of time on-location, getting your hands dirty? And is it still as lonely as typical writing can feel?
JIM: No, it’s not lonely at all, because you constantly have your subject in your ear. The backbone of the book comes from recorded interviews so the first step is getting the subject’s voice down. I’ve been writing for punk rock zines and interviewing bands for most of my adult life. Collaborating feels like an extension of that. I think that’s why so many journalists get into these kinds of projects. It’s a combination of access and know-how.
With Keith Morris, we spent a lot of time together because he is 100% committed to the project. We went to his old haunts in Hermosa Beach, Hollywood and Chinatown. He read each draft with laserlike editorial focus. We ate a lot of tacos and drank a lot of coffee together. To be honest, I’m going to be sad when it’s all over.
JULIA: What would be a dream co-writing assignment for you right now?
JIM: Raymond Pettibon. Not that he needs a collaborator. Raymond did the artwork for My Damage and my name is right there on the cover so I don’t think the universe is taking any more of my requests.
JULIA: Back to loneliness. (Of course). In your novel Forest of Fortune, which is excellent, you follow the arc of three characters: Pemberton, Alice, and Lupita. And every single one of them seems so lonely. Even in the 24/7 world of a casino or a city after dark, you write very desolate characters. But they each have a confidant, a companion, and sometimes that does very little for their loneliness. In a bigger picture, isn’t that part of the appeal of a thing like gambling, of a thing like a bar: together, alone/alone, together?
JIM: Casinos are very lonely places. People don’t strike up conversations with each other the way bar patrons do. It would be very hard to sit in a bar for three hours and not talk to anyone. In a casino? No problem. Although card games like blackjack and poker are very social, there’s nothing social about a slot machine.
JULIA: I loved your TNB Self-Interview. It’s equal parts depressing and encouraging. Your journey from starting out to publication truly took 20 years? And at what point in that was Forest of Fortune born? How did you keep at this? I understand that there’s some novelty to this interview, but the interviewee gives off a sense of true inevitability. Inevitable writing in the face of inevitable failure. That’s amazing.
JIM: Thank you. It did indeed take me 20 years to publish a novel, but I had many other successes and setbacks along the way (I won an NEA, published a short story collection, got fired by my agent, drank waaaaaay too much, etc.). Forest of Fortune was born after I’d completed my third novel and my agent invited me to explore other opportunities. I’d been working at an Indian casino for two and a half years and decided to finally write about it. I knocked out a draft in 2008 and in early 2009 I lost a friend to a drug overdose. That was a very potent reminder that our time here is finite. After I got sober and put my house in order, so to speak, I went back to work on the book. I’ve been turning and burning ever since.
JULIA: You and I recently discussed your [unpublished] collection of short stories [note: one of these stories appears in So Say We All’s dark ficton/horror anthology, Black Candies: See Through]. Tell me a little more about it. How is your short work — and this collection — different from your novel, Forest of Fortune?
JIM: Cat Sitting in Hollywood is a linked collection of stories that draws on my adventures as an amateur cat sitter during the time I was commuting between San Diego and Los Angeles. After working in the casino for over five years, I was seeing LA through new eyes and writing these very odd stories. As much as it pains me to admit it, I owe a debt of gratitude to Ryan Bradford because his solicitations for Black Candies helped me see that these stories I was writing were all variations on the theme of cat sitting.
JULIA: Your reading series, Vermin on the Mount, is as vibrant as ever. I think one of the reasons I asked you to read at The Foundry is because I love hearing you read, but it seems the only chances I’ve had to see you read the last few years are in different cities, for AWP. Do you find that, as a sort of San Diego gatekeeper figure for other people’s work, helping get it out into the world, you are more inspired and empowered to create your own work? Or are there some consequences, like lower productivity, too much multi-tasking to write?
JIM: I wouldn’t say I’m a gatekeeper. Far from it. I think VAMP [So Say We All’s monthly curated literary storytelling showcase] does a far better job of showcasing San Diego’s literary talent. If anything, I play a small role in bringing writers from outside of San Diego to our city. Vermin on the Mount, which is about to celebrate its 12th anniversary, continues to inspire me. When that stops being true, I’ll stop doing it.
JULIA: I love that you always ask your Vermin readers this, and as a fledgling member of the well-t-shirted Legion of Vermin myself, I wonder if it’s all right for me to ask this of you: (to quote the great Jim Ruland) “What’s the most unusual experience you’ve ever had at a reading?”
JIM: A long time ago, a reader at Vermin on the Mount in Chinatown, through a combination of nerves, alcohol and white powder, was so wasted she could barely get through her reading. She thought every word that came out of her mouth was absolutely hysterical. At first I was horrified for the reader. Then I thought I was going to have to gong her off the stage. Finally, I just sat back and enjoyed the performance.
The strangest part was when the show was over she sat down next to me and asked me all kinds of questions about my family. The kind of conversation you have with a really thoughtful acquaintance. To this day I have no idea which part of her show was an act.
JULIA: And what are you working on next? What are you reading?
JIM: I’m working on a bunch of stuff, including a novel set in LA in the near future that I’ve been drafting in fits and starts since 2012 but is finally coming together, and a couple of collaborations that I can’t say too much about other than I’ve been reading nothing but commercial fiction this summer: thrillers, mysteries, spy stories and crime novels. I’m finally reading San Diego writer Don Winslow and wondering why I waited so long.
JULIA: Thanks so much, and we look forward to hearing you read on the 30th!
JIM: De nada!
Come hear Jim read alongside Aaron Burch, Jean Guerrero, Juliet Escoria, Uzodinma Okehi, and Scott McClanahan at The Foundry, So Say We All’s new literary reading series. The Foundry #2 all goes down on Saturday, July 30th in Golden Hill.
The Foundry, No. 2
Saturday, July 30th at 7:00 p.m.
Tiger Eye Hair
(by the new Golden Hill Dark Horse Coffee)
811 25th Street, Suite 105 San Diego, CA 92102
$5 (all ages)
Jim Ruland is the author of the award-winning novel Forest of Fortune and the short story collection Big Lonesome. He co-authored My Damage with Keith Morris, founding member of Black Flag, Circle Jerks and OFF!, which will be published by Da Capo on August 30, 2016. Jim is the books columnist for San Diego CityBeat and writes book reviews for the Los Angeles Times and the Los Angeles Review of Books. Jim’s work has appeared in numerous publications, including The Believer, Esquire,Granta, Hobart and Oxford American, and he runs the Southern California-based reading series Vermin on the Mount, now in its twelfth year.
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