A Conversation With Pablo D’Stair

It is an honor for me to be able to ask Pablo D’Stair a question or twelve – he’s an extremely prolific fiction author (Regard, Candour, they say the owl was a baker’s daughter: four existential noirs, Dustjacket Flowers among others), publisher (he runs (KUBOA) an art house press, where you can get his and his fellow writers’ books (they offer eBooks for free), and a contributor of essays on film to BRWC: Battle Royale With Cheese. His author’s page “…and here’s a new trick, Mr. Knox…” is your source of information about Pablo and links to his work.

Pablo D'Stair

Pablo D’Stair


Hi, Pablo – tell us a little bit about yourself, please.

I’ve been writing for a long time, now—forever, but in a real sense just “a long time” and have produced far too much, the bulk of which has never been read. I’m a novelist, essayist, interviewer, playwright, poet, indie publisher, and now filmmaker. Why or how I have time to do this I cannot fathom, as I have a family—wife and two kids—and have to work one of those “real jobs” (honestly, I get uneasy around artists who don’t work real jobs). I’m irrational and moody and hermetic, suffer from a spot of the hypergraphia and a large swell of arrogant delusion that should have had me ousted from the polite society of artists long ago, but for some reason lots of good people put up with me and extend boundless generosity and good will. It’s all very strange.

A couple of years ago you posted a challenge to writers to contribute their stories for a collection, while you were going to write your version (from the conception to the finished book) in eight hours – how did the experiment go?
Well, it came about in a few ways. I think it started with, as many things do, me being pent up and in a grouchy mood—I read some review or essay or comments or something by a writer of Flash Fiction and decided to post a kind of asshole “challenge” to all those who went on about the difficulties of that form. I challenged writers of “literary” flash fiction, particularly, and really it was a kind of meaningless bit of provocation—at first some writers got back to me saying they wanted to participate, but then I think I was just rightfully ignored for being a pest, even the authors who said they were in pulling back.
During it though, a bunch of genre authors—crime/noir writers, to be specific—took the challenge in good humor and it became more of a straight up, all-in-good fun kind of challenge (I should note I put my own money on the line: if I lost the contest, there was a $200 payout to one of the challengers, while if I won I just won, no one had to pay anything to anyone).
How it worked was each author was to submit a piece of flash/short noir fiction (it could be something they’d written before or they could write something new) and once all the stories were in I would have eight consecutive hours to write a matching number of stories (it turned out to be 14 total stories, I believe) of approximately the same length. The two collections were released with no author names included and in an open-to-the-public way readers were asked to vote on favorite collection and favorite stories—all anonymously, all blind.
I did write the collection—all 14 stories—inside 8 hours (I was given an additional 8 hours to do superficial edits, just for typos etc. but could not add or subtract text, rework stories etc.). The challengers were given the same access to the files and the voting as me—it all was very above board, more than it needed to be, really.
It turned out I “won” by a 2/1 margin, but I think everyone agreed that there wasn’t a large enough sampling of readers to really make that mean anything—it was cool, we got a good response, but for anything other than a good time it was a pretty meaningless challenge, haha. I wound up donating the money I would have paid out if I hadn’t won to some charity several of the challengers said they were going to donate to if they won—so in the end it all became a polite, fun time, nothing very controversial at all. Though, it must be said, I have no, and never had any, beef against “genre flash” and I never hear genre flash writers trying to make a “thing” out of the length restriction of the form.
I dig the collection I wrote, though (about 10k words, all together, you can read it here: on our current victimology: stories – https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/118430) and one of the short stories became the basis for my first film—so something came out of it for me anyway.

You’ve produced an impressive amount of work – and you still have enough time and creative energy for other writers too. What makes Kuboa different from other publishers?
Hmn. I mean, nothing really makes it different—I guess, not to be funny, but as a “publisher” it isn’t as good as others, haha. KUBOA is very much not of the typical paradigm and we aren’t trying to make a name for ourselves or our authors—it’s an “art house press” because anything beyond putting out pretty editions of the books we select is not our goal. Other publishers work very hard and do things for their writers in a “real world” way—or try to, if nothing else—with the idea somewhere of growing for themselves and for their authors. KUBOA is more of a “gentleman’s” arrangement—we don’t do contracts or anything. Once we know an author is on board with our philosophy, we have our designer do the cover, we layout the book nice, we make it available. That’s it. I think it’s funny because, really, it’s kind of like “self-publishing by a third party” as there is nothing we do an author cannot do themselves (which is true of most indie press publishing).
But, I guess over time it seems KUBOA has, in spite of itself, made a little name in the world—we never solicit manuscripts, don’t even have a standard way of taking submissions, but the In-box is always full. I’m pleased that we have such an international catalogue—and this trend seems to just be continuing—and it’s all a lot of fun.
It’s all just very casual, though—the ideal for KUBOA would be to take some “initial pressure” off of an author by giving them a homebase, a platform to build from, a nice looking book made available for them to go out and make their name with, or at least have a boost in doing so. That’s different from other presses, I suppose, though I have no idea if it’s a good thing or a bad thing—we’re careful with explaining to authors what we are, though, as the “art house” route is not for everyone, understandably.
KUBOA is the sort of press I always wanted to find when I first started out, just a place that would put out a nice looking book of mine and then let me do my thing (self-publishing was still in its shaky infancy when I first started out—if I were just getting in to the game now, there would be no KUBOA because I never would have thought there “needed to be” one).

You offer printed books, but you also give eBooks away for free – is it the business model to increase the sales of your printed titles? Does it work?
Naw—no business model. I just can’t get behind selling e-books. Nothing against those who do, but it’s antithetical to my “upbringing”. Unlike a lot of people, I always used to dream of books being cheap enough to produce that I could print them and just give them away, haha. I would research and research different methods of printing etc. not hoping to “be able to make money” off what I did, but looking for something that would make it only cost a dollar to print a book or something so I could buy a hundred at a time and just give them out without going broke. Printing has gotten closer and closer to that, without even up-front costs (no minimum orders from printers etc) but I mean…e-books are fucking free. They are free to produce, people like to read them, and with the variety of “reader devices” for all intents and purposes one looks just as nice as any other so it makes the whole free literature thing workable, no sweat.
So, for me, the e-book revolution was a godsend because one could not ask for a more cost effective way to distribute literature for free. It costs nothing, it gains readers—and even if it doesn’t gain readers…it costs nothing, so what the hell, right?
Truth be told, print books are offered by KUBOA just because I love print books and think if someone wants one they should be able to get one (we basically charge just the cost of printing and shipping, make no profit off the physical book sales) but KUBOA books get around by electronic means, primarily. For every physical book KUBOA sells, one hundred free ebooks of the same title go out (or something like that). Most KUBOA titles move, as e-books, at least a copy a day, some titles moving a dozen a day etc. The print books…naw, not so much. And we don’t care—and make sure our authors know we don’t care. We want readers to be able to read the books if they are interested, period and instantly, if possible. Full stop.

What does your typical working day look like?
When it comes to art, I don’t have a typical working day—I don’t have time to look at art like that. I have two kids and an actual job to do to pay the bills, so my “typical day” has to do with that and spending time with my wife and etc. Art I sneak or slam in where I can—I produce a lot, yeah, and sometimes don’t get how I do find time for it (especially when one adds in projects I start and abandon, at least four of those for everyone I finish) but there’s never a set thing.
For example, one of my favorite works, a novella called Leo Rache. (take a look here, if you’d like: Leo Rache. – https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/130670) I wrote by hand in a cheap spiral notebook while bouncing my newborn second child in the kitchen—I would bounce him in a circle, writing a sentence or half-of-a-sentence when I turned past the notebook, complete the turn, write a bit more when I passed the notebook again and so on. It was a terrific way to write.
Then other times I’ll do the “I just need to cut out a few days and slam out a project” and other times I will stay up late or just snipe in some writing between work tasks during the day. Once a piece gets going, if it’s one that gets to the threshold of “I will finish this”, I find a way to do it, hook or crook—thankfully it does not take me long to write something and thankfully it is all—no matter the genre, the style, the length—only personal, art-for-art’s sake stuff so I don’t need to worry about anything. I have a few books I wrote by hand, for example, that I haven’t gotten around to typing up—bigger books, too, 80k words and all—they’ve just been in my pile of manuscripts for a decade now, haha—but I consider them part of my oeuvre, because they are.
I guess the only time I feel pressure about books is with the KUBOA stuff—that I make official time for and layout the books and work with the designer and all. But I’ve gotten good at that and trust the other people who help—we only put out five titles or so a year, so it’s usually not a lot of bother, either.

How do you approach fiction writing? Do you have any special method, routine or ritual to help you get your creative juices flowing?
Oh God—I guess you mean a short answer to that, haha. Or anyway, I’ll try to just get to the heart of something to avoid blathering too much—I’ve been writing a long time without knowing why, so there’s too much to say.
At any given time, I have at least eight solid ideas for things I “want to write”, or “could be writing” and all of that—same time, for every one thing I complete, at least a dozen ideas are chopped off because they contain elements of some other idea or “get at the heart” of what a dozen other things would be about. It’s never an idea or the actual, superficial content of a project that makes it happen—when I was younger I’d think it was (or pretend it was, whatever the better term is): I’d have to work out some “really cool concept” and convince myself that this “concept alone” was fascinating and worth writing a book about, but over time all of that has cooled out (and fuck, none of the books I wrote when I was young had such a “cool concept” in any measureable way, to begin with, haha).
The trick used to be “think of a cool idea” and then basically bury it down in the prose—write anything except the plot of the story and then it would become a “novel” or whatever. That worked really well. Then it inverted to condensing everything literally in to the plot of something—write something that seems to be ONLY about the superficial aspect of the plot, hit the points, but use it as a way of expressing, personally, anything but the plot—this also worked. The flaw in the first, of course, was I’d get annoyed if someone read that kind of book and said “What the hell is this even about?” and the flaw of the other way is that I’d get annoyed if people say “That book is about X” and only talk about the story, haha.
I mean, this is why in between fiction I do so much poetry or theatre or essay or dialogue—I keep myself distracted and the books appear, I take it for granted that the ones that are finished kind of “natural selectioned” themselves out of the primordial glop of my unconscious. I mean, I’ve tried to “force a book” but have failed failed failed at that—and I’m glad. I often say that “I know I can write, it’s easy being a writer” but being an “artist” is something different and that’s all I’m interested in.
As to what gets me flowing—oh, music, driving around, conversation—I can’t listen to a piece of music without thinking of a novel or a film or something, cannot have an interesting discussion without wanting to find some way to represent the germ of it expressively in fiction.
The honest truth is I think I really just want to keep a journal, but I have never been able to, not in the usual way—whatever I wind up writing, fiction-wise or whatever, if people know me they can easily see it’s just a fictionalization of that specific time in my life (people who don’t know me would have no idea, of course).
It’s all a bit of a mess, really—I couldn’t stop writing if I tired, I get morbidly depressed and awful to be around, but at the same time I have a hard time getting myself to care, particularly, about any one thing I did. So I guess it’s more a question of “what doesn’t get my creative juices flowing” and I wish to Christ I could find an answer to that and work it to my advantage, haha, it’d be nice to not feel I had to write for awhile.

You also write essays about film – is it any harder for you to write non-fiction?
Oddly it is. But, it’s probably mostly because to do that kind of writing I actually need to have a solid idea and make it communicable in a palatable way to an audience. It’s irritating for me because I have no interest whatsoever in writing “reviews” or things about “why this is a good or bad film” or “this is why you should see something.”
When I write about a film, I like to write more about my personal experience with that film and find an angle to talk about “cinema in general” but certainly don’t want to avoid a direct commentary on whatever film I’m filtering the comments through. At the same time, I usually agree to write about a film before I watch it—part of the excitement—and have no idea at all what to expect of a film, as I tend to write about unknown films, indies, no association with the director or whatever.
I’ll get in spots where I dislike a film, for example, and need to find an angle I want to write about other than “this film sucks ass” and sometimes the opposite, I’ll love a film and don’t just want to go on about that. So, an essay might only be two thousand words—something that with fiction would take me an hour to write—but it’s a concentration on those words and I’m always unsure of myself about it.
Lately, I’ve written less about films because also if I’m not in a “film mood” I don’t even want to watch, let alone expound on the things. I could never be a critic, on the regular, because it’s too much work, too much investment in social aspects of the popular conception of film that doesn’t interest me.
Yeah—it’s a lot harder but in a bizarre way it’s much more satisfying—I like to read my film writing, go back and look at it a lot, but my fiction I tend to just finish and then forget about in any active way. Haha—I guess that’s very self-aggrandizing in a sense: I like it because I feel it’s all very worth reading, that I’m just so clever about having opinions and philosophies on cinema…I don’t know, haha.

You wrote and directed A Public Ransom, a feature film based upon your story. Is it a one time film project or will we see more of that coming in the future?
Oh, there will be more—certainly there will be more. I’m in love, in passionate love with filmmaking. I’ve talked about doing a film since as long as I’ve been writing and I’ve wanted to make one as long, tried here and there, but never did it. Now that I have a finished one there is no longer the intimidation, just the desire. And I now no longer make it a mythological thing, something beyond me—films are something tangible now that I have one. I want to be making one all the time.

When you write a book, you have everything under control, you build a scene, write the characters and make them do what you want them to do. How is writing for film different from writing a book and what kind of experience directing actors presented to you?
For me—yeah, all that is true—but with a book it’s not even so much “having it under control” as it is being able to let it go, let my unconscious do things, let the words go even with “lack of control” as part of it.
A film is different, sure, because there has to be (or had to be for the sort of film I did) a much more direct sense of control—the overall style of the piece, the rules, as self-decided and kept to as they may be—and so less a chance that things can make a big jump or go off on tangents and not seem out of sync because of it.
But working on a film was completely invigorating, both because of the needed amount of control and having to work with things outside of my control. That was how it became magical and, honestly, all of the best part of A Public Ransom, all of my favorite parts, were things I not only didn’t plan on but couldn’t have—working with the sense of unknown inside of the constraints I set allowed it all to be alive and playful and new for as much as it needed to be “to the script.”
For example, the character portrayed by Goodloe Byron in the film: we kept to the script, but Goodloe showed up and presented a performances of the character that was pretty much the exact opposite of how I’d written the guy—his whole affect, his pace of speaking, his “essence.” But it worked—it was better, really, and now I cannot imagine the film in another way. Like I say, all of the lines are in the script, but we had to alter them, the delivery, the pace, the weight of them while on set to shoot. So the final thing becomes at once a performance of a rehearsed, strict thing and also a live-performance (not an improvisation, exactly) a something that seems completely new for the more refined it becomes.
A lot of the film went like that—I’d have it mind to film in one location, something would go wrong, and we’d have to set it to another location on the fly: perfect, better, I would die if I went back to what my original idea was. Film allows for that kind of interaction with the final presentation—writing prose can, too, but not in at all the same way. There is little genuine “chance” in writing prose, even with the unconscious leading the way, but film was all about it.
In A Public Ransom, even the mingling of the static cinematography, the almost “stage-play” set up had to it an enormous amount of chance, little things that would happen, completely unplanned for, based on the realities of the shoot and what happened when we said “Action” that there was no way to minutely control. I’d almost pass out with joy when I was editing and some little synchronicity happened with light or motion, a bit of music hit just at an exact spot (I’d not even had the music in mind when shooting) or some little pass of shadow or exact moment a gesture was made would seem choreographed when it was all just accidental: it was like watching an mistake I was completely in control of, at the same time.
A lot of A Public Ransom is one actor on screen, talking in to a telephone, and that was fun—but the scenes with more than one actor interacting are the addictive part—it’s like writing more than I thought I was writing without having to do any of it myself, haha. Very powerful feeling, to be honest.

How do you use Social Media to promote your work and connect with the audience? Which platform do you mainly use?
I am just getting in to this, now. I use Facebook. And I’m trying to find a way to make it work so it doesn’t just feel like advertising, because I hate that. I like art to have a sense of interactiveness to it, so social media seems the thing to use—I just need to learn to be clever with it.
In the past, with writing, I’d try to interact directly with readers through various forums, chat with them, let them interview me—but I would get out of control, ask too much. I really became a pest! Always bothering nice folks who’d read my books and asking them to tell me what they thought what they thought what they thought and I’d, selfishly, use them as proxy for my fantasy life, my desire to have Bill Moyer interview me or whatever.
It got a bit much so I left social media and stopped interacting, altogether. But I’m calmer, now—I want to be able to gauge the presence of my work, the reaction to it, but more than that I want to let people know it’s there just to read or see. Since I don’t want to “sell” anything, social media seems perfect, but I’ve discovered how impatient I am, too, thinking that just because someone can watch my film for free will mean they want to (or read my book)—worse, I figure anyone who watches or reads will want to review, even though I hardly ever do, haha. I’m kind of a dick about that, really insufferable!
It’s a trick, feeling like since the “audience” is there that they are “mine” right away—it can get distracting, too. I don’t know. I’m old fashioned. Sometimes I wish the only way to see a film or read a book would be to go out and get it and there would be no way to get in touch with a reader or a viewer. Other times, I don’t feel that at all, of course, haha.
Social Media is responsible for what I consider a real Golden Age happening right now for indie artists and I need to find a way to make it work for me. I’m open to suggestions, right?

What are you working on at the moment?
Just now I am working on two novels, loosely (trying not to rush them, for a change) and have some of my older, completed work out there via different channels, trying to make it active, again, since so much of it really never saw the proper light of day. That and I am starting work on another film—also based on one of the stories from that Flash Fiction challenge collection, so I guess that worked out for me, haha. Trying to get A Public Ransom in to the festival circuit and out there—oh, all kinds of things. New KUBOA books for later this year—haha, shit now I’m just exhausted thinking about it and feel like packing it all in, haha.

Who are your literary heroes?
Knut Hamsun. If I have a literary hero, it is Knut Hamsun, beyond doubt. I have all kinds of influences, all sorts of authors and artists I admire but Knut Hamsun and Bob Dylan are the only two people I would call heroes. They, in so many ways, make up necessary parts of my unconscious, my identity is tied to them. My influences, that’s another matter. I adore Patricia Highsmith, for example, would give up my own body of work to have written even a portion of hers, but it’s not the same as Knut and Bob. Same with Jose Saramago: an absolute influence, a God, but not a necessary part of my ideal of Artist.

What advice would you give a young writer, who’s just starting out?
Other than “don’t listen to advice” and “really, don’t listen to anything Pablo D’Stair has to say, he’s kind of a twat” I’d say this: think about what the original Icon of Writer or Artist was for you, personally—before you’d done anything, what did you think of when you thought Writer etc.? Then go be THAT thing. Do that thing until you are satisfied you are it. Whatever it is. If you thought of a writer as a commercially successful entity, doing readings, having films made of their stuff—do everything to get published in that way, to give those readings, to get a film adaptation made—no shame, all out. If you wanted to be a Beat-figure, living in a cold water flat, grinding out broadsides or handing out Zines—do it and get there, make yourself that and indulge.
Or whatever iteration—everyone, I feel, has that icon, there is a “thing you can do that would make you feel like what you used to dream of” and it doesn’t matter what the tangible outcome is, just find that. You make it commercially but find it doesn’t satisfy you? That’s fine. But find out—don’t “imagine it won’t” just fucking find out. You become an indie darling, underground respect thrown at you, an R. Crumb a Bukowski but then realize it’s a drag, wish you had gone the straight path—fine, but find out, just find out and have that lament.
In being truthful, I’ve gotten a lot of the things that meant “writer/artist” to me and love that I have—but I have a deep envy for people who have gone, hardcore, entirely different paths and gotten successes there. I never had it in mind to be published “traditionally” and so never put in the slog, just did my thing—but I personally know people I have seen grind it out, get in there, do the work it takes and start getting some traditional recognition (even just a little) and I admire them, even at times get jealous of them. It doesn’t shake me to the core, though, and it’s good to feel that way, I think.
So yeah—I mean write just exactly what you want to write because it’s what you want to write—even if you write crazy underground stuff and dream of making it big mainstream, keep writing the crazy shit and trying to get mainstream with it. Let your original and pointless urge to write, the pincipia moment of you as artist, dictate and direct everything you do.
And then, most important, remember not to listen to a goddamn word from me, haha.

Thank you, Pablo!

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