In Crapalachia: A Biography of a Place, a “biography” of his native rural West Virginia, Scott McClanahan approaches heavy topics such as death with ease, and his tone fluctuates between reverence and irreverence, levity and gravity.
Your writing plays with space you’ve created between fiction and non-fiction, which can sometimes be controversial. Do you deliberately try to blur the line between these genres?
Have you ever worn lipstick before? I’m sure you have, but are your lips your lips when you have lipstick on, or are your lips lies? Are your lips telling me a lie? Are they fiction? They’re still your lips. We’re all wearing lipstick to some extent. Some of us are just honest enough to admit we have lipstick on. I like wearing it and have worn it in the past.
There’s a great line from Robert Johnson’s “Sweet Home Chicago”. In the original he says, “Going back to that land of California, sweet home Chicago”. Now of course Chicago is not in California but it sure as hell is in the song. I believe in our lips; I believe in them whether we have lipstick on or not.
How has where you are from influenced the way you write?
It’s like the lines from Lawrence of Arabia where Lawrence is explaining he has taken the city and he is sorry because of all the killing that took place. The general says no need to apologize. This is what war is. We kill. Lawrence stops him and says. No, I’m not apologizing because of the killing. I am apologizing because I enjoyed it.
If someone punches you in the face everyday for 10 years it’s going to influence you.
I actually have that same strange feeling towards this place. I’m actually one of the only radical individuals for mountain top removal (it’s the Leninist in me). I don’t think we’re going to evolve until we get rid of them to be honest. The whole book is about the mountain inside your heart, not the mountain outside your window. There’s not enough of us willing to climb the mountain inside of us. It’s a shit ton easier to talk about the mountain outside your window. I’ll die trying to climb the mountain inside me. The outside mountain can worry about whatever mountains worry about.
You say you wrote three other versions of this book before this one. Why did this version end up being the one that was published?
I’m not really sure. There’s a great story about Greil Marcus teaching the Harry Smith Anthology of American Folk Music. Someone asked him what it was about. He told them it was about dead babies, and dead mothers, and dead gamblers, and dead presidents... Then he paused
AND the JOY OF BEING ALIVE
I guess this version felt like it had more joy in it. It’s like when you have three girlfriends or three boyfriends. Sometimes you pick the one boyfriend you pick because he has more joy in him, or a better job, or other things we can’t talk about in Publishers Weekly.
Some of us have joy in our eyes and some of us don’t. Right? I’ve always loved the joy people.
Of all the cursing in the book, the word shit stands out. Why is shit uttered so prolifically and profoundly?
Shit makes the flowers grow. It’s the filth of your mother you crawl out on in the beginning (one of the first things you know). The shit hole is the neighbor of the baby hole and it reminds us of how ridiculous our lives are. Have you ever heard of a fecal transplant? At the end of your life when the all the crap “docturds” are shaking their heads and their medicine is no longer working, sometimes they will transplant feces into your body in order to fight off infection. It’s full of bacteria. I don’t hate anything that lives and there’s nothing more alive than shit. Alfred Jarry knew this. Chaucer knew this. We all know this.
Any advice for young people growing up in “Crapalachia” today?
Quit breaking into old ladies’ houses, beating them up, and stealing their prescription pain medicine. That’s a start.