It took calamity to make me understand that my life was small, my vision and awareness a pin hole in the sky. I was socialized in the dark arts of Americanism, taught to lust for the material things that could only be a manifested yield of hardy labor. I was chewed-up in my supernatural quest for the bliss that sprung forth from larger televisions, cars that had that new-car smell, deep roots that provide a foundation for carrying my esoteric knowledge to my children, so they too can carry forth, break bones and spend a million hours chasing their own tails in the race to the finish line. It is all so fleeting. I was a crumbled-up piece of paper by the time the forsaken knowledge had come to me. The darkness would only recede in the presence of light.
It is here that I yearn for the archetypal “outsider,” best articulated by Colin Wilson’s seminal work of the same name. I am reminded of my youthful lust of the lost wanderings of my heroes. Jack Kerouac’s On the Road dropped an atom bomb on my consciousness before I had graduated high school. The quest for freedom and journey away from the norms and social mores became a theme that fascinated me. I devoured Hunter S. Thompson, Tom Wolfe, even going back to James Fennimore’s Natty Bumppo, an early proto-typical hero of the journey into the great unknown. But, as the years fell into the abyss, I became the cartoon character American stuck in the greasy rat race, blithering about my desires for a life not led in the darkness. I can hear Charles Bukowski’s refrain, “it all came too late for me.”
It only took two paragraphs into a reading of Nolan Devine’s work to realize that for starters, he doesn’t give a fuck. It seems to be a good starting point for a writer, a place from which one finds the ability to freely articulate their experience. I was pleasantly disturbed by the imagery in some of his works, much in the same way I was with William Burroughs’ Naked Lunch, or Bret Easton Ellis’ Less Than Zero in my youth. But, to clump his writing into shocking narratives would be lazy and a gross over-simplification. Devine seems to be articulating his life, or at least his perception of it. Reality can be subjective. Being your own narrator is difficult. Yet, in the end, it doesn’t matter when finding the best shadow of the place between imagination and experience.
I spent as much time with Devine’s writing, as I have with any writer over the past few years. I was pulled into his world of bums sleeping behind dumpsters, the seedy underbelly of random hookups, the new adventures in strange cities, and I discovered amid all of it a deep desire to be free. It did not become apparent what was the impetus for his desire to stay outside of the rat race, to have the freedom to float down rivers and sleep in cars while the rest of us languished in small offices. I took from his narratives that unlike myself, he made a conscious decision to live life a certain way, a man who is living on his own terms. Perhaps that is where he finds his audience, people who are clamoring for freedom from their own lives devoid of adventure, freedom.
As someone constantly looking for unique voices, I was stunned and shocked by Nolan Devine. His world is a place that he has shared with us in a unflinching manner. We are taken into and shown all of the gritty darkness as well as the beautiful little moments that popped up on his journey into the unknown. I am very grateful for Nolan for participating in this interview. He is a gifted writer, who has inspired me greatly, but through our correspondence I have found him to be a thoughtful person. I like to be challenged, and Nolan has certainly given me exactly what I needed.
Jasper Kerkau: Your journey seems to be rooted in a form of liberation, very reminiscent of the American story of the wanderer, made popular by Jack Kerouac and finding its
way into American literature. You suggest in your writing that your lifestyle is a choice. How important is your writing to your journey, and, conversely, your journey to your
Nolan Devine: They form a natural bond. The way I live is both by choice and not. I’ve been below or just above the poverty line my entire adult life so living in my car and on public lands is a necessity. But to wander is a choice. To live an unconventional life is a choice. I feel a strong and inner urge to drift. It helps and harms me. And from all this I cull my writing. I don’t live as a bum for material but it just happens that way. And hey, waking in the trunk of your car covered in puke or sharing dumpster food with a naked homeless gal makes for good material.
You mention Kerouac and you’re right, there’s a long American tradition of young people wandering to find themselves. From On the Road to Wild to countless unknown journeys so much more important. America is vast and beautiful. Its landscape inspires and provides these opportunities. My country is fucked up but for those other parts I’m thankful.
I like to root myself in history. Know there’s others like me. That they’ve existed forever and will carry on into infinity. It helps me feel a tad less alone. Less insecure about whether what I’m doing is right. I didn’t even enjoy On the Road or The Dharma Bums but liked that past-into-present context. I guess I stab my little stake into history. Form a small column on a long and storied timeline.
JK: There is something uniquely challenging about your narratives. I found your stories to be engrossing and, at times, very difficult to read –and, conversely, to stop reading. Is there something liberating about being able to sing your life with such candor?
ND: Yes there is. I learn a lot about myself in my writing. To hold back would be to deny an opportunity to explore my inner self. In tackling difficult material over the years, from suicide attempts to letting a man suck me off so I could afford rent, I’ve come out the other end not embarrassed but free.
When I write about something real people respond to it. Relate to it. That’s the thing I hear the most in emails. I know I look like an awful person in some of my pieces and that’s okay. I know some of the things I write are off-putting and that’s okay. I never aim to be shocking, just truthful. Sometimes the truth is shitty, uncomfortable, and hard to read. Conversely it can be a great unifier. Or at the very least my readers can finish a piece and be thankful they don’t shit their pants as often as I do haha.
Finally, I don’t let it enter my head how people will respond to a piece. I’m my first and most important audience. That doesn’t mean there aren’t things I hold back on or don’t know the best way to tackle. I have pieces I’ve mulled over for years and still haven’t released as they deal with delicacy. People know when you get it right or fuck it up. So I hope others respond to my stuff but don’t blame them if they need to put it down. It’s no big deal.
JK: I have come to understand, talking to hundreds of writers over the last few years, that all writers owe a debt of gratitude to another writer or group of writers. For myself, I believe it was the Beat Generation. What writers had the greatest impact on your writing?
ND: My whole life I’ve been a reader. My mom is a teacher and encouraged my sisters and I to read nonstop. Lots of trips to the library and whatnot. We’re all awful at math but great with books. I didn’t know it but the first couple decades of my life honed and trained my tastes.
In college, I read all the usual authors that align me with: Bukowski, Hunter S. Thompson, Palahniuk, etc. Writers that deal with grit and gross. But for me my biggest debts are owed to the show Freaks and Geeks, the movie Happiness, and the storytelling podcast Risk! All taught me how to balance raw and delicate material with storytelling sensibilities. Taught me the importance of tone. I don’t care if someone is a great line-to line writer. I just want to feel that what they’re saying is honest and interesting. That’s what’s so great about WordPress. Lots of raw but real writers.
All that being said, I love Ted Conover and Jon Krakauer. Both inspire me. Their writing is clear, clean, and thoughtful. But the writer who’s influenced me the most is Patrick Falterman of HitchTheWorld.com.
He passed away but we were lucky enough to find each other on WordPress while he lived. His writing ability and adventurous spirit inspires my writing and life to this day. If you enjoy things like Kerouac go check him out. He spent years hitchhiking South America and paddling in the Amazon. What he did with his life and writing is incredible. I think of him often. If I make a tenth the mark he did I’ll die a happy man.
JK: You seem to have amassed a large following. How important is it to you in your evolution as a writer to get that feedback from others and to interact?
ND: It’s both great and not great. As I alluded to earlier, I’m my most important audience. I write for myself. For catharsis and discovering who I am. But feedback is important, whether critical or positive. There’s nothing wrong with an ego boost from a nice comment. I check my email in the morning and if I wake to kind words from a stranger it makes me happy. There’s so much media in the world so to know that someone will take minutes, hours, or days to read my stuff is touching. I would write even if I had no readers but to have an audience is nice.
When I started I only had a few readers. My sister and friends who clicked the link when I posted to Facebook. Then one day a video I made went viral and I gained a ton of readers. From there it’s been a slow but upward increase. As fun as it is to see a big number in my follower count it’s frustrating to still have to work all the time to get a fraction of those people to read. To even click on my piece. It’s a never-ending battle but I get it.
If I post something I feel great about but get little feedback I feel defeated. I get over that but for a few hours it’s a bummer. That’s why I write for myself. I have to feel secure in knowing what I put out is worthy of my standards. Equals or surpasses past work. I still ride that up and down in hoping for a positive public reaction. But in the end it’s for me. I’m my most important follower.
JK: Do you have an advice for new writers on perfecting their craft and creating audience?
ND: Get to it! There’s a reason everyone says you just need to buckle down and write. I’ve been at it for fifteen years. Only in looking back at the past five am I happy with what I read. When I wrote something a decade ago I thought it was great but now wonder what form of mold must’ve been growing on my brain. That means you can always be improving. Always be critical but still trust yourself. Take advice from others but know the limits of that. In college I took many workshops with writers whose stories bored me. That doesn’t mean they didn’t have valuable input but it taught me to always give myself the final word.
Think about more than reading for inspiration. You can learn about storytelling from so many mediums. From the people in your life and all around you. Craft is useless if you can’t tell a compelling story. Take notes every time you get an idea. If you think your shit sucks, if your talent doesn’t match your taste, just keep at it. Write for yourself. Write with honesty. Write stuff you’ll never share with others to see what you do when there are no self-conscious restraints.
As for audience, I wish I could say. I read and interact with lots of writers on here. That helps get you out in the community. Plus it’s just a nice thing to do, to let someone know you appreciate their hard work. I print out my stories and leave them in Little Free Libraries or the pages of books whose contents are similar to mine. I respond to every email and thank every reader.
The chances are that your stuff will never reach many people or make any money. But that’s okay. Build your body of work and have something to look back on and be proud of. If the audience finds you then they’ll have years of stuff to read. If they don’t then hey you’re a better writer. It’s a long life. Who knows what’ll happen. At the very least you can print it all out and use it for cum rags.
Nolan Devine’s writings can be found at Gabfrab.