Broken Pencil recently caught up with Jordan Abel; his short story “Three Dudes, Some Drugs and A Bear” was the runner-up in the 2010 Death Match. He took some time to answer a few questions about his DeathMatch experience and what he has been up to since. Read “Three Dudes, Some Drugs and A Bear” and sign up for Deathmatch 2013 – if you dare.
Interview by Justin Ridgeway
Broken Pencil: Did you know what you were getting into when you applied for Deathmatch? Why did you apply?
Jordan Abel: I had no idea. I was aware that the Deathmatch existed, but I didn’t follow the previous matches that closely. I assumed that it was a deathmatch in name only. And that actual death wouldn’t occur. I’m pretty sure I was wrong.
I applied for the same reason that everyone else applied: because I thought I could win.
BP: What inspired the Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas-esque tone in your story “Three Dudes, Some Drugs and a Bear”? Why did you bring in a magic-realism element?
JA: I’m pretty sure “Three Dudes, Some Drugs and a Bear” was a drug addled mash-up of my bedroom bookshelf at the time – Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Less Than Zero, Futurama. Also sleep deprivation. And creative writing classes. And idle frustration. I didn’t really think about the magical-realism elements at the time. I just wrote the things that were in my head until I got tired.
BP: What were the best and worst comments that you received?
JA: I’m pretty sure the best comment I received was someone complaining that I used the word “the” too often. That was amazing! For the next month afterwards I thought about that every time I wrote that word. Which was a lot. And every time I would think: “Holy shit! Somewhere out there, there’s somebody that’s totally pissed off at me for writing this. That’s fucking fantastic!”
The other best comment I received was from one my friends. He called me up halfway through the competition and said something like: “I voted for your story like you asked. Because I’m your friend. But, as your friend, I have to tell you: this really isn’t a good short story.”
I think the worst comment I got was “meh.”
BP: How did the contest influence your writing afterwards? How did the DeathMatch effect your confidence in pursuing writing?
JA: Deathmatch was a substantial influence on my writing. During the contest, I had an enormous amount of feedback–more feedback than I’ve ever received for anything. And I had a lot of conversations about my writing with friends that I hadn’t previously talked to about writing – which all added up to me seriously thinking about what I had written and how I could improve my subsequent projects. It was the first step towards realizing that my fiction writing suffered from some serious problems. Mostly that I kept trying to write stories that had already been written or heavily influenced by popular writing.
The writing that I did after the Deathmatch attempted to move in directions that I hadn’t previously explored.
BP: What was useful about the experience, and what was not useful?
The whole thing was useful. Getting all those comments–positive and negative–was a really interesting experience. At the time, I think I was frustrated by most of what was said. But, looking back on it, I found the experience as a whole to be integral to improving my writing.
BP: How has life changed since Deathmatch?
I started writing a lot more. I started writing better stuff. I started to get published more. And now my first book of poetry, The Place of Scraps, is going to be published by Talonbooks in Fall 2013.
BP: Care to mention a little bit about what you are working on now?
JA: Editing. Minor editing. But editing nonetheless. The Place of Scraps is a book of experimental poetry that revolves around the early 20th century ethnographer Marius Barbeau. Barbeau studied most of the First Nations in the Pacific Northwest in the 1920’s, including my ancestral Nisga’a Nation. He was interested in studying First Nations communities primarily because he thought that First Nations cultures were about to disappear completely. Barbeau felt that it was up to him and other ethnographers to preserve what was left of those nations before they vanished. He attempted to preserve First Nations culture by recording oral histories and stories. But Barbeau also tried to preserve First Nations culture by removing totem poles and potlatch items so that he could sell them to museums. Unfortunately, he ended up dismantling First Nations cultures internally while he was attempting to save them. The Place of Scraps primarily revolves around the divergence between Barbeau’s intentions and the repercussions of his actions.