Total Garbage, A Conversation with Anthony Dragonetti

Interview by Alan Good

This started as a joke. On twitter, Anthony goes “Someone should try to interview me for their website so I can be cool and detached and sidestep all their questions, frustrating everyone involved.” Total bullshit, he answered all my questions earnestly and didn’t try to sidestep nothing. He didn’t say anything dumb about millenials, either, which speaks to his integrity, but it also means we won’t get a lot of retweets. 

Neither one of us wanted to talk on the phone so this is an email interview.

What are you working on? And I just saw you say you got an acceptance that has you on cloud nine, so who's the lucky litmag?

I'm writing a book right now. Aren't we all? It's a collection of short stories. The working title is Confidence Man. I wanted to make something that's kind of atypical. It's a collection of different pieces, but they are unified by tone and theme. Almost like a fragmentary novel. If you've read some of my stories, you've probably noticed that I use unnamed narrators that are a bit "off." They also sound like they're speaking from the void. They could all be the same narrator and they could all be someone different. I wanted to allow space for the reader to insert themselves and feel what's happening viscerally. All of the stories in some way address isolation, unspoken desires, and general discomfort with being a human being. There's also a healthy sprinkling of sex and violence. Basically, a rockin' good time. I try to balance out these real, uncomfortable feelings I think everyone experiences at one time or another with prurient interests that entertain. To paraphrase Bob Dylan, I consider myself a song and dance man.

I just got an acceptance from Surfaces which I'm really happy about. Depending on when this runs, it might even be out already! [Narrator: It is.] Hello from the past. Surfaces is one of my favorite literary sites out there right now. The pieces that end up there are always interesting. I enjoy reading them. This is probably when my marketing background kicks in a bit (can't help it), but it's also a great total package. The aesthetic, the visual components associated with each piece of writing, all of it. The whole thing is just so damn smooth and I appreciate the attention to detail. It feels like an experience. So, check them out if you haven't.

Lot of Big Opinions out there about what’s wrong with literature. What’s right with literature though?

What's right with literature? Nothing at all. It all sucks.

No, that's bullshit. I actually think we're living in exciting times for literature. Anyone writing right now, certainly anyone with aspirations of fame and fortune, probably has a hard time finding excitement in it. Literature has never felt more culturally irrelevant, right? OK, so then why do it? Go make videos. Go paint. If relevance and magazine covers are what you're after, you're in the wrong line of work. 

If you do it for the love of the art, though, then you know just how much good writing there is out there right now. That should excite you. There's a lot of crap, too. Don't get me wrong. Because we're all online now and there's approximately one lit mag for every ten writers, there's a lot to wade through. But, if you're discerning, you'll find stuff you love just as much as your classic favorites. I think the internet removing a lot of the old gatekeepers and letting everyone go nuts to their heart's content is what's right in literature right now. You want the weirdest, wildest shit imaginable? You can find it. You want a space where you can read work from likeminded people who share your interests, fears, insecurities, whatever it is you feel like you need? There's a place for that.

No exaggeration, stumbling upon Lazy Fascist Press (RIP) however many years ago totally changed my life. It made me realize there is still exciting, vital, punk stuff getting published. 

The bourgeoisie upper class Random House and The New Yorkergatekeepers are still there. They always have been. Their own relevance has declined, though. And all your old favorites that lived in "better times" died broke too, so.

It’s been a fucking journey, starting out thinking that if you work hard and get better and get published eventually you’ll get noticed and you’ll get that break—then realizing there probably is no break, then realizing there’s freedom or something in not having an agent or working with the big prestigious publishers, that a lot of really great stuff is being published in the shadows. Took me a while to figure that out. Anyway who should we be reading that’s way under the radar?

That's a really hard question because at this stage of the game who is really under the radar? Instead I'm going to go with someone that I think should get more attention than he already does, despite maybe being considered a little more well known than others. I think Sean Kilpatrick is brilliant. He has a decent sized body of work now. I own a few of his books. I think his novel/story collection/I don't know even know Sucker June is one of the best books put out in recent years. Everything about it down to the cover made my skin crawl. It's rare that reading can make you have a physical reaction like that. So, he's my answer. 

Also, bonus shout out to James Nulick who I consider one of the best prose stylists working. A real craftsman.

What’s a book or author that gets a bunch of shit that you actually like?

I'm not sure he really needs defending, but he certainly gets a bunch of shit—Bukowski. I still have love for Bukowski. The pendulum has really swung on him. He's not really cool anymore and it's considered in poor taste in polite company to like him. I certainly understand why. His boorishness and womanizing can be a turnoff. Or inspire outright disdain. I think the reason people really turned on him, though, is that he's single-handedly responsible for creating at least a generation of shitty writers. I think assholes saw him and were like "that's cool, I want to live like that and write like that" so he gets associated with assholes. The difference between Bukowski and every other asshole though is that he actually had talent. He wrote some beautiful things. Even if you strip out all the stuff you might find offensive, there are some deeply moving works there. I'll probably always enjoy returning to his books when the mood strikes. 

OK, a lot of people want him to go away but a lot of people still love him and are pretty open about it. So that’s too safe an answer. Who gets more shit than they deserve and is it because we’re secretly jealous or what?

A lot of the writers that get shit do so for some combination of jealousy, pretension, or because people hate their fans for whatever reason. Like Stephen King. Considered lowbrow, which is stupid. He sells millions of books. You can tell yourself it's because of the great unwashed masses and their terrible taste, but you know what? He's fun! Yeah he might be kind of formulaic or not particularly inspiring at the sentence level, but I enjoy him enough. Sometimes you want to turn off and enjoy a well-constructed pop tune. Nothing wrong with that.

Then go the other way. David Foster Wallace. Pretentious! Only lit bros like him! Which is ridiculous. I know plenty of women who like him. Same goes for Bukowski. People hate his fans. Apparently, everyone has dated someone that liked Infinite Jest and ended up being a shitty dude? I don't get it. Brief Interviews with Hideous Men is such a great book to me. I really love a lot of the pieces in there.

I wish I had some big controversial answer, but I don't really. James Patterson, for example, gets all the shit he deserves. But, he gets to swim in a pool of money like Scrooge McDuck so I'm sure he's fine with putting out crappy books. 

I haven’t read Melville’s The Confidence Man in a while but it’s super relevant today, always has been but in a more pronounced way now. Did you choose the title Confidence Man with Melville in mind, or just coincidence?

Funnily enough, I've never read Melville's. I picked the title first because I felt like what I wanted to do with the stories is portray how we're all living a con in some way every day of our lives. Whether it's navigating your professional life or even your romantic one, there is some deception present. The stories that deal with romance are obviously a bit darker since ideally deception isn't part of your relationship! But, it happens.

When I first came up with the title and concept for the book, I mentioned it to my friend who is an English teacher. She immediately said "Oh, like Melville!" so I didn't even know about the book until then. I like that they share a title, though. It's like The Replacements calling their big breakout album Let It Be. It's kind of this bratty, ballsy thing which appeals to me even though it really is just a coincidence.

What do you care about? Like what sustains you, makes life not pointless, what would you fight for? And how does that fit with your work?

I actually think life is pointless. It's meaningless and it can be short. That sounds like cheap nihilism, but I actually find it very liberating and affirming. It means you need to fill the relatively little time you're allotted with things that bring you joy. You're in control. It can be hard to remember that sometimes. I think it also means you need to be good to other people. Don't infringe on their limited time, either. We're all just trying to get by.

I guess I just want people to realize we aren't all that different from one another. Jam pack your life with as much as you can. Happiness, sadness, mistakes. All of it. I experienced the deaths of four people close to me between the ages of 18 and 20. They all died suddenly, unexpectedly, and young from a variety of causes. One of those people was my dad. Seeing how quick the end can come flipped a switch in my brain. That's when I decided to start writing, really. I wanted to leave something behind and maybe say some things that might be worthwhile to others.  

My big motivating drive comes from wanting people to be honest with themselves. Being honest with myself has been one of my great struggles. Sometimes what you want doesn't line up with what your family or friends or community wants. I use my work to explore feelings that I've had or thought about and ones I think others have had. That's not to say they are morality tales or anything. If anything, they are often quite ambiguous. I don't want to provide answers to anything because life rarely gives answers. You receive information and then you can interpret it as you wish. I like feeling my own scum, sometimes. I like making people feel their own scumminess, too. It's good to remind people they are imperfect beings. It makes things less lonely and maybe takes some pressure off. We've never been more connected and it can feel like we're all trying to show how good we are. How highly evolved. We're all fuck-ups, actually, and that's okay. Fallibility isn't a horrible thing. Learn and enjoy the ride.

How do you balance your job and your writing? Especially as someone who can work from home. Do you get things done at home? And for gods sake how? Maybe this interview turns into a tutorial, I don’t know.

I wish I could say I balance everything really well and get everything done, but that would be a lie. I'm probably being driven insane, actually. It's quite difficult to manage. Going to an office every day and having a fixed schedule has its benefits. As nearly anyone can tell you, it can also suck the life out of you. So, I guess the point is, work just sucks. I prefer only answering to myself, but I'm also a terrible procrastinator and my mind wanders like crazy. I jump from thing to thing. What this means is, I'm practically always "on." It's not unusual for me to jump from a business project, to a story I'm working on cause I can't stop thinking about it, back to another paying project. I essentially work all day from when I wake up to when I go to sleep. The one thing I absolutely must make time for every day is working out. That's the one bit of advice I would give to anyone who works from home or runs their own business. Other than remembering to pay your estimated quarterly taxes, the most important thing to make sure you do is exercise every single day. Yes, it's good for your body, but you need it to clear your mind. That hour or so being away from the computer is a life saver.

Where are you from? Gimme an enlightening anecdote from your youth or childhood. 

I'm from Brooklyn, New York. Born and raised not too far from Coney Island, which I enjoy. There's something romantic about Coney Island. And strange. Weird place that has changed a lot. I most often think of it as the place for carnivals and freakshows back at the turn of the 20th century. When I was growing up, it felt more like ruins, which is its own enjoyable aesthetic.

I have many anecdotes that can explain why I am the way I am, but I'll give you this one for some context. I went to Catholic school for most of my life. Up until 10th grade, then we moved. I grew up with scary nuns, existential terror over whether or not god was real, and a whopping dose of weird repressed sexual shit. So, you know, that was healthy. Anyway, I did my first two years of high school in an all boys school, which is essentially like being sent to prison. We had mandatory prayer time in the chapel every so often. I forget how many times we had to go. This one time, I went with my class to pray and was confronted by a priest. I was a really quiet kid in high school. Drawing attention to myself was the last thing I wanted to do and I would have been happier as a piece of furniture or something. So, when this priest stops in front of me in the middle of the pew, I immediately get nervous. He's just looking at me. But, his look is getting more intense with each second. Finally, he says to me "What are you doing here?" and I just stared at him. What am I doing here? I have to be here like all these other assholes. And he asks me again, like angrier. Again, I just look at him not knowing what to say. Then he says something like "You should know not to be in this place." Like, he identified me as the fucking devil or something. It was very strange and unnerving. Then I decided I really liked it.

That’s a fucked up thing to say to a kid. I was raised Catholic in Missouri, went to Catholic school for most of my childhood and adolescence. Don’t have a lot of nice things to say about the Church but it still shaped me. What’s your relationship with the Catholic stuff today? 

My relationship with Catholicism is complicated. I'd say I'm agnostic. I don't feel strongly either way about the existence of a superior being. I'll find that out when the time comes. I'm not a fan of their teachings on sexuality or abortion or any of that. It definitely shaped me though and I think parts of it are rooted in my character. I try to live by the golden rule. I have a strong work ethic. I believe in forgiveness. There is something to be said for rituals and shared culture. My Catholicism is very strongly mixed with my Italian heritage. It's impossible to separate the two. I do enjoy some traditional things. Usually if it involves food. I like churches. I like the idea of prayer. I really just took what I wanted from it and discarded the rest.

Editor’s note: sorry to quote another tweet but you won’t know what the fuck I’m talking about in the next question if I don’t. He was joking again, he goes “In an effort to really stir things up, I’m starting a lit mag where I only want the incomplete shit in your notes app that you already know sucks. I only want total garbage.” People started sending their notes to him, then at some point it blew up and he decided to do it for real, sort of a metaphor for the trump presidency.

 OK, so it looks like you might have a project to promote after all. Are you really going to do the trashmag?

Yeah so it seems I really stepped in shit on this one. I should really stop joking in public. Anyway, I'm going to do it because it seems like the community is hungry for it. I haven't settled on an actual name yet, but I want to create a site where people can let their hair down, stop taking themselves too seriously, and fire off the ideas they have in their notes that they think are terrible. I want it to feel like the old, weird internet before everything became a way to #engagewithbrands. It makes me want to puke. So, yeah. I guess I'll be coding a site in the middle of the night. People have been sending me some very entertaining entries.

Sometimes you joke online and it turns into starting a trashmag or being interviewed by a premier trashmag like Malarkey Books. This is probably enough for now but leave us with something beautiful or profound. Or a dick joke. 

I want to leave everyone with this. Never stop posting. Post through it all. Your terrible jokes will pay off. Tap into your inner child. I know it's still there. Let that child shitpost to its heart content. It's how you will find your people.

Or lose your job. Yeah, you could totally get fired, now that I think about it. Actually, delete your Twitter and go outside. Leave civilization. Learn how to can foods and raise bees. The god damn world is ending. There is precious little time left and you wasted some of it reading my thoughts. I win. Good bye and thank you.

Anthony Dragonetti is a writer from New York City. He writes fiction and reviews books at Neutral Spaces. He's been working in marketing for close to 10 years and it has poisoned his entire worldview. It allows him to work from home and also tweet fairly often in his underwear like every good online person should.

The trashmag is now live on the internet. It’s called Sludge.

You can find Anthony Dragonetti’s stories through his author page at Neutral Spaces.

Read a couple of his book reviews: