An Interview with Alissa Nutting

Alissa Nutting’s Tampa makes me shy – the overt, descriptive sexuality of Celeste, the book’s “protagonist”, is most described by reviews as Lady Humbert Humbert.  Tampa is a dark, stalker comedy of tragic, sexually-disgusting proportions. Her first book, Unclean Jobs for Women and Girls, is a collection of short, surreal explorations of body functions and the loathsome. Together the two books make me wonder: Who is this nut ball? How did she make it out of her cave into the world?  I started to question her until my lady-in-waiting held up my mirror, and I remembered that people have said the same about me and the television shows I’ve made (Wonder Showzen, Xavier: Renegade Angel & The Heart, She Holler – TV shows that are always branded with the scarlet W – Weird). After wiping the tears away from a good, well deserved cry, I realize that the existence of such people affirms that Man is founded on the shoulders of creeps and weirdos.  Our history is littered with them.  If not for kooks, we wouldn’t be the civilization we are today.  Here’s to the tomorrow that Alissa Nutting promises.  

I tried to get to her inner most nugget while in the waiting room for what would turn out to be her last birthing class.  Her inner nugget was born 14 hours later, so we finished the interview post birth via email.

 —John Lee 

JOHN LEE: My older, only sister hated the local high school and its Condor mascot, so she convinced my parents to let her go to the rival school a town over. During one of her fights with the folks she wanted to call them a really mean name but knew she shouldn’t cross the line too far.  As her mental pot began to bubble up, she finally blew her lid and called us all “Condor Lovers!”

What’s the worst thing you’ve been called?

ALISSA NUTTING: Hmm. Sunshine? Princess pants? Talentless hack? Werewolf girl? Bearded lady? You know, things my husband calls me during foreplay.

JL: I was once at the doctor’s office, sitting on the paper covered table, feet dangling like a child, waiting for my examination.  The female nurse and male doctor came in, and she bashfully pointed to my private area.  I looked down and my weenie was pocking out of my boxers.  I’ll never go to that doctor again.

What would you not want to be exposed?  You’ve already showed your privates to your doctor and your book to the public.

AN: That’s a difficult question because I think I have this mental deficiency where I feel a constant and irrepressible need to gross other people out. It is kind of a personal priority. The other day a bus full of grown men in suits and ties––an entire, full school bus!!!––that said (some name +) BAPTIST CHURCH on its side passed by my car while I was picking my nose, and I tried to make eye contact with as many passengers as possible while I worked at my nostril. The situation pretty much made my day.

I think what tends to embarrass me most is how much I struggle at the little things that seem to come so easily to most people, mainly involving routine and self-care. It’s hard for me to do things like cook a meal, not be in a constant apocalyptically late rush everywhere I go, to put something back when I’m finished with it. I seem to be hardwired for chaos and disorganization. I just had a baby, she’s 3 months old, and at thirty-two years I’m trying to learn from her and begin a daily routine. I’m trying to give myself bath times, mealtimes, bedtimes. I’m not succeeding yet.

JL: Jerry, a bus driver, spent his whole life saving enough money to move out of his parents’ home.  His modest apartment wasn’t much, but it was his.  In the back alley behind his complex, there was a steady flow of public urinators. After months of complaints became years of inaction, Jerry had had enough.  He bought a bb gun and shot a pisser in the meat.  What are you aiming for, Alissa?


JL: Gordon Lish has his five “A’s” of writing – Loosened Association, Antic behavior, Autism, Morbid Ambivalence, & he forgot the last one.  Are there rules for you?

AN: I have to write things my parents cannot read. I have to be completely sober so that I’m as uncomfortable as possible. I have to remember I cannot prevent my inevitable death.

JL: What’s the worst sort of parent you could become?

AN: My worst parenting tendencies would be if I took all my anxieties & futile desires to preserve the temporary to their furthest extremes, in very frightening downward-spiral-Howard-Hughes-type ways. If I started making her urinate in jars that I could catalogue by date and store in the basement. If I let my fear that she’ll grow up to find my personal appearance hideous get so out of hand that I began wearing a latex mask when she’s a toddler and did not take it off until I died.

JL: I like how your book is velour.  Did you think about anything else? A brown paper bag?

AN: We thought about making the outside of the book a petri-dish of seminal fluid cultures. But what author honestly wants to be that mainstream.

JL: How many pair(s) of sweat pants do you own?  Are any formal?

AN: Double digits. I have not yet purchased the Pajama Jean, which I think you’re allowed to wear to weddings. Only because no one has invited me to their wedding, WHY NOT????

JL: Now that you have a kid, do you ever think about quitting the writing racket and becoming an organic farmer? Is this what we should all do? When you envision your escape from your current life, where do you usually end up?

AN: At a job I could leave at the office, where I could get off at 5pm and then all of my evening and weekend time would be my daughter’s. Where I would wear beige suits and dress slacks with pinstripes and say, “The funniest thing happened to me at work!” and it would be about a misunderstanding over PowerPoint templates. Sometimes I worry about the day she’ll be old enough to see my office light on at 4am and wander in and say, “Why aren’t you asleep?” and get the impression that the hours I keep, the life I had to choose, is a healthy, normal choice. The day she’ll say to me, “Mommy why are you wearing a gold-dipped bone from a cat’s jaw around your neck?” and I’ll have to sigh and say, “I really don’t know; because I like it but I cannot express why and need to think about why as it hangs on my neck.”

JL: I’m terrible with grammar and spelling and shit – I swear to God I missed that day in school.  How many errors have you found in my questions?  Do you find those sorts of rules to get in the way of how people want to communicate or is it necessary for the perfect communication?  Can a coma cause you Lutzian stress?

AN: A coma or a comma? No I give zero shits about grammarspelling. Unless someone’s insulting my writing or one of my books. Then I can say HAHA YOU JUST USED THE WRONG FORM OF ‘ITS’; I WILL NOW DISCOUNT YOUR OPINION! I WAS GOING TO ANYWAY BECAUSE YOU JUST HURT MY FEELINGS BUT THIS WAY I CAN PRETEND THAT I AM SMARTER THAN YOU ARE. And unless you’re one of my students and you say I will do anything to become a great writer except learn the basic rules of punctuation see those are boring and nothing you have to do in order to become successful is boring. 

JL: Do you keep a diary?  Can you mention me next time?

AN: Guffaw!!!! Keeping a diary is advanced-level living. I spend way too much time trying not to curl up in the corner like a giant fetus & weep to keep a diary. My dance card is full okay.

JL: My daughter’s leavings remain unflushed.  Do you think this is a teachable moment?

AN: YES teach her NEVER TO FLUSH THEM!! This way she is guaranteed to hook up with a really open-minded life partner. If I had to pick one bone with my own “ball-and-chain,” it’s that he doesn’t appreciate me leaving huge glistening dunderthunks in the bowl to stew.


Despite [his] violent struggle to emerge from obscurity, precious little is known of Lee (John) … save that [he] achieved American citizenship by reason of birth and [that he] stands ready to sell out this nation’s principles of decency and decorum the instant the money is right. — Gordon Lish 

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