May 22, 2013

Scott Creney: The Flagpole Q&A

Photo Credit: Gordon Lamb

Scott Creney

Athens artist Scott Creney wears many hats: bassist in Tunabunny, barista at Hendershot's Coffee Bar and prolific critic and editor for Australian music website Collapse Board. He's also an accomplished author with two collections of poetry, a film script and five novels under his belt. His first novel, Dear Al-Qaeda, was published in 2006; his latest, The Insurrectionists, came out this past March. The new book is set in Athens and is about a group of “would-be revolutionaries, their idealistic rise and messy, violent collapse.” Flagpole spoke with Creney recently about his life in writing and self-publishing.

Flagpole: Walk me through a brief background of your coming to write long-form—that is, book length—projects?

Scott Creney: In the fall of '98 I headed off to [Boston's] Emerson College. It turned out I had a knack for writing. I lived and breathed poetry while I was there, and had a book of my poetry published upon graduating. My fiction teachers encouraged me to write more of that stuff, so once I was out of school and had more time, I sat down to write my first [novel]. I've been hooked ever since.

FP: When writing the poems that would be in that book [Nation Full Of Caesars], were you constantly conscious of the fact that it would be graded?

SC: Sure, but in a good way. I was 26 when I went to college and the first person in my immediate family to do so, and with all kinds of personal obstacles/borderline tragedies in my past. After eight-plus years of working shit jobs, I felt really lucky and inspired to be in a big city like Boston and to have an opportunity like I did. In my four years there I wrote close to 250 poems and probably two dozen short stories. After a lifetime of underachieving, it felt empowering on all kinds of levels to finally be good at something.

FP: Let's talk a little about Dear Al-Qaeda.

SC: I was very lucky to see that book published. I'd been out of school for less than three years. Both Black Ocean [Press] and I were convinced that we were going to [either] be famous or locked away in Guantanamo for life. Sadly, they had problems with their distributor that forced the book into a weird limbo where it was only available online or direct from the publisher. By the time everything got sorted out, terrorism was old news, and Black Ocean had become pretty much exclusively poetry.

FP: What was the inspiration for The Insurrectionists?

SC: I was shooting the shit [circa 2006] with my friend Phillip Brown, who used to drum with Summer Hymns, complaining about my job managing a local coffee shop. He suggested I talk to some of the local downtown bars about selling coffee out of there during the day when they were normally closed. I was too lazy to actually do it, but I did spend a week or so imagining what it would be like, how I would market it.

FP: I'd assumed that the [largely defunct Athens social justice organization Washington Street Liberation Army] was sort of a jumping off point for it.

SC: No, this was before WSLA. This book actually presaged WSLA, the London riots, the Occupy movement and last fall's Walmart strikes.

FP: You're a damn clairvoyant.

SC: Yeah, it was really weird. I wrote a book in 2003 about ticket scalpers in Boston that climaxed with the Red Sox winning the World Series. A year later, they did, for the first time in 86 years. It gets crazier. The book I'm working on now is an apocalyptic rapture novel set in the Florida Keys [titled Right In Front]. Three months ago, I made a joke about how the world ended before Taco Bell got a chance to roll out the Cool Ranch version of the Doritos Loco taco. [Those] showed up last month! My next book is going to be about a tall, charming writer in Athens, GA who makes a shitload of money, called The Scott Creney Story. [Let's] put this clairvoyance thing to the test, you know?

FP: You use a lot of real locations and brand names. I can see the functionality of using known quantities, but I also know your interest in late capitalism, and so when reading I feel an undertone that may or may not be there.

SC: Well, it's both. It's what your average motivational business seminar leader would call a win-win situation. It gets to work on a symbolic level, a convenience level, and an evocative level…  If there was anything I thought might be slanderous or offensive, I changed it. So, the coffee shop that goes on strike is called Java Rocket and not, say, Jittery Joe's… [But] it's very much set in Athens, so why pretend otherwise? There are elements of satire, but for the most part, it's meant to be affectionate.

FP: You recently opened your vault and self-published most of your books, which are available on your website. Did you revisit/re-edit any of the material?

SC: I decided going in that I would only edit punctuation/grammar stuff and not even allow myself the temptation to just re-write everything from scratch. But revisiting them was the best part of the whole experience… Here I was reading stuff that I had no memory of writing, just cracking up at the funny parts and wondering how the hell I had written something so powerful and beautiful. It was great.

FP: It's interesting to me how you're able to speak about your work with humor and objectivity but also a bit of salesman panache.

SC: Working on press releases for Tunabunny has been good practice. I'm less implicated in that [than] the way I am in my books. I'm just trying to enjoy myself. It's liberating to just say "the hell with it" and put everything up there. I've grown past wanting to be acknowledged as the greatest writer of my generation. Now I'm just content to know that [my books are] out there in the world. If people need them, they'll find them, eventually.