Author of the Week: J. David Osborne
It’s always comforting to discover how much I have in common with people I barely know via social media. It can also be frankly disconcerting since it undermines my sense of self-distinction, which isn’t fragile so no harm done.
Author/publisher/editor/podcaster J. David Osborne is one such cat. I’ve only read one of his books and loved it, so it was no surprise to find out we share similar influences, particularly in the cinematic realm. It shows in our work, which is otherwise pretty different in voice, mood, tone and structure. That is simply because we’re different people, and we remain true to our unique sensibilities in life as well as fiction. In fact, his quote below describing his tastes in luridly-pulpy-yet-intellectually-stimulating, transgressively provocative literature precisely mirrors my own. This is why I relate so much to him, which is news to me and probably now to him.
James is also a lot more ambitious and adept than I am in terms of multi-media platform building, both for his own work and that of many others, which is how he has earned such a lofty degree of respect in the indie lit community and beyond.
Tell us a bit about the inspiration and incentive for your popular podcast, The JDO Show.
The podcast came about because I couldn’t get points across through social media. Facebook, Twitter, places like that, I wasn’t any good at communicating there. I’m not sure if many people are.
I started listening to long-form podcasts while I worked front desk overnight at a residential building in downtown Portland, Oregon. I’ve always been someone fascinated by ideas and nuance. How things can be two things at once, how people can hold two conflicting ideas at once. I realized that putting your thoughts into small boxes on the internet could lead to problems. I think people should really only talk in two ways: in person, or through creation. Write novels, not Facebook posts, that kind of thing.
I thought it might be interesting to talk to writers and artists about whatever was going on in the world. To get across some points, to joke around, that sort of thing.
The first episode of the podcast occurred one month before Donald Trump got elected. In that sense, I think it’s an interesting document of this time. I have been completely bewildered by what has happened to people in the wake of this man getting elected. Everybody has lost their shit. So a lot of the conversations are about that. We also cover art, its purpose, the effects of social media on our brains, writing, and alcoholism (I struggle with booze consumption).
I’ve had cool guests on: Conner Habib, Scott McClanahan, William Boyle, Juliet Escoria, Johnny Shaw, Gabino Iglesias, Elle Nash, Michael J. Seidlinger, Jeff Jackson etc. We’re almost at 120 episodes at this point!
My most popular episodes, oddly, are with indie authors. Like really indie. I say oddly because you’d expect the “bigger” authors to draw more listeners, but it’s been my experience that folks are more interested in obscure writers.
Since you’re a man of multi-media talents, now please tell us about the birth and agenda of your well-respected imprint, Broken River Books.
Broken River Books started when I felt like I could take on the world. I worked at a hot dog restaurant in Oklahoma. I’d had some books released, and my publisher decided to go on an indefinite hiatus. I talked with friends and we decided the void left by Swallowdown had to be filled. That became BRB and King Shot Press.
I went to Kickstarter and raised money to, well, kickstart the press. We started off with books by Jedidiah Ayres, Stephen Graham Jones, Pearce Hansen, William Boyle, and Red Hammond. From there on out, I’ve published over forty books. Zero Saints by Gabino Iglesias, Itzá by Rios de la Luz, Heathenish by Kelby Losack. I publish writers that don’t normally get enough attention. I am attracted to work that exists in a liminal space and doesn’t quite fit into any one world. Hybrid shit.
I described it as “weird crime” but I’m not sure that works anymore. I like the films of David Lynch and other weirdo stuff. I prefer books that work as pulp entertainment, but have a rebellious streak in them. Iglesias, for example, writes his books in a mixture of Spanish and English. Cody Goodfellow wrote a crime novel about a dude that can turn into a shark. That kind of thing.
Over the years I’ve figured out that if I want to have a life and write my own books, I’d have to ease off the gas with Broken River. I have authors that I like working with, so they have (almost) free reign to write whatever. I’ll work on the book with them and release them. But it has shrunk in scope. I’m no longer looking for new authors, just building the ones that I like.
I’ve been having fun with it.
You have a uniquely evocative voice and ingeniously constructed style. It seems like you’ve invented your own literary genre, a street-poetic, fever-dreamy sort of horror-noir-indie/arthouse cinematic hybrid. How do you choose to define your own work?
I like minimalism and dialogue. One of my favorite authors is George V Higgins. Another is James Ellroy.
I write about both what I know and what interests me. The stuff that I know acts as a base upon which I explore things that interest me. For example, I know rough around the edges Oklahomans. I’m interested in the occult. With the new book, you get rough around the edges Oklahoman occultists.
It’s important to me that the books are funny and indecent and fast. Those are my three criteria. I release a lot of books. They all take a couple hours to read. You have a good time reading them.
The creative space I’ve set up for my books allows me to take a brief break from a world that is constantly litigating speech. It’s a space where I can play. My characters can say all the fucked up shit they want. It doesn’t have to reflect me at all.
Ya know, I’ve been thinking about this recently. How we’re constantly attempting to project ourselves onto words and images. Seems like we have no private lives. Nothing inside that we can have just for us. Instead everything is public. With art, you can create alter egos. Take from yourself and create something new. But I’m wondering if you have to pull that much out of yourself to make something good.
Living in the imaginal and taking from it and putting it on paper is an occult act.
What are your influences, literary or otherwise?
The first influences that come to mind are filmmakers. I love Takashi Miike both in style and ethos. He’s who I want to be like when I grow up. Workmanlike, friendly, seemingly happy. Producing the most fucked up shit he can. Except for when he doesn’t want to! He appears free to me.
David Lynch. The way he’s able to transfer raw feeling onto a medium is fascinating. Like I said up there, we tend to put a lot of ourselves on the page or screen or wax. Lynch appears to have an astral temple he pulls imagery from. A dark place that he goes to, from which he brings trinkets.
Book-wise, I’m not currently influenced by very much fiction. Of the stuff I do read, I’ve been energized by Virginie Despentes and Nico Walker. Those books feel alive and imperfect and just underthought enough to seem organic. Underthinking is very important to me. Being a little stupid is very important to me. It’s the only defense against constant information.
Musically I’ve been listening to The KLF and Echo and the Bunnymen and Killing Joke. Also every new rap release I can get my hands on. Chester Watson’s Project 0 is incredible. The Outfit, TX have a great new album. Then metal stuff like High on Fire, Author & Punisher, and Electric Wizard.
I guess to kind of circle back to your initial question: I’m influenced by the kind of art that communicates subliminally. I hate it when things tell me how to feel. I love being manipulated. I love spending time with terrible people. Houellebecq is a favorite of mine.
I like books that push me around, that don’t care if I like them. I like an antagonistic relationship with my art. I like mean stuff.
What’s next for you?
Many new novels. Probably too many, to be honest.
I’m putting out Gabino Iglesias’ new book, Coyote Songs this Halloween. That’ll be followed by Christopher David Rosales’ Word is Bone. Then some work by Dave Newman. After that, it’ll be a new look for Broken River. It’s not a publishing house after these books. It’s a collective.
I am enjoying working a nine to five and living in the desert. Trying to figure out how to live a life that I’m proud of. Volunteering at a farm on Sundays. That kind of thing. Staying away from social media, the internet. Living in the world, meditating, lifting weights. Most of all I’m trying to not judge myself based on what I make anymore. I don’t want to be an artist with his head up his ass, or with a feeling of self-importance. I feel healthier when art is a thing I do, not a thing I am.
Cheers to all that, though I concur: booze can be a demon as well as a muse. That’s why you control consumption or it consumes you. I dig what you do, brother. Keep swingin’.
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New Orleans, LA