She likes it HOT. She can take eight hours of August Tucson sun and still want more. Me, I’d be a stain on the cement within thirty minutes. Born in Philadelphia, raised in Los Angeles, Kate Braverman is currently at home in San Francisco where she cohabits with her husband. She has spent the last 40 years producing poetry, short fiction, essays and novels. Her most recent creation, “Frantic Transmissions to and from Los Angeles: An Accidental Memoir,” will be released in February. In her spare time she teaches and hosts a monthly literary talk show. Crab your tea and prepare to learn about the addiction of Kate Braverman.
Moe: Looking back was there something in particular that helped you to decide to become a writer?
Kate Braverman: Growing up as a marginalized girl child of the secret dirty city of Los Angeles, as slippage deep within a colossus of yellow hibiscus, in a region that didn’t exist in literature, I was, in complex ways, as described in my new “Frantic Transmissions to and from Los Angeles: An Accidental Memoir” alienated and only comfortable alone and writing. I knew words were sacred and books revered. I was writing at college workshops when I was 13. I never wasn’t a writer.
Moe: Did you choose it or did the profession choose you?
Kate Braverman: You can’t choose to be a writer anymore than you can choose to be a gymnast or painter. It isn’t a choice, but an ineluctable inevitability. You can attempt to choose to be a writer, but if it doesn’t open in an act of alchemy, you will fail. There is a process where the page reveals its infinite complexity. It’s not a flat surface but three-dimensional, with an audio track, scents, seasons, an entire substrata of sound and cadence. The page is a unique kingdom, vast, mysterious and eccentrically indigenous. It’s like a dance, you do some and it does some. To have the page open itself, to shed its skin and allow you to autopsy the living and the dead is an inexplicable experience. Most writers do not have this experience, this star-hewn brassy vertigo, and their writing feels like work rather than elation and communion, discovery and revelation. Most inflict themselves on the page, without recognizing it is the embrace and caress that must occur for acts of passion and abandon, for books that matter, for blood books, built from your own molecular structure.
Moe: When did you ‘know’ you were a writer? Were you a good writer as a child? Teenager?
Kate Braverman: Particularly because I was living in Los Angeles, imprisoned by narcissism, writing seemed a pure form, inviolate, ancient, the antithesis of the conventionally perceived Los Angeles, that bitch of surface beauty and commercial pursuits, which I knew, at 10, vulgar and oppressive. I thought I could use words as a bridge or highway to cross into another world entirely. There are entire levels of knowing, it continues to evolve. Once, because one has published a poem in a national poetry magazine. Or a book, or been translated, awarded. The kinetics of reading to an audience and seeing them cry. The knowing that keeps you writing for 3 decades of solitude, in service to the word, I call that grace.
Moe: What inspires you?
Kate Braverman: I’m always at performance level with my writing. I have trained myself, on a neural level, to observe and examine the world, cities, regions, landscapes, people and circumstance as a writer. It’s not the inspiration, but the technique brought to bear on the matter. There are no great stories or locales. It is the writer’s job to take anything and make it spectacular, make it indelible. In this, I work as many painters do, landscapes, portraits, collages, still life’s. I also work on multiple aspects of a long project or sequences of shorter pieces, so there is always an area I’m working on. I learned this living with a painter, something always on the walls drying or not finished or fully realized, some reason why a brush was always required. Inspiration and motivation are entirely different issues.
Moe: Every writer has a method that works for them. Most of them vary like the wind while some seem to follow a pattern similar to other writers. On a typical writing day, how would you spend your time?
Kate Braverman: Typically, I take my first cup of coffee at my desk and begin writing. I will write for 16, 18, 20 hours. There have been stretches of my life where people would leave groceries at my door, when I did not leave my house for weeks or months. I need complete immersion and unlimited acres of time and space. By my early 20’s, my apartments had two bedrooms, one for writing, a study. Sometimes it takes 8 hours to get in or 8 hours to get back where you were. I will write a piece until I’m physically too exhausted, try to leave it on life-support, hope it survives the night, and try to get it into intensive care from life support the next day or in 3 days or 3 weeks or sometimes 3 years. Some stories or parts of longer fictions are born. Mostly, they are composed, layered, though I now know all the DNA is in the initial draft. It’s just decoding it, but if you are using the blood stuff, what Lorca called the “dark sounds” then the entire novel is on the first page, like DNA and fingerprints.
Moe: How long does it take for you to complete a book you would allow someone to read?
Kate Braverman: Books vary. I tend to write fast and rewrite relentlessly. That’s a real problem with finding stories in my computer. I have 20 drafts of a story with the same title because I was so certain at the time that this is the draft, I’ll never forget this one, but then I’ve got 20 of them and have to read through all of them to see which was the real one, the one that glows in the dark, the one you can know in this life and all others.
Moe: Do you write right through or do you revise as you go along?
Kate Braverman: I revised when I was a young writer. Now my techniques and strategies are fully developed, so that sort of revision is no longer necessary. I push for a first draft. Once you have a first draft, technique, writing and strategy alone will finish the book. But there is the aspect of motivation.
Moe: When you have your idea and sit down to write is any thought given to the genre and type of readers you’ll have?
Kate Braverman: No, I never consider the outside world in terms of the work at hand. I have no idea what I’m writing, if it’s a short story or novel, a poem or essay. I like to make love to the mutating subtext. The alchemy of the spinning is intoxicating, the newly born fabric, the strands and possibilities. You have to interact with the materials, which move like pieces, like sculpture and collage. A blood work speaks with a multiplicity of dialects, there are many options. In fiction, it’s like the evolution of a planet, ecosystems rise and vanish, climates change, accidents. The page exerts its own Darwinian process of natural selection, but you must put your ear to the earth, the sea, rain, bells, hyenas, the passing peanut crunching crowd to hear. You must trust your instincts, you’ve honed and refined them atom by atom for this ability, but error is probable.
Moe: When it comes to plotting, do you write freely or plan everything in advance?
Kate Braverman: Plot is not a strong suit for me. No writer does it all, possesses a full repertoire of tools. Description. Style. Dialogue. Architecture. One identifies one’s strengths as a writer and uses them extravagantly, recognize weaknesses and avoid them. My gift is innovation, experimentation, accessing my emotions, my internal intellectual dialogue and language, the sound and rhythm of words. I can also write dialogue. I’m a poet who can write dialogue and I want to inhabit the page as a female. I want grandeur and elegance, danger and chaos. I can make words ignite. That’s what’s in my toolbox.
Moe: What kind of research do you do before and during a new book?
Kate Braverman: I’m a method writer, like a method actor. I do the research on myself, as if I was a lab experiment. I’m not interested in conventional research, which is a structure I don’t want, artistically. I travel a great deal, often in character. I live it, basically. I also experiment with my biochemistry. That’s another tool I’ve used throughout my writing life. I will take substances that provide clarity and stamina. A writer is always doing research, even when they’re sleeping. I sleep badly. Being a writer is like being a martial arts expert, there’s a certain stance and alertness always present.
Moe: How much of yourself and the people you know manifest into your characters? Where do your characters come from? Where do you draw the line?
Kate Braverman: Most of my characters are composites in which at least one of my identities is present. I’ve written about my mother and daughter extensively in this composite emotional collage form. I don’t draw any lines. I’m a guerilla fighter on the barricades of the male dominion of literature and I am prepared to engage the enemy with ruthless force. I don’t take prisoners and I don’t have a Geneva Code. By the time the page has had its say, and technique transforms the ordinary into the luminescent indelible, what was real and the fiction that emerges are separate entities. Women who draw lines will find themselves painting by the numbers and filling in the outlined spaces of coloring books. That is not how to make art.
Moe: Writers often go on about writer’s block. Do you ever suffer from it and what measures do you take to get past it?
Kate Braverman: Writers block is not a problem for me, ever. It comes from being diverted from the page work by outside considerations, such as self-censoring, fear, and accepting the dictates of others, particularly the grotesque mockery they call the marketplace. The cure is to do exercises. For the first decade, I advise this as an apprenticeship, I thought I was writing, but I would have spent the years better by doing exercises. The view of your garden or street at every hour, half-hour, the sounds, scents, textures, suggestions. They are not just insinuations, but glyphs you must decipher. Take a photograph and assign yourself 15 pages on it. Collect sounds, landscapes, sketch faces with words. Take your favorite piece of music and describe it to a deaf person you love. Exercises are liberating. My current class is called “Experimental Writing: Improvisation and Related Outlaw Activities.” Writing and crime are quite similar. Women should be more comfortable with their criminality, they should celebrate it.
Moe: When someone reads one of your books for the first time, what do you hope they gain, feel or experience?
Kate Braverman: My students and readers have told me I gave them permission to enter their femaleness. That they have learned the entire schematics of how to be lean and tough enough to enter into mortal combat with the mutating subtext, to not be afraid they are violating family, or the rules of law and order which are different for men then women. Men are given inviolate protection. We say they cannot but etch lives of chaos; they are the embodiment of the mythic artist. The intensity of their passion absolves them. When women dare live like this, they are locked in institutions. I am very careful. I write for revolution and subversion, I dare live the mythic artist’s life as a woman. You know, Kathy Acker had to pretend to be a lesbian to get over. How long before a woman can get over as she is, authentically, whatever her sexuality.
Moe: How do you handle fan mail? What kinds of things do fans write to you about?
Kate Braverman: Now that I’ve got my www.katebraverman.com web up, people I knew in junior high are coming by. My fans have generally read one of my novels, Lithium for Media or Wonders of the West, say, or a book of my short stories, and they can recite pages, it changed their life. They got divorced, went to Nepal, worked in a brothel in Budapest, got their PhDs or whatever, and they cherish this book. Their copy was either loaned to them or they loaned it to somebody. They haven’t had it in years but the memory burns. I must point out that if a book meant that much to me, I’d damn well buy another copy and if “Tall Tales From the Mekong Delta” and “Pagan Night” touched me so profoundly, I’d want to read the other books by this author. My gentle reader, if you don’t buy the books of the outlaw princess of darkness now, 25 years later (the book they said I should be put in jail for writing) I feel that bespeaks a laziness of purpose that rather surprises. In fact, when my fans write in, I personally point this out to them, explain the corporate deleting apparatus, and ask for them to do something. Post a review of one of my 11 books or 4 or 7 of my books on Amazon. On their blogs. My old students know this; I don’t ask more than I give. I encourage engaging the page as much as possible, I should save my emails, I treat them as letters, confidences, another possible mutating fiction. There is so little real critical work on me, cumulatively, it’s shocking. I know I’m being taught at Stanford, SFU, SF State, UC Davis, Riverside, Mills, St.Mary’s, Pratt, Iowa, New School and universities in MN, CO, TX, FL. I assume this is merely representative of the actual colleges where I am on the required reading list. You can’t get an MFA without reading me. And yet——
Moe: What’s your latest book about? Where did you get the idea and how did you let the idea evolve?
Kate Braverman: O, it’s a divine (as in the gates, the choir sang, free fall by starlight with Mars like a lamp, making you glow like your mother looking at Marilyn Monroe) experiment, what they call in science a quick and dirty. It’s an informed intuition you follow with an improvised protocol. It’s real history, impressionist collective cultural history, gender studies essays, still life’s, ridges of pure poetry, plateaus of stand-up comedy routines. This is less a painterly book and more sculptural.
Moe: What kind of books do you like to read?
Kate Braverman: I tend to reread the same books for decades. Current writers, Bill Vollmann. The Royal Family in particular. Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridan. Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life. Underworld by Delillo. I’ve been reading 70’s writers for an essay. Hunter Thompson’s Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail. Didion’s novel Democracy, her White Album. Bob Stone’s Dog Soldier. Kate Moses wrote a beautiful novel about Sylvia Plath called Wintering. The Making of the Atom Bomb by Richard Rhodes is a masterpiece. Mary Gaitskill’s Bad Behavior. I read Gibson’s Neuromancer every few months. Elizabeth Block’s A Gesture in Time. One reaches for a stratum of books for various research projects.
Moe: When you’re not writing what do you do for fun?
Kate Braverman: I love the sun. I love Rome in August when tourists are fainting and that’s good, you can step over them, it makes the lines shorter. I like Maui and Mexico in August when it’s steaming. I can take 8 hours of August Tucson sun and want more. I like water, sailing, cruise ships, rafts. I do yoga. I’m a certified California pot smoker, so I like to come down from a day or two run of writing, of doing mortal combat with the universe and smoke and eat pot, particularly when doing my email. I find it relaxing. I do a bit of visual art, print making, graphics built around text or text as a visual element. I find it relaxing the way normal people must feel about TV. I’m in a band now so I’m listening to lots of music and rehearsing. That’s fun. I have a conceptual reality TV show, we’re so real we refuse the camera. That’s every second Monday in San Francisco; it’s called Fusion City. I’ve been playing at least 3 hours of ping-pong a day whenever it is possible.
I love being read to at night. My partner is reading the John LaCarre trilogy out loud for the 7th or 8th time. I enjoy film. Since we don’t have a disgusting toxic mind control device like a real TV, we are further encouraged to go out, musical and literary events, performance art, one man shows, a bit of dance. I collect seashells and bodies of water; I have all the oceans and many of the seas now. The Thames, Seine, Ganges, Nile, Mississippi, Danube. I love travel of all kinds. My only rule is no goats the first two weeks. I like to begin in a Four Seasons, then move to a lesser hotel, then still less and by two weeks, I’m ready to sleep on a stone floor with goats and other non-urban mammals. I tend to go native wherever I am. I hang out with my partner. We’ve been together 15 years now and when we’re in celestial alliance, we’re like a single entity. We amuse each other endlessly. We talk until our throats are hoarse.
Moe: New writers are always trying to glean advice from those with more experience. What suggestions do you have for new writers?
Kate Braverman: Don’t go there, honestly. The chances of success are like winning a lottery ticket. The system is corrupt and disintegrating. Writing is a vicious profession and a life of more rigor then anyone should endure. In fact, a writer’s life is cruel and unusual punishment and it should be entirely outlawed. The Constitution does not permit this. The world does not need your shoddy mediocrity. The planet demands dedicated, life long readers. The memoir and new kid phase will burn it outside (be no longer financially attractive to the collective consensual corporate apparatus) and you will see your ambitions for celebrity will never be fulfilled. So many rush to the light, yet so few are called. Duchamp said if you’re 20 and write poetry, you’re 20. If you’re 40 and write poetry, you’re a poet. But a post-historical analysis should be undertaken.
Moe: What is your favourite word?
Kate Braverman: Prague.
- Purchase Frantic Transmissions to and from Los Angeles from Amazon.com.
- Purchase Frantic Transmissions to and from Los Angeles from Amazon.ca.
Originally published 1/30/2006 at Literary Fiction, BellaOnline.