Nick Flynn's memoir, "Another Bullshit Night in Suck City," was a brutal, moving account of working in a homeless shelter, where he is reunited with his estranged father. The book won a PEN Award and was translated into 13 languages. (It also gave newspaper book editors a headache, because its title could not be printed in most papers.)
The film "Being Flynn," based on the memoir, came out this year and stars Robert DeNiro. Flynn and his wife, actress Lili Taylor (who also has a role in the film) will be at the Walker Art Center on Saturday for a screening of the movie, and a discussion to follow. The event begins at 7 p.m. Saturday and costs $15; tickets are available online.
The event is sponsored by Common Bond Communities, the College of St. Benedict, and Graywolf Press, one of Flynn's publishers.
Here, via e-mail, he talks about where he writes, the unusual project he's currently working on, and his views of the Motion Picture Association of America.
Describe your writing room.
I’ve been moving around a lot these past few years (these past few lifetimes?) and so I write wherever I can—on airplanes, in cafes, while my daughter draws beside me. Right now I do have a small studio in my apartment in Brooklyn, but it functions as a place to get ready to write, rather than a place to write in. My books are there, images relevant to what I’m working on—it’s where I load my backpack for the day.
What is your writing strategy—do you have rituals that you maintain?
The only strategy I know of is to write every day, which I don’t always do, because sometimes I just can’t, for various reasons that seem out of my control. Lately I’ve been learning how to edit short films, using a really basic program, but it still takes time. I trust that something will come from the time I put into it, something for my writing. I guess that is a strategy—put attention on something else while waiting for the words to come.
How do you get past writers’ block (or the distraction of the Internet)?
The internet doesn’t distract me much, though I know it is a gaping hole that could suck me in at any minute, though I am answering this question on the internet right now. But I assume you mean the rabbit hole of following one link to another,
which I did quite a lot of for a recent project (“The Ticking is the Bomb”), and it seemed to work fine. Wikipedia is pretty amazing.
Do you have a favorite book from childhood?
There’s a book called “The Magic Monkey” which I was fascinated with as a child—I wrote about my relationship to it in “The Ticking is the Bomb,” and as I write this now I realize I want to find it and read it to my daughter. It would be nice if it meant something to her as well, but of course I can’t control that.
What books do you re-read?
Beckett’s plays. Rebecca Solnit. Dickinson. A good poem is meant to be read a hundred times.
What’s on your desk?
Today my desk feels pretty cluttered, but I do hope to clear it off soon, once I figure out what I’m doing next (since I wrote that I cleared off my desk and now all there is are the pages of a book I found on the beach this past summer, a book that someone started a fire with—each page is burned in a way that looks like a wing. I don’t know what will become of them).
Where are you right now? Describe what you see.
I’m in Brooklyn, I see a doorway into our kitchen where we took the glass doors off the hinges and put them into the basement when we got here, five years ago now. I see the hinges still hanging there, with the pins still in them, as if one day we will decide to carry the doors back up and rehang them, which will never happen, ever.
What are you reading right now?
I just reread “Seymour, An Introduction” (Salinger), because I’m going to talk about it to some grad students at Brooklyn College in a couple weeks. Or they will talk to me about it.
What’s been the best place so far to do a reading?
The best place is always somewhere where some percentage of the audience has at least heard of you, and some lesser percentage has even read something you’ve written.
What authors have inspired you?
I get inspired by my friends, and if a friend is a writer that is even deeper.
“Another Bullshit Night in Suck City” is such a great title. Did it pain you to have it changed?
The film always had to be its own thing, I always knew that, and I also always knew that they could never use the title (because of the MPAA, a strangely powerful semi-religious cabal). It caused me a few sleepless nights, sure, but I knew the film itself was solid, and so went along with it, because there was nothing else really to do.