Many years ago (perhaps as many as eight) Jason Mulgrew took my advanced fiction workshop at Boston College. In fact, Jason was one of only two students ever to take my class pass/fail. If you are now thinking that Jason must have been a lazy, drunken, irresponsible dickweed, you are right. I remember he wrote this one story about a lazy, drunken irresponsible dickweed named, I think, Jake, or Jace, and then something happens to him involving getting wasted and maybe there’s a … girl involved? And something about … throwing up on her … tits? It’s all a little hazy.
At our end-of-the-semester pow-wow, I told Jason he’d earned a C- in the class, and that he should take whatever internal life he did possess more seriously, otherwise he would get very bored later on in life. He sort of nodded and burped.
A few years later, Jason wrote to inform me that he’d started a blog.
Just perfect, I thought.
Imagine my surprise when, just a few months ago, a book arrived at my house written by Jason. And imagine my (further) surprise when my wife, sort of out of the blue, said, “Hey, you know that book by that lame former student of yours? It’s pretty good.”
This is one of things I truly hate about my wife: she has integrity.
Fine. So then I had to read the damn thing.
And now, in the hopes you will make the same mistake, I am conducting the first of what I hope will be an endless series of interviews with former students who are now published writers.
Jason Mulgrew: Something about looking into your soul of souls and giving forth to your innermost desires or something.
Rumpus: Wrong. Try again.
Mulgrew: Was it “heart of hearts” instead of “soul of souls?”
Rumpus: Let’s just move on.
Mulgrew: Are you sure? I could’ve sworn there was something like “heart of hearts” in there. In my defense, Steve, I took your class in the second semester of my senior year. And, as you mentioned, I did so pass/fail, since it wasn’t like I was hoping to be a writer. Also, my friend Ben had your class the semester before and said you were a lunatic and a ballbuster (when it came to grades). So better safe than sorry.
Rumpus: Reading your book, I was struck by the realization that you’re still a very poor writer. Is that just to spite me?
Mulgrew: Thank you. That was certainly the general consensus at the publisher. But I don’t think it’s to spite you. Not because I wouldn’t enjoy doing that, but because I’m really only capable to two emotions at this point: lust and hunger. I lost revenge a few years back, and even then, it was reserved only for ex-girlfriends and particular football games that caused me to lose a lot of money.
Rumpus: What are your salient memories of your time at Boston College, by which I mean your salient memories of me?
Mulgrew: I’m not really sure what “salient” means, but I remember that first weekend of freshman year, Princess Diana died. I remember I got a 38 (out of 100) on a Logic test (not because of Diana; this happened a year or two later). Pretty much, I’m sort of in and out on the rest.
I do, however, remember some of your class: me and my buddies Joe and Dan showing up hungover and having a ball (by the way, Dan was seriously addicted to painkillers at the time); I remember one girl said “like” so often that Joe kept count and, if I’m not mistaken, the final count was around 300 in a 75 minute class; I remember that hipster kid who looked homeless and wrote stories about things like a black child who grew up poor and unloved in the deep South, then on one Christmas Eve it starts snowing and the snowflakes teach him about love and you just flipping out and creaming your pants over the story; I remember a story of yours being published in Playboy at the time and feeling conflicted about masturbating to a naked lady when your words were just a few pages away – it was like you were watching me right there in my bedroom or in the dorm laundry room. So I have mostly good memories, I guess.
Rumpus: Lurking beneath your humorous account of growing up as a racist, small-penised, athletically inept boy in South Philly is a much more serious story, that of a man searching for his lesbian identity. Please comment.
Mulgrew: You have obviously been sleeping with my therapist.
Rumpus: Tell us a little about your publishing journey, Jason.
Mulgrew: I don’t blame you; it’s really a book in itself. The short version is that I started an internet diary a long, long time ago (six years!) because I was bored with my job. I figured I would write a few funny things a few times a week until I had enough material to do stand-up. After two or three weeks, I emailed it to some friends. They emailed it to other friends, and more people started reading. Eventually, I realized that stand-up was scary and it would be much easier to just keep writing this stuff at work.
Certain things fell into place, and now I’m getting interviewed by a former writing teacher who would have given me a C- if he could have, about a book that I crapped out alone and drunk in the dead of winter at my aunt’s beach house, while listening to old Van Morrison, Midlake, Fleetwood Mac and the Magnetic Fields.
If anything, it goes to show you how much luck plays a part in these things. I’m not sure if anyone’s still even reading this interview, but if they are, they can plainly see that I have very little talent. But I kept doing it, I was lucky, and I had some very nice, unselfish and talented people to help me along the way. And you, of course.
Rumpus: Your book began as a blog. This really isn’t a question, it’s more of a sad observation.
Mulgrew: Well, yes, but I would like to be clear about something: the book is not a cut-and-paste job. Yeah, I have a blog, but the material in the book is all new. The blog deals with my life now, whereas as the book starts a few years before my birth until right about the end of junior high. And yes, I am contractually obliged to mention this as much as possible (each time I do, HarperCollins sends me a free pizza).
Rumpus: Tell us about your “writing process.” When, exactly, is the best time to throw up?
Mulgrew: For you or for me?
Rumpus: As we all know by now, you took my class pass/fail. Then you asked me to blurb your book. My blurb read, “Pass.” Is there a lesson to be drawn here?
Mulgrew: I am amazingly consistent? You are a very good judge of talent? I think that either works.
Rumpus: What’s your advice to other aspire self-humiliators?
Mulgrew: You must first look into your soul of souls and heart of hearts to give forth to your innermost desires. That should get you at least half-way there.
Jason Mulgrew is the author of new memoir Everything Is Wrong with Me.
Steve Almond is an old bitter hack who once taught Mulgrew.