Wed. Mar 22nd, 2023

Jerry Stahl was immortalized in the 1998 film adaptation of his personal memoir Permanent Midnight, a darkly comedic account of his battle with drug addiction. Now, the wordsmith extraordinaire and Mount Washington resident has compiled a book of his most brow-raising, polemical, perverted and at times even heartwarming short fiction entitled Love Without (Open City 2007). With the book slated for publication this month, the indefatigable scribe, whose resume ranges from a stint writing for the TV show “Moonlighting” to a credit on Bad Boys II, will be stopping at Skylight Books on July 20 for a visit with the Eastside literati and a distinguished opportunity for carpal tunnel aggravation.

NEW ANGELES: Film, television, journalism, novels, and now a book of short stories? — why now? Where does this fit into the grand career scheme? » JS: I always feel like careers are for people who work at Verizon or the FBI. I’ve never been much of a planner. Sometimes the best you can do as a writer on a daily basis is just keep going. … The stories are actually plucked from stuff published in the last two, two-and-a-half decades, so the sources range from little literary magazines to Playboy. The answer as to why now, I guess, is because somebody asked.

NA: Do you think your work has in a sense been building to a point where you have the artistic freedom to write what you want to write? » JS: You can always write what you want. Whether anybody wants to read it is a different story – but, hey, you can’t have everything.

NA: So what about something like this compared to Hollywood work? » JS: I think your voice is your voice, regardless of content. There may be more restrictions on a TV or movie script, but like Stravinksky said, the more limitations you have, the more creative you can be. … Plus, you get health insurance.

NA: Where do you think Hollywood writing is headed, and do you have any interest in going there? » JS: I don’t know that it’s headed anywhere it hasn’t been all along. To me, Hollywood exists as more concept than reality, sort of like the War on Terror.

NA: At least one of the stories in Love Without has a sharp political edge to it, and this isn’t the first time you’ve mentioned the Bush administration in your writing. Do you feel fiction has a purpose, other than just to get a laugh? » JS: I don’t think you have to grade papers at Yale to know that fiction and political bureaucracy go way back. Nobody ever accused Kafka of banging out The Trial to get laughs. Then again, on one level, it’s horrifically funny because anybody who has had to  deal with “The System” — whatever form that takes in whatever society — can completely relate. The story you’re referring to in this collection is “L’il Dickens,” a small fable involving Dick Cheney, sodomy and German handguns, about which anything I can say was said better 50 years ago by Picasso: “Art is the lie that reveals the truth.” I don’t think I’d be the first guy to point out that the greatest weapon against an oppressor is humor. 

NA: Back to the past for a minute: What was it like working with David Lynch and the “Twin Peaks” team as opposed to, say, working on “Thirty Something” or “Alf”? Is it true that you turned in your script soiled with your own blood and hair? Why didn’t you just e-mail it? » JS: Well, son, we didn’t have the Internet then. But “working on” may be a stretch. I wrote a handful of episodes of the shows you mentioned, but those were massively rewritten by producers saddled with the grim job of making sense out of whatever dreck I handed them. I definitely owe the poor bastards who ran those shows an apology. My one shot on a “Twin Peaks” actually resulted in the blood and hair situation. I was the last man in North America to still work on a typewriter. One night, while typing, I attempted to perform a minor medical procedure with a dull needle and a belt. (I was an early multi-tasker.) It’s a little blurry, but the upshot was that chunks of blood and fur somehow ended up splattered red on the page. I never met Lynch during my 11 minutes working on the show, but the rest of the staff were no doubt thrilled at having to wear HAZMAT suits to read my script. If I could remember their names, I definitely owe them some amends, too. 

NA: Children in your stories seem to have a sort of innocent realism or even wisdom when compared to their confused or corrupted adult counterparts. What can you say to the kids? I know you’ve said you don’t preach, but you went to hell and came back alive; was it nothing but dumb luck? » JS: What can I say? My particular gift was for self-destruction, which is its own cliché. But another youngster might want to get into oceanography. All I know is that plenty of people have survived far worse than what my white ass ever went through. And plenty of other people have two beers and drive over a cliff. Life’s not fair in any one direction.

NA: Sorry, I had to do it; the world loves its anti-heroes. But enough of that. How’s your health? » JS: No complaints. My liver has a P.O. box in Bosnia, but I feel great.

NA: So what’s next then? Any chance of “L’il Dickens” being expanded into a Broadway musical? » JS: Only if Louie Anderson wants to play Cheney.

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