Oct/Nov 2007  •   Reviews & Interviews

An Interview with A.G. Devitt

Interview by Geoffrey H. Goodwin

A.G. Devitt has a lot of short pieces on his livejournal and myspace blogs. His comic book series for FE Comics, Channels, starts in the Summer of 2008, and his short story "Assassin's Playground" is currently available in the anthology Bash Down the Door And Slice Open the Badguy (Fantasist Enterprises, 2007). In an interview with Heidi Ruby Miller, Devitt said, "I see no greater merit in the works of Shakespeare than I do Stan Lee. They are both important. They both hold great truths. They are both immortal."

In terms of punk-rockness, A.G. Devitt is aiming for Social Distortion and The Replacements, not Avril Lavigne or Sum 41. His vignettes are stories of confrontation, often a loner male coming to grips with self-defined failure as an opportunity for growth or transformation, be it in dating or street fighting. His characters worry about letting people down and being brave when no one notices. It's no surprise that they tend to speak in clipped fragments.

His settings are often less defined than the emotional landscapes inside his characters but, even without careful geography, the macho noir stories play out in small cities and big towns that feel like a darker version of upstate New York that only comes out at night. It'll be interesting to see how this characteristic translates to the visual medium of comics.

Based on geography, A.G. Devitt is lucky he found punk rock. Most loners in upstate New York run the risk of becoming metalheads instead of punks. On the other hand, A.G. Devitt, also known as Andrew, describes himself as "a nice, laid-back fellow, despite [his] characterization on the web!" and, by day at least, is a professor at Herkimer County Community College.


This is an excerpt from the opening scene of Channels. Fender is racing on a motorcycle through the streets of Hawaii, being pursued by the private army of a local mob boss:

"My name is Fender, and as far as I can tell, I'm a bad guy who is trying to be good. The adrenaline is clearing my head. I'm remembering how I got into this mess. As usual, it's all my fault. The world I am in now is not the one I was born to. It's in a separate reality. It operates on its own set of rules..."

(Fender's bike is speeding off of a bridge) "...with its own laws of physics. Which is how I know I can get away with this stunt I'm about to pull."

(And the bike is airborne...)


GHG     What motivated you to start writing fiction?

AGD     I want to say, quite simply, death. But that is much too simple or, contrarily, absurd an answer to let stand on its own, so I will explain.

From an early age, people told me I was a good writer. In middle school and on through my first year of high school, I was on a math/science track. Scary to think about now, but true nonetheless. For whatever reason, my brain did a complete shift towards the arts. I felt that greater truths existed in art and literature than in Pythagoras and Newton. And if you look at modern physics, Newton doesn't quite hold up anymore. But Hemingway is still Hemingway. His truths are eternal.

While in high school, I started submitting anonymous articles to the school paper. I would sit in study hall and see people I'd never spoken to reading my words and discussing my work. It was this weird sort of feeling that I could somehow cheat at communicating by letting everyone know exactly how I felt without ever having to actually talk to them. It was liberating. I learned that words can change people, or at the very least entertain. It was a drug. And I was hooked.

As to death being a prime motivator... I'm an atheist. I have no children, nor do I plan on having any. My only shot at immortality, my only chance at saying that I was here and I mattered, is through the words I may leave behind.

Dramatic, perhaps, but the truth.

GHG     How long have you been submitting your work?

AGD     My first publishing credential was an indie comic book sometime around 1989. I was fifteen or sixteen. Since then I have submitted stories of various qualities to small press and indie magazines. I've never been into conformity and always wanted to do things my own way and at my own pace, and the indie market had less editorial constraints. It's been only recently that I have been attempting to break out of the underground. My first "big break" if you will was my story, "Assassin's Playground," which is available now in the fantasy anthology Bash Down the Door and Slice Open the Badguy. It was that story that opened the door for my upcoming comic book series, Channels. Both are published by Fantasist Enterprises.

GHG     Who do you like to read? You don't really love Don Pendleton and Ian Fleming, do you? They're more just like exemplary archetypes of macho maleness, right? They can't be your actual favorite writers...

AGD     There is a difference between who I consider the greatest writers and who I consider my favorite writers. Pendleton basically invented a genre with his Executioner series, and Fleming... the man needs no validation from me. I also love Jim Thompson, Mickey Spillane, and other writers of the pulp era. These guys were working writers. They couldn't afford to be artists. They wrote under incredible deadlines and managed to entertain a large readership.

Who do I like to read? Robert B. Parker is a master of style. The older he gets, the more spartan his prose is becoming. I've never read a bad sentence from the man. I love Harlan Ellison because I can't write like he does. Neil Gaiman for the same reason. I love writers who do what I can't / don't do. I'm always depressed when I read something that, perhaps in my arrogance, I feel I could have done better.

GHG     You're best known for flash fiction, or prose poems, or whatever they're best called. They're weird blog entries that feel like slightly surreal vignettes inspired by slightly drunken real-life adventures. For someone who hasn't read you, how would you describe what you do in your blog?

AGD     In truth, I use my blog for several purposes. Number one is for my students. I teach English and Creative Writing, and it is my firm belief that in order to teach writing, one must write. You wouldn't take flying lessons from someone who has never piloted a plane, but students are often in writing classes taught by people who don't write. I started blogging as a means for my students to see the kind of stuff I do.

I also use my blog for all the stories I want to tell that just don't "fit" anywhere else. Stories I want to tell simply because I have the desire or need to tell them, without worrying if anyone will buy them someday or not. I have episodes, in non-chronological order, of a character named Spike that may or may not one day be re-edited and expanded into a novel. My students got to watch my creative process, as well as this character, evolve.

GHG     Has that writing led to your upcoming comic publications in an organic and linear process or was it a conscious and intentional shift? Please describe the comics.

AGD     My blog is more "me trying to entertain me." It's recess from the actual "work."

Channels is enormously fun to work on so far. The main character is actually more villainous than the villains. It's his selfishness that places the entire universe in danger. It's the story of a magician named Fender who, after deciding there is nothing worth living for in this world, decides to make a new one. But in order to do it, the current world has to be destroyed. It's an immense act of selfishness to destroy an entire world just to get what you want. And Fender pays for that choice. Because his spell goes wrong, control of reality is given to a ten-year-old boy named Tobe, who creates realities based on his favorite TV shows. Fender has to go through each TV series and defeat the bad guy, thus bringing the story and the fragmented reality to a close. Hopefully, by the end of the series, he balances the scales. If such scales can ever truly be balanced.

GHG     Is it accurate to say that you pull a lot from your life for your blog entries but that you don't get too specific because you have a day job as a professor or something like that?

AGD     There is more truth in fiction than in fact. I think any writer feels they can be more emotionally honest when they have the protection of "fiction" on their side. I can't create a character who feels how I am incapable of feeling. I can't create a character who knows something I don't know. So in that regard, they are all me. Every character I write comes from me somewhere. Or else people I know. People in my life. I dropped out of college for five years and lived as much life as I could in that time so that I would have something to write about. It put me behind in terms of my career as a professor, but I wouldn't trade that time in the wilderness for anything.

GHG     Did you base your Spike character alter-ego on anyone you know?

AGD     People who know me see a lot of similarities. But Spike is definitely cooler than I am.

GHG     What are some of your favorite Chuck Norris jokes? Is one of them, "Chuck Norris can make a snowman out of rain?"

AGD     I like, "Chuck Norris doesn't wear a watch. He decides what time it is."

GHG     You mention music in your blog. Who are your favorite artists?

AGD     I like all different styles of music. I am not big on country or hip-hop. But there is good in everything. My favorite lyricist is Paul Westerberg. If there is a patron saint of rock, it's Paul. The man is honest. He doesn't do re-takes if he blows a line. He lets the song live and breathe as an ephemeral thing.

The bands I like are too numerous to list. Social Distortion, Pixies, The Pogues, and Nick Cave are always high on my list.

GHG     When you were in a punk rock band, was that in Herkimer too? Or Buffalo? Who goes and sees a punk rock band in Herkimer or Buffalo?

AGD     I was in the usual garage bands in high school and college. One of the things I did during my five-year hiatus from college was run an indie music store. I got to meet a lot of bands and talented artists and would jam with them and record tracks, but I don't like collaborative writing and the ego clashes just got tiresome, even at such an amateur level. I did it until it wasn't fun anymore, which was a lot sooner than one would think.

As to who goes to see a punk rock band in Herk or Buffalo, I'd say the same people who go anywhere. People looking to know that they aren't alone in how they feel.