Oct/Nov 2011  •   Reviews & Interviews

An Interview with M. Scott Craig

Interview by Melissa Studdard

Helicopter pilot, self-proclaimed archenemy of William Shakespeare, piñata-breaking expert, and relationship enthusiast, M. Scott Craig is the author of the books Cacoethes, Thoughtica, Inhale, and the upcoming novel, Conscious. He was born in the Rio Grande near Del Rio, Texas, and now lives with his wife in Central Missouri, where they edit The Ingo Village Review.


MS     Your book, Cacoethes, combines both fiction and poetry into one volume. What factors influenced your decision to mix the genres rather than creating two separate collections?

SC     It actually came down to my love of excerpts. I don't enjoy laying out too much detail and really don't like reading it from anyone else either. I've read compilations in the past on various subjects and always appreciated the different styles of authors meshed together. A lot of my poetry and fiction are related to love and lust and romance and curiosity, and when I knew I had more than enough material for several books, I realized they would come together better if I didn't separate everything. Why not mix poetry and fiction? It stimulates the brain. I also like to write in different grammatical styles, so there are actually several styles of fiction in the book. A few pieces don't fit either category. Who knows what they are, but they make sense in the book.

In various works, some of my favorite authors give too much detail or not enough. I've always enjoyed hearing little sections of a person's life or story. In truth, when you meet someone, you only get to know a little portion of them. You pick up from where you met them, and the ending will come at some point, maybe tomorrow, maybe in five years. Some people you just get more detail from than others. Somehow my writing style turned into picking a moment in a story and letting it run for only a little while. I think short stories can be a fantastic way of just giving a little glimpse. What happened prior and what will happen after... figure it out. Make it up. Replay it different ways. Think of all those new delights for a reader to explore. Sometimes I just want to convey an engaging aspect and nothing else.

MS     Did you just say you don't like adhering to grammatical rules?

SC     Fiction and poetry are creative forms. While any reader needs to be able to read and understand the text clearly, there's nothing wrong with diverse interpretations. We invented grammar, although by "we," I don't mean "me." I wasn't at the meeting when grammar was defined, so none of my opinions were counted. I like to dabble with different forms of wording. There's nothing wrong with playful additives.

MS     You've said that the arrangement of work throughout Cacoethes is meant to reflect the developmental patterns of most relationships. Do you think that progression comes across to most readers? Have people told you that they put the book down thinking that's exactly how it happened to them?

SC     Oddly, yes, somewhat. People have actually made similar statements, and they'd better, since I wrote it in my "Note To Reader" at the beginning of the book. Haha. I also didn't include a Contents page because, as many of the stories are broken up and found again later, I don't want readers to skip around. Collections are often easy to read randomly, but Cacoethes is arranged in the order in which most people discover emotions in a relationship.

You know we all have different responses when meeting someone. Some of us feel doubt, some feel confidence. Some want to take the conversation slowly while others nearly pee in their pants. But I do feel overall that most of us kind of go through a similar cycle of emotions over the course of several dates. And it takes several dates to really understand what's happening. Then at some point everyone goes through a period where we stutter or such. Do I really want to be with this person? Is there a future? Do I really like their hair? Isn't their nose crooked? I don't like their shoe and belt collection. Is that a deal-breaker? Why haven't I met many of their friends yet? Couldn't this person kiss just a little better? Why would I want to be with someone who farts in their sleep? Well, hell, I fart in my sleep, so what's the big deal? Do they still wear pajamas? Why am I being hesitant?

More than a million questions come up because either we want to make sure, or we can't make up our minds. When those questions are answered we tend to stop stuttering. We often go back to the beginning and feel those previous fresh emotions again. We daydream about that person again, and a lot of those early emotions then get mixed with emotions we feel at the three-month or five-month stage. It can become confusing. Or you can move in together and get married and live happily or waste away.

MS     Do you really hate pajamas?

SC     I never wear any. They're unnecessary and will probably help ruin the world. Besides, I can't pull off that look like Cary Grant or Hugh Hefner or Superman can.

MS     You've had some very nice reviews of Cacoethes. The consensus seems to be that you have a finely honed, even extraordinary ability to tune in to the human thought process.

SC     I've had some great reviews, certainly. People say I know how to write like most people think and that I detail the psyche of a woman's brain rather nicely. It's not something I aim for. I write stories from male and female point of views because it's odd to me to walk into bathrooms and see "his' and "hers' towels. Heck, might as well have separate toilets at home too. Granted, any novels I write might be one or the other, but with so many pieces in these collections, I think it's only natural to try and show the emotions from both viewpoints. Relationships between two people will always have two viewpoints, even if they're similar. And I feel that we over think everything for the most part, whether we admit it or not. What I want to say and what I actually say isn't often the same thing. If people only knew what was actually going on inside our heads on a first date...

MS     People might not extend an invitation for another one.

SC     Exactly. That's what's perfect about us and awful about us at the same time. By having the freedom to think at all, we usually abuse it. In relationships, less is more.

MS     Do you think people put too much pressure on starting a relationship? Cacoethes isn't a self-help book, but your insights do seem to qualify you to offer analysis and advice concerning these topics.

SC     Entirely, definitely. We love each other as friends but sometimes have difficulty being friends while in love. Oddly enough I was reading two interviews right before I agreed to do this one. The first was with Marlon Brando, who was on the rambling defensive, and let me tell you it is a hell of an experience to read an extensive interview with Marlon Brando while cherishing Ketel One and Ruby Red. Mastiffs were howling at the sunset up on the hill behind me and a beaver, of all things, came out of the woods and was gnawing off lily petals on the other side of the patio before we saw each other. It was a strange hour. The second one was with Tennessee Williams, a very open interview, and he stated a point for himself that I think fits most of the world. "It doesn't make a goddamn bit of difference who you go to bed with as long as there's love. I can't get it up without love."

Now that's the truth. Sex helps make the world go round and it always will, but you have to have the love with it or relationships are never full. That's why dating is probably the most confusing thing on this earth, along with a few upper-level math courses and how smart and sensible the military system wants to be, but isn't.

Everybody on this planet needs love. Crooks, nuns, characters from mythology, everyone. Bodies just don't function as well without it. People may not admit it, but they can sense the difference in their bodies. The people who can't admit it have problems admitting other things as well, so it's not their fault entirely.

Every union in the world is affected by love. Two pen-pals from Austria and Peru write longer letters if they fall in love with each other's words. A seafarer in the Indian Ocean will plot his course just a little different if he has someone in love with him back home in Portugal. A political candidate would give a different debate if they were secretly in love with one of the moderators or fellow candidates on the podium. Look at the wars of history. We fight over religion and love. It's stupid, but love can make us stronger and it can fuck us up.

So when we start a relationship, the millions of question that can pop up in our minds before and after the first date are ridiculously confusing. Even a cool player or someone who doesn't react to much will still have an internal debate over the event, at least on the economics and feasibility of continuing to see this new person in their life.

MS     We've mentioned "these books' a few times. Your second book just came out. Cacoethes can be a very emotional read, while your second book, Thoughtica, is more physical.

SC     That's right. Thoughtica just came out at the end of August. Both are somewhat themed, though Cacoethes is arranged in an actual order of emotions felt. Thoughtica is put together in a way that is intended to make your brain suffer surrender. It's pretty much what it sounds like. So these two books together represent what happens mentally, and then physically.

Cacoethes means to have an insane passion or desire. I derived Thoughtica out of the fact that the material is erotica for the brain, but nothing messy. Physicality can be dirty, but not messy. Reviewers say the writing is witty, clean, and intelligent, and that sums it up rather well. That's what I intended.

MS     Would you call your work experimental?

SC     I would say no more than Tennessee Williams or Nabokov or Joyce. Literature is supposed to make a reader feel an experience. This is how the material comes out of my head and I just have to put it out there and let the readers find it. I've had negative reviews as well, people stating that, while they may have liked the read, they didn't necessarily get the arrangement or the grammatically distorted pieces. But many readers do. Some don't like the lyrical poetry, but some do. I loved A Streetcar Named Desire. Passion abounding and confusion and hearts beating and romantic anger and rape. To me the rhythm of that piece is experimental. It has everything and it's smart as hell.

MS     That brings us around to the title of this interview. You've said that you're a witness and explorer of the divine delectability and devouring of others. You just mentioned your enjoyment of it in Streetcar. Is that what the world is all about-men being wolves and women swooning? You have a few pieces in Cacoethes, such as "That Pink Soul" and "It Happened So Fast" that represent what you're talking about.

SC     Yes, fast and furious. Both of those pieces are about innocence and devouring simultaneously. I do think that's what the world is mostly about. Who can I eat today? There is a longing by every human, I feel, to either eat up others or to be eaten. Very few want both equally. The world is about surviving, and sometimes anyway you can, and if love is the eternal ingredient that everyone wants, then we survive by devouring others, or we get devoured. If you like being devoured, it's easy. You may have trust issues, or you may be a male or female slut, or someone who likes to just let the world come to you and let what happens happen. There's no guidebook for this. But everyone else is on the prowl, some with just more hair than others.

Look, lions do it supposedly up to fifty times a day. A pig can feel good after sex for roughly half an hour. A bonobo will do any member of its family at any time of the day, maybe all day. Dolphins are possibly the only animals that mate for pleasure. And giraffes try to kill each other by running their heads into each other's necks. It's not just us. The world is about love and survival, and sometimes in that order. Why would we think we're any different? Being evolved has little to do with it except that we have the ability to screw things up on a grander scale.

MS     Brilliant!

SC     Chimpanzees and iguanas and aardvarks don't sit and talk about one-night stands and eternal devotion over coffee in Kenya or a beer in Germany. Birds have mating dances, which is kind of fun to watch. In fact, one bird in the jungle makes a tunnel lair and dances at the end of it until a female comes down and walks into it, chasing him. Actually he's teasing her and trying to lure her into his bed, and she goes for it unless she gets some whiff of a trick. Technically we're the same. We're selling ourselves to each other. At some point we proceed or get a whiff of something better. Generally speaking, men want to devour, and women want to be the devouree, but that changes as the years go by into a gap that's closing in on 50-50. Even if you go out for an evening with just a single thought at a single moment of maybe talking to someone, then you're on the prowl, and aren't we always going out to find someone when we're single?

Girls go out in groups all the time and always say they just want a night out with the girls. They don't want guys hitting on them. They ignore advances. Whatever. They're still looking. Someone in that group will always be open to being devoured by the right person coming along. If that right person doesn't show up or make their move, then they stick with their girls. And the same goes for guys. Groups are safe, you know, but strays who get lost are often the ones that start a new course. Yes, guys are known the world over for thinking endlessly of sex, but believe me when I say guys are certainly looking for more, though it seems guys will often be reluctant to say so. Men and women think about sex equally; the difference is in our verbalization. Truth is, there is no such thing as "never looking.'

MS     Yet you write about so much more than sex and survival.

SC     Cacoethes has a wide range of emotions and events and how people react to them. I've always had a good knack for reading people, whether it's by watching or listening. And for some reason, people always come up to me with their problems. The same goes for my entire family. People always come up to us, and not one of us possess degree in psychology or anything similar. But we're all good at watching and listening.

My parents are actually a perfect example of what good love is supposed to look like. I feel that parents have a big hand is making or breaking our lives, how they raise us, what they teach us, corporal punishment, things like that, no, I'm just kidding, but I never saw in my parents what I heard from most of my friends about their own. My parents taught me how to be sincere, honest, and complimentary. Of course, stand up for what you believe in, but don't bully. Don't instill guilt. If you don't degrade people and don't feed them any shit, your life can take some amazing turns. Most of all, they taught me, purposefully or not I don't know, how to be a sponge when absorbing people's needs and desires and such.

I was single for a long time, but not because I couldn't find anyone. There can be great happiness in being alone. But during the entire length of my singledom, many friends always looked at me with curiosity, which I could read before they even opened their mouths. "You know what, I wish I had your life, your ability to be alone and still be with others, the chance to go out with who you want, when you want, how you want. I live vicariously through you, my friend. I wish I wasn't married. I wish my marriage had a little more snap. I want to go out with that person for a little while. What would you do?" That's what goes on in the world.

I've known some great and fantastic women in my life, but none of them compare to my wife. I knew from watching my parents and how they supported each other, how they dreamed of each other, how they represented love to each other, that I wanted that and nothing less. You have no idea how fortunate I feel to have actually met my wife, let alone have had the chance to start a relationship with her. There's nothing in this world I want to do without her. My parents were the same. But I have very few friends in the world who have that. Honestly, it's surprising.

I think that was part of the reason these books came to be. I could have put out an 800-page decree on love, but I soon realized that everything I had written on this subject fit into three main categories, or themed stories, so I separated them accordingly. Now two books are out with a third expected later this year. It'll be more about the gritty ends of love. Love doesn't always end well, and that's one of the downfalls of society. The death of love.

MS     Cacoethes actually has some grit as well. It's not all about painless living.

SC     No, you're right. Because Cacoethes is really an image of a relationship from beginning to end, it has some of that confusion and delirium mixed in. That's what happens in dating. But most of the stories involving distrust and disarray didn't fit Cacoethes. They needed to be on their own.

And a byproduct off all this disarray is dating online. How screwed up are we really going to be before we realize that it's good for sex, but not for love? If that's all there was in life it would be perfect. People are so soft today when it comes to meeting people in person. We can create these fine characters online and be whoever we want to be, even more than one person if you're on different sites, and then you go out with friends to a game or museum or bar and some beautiful person accidentally nudges you, and instead of doing what you would have done ten years ago, you tend to wait for the computer screen to come up so you can write something down and press "send.' The world is much more bashful with computers in it.

MS     So, is that why one of your pieces in Cacoethes is about meeting in a bar?

SC     Yes, "Bar Variations," which is one of the pieces broken up and found later on. The first little section reads like this:

"We'll meet in a bar. The lights will bother us as we dispense with looking like this is our first time. You'll let me know you're getting tired of the place. I'll let you know I have a place we can go. I'll kiss you in the parking lot and you'll resist me enough but not try to leave. I'll force you into the backseat, where you'll have your dress accidentally already open for me. You'll tell me as quiet as possible to get the hell out as you slip off your heels. You'll throw my dirty paws away when I reach for you, and I won't stand for it more than twice. When I push you over you'll accept it, but tell me otherwise. You won't really like the leather seats sticking to your buckled knees. Every kiss will be less sentimental than the last. If you try to write in the fogged windows you'll regret it."

The rest of the sections are obviously variations, as the title suggests, on that cool scenario of man and woman, possibly strangers or acquaintances, doing something a little dangerous and evocative upon first meeting, or to be risqué with others possibly close by. I think that's something most people want to try at some point, if they haven't already, but inhibitions get in the way. I've actually been in the backseat with women and I know that there isn't anything wrong with that. It's human nature. It's being human. We're human and we're animals both, yet we try and act a little more refined. We are, but not that much. Being human is so easy, and people want easy. It's a perfect fit, yet we have to make things complicated. I don't get it.

MS     What's your wife's favorite piece in Cacoethes?

SC     Her favorite story is one that I actually kind of dreamed on a Friday at about three in the morning called "Love Is Best Known From An Aerial View." She loves the setting and dialogue between these two people who try to draw life. I think if we all had support from our significant others on our choices and habits and dreams and desires there'd be less black eyes in the world. Her favorite short piece is this one, "I Like To See You...:"

"I like to see you looking.
You look so precious in the dark,
With your very dark eyes and eyebrows,
Shifting slow over the shadows.
I like to see you looking.

I like to see you wondering.
You look so deviled and tenderly,
With your very dark thoughts and
Wonderful scents. Are you wondering me?
I like to see you wondering.

I like to see you kissing.
You look so free when kissing me,
With your bread-like lips and stinging tongue.
Do you kiss me when I am not there? When I can,
I like to see you kissing.

I like to see you love me.
I like to be in pieces when you look at me.
You drown the world and let me float,
And are you filling my lungs with air?
I like to see you loving."

It's really a simple piece, but it mentions many subtleties that are important for a relationship to evolve and gather steam and remain deeply intact. It's wonderful when you find a strength in someone else that propels you onward. And those strengths are there; you just have to be willing to give a little, be a little more open-minded, listen a little more. People just have no idea what they can get from the world by giving a little to it. If they want to feel love, they should give some of their own away.

MS     It's not every day you see a helicopter pilot writing books on relationships.

SC     Hey, pilots can make good lovers, too. And we're pretty good with our hands.


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