We know the power and love of Craigslist missed connections, so many misplaced dreams on a fleeting whim. Brian Oliu takes them to a different descriptive level, pinning knots of tight moments up there for the world to capture, then gone in a 45 day span. Luckily, he saved those and dropped them into So You Know It's Me, a collection of his Craigslist posts. They're all incisive and specific, but emotionally charged, like a surgeon extracting a soul. I liked them. And they're out now from Tiny Hardcore Press, one of the best small presses to emerge in the past year or so.
Brian is down in Tuscaloosa, Alabama where he lives and works. He answered a few questions about how the collection started and what he has up next.
You actually posted these on craigslist in Tuscaloosa right? Did anybody respond?
Yes, these were originally posted on the Tuscaloosa Craigslist Missed Connection board in the late summer/early fall of 2010. I didn't really have too many responses: one from a girl in HS who said she hoped I found who I was looking for, one from someone who told me a painting I referenced was Starry Night (it wasn’t), and another one who asked me what my biggest fears were.
These stories are so specific, yet of course imagined with so many details. Did you actually see people in these places or just make up characters for places that you had been in town?
The stories are all about the same person—someone whom I loved who had passed away. Of course, when someone is gone you start seeing them in everyone and everything: the specific moments are all things that did happen.
Were there any places that you wanted to do but just didn't work out for whatever reason?
You know, there were a few I thought about, but I knew that there were some specific spots that I needed to mention. There were a couple that would've worked out well, say, the park where George Wallace made his schoolhouse door stand, but I decided to go with some others instead. I had considered talking about one of Tuscaloosa's iconic barbecue places, but I opted to use 'My Kitchen' instead as I wanted to talk about the creation of things, the assembling of food, the act of cooking as it seemed much more intimate.
How would these have been different if you had used a different town? You could've made them up and posted them in any town, right?
I will say that these seem very Tuscaloosa specific to me–certainly could have used them in another town, but I wanted it to be where I was currently living and I feel some of the elements capture things very specific to a small college town. It wouldn't have worked in my hometown in New Jersey. In a way, Tuscaloosa is a mystical town: obviously in light of the tornadoes it has taken on another image, but even before that it is a strange place—the town's name itself sounds magical. Barry Hannah lived/wrote/drank here. Margaret Atwood wrote 'A Handmaid's Tale' here. It's kind of a neat thing to think that those unfamiliar with Tuscaloosa believe that the places I list in the book are the *only* things actually in Tuscaloosa as well.
I've read some stuff about your video game writings and i'm really interested in those. what's going on with that project?
The collection is called 'Leave Luck to Heaven'. It's almost done, aside from some editing and some sequencing. It started out as 32 lyric essays about 32 different games and has expanded a little bit to include smaller pieces that talk about other elements of videogames: bosses, items, save points, etc. I'm in the process of looking for either an agent or a publisher and I'm really excited about it and have really fallen in love with the collection as a whole. It also gives me an excuse to talk about videogames with just about everyone so that obviously gets me excited!
It seems that in both cases, there's not much plot per se to a missed connection short or a video game short, but very intense singular moments. what about this writing clicks with you? why not some moveable plot pieces?
I consider myself a nonfiction writer, specifically a lyric essayist. To me, writing that delivers specific moments as well as emotion and reactions are extremely exciting to me and is the style of writing that I am most interested in. I've never been one for plot or character development, mostly because I never really attempted it aside from some (totally awesome) horror stories I wrote when I was in 6th grade. In that sense I pair my work moreso with poetry/poetics than the elements that one associates with fiction/prose. The goal for me in terms of my writing is to make someone the reader feel something, and so I feel those small moments have the most power.
What have you been doing this summer?
I just finished a road trip/book tour/eating tour with a couple of friends. We did about 4700 miles in about 18 days and raised $1500 dollars for tornado relief in Tuscaloosa and in Joplin, ate some amazing food, and generally had a blast. Other than that, I've been finishing up a map-making project about New Jersey, doing some final edits on the Nintendo essays, and doing a few other assorted writing projects.