Alan Good

Alan Good

The world needs more Alan Good in it. Not Good in it. Not Alan Goods in it. Just the one. Just more of him, aka The Alan Good.

Probably the most self-effacing writer I’ve come across in a while (in ways that make me feel inferior of my own self-effacement), I’m here to tell you that you need more Alan Good in your life.

Alan Good is the guy you want to randomly sidle up to at the bar and get a good drunk on while he tells you what life is. The guy you want to work the assembly line with to have somebody to rant better than you can and still be funny and not just angry and depressing.

He’s Larry Brown with George Singleton’s sense of humor. He’s Alan Good with Alan Good’s sense of humor.

Or rather, Alan Good’s ear for the rhythm and sound of a great story: funny, depressing, triggering, or all of the above. It’s ugly. It’s absurd. It’s brutal. And it’s real. Real in ways that you have to laugh so you don’t give a blow job to a loaded gun.

In my younger years, I used to scribble all over books, trying to memorize lines and write down things they’d inspired in my own writing. Of late, though, I’ve gotten a little lazy in the marginalia business. I’m happy just to get through a new book. So I mostly read and then fold pages I won’t come back to, maybe take a note or two in my notes app.

With Good’s War on Xmas and The Sun Still Shines on a Dog’s Ass, I couldn’t help but scribble all over the pages. I’m a sucker for one-liners and Good could give a master class in one-liners.

Here are just a few random ones that I came across flipping back through my underlines:

I have a love-hate relationship with food: I love food and I hate myself and everyone else and pretty much everything except food.

All I wanted to do was poop my pants but I had to play sexy.

When I think of all the towns the Union soldiers burned down in this region I am reminded that they didn’t burn down enough of them.

To quote Hemingway, “Fuck everything.”

I first came across Alan Good in discussing our mutual appreciation for Hank III over Hank Jr. And that might be a hot take for some of you, but it’s also how I came to find War and Xmas and The Sun Still Shines on a Dog’s Ass, which made me inspired in ways I hadn’t been since I came across writers like Barry Hannah, Larry Brown, Thom Jones, and Paul Beatty. That’s a lot of literary bagage to throw on somebody, but it’s true. That’s how happy I was to read about gigolos pooping their pants.

– the drevlow


BKD: So I know your Barn Again: a Memoir is actually a novel, aka fiction, aka lies, lies, dirty lies, so I was wondering if you’d give me the expose, the dirty deets: How’d you get from womb to City College to Sun Still Shines on a Dog’s Ass? Spare no ugly/random/humiliating detail.

AG: Well, I wouldn’t say I completely disavow that Barn Again, because there’s some parts I still think are good or funny, but it’s kind of a mess. Although some people liked it. Someone from Switzerland emailed me one time to tell me how much she liked it. She had been in Denver (where I lived at the time) on vacation and went into this store called Mutiny Info Cafe on a whim, and they had the book in stock, and at that time they had their locals section in a very prominent display (they rearranged later and buried the local books, kind of annoying) and she picked it up based on the cover and bought it and actually liked it. Which is strange to me because there are so many problems with it, but maybe I’m too hard on it. Who knows.

To be honest the how I got from womb to City College to The Sun Still Shines on a Dog’s Ass is fairly straightforward. Born in Kansas, raised in Missouri and Texas, my big dream was to move far away from Missouri, and when I did that my new dream was to become a writer and I thought I had to live in New York to do that. What I wanted was to go to Columbia, but I did a year of study abroad in college, went to England, drank too much, was hung up on this girl there, got very depressed, failed my entire year, got kicked out of the UK after overstaying my visa, came back to the States with like a 1.6 GPA, etc. So Columbia was out but I worked hard and got into City College. Went there. It was great. I loved it, even though I hated it sometimes. I love New York. Wish I could afford to live there. Long story short is I went all over the place, bumming around from Arkansas (where I met my wife) to Colorado to France and England, and eventually the greatest city on Earth, thinking I was gonna be something, a big writer, when the whole time I was nothing but a fucking dumbass from Missouri. And I’d say that’s how I got to The Sun Still Shines on a Dog’s Ass.


BKD: With the people you grew up with, the people you went to school with, and the people you write about, do you ever feel like a poseur? Probably, this is just my projection, but I often think about how if you asked anybody in my family about me writing about janitors or farmers or other “grit lit folks,” they’d laugh their asses off because of what a mama’s boy crybaby I was growing up. I also often think that as much as I try to write things that janitors, farmers, fry cooks, and other lewd, crude working-class folks would like, I know that they’d never actually read my shit. Not to say they don’t read, but if they do read, it wouldn’t be literary short stories and longass novels about suicidal shit scrubbers. After grad school, I worked for a year as an egg/burger flipper at a greasy spoon where everybody else was a former methhead/meth dealer. Somehow I let it leak that I wrote stories and everybody started asking me to write a story about them and then stopped acting like their normal selves around me. It was a real drag.

That ever get to you or you just like fuck, I am who I am and I write what I write and you can do with that what you want to? And other badass fuck-the-world shit like that.

I once interviewed an author I love and asked him who he wrote for and he basically gave me the middle finger and said he didn’t write for anybody. He writes for art and fuck all. Which fuck if I know who you should write for; all I know is if I wrote for myself or for art, I wouldn’t write at all because I hate myself and I’ve never been in spitting distance of ART.

How about you?

AG: To be honest I do often feel like a poseur, even more so when it’s spelled with a u like that. But I don’t know, who doesn’t feel that way? Who isn’t a poseur, to a degree? You know there’s a lot of gatekeeping in literature but I’ve heard people say you’re not a real cowboy if you don’t wear Wrangler jeans. There’s gatekeeping everywhere, and a premium on conformity that has always pissed me off—although in fact the only jeans I own right now that don’t have a cavernous hole in the crotch are Wranglers, so I guess that makes me a cowboy.

Where I am now, southwest Missouri, is where I mostly grew up, and all that time as a young person I had one foot in the country, one in town. My mom and I lived in a doublewide on seven acres. Landed gentry. But see my choice of saying doublewide is conscious there, just like my mom’s decision to have that trailer wrapped in faux-stone skirting to make it look like it had a foundation like a real house. There’s some social cachet if I say look I’m just a guy who grew up in a trailer. Bonus points, my parents were divorced and my dad also lived in a trailer in a trailer park.

There’s all sorts of associations there, I could play that up and turn it into a whole backstory, an identity, but the truth is it was a nice little trailer and overall a nice little trailer park. I have a lot of good memories, riding my bike up and down the single one-way road that went through the park, playing in the ditch. My mom was a nurse, my father a teacher, so I don’t know I guess I had a mixed or borderline working class/middle class upbringing. I went to Catholic school in town.

For all the time I spent in the country, it was most of the time just me and my mom, on a scrubby bit of land we didn’t farm or have much livestock on. We had cows for a hot minute because you could write it off on your taxes or something but they didn’t last long, and honestly I don’t know what happened to them, if she sold them to the slaughterhouse or just left the gate open one night and set them free.

Do I feel like a poseur? Sometimes. Yeah. I tend to write about characters who are bewildered by the world, who don’t know how anything works or what the fuck they’re doing, so that’s real. That’s me. If I feel like a poseur at all it’s not really because I think I’m writing about stuff I don’t really know about, or don’t have a right to, but more that I’m calling myself a writer, I want people to read my books, but I don’t make a living at it. I’m not taken seriously as a writer by serious people. Have a pretty small readership. Won’t ever win an award. I don’t know if I could tell you who I write for, or why I keep at it, other than I want to, I like it, it’s a compulsion.


BKD: People always have a lot of hangups with genre labels and such. And I totally get it; I don’t really feel like I fit into any label myself, not for want of trying to rip other people off to try to be more like a bunch of respectable writers than myself.

In lieu of asking you about how you would describe your label/genre, I’ll just ask you: Who were the writers and what were the books that made you want to do what you do? And continue to make you want to do what you do next?

AG: Vonnegut and Salinger were the ones who hooked me. I read Catcher in the Rye in high school, multiple times, and it set off down the track of reading again. I really started reading whatever I could get hold of, in our tiny school library, the public library. We had this used bookstore within walking distance of my house (we lived in town by then, had been for several years by then) called The Book Barn. They had records and books. Pretty awesome place. I saw Vonnegut in Back to School one day and I was like oh he’s a famous writer, I better read one of his books, so I bought a couple at Book Barn and that was it. He’s still one of my favorite writers. After that it was Hunter S. Thompson, Edward Abbey, Kafka, Robert Walser, Jerome K. Jerome, Nabokov. Wallace Stegner. I should say I discovered Jerome just wandering the stacks in the library and I picked up Three Men in a Boat (to Say Nothing of the Dog) and it was wonderful. Abbey was huge for me, more in terms of theme and attitude than style though. I wrote my master’s thesis at City College on The Monkey Wrench Gang. My favorite writers right now are Charles Portis, Percival Everett, and Paul Beatty. I have a lot of respect for a lot of other writers but these are my tops.


BKD: Piggy-backing off the whole genre thing, I was wondering how you approach politics in your writing. Of course, there’s not much escaping politics these days—whatever socio-economic class you fall into—but on the other hand I kind of miss reading Larry Brown and Harry Crews where the only references to politics were an abiding distrust of all government and big business.

In a lot of your stories, politics gets thrown around and ranted about but does so in a way that adds to the flavor of the characters instead of distracting from it.

Is that something that you ever concern yourself with—worrying that the politics will make your writing “political” and distract from the other work you do with the depths of humanity?

Worrying that it will feed into narrative of a bunch of hifalutin’ liberals patting themselves on the back and turning up their noses at “lowly redneck working-class republicans”?

AG: I see what you’re saying, but if you go read True Grit, Mattie Ross is full of political opinions, and religious opinions, which are akin to political opinions. Some of these opinions are kind of sensible and some are pretty nuts, but they all speak to the character. I don’t really know. I don’t want to be a political writer, or write propaganda, or back-patting stuff. On the other hand, I live in a world full of people who have lost their minds and seem really hellbent on making this country and this planet a shitty place to live, and if I write about that politics can’t help but enter into it. The world is absurd and I just describe it.

BKD: Both Dog’s Ass and War on Xmas came out with your press Death of Print. And I know that you work closely editing and designing books for Malarky Books. Does that ever fuck with your writing? For me sometimes, it’s like that old Flannery quote: “The more I write, the less I know about writing.” As much as I love what I do for BULL and getting to read all the great shit people send me, it can also be a real eye-opener to read through a million submissions that are using my same schtick to varying degrees of success. It’s like being in a fun-house mirror maze and not always liking what you see.

On one hand, it’s good. The more you read, the more you learn. And it also makes me more cognizant of my schtick, but at the end of the day, my writing schtick is part of who I am as a writer so I might as well give up and blow my brains out if I’m going to stop writing the things I know how to write.

It’s kind of like realizing that every story in the world has already been told so what’s the point? But the caveat being to put your own spin on it, but what if your own spin sounds about the same as about a million other people’s spin. And fuck, now just wait til ChatGPT fucks us all (he says as he loops noose over garage door opener)?

What about you?

AG: To the extent that Malarkey fucks with my writing, it’s really only the time. I’m putting in so much time on other people’s books I don’t have much time to work on my own. I just have a mess of stories and novel fragments stored in the notes app on my phone, and hopefully I’ll remember to save them before the next time I tip a kayak over and destroy my phone. So AWP is coming to Kansas City in 2024 and I was really hoping to have a new book to unleash there, on my home turf so to speak, even though I’m two hours away, and it’s not gonna happen. Not that this is a big tragedy to the world of letters. I guess I’m a little bummed, but I love Malarkey, I love working with writers, and I’m learning things to get better at promoting their books. After many years of aimless, dead end jobs, I’ve found something I’m good at and like doing. And I’ll get my new books done one day and probably put them out with Death of Print, although I would like to say I’m totally open to selling out, just for any big shot editors out there who are reading this. Sign me up. Anyway, ChatGPT sucks. It’s stupid. It’s one of those things where if you tried to satirize it you’d sound over the top, trying too hard to make a point, but there it is, in reality, just the dumbest fucking thing ever. So fuck it. Do your thing, is my philosophy. I don’t even worry about shtick, or whether everything’s been done. I told myself when I was working on the stories in Dog’s Ass that precisely because none of this matters, because the writing field is over-saturated and I’ll probably never sell a million books or get a story in The New Yorker, that I was just gonna fucking go for it. And that was fun.


BKD: One last really long-winded self-referential:

I was going to ask you about your relationship with the novel. You have a handful of connected short stories in both Xmas and Dog’s Ass, and as someone who loves short stories and rarely has time to read novels, I’ve always wondered why I feel like such a loser for having written a bunch of connected stories but never having published a novel. I always felt like the little dick field goal kicker showering after the game with all the big dick offensive lineman… until I published a novel about a loser with a little dick and now… I don’t feel like any less of a little-dicked loser.

But now that I’m asking this question I realizing what little-dicked question it is: what’s your relationship with the novel.

So fuck that.

Let’s talk about something real manly like the lyricism in your prose.

I never read when I was a kid. I was a TV junkie. And I would sneak out past bedtime to watch Carson and Letterman mostly for the comics like Pryor and Carlin.

For me early I’m writing largely came from wanting to tell a joke like those guys but me not actually being funny—in person or on the page.

This is a long way of saying that I love the music of a good story. The timing, the setup, the sound of the syllables being strung together.

Which is why l fell in love with guys like Barry Hannah and Thom Jones and Padgett Powell. Guys who could put poetry to a dirty joke about fucked up redneck shit.

Which is also why your shit made me so fucking happy. I found myself underlining one-liners on every page, underlying the alliteration and rhythm of your rants and setup lines. There are pages in my copies Xmas and Dog’s Ass that are now illegible from scribbling and underling, and I haven’t done that in years.

So what’s the deal with that? Does it come easy for you? How much of your storytelling is mimicking the rhythm of the jokes and stories you’ve heard growing up and living around Kansas and Missouri, etc.? Are there any comedians who influenced you? Obviously Vonnegut and Portis are a masterclass in the one-liner? Other authors? Also are there times where you feel like you’re trying too hard to get “cute” with the jokes?

AG: I also watched a ton of TV, but I didn’t watch much standup. I have this memory, it would have been early fourth grade at the latest because we still lived in the trailer, but I feel like it was earlier than that. I decided to do a standup act. I don’t know how I knew what standup even was, but I arranged my stuffed animals in chairs in the living room, and my mom was there and she didn’t laugh at any of my jokes. And I believe she even said it wasn’t funny.

We did have HBO for a while when my mom and I were living in Texas, and we shared a house with another divorced mom and her son. I know I watched some Carlin there, even though I was probably too young. I’ve always liked Carlin. My favorite Scooby Doo episodes were the ones where Jonathan Winters guest starred.

I was raised by TV, and I definitely heard more jokes from sitcoms and The Simpsons than from anyone in my life. The funniest person in our family was my Uncle Robbie, who was my idol from the moment I was self-aware probably, but he died when I was five. My grandpa would tell jokes, but he also died when I was young. I don’t know, the overwhelming themes of my youth are sadness and grief and isolation, so maybe I escape into jokes. I started studying comedy in my twenties because I thought maybe I could be a screenwriter. I had no idea how to become a screenwriter.

Getting back to the topic of humor in my writing, it’s interesting that people tend to focus on that, that sometimes my writing is funny, like sometimes there are just jokes in there (which is something Pynchon does, he’s someone I respect and like but not my favorite writer or anything), but I’m thinking about the stories in Dog’s Ass and at least three or four out of those nine stories are not even remotely funny. Or they’re not supposed to be at least, maybe they are and if that’s the case I really fucked up.

I think I’m still rambling because I don’t know how to answer. I can’t really say how much growing up here, how much the voices and stories I absorbed in Kansas, Missouri, Texas, and Oklahoma influenced my writing, and a lot of the things that influenced me were passing moments, chance encounters, with people and situations that were outside of my general environment. So I wouldn’t be the writer I am without coming up in this region, and I wouldn’t be the same writer if I’d never left, followed my dumb dreams to Colorado and England and New York. Rambling again.

Do I ever feel like I’m getting too cute with the jokes? I don’t know. Actually I think there’s probably parts of Xmas and Barn Again that are too standuppy, too intentionally or formulaically jokey. I don’t generally set out with the intention of writing a funny story, although to be honest “Sahara’s Law” from Dog’s Ass started out as a straight up joke. I just wrote the joke, posted it on Twitter, suddenly decided it was a story, deleted the post, saved the joke in drafts, trashed my phone jumping into a pool because my son fell in the deep end, thus losing all my drafts, rewrote the joke a few months down the line and eventually got around to writing that story.

By the way my relationship with the novel is I hope I have time to write a good one before I die.


About the Author

Alan Good is a contributing editor at Malarkey Books. He writes humor and fiction, and his writing has appeared in Timothy McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Bookslut, Atticus Review, Perversion Magazine, Memoir Mixtapes, The East Bay Review, Red Fez, Points in Case, Robot Butt, Soft Cartel, The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, and Word Riot. He is the author of a novel called Barn Again: A Memoir as well as short story collections The War on Xmas and The Sun Still Shines on a Dog's Ass