Sloan Thill is a man who is hard to reach and who promises to be harder next time. His house sits on a seedless patch of mud off the coast of Yacolt Burn State Forest in Washington, which he later boasts has the highest number of serial criminals per square kilometre. It is a small wood cabin with no windows. Tall, leafless trees cast long shadows. There is no wind.
He is wearing pink shorts and a faded plaid t-shirt with numerous blotches which he ensures resemble the constellation Orion. His beard pokes out from under a scarf. It too has black spots. ‘The Big Dipper,’ he says.
We sit in the single room coated in crumbs of blue Styrofoam. Much of it is ripped apart revealing basic drywall. There is little furniture save for a dark wooden desk, a muck of curling yellow papers, an iron lamp wrought with rust, and ash trays stacked atop of another. They overflow. There is no bed.
Sloan lays with legs sprawled and useless, a cigarette poking out of his mouth – an extension of his tongue. He does not seem to inhale. The cancer-stick pulses down and he lights another one while simultaneously spitting the butt. It hits the floor. There are no smoke alarms in the cabin. He breathes easy, loose even; his responses coming quick and assured. He never looks at us.
This is the second interview ever conducted with the author, both of which are hosted at ProsE. He assures us it will be the last. We probe further and he silences us with the open mouth of his sleeve. ‘Begin,’ he says, ‘The Big Dipper is out tonight.’
ProsE: We thank you for coming back to interview with us at ProsE, Sloan Thill.
Sloan: You knocked on my door.
Only after the most tiring of journey. Sorry if our knock was a bit too quiet. We were tired.
Has the interview begun?
Yes. I was leading up to this question: why such seclusion?
Is it wrong to be alone?
No, but tell us why it is right for you.
Because it isn’t right for others.
What do you mean?
We are irredeemably alone.
Yes, I understand, but don’t you wish to rely on others?
No. I wish I built this house underground and cemented the opening. Those Cold War junkies were right about the Armageddon coming, particularly when it walks in with a handshake.
Ha. I understand the sense of existentialism, but what about your readers? They are necessary to your work, aren’t they?
I write. I send. Others have the responsibility of reading. If they do, they do. If they don’t, the book is still there. Like haze in the summer caught on an umbrella.
Yet even with your negligence surrounding your readers, you have sold well commercially, the best of any author in the 21st century. Do you think it’s because of your lack of care, your ennui to all reviews and other literary opinions, that catapult you to the forefront as an almost irresistible temptation?
I hope it’s because of the words inside.
It certainly is.
Well your work is characterized by unnerving style, grim characters, and grayed morals.
That’s a pretty black and white description.
Only for such a colourful author. Speaking of let’s talk about you for a while.
Because there is so little known about you, Sloan.
I’m a plastic bobblehead of the Universe.
Structuralists would agree with you. But don’t you feel like you’re more than some objective observer?
Of course. I tell the story. I start it. I end it. I shape it completely in between.
And how does, for example, your experiences in war influence your writing?
Well, you were part of the 56th Battalion? That was a sniper group, wasn’t it?
If they weren’t sniped first.
What kind of gun did you use?
A slow-motion film recorder.
We have here it was a Springfield M1903.
That’s correct. The gun hasn’t change since 1903. It was an effective water-gun back then. Left many families crying.
Your crime-thriller one eye closed would certainly corroborate that claim. Even you, Sloan, die. In the book Anders says that “Sloan Thill died in World War II. No one remembers but I do.” A lot has been written about the line – how it relates to the title by continuing almost as a sentence without a period, how it relates to your life in the war, how you write with one eye opened by recounting the emotion of the experiences but cancel the rational eye by mixing it with the fantastical – but what did you mean in writing it?
I’m doing the next best thing.
Ask my muse.
And who is that?
Dead people who make others feel alive.
And who are some of those people?
What do you mean?
Everyone has died.
To have a war legally go on like it did, to have people die for no reason but for being people, for having governments collude in a high-stake poker games that resulted in a pretty profitable soap company, everyone died. War kills all. There are no innocents. There are no enemies. Everyone is against everyone for everyone is in everyone else.
Well I’m not against you.
Should you be bred to be, you’d stab my eye out. I recommend the Springfield.
I only have a pen.
Can I get back to your writing?
Can I get back to it?
I hope so. It’s always compelling. Which leads me to the next question: there’s a consistent theme in your writing of unknown dread. But you don’t stop there. Often, this kind of inescapable dread and loss of life is coupled with beautiful descriptions and brief moments of amazement at the mundane and boring. Anders is afraid of blue skies because that means planes would have a better view but he still can’t stop looking at them, detailing their colours with rich appreciation. Why do you couple the beautiful with the ugly?
Because shit doesn’t always stick to a wall. Sometimes, it flies onto the Mona Lisa.
What do you mean?
In war, bullets lose their excitement. They are everywhere. What’s really interesting is when a dirty, urine-filled mud-path that you’ve used as shelter from getting obliterated looks like Rita Hayworth one moment, your mother another, then Rita Hayworth again.
On that note: your parents feature heavily in your work. It was said in The New York Times that Father Timeless was an elegy to your father.
Sorry. Your father.
Who is that?
Never heard of him.
Understandably. How do you think leaving your mother, Francesca Thill, when you were born affected you in writing Father Timeless?
I don’t remember him so how could I say anything remotely elegiac?
Perhaps your imagination, the millions of versions you have thought of, inform your conception of him?
I am half of his genes and it means I must try twice as hard to alleviate his inadequacies.
Yes, apologies. What about your mother?
What about her?
How does she feature in your work?
She killed herself. Left a note that said, “I’m happy now.” I don’t know what it meant. Still don’t.
Sorry. I didn’t mean to bring up –
Such is investigative journalism. Digging up the dirt even if it’s patted down.
Sorry. Really. If I can change the subject: it’s said you have redefined the whodunit genre by infusing a playwright’s cadence and structure alongside magic realism. Who do you think were your influences?
Anyone worth reading and ultimately, who would want to read your work too.
Did you ever mimic others?
All do. I prefer copying my book directly from the complete Oxford English Dictionary.
Yes, but authors? Anyone in particular mirrored what you wished to produce?
Those that had no choice but to write because to do anything else was death. Milosz. Lagerlof. Deledda. Gogol. Marquez.
Do you still read them?
I must remove the books from my shelves first.
So are you working on something now?
Do I look to be?
Ha. Another question: in a room so dark and without any windows, you must get scared some times.
Not even when the lamp goes out?
I have man’s greatest discovery whittled down to a glow-stick.
Well, what are you afraid of then?
Any tips for burgeoning writers?
Don’t be interviewed. Write.
Thank you, Sloan. Enjoy the Big Dipper tonight.
You’ll do the same, I hope.
Good. Some great writing up there in the sky.