Postface [An Interview with Buddy J. Finowicz]

by Matthew Breen

In light of what was a somewhat personalised essay on the writer Buddy J. Finowicz, I have opted to make use of pre-existing material by way of a postface. Better that Finowicz is given an opportunity to articulate himself, than the reader relies on my own solipsistic tendencies.

In May 1996, Finowicz was interviewed by word/vision, a Denver-based literary magazine that has now been out of print for several years. Finowicz was always notoriously difficult in such situations. Typically, he would storm out of interviews (especially if any mention was made of the Syndicate 7 film), or torment the more naive journalists with rambling monologues of irrelevant nonsense. However, he and word/vision editor-in-chief Miles Mason had been acquaintances for many years, and out of a mutual respect, a long, fruitful conversation took place. This conversation was edited to a 6-page article, and from this article I have extracted a few key passages.

(Note: The following material is used for illustrative purpose only, and not for commercial gain or self-promotion.)

Miles Mason: Why do you write books?

Buddy J. Finowicz: For reasons impossible to verbalize.

MM: Can I pinpoint a moment, then, when you decided to start writing fiction? Much has been made of your return from Vietnam in 1968.

BJF: Vietnam is as good a time to chalk it to as any. After I returned to America I realised I had to change the course of my life, and follow a different directive to the one I had before getting drafted.

MM: What was the change, and what in Vietnam had spurred this change?

BJF: Before being drafted, I had grown accustomed to a life of compromise. I thought local journalism was my career. I had forgotten about the cosmic power of storytelling. This is something of which I possess an inherent understanding. It has been this way since the moment I came screaming into the world; you are born with it.

In Vietnam I witnessed this same world at its most extreme. I watched life and death and humanity and inhumanity and the whole goddamn shebang at its best, its worst, its craziest, its ugliest, its rawest… My return to fiction writing was not an active decision as so much as an inevitable response. As Kandinsky described it: an ‘inner necessity.’

MM: That presupposes a certain element of destiny. Do you believe your work figures into some higher providence?

BJF: We are all pawns in a game beyond our understanding. All I want is for my piece to move across the board in interesting and eloquent ways.

[...]

MM: Your most recent book, Our Father’s Vessel, is a collection of short stories. How does the process of writing a short story compare to that of a full-length novel?

BJF: Oh, I can just get them done more quickly. I can write perhaps a short story a day. Sometimes more.

MM: Does that swiftness of production appeal to you?

BJF: Yes. It is a strategy whereby one can avoid one of the greatest pitfalls of writing, which is over-refinement. This can only ever dilute your vision. Understand this: restraint, taste, refinement, perfection are the worst words a true writer can ever hear. Keep it raw, keep it fresh. Don’t cut the junk.

MM: It’s curious–you are continuing that Beat tradition of stream-of-consciousness prose. This is a characteristic that is, dare I say it, old-fashioned amongst current trends in writing. Do you see that aspect of your work as an active reference, or response, to Beat/counter-culture literature?

BJF: No. What I am doing predates the Beat writers. It predates Joyce and Ulysses for that matter. I am doing in literature what the cavemen were doing with painting in the Lascaux caves, sixteen thousand years ago. It’s primal, essential, pastless, futureless, eternal.

MM: And what was your relationship to that early generation of writers–Burroughs, Kerouac, Gregory Corso? Did you know any of them?

BJF: They were writing while I was still in grade school, damnit! Actually, I briefly met Bill (William Burroughs) in Paris. We were both just passing through. He was a nice guy, but he was also thirty years older than me. I was intimidated.

Those joes were my elders; they were kind of impenetrable.

MM: Hunter S. Thompson once lamented that he was ‘too young to be Beatnik, and too old to be a hippie.’ Now, you weren’t too old be a hippie. Can you situate yourself in that generation? Did you feel you were an active part of a counter-culture?

BJF: Sure. Texas ain’t that far from California, Miles. But we were never self-proclaimed gurus or visionaries or revolutionaries. We weren’t trying to change the world. I was friends with writers, poets, musicians, artists, philosophers, all manner of people… What we all had in common was a desperate clinging to a certain kind of lifestyle. It wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t romantic, it was just relentless… I’d say there was a point in the mid-sixties when I hadn’t gotten more than three hours sleep a night, or more than one meal a day, for about a year. Let’s not be nostalgic about this.

MM: And things have changed for the better now?

BJF: Well, drugs are so much more expensive these days.

[...]

MM: And may I talk about the movie adaptation of Syndicate 7? (Dir. Francis Ford Coppola, 1994.) Your reputation precedes you in this matter.

BJF: Sure you can talk about it. It paid for this house, and the pool outside.

MM: How do you feel about the movie?

BJF: It’s a drooling, crippled little runt-creature; it should never have come into existence. This is as much my fault as anybody else’s. Like any other source of guilt and shame, you just gotta deal with it in whatever way you find best.

MM: The guilt, for you, lies in letting the filmmakers option the book in the first place? Or in not involving yourself in adaptation process more than you did? Were you ever given the opportunity to write or assist in writing the screenplay?

BJF: Look, here’s how it went down. It’s 1992. I get a call from some gal behind a desk at Warner Bros. telling me that Francis Ford Coppola wants to make a movie out of Syndicate 7, and would I like to come to the office to talk some more about it. Before I know it, I’ve been put on a plane to Los Angeles. I’m drinking an espresso with the guy who made those Godfather movies and a whole bunch of other guys who have white teeth and crisp suits. I hear sums of money going round that make my head hurt. Then I’m given a piece of paper with a dotted line to sign. I believe in the military they call this the ‘Shock and Awe’ strategy.

A combination of dumb-ass naivety and plain old American dollar-grabbing greed led me to sign over the rights to Syndicate 7. They took my book, and tried to fashion their own kind of film-school, Academy Award art out of it. They failed. That movie sucked. I watched it in the little theater at the studio in Burbank, and thought: ‘Never again.’

[...]

MM: Who are your more important influences?

BJF: Homer, and Cecil B. DeMille, in equal supply.

[...]

MM: Allen Stanford, critic for the Dallas Times Herald, once wrote the following statement: ‘I do not know which is the greater miracle–that there are people, few as they are, still buying Buddy J. Finowicz’s books, or that there are people, cruel as they are, still publishing them.’ Ray Bradbury, meanwhile, once said of you: ‘Finowicz is that most dangerous of things, a genius posing as a quack.’

BJF: Stanford is a critic, and so a natural bottom feeder. This is the only kind of talk we can expect from bottom feeders. But Ray is a true master of our time, and I am greatly flattered by his kind words, cryptic as they are.

I believe you are trying to illustrate a point, that point being the critical consensus of my work. The establishment has never liked me, and I don’t think it ever will.

MM: Can you explain this?

BJF: Well, I have never, ever tried to write any kind of book. By that, I mean I’ve never worried about the orthodox concept of the genre. What is a genre, except a writer’s prison? Critics, being the close-minded creatures that they are, fear that which they cannot pigeonhole. So they fear me because one minute they think they’re reading science fiction, or fantasy fiction, or detective fiction, and the next minute they’re out somewhere else altogether.

I take my reader on journeys, and journeys such as mine will inevitably frighten the weaker souls. People naturally despise that which frightens them. From Mescaline Rain (Finowicz’s debut novel) onwards, it has always been the same.

MM: What effect has this continual critical hostility had over the years?

BJF: My apartments have been small. My shoes have had big holes in them. Apart from that, nothing whatsoever. My books have been accused of being vulgar, degenerate, inept, crass, derivative, obscene, immoral–every damn word you can think of. For nearly forty years the establishment has had me down as a crackerjack hicksville trash merchant.

Now, I don’t go out of my way to shock or offend or provoke criticism. I’m not made that way. I was brought up to go about my business as quietly and diligently as possible, and that’s what I’ve always tried to do. Maybe I am a degenerate trash merchant. I’ll leave it up to others to decide. In the end I’m just me, and what I’m doing is a truthful representation of that. Leaving the world a richer place through my books would simply be an added bonus.

Voltaire got it in one. On his deathbed in 1778, the priest asks him, ‘Do you renounce Satan?’ And he replies, ‘Listen pal, now’s not the time to be making enemies!’

An extract from “The Outsider: Buddy J. Finowicz,” by Miles Mason. Published in word/vision #32 (Halderton Press) June 1996.

Matthew Breen is an artist and writer working in London.