“Thus, I Kick Sylvia Plath’s Brilliant Dead Ass” – A Conversation with Misti Rainwater-Lites

 mistiMisti Rainwater-Lites is the author of numerous books, including the phenomenal Bullshit Rodeo. Her writing is fierce & vulnerable,  magical & earthy, like a glorious mixtape of punk rock & sweet slow soul & Led Zeppelin & Patsy Cline. Longtime FLAPPERHOUSE readers may remember her piece “Angels Howling in the Trees,” which appeared in our very first issue. 

Our managing editor Joseph P. O’Brien recently spent a day text-messaging with Misti about her writing, as well as Deadpool, David Lee Roth, Gertrude Stein, and much much more…

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Joseph P. O’Brien: Bullshit Rodeo is called a novel, but it feels like one of the rawest, most fearlessly transparent books I’ve ever read. Can you give an idea how much of it is true to life? Or would you prefer to keep a blurry boundary between your fiction & non-fiction?

Misti Rainwater-Lites: People have mistakenly referred to Bullshit Rodeo as a memoir and creative nonfiction. It’s neither. It’s a novel the same way Tropic of Cancer and How to Save Your Own Life are novels. I took my life…the very real horror and heartache…and turned it into a novel. I’ve never had sex with a fry cook. There really was a dead butterfly.

JO’B: The first book I finished in 2016 was The Bell Jar, and you reference Sylvia Plath a few times in Bullshit Rodeo, so that was fresh in my mind while reading your book. I’d keep wondering if Plath’s character might have ended up a lot like your character if she’d been born 40 years later in Texas instead of Boston. Was The Bell Jar a conscious inspiration for you?

MR-L: No, I wasn’t thinking of The Bell Jar when I wrote Bullshit Rodeo. Here’s some background. I was revising a horror novel entitled Mordiscado in 2009. I was talking to a good friend and fellow writer on the phone and he told me I needed to write what I knew. I needed to write Texas. I said, “Shit. It’s hard enough LIVING Texas. I can’t write it!” He brought up a favorite writer of mine, fellow native Texan Larry McMurtry.  The Last Picture Show is one of my favorite novels of all time. Larry took pieces of his life or life he was on the periphery of in Archer City, which isn’t too far from Bridgeport (my birthplace) and Seymour, which is where my parents and maternal grandparents grew up and fell in love, and made it into a novel which later became a damn fine film.

I admire Sylvia Plath, of course, but I can only relate to her on a limited level. She was born to educated upper class parents in New England. She led a charmed, accomplished life…which was rendered null and void due to her severe mental illness. Maybe if Sylvia Plath had been born in Texas to working class teenagers in 1973 she would be alive now in donut pajamas, set to finally receive a BFA at the age of 43. But Plath was genetically blessed. I’m genetically fucked. Or maybe we should flip that. She was brilliant but died too soon in a horrific way. I possess average intelligence and I’m alive in the glorious 21st century where we have billions of options, none of them terribly appealing. But there’s always karaoke and vibrators and Valero coffee. I took my son to see Deadpool last Saturday and made him chocolate covered strawberries for Valentine’s Day. Thus, I kick Sylvia Plath’s brilliant dead ass.

JO’B: I won’t argue with you kicking Plath’s ass as a writer. I gave your book 5 stars on Goodreads but only 4 to The Bell Jar. Your book is way funnier.

How did you like Deadpool, by the way? I didn’t want to see it at first because I’ve got such superhero movie-fatigue, but everyone seems to be saying I should see it anyway.

MR-L: I’m honored as hell. Thank you! There has to be juxtaposition in any work of art in order for it to truly work and resonate with people. Light and dark. Heavy and light. Dio sang it best. “It’s heaven and hell!”

I was dragged into the Marvel universe by my son. When I was a kid I collected Archie comics and I watched the Hulk TV show. But I wasn’t a comic book/action hero nerd…although I adored Flash Gordon and bought the soundtrack as soon as it came out. I bought my son a bunch of Deadpool comics last year. I dug the character because he’s a perverted subversive smart-ass. My mom and ex said “Don’t take him to see Deadpool!” I disobeyed because it meant so much to my boy. He told me I could cover his eyes during the “bad parts.” He’s heard profanity since he was in utero. I’m pro sex pro candor pro nudity. I loved the sex scene (Deadpool being rode by Vanessa to “Calendar Girl”) and the topless bar scene but I covered my boy’s eyes. The torture scene disturbed me. I didn’t want either one of us to see that shit.

Then he was watching The Walking Dead with his dad on Sunday night and a little boy got his face ripped apart by zombies. Jesus fucking Christ. How is that acceptable viewing for a kid?  And when my son was a toddler my mom shoved that Veggie Tales bullshit down his throat. Okay. Yeah. Let’s teach kids to eat vegetables then show them a bunch of annoying talking vegetables that trust Jesus. I give up.

JO’B: I’m lucky my family never tried to force any Christian cartoon propaganda on me when I was a kid, but I did get that odd double standard with violence & other “adult” material. My family would watch something superviolent like Robocop together but my dad would always shield my eyes from any sex or nudity. Now I did turn out to be an awkward late-bloomer sexually, but I won’t say that’s because of parenting. After all, it’s not like watching fake violence made me any more comfortable with real violence. But who knows?

Anyway, did your mom try to influence what you watched as a kid, like she did with your son? Were you severely restricted in what you were allowed to see?

MR-L: No, my mom was 18 when I was born. And it was 1973 so it was a different era. There was all that PBS stuff… Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers…but there were only a few hours of cartoons for kids on Saturday mornings. There wasn’t such a hyper dumbed-down Disneyfied kid culture like there is today.

I watched Belushi on Saturday Night Live with my dad. I saw Grease and Saturday Night Fever and Urban Cowboy and Best Little Whorehouse in Texas before I turned ten. I learned about sex from my babysitters and my mom’s New Woman magazines. I was brought up in the Southern Baptist church. Ultra conservative and traditional. They take the Bible literally. But my childhood was a weird mixed bag. Sex and violence via pop culture, fire and brimstone every Sunday and young parents who didn’t know what the hell they were doing. I was sexual early on. Had my first orgasm when I was 12. Gave it to myself. Inspired by David Lee Roth on MTV.

JO’B: Van Halen video, or solo Roth?

MR-L: Van Halen. “Jump” and “Panama.” That red spandex and the white towel did it for me. But I also adored him solo. “Just a Gigolo” and “California Girls.” Swooncake. (Swooncake is my invention. I use that word whenever a song or person deeply affects me.)

JO’B: I was born in ’81, but I remember those videos very well. I don’t know if the “California Girls” video is actually my first memory of seeing women in bikinis, but it might as well be. Funny how much of my early memories feel like they were edited by MTV.

“Swooncake” is a wonderful word, by the way. I’m gonna have to add that to my vocabulary. And speaking of wonderful words, that reminds me of “ebullience.” I love that word because you don’t have to know what it means to know what it means. It tells you what it means by how it sounds. And I love that it seems to be one of your favorite words. A lot of writers seem hesitant to use the same word a lot, but you don’t mind repeating “ebullient.” I remember the moment I heard many of my favorite words, like “pulchritude.” Do you remember the first time you heard of “ebullient”?

MR-L: As much as I use ebullient and ebullience I should recall the first time I saw those words but I don’t. Maybe it was Erica Jong describing Henry Miller. I’ve noticed lately that a lot of writers overuse shrugging in their novels or stories. “Shrugging” bugs the shit out of me. And “literally.” I loathe that word. I remember the first time I saw the word “numinous.” I mention this in Bullshit Rodeo. I asked a friend if he found me attractive and he described me as “numinous” and “euphonious.” Swooncake.

I love how Gertrude Stein plays with the English language in Tender Buttons. She isn’t saying anything but she says / writes it so well that it becomes music. I know a lot of people dismiss her writing as pretentious but to me it’s revelatory. We get mundane, sensible information all the time. The news. Instructions. Didactic bullshit. Other people’s diary entries / social media status updates. It’s nice sometimes when reading to take a break from the ordinary, to find yourself in a strange land without a map. The beauty is in the sound, not in the sense.

JO’B: I haven’t read Tender Buttons, but I remember reading Stein’s Everybody’s Autobiography in college and it was like learning a foreign language. At first I couldn’t understand anything but after a while I grokked it all and it was like a beautiful symphony I didn’t want to end. I could see some of that style in Bullshit Rodeo; even though much of it is fairly straightforward prose, sometimes you verge into passages that feel very stream-of-consciousness, and it’s very musical & intoxicating. When it comes to your writing process, does it tend to be more deliberate & precise, or more stream-of-consciousness? Or a mixture?

MR-L: When I was writing Bullshit Rodeo, all I knew was that I wanted to die. I was in excruciating psychic pain. There’s no way I could have written it as a straight linear narrative solely about my hellish life in rural Texas. I had to put some California and flights of fancy in there. It’s the juxtaposition thing again. Heaven and hell. It’s eating candy after swallowing the nastiest cough syrup imaginable. Chasing hot bottom shelf tequila with cold Mexican beer. I don’t like being confined to a mundane linear narrative.

I wrote my first novel in 2005 for NaNoWriMo. I signed up for the contest having no idea what I would write about. Then I woke up one morning and realized I was going to write about a constipated loner chick who spent so much time on her toilet trying to shit that it was going to start talking to her in Ozzy Osbourne’s voice. I enjoyed writing that book. It’s linear and mired in the mundane but the magic realism saves it. All the novels I’ve written since Bullshit Rodeo have been nonlinear with much more stream-of-consciousness. I’m channeling Kathy Acker and Gertrude Stein. I wish Yoko Ono would adopt me. I still have so much to learn. I’ve repurposed my copy of Grapefruit. I love Yoko but I’ve enjoyed making her book my own.

JO’B: I’m sorry to hear you were in such pain, but I’m glad you at least got a great book out of it. And I need to read the rest of your novels asap.

When you say you “repurposed” your copy of Grapefruit, do you mean you put your own art & writing into it?

Thank you. Yes. I need to work on it. It’s a thick little book.

JO’B: If you ever published your own version of Grapefruit, I would buy it. Are you working on any books right now?

MR-L: Thank you. No. I’m too overwhelmed. Graduating in May. I’ve been on disability since 2011. About to get off, work full time. I need to revise Walking the Earth and Fuckerbutt Happy Time. Then write MOUNTAIN. All caps intended.

JO’B: Are those novels, poetry collections…?

MR-L: Nonlinear novels. Walking the Earth was at lulu. I deleted it. Gonna revise. Fuckerbutt Happy Time is my dismal field research in San Antonio. Trying to replace the plumber who inspired WTEMOUNTAIN will be more mythological. Tom Robbins meets Kathy Acker. The protagonist will gun her dad down in front of the Alamo then kidnap the DA’s little girl and haul ass to Mexico. She may start a revolution. She’ll peddle her pussy along the way.

District Attorney. Sorry. I’m eating Pringles.

JO’B: Yes! Kathy Acker + Tom Robbins sounds like a winning formula. Has a whiff of Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, but even more badass. Please write that one as soon as you can. I’ll help you workshop if you need.

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