You really should read: The Great Floodgates of the Wonderworld, his upcoming memoir about surfing in New York City
The head of the Independent Publishing Resource Center, Hocking is a superstar of the DIY publishing world, not to mention a frequent contributor to skater mags and the editor of Life and Limb, an anthology of skateboard-centric stories. Hocking also wrote the only really good story in the recent Portland Noir collection. Noon Sunday, Oct. 11, with Matthew Stadler, Charity Heller Hogge and Kevin Sampsell. Wieden Kennedy Stage.
What's your personal writing ritual?
I try to wake up every morning between 6:30 and 7:30 and sit down with my laptop for at least an hour or two. The benefit is that we're still plugged into the dream world at this time. And it helps me to think of writing as a semi-monastic pursuit—I'm big into taking creative vows and making public commitments to write every day. This is a core part of my own practice as well as the creative writing classes I teach through the Independent Publishing Resource Center.
What are your favorite themes to write about?
I'm really interested in the archetypal theme of descent. Like Dante's descent into the underworld, or Ahab's final descent in Moby Dick, or more contemporary iterations in books like Jesus' Son by Denis Johnson or Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. It's a compelling metaphor for the way so many of us get stuck in our selves, through relationships gone bad or depression or drugs or whatever. What interests me about hitting bottom is the subsequent crawling toward the light, this kind of gritty rebirth theme that I constantly circle around in my writing.
The most beautiful word in the English language is: Ocean.
It's one of the few words that actually sounds better in English than Spanish or French.
What authors made you want to pick up a pen in the first place, and why?
I have kind of a bizarre obsession with Melville and Moby Dick. I'm also inspired by Junot Diaz, Raymond Carver, Ariel Gore and David Foster Wallace.
Fight Club time: If you could fight one author (or critic), who would it be and why?
Great question, because I often fantasize about fist-fighting Tucker Max—the guy who wrote this misogynist, inane book I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell. He probably has six inches and 50 pounds on me, but I think I could give him a serious run for his money.
Name a book you think is highly overrated. Be honest.
Empire Falls by Richard Russo.
I'm currently working on it. It's a memoir called The Great Floodgates of the Wonderworld; it chronicles the three years I lived in New York City, where, simultaneous with my Melville fixation, I got seriously obsessed with the ocean and surfing (yes, you can actually surf there).
Most recent nightmare:
I recently dreamed I was in a community theater production of something called "The Werewolves of London." I was playing the lead werewolf, but by the night of the show I still hadn't even read the script. And there were hundreds of people in the audience! Fortunately my only part was to stand behind the curtain and howl.
Your cure for writer's block:
I don't really believe in writer's block. I have felt a general sense of being "creatively blocked" many times—in fact, probably more than I've felt productive. But even during these dry times I was always writing something, even if it was total garbage. I really believe in the process approach to writing: allowing yourself, as Anne Lamott says, to write "shitty first drafts," and then continually revisethem until you have something readable.
Pessimistic question: Will you keep writing even after people stop reading?
There's a lot of fretting about the future of the book and the imperiled state of literacy right now. People's reading habits are obviously changing. But the advent of TV back in the 20th century didn't kill reading as many predicted, and neither will any current technological trends.
Cautiously optimistic question: Obama? Discuss.
Do a YouTube search for "Obama" and "Body Surfing." Despite his flaws, the fact that the POTUS knows how to surf gives me serious hope.
Share one thing you've had to change in your everyday life thanks to our current recession.
I'm a writer and the director of a literary nonprofit (iprc.org), so I'm used to living very lean. I can't honestly say my daily life has changed that much.
Please paste a short paragraph from a story you're currently working on:
This is a passage from The Great Floodgates of the Wonderworld; it's about my friend Andy Kessler, who just passed away this summer:
"There's something that happens between people who surf together, this alchemical bonding process that comes from partaking in intense physical activity, from looking after one another out on the sea, and watching him float by on a plunging wave I felt such warmth for Kessler—the same guy who'd told me to get out of his town the first time I'd met him. Despite his outer abrasiveness, he had what can only be described as soul. It was in his surfing and his skating for sure; it was in the way he cruised casually through life; it was especially in the way he treated other people, looked after his friends, took extra good care of so many recovering addicts with all their endless needs, cravings, complaints. He was the kind of person you always wanted to be around; if he showed up for a session you knew it was going to be good. But good isn't a strong enough word—surfing and skating with Andy was transcendent, because yes, you were in the presence of physical greatness—of one of the most stylish skateboarders ever, a true originator of the rolling art form—but more than that, beyond the whole East Coast living legend thing, you were in also in the presence of a pure heart."