Tell me a little bit about yourself and what drove you to write the book ‘Play The Devil’?
When I was in college I wanted to be a writer. So I started writing these books and poems, and short stories. I got some stuff published towards the end of my senior year but there wasn’t any huge success. I graduated with a journalism degree but I couldn’t get a job with a journalism degree so I just kinda moved back home to New Jersey with my parents and just kept writing.
Before this interview, I read up a bit of your poetry, and it’s very terse and succinct, how did you develop that Bukowski-esque style?
I think most of it can be chalked up to writing lyrics for numerous bands that I was in. I would always be the lyricist in these groups, but the funny thing was that I played guitar, and I always knew I was never going to be good enough to do just that as any sort of career. But I always wrote lyrics better than most of my friends – and usually, the bands would always fall apart, most of the guys would either move away, or get arrested, or get hitched with a girlfriend. Anyway, lyrics usually rhymed and I kind of add that into my poetry because I’ve kept that demeanour of a dense writing style. As for the ‘Bukowski-esque’ style, I don’t consider myself stylistically similar, I’m on Instagram a lot, and there’s a lot more Bukowski-esque poets, but I’m much more of a Jim Carroll kind of guy.
You mentioned that Play The Devil offers a uniquely American experience to the Trump presidency. What did you mean by it?
I think in the U.S especially, there’s this perpetual feeling that the ‘American dream’ has kind of perished, and the world has been telling us it has been gone for a long time. But now more than ever it seems like American exceptionalism has finally been done in. Like, I’ve lived in New York for a long time now, and near this 9/11 memorial, American flags used to fly constantly. Now it seems like no more new flags are flying. As for the book’s take on the issue: it takes place a couple of years ago, but I think it offers a similar experience. I graduated in 2012 right in the middle of a recession, it was a time where everybody had to go back to their parent’s house because their degrees weren’t netting them jobs. In the book, two guys had to move back and clean pools for a living, it reminded me a lot of home, when I moved back and cleaned pools. Just dealing with feeling like a loser with no career path ahead.
What is a common trap that you see new writers falling into?
Asking your friends to read your work, you should never bother your friends with that. And they never read all of it – ever. And when they do they always have negative opinions, and they put you down. It’s really demoralizing. I stopped giving it to them and started giving it to people I didn’t know. All I can say is to submit constantly, and there will be an audience for your writing. Somebody somewhere will pick it up and a lot of magazines (even if they don’t print) will send back their opinions on your piece.
Do you think someone can write even if they don’t feel emotions strongly?
Not necessarily, my dad reads endless novels about spies taking over ships with nuclear weapons on them in like Communist Russia. And I don’t think the author wasn’t mind-numbingly bored of it by like the second time he wrote one. So yeah, you totally can. In the beginning, it’s about writing as much as you possibly can. I remember in college I used to run back to my dorm and just write for hours, and that energy goes away after a while. Even if you’re not inspired, it’s okay. To me, it’s more about the ‘want’ to write. Then again, nobody is gonna write if they’re not feeling anything towards writing.
I read a couple of excerpts of your book, and you expertly bring mundane situations to life. How do you do that?
Well, in a way I’m lucky because I’m from New Jersey and everyone here is larger than life; everyone is loud, very aggressive, and that helps. But real life is interesting I find, just going to people’s backyards in the suburbs and you realize they have a fortress of weirdness around them. You see their neuroses: how much couples hate each other, and their kids. Real life is fascinating, it’s the same reason I could never get into Harry Potter or Hunger Games. I never saw the reason to be alienated from reality, everyone is so weird, including myself, and everybody has a dark feeling.
What did you edit out of this book?
I’ve written and rewritten this book 30 times over, it was really terrible for the first twenty-nine times. But the thirtieth time it felt good. It kind of encapsulates my journey as an author: when I started the book I was kind of in my Hunter S. Thompson phase, and then John Fante towards the end. There’s still parts in there that when I read them I think ‘Why in God’s name did I phrase it like that?’
How did you progress a writer while you wrote this book?
I’m a much different person now I think. In the book, it shows that I was more optimistic when I was young. It’s about when you’re in love with people and it falls apart, and when you think you’re going to write forever and you don’t. We bought into the dream, and we all kind of failed.
What was the hardest part of the book to write?
Nothing really, the challenge was more about getting it published. It always felt like an impossibility. I read it now and I keep critiquing myself in the worst ways. I tried to edit out all the personal stuff in it, and I tried to make it a fun read. I guess the commitment is to get someone to read, so I guess the hardest part was figuring out how to keep people entertained.
You mentioned you went to Los Angeles to try and write a script for this book- what was that ordeal like?
I went to LA, I guess, because everyone reads in NY. I knew if I wanted to make a living out of it I had to go to LA, so I could write a script. I realized after three days there that I would never be able to penetrate the skin of the industry. There’s 50 million people in LA – 50 million people trying to write books, movies, and TV. They’re all the best at what they do. Also, I didn’t have a car, I was walking around lost and I just saw the decay of the city. It kept getting more and more in my head. The feeling that I was never going to make it. So I packed up after six months and moved back to NY.
Scott was gracious enough to send me a copy of his book, and I would definitely recommend snagging a copy. It is available on amazon.com.