With thanks to Meg Pokrass for this great interview! And thanks to Nathaniel for such hilariously wonderful answers!
Nathaniel Tower is a writer, teacher, runner, coach and juggler. He is the founding editor of the literary magazine Bartleby Snopes. His short fiction has been published in over 200 online and print journals and has been nominated for numerous awards. In 2011, MuseItUp Publishing released his first novel, A Reason to Kill. Several months later, his first novella,Hallways and Handguns, followed. A collection of short fiction tentatively titled Nagging Wives and Foolish Husbands is set to be released through Martian Lit during 2013. In November 2012, Nathaniel set a world record by running a mile backwards while juggling in 8 minutes and 22 seconds. The record has been confirmed by The Book of Alternative Records. For more of his crazy antics, visit http://www.nathanieltower.
1. Nate please tell us what led you to juggling and your devotion to it. Does it make you feel good, is it like a runner's high?
Coercion led me to juggle. It wasn't quite gun-to-your head coercion. More like, learn to juggle if you want to be cool. So I learned. And I became cool. What's cooler than someone tossing three objects in the air and catching them in a repeated pattern?
Joggling (running while juggling), on the other hand, transcends coolness. It's impossible to watch someone joggle (unless of course you are capable of doing it) without admiring the pure finesse and athleticism involved. I joggle because I embrace the challenge. And I like the attention. Sure, I could run around on the roads, getting in the way of cars, while wearing really short shorts that show off pale thighs. But that just makes people mad. Do that while juggling? You make the world a happier place.
2. How does juggling affect your world view?
Juggling makes me realize that the world really just wants to be happy. All the problems in the world could just be solved if everyone was happy. Not too long ago, a creepy guy followed me for a mile in his car. I thought he was going to kill me. He looked like the killing type. Turned out he just thought it was cool that I was juggling while running (see my response to the first question about how juggling makes you cool). If I hadn't been juggling, he might've killed me. I know that most people are good at heart. They just need something to make them smile. Without juggling, I would think the world was an evil place filled with bad people.
3. What age were you when you began writing?
My first poem was published at age nine. It was in one of those scam books that publishes every submission they get because they know parents will buy tons of copies. My teacher at the time thought my poem about leaves falling was brilliant. It was. Totally existential. Let me share a couplet:
When the wind does not blow
No further will they go.
No further will they go.
You know, most people thought my parents wrote that for me. They didn't. My dad's a chemical engineer. You think he could come up with something that deep?
Well, given my success and the legions of fans, I sort of became a recluse and didn't write much of anything again until college. Well, I wrote some things on some ancient word processing program, mostly stuff about warlocks and the like. But those documents were all burned because I couldn't handle the stardom. So I wrote some profanity-laced poems in college, because I was so filled with angst! Then, something happened and my angst went away, so I shelved all those poems and wrote poems that expressed my deep world view. Then I realized I knew nothing about the world and shelved those poems. I took some years off and decided that I wasn't a poet. I was a fiction writer, born to write profound things about people with hands made of oats or people emerging from the womb with magical bayonets. But I'm not a one-trick pony. I wrote a story about beautiful other-worldly vampires that soared to the top at Fictionaut. I'm expecting to get some calls from some of the big publishing houses soon. I hear Penguin is interested in a collection of my six-minute stories. I've only written one so far, but I can write others. It only takes about six minutes to do one. I think I can pump out ten in an hour. Heck, if they called me right now, I could have the collection finished before the end of the business day.
Anyway, my serious writing career began in 2008. But I've always written.
4. What did it feel like to be placed in the Guinness Book of World Records for juggling and running backwards. How has it changed your life?
Actually, Guinness is pretentious and rarely accepts new record categories, so I am only in the Alternative Book of Records, which I think is even better. There's a direct link on their website to my video. And they sent me a certificate. Honestly, I didn't feel any different until I received the certificate. That piece of paper, printed in color on cardstock, made me realize that I can do anything. I'm waiting to get my endorsement checks for millions. I haven't heard back from Nike, Asics, Under Armour, or any other company yet. I think it's because they are all engaged in some crazy bidding war over me.
5. I understand you may combine juggling with writing in some way. What are you looking to do here? My God, what are the rest of us to think?
Glad you asked. I actually recorded my first juggling/writing performance this weekend. It was inspired by Robert Vaughan's interview on Bud Smith's radio show. I wrote a story in response to his prompt, "I moved into a basement apartment," and then I recorded myself juggling while reading/improving the story. My video equipment kind of sucks, but I went all out on the performance. I even recorded the video in the basement. It really fits. I have some other ideas up my sleeve, although I think juggling to the content/rhythm of the story is the best idea I've had so far in terms of being the world's first wruggler (someone who writes while juggling).
6. Tell us about this freaky new feature on your wonderful blog, the one called Cold Reads.
So I sit in an icebox and read a story until I turn blue.
Actually, that's not what it is. I invite an author to send me his or her craziest/funniest story, and I record an audio version of it. I get one take, and don't read the story ahead of time at all. I've had a lot of positive feedback so far. The lineup has been great. Bud Smith, CS DeWildt, Meg Tuite, Len Kuntz, Stephen V Ramey, and many more. I think I have ten episodes worth of approved authors so far, with a few more in the works. The submission process is interesting, since I don't read the stories ahead of time. If I do record a story and hate it, I just won't put up that episode. If I record a story and fuck up a lot, then I'll still publish the episode. I think it's become this thing where people want to challenge me, want to see if they can get me to bust out laughing or stumble over words. I have a few words that I'm just bad at pronouncing, so if you sneak any of those in, it'll be an interesting experience for everyone. Honestly, I'm really bad at reading ridiculous scenes of violence. I often find them funny to read. Not the really gory shit. Just the dark humor type of violence. Like in American Psycho, when Patrick Bateman kills Paul Allen with an axe to the face. Now that's funny. I'd crack up reading that scene.
7. Talk about vocal nervousness and insecurity. Were you taunted as a child? At the mercy of sadistic mute nuns?
Everyone's taunted as a child, right? The nuns didn't do much to me. I don't remember any ruler smackings. Just forced menial labor. I think the nuns were rendered powerless shortly before I entered the school system. But I wish I had stories about nuns hitting me. There's nothing more bad ass than getting beaten up by someone who has dedicated her life to spreading the good work of Jesus.
When I was eight or seven or nine or something like that, I "won" some stupid drawing and had to read the weather forecast on the radio station. Great prize. Then, at school a few days later, at an all-school assembly, they played the tape of my forecast. So I'm just sitting there, trying to be cool, when this hissing and crackling tape of my pre-pubescent wounded chipmunk voice comes on and talks about clouds and shit. It was a lot to get over.
While we're on the topic, I'll confess something huge. I had a speech impediment until I was ten or twelve. I couldn't pronounce my 'R's. I couldn't pwo-nounce them, that is. Seriously. But I can now, after all my speech therapy. I could be a damn pirate if I wanted to be. That's inspirational. That's why I wanted to make sure there was an 'R' in the title of my podcast. To prove all those naysayers wrong. They all said I'd never make it big as a podcaster. Well, look at me now!
8. What is it like to read very embarrassing parts of stories?
Well, I guess it's embarrassing. Well, it's not actually embarrassing to read it. But I suppose if my wife came downstairs while I was recording a line about a crooked spotted cock in my face, then I might be embarrassed. But she knows better than to listen when I'm reading. She's a good wife.
9. Do you juggle many things in life? Do you run backwards?
I only run backwards while juggling. Otherwise, I try only to move forward. Why back away from what's ahead?
I want to try running while juggling scissors. Forward of course.
Sometimes, I'm afraid I do too much. I can only juggle four balls at a time. Working on five. But in life, I am teaching, coaching, raising a kid, being a husband, writing, editing/managing Bartleby Snopes, blogging, podcasting, juggling, etc. It gets hectic, and sometimes I feel I can't do everything I want to do. There's never enough time, is there? I've adapted to this 6 hours of sleep schedule. I just read an article that says you can't adapt to less sleep, that you want be as productive. The people who did that study need to come look at my schedule.
10. What is the main personal goal you have, at this time. What do you hope to accomplish in the next year?
I assume you mean other than juggling scissors while running.
I feel like I need to better find my place in life. I want to make a career out of writing/publishing/editing/literature/something like that. I know we all do. And I know what a risk it is to try. But I want to try.
In the next year, I want to finish the novel I've been working on, The Funeral Attendee. It's about a guy who gets paid to attend funerals. It's this big underground thing, in the book anyway. Funeral homes are paying people to attend funerals to make them look more populated in order to make it seem like the funerals are successful. I think it's better than it sounds. I'm terrible at writing book blurbs. Maybe a goal is to write better book blurbs.
11. What are you obsessed with?
Eating baby carrots. I have to eat at least thirty a day.
Mainly, I'm obsessed with doing too many things. Of course I'm obsessed with writing, but that's boring. My other main obsession is music. Discovering new artists. Collecting more music than I could ever listen to in a decade. I look for new albums to listen to every day. I collect vinyl records. I can't resist colored vinyl. Want me to buy something? Release it on speckled red/blac vinyl. I will buy it, probably without ever listening to it beforehand. I'm not a superfan of any TV shows or movies or books. I don't hole up in the basement playing dress up or anything weird like that.