Scott McClanahan: What’s Up With Those Book Covers?

When I discovered the stories of Scott McClanahan last year, I was instantly enthralled with his natural storytelling voice and freaky funny tales. There’s no pretense to Scott’s work. It’s like you’re just dropped right into the middle of these fantastic and true stories. It’s like a sweet blend of my favorite southern writers, Larry Brown and Harry Crews. Reading McClanahan is like listening to a good friend telling you his best real-life stories on your back porch on a humid night. And you both got a nice whiskey buzz going.

And I’m going to take a wild guess and say that’s what this Friday night at Ampersand will be like. Scott makes his first northwest appearance at a special outdoor, back patio reading with Portlanders Patrick deWitt (The Brothers Sisters) and Jenny Forrester (Guns, God, and Irony). It starts at 7:30 and there’s free beer from Ninkasi. A good time and hella-great stories are guaranteed. He’s also reading in Seattle on Saturday night.

But what’s up with those covers?! I didn’t mind the first one but the 2nd and 3rd books from the West Virginian sport the weirdest, goofiest cover images I’ve seen in a while.

I looooove Scott McClanahan like a brother, but I had to have a heart-to-heart with him about those covers and other stuff. Here’s what he had to say…

Mr. McClanahan

I like your first book cover, but I thought the 2nd one was kind of gross. Probably because I have a thing about feet (it’s somewhere between a fetish and an aversion). It took me forever to realize there are six toes on that foot. Where the heck did you get this image and why the heck did you put it on a book cover?

To be honest, I just stole it.   I’m actually in the middle of a lawsuit right now over it.   We have the Holler Presents lawyers working it out.   This is going to be a landmark case though and set a real precedent for people who want to use a foot with six toes on it for a book cover.   I’ll keep you posted.

I decided to use this picture for the cover of Stories II because originally there was a story in the book called “Six Toed Russell.”   It was about a friend of mine who had six toes on both feet.  We used to go into coal miner bars and bet drunken rednecks that Russell had six toes.   There is no better way to get free beer than when your buddy has six toes.   The story “Six Toed Russell” was eventually cut from the book, so I was kind of stuck with the cover.

It’s not a joke or anything.   That image feels like a religious image to me, or like a totem of some sort (I’d throw the other covers into this as well).   There was a group of ancient people here in West Virginia called the mound builders.   The National Geographic Society unearthed one of their burial mounds in the early part of the 20th century and they found the skeleton of a man who stood 8 feet tall (8 and a half in heels).   There was evidence in the tomb that this man had been treated like a king in his lifetime, and then worshipped like a god afterwards.

I think genetic abnormalities pretty much explain all religion when it comes down to it—Shiva, Osiris, etc.

Genetic abnormalities make good book covers.

What’s the deal with the cover of Stories V. I looked at it for a while trying to figure out if there was a joke in there somewhere, like maybe she had three ears or a mustache but I didn’t see either. What kind of creepy sexist bullshit is this, man?

My first response to this question would be, “How do you know it’s a woman?”

We were going for a Myron/Myra Breckenridge vibe.   I’ve always described the individual on the cover as “a person.”   It’s the folks on the blogs who keep bitching about “the woman” on the cover.

The problem was we picked the picture (we had a few to choose from) without a real prominent adam’s apple (instead of picking the one where it was obvious).   We decided to be subtle and being subtle always creates confusion.   You have to bang people over the head with something before they get it.

Of course, you should never underestimate the self righteousness of identity politics or independent literature for that matter.   We live in a world of being ashamed about our secret feelings—our secret lusts, desires, objectifications, prejudices, the nasty little parts of ourselves we don’t want to fess up to having.   We can show scars, but we can’t show our pimples.   There are so many Jerry Falwells out there labeling things, and 90% of the time they don’t even understand the objects they’re labeling.

Covers should confront you, piss you off, and contradict what’s in between their pages.   I say let’s bury good taste once and for all.    

What do you think will be on your next book cover?

I’m starting to like the idea of just a face.   I don’t even like the idea of my name on the book or the title of the book anymore.   I also hate blurbs. I think we should pick books the way we choose our mates.  So I think we should just have covers of our ugly faces.   I’m tired of people hiding behind abstract art covers and “pseudonyms.”  

I write under the name my mommy gave me.   We should publish our books under the face our mother gave us too.

There’s a great cover Grove Press did with the Complete Plays of Joe Orton where it’s just this extreme close-up of Orton’s face.  I like that.

Mr. Gian Ditrapano has some great ideas for the cover of Hill William though, but I’ll hold those cards close to my chest right now.

What are your favorite book covers lately?

The cover for Jamie Iredell’s Book of Freaks is great (and I’m not just saying that because of who is asking the questions).    I love the covers Sam Pink has been doing with his Lazy Fascist Press books.   There’s an energy to those covers that the minimalism of the moment just can’t touch.   Tao Lin’s Richard Yates and Mike Young’s Look! Look! Feathers! are pretty amazing covers too.

We’re living in an age of prog-rock when it comes to covers. We need to punch it in the face. No more paintings of animals! No more line drawings! No more brown! Please!

Nobody is buying these books anyway, so let’s have some fun.

 Are you excited about coming to the northwest?

I couldn’t be more excited   I feel like Lewis and Clark.   I have such a horrible fear of flying that it’s ridiculous though.   I get on a plane a couple of times a year and each time it’s a panic attack.   I’ve tried flying drunk or drugged up, but then it’s just being drunk or drugged up and having a panic attack.

I always hear Buddy Holly’s “True Love Ways” in my head when I fly, or the last line the Holly character from the movie Labamba says, “Don’t worry, Richie.   The sky belongs to the stars.”  

Of course, then they fall from the sky.

I’m getting ready to have a panic attack right now.  Stop thinking about Buddy Holly.   Stop thinking about Buddy Holly. Think Lewis and Clark.  Think Lewis and Clark. Lewis and Clark it is!

2 responses to “Scott McClanahan: What’s Up With Those Book Covers?

  1. “I write under the name my mommy gave me. We should publish our books under the face our mother gave us too.” Tres wise. I agree with you, Scott. I enjoyed reading this.

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