Joseph Allen Hill, Pocket Interview No. 5
Joseph Allen Hill lives in Chicago, Illinois. His stories have appeared in Liminal Stories and multiple times in Lightspeed. His 2016 story "The Venus Effect" elicited this response from critic Abigail Nussbaum: "It's not an exaggeration to say that stories like this one are why I keep doing this, rooting through hundreds of short stories on the off chance of happening on one, by an author I've never heard of, that completely blows me away."
Earlier this year, Joseph talked with us about, among other things, intertextuality, metafiction, the one power all superheroes share, and the hope and purpose of art. Also Flash Gordon and the theme song for the television show Frasier.
"Stories were always sort of there."
STORYOLOGICAL: Thank you for agreeing to do this thing that we are doing now.
JOSEPH ALLEN HILL: Thank you for having me. It's very flattering.
STORYO: That is also flattering to hear. You start a random podcast and then people start saying things like that. That's cool. I guess it's similar to being a writer, but...
JAH: Yeah. I don't know. I listen to the podcasts. Hearing you now is slightly uncanny because I'm used to hearing your voice, but not talking to me. And now it's talking to me, and it’s interesting.
STORYO: Not dissimilar to reading one of your stories where you begin to talk to the reader. I imagine it's a bit uncanny for them as well.
STORYO: You see that's a segue, but a segue to a point much later in the interview that we're not to yet. Actually where I'd like to start is, you grew up in Georgia, yeah?
JAH: Yes. From Georgia originally. Left for college. Then didn't really go back.
STORYO: What part of Georgia did you grow up in?
JAH: I grew up in Covington which is a small town--really a suburb of Atlanta. When I was growing up, it was a lot more rural. It's about maybe an hour from Atlanta. It was interesting, but not quite my scene. I think I'm kind of a city person by nature. So, as soon as I could, I moved to the city.
STORYO: Was there anything that you missed from Covington?
JAH: The weather in Georgia is much nicer. And, I guess I miss my family and the town I'm from is pretty beautiful. It's a very classic southern town.
It's actually used in a lot of films and TV shows when they want to convey that.1 So, In the Heat of the Night, Remember the Titans, and The Vampire Diaries, they all got filmed around there because it's classic south. But I never fit in much with the people so I don't miss that too much.
STORYO: Was Covington--would that now be defined in our current political climate as Trump country? Or was it a cosmopolitan rural type place?
JAH: Very much Trump country, I would say. A lot of the discourse around Trump and Trump voters kind of annoys me because I feel like I grew up around these people. And I think there's a lot of oversimplification, just sort of looking at these people, like, ‘Oh they're all poor and they know not what they do.’ When there are a lot of middle and upper middle class people from these places who are very much down with what Trump is laying down. So, yeah, it's not a cosmopolitan place at all. It is an interesting mix of classes because there was an influx of people coming in from Atlanta. My parents actually aren't from there. They came from Atlanta in the 70s to sort of get away from the city.
STORYO: For the good life?
JAH: Yes. The good life of Covington, Georgia. A lot of different people from Atlanta had come, but there were also a lot of entrenched--I don't want to say aristocracy--but upper middle class southern. They’d been the bosses of Covington for a long time and still are and there were a lot of the racial politics you would expect in that sort of place, as well.
STORYO: When you were growing up, what role, if any, were stories playing for you? As a kid in Covington was it an escape? Were there TV shows or books or movies you obsessed over?
JAH: It was kind of my whole life when I was a kid. Stories of different types. I had a pretty lonely childhood. In my neighborhood there just weren't other kids around. I had friends at school, but they never came over to my house. So, as far back as I remember, I was making up stories with my toys. And then I realized I could make up stories without my toys. And I read tons of books and watched tons of TV and all that. Stories were always sort of there.
STORYO: What sort of toys? For me it was He-Man, G.I. Joe, and my sister’s Barbies. All mixed together into elaborate plots.
JAH: Oh, yes. I had, let's see, I remember my favorite toy was a third tier Ninja Turtles character. He was like a kangaroo. Even at the time I didn't know who he was from the show even though I loved the Ninja Turtles. But, for some reason, that toy really spoke to me, and he was sort of the leader. And then there were just a bunch of other random superheroes and other characters and a few secret Barbies because my parents were pretty conservative so I wasn't supposed to have Barbies but I was able to sneak a few in, under the radar.
You know. Get that McDonald's free stuff. ‘They only had the one choice. What could I do? They only had girl toys this time. Oh no.’
"...all superheroes have the power that they are going to win against the bad guy. The question is what they lose in the process."
STORYO: When you left to go to college was that to go be a writer and study writing and literature or what?
JAH: At the time, I was mixed, although, looking back now, I think it was kind of inevitable that I was going to be a writer because I was already into writing by then.
At the time I wanted to write for TV. I wasn't really into literature yet. When I first went to college, I ended up doing classics, and, when I first entered the classics program, I was going to do more of a history focus, but I got more and more into literature and ended up doing a literature focus.
STORYO: Do you remember what kind of TV shows you had in mind or what you were watching at the time?
JAH: I really wanted to write for Futurama. I remember that very specifically. Comedy stuff. I wanted to be a comedy TV writer.2
STORYO: How did you go from comedy TV writing to studying the classics?
JAH: In high school, I was in Latin club, and we did competitions and I was good at that. And so I liked Latin and there's no degree for comedy writing. Most people who are comedy writers, they'll just get a degree in whatever. And, so, I decided to get a degree that I was interested in.
I feel like there's this sort of narrowing. When I first started wanting to be a writer, when I was 13, I wanted to write video games and then by 17, it was comics, and then by 19, it was comedy TV shows. And then at some point movies, and then, I'll try literature and that one kind of stuck. Although I would write comics if I had the chance.
STORYO: If you could take over a series would you do it?
JAH: Oh yeah.
JAH: The main reason I don't write comics is that, as a career, I think comics writing is not a good business to be a part of. In terms of the practical aspect of making money and dealing with the comic book industry, it’s not great, but as a thing to do, as an artistic pursuit, I still have a lot of fondness for comic books and I have a lot of ideas. For most characters, I feel like I could do an okay comic with them.
STORYO: Most of them, as in most of all of the comic book characters that exist?
STORYO: I believe it.
JAH: I have some pitches in mind if it ever comes to it. I wouldn't want to do Spider-Man. Spider-Man would be hard because--I guess sort of paradoxically—I feel like it's easy to write a pretty good Spider-Man story because he's such a solid character. But because of that, it's much harder to do something really interesting with him.
Whereas with like Superman you can kind of go crazy.
STORYO: That's interesting. I've always felt the reverse. That Superman would be hard to write for because it feels like he has so few weaknesses.
JAH: I have a lot of ideas about Superman and what he means to the world and what he can represent. At the end of the day, he has all these super powers, and so writing a standard adventure story with him can be somewhat limiting. But, I mean the thing is that all superheroes have the power that they are going to win against the bad guy. The question is what they lose in the process.
Spider-Man is easy because what Peter Parker will lose has been established over years of comics. Bad stuff is going to go down in his personal life as a result of him beating the bad guys. But with Superman, there are questions as to whether he even cares about his personal life. That it's even a real thing. And so what does he lose is the question I would think of in terms of writing a good Superman comic. Plus, you can do, I don't know, lots of weird zany sci-fi. It’s fun.
“Why are you having these people process their feelings?”
STORYO: In a spotlight that Lightspeed did with you, you mentioned how you liked fiction to have a little opera in it. What does that mean to you, for fiction to have a little opera in it?
JAH: I guess two things. I like fiction to be big and to go a little bit wild. This might be one of my big weaknesses as a writer, but I've never met a lily that I did not want to gild. I never met an adjective that I didn't want to put in there.
STORYO: Or even modify.
JAH: Oh, yes. I try to hold back on the adverbs a little bit.
But, yeah. I like the baroque quality of fiction and letting things go a little bit wild and I think this is in part to express emotion, to have this sort of emotionality like opera.
And, I also like drama in fiction and I feel like sometimes, in contemporary fiction, drama can be a bit of a lost art.
Everyone complains about the dirty realist story where people just sit around and there isn't any real conflict other than just them having moderately sad lives. Even in like science fiction there are kind of a lot of stories that are—and I'm not trying to throw shade—that are like here's a person in a weird situation and they're kind of a “normal” person doing what you would expect of a normal good person and that's fine. I see why people like that and there are stories like that that I really like, but I also really appreciate drama. People acting like they shouldn't and really digging into the tensions of life and relationships and emotions.
STORYO: Someone wise once told me that they felt like there was no distinction between genres. There were just people who preferred reading things that comforted them or preferred reading things that surprised them. Do you feel like as a writer or a reader you're always seeking the surprising, the unsettling, the uncomfortable and kind of shying away from things that feel complacent or comforting?
JAH: Very much so. That's what interests me about fiction is a worldview that I'm not familiar with, or ideas that I haven't heard before, or just presenting—if nothing else—even just sensation. Anger, fear, surprise, all this. That's compelling.
I can appreciate why people like fiction that is comforting. I remember when I was a kid, when I was involved with fan communities online and fan fiction stuff, a lot of people would write stories that were just about the characters going out for coffee and reasonably talking about their problems. And I totally understand why resolving that tension is pleasant, but I always hated those stories even when I was 12 because I want stuff to happen. The reason why I watch this anime is because I like it that these guys are all angry all the time because they don't know how to process their feelings. Why are you having these people process their feelings?
If I'm going to write a fanfic I'm going to make it more interesting by having more feelings not fewer feelings. And I think that still informs what I'm interested in with fiction. I'm not a big sci-fi genre versus person. I read lots of different things. I'm not picky about that. It's much more about the writing being interesting and relating the world in, I don't want to say unusual ways, but ways that are not the standard way, that are not this is what reality is and we all agree, and this is what a nice person is, and this is a character being nice and doing nice things.
I feel like that's a very insulting, or reductive way to put it.
STORYO: It reminded me of the way you described Covington. Of an entrenched feeling. Some fiction feels like it just re-entrenches the things that have already been entrenched.
JAH: Yeah, absolutely. And sometimes they're good stories that I can enjoy. It's just the number one cause of things being uninteresting to me in fiction is when it's presenting this sort of entrenched reality or a sense of this is how things are. You know? Like the TV version of the world.
STORYO: Right. As much as you love TV. As much as I really love TV, there is sometimes this thing where when I see a TV show, or read a story, I will say this seems like television and I will mean it as an insult even though I love TV almost more than anything.
JAH: Oh, yeah. I feel the same way. Up until I was like 25, I would say that I watched more television that any person I had ever met. I watch a little less TV now, but I still watch more TV than most of my friends because I work freelance, so I've never had a real job. I have plenty of time.
I feel like distinguishing between art and entertainment can be kind of a snob, asshole move, but I do think there is a difference. And TV is mostly entertainment and it's really nice and it's really fun and I can and have watched Frasier all day.
STORYO: You got the song memorized now.
JAH: Yeah. I hear the blues a-calling. Tossed salad. And scrambled eggs.3 But there is something to be said for art which challenges or asks.
Entertainment just gives you what you want. Gives you some funny jokes. Gives you something beautiful. Whereas art makes you work a little bit and asks you to look at the world in a different way.
“A lot of my work is in danger of going up its own asshole because I love art about art and then art about art about art and that can go to a place.”
STORYO: There was this moment in your story “We'll Be Together Forever,"4 where the guy realizes that clarity and communication is so important to relationships because if you don't have that then people are just left guessing.
But, to what you were saying before about art being challenging, I feel like in your second story, "You Can't see It Till It's Finished,"5 there's so much density to your language: the symbiology and the ontology and the intellectual and the cartoony all rammed together it feels like you are—well as Emma said in the podcast—in danger of disappearing up your own ass. And yet you don't. Were you hoping for that or were you hoping for perfect clarity?
JAH: Oh, no. I like, not obfuscation, but like I said, having the reader do a little work and I would agree that a lot of my work is in danger of going up its own asshole because I love art about art and then art about art about art and that can go to a place. I try to tether things because I think it's important to have a real emotional aspect to things because I feel like if I don't then I will definitely go into that sort of thoughts about thoughts about thoughts sort of place.
“You Can't See It 'Till It's Finished” is the peak of a certain aesthetic that I was going for. It's very dense and everything fits together. I'm not sure if I'll ever write a story as thematically dense as that again because there's so many things even when I read it now I'm like, 'Oh I forgot that.' Every line is a reference to another line and it's this complicated thing. It's like, 'How did I write this?'
STORYO: Is that is that a good feeling? I mean it sounds like a great feeling. I like my stories to feel like they were written by someone else a little bit.
JAH: Oh, yeah. It's nice. It's definitely not a bad feeling. It's an interesting feeling because in a way it was written by somebody else. My life has changed a ton in the last year-and-a-half or so since I wrote that. I read it and it reminds me of that time in my life. I got really into philosophy that year. I think that's really reflected in that story. I think in your discussion you mention David Foster Wallace.
JAH: I think a lot of that similarity comes from the fact that I was really into Wittgenstein at the time, and he wrote his college thesis or whatever on Wittgenstein.6 I feel like that's the big connection there. And so when I read that story, I think back to like, ‘Oh man that was the year I was really into philosophy and my concepts and ideas even more than I usually am and then, you know, that was also me in part processing a relationship. The sadness from that relationship is gone now, but I can read that story and it's still there.
STORYO: In the podcast Emma pointed out this feeling she had in the story about however much angst surrounded art, it was also really valuable in the way it connected the people in the story. I know earlier you talked about how art was your life when you were a kid--did you feel as a kid that you connected with the art and the art connected with you, and then later you were able to connect to other people, or just to life, through art?
JAH: I say when I was a kid I was like that, but I would still say it's like that. I mean the difference between me now and me as a kid is that I didn't really make—I mean I guess I played with toys and that's kind of making art in some way. Now, I just write it down.
Connecting with people is probably the primary reason why I write. Connecting with ideas and expressing that to others. Whereas I also do music and I'm not very good but it's just a fun thing. I do visual art. I'm not very good. It's a fun thing. Those things are just for me. And in some ways, and in some ways help me process the world. Music helps me process feelings. Visual stuff. I don't know. Maybe that one's just messing around. I can't think of anything clever to say about that.
STORYO: But the writing is for someone else.
JAH: Yeah exactly.
I mean I write for myself. I definitely write what I like to write. To a point that some might call indulgent.
Whenever I get a rejection, my response is that the problem is that it was not me enough, so I need to double down and make it more me.
You write for other people. You want other people to read it and like it. And, at the same time, you write to express yourself. And I think there's always going to be a fundamental tension between those things.
And then when you put in the business aspect of trying to sell stories—did I write this story because I think this market would like it? I've never had any success doing that. I've only had success just writing a weird thing. Something that I don't think anybody else would write, as opposed to like a good version of something that a lot of people probably could write.
“I didn't want it to just be like, police shootings of unarmed black men is wrong. Because I know that's wrong. If you don't think that's wrong, a story is not going to change your mind. And I didn't want it to be like people who already know it's wrong, read this story and pat themselves on the back . . . That's the wrong way of liking it.”
STORYO: "The Venus Effect," came out at the end of 2016 in Lightspeed.7 Could you briefly summarize that for anyone who hasn't read it--which they should do, but you know they might not have.
JAH: "The Venus Effect" is about a character named Apollo who is entering into a science fictional scenario. And he's black. And as he is entering this scenario he is killed by a policeman and the “author” of the piece is surprised by this, and it keeps happening over and over again, with different versions of Apollo and different science fictional scenarios. And so the story is going through these scenarios and trying to understand why this is happening. Both in the fiction and in the real world (by in the real world I'm talking about like police shootings).
STORYO: Yeah the real world we agree is real out here.
STORYO: Before I ask any questions I want to read something that Abigail Nussbaum wrote about "The Venus Effect" in her list of Hugo recommendations. She said that “it was a story about stories and about who gets to be the hero in the core stories of our genre. It shouldn't work. The tack Hill chooses should come off as glib and the structure he comes up with should devolve into repetition. And yet amazingly it doesn't. If there's one story on this list that I'd like you to read "The Venus Effect" is it.”
Did you imagine when you wrote the story—this feels so weird, it feels like the question you ask somebody that's nominated for an Oscar but, anyway, I'll go ahead with it--did you imagine getting this kind of response from people when this idea came to you? Did your brain immediately run ahead to this feeling of people are going to love it? This is going to be meaningful art?
JAH: I definitely thought it could be really good. And I definitely, how do I put this, I thought it could definitely prompt a lot of different kinds of reactions. I thought people might not like it. And there are definitely some people who don't like it. It's an idea that's very up my alley. The structure of going through the genres in a similar way. The first time I had an idea for a novel, or at least a novel that wasn't you know just a standard adventure story, when I was like 16, it was basically that idea. Of characters going through genres and doing similar stuff with the names and stuff. And that was over 10 years ago. So I had it in the back of my mind for a long time. And then a couple years ago I forget even which police shooting it was after--that's glib but it's like…
STORYO: Well, also.
JAH: There's so many.
STORYO: Yeah. It’s the perfect Joseph Hill glibness. It's glib, but also just horribly true.
JAH: Yeah. I saw the Flash Gordon movie for the first time a few years ago. And I was like this is the shit, it's one of the best moviegoing experiences I've had.
JAH: It's not one of the best movies but.
JAH: I turned it on TV randomly, and at first, I was like this is really terrible. I hate this. But, I kept watching it and it really won me over in a way that was just incredibly pleasant. By the end, I was cheering as the good guys won and then Queen was playing and I was just like this the best.
I love that movie. I will never top that first experience. But, so I saw that for the first time, and I thought I could write a fun, modern update on this. And, so, I was playing around with that, with Apollo.
He was going to be the protagonist in my head. I didn't want to just do sort of a boring author surrogate thing (I say it’s boring, and I don't want to do it, but I obviously clearly always want to do it).
I thought it'd be funny and that you could do some camp stuff with it. It'd be fun.
But it never really took off as most of my novel ideas never really take off the ground.
I was thinking after that shooting about what would happen in these stories where there are often heroes who see a comet flashing in the sky and they race off to go get it. And, if you're speeding and you're a young black man, there are real consequences to that.
This has moved far away from your original question. But, I just thought it was a really good idea. I had it in my head for a while before I really got to it.
Have you seen the video Too Many Cooks?
STORYO: I have yeah.
JAH: When that came out I watched it maybe 100 times.
JAH: I love it more than anything.
STORYO: Yeah, right? It's everything. It's repetition. It's horror. It's TV.
JAH: Yeah. I was so, so into that. And recently I was like, hmmm, did I just do a version of that? It's not a million miles away. Although I did have the idea before it came out, I think maybe it helped a little in the birthing process. The midwife to "The Venus Effect" was Too Many Cooks.8
STORYO: Right. Ok. And the parents are Flash Gordon and...
JAH: Police violence, I guess.
JAH: To be honest there's a part of me that thinks every story, like ‘everyone will hate it and think it's stupid.’ And then there's another part that's going, ‘everyone is going to love this and I will become the most successful of all time.’
So, I'm happy when people like it, slightly annoyed when people don't, but not really. I don't mind it when people don't like it. I don't like when people don't like it for stupid reasons.
STORYO: What's one of the wrong reasons for not liking "The Venus Effect?"
JAH: Well, when I talk about challenging the reader, I know that the repetition can be a little much. And the sections are pretty long. I mentioned this in the Lightspeed interview I did. There's a version of this story, like 2000 words, in and out, you get the idea and it's done. Whereas this version is like 7000, 8000 words, something like that.
STORYO: 9,000, I think. It just keeps going up. That's the magic of the story. It will be longer the next time I read it.
JAH: And it has this grind to it. You know what's going to happen, and it keeps going.
And I really like that grind. And some people don't. And actually I don't mind if people don't like the grind and are just like it's not from me. That's fine.
It's a weird way of answering a question of what's the wrong reason by me giving a reason I think is the right reason.
I imagine that there have been stories that I would have loved if I had given them more of a chance that I haven't. So whatever.
The reason that sort of bugs me is that there are definitely people who have taken a very simplistic understanding of what the story is about in terms of politics and then criticized it for having a simplistic message. It's like, ‘that's on you.’
STORYO: In that 2000 word story, I feel like the lack of repetition, maybe it would have been more polemic. It would have been more facile whereas something about giving so much space, giving the story more room allowed it to get better, more complex, more interesting. Was there ever a question of am I being too political, am I being too simplistic, am I just saying something I already believe? Was that a tension in the story, in you, where you wanted to push yourself to something more than you already knew?
JAH: Definitely. I didn't want it to just be like, ‘police shootings of unarmed black men is wrong.’ Because I know that's wrong. If you don't think that's wrong, a story is not going to change your mind. And I didn't want it to be like. ‘people who already know it's wrong, read this story and pat themselves on the back.’ I guess that's the inverse of what we were talking about before. That's the wrong way of liking it.
STORYO: Right. I agree with this story. It's great.
JAH: Exactly. So, when I was writing it, at the end of the day, my goal in the story was to capture a feeling. The primary goal was not to say police shootings are wrong. That to me is an understood thing. The point of the story was to evoke the feeling of seeing these things happen, and not being able to do anything. That sense of powerlessness and of repetition. It happens. Again, and again, and again, and again. There's nothing you can do.
"Thanks for letting me know we're all in this together, Sailor Moon."
STORYO: You mentioned intertextuality before we started talking about "The Venus Effect."
Why do you love it so much? Why do you love your story being in conversation with other stories?
JAH: It's fun. I mean it's a little bit show offy. Like, ‘Oh I've read a lot of books. Hey, have you read these books? Yes I know a lot of things. Would you like to know these things that I know? Congratulations. You also know these things.’
But, for "The Venus Effect" in particular, I think the intertextuality was important to me because part of what I was grappling with while writing it is what's the point of doing this? No one's going to not get shot because I wrote this story so what is the point of doing this?
And, in the process, I ended up thinking a lot about classic 70s metafiction which is something I've always sort of enjoyed. John Barr. Gilbert Sorentino. Borges. Italo Calvino. And the thing about that stuff is that it is just really fun for me but there's not necessarily a lot there emotionally. I like Borges a lot but there aren't really real feelings in his stories. It's mostly just I am a man in a library. Let me explain some ideas to you.
STORYO: I have infinity in my basement let's think about that.
JAH: Yeah, exactly. And so that's an aspect of meta I've always been attracted to, that fun, but also being aware of its limits in terms of this is not actually affecting the world. But, at the same time I think part of what appeals to me about meta-fiction is that in its own way its more honest and true than regular fiction for a certain definition of truth. Because when the story is telling you it's a story. That's true. It is a story. Even when I was a little kid there was something about characters on TV turning to the camera and talking to you and saying, hey what's up. It’s like, ‘They're talking to me!’
JAH: One of my earliest memories is an episode of Sailor Moon where Sailor Moon is crawling around and then looks at the camera like, ‘hey has anyone seen Luna (which is her cat)? And I remember as a kid being like, ‘What, you're asking me this? Um. No, I haven't but thanks for letting me know we're all in this together Sailor Moon.’
It's a great episode.
So that tension between meta-fiction being just kind of an intellectual game versus meta-fiction’s capacity to connect to a reader in a very real way was something that was on my mind a lot writing the story.
And then there was a reference to Grant Morrison because I kind of feel like I stole that last bit directly from a comic he wrote two years ago. But, not exactly.
There was a comic, Ultra Comics, that took as its premise that you are the superhero. In that kind of second person way. It was a very interesting Grant Morrison-y comic that kind of tied the thing together because that last part of “The Venus Effect” was, like, you know, how do I end this story?
JAH: I had these ideas and then it's like, oh what if it's you? Perfect.
STORYO: It wasn't just you, though, the you is the cop at the end of the story. With all the things you've done in that story, why decide at the end to change point of views?
JAH: I think that ties into more the political message because there's nothing that Apollo can do to stop what's happening to him. Each cycle of the story, the intention is to solve the problem, and just putting you in Apollo's shoes, there's no reason why that would solve the problem. You would experience what he experienced, but it wouldn't stop him from being shot. But then if you're in the the cop's mind there is a choice there to an extent. And so that was the thinking behind that.
STORYO: I love what you said about Sailor Moon. And the last thing you said. It’s all gonna tie together. Because with the intertextuality, I felt like reading "The Venus Effect" there was a sense that you the imagined person writing the story, and Apollo, and everyone else reading the story, and all of art possibly ever, was somehow all in it together. So that was cool.
“Stories where robots revolt against humans. That's not how robots work.”
STORYO: So to finish these things I have a questionnaire that is adapted from James Lipton who did this thing called Inside the Actor's Studio. I don't know if you ran across that in your hours of TV watching.
JAH: I was not a big fan, but I'm familiar with it.
STORYO: OK. It's 10 questions and I'm just going to ask them. What is your favorite word?
STORYO: What is your least favorite word?
STORYO: What is your favorite smell?
JAH: Indian food.
STORYO: What is your least favorite smell?
JAH: Body odor.
STORYO: What do you wish you knew more about?
JAH: There's so many things.
STORYO: Okay. Well that will make answering this next question hard. What do you wish you knew less about?
JAH: Um. The lore of Mortal Kombat.
STORYO: Let's pretend for a moment your life has a soundtrack. Off the top of your head tell me three songs they would be on it.
JAH: That's rough.
STORYO: Right. You got a challenge.
JAH: Three, just in general. Like, if there was a specific scenario. I could do it, easily.
STORYO: All right I'll give you three.
First kiss. Last day of your life. What's the third one? Winning.
STORYO: You won.
JAH: You won. Let's see.
So. First kiss. There's so many songs. “Lovers in the Backseat” by Solange, for first kiss.
Last day of my life. I'll go with “Red Dress” by TV On the Radio and winning…
Winning should be “Red Dress” by TV On the Radio, and what's a good sad song?
Oh. “Salisbury Hill” by Peter Gabriel.
STORYO: What is your favorite kind of story?
JAH: A story that is, let's see, lyrically written and which creates its own sort of conceptual framework. In terms of conceptual grammar I should say.
STORYO: What is your least favorite kind of story, then?
JAH: Stories where robots revolt against humans. That's not how robots work.
STORYO: William Faulkner said that there was only one thing worth writing about which was the human heart in conflict with itself. If William Faulkner came back from the dead to write the story of your life what do you think that story would be about?
JAH: The conflict between living in the world of ideas and living in the material world.
STORYO: That's good. You worked in a reference to Madonna there at the end.
JAH: [laughter continues] I like that. I like that one.
STORYO: Thank you for being on Storyological.
JAH: [laughter continues] Sorry.
STORYO: It's okay. Sillinesses is encouraged.
JAH: Just. I feel like I say material world a lot. And I never connected to Madonna.
STORYO: I don't know if I have either. Just something about this interview, it primed me. I was ready. My mind was open. All connections are valid.