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Kickin’ it with JJ Deceglie

It took me about a year to track down JJ Deceglie.

I’d originally found him through following (and later publishing) Nathan Hobby’s work. For ages I’d been wanting JJ to climb up onto Cottonmouth’s stage. I couldn’t get a hold of him. I couldn’t  find him – too elusive, too non-descript.

See, JJ is exactly the kind of hepcat I dig. This cat’s work is so heavy – forget whatever you’re told anything is supposed to be. This cat is so heavy.

He’s concocted the novella the sea is not yet full, the short story collection In the Same Streets You’ll Wander Endlessly, Australia’s first novel about poker Damned Good, and his most recent novella Ennui and Despair. Plus lots of stories published all over the place.

Out of the blue a year later I heard from him, had crept out of the depths of Freo, and over jars in the Sail & Anchor then the flurry of maddening schemes, plots, codifications, defiant contrivances, irreverent. And mad for the High Ones in the Berryman sense.

So with JJ soon taking over the oncoming edition of The Diamond & the Thief, here then some of our conversation while kickin’ it.

Last time we spoke, we talked about how it was your love for poker that led to your novel Damned Good. The high stakes poker storyline goes that deep into the character’s psyche, how much of it is researched and how much of it did you live?

I think of it sometimes as a completely psychological novel; one that uses poker as a metaphor to detail a method of living one’s existence in a particularly intense way, and the agony that can come with that.
In another way it is a completely philosophical novel; guidelines to attempting life as an existential superman, and again the intensity required for that. Then again it’s also just a book about poker; also a veiled personal mythology of myself and my life and things I’ve felt and known. It’s about  failure mostly. Gambling and failing and having nothing left, but gambling yet again to get something back. There is no other way for the character, none that he can see anyway.

There’s an answer in there somewhere.

Damned Good’s ascendant and subsequent descendent arc is split by a guide to authentic poker, my fave sub-chapter being ‘In the End as in the Beginning’. How did this li’l guide come about both in content and where it sits in the story?

The actual poker guide was the publisher’s idea. I wasn’t particularly keen at first (and told them so) but went out one day and wrote some stuff down and it just flowed and I liked how it sounded. I thought I can do this and it can add rather than take away.

The way I see it is that it is something ‘The Rookie’ wrote during that period in which we aren’t with him. I had to pare down the story and took some of those parts out (sections that ‘The Rookie’ had written, along with a more surreal ending).

We know he burns a manuscript of sorts and this is what would have come outta him. In terms of content it’s a hybrid of mostly individual mysticism, throw in arcs along similar lines to that of Heidegger, Gurdjieff and Camus and you could maybe leave it about there. Perhaps a mention to old Nietzsche too.

I’ve become convinced you’re spelunking into the inner caves of what it means to be or become man while thrashing through life. (“A man is, or he isn’t.”) Do you find these protagonists are done and/or undone at their own hand?

There are, and are not. As is anyone really. For men such as these there may be no other method. Not to their eyes or hearts, not in their sphere of existence. They have to know, and will push until the bloom or wreck shows itself as the result. It is about living, how best to do it, how to actually know it and feel it and yeah to be a man, but to become a man as a result of prolonged authentic experience, not one by what you have stored up or borrowed or read about. It must be lived. I think I use the writing as a method of figuring these things out for myself; and I can tell you wholeheartedly that I have no definitive answers.

Ennui and despair, is this our inheritance?

Both are by-products of intensity and misplaced authenticity. Both are the run-off of failure and collapse. Both are the end result of abject misunderstanding and a vein of hopelessness that can be felt so strongly at times wandering about on this earth. Though both are battled with hope and beauty, and both are rendered next to dead by courage and individual responsibility acknowledged in one’s existence. If you are really trying, you have to feel them both at some stage, don’t you – I can’t see any other way.

Wherein do we find answers?

Find what you wanna do, do it with everything damn thing you got; but expect nothing without work. So work and work and work. You’ll probably still lose, and you will definitely die, but it’s better than dying while you live.

What’s next for you?

I got a novel called ‘Princes Without a Kingdom’ coming out with Disruptive Press real soon. It’s a 400 plus page work, and I spent 18 months on it over 2009/10. It’s my Dostoyevskian effort, hopefully the first of many. Big characters colliding like planets, different attempts at existence personified, talking it out, living it out, fighting life in drastic efforts to see what works best and most.

I got some poetry I’m working at too.

Also a hardboiled noir novel. 

Why press on? Why continue? What is it with obsession? I’m thinking about this: “All you have, the lot, before, now and after, the real gambler, the real artist, it is risked every time, and it is accurate living; the will to live burns most intense only in the moments of unchecked creation, or in the winning at the highest possible stake.”

I think you either understand it the way it is written above, or you don’t.

Confusion or bewilderment?

Bewilderment. Complete and absolute. You can clear up confusion, you can elucidate it. Bewilderment is akin to disorientation, to perplexity, and I know and feel it like one would a sibling. It cannot be altered, it can only be lived, accustomed and adapted to. We habituate it.

What’s coming around the bend? And how fast are we running toward it?

More of the same, unless you change it, so buckle up, or expire now.


Filed under Australia, Black Rider Press, Fiction, Interview, Kickin' it with, Perth

Kickin’ it with Julian Shaw

Julian Shaw as John Kirwan in 'All Blacks Don't Cry'

Award-winning director and author Julian Shaw is a cat who is cooler than Kool & the Gang.

At a publishers’ panel session at Melbourne’s Emerging Writer Festival, a session many later called ‘The Last Supper’, Scott-Patrick and I more or less said ‘write to us, we wanna get to know ya’.  And sweetheart people did write us.  One of whom was Julian Shaw.  And thank goodness he did.

Julian had been at EWF talking about his ‘movie in book form’ Modern Odysseus.  Right now he’s over in New Zealand with his camera on the sidelines filming the All Blacks.  He’s documenting their journey to the rugby World Cup 2011.  The film’ll be called Cup of Dreams.

This cat is the Young Australian Filmmaker of the Year 2010 according to the Sydney International Film School, has won a British Film Insitute Award, a Panorama Audience Award at the Berlin International Film Festival, and an Australian Film Insititute Award, among a slew of other awards.  Plus he throws down speeches at places like Harvard University.

Here’s me kickin’ it with Julian.

You wrote a contemporary story based on an ancient narrative and made it visually visceral.  How do you think we as readers engage with this?

Well, I think it’s been really exciting and invigorating for readers who are up for a new experience. It is part novel and part visual art, as you say, and the frisson and excitement is about where those two art-forms intersect. We call it a ‘movie in book form’ – Colin Friels brings the character of this Modern Odysseus to life with his performance. The images anchor it and take us on an emotional journey. I think the photos are never about telling you what to think – the images really create different sensations and emotions for different people. I’m trying to bring to life my story in a  very visceral, emotional way. It’s about showing how in the 21st century, in the era of GOOGLE maps and GPS, the physical world has been mapped out but the inner world is more treacherous than ever. That is the case with the title character Thomas, who is facing a corporate burnout of the worst kind.

What’s a challenge you faced with creating that and how’d you get through?

Colin Friels as the modern Odysseus

It was tough to find like-minded people – I think Colin Friels was the first person who really understood what I wanted to achieve, and he backed my vision 110%. I think people couldn’t visualize the book until they actually held it in their hands, and that was a big challenge in getting potential collaborators or distributors excited about what I was trying to achieve. So when I was initially pitching the book to publishers there was just a blank look. If you are ever trying to break ground you only need one person on your side though – you. No one else. So I had to learn to persevere through all those blank looks and back myself. A great lesson as an artist. You just have to believe in the finished product and always hold that in your mind and heart. In the end you get there. The same people who thought it would never work are the ones who have bought copies and been sheepishly saying – ‘now we know what you were trying to do!’ This is actually a really simple book in some ways – it’s a bit like a picture book for adults. I think people didn’t anticipate what an enjoyable experience  it would be. This book is fun and full of feelings – it is not just a head trip. I think it has a big heart. It’s about a guy trying to find himself after all.

Change of pace: who’ve you found inspiring?  The twist is that you can’t say anyone who does film, literature or photography.

This might shock you, but Shawn Michaels the WWE Wrestler. I live and breathe movies. I am a filmmaker and film commentator and sometimes it doesn’t help me unwind to watch movies. It can sometimes feel like work, no matter how much I love it. Since I was five years old I’ve watched WWE Wrestling to unwind. It just lets me escape. And I think I love everything about it – the spectacle, the raw emotion, the operatic storylines. I think they are artists. So I’d say the Heartbreak Kid Shawn Michaels has been a lifelong inspiration! You’re shocked aren’t you!?

And how’re you going with Cup of Dreams?

I am getting on a plane to New Zealand in a few hours to do my last round of filming in New Zealand, with my characters and with the All Blacks. It’s been a long process – I started filming this flick in 2007. I love how it’s developed. It’s become something I didn’t anticipate. I’ve got to say, it’s not a sports movie. It’s a character study that happens to be set in New Zealand and revolve around rugby and the World Cup. My producer Jonathon Green put it so well when he said ‘the All Blacks are the object of the story, not the subject.’ This is a story about home, it’s about what we all find in sport, it’s about all the ineffable, wonderful and irrational things that can hold a community together. It’s exploring nationalism and obsession. It’s been the hardest thing I’ve ever done but every few weeks a new dream comes true. I’ll be sideline filming the All Blacks play the Springboks in a matter of days, and that is a dream come true – I can’t wait to be out there and be so close to the haka. It’s a childhood dream come true.

What’s the story behind Seven Things I Wish I Knew Before I Started?

I think it is so important to share what you’ve learnt as an artist. I believe as an artist you receive when you give. In this new stage of my career I’ll be using my website www.julianshaw.com.au a lot more to release short films and new content.  Seven Things I Wish I Knew When I Started is a mini eBook that is me really being super honest and telling you all the mistakes I’ve made since I started my career as a 15-year-old would-be filmmaker and how I was able to achieve some of my proudest moments. I guess it is there so hopefully you don’t make some of the mistakes I did. I hope it is inspiring and candid, and I think whatever type of artist you are – a filmmaker, a musician or an actor – there will be something in there you’ll get out of it. The book is free if you sign up for the mailing list on the home page of my site.

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Filed under Australia, Fiction, Film, Kickin' it with, Photography