I’m Definitely Chaotic Neutral: An Interview with EVIL MTN

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A good majority of your book titles focus on your persona. Do you find this to be a central motif and structure to how you approach your art? Any plans on expanding with this notion in other forms?

When I first started writing under a pseudonym, I wanted to play around with the idea of myself as a character/protagonist. I first started writing under the name Eleanor Hazard/lnr hzrd, and I had a very specific vision for what I wanted those works to feel like and how I described this character of Eleanor Hazard, who was partially me but also partially a fictional creation. It was a very deliberate, “curated” persona, composed only of select parts of myself that I allowed others to see. At some points it was more of a fictional character than anything else. At one point I even “killed off” Eleanor Hazard and came back as The Ghost Of Eleanor Hazard, but that was mostly just an excuse to delete my first Tumblr blog, which actually seems pretty ridiculous now haha. Eleanor Hazard was definitely more of a persona than EVIL MTN in that regard. I started using EVIL MTN partially because I began to feel too restricted by the persona I’d created in Eleanor Hazard, and partially because I eventually wanted a pen name that was completely 100% mine (Eleanor Hazard is an actual person’s name that I saw displayed at an art gallery and thought to myself “that’s a really good pen name”). EVIL MTN isn’t really a persona, it’s just me trying to be myself under a weird name. After Eleanor Hazard I felt a desire to be more “honest” in my work, to make the person that I am more apparent in whatever I write. So I’m doing that now, but also still attempting to explore myself as though I were a character. The only real persona part of it is embracing the surreality/absurdity of simultaneously being a person and also a (self-proclaimed evil) mountain that narrates stories about their life and the lives of the people around them. I’ve considered writing stories about EVIL MTN from a third person perspective a few different times but I decided against it. In my recent work I’ve been trying to utilize the blunt narration I have in my poetry and utilize it to narrate stories instead. My ultimate goal right now is to have someone read my prose and feel like they are sitting down with me and I am telling them a story, in my own voice, in my own inflections, with my own tendencies to ramble on about minor unrelated things and constantly contradict myself for no reason. Although with much less unnecessary swearing. So I guess ultimately I’ve just been trying to capture the “persona” of my own self and define what that really is. God, that sounds so pretentious now that I’ve typed it. I’m so sorry. I’m a monster. Don’t look at me.

All of the collections you have written are available to download for free online. Considering this, what is your opinion of how literature is handled in current markets? Is your method of distribution a reflection of this? If you were to have any collections in print, is there a service you would prefer to utilize over others?

I don’t have any problems with more traditional methods of publishing, it’s just something I generally try and steer clear of for my work. I’m not a very business-minded writer. Quite horribly the opposite, actually. I’ve never felt like a “serious” writer. Writing is mostly just a hobby to me. A hobby that I commit a sometimes-obsessive and disturbing amount of time to, but a hobby nonetheless. I post most of my stuff on the Internet for free mainly because I want as many people as possible to be able to read it if they want to. I wholeheartedly support paying artists properly for their work and I definitely don’t begrudge other artists who pursue that end, it’s just not something I need for myself. Would it be nice to make money? Sure. Would it be nice to be able to support myself strictly thru writing and art? No. It would be frickin’ amazing. But I feel that if I were to pursue writing with that goal in mind, it would ruin evrything I love about doing it. I enjoy the simplicity of creating something and just sharing it. Not having to worry if it’s selling or how I should market it or which publications are (or aren’t) accepting such-and-such kinds of pieces. I like the accessibility of the Internet, that I can click a few buttons and immediately make my writing available all over the world. And sure I could charge for my ebooks, but I don’t want to. I don’t spend any money to make them, and besides I would rather someone be able to read it. I’m constantly broke and I know what it’s like to be too broke to get that book you want and I want people to be able to read my stuff even if they’re broke. Not that there’s really a whole lot of people clamoring to read it necessarily, but I just want the option to be there. I’ve had some people tell me here and there that my writing has helped them get thru difficult times in their lives or helped them feel better about something that was bothering them. To me, that makes evrything that I do worth it, and I prefer being able to do that small service for as many people as possible over having money. I’ve gotten into using Gumroad recently because it allows you to set a pay-what-you-want price so that people can donate if they feel so inclined, which I really do appreciate immensely, but they can also download for free if they can’t/just plain don’t want to. All that said, I do hope to have at least one collection of mine published in a physical copy at some point. An ideal situation would be to post the book free/pay-what-you-want online and then charge for the physical copy for whoever prefers to have something they can hold in their hands, since actual books take more money and effort to print. But I wouldn’t want to negatively affect the sales of whatever press puts it out by just posting it for free, so that is one case in which I wouldn’t post it online for free unless it eventually goes out of print, or unless I have the press’s permission to do so. P.S. – I hope no one will try and use my reasoning as excuses to not pay writers for their stuff. Pay writers whenever you can!! Most of them are not like me!! But you can still pay me too if you want!! I really appreciate it a lot!!

What is the origin of your pen name? Do you think it is important for artists to share their work under a name of their own creation? Does the internet influence this at all?

EVIL MTN wasn’t meant to be a pen name originally. I was still writing as Eleanor Hazard at the time, and I was really just trying to come up with a new Twitter name that didn’t sound awful. I had just finished touring with a band I was in at the time, and we traveled out west thru Colorado and Utah. I’m a Midwest kid, so I’d never seen mountains like that before and I immediately fell in love with them. I was still buzzing on that love after I got back, so I knew that whatever the name was, it had to have mountains in it. I played around with a few things before finally settling on EVIL MTN, but I for the life of me cannot remember why I ended up choosing that. A lot of people have asked and I have literally no idea. Knowing me, it’s probably just because I thought it sounded cool. I’m not actually evil. At least I don’t think so. I’ve always kind of wanted to be a supervillain, but I’m definitely chaotic neutral. CHAOTIC NEUTRAL MTN doesn’t sound as snazzy though. I don’t necessarily think all artists need to write under a pen name, it’s just something I do because it feels better. I’ve been disassociating from my birth name more and more as I get older, and I think I felt the first hints of it the first few times I got pieces published in lit journals, which was under my real name. I remember looking at them and feeling dismayed at how little seeing my name in those publications mattered to me. No sense of accomplishment or anything. I felt completely detached from it, as though it was someone else. I started using pen names not too long after that. EVIL MTN feels more like “me,” more representative of what I’m about, but it’s also just very freeing. It does remind me of the first time I signed into AIM and made my first ever screen name (KayDogg188 #nvr4get). That feeling like anything is possible now that you have this meaningless name/object/phrase to represent you on the Internet. Even more so now that I can hide behind the cute little EVIL MTN logo/mascot that I made for it. It’s refreshing. Like when you cut yr hair and try to “reinvent” yrself. Plus considering how much I’m on Twitter now, I just find it fitting that EVIL MTN was literally born on Twitter.

When did your interest in electronic style music begin? Who are some people, whether they be involved in poetry, music, or other habits, that have influenced you over the years?

I didn’t really start actively listening to electronic music until a few years ago, but I’ve always enjoyed chiptune/8-bit music. We didn’t have video games at home until I was older so I haven’t played a lot of old classic games, but I loved going to relatives’ or friends’ houses and mooching off their systems, playing Sonic or NBA Jam or Comix Zone or that motorcycle racing game where you beat people with chains (childhood!). And for most of my life the only electronic music I’ve really listened to frequently was Daft Punk and Radiohead. But then a friend of mine got me into ambient music like Blithe Field and Ricky Eat Acid, and that in turn led me to Shlohmo and Aphex Twin and Oneohtrix Point Never and a bunch of other electronic stuff I didn’t normally listen to. And shortly after moving to Austin I got an iPad and started fiddling with Garage Band and making little video game songs. I have a lot of influences that I could ramble about endlessly but my main musical influences are the bands Radiohead (I know, I know) and Grizzly Bear for making the infinite melancholy I’ve felt for the majority of my life into a tangible thing when I was in high school, and helping me realize that I can do that as well, and as a form of self-care to boot. To the video game Kentucky Route Zero and the podcast Welcome To Night Vale (which are both amazing, by the way, and I highly recommend to anyone), for helping me realize that you don’t need a reason to be weird, you can just be weird and it’s ok. Usually. Sometimes. Kind of. I read Blake Butler’s novella Ever in my first writing workshop in college and it literally changed my life and showed me exactly how little I knew of what was possible with writing. But most of all I owe a lot to Bob Schofield and Katherine Osborne. They are two of the first poets I followed on Tumblr after I discovered that I didn’t hate poetry after all and decided to give it a try, and they have always been a gigantic inspiration to me and helped me keep going despite repeated late-night sessions spent chanting “man I suck” into my pillow.

You have worked an independent bookstore in Austin for almost a year now. What is the literary climate like there? How did you get involved in the job? Has working there changed your perspective to how you consume artistic of expression in general?

The bookstore I work at is called BookPeople, and it’s the first job I’ve ever had where I’m working in an environment that I’m actually passionate about. It’s the largest indie bookstore in Texas and focuses a lot on bestsellers and classics, but doesn’t bring in many publications from smaller indie presses except for Write Bloody, which is a local press that publishes a lot of really cool writers. I’ve always wanted to work in a bookstore so I applied there and they eventually called me in to work as a holiday hire, and I stayed on after. To be honest I haven’t been very much involved in the lit scene here outside of work because I’m a grumpy little troll that likes to hide under bridges, but before I worked there I was almost exclusively going to another indie bookstore called Malvern Books, which is smaller but has an amazing selection of publications by indie/lesser-known presses, which has helped me discover a lot of really cool poets/writers, and they also hold regular events, which is usually how I find out about readings. But I totally engrossed myself in small press books for a long time. Getting hired at BookPeople was the first time in a while I’d actually poked my head above the water and looked at what was going on in the surface world. It definitely changed my reading habits a bit, encouraging me to make an attempt to balance reading small press stuff with reading more novels and more mainstream releases so I can do my job better. And we regularly hold author events so I get a lot of chances to listen in on Q-and-A sessions and hear different authors describe their methods or inspirations or what have you, which is interesting.

Speaking of artistic means of expressing oneself, where do you see the division between twitter and “traditional” formats like novels and other bulky manuscripts? Do your two outputs overlap at all?

The only division I really see is that one format is taken much less seriously than the other, which I don’t think is fair. Twitter can be a lot of different things to a lot of different people, and sometimes it’s a source for news articles and thinkpieces about spoons or whatever, and sometimes it’s an outlet for all the weird random emotions you feel when some asshole cuts you off on the way to 7-11 but also they’re kind of really hot, and sometimes it’s a medium thru which you can craft really short pieces of art, but for some reason people don’t like when you mix them together. I could hypothetically publish a collection of poems about things like that time I tripped in public in front of my crush and evryone I’ve ever looked up to and it would be fine, but if I mentioned that those poems were all tweets, some people would get all weird about it because apparently that doesn’t count or something. I think it’s just mixed in with a popular idea of “literature”, and how legitimate publications have to be formal and serious, but if spending so much time on that stupid wonderful site has taught me anything, it’s that you don’t have to be formal and serious to be thought-provoking or to elicit an emotional response or to discuss serious real-world issues. Not saying that all tweets are art (well, mine are, obviously) but Twitter can still be a legitimate means to convey art. Almost all of the dialogue in Rat City Vol. I was a tweet of mine at some point, or was influenced by one. And honestly, a lot of the things the characters say in that book are just silly and dumb. And I appreciate that about it. I am often silly and dumb, and I’d like that to be reflected in my work without having to worry about whether I’ll be taken seriously as an artist or not. It’s something of a point that I’m attempting to make to myself after taking myself seriously for so long. You can be silly and dumb and still make cool art on the Internet. I am going to keep sneaking tweets into my writing forever.

Any upcoming plans or future releases?

I’ve finished Rat City Vol. II and am going to attempt to get it physically published, and I’m working on a few different manuscripts right now, one of which I’ll probably hold onto to publish with some friends of mine and one of which I am definitely going to release on the Internet.

How can we support you?

My most recent stuff, including Rat City Vol. I, which is a collection of surreal short stories/flash fiction, and also an unfinished horror story can be found here for pay-what-you-want/free! My most recent poetry can be found here for completely free! And if you wanna listen to any of the aforementioned music that I’ve been making, it’s here! For free! Or you can just ignore all that stuff and follow me on Twitter, and that would be fine too. @evilmtn

Interview conducted by Jordan Hoxsie.

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