Dire McCain, author of Playing Chicken with Thanatos, in interview with Polly Trope


ib: You wrote and self-published your book. That’s quite a lot for one person to do, yet you nailed it all beautifully—now, what’s the verdict? Afterthoughts?

dm: Thank you, Polly. After nearly ten years in the making, fraught with distractions and self-doubt, it was a tremendous relief to release Playing Chicken With Thanatos, and the positive response from the readers has been a blessing.

Although I entertained the idea of shopping the book around to publishers early on, I always knew that self-publishing was the only way to guarantee complete creative control, which was indispensible, given the highly personal subject matter. If asked, I’d recommend the same to anyone in a similar situation. The only drawback is that promoting the book is entirely up to the writer. However, I’ve been told by a number of published-writer friends that many publishers don’t go above and beyond in that department anyway, unless the writer is a well-established moneymaker.

ib: How did you get into writing in the first place?

dm: I began writing as a young child, as a means of escapism from my chaotic and at times traumatic home life. I’d compose, illustrate, and bind my own books, some of which I still have. I continued to write occasionally throughout my adolescence and into my college years, before dropping it altogether. Then in spring of 2004, I banged out the first words of Playing Chicken With Thanatos, and writing has felt like a necessity ever since.

ib: Your book tells stories that are completely believable and it makes perfect sense, but at the same time, these are just the kinds of stories that get squeezed out of the public eye as much as possible by those who get to choose what’s news and what’s not. Thoughts?

dm: Well, I can’t speak for the rest of the world, but in the United States, if one is well-off or famous, these are precisely the kinds of stories that get attention and are devoured by the public at large. All one has to do is follow the news when a celebrity or socialite is in trouble or suffers some kind of adversity, including those that could be viewed as self-induced. The underprivileged, on the other hand, have always been marginalized or completely ignored. Not only in the news, but in film, television, and books as well. That’s why Bret Easton Ellis outsells Harry Crews, which is criminal. Someone, somewhere, at some point decided that the plights of the Have-nots are not nearly as interesting or worthy of attention as those of the Haves. Unless it’s somehow “hip” or there’s a buck to be made, that is. It’s unjust bullshit that’ll likely never change.

ib: You use the word “junkie” and “delinquent” of yourself / your main character in your own book. Is this the distance of time speaking?

dm: That’s what I once was, a junkie and juvenile delinquent. I’ve never been big on sugarcoating or political correctitude. My adolescence consisted primarily of abusing whatever drugs I could get my hands on and breaking laws.

ib: You described the desire to pretend— to yourself, as well —that the stuff you write about didn’t actually happen at all, and then one day the past bubbled up to the surface all by itself…

dm: It didn’t bubble up to the surface all by itself, I had to unlock the vault and lure it out. Revealing what happened in detail here would give away too much of the book, including the ending. All I can say is that in 2004, I awoke from a psychological coma and felt impelled to examine what I viewed as the cause of that coma: my refusal to come to terms with what I’d been through in my adolescence. That’s how the book began, as a form of self-therapy.

ib: Do you ever get the feeling of wanting to help other people in the same situation as you were in? Do you try to? Or, if given a chance, what would you say to someone who wants to know what could make the world of a soul-searching, insecure and angry teenager a better place, even if only very slightly?

dm: When I first climbed out of my own hell, I did indeed want to help others. I still do, but know better than anyone that drug addicts usually need to find their own way out. One can and should express concern and offer support, but attempting to enforce any agenda – no matter how righteous, beneficial, or even life-saving – is like teaching a pig to sing.

In recent years I’ve realized that everyone – not merely drug addicts – needs to travel their own path, whatever it may be. I haven’t encountered many people who enjoy receiving unsolicited advice and even fewer who are responsive to being told what to do, myself included. There is, of course, a moral obligation with children and teenagers, to protect them, although teenagers are less likely to listen than anyone. I’ve found that art, in all forms, can be an excellent way of reaching people, including kids. When a book or film resonates, it can be far more effective than words spilling out of a well-meaning mouth. Although I had no agenda – anti-drug, pro-drug, or otherwise – when writing Playing Chicken With Thanatos, I certainly wouldn’t complain if the book helped even one lost and strung-out soul get clean and find his way.

ib: You dared to take a leap and you did, with the book and its publication. Would you do the same again? And what would you say to any budding new writers?

dm: If you mean would I do the same with Playing Chicken With Thanatos? Yes, I’d absolutely write and publish it again. I have no plans to compose another autobiographical book, though. I’m currently working on a collection of grotesque yet true-to-life human condition tales, driven by characters that have been loitering in my head for ages. If all goes as planned, it’ll come to life sometime next year.

What I’d say to budding people in general – not merely writers – is to pursue and capture whatever lights your fire and keeps it gloriously ablaze. Our time here is unfathomably ephemeral, a fact that becomes more painfully obvious with each passing year. A good deal of the shit people give their time and energy to is poisonous and insignificant in the grand scheme. The world’s ugliness and beauty have both been here in equal parts since the dawn of time and will remain as long as the planet exists. As a sentient being, no one can tell you which to focus on, that choice is all yours. I choose the beauty, and view the act of creation as part of that, regardless of the subject matter.

ib: What would you like to see more of in the world of indie books and arts?

dm: I’m up for any creative work that’s sincere and meaningful, in whatever form it takes. That’s always been at the core of my own endeavors, including my writing and Paraphilia Magazine. Truly visionary work is always stimulating as well, although it seems to be nearing extinction these days.

Dire McCain is the author of Playing Chicken with Thanatos and editor of paraphiliamagazine.com.
Review by Polly Trope, Hellenist, novelist, and literary critic in the making, who loves an indie street angle on things. Polly Trope is the author of Cured Meat, available on Amazon as well as other places.

Picture by David George.