Jim Ruland’s debut novel, Forest of Fortune is a new classic of California noir. It’s Raymond Chandler in the age of polyamory, Dashiell Hammett with a novelty coke straw up its nose, Inherent Vice after the yuppies stormed the beaches and nudged all the freaks east of the 405. The setting, a “possibly haunted” Indian casino is hysterical, the players are human and heartbreaking. No blurb could really do Forest justice, so let’s hear Jim read it. Here you have the infamous Korean Gangster threesome:
Jim Ruland is among the California Republic’s most energetic and collaborative authors. He commands an army with his Vermin on the Mount reading series. His short fiction and nonfiction have appeared in The Believer, Granta, Hobart, Los Angeles Times, Oxford American, McSweeneys, and Razorcake. He is the author of the short story collection Big Lonesome, and co-author of Giving the Finger, the memoir of an Alaskan crab fisherman. I caught Jim on his way to Prague for Vermin’s European tour.
Tell us about Forest of Fortune.
Forest of Fortune tells the story of three haunted souls trapped in an Indian casino on a reservation in Southern California with a slot machine that may or may not be haunted. It is useful to know that I worked at an Indian casino for over five years. I like to call it my autobiographical ghost story.
Will there be a sequel?
I think so. I don’t want to drop any spoilers so I won’t say too much, but at the end of the book some characters get out of the casino while others stay behind. I’m interested in following both storylines. I think one of the secondary characters in the novel could end up becoming a protagonist in the follow up. And I’d like to saddle Pemberton, the character who is the most autobiographical, with another ridiculous job: as a writer for a magazine that is a distribution vehicle for a notorious series of soft-core porn videos.
Tell us about THIS IS NOT A CAMERA.To celebrate the launch of the paperback of Forest of Fortune, I put out a series of short essays about what it was like to work in an Indian casino during the recession. The pieces were originally published by McSweeney’s and I’ve gathered them in a zine with photos, promos and fake logos. You can order THIS IS NOT A CAMERA for under a buck.
Dependence and addiction of all sorts feature prominently in your work, what is it about those states?
Addiction and dependence are altered states taken to their unnatural extremes, but it seems to me that the desire to shatter the status quo and break free of our body’s baseline consciousness is endemic to the human experience. Consider how difficult a process it is to distill spirits or make drugs in the natural world, yet just about every culture found a way to do it. Not to sound like Allen Ginsburg, but it’s how we become holy.
Your work is a mix of solo projects and more collaborative endeavors. You seem to give both a lot of love and attention. How do you balance these in a given working day?
I’m not sure that I do. I am by nature an all-or-nothing type of person. If I have a bunch of interviews to transcribe for a project, for example, my goal will be to work on them for an hour a day. But I’m never satisfied and that hour turns to two or more. Then I feel like I’m ahead of the game and I’ll turn my attention to the story or novel I’m working on, but then I’ll get sucked up in that and it might take me a couple of days to get back to the interviews and I’m behind again. I was never very good at moderation, which is why I’m a recovering alcoholic. The best advice I can give is to use what little time you have as best as you can with as much intensity as you can muster and have faith that it will all work out in the end.
This blog deals a lot with creativity hacks. How do you work?
I find that if I get something down first thing in the morning – whether it’s transcribing, a book review, or one of my own projects – it helps me sharpen my focus with respect to how I spend the rest of my free time that day. I have a day job and work from home so its important to do something for me first. I had a realization last year that the bulk of the writing I do will never appear in a book. That really helped me focus my energy on books projects and making sure I do something every day to move the book projects forward.