Interview with CL Bledsoe

Nathan Leslie

MLR: Greetings, Cort. Thanks so much for chatting with me. This interview is “asynchronous,” as it were,
but this is me trying to make it seem as though we chatted at the local indie coffee bar and I transcribed
your responses furiously by hand. So, uh, what are you ordering?

CL: I like flavored black teas. Like peach or mango. I’m posh like that. But boba kind of freaks me out. It
seems like little alien eggs that are going to hatch in my brain. And I’m like, not again, right?

MLR: You have written a few books. Many, many books in fact. Is Red Bull your unofficial sponsor? If
not, what is your productivity secret? Productivity may not be the right word by the way.

CL: On the shores of Thune I recited the ancient pledge thrice and presented the holy objects and was
thereby able to trap the great demon Producticus, who has been the source of all of my power and

Actually, I haven’t been as productive lately as I used to be, but I have a big backlog so it seems like I’m
still pushing. I used to write 1000 words a day, every day. I would write a short novel or collection every
two or three months. Lately I’ve been too busy to write as much, which seems crazy because I was way
busier back then.

MLR: The Devil and Ricky Dan. Your fan base want to know about the genesis of this book. I do as well.
Spoiler alert: it begins with fire ants and flatulence, not in that order.

CL: I have two short story series. One is called Nobody’s Darlings and is about growing up in my
hometown, in eastern Arkansas. It’s very hardscrabble and violent. Ricky Dan is a character from that
book, and is based on a guy I grew up with. The kind of guy who told us he was kicked off the bus in the
5 th grade because he impregnated a girl in the back. I’d like to think I captured him pretty well. The
second series, tentatively titled The Gods of Arkansas, hasn’t been collected yet, but it’s a series of weird
Arkansas stories. The Devil and Ricky Dan grew out of one of those stories.

Ricky Dan was just a crazy guy who was always doing crazy things. He would tell the biggest lies all the
time, not even trying to be believable, just crazy stuff like that he shot a deer across the Mississippi River
one time. I’ve always found him really entertaining, so I wrote a book about him. Sort of. Not really.

MLR: You were inspired by the Charlie Daniels Band, weren’t you? It’s okay—they are cool again.

CL: I mean, the devil is pretty lame if he can’t even win a fiddle contest against a Georgian.

MLR: You write poetry and fiction, primarily. When you are writing something new how do you know if
it will be a poem or a story or a novel? Give us the Bledsoe inspiration rubric.

CL: I pretty much know when I sit down to write what form it’s going to take. Each thing has a certain
shape, and I am working at that shape from the beginning. A poem tastes poemy, so I know that’s what
it’s going to be from the beginning, even if it is narrative. A short story feels shorter and more intense
than a novel. A novel has more room to play. Most of my ideas end up as poems. I guess I consider
myself a poet primarily, even though half my books are novels or short story collections. I don’t know if I
answered that question lol

MLR: Oh yeah, you also have another new novel If you Love Me, You’ll Kill Eric Pelkey. The title has me
intrigued. Are you starting a cult?

CL: I keep trying to start a cult, but it’s a lot of work. You have to learn how to play guitar and make your
own clothes. Then the farming. And having sex with everyone, which gets tedious after a while. You
have to decide which asteroid is hiding the mother ship. Then there’s the whole suicide pact thing,
which is like a scheduling nightmare. I need a nap just thinking about it.

MLR: The protagonist is a “disgruntled adjunct professor,” according to the online blurb. I thought all
adjunct professors are happy to teach for $1.75 an hour (sans benefits). No?

CL: I’ve been an adjunct for more than a decade. I very quickly realized I wasn’t going to make a living
just teaching, so I have a full-time job in addition to teaching. I’ve known a lot of people who tried to
string together adjunct gigs between multiple colleges, and it’s tough. You’re teaching all these classes,
making less than you’d make managing a McDonald’s. You have no health insurance or benefits. It’s very
difficult to make the leap from adjunct to full-time.

I used to teach high school, which I really loved. But then I moved to NOVA after my divorce so I could
stay in my daughter’s life, and I started teaching at a community college, thanks to you, actually. I like
community colleges because there are all kinds of students. Maybe an older person going back to school
for a degree. Or a young person looking to transfer to a 4-year school. I feel like you’re actually helping
people change their lives.

But yeah, all teachers are underpaid, but adjuncts are criminally underpaid.

MLR: If you could pick one Disney cartoon character to appear in If you Love Me, You’ll Kill Eric Pelkey
who would it be and why?

CL: In the Princess and the frog, there is a firefly that’s in love with the moon. I don’t know how well it
would fit in with the rest of the novel, but that feels like a character I would write. Maybe Belle from
Beauty and the Beast, near the beginning of the movie where she’s doing her “I Want” song and is full of
fire, before she marries the monster who keeps her prisoner. She could really use therapy, I think.

MLR: This is the part of the interview where you talk about something else that interests you but that I
didn’t have the foresight to actually think about.

CL: As I type this, I’m packing for a trip back to Arkansas, where I grew up. I was in a punk band for years,
and my old band is getting back together to record an album and play a gig. I think it’s going to be
terrible, but I’m there for it.

MLR: See, aren’t you glad I let you air that out? Now it’s game time! Part one: tell us about a book that
you wrote but didn’t finish and why. Could be a poem or short story instead of a book.

CL: I’ve started a lot of books but didn’t finish them. When I was first married, I used to live and work at
a boarding school in Maryland, and I wrote a serial called The Idealists about it, published in some online
journal that no longer exists. It was all about being new teachers who were trying to make a difference,
and the incompetent administration. I also wrote several scenes (maybe 100 pages) and took a bunch of
notes with an eye toward turning the whole thing into a book called Jubal’s Daughter. But I had a hard
time writing about my divorce, so I never finished it. It’s something I’ve come back to several times. One
of these days I’ll get over the squeamishness and write it and win all the awards.

MLR: Part two: Now tell us about a book you would like to write but you aren’t sure quite how to do it
(yet). Could be a poem or short story instead of a book.

CL: I would like to write a book about growing up on a rice farm. I have a poetry collection about that,
and some stories, and I have a collection of short memoir pieces, but I would like to write a story about
my mom’s experience. She had a tragic life. She married a rice farmer and taught middle school, then
she contracted Huntington’s Disease, which is like a cross between Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. She was
sick for much of my life and died badly. I would really like to capture something of her, even though I
didn’t really know her that well. But I’ve been waiting to write it because I haven’t felt like I could do it
justice just yet. I have written a few scenes, but not much. Maybe 20 pages.

MLR: If you could “sell out” and write a cheesy novel that would be carried in grocery stores, what kind
of book would it be and why? Also, do grocery stores even still carry novels?

CL: Yes. Grocery stores carry novels, just not good ones, usually. I’ve written urban fantasy or
paranormal—what’s the difference between those? Anyway, I had some success a few years ago with
those. I’ve also written kids books but haven’t published them yet. Once upon a time I wrote erotica
under a different name and published it on Amazon. But I wasn’t very good at writing sex scenes, I don’t
think. I was way more interested in making the stories funny. I don’t think I could write a lot of straight
genre stuff like romance or hard sci fi. I have started writing comic books, but they don’t make any
money either. I think I’m destined to just write my little books and have a few people read them and
then win the lottery and buy an island like normal people.

MLR: This is where we part and I tell you how grateful we are that you chatted with us here in this
coffee bar in the cool (but not too cool) part of town. Sorry again about spilling my Frappuccino all over
your $500 limited edition Crocs. My bad! Best of luck in all your upcoming readings and etcetera. I hope
your next book doesn’t feature a writer seeking vengeance on a clumsy editor who asked awkward

CL: Thanks Nathan. I’m not actually wearing crocs, I just have really weird feet.