Bill Callahan gave his audience a start when signed with Drag City, dropped the Smog moniker, and released his last two albums, Woke On a Whaleheart and Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle, under his own name. Though this marked something of a shift in the scope of his work, Callahan was just getting started. His latest work, Letters to Emma Bowlcut, marks Callahan’s first foray into the literary world. Structured as a series of letters sent from a nameless protagonist to a woman he meets at a party, fans will find that the novel does tread thematic ground similar to that of his music. As the letters progress, readers are drawn into a world that is at once well-realized and, partially because of the one-way nature of the narrative, exceedingly sparse. Letters to Emma Bowlcut is available from Drag City.
Was writing Letters to Emma Bowlcut a big plan, or something that just happened over time?
Well, yes, writing a novelette was a big plan for a country mouse such as I. It didn’t just happen; I had to work for it.
Is it contrarian to write a novel composed of letters in the Internet age?
I hope not. The novelette is not a grand statement on the state of the art of letter writing in the computer age. Someone such as I would not venture to make a statement on something so vast. Putting it in epistolary form was a way to transcend genre. In epistolary form ,it could be short story, poem, whimsy, advice column, ephemera, etc.
How did you decide on the format?
It was the most open format I could think of.
Have you read other books that were written this way?
I find fault with the genre in general. Most epistolary works are cloying, corny, and heavy handed. I was trying to show them how it was really done.
In a larger sense, what writers inspired your prose?
I’m more a believer in writing rather than writers. Authors of good books also write bad books. Writers are fallible; writing is not. You can find good writing anywhere. A note from your grampa can make you cry with its perfection.
It’s been said that a writer’s first novel is autobiography. Do you agree with this?
Either everything is autobiography or nothing is. There can be no in between. The question, which seems to be of great interest to many, is not at all interesting to me. ou could say all writing is autobiography since it comes from the “auto.” But the question has no bearing for me.
Is your writing process different for prose and music?
Yes. Prose is like a block. Paragraphs are blocks you are making. A song is lines, whip marks on the back. There are lines in prose, also, but really it’s about the block of a paragraph and a page. A song is just getting in and getting out as quick as possible.
Did writing the book affect your music?
No. Books and music are two worlds.
Now that you’re a published author, how will you decide between making an album or writing a book?
It’s easy. It’ll be an album per year and a book every five years.