Bud Smith works heavy construction and is the author of F250, Calm Face, Dust Bunny City, among others. In 2017 CCM will release his memoir Work Safe Or Die Trying, about the intersection of manual labor and writing. Check out the newest book, Dust Bunny City, not sold on Amazon, available from the publisher Disorder Press. Follow him on Twitter @bud_smith and check out his website.
GB: Bud, thank you for taking time for this. My first question is usually: Can you share a little bit about yourself? What's some background info worthy of noting for the readers? Any previous works you'd like to self-plug?
BS: I'm from New Jersey, and it feels like half the earth is from New Jersey or on their way to New Jersey, anyways. I didn't go to college, I was playing in bands and thought that's what I would do, but when my friend who played drums passed away I stopped making music and I started to write. I just read a lot and wrote a lot and submitted my work out to anybody who looked like they were doing the cool underground writing I liked to read. I've always worked construction. It's easy to work construction in New Jersey. There's all the rich houses along the ocean and the people always need something done to their houses. And there's the industrial hell-holes up in north Jersey. I work in them now. Power plants and oil refineries. Welding, rigging and whatever else. I write most of my creative stuff on my cellphone at work, on my coffee breaks, and I edit it later at home on my computer. The American dream.
GB: More so than being a driven author, you're also a heavy construction worker? How did you get started there and what influences brought you to the lit scene?
BS: My first real job was doing masonry at rich people's summer homes in Manalapan, Brick, Point Pleasant, Toms River. I used to go the 'quarry' in my pickup truck and get a load of boulders and then go and build walls and waterfalls. When I was in my early twenties I got a phone call from the union hall and they said I could come and try to weld for them. So I went and learned how to do that up in Bayonne. I've been doing the metal trades stuff for thirteen years now, but times flies. I don't think doing this kind of work has had any influence whatsoever on my writing. I think art is for everybody. I always loved to read and by the time I was eighteen or so, I figured I'd mess around with trying to write a novel. It just felt like one of those things to try to do in a lifetime. I found my way to the lit scene by reading the acknowledgment page in short story collections I liked and submitting my work to those magazines. Things just progressed.
GB: How has being a construction worker helped your life as a writer? I definitely see influence in F250. How about as a reader?
BS: Working construction hasn't helped me write at all. But it's a job I like to do and I have to have a job so it should be one I like. I like to write about things I see and do, so sometimes I do write about working construction. But I've also written about things I've just seen in passing. My first published novel was called Tollbooth and it was from the point of view of a toll collector on the garden state parkway. As a reader, I also don't think working construction as done much for me, I've always carried around a paperback book. I've read cheap paperbacks when I was unemployed. When I was on vacation. When I was working the night shift at a nuclear plant. When I was waiting around in the hospital to see if someone was going to live or die. Maybe the reason we make art is because it feels so inconsequential to be alive sometimes. Maybe the reason we consume art is because it feels so inconsequential to be alive sometimes.
GB: What does "success" mean to you? What keeps you going?
BS: Success is finishing something I start even if it takes twenty years. I feel successful every time I get done brushing my teeth, tying my shoes, stuff like that.
GB: What's it like being a writer from New Jersey? I have a hard time explaining this to people with preconceived biases.
BS: Nah, not hard at all. Everyone is from somewhere. I've never run into anyone with much to say negatively to me about being from New Jersey. I've gone cross country a couple times and I've met most kinds of people from most parts of America. They're all just doing their thing. The chance of the thing you're doing being their thing? You've got a small shot at it. But mostly people around the world don't have anything negative to say about someone who is making art, because, again, art is inconsequential, it exists beyond the vacuum of money. If you're doing something that by design doesn't make much money or generate much notoriety, there's total freedom to be who you are because no one is paying attention. They might catch you right there at the end of your lifespan, but most artists are smart enough to be dead before that happens. Then all the play-by-play analysis can happen after you're already onto the next thing, Heaven, Hell, Purgatory, Bizarro New Jersey on the Astral Plain.
GB: Who and what is on your MUST-READ list?
BS: Elizabeth Ellen is really great. Her books Fast Machine and Person/a are out from Hobart. Sam Pink's book Rontel, all Sam Pink's stuff though. Troy James Weaver has a book called Witchita that I really like. Cult of Loretta by Kevin Maloney. Brian Alan Ellis' books. Kathy Fish wrote his book called Together We Can Bury It that's just brilliant.
GB: Were any of these inspiration for your latest, DUST BUNNY CITY? If not, what was?
BS: Oh hell yeah, definitely. I try to incorporate every kind of art and thing about the world that feels beautiful to me even if it's ugly. But I started writing Dust Bunny City when I saw a sign on a subway car in New York for a poem by Tracey K. Smith. I really liked that there could be this poem just hanging on the train and I wanted to write a book of poems and stories/anecdotes that were like a walking tour of the city my wife and I drink in, laugh in, stumble through. I like to write domestic things about the home. Mundane things. I don't honk ordinary life is boring. I don't believe the lives of people who aren't rich and famous, are not lives worth studying. Dust Bunny City is a love story, about just being alive in the city, rather than tuned out, numb, faded, fried, burnt out in the city.
GB: Your technique and voice are familiar, yet at the same time, completely distinct. How do you embrace these literary tools with a sense of drive in your work?
BS: I think it's equal parts important to be totally sincere, and completely fucking around, playful. Life is complex and life is full of surprise. I try to keep that surprise in my own writing, not really for anyone else, just for myself. I don't want to get complacent, because if I do, I'll probably lose myself along the way. Best to stay on my toes, or else I'll blink and look in the mirror and there will be a dissatisfied old man staring back at him. That's okay though. If that man appears in the mirror I'll just draw a goofy mustache on his face.
GB: What's next for Bud Smith? Got any upcoming projects going that we can keep an eye out for?
BS: I'm working on edits for a book of essays coming out in late spring from CCM (Civil Coping Mechanisms.) A memoir, believe it or not, about the intersection of creativity and working a job in construction.