Brian Alan Ellis is both a prolific writer and champion of other prolific writers, releasing knock-out books by the likes of Noah Cicero, Sam Pink, Bud Smith (through House of Vlad Productions) between publishing his own steady stream of wry, scuzzy poetry and flash fiction.
His most recent book, Sad Laughter, is a cavalcade of witty one-liners, shitposts, and disarmingly funny micro-commentaries on the current state of indie publishing. Between bad band name puns and evocative new manifestations of a writer’s quiet desperation, Ellis breaks down the everyday absurdities behind trends like #AmWriting with the grace and power of Rob Van Dam’s Five Star Frog Splash. But, in line with the master-your-craft ethos behind professional wrestling, Ellis’s piledrives are safely choreographed and, dare I say, delivered with love.
I spoke with Mr. Ellis about Sad Laughter, 80s hard rock, and what’s next for the taste-making House of Vlad Productions.
Sad Laughter puts the whole indie lit scene on blast, one delectable shit-post at a time. Were these angry aphorisms all originally from your Twitter drafts, or did you set out to write in this specific format from the outset?
The majority of Sad Laughter is comprised of stuff I’d posted on Facebook or tweeted about. These aphorisms were not created out of anger. Anger is not a good look for me, though I do have a lot of it buried deep down. Cynical? Maybe. Sarcastic? Sure, whatever. I was mainly trying to be funny and truthful, but mostly funny. I saw a lot of writers, especially on the Internet, taking things too seriously at times. Figured some dark levity was needed.
Are all the references to early ‘90s hair metal and pro wrestling you trying to combat cynicism by reliving a sweeter life bathed in a nostalgic glow or are you still an active member of the Ratt Fan Club?
I grew up in the ‘80s and ‘90s so most of that is just relatable content, things I find funny or hold dear. I have moments where I escape into nostalgia but for the most part I am not a nostalgic person. Pop culture, especially of that time, is in many ways how I relate to the world. As far as pro wrestling goes, I still watch it, so it’s not really a nostalgia thing, but I do look back fondly on the years when Hulkamania was the strongest force in the universe. Also, I am not an active member of the RATT fan club, though I do like RATT. I am, however, an official member of the KISS Army. And I don’t like the term “hair metal.” I prefer just “‘80s hard rock.” I was very young when that stuff was current so I have a pretty non-ironic allegiance to many of those bands, as ridiculous as they sometimes were. Besides the soundtrack to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles motion picture soundtrack, Appetite for Destruction was the first album I owned. Got it on cassette. Christmas, 1990. Before that, I used to just a hold my grandma’s tape recorder up to the TV and record the audio from music videos on MTV. That was my Spotify for a while.
If you had a five thousand dollar advance to write a book of essays about a single album, but part of the deal was that you wouldn’t be allowed to do any research or read any primary sources, which album would you pick?
Like one of those 33 1/3 books? I would probably do a KISS album. That’s my favorite band, so I inherently know a lot about them. Would probably do Alive II, or maybe one of the ‘80s albums nobody cares about, like Asylum, which is one of my favorites of theirs. I tend to gravitate towards the less popular KISS records, like Unmasked and Hot in the Shade and Dynasty. Also, Melodrama by Lorde would be an interesting one to do because I pretty much listened to it nonstop in 2018 while going through some tough shit. It’s a great album. No, 2017. 2017. Got my years mixed up. 2018 has also been very tough. But Lorde was what I listened to the most in 2017. In 2018 I have pretty much just listened to this emo playlist I made on Spotify for work. And Oasis
What makes Asylum your favorite KISS album?
I wouldn’t say Asylum is my all-around favorite KISS record but it is probably my favorite ‘80s non-makeup KISS record. “Any Way You Slice It,” “Who Wants To Be Lonely,” and “King of the Mountain” are some pretty tasty numbers.
The late 80s/early 90s has this whole hard rock, pro wrestling, junk food kinda glamour to it which I also see in your writing, but it’s not common elsewhere in the literary world, it’s very separate from the sort of typical sad New England writing professor vibe. Do you feel like the themes and settings and references in your work cause people to misjudge its literary merit?
Probably, which is fine because I am 100% not interested in typical sad New England writing professor vibes. Or even “literary merit,” for that matter. I’m into Applebee’s Realism.
Speaking of Applebee’s, your writing is peppered with references to both shitty food establishments and hard rock. Do you have any particularly bad memories associated with a Hard Rock Café?
I have only been to Hard Rock a handful of times and it was always when my friends and I would want to get a buzz on before going to see TNA/IMPACT! Wrestling TV/Pay-Per-View tapings in Orlando. Hard Rock left very little impression on me. I prefer places like Chili’s and Applebee’s. I find comfort in those places. I also like greasy-spoon diners, like Waffle House and Village Inn.
Do you listen to music while writing? Was there a specific soundtrack that fueled the creation of Sad Laughter?
Yeah, mostly. I listen to all kinds of music. Lately it’s been electronic-based pop stuff, like Purity Ring and Chvrches and Charli XCX. I really dig Sleigh Bells. The main construction of Sad Laughter was fueled by Rolling Rock tallboys and the first two Oasis albums. I don’t blast it, but I find black metal (like Darkthrone, Celtic Frost, Bathory) is good to listen to while doing something like editing or writing or layout, where you kind of zone out but are still pretty focused. Extreme metal relaxes me. It’s like ASMR.
I vaguely watched Purity Ring open for Neon Indian before their first album, Shrines, came out and I really regret not paying more attention at the time because it totally fucking rips.
Yeah, the second Purity Ring album, Another Eternity, honestly slaps big time.
You run House of Vlad Productions, putting out and championing really classic work by Noah Cicero, Sam Pink, and Bud Smith. What’s next for House of Vlad?
I am publishing a poetry collection by this great writer named Rebekah Morgan. Hotel Alexander. He is a wild Appalachian personality who shoots guns and drinks moonshine and doesn’t give a fuck and I am proud to publish him. Also, haven’t heard from her in a hot minute, but I am supposed to be publishing a book by this elusive writer named Mary Moore Dalton. Pink Soupy. She narrated the audio version of my novel, Something to Do with Self-Hate, and I slept on a yoga mat in an empty room in her house when I visited Philly last summer. She is rad.
And what are you working on now in terms of writing?
I may or may not have a book coming out from a press I can’t name right now due to some legal shit, but you probably know of the press because they publish awesome books. Hopefully everything will work out with that. I am also hoping to finish my first poetry collection, Road Warrior Hawk, by the end of the year… if I make it till then. *winks*