Interviews > Published on May 26th, 2020

Interview: Writer & Publisher Marston Hefner

Photo courtesy of Marston Hefner

Last year I went to Denver to help host a couple readings that featured some writers CLASH Books had published. It was one of the best book events I’ve ever experienced. All the writers brought real originality and talent to the stage, but there was this tall dude with a famous last name that just killed it. He really stood out with a unique literary style. It was an amazing reading, and that weekend this writer and got to talk about our love of writing. After that I became friends with Marston Hefner and we continued our conversation on writing and our love of obscure games and sports. When Marston started an online literary magazine I knew had to interview him for LitReactor. I am always down to support and spread the word of a well-paying site for indie and experimental literature. So I took off my friend hat and put on my LitReactor hat to interview Marston about his love of writing, indie lit, his magazine YOUNG, family, and why he loves Backgammon so much. Seriously, he loves Backgammon the way I love Pickleball

We got to meet at a reading in Denver, which ended up being a great time. What are your thoughts on doings readings with other writers and publishers, and the idea of a literary community?

I don’t like the idea of a literary community. I think. We’re all so bitter. I don’t know why but I. There are these Gatekeepers in the community who hold themselves up and they don’t let everyone in. We end up resenting them? Something like that. Especially when they don’t deserve to be there? Like they’re writing shit about Ford Sedan’s driving down in the South and that’s the poem. That’s it. I don’t know, that shit gets to us but it’s inevitable. Because we are writers, we’re doing subjective work. It’s of course going to happen that some people are at the top who shouldn’t be there.

Some of us are letting in or keeping out most of us. And so we get upset, and competitive. I rock climb and that is a great community since we all have a vested interest in learning from each other so we can complete the problem. Sure there is, healthy competition in rock climbing, did this dude just climb that and I didn’t?, but at the end of the day it’s fun.

I think writing is a religion to a lot of us. We take it that way. Some of us don’t. So I’m not sure but I do know like, all of us, it’s a very personal thing. We send our stuff to a friend and we want them to love it. And maybe they do but, I don’t know, it always feels upsetting to receive feedback from a peer. It feels like writing and community would have a tough time until you get right up there, up there with the big boys, and then it’s whatever. I think in a few years time it’ll be like that for me. It’ll be, remember that shit show and when I cared about it? Writing community at 30 years old, for me, in the Independent Literature scene, seems impossible. Writing friends however, good idea. I really like the friends I’ve made. Love them in fact.

You have a new online magazine, Young (a good paying site LitReactor readers!), that focuses on raw and experimental pieces. What inspired you to start this magazine? What are you looking for with Young Submissions?

I really care about writing. It’s one of the few things I love about myself, and care about doing well.

Yeah right well nothing is too personal I suppose I have had my heart broken sometimes about things that I felt were unlovable, unacceptable, deviant things but not dark things but the women found them, troubling. So, a part of this magazine was kind of venting that out. Hopefully you’re good at what you do, have some shit that people think is wrong, and write about it. Initially starting the magazine was about that, loving the stuff that others thought wrong or unlovable. Writers are in a unique position where we can turn deviant things into very beautiful stories. And that like, reverses the problem and makes it a solution. The things that we thought were grotesque within us are actually the things that produce amazing work. I really find that nice to think about. That was initially what the project was, to put out deviant and heartfelt stuff.

Now that I’m kind of over that, now I guess the magazine is about risk. I enjoy taking risks that make sense, or are innovative just because one has worked to a point where they can see something others don’t. I think John Trefry is a good example. The man is insane but actually a better writer than you who are reading this is, not you Christoph, the reader. Trefry is better than me as well, unfortunately, I think, honestly, I think so. Anyways, he’s publishing on Neutral Spaces. That felt wrong? It felt, wrong, but what is right? I mean, look, here’s the truth. Here’s what I realized and it was a big realize and it’s good everyone knows this realize. Is that, the better one gets at something, the less people are going to understand what it is they are doing. In backgammon, when the computer AI first appeared people thought it was wrong, insane, the plays made no sense. The same is true in art. An average reader, even a good reader, is not going to understand what a Master is doing in a piece. And hey, no one understands it all. I understand like 10% of good stuff, less actually. The point is that Mastery brings a way of seeing the world, opening up layers and layers, and if you haven’t done the work you’re not going to get it, is the idea I like but may not be true, but is true for me. So, the point is, I can see this since I’ve been reading for a while and a lot. So the goal is, the 5% of great stuff I see, I want others to read. That means getting the magazine to a place where there’s no doubt it publishes good work. I look up to NOON regarding that, they do what they love and don’t care about much else as in advertising. So the goal, there isn’t one really, it changes as time passes. Right now? The goal is to publish great writing that is doing something unique. But even that doesn’t feel right. I’m not sure what the end goal is really. I really care about writing and I care about finding writers who are really good at what they do. I hope the magazine will somehow give them some, good feeling about their work. I want to grow the magazine for them, so they get that good justified feeling in their bellies.

You have gotten short stories published in magazines like NY Tyrant and Witchcraft Magazine. When did writing and getting published become something you really wanted to do?

It’s not something I really want to do at this point, but little baby Marston really wanted to do it and I like, still, pat him on the head and go “You’re so sweet. You mean so well.” I wrote a lot of books in Tokyo. I was living in Tokyo for two years and it was then that I was serious about getting published. I think this is complicated really, it’s actually a very serious or important question to answer. I’m not sure how to. Really dig in there. There is so much to dig in with, like, why do we care, obviously I care a lot. I really care a lot about being liked and being loved and being recognized by just about everyone. I tell myself like, I only want the good ones to love me but in the end it’s like, everyone in the scene should love me, I’m special, I deserve this and that. I don’t really see a problem with wanting to be loved but actually I really do. I really do Christoph since, if you want that I don’t know, it’s got to impact the work. And it has to impact this here interview. Like right now these people are being like, I want them here with me.

Right here.

So I do a paragraph trick there to really get someone to feel something. I’m human, but publishing, gee. I want to be really good. I’m lying. I want to be the best writer in America at some point in my life. And so, I mean, how does publishing really enter into that equation? I can’t really say it does, logically speaking, publishing has no correspondence to how skilled one is at what they do. I suppose publishing is a way to keep me going. I like the feeling in my stomach when people love the stories I publish. But then again, there’s always something missing or, not quite there, not what I hoped for. A kind of arriving at first but then a normalizing of talent and recognition. I think we tend to normalize our talent and so winning becomes normal and, I think, Michael Jordan isn’t capable of looking at himself the way we do. He is it. Is in it. And that’s kind of sad. I know I’m distracted, it’s what I do. I don’t know how to answer what you are asking.

Why publishing? I want to be remembered but I think if I cared too much about my place in the hierarchy it would be a detriment to what I do. A detriment to my art and long term success. So like, my idea is, fuck publishing, fuck the reader, and enjoy. Really enjoy the bliss, enjoy the process. It’s not really about publishing, or it is unconsciously but I don’t care to know it. It happens that most of the time for me, people see that it’s really good. I think there are some who do Great work and aren’t recognized for it. I think that happens but most of the time it’s bad work that doesn’t get recognized or bad work that is recognized, why does that happen? For me I’ve been lucky so far, I think my last name helps, maybe makes the reader stop for a moment, pay attention.

Your father, Hugh Hefner, played a role in publishing and curating stories. What do you think you have in common with him and where do you think you differ?

I stopped working on the interview at this question. Probably because it’s a personal question to ask and it feels loaded. Big loads of stuff here. OK, let me read it now.

Alright, I don’t know how much my father had to do with big names being published. I think he did but let me figure this out. He published Joyce Carol Oates and other names. Other big names. So yeah. He did good. Yes. But, my father thought Ray Bradburry was the, hold on, Ray Bradberry?, Ray Bradbury was the same as Esquire publishing Hemmingway. I mean, you know, you know what I’m saying here. You know.

I care about making something really great. I care about quality, careful, real experimental “stuff”. I said “shit” in my head but it never sounds right to me written out. I know what quality writing looks like, I read all the time, and I aim to have that in the magazine. Where I differ, I think, is where I differ with most magazines in the world. I do not care who you are. I do not care where you have been published. I don’t care how many likes you average on twitter. I only care if I see what you are doing, if what you are doing is special, weird, peculiar, and then I will publish you and I will pay you. I don’t care about the magazine, I care about your writing. That is all. Maybe one day it will be complex, but now it is, shut the fuck up, pay them, and publish good stuff.

What are you reading at the moment and who are some established writers and some new writers who inspire you?

John Trefry is the only person I care about. Before that it was others but now it’s Trefry. Established writers would be Lish and Stein, those two for me at the moment. Before it was others but it changes. Right now I’m into recursion so I like Lish and Stein.

Young Mag’s Twitter handle says you won big at Backgammon. How did you become such a big fan of backgammon and when did you start to play professionally?

I’ve reached a point in my life where I like to make an error and then improve on it or, make it a “smart” move in the end.

Backgammon was taught to me by my father. He taught all of us, the kids and my mother backgammon. I did that on purpose. I’m the gamer in the family, my brain worked that way so I went with that. You know, one of us had to be the CCO?, Chief Creative Officer?, of Playboy and the other had to be the best backgammon player, really take that to its limit, really shit on our own father’s hopes and dreams when it came to the game. My father didn’t really have hopes and dreams when it came to the game, was really a very, very poor player. I don’t know what he got out of it, to be honest, the guy just liked playing, kind of meditating with the pips. For my father, everything was clear in backgammon, he played it so simple that he had like 5 rules and applied it to every situation. I think getting good at the game, honestly, was a kind of Oedipal revenge for me, towards him. I mean, not all of it, there is virtue existing like, I love problem solving, but think back a moment, I am, you can’t, I’ll tell you the memory while I think back a moment. I played real poor backgammon but was experimenting when I was young, and my father would say, “You’re ruining the spirit of the game,” or “That’s a stupid move.” I was just trying new things, the great thing about it, in the end, is my father’s way of playing was abysmal, but none of us really knew that. None of us had truly studied the game. So you have this, idiot backgammon player telling his idiot backgammon player son how to play, the blind leading the blind. Anyways, I’ve always been a gamer, backgammon fit naturally into my life. Sometimes I wish my father had played chess, I mean, people know chess is a smart persons game. Would be nice to be a Master in chess. Yeah. I wish I was a Master in Chess but my family played backgammon.

What is one of your short-term writing goals and what is a long-term writing goal?

Short-term goal is to be recognized in the underground literary community. Be published and have a solid book out there people read. That would be a goal if I cared about external things, which I do I guess, but let’s revise.

It’s a real struggle having a goal in writing, something that fills me up. I think I want to get better, continue to master the art.

Long-term goal would be to push it even further. As I get older I want to add more hours. I’d like to be at like an 8 hour a day writing schedule by the time I’m 40. That would be nice, then I wouldn’t be so intimidated by Knausgaard and Murakami.

As to the struggle, I mean, I do it for the thrills but sometimes the thrills don’t appear, then one wonders, why do I do this, if not for the thrills? But I keep doing it, I think, maybe, I really enjoy touching that Higher Plane. I enjoy touching the Transcendental, or trying to, maybe pretending to, when I don’t feel it.

How have you been holding up in quarantine? Do you have a routine that you follow?

I am a routine person. 5 days a week writing 2 hours a day, reading 1 hour a day, 15 minutes of backgammon study, and 1 hour and 30 minutes (roughly) of backgammon play. I enjoy that, it keeps me solid and it keeps me improving at (to me) an exceedingly quick pace. I try to exercise in quarantine, my girlfriend and I do yoga Monday and Wednesday. I don’t really enjoy yoga, if it weren’t for COVID we would be rock climbing, which is something I like to talk a lot about.

Final question, what do you want LitReactor readers know about you?

I’ve made mistakes in my life and, I care about making more. I’ve reached a point in my life where I like to make an error and then improve on it or, make it a “smart” move in the end. I learned that in backgammon, with mastery, one has complete freedom. That kind of freedom has brought about some sort of nihilism in me now, everything is permissible since everything can bring about solid quality play. Perhaps for me, the goal is, now that I’m here, to really do something special, something that jocks my willies, brings me joy. I’d like to be happy, in the end, but don’t quite know how to be happy and be the best at what I do. Sounds trite, it’s the truth. That said, this quarantine is messing with me. Now that I’m going outside more, parks are opened in Los Angeles, I feel myself growing in strength. Happiness easier to come by. What should you know about me, I’m a bit antagonistic with you, the reader, I don’t know what you really want out of me and I’m a bit tired trying to prove something to you but, I hope you will, see, that I really care about writing. It’s one of the few things I love about myself, and care about doing well.

About the author

Christoph Paul is the Managing Editor and owner of CLASH Books, who have published over 60 books and have been covered by NPR, Poets & Writers, Rolling Stone, Believer Magazine, Oprah Magazine, The Observer, Fangoria, and Publisher's Weekly. The press has had books translated into Spanish, French, and Italian. He has been editing books in almost every genre for over a decade. As an author, he won a humor award and had viral cult success under a pen name. He is the lead singer and bass player of the rock band The Dionysus Effect, who have received positive reviews in Loudwire, EARMILK, and Red Rock Magazine. He sometimes writes songs about the books he publishes because even artists are inspired by their day jobs. Follow him on Twitter @christophpaul_ @clashbooks @dionysuseffect.

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