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An Interview With Glasgow Phillips, Author of The Royal Nonesuch: Or, What Will I Do When I Grow Up?

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This is the first part of a two-part interview

Warning: If you are appalled by talk about puppet sex, foul language or the kind of person who thinks the existence of South Park is one of the signs that the world is coming to an end then you'd be wise to skip this interview. Don't say I have not warned you.

Glasgow Phillips has written a memoir quite like anything I have read before. I could try to summarize my thoughts but better, I think to just share the interview and let you draw your own conclusions. I’ll write more about the book with the second part of the interview.

This is a guy who… well, here is how Publisher's Weekly delicately handles mention of one of his projects: "His signature opus: The Sound of One Hand Clapping, starring Phillips as a Shaolin monk who defeats ninjas with his genitals."

And, no, it's not currently available for viewing on YouTube.

Scott Butki: Glasgow, your book was cracking me up before I even hit the first chapter. It’s not often that an author’s note makes me laugh. In that regard this reminded me of Dave Eggers’ memoir, which also had a quite memorable author’s note. I want to start by asking about your unusual title page, author’s note and preface.Who wrote the title page? Why was it decided to summarize the book on the title page? I’m going to excerpt it for the interview:

The Royal Nonesuch: In which the author, a failure at literature, fails likewise at pornography; founds a corporate branding consultancy and a New Media Empire; impersonates the antichrist; plays nursemaid to a homeless street performer in a bear suit; battles oblivion and the Big She; and attempts to answer the one great question that troubles his generation: What will I do when I grow up?

Anything you want to add to this excerpt? 

Glasgow: Nothing to add, sir.  That pretty much sums up the book’s contents. I wrote the first pass of it, and my editor Jamison Stoltz at Grove helped shape it. The reason we did it was that I was having a hard time with the basic question, “What’s it about?”  That long and arguably precious summary was the best I could do.

Scott: The author’s note is remarkable both for its frankness about the subject matter and the possibility that you may have gotten some things wrong.

Most of the characters in this book are my friends. They have been incredibly generous in allowing me to use their names and tell stories about our adventures together. Even so, I’d like to emphasize at the front that this account is one person’s subjective version of what happened, acknowledge that not everyone agrees with all of it, and request that the reader give equal credence to any other versions of the same events. With regard to the facts, I do think I got most of them right, but I wouldn’t advise using this book for anything other than amusement.

Would you recommend other memoirists use language such as this – future versions of James Frey and Augusten Burroughs who might get carried away?

Glasgow: James Frey and I have the same attorney, and we did have some discussions about whether some disclaimer-type language should be placed at the front of the book, discussions that ended in “Yes.”  As far as I’m concerned, that type of language shouldn’t be necessary, but apparently it is in today’s climate.  It seemed like more fun to imbed the disclaimer in the text than to have a separate page of legalese.  And as with the summary, the disclaimer does pretty much cover the subject.  Those are my feelings about whether the book is “true,” and I think they convey how much I care whether people believe or agree with me, which is not much.  As a reader, I don’t particularly care whether a writer tells what Mark Twain (as Huck Finn) would call “some stretchers.”  So I wouldn’t advise anyone to include language like that on account of me.  I’m not going to start crying that I was duped.  But somebody else might, and lawsuits just seem like a horrible waste of time, so fuck it: add a disclaimer stating the obvious. 

Scott: You make an interesting request of your reader:

Rather than including a list of which names are pseudonyms, an action that seems like it would only make readers more curious about who these characters ‘really' are, I humbly make a second request, that you try to avoid the temptation to figure it out, or, if you just can’t resist the investigative urge, that you keep your suspicions to yourself.

Have readers and reviewers honored your request?

Glasgow: Yeah, so far they have.  

Scott: I think you pull some kind of literary hat trick for, in the space of the two pages of your prologue, achieving this troika: referring to yourself as an “asshole,” talking about sex between consenting puppet, and warning the reader of the death of a clown. I don’t know whether to be scared or impressed. What were your intentions with these warnings?  

Glasgow: Those are real warnings.  My book isn’t for everybody, and I don’t want people to buy it thinking they’re getting one thing and then be pissed off they got something else.  If you read this book, those are things you’re going to encounter, so you have to be ready to deal with them. 

Scott: You are also remarkably humble. I think it will be hard to be more modest than this sentence that begins your prologue: “This may be of interest to no one but myself.” I considered stopping reading there but decided I didn’t want to be one of those jerks who does interviews without reading the book. And I’m glad I did because where else would I be able to read about your unsuccessful efforts in the porn industry? 

Glasgow: Thank you!  I am pleased to say that I know of no other place (aside from reviews that mention it) where you can read about my unsuccessful efforts in the porn industry.  And thank you for continuing to read past the first sentence.  I think maybe all memoirs should start with that sentence? 

Scott: Have you read Toby Young’s account of his adventures in Hollywood? What do you think of it? Your piece reminded me of his book and my interview with him about it.  

Glasgow: I haven’t read either of Toby Young’s books, but my cousins recently gave me one of them, The Sound of No Hands Clapping, on CD.  I haven’t listened to it yet because I haven’t decided whether I liked Mr. Young’s review of my book in The Wall Street Journal. (It did come with a sweet cartoon, though, of someone kicking himself in the ass with a Rube Goldberg contraption.  I put that on my blog and might frame it.)  Another reason I haven’t listened to the book is that I have a very short commute right now, from my house to my garage.  I like that interview, though.

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About Scott Butki

Scott Butki was a newspaper reporter for more than 10 years before making a career change into education... then into special education. He has been doing special education work for about five years He lives in Austin. He reads at least 50 books a year and has about 15 author interviews each year and, yes, unlike tv hosts he actually reads each one. He is an in-house media critic, a recovering Tetris addict and a proud uncle. He has written articles on practically all topics from zoos to apples and almost everything in between.