Hosho McCreesh—occasional Alibi contributor, poet, artist, and now, novelist—recently spent four years writing his forthcoming novel, Chinese Gucci (officially out Nov. 30). The book explores the life of Akira, who travels the American deserts into the Mexican ones collecting knock-off handbags to resell on Ebay. On the road and in the pages, though, much more is unpacked. Before the book's release from DrunkSkull Books, McCreesh illuminated some of his process, ideas, influences and how creating the original collage cover proved to be revelatory. Find the book online at hoshomccreesh.
Alibi: When did you start thinking about this book and what inspired its plot?
McCreesh: Ten years ago I started gathering ideas for four or five different novels. I'd jot things down on post-its, or scraps of old bills, whatever … and gathered up ideas that way for about seven years. When it finally felt like I had all I needed to do a first draft, I gave myself one calendar year to write it. I finished the first draft on Dec. 31 with a whole 13 minutes to spare!
As for the inspiration, I've always been drawn to misanthropes and misfits, I dig transgressive fiction and grit-lit, so I knew I'd be working in that vein. The Catcher in the Rye is clearly an inspiration, as was just the idea of writing the "great American novel." I had this nebulous idea of a stunted kid selling fake designer purses as the real thing and felt I could say something about America … so off I went!
How has all your previous work—from poetry to painting to food reviews—spoken to this novel?
From poetry, I took concision, and pared-back prose. From painting and visual artwork, I'd say I stole composition and the use of cinematic scenery or descriptions. As for food reviews, I'd say the juxtaposition of haute cuisine and gas station junk food is something that the main character, Akira, knows something about! He might not realize it, but he probably enjoys both for exactly what they are.
I was stoked to see the mention of Leeches of Lore! Do local landscapes, culture, et cetera, surface in the work in other ways?
Definitely. I absolutely wanted readers to get the flavor of the city in much the same way as Los Angeles is featured in Ask the Dust, and New York does in Catcher. Some spots are used verbatim, others are renamed and thinly veiled—but locals will probably recognize them. As with “Breaking Bad,” I wanted New Mexico to feel like a character in the book, so most of the descriptive-heavy passages are devoted to her. As for Leeches of Lore—the mightiest band from Albuquerque ever—all of the special editions come with a free digital download of Leeches of Lorechestra, courtesy of the band. They also let me use their music in all the promo videos I made for the book. They're truly the best.
The book's blurb describes it as an "American allegory" ... What sort of wisdom were you hoping to distill here?
Without jumping up too high on my soapbox, I wanted to write a subtle but unblinking take on a few of the glaring problems we have in America. Hyper-masculinity, racism, globalism and capitalism—I wanted these themes threaded throughout. At issue is the idea that, be it Akira or America, who we think we are or who we pretend to be compared to who we actually are can often be very different and very problematic things. This imitation of wealth, of status that a fake designer purse represents, the way online lives across social media are heavily curated to create a certain appearance, or maybe to protect against criticism or insecurity, at some point the façade crumbles, empires fall … and what we're left with is who we actually are under it all. I don't know if that's wisdom, or liberating, or depressing, but the book explores it all in what I hope is a subtle way.
How do the original collaged covers inform/
The collage covers were a revelation, and the key to the final draft. Throughout the writing, I felt myself making decisions based on instinct rather than intention. I knew something had to be a certain way, but I didn't know why. While thinking about what to do for the special edition hardbacks, I stumbled on to the idea of making collages as covers and absolutely loved it. So I started in, and was absorbed by themes and images of WWII, fashion, Americana—and that's when I realized that I was writing something more than a simple yarn about a kid buying fake purses in Juarez. I was writing about America. And thinking about the book while searching for the right images really refined the vision and focus of the book for my final re-write. That visual work was how the instinctual became intentional.
What did you learn writing this book?
I learned that it takes a lot more ideas and it's harder to finish a novel than you'd think. I learned that the agent search with anything but a laser-focused, genre-specific manuscript is probably pointless. I learned that finishing a novel is really rewarding in a completely different way compared to my other books. It also reinforced the idea that, in terms of art, we absolutely have to go with our gut, do it our own way, without worrying about what comes after it's done. All we have is the time we have, so don't waste it chasing after anything you aren't determined to do, if not haunted by the need to see it through.