Monday, February 5, 2024

Q&A with Tyler C. Gore


Photo by Leigh Gore



Tyler C. Gore is the author of the essay collection My Life of Crime: Essays and Other Entertainments. His work has appeared in a variety of publications, including the South Shore Express, and he's on the editorial board of the literary journal Exacting Clam. He lives in New York City.



Q: Over how long a period did you write the essays in your collection?


A: My Life of Crime had a bit of a strange genesis, which makes sense, because it’s a strange collection.


Over the years, I’ve been writing and publishing personal essays — mostly humorous — in various magazines and journals. And for a time, I had a regular column called “Metropolis,” largely about my misbegotten adventures in NYC, in the South Shore Express, a Long Island monthly.


Jacob Smullyan, the publisher of Sagging Meniscus, was a fan of my work and asked me if I’d like to put together a collection for the press. “Definitely!” I told him. “But I’ve been working on this new essay about my appendectomy, and I’d love to include that.” I sent Jacob a few pages from an early draft. He was enthusiastic and told me to keep going.


I had thought “Appendix” would clock in around 15 to 20 pages — about the length of some of the longer essays in My Life of Crime, such as “Stuff” or “Clinton Street Days” — and would probably take a month or two to complete.


But as every writer knows, sometimes the writing has its own ideas.

“Appendix” wound up being the cornerstone of the collection, a novella-length essay running almost 200 printed pages — two-thirds of the book! — a freewheeling, unapologetically digressive account of my “routine” appendectomy that also serves as a kind of deranged portrait of my life in Brooklyn.


You learn a lot about my marriage and our anorexic cat Luna, our leaky apartment and our maniacal super —interrupted occasionally by my musings on skiing, simulated universes, mortality, and The Matrix.


Although it’s a memoir, “Appendix” presented a lot of the same technical complexities as a novel. Character development, exposition, pacing, themes and motifs, and so forth.


It had a complicated timeline which needed to be shaped into a coherent narrative with a satisfying emotional arc. That’s hard to knit out of the undifferentiated bits and pieces of your real life.


Plus it’s a comedy – bittersweet, but a comedy nonetheless — and comedy comes with its own formidable set of challenges. It can take a lot of rewrites to get it right.


So, although the events in “Appendix” only span two weeks, the essay wound up taking about four years to complete. Fortunately, Jacob was extremely supportive and encouraging throughout the whole process, even during those miserable periods of self-doubt when I despaired that I’d never finish.


Q: How was the books title (also the title of the first essay) chosen, and what does it signify for you?


A: Prospective readers should not be misled by the title. I’m not an ex-gang member, or a former hitman for the mob. I’m a neurotic, over-caffeinated book-hoarder who loves animals and is terrified of automobile trips.


“My Life of Crime” starts off with me in my childhood home in suburban New Jersey, pranking the neighbors with unwanted pizza deliveries, so that gives the reader a pretty good indication of what kind of “crimes” we’re dealing with.


But I love the idea of “a life of crime” as a kind of overarching metaphor. For better or for worse, I’ve been coloring outside the lines all my life.


I was the kind of kid who always got “Does Not Follow Directions” checked on my report cards. I loved to read but got mediocre grades because I hadn’t bothered to do the homework. I spent weekends poring over Dungeons & Dragons manuals, or plotting juvenile pranks with my like-minded friends. I sucked at sports, and took up smoking to compensate. I spent a lot of time in detention — mostly for lateness — but I always had a book to read.


Well, thank God for punk rock. It didn’t help my grades, but I took comfort in knowing there was a world of weirdos and misfits waiting for me out there.


As an adult, I’ve been clinically diagnosed with ADD — there’s quite a bit about that in “Appendix” — so that explains a lot about my schoolboy years. I no longer order pizzas for the neighbors, but I still carry around a sharpie in case I feel the urge to deface a billboard. And I lose my keys a lot.


Q: The writer Alice Stephens said of the book, “Tyler Gore gives voice to Generation X in this hilarious and intensely moving collection.” What do you think of that description?


A: I love that quote, especially since it came from Alice Stephens, a writer I deeply admire. Alice, by the way, is the author of the novel Famous Adopted People, a book I loved.


Is My Life of Crime “hilarious and intensely moving”? Oh yes, my friends, it certainly is. But if you want to verify the truth of that claim, you’ll have to read the book yourself.


Humor is really central to my writing. When everything is going sideways, there is something liberating and subversive about being able to step back and laugh at the utter absurdity of our lives. We’re all flawed, vain, misguided creatures muddling through life without an instruction manual, but our secret weapon is that we can look at ourselves and find delight in our own idiocy.


The best comedy is rooted in compassion and pathos. As anyone who’s ever watched stand-up knows, comedy often comes from a place of anger, sadness, or loss.


There’s a reason why we always see the comedy and tragedy masks displayed together in theaters. They are joined together, intertwined aspects of human experience. So all of that is also present in my writing, especially “Appendix,” in which mortality and loss are major themes.


Regarding Gen X—well, Alice knows what she’s talking about. We’re the same age and, in fact, we first met as college freshmen.


So yeah, guilty as charged: I am indeed a Gen-Xer, irreverent, steeped in irony, suspicious of authority, skeptical of sanctimony, and burdened with almost encyclopedic knowledge of crummy 1970s television shows—and that generational sensibility pervades the collection.


“Clinton Street Days” — my memoir of living on the Lower East Side and the East Village in the ‘90s, when I was in my 20s — offers a kind of case study of what a certain left-of-the-dial, slacker cohort of Gen X was up to in those days.


Working (and repeatedly quitting) crappy temp jobs, living in sketchy neighborhoods, moving from apartment to apartment, accidentally spending all your rent money on bars and cafes. CBGBs, the Mars Bar, the Sidewalk Café, the Pyramid, and the Holiday Cocktail Lounge were all frequent haunts.


Good times. Lots of poor life choices, but lots of memorable adventures too. No cellphones, no internet, no streaming television or social media, so that great boon to creativity — boredom — was in large supply. If you wanted to entertain yourself, you had to pick up a book, or draw, or write, or go out into the world and see what you could find.


You didn’t have the toxic performative pressure of social media. Your whole life wasn’t documented and uploaded to the internet, so you had room to make youthful mistakes — which I certainly did.


I guess that’s why a lot of us feel a little sorry for Gen Z, who grew up in the full bloom of the digital apocalypse, living life behind screens and tethered to their parents by cellphones like wayward toddlers.


I know they get tired of hearing this overly-generalized, not-entirely-fair characterization. (Ok, boomer.)  But I think it bums them out, too.


I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Gen Z has an obsession with ‘80s and ‘90s nostalgia that is sometimes baffling to those of us who lived through those years. (I think they love “Friends” more than we did when it aired.) But I suspect that’s because those were the last unplugged decades, when everyone still did their socializing in person, face to face.


But of course, Gen X is now hitting middle age, and we’re facing those same digital demons — I binge-watch way too much Netflix — along with, you know, our impending mortality.  I’d tell you to get off my lawn if I had one.


Q: What do you hope readers take away from the book?


A: Fiction is rightfully celebrated for its empathetic qualities — its capacity to let us imagine living lives very different from our own.


But what I love about the personal essay is that the reader gets to inhabit the life and mind of someone else who is not a fictional construct, but an actual human being. No other art form can do that in such an immersive way.  


That’s the kind of experience I hoped to offer readers in My Life of Crime: an intimate portrait of a very real human life — my misadventures, my sense of humor, my self-inflicted idiocy and questionable choices, and my marriage to Natasha, with all of its love and squalor.


But something else, too. In many ways, My Life of Crime is a kind of love letter to New York City, the place I’ve called home for nearly all of my adult life.


This can be a brutal place to live. It’s dirty, it’s loud, it’s hard to find solitude. Apartments are cramped, expensive, and — certainly in my experience — poorly maintained.


No backyard for summer barbecues, no garage for weekend projects, no attic for all the accumulated junk you have no use for, but somehow just can’t part with. We can barely cram four guests around our living room coffee table for a dinner party.


What I get in exchange is the entire city, just outside my door. I’ve lived here for decades and this town is still capable of astonishing me. Nearly every nationality in the world is represented in NYC; nearly every language spoken.


Just about every day, I’ll get into some kind of conversation with someone I’ve never met before, all from wildly varied backgrounds and walks of life. And almost every week I’ll stumble across something amazing, disturbing, or just plain weird — such as the bike-riding angel I chased down in “Abnormal Psychology.”


When I still lived in the East Village, I remember Natasha reporting that on her morning walk to the subway, she’d seen six stark-naked young men attempting to climb the huge metal cube at Astor Place.


It’s an incredibly rich resource for a writer — stories happen everywhere, all the time.


So, I hope that readers — even those who’ve never visited New York City — will get a sense of the humanity and the vitality of this incredible city, as well as its daily frustrations and heartbreaks.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: My Life of Crime is my first published book, and I had a bit of a learning curve over the past year. Setting up a website and a social media presence, making arrangements for public events, all that kind of thing.


It’s been rewarding — I’ve learned a lot and become part of a larger writing community — but everything takes more time than you think it will.


So I haven’t done as much creative work this year as I’d like, but I’m gearing up to shift my focus back to that. I’ve been jotting down ideas, mulling things over. I have a bunch of notes towards shorter essays.


Before I’d begun working on “Appendix” I’d been working for a long time on another book-length memoir concerning a different chapter of my life. Much of that has been drafted, so revisiting that work has been on my mind.


And — although I love writing essays and memoir — I’d like to work on some fiction again!


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I’d definitely like to point your readers to Exacting Clam, a great literary magazine I’m proud to be a part of. It’s the official literary journal of my publisher, Sagging Meniscus. Always quirky, always high quality. (I’m very pleased to say my collage artwork made the cover of the Winter 2023 issue!) 


Oh, and Statorec is another terrific lit mag I’ve worked with that consistently publishes outstanding essays, fiction and poetry.


If you’re looking for me online, my website is, and you can also find me on most social media platforms (including new ones like Bluesky and Threads):

Instagram: @tylermustwashhands
Twitter (ugh, I mean X): @TylerCGore
YouTube: @TylerCGore


If you’re ever in NYC, shoot me a DM. I love to meet new people, and as my business card notes, I am an amiable dinner companion.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

1 comment:

  1. This!! (I'm a boomer but empathize with every generation including the very youngest toddler generation just reaching the terrible twos)