I stumbled onto this;
Profile: Jay White
by Richard Baron
"I guess your heart either spins correctly on its axis in El Paso or it doesn't, you either got it here or you don't, and here I am."
Posted on November 29, 2004
Despite his 1938 birth in central Illinois, Jay White is adamantly not a Yankee, damn it. At two months, he moved to Sonora and that’s where he grew up, a Texan.
He was a wingback on the Sonora Broncos, but he never scored a touchdown, and the day after he turned 17, he quit high school and joined the Marines. When he was 20, his platoon hit the beaches of Lebanon during the Suez Crisis and was met by little children selling dates.
In 1959, he left the Marines and became an evangelist in Midland, and to this day he’s a licensed Baptist preacher because once saved, always saved. After a short stint at Howard Payne College in Brownwood, and after his dad died, he moved to Dallas with his momma, and Dallas was a hell of a town in those days, by God, but he only really had a tenth grade education and no skills, so when he ran out of money, he joined the Army. After some training in El Paso, he was stationed in Germany where he was court-martialed for forging a weekend pass and sentenced to some pretty hard labor, so he went AWOL to Amsterdam where he met the most lovely human being you could ever imagine, though she bled out the nose when they made love.
His company was busy being transferred to Bremerhaven at the time he returned, so his second court-martial was no big thing. He got out of the army honorably in Arkansas in 1963 and hooked up with a woman who had 12 children and a husband, and then he bought a 1954 Pontiac convertible for $125 and drove it to Chicago. It died when the cold came, and one day White saw a hand with a wine bottle sticking from a snow bank, so he went back to his rooming-house, put all his shit in a cardboard box, walked to the bus station and caught a Greyhound to El Paso.
He had liked El Paso and he kind of thought of El Paso as home, but he didn’t stay very long, this time. He couldn’t find work, so he moved to Oakland with his mom and got a job selling burial policies on the Tenderloin for the George Washington Life Insurance Company. It didn’t pay that well and he didn’t like having to cross the Bay Bridge every day, so he joined the Navy where he was nicknamed ‘Sparks’ and was only court-martialed once for something about a truck. In 1967, at 28 years old, he received his third honorable discharge from the U.S. Armed Forces, and he returned to El Paso and enrolled at UTEP under the GI Bill.
He was doing real well for a while, but then he started taking care of a bar called "The City Club" in the basement of the Cortez Hotel, and his schoolwork suffered. By the time he had accumulated 140 hours, he had but a 1.68 grade point average, and at the kindly advice of an academic counselor, he withdrew.
He went to Guanajuato where he met a guy who owned a PEMEX station in Oaxaca and who gave him a job driving a bus all over Mexico for the University of Benito Juárez soccer team, but after a couple of years, in about 1974, his cousin, a very highbrow decorator, invited him to Dallas and introduced him to a fine-looking executive secretary who he married. They lived in a little town house in Chimney Hill, and he enrolled as an English Major at UT Dallas. Two years later, he had a Bachelor’s and he was offered an assistantship in the graduate program in creative writing at UTEP, the school he had flunked out of only a few years earlier. Two years after that, with a Master’s from UTEP in hand, he was teaching at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, but was given early departure after forcibly removing the pants of a rival professor and throwing him in a pond in a park during a faculty picnic.
He and his wife had split up when he moved to El Paso because she couldn’t abandon her executive career in Dallas, but he had met and fallen in love in El Paso with a gal named Susan who moved to Arkansas with him, and together they moved back to El Paso where White got a caretaker job at Jesus and Mary High School, but it only lasted a summer.
He was substitute teaching at the Community College, but it was unreliable so he got a job at Mando’s Junkworld on Doniphan, and everybody called him “Mando.” That didn’t set well with Susan, so they broke up and he went off with a beautiful blue-eyed blonde, a real honey who became his second betrothed and who got him a job writing constituent letters for Tati Santiésteban,. He started meeting a lot of people, and pretty soon he was writing speeches for the Texas Attorney General. He was flying all over the state in a little airplane until he had a disagreement with his boss, after which he drew unemployment for a year. On the strength of a forged letter from the AG, however, he got a job teaching English at Texas State Technical Institute in Harlingen, and he bought a 22-foot sailboat and spent a lot of time out on the Gulf.
One day his wife went on a very lengthy diatribe, and he fled the house. She had left by the time he returned, and he never saw her again. He was single, and he had a job and a sailboat, and it was beautiful down in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, but it just didn’t feel right. There was no one to talk with because everyone there was redneck, so in 1997, he moved back to El Paso and fell into a deep depression. His car was stolen with his dog in it, and he couldn’t find a job except teaching English to United Arab Emirate Air Force personnel at Fort Bliss, and he reckons that was indubitably the shittiest job he ever had.
Finally, he finagled another assistantship at UTEP, but he also enrolled at truck driver school and graduated valedictorian. He got a job driving an 18-wheeler and he did all 48, hitting every major city, and crossing the Mississippi 17 times, but then he settled down near Austin to be near his mom, and took all kinds of bus-driving and delivery van jobs. When he turned 62 during the Y2K, he was driving a cement truck.
In 2003, he began drawing Social Security, and an old counselor-at-law pal of his in El Paso arranged a job for him serving subpoenas, so he got himself a little hovel in Canutillo and started to work on his second novel.
He started his first novel in 1989, and it his took him 14 years to write, less the few years he took off here and there. It’s titled “The Rattler of Zacatecas.”
“It took me 14 years to write ‘The Rattler of Zacatecas,’” White recalls. “The research took about 10 years, the writing took about two, and there were a couple years off when I just didn’t work on it.
“The protagonist is a young dude who survives Vietnam, and it’s about his understanding of what constitutes courage and what constitutes cowardice, and where he sits in the balance of that. It’s portrayed through the story of the Mexican Revolution, and it’s based on historical record as told by fictional characters, but it explores Schopenhauer’s idea that the only way an individual can be free is if he acts on his passions, because otherwise he’s a sheep.
“When you start writing a novel, you really don’t know what you’re getting yourself into. It’s like belladonna – the motherfucker blooms late and then it has a prickly paw. You start dreaming dialogue and plot. You quit the computer late at night and fall into bed, and you sleep for four hours, and you wake up remembering dreams of plot and dialogue. You get up, throw on your ratty-ass robe and get back to the computer and start writing again.
“Nobody can teach you how to write a novel, you either can do it or not it. I learned it like I learned to dance – a step here, a step there; it’s harmony.
“Eventually you get to where the unconscious suggests plots and characters and dialogues to you, like a dream, and you can hardly keep up with the flood of images that emerge while you’re sitting there looking at the screen, you’re writing so fast. It has you, I think, you don’t have it, and that’s true of any artist.
“What’s happening is that when you’re dealing with writing, you’re dealing with something that’s incredibly intellectual but it exhibits itself emotionally. If you try to suggest dialogue or characters, you’re just farting in the wind.
“A lot of writers tell you, ‘Yes, I get up at seven o’clock and write exactly four hours and then I stop just when I know I don’t have anything left. Blah, blah and bullshit.’ I can’t discipline myself that way. You write when the muse grabs your ass and throws your ass down in the seat, that’s when you write.
“Flannery O’Connor said that you ought to spend four hours a day at the keyboard, even if you didn’t strike a key, just to be there in case you had a brainstorm. I love Flannery O’Connor, she’s a magnificent artist and it worked for her, but she was Catholic, and she was an invalid. All she had to do was raise peacocks and write.
“There are fine writers who can’t establish themselves because they’re engaged in the daily grind of trying to survive in this world, and they don’t have the time.
“I do good work with a hangover, but I don’t do good work when I’m drunk.
“When you’re writing a novel, you lose a lot of social skills. Somebody knocks on your door, you answer with a shotgun and say, ‘Don’t fuck with me when I’m working.’
“You have to be passionate about writing, but it’s not about writing, it’s about language. In the first sentences of Mark – maybe it’s Luke – it says, ‘In the Beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.’ Language is the mythology that commands our lives; you can’t think without words, and if you don’t have enough words, the nuance becomes emotional rather than intellectual. You have to have both; you have to have the art and the craft.
“If you don’t know the bones of the body, you can’t be a chiropractor, and if you don’t know English grammar, you can’t write. If you don’t know what you’re doing, then you’re going to lose your reader. He ain’t going to hang around and put up with that shit, and there’s no reason why he should. There are thousands, maybe millions of reasons for someone not to read what you write, and there’s only one reason why they should – you catch them, you got them, you snatch them into your world while they’re not looking. It’s the author’s job to create fantasy, and if you make a mistake, the reader’s jarred out of his disbelief and brought back to reality – and you’ve lost him.
“Conversely, when you raise the reader up, when your images and your descriptions and your dialogue works, when the mystery of your world gets through to that other brain, when you’re lost in your own disbelief as well, that’s precioso.
“Now that I finished my first novel, I’m teaching myself how to write a second one. I have a few more clues this time but it’s not any easier. I don’t know what I’m going to call the son-of-a-bitch yet, but it’s starting to cook. You have to get into it, you have to get where you go days without going to bed because if you can’t be passionate about what you’re writing, what’s the point?
“What is it that makes a man pursue something like literature, and what is it that always brings me back to the border? Why do I come back here? Every time I go somewhere, even if I make a success of myself somewhere else, I cut it short to come back. I guess your heart either spins correctly on its axis in El Paso or it doesn’t, you either got it here or you don’t, and here I am.”http://www.newspapertree.com/culture/463-profile-jay-white