Interview with Paul Kwiatkowski


So after reading (and loving) Paul Kwiatowski’s book And Every Day Was Overcast and then confirming that one of the people that I thought I knew from the pictures in it was in fact who I thought it was, I decided to email Paul Kwiatkowski to request an interview. I wanted to talk to him about growing up in South Florida, his creative process as well as his early literary and musical influences. He agreed to speak with me and on July 23rd we spoke over the phone.

Ariel Sheen

So, have you had any contact with people whose pictures you took in the book and if so what have been some of their responses to it?

Paul Kwiatkowski

Yeah some of the people I’m still in contact with. Most of the people I’ve talked to have dug it. As for those that I haven’t spoken with, well, I hope they like the project and know where I was coming from with it.

Ariel Sheen

Keeping in mind that I love the lyrical nature of the book, I’m wondering what your decision making process was in deciding to forego a traditional narrative arc.

Paul Kwiatkowski

A narrative arc would be disingenuous to the material considering it’s the past and memory doesn’t work narratively that way. You can’t really remember it anything other than as bemusings and flavors. To create something that would make an arc would have been too clear.

Ariel Sheen

Do you find yourself more or less alienated living in New York than you were in South Florida?

Paul Kwiatkowski

OVERCAST_7I mean, I think a lot of the alienation that I wrote about had to do with just being a teenager. Plus Florida is kind of an isolated place to grow up. Not living in close proximity to people, I never felt like there was a community there. When I read your review of my book, like, I also remember wanting to go downtown, which was really just a movie theatre, and it being like a 40 minute ride just for that. As a teenage I hated that but I feel at this point in my life you can use that to your advantage creatively and just call it solitude.

Living in New York, well, I feel that your experience of the city largely depends on what you make of it. One thing I think is funny is that so many people come here with purpose and certain expectation of what will happen with it. Once that goes away, I think it becomes less exciting. Didn’t you use to live here? What did you think?

Ariel Sheen

Yeah, I did. My experience was largely the same. But I was in grad school so there was a large number of people to socialize with had the same purpose as me. The school encouraged meetings through a number of free food/drink events. But even then there was always this temporary element to any connection we had in the back of our minds. Or at least in the back of my mind. Something like we can be friendly now, but in a year or so we’ll be in totally different places of the country doing totally different things and so will lose track of each other. When I lived in Bushwick it wasn’t like that so much.

Paul Kwiatkowski

Oh nice, I like Bushwick. I saw Genesis P-Orridge play there last week.

Ariel Sheen

Awesome. I’m a little jealous. And a lot surprised! I don’t encounter a lot of people that know who that is. When I was about 16-17 I got really into industrial music. Through my investigations into the genre I came across him and a number of other… unusual musicians via V. Vale Re/Search Publications like Industrial Culture Handbook and his book on William Burroughs, Brion Gysin and Throbbing Gristle. I wasn’t always appreciative of the music, thought I did send Vale a demo I’d made, but I liked the innovative qualities of it. I mean a lot of it, like, sounds really weird.

Paul Kwiatkowski

Yeah I remember hearing them around the same time. Right about the same time I got into writing. I was mostly into Throbbing Gristle. I think it just really changed the way I go about making art. I think that’s what I got the most out of it. You know, Industrial or whatever electronic music name you want to call it just totally blew my imagination away. It definitely was inspiring and I definitely didn’t like every song to just get into the vibe of it. It was kind of a big influence. That stuff was just really. Man. Just finding out about it as a kid was inspiring. Maybe even more so than the products that the artists made. It definitely got me in tune with process and experimentation.

Ariel Sheen

So say 30-40 years from now, when there is no South Florida; How do you think you’ll respond to that?

Paul Kwiatkowski

d5551cf814407980-OVERCAST_0198It’ll be bitter sweet. There’s a lot of things that I love about Florida that I credit with my imagination. It seems inevitable though… Right? You should check out this book called Finding Florida. It’s just about this history of Florida and how it’s this state that’s never been able to be tamed. From the early Conquistadors that went there thinking they’d find gold. It goes from how thy not only didn’t finding gold but it was the only state that doesn’t have any rocks in the ground. Then tells about how later settlers tried to damn the waters but that storms kept flooding and destroying them. Then the elections and Bush. It’s this like, comprehensive history that this state has manipulated the people that have tried to harness it. Thus if Florida went up it’d just be fitting. It just has this entire history of kicking people back and that’d be just one more instance of it.

Ariel Sheen

I think you’re really on point about the land we call Florida not wanting the practices of white settlers. I’ve actually studied a lot Florida history and am also writing a book myself set there/here right now. Besides the North, prior to the Civil War, it was the Glades that had the largest population of runaway slaves. These were those that escaped and then acculturated themselves to the indigenous people in this land that at the time just could not be brought under the till.

Paul Kwiatkowski

Yeah, the Seminoles, right? The mix of races: free slaves and indigenous.

Ariel Sheen

Yeah, exactly! So from your 2011 Street Carnage interview I saw that you were reading a lot of literature that dealt with… unusual and extreme topics and themes. Because you and I are the same age I had this feeling that, well, in high school the setting of EDWO, at the time my group of friends was reading a lot of Poppy Z. Brite. She wrote Lost Souls and was wondering if you’d ever read it…

Paul Kwiatkowski

Haha. You know it’s funny I too was reading Poppy Z. Brite. I was a huge fan of Exquisite Corpse, which was one of my favorites.

Ariel Sheen

Yes! That book was so great!

Paul Kwiatkowski
You know it’s funny, I picked up the book again a year ago and it’s still really good. She’s kind of a kick as writer. So transgressive as well. It’s so impressive. Other than her, at the time I was also getting into Dennis Cooper and he definitely had a big influence on my approach to writing. Oh, and I started to discover Bret Easton Elis. There’s a book called Jesus Saves by Darcey Steinke.
It had a goth feel to it. I was just a voracious reader and was just really discovering literature at that time. I also remember reading In the Belly of the Beast and being really impressed by that. I worked at Borders so I had a lot of access to books. And a lot of the French Surrealists like Bataille and the Marquis se Sade. I’m glad I got that stuff out of my system as a teenager and not as an adult.

Ariel SheenPaul_Kwiatkowski_10

That’s so funny. I also worked at Borders, briefly, and when I was there Mike [the guy I know in one of the photos] was one of the floor managers.

Paul Kwiatkowski

That’s really wild.

Ariel Sheen

Going back to the Street Carnage interview, you’d mentioned then that you were working on a project from your trip to the Caribbean and Mexico, are you still working on that project? Or something else?

Paul Kwiatkowski

Haha! I don’t even remember what that project was, but at the moment I am working on a new book about Minnesota. Which is a large departure from those project. I’m working with a photographer who’s from Minnesota that’s now based in Medellin in Colombia. The book is about an airplane accident that claimed his cousin and photography’s relationship to technology. So it’s kind of like a mix between an Adam Curtis documentary with… I don’t even know what you’d say it’s mixed with…

Ariel Sheen

Cool. Interesting that you say that. I showed The Power of Nightmares in my Debate Classes to help students better contextualize the rhetoric their subjected to in the news.

Anyway, last question. So I bought the paperback edition of the And Everyday was Overcast for $30 and then learned that there’s an audio component that came for free with the $6 digital edition. Think you can send me that?

Paul Kwiatkowski

Oh, I can send it to you! I think it’s on my site. The soundtrack is part of the digital edition that I had done for my published that I did with Ryan DeShawn. It was actually heavily inspired by Genesis P-Orridge and Throbbing Gristle. I wanted to illustrate that Retard Radio storyline that runs through the book and, you know, in addition to going back to Florida and collecting pictures I’d go back and collect sounds. Something that always really stuck out in my memory of Florida was the sounds. It’s such an alive state. It’s constantly buzzing and grinding. It’s something that always fascinated me so I wanted to put something together as a companion piece to the book. But yeah, I’ll send you a zip file of it in a little bit.

Ariel Sheen

Cool, I’d like that.

Paul Kwiatkowski

No problem, I like that you’re interested in it. It was a cool experiment.

Ariel Sheen

Yeah. It sounds like it. And hearing you talk about it, it sounds like a friend of mine’s music production process that I just heard about on NPR that also left Florida for New York. Hopefully I can make it back there in two or three years.

Paul Kwiatkowski

Well it seems like you’re doing well over there, teaching and writing.

Ariel Sheen

That’s true, but that’s only after a long period of some personal hardships. No need to get into that, though. Thanks again for taking the time to speak with me.

Paul Kwiatkowski

My pleasure, it was good talking to you!


You can purchase And Every Day Was Overcast by clicking the title and learn more about Paul Kwiatkoski’s current projects by clicking here.

You can also read more interviews with the author that may or may not deal with topics of greater substance here.

Featureshoot Interview

Air Ship Daily

Street Carnage Interview


Miami's Economic and Racial Segregation in Unraveling

One of the themes within my book is race’s role in economic and political power. Each part of the series is a first person perspective with worldview that differs dramatically based upon their historical consciousness and the desires they wish to fulfill.

In Book 1, Jesses displays what I and other philosophers of race would call racial ignorance. What does this mean? Pulling from concepts explicated by Frantz Fanon’s in his book Black Skin, White Masks, we learn that whites often lack the experience of systematic prejudice and thus there is a knowing and unknowing of race. Whites can conceptualize race, but have only the experience of the privileged “norm” rather than the racialized Other and thus are unable (or unwilling) to perceive, understand, acknowledge, or relate to the general condition and experiences of non-whites.

Given the widely-touted multi-racial nature of Miami this seems to not fit with normal expectations. However the below maps and history are an attempt to give greater contextualization to how Jesse came to this worldview and also gives background to other characters perspectives on the role of race to their worldview.

Ethnic Map of Miami

Unfortunately this ethnic map of Miami doesn’t also show the history of legislation and settlement to the many cities and townships that make up Miami, Miami Beach and it’s surrounding areas. Including this sort of data we would begin to get a larger understanding of why the composition of the region is that way that it is.

Where people are living in overcrowded units.

As you can see here, in areas that are the poorest people are living in the densest arrangements. While there is little statistical breakdown by the City of Miami of what the percentages relate to in material conditions, from this data and that elsewhere we can see that two bedrooms apartments housing five or more people is normal. If this were the case we would find many of the circumstances described by Ta-Nehisi Coates in The Case for Reparations. From the founding of the City of Miami and Miami Beach the patterns of habitations were guided by racial segregationist legislation that was enforced through a combination of policing and intermittent mob actions.

White politicians consistently sought to and successfully deprived black entrepreneurs from accumulating capital in white areas as well as their enterprises in black towns, rabidly fought unionization and collective bargaining campaigns and targeted social justice activists for harassment and assassination. While expanding along the beachfront to the east, whites captured formerly black areas through eminent domain and corrupt housing practices that pushed black west into higher density housing areas.

Miami’s Median Household Incomes.

This and the patterns of public transportation directly informed the type of labor available to black-American and Caribbean populations (and later Latin American groups) as well as their ability to demand political change, their ability to use  public goods and services as well as their housing options.

Justifications for an inflated police state and greater surveillance of the population at first stemmed from the second World War and the fear of destabilizing acts by foreigners. The work pass system, started in the 1930s, mandated that black and white workers in the tourist sector wear passes, for instance.

This theme would pop up again in various forms in order to legitimize greater oversight of black bodies and delegitimize political opposition to such acts by the government. Jim Crow, in a word, formed thoroughly enmeshed the patterns of habitation, political power and labor in the nascent Miami, which as late as 1953 was, according to Robe Carson, was a “Tropical Frontier” that had not yet been fully conquered by the white race. How so? Well even after 1943, when this threat was no longer credible, and into the 1960’s these passes served to reinforce an apartheid style urban geography.

Miami Beach Work Pass
Miami Beach Work Pass

Various counties created and enforced curfews to keep blacks out of white areas both through their police departments and white vigilantes. Later political upheavals were blamed by foreign agitators from northern Florida and New York to prevent the granting of political demands. The worldview promulgated by local papers was that local blacks were happy with their conditions and it was only because of outside influence that civic unrest occasionally erupted. Racism in the police forces in these and other areas continues to this day.

Where the Pockets of Poverty Are in Miami.

As the shows, the high rate of poverty in Miami communities of color was not caused by cultural character flaws but by a sustained and systematic assault by the local white and even Federal government policies towards maintaining segregation, preventing communities of color from having access to beachfront property on the larger scale keeping trade going with Caribbean dictatorships that were able to extract higher rates of surplus capital from their investments due to authoritarian practices.

The later success of Cuban communities is often cited as a reason as to why it is a cultural character flaw, however this belies the capital and advanced educational degrees that many first wave migrants were able to bring with, the federal assistance that they were given, the longer history of successful political mobilization they’d experienced and accrued as sociopolitical  capital as well as the notion of the first wave as “white people”.

Median Rents for Miami
Median Rents for Miami

Miamians continues to suffer as a result of it’s past. It’s continuously named as one of the worst places to live, it lacks a comprehensive plan to combat global climatic change due to the interests of land developers – the most powerful political lobby in Florida – it’s politicians and police are recurrently in the press for corruption and illegal acts and as anyone who’s familiar with it knows it’s vast area could be greatly reorganized for more rational and equitable land usage. This is all intimately tied to municipal government development and the influence of predominantly white capital on the areas political economy.

Jesse, however, isn’t aware of any of this. He hasn’t learned this data in his history class. His parents are, like many others living in South Florida, are not natives nor are they aware of it’s history so cannot pass this information along. The private high school he previously attended was predominantly white, as is par for South Florida Private Schools, so he’s not interacted with many black people until last year when he entered a public school. As a result of his growing recognition of the nature of political power and through the course of his increased interaction with black people, however, Jesse comes to have greater awareness of the racial environment of Miami and, in his later book, the surrounding regions. Jesse’s epistemological development is thus not aptly described by calling his views in the beginning racist but ignorant. Furthermore this is not an active ignorance that seeks to maintain privilege but one that seeks ruthlessness to understand and critique how power operates. At each step of his epistemological development Jesse comes to a state of greater empathy, understanding and recognizes a greater duty towards, to bring it back to Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth.


A World More Concrete: Real Estate and the Remaking of Jim Crow South Florida  by N. D. B. Connolly

Miami Beach police shared hundreds of racist and pornographic emails

Fort Lauderdale Cops Fired for Sharing Racist Text Messages and Videos

Old South, New South, or Down South?: Florida and the Modern Civil Rights Movement by Irvin D. S. Winsboro

Take Back the Land by Max Rameau

America’s Most Miserable Cities

100 YEARS: The Dark And Dirty History Of Miami Beach

On Choosing a Proper Cover for Unraveling: Book 1

I thought that coming up with a book cover for Unraveling would be easy, but it’s turned into a project. My first idea was to look for a stock photo that captured enough of the elements of one of the scenes in the chapter and then to slap some text over it with the title and my name. I searched through ShutterStock for a good several hours using terms that were appropriate for Jesse’s chapter. Teenagers. Drug Abuse. Gangs. Addiction. Recovery. Secrets. Espionage. Isolation. etc. The amount of images that I went through was, well, staggering. Finally, I alighted upon this image!

Stock photo chosen but, as of this posting, unused.

I liked it immediately and purchased it. My thought process in doing so was that though the image doesn’t depict Jesse Oberman, a bright and driven 16 year old boy trying to deal with a number of major changes in his life that he doesn’t fully understand or know how to deal with, the image is a pretty damn good physical approximation of Josselyn, a character that Jesse meets in Book 1. The items around her, the gun, mask and money, are also components of their relations so it seems appropriate. Lastly, who wouldn’t be intrigued enough into making a small purchase of a serial novel by a pretty woman with these items around them.

Cracked Font
Cracked Font

From here I then decided to use the Cracked font for the author attribution and title, then Age of Unraveling. I chose the Cracked font as a means of highlighting the social/political/economic disintegration prevalent within the plot. I’d previously chosen Unraveling as a title, again referring to the themes of the book, but had added Age of to it as a nod to British Historian Eric Hobsbawm. Whereas Hobsbawm wrote with insightful and compelling mastery about the upheavals over 202 years at a high level of abstraction, Unraveling is set over a two year period at a very low level of abstraction wherein characters deal with this historical inheritance. To make the name stand out I made the text black with a red drop shadow. Happy that the picture related if not to Jesse than at least a character he meets in Book 1 and confident that the text alluded to a breaking down of social order I shared this on my Facebook and asked for input.

The response that I got from my friends upon sharing my work was unanimous and disheartening. Time and money spent on that cover were, in their view, a waste. The image was “cheesy” and the text looked awful. Trusting of my friends input I decided to scrap it for a new one. I would not have to do so alone, however, as my brother Jaz said he would help me. He forwarded me a couple of test images, shown below, so that I could help guide him as to what I want.

One of the concept designs for the cover.
Another concept design for the cover










I like both of these a lot. Here’s why:

I like the one on the right as it shows a youth, presumably Jesse, in an out of focus manner, hinting at the internal conflict he is going through while interacting with an external world that he wants to mold to his will. The one on the right, however, I can’t use (or can I?) as it is the same stock photo used by the musician James Blake on his album James Blake.

A more appropriate textual rendition of the title.
A more appropriate textual rendition of the title.

I like the one on the left as it hints at the accelerating chaos from the unexpected confluence of a number of people/events. Because of this I feel that the lack of a human beings on it not to be so big an issue.

Given that one of the uncommented-upon-by-the-characters conflicts within the book is between Hegelian and Nietzschean conceptions of time, history, law and agency I find myself drawn to a typography that looks like this True Detective poster from season 1.

After I informed Jaz of the the right cover imaged was used by James Blake, he produced the one below as a well as another one with the title text more distorted which I prefer but don’t have a copy of. In this cover iteration we also decided to include a one line thematic description of Book 1: “His life is falling apart and he’s taking everyone with him.”

Like the text and the short description, but not the background image.
Another concept for the cover based on the above right one being used on James Blake’s self-titled album.

He also encouraged me to look over other covers at Designspiration, which is a great resource for ideation of covers. There were many that I liked there as well as on the website for Face Out Books. I was especially drawn to the aesthetics relying upon the placement of multiple covers as there will be several more books in the series. There were so many choices that I felt overwhelmed.

Lastly I decided to do a little digging onto cover ideas on my own. I’m not extensively well read when it comes to pulp/noir novels, but as I’ve always found myself intrigued by the aesthetics of pulp covers and as it was in part a response to my enjoyment of reading the major works of novelists Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler which made me include elements of classic noir fiction (though with a much more progressive worldview) into Unraveling – I also decided to look through Pulp Curry.  Some of the pulp covers that I liked are below, though given the number of modern stylistic and narrative elements in it as well as the expenses in producing these original drawings this seems to be a dead end.

Book cover of a book of book covers. How meta!
Not sure if this was a book cover, but I like the image.
Male gaze in full effect here and in every other pulp novel.
Irony: In Unraveling the women trap the men.


















I think that the pulp covers would work for some of the female characters books, but not for Jesse. I think it’d be double interesting as most of the females break from being the typical passive object that they are in these types of works and are heroes fighting a toxic form of masculinity and making up for the failings of their male comrades. I don’t want to go to much into this so that you’ll want to see what I mean by reading subsequent books, but did want to point out the irony that would occur if such a détournement was ever made.

All this said, as of now I’ve decided on the following post. I like the oldness of the map – which relates to the repetition of patterns in this area of the world. I’d like to change the font to something more stylized – but I plan on doing this after the publication of the third part of the book as then I plan on getting physical copies published and making them available for sale.


Where Jesse runs in Unraveling: Book 1

Jesse Oberman’s plans for the summer go sideways after discovering that his parents have decided to send him to a drug rehabilitation and leadership program called Natural Living. Natural Living is based upon the Outward Bound program that deals with troubled youth. The reason that Jesse doesn’t go to one of the many treatment and recovery centers in Miami, Book 2 spoiler alert, is that his mother’s boyfriend wanted to have the summer alone with her.

Some of the many rehab facilities in Miami
Some of the many rehab facilities in Miami.

Jesse emphatically does not want to go to into the program or to the Everglades. From a high enough vantage point it appears that there are no people inhabiting the region at all.

Souther Tip of Florida
Settlements to the right, Everglades to the left.

This, however, is not true. The Everglades have been continuously occupied by various peoples since 1000 B.C. The Calusa were there first, but their population was decimated by disease and guns by colonial settlers who thought that the land could be easily tamed for intensive agriculture. The land, not a swamp but a river of grass wholly unique in the world, was not easily changed a la the Dutch model nor were the indigenous people that moved there from north easily tamed.

Closer up view of a town in the middle of nowhere.

The Muscogee Creek Confederacy was a large civilization in the Mississippi basin area the had lived in the area for some two-thousand years. Faced with dispossession and genocidal actions of the American government and militant settlers, these peoples had two options – to go further west or to go south into areas unsettled by whites. Going west meant conflict with other tribes and continued conflict with White settlers. Going south meant adjusting to life in a radically new environment. Since the

Escaped slaves in Northern Florida, Georgia, Louisiana and Texas were faced with similar considerations. To make a long trip up North where there chances of getting caught were high or to go to the Glades and seek refuge.

The Miccosukee and the Seminoles came to be composed of a mix of indigenous tribes and the descendants of tribesman from Africa. Though their original languages and cultures were different, Creek soon became the common tongue and white men the common enemy. The unpleasant climate and difficulty for agriculture allowed what became the largest haven in the U.S. South for runaway slaves. This was impressive not only for this fact but also as the people’s there were able to organize and lead the largest slave revolt – the 2nd Seminole War –  in U.S. history that lead to the only emancipation of rebellious slaves prior to the U.S. Civil War. This and subsequent bellicosity when faced with continued aggression by the Federal government lead to the Seminole epithet of “unconquered tribe”.

Close up of Miccosukee Indian Village and the gas station where Jesse tries to flee from Natural Living.

Jesse’s entrance into the Everglades and the experiences that he has there should thus not be seen simply as a “rehab and recovery trip”. In Unraveling the only mention of white society’s impact on the Everglades is the early 20th century government’s spreading of melaleuca seeds (now considered an invasive exotic that current taxpayers must pay to destroy) by plane to soak up the fresh water, the introduction of pythons that have decimated the natural wildlife and the alteration of the region via dikes and levies operated by the South Florida Water Management District. Despite this lacuna of discussion, this deeper history remains in the land at a deeper level and Jesse’s speedy adaptation to life there as well as the mystical experience he has directly before he returns home should be seen as his unconscious connection to this history.


National Park Service: Everglades

River of Grass

The Enduring Seminoles

Mirage: Florida and the Vanishing Water of the Eastern U.S.