DOWNLOAD: Augusten Burroughs Q&A and audio excerpt [MP3]

Author Augusten Burroughs is all too familiar with the disastrous and absurd — to the point that all six of his memoirs (starting with the hugely successful Running with Scissors in 2002) have veered so far from the conventional that critics have questioned whether they’re even true.

Apparently, Burroughs has a knack for attracting chaos even post-youth. After surviving a childhood raised by his eccentric mother, abusive father, and his mom’s crazy shrink; after years of rampant alcoholism and eventual rehab; and after the painful experience of losing a former lover to AIDS, Burroughs has taken a slightly different direction in his new collection of Christmas stories, You Better Not Cry.

“Here I am in the ‘after’ portion of my life, the after-disaster, and disasters are still happening!” Burroughs announced to a jam-packed house at the Coolidge Corner Theatre last Thursday, his fans gathered for his Brookline Booksmith-sponsored reading of his new book. Of course, the master of chaos and absurdity would not regale readers with tinsel-trimmed holiday anecdotes unless there were some seriously disturbed elements involved. Like the time he chewed off a plastic Santa’s face as a kid. Or when he woke up in bed next to a dirty French Santa in NYC. But as the stories follow Bourroughs into adulthood, his crisp and vivid prose reveals a more serious side to the author. In this Macmillan-supplied reading selection from You Better Not Cry, Burroughs tells how -- during one especially dismal, drunken Yule -- he's visited by the Ghost of Christmas Future, who takes the form of a mysterious opera-singing bag lady.

DOWNLOAD: Excerpt from You Better Not Cry [MP3]

While many find it hard to believe that so much bizarreness can fit into a single lifetime, Burroughs insists that his memoirs are anything but exaggerated. Moreover, he wonders why anyone would question his sincerity in the first place. When we interviewed him at the Booksmith last Thursday, Burroughs talked about a sensory disorder that allows him to recall intricate detail, his disdain for school, and his plans for the future, including two new television series.

So what made you decide to do a Christmas collection?
Well, the last story in it takes place pretty recently — a few years ago. I had a little disaster at home. … I thought it was funny — curious — that I’ve never written about Christmas … yet that’s such a big part of my past.

Your writing has always been highly personal. Is it weird for you to know that all of America is reading your most personal confessions?
It seems like it would be, but it’s not. It was weird once when I had just published it. I had given one reading at an Upper East Side bookstore. … There were celebrities in the audience and I was nervous. ... I felt really just like I made a huge mistake and now I can never take it back. I got out there on that stage… and everyone had read it already. And one after another, they said, "I had the same childhood." … I remember being amazed that someone would tell me that. … Like sex things, being raped, and all these things. People who looked like they had no problems. And then I was never afraid again.

Your writing is tremendously vivid.
I’ve written a lot of memoirs — and I’ve had a lot of articles and people say to me, "This all happened?" And it’s hard for me to believe that they would even think it’s a lie. But when I asked how I’d know, I never had a good answer for people. … But it happens that a while ago my doctor said to me, "I think you need to go see a psychiatrist." And I said, "Why?" He said, ‘Let’s be honest here. You kind of lost the parent lotto, genetically. So it’d be a good idea." ... So I went to a psychiatrist and he asked, "Do the tags on the back of your T-shirts bother you?" And I said, "Yeah!" And as I said it, I had a hole in my T-shirt, because I ripped the tag out. [He asked me] all these weird questions I’d never been asked … and he went on about this sensory-disorder-processing thing. … He said, "As very young children, when we leave the crib, we forget about it, because we don’t need [that information] anymore. … But a few people will remember in great detail, forever, all of these little things that extend deep into childhood." Now when he said that I thought, well that just explains a lot.

Ever since you published your first novel, Sellevision, back in 2000, you’ve been writing only memoirs. Do you ever plan on returning to fiction?
Yeah. I’ve written other ones but I haven’t published them. But I will write more. I love fiction. It’s very much, for me, like remembering things. When I’m remembering things I’m starting off from a place where I don’t remember a thing … it’s like floating in a rowboat. Kick back, aim my head in a direction and see what images happen and then write them. … And with fiction I don’t outline, so I don’t know what’s gonna happen from page to page. If I did, I’d be bored and wouldn’t be able to do it.

You didn’t finish high school or go to college.
I didn’t really go to high school for long. … I absolutely hated school. … They gave me a series of psychological tests and an IQ test. My IQ was in the 80s, which is in the level of someone who’s retarded. So they put me in a class -- I don’t think I’ve written about this -- with kids with Down syndrome, which I loved. It was the first time I ever liked being in school. … Then I went back to [my psychologist] and said, "I like those kids; it’s great, but no. Do I seem to you to be retarded?" And she mumble-mumble-mumbled. And I said, "You are a terrible, terrible psychologist." And she burst into tears and she said, "I never wanted to be a psychologist! I never wanted to; I wanted to be a photographer!" And I said, "You know what? I don’t need to know that. That’s inappropriate behavior for you to take." And I walked out of school and never came back.

Do you think that, had you gone to school, you would’ve still become a writer?
It’s hard to ever know those things. I hated it because of all those people … and I was weird and I wasn’t yet in a place where I could just be weird and not care. … If I could do it again, I would probably go to school, because I don’t think I’d be a writer. … I would probably study or practice theoretical physics and the study of the universe. I’ve been interested in that since I was a kid, and when I was a kid, I didn’t pursue it because I didn’t go to school.

What are your plans for the future?
Well I’m doing two TV series. One of them is for Showtime — that’s Dry, my book. It’s a weekly series. The other one is for CBS, and it’s an original one that I made up for them. It has nothing to do with me. … It’s what’s called a procedural, where stuff happens every week. … Mine is going to be a lot more psychological. The people are going to be much more important than they usually are; the thoughts and relationships. So in that sense it’s kind of me, and I like it.

Anything else you’d like to add?
Well, I know what my next book is going to be. I can’t tell you what it is, but it’s going to be good. It’s going to be a departure, sort of. But at the same time, inevitable. I’m really excited by it. It’s a good thing to do. And then we’ll see. But you never know. I could also just decide to stop one day and not write another word and then become a dentist.

--Samantha Shokin

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