Ned Russin on Horizontal Rust, Wilkes-Barre and a lost Free Spirit business card

Ned Russin of Title Fight and Glitterer recently completed his first novel, Horizontal Rust, which was published by Shining Life Press.

Author photo from Horizontal Rust (photo by Sarah King)

What’s up Ned, thank you for the opportunity to do this interview. When I saw Horizontal Rust on the Shining Life Press instagram I immediately ordered since there does not seem to be a ton of fiction written by people in hardcore, and it’s a departure from Shining Life’s existing books and zines. How did you start the conversation about publishing a full length novel?

Thanks for having me, I appreciate it. I completed the first draft of this book in early 2019 and had always planned to do it on a small press. So I started shopping around a more complete draft in early 2020. And by shopping around I mean sending it out to agents and publishers and getting turned down. My initial idea wasn’t panning out and so I just kept working on revisions while also submitting queries. I was finally making some progress in talking to publishers when one night I FaceTiming with John from Shining Life and, as a joke, asked him when they would publish their first novel. He said something like, “Whenever you finish one.” That was exciting to me because, yeah, it was approval but it was also a new idea that I didn’t even consider until that point. I’d known John and Zack for a long time obviously but this was new territory for both of us and at first I was unsure if they’d be interested in actually publishing a novel. They were totally into the idea. So after a few more conversations with John, I rescinded all of my pending submissions and fully committed to Shining Life. 

How did the pandemic impact the completion of the book – did you have more time to write due to a lack of shows and other events?

I’m fortunate in that I started and finished this book while touring pretty consistently, so I would always have these stretches of time where I’d be home and I could try to work on another draft with few other distractions. I probably would’ve gotten the book done somewhat faster had I not been on the road so much in the first place, though I’m thankful that it gave me this buffer time between drafts so I could look at the pages a bit more objectively. I feel like I benefited from putting the manuscript away for a month or so, it would give me a fresher set of eyes. But I will say that the editing process was definitely helped by everyone being stuck in one place. Matt LaForge, my editor, and I were able to go over notes and drafts faster because we were both available somewhat regularly, which felt like a rarity. 

Libraries are briefly mentioned in Horizontal Rust, though more in the context of study spaces. How many library cards do you own, and in what systems? And what is your favorite library?  

I have a total of three library cards, though I lost one. I currently have my Columbia alumni library card which works for their library system (even though I don’t live in New York anymore) and I have my DC public library card which is what I currently use. I had a Luzerne County library card but it was lost when my wallet was stolen in Costa Rica. I had already moved out of Wilkes-Barre at that point so I never bothered getting another one. I was more upset about losing my Free Spirit business card.

Getting a book signed by Keith Gessen (photo by Sami Reiss)

Was it a conscious decision to write about a protagonist not involved in punk or hardcore, and one who stayed within the “Columbia bubble” when presumably you spent a lot of time exploring the city and going to shows during your own time at Columbia?

Yeah, very much so. I haven’t tried to write about someone involved in hardcore yet, it’s almost too daunting. Not saying I won’t ever do it, but it’s just something that, in my mind, was too complicated. It’s not that I think Graham is more universal because he isn’t involved in punk or hardcore, it’s that I don’t think it’s necessary to explain his motives or desires. 

How did your experience playing in bands and finishing albums help you complete the formidable project that is a first novel – and was it easier or harder than writing a record with the rest of a band?

To be honest, playing in a band didn’t prepare me for writing a novel at all. The only thing that was familiar was the feeling of being in the middle of the process and being unsure of how it would ever get done. If you’re a band, you write songs. When you write enough songs, you record them and that’s an record, an EP or LP or whatever. There can be thematic throughlines, sure, but it’s really just working on a bunch of ideas until they’re ready. With writing, however, it’s different. I assume most fiction writers start off doing short stories. And if you study writing in school that’s all you’ll do. A novel isn’t just a couple of short stories thrown together. It’s one singular piece. It’s made up of smaller moments but they all need to come together to a certain extent. I guess to compare it to writing to music it would be like if you made a record that was a single 35-minute song. The book took me a lot longer than writing a record ever has. Maybe because it was the first time I did it or because it’s just something that you have to do all on your own, but either way that alone made me feel like it was more difficult.

Glitterer in Wilkes-Barre (photo by bedfordtowers)

Along with documentaries, there seem to be more and more books coming out on different subsets of hardcore – in fact, I just realized I had highlighted your quote about Trumbull Escapades for the straight edge book in the Serve ’em a Sentence interview with Sami Reiss in 2019. Do you think people are interested in more novels coming from the hardcore scene, or mostly still in nonfiction books? What is one area of hardcore not yet covered in book that you’d like to see?

I don’t know too many novels out there about hardcore. There was that Ten Thousand Saints book (and movie) that I never read and the last Nell Zink book starts off talking about harDCore, but I don’t really know of any other books that talk about hardcore or use it as a setting. I think being so involved in anything makes you skeptical of its representation. I could completely wrong here, there are millions of books out there, but it doesn’t seem like there’s a novel about hardcore written by someone who was actually involved. I’m sure people within hardcore would be interested in that, but hardcore is also so interested in history and tradition that it seems like the preference is for nonfiction. People love minutiae, myself included. Obviously I’d love to see someone do a book on early 00s hardcore, something about early Lockin’ Out or Posi Numbers or whatever. But for me personally, I’d like to see an actual critical take on hardcore, any scene at all. It’s nice to see the oral histories, but I’d prefer to see a person synthesize that information and make claims. 

Did the parallel of hardcore kids from all over the world descending on the 570 for Posi Numbers cross your mind at all as you were writing about visitors arriving for the Slavic Brotherhood Organization convention? How would you describe Wilkes-Barre to someone who has never been there or has not yet read your book?

It’s actually not something that I thought about but that does work well. I remember always being impressed by the turnout of Posi Numbers. People would always tout the fact that people came from all over the world to come to the fest. It was like people from Belgium flew to the US to go to a firehall near the old Dominos, the same firehall that was probably booked up for graduation parties for the rest of the summer, to watch some bands play and experience the town. I romanticize it a lot in my mind which misrepresents it some. Because the fact is there were a lot of people that just came from their own small town probably not that far away and probably didn’t wander around Wilkes-Barre. The people in the book who come to the SBO convention are also mostly coming from little podunk PA or Ohio towns, but their trip is to fulfill a professional duty. Overall though it’s not too far off. I have a hard time explaining WIlkes-Barre, though. It’s a small, generic Rust Belt town, a former coal city. It’s not a metropolitan area, even downtown Wilkes-Barre feels more like a suburb than a city. But it’s just this little area in Northeast PA, not too far from Appalachia, that feels pretty plain and beaten down. Despite having two colleges, the area has no real culture or industry, which is a big reason why an underground music scene has thrived there for so long — young people have to make their own fun because there’s nothing else really going on.

“Here’s a posi little number for ya” – Slapshot opening with No Friend of Mine at Posi Numbers 2003

When reading the part about experiencing deja vu when seeing the ballroom dressed up for the next event, I started thinking of how many novels have comic or absurd moments centering around events in hotels – everything from Marie-Helene Bertino’s Parakeet to The Autograph Man, by Zadie Smith. What are some of your favorite works with at least one scene set in a hotel?

Scanning my bookshelf, here’s a small list: Ben Lerner Leaving The Atocha Station, Joan Didion Play It As It Lays, Peter Handke Short Letter, Long Farewell, basically every book by Frederick Barthelme has some roadtrip scene where they stop in a hotel, Martin Riker Samuel Johnson’s Eternal Return, JD Salinger The Catcher In The Rye….

Speaking of travel – what are the best books you have read while on tour?
There are only a few books that I really have distinct memories of reading on tour. The first was probably Steinbeck’s East Of Eden which I read when I was in my early 20s while driving through California. The second would be reading Simon Hanselmann’s Bad Gateway in one sitting at the merch table in Cleveland, OH. And finally my friend JDK sold me a copy of William Least Heat-Moon’s Blue Highways shortly before he passed away. He told me it was one of his favorite books, so I read a book about travelling around the US while driving around the US. It felt like a fitting tribute.

Horizontal Rust painting by Franz Kline

If your book was a movie what songs would you want on the soundtrack – and did you have any in mind while writing it?

I wrote the book over such a long period of time that I feel like the soundtrack I had playing in my head changed many times over. Graham is a college kid from the early 2010s so I feel like the nu-indie stuff from that time would be fitting. I feel like Wilkes-Barre setting shots needs something a little bit more sad, though. Like any slower song from Harvest would do. Eno ambient stuff would work well for that, too. For early Graham/Ollie scenes it’s got to be ELO, like “Living Thing” or something. Ideally, though, I’d write something for it.

Any last thoughts you’d like to share – about reading, writing or your other recent projects?

I’m never great on last thoughts. I’d just like to say thanks again for the interview and thanks to anyone who has checked the book out. It’s very much appreciated.