Read an excerpt from “Empty The Sun”: A debut novel of “transgressive loss and hunted redemption…”

By on April 23, 2015

Five years ago, L.A.-based writer Joseph Mattson sat down with DJ Pangburn of the Death And Taxes Mag blog, to talk about “Los Angeles, the Apocalypse, Django Reinhardt’s melted fingers, junkie philsophers and castratos,” and Mattson’s debut novel, Empty The Sun, “a story that follows the unraveling of a fingerless L.A. guitar player who’s having visions of God and apocalyptic prophecies, and takes to the road where his story crescendos into a hallucinatory duel in the Midwest.” 

We think it deserves recognition as a modern L.A. cult classic, something that belongs on your bookshelf beside John Fante’s Ask The Dust, Charles Bukowski’s Post Office and Joan Didion’s Play It As It Lays.

The trailer above captures the mood of the novel perfectly, revealing a typical L.A. sunset which Mattson tells Pangburn “is like no other city.”


“A lot of people and scientists say it’s the smog that creates the beautiful color, which is the irony. At sundown, that orange-purple just feels like you’re on the edge of some major shift almost every day.”

This trailer was directed and photographed by Adam Cushman, with music by Jon Logan. It was produced by Red 14 Films, Michael Sandow, Adam Cushman, and stars Michael Sandow. Red 14 describes Empty The Sun as the “pre-apocalyptic, cross-country race with death to bury the murdered past,” a debut novel “of transgressive loss and hunted redemption, culminating in a shotgun fight with God.”

Here’s how Mattson’s debut novel begins: “Here I was, doing ninety on the Santa Monica Freeway with a quart of whiskey shoved into my crotch and my dead neighbor in the trunk. It had come time to leave Los Angeles.”


And here’s another excerpt:

“The first time I ever set foot in Los Angeles was on a howling dry midnight in a cranked mid-90s trans-American July, akin to the present path, but in reverse. I had ridden the Mojave line across Arizona on the 10 West — that selfsame motherfucker of a road that I would flee from L.A. upon — and as the high desert broke in a dusty wave frozen over over the delinquent basin of the San Andreas fault a hundred million lights shimmered up out of the bruised haze that was sandwiched the black walls of craggy mountain, and I thought: Memory, memory, memory, I am entering a phantom’s world. Somehow it was all familiar. As if my ghost, with me still alive, was already bound to his land. I felt like I was in space floating toward the most peaceful Armageddon only imaginable in an electic guitar future, some terminal intergalactic blood-and-circus board where all of nature smashes its selves into ingratiating peace. I’d already felt like I was going home. But all of this seemed as a means to a good end, not The End. A break, but not to be broken.” (Empty The Sun, Chapter One, part Two).

As you can see from this excerpt, Mattson indeed writes, as Jerry Stahl has said, “like a guitar player with nineteen fingers—everywhere at once, stinging, dark, and beautiful.”

We should mention here that the first edition of Empty The Sun, released in 2009, came with a wonderful soundtrack CD that you’re supposed to listen to as you read, performed by Ben Chasny of Six Organs of Admittance.


Joseph Mattson (left) and Ben Chasny

Mattson says that he and Chasny “definitely had a succinct vision for what we wanted to do,” and “wanted the music and the book to be treated equally.” It ran 1,000 copies, followed by a limited edition of 1,000 two-column, oversized, slipcase books with a vinyl LP soundtrack. A third printing, in 2010, ran another 2,000 copies — good numbers for a first-time novelist.

Mattson claims he is a semi-retired rambler. He has worked as a farmer, fisherman, dishwasher, short-order cook, getaway driver, blood donor, home healthcare worker for the developmentally disabled and the clinically mentally insane, playing punk rock music, and too much more. In addition to writing Empty The Sun, Mattson is the author of the collection of stories Eat Hell (Narrow Books), and the editor of and contributing author to The Speed Chronicles (Akashic Books), which also features the work of William T. Vollmann, Sherman Alexie, Megan Abbott, Jerry Stahl, Beth Lisick, James Greer, James Franco, Tao Lin, Jess Walter, Scott Phillips, and more. He is also the editor of Girlvert: A Porno Memoir by Oriana Small aka Ashley Blue (Barnacle) and co-editor of the Two Letters Collection of Art & Writing, Vol. 2 (Narrow Books). His fiction, memoir, poetry, and other writing has appeared in Slake, The Rattling Wall, Ambit, The Fix and dozens of other magazines and literary journals.


Since the publication of Empty The Sun, Mattson has been working on several new projects, including the forthcoming novel Courting The Jaguar, described as “[a] brutal and exquisite mind-bending travelogue of immaculate conception, obsession, and vengeance in the swarthy guts of the Amazon Jungle” (Augustus Townsend, Barnacle).

Mattson is also ceaselessly at work on the novel Hexico (for which he received a prestigious 2011 City of Los Angeles Artist’s Fellowship), “a contemporary re-imagining of the West as if the Mexican Cession of 1848 never happened and the U.S./Mexican border is the spine of the continental divide rather than the desert Southwest, and wherein a beautiful T-girl is impregnated by a chupacabra and is on the run from both countries.”


Here’s the book trailer that Mattson and comedian Jeff Garlin made together — which involved Garlin chucking watermelons at Mattson, who then sliced them up with a machete — for Mattson’s then recently-published debut novel, Empty the Sun (Barnacle).


(h/t Death And Taxes Mag blog)


About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.