Saturday, September 17, 2011

Eddie Wright Is Kickstarting Tyranny

There are three reasons you should donate to Eddie Wright's Tyranny of the Muse project on Kickstarter:
  1. Comic books are awesome.

  2. Tyranny of the Muse is the comic adaptation of Eddie's amazing novel, Broken Bulbs, with art by Jesse Balmer. If you don't know why this is a big deal, check out my interview with Eddie from last year.

  3. Kickstarter is a way for independent artists and creators to find alternative funding sources without having to get on their knees for corporations. What's not to like about that?

If you're not sure how Kickstarter works, a project sets a specific goal and deadline ($4500 by October 18, in this case). Backers pledge to donate, and if it can garner enough pledges to meet their goal by the deadline, then the project gets funded. If not, then no money changes hands. As an incentive, backers are offered perks like autographed copies and other exclusive goodies. You can even set up payment through your Amazon account for added convenience.

Tyranny of the Muse at Kickstarter (with sample art and scripts)

Broken Bulbs is available as a free ebook at:

And here's an excerpt from my interview with Eddie Wright:

MM: One of the things that struck me right away about the novel was your style. You have a very compelling rhythm to your writing, short staccato bursts, repetitive phrases, repetitive sounds. Is that something you do consciously, or do you prefer to let it flow in a stream-of-consciousness style? Do you edit much, or is the final version pretty close to how you initially put it down on paper?

EW: It starts as stream-of-consciousness. Puke really. I puke it out then I sort through the puke and shape. "Puke castles" I suppose. I try to figure things out after they're out. The rhythm is there from the start. I want everything to sound good out loud. As soon as I write anything I read it aloud to ensure that it flows and feels right and rhythmic. The editing is very important in trying to understand what I've written. I usually start with an idea, a place to land, and then I run there at full speed, then I look back and see if I can figure out how I got there and what it all means. I don't ponder specific sentences or descriptions. I try to capture a feeling. I cut-and-paste and shift things and delete. If a word messes with the flow, it's gone, or changed, or whatever. I want things to be readable and more importantly, re-readable. I like things can be read quickly and absorbed. That's always the goal.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Kizuna: Fiction for Japan

I am honored to have a piece appearing in the newly-released charity anthology Kizuna: Fiction for Japan, which benefits orphans affected by the earthquakes and tsunami that hit Japan earlier this year.

Helmed by indie sci-fi author Brent Millis, aka Made in DNA, Kizuna collects flash fiction contributed by 75 authors from 11 different countries, including Japan, Italy, Spain, Singapore, New Zealand, Germany, France, America, the UK, Australia and Canada. The pieces represent a range of genres--horror, humor, science fiction, fantasy, absurdist, bizarro, and historical fiction--and are not specifically about the disaster. Most are new works exclusive to the anthology.

The ebook is available now from the Amazon Kindle Store for $9.99 (£7.00 UK) with 100% of the author royalties going to Smile Kids Japan to help orphans in the disaster-devastated areas of Miyagi, Iwate, and Fukushima. Please buy a copy and also help spread the word about this book.

Buy for Kindle USA >>

Buy for Kindle UK >>

Even if you don't have a Kindle or don't like using the Kindle app for your smartphone or computer, the good news is that the ebook is DRM free, which means it's easy to convert to ePub or your format of choice through programs like Calibre.

A paperback copy will also be available soon. For more information, visit the official site:

UPDATE: Kizuna now available in paperback at Amazon

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Zizek Press :: Pimpin' Books Is Hard, But We Must Try

Writing in a new voice is hard,
 but we must try.
I'm excited to announce that I've joined up with Zizek Press, joining a literary dream team that includes Marc Horne, Stavrogin (aka Oli Johns), Lenox Parker, and Lucia Adams.

If you're not familiar with their work, please do consider checking them out. If you're a fan of my writing, I'm sure you'll find something to love among the Zizek Press stable. And that's not just hollow praise; I'm not a joiner by nature, so the fact that I signed on is a testament to how much I respect these authors, who truly are among my own personal favorites to read.

And if you have read some of these works, please do consider leaving a positive review on Amazon, Goodreads, etc. It's hard for emerging independent authors to get attention, and customer reviews really are one of our best tools for leveling the playing field.

Here's a rundown of our current line-up.

Marc Horne

Tokyo Zero

Available at: Amazon US | Amazon UK

One man goes to Tokyo to end the world. It goes fairly well.

As a Japanese cult gets ready to stage a massive attack, they are forced to recruit a secretive young bio-chemist from the West. They hide out on the fringes of Tokyo, taking care of the daily business of preparing for the apocalypse, until the foreigner’s secret past starts to come to light and threaten their future dreams.

Automatic Assassin (Coming Soon)

As usual Xolo got the mail and went to a man-made planet to kill someone.

Unfortunately there were these kids and he got sentimental and soon he had a bomb in his head that was falling in love with him and he had to go back down the old genocide hole to Earth and find out who was the king there and why he was irritating important people with space yachts.

“Like Dune written by Douglas Adams and proofread by Hunter S Thomson.” (Hypothetical reviewer)

Lenox Parker

Back(stabbed) in Brooklyn

Available at: Amazon US | Amazon UK

Hollywood legend Howard Kessler is washed up after a series of sordid, drunken mistakes, and returns to his Brooklyn roots after decades of success. What he finds is not the nostalgia he expected, but a group of hardened guys with grudges to match. The gang all finally meet up at a dive in Chinatown, but instead of a warm reunion the deep resentments of the past turn into exploitation and deceit.

Lucia Adam

Vein Fire (Coming Soon)

When thirteen year old Matt took a cinder block to his playmate Hannah’s legs, he never knew things would end like they did. Years later, after he is released from a secure psychiatric facility, he is sadistically drawn to Hannah again but finds himself trying to protect her from the other disturbed individuals that gather around her.

Vein Fire gives a startling portrait of a young woman with Borderline Personality Disorder.



Available at: Amazon US | Amazon UK

Hong Kong, present day: A man teaches children, has sex with a seventeen year old girl, and thinks himself into a dark, dark hole.

Only the recent suicide of a Korean model can pull him out.

“It’s David Lynch in a hotel room with the brain of Camus guarded by Kubrick and analysed via satellite TV by Pedro Almodovar.” – Robert Patrick, ‘T-1000′ from ‘Terminator 2: Judgment Day.’

Hollywood on the edge of forever
Available at: Amazon US | Amazon UK

Why is Tom Cruise wandering around the deserted basement of a movie studio? What is Christian Slater doing in the sewers with a fake shotgun? Why is Nick Nolte killing Russians? What is this movie called ‘Statham’s Brain’?

And the big one…Did Jack Nicholson really survive ‘The Shining’?

‘Hollywood on the edge of forever’. An uncountable number of satirical stories, whipping a vaguely familiar Hollywood to within an inch of its life.’

Even More Zizek

In addition to the books, Zizek Press also runs a blog at featuring quality absurdist satire about celebrities and pop culture, contributed by the five of us plus the elusive Zasulich. Recent posts have included an interview with the cast of The Hangover 2 in which Zach Galifianakis eats a couch, Lars Von Trier texting Kirsten Dunst at the Cannes Film Festival, Ryan Reynolds' poetic ode to the Green Lantern, and a behind the scenes peek into the green-screened mind of George Lucas.

We're also on Twitter as @zizekpress and have a Tumblr at

Oh, and we have celebrity endorsements, too.

Monday, March 21, 2011

In the Lighthouse Interview

Thanks to Tom Lichtenberg of Pigeon Weather Productions for picking me as the first interview for his new In the Lighthouse feature. The interview's highlights include:
  • I make several irresponsibly uninformed wild predictions about the future of publishing

  • I give a few teaser tidbits about upcoming projects

  • Tom says some nice things about me then makes a couple amusing remarks about the ambiguity of my identity and gender

Read it all at

Sunday, March 13, 2011

CONCRETE UNDERGROUND Year One :: Anyone Can Do This Shit

Today marked the 1-year anniversary of the release my debut novel, CONCRETE UNDERGROUND.  In the past year, I've been amazed, overwhelmed and humbled by the response the book has received.  Seriously, when I started writing it, I really had no intention of releasing it, I was writing simply for my own personal edification.  And even when I decided to take the plunge and self-publish it, I thought that I'd be lucky to get 100 people to read the damn thing and just one of them to actually like it.

So I'm gonna do something a little unorthodox here.  Because there seems to be an unwritten stigma attached to authors sharing download/sales info.  On the one hand, I do understand how it can seem like crass boasting.  But at the same time, I really do want to illustrate just what's possible and reasonable to expect for a self-published author working outside the confines of established genres, specialty markets, and, frankly, accepted notions of serious literature and good taste.

Also, I don't give a shit if you do think I actually am just crassly boasting, since I really and truly am completely shameless.

Because the point is that anyone can do this shit.  As I've said before, e-publishing really does have the potential to be like punk rock, zines, street art, and DIY culture.  Except instead of a roll of quarters for the self-serve copy machine or a busted up second-hand guitar, all you need is a fucking internet connection.  Stop worrying about bullshit like professionalism and dust jacket blurbs and in-store readings and just fucking create already.  Be crazy, be experimental, be audacious, be insufferably obnoxious and irresponsibly contrarian.  Just write what's in your fucking heart and have the conviction to let it loose upon the world.

So anyways, here are the download figures for Concrete Underground in its first year of publication through the highest-performing channels where it's available:

Feedbooks: 10,877
The grand-daddy of distribution channels for self-published authors, three of my six release have topped 10,000 downloads in their first year here, and I'm only an average performer there.  And informally, I'd say that seven or eight out of every ten e-mails I get from readers say they discovered my books via Feedbooks on the Aldiko Android app.

Amazon: 7,744
The only place where my book actually costs money, since they have a $0.99 minimum price.  However, the vast majority of my "sales" occurred when Amazon made the book free as a weeklong promotion.  I've also benefited from decent reviews, averaging 4 stars on 10 reviews.

Manybooks: 3,996

Another site where I benefited from weeklong promotion as a "featured book" on the site's homepage, as well as earning an average 5 star rating on 5 reviews.

Smashwords: 2,768
Through Smashwords, my book was also made available at the Barnes & Noble, Sony, Diesel, and Kobo stores.  Though they don't break down the download stats by distribution channels, unscientifically it looks like B&N got the most action, where it's garnered 12 review for an average rating of 3 stars and has a sales rank of about 2.700.  For the sake of comparison, that is actually higher than Auster's New York Trilogy, Zafon's Shadow of the Wind, Murakami's Kafka on the Shore, Roth's Nemesis, and Lehane's Shutter Island, but way lower than Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and The Lost Symbol.

Total: 25,385
Based on my cursory research (yes, I actually did research for this post, don't expect this to be a recurring theme though), the print run for an initial hardcover or trade paperback release for a midlist author is in the realm of 10 to 40k.  The number of units actually sold is like 70%, so that means 7 to 28k.  Meaning that if I'd actually managed to con some poor hapless fish of a publisher into releasing my book "for real", it most likely would not have resulted in any more eyeballs on my words.

A few things to keep in mind:

1. This was a self-published e-book that was has never been available in paper form in bookstores.

2. I had no previous print publication history, including in any kind of literary magazine or anthology, meaning no prior name recognition.

3. There was no capital investment into the book.  All the distribution channels listed above are available for free to anyone who has an internet connection.  I didn't pay for any reviews or advertisements.

4. I have no real specialized skills or connections to speak of, no particular marketing savvy, no MFA in Creative Writing (no degree whatsoever actually).  I'm not any smarter or more talented than any other dummy running around out in the world, I have no appreciation for the rigors of grammatical doctrine, and my overall grasp on the English language is tenuous at best, despite it being the only language I speak fluently.

So truly, anyone can do this shit.

Now, the counter-argument is that free downloads are not the same as paid book sales.  Apart from the obvious lack of money in the author's pocket, the free download also lacks a certain legitimacy that even a $0.99 sale would have.  And it's true, the above download figures would be significantly lower if they'd come with a price tag.  I'm OK with that, I'm more concerned with eyes on the page than coins in the bank.  And as for legitimacy, let's be honest, how much of a concern could it possibly be for someone writing under the pen name "Moxie Mezcal", really?  Guerrilla fiction does not need to be validated.

To wrap up, though, the question that faces new authors looking at self-publishing boils down to two things: access and priorities.  Access, because remember that we're talking (in my case at least) about a book that should have next to zero commercial appeal and marketability according to standard barometers.  So as the publishing industry in general and the market for midlist authors in particular continues to shrink, self publishing is going to be the only option available to a lot of writers of experimental or fringe literature.  Which leads to priorities. Meaning, would you rather make a little bit of money and have a little bit of people read your book, or make no money but have a lot of people read your book and just enjoy the ride for the ability to connect with other human beings, the creation of art for art's sake, and the sheer fucking madness of it all?

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Read an (INDIE) eBook Week

Read an eBook Week is an annual event to promote e-books.  This year is particularly special because it marks the 40th anniversary of the first e-book, a copy of the Declaration of Independence that was the first document in what would become Project Gutenberg.

Of course, one of the most exciting things to come out of the e-book revolution is the new opportunities for distribution it allows independent and self-published authors.  So while you could read another formulaic mainstream McBook this week, why not pick up one of these exciting new works by some of my favorite indie writers instead?

View the full list at  Many of these books are available in paid and free editions.  Please consider paying if you can afford it to show your support, and if you can't, you can still show love by writing a review.

Broken Bulbs by Eddie Wright
A compelling meditation about the intersection of art and addiction and the way that both are essentially born of our need to feel like our life has meaning.  It's gritty, it's ugly, it's brazenly experimental in both form and style, it's allegorical, it's satirical, it's as darkly engrossing as staring at someone's disfiguring wounds, and yet it also manages to be profoundly cathartic.
$2.99 @ Amazon
Free @ Feedbooks
You set the price @ Smashwords

The American Book of the Dead by Henry Baum
A writer works on a novel about a religious zealot who gets elected POTUS as part of a conspiracy to immanentize the eschaton, only to realize that his story is coming true. Apocalyptic lit in the tradition of Wilson & Shea's Illuminatus!, TABOTD explores the double-edged roles that religious faith and warfare play in the human drama.
$0.99 @ Amazon
Free @ Feedbooks
You set the price @ Smashwords

This Unhappy Planet by Marc Horne
This Unhappy Planet is a satirical dramedy about two guys who hatch a scheme to open a chain of spiritual fitness clubs, hoping to get rich quick off of bored yoga moms and affluent New Age seekers.  The characters are imbued with such depth and shading, they are rendered so completely believable, that you can't help but empathize with them even while laughing at their foibles.
$0.99 @ Amazon
Free @ Feedbooks
$2.99 @ Smashwords

The Man Who Painted Agnieszka's Shoes by Dan Holloway
Like all of Dan Holloway's work, this novel is unflinchingly experimental and evocative.  A father unable to get over his missing daughter gets drawn into an obsessive subculture built around a beautiful celebrity whose death became a YouTube phenomenon.
$0.99 @ Amazon
$0.99 @ Smashwords

(life:) razorblades included by Dan Holloway
An essential primer on the work of Dan Holloway, this generation's answer to the beats.  Simultaneously visceral and transcendent, these stories celebrate the richness of all life's experiences, especially the ones that leave scars.
$0.99 @ Amazon
$0.99 @ Smashwords

The Dead Beat by Cody James
A story about self-sabotaging meth addicts that manages to be at once painfully honest, defiantly hopeful, and laugh-out-loud funny.  Its characters include a suicidal hypochondriac, a hopeless Polyanna with a venereal disease, a guy who pokes holes in his condoms so he'll impregnate the girl he's stalking, and the passive-aggressive narrator they all look to for a salvation he can never deliver.
$0.99 @ Amazon
$2.99 @ Smashwords (50% off for Read an eBook Week, Promo Code: RAE50)

Charcoal by Oli Johns
Possibly the most twisted, audacious, and brilliant book you'll read all year, Charcoal tells the story of an angry young intellectual obsessively researching the best way to kill himself.  But when he learns of the suicide of a beautiful model, he slips through a magical realist tear in fictional space-time to go back in a misguided attempt at salvation-by-proxy.
$0.99 @ Amazon
$2.99 @ Smashwords (50% off for Read an eBook Week, Promo Code: RAE50)

Back(stabbed) In Brooklyn by Lenox Parker
Brutally funny, this story about an aging actor spurned by Hollywood who tries reconnect with his roots in Brooklyn is irresistibly beguiling with an acerbic edge that makes that cuts through the sentimental lies and bs we tell ourselves after the dust settles.
$2.99 @ Amazon
Free @ Feedbooks
Free @ Smashwords

Why They Cried by Jim Hanas
Jim Hanas is the master of the slow burn.  These short works appear unassuming at first, then swell with a skilled balance of humor and humanity to a powerful resonance.  They are simple stories, elegantly told, that stay with you long after you've put them down.
$7.96 @ Amazon

Loisaida by Marion Stein
A nonlinear, multi-perspectival tale of murder set amidst the backdrop of the Tompkins Square Park riot in New York's Lower East Side during the late '80s.  A lyrical ode to life lived outside the mainstream.
$0.99 @ Amazon
$0.99 @ Smashwords

The Death Trip by Marion Stein
The Death Trip is a controversial new end-of-life medical treatment that promises a chemically-induced spiritual catharsis.  Mixing politics, philosophy, and science fiction, this novella manages to weave together questions of euthanasia, assisted suicide, drug counter-culture, and corporatized medicine into a compelling narrative without feeling preachy or heavy-handed.
$0.99 @ Amazon
$0.99 @ Smashwords (FREE for Read an eBook Week, Promo Code: RE100)

Trapdoor by Vixen Phillips
At times reading this tale of star-crossed lovers can feel like gorging yourself on dark chocolate truffles, it's intensely sensual and undeniably indulgent, yet still made the bitter by the knowledge that it can’t lead anywhere pretty.  If beautiful tormented boys are your thing, this book could become your next guilty pleasure.
$2.99 @ Amazon
$2.99 @ Smashwords (50% off for Read an eBook Week, Promo Code: RAE50)

Snapdragon Alley by Tom Lichtenberg
A supernatural urban mystery about a vacant lot, a phantom bus route, and a trio of curious youths unfolds with a relentless pace that makes it impossible to put down.
$0.99 @ Amazon
Free @ Feedbooks
Free @ Smashwords

Freak City by Tom Lichtenberg
The sequel to Snapdragon Alley that stands as an engrossing mystery in its own right.  A strange parcel appears containing a number of seemingly-random objects that turn out to be pieces of a puzzle that draw a young man out of his shell and into an uncanny supernatural conspiracy.
$0.99 @ Amazon
Free @ Feedbooks
Free @ Smashwords

Password Incorrect by Nick Name
I love how these stories show an understanding of the nuanced relationship between human beings and technology, which is often belied by the absurdity of the humor. Technology is presented not as a boogey-man, but rather as the tools human beings create to fill real needs.  The problem, of course, arises from humans' preternatural abilities to epically eff up even the best intentions.
$0.99 @ Amazon
$0.99 @ Smashwords (FREE for Read an eBook Week, Promo Code: RE100)

Failure Confirmed by Nick Name
The second volume from Polish tech-absurdist Nick Name, bite-sized fiction for people too smart and snarky for their own good.
$0.99 @ Amazon
$0.99 @ Smashwords (FREE for Read an eBook Week, Promo Code: RE100)

The Butcher Shop by Neil Austin
An old-fashioned whodunnit set in the underground party scene.  Hard-nosed hipster Claire St. Claire has to track down her estranged boyfriend's murderer to clear her own name.  It's a familiar story adeptly told with a sense of sheer anarchic bliss, the literary equivalent of drunken karaoke, utterly irresistible.
$1.99 @ Amazon

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Web Redesign, Mailing List, & New E-Book Single

So here's what I've been doing with my time lately... | Redesign

I gave my home page a face lift. It was time, the old look was getting a little tired. I tried to keep the design clean and simple this time around. If you haven't been by in a while, check it out and let me know what you think. | Moxie Mobile

While I was at it, I also revamped my mobile site, powered by the good people at Mofuse. The mobile site includes phone-friendly versions of this blog, info and downloads for my e-books, and the guerrilla fiction manifesto.


Some of you may have already noticed, but I recently started up a Tumblr site. Tumblr's an interesting beast, not something you'd put as much thought into as a full blog post, but something a little more prominent and substantial than a tweet. In a way the format is liberating, inviting more of a stream-of-consciousness style of posting, at least to me. At first I had planned to do a post a day, and while that hasn't always worked out, I am gonna keep up a pretty regular frequency. It won't replace my regular blog, I'll still continue to post the major stuff here like the author interviews. Anyway, if you have some time to kill, have a look around

Mailing List

I'm also starting an e-mail list, powered by Mail Chimp, as a way to keep in touch with readers and offer some goodies to show my appreciation to all of you who have been so supportive of my work. Don't worry, your inbox isn't going to blow up with crazy amounts of spam from me, I think the updates will go out quarterly or bimonthly at most.

And to kick it all off, everyone who subscribes by February 14th will get a special Valentine's gift from me, an advance copy of my next e-book single, No. 1. The story won't be publicly available until the release of the Girls With Guns Anthology, so the advance single is a mailing list exclusive.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

ErgoFiction Interview

Last week Letitia Coyne at Ergofiction interviewed me for their Café Monday feature.  It was a lot of fun, and she had some really great questions about the writing process, finding characters' voices, and connecting with readers.  She also managed to coax me into gushing with a troubling lack of abandon about various tidbits of autobiographical trivia, mental illness, punk rock posturing, corporate wealth, gender identity, and similar bits of nonsense.

Here's an excerpt:
I never write characters that are straight analogs of people I know in real life, because frankly real life is boring to me. But I do often base certain traits on things I’ve observed in real people, so one character may be an amalgamation of several people, a friend, an ex, a random encounter, or pieces of myself. Even then, I’ll usually exaggerate those traits and tendencies to make the character more archetypal. I think that fiction should be larger than life, sexier, more dangerous, more entertaining… or else what’s the point?
Read the full interview here.

Ergofiction is a webzine helmed by Jan Oda designed to help webfiction readers to connect with each other, discuss their favorites, and discover new obsessions.

Letitia Coyne is a blogger and author.  Her novels are available for free online and as PDF downloads via her blog

Other Sides is an anthology of independent experimental webfiction compiled and released by Ergofiction.  It's available as a free ePub & PDF download, or for purchase in multiple formats if you want to show some love with currency.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Joy of SEX SCENE | Review

There's something psychologically revealing about the way a writer approaches a sex scene that gives a more immediate peek into their head than straight dialogue or prose. And that's really the joy of reading Robert James Russell's Sex Scene, an anthology of thirteen shorts from independent authors of various backgrounds, nationalities, religions, and orientations.  It's extremely satisfying as a reader to play armchair psychoanalyst while noting the divergent styles and comfort levels in handling the subject matter.

There's very little here that is identifiable as porn or even  "erotica" (which I think is a euphemism for high brow porn, presumably distinguished by the fact that you jerk off to it with your pinky held up like you're at a tea party).  Only a handful of them manage to successfully quicken the heart rate, while many have a clinical or academic feel, almost reminiscent of junior high sex ed.  Some dance around the actual sex as long as possible or try to skirt by with little graphic detail, while others take the plunge with such brashness that they almost border on being disingenuous.  Some choose to decontextualize the sex, providing little or no framing story, while others take great pains to dress up their contributions with a lot of plot and/or literary conceit, like they felt the need to justify or vindicate the inclusion of explicit content.

None of this is meant to in any way denigrate the participating writers, many of whom are among my personal favorites.  In fact, I have a deep respect for everyone who contributed, born of the fact that a Catholic upbringing and an adolescence wracked by extreme gender identity issues have left me largely terrified of sex and sexuality.  I tend not to have the guts to write sex scenes, and when I do I make them as ugly or mortifying as possible.

Which may be why my two favorites are the stories by Dan Holloway and Sarah Melville.  Dan's story, God bless him, is frankly, well... terrifying.  And I hesitate to give you any more details because you really should read it cold and experience the gut-punch for yourself.  And then Sarah's piece is on the opposite end of the spectrum, managing to be so poetic and whimsical and sincere that it almost makes you forget you're reading a sex scene at all.

Sex Scene is available through Lulu:
Free PDF Download
Paperback ($6.50)

For more about editor/ring-master Robert James Russell visit or @robhollywood on Twitter.

Cover art by John Vestevich

Also, check out the trailer by Sarah Melville:

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Writing in Exile | The Lenox Parker Interview

Forgive Lenox Parker if she hasn't seemed herself lately. One of the most dynamic, outspoken, and enthusiastic indie authors emerging onto the scene, she had just launched her first book, steadily developed an online following, and plugged away tirelessly lining up readings and getting her book into stores. Then real life intervened and she found herself forced to start over from square one with a new name, a new book, and a new website.  Luckily, she still writes with the same passion, humor, and keen insight, as seen in her new novel, Back(stabbed) in Brooklyn.

The novel follows Howard Kessler, an over-the-hill actor  known for playing the streetwise tough guy.  Having fallen from favor with the superficial Hollywood scene, he decides to go back home to Brooklyn and track down his old childhood gang.  Part of the appeal comes from the fish-out-of-water story as the Hollywood icon tries to adapt to his friends' lives of domestic strife, waning health, and broken dreams.  But it's just as much a character study, as each of the men grapple with their own troubled pasts and Howard's stab at self-discovery dredges up some motives that might not be as Norman Rockwell squeaky-clean as he'd like to believe.

MM: First off, I just want to say I'm so happy that you're releasing Back(stabbed) in Brooklyn. I fucking loved the draft I read late last year, back when it had that other title. Without giving too much away, obviously, have you changed anything drastically since then, or has it mostly been edits and fine-tuning?

LP: Thanks, I'm happy I'm releasing it, too. I really love this story. I changed a couple of the perspectives, which was tough and I'm still not sure I made the right decision, but I decided to put the pen down and just leave it. I tightened the language, too. Going through it word by word, chapter by chapter, I was able to see words that were skipped, double the's, things like that which are a dead giveaway for a book that hasn't been edited professionally.

MM: Talk about the decision to serialize it on your blog how you're approaching the print & e-book release?

LP: Serializing it on the blog so far has netted me about zero degrees of interest, except for a few stragglers. I think it's my failure to publicize it consistently so people can't wait two weeks in between chapters. I don't blame them. I'm doing the "soft" release. I did a blog post a couple of months ago about a book release and what it means and I tried to downplay my own expectations. I had so much excitement about my last book release that when it happened, it was like, eh, fizz out, blah. So I'm not doing a full-blown release. I have a whole philosophy about that. We as writers get all hepped up about our book releases, which is of course justified since writing them took up like a year of our lives. So a reader flips through it in a weekend and moves on to the next thing! I have to get over myself, as a writer, and just pump out the fiction as it comes to me, because readers devour stuff so much now that we can't look upon all our work as pedestal-warranted studies of brilliance. We are producing a commodity. I know that sounds harsh.

MM: Has the promotion of the new novel been impacted by your recent exile/identity crisis/bullshit HR nightmare?

LP: Thankfully not so much. However, before my exile I had garnered a couple thousand "followers" on Twitter and now that's shot to shit. So my "platform" has shrunk. I'm starting afresh. And it's easier to market a novel than a nonfiction humorous memoir anyway, so I expect I'll get more traction on this one anyway. It's sad that I really only had four months to promote my last book before the Gulag treatment happened, but I can't dwell on it. I'm still paranoid though. That's why my web presence isn't where it should be, because I won't log on anywhere on my work computer and I'm paranoid about my keystrokes. (Me = over the top, I know)

MM: How has life as a pseudonym been treating you? Do you find the anonymity liberating, or is it strange not to be able to write as yourself?

LP: I've gotten used to it. It's been nearly four months and I'm Lenox. I'm cool with that. It's a ridiculous name and that was the purpose, to bring attention to the fact that this is not my name. It was weird, I did an author event as my old self a few weeks ago and I couldn't promote Back(stabbed) In Brooklyn at all and it was frustrating because I had a few press interviews, but I had to keep it sealed. At first I was really depressed. But now I'm alright with it.

MM: What about your last book, the book that dare not speak its name... are you still promoting that as well?

LP: Nope. I did my last author event and that's that. It's not dead, though. It can't be, it's my life. I do still have expectations that I'll be able to get that book made into a film too, but that may go along with my general delusions.

MM: One of the things I've admired about you is that while you're fiercely independent, you're also totally uninhibited when it comes to promoting your work. You make it clear you are going after as big an audience as possible, and made clear to use your writing as a springboard to film and other media. Do you think that with the current growth in self-publishing/e-publishing, we're primed for indie authors to start breaking into the mainstream?

LP: I have hopes that the line between mainstream and independent will continue to be blurred when it comes to the publication of written work. Hollywood could give two shits about how a book was published, as long as it can be packaged and marketed the way they like to do things. I love movies. I fucking love movies more than people. I am a wannabe filmmaker. Every word I write I am simultaneously envisioning it as a movie. But as with mainstream publishing, I can't get behind formulaically produced films and I prefer experimental our non-conventional works.

Constitutionally I can't write commercial mainstream stuff. Just can't. I couldn't write a vampire romance novel to save my life. So will I ever see my work on screen? I will have to produce it myself, most likely.

So the short answer to your question is, really excellent independent authors are independent for a reason--they are unconventional. Only snippets of unconventional art are processed and molded into mainstream entertainment. It's how we feed the beast. We will always feed the beast, but we will never be the beast.

MM: What's next for you? More shorts, or are you working on anything big? And really, what I'm trying to get at is: will I ever get to read a full Maggie & May novel?

LP: Maggie & May is next! I'll do a little more research for that and go over to 47th and 9th Ave to the specific bar I'm modeling the story on. So I'm like Woody Allen, I'll release my book next month and start a new project. Ok I'm not really like Woody Allen but still, I'll do the fall project thing every year. After Maggie & May is probably going to be Jean-Baptiste is a Brilliant Liar. I love that character and wrote a few pieces on Year Zero I think, and on my blog. Probably the first one was my old name, but I have to re-release it somewhere.

Lenox Parker blogs at Eat My Book and tweets as @LenoxParker. 
Back(stabbed) in Brooklyn is available as a free e-book at Feedbooks and Smashwords.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Sarah & Paulie | Beautiful People That Happen to Ugly Interviews

Reading Sarah E Melville feels like catching up with an old friend - you know, the brainy, artsy one who always rocked the best thrift store finds, the one who used to pass you mix tapes filled with amazing bands you couldn't believe you'd never heard before. Or maybe Sarah's too young to have passed mix tapes, but, you know, whatever the kids are doing nowadays. It's amazing how little details like that can betray your age, even just in the northern end of your twenties -- but I digress.

The point is, it's extremely difficult not to like Sarah's work. Her breezy, conversational style is irresistibly endearing whether she's making you laugh or laying herself emotionally bare. Her prose is like her art, lush, emotive, intricately detailed, and exuding the confidence of a master at her craft.

I had the opportunity to chat with this Fresno, CA native and her alter-ego, Paulie, about her new book, Beautiful Things That Happen to Ugly People.

MM: Okay, so let's jump right into Beautiful Things. Talk a little about what it's about and how it came together.

PAULIE: Beautiful Things is about how awesome I am.
SARAH: Not really.
P: No? I thought it was about how cool and sexy I am and how you should be my best friend and send me money based on the aforementioned qualities.
S: Uhm . . . not really. Beautiful Things is about connecting to others through basic emotions; lifting the veil of individual identities to see that we're all the same, deep down, because we're all alive and we all want to be loved.
P: Is it?
S: Yup.
P: Hm. Well, it's not like I've read it.
S: You haven't read it?
P: Nope. You haven't mailed me a copy of it yet.
S: I thought you'd read it all.
P: I've only seen what you've put up online. Oh, and all those letters that people wrote to me -- I read those. Pretty good, I have to say. Well, some were creepy.
S: Which ones?
P: Like, the one on the passport page? What the fuck is that? "Hush Hush"!? -- we don't like that.
S: Ha, that one's pretty good.
P: Not from my standpoint. Now whoever got murdered because of that note is going to be traced back to me cause I touched it and it's now slathered in "Paulie did it". Such an idiot! I know better than to open stuff you've mailed to me.
S: You're overreacting.
P: I am not -- I'll end up in the slammer!
S: I don't think so.
P: They'll reopen Alcatraz just to get rid of me. And that place is haunted. I'll get ass-raped by ghosts!
S: It's just a note.
S: It's fiction.
P: Are you sure? Do you know who sent it? Can you trust them?
S: Don't worry about it.
P: I will. I'll worry about it all I want, thank you.
S: Okay, have fun with that.
P: Thanks.
S: But, ass-raping aside, Beautiful Things was started in 2008, though I didn't have any plans then to make it into a collection, let alone a book. That was decided in Dec 2009, and the whole thing was put together from Feb to May 2010. It started with the stream-of-consciousness vignette "South of the Euphrates" which I wrote up-side down.
P: That one's about one of my good friends who I haven't seen in about . . . two, three years now. She's clinically depressed, like I was back then. "All the sad things you used to say about your life . . . " I hope she's doing better. I miss her.
S: As you may have guessed, Beautiful Things is from Paulie's POV.
P: But I didn't write any of it.
S: No, you're terrible at creative writing.
P: That I am.
S: Paulie's my alter ego, a "young man very much in love, but also very sad."
P: I am sad, aren't I?
S: Yes.
P: Sad, but hopeful. Then again no one's really happy -- it's just a world of those who have hope and those who don't.
S: This is something you see throughout the book. It fluctuates between being hopeless, or "dark", and having hope, or being "happy". That's all you can really ask for. Unless you refuse to be conscious of the state of the modern world, you're likely to be a little grim. You can be "happy" in ignorance.
P: But who would want to do that?
S: A lot of people, it seems.
P: Hm. That's sad.
S: It is.
P: What's with the title, by the way?
S: The title comes from the idea of beauty meaning truth, and ugly meaning ordinary. It's like, we don't live in the fabricated world that our media presents to us -- we're not all beautiful movie stars and good guys in novels; we don't live in plots and with contrived symbolism and foiled characters and wrap-around irony. We're ugly in the sense that we're complicated, without those logical A=B idiosyncracies that we often give characters; we're contrary and messed up and some parts of ourselves remain secret and unknown even to ourselves. So we're these ugly, ordinary people that are very real, and it's this reality that's the truth, and the truth is beautiful because it's real. In the end, it just means that whatever happens to us that is true and felt and makes us alive is beautiful. Besides, no one wants to hear stories about beautiful things happening to beautiful people. It's boring. Beautiful things that happen to ugly people is a theory of reality for fiction -- as little fabrication as you can get away with.
P: That's because you take a lot from your own life, right?
S: Yes. I think that's the next question, actually.
P: Oh, okay. Let's get to that, then.

MM: Much of your work has a very personal, confessional feel to it. To what extent is your writing autobiographical? Are we talking straight analogs, or are characters and events amalgamations of real life?

S: The fiction I do with Paulie is very autobiographical -- the work outside Beautiful Things more so than in the book itself. Beautiful Things is autobiographical on feelings -- very bare feelings, while the fiction I post on Year Zero and sometimes my blog is much more a straight translation of me and my life into Paulie. Pieces like "California, Sweating Like Fire" and "These are the Sounds We Hate", along with his blog, are probably where the line between my life and his is the thinnest. But everything I write with Paulie comes from my real life in one way or the other.

MM: Is there a point at which certain personal things are off-limits? Has there ever been any tension over real life events that ended up on the page?

P: There should be a limit! Dear god, all I want for Christmas is some goddamn privacy. First it's like, hey, let's air out one of your teenage sexual fantasies in Beautiful Things --
S: He's talking about "Kings of the Wild Frontier"
P: -- then she's drawing weird naked pictures of me --
S: They weren't that weird or naked. He's referring to the "Husbands and Portraits of their Wives" project, that I --
P: They definitely were weird and naked!
S: Calm down. You couldn't see anything exciting anyway.
P: What?
S: What?
P: Did you just call my junk "exciting"?
S: No.
P: Can I quote you on that?
S: No.
P: I'm quoting you on that. Sweet!
S: So . . . yes, as you can see, there's some tension. For me, because I do have an alter ego, and it's still fiction, there's nothing that's off limits. The readers's not sure what's me (real) or what's Paulie (fabricated) so I can really write about whatever I want.

But the more honest you are, especially in your fiction, the more you can connect to others, and the more you start to see yourself in other people, in these mirrored emotions. And that's the connection that I want to create, because it's easier to love someone if you understand them.

MM: Why write under an alter-ego? Does it allow you to establish objectivity or emotional distance?

S: I've always had an alter ego as a writer. He wasn't always called Paulie, though.
P: What? You told me I was your first.
S: Sorry, babe, there were others before you.
P: Ew, that doesn't sound right.
S: Yeah, it kinda creeped me out too.

Having an alter ego does allow for objectivity and emotional distance, though -- there's no emotional distance from what I'm writing about, the actual feelings surrounding what happened. When you have an alter-ego you have to start feeling from their point of view as well as your own, so it becomes doubled, and sad things in my life become even sadder and more pressing when I hand them over to Paulie. There's no release or evasion, so you can't quite call it an escape, even though, when you first think of an alter-ego, you do think of an escape -- like you're trying to get away from yourself. Sometimes that happens, but the more you escape through fabrication, the less of an alter-ego they become, and the more they turn into a character, which isn't the point.

And after saying all of that, I think the point of an alter-ego is to distance myself, at least from my fiction. I'm not one that wants to be close to what I write, so putting Paulie in as a buffer between me and my work, and the truth of it, helps, especially when it is so heavily autobiographical. There are some things in my life that I'd never write about if I were the main character. Some of it is too personal, even for me -- like the story "Air", even though the crux of it is nothing but fiction. I can't read it.

MM: In a recent story, Paulie waxed philosophical about the problems with masculine writing. How much do you think gender informs your writing, either consciously or subconsciously?

S: The gender difference is usually at the forefront when I'm writing for Paulie. Especially when I'm writing his blog, as it's supposed to be him writing, not me writing from his point of view. So I consciously try to phrase things and bring out the tendencies of the masculine style of writing, even though he's hopelessly feminine as a person. He likes to relate to people when he tells a story, instead of just inform. But he's a people person, after all.

It doesn't really change what I write about, though, the gender difference. I'm rather androgynous in personality myself, and I understand men more than I do women, so it's not so much of a stretch. I do let the crass humour out when I'm writing as Paulie, which is something I keep in as myself. There's a part of me that's about as mature as a 12 year old boy who just found out what cussing was, and Paulie displays that probably too much.
I have very little perspective on myself, objectively, but I think I'm funnier when I'm writing as Paulie. Actually, I don't think I'm funny as myself.

MM: Does being a woman writing as a male alter-ego change or influence your perspective at all? Alternately, does being voiced by a woman threaten Paulie's masculinity in any way?

P: My masculinity is so threatened it's gone into hiding. I don't even know where it is anymore.
S: That's what she said.
P: Oh, come on!
S: What?
P: That's so not what I meant. Goodness. Way to insult me on the entire freaking internet.
S: Oh, don't get your panties in a ruffle --
P: You see what I mean? Gosh . . .
You'd think that me being, well, feminine and sensitive would go over really well with the laides, but nope -- I know how to dress myself and that's it -- everyone thinks I'm gay. I have friends that still don't believe me, even though I had a pretty serious girlfriend for about six years. It's ridiculous! But . . . I guess it is nice, in a way, to be hit on by other men. Like, it's flattering and all, but I'm not really into that.
S: Not sober, at least.
P: You said you wouldn't say anything about that. You promised!
S: Sorry. Go on.
P: So . . . yeah, my masculinity suffers quite a bit, being voiced by a 20 year old girl, but as she said, she does have the redeeming feature of being androgynous in personality. If it wasn't for that I'd have ended up gayer than a rainbowed unicorn.
S: Unicorns are gay?
P: . . . yes? I -- I don't know. I'm on so much NyQuil right now I don't even know where I live.

MM: You each have your own blogs and Twitter accounts. Are these types of social media promotional, or have they actually become part of the story, part of the artistic work itself?

S: The last thing our blogs or twitter accounts are is promotional. Mine are personal because, well, I'm a person, not an object or a business or something to sell. I don't see the point in being professional and so business-minded when you're in an art based on connecting with others.
Paulie only got his twitter after months of incessant bothering, and then once he had that he whined and whined until he got his own blog.
P: I only asked, like, twice.
S: Whined like a little girl. I get no rest from this guy.
P: You think I get any rest from you? You're always writing creepy stories about my personal life and putting them online. That keeps a person up at night, you know?
S: Do you see what I mean about the whining? To answer your second question, though, Paulie's blog --
P: Is awesome.
S: -- has definitely become part of the --
P: thisispaulie.blogspo--
S: -- creative work. I've mentioned before how it's --
S: Are you done?
P: Yes.
S: Okay. Paulie's blog and twitter have become this strange novel-in-real-time, like a microbiography at times, except there's no plot.
P: There really isn't. My day to day life is super-fucking-boring.
S: I wonder why that is.
P: Because I stopped drinking?
S: I wouldn't say you've stopped.
P: Because I've stopped drinking every night?
S: That's probably closer to the truth.
P: But, seriosly kids, hugs not drugs. And, uhm . . . shoes not booze?
S: Wow. Powerful words.
P: Well, at least it rhymes.

MM: What is relationship between music and your creative process? Do you have certain things you like to listen to while writing or drawing? Do you both have the same tastes?

S: We have mostly similar tastes in music, except --
S: There you go.
P: HATE them. I want to stab myself in the fucking FACE every time I hear that one about the sunshine in the bag --
S: Clint Eastwood. That's a classic! And you love Clint Eastwood.
P: Yeah, the person -- not that fucking song.
S: But you haven't even listened to all their material. You really don't know how diverse they --
P: Blah blah blah.
S: Fine. But me loving the Gorillaz is not as bad as you liking Justin Timberlake.
P: Justin Timberlake is awesome.
S: He is not.
P: There's nothing wrong with liking Justin Timberlake. Come on, Sarah, we're bringing sexy back.
S: That was, like, three years ago.
P: Yeah, well, it's taking longer than expected.
S: We agree on about 80% of our musical tastes. Well, 80% of everything, really. I enjoy electronica and dance and indie, and went through a hardcore/screamo stage back in high school, as I believe most of us did, when we were angry teens, so there's a soft spot in my heart for really noisy stuff. Music, no matter the genre, has always been inspirational to my work because nothing makes me feel more than music does, and that's where my art and writing come from -- feelings. I'm always trying to convey emotion.
With Beautiful Things I listened to a lot of Gorillaz (their last album, Plastic Beach came out in March, while I was working on the book), and Metric --
P: Which is my favourite band.
S: He likes Metric as much as I like the Gorillaz.
P: I'm saving myself for Emily Haines.
S: You do know you're not a virgin, right?
P: And? The way I see it, it's the thought that counts.
S: I don't think you can use that expression regarding virginity.
P: I should. If I could go back in time, I . . . I wouldn't get shi. . . uhm, well, we don't need to get into that. We're talking about music, right? Hey, so . . . my name's Paulie and I like Metric.
S: I also listened to a lot of Sigur Ros --
P: Another good one.
S: Not saving yourself for anyone in that band?
P: No, I don't think so. They're all guys anyway. I think. The lead singer's a guy, right?
S: Yeah.
P: I'll pass, then.
S: And I listened to a healthy dose of ambient/electronica, as well as some of M83's older stuff. But it really comes down to a feeling more than a genre or band. The only rule that seems to exist is that if I'm trying to draw something pretty, I can't listen to pretty music. I thought I'd be listening to lots of Bjork while working on some of these pages, but it never felt right. I had to go to the hardcore stuff to balance it out.

MM: How was the trip to London and performing at a YZW live reading?

S: London was amazing!
P: Except I didn't get to go.
S: No, you didn't.
P: I had to stay home. But . . . it kinda worked out because I have pneumonia -- still -- and have been on bed rest for about two weeks.
S: Are you feeling better?
P: A little. I'm in my . . . third week? No, it's almost been a month now. I just can't seem to kick it. Very tired all the time.
S: It would've been nice if you could've come along, though. I mean, I'd still like to meet you someday.
P: Hm. I'm really mean in person. And ugly.
S: Me too.
P: You seem nice and . . . not that bad looking, I guess. We look like we could be siblings.
S: Really?
P: Yeah. Around the eyes.
S: That's cool. I have yet to see a picture of Paulie, if anyone's wondering.
P: Oh, you've seen a picture of me.
S: When?
P: There's one on my blog! It's my kindergarten photo.
S: What? That doesn't count. You were five.
P: Well, not much has changed. I mean, I'm a little taller, I guess.
S: I sure hope you'd be taller by now.
P: Not by much, though.
S: I still want to see a picture.
P: I kind of like having no one know what I look like. Mystery is sexy, right? But . . . you probably shouldn't be attracted to me. I think that'd be incest or something.
S: Yeah.
P: Because we're like twins. Really creepy twins.
S: Except you're older by about five years.
P: Six.
S: You're twenty-six.
P: I'm twenty-seven.
S: Twenty-six.
P: I thought I was twenty-seven.
S: You think a lot of things about yourself that aren't necessarily true.
P: Hm.
S: Trust me, you're twenty-six.
P: Whatever.
S: But London was really great. We read at The Good Ship in Kilburn on 7 July, and the week before I was in Oxford, doing a reading with Dan Holloway at the Albion Beatnik, which was a much smaller setting (but just as wonderful). I, obviously, read from Beautiful Things at each gig, and Dan did Skin Book, which is marvellous in person -- I really think that's the way to experience Skin Book -- and we had Marc Nash with us at the Kilburn gig doing a section from A, B & E while wearing a nurse's uniform.
P: Really?
S: Yeah. He said he got it online.
P: You asked?
S: Why wouldn't I?
P: You're not getting one, are you?
S: No.
P: Okay, good. I don't want us showing up at a party in the same dress.
S: Nurse's uniform.
P: Is that what we're talking about?
S: Yes.
P: Oh. Oh, okay. I tell you what, Rachel must've swapped my medicine for . . . I don't know what's . . . like Groundhog's Day, I mean, every time I wake up Maury's . . . fucking tv and . . .
S: Paulie did sign a few books, though, before I left.
P: . . . goddamn paternity tests . . .
S: But not many people know who he is, surprisingly enough, so he didn't get to sign as many as he would've liked. (He's a little attention-starved.)
P: . . . and I'm like, condoms, bitches!

MM: Do you think writers are going to need to become performers or entertainers to engage modern audiences?

S: I don't think so, no. The danger is in thinking that you have to be more than a writer. Blogs are nice and twitters are nice and gimmicks and alter-egos and all this is really great and can be lots of fun, but you can't let any of it get more important than writing, because if you're writing's not there, once the entertainment side wears off, well, there's not going to be anything left to stick around for. All you need to engage an audience is good writing, although some would argue you don't need the writing, just the story, which is sometimes true and always sad.

MM: In addition to writing, you're also a visual artist. How does the process of telling stories through words compare with telling them through images?

S: Telling a story through words as opposed to images is, as you can image, almost completley opposite. With words you're giving readers the information to create their own images, and with images you're giving viewers information to create their own words. But I don't see myself as someone telling stories through images -- I don't see myself as an artist. I do art sometimes -- little things, but I'm not an artist. I just do what I need to do to get a feeling or an idea out, and once it's out that's that and I can go back to impersonating a normal person. I like telling stories with words more, so I may be more biased in calling myself a writer. There's more freedom in words, but maybe that's because I'm a visual person and I like having that freedom.

MM: Do you think that multimedia and cross-media storytelling are going to be more of an emerging trend in the coming years? Is it artificial to keep trying to distinguish visual versus literary versus performing arts?

S: I think we may indeed, especially with our readers and iPads and all that. Having the internet so readily available (at least in big cities) means that it's much easier to do and easier for people to access. Personally, I like books being books and movies being movies and podcasts being podcasts. Then again, I come from a dial-up mind-set, where the internet is rarely reliable and not very good when it is around. We've levelled up at my house, but it's still a really sketchy situation, internet wise. So, while I'm not for it from a reader's point of view, I do think it will happen. I'll stick to my books for a very long time.

It's not artificial to distinguish, I mean -- we have different words for the different arts, so obviously they're different things. I can see how someone would argue that there's not much difference in inspiration or emotion, but in form they're all very separate. And it's form that makes them what they are.

MM: What are your plans now that Beautiful Things has been released out there into the world? What comes next artistically, professionally, or personally?

S: There's not much difference between the three, I have to say. Hopefully I'll be doing some local readings, in my close-to-home city of Fresno, California, and I'll still be working on Paulie fiction and a novel set in the Middle Ages, all while going back to school full time so I can get my AA and transfer to study linguistics. But we'll see about that.
Paulie, do you have anything to say?
P: ...
S: I think he's asleep.
P: ...
S: Well, on behalf of both of us, thank you Moxie for letting us take up some of your blog space. It has been a pleasure.

Pre-order Beautiful Things That Happen to Ugly People at Sarah's spiffy new website:

Sarah blogs at & tweets as @sarahemelville

Paulie blogs at & tweets as @thisispaulie

And check out Sarah's pieces at the Year Zero Writers blog

All artwork is copyright Sarah E Melville.  The photo of Sarah is by Dan Holloway.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Rebels & Misunderstood Creatures | The PJ Lyon Interview

PJ Lyon is my favorite kind of author, the kind you can't read while waiting in line or sitting at the bus stop. He gives himself over totally to his stories and demands the same from his readers. Some burn with raging intensity, some simmer with understated grace, but all compel you to slow down, roll them across your tongue and savor their elegance like a fine wine.

My introduction to him came by way of a collection of shorts called Small Victories.  Though the individual pieces spanned a variety of genres and tones, they were all unified by a central theme: in this world, you have to enjoy your victories any way you can get them.  It may seem hollow or bittersweet at first, but as long as you take a stand, as long as you stay true to your principles, that's one victory no one can ever take from you.

Since then, he's consistently confounded my expectations, eschewing conventions while retaining an unflinching clarity of vision.

MM: Your stories tend to revolve around individualists who stand apart from the herd. Sometimes they're loners, sometimes they're rebels, and sometimes they're just misunderstood. What about this particular archetype do you find so compelling?

PJL: As far as I’m aware (and I’m not very aware most of the time) these characters are me, and sometimes they’re what I’d want to be, and often they’re what I never want to become. It took me a long time to let my subconscious take over when I write, it just so happens that my subconscious produces those loners and rebels and misunderstood creatures that now populate my fiction. There’s a line in the Operation Ivy song 'Knowledge’ and it goes “All I know is that I don’t know nothing.” When it comes to my own writing and the characters within that writing, I believe that quote sums up exactly how much I know about what I do.

MM: While much of your writing can be interpreted as social commentary, The Rorschach Sands struck me as perhaps your most overtly political story to date. Do you think the writer has a role to play in our social discourse? Is it too much to expect fiction to have a tangible impact, to be able to change minds or serve as a call to action?

PJL: Writers have to be involved. They have to show that the world has touched them on some level or other. Writing without this kind of involvement is useless, it is nothing but the buzzing of a vuvuzela horn. I’m not an actively political person, I don’t like politicians and I no longer believe our votes count, but I do believe that fiction (along with music and all the other arts) can be a force for change. Good writing always has a tangible effect on the reader. It stirs emotions, it makes us think, sometimes, if we’re lucky, it will change our whole perception of the world. If we’re even more fortunate it will inspire positive actions in others.

MM: Your stories often involve strong images and symbols - for instance, the photograph of the girl in I Remember Yves Montes or the image of the oil-splattered beach in The Rorschach Sands. Do you tend to start writing with a particular image in mind, or do you start with characters/plot and construct the imagery around them?

PJL: I have absolutely no idea what I’m writing until it is written. I’m entirely driven by what I feel. I never plot, I don’t plan, I don’t jot down notes or character descriptions and I never do research of any kind. If it isn’t there when I start writing, then it will never be there and I just walk away from the story.

I Remember Yves Montes started with the image of the girl (which became the front cover) and the honest expression of love by the photographer in his words to describe that image. That simple declaration, the beauty that the photographer saw in the girl, touched me and all I wanted to do was write a story about that photograph. The story I found was only possible because I didn’t know what story I was writing to begin with. They say write what you know, but I believe I’m writing to discover what I know more than anything else.

MM: You have some of the most gorgeous, striking covers, far better than most "professional" book designs. What makes a good book cover to you, and how important is it to have the right cover for a story?

PJL: A good book cover is something that can be taken away from the fiction it represents and be admired all by itself. I do believe that the best of book covers are artworks. And they are important to the overall experience, but they’re not everything. A good title is just as important to me, or the approach of the author to their creation. The cover could be plain text on a white background if the title intrigues me or the author has some attitude beyond 'buy my product’.

MM: Liseuse seems to be about begrudgingly coming to terms with the technological age, and this plays out specifically embodied by the shift from paper to e-books. Yet, you publish your own work exclusively in e-book format. Is there something bittersweet about the emergence of e-books?

PJL: Oh it’s most definitely bitter-sweet, but no more so than any of the other shifts I’ve experienced in my life. I’m in my mid-thirties, so I’m from probably the last generation that will ever have a reverence for physical books, even to the point of assigning value beyond the words those books contained. But it’s just a form of nostalgia, the same as when I see a DVD or tape cassette.

I own no paper books and I will never own any in the future. Paper is as much a lock on knowledge as DRM or Geographic restriction. It was good while it lasted and I have fond memories, but I have fonder memories of the words within those books. Knowledge and freedom trump nostalgia.

MM: Do you think the so-called e-book revolution is going to make it easier for self-published or indie authors to gain broad exposure and challenge mainstream lit in the marketplace? Is that possible, or even desirable?

PJL: I believe mainstream literature will be dead within ten years along with the traditional publishing industry. We have nothing to fear and they will not be able to challenge what replaces them, but we do have to create our own marketplaces, our own points of interest and influence. And to do this writers have to band together and start their own publishing houses. The overall aim should be to give back the respect to writers and readers that the publishing companies stole from them over the years. If this is done, we’re looking at a very exciting future for everyone.

MM: You've stated before that you don't read "mainstream" authors. What is it that you think that mainstream literature is lacking, and do you think that there are real independent alternatives out there that are accessible to the average reader?

PJL: The fault is that mainstream fiction is about profit not fiction, not stories, but which unit will sell enough to make X amount over the investment. Fiction as a product soon becomes fiction that must appeal to as many consumers as possible, just like any other product. So you’re left with more and more product that apes preceding successes, but less actual choice. The independent author is in a perfect position to offer the variety that the publishing industry is lacking. It’s already happening right now as more and more writers forgo the mainstream and decide to publish themselves. The alternatives are in place and they’re becoming more and more successful with every passing day. Not only are they accessible, but I believe they’ll create a whole new generation of readers who are more open to new fiction.

MM: How much of an obstacle do you see in the issue of gatekeepers or tastemakers to help readers/consumers sort through the wealth of indie lit available? The "accepted wisdom" is that faced with an infinite number of options, readers might become somehow overwhelmed and seek refuge in comfortable and identifiable brands of the Rowling/Brown/Meyers/Larsson variety.

PJL: There will always be a section of the audience who have to be told what to like, who are terrified of anything without an official seal of approval. Thankfully, there will always be people who embrace change, who are willing to take a risk and who will inform others of their discoveries. The gatekeepers and the taste makers will emerge, if they’re not already emerging now, and they will be as varied as the communities they serve.

MM: You are very vocal about your support for Creative Commons and equally critical about the way major publishers use copyright laws to usurp artists' control of their own work. Have we outgrown the usefulness intellectual property rights as classically conceived, and if so, what should take its place?

PJL: Intellectual property is dead. It died in the hands of the Walt Disney Corporation when they resurrected that zombie mouse of theirs for the umpteenth time. It means nothing to the general public and it is a barrier to our progression at every level. Creative Commons is okay as a stop-gap, but it is not the solution. At some point we’re going to have to admit that copyright doesn’t work for either creator or the public at large and we’ll have to put it to rest. Beyond that, I couldn’t even guess what might take its place and I’m not even sure we should put anything in its place, except maybe some much overdue common sense.

MM: Earlier this year, you shut down your old web site, pulled your old works off Feedbooks, and relinquished control over the work to MobileRead. Can you talk a little about how you arrived at that decision?

PJL: I believe it was a combination of people close to me dying and a creative crisis that found me hovering between the writer who I’d once been (striving for the mainstream with thrillers, mystery and horror) and the writer that I was becoming (increasingly uneasy around genre fiction of any kind and completely disinterested in the mainstream).

Looking back I believe I was shedding skin, readying myself on a subconscious level to fully embrace what was about to come next. Giving away copyright, deleting my books were the conscious actions that made that transition final and permanent. Without that decision I would have been stuck ping-ponging between what was and what could be for the rest of my life. That was no place I wanted to be creatively.

Also I gave up smoking and it drove me a little insane. :)

MM: How important are online communities like MobileRead to you as an artist? What are your ambitions in terms of growing an audience and promoting your work?

PJL: I’m convinced that online communities are the most important aspect of our interaction with audiences, and they’ll become even more important once diaspora* is released and we start using the web in a more democratic way. The future, creatively and otherwise, is in the communities we build. Saying all that, I have no ambitions when it comes to growing an audience or promotion. I’m just as happy with one reader as I would be with a million. I’ll continue to write and publish, but the writing has to be my sole focus, nothing more. Whatever good comes from my writing beyond the writing itself, I’ll consider a bonus, but I’m not looking for anything more.

MM: What are you working on next? I'm particularly intrigued by what you've teased about The Pier at the End of the World.

PJL: I have at least twenty or thirty projects going on at once. Short stories, novellas, scripts, poetry, whatever tickles my fancy. Most of it goes left unfinished, or deleted, but at the moment I’m working on two bigger projects that I strongly suspect will see publication.

The first project is a three book meta-narrative. Book one, The Pier at the End of the World, tells the tale of a pulp author writing his last contracted novel in the odd cinema cum café he inherits from his dead uncle. The second book, Fortune’s End, is the pulp novel the fictional author is writing within the first book. The third, The Unfortunate Merman - the life and fiction of Jon Wen, will be a fictional biography of the fictional author. Each are separate, but when read together they should form a richer, more informed narrative. It’s an exercise in different styles, but also a investigation into the three stages of a fictional work - what the writer feels - what the audience receives - how the author and his creation are seen.

I’m about a quarter done on the first two, and the third I’ll write after the first two are finished.

The second project is a collection of short stories inspired by the fifteen tracks on the Tom Waits Album "Swordfishtrombones" which, when collected, will be called “Rainbirds". I’m done with the writing on that project, but I’m letting it cool for a few weeks while I continue with other projects.

MM: I've loved having so many new stories from you released in such quick succession. Have you had a recent burst of inspiration, or is this a planned full court press to market or brand your work?

PJL: I’m more buzzed, intrigued and excited by writing now than I’ve ever been before. But I don’t have any plans to market myself or build a brand. Every plan I’ve ever made has failed. My only concern is writing and publishing that writing whenever it’s complete.

Free e-books from Feedbooks
The Rorschach Sands
I Remember Yves Montes

A Flag for Mr Bellamy
Toward the Latitudes

If you want to kick it old school, download Small Victories via MobileRead: epub | mobi

All images are the work of PJ Lyon and used under a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA license.