This interview was conducted via Google Wave and is being cross-posted here from http://sites.google.com/site/smallstoriesproject/moxie-mezcal-interview
Quick plug: Google Wave has a lot of exciting potential uses for indie authors. If you're on it and want to hit me up, I'm moxiemezcal [at] googlewave.com. And if you're not on it yet but are interested, I have a few invites.
Moxie Mezcal Interview
by Small Stories
Can you tell us about your writing for readers who may be unfamiliar with your work?
I've dubbed what I write "punk-as-fuck guerrilla fiction" - and at this point I'm not sure if that's meant to be taken seriously or not. But I guess what it means is that there's a certain attitude I'm trying to achieve, a sense of immediacy - I have stories that I want to tell, and I'm going to do it by any means necessary and not worry about making them "commercial" or "accessible" or even "serious literature". Which on the one hand I guess you could call lazy, but I come from an indie, DIY mindset where making shit look slick and pretty is all well and good, but what really matters is content. I mean, look at The Cramps' "Songs the Lord Taught Us" - it sounds like it was taped on a busted cassette recorder with a dying battery that someone just absent-mindedly left turned on in the middle of the studio, and it's still one of the most intense fucking albums ever.
But getting back to my stuff, if I had to distill the essence of my stories into a couple tidbits, it'd go like this: First, I like to write stories where things happen - people fight, fuck, drink, steal, solve mysteries, and just generally get up to shenanigans. I'm not really interested in the kind of navel-gazing and pointless florid descriptions that signify "serious literature".
And third, I like writing about people who exist somehow on the fringes of society or mainstream culture. Personally, I've never felt entirely comfortable fitting into the mainstream, so I'm interested in people who operate on the outside of things, either by choice or because they've been ostracized, or maybe they just wake up one day and realize they've gradually slipped through the cracks.
Would you agree that the Internet has changed everything for the non-mainstream writer. ie: they now have a cheaply accessible audience, which was almost impossible to find before without a lucky break in the publishing industry?
Absolutely, this is a very exciting time for the independent author. The internet has gone a long way to democratizing content - blogs are breaking major stories before the supposedly "established" news media, and last year even the fucking Macy's Thanksgiving parade did a rickroll.
The other development that is propelling a lot of writers specifically to take a stab at independent e-publishing is the emergence of e-readers. Because to be honest, reading for any prolonged period of time off a back-lit screen is a headache, so while that's fine for short stories, I could never deal with reading a full-length novel off a computer. But I love my Sony Pocket with its sexy little gray screen, and I've read more books in the past few months of owning it than I used to read in a year on paper.
Couple that with Feedbooks and Smashwords, sites that allow any author with only the smallest modicum of tech savvy to produce decent ebook files, and the threshold for entry is ridiculously low. Which some people will moan and hiss about, complaining that there's no editorial control or the sentences end in fucking prepositions or whatever. But honestly, these are the types of people who get off on being controlled, who are so used to the mainstream arbiters of taste telling them what to like and what's shit that they probably don't even have actual opinions of their own anymore.
Me, I prefer to see it like punk rock. Sure, you can't really carry a tune, and yeah, your guitar is only held together with duct tape and a prayer - but you're raw, you're honest, you're passionate, and fuck-it-all you've got something to say and you're going to say it as loudly as you can.
Perhaps the fiction 'market' itself has changed, what people want to buy and read? I'm my experience the middle market has hollowed out. Now it cuts from post-chick lit to worthy literature, something like the late 70's music scene going from pop to 'serious' prog rock without anything in-between ... when you walk into a book store everything feels plastic and over-marketed, writers are talking about their careers and people only listen to the cash register? It's all very competent and slick but there are less and less off-the-wall characters sitting behind their writing machines, trying to say something? Could we be waiting for something fresh, a kind of literary-punk?
The problem is that paper publishing (I call them the tree-killers) is a sinking ship - in all forms, fiction, news, whatever. So what naturally happens is these treekillers stop taking chances, they only want to publish the kind of warmed-over, puerile gruel that they know will sell. So the Dan Browns and the Stephanie Meyers superstars will always have a place, as will the tell-all celeb bios and formulaic genre work.
But for anything that's edgy or experimental, it's going to get increasingly harder. Because as the audience for prose fiction shrinks, it's going to reach the point where it's just not financially feasible to publish difficult work with limited commercial value. Killing trees is expensive, running a printing press is expensive, shipping is fucking insanely expensive, and running a bricks-and-mortar bookstore - well just ask Borders how that's working out.
But the good news is that e-publishing is easy and nearly free - and most importantly, that audience that's hungry for novels that are challenging and audacious and fresh and artistic hasn't gone away. So if the treekillers don't want them, fuck 'em - they can come play in Mox's front yard.
Do we expect too much from writers? They are no longer counter-culture role models or political heroes or, indeed, artists ... they are more like business people and celebrities. I suppose we live in a more visual culture and many people who would have been producing the great American novel are working in TV and writing filmscripts. How do you see the role of the writer today?
Christ, that's a good question. Definitely, the old heroes of the counter culture are nearly extinct. Thompson finally blew his brains out and RA Wilson has moved on to the next plane. Those were the last two I really gave a shit about, I think. And there's not much in the new crop to replace them. I mean, you've got Palahniuk, but he's an anomaly - if the Fight Club film hadn't done so well in the after-market, I'm sure New York would have gotten sick of his bullshit years ago, what with his ripping colons out of assholes and what-not. Nick Cave, too - Bunny Munro was brilliant, but he's a rock star first, and who doesn't love rock stars? True, TV and film and music have tapped the well in terms of talent. Grant Morrison is the best we've got as an uber-counter-culture icon, but then he's not even prose, he's comics (ahem, graphic novels, sorry).
Shit, maybe I'm in the wrong medium.
All that aside, though, seriously, if I had to take a shot at defining the role of the writer today, I'd say that people will always want to tell stories, and they'll want to be told stories. It's primal, it goes back to cave men and shit. Sometimes they want stories that help them escape - tell them about an adventure or make them laugh or make them dream of true love. But then other times people need stories that do more, that challenge them, make them analyze who they are, make them feel uncomfortable and question their basic prejudices and assumptions. And the two aren't mutually exclusive, of course, but the point is, you'll always need the counter culture writers, the shit-stirrers.
One of the interesting things we've seen with the proliferation of new media (web videos, blogs, satellite radio, even the millions of new cable TV channels) is the fractilization of audience - there are niches within niches. You no longer have three TV channels so everyone's watching the same shows. Which is liberating as an artist, because it means success doesn't necessarily have to be measured by ubiquitous mainstream penetration. Instead, it's a question of finding your niche, building an audience that connects with your work on a genuine level, whatever the size.
There's so much history and social status associated with being conventionally published by a good house, the trade hardback, national newspaper reviews, book signings and so on. Even though for most writers they never experience this world, how does someone writing digital fiction get taken as seriously and hope to achieve anything like the same kudos?
Well, the hard honest truth is that very few if any indie authors are ever going land national newspaper reviews and international renown and film adaptation deals and all that. I think the best approach is to have realistic expectations and do as much as you can within your own sphere of influence to build an audience.
For instance, you don't need a publisher to do a reading or a signing. Just go to your local cafe's open mic night, or connect with some local musicians and see if they'd be interested in combining music with spoken word and other types of performance art, or find an art gallery and see if they're interested in having spoken word at their next opening reception. Make connections. Meet people. That's what art's about - not giant fucking hardcover monstrosities.
And while we're on the subject - I'm going on record as saying I hate hardcovers. I mean, sure there's probably some archival value to it, and maybe you need a sturdier binding for something like the Oxford English Dictionary, but other than it - there's no reason you're making me pay $30 for the fucking hardcover for new releases. Just give me the cheap paperback and the ebook right away, you godless-fucking-swine.
Do you think being a digital writer is a first step towards getting into print or do you see it as an end in itself?
I think to some people it is, but personally, to me the "real" product is the e-book. Sure, at some point I think I'll print some copies on dead trees and try to sell those indie DIY-style, but I don't expect to sell that many, it's mostly only for a few people I know who still complain about "liking the feel of a real book" whatever that means.
I don't think a serious publishing house would ever reach the depths of either self-loathing or crippling lunacy to want to sign me, so I don't really have that on my radar as a goal. And frankly, I don't feel like it's necessary for me to feel validated as an artist. My ego is big enough that it takes actually very little validation for me to feel like a superhero.
People talk a lot about declining attention spans on the Internet. Do you write differently knowing it's going to be read on a computer screen or iPhone?
This is something I find really interesting, particularly because I think this is the way things will eventually go, and I fear I may on the back-ass tail of this trend.
Yes, I think the more people read on screens - especially mobile devices - the more of an audience there will be for short fiction or even shorter formats - flash fiction, micro fiction, etc. Without sounding too much like hollow praise or kissing the interviewer's ass, I think this is something you do exceptionally well, along with Nick Name and a few others.
The problem is that flash fiction is ridiculously easy to do, but at the same time ridiculously hard to do well. I'm a dinosaur in that respect, I still like to ramble on for pages and pages, and I tend to think in terms of more traditional story structure.
The major project I'm working on, the thing I've been working on for the last year or so, is a novel. A real, honest-to-goodness, bloated, overwrought, self-indulgent novel. I'm trying to think of ways to break it down to be more mobile-friendly, possibly serializing it in four or five smaller chunks, but still, they'd be chunks of 40-50 pages, hardly flash.
While working on the novel, I've written a few short stories, mostly as diversions or stylistic experiments, but a few of those I've liked enough to release as e-book singles. I think that's really the ideal format for me now - single stand-alone stories, 20-40 pages, still bloated and self-indulgent, but at least they could be read in a single (extended) sitting.
In the future I want to experiment with remixing and repackaging content, taking chunks of my shorts that could be repurposed into a decent stand-alone flash, much in the same way you'd pick and excerpt for a reading. One of my singles, "Making Dylan Maxwell" was an early experiment at this - basically, I took chunks from my novel that introduce the main antagonist and remixed them with a little new content to form a cohesive short.
The trick to do this thing well is you can't treat it as a sample or tease - you have to make it a real, stand alone experience that's satisfying to the reader even if they don't continue on to read the full source work.
Are your influences literary or from other areas such as film and music?
My influences are all over the spectrum - literature (PK Dick, Chandler, Borges, Palahniuk), film (Lynch, Aronofsky, Gregg Araki), music (christ, too many to name), comics (Alan Moore, Grant Morrison), even the occult (big ups to Crowley, crazy pervert that he is).
Also, drugs and alcohol have probably been a huge influence on my work. I mean, I'm pretty clean now, but there's a history.
What techniques do you use to create and share your writing on the Internet? Do you have any tips for other writers who may be new to this field?
Tip #1 Smashwords and Feedbooks are your friends.
Tip #2 get a web site, make it as easy to navigate as possible, and put anything that's good enough for other people to read on it as free, downloadable content.
Tip #3 get on Twitter, get on Facebook, get on MobileRead forums and goodreads and connect with people who might make up your potential audience.
Tip #4 It's not just about promoting yourself as an independent author, it's about building a independent e-book community. It's not a zero sum game; the more people who read indie e-books in general, the more people will read your indie e-books. Find other authors, read their shit, and talk up the ones you like. Write about them on your blog. Post reviews for them wherever they're listed for public consumption - Amazon and B&N and Sony as well as Feedbooks and Smashwords and goodreads. Customer reviews really are the new great democratizer of literary criticism. Fuck the national print reviews, most people just read the comments on the Amazon page.
I'm finishing the last draft of my novel, CONCRETE UNDERGROUND, which I'm very excited about. I know it's the last rewrite because as I work on it, I'm feeling for the first time that it's finally been shaped into the kind of ugly, unsettling monster I wanted it to be. So hopefully after this it'll only be copy-editing, and I'll finally release the bastard.
After that, I have two major projects in mind. One is a novel (or possibly a series of ebook singles, interconnected vignettes). It's a magical-realist love story about coming to terms with death, and I'm sure it will land me on Oprah's reading list.
The next is a series of novels or novellas about a lesbian detective in an alternate history United States where religion has been outlawed. Seriously. It's a hybrid sci-fi/pulp detective story. It'll be my Harry Potter.
That'll keep me busy for at least five years, slacker that I am.
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Moxie Mezcal Interview by Small Stories is licenced under a Creative Commons Licence.
Please feel free to reprint, re-post, excerpt, and share as you like, but please give credit where due to Small Stories. He did great work on this and is a fantastic interviewer and author.