Mention Tao Lin’s name in a crowd full of concerned readers and struggling writers and watch the room explode. Your dad probably hasn’t heard of him, but where Lin is known and read (or pointedly not read), the 27-year-old Brooklyn resident is perhaps the most divisive young writer around. Fans point to his deadpan take on the sort of young and smart folks who read Tao Lin books (Eeeee Eee Eeee, Shoplifting from American Apparel). Detractors make violent stabs in the direction of his transparently business-minded blog, his public dust-ups (Google Tao Lin + Kevin Sampsell some time) and his devotion to quotation marks. Richard Yates, his latest foray into the world of sad and funny people who spend a lot of time chatting online, confronts love in the time of Gmail, which is where I “spoke” to Lin.
WW: There is a list of questions you “feel interested in answering” on your blog. I am going to begin with one of those. What are some memorable moments you had while editing Richard Yates?
Tao Lin: The most memorable time of editing Richard Yates was maybe when I edited it something like 45 hours in three days. I was editing the galley and I had a deadline that I was committed to working “right up to”...so I used Adderall and caffeine on myself a lot and also ate only raw fruits and vegetables and maybe coconut water, I think, and would edit at the library like eight hours then go home and edit on my bed until “the sun came up,” and not sleep, then I think stay up that day, then sleep for 15 hours, or something like that, for two or three times.
When you’re chatting on Gmail with friends, do you steer the conversation into places you know will make good book material? And do your friends notice?
What I like in life and in books seems the same, to some degree, I think, so I don’t try to manipulate things in real life into things I would like to write about. I write to connect with human beings...and to treat human beings as “tools” for writing seems to not make sense in terms of that.
Given some tweaking, I think Richard Yates could be successfully marketed as YA fiction. Have you considered this? The kind of money you might make writing YA books?
I don’t know what YA fiction is, so I haven’t considered that. The writing I like is in the “literature” section in bookstores, and I haven’t read any books in the YA fiction section that I’ve liked a lot, so I naturally wouldn’t write YA fiction, I think. At this point I think I know that I don’t want to write anything for money.... The same amount of people probably write about vampires and make little to no money as the number of people who write “literary fiction” and make little to no money. People say things like “I should write a romance novel to make a lot of money,” but if they wrote it they would still need to get a high-powered literary agent and have the same factors be in place that would make them a lot of money as would be needed to make a lot of money with a “literary” novel, I think.
Richard Yates was funded by private investors. How many people invested and how much money did you receive in total?
Six people invested $2,000 each for 10 percent of the royalties indefinitely. I expect my investors to make a profit definitely, especially in the long term (5+ years), and to make a “giant profit” in the very long term (25+ years). I don’t think I will do this again. Ideally I’m focused, now, on trying to make money like a normal person, by getting a New York Times Review and NPR coverage and foreign sales and things like that. I’m not really sure how to get those things, though.
I’ve asked money/business questions because that is an aspect of being a writer that you foreground on your blog, and something most writers don’t seem to want to talk about too much. How/why is it important and/or necessary for you to publicize all of the non-writing things that writers do?
When I tweet a link to an interview or something, I’m thinking of my finances and of doing something that seems fun. I publicize myself and my books so that in two or three or five years I can have “steady cash flow” possibly, but also because publicity is another “medium” which with to do things that feel exciting and interesting to me. Attention, to me, is almost 100 percent a means to the end of “steady cash flow,” in most ways, in terms of my “literary career,” I think.
GO: Tao Lin reads from Richard Yates at Reading Frenzy, 921 SW Oak St., 274-1449. 7 pm Tuesday, Sept. 28. Free.