Brooklyn writer Tao Lin has made waves in the New York literary scene with his creative self-promotion schemes (finding readers/investors to bid on a stake in his newest novel) and all-around precociousness (he’s just 27). His characters are young, lonely and disconnected from almost everything. They shoplift organic vegan fare, communicate almost exclusively via text message, gchat and email, doodle absurdist drawings for one another (like the “spotted bluefin tuna skateboarding” above, which Lin drew just for BB) and generally drift through their daily lives, studiously resisting tethers to a world outside their own heads.
In Richard Yates, Lin’s new novel, which Melville House releases today, a 20-something writer named Haley Joel Osment courts a high school girl named Dakota Fanning. They meet online and conspire to be together, despite her mother’s objections and the distance between Lower Manhattan, where Haley Joel Osment lives with roommates we never meet, and Dakota’s home in suburban New Jersey. Listless obsession might be the best way to describe their relationship, which flourishes briefly, then collapses under its own weight. Lin reads at Barnes & Noble in Tribeca tonight, BookCourt in Carroll Gardens on Thursday and Spoonbill and Sugartown in Williamsburg on Friday. He spoke to BB over email.
Brooklyn Based: Your work is usually classified as “experimental fiction.” How would you describe it?
Tao Lin: Ideally I wouldn’t describe it, I would just have people read it. I think each of my books had different characteristics, prose styles, tones. If forced to describe it in three words I would maybe say “depressed, lonely people.”
BB: When fans approach you, do they assume you’re the same person as your narrators? Is that accurate?
TL: I’m not sure what they assume. I’m honestly not sure if that would be accurate or not, if they assumed I was my narrators. Probably not. Even if someone, like, assumed I was the same person they met one year ago that might not be accurate.
BB: Why call this novel Richard Yates? And why name the main characters Dakota Fanning and Haley Joel Osment for that matter?
TL: I like Richard Yates (the author). As a title it doesn’t give the book a specific tone or interpret the book or summarize the book, in my view, and it is a low-level non-sequitur in terms of the book, and I like non-sequiturs. I wanted to avoid having obviously made up names like “Dan” or “Michelle.” I also wanted to avoid, in an autobiographical work of fiction, using my own name. Using celebrity name seems to avoid both those things while seeming, to me, funny and exciting. BB: What are you reading right now? TL: Brandon Scott Gorrell’s unpublished My Hair Will Defeat You, his first novel.
BB: It’s well known that you work like a fiend, but you also blog and facebook and tweet–does everything get your constant partial attention or do you compartmentalize?
TL: I think…actually it’s more that everything gets my constant partial attention. But I try to compartmentalize. But I almost always have more than, like, 3 tabs open, plus Microsoft Word. Sometimes I have 4-6 Microsoft Word things open, 6-10 tabs open on Firefox, and 1-2 Tabs on Safari (I have a press, Muumuu House, and I like to have both my Gmail account and Muumuu House’s Gmail account open). When I’m in the mid-to-final stages of a book I print it out and read through it repeatedly, away from the computer, marking things on it, though, so in those stages I’m able to compartmentalize.
BB: What are your habitual internet spots?
TL: I don’t read many sites, I think. I read Gawker, Thought Catalog, HTMLGIANT, The Rumpus, my Twitter feed, my Twitter feed’s “media” list I made of 20-25 media people. Other than that I think I just read my friends’ blogs and sites, and sometimes I will watch The Colbert Report on Hulu. I also look at Facebook a lot.
BB: Do you feel like there’s a distinct Brooklyn literary scene? If so, what’s that like to be a part of (or not a part of)?
TL: I don’t feel there’s a distinct Brooklyn literary scene at all. I live close to Zachary German and Justin D. Taylor and they are my age and have books out. But it isn’t really a scene, I feel. I know a lot of other writer people in Brooklyn but they either don’t have books out or are more into poetry, and it doesn’t seem like a scene. I don’t know that even if there was a scene I would feel a part of it. I haven’t been in a social situation in something like eight days. When I was hanging out a lot I was hanging out with people who weren’t writers. I know Noah Kalina but he’s a photographer. The writers I publish on my press live in Seattle, Boston, Baltimore, and, I think, New Mexico, and some other places.
BB: You’re well known for marketing your books in creative, social ways, auctioning off items from your creative process on eBay and the like. Do you see that sort of promotion as the future of publishing?
TL: I don’t think the future of publishing will be like that. In my view it seems like the future of publishing will continue to be literary agents selling books for large advances in bidding wars between multiple large publishing houses.
BB: How important are physical books to you? Are you down with the Kindle?
TL: I like books. I also like printing things and reading it like that, and throwing it away after. I like reading things on the computer also. I think I like all those things for different reasons. So I’m down with the Kindle, books, and printing things on computer paper. It seems preferable to have them all, as they are all literally different. I don’t know anyone with a Kindle or who has considered buying a Kindle though. I have not considered buying a Kindle. I think most people I know don’t even feel comfortable going to a $10 concert sometimes because they don’t have much money. A Kindle doesn’t seem relevant for someone like that.
BB: What neighborhood in Brooklyn do you live in?
TL: I live off the Graham L train stop. I don’t know if it is considered Williamsburg, East Williamsburg, or “between Williamsburg and Bushwick.”
BB: What are your favorite Brooklyn spots right now?
TL: I like the delis off Bedford Avenue because they sell coconuts. I like Verb off Bedford because it has organic cold-brewed iced coffee. I like Spoonbill & Sugartown off Bedford. I like a lot of things off Bedford. I like Dumont Burger and Taco Chulo and Rockin’ Raw, all off Bedford.
BB: Anything you’d like to add about Richard Yates, your work, Brooklyn, or anything else?
TL: Add me on Facebook if you want to. Thank you for interviewing me.
Sent by Annaliese. Illustration and photo courtesy of Tao Lin.