On Begetting

by Blake Butler



Sorry, the Bible’s a really rad book. It’s really funny. I wish I’d written it. I feel like if like Action Books or Dalkey Archive had published the Bible instead of whoever it would be a really respected work: I mean, respected by atheists who think the Bible is dumb and only like like poetry by James Tate or something. I read a whole bunch of the Bible the other week in the swimming pool. It was my sister’s copy from when she got baptized I think. She hadn’t touched it since then. I think I have one from that day too but I think it’s buried in a closet somewhere. I got a bunch of poolwater on the book and later my mom told me not to do that because my sister would probably want it. I can’t imagine my sister wanting the Bible. Somebody should make the Bible into a cool movie or like a reality show.

Today I found a website that has a bunch of Sacred Texts, which features holy books of everything from the bible to wicca to Nostradamus to Tolkien to the Book of Shadows to deleted scenes from the Bible, all kinds of stuff. It’s Sacred-Texts.com: how’s that for marketing. One could spend probably years here, on this one site. It’s a popular hit for a lot of searches on google. I found it googling ‘ham begat’.


I wonder how much these guys had to pay for that URL. Looking up different URLs to see if they are available for the $11.44 base price Godaddy charges to register a URL for a year is addictive, or at least I’ve gotten really addicted to it. One week I think I bought 30 different URLs, it’s like a puzzle, or like collecting baseball cards where the trough of potential cards is approaching infinity. Currently whoever lords over the internet has set the limit at the # of characters you are allowed to have in a name to 63 letters or numbers per label between dots, with a total of 253 characters being the supposed cap. So, you can have a 63 letter URL before your .net, and then you can have a 63 character subfolder name after each /, and so on. There are lots of places that claim to have the longest domain name ever, like competing gods, but really they are all tied at 63. There are shitloads of long URLs that are all gibberish or weird long riffing strings.

http://llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch.co.uk/ is the longest URL named after an actual place, as in: something that definitely truly palpably exists w/o the need of faith, (unless you are one of those people who like to say like is that thing in front of us like really there, or is like language man like something also we’ve constructed man is it anything at all). Most sites with long ass names by default must be nonlogical or run ons, or constructed in the image of icon repetition, such ashttp://www.111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111.com, and yet people find and visit these arbitrary-titled sites and in google they are cached.

With periods in a URL name you can go even longer like: http://www.public-organization-capital-of-the-world.which-establishes-world-records-welcomes-all-inhabitants.of-the-planet-and-invites-them-to-visit-our-ancient-city.yours-faithfully-chairman-of-government-anatolij-kosjanchuk.epak.infocom.lviv.ua/

Seems suddenly kind of insane that like Jim Jones and David Koresh were able to assemble such fervent masses without owning newfaith.com or prophetbook.com. And like Jesus or like Mohammed did it without even I guess handbills or radio or TV or really mail.

When you do a search with a registrar like GoDaddy, if your name is taken they will give you a price you can pay the the owner if it is for sale, or they will suggest a list of similar names of sites that are free, all available for currently for the $11.44. If I wanted to open a competitor to sacred-texts.com, GoDaddy suggests:


There are whole troves of name suggestions all based on typical bullcrap that people who build sites like to use. They will get more creative sometimes, depending on what they have to work with.

Here are their suggestions when I searched for godisanal.com (which is available):


I just accidentally spent a couple hundred dollars. I am a sucker for temptation, but more so only when it is something benign and retarded like a nasty URL. I’ve never smoked weed. A lot of people it seemed like in high school would do shit like listen to Slayer simply because they want to appear set apart from how hokey the Bible is in its projection, mostly probably by people who use it not as a text object but as a tool to instill fear both in themselves and those they know.

But really, the book is mad fucked, and feels more innovative with language than so much that comes after it, and with poise.

Here’s 7:23 from the Book of Jasher, a deleted book:

And Cush the son of Ham, the son of Noah, took a wife in those days in his old age, and she bare a son, and they called his name Nimrod, saying, At that time the sons of men again began to rebel and transgress against God, and the child grew up, and his father loved him exceedingly, for he was the son of his old age.

Here’s 1:7-8 of the Testament of Gad:

7 For he saw that I had delivered a lamb out of the mouth of a bear, and put the bear to death; but had slain the lamb, being grieved concerning it that it could not live, and that we had eaten it.

8 And regarding this matter I was wroth with Joseph until the day that he was sold.

Suck on that, Tate.

I don’t know why it would matter that the book is full of judgment, bullshit, and used by assholes to make other things. Often we privilege the context of an author by making the profane or horrid acts of them something interesting, a little hotcake, unless that person is still alive. Sometimes people just seem like these walking passages of the horrible things they’ve done that if somehow exposed in the way of cameras or testimony they would be banished, lambasted, thrown off, or by others: made more holy, the way there are those who worship anyone who cut his flesh or say the unholy word.

The result of all these limitless URLs and hidden books cataloged inside them is an unfathomable terrain. The internet grows at such rate that it is the longest book ever created, and full from end to end of such abomination and benign at once, with a whole lot of corridor between. The one thing missing from electronic books so far in their awakening is that mystery area, the nothing space, where language leaves and passages or opening of expectation open. When there is an electronic book that exits itself and lets me look at pictures of naked people or freaks inside it and laugh maybe I will buy a Kindle. Otherwise, paper is much more of a god.

What else has been deleted. What else from any book. Why did you remove that symbol or that sentence. Why did you not remove the rest.

I want a book that is neither word or image but something I can hold and walk around in and forget or be manipulated by and owned. This happens to such extent with real books maybe 3-9 times in a life, in my experience. Perhaps more often it is supposed to happen with people that you love. The novel of your mother. The novel of your spouse.

The making of books has made me, more than anything, closed to the human, somehow. I feel more removed from accessibility as a body than I have ever. I wonder if I had stayed coding C at Tech instead of moving on to write my other code in English I would be happier, maybe married. Maybe I would have made the book of a child. Blake begat. I would like to name the boy Ham now if I have one, though I doubt I ever will. My Ham might have had another child, too, who would have made something. “Ham begat.” Instead most days I go to rooms and speak to no one except by typing into Gmail chat, which is itself another leg of that massive shitty book that at night makes me not able to sleep.”Begat” begat.

Last night I got on Facebook around 5 am still wide awake and hungry and only saw this:



and then truly I was alone. Locked out of all connection (you know, excluding everywhere else outside and online, as suddenly, in its absence, urgent, Facebook was the only thing at all, at least for like 10-15 minutes until the browser caught up and the site came back to fully load). And then once again there was nothing to do on Facebook like always but fuck around and look and blink and reload and wait and see and wait.

Why does one do what one does in the face of the reams of suggestions of the registrar. Why does one obliterate the idea of a large thing in the face of the smallest. Why am I typing into a blogpost browser instead of working on the other text in my MS word, which claims inside my mouth to want to be a book and probably never will, because of my lack these days of control. What makes me think I want to beget another sentence in the morning when I rise, my impulse pushing me to avoid anything else but going to sit again in front of this machine and type and type. What is there to this begetting, this me babbling again. What of a child: what would that be maybe but another begetter. All these begetters in the face of what is already here. Why do I not listen closer to my mother about preserving the relic of my sister’s life, holy to me or not. Why do I constantly think of food and so often not let me eat. Why aren’t I right now down the street hanging out with my dementia-struck father who always insisted there was no god at all and does not remember me anymore but probably has only years or a year or months or weeks or minutes left to live. Everyone does. Why am I not with everyone.

Belief Quartet

by Jimmy Chen


This morning I was listening to Steve Reich’s “Music for 18 Musicians” on my headphones sitting outside drinking coffee, a 56-minute commitment to listen to in its entirety. The score is recorded live in one take; the instruments played so uncharacteristically that they sound put through a sequencer. Much of Reich’s music is about timbre, acoustic capacities, and the melodic “negative space” between syncopated notes. When some bass clarinets came in pulsing thick and strong, I felt deep droning reverberations in my chest cavity, so visceral it was, so moved by the spiritual score  — until I realized a large truck approaching behind me, shaking the ground, its driver the 19th musician.


Once in college, flipping through an Agnes Martin monograph, I noticed the faintest “blur” emitting from within a painting; so subtle, its boundaries unperceptible, only felt. Martin, in my mind, is a mathematical abstract expressionist, her work evoking the palpable presence of the forms through a system of grids made by either monochrome tonal shifts or by a methodical invented syntax of tiny marks. Her work is about harmony through human imperfection, of things seen vs. felt.  The blur — or, more great, the evocation of a blur — was a complete success, an epiphany, until I flipped to the next page and realized that the blur was simply a darker painting on the other side of the page.


Those of you born before ~c. 1980 will remember the Walkman/cassette tape, and how the latter plays when the former is running low on batteries. One night in 1988, so excited to have just bought Van Halen’s “OU812″, I listened to the first half of Side A at around ~20% normal speed, convinced that the ponderous incomprehensible drones caused by the weakening barely moving spindles were the band’s brave venture into the avante-garde. I thought “Jesus, these guys are really pushing the envelope,” slightly annoyed, yet impressed, by the pretentiousness. It occurred to me, about 20 minutes into this avante s l o w n e s s, that my batteries were running out.


When I was 15 or so, I had a weird growth, the size and feel of a milk dud, in my left nipple. Fearing it was a cancer tumor, my mom took me to the doctor, who simply attributed the growth to puberty. Around two weeks later, my dad, a neurotic who can’t stand traffic jams and pretty much anything else, drove past the jam on the shoulder of the road for half a mile until we were pulled over by a cop. (We were going to Macy’s or something.) My dad, a semi-quick thinker, told the cop he was rushing me to the hospital because I had nipple cancer — placing the entire verity of his case on the growth in my nipple, and invited the cop to see for himself. The cop (looking back, I feel molested), removed his leather gloves, came around to the passenger’s window (which I was instructed to roll down), and leaned over to inspect my nipple using a series of  surprisingly thoughtful pinches. His diagnosis was that I had cancer, and we were set free.

Faith is not possible without doubt, however dumb that faith is. I’m glad these things happened, that they continue to happen. I used to wipe my ass pulling the toilet paper and residual fecal matter forward over my balls; until circa 1985 I had “brown balls,” literally. Confusion is the spice of life, ignorance is a muse. Smear your shit everywhere, and best of luck.


by Adam Robinson


$20,333.08. That’s how much money I’ve spent on Publishing Genius since January 17, 2008. This includes printing books, marketing, shipping, and numerous miscellaneous fees. (To give an idea of operating costs, deduct the cost of printing from that number. Printing spend is $12,916.51.)

$13,640.24. That’s how much I’ve taken in from direct sales, Amazon payments, bookstores, sale of rights and so on. Both of these numbers astound me.

$6692.84 is the difference.

For that much money, I could have made the movie “Clerks.”

This isn’t going to be one of those announcements that ends, “We’ve had a great run, and are eternally grateful to everyone who has supported us over the years.” I plan to keep plugging away because doing PG is rewarding and fun. The point of this post, which is going to be long, is just to provide some more glimpses behind the scenes. I figure I’m interested in this so everyone else must be, too.

That said, I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t know jack-shit about running a business, or how other small presses do it. I think you can figure a 5% margin of error in my numbers here, which I suspect is unacceptable for any level of management. And I don’t know how those numbers line up with other small presses, either. I’m curious about how much Hobart spends when they make a book like Adam Novy’s, which is mad wow like a Bible, or Mary Miller’s, which has red stuff on the sides.

Other people’s presses are interesting. I’m not sure what is most interesting to me about PG, which aspects of the job I like the best. When I start to think about what I like, I wonder why I do this in the first place. That’s crisis-inducing. Here’s a question for the other people who run a press: why?

Personally, I’ve never been able to think of an answer besides: I’ve always wanted to. I made comic books in 5th grade. I made zines in high shool. In 1999 I ran a hopeless online journal. If pressed, I would say I publish books because I want to influence culture.

Because that’s possible. But which part of the business do I like best?

Editorial work? To define the position, I think of the editor as the person in charge of tying all the other jobs together — from selecting a manuscript, to editing and revising it with the author, to determining a marketing strategy, to overseeing the design.

Or do I like the administrative end best? (Actually, maybe.) This would include sales, budgeting and accounting (of course), decisions about company structure, working with bookstores and printers, and “staffing” like how to use interns or how to pay artists or proofreaders. Oh, and also that loathsome thing: the post office.

Or is it marketing? Talking to the media, trying to get reviews, being engaged in the scene.

It’s like what Jesus said about the body — every part of the business is as important as the others. I want to say the marketing is of primary importance, but it’s really just the hardest part (for me). Once a book has been produced, that’s when the work begins. Making the book is the easiest step in the process (for me).

There’s always a little window that’s open when a book is released or announced, and it’s going to sell a handful of copies then. But once that window closes — and it closes quickly — sales drop off. It’s the publicist’s job to keep getting attention for the book. Eye level is buy level.

In the PG “model,” though, I’m the publicist and I suck at it. No really, I’m the worst. So, knowing that, I came up with the brilliant idea to just publish a lot of books, and they will promote each other. Right? Like, so you’ve heard of A Jello Horse? Well, that publisher also put out MLKNG SCKLS by Justin Sirois. I figured I could put out 2-4 books a year and devote a lot of time to promoting them, or put out 8-10 books and spend almost no energy promoting them. I chose the latter, but still I seem to be focusing mostly on marketing.

But really I’m just floundering around in that regard. I do things when I think of them, and sometimes they are effective in terms of getting a book reviewed or a writer interviewed or something, but I have no unified plan. And I have no plan to get a plan, except to switch gears from obsessing about “how do you put out a book,” to “how do you sell things?”

I often feel like my strategy is an asshole strategy, because what has ended up happening is that Mike Young is out in the world saying, “Check out my book on Publishing Genius” and Mairéad Byrne is doing likewise and yesterday Stephanie Barber sent out an email to all her friends saying, “Buy my book at http://www.publishinggenius.com” — so what is happening is that all these writers are making ME famous, not the other way around. The thing is that I have a limited number of contacts, and when there’s a book coming out every few weeks, it seems questionable to make the rounds through my friends-slash-colleagues asking them to support another PG book. But ignore me. Journalists aren’t the story, and publishers shouldn’t be either.

Except — when I look at other publishers’ websites, I am often filled with envy. So many people are doing so much right in their technology integration, or the simplicity of their business structure. I wonder — how many books are they selling? How are they using their distributors? What’s their advertising budget?

The thing is, I fund PG myself, from my paychecks. (I have never used credit cards because I am bad with money so I won’t allow myself to have credit cards.) I have a pretty good job and I make more than I did in any job I ever had before, back when I was working front desk at a hotel or doing data entry as a temp. Publishing stories that are only read by other people who want to publish stories is a weird way to spend money, but I wouldn’t give it up for a nicer car.

And there’s another way to look at this, anyway — maybe I’m not funding this myself, after all. Rather, I’m given the privilege, by readers, of doing this. There are some names that appear in my Paypal account several times. I sincerely feel that these people, many of whom I’ve never heard of or heard from outside of their purchases, have done as much for PG as I have.

Still, my ambition is not to be a small press. I don’t recognize small presses as inherently more interesting than big presses. In the asset management world, brokers look at the personality of funds managers and funds managers look at the personality of corporate CEOs. The guy in charge of a fund has people following him around to determine what he’s eating and what his mood is like so they can decide early how he’s going to manage BlackRock’s 3 trillion dollars. These are the real taste makers, and they are astute, and they recognize it’s the people who make the decisions, not the corporate name.

My ambition is be bigger than Random House. To make Rachel Glaser’s book sell a million copies. I honestly am not interested in literacy. It doesn’t bother me that Wittgenstein’s Mistress doesn’t appeal to a wider audience, or that executives add suffixes to words to invent new verbs. I want to sell a lot of books. I don’t know why I got into publishing, but now that I’m in, I know why I’ll keep doing it – to earn back the $6693 I’m in the red.

Word Spaces (20): Terese Svoboda

by Guest Posts



I bought the $25 desk at a museum sale in California. The rolltop doesn’t function, one of the legs is coming off, and I have to pry the drawers open, but I like how the desk part slides a little forward. It makes me feel as if I always have secret extra space, the way our apartment includes a long frosted glass window with a light behind to suggest that there’s another room. The French doors open to the living room/dining room/everywhere else room. A Murphy bed fronted with bookshelves folds down beside the desk for optimum concentration. My office is essentially the bedroom. I don’t know what to say about that.


The drawers are full of dreary office supplies, postcards I can’t live without, vast quantities of clips stolen from various academic appointments. The snakey cord underneath will someday kill me. The chair is hard. My son made a pillow for it years ago but it’s in shreds. The standing files loom over me to remind me of work undone, but I never use them. Ditto the rolltop cubbies. The box on top of the desk is full of jewels. Well, they’re jewels to me.

The photograph at an angle is by Geoffrey Biddle who photographed my son and husband and I making faces. The painting behind the chair that you can barely see is by David Loeb. I had a crush on him at Yaddo one year between husbands and would hang around his studio. He finally used me as a model. I remember well the thrill of the sound of the brush running over the canvas—but in the painting I’m fully clothed, wearing a wool jacket, with my back to him. He gave me the painting years later, apologizing for missing all the signals.


Light is an issue. Never enough. Let that be on my epitaph.

Word Spaces (19): Lee Rourke

by Guest Posts

We bought this place in east London last year. The study isn’t finished yet, so I do most of my writing on the dining room table. It mostly always looks like this – unless our two cats have been on the table and knocked the books on to the floor, which is something they do from time to time. I know they enjoy doing this when I am out of the room. It doesn’t bother me that much, because cats will be cats. I didn’t write The Canal in this room; we moved here after I had finished it. I wrote The Canal in various cafés and pubs in Hackney, east London and I’m afraid I didn’t take photos of them.



I write longhand and then edit as I type it up on to my laptop. My laptop is quite old now and sometimes gets very tired, but it still does the job, so I can’t really complain. I am currently typing up my next novel ‘Amber’ which should weigh in at around 100,000 words when it is completed. It should be out at some point next year via Melville House. Below is a picture of ‘Amber’ – it doesn’t look like a novel at the moment, but I can assure you that it is. The picture was taken in our bedroom*, and Blake Butler’s mesmerising ‘Ever’ can be seen in the picture, it’s on the bedside table as I have been rereading it lately. When I saw this in the photo I immediately thought to move his book and re-take the photo without his book in the shot, as I thought it might seem a bit creepy considering he edits HTMLGIANT, but then I changed my mind.

* actually this photo isn’t taken in our bedroom as I had to retake the photo on a different camera as the original was too small for the internet. So I have spread my novel out on the dining room table and made more of a show of some other books: Joseph Young’s ‘Easter Rabbit’, Blake Butler’s ‘Ever’, Stewart Home’s ‘Blood Rites of the Bourgeoisie’ and Tom McCarthy’s ‘C’ – which are all occupying a rather nice space in my mind at the moment.



In the dining room I keep many of the books I own and love – although we have shelves of books in pretty much every other room of the house, too. There is also a reference library down in the basement, but we don’t go down there that much. I built the bookshelves on either side of the dining room table with my own hands. I built all the book shelves in the house from scratch – something which I consider quite a feat, as old Victorian houses in London aren’t exactly square and I nearly killed myself cutting the wood for each uneven alcove. I’m more than happy with them.


Magic the Gathering: Fear, Crumble, Lifetap

by Blake Butler



I don’t give a fuck: I like Magic. I haven’t played in at least ten years, but even just off my memories of the game up to, oh, 18, and later in the online versions, I will attest that MtG is the greatest and most intricately strategic and customizable game ever created. Fuck chess and backgammon. Magic is a universe where not only are there so many possible utilities under the array of spells and creatures you can involve in any given match, but also a ridiculous level of inner-tuning, logic, semantic, prediction, counteractivity, and innovation of nuts and bolts. It is the ultimate rendering of a game where to be successful you must decide your approach, construct your apparatus, and operate that apparatus under the manner of luck and the countless structures employed by each opponent. There are so many fucking spells.

Today I’m bored again and found my old archives of cards I have left after I sold most of them off when I quit in high school. I decided to pull 3 cards out at random and write about their utility. It seems to me to have a lot to do with manipulation of other entities, like words and systems of words.

Oh, and also, kiss my ass, Magic rules.




Fear seems like a pretty worthless card. It’s an Enchant Creature, which means that you are directly manipulating an entity that already must be in play in order the spell to even be cast. Indirect spells can take up space in your hand if you get them at the wrong time, as a starting draw of cards give you seven to deal with and you redraw one each turn by default (there  are ways to influence how many cards you draw). This card doesn’t get used a lot, though I can remember specific settings where it actually did a lot of damage in that it wasn’t expected, and therefore became harder to defend against. If you aren’t used to people playing a card like Fear, then suddenly not being able to defend against an attack (unless you happen to be playing black, which is a popular color as it has a wide range of damaging and manipulative spells), then you can easily find yourself going down in a matter of turns, particularly if your opponent enchants a creature with a strength of 4 or 5 or greater (meaning they are doing 4 to 5 damage to you each turn at least, unless you can stop it, and each player only begins with 20). Thus, out of nowhere a card that most people would never consider using can win you the game in the right situation.




It’s nice to be able to destroy a thing. Green doesn’t have a lot of these kinds of destructive spells, as green is more about regeneration and multiplication than it is aiming to wreak havoc. In this instance the spell has the added benefit of giving you extra life in addition to destroying the opponent’s object, which is pretty nice considering it only costs one green mana. The term ‘bury’ here is different than simply ‘destroy’ as when an object is buried in Magic it can’t be brought back into play later. Most cards, after being used (if they are spells) or destroyed (if they are active cards like creatures or artifacts, which go into play until they are destroyed) go to the graveyard, a discard pile of inactive cards. There are many sorts of spells that involve bringing cards back out of the graveyard by reanimation or returning used spells to your hand for use again, thus making the graveyard more of a purgatory than a dead zone. Some decks make really amazing use of having the graveyard not be a point where the spells end, but a way of altering the space between the unplayed cards in hand and those in play (for instance, a popular strategy is to discard creatures that cost a ton to cast early on and then use simple spells of reanimation to bring them into play before there is much going on on the board, making them even more monstrous, and sometimes ending the game really early just because there is no way to stop the spell that you weren’t expecting to see in play until much later). Still, Crumble isn’t going to win you any wars: it’s too nice. I’d be surprised to see someone play this bitch.




There are lots of weird Enchantment spells in Magic, which by design go into play and stay there, often altering fundamental rules either for your benefit solely, to the detriment of your opponent, or for some, universal bonuses that give the same effect to both players. In this instance of the cards that affect universally, many people then use those kinds of enchantments in cohesion with other cards that make the affect valuable for them, and a detriment to the opponent. For instance, the card Howling Mine is an artifact that when in play lets each player draw an extra card during the draw phase of their turn (usually at the start of a player’s turn, you draw 1 card). This usually accelerates game play and gets a lot more spells involved, since both players are cycling through cards faster. Using Howling Mine with a card like Black Vice, which deals 1 point of damage at the beginning of your opponent’s turn for each card more than 4 they have in their hand, then makes it bad for them to be drawing more unless they can get all the cards out of their hands by casting them to keep from being damaged. You, on the other hand, just get a bunch of cards (though by default you are only allowed to have 7 cards in your hand at a time, unless you have cards in play that extend this). One popular and effective deck I remember seeing a bit was using multiple Howling Mines and multiple Black Vices (though you are only allowed 4 max of any card in your deck), letting the damage flow and your own spells come into your hand like wildfire.


Anyway, this particular Enchantment, Lifetap, is another you wouldn’t see in play very often, mainly because it is useless unless your opponent is playing Green (forests produce green mana). Against an opponent running a red/black deck, this card would be a waste. You might, though, see it show up in tournaments as a part of a player’s sideboard, a set of 15 cards you are allowed to bring along with your main deck, to switch out for other cards in a series (most matches in Magic tournaments are best two out of three). Thus, if you found your opponent was playing green, you might slip this in the second game and cause him the dilemma of giving you life every time he uses his land to cast spells, entering into a weird economy duality where you are working to kill the opponent, and the only way is to do so by casting spells and creatures, but also then needing to weigh how much value you can get out of the card being cast and how much life the opponent is getting.

Many cards like this in Magic are interesting in the way they force the sedimentary logic of the game to be changed on the fly. Blue in particular is about control, manipulation: it often is the centerpiece of logic based decks over decks that want to fistfight. Though many decks operate on pure damage infliction (they use spells that deal direct damage to the opponent, and mean creatures that attack fast and have good strength points), often the decks that do really well in tournaments are those that so constrain the way the game operates by changing the rules to operate in their favor and against the opponent, that sometimes it becomes an inevitability that you can no longer stop your opponent, even if you aren’t dead yet. Watching those logic systems develop by layering of rules and interaction of cards being played together in increasingly intricate ways can be fascinating. The cards can work alone, but the more you are able to have a deck be a cohesive structure, where each operation interlocks in surprising or powerful ways with the other, the more intimidating and difficult to counteract you can be. I’ve seen decks whose interior logic I would call a work of art, and definitely a creation outside the bounds of what is being given.


Interview with Cool Famous Hot Literary Agent Erin Hosier

by Alec Niedenthal


Hey. I interviewed Erin Hosier. She’s a literary agent to a couple of fiction writers (Shya Scanlon, Brad Listi) and a lot of memoirists. Okay. I have a doctor’s appointment soon. I think that there is something wrong with me. Interview.

You mostly represent non-fiction writers, but a few fiction writers too, right? What kind of fiction manuscripts catch your eye? Do you want fiction that resembles memoir?

You should ask me more glamorous questions, like what kind of shampoo I use, or who my favorite designers are. I currently represent four literary fiction writers: Paul Jaskunas, Edan Lepucki, Brad Listi, and Shya Scanlon. I represent more illustrators than fiction writers. And more rock stars. Furthermore, these four writers are very different from each other, but I expect great things from each of them. I have represented other fiction writers over the years, but fiction writers tend to switch agents when I can’t sell their work. This is why I don’t handle more of it. My strengths are in writing, editing and pitching non-fiction. That’s my comfort zone. I even prefer documentaries to other movies, and I see way more movies than read books. Also, I’m a slow reader, and fiction comes in long manuscripts. I’ve noticed too that even if a novel is brilliant in so many ways – it makes you laugh or cry or it haunts your dreams or makes you look at the world in a new way, if it entertains – but it has just ONE fatal flaw in the marketing or manuscript department, it’s not going to sell.


What constitutes a “fatal flaw”, you ask? Here are just a few that I’ve heard from editors: too long, too dark, ultimately good but not Great, too gay, too male, too YA, nobody wants to read about these characters, and my personal favorite – “I didn’t like the ending.” Now you’re going to challenge me by saying that editors are hired for the express purpose of acquiring and editing novels – they’re supposed to help shape them, take them from good to great, work to change the flawed ending. I would counter that may have been true once, but that’s not the way it is right now. Most editors don’t edit, not the way a few of the greats do. But there are only a few really great fiction editors left, and so there are only so many novels good enough to capture their fancy. And have you noticed how many debut novels come out per year? Imagine being Josh Kendall or Lee Boudreaux and seeing the best of the best of the hundreds of literary agents who send you their wares each week. And that’s only when they get to work on the books the company’s not forcing them to, the bill payers.

Also, my favorite fiction writers are very few. I love Bret Easton Ellis and all he stands for. I like realism. I love Joan Didion’s “Play it as it Lays.” I admire Donna Tartt. Rivka Galchen is great. I love David Gates’ “Jernigan” (I’m sure he’s sick of people saying that). Most everything Denis Johnson does is fine with me. I enjoy dark and violent and horrifying. I like coming-of-age but not YA, and apparently there’s a difference. I don’t give a shit about the classics. I mean, I could pretend to, but why fake it? To me a classic novel is JAWS or CARRIE. I never studied literature. I wrote a term paper on The Yellow Wallpaper once, but who didn’t?

Finally, those four fiction writers I represent, they know all this about me. I always warn them in advance that I probably won’t be able to sell it and that it won’t be my fault because I’ll have tried every possible trick I know to make the publishers love it as much as I do. They know to blame the publishing houses. They know that they’re most likely my pro-bono cases, at least for awhile, but they still want me because they’re writers.

Well, leaving aside rock stars and designers for now, I like to think that it’s hardly possible, and maybe not even desirable, to anticipate what exactly will compel the last few great fiction editors. Because it seems that ultimately what will capture will be new, will cause a stir, take risks in terms of content; that flawless/marketable manuscript will be marketable because it has the potential to inaugurate a trend. And key is for the writer not to know that the potential is there. From afar it also seems that publishing has always relied on the possibility of this trend-starter. Do you think big publishing is reaching a point where the window of possibility for that rare “A-ha!” manuscript will be effectively foreclosed, or neutralized or something?

First of all this is the most awkwardly worded question ever [ 😦 ]. But yeah, I think we’re at that point already. A lot of publishing is about pushing “product” and “brands.” Lady Gaga has already started packaging her life in print, her line of books. As she should, but she’s still in the very beginning of her career instead of at the end. All it takes is a reality show and a ghostwriter. Literature used to live large in the general culture, or at least that’s what I’ve heard. The New Yorker was like People magazine. It really is different now. It’s a gift if you can talk to a friend outside of publishing about contemporary books or even articles. Speaking of, magazines are dead, too. Those will all move online. In the future, everybody will have an iPad type thing. Content is still important. Writing is always going to be important, but we have to find a way to monetize it.

How do you pull off being a glamorous literary agent?

I think book publishing used to be more glamorous. It was more like advertising. This economy is really bringing it down. There used to be these great expense accounts and fabulous hotels. My writer friend would do a freelance feature for Conde Nast and be put up at The Four Seasons to write even when she had her own place on the lower east side. People used to send flowers, champagne, tickets to stuff. Messengers would deliver hand written invitations to exclusive parties. There used to be extramarital affairs, cocaine. Now no one can afford it, so they just switch companies or move to  the Pacific Northwest to start over. These days most literary agenting is on par with social work or public education. It’s so beige. I’ve always tried to up the ante fashion wise, but what are you gonna do? It can’t just be me and Ira Silverberg forever.

So what spots do publishing people pay attention to, in wait of the next big thing? What are good places to publish, places where your name will be seen? If you’re into that sort of thing. And don’t pretend you aren’t, whoever you are.

If it’s being published somewhere, someone who works in publishing is paying attention. I’m constantly shocked by how tiny the publications are that get referenced. Agents and editors are looking everywhere. They might not love it once they’ve read it, but they’re reading it. There are still the fiction purists who are looking at all those obscure Southern journals. And the editorial assistants are reading all the blogs and looking for young writers who have a voice and an influence. And they’re looking at the big blogs too. Richard Lawson of Gawker is one of the most asked-about writers without a book deal out there. He’s enormously talented and editors would love to see whatever he wants to do in the long form. The problem with bloggers though, if it even is a problem, is that they’ve become so adept at writing a blog or an op-ed that they don’t really have time to slow down and ruminate on a novel or even a book proposal unless there’s a really good chance that the project is going to pay them to quit their high profile blogging gig, and these days there are just no guarantees, especially when it comes to people who are famous for writing about popular culture. Those are the book ideas that the young editors can come up with and talk to agents about packaging, but it’s pretty challenging for them to then push those projects through with their publishers. In other words, a lot of these great young writers have agents, but there are so few projects for them in the book world that will actually pay a living wage. I can’t tell you how many times editors have said to me, “Erin, if you could only getEntertainment Weekly’s Whitney Pastorek to do a book…” And then she’ll write an amazing proposal and everyone will champion her voice but in the end the publisher will be like, why would anyone want to read this in the long form when they could read her online for free, and get this voice every day?” It’s a lot of bullshit.


For a long time I’ve thought that writers like David Foster Wallace, even BEE and Tao Lin in their own way, are so readable and marketable because they’re using an accessible cultural vocabulary (with BEE, it’s coke and new wave; Tao, gchat and veganism; DFW, the gamut) in terms of content, but at the same time doing interesting, provocative formal stuff, and a lot of time there won’t even be a discernible plot – like, the plot ofLess Than Zero is laughable, but it’s infinitely readable because of whatever air or aura it has, and the fact that it’s motored by all of this cultural ballast. Are publishing people aware of this “formula”? Are they looking for books that incorporate relevant cultural artifacts (Facebook, internet, whatever) and that use the significance of those artifacts to say something bigger about why they’re there, why they fill up a space that’s necessary for the functioning of any modern society (elements that produce alienation, distance, aloneness) ? Because to my mind those are always going to be the bestsellers, the movies potentially adapted into film, but that are also cool, interesting, smart, or even fascinating stylistically.

I think publishers will try anything. If a writer can make a case for a Twitter novel or whatever (and someone has), then you can expect it will be published. But what’s different today is that you only get one shot. So if your Twitter novel fails, Little Brown or Knopf or whomever is not going to give you another chance. This is no joke. You have to woo them every time, and you have to follow through with sales. So I think it’s dangerous for writers to try and hedge their bets and yet they almost can’t afford not to. I think the other part of your question is about stylistic literary fiction. And yeah, publishers like to call it “voice” but yes, they are looking for something unique and contemporary feeling. I think “And Then We Came to the End…” is a good example of that – a debut that has this stylistic hook of a collective voice, a novel about work. But there’s no way to really plan that your novel will become a phenomenon. It really is like winning a lottery. New fiction writers almost always try to compare their work to the same 4 or 5 writers because that’s in part what they’ve been trained to do using the nonfiction model of pitching, or if they’re writing in a certain form, such as “a novel in stories” they’re grasping for a comparison. By now word’s gotten out that nobody wants to buy short story collections, but some themed collections have worked, so now we’ll just call it something else and compare our work to somebody famous who did that recently. This is what agents do – it’s what we have to do – but I don’t think anyone is fooling anyone. It’s almost ridiculous to pitch fiction outside of talking about the writer and the story. You either love it on the page or you don’t. If you love it, you hope other people will love it, and that’s really it.

But let’s talk about these writers you mention, because they’re all really interesting to me personally (and they’re all men, unsurprisingly. I mean let’s add DeLillo to the list while we’re at it, Alec, geez.) Tao Lin is still really arty and on the fringe, though. I think he’s more of an artist whose medium is writing, but it’s also self-promotion. In that way, he’s really smart, and I think young people really respond to his “voice,” which is actually pretty voiceless, empty, and remote. He may be the anti-voice of his generation, but I would be surprised to learn that fiction editors at the literary houses really know about him or are trying to pry him away from Melville House. And Bret Easton Ellis has been on thin ice forever. I love his work, particularly American Psycho, but it goes without saying that I often feel like his only feminist fan. I think he is probably the most misunderstood popular fiction writer in America. To me he is the ultimate stylist. Every novel he writes is basically the same. The cadence, the themes, the characters, the story. And yet there are so few credible executions of what he does that I never get tired of spending time with him. But look, American Psycho almost wasn’t published, and I know a lot of people who still wish it never was, who just absolutely will go to their graves believing that Ellis is a misogynist sociopath AND a hack who keeps writing the same book. But I think what he does is so refreshing – he just shines a light on how disgusting human beings really can be, how depraved, overstimulated, narcissistic and vain. He’s a hyperrealist. If you laugh at it you’re an asshole, if you take it too seriously you’re an asshole, and if you dismiss it you’re an asshole. And yet look at everything else we do and buy and produce. I much prefer BEE’s proven formula of sex scenes that involve skull fucking to some straining bullshit by one of these latter day literary liars. The sad young literary men, indeed.

There will never be another David Foster Wallace, not just because he was a genius, but because we don’t seem to have the attention for that kind of long form exploratory writing anymore. He clearly touched a lot of people, but there’s something to be said for a less is more approach, but you know, fuck it, he could do whatever he wanted because he was the only one doing it.

The short answer to this question is that writers should stop worrying so much about which grad school to go to and stop focusing on the short story as the ultimate form. And that what’s happening with literary fiction is almost not worth discussing outside of this forum because most people can’t even read or comprehend it.

The novel isn’t dead, I know, I know, but it’s certainly in critical condition. To quote Woody Allen in Manhattan: “I mean, face it, I wanna sell some books here.” There are plenty of writers out there who want to manipulate style and form, but get their books read and disseminated at the same time. Would that be having one’s cake and eating it, a pipe dream, or, well, what can we hope for?

It does seem like there are fewer slots for novels, no question, at the bigger houses. But debuts will always be in demand. Editors need to acquire the next big thing, the novel that gets everybody talking. And as a writer, it’s a good time to be experimental. Every year there’s some kind of wacky exception to the rule. Remember Sharp Teeth by Toby Barlow? Talk about a risky form, but it was a great commercial success. The very frustrating thing, as we all know, is that it’s harder than ever to be taken seriously for one’s efforts. The competition is fierce. There are so many great agents, gifted readers, who are representing really fantastic fiction and it’s just not going to sell unless somebody somewhere simply has to have it. An alarming trend in responses from editors lately seems to be, “This novel isn’t ‘necessary’ enough, which feels like a kick in the stomach. The bar is so high that it often seems like a lot of the stuff I see is at least “good enough,” technically. But the only thing that’s gonna get over are the very best executions of story or what seems to be working in the marketplace. You just have to know that and accept it for what it is. Know that your novel, in lots of ways, has a better shot than the fourth go by the prize-winning geezer who once had a sleeper hit in the 90s. Sales track – nine times out of ten – feels like everything. So if you have no sales track, you’re already way ahead. Also, think about other forms. Stop making the literary novel the be-all end-all it’s become. Respect that you might have greater opportunities as a writer of narrative nonfiction, as a journalist, as a screenwriter, as a teacher. Know that you’ll probably make more money selling coffee in America than publishing your novel with Harper Perennial, who by the way, is acquiring all the best debuts these days. This isn’t your failure, it’s a failure of literacy and economy. Art is a worthy endeavor, but making a living as an artist has always been a struggle. As long as culture deems their work “unnecessary” the plight of the unknown fiction writer is going to be really fraught. Still, I want to believe all this technology will help pair readers and writers, and the struggle for recognition, if not wealth, will be worth it in the end.

Brazos Bookstore Reading and The Poison Pen Reading Series in Houston, TX

by Ryan Call


Today I went to two readings. The first took place at an independent bookstore in Houston. An independent bookstore is a bookstore owned by someone that is not in the ‘mainstream,’ I think. An independent bookstore is a bookstore that is not – actually, I’m not sure I know what an independent bookstore is. So, if anyone can explain that, then please do so. Anyhow, the reading was at Brazos bookstore. I arrived at the reading right before the first reader began to read. The first reader was Bradford Gray Telford, a poet with whom I work at the university. He read from his book Perfect Hurt from The Waywiser Press. Then read a poet by the name of Jericho Brown. He read from his book Please. Brad’s reading was very funny. Jericho’s reading was very sobering and sad; he read from his book Please. When I listened to Brad read his poems I felt really happy. When I listened to Jericho, I felt like I should punch myself in the throat. Many of his poems were about child abuse or something like that. Lynching came up too. I am doing a bad job describing his poems. I am sorry I cannot describe these poems. Brad’s poems were funny to me. I remember laughing out loud several times at things he read. Brazos bookstore is clean, small, and has good lighting, which is good for people who want to come into the store and read. There are couches to sit in if you wish to read things you’ve pulled from the shelves. The shelves are organized and marked clearly; I saw a section labeled ‘Politics’ so I figured they were serious about being a bookstore. The space is small, but forgiving. During the readings I struggled with my bladder. I really had to pee badly. I finally got up and asked a bookstore worker if I could use the bathroom. He said yes and showed me where the bathroom was. I peed. When I got out of the bathroom, I heard clapping. I had left the reading room during the last poem. Everything was done. I had to pee badly because before the reading a friend and I had gone to a pub to throw darts. We had purchased and consumed two pitchers of light beer. I won one game of darts. He won four games of darts.

At Brazos I bought the latest issue of NOON.

After the reading, I drove to Poison Girl to attend the Poison Pen Reading Series. Antonya Nelson, a famous writer, was to read tonight. I met up with Gene Morgan at the bar. We drank beers and some whiskey. The Poison Pen Reading Series is famous in Houston. It has been recognized as an excellent reading series by newpapers in Houston. I went there once and listened to Joshua Beckman read. This was in February. He read from his new book. He read in a Vneck tshirt. Before the reading, Gene Morgan, Lily Hoang, and I sat at the bar and someone asked who was reading tonight, and a scruffy guy in a white Vneck undershirt said, ‘oh, i am,’ and introduced himself as Joshua Beckman, and I shook his hand. I am famous now.

However, tonight I did not leave the bar to go to the courtyard to hear the reading. Instead, Gene Morgan and I and some other people just had beers. So, this is not a review of the Poison Pen Reading Series. This is not really anything.

If you wish to review a reading, please email us a review of the reading. I think that would be fun.

Christopher Higgs Some Thoughts On Book Reviews


Today I have been thinking about book reviews as tentacles of the book being reviewed, as an extension of the book, an addition to it. Like a book is a blog post and a review is the comment stream. Each blog post shares a symbiotic (parasitic?) relationship with its comment stream – unless, of course, you disable the comment stream, in which case you disallow the formation of direct extensions — of course someone could always do their own blog post linking to your post thereby forming an extension at their own site. In a way, thinking this way calls into question the notion of authorial sovereignty, which is to say: according to an older type of model, I write a book and therefore I am the author and I control the object — whereas in a newer type of model, if I write a book (or a blog post) the reviews (or the comment stream) can easily overtake the book (blog post) thereby pushing my role into the background and replacing it with whatever creation those extraneous appendages (comment streams) create, which is to say that my authority over the text gets taken out of my hands. But that’s not really where I want to go with this post. I don’t want to argue that a book review can somehow surpass the book being reviewed, because the whole reason I got on this mental pathway is because I have recently read a few book reviews that I thought were stand out pieces of literature in their own right – not better than the work being reviewed, but on par with it, as if the review was in some ways a productive extension of the book, a part of the book written by someone else…


Book reviews as extensions of the book: a review = a room with a door leading to the book. Perhaps some book reviews have multiple doors, one leading to the book, another leading to another review or to an interview with the author, a blog post about the book, an advertisement on a website or in a magazine, a phone conversation, a gchat, a video. The point is their interconnectivity.

Now I’m thinking about the orbit of a book. How a book is both a singular unified object and a multiplicity of objects, a fluidity, capable of being added to by criticism or praise, advertisement, word of mouth. Part of what makes a book bigger than itself is the hype surrounding it, the community surrounding it, the intensity of its collective magnitude. A book by itself is a tiny thing, a quiet, meek, emaciated, fledgling. A book with multiple reviews, that precipitates conversation, that appears on the sides of buildings in the form of stickers, that gets mentioned on a television show, that gets taught in a classroom, becomes bigger, grows larger, more massive. In this way, it’s hard to see how the review cannot be seen as part of the book, in that these extensions can help to make the book become the book. I suppose I am suggesting that in order for a book to become itself it needs to have multiple authors, multiple appendages, more voices than the one it creates.

You know the old adage: “If a tree falls in a forest…” well, this is sort of my point: if a book is written in America and no one is there to talk about it, does it make a sound? In other words, if a book is written in America and it gets no critical attention, no feedback, no buzz, no press, only silence, then is it even a book? Perhaps the very creation of a book — or, rather, the publication of a book — is the creation of the possibility of it someday becoming a book, given that someday someone somewhere may come across it and write about it, therefore triggering its full existence. But a book by itself, with no accompaniment, with no other voices attached to it, seems not like a book but more like a diary. Probably part of this train of thought arises from my own anxiety about the need for reviews, the need for buzz, the fear of failure should my own book go unnoticed. It reminds me of this really brilliant answer J.A. Tyler once gave when asked “What’s the worst thing someone has ever said about one of your artistic endeavors?” — he said:

For me, it is more about what people don’t say. You mail them a book and never hear back. You shoot them a pdf of a manuscript and no comments are returned. You ask for blurb and silence prevails. You give modest-acclaim for a press or a new novel or a publication, and no words are said back. This to me is the greatest form of devious, devilish remark. To say nothing about a literary work is, to me, to say everything negative, all at once, in the loudest voice possible. To say nothing is to say that this is bad, beyond bad, so bad that nothing in fact can be said about it. We try to tell ourselves no, don’t worry about it, the email was dropped, the mail was lost, the conversation was forgotten. It wasn’t. No no. Their silence means they hated it, they loathed it, they were disgusted by your words. Enjoy the silence is what I am saying, because it will ring in your ears forever.

Silence as the negation of existence.

Maybe it’s my cold medicine talking, or that I’m improvising here and probably all over the place, I can’t be sure. (I just finished teaching a particularly intense summer session and my brain is pretty fried.) But what I am sure of is that there are examples of book reviews that are more than book reviews, that are pleasurable to read as standalone works of literature and as extensions of the works they are reviewing. Along with Tyler Moore’s recent epistolary responseto Mooney, David Rylance’s extraordinary review of Blake’s work called “The Darkest Fits of Light: on dwelling in Blake Butler’s de-compositions” is a good example. For me, Rylance’s review essay works as an extension of Blake’s books, making EVER and Scorch Atlas even bigger than they were before I read David’s addition. Does this mean Blake’s books weren’t books until David wrote his review essay? No, of course not — it had already been activated: other people had already written about those books, while interviews, advertisements, videos, etcetera had already been created as additional amplifying appendages. What David’s review essay did was add yet another room, another door, another voice to those books, making them even larger, even louder, even more powerful than they were before.

Likewise, I think the three reviews I read recently that sparked these thoughts also make the books they are covering bigger than they were before:

“Coma: The Art of Unconsciousness”
By Stephen Barber

“Through Trickery and Sheer Luck: Sasha Fletcher’s amazing escape from his inner editor”
By Ken Sparling

“Gaga A-GoGo”
By Will Cordeiro

In closing, I wonder how or if it would change a reviewer’s habits to think about their reviews as extensions of the work being reviewed. Like if I, as a reviewer, thought of myself as, in a way, co-author. Or if I, as a reviewer, felt an obligation to make my review a worthy extension. What if there was a simple shift in perspective from thinking about writing a book review of a book to writing a book review that magnifies the book, makes the book bigger, helps to actually create the book? Would this kind of interactivity lead to more book reviews? Would more people be willing or interested in writing reviews, if they felt like they were a part of the creation?