Sunday, September 12, 2010

Publish This Book

Whenever I get off work, I've always got my nose in a book. I'm on a constant search for more reading material. Back in March I frequently visited Barnes and Noble in Oak brook. My routine consisted of me grabbing three or four books I was curious about and schlepping them to the upstairs cafe.

At the time, I was thumbing through The Tattooed Girl by Joyce Carol Oates, which I finished, Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, How Starbucks Saved My Life and Publish This Book.

I like carrying a stack of books and read at least ten or fifteen pages out of each forming a sort of Battle Royale on which book will win my attention. The book that was the victor: Publish This Book, of course.

It was the only book of the bunch that grabbed me from the very first page. I was laughing loudly each time I picked it up. Sometimes I had to walk off a good laugh because people were staring at me. Publish This Book follows the journey of Stephen Markely, a man who sets out to get the book in question published. With all good memoirs, especially with writing memoirs, it's not about the end result but being taken on a journey with the author, through the struggles and the victories. I'd come to Barnes and Noble almost every day to down one more chapter out of the book, because I couldn't afford it at the time. By the time I reached chapter ten, I had to own the book. Once I purchased it, I read the rest of the book over the course of a day, loving every sharp-witted page of it.

Stephen Markley is one author that needs to be read by every budding writer. It's one of those rare books where you not only gorge yourself on a hundred pages at a time but you are also sad that it has an ending.

Stephen Markley lives in Chicago, is around my age, and writes for the Chicago Red Eye. A great paper which you should pick up. You can read his unique articles at Off The Markley.

A few weeks ago, I contacted Stephen and even was able to talk to him on the phone. He's a very smart, very funny, very well-read guy. I was happy to find that he was an avid reader as well and had a very long reading list.

Here is the interview with the one and only Stephen Markely:

1. What was your first thought when you sat down to write this book?

“Well, here’s another idea I’ll probably spend a year on with no point.”

2. In your book you have traveled quite a bit. In your wanderlust, which place was the best to visit?

I studied in Florence for a summer and traveled around Europe. That was probably one of the best experiences of my life, mostly just because it was my first time legitimately traveling on my own with a bunch of other drunk, horny, adventurous young people. When I was traveling out West by myself, I fell in love with Jackson Hole and Grand Teton National Park. Now I’m basically again without a home except for my car, and remembering how much I totally love it. In Boston on this book tour, I met a few complete strangers at my signing. We went out for a beer or two and ended up staying out until four in the morning. We ended up back at this apartment with these two girls who were in a band. We sat out on the porch under Christmas lights and they played “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” by Dylan. It’s that kind of stuff you can never plan that always sticks with you.

3. You describe your writing arena as " a dismal cave of a room with a mattress, movie posters on the walls and a collapsible lawn chair from Fifth third bank. I call it my Throne of Genius." Does the Throne of Genius still hold up today or can you write anywhere, anytime?

I’ve always been able to write anywhere, anytime but I prefer a dark room with few distractions. This includes the Internet. I’ve now found that I absolutely cannot open the Internet until after I’ve written all I need to for the day. I’m a big believer in the dark side of the so-called “series of tubes.” It’s probably the most dangerous tool for a writer, especially if you’re one who wants to write in big, complicated ways (which I always try to do). So place isn’t a concern so much as what distractions you have to manage.

4. Do you still stay in contact with your wacky roommates?

I stay in contact with everyone. Erik and I were just on a pub crawl in Times Square last night. We met nothing but old ladies, and I ate a bunch of street meat. I would obviously like to ditch all of my friends now that I’ve achieved D-list celebrity, trade them in for a larger group of sycophants and Yes Men, but that seems like a lot of work, so I’ll probably just have to listen to Elliott complain about his slow Internet connection for a while longer.

5. In your opinion, having joined writing workshop groups, are they productive? Do they help hone your craft?

I think so. It always depends on the seriousness of the people you’re involved with and how well you mesh as a group, but I think it’s imperative that writers get outside of their own heads and get outside perspectives on their work. At the same time, I’m a skeptic of how much any type of instruction or criticism can actually help. At some point, you either got it or you don’t. There’s just stuff that can’t be taught, instinctive shit that you learn just by practicing and reading relentlessly. People who buy a lot of “How to Write” books (not including mine!) are probably throwing good money after bad. You can read 100 books about how to build a house, but you won’t know how to do it until you go and build your first house (if that makes any sense).

6. Nick Hornby is in this book. You interviewed him for the RedEye and also told him about your project. Did he give you any feedback after the book was released?

Nope. Never heard from him. I assume it’s just not on his radar. He sounded like a really nice guy, though, so I’m not too worried about it.

7. You wrote in the midst of the presidential election, while everyone bit their fingernails in anticipation of the possible new president. At one point, you say that it's hard to condense the material into a book proposal saying, "How do you put into easily digestible words that sensation of the gathering storm?" Which was harder to write, Publish This Book or The Proposals for Publish This Book?

I generally do not understand how to summarize anything. I write very much by instinct, as I said earlier, so the idea that you’re going to sit down and write out this very dry, very precise map of a longer work that’s much more complicated and has a number of moving parts—ugh, it makes me tired. I’m struggling with the proposal for my novel right now because it’s even weirder, more complicated and more difficult to describe than “Publish This Book.” I shudder every time someone asks me what it’s about.

8. What's your earliest memory of writing?

I used to bug my dad to type out my stories. I’d sit on his lap at this computer screen with pee-orange word processing and tell him what happened next in my dinosaur story. It’s just something I’ve always wanted to do, something I’ve been drawn to. I don’t know that anyone’s born to do anything, but for me, writing is as close as it comes.

9. The footnotes are hilarious. It felt as if I were reading two books: the actual book and a text commentary on this book. Was it hard keeping track?

Not really. I’ve heard criticism that the footnotes can be overwhelming for some. This may be the case, but it’s also kind of the point. The footnotes are not just funny asides but also a commentary on the proliferation of post-modern tricks writers employ, sometimes with good reason and sometimes not. They also can be surprising, and I think that’s one of the keys to making someone laugh via print (which is far harder to do than in a movie or television show or stand-up routine because all you have are words—no inflection or gesture or expression to snatch a laugh).

10. If they do make a movie, who would you want to play you and which director would you like to tackle it?

Brad Pitt and Martin Scorsese.

11. What is next for you? Is fiction your next stop?

Yes, I’m working on a novel right now, which is part inside joke about “Publish This Book,” part meta exercise, and part old-fashioned American fury.

12. How did it feel to see your book in print?

Incredible. Just holding it and flipping through the pages that first time—I can’t even describe how it made me feel, but I’ll try: joyous and vindicated and elated and a little bit tired because I knew this was still only the first step, that much of the hard work still lay ahead. Hell, maybe even a little sad just because I knew this feeling was unique--that I'd get to enjoy it once and never again feel that same kind of awe.

13. Do you get writer's block? How do you combat it?

Never. There are times when I write slower than at others, but I think writer’s block is largely a self-perpetuating myth, a way weak people excuse themselves from just sitting down and doing the work (no offense, weak people!). Maybe someday I’ll eat my words and my creativity will seize up, but right now I gotta fucking eat, so I can’t afford the self-pity.

14. Someone somewhere in your book tried to make a comparison between you and Tucker Max. What would you say if you ever met him? Or would you just straight up sock him in the eye for being such a douche?

I genuinely could not care less about the guy. Anybody who equates our books after reading them both is clearly not paying attention. He does what he does, and I say with all humility—knowing full well that I have much to learn and experience and grow when it comes to being a writer—that I’m working on an entirely different plane than him.

15. What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

Perseverance. It’s partly about talent, it’s mostly about luck, but the only thing you actually have control over is how hard you work. Also, try not to be a fuck. Work hard, be kind. Conan O’Brien said that, and I think it’s the best advice ever offered to anyone in the creative fields.

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