‘The Next Big Thing’ Meme and Some Writers Who Helped Me Un-Think It

It’s been a long time since my last BigOther post, but I hope to make up for it, a bit, in the next week or three. My apologies for the somewhat promotional aspect of this post, yet, as you’ll see, that bit is built into the topic.

I also would like to extend the invite for any other BigOther contributors to join in, and post your own entry, if you like.

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When the first invitation to participate in the author-promotion meme called “The Next Big Thing…” hit my inbox, my first reaction was to offer a kind, “No thanks.” When the second came, less than an hour later, I took a closer look.

The idea is simple: an author completes and posts a self-interview, tags writers who will do the same interview approximately one week later. The loving vibes spread, as a Chicago-writer friend noted to me via email, in the form of a “Ponzi promotion.”

Yep, it’s a chain letter, sort of. While I have never been one for chain letters, this is not a chain where you must engage in a private act of letter-writing futility nor simply forward the special offer from Bill Gates to beta-test his email service.

No, you self-promote; mention how you picked up the chain and whom you’ve tagged for future glory. I suppose the entire roster of participants eventually raises the level of the discourse from crass self-promotion to a thing everyone cool is doing. I imagine the space where that line changes, from one reader or participant to the next, remains open to serious debate. I wondered, as I sent out my invitation for a future tag to a slate of writers I admire — some of whom chose not to play — whether others would perceive this enterprise as either an opportunity to promote their work unbounded by the usual accusations of self-promotion, or a thing too close to the stigma of many self-published or vanity enterprises.

Of course, I realize that’s it 2013, and an active social network presence is essential for most writers. And yet, I’m 38 and no stranger to this internet-thing-that-lets-you-do-stuff-on-computers, but I have noticed a near-constant talking point of many writers of my generation and older: Anxiety with the intensity of social networking expectations for promotion of one’s own work, with curmudgeonly recourse to J.D. Salinger-style laments about privacy and the almost-fascist importance of “the work.”

I share this anxiety only to the extent that I also lament the amount of time I spend staring at screens, and often feel unable to put them down, and therefore wish that there were ways to minimize this screen time when “working it” for a new book. It’s not that I think I am missing out on some exciting happening in my own yard late at night (raccoon family, let’s just agree to disagree), or that I am taking time away from my children, it’s just that my entire sense of “relaxation” is geared almost entirely to electronic pursuits.

I suspect I am not alone.

And so I came back to this Next Big Thing — thanks to R. Clifton Spargo and Tony Trigilio for their invites — as a chance to talk about my forthcoming book [SIC][SIC] is a completely plagiarized book that seeks to insert itself inside a larger conversation about what we read, how we read, and what it means to be a writer.

The questions, which are included here verbatim — as they were passed to me — may do little to assuage any arguments about the crass quality of such self-promotion. The meme, it seems (and thanks to Lake Forest College student Kaisa Cummings for some detective work), maybe, perhaps, possibly originated with the website Shewrites.com, and I suspect that a few “no” responses I received to my invitation to participate stem from the structural bias of the questions.

The indie press world is passionate and delightfully fickle, and sometimes quite at odds with the assumption behind these questions.

That said, here goes:

What is the working title of the book?

[SIC]the second part of the DEAD/BOOKS trilogy.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

In some sense, the massive fatigue of writing Drain (Triquarterly/Northwestern 2010), my novel, which is set in the near-future, where Lake Michigan empties of water, caused an inner emptiness. Not of ideas, but of inspiration. Drain was perhaps as close to a total work of art in the classical postmodern sense that I am ever likely to make. As one reviewer put it, not atypically: “Inhaling the dry dust of letters, I wandered through the arid textual landscape, dodging the book’s rogue pirates and capitalist conquistadores. I found myself curled around myself, a textual ouroboros, reading and rereading the sentences, sucking dry every bit of syntax-marrow.”

Yeah, it felt like that to write, too.

Slowly, in response, an idea emerged that yoked the vast expanse of Lake Michigan in its blankness, with a more material, physical exploration. Hence my 2011 novel, BLANK, is a 208-page book whose text is only 20 enigmatic chapter titles like, “A Character Broods” and “They Encounter An Animal.”

BLANK encouraged my thinking about conceptual literature as an emerging term of classification. It helped that I have been teaching a Mash-up/Remix workshop at Lake Forest College, and a number of fantastic books have influenced my thinking on literature-as-concept rather than literature-as-linguistic-experiment.

In no particular order:

I’ll Drown My Book: Conceptual Writing by Women (Les Figues Press, 2012)

Against Expression: An Anthology of Conceptual Literature (Triquarterly/Northwestern 2011)

A trifecta from David Shields: Reality Hunger (Knopf 2010) / Jeff, One Lonely Guy (Amazon 2012) / How Literature Saved My Life (Knopf 2013).

The latter, particularly, pushes the manifesto of Reality Hunger and the surrender to principles of that manifesto in Jeff toward an interesting directionHow Literature… is not really non-fiction as we think of it, and perhaps not even a book in anything approaching a conventional sense. Yet it is intimate and alienating in equally compelling ways.

Brad Listi and Justin Benton / Board: Voices from The Nervous Breakdown (TNB 2012), a collage of comments from the popular website.

Stephanie Barber / Night Moves (Publishing Genius 2013), a transcription of the YouTube comments from Bob Seger’s oh-so-profound radio hit.

Kent Johnson / A Question Mark Above the Sun: Documents on the Mystery Surrounding a Famous Poem “By” Frank O’Hara (Starcherone 2012).

This will explain it. Sort of.

Daniel Levin Becker / Many Subtle Channels: In Praise of Potential Literature (Harvard U P 2012). A love letter to the Oulipo group.

Marcus Boon / In Praise of Copying (Harvard U P 2010)

Finally, the experience of editing the new remix edition of my 2006 novel, Multifesto: A Henri d’Mescan Reader (Spuyten Duyvil 2013), which includes new takes on the original text by a slew of very generous writers: James Tadd Adcox, Matt Bell, Irene Ruiz Dacal, Molly Gaudry, Roxane Gay, Lily Hoang, Matt Kirkpatrick, Alissa Nutting, Kathleen Rooney, Craig SaperBen Tanzer, and William Walsh.

What genre does your book fall under?

It doesn’t. It resists genre, except as a material examination of content.

Which actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a
movie rendition?

This is where the questions really begin to demonstrate their structural absurdity, assuming that characters are necessary for fiction. Yes, a certain type of fiction — of course — but not the type I am currently interested in making.

That said, [SIC] features all sorts of texts authored in this context by me. Some you may have heard of, including BeowulfHamlet, and The Fall of the House of Usher.

What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?

Let’s do a run-on.

[SIC], the Latin abbreviation for “as written,” includes public domain works I have published under my name, including “Cademon’s Hymn” and the prologue to The Canterbury Tales, and [SIC] also includes works under in the public domain after 1923, and so includes Wikipedia pages, intellectual property law, genetic codes, and other untoward appropriations, and the text also pivots on Jorge Luis Borges’s story, “Pierre Menard, Author of Don Quixote.” Taking the publication history of the story, in all languages, through a replicated series of Google auto-translations, and [SIC] as a web presence will have images from visual artist Andi Olsen, and introduction from Oulipian Levin Becker, and sampling-based tracks, already created for other projects, from Illegal Art label acts Yea Big, Oh Astro, Steinski, and Girl Talk, and the fine-art edition ($24,998.98), will be packaged with a biological pathogen, which the reader may choose to deploy over the text. In this way, the book [SIC] will make the reader sick — sick about copyright, and it is timed to the release of 25 free, full-text e-books — including The Red-Headed League and Young Goodman Brown, now marked with my name.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

“Caedmon’s Hymn,” the opening piece, emerges beginning in the 7th century B.C.E., and the manuscript continues up to the present. So, 1300 years, give or take.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

The entire canon of revered literary works, from the anonymous to the “Authored,” along with the questions of ownership raised by the mechanisms of our electronic age.

So, everybody and nobody.

To be slightly less elusive, in the public domain section of book — where I sign my name on works not under copyright protection in the current era — I author everything from the first 30 tweets, to the programming code of the first web page, to an early chain letter that has evolved, in a way, into “The Next Big Theme” meme itself.

The letter is the earliest chain letter example I could find, and it reads in part as follows, in [SIC]:

“Send-A-Dime letter”

by Davis Schneiderman

Faith Hope Prosperity

This charm was started in the hope of bringing prosperity to you.

Within three days make five copies of this letter, leaving off the name and address at the top and adding your name and address at the bottom, and mail to five friends to whom you wish prosperity to come.

In omitting the top name, send that person ten cents (10c) wrapped in paper as a charity donation. In turn, as your name leaves the list you will receive 15,625 letters with donations amounting to $1,562.50.

Now is this worth a dime to you?

Have the faith your friend had and the chain will not be broken.

It’s the beginning, or at least a piece in the chain, leading up to all the delightful spam you receive each day.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

This…

2013-02-27-13.jpg

and this…

2013-02-27-01.jpg

Yes, photographer Andi Olsen snapped and edited these fantastic images of me around Paris, dressed in the all-white suit. As a “pathogen” ([SIC] = sick) these photos and others modify and interrupt the plagiarisms that comprise the text.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

This is perhaps the most interesting of the questions. Is it code for the two possible avenues that a writer hoping for mainstream success might take. You either get an agent to take you on, or go the Fifty Shades of Grey route…only to then be picked up by a major press.

DEAD/BOOKS is neither, and there is a very healthy independent press scene in this country. My publisher Jaded Ibis had this nice write-up in Forbes.

My tagged writers for are….

(…and I am adding reasons to check out their work. Click these links in the future for their posts, some of which I will host at the blog Bigother.com):

Jose Perez Beduya: The 3rd winner of Lake Forest College’s Madeleine P. Plonsker Emerging Writer’s Residency Prize. Jose’s book of poems, Throng, will take you deep “Inside the Bright Wheel.” (I’ll post her response here in the near future.)

Josh Corey: My long-time colleague at Lake Forest College and co-Director of Lake Forest College Press / &NOW Books. This is the hardest-working man in show business, particularly given his design of the about-to-drop ninth Annual Lake Forest Literary Festival, and his 60,000-page co-edited The Arcadia Project: North American Postmodern Pastoral.(Ok, it’s 600 or so pages only.)

Cecilia K. Corrigan: The fifth winner of the Plonsker Prize, currently in residence for her manuscriptTitanic. Cecilia is smart, funny, and was a writer on ill-fated HBO series Luck.

Kate Durbin: Her short book called E! Entertainment — a conceptual reworking of trash TV –just blew me away. She’s got an iPad app book in the works. (I’ll post her response here in the near future.)

Cris Mazza
Cris is perhaps the bravest writer I know, and Something Wrong with Her (Fall 2013) promises a provocative and sexually intimate memoir. She asks, in her own words, “whether a life lived mostly on the page is a life lived at all.” (I’ll post her response here in the near future.)

***

So what does all this meme-action mean for you, dear reader? I’ll tell you once you do the following for this post: comment, “like” it on Facebook, tweet it, and forward it to five friends.

2 thoughts on “‘The Next Big Thing’ Meme and Some Writers Who Helped Me Un-Think It

  1. Pingback: Guest Post: The Next Big Thing…from Cris Mazza | BIG OTHER

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