Miami Book Fair: Tao Lin

In almost every sense -- except the most extreme -- Tao Lin's for sale. Of course, there's his published output, including the poetry books You Are a Little Bit Happier Than I Am ($14) and Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy ($14.95), the short story collection Bed ($14.95), and a novel, Eeeee Eee Eeee ($14.95). Plus, now you can purchase the 26-year-old author's brand-new wordy blurb, Shoplifting From American Apparel ($13), a 103-page pseudo-autobiographical novella about sex and stealing among twenty-something hipster-nerds. 

The books, though, are only the beginning of the ever-growing Tao Lin marketing empire. The Orlando-bred, Brooklyn-based self-promo savant also sells branded merchandise -- stickers, personal notebooks, published and unpublished manuscripts, "surprise packages of random-ass signed items from Tao Lin's room," and faux-naïf sketches of things like a "Hamburger-Holding Sasquatch" -- through his internet shop, Tao Lin Store

While effective, earning Lin literary "It" kid status, this kind of giddy marketeering has its drawbacks, too. As the author says: "I think most people just think I'm a gimmicky asshole." And so, to give Tao Lin a chance to defend himself and explain his new book, New Times spoke with the author via his preferred means of human-to-human communication -- Gmail chat.

New Times: Can you convince me to buy Shoplifting From American Apparel instead of stealing it? 

Tao Lin: If you care about my financial situation I encourage you to buy it. If you don't care about my financial situation I encourage you to steal it. I seem okay with either choice. I would promote that people do whatever they want to do. 

Your book is being marketed as autobiography. But the main character is named Sam, not Tao. Is Sam your Henry Chinaski? 

Yes, in that Sam is modeled directly on my memory of myself. No, in that I don't foresee "using" the name Sam again in another book. All my books are autobiographical but I don't foresee reusing names. 

What do you have planned for your appearance at the Miami Book Fair? 

I plan to seem witty and charismatic yet shy and nervous, in a manner that people will feel that my level of charisma is so comprehensive that it incorporates into itself shyness and other "un-charismatic" elements for a kind of "unique" effect that people will blog about. I want to lay in the sun on the beach one day for health reasons. 

What kind of health reasons? 

Sunlight destroys yeast. It seems like everyone in America has yeast overgrowths due to unhealthy diets. I have a healthy diet most of the time but I feel like I have a yeast overgrowth from my childhood. 

Hmm ... Before I read any of your stuff, I heard online hype about "Tao Lin." Do you have any interest in that sort of thing, being a web celeb? 

I have interest in being known because it means more people will buy my books, my writing will be worth more to newspapers or magazines, and I'll have more opportunities and options in my life in that I will meet more potential friends or other people of interest to me. The more people that know who I am the better of a chance, I feel, I will have of having "steady cash flow without a real job" and "friends that I like" and "the resources that I need to do certain things that I find artistically satisfying or exciting." 

You use Gmail chat a lot in your book. Is it some kind of a personal metaphor? Or just a good way to generate funny dialogue? 

It isn't a metaphor. I think it is just what seemed most natural, what would, to me, be most "transparent," in that it would, to me, contain the smallest amount of sociological commentary as possible. When telephones were first invented it probably would seem unnatural for Mark Twain (or whoever) to include a lot of phone conversation. If he did include a lot of phone conversation it would seem like he was making some kind of statement or writing a book specifically about telephones. In the same manner I feel that if I included less Gmail chats in the book than I did it would seem, to me, like I was making some kind of sociological statement. Because I feel I included the amount of Gmail chat in the book that is the amount I use in real life. Also, I think Gmail chatting is a good way to generate funny dialogue. 

Throughout the book, characters are constantly talking about being fucked, saying stuff like "We're the Fucked Generation" and "We are fucked" and "I feel so fucked." Why are we all so fucked? 

I think throughout history humans have probably always had times when they felt "fucked." In part maybe because the universe is arbitrary yet we must choose (because we have "consciousness"), we know we are going to die, and that the physical laws of the universe do not allow more than one thing to occupy one unit of space in one unit of time, which means we are, "literally," to some degree, "alone." Among other reasons ... 

This morning I read about your new project, Jesus Christ The Indie Band. Is that for real? 

It is. It is Carles from Hipster Runoff and I's band. Our first single reached #3 on Hype Machine's most popular songs. 

Any other projects in the pipes? 

My second novel, Richard Yates, will be out September 2010. I have no other projects planned. 

You know, books and bands are all good. But when are you going to totally sell out and move back to Florida? 

When Spike Jonze or Wes Andersen or anyone "wakes up" and makes a movie from one of my books starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel and maybe Michelle Williams. 

You should make the movie. Very meta. 

When I win the lottery maybe. My first novel is coming out in Spain this week, maybe I'll become superfamous there. 

Tao Lin will appear in conversation with Christopher Kenneally at the Miami Book Fair on Sunday, November 15 at 12:45 p.m. in Miami Dade College's Room 7174/7175 (Building 7, 1st Floor).

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S. Pajot