Blogger/Writer Tao Lin’s publishing company, Muumuu House, has only been around since 2008 but has formed a small coalition of young writers publishing work true to the Internet phenomenon of over-sharing. The writing, usually in a stream of consciousness style, is excruciatingly intimate, like you peeked into the writer’s diary as soon as they left the room. At times the reader wonders, “Should I care?” (This especially concerns the published Twitter selections and Gmail Chats posted on the MuuMuu website.)
But I think the internet has transformed not only the way we look at ourselves, but what we want to write and read. Twitter has prescribed a new value to our everyday thoughts and actions. Muumuu writers over-share in ways similar to a Twitter feed. The writing isn’t revolutionary; their goal isn’t necessarily to challenge any system. The writing seems to assure the writers of their own existence, of their own consuming thoughts. I find internet-based writers to be painfully self-conscious. In the interview below (done through email) with Muumuu writer Brandon Scott Gorrell, his answers are riddled with quotes—almost like he’s too unsure to commit to any prescribed meaning of his own thoughts.
So what’s appealing about reading this type of writing style? What’s the appeal of writers not out to provide any answers or commentary on society as a whole? Maybe it’s that same appeal of sneaking into someone’s diary, of feeling privy to a writer’s everyday angst. Maybe the millennial generation finds reassurance in their own preoccupations about the self when reading the same thoughts from someone else. Because what’s interesting is how this writing style is slowly growing more popular. Are we becoming less interested in the edited word and more interested reading something that is unabashedly personal? Or are young writers, who have grown up with the internet as means of revolutionary self expression, just assuming readers will care?
Brandon Scott Gorrell’s poetry raises these types of questions. He met Tao Lin through Tao’s blog, and his poetry book during my nervous breakdown i want to have a biographer present, is out now from MuuMuu House. I talked with him about his own thoughts on blogging and the internet, and what it means to him as a young writer.
Emily Nonko Can you talk a little bit about your book coming out with Muumuu? What is it about, was there a certain inspiration behind it?
Brandon Scott Gorrell My book coming out with Muumuu House is called “during my nervous breakdown i want to have a biographer present.” The book is about feeling bad, I think. It contains, often, “science fiction” “elements.” The book is “prose” or “prose poetry.” Reviews will have, probably, words like “deadpan,” “sarcastic,” and maybe something about a “next generation of writers.” None of the letters, I think, are capitalized. It is 88 pages and printed on 100% recycled paper.
There was no inspiration for the book, as a whole, because to create the book I “simply” took all the poems I had written around the months of May 2007 through January 2008 and put them into a Word document, then arranged them in a way that made me feel like it could be marketed as a book. For the individual poems, I was probably inspired by feeling bad, or kind of beautiful, or lonely, or “introspective,” or “like I wanted to write something to make people like me,” or some other feeling/emotion.
EN How did you get to know Tao?
BSG Two years ago, maybe, I found Tao’s blog. A couple weeks later, I had a very short thing published at 3:AM Magazine. I emailed Tao saying that I got the thing published. Then I think we started emailing each other and eventually Gmail chatting and “became friends.”
EN Did he approach you about publishing your work, or vice versa?
BSG Tao approached me about publishing my “work.” I had already gotten the book accepted by another publisher, who was going to publish it as a “limited-run chapbook” (approximately 75 copies), and when I announced this acceptance on my blog, and Tao emailed me saying something like “I am going to do Muumuu House, I would like to publish your book after I publish Ellen’s.” [Ellen Kennedy's book, sometimes my heart hurts my ribs.] Would you want to do that?” (He had read the manuscript when I finished it, which was like four months before that.) I said “Yes.”
EN Had you been publishing your work online, or on blogs, previously?
BSG Previously, I had been getting things published mostly online, as well as putting “work” on my blog.
EN I’m looking at how Tao is using his blog and the internet as a really effective form of publicity for his writing. How crucial is the internet for young writers now?
BSG Jonathan Safran Foer appears young on his book cover and I have never “come across” his “presence” on the internet. He seems really “successful”/famous. I don’t think the internet is “crucial” for young writers. Maybe it depends on the writer’s goal “as a writer.” If a writer wants “success,” I believe that the internet is an available (but not the only) “path” toward “getting noticed” and eventually, maybe, getting a book deal or something. The internet can also function as a “networking” device, enabling writers to connect with the people (editors, other, more “powerful” writers, media, and bookstores) who they feel will help them on their “path” toward “success.”
I also think the internet is good for young writers because it gives journalists who want to write an article on/interview them a relatively easy way to access much of their work, thus enabling journalists to more easily come up with an “angle” about which to present their subject. Being an “internet writer” with a “large internet following” is an angle in itself, and I think people, maybe, are “intrigued” by this angle, because it makes them think, maybe, that the writer is “underground,” “not discovered yet,” and like, “up and coming,” and thus more “legitimate” and “in turn” more desirable.
I don’t think the internet is “crucial” for young writers, though. It is just a “tool”, that is maybe “underused,” and I don’t know that it presents any significant advantage over “traditional” means of publicity. Tao is just good at using the internet.
EN Is there pressure for writers to publicize themselves on their blogs, or get noticed and written about by other bloggers?
BSG I think that the answer would be different for every writer. I don’t know where “pressure” would come from. I have never had anyone pressure me to publicize myself. The people that seem to “do well” on the internet are those that publicize themselves and present, like, a “unique voice,” or something; one that is compelling enough to attract people on a regular basis and also get people to comment on their blog and write on their own blogs about them. It seems like, if there are enough people on the internet “talking” about you, or something; or if there is enough “internet activity” centered around your name, as a writer, then you will eventually get noticed by someone like Dennis Cooper who, apparently, uses Facebook, or something, or Dennis Loy Johnson, who definitely knows how to use the internet. If reached out to, people like this could help a writer get book deals. Also journalists. “At the same time” I feel that publicizing yourself is on the internet is not necessary for “success”; a writer just has to have a “relevant” and “unique” voice that a large number of people can “relate to,” and that writer needs to actively seek publication at “important” journals and publishing houses.
EN Do you see the line blurring between writer and blogger? What might that mean for literature that’s coming out now and in the future?
BSG If a blogger desires to get published, then probably people would call that blogger a writer, I think. Or if a blogger has like, a “gimmick,” (like Carles on Hipster Runoff) then people might call that blogger a writer. If a blogger makes a lot of literary references, or posts things that he calls “reviews,” then probably people would call that blogger a writer. Probably that just means, for literature, that editors that are very “compelled” by bloggers who have a “unique take on the world” will be more open to contact with those bloggers, and eventually get them book deals, or agents to get them book deals, or something. Or a blogger that wants to get his book published can “appeal to”/influence an editor by saying, like “My blog gets 300,000 unique visitors a month.” A blogger that gets like 300,000 unique visitors a month, I think, has “street cred”, in a way, because they are considered underground, because they are on the internet, yet they have influenced many people. So I think that a blogger who got like 300,000 visitors a month, in some cases, would sell more copies of his/her book than a “lesser-known” writer. It seems, though, that the “mainstream” still thinks “literature” is “books,” and that it will continue to stay that way, probably, until some time that I can’t predict in the future, maybe, and “real success” is measured, probably, in terms of wealth and “popularity,” which, I think, is more “concretely attained” through getting books published, at the moment.
EN Do you see this “stream-of-consciousness,” very intimate style of writing becoming more appealing to writers? (I guess I’m going off of Tao and Ellen [Kennedy]‘s writing here.)
BSG A lot of people think Tao and Ellen’s writing is “bullshit” and like, “the death of literature,” or something. Other people, I think, like it. I think, in general, it is becoming “more appealing,” though (this is an observation I have made; it seems that there are more people writing like Tao and Ellen than there were when I began to pay attention, which was around two years ago).
EN Do you think the internet is changing how people write books?
BSG Chris Killen’s The Bird Room had references to using the internet. Some people, I think, have written books and put them online. All of the poems in my book were published online before they were put into a book. I do not know how to “speak for” “how” people that are not me write books, though.
Still can’t get enough of that Muumuu House charm? Check out Emily Nonko’s interview with Tao Lin here.