Writer and cynic Neal Pollack (no, not that Neal Pollack, the cool Neal Pollack) has granted an interview, wherein he takes on the blogdom and its purpose. He discusses himself and some of the madness that goes into his writing and self-promotion.
Excellent insight into an insider/outsider bloggers view on this medium.
Check out Neal’s latest book, The Neal Pollack Antholog of American Literature.
- Unlike the rest of the free world, until recently I was hopelessly unaware of the existence of Neal Pollack. The name rang some distant bell in the back of my cluttered mind, something on NPR I think, but for the most part I had no clue. Then my buddy Weisblott, who has his thumb on all things cool, sent me a link to the SELF PROCLAIMED “GREATEST LIVING AMERICAN WRITER” and said “Dawn, this is a guy you need to watch.”
I looked at Neal’s “weblog” and sensed he was full of himself and an arrogant ass. So of course, I was immediately intrigued and oddly fascinated. I decided to email him about his naked picture on the couch and made some vague reference to mine being better to which he responded in male egocentric fashion. That was that. Jerk factor established. Again, I still liked him, but there are so many jerks in my life – did I have room for another? Maybe.
Neal is multi-faceted guy with a number of irons in the fire. He is a musical front man doing rock poet performance art; he is a self-promoting machine and an amazing writer. And heaven help us, for now he has turned his gaze to the blogdom. I for one think this is the best thing that could happen to the most “UNDER APPRECIATED AND FASTEST GROWING” medium out there. Whatever you may think about Neal – know this – he is all he says he is and MORE.
Neal Pollack: Let the interview begin.
Dawn: Ah Ha!
Neal Pollack: Show me what you got.
Dawn: Okay I was reading your piece for McSweeney’s and I loved the one on Russian babes for sale – what inspired you?
Neal Pollack: There was a rash of articles two or three years ago about Russian mail-order brides. It became a clichéd subject for glossy magazines and weekend supplements. Everyone had to do a pathetic businessman going to Russia to get laid story. So this is my contribution to the genre.
Neal Pollack: Only my twist is that the businessman can only get laid by pretending that he’s Michael Chabon.
Dawn: Well I loved it. McSweeneys is very irreverent; do you feel that describes you as well?
Neal Pollack: Irrelevant, maybe
Dawn: So when did you decide that you were the Greatest Living American Writer – I assume that was self-proclaimed right?
Neal Pollack: I’ve always been a smart-ass. I wasn’t the dorkiest guy in school, but I was the one who got picked on the most, because I couldn’t keep my mouth shut. I was always slagging someone, or something. I was writing these pieces for McSweeneys, in the first person, but not in the Neal Pollack “character.” When it came time to turn the pieces into a book, the Greatest Living American Writer character was a natural extension. This persona developed gradually, and now it consumes my every waking minute. But the character is very flexible. Sometimes I make fun of slam poets; sometimes I make fun of journalists, sometimes of novelists. My novel, which will be published next year, makes fun of rock critics. And my blog, well, it’s not hard to see who I’m making fun of there. I’m done. It’s safe to come out now.
Dawn: So you think bloggers are fodder for your sarcasm and cruelty?
Neal Pollack: Political bloggers are, especially.
Dawn: Why so? And who is the funniest – in a pathetic way?
Neal Pollack: Well, there’s been this arrogant explosion of political opinion on the Internet. It’s like a prison full of lunatics shouting to see the warden. And the self-involvement of these people, even the ones who I agree with politically, is extraordinary. All writers are egomaniacs, but online there’s no filter. As for your second question, there’s no doubt that the exemplar of political bloggers is Andrew Sullivan. He’s the best writer, he’s the most confrontational, and he’s flat-out crazy.
Dawn: NUTS in fact. His writing is amazing and he is the first blogger I read – but not a nice guy on a personal level. Arrogant – kind of like you but without that straight thing going on.
Neal Pollack: I try to be sexually ambiguous in the column. Well, obviously I’m hetero, but I try to be at least bi-curious. You can’t parody Sullivan without having some gay stuff in there. He’s not my only target, but his site gives me fresh grist every day…
Dawn: I avoid him like the plague anymore – simply because we have nothing whatsoever in common. So do you think bloggers and/or blogs in general have any real significance or positive contributions to add to the world of journalism or the media?
Neal Pollack: I like the democratizing effect of blogs. The field was pretty closed before. And I think the writing in the best blogs is better than your hometown daily editorial page. But their “contribution” has yet to be determined. It’s like the zine explosion a decade ago. A lot of the best zinesters have just faded away or just stayed put, because the mainstream is not ready to absorb zine-type writers. The blog boom will probably fade in the same way. But it’s fun right now.
Dawn: Do you think any writers will make it out of the blogdom?
Neal Pollack: I don’t know if any writers will make it out of blogdom. Probably a few. Some of the better political types have gotten occasional magazine or newspaper gigs, and if you are a woman and write about sex with any degree of originality, you can get published. But I think that if, in general, you’re only blogging and don’t have other writing work; you probably won’t escape the net.
Dawn: Are you really bi-curious? You sort of seem gay – in a manly way that is.
Neal Pollack: I am, to some extent. I’m hetero, but I think that almost every man deals with homosexual attraction, if not actual experience, from time to time. I’ve never acted on my vague interest, but I might someday. What else can I say? Everyone is gay.
Dawn: Yes, you and Kurt Cobain share that philosophy. So you play music – sort of. I read your journal from the road. Are you a modern day poet like Jim Morrison or Henry Rollins?
Neal Pollack: I am a rock poet, yes. A testosterone-charged prophet of doom. And like all rock poets, I am a front man.
Dawn: Do you play an instrument or have any musical talent?
Neal Pollack: If screaming into a microphone, removing my shirt, and destroying books on stage can be considered a musical talent, then yes. I believe that front-manning (is there a better verb), is an art in itself. They always go home entertained.
Dawn: Okay – so I have to ask you what advice you would give a struggling writer trying to find their voice, audience, and way in the world of writing.
Neal Pollack: Just keep plugging away, and don’t be cowed by the publishing apparatus. There’s no shame in having your own website, for instance. You probably have as many loyal readers as the average midlist fiction writer. Since I discovered the power of the web, I’ve been very committed to communicating online. If you want to publish a book, and can’t find an agent who’s interested. Publish it yourself. Go on tour. For instance, Dawn, I don’t know how many hits you get a day. A few hundred at least. Maybe 1,000 or more discrete viewers a week. If you announced that you were publishing an Up Yours book, you could sell some copies, go on tour, have parties, and give readings. I believe strongly in the ethics of doing it yourself. We’re at a point in writing where indie rock was, say, in 1981. It’s very exciting.
Dawn: That is excellent advice. May I ask when your birthday is?
Neal Pollack: I’m a Pisces.
Dawn: So what are your turn ons?
Neal Pollack: Sexual turn-ons? I don’t usually talk about that stuff.
Dawn: Sure – if you want to be specific
Neal Pollack: In public.
Dawn: Oh for crying out loud – you have a naked pic up – you gotta give up a little juice for me
Neal Pollack: There was this item on the Daily Show once where Lynda Carter came up and Jon Stewart said something about how she started his lifelong commitment to masturbation. I would share that sentiment. I’ve always had this little Wonder Woman fetish. Not uncommon for people my age.
Neal Pollack: In general, chicks in Spandex. Or mousy secretaries wearing Spandex underneath their regular clothes. But I’ve said too much.
Dawn: Well I have been compared to Wonder Woman – as far as super hero women go. I am more an Isis gal. Um – spandex is not comfortable for women – just letting you know!
Neal Pollack: I like Isis, too, but the show had awfully shoddy production values.
Dawn: Well hell yeah. Who is your favorite author?
Neal Pollack: Well, men make the comics and TV shows. The costumes can be cotton, too. I don’t care.
Neal Pollack: My favorite author? I have several. My favorite living writer is Walter Mosley. As far as dead writers go: Jim Thompson, Patricia Highsmith, Dawn Powell, Joseph Mitchell, H.L. Mencken, Mark Twain, Terry Southern. There’s a long list. Chester Himes, David Goodis. Dickens. Poe.
Dawn: What is your favorite book and have you read it more than once?
Neal Pollack: My favorite book, currently, is Heed The Thunder, by Jim Thompson. And I’ve read it twice. But my favorite book changes. For years, it was Up In the Old Hotel by Joseph Mitchell. In high school, I swore by Portnoy’s Complaint and Breakfast of Champions. What’s your favorite book?
Dawn: My favorite book – hmmmm – well you will laugh your ass off, but I love the Narnia Chronicles and the Tolkien Trilogy – the Hobbit of course as well.
Neal Pollack: You are a goober!
Dawn: Yes I am and I love Clive Barker, Don DeLillo and I think it is John Irving something – Cider House Rules and the World According to Garp.
Neal Pollack: I admire Lord of the Rings. My novel has lots of songs in it, too, many of them for no particular purpose, just like the Trilogy.
Dawn: Do you like Tenacious D?
Neal Pollack: Yes.
Dawn: I KNEW IT – and for that matter what kind of music do you like?
Neal Pollack: They’re more of a metal-parody band. And they are actual musicians. My own act is more punk rock, kind of by necessity. I would never claim to belong to the Greatest Band in the world.
Dawn: Well – it is a joke really – but a funny one. I love subversive humor.
Neal Pollack: As for the kinds of music I like, right now I’m into 60s and 70s soul and garage rock. Researching this novel, I came across all kinds of albums that simply never crossed my path before. Most of the really great music of the “Classic Rock” era never got played on the radio when I was growing up. I heard more British punk than American punk.
Dawn: You live in Texas now how do you like that?
Neal Pollack: Well, I live in Austin, which is like taking Madison, Wisconsin and dumping it in the middle of Texas. So I like it here in Austin just fine. Honestly, I haven’t ventured out of the city limits since I got here, except for once to go to the lake and once to go to New York. Austin is cool, though, and it’s mellowed out since the dot-com bust. I live around the corner from a 24-hour donut shop, a sno-cone hut, a breakfast tamale place, a cult video store, and a carousel-themed bar.
Dawn: I like the sounds of that. Isn’t there a big music festival there every year, South by Southwest or something?
Neal Pollack: Indeed. I’ve been twice. We’ll see what it’s like as a resident. It’ll probably be fun this year, but most Austinites call it South By So What?
Dawn: I bet I can guess your age within two years.
Neal Pollack: I’ve given a lot of hints. Go for it.
Neal Pollack: Bingo.
Dawn: I am the BOMB!!! Just a couple more questions. Okay – what is your most embarrassing moment?
Neal Pollack: Back at the very beginning of this Greatest Living Writer nonsense, I was the featured reader at a spoken-word night in Chicago, and I just totally melted down. The audience wasn’t into my stuff, and I just lost my cool. Started sweating, started apologizing, and went back on everything. It was horrible. But you need a night like that before the good shows come.
Dawn: Last question – What should bloggers and blogreaders know before encountering Neal Pollack?
Neal Pollack: I’m a streetwalking cheetah with a heart full of napalm. And I’m here for you 16 hours a day.
Neal Pollack: Indeed.
Go to Up Yours for lots of delectable goodies.