Moxie Mezcal Interview – In the Lighthouse #1

This is the first of a series of interviews with “writers I like” ™ – calling it “In the Lighthouse” for no other reason than my love of Pigeon Point Lighthouse:

Moxie Mezcal is a writer of guerrilla fiction – with a 10 point manifesto I agree with 100 percent. Writers have always been able to write what they want and give it away if they wanted to, only now it is so much easier! We have the internet and an infrastructure for global distribution of fiction, so we no longer have to make xerox copies and stand on street corners handing out novellas like discount furniture leaflets. Now we can write and publish through venues like Smashwords and Feedbooks and within minutes, some stranger halfway around the world has downloaded and begun to read our story.

Writers can make money this way if they want to, but there is typically a definite trade-off – if you distribute your book for free, you will likely get more readers. If you charge, you will get fewer. Some of us opt for free, not only to get more readers, but also to get the whole business of money, so to speak, out of the way. But enough about that.

I’ve read all of the “Moxie Mezcal” books displayed and linked-to below. I’ve put the author’s name in quotes because “Moxie Mezcal” is a pseudonym. I have no idea what his or her name is, or whether he or she is actually a him or a her. I have my intuition about that, but I don’t need to know. Great stories don’t depend on the gender (or age or ethnicity or nationality or creed or color) of their teller, and Moxie Mezcal writes great stories.

I asked Moxie some questions by email and was happy to get a great response. I didn’t want to ask all the usual questions (“where do you get your ideas?”, “how many words per day do you force yourself to eek out?”, etc …). There’s some more great stuff here on moxiemezcal.com as well.

Three

My favorite of yours so far is ‘Fake’ (from ‘Three’). What’s your favorite of yours?

That’s interesting, I really like Fake myself but it’s not one of the more popular ones. It’s more personal, in a weird way that I won’t get into now. My favorite, though, is Concrete Underground, even if it’s the obvious answer. Being my first full novel, I had the mindset that I can’t know what the future will bring, I could get hit by a bus or a falling piano tomorrow, so if I’m gonna write a novel I’m going to make it count. I literally threw everything I could possibly want to say with my art into this one book, so now no matter what else happens in my life, at least I’ll have written my one perfect little novel that’s exactly how I want it to be. Even the ending, which has been the source of roughly 90-95% of the criticism of the book, was designed very deliberately and I”m very pleased with how it came out.

Concrete Underground

I work in the south bay in tech and I loved to hate your Dylan Maxwell techie billionaire a-hole, but my question is, do you have any particular locales you especially like to have in the back of your mind when writing? I thought I detected some Guadalupe Park and possibly Mission Peak in Concrete Underground, but I’m probably wrong about that, and curious. Also there were some scenes in Fake that reminded me of Bonny Doon.

You are absolutely right, and I do tend to work in a lot of landmarks from Silicon Valley and the greater San Francisco Bay Area into all my stories, but then I also do take certain liberties to fit the locations to suit the fiction. Basically the idea for the city in Concrete Underground was that it was San Jose’s dark twin, like if you were walking through Cesar Chavez Plaza and slipped through a tear in the fabric of space-time and ended up in the alternate dimension where all film noir and pulp fiction take place, so that everything would be more exaggerated, sexier, more dangerous. So a lot of the landmarks in the book, such as the park, the river, the homeless encampment, even a lot of the buildings, are all exaggerated versions of things that do exist in and around San Jose. However, I did also take elements I’ve seen in other cities and work them in as well, such as the underground city which was based on Seattle.

Making Dylan Maxwell

Do you have any wild predictions you want to make about this whole ebook thing? (I kind of feel like I caught a little bit of a ride on a nice wave but don’t expect that ride to last much longer, unless I can think of some sexy teenage vampires to write about.)

I think that’s actually a smart direction to move in, there will always be a market for sexy teenage vampires, or really any other sexy teenage supernatural anything–werewolves, witches and wizards, elves, chimera, zombies. Well maybe not zombies, since it’s kinda hard to be sexy and decomposing, but probably you can make it work. Actually, you already did a zombie book, right? So just do that again, but sexy-teenage-ize it.

Because what the e-book thing and the self-publishing thing have shown us is that what’s commercial and marketable will still be what’s commercial and marketable whether it’s self-published or traditionally published. The people who are going to make money off self-publishing are those working in identifiable genres and telling stories that appeal to a broad audience. And I don’t say this with any bitterness or resentment at all, I wish these people all the success and happiness in the world. I’d only caution those budding writers out there who are thinking about self-publishing their dark, quirky, experimental, non-genre, non-linear opuses, don’t get discouraged when you’re not racking up sexy-teenage-zombie-level sales figures.

But to your answer your original question, I’m always willing to make wild predictions, about any subject really.

First off, bricks and mortar bookstores are obviously dinosaurs slowly lumbering off the historical stage, and the e-book revolution has only accelerated their extinction. And I think that even though e-book sales will continue to grow, overall book sales will continue to decline, so it’s really a question of taking a bigger slice out of a rapidly diminishing pie. This will become more pronounced once dedicated e-reader devices lose their novelty and people start abandoning them for iPads and G-Tabs and Xooms.

I think the death of physical bookstores, the fact that fewer people are reading fiction regularly for entertainment, and the fact that the added costs of physically printing and distributing books require a certain minimum sales volume to be sustainable, all add up to this: pretty soon we’re going to see a shift to e-only release from major publishers at least on a trial basis for books with limited commercial appeal, and then after that inevitably the e-only book will become the rule rather than the exception. Basically, walk into any non-bookstore, like a supermarket or a Walmart or a Costco, and see the kinds of books they stock. In five years time, those will be the only books actually getting printed on tree pulp. There simply won’t be shelf-space for anything else. That and possibly specialty books that could be sold in some other kind of store, ie you could probably still print how-to books about sewing and knitting and shit and sell them at fabric stores, that kind of thing, or the books they sell at Urban Outfitters.

Another wild prediction I’ll make is that the $12.99 price point on e-books cannot and will not last. $9.99 probably is also too much. Even albums are going for $6.99-$7.99 on iTunes and Amazon. I see the market settling down comfortably with the $5 median e-book.

The bottom line to all this is that publishers smart enough to want to play the e-game correctly will be moderately successful at shifting diminishing print sales into increased e-book sales. The other publishers, the knuckle-draggers who think hardcover-only releases and $12.99 e-books are smart moves, will still see their print sales evaporate and will also lose what few potential customers they could’ve had to a combination of more forward-thinking competing publishers, other competing media like movies and web content, and of course pirated copies of their own over-priced works.

For fiction authors who are new or working outside of established genre conventions, all this means it’s going to be increasingly difficult to get a book printed on paper by a traditional publisher, and doubly hard to actually earn a sustainable living this way. Experimental or fringe literature is going to live or die by electronic distribution, so if that’s what you want to write, you might as well make your peace with that now. That means either self-publishing or signing on with a publisher who has a coherent and forward-thinking strategy for online marketing and distribution.

Forgive me for going on a bit of a rant. If you need to edit this down, the alternate answer can be: “No, I never make wild predictions about anything.”

Sweet Dream, Silver Screen

Did you ever work in a bookstore?

No, although I was a page for the public library when I was a teenager. As a result of that job (and a certain obsessive-compulsive streak in my personality), whenever I do go into a bookstore now, I usually end up walking up and down the aisles making sure the books are arranged neatly on the shelves, which consequently makes people assume that I do work in the bookstore. But really I don’t and never have.

Is there a book you’ve read that you wish you’d written?

Oh, so many. If I had to pick just one, it would probably be Samuel Delany’s Dhalgren. Or Paul Auster’s City of Glass. Or Philip K. Dick’s VALIS.

As a fan I want to know, what’s coming up?

Quite a bit actually. I have a few short pieces slated for release this year, mostly along the lines of the other “singles” I’ve done like Fake, Home Movie, and 1999. I think I’ll probably end up packaging together an anthology when they’re all ready. The ones that don’t make it into the anthology are going to be part of a non-linear quasi-experimental project I’m working on called “Excerpts from a Book That Will Never Be Published”.

I also have a novella that’s should be completed by the end of the year that’s a little bit sci-fi, a little bit murder mystery, and is intended be first in a series of inter-connected novellas with the same private detective character. Kinda like my version of Poirot, except she’s this surly futuristic psychic lesbian with a drug habit. It’s very different than a lot of what I’ve done before, but the readers who enjoyed picking apart the occult symbolism in Concrete Underground are gonna have their heads explode when they read this one.

Finally, I am flirting with the idea of follow-ups to Concrete Underground. I was really hesitant to do that because the novel isn’t set up to be sequel- or franchise-friendly, but I was getting a lot of e-mails and comments suggesting I should return to those characters, and then I came up with an idea for a way to do it that would be satisfying without diminishing the original novel. So they really aren’t going to be sequels, the approach will be more along the lines of Paul Auster’s New York Trilogy or Robert Anton Wilson’s Schrödinger’s Cat Trilogy.

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