Ep 142 The latest plagiarism scandal. And meet Jarett Kobek, author of the runaway hit “I Hate the Internet”.

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podcast-artworkIn Episode 142 of So you want to be a writer: Vote for your favourite Australian author, hear about the latest plagiarism scandal, and discover the worst words of last year. Get more writing done in 2017 with some useful writing tips. Find out the benefits of Facebook groups to build your author platform. Also meet Jarett Kobek, author of the runaway hit “I Hate the Internet”, get a bot to nag you until you achieve ataraxia, and much more.

Click play to listen to the podcast or find it on iTunes here. If you don’t use iTunes you can get the feed here, or listen to us on Stitcher radio.

Review of the Week
From Johnny Treadgold from Australia:

Thank you for all the hard work! Your podcast is one of a select few I listen to every week. I’ve been writing a novel on-and-off for the past five years and this week I finally typed THE END, it was an amazing feeling. And thanks to your insights I’m all too aware that finishing the first draft is just the beginning.

Thanks, Johnny!

Show Notes

 

VOTE NOW in The Finals: Who will be crowned your Favourite Australian Author?

A Plagiarism Scandal Just Took Down A Top Trump Appointee

Plain English Foundation announces worst word of 2016

11 Writing Tips To Help You Get More Done In 2017

10 Minute Novelists

Writer in Residence

Jarett Kobek
Jarett Kobek is a Turkish-American writer living in California. His novella ATTA was called “highly interesting,” by the Times Literary Supplement, has appeared in Spanish translation, been the subject of much academic writing, and was a recent and unexplained bestseller in parts of Canada.

 

 

 

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5 Ways to use Facebook Groups to Build Book Buzz

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Your hosts

Allison Tait

Valerie Khoo / Australian Writers’ Centre

Connect with us on twitter

@altait

@valeriekhoo

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podcast at writerscentre.com.au

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Interview Transcript

Valerie

Thanks so much for joining us today, Jarett.

Jarett

Thanks for having me.

Valerie

You’re currently talking to me — where are you?

Jarett

I’m in Los Angeles.

Valerie

Which is where you live, right?

Jarett

Yeah, I live in LA.

Valerie

Now your book is I Hate the Internet. It’s set in San Francisco. For those readers who haven’t read the book yet, can you tell us what it’s about?

Jarett

Sure. I mean it is a novel set in San Francisco in 2013. It is primarily about the travails of a woman who’s a comic book artist of some renown, finds herself in the middle of a viral media public shaming, for lack of a better term.

What it ends up being is sort of this meditation on all of the people in the San Francisco Bay Area who are the losers of the tech boom. And beyond that I think what people have really been responding to in it, is it is a very crude book about perceived wrongs in the internet that uses the language of the internet to critique the internet.

So, there’s an argument that can be made that about 50-65 percent of the book is non-fiction, and it’s just sort of an analysis of how the internet works in the crudest possible terms.

Valerie

How in the world did the idea for this book form? Did you start thinking, “I’m going to write a novel about this…” or, “I’m going to make a statement about the state of the internet…”?

Jarett

No. I wanted to write a novel about San Francisco because I had been living there for a few years and was very much one of the losers in the tech boom. I ended up getting gentrified out of San Francisco.

It was an extraordinarily difficult and painful process.

When I finally got to LA, which I had lived in before, I decided to try to write about it. Unbeknownst to me I had something of like a nervous breakdown during this process. So, when I actually sat down to work on the book, it came out in a very strange manner. It came out in this really jagged sort of crude, not especially novelistic form.

I realised really quickly that actually this was probably the right way to write about the internet because it mirrors the way that information comes to you on the internet. It’s like if you’re looking at Wikipedia and you’re on an article about Frank Sinatra somehow 15 minutes later you’ve read 20 articles and you find yourself at the end of reading something about climate change and there’s no conscious understanding of what this process and how you wasted all of this time.

That’s sort of what the book ending up being like. I was like, “Well, this seems like something I should run with.

What originally started as sort of my mental incapacity to write a normal book then became what I think most people now identify as I Hate the Internet’s single virtue.

Valerie

Yes. When you first started it did you merely start with a premise and start writing and then this really amazing, unique voice emerged? Or did you have some semblance of a plot or things that were going to happen?

Jarett

No one has accused the book of having a plot.

I mean I had a few things that I had wanted to get in there and a few things moments that occur in the book, but it wasn’t particularly thought out.

In terms of the voice I had been thinking a lot about standup comedy, because there’s an argument to be made that you can go and see the world’s worst standup and in their five-minute set they will touch on a series of really complex social issues that novels that are being published by the big four in America often now seem to be avoiding.

It was sort of this idea of like, “Well, maybe the book can be funny. Maybe it can have this really crude voice and be a little bit more like standup than a novel.” But, beyond that no. It really just sort of came out.

The first draft took about two months to write. And it’s not that far from what the final book was.

I mean to go back to my original point I think I was really disturbed by the experience in San Francisco. Something in that trauma animated this book in a way that other things that I have written in the past have not had the same quick genesis.

Valerie

You talk about standup comedy, have you had experience in standup comedy in any way?

Jarett

No, I hate standup. I find it awful, but I do think it’s really strange that what is viewed as sort of light entertainment or an evening out you really can go into this dark room and people will be talking about really heavy and complex social issues. And that the novel, which in the US as sort of the serious literary novels become this thing which often avoids these topics.

Valerie

I think that’s interesting how you say that what came out was kind of this jagged style. And it is a very unique style and it is — the word ‘jagged’ didn’t come to mind when I was reading it, but I can totally see it now. But, it works so well.

Jarett

Thank you.

Valerie
It is really different, and it is very different… but it really, really does work.

I laughed out loud — like, constantly — reading this book in many sections. I’m always in awe of people who can write with humour. Are you naturally humorous yourself or was it an effort to put that humour on the page? Or did it just come naturally?

Jarett

I should say too that in addition to standup comedy I had been thinking a lot about Kurt Vonnegut. If there is another writer’s whose thumbprint you can really see on this book it would be, hopefully, the better novels of Vonnegut. There was a sort of conscious effort at learning how to be funny, because I mean I think I can be funny conversationally. But, being funny conversationally and being funny in such a way where you can sustain it across a 270-page book are very different things.

So, I did put some effort into learning how to write jokes, essentially and learning the mechanics of humour. But, a lot of that actually predated even realising it would be used in this book. I had just been thinking a lot about humour and its ability to get things over that you may not be able to get over, if you’re writing serious work.

Valerie

Sure.

How did you research or study how to write jokes?

Jarett

I mean there are books that you can buy that are for the aspiring standup, and I read a few of them. Then I mean just one of the things that we do now have the luxury of is — YouTube is awash with standup comedy. And you can really — if you really look at what people are doing, it’s not that hard to pick up.

Then, I don’t know, there’s also this British standup named Stewart Lee who wrote a really interesting book about — he had originally been sort of like a wonder boy in the ’90s and then kind of fell off the spotlight. And then in the early 2000s realised that he was about to starve to death and he should probably go back to standup and figure out how to make it pay.

He wrote a really, really wonderful book called How I Escaped My Certain Fate. And if you pay attention to that book you can learn a lot about humor and a lot about how standup and writing jokes actually works.

Valerie

Great.

When did you know that you wanted to be a writer? Was it something that you were interested in when you were very young? Or did it come to you later?

Jarett

I was always really interested in it. I had a woefully misspent youth reading a lot of science-fiction. I was delusional enough to be like, “Well, I could be a science fiction writer…” And then, you know, the idea never really left me, but I was terrible at it.

I mean I was really, really bad at writing until about ten years ago when I first moved to California. And I moved to Los Angeles first and then San Francisco and now back to LA. But, one of the virtues of being in Los Angeles is that it is an enormously isolating and alienating city. So, it gave me time to write and time to figure out how to do it.

And very shortly after I got here I found myself actually producing serious publishable work. I mean I don’t fully understand the alchemy of that process, but I credit Los Angeles almost entirely for it.

Valerie

Wow, OK.

Jarett

After I Hate the Internet came out I have sort of been getting sucked into more literary scenes than I had been before. One of the things that’s been really interesting is — like I knew that there were small press people in LA, because there’s like 500 people and we all hate each other. And I knew that there was, like, celebrities who could get book deals. I didn’t realise there was a mid-tier of established literary writers. And to a person, all of them are people who went to New York, made their name and then came back or moved to LA. I’m about the only one in the city who actually has managed, and quite by accident, managed to get established on that level, being a writer in LA and coming out of LA, because there’s just not a tradition of that kind of writing, and so it’s hard to get over.

Valerie

Can you give listeners just a bit of a potted history of your career up until this point? So, they can just see what you’ve been doing? Till you’ve had this success.

Jarett

Sure. Well, I did a few small press books, none of which were really novel-length, prior to I Hate the Internet. By far the most successful of those book is a book called ATTA, which was on Semiotexte, which was about the lead hijacker on 911.

And that book came out in 2011 and it had a very weird history where it came out and it did OK and then it died completely. I think in its second year of its publication it probably sold 50 books. Then in the third year of its publication it started to get picked up by academics. One academic in particular, this guy named John Duval who teaches at Perdue University in Indiana really started pushing the book. So, then by the fourth year a lot of professors had started assigning it as classroom literature. So then the book started really getting momentum. And now I think has gone into three or four editions. It’s really particularly, by standards of the small press, a really successful book.

The thing that was really frustrating is that because this process was so weird and drawn out and so unusual there was absolutely no recognition for it.

So when I Hate the Internet was finished and I was trying to get it published I couldn’t get it published. I could not get anyone to publish the book. Agents were rejecting me, presses were rejecting me. Small presses, which had been my home prior to this had also been rejecting me.

What I eventually ended up having to do was found my own press, We Heard You Like Books. And more or less, give or take, self-publish I Hate the Internet.

And it completely — I mean I had been around the small press enough that I knew how to do that in such a way where it wouldn’t be hugely embarrassing. And then
I Hate the Internet came out, it was the first book on the press and it just almost immediately went insane and has just not stopped. I mean I think the book just came out in Australia like a couple of months ago, but it’s been happening for a year here and it just keeps going, and it’s really unexpected.

Valerie

It’s confounding, isn’t it? Because it’s such a good book and it’s so amazing that people still reject things like this.

Jarett

Yeah.

Valerie

As writers, we are plagued with self-doubts all the time. Did you have that confidence in this book from the get-go? Did you know that this was going to work and therefore you just kept on going as opposed to stick it in the bottom drawer?

Jarett

I actually have to say my confidence was not in the book itself, although I did think it read like the best thing that I had done in some ways. But, you know, it’s hard to have perspective on your work.

Valerie

Yeah, yeah.

Jarett

The confidence that I had was in the title and I still feel like you could print a blank book called ‘I Hate the Internet’ and sell a couple of thousand copies. Because people have such a social ambiguity about the internet and have such serious concerns that even just as an object that people would have a blank book with a giant ‘I Hate the Internet’ on the cover it would probably move about 3,000 units, just as a novelty item.

To me when I was getting rejected I was just like, “This is insane, because you don’t even need the text, you just can have the title and the book will move.”

Now I should say I’ve been really fortunate because people have responded really strongly to the text and that’s carried it beyond that initial push. But I think the initial push was almost as like a novelty item, you know?

Valerie

Right.

You said that it took you two months for that first draft.

Jarett

Right.

Valerie

Can you just give us an idea in that two months was it all-consuming, “I’m going to wake up, I’m going to write ‘x’ number of thousand words…”? Did you have some kind of structure or goal, word count goal planned?

Jarett

Yeah. I do 1,000 words a day when I’m writing, every single day. And if it hasn’t turned out to be 1,000 words then I just… I kind of feel terrible about myself.

I mean that was it, just 1,000 words a day.

And then some days you get lucky and you find yourself writing two or three thousand words. And that sort of happened with this book. I think the word count on the published book is about 72,000 words. And, you know, I started it on March 30th, I think, 2014 and then finished the first draft on June 1st. I mean just grinding it out.

Then I did have the luxury of — because so many people kept rejecting the book I had more time to go through and make changes. Then because, like I said, I also was primarily pushing it on the editorial side with my own press, I was able to be making changes up until a very late period that could not have happened on another press.

Valerie

Then what happened? After it came out and it met with really good reception… in the States it’s published by someone else now?

Jarett

No, I’m still publishing it. I’m still doing it. I’m still doing it.

Valerie

Jarett

I like the luxury of having control. I mean it’s been OK. I mean this is really nitty gritty, but you find yourself if you do decide to do this. Seriously, you find yourself concerned with things that you never thought you would be concerned with.

Valerie

Yeah.

Jarett

But, no, the book continues to do well in the US. It had a surprising critical response.

And then very shortly thereafter I started to get approached by foreign publishers. And at that point that was the moment where I realised I couldn’t do this on my own anymore. Like, everything up until that point I felt like I could handle. But, negotiating foreign contracts — how do you do that?

So, I was able to find an agent and they have been very, very good about getting foreign editions and getting contracts for foreign editions. So, it has now either been published or is scheduled to be published in seven languages.

Valerie

Fantastic.

In Australia it’s through Allen & Unwin. In the UK it’s by Serpent’s Tail. Now the interesting about — I’m holding the UK edition.

Jarett

Yes.

Valerie

Which has a very interesting note at the front. And of course there are certain bits of the book that are redacted. And then you’ve got this message in brackets, “Jim’ll fix it.”

Jarett

Right.

Valerie

Now can you just give readers an idea of why this has occurred?

Jarett

Yeah, libel law in the UK and in the Commonwealth is very different than everywhere else in the world. In the US if someone sues you for libel it’s up to them to prove the case. In the UK under UK Common Law if someone sues you for libel you as the defendant have to prove that you didn’t do it. And because the book has references to a lot of real world people, who are entirely fictitious in the text I should add, Serpent’s Tail was very concerned that we would end up getting sued.

So they originally had asked me to just take some stuff out. And I was like, “Well, let’s not do that.” I had read the UK edition of Mike Tyson’s autobiography, somehow, which I still don’t understand how I ended up with that. But, there’s a really interesting part in it where he’s talking about some stuff and he’s like, you know, “Sorry, I can’t actually talk about this in the UK edition.” And I thought that was a really interesting response, to make these real world concerns become part of the text itself and become sort of an enhanced edition rather than what Serpent’s Tail had originally asked for, which was to remove stuff from the text and to delete stuff from the text.

And so then I came up with this really elaborate Jimmy Savile joke that anchors this.

But, I mean there is a certain truth to that too, because Savile is the main offender in terms of this was a person who hid in plain sight entirely through the threat of suing people under liable law.

So, yes, that’s why the UK edition and the Australian edition is a little bit different.

I actually prefer that edition, I think it adds to it enormously.

Valerie

I think it’s just such a great layering, because as you’re reading it, of course, you’re also thinking, “I wonder what it was.” You’re drawing your own conclusions and then you start, of course, researching on the internet, right?

Jarett

Yeah.

It’s funny because it’s all very mild, the stuff that they asked to change. I think there’s probably stuff in there that’s far worse that they didn’t seem to have a problem with. So…

Valerie

Are you working on something else now?

Jarett

Yeah. I’m working on a few things that are in different stages of completion. I have a novel coming out in the US on Viking in August, which is a book about the club scene in New York in the ’80s and the ’90s, and a bunch of other things.

And I’m also writing another book now, but I’m not telling anyone what that is until it’s done.

But, yeah, I’m still working, still going for it.

Valerie

I’m curious to know about the book that’s coming out in August about the club scene.

Jarett

Yeah.

Valerie

Does it have a similar voice to this?

Jarett

No, it’s completely different.

Valerie

Really?

Jarett

It’s actually a prequel to I Hate the Internet that I wrote before I Hate the Internet, and it was not intentional that it was going to be prequel. But, then when I started writing
I Hate the Internet I was too lazy to invent new characters. I had written a giant — it’s a really big book. It’s about 150,000 words. And I had written this book about two characters who are just moving through New York in the ’80s and the ’90s. And I really felt like these were strong characters and this was something that because I had this huge backstory for all of them, it would probably make writing a novel as jagged as

I Hate the Internet much easier, because I didn’t have to envision this entire biography of these characters, it already was there. It was in a manuscript that, again, another manuscript that no one wanted to publish.

Valerie

Right.

Jarett

And now they do.

So… that’s… yeah.

Valerie

I’m going to be so curious to read it because I think that it will be fascinating to see the style that you take with that one. So, hopefully it comes out in Australia around the same time.

What do you enjoy most about writing?

Jarett

There are moments in the process where there are unexpected discoveries and that will send you down a tangent that will make what you’re doing so much — and make the book itself — so much better. That, to me, is probably the best thing about doing it, the unexpected discoveries, particularly if you’re doing fiction so much of that is just construction. Like the stereotype of the man went into the room…

Unfortunately, you have to do that stuff, but when you do that and it gives you a base to then sort of have the unexpected discoveries, that’s the stuff that I find keeps me interested.

Valerie

What do you think was the most rewarding part of writing I Hate The Internet?

Jarett

I would say the reception, actually. The fact that the book came out in the way that it did and the fact… and I mean both in terms of the way that it reads, but also that it was a book that no one wanted to publish, which has turned into this thing. And it’s been an interesting process to live with, because it’s been uncomfortable in some ways.

By and large something about having done it entirely on my own, really, and then having everyone be like, “No, this is embarrassing,” or whatever their motivations were, then seeing that thing go out into the world and see the world responding to it has been really rewarding and really interesting.

I don’t think it could work with every book, by any means. I think this one ended up not really intentionally being a book that it could work with, but you do start to wonder about the things that people are saying to you when they’re rejecting your work or when people are like, “Well, I don’t really see this.” And you’re like, “Well, I think they should work. Why wouldn’t this work?”

Valerie

Yeah.

Jarett

To then see that go out and actually work better than anything I’ve done in the past has really been rewarding.

Valerie

Yeah, I bet.

What was the most challenging part of the writing of it? I know that there are probably challenges with publishing it yourself and that sort of thing, but the actual writing, what was the most challenging part of it.

Jarett

That’s a good question. I would say that figuring out how to have that style while also maintaining a book that is going to an end point, because there’s a way where you could just write digression after digression after digression and find yourself two years later with a million-word-long manuscript that goes absolutely nowhere. That is probably the hardest part, just figuring out how much of that you could do without getting off track. Where the elasticity was, it was always a judgement call.

I think I mostly managed it. There’s a few places where the book goes way off track. But, basically it gets where it’s going. I think that was the hardest part.

Valerie

Did you feel that you were taking a big risk writing in the style that you did?

Jarett

No, because no one was paying attention to me. I wasn’t risking anything. There was no gamble. I didn’t have anything to lose. I had a book that academics were teaching in a couple of courses across the US, but other than that — no.

I mean I thought maybe people would be really upset by the book if it came out. And, maybe that would be unpleasant, but even that really was a very minor concern.

Valerie

Wonderful.

What’s your advice to aspiring writers who they haven’t had their first novel published yet, they’re still getting the rejections or maybe they haven’t even finished, what’s your advice to them who hope to be in a position like you one day?

Jarett

Well, I think there’s two things. If it’s still not done that really you have to just do the work. And it is work. It is not an easy thing to do 1,000 words a day or however many words a day, to just get to the point where it’s completed.

In terms of people saying ‘no,’ in terms of getting rejections, I think I’ve had a little bit more experience in the last couple of months dealing with the editorial side of this stuff and I can say, you know, “Don’t listen to people,” because no one actually knows what publishing is.

Writing is one thing, publishing is a completely different thing. And the two have some relationship. But, the people who are running publishing have absolutely no idea what’s going to work and what isn’t.

It’s sort of just the process of, hopefully, trying to find the one person or the handful of people who actually can see that thing and can see an end point with the manuscript. But, that’s not easy. It’s not easy to find those people, you know? So you have to just keep going.

All it is perseverance.

Valerie

Yep, absolutely.

On that note thank you so much for your time today, Jarett.

Jarett

Thanks for having me.

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