BY JOANNA C. VALENTE
Everyone seems to know who Michael J. Seidlinger is, even if just by name. Seidlinger is a ghost — the kind of ghost who messes up your book case and reorders everything so you can't actually find what you're looking for. But then when you actually look back at all of the reordered books, you find something beautiful stuck in there that you hadn't seen before.
Seidlinger is exactly like that with his own writing — his latest book "Falter Kingdom" was recently released from Unnamed Press, following around a teenager who becomes possessed — but doesn't want to become unpossessed, forcing the reader and character on an uncomfortable journey of self-discovery and mutilation. Besides writing, however, Seidlinger is also a generous editor and advocate in the lit community, which is precisely why I wanted to interview him — as a way to show the person behind the persona.
I was lucky enough to interview Seidlinger on everything but writing, because talking about writing is boring after awhile. This is what he said:
Describe your favorite meal.
Oh damn, starting off with the most important of questions. The unhealthy me says pizza, the healthier version of me opts for… ramen. Ramen is healthy, right? I really have no idea. First they tell you salads and paninis are healthy and then you hear about how it wasn’t ever true to begin with. Then you’re like, okay, spinach salad, cool. You kick the panini to the proverbial curb and opt for yogurt or something. It’s all so tiring. Just give me pizza, coffee, and the occasional bowl of ramen and maybe, just maybe, I’ll be happy.
What musicians do often you write to? What bands do you love but can't write to?
I can’t write to anything with vocals, given just how commanding the typical vocal track is, so a lot of what I write to is ambient, post-rock/metal, chillwave, etc. This means I write to Russian Circles, Oneohtrix Point Never, Year of No Light, Amesoeurs, Intervals, Sithu Aye, anything remotely technical in terms of instrumental work, meaning jazz, prog metal, etc. I can’t listen to Deafheaven, Converge, or even stuff like Godspeed You Black Emperor because they keep using samples and vocal/spoken-word tracks that take me out of my groove.
How would you describe your gender?
Anyone that looks at me would say, straight-up, without a shred of a doubt, straight male, but I have never identified with such a designation. This is probably why so much of my writing is so much about navigating identity. So often, I feel like identity is the costume one wears in a situation, both to navigate and to survive. That’s not the answer you might be looking for but, you could say, I’m still looking. Every day is as much an act of knowing who I am and trying to find how I fit in with the society that continues to baffle and confuse me.
What are three books that you've always identified with?
By that, I’m going to interpret it as "books you can always go back to and frequently do." In this case: Mark Z Danieleweski’s "House of Leaves," Albert Camus’ "The Stranger," and Amy Hempel’s "The Collected Stories."
Choose one painting that describes who you are. What is it?
Tough one. Given that I’ve always experienced paintings in passing (i.e.: I look, observe, but frequently forget the details, taking with me only the experience), I had to go back and try to remember one that stuck with me. One that does is Joseph Kosuth’s "One and Three Chairs," not for what it actually means but rather how I interpreted it. I interpreted the black and white suspended chair as the very means of who one is, the true self, and everything else, the chair mounted to the floor, as the identity, or identities, we create and curate within an actual social space.
We all are that black and white suspended chair, so simple and obvious and true and honest and genuine, but because it is not weighed down, not rooted in reality, it can never be understood in those, ultimately simple and relatable, terms. Basically, we complicate our ability to be known by others.
Choose a gif that encompasses mornings for you.
There are so damn many but this one rings true as of, right now (Monday):
What do you imagine the apocalypse is like? How would you want to die?
We all want the world to end in some big grandiose event, something that inadvertently validates our own existences given its outrageousness, how we are able to experience that end-all/be-all end. I want that, for sure, but it’s looking like the apocalypse will be a whimper. So, I imagine it’ll happen so gradually we, as a society, will be able to immediately understand the end-point. It’ll be like a punch headed right to your face so slow you can see and block it but, for some reason, you don’t.
I want to die when I feel like I am no longer worth the day given to me. Moreover, I’d prefer to die on a sunny day, filled with a lot of hiking and watching the sunset, no matter how stereotypical that might sound. Fill it in with a lot of good music, good drinks, good food, good conversation, pack it all in one good final day, and yeah, bring on the death and the apocalypse. It’s important to enjoy what truly is enjoyable to you, right before it’s over.
If you could only watch three films for the rest of your life, what would they be?
Oh man, umm, I go through cycles with films. Though I have mainstays, so many films fall in and out of favor in my eyes, only to end up back in the running. I can only answer this in my current state, but I’ll try my best to pinpoint ones that I could watch endlessly — "Memories of Murder" (Joon-ho Bong), "Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter... and Spring" (Ki-duk Kim), and… because I think a solid as hell comedy with dark undertones is necessary, "What We Do in the Shadows" (Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi).
You've written extensively about social media. How would you describe your persona/role?
For those that have met me in person, it’ll make sense when I say that I really treat my brand as an extension of myself. Very little of what I say and do online is any different from what I do offline. Often times, there’s no difference: one perpetuates the other. I think of it as one-in-the-same. What you see of me online is a good indicator of my true self. In that case, I’d say my persona is one of being true and honest to myself and those I’m grateful enough to want to get to know me, both online and off.
Chow chow or shiba inu?
If I had to choose one, shiba inu; but the reality is I can’t choose between one or the other so I please, allow me to appoint a stand-in, pug.
You've lived in many different places and recently moved to NYC. What's one surprising thing you didn't expect to find true about it?
I’ve actually lived here before. Only a summer (2013), but still enough to get that good first glimpse. I’ve lived in various cities, constantly amassing a life and belongings only to shed a lot of it and take with me only the memories. Entering NYC, I approached it similarly, the open mind and the hope of, who knows, things might turn out good. So far so good. The one thing I can vouch for is just how draining and exhausting it is. The idea of "FOMO" is very real but, here’s the surprise, I feel like most people don’t care about feeling like they are missing out. There’s so much going on, it’s almost too easy to ditch something and just enjoy a simple night in/out.
What do you carry with you at all times?
Besides a wallet and the fear of being found out, I don’t carry around much. Not anymore. I used to carry around four quarters (some random self ritual — idea of being able to at least, worst case scenario, be able to make a phone call) and a notepad (before I realized I could email myself or write down notes on my iPhone). These days, if I’m lucky, I’m carrying around some cash in my wallet, a phone, and that’s it. The minimalistic effect has, in the past year or so, made me feel more liberated. It could be due to having less to lose if I were mugged or attacked.
Joanna C. Valente is a human who lives in Brooklyn, New York. She is the author of Sirs & Madams (Aldrich Press, 2014), The Gods Are Dead (Deadly Chaps Press, 2015), Marys of the Sea (2016), & Xenos (forthcoming 2017, Agape Editions). She received her MFA in writing at Sarah Lawrence College. She is also the founder of Yes, Poetry, as well as the managing editor for Luna Luna Magazine. Some of her writing has appeared in Prelude, The Atlas Review, The Feminist Wire, BUST, Pouch, and elsewhere. She also teaches workshops at Brooklyn Poets.
Michael J. Seidlinger is an Asian American author of a number of novels including The Fun We’ve Had and The Strangest. He serves as director of publicity at Dzanc Books, book reviews editor at Electric Literature, and publisher in chief of Civil Coping Mechanisms, an indie press specializing in innovative fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. He lives in Brooklyn, New York, where he never sleeps and is forever searching for the next best cup of coffee. You can find him online at michaeljseidlinger.com, on Facebook, and on Twitter (@mjseidlinger).