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Michael J. Seidlinger Shares His Coping Mechanisms

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Michael J. Seidlinger is the author of a number of novels including The Fun We've Had, The Laughter of Strangers, My Pet Serial Killer and The Sky Conducting. He serves as the reviews editor for Electric Literature as well as publisher-in-chief of Civil Coping Mechanisms, an indie press specializing in innovative fiction and poetry.

Loren Kleinman (LK): There are traditionalists that are critical of alt-lit and see it as devolution in literature and poetry. How do you see alt-lit? What does it bring to the literary world?

Michael J. Seidlinger (MJS): Alt Lit is a relatively new and ever-changing space within the indie lit community and because of that, its definition is different for everybody. I see Alt Lit as another opportunity where we might see new and engaging writing from talented people that might not have been detected if they didn't have the immediacy of social media. The more spaces we have to interact and share our work, the better.

LK: You're the author of novels including The Laughter of Strangers, My Pet Serial Killer and The Sky Conducting. What's your writing process like? Do you write in collaboration with someone? What's your revision process like?

MJS: Though certain novels place different demands on me, I maintain a 2000 words-a-day quota, writing daily, no matter what; if I wake up hungover, I write at night. If I am sick to my stomach, I wait until I'm able to function well enough to put fingers to keys and get those sentences saved. When work gets in the way, I make time, even if it means losing sleep and denying a social event to get it done. I've never been a revision writer, and I knew that early enough to adopt a system where I reread and edit every few paragraphs, everything I've written that day, in relation to the larger picture, what I have planned for the remainder of the piece. It's not glamorous, but it's definitely demanding and rigid, inflexible. Some novels, like certain drinks, go down smoother.

LK: How do you cope with rejection? How do you cope with resistance, meaning, how do you cope with doubt when writing?

MJS: It never gets any easier. It's always there to fuck with your mood and maybe your day. I'm the guy that rereads a rejection 12 times, begins to cultivate some totally fictional hate-spun story about the reason for being rejected to make myself feel better. But I've gotten better at it lately. For the most part, I take the constant rejection in stride and figure that I'm going to keep trying no matter what so it doesn't really matter. That's what's most important, I believe: Fight, retool, explore. Doubt is always there and it could easily be the death of your creative self. Don't let it. Just keep going. Fight it by not backing down.

LK: Do you think publishing is in shambles? What are you doing differently in terms of publishing with Civil Coping Mechanisms?

MJS: No, I don't think that publishing in shambles. It's evolving and, sans some of the clutter and fat trimmed away, I suspect that more titles will be paperback originals and the constant quarrels with eBook pricing will finally stabilize, with "digital" becoming what mass-market paperbacks used to be (entry level). With CCM, the press doesn't aim to be anything other than a platform, a brand that puts out wholly original work singular and unique in its approach. If there's ever been a time to take risks, it's now. There's got to be at least a few presses willing to risk it all for a chance. We're all coping.

LK: Who are your top three favorite writers and why?

MJS: It's always changing for me so instead I'll go with three that come to mind instantly -- JG Ballard, Albert Camus, and, oh how about a newer author, D. Foy. Going in order, JG Ballard was the author that got my mind racing with all kinds of ideas. His work functioned as a cradle of contemporary ideas that jumpstarted everything for me. Albert Camus for absurdism, where I find quite a bit of meaning, and seminal classics like The Stranger and The Plague, both of which are all-time favorites of mine. D. Foy, author of Made to Break, published by Two Dollar Radio, is spinning together his own breed of narrative, dubbed "gutter opera," where the grit merges with the glory, the kind of beauty that can only be found in literature.

LK: If you could do Whiskey shots and get into a bar fight with any character from your book who would it be and why? Would you win?

MJS: I think this has already happened with every single one of my characters; as in, I've fought them, lost, and ended up in a pool of my own vomit. But, if I had to do it again, I'd fight Willem Floures, from The Laughter of Strangers. He doesn't take cheap shots -- at least not with me. He lets me get in the first punch. He waits for the right moment to make our fight at least somewhat interesting for the few that watch. Ultimately I lose, same as with any fight with my characters. I'm supposed to lose. In order for them to exist, I lose and give them more meaning with a well-deserved win. But Willem knows what it's like to be down and out, to be draped in doubt. He always offers a hand, helping me up. Post-fight, he buys the next round of whiskey shots.

LK: What's in the future for Michael Seidlinger?

MJS: I started work on a new novel and I'm editing one right now that will be released later this year by Lazy Fascist Press so basically the same: writing, editing, working out, drinking, struggling, hustling, yawning, and, when I can, sleeping.