#CopingWith is CCM’s interview series run by managing editor Joanna C. Valente
Michael J Seidlinger is CCM’s publisher & editor-in-chief. As many people know, Michael is tirelessly always working, always available, and sincerely dedicated to publishing. Because of his public persona, it is easy to think you know Michael without really knowing him–this is both intrinsic to how social media works, but also ironic in the publishing world that is often built on the publishing of harrowing and compelling narratives.
His latest novel, “Falter Kingdom,” came out this fall from Unnamed Press. Of his book, Garrard Conley has said, “Seidlinger’s riveting book has ‘unpacked’ the classic Holden Caulfield character we know and love and given us a newly complicated misfit to root for. Here we see the boundaries of good and evil, love and hatred, self and other dissipate as the increasingly lovable demon takes possession of us.”
Because of all this, I interviewed him as a way for the CCM community to get to know him a little more. Here’s what he had to say:
What is one piece of advice to writers when dealing with their editors and publishers?
Be honest and up front about your concerns and your curiosities. I’ve seen it all too many times where miscommunication breeds a level of disdain between both author and editor. You have to figure that working with an editor, especially in the indie space, it may very well be just the both of you. Such close proximity could be amazing for collaboration, but only if both parties are on the same page. Editors/publishers are people too—you don’t ever want to elevate or activate a level of demand from them that exceeds what both signed up for. It’s how a publishing dream becomes a nightmare. Trust me, be honest right from the beginning—with both yourself and to your editor; doing so will help later when emotions run high (and they almost always do, be it out of excitement or worry) and you are about to send a five-paragraph email or text message to your editor at 3AM. You really have to treat the publishing relationship as its own sort of relationship, complete with its own boundaries.
What was your first publication?
This could very well be the most frightening question I’ve ever been asked. I just spent like 30 minutes Googling myself trying to find the oldest thing published and I’m coming up empty. I know one of my first was with a Canadian indie press called Crossing Chaos/Enigmatic Ink, where I published an excerpt/fragment from a now-dead novel of mine on their blog, and later published a couple books through the press. I also had stuff published at sites like Metazen (RIP) again coming up empty. The internet is truly ephemeral, your work so quickly lost if you don’t save it elsewhere, so here’s a picture of me looking sad:
PS – Starting to think I always look sad in pictures. Or tired. Or both.
What’s the worst rejection letter you’ve ever gotten? (You don’t have to name names, though.)
Worst one’s got to be from an agent that quite literally emailed back with a single letter, “P.” It was abrupt enough that it took me a couple minutes to figure out what that had meant. Guess the agent didn’t have enough time to write out the word, “pass.” There were no other details given and I never received another response, even after emailing for clarification. Agent’s a hot shot, by the way. One of those big names that foster truly lucrative literary deals. I’m not about money but I like money like anyone else. Well, scratch that—I like the prospect of not having to constantly worry about money. Oh god, tax season is fast approaching. Doing taxes sucks so fucking hard. I don’t know where I’m going with this.
When you get discouraged, what helps you rally through?
This changes a lot. If you know me at all, you know I usually don’t turn away, especially if I’m discouraged. I dive right into the discouragement, the feelings and thoughts brimming with negativity, and I attempt to find some sort of solution. It’s not always the healthiest of reactions and I have been trying to get better at it. Simple things like sipping coffee, closing your eyes, and meditating to ambient music; blasting metal and screaming along to it pretending that I’m still part of a band and am on tour and not drowning in work/deadlines; smoking a cigar while purposefully leaving the phone in another room; rewatching films I’ve seen countless times (like Jiro: Dreams of Sushi); even going back to something I wrote that somehow didn’t suck, flipping through a few pages, trying to get myself to level out and lessen the negative analytical spin. It’s so damn easy to fall into one of those funks, especially when the writing isn’t going well (seemingly every other writing session; depending on the project, it can be every single one). I rally through because there really is no choice not to, and whatever I can do to calm down, it has much to do with letting the mind fess up to those feelings, letting it all sink in and determine precisely the reason for discouragement. Oh and it also helps to talk to someone I’m close to, someone that can figure out by the fourth word what’s bothering me.
What do you love about the lit community?
Best part is the people. Always has been. The community has grown/changed so much with the times but there are people that have always been around, and more importantly been there, for each other over the years, there’s just so much to love about how something skewed to social media/online daily engagement can foster strong friendships and literary collaborations among its masses. CCM/Entropy wouldn’t exist without the community. I wouldn’t be who I am now, wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing, if it weren’t for the community. Don’t let the drama and the social media born depression get to you. There are people here. People that care.
How do you want to change the lit community? What’s your least favorite part of it?
I wish we’d be more considerate of each other’s feelings. Yeah, I know I said above how everyone is so supportive and caring but for all of the good, there is this underlying current that seriously bums people out. I hear from so many writers, so many friends, so many editors, about this general sense of malaise coming from the frustrations of toxic social circles. People gossip and so forth and what should be a safe space becomes something distrustful and downright unsettling. If you ever wonder why the lit community goes through a lot of rise-and-fall eras of activity and then sudden drops in silence, it’s as much to do with the seasons/prevailing cultural influence as it is the people within the community spinning drama.
People need to stop looking at each other as opportunities. People need to check themselves and their reasons for being a part of this.
Favorite item of clothing you own.
A Navy flight/bomber jacket my dad got during his time in the military. He gave to me about five or six years ago and it’s always fit so snugly it almost assuredly gave me a confidence boost whenever I’d wear it. I also like how it has a “Seidlinger” insignia sown right into the fabric. Wish I could wear it in NYC winter but it’s just too damn cold for the jacket.
Just realized I titled this interview “CopingwithSeidlinger” and thought of some old family sitcom like the Brady Bunch or some shit and really a show called Coping with Seidlinger would be pretty much the most horrible thing ever (for the 1-3 viewers and especially for me) because it would be almost 100% me sitting in front of a computer shouting obscenities while intermittently falling asleep, smoking a cigar, drinking a lot of coffee, and forgetting to eat meals.
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).
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 (ELJ Publications, 2016), & Xenos (2016, 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 and CCM. 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.