Tao Lin is an author living in Brooklyn, NY who recently released the novella, Shoplifting From American Apparel.

How is the tour going so far?
I read three nights in a row in Boston. The first reading was in "the suburbs" I think. Five people came. The second reading had about 35 people. The third reading had about 25 people. I got "really sick" the 2nd day. Overall I enjoyed my trip to Boston. On Thursday I am going to California for about ten days.

Sick on tour, that's never good. Any idea what caused the sickness?
I think on the bus to Boston I touched the bathroom's door handle.

H1N1 most likely. How has the overall response for Shoplifting From American Apparel been?
Americans seem either dismayed, offended, amused, or [something like pleasantly enjoying it]. Justin D. Taylor believes it is my "breakthrough" book. The Village Voice says I am "eating my own children."

Eating your own children would be a breakthrough though. You have been out on tour since pretty much the day it came out, does that make it harder to really see gauge the public response?
No. There was wireless internet on the bus to Boston. And free wireless in "Harvard Square" in Boston. I feel like the "leading expert," "by far," about the public's response to SFAA.

Did you run into any issues using "American Apparel" in the title?
No. I think my influence on the economy is not close to large enough for any lawyers or corporations or mainstream newspapers, or whatever, to "care" what I do in terms of your question. My publisher liked the title a lot and encouraged that I use it.

Also, I think there is a cross over in target demographics, which may be helpful for both you and American Apparel. I was reading on your blog that you have a clothing sponsorship now, that has to be one of, if not, a first, for authors.
Carles of Hipster Runoff signed me to a 2-year deal for his "I Am Carles" clothing line. I'm very happy that he chose me.

Did you plan on Shoplifting From American Apparel being a novella from the start? Or did you finish it, and realize it wasn’t quite short enough for a short story and not long enough to be a novel?
I began it knowing it was going to be a novella. Melville House has a "contemporary art of the novella" series. And I knew the book was going to be for that series. When I finished a certain draft of it it was longer "on both ends," in that it went on for longer and began earlier than what it's like right now.

Your writings contain many pop culture references. As you write them do you wonder if they will still be relevant by the time the piece is published? Or, does it not matter because the reference will still achieve the same cultural connection you intended on making?
I don't think about that anymore. I think at some point in the past I concluded that the "pop culture" nouns like MacBook or whatever are interchangeable with any other nouns, in my experience of my own writing, in that if I wrote Tablet or Tree or Dell or something it would not affect, or would only affect a very small percent, of what I myself "get" or "feel" from my writing. Instead of typing "he said on Gmail chat" I could have typed "he said on [whatever form of communication people are using at the time that whatever person is reading this exists in]" to have it be more clear what my view is on this. I don't feel like making cultural connections when I write. I feel like connecting emotionally. For example if I feel sad I want to convey sadness (sometimes). If I own a MacBook I don't really want to write a book conveying that I own a MacBook.

You have a very unique style that draws a lot of praise, as well as criticisms. How did that style come about?
I feel I have, so far, two different prose styles. One is what BED is in, which I got mostly from Lorrie Moore and a little from Joy Williams and Jean Rhys. One is what SFAA and the non-rhetorical sections of EEE are in, which I got maybe firstly from Ann Beattie, though in SFAA I feel that a single influence is not apparent. My style came about from reading a lot and editing a lot, I think.

Was it hard on yourself starting out knowing that you would draw criticism from writing in the way that you do? Taking so many risks, though it has paid off in a fantastic way, can get pretty taxing right?
I feel that because my "career" and "exposure" has increased very gradually, over the past five years (I wrote very short stories to submit to online magazines for about a year, then longer stories to send to print magazines for more than a year, then worked on compiling a story-collection for about a year, etc.). Everything has just felt "normal" to me. I don't feel overwhelmed or anything. I feel like I have always had a strong acceptance that not everyone will like a certain book or author's books.

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© 2009

Tao Lin Interview

Marshall Rake

Photo By: Melville House Publishing