Monday, May 19, 2008

Talking Shop: Q&A with your favorite insiders

Jessa Crispin, founder
and editor-in-chief

Jessa Crispin is the founder and editor-in-chief of arguably the most popular literary blog out there: Bookslut. We wanted to discuss how book publicists and authors can more effectively work with bloggers - so naturally, we turned to Miss Crispin. Read on for Jessa's thoughts on the online literary community, her favorite books, and how she once threatened to kill a writer.

Tell us a little bit about you, and a little bit about your blog.
Probably all you need to know about me is that I am a giant dork. I get really excited trying to figure out how things work, and "things" can be anything. Physics, baking, neurochemistry, history, farming, religion, whatever. I also like figuring out how one thing connects to another, so sitting around following trains of thought with the help of the Internet is a great little job to have. The blog is whatever I dig up while drinking my morning tea plus the first thing that comes into my head while reading it. I know I should pretend like it's really hard work, and that I spend hours agonizing over my commentary, but that would be lying. I think Bookslut's usually referred to as a book news blog, but that's sort of misleading -- that gives the impression that I'm blogging about what Sloane Crosley is having for breakfast. It's more like book news filtered through my very specific interests. I could probably have a bigger audience if I blogged about the books everyone else is talking about.

How did your blog get started?
The blog started when I was 23, living in Austin and working at Planned Parenthood. It started as a diversion from a job that took me approximately two hours to complete, and I had to fill the other six hours somehow. Why not troll the web looking for the latest interviews with Neil Gaiman or whomever? Now it's six years later, and Bookslut has grown to about half of my day job -- the other half being freelance writing.

What is a "typical day" like as a book blogger? (Knowing there are likely very few "typical days"...)
It's mostly a lot of reading. Between Bookslut and my books column at the Smart Set, I have to read an awful lot. I try to get all the actual blogging done by 10 am or so, so that I have the day to run errands, proofread/format/edit the new issue, read, and sit and wonder if I can bother my editor into letting me change one more thing about my column before it goes up without him just firing me. There's also a lot of obsessive e-mail checking.

How has the internet changed the way we view literary communities?
I think it's closed the gap between author and audience. Or shortened it. Now that everyone can see each other, it's a little awkward. No one knows what to do with each other. It's still early to tell how it'll change writing and publishing, but it'll be interesting.

Why do you think some books take off, and others crash and burn - even if those crashing, burning books are outstanding?
I think there are a billion reasons. The publicist not hitting the right notes, the author not knowing how to find his or her potential audience, the publisher just not making an effort and dumping the book, the press isn't able to find an angle to write about the book, another blockbuster comes out at a similar time and eclipses it... Star alignment at the release date might have something to do with it, because sometimes even savviness can't overcome bad luck.

What are you reading right now?
That's always a complicated question. I'm reading Bonk by Mary Roach, We Are Now Beginning Our Descent by James Meek, an old issue of London Review Books that had fallen behind a bookcase and I just found, and the Kitchen Sink by Albert Goldbarth. I also keep meaning to finish up Roanoke by Lee Miller -- I forgot to pack it for my trip to London, so I have about 60 pages left.

Rank your top three books of all time?

Just so you know, this will change tomorrow:
Dubliners by James Joyce
Varieties of Religious Experience by William James
Lottery and Other Stories by Shirley Jackson

Who is an author we should keep an eye on?
Last year, there were three women writers who just eclipsed everything else I read: Scarlett Thomas, Joanna Kavenna, and Mia Gallagher. The Gallagher ("Hellfire") was not released in the States I don't think; I picked it up in Dublin. But with Thomas and Kavenna, they wrote quirky books that didn't find the massive audiences they deserved, but I have faith they will. All three of them are too good to be ignored for long.

What would surprise Bookslut readers about Jessa Crispin?

Probably a lot. I don't talk about my personal life too much on the blog. I'm almost pathologically reluctant to share any personal details at all. I don't know why that is. But I think I actually threatened to kill a writer I was dating about a year ago if he ever blogged about me. (We broke up over the blog.) It might be a bit surprising that I was a cheerleader back in school in Kansas. I told someone that recently, and he was flummoxed. So yes, I was a cheerleader, but I was a cheerleader who read Thomas Hardy books on the bus on the way to games and painted her fingernails white and magenta in honor of Molly from Neuromancer.

Craziest email you have ever gotten from an:

a) Book publicist, and/or
b) Author?
The e-mails I get from publicists that I don't understand are the ones talking about how attractive the author is. "She's beautiful! He's handsome!" I always wonder what I'm supposed to do with this information. I want to write back, "Is he coming over to my house? If not, what the hell do I care who attractive the author is?" As far as authors go, I get the occasional 3 am e-mail from an author who is obviously drunk and self-Googling -- "Who the hell do you think you are?" etc. -- but I never make them public, because I also have a drunk e-mail habit. I need to keep the good karma so that the universe will not retaliate with an ex suddenly putting my drunk e-mails online.

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