Metal/Not Metal: Michael J. Seidlinger’s Hustle

Article by ben

“I want to not get sick this year.” On a personal level, this is what Michael J. Seidlinger hopes to get out of the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) conference in 2015. “Last year,” he tells me, “I went overboard with the free provisions and alcohol.” He can be forgiven for this, perhaps; it was his first year there representing Civil Coping Mechanisms, the independent press he runs, so like a college freshman, Seidlinger had a lot to do—perhaps not all wise.

It’s unfair to call Seidlinger a freshman, though: he’s been hustling for years. He’s the author of what seems like a new novel every six months, all published by independent presses (his forthcoming The Strangest comes from OR Books, but previously, his titles were mostly released by Lazy Fascist Press). Meanwhile, Civil Coping Mechanisms’ first quarter of 2015 catalogue contains five titles, which is more than some indies publish in a year. Beyond that, he’s involved with a number of miscellaneous endeavors: he’s the reviews editor at Electric Literature (where, full disclosure, I used to write for him) and involved with a number of hip literary sites, including the defunct HTMLGIANT, the classy Entropy, and the I-don’t-know-what-this-is Dark Fucking Wizard. He once lived in an airport for a few days to promote a novel called The Fun We’ve Had. In interviews, he talks about not sleeping.

When Seidlinger goes to AWP this year, what’s his primary role? Writer? Editor? Publisher? “I am who I am,” he tells me. “I don’t present myself in any other way. Other people have their game plans—authors may act a certain way, or editors might maintain a certain identity.” But Seidlinger finds such roles limiting: “A lot of people get self-conscious. We’re all literary types, and artists are introverted. So the piece of advice I give is, ‘Just fucking do it.’” By which he means, avoid regret and say hey to that writer or editor you love—but there’s still something a tad odd, I confess, in hearing a self-described literary-introvert-artist-type also evoke the Nike slogan.

But Seidlinger is a new kind of literary athlete: the Internet is his court. He has been making friends for years now online, spending an unfathomable amount of time on social media, promoting himself and others as a part of what used to get called “Alt-Lit” (and he now just calls “Indie Lit”) before controversy hit last year. He’s the kind of guy who posts excerpts from his own works-in-progress on Facebook, but he also finds the time to respond to literally every comment anyone leaves him (I know: I tried for ages, without telling him, to leave comments so inane that they should’ve inspired zero response, but there, always, was Seidlinger with a response, even if it was equally inane) and also to post endlessly about the publications of others.

The scene around Seidlinger has changed, continues to change. People drop offline—including some of the stalwarts who first helped build Internet literary hubs like HTMLGIANT. “You see it all the time. It makes sense,” he says. “[It’s] almost organic. Tao Lin, for instance, the effort he was putting in [on Facebook] probably wasn’t worth it after awhile. Some people decide there’s no point doing it anymore; they’ve evolved out of their current endeavor. He’s still quite active on Twitter, but I can’t help but think that he’s a perfect example of how things in the scene change. People change.”

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As I write this, I glance at Seidlinger’s most recent Facebook post: “Looks up from computer screen, ‘Oh it’s Easter?’ Looks back down and returns attention to the current sentence.”

This is how Seidlinger and other writers in the Internet want to be perceived: as dedicated enough to the craft to work through Easter, but also dedicated to reminding people they’re dedicated to that craft. Of course, this post comes with twelve likes (so far)—which is enough to demonstrate the shrewdness of Seidlinger’s persona (but not so many likes as come with the average post by Matt Bell, the undisputed master of the hardworking literary persona).

Seidlinger has his own brand recognition though: the liberal use of the metal horns—or, \m/. (He once ran a Facebook contest where he gave away free books to the first people whose comments on his posts received a certain number of \m/s from Seidlinger himself.) “It does have a bit of a branding quality,” Seidlinger says, “but like any brand, if you use something to the point that it’s always there, it loses its appeal.”

Even so, most things in Seidlinger’s world seem to be metal. So I ask him if he wants to play “Metal/Not Metal” with me, in which I ask him a series of random nouns (crowdsourced from the Brazos staff) and he has to…well, you get the idea.

“Oak trees?” I say.

“Not metal,” he says.

“The magazine Redbook?”

“Which one’s Redbook? Anyway, it’s not metal.”

“Strawberry jam?”

“Metal.”

“Arugula?”

“Not metal.”

“What’s wrong with arugula?”

“Nothing, I’m fine with it. It’s just not metal."

“Busts of Napoleon?”

He struggles with this one a bit, then decides, “Metal.”

“How about Napoleon’s desk mask?”

“I didn’t know there’d be two Napoleon ones. Fuck it. The death mask is metal and the other one isn’t. Let’s swap them.”

“Is iron metal?”

“It’s gotta be.”

“How about science?”

“You mean the whole concept of science?”

I do.

“Definitely metal.”

“What are the primary qualities of metal-ness, literary or otherwise?”

“Metal-ness…jeez, man, that’s a question. I should say something clever. Or, you know what, can we just run the horns four times?”

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