jameskaelanJames Kaelan is the author of the novel We’re Getting On, also known as the “zero emission book,” which he’ll be touring up the west coast this summer, from Los Angeles to Vancouver. When he isn’t touring, he teaches at Pepperdine University (though he’s very much not religious). His short fiction has appeared in a number of places, including but not limited to Opium and Monkeybicycle. You can get a copy of his book, which grows into a tree, by launching him over at Flatmancrooked.

James, there is absolutely no reason to not start this off with asking you how your Zero Emission Book project is going – and also to tell the Fictionaut members about this project.

For those of you who haven’t heard about the ZEB Project, it is, maybe, the most overly-ambitious book project ever undertaken. Flatmancrooked Publishing is putting out my first novel, We’re Getting On. Taken at face value, that doesn’t sound very ambitious, but I promise you it is. The first edition of the book, if planted in the ground, grows into a tree. Seriously. The cover has spruce seeds embedded in it. On top of that, I’m doing a book tour from Los Angeles to Vancouver, starting in July — on a bike. During the tour, in keeping with some of the novel’s Luddite themes, I won’t be using any sort of electronic devices (e.g. cell phones, computers, televisions, etc.). For that matter, I’m not even allowed to sleep inside.

Some of you might be familiar with Flatmancrooked’s Launch program. If not, Launch is a first-time author support program where patrons can invest in a writer and a book. I got Launched on Monday, which means if you go to my Launch page you can buy a share. There are different investment levels, but if you go for the big one, you get a bunch of rad stuff. One of the give backs is a live album I wrote and then recorded at a strip club. Definitely worth hearing, at least for absurdity’s sake.

Are you going to make it on to Colbert? How can we help?

I’ve vowed not to end my bike tour till Stephen Colbert books me on the Report. That means, of course, that once I get to Vancouver, I may have to continue on to New York. But that’s something I’m willing to do. In order to get Colbert’s attention, we’ve created a Facebook group called If 10,000 people join, Colbert will book James Kaelan on the REPORT! It’s growing pretty quickly, but we could absolutely use everyone’s support.

You spend way too many hours on the computer, tell us how you hope to live five years from now? What would be your ideal amount of “connectivity” to live a balanced life?

That’s a damned good question. The major under-current of my novel concerns the abandonment of technology, whether by choice or by force. Consciously, I’m far too dependent on digital media these days and would love, if a little more successfully than my characters, retreat a bit from being constantly connected. If I could have it my way, I think I’d like to build some sort of artist retreat in the woods, or in a burnt-out city like Detroit, where I could read and write and play music with a bunch of wild men and women. I hear the median home price in Detroit is something like $20,000, so perhaps in five years I’ll be there making leather shoes and composing novels.

How did Flatmancrooked come about? What are your favorite parts about that experience?

Good old Flatmancrooked. Some time in 2007 Elijah Jenkins whelped the company, and I helped him rear it starting in March 2008. I’d finished grad school in Boston six months before, and after a detour to the Middle East, I went home to Sacramento. One day I was browsing Craig’s List ads and found a post seeking help to run a digital magazine. I responded (to Elijah, as it happens), and we met for coffee. After that we borrowed $5,000 from a wonderful woman Elijah knew and used that to put out a book. I’d worked at a couple journals before, but this was the first time I’d been in co-charge of an entire operation. Somehow, we landed a story from Ha Jin, and another from Jorge Luis Borges. The company sort of took off after that. Deena Drewis came on in the late summer of that year, and she now holds my old position at the company. She and Elijah are both the greatest. I used to put them through hell when I was at the company. Elijah and I fought famously. Every time we were about to release a book, he and I would have some difference of opinion, and one of us would end up threatening to quit. We both just wanted the company to thrive. And yet, somehow, we always worked through our differences. Conflict is the backbone of art, of course, but it’s also apparently the backbone of good business.

Flatmancrooked is sort of blowing up, now. And that’s not a product of luck, either. Their ideas are revolutionizing the way books are marketed in the 21st Century. But the coolest thing to me, still, is that the company never borrowed another cent; the whole damned thing germinated from a $5,000 seed. Try that, CitiGroup.

What books/film/music are you closest to?

I could die happy reading John Cheever’s collected stories and nothing else. But for We’re Getting On I read and thought about Samuel Beckett the most — specifically the Three Novels, and more specifically, Malone Dies. These days I’m reading 2666, which I think is our generation’s War & Peace. Regarding film, I’m effectively a cinephile. In my Los Angeles neighborhood, I’m within easy walking distance of two independent, single-screen theatres. If I can afford it, I see what both are offering each week. To speak, though, of older films, I always give a shout out to Buñuel’s That Obscure Object of Desire. If you haven’t seen it and think you hold in your mind the Platonic form of desire personified in film, you’re wrong. Go see it. Finally, to speak of music, I love Americana. I’ll tell you a little secret. I’ve been re-writing Taylor Swift singles with the intention of reclaiming them as mean, country songs. Mean pop. Look out.

The Fictionaut Five is our ongoing series of interviews with Fictionaut authors. Every Wednesday, Meg Pokrass asks a writer five (or more) questions. Meg is an editor at Smokelong Quarterly, and her stories and poems have been published widely. She blogs at http://megpokrass.com.

  1. brooke

    Interesting and timely article about a MOST fascinating 21st century project, book, publishing company, and set of artists. I’m on my way to buy the book now. Thanks for the tip!

  2. finnegan flawnt

    great interview, meg – great answers. read this with curiosity (about the project and the spruce) and with growing determination to support james kaelan. i also thought the detour on the creation of his former company very worthwhile. it was good to hear kaelan likes and reads beckett – but i still cannot make myself finish “2666” – so perhaps he’s right about that comparison with “war & peace”, which is not the most thrilling page turner ever, still an amazing achievement.

  3. Larry Strattner

    Thought I’d seen it all but guess not. Book with seeds is a great idea. Heroic even.
    Book about the bike trip north has been written; Memory of Running, Ron McLarty. Might want to read for prep like Beckett for ZEB.
    Need a better head shot to look more green. Current shot looks less green.

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