CLUB VOGUE / SOCIALITE ROGUEInterview by Pete Goutis
Brandon Tietz lives in downtown Kansas City, MO – the heart of the social scene. He’s been writing for eight years, always knowing that he can make his dream into a reality.
Last year, he joined the writer’s workshop at The Cult to help him with his goals. He has three stories up for the running to make it into Chuck Palahniuk’s anthology project. Through his hard work he got noticed. When they needed a moderator to help, he was the first choice.
He knows he’s still got a ways to go:
“How’s the interview coming?”
“Fine. It’s pretty much done. I’ll be emailing it in tonight most likely.”
“Good. I stayed up too late last night writing. I think I’m just going to go to bed as soon as I get home and set my alarm for 1:00 am and write from then until I go to work.”
“Why do you do that to yourself?”
“Because there are a lot of guys like me out there. I gotta outwork them.”
That was a conversation I had with Brandon earlier today. And really that about sums up what’s going to make him a success. He’s willing to work his ass off. He’s willing to do whatever it takes. And he does it because he feels like he has to… that and he enjoys it.
So you could say that it’s been a long journey for Brandon and finally he’s starting to see the fruits of his labors.
Item #182: Take one thing in your life and find a way to make it better.
Out of Touch is available for pre-order this month. It’s been a work in progress for four years. Originally a vanity run. He’s gone over it with a fine tooth comb. Tightened it. Now, he assures us, it’s ready.
Item #239: Make something from scratch and sell it.
He has another publisher interested in his short story collection titled Vanity.
Some of the stories in this one push the limits. Brandon definitely doesn’t worry about his internal censor. Sometimes it seems that he’s liquored that fucker up and hoped for the best. When this one comes out you guys will see what I’m talking about.
Let’s just cap off all the clichés and say – When it rains, it pours.
He’s one of The Cult’s success stories. And a great example of how far hard work can take you. And he’ll be the first to tell you that, yes, it does pay off.
Item #255: Share your story.
Peter Goutis: Hey Brandon, thanks for doing this. My first interview, so I’m sure you’re going to have to bear with me on this one! (Laughs)
Brandon Tietz: I got my friend vodka here, just in case shit gets out of hand.
PG: You've had quite a busy year. You are finally getting your book Out of Touch published. You have a collection in the works looking at being published. And you're one of the contenders for Chuck's anthology.
BT: It’s been kind of a fun nightmare. I don’t think I’ve ever worked my ass off this hard or had so much shit going on at once. It’s starting to pay off but some nights I just want to have a drink NOT in front of my computer and maybe catch an Anthony Bourdain marathon or something. I’m happy with how it’s going though. It’s been a long eight years getting to this point.
PG: To add to that list, you've also signed with an agent.
BT: We’re like a young Hank Moody and Charlie Runkle, if you know that reference, but yeah…he’s awesome. Very cool guy. It feels surreal knowing we’ll be taking this next one to Random House and Penguin and all the big boys.
PG: Nice! Californication is one of my favorite shows… He says he can do that? That’s got to be an awesome feeling.
BT: I believe all agents can do that. That’s kind of the point of getting one…so you can have someone broker your deal and do all the submission/negotiation stuff. That’s cool and all, but I think what I’m most happy about is that we see eye-to-eye on the work. He knows what I’m trying to do and digs it, and that’s saying something considering how niche my stuff is.
PG: Is he the king of fuck mountain?
BT: I think Charlie Sheen still holds that title.
PG: So you’re talking about the short story collection here then? How far along is this one?
BT: Right, Vanity. It’s...well, probably about 85% done. It’s hard to say because collections never really have to end. You can always add on to them unlike a novel. We’ll be shopping that one in February though and I’ve already started some early promo stuff.
PG: What kind of promoting do we have lined up?
BT: I did a shoot based on one of the stories called Signs, which is basically about a guy whose wife has such excessive spending habits, that he starts panhandling out on the streets. It’s a desperate take on the “keeping up with the Jones’” story. Anyway…I knew if I hired someone that they’d ask for a ton of money because of the whole embarrassment factor, so I drew up the signs and modeled it myself. It was fun. We got some good stuff.
PG: I would have been a little embarrassed for the homeless people that had to deal with your shit for that shoot.
BT: They were actually really cool about it. I paid them cash and cigarettes, so that probably helped. Jerry (the one in the photo) was totally into it. The other guy was a little bit creepy. He kept asking about my photographer and my girlfriend because…I don’t know…I guess he was going to hit on them? I told him they were “together.”
PG: This is the one with the awesome Jesus story, right? Care to give us a teaser of some of the stuff to expect?
BT: Fashion of the Christ. Oh man, um…I’m pretty sure that’s the one where if the wrong person reads it, I’ll have my first book burning. Religion is one of those things where you can’t even slightly poke fun at it, and I’ve got Jesus wearing a NASCAR-type suit with Penthouse, John Deer, and Frederick’s of Hollywood sponsorship patches because he’s cashing in on his celebrity status instead of saving people and stopping wars. International House of Prayer is going to hunt me down, I bet.
PG: Fashion of the Christ is a genius title, but you are going to get so much shit for that story.
BT: Yeah, I thought so, and then I was like, “Fuck, that’s way too good not to be taken,” so I Googled it. Lo and behold, it’s one of the episode titles on Weeds, a blog, and there was some YouTube video or something, too. I think I got first dibs on story, though.
I might get shit about it…some angry emails or something, at which point, I will print out the best ones and put them on my fridge.
PG: So Out of Touch, it's really been in the works for a while right? When did you start writing it? And how long would you say before it was done (the first time)?
BT: I started writing that one back in 2006, had a logic board problem with my Mac that put me on longhand-only lockdown for a while, and I finally got the thing about how I wanted it in 2008.
PG: You wrote the original first draft all in long hand… I didn’t even know that was possible anymore… I guess if you finish a novel that way, you know you’re dedicated enough to stay in the game.
BT: No, not the whole thing. Just certain spots. Because of how structure-conscious I am and how I edit as I go along, it just looks like a big damn mess. I hate writing in longhand.
PG: You originally did a vanity run. Did you even try to go to publishers with it once it was done? Or did you just go ahead and do it yourself?
BT: I think I sent it to one agent on a whim with a really crappy email query. That was it. I was like most writers starting out in that I had the passion for it, but knew pretty much jack shit about the industry side of things. I had that Guide to Literary Agents but no damn clue as to how a good query letter should read. It was a debate as to spending a bunch of time trying to lock down an agent or spending a bunch of money to put a book out with the intent to get it locked in with a traditional publisher. My odds were long either way. I gambled on myself. It worked.
PG: What’s your one sentence pitch? I’m an agent – sell it to me…
BT: Calvin & Hobbes meets Inglorious Basterds.
PG: Since you’ve made some mistakes – took some gambles – what advice do you have for other writers trying to get into this game? In other words, what have you learned?
BT: This is going to sound so fucking cheesy, but writing is mostly your own personal resolve and not giving up. It’s literally years of sitting down, writing, and not getting paid for it. It’s a series of relationships that dissolve or never come to fruition because you put the book first, and everything else second. It’s rejection and people telling you that you either won’t finish or fail. It’s Friday and Saturday night behind your computer instead of going out. It’s hard, but so damn worth it. Sacrificing a few years for something that lasts forever is a fair trade, in my opinion.
The other thing is to learn the short format. Sell some stories and build some credentials. You look so much better on paper when you pitch your novel if you’ve already got some publication under your belt. This is especially important if you don’t have an MFA. If you’re lacking in education, at least have some experience.
And learn how to sell yourself/your work. There’s no tried-and-true handbook for that. You kind of have to learn it on your own.
PG: And you’ve pretty much learned everything through trial and error, through experience. You tend to shy away from instruction?
BT: I dropped out of college about one year shy of graduating so that I could start a novel. Something clicked in my head that I was being taught the same formula that everyone else was learning, and I got really sick of hearing “this is the correct way to write.” If I learned anything from those English courses it was how I DIDN’T want to do things.
I can appreciate that kind of writing now, but the attitude really stuck with me. Not just with the actual writing part but with the PR stuff too.
PG: I’ve heard about some pretty awesome promoting you did for this book.
BT: Yeah, I think that was the difference between myself and everyone else going the vanity route. I thought of it as a springboard, not an end-all, so I knew I was going to have to whore it up with the marketing part of things. What they don’t tell you is that you can’t do an event at a Barnes & Noble or a Borders, despite whether your stuff is available on their website or not. I had to get a little creative with it…ended up having an event at this trendy club on The Plaza…got three tables worth of bottle service and a photographer friend of mine covered it. That created some buzz, probably because I was the first person to do something like that here. I would love to be able to say it was the first idea I had, but this was all the result of some lady telling me I couldn’t read at her bookstore.
PG: That sounds like an awesome way to promote. I can see the literary "Brat Pack" doing something like that (Bret Easton Ellis, Jay McInerney, Tama Janowitz, and Mark Lindquist). Any time you tell somebody you're going to an author reading or book signing - instant first impression is "Boring!" Chuck Palahniuk has tried to change that a little. But how awesome would it be for book signings and promotions to just be these awesome parties at clubs?
BT: It’s honestly the element I’m most comfortable in, even if it’s not the most practical. Most of my twenties were spent strapped in behind my computer, so I try to make up for it when I can. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against the Barnes & Noble book reading or the table signing at Borders. Every writer needs to know the basics of PR, but if I can combine a signing or a reading with some sort of happy hour, chances are, I’m going to do it because it’s going to be a more relaxed setting. I’m also pretty sure most people don’t like standing in single-file lines. That’s what the DMV is for.
PG: So then it's four years later and you find a publisher. You came about Otherworld through Richard Thomas, right? Did you approach them or was he mentioning authors? How did that work?
BT: I interviewed Richard for his book, Transubstantiate. There was a lot of questions I was asking him both on and off the record about the press, amongst other things. He was familiar with my work through Chuck’s workshop, read the book, put in a good word. I sent the publisher over a couple samples and the next thing I knew, I had a contract in my email. When you see that “takes on most authors through referrals” bit on publishers’ websites—this is what they’re talking about.
Otherworld is doing the thing that agents and publishers should have been doing years ago. They found these pools of talent on The Velvet and The Cult and starting drafting the up-and-comers onto one team “Avengers assemble” style. It’s a good place to be. The whole crew is solid.
PG: Care to name-drop a few of the people Otherworld has signed from the Cult and Velvet here?
BT: We’ve got the original gangsta, Richard Thomas, who is also a workshop mod here. Nik Korpon’s book Stay God is just now coming out, and I keep hearing it’s hot shit so I need to check it out. Caleb J. Ross is another Kansas City author who’s got a couple books coming out in 2011, so now he mentions that all the time whenever we meet up for drinks. And finally, the rock star, Michael Sonbert who’s got We Are Oblivion coming out this Spring. I’ve read an early draft and it hits like a police baton to the teeth...fuckin’ guy is hardcore.
PG: Sounds like an awesome list of up-and-comers. We have to keep our sights on them (Otherworld). They obviously have an eye for talent.
BT: Hopefully the results live up to the potential.
PG: Before you went through with the final run and print with Otherworld, you did some pretty extensive edits. You added how many pages?
BT: It’s hard to say. I subtracted a lot…added a lot. The thing is slick now.
PG: So what happens to all of those words that are edited out of your books?
BT: That’s a great question, Pete. They actually become the new Anne Rice novel.
PG: Were these things that have been bugging you over the years since you've done the vanity run or did you think of stuff while rereading and editing?
BT: Some of them, yeah. I think the real turn was when I started workshopping because my frame of mind changed. I began to see the problematic areas and identify my bad habits. Having those ten to fifteen extra sets of eyes on my stuff enabled me to put out a more polished first draft and subsequent drafts. Two out of the three finalist pieces that Chuck read…first drafts. The system works.
PG: What kind of bad habits are we talking about?
BT: It’s technical-level stuff. I can’t even think of anything specifically now. It’s like when boxers keep their right hand too low—they don’t know it until they’ve been clocked by that left cross a few times. Every author starting out wants to be told they’re good, but it takes a few beatings to earn it.
PG: Besides sparkling vampires and Lindsay Lohan - were there any major changes or was it stuff to just make the book tighter, more solid?
BT: Well, I’m trying to cash in on the whole Tron Legacy hype, so my vampires glow instead of sparkle. Lindsay had to be cut because apparently you can sue people now for using first names.
PG: You learned that first hand from Chuck Palahniuk when he reviewed one of your stories that involved Robert Pattinson (of Twilight fame).
BT: Nothing better than getting legal advice from ol’ Chuck. If I didn’t hear it from him, I was going to hear it from the publisher.
But yeah…my serious formal answer (since I can’t really sell the sarcasm in text) is that there are some major changes, but all for the better, and I’ve never been happier with it.
PG: So first novels have a tendency to be autobiographical in nature. How autobiographical would you say this is? Are you secretly Aidin?
BT: Yeah, this seems to be an author stereotype of sorts. Honestly, I don’t think Aidin could realistically exist, and he’s certainly not me, but rather this exaggerated combination of people I’ve witnessed in that scene of socialites where paying an 800% mark-up on copious amounts of booze is considered chic. I’ll concede to a point and admit that I’ve participated in some of the introductory aspects of that life, but never to the degree or regularity that he does.
PG: Right, but we can chalk it all up for the sake of “research.”
BT: Research could be pretty much anything. It’s broad that way. Kind of like the term “Art.”
PG: But seriously, Aidin was based on you. You're a self-indulgent drug addict who is praying to go numb.
BT: (laughs) There’s no way I could afford his drug habit. Maybe if I was addicted to Benadryl.
PG: All those assignments - Items, Sections, Rules. Did you write them all out? Did you have your own 40 page binder? While I was reading Out of Touch I couldn't help but think that there had to be a way for you to keep track of it all.
BT: I’ve gotten a couple emails requesting the entire list, and I’ll tell you what I told them: it doesn’t exist. What’s in the book is all there is.
PG: I was secretly hoping you had this binder with tons of notes in it. You know that if the book takes off and becomes relatively successful, you can always write it up as a supplemental piece. Something extra if you want to dive deeper into the story. Sort of like The Whalestoe Letters and House of Leaves.
BT: I would never write something purely on the premise of cashing in on a previous book’s success. You get a lot of bad movies that way: Transformers 2, Indiana Jones 4, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 3. If the story was there and it’s warranted, I’d consider it. You’ve read it though, so I think you know I’m certainly open to the concept.
PG: Aidin is so detached from his family. None of that is based on personal experience?
BT: My mom and I have always been really close. Dad…not so much. It’s very much off and on with him. Right now it’s off. So in that regard I can compare good parenting to absentee parenting, although with this particular character it’s more along the lines of, “Here’s a credit card and a sports car. Try not to bug us.” I understand that this is the case for some people, and I’ve known a few of them, but I was never enabled in that way.
PG: Well there goes my spoiled brat question…
BT: Oh, believe me, I got anything I asked for on my birthdays and at Christmas, but only on those days. It’s not like I could ask for $100 whenever I wanted. As soon as I turned 14, my mom made sure I had a job.
PG: Speaking of your Mom - she wrote a blurb for the book?
BT: “Your grandmother isn’t going to invite you over for Christmas if she reads this. Why can’t you write like James Patterson? I like him.”
PG: Nice! Has she been supportive? What does she think about you going forward with this writing thing?
BT: Oh man, completely. I went six years before I made a single dime off this gig, and she was the only one that never wavered. My work isn’t her particular cup of tea, but she hears about the things I’m doing and couldn’t be more proud.
PG: So reading Out of Touch, you can see the influences of writers like Chuck Palahniuk and some Bret Easton Ellis. What other authors have influenced your writing style and structure?
BT: Yeah, Chuck and Bret—specifically their early stuff. Chuck stylistically marches to the beat of his own drummer. Bret is thematically stellar. Those guys know how to break the rules and make it work for them. Eugenides, in my opinion, is just flat-out perfect. Reading that guy is like getting dunked on by Lebron…he’s just too damn good. Welsh plays dirty with the best of them…like a literary back alley knife-fighter. And for this book specifically—Alan Moore and Brian Michael Bendis were big. I couldn’t think of Aidin like a traditional protagonist. This was more of a hero/villain complex.
PG: Now that you say that I can definitely see the comic/graphic novel influences. Not just in the obvious content, but also in some of the themes and style. I would say more here about super heroes too, but I don’t want to give anything away.
BT: Oh yeah, definitely, man. I was a real comic book junkie there for a while, and there’s definitely a certain mentality that they capture there that isn’t often seen in literature. I was also reading a ton of medical journals and fashion mags, too.
PG: In my opinion - the worst of Aidin is Session 3. I wanted to beat the shit out of him at that point. I have a hard time crossing the line in my writing. I sometimes fear that people will look different at me. Like if you write about killing somebody, that's easy to take. Even done well, it's still fiction. But when you write about somebody treating a girl in just an assholish way or doing an excessive amount of drugs or whatever (I'm trying not to give too much away) - it's kinda like people are thinking, "Where did he get this from?" Was that chapter hard to write?
BT: I researched that particular scene for at least a year or so, and witnessing this shit go down is probably where I got the majority of my emotional bullshit out of the way. There’s a disturbing quality to watching some chick faceplant at a club because she did too much shit or took something that didn’t agree with her…or the first time you’re in a stall taking a piss and there’s some dude one over snorting blow off his car keys. It’s a little bit of an eye-opener…makes the transition to literature a tad easier since you’ve got an experience to base it on.
I read articles about authors going through these über dark periods because they’re method acting or whatever with their characters, and I’ve never dealt with that. So it’s not hard for me to write about a guy recreationally raping or doing a ton of coke or whatever. I don’t think it’s a deficiency in my humanity or my morality. If I’m writing it there’s a point to it that serves the story. If there was any difficulty with that one, it was figuring out what to cut from it. Even if it really happened, certain things come off like shock for shock’s sake. I try to avoid that, whenever possible.
PG: So you don't take your characters "home" with you?
BT: Writers don’t really take their work home with them so much as they constantly carry it around…that sort of mental briefcase filled with observations and prompts and ideas. I think you’d be hard pressed to find any author who identifies themselves as a casual observer. It’s not like I’m looking for material when I’m out living my life, but I know it when I see it. The 366-Item list, although fictional, has a realistic basis taken out of its normal everyday context of groceries to buy or errands to run.
PG: Also, I don't think that that chapter (or Session) has the feel of "shock for shock's sake" at all. It just shows how emotionally numb Aidin was at the time. He's like the main character from Average American Male (by Chad Kultgen). But he's more empty. More of a shell. It crosses a line that is just scary. Like, what could this guy really do?
So you had difficulty cutting things. That reminds me of Bret Easton Ellis talking about that one scene from Imperial Bedrooms. Any examples of what didn't make it?
BT: Yeah, actually. There was this Midsummer Night’s Dream party at this club called Blonde. They’re closed now so I don’t mind calling them out. Anyway, pretty much all the girls there turned up in lingerie, like baby dolls and corsets and shit…and then all the guys were wearing robes over boxers. There was a couple near the back of the club that had a booth. Keep in mind, the booths are typically pretty dark because they’re in these alcove things. So this cocaine Barbie is bouncing on this guy’s lap, y’know, like standing up and just kind of pounding her ass to the beat of the song. I was having a drink with a buddy of mine by one of the pillars near the dance floor and I think we were talking about The Prestige because we had just both seen it, but I kept looking over at that chick near the back, finally noticing her boyfriend or whatever—his head was lulled back and he started to kind of guide her ass with his hands and she was moving different. Like she wasn’t dancing anymore. I squinted and walked about three paces to the right to get a better angle...he had his dick pulled through the little mouse-hole on his boxers and was banging her…right there in the open. Couldn’t believe it. That’s why it would never work as fiction. I didn’t buy it and I was right there.
PG: Yeah - that's definitely one of those things you hear about and wish you could witness it. You pretty much always assume that it's just a story though. I did watch a girl get fingered on a dance floor before. Not quite as cool though.
BT: I kinda wish I hadn’t. It was horribly sobering and I had already dropped at least $50 or so at the bar.
PG: Ok, make me look like the perv then…
BT: You’re welcome?
PG: When you sit down to write, do you have a plan? Do you outline? How far ahead are you thinking?
BT: My outlining is minimal. I don’t even know if you could call it outlining. It’s a bunch of random lines of dialogue and notations on a legal pad that don’t make any sense unless you know what the story is about. That’s what I go off when I sit down to work, though.
PG: So basically you have the end in site when you sit down to write. And you know where you’re starting. It’s the middle area that you’re “discovering.”
BT: I have it Mapquested in my head, but sometimes Mapquest gives bad directions and you have to get off a couple exits later and turn around.
PG: You are one of those people that schedule your writing time. You say it's one of your keys to being successful in this. What's your schedule like?
BT: Everyday for at least six hours…and I’ll crank that up to around eight or so on weekends. Lots of coffee. Lots of cigarettes.
I know it sounds like I’m simplifying it, but if you’re a writer that only writes when it’s convenient or when you feel like it, you’re never going to get anything done. If you can’t do something as simple as sitting down and focusing, you’re not cut out for it. Publishers don’t want to work with a lazy writer, even if they’re good.
PG: So every day for at least six hours you’re writing. What's the process like? Do you have a routine?
BT: I absolutely need strong coffee, cigarettes, and music with no vocals. Soundtracks and movie scores are good for that. You really can’t go wrong with Clint Mansell. I should write him a thank you note.
As far as the actual writing, I edit as I go along. I’ll hack up one sentence for two hours if I have to. There’s a lot of reading and re-reading. It’s a very slow, methodical process and I hardly ever go over two pages in a session.
Some writers do that 10K in a day bullshit…and I guess that’s fine if you like being able to tell people, “Hey, I ripped out 10,000 words today,” but that’s when they actually read what they wrote and realize that it’s either a huge pile of shit or they’ve got a long road of editing ahead. It’s simply impossible to put out that much quantity in that short amount of time and have it be any good. Writing a novel is not a sprint, it’s a marathon.
PG: Then I take it you’re not a fan of NaNoWriMo?
BT: I’m in agreement with its intentions. It’s the execution that I’m absolutely against. I understand Chuck’s whole “shitting out the lump of coal” thing, but there’s a difference between a piece of shit and a puddle of diarrhea. You can’t work with diarrhea. It’s messy, sloppy writing for the sake of high output.
PG: When you interviewed Joe McGinniss Jr., you said that your girlfriend is the first person to read your stuff. Stephen King has Tabitha. Is she honest? Or is she glowing with praise no matter what? I find that with my writing, everybody is glowing with praise all the time, and I know I'm not that good. (Laughs).
BT: Well, her initial reaction is always positive, and then I have to sort of dig around for the flaws that I suspect might be there. Not the technical stuff, but the actual story and whether certain things played well or not. There’s this piece I did about Tinkerbell on Lexapro that I still haven’t gotten quite right, but she was completely forthcoming about the ending being too abrupt.
PG: Is Dr. Croutons (your dog) getting worried that once the book is published you won't have time for her?
BT: Dr. Croutons is getting a sister this February after I get back from D.C. so she’ll stop whining at my feet when I’m trying to write. I guess I should plug it here that I’ll be at The Velvet Lounge on February 3rd, reading with Joe McGinniss Jr., Jillian Weise, and a slew of other great authors. During happy hour, of course, so feel free to comp us some drinks.
PG: One of you guys should just get plowed and yell at the audience like Bukowski. At least it’ll be memorable.
BT: That would either be myself or Sonbert.
PG: With your next book you should be getting an advance. Can I borrow $100? I swear I’ll only use it to buy drinks.
BT: I guess I could write it off as philanthropy.
PG: Oh! One last question – Which envelope would you choose? (book reference)
BT: I gotta go with the red envelope, man.
PG: Thanks, Brandon. Great talkin’ to you.
BT: Likewise. Have a good one, man. I’m back to work.
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