Tao Lin Gchats About New Agent Bill Clegg and his Siddhartha-Inspired Next Novel

"I want it to be something I could almost memorize."

tao lin Tao Lin Gchats About New Agent Bill Clegg and his Siddhartha Inspired Next Novel

Tao Lin will have the superagent.

Last December, novelist Tao Lin published a to-do list for the year 2011 in Paper magazine.

“Gain literary agent representation from Bill Clegg for ‘120,000-word/concrete-literal memoir of Mar. 2009 to Dec. 2010 that uses real names and has a large, guidebook-like index,” one of the wish-list entries read.

He anticipated this happening in September, but it looks like Mr. Lin is a bit ahead of schedule. He announced today on Twitter, Tumblr, and Facebook that Mr. Clegg will indeed be representing him on his next novel — which may or may not be titled Siddhartha 2 — with plans of publishing it in 2013. A representative for the agent confirmed to The Observer that Mr. Clegg has taken on Tao Lin as a client. The author currently has a “~5000-word excerpt with a ~2000-word outline” and his agent will be selling the novel based on that.

The new representation is a big step up for the cult novelist. Mr. Clegg turned year-long benders of crack cocaine and male prostitutes into acclaimed memoir Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man,  and before that represented A-list novelists such as Nicole Krauss, Susan Choi and Nick Flynn.

We signed onto Gmail chat, the preferred mode of communication for Tao and the characters in his novel, to talk about the new book and hotshot agent. We condensed and edited it for clarity, just like a Paris Review Art of Fiction interview.

Tao:  hey

The Observer:  hey. so you have a third novel that you’re trying to sell. what’s it about?

Tao: let me load my outline really quick for reference

The Observer:  ok cool

Tao:  hey. my macbook ran out of batteries, plugged back in

The Observer:  oh ok

Tao:  The novel is autobiographical and begins in 2009 when the protagonist is 25. It spans ~2.5 years and is set in Taiwan, NYC, Las Vegas. It contains a marriage, somewhat extreme recreational drug usage, parents, a book tour. It’s written in a Lorrie Moore-esque prose style but denser, like my first story-collection but more refined. The protagonist in my 3rd novel experiences Siddhartha-like unhappiness and confusion. I feel attracted to titling it Siddhartha 2 but I’m not sure yet, I feel aversion toward that title in some ways.

The Observer:  Congrats on the new agent! when did you and bill get together

Tao:  I read and liked Bill Clegg’s memoir last year and emailed him saying I liked it. He said he had read RICHARD YATES. He ended up doing a guest review of it on Amazon.

The ObserverYes, I read that review. He really liked it. I also read that you wanted to make a documentary about Bill Clegg. What was the idea behind that? Is it still happening?

Tao: My wife [novelist Megan Boyle] and I wanted to make a documentary about Bill Clegg. I think he said (modestly) that we could find someone more interesting to make a documentary about. I still feel interested in making a documentary about him. The idea behind it was just to follow him around for an amount of time and edit it into a documentary.

The Observer:  Yes. I think that would make for an interesting documentary. So about your new book. It sounds like the most ambitious thing you’ve done so far.

Tao:  It’ll be more difficult to satisfactorily write than any of my previous books, I think. But I like writing in this style. If forced to describe the novel by comparing it to other things I’d say it’s a combination of Lorrie Moore’s prose style and tone, Bret Easton Ellis’ sort of reckless and drug-using characters, and Siddhartha’s continually unsuccessful, earnest attempts at some kind of peace or transcendence.

Tao:  i have ~20 min

The Observer:  OK. The references to Siddhartha are somewhat surprising, or at least I can’t remember you mentioning it as an inspiration before. It makes sense, though. Did you reread it recently? The cult of that book has always intrigued me.

Tao:  I read it for the first time something like a year ago and really liked it, was affected by it. I was surprised. I had thought it would be different, that the protagonist wouldn’t be so confused/lost.

The Observer:  Right. You mentioned immediately that this novel is autobiographical, but your last two novels were as well, no? Does the story of this one stay even closer to exact events in your life?

Tao:  Hm, I think the events/order will still, as in my previous two books, be secondary to what I want the novel’s overall effect to be—it’s not a memoir, and I’m willing to change events/ordering and am just using my memory as a gigantic, like 10,000,000 word, first draft—but my previous two books were concrete/literal and this book will be more abstract and have passages where I’m just like writing sentences about my feelings and thoughts, in a philosophic/lyrical manner, and those sentences will be pretty strictly just directly what I’m thinking/feeling, though in a worked-on form.

The Observer:  About Bill Clegg. He’s a major literary agent, and well-known for his memoir. He’ll probably sell your book to a major publishing house. Do you worry that you’re alienating fans? Will they accuse you of “selling out?” On your facebook, Alec Niedenthal said “dude, where is your ‘indie spirit’… just self-publish and title it Bill Clegg.

Tao:  When I finished my first story-collection, BED, in 2005, my goal was to sell it for like at least $20,000 so I could not have a job. I had agent interest from two agents. One was Curtis Sittenfeld’s agent. For some reason I chose the other agent. He wasn’t able to sell BED, which Melville House ended up publishing for a $1000 advance. Since then, since 2005, I’ve had jobs or done things like sold shares in RICHARD YATES or stolen batteries to sell on eBay or borrowed money from strangers. My average income from writing, per year, 2006 to now, is probably something like $7000. I’m glad I will hopefully finally have money to focus more on writing.

Tao: i have time for 1 more question

The Observer: OK. When do you expect to finish the book? When do you think it will come out?

Tao:  I expect to finish it Fall 2012, I think if I finish it then it’ll come out in 2013, depending on what the publisher wants.

The Observer:  and how long do you think it will be?

Tao:  i want it to be short, Good Morning, Midnight or The Easter Parade-like, so between 50k and 60k words probably. I want it to be something I could almost memorize. okay, going afk [away from keyboard] now, will have iPhone if you have short follow-ups i will answer. thanks. good night.

The Observer:  good night? it’s 1:00. are you not in New York?

Tao:  in spain actually

The Observer:  that’s exciting. just for fun?

Tao:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3ylhmjSv7Zo

no, publisher invited me. okay, afk for real now. have a nice day

The Observer:  ok, bye tao


  1. anonybro says:


  2. megan boyle says:

    sweet ass 10,000,000 word memory ass

  3. Steveroggenbuck says:

    Nice interview

  4. My next book: @Tao_Lin accused of selling out to Bill Clegg. Crazed fan steals novel idea, writes book in style of Tao Lin, lands Clegg as his agent. Unconsolable, Tao dies of OD. 

  5. Tom Kohlhepp says:

    HA! I should have known a large portion of (well, anything) Tao Lin related would take Gchat form–though from the Observer, really? This just looks like lazy reporting mixed with a little fanboy syndrome to me; that aside, if I’m being perfectly honest, attempting a modern “Siddhartha 2” in a lyrical prose style sounds awfully ambitious, especially coming from Lin (who until a recent story of his I came across on “Vice” had me convinced he was just some kind of hipster mascot for ironic detachment). Loved Clegg’s memoir as well, so I’m sure he sees something in the guy. Hesitantly committing to full-on excitement for 2013’s literary line-up. Praying for no Gchats. But one can only hope.

  6. Anonymous says:

    how has no one pointed out that you clearly must be on crack to be tao lin’s agent?

    1. Anonymous2 says:

       is there some secret information about tao lin that backs up this statement or is it just clegg-memoir joke, kinda curious

  7. Anonymous says:

    late 2012? the new tao lin gonna bring about the apocalypse y’all…

  8. Really wish Lin would give it a rest with the “stealing batteries” thing, especially in lieu of news of his new high profile agent. I mean, everyone’s gotta do what everyone’s gotta do, but it’s like every 3 out of 4 Tao Lin interviews talks about him selling batteries on eBay. It’s almost kind of funny because I’ve never heard of anyone selling or buying batteries from eBay. I know I’m totally ranting, but my Energizer and Duracell stocks have really taken a dive since 2007, hope this new agent deal ensures financial security for both Tao and myself.

    1. authenthich nhat hanh says:

       Stealing $10,000 worth of batteries seems pretty sweet in a subversively zany way, honestly glad that tao talks about it, seems like something he should be proud of.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Between all the crack these two are smoking (literally), I don’t see how any work gets done at all. Didn’t know selfish rock star druggie culture had infiltrated literature too.

  10. nick says:

    balls deep, broheeeem!

  11. lol says:

    clicked the link through to read clegg’s guest review and amazon says “richard yates” is unavailable…it is…out of print? weird/lol

    1. Sucksfortao says:

      It says available in 1 to 3 months. Sucks for Tao.

      1. Ken says:

        Seems kinda crazy for it to notbe available like that

      2. Shawn says:

        Small presses (Melville House) often just don´t have the cash to have books constantly be in print. It´s pretty standard, I think. It´ll be good for Tao Lin to get some better distribution. I´m happy for him. Loved Clegg´s memoir also. This is all very exciting to me.

      3. Anonymous says:

        I feel like this is just plain bad business. A business exists so it can provide services for customers. I really don’t get independent presses not pulling their weight with distribution, what with their audiences being (guessing here, but have a pretty good hunch) us downloading/pirating savvy youngsters. Such an obvious oversight!

      4. ebookadvocate says:

        kinda a good strategy to get people to buy the ebook and they probably make more $$$ from that

  12. Jjjjjjjjji says:

    interesting combo

  13. Interseted Person says:

    So did Clegg sell his book yet? Who’s got the scoop? What the fuck is happening?