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 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

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