Images v. Rhetoric: An interview with Mike Young

This is part five of an interview series focusing on how the Internet is changing/improving/destroying the “indie lit” world. Interviews will feature writers, editors, designers and other artists with a web presence. I recently spoke with Mike Young over gmail chat. Some spelling has been corrected and time stamps have been removed but abbreviations and line breaks have been preserved to give an ~accurate account of what conducting an interview online looks like.

Other interviews in this series include conversations with xTxDJ BerndtFrank Hinton and Stephen Tully Dierks.

Mike Young is the author of the short story collection Look! Look! Feathers and the poetry collection We Are All Good if They Try Hard Enough. Young edits Magic Helicopter Press and is one of the founding editors of NOÖ Journal.
Mike Young: hey Frances
Frances Dinger: hi Mike
How are you? How was the rest of the tour?
Mike: I am doing pretty well, back in Massachusetts, trying to catch up on work.
The rest of the tour was great.
Lots of amazing people, great drives, I-5 was very kind to us, there was briefly a beach motel evacuation but no tsunami in our neck of the woods.
Frances: Well, I’m glad you and Jamie [Iredell] didn’t get washed away.
Mike: Haha yeah, we got woken up at 7 in the morning but all we did was sit on a cliff and watch normal sized waves on a beautiful day.
Frances: Seems like a good reason to get up early.
Frances: So, I wanted to talk to you today mostly about NOÖ Journal. The NOÖ team seems to be using what I think seems to be the best model to make print sustainable in that you offer a completely different product online and in print.
So, do you want to start just by talking a little about the history of the journal? When it began in print did you and your co-founder know you wanted to eventually incorporate an online component?
Mike: Well, my friend kyle peterson and I started NOÖ in 2005 while we were both community college students at College of the Siskiyous in Weed, California. We were taking this acting class together and used to drive 30 minutes to get to it, so we’d have a lot of long conversations. Our original idea was something like a local political/social voices magazine, but I was just getting into online lit at the same and wanted to expand the idea of it beyond just a Shasta area thing.
So we conceived of having the free print issue and the issue also up in its entirety online.
As we kept doing the magazine and I sort of took over exclusively, the mission changed a little, and eventually it became this idea of a magazine that could introduce small press and indie lit stuff to audiences who weren’t aware of that in the most straightforward way: by being free.
We always have the full issues online too, so if people pick up the free mag and then go online, they can find links to the blogs of their favorite authors, maybe some extra content, etc.
Recently we started doing this NOÖ Weekly thing too, which is online-exclusive supplemental issues between big issues, all guest edited by someone different, to sort of expand the aesthetic community of the magazine and have a way to keep having new content even in between issues (since we only put out about two issues a year)
Sorry, that was kind of a waterfall of text, haha.
Frances: No, that was great, don’t apologize.
How do you choose the guest editors for NOÖ Weekly? or i guess, maybe that question is limiting. if this isn’t too broad, what kind of aesthetic diversity do you hope to create by choosing Noo Weekly’s guest editors?
Mike: Well, we mostly choose authors we’ve published in NOÖ. and we (i should mention my co-editor ryan call; he does a great job scouring for guest editors and helping with everything) often try to choose authors whose aesthetic tastes might diverge or expand the NOÖ “brand.” like friends who know a lot about canadian house music, you go to them for their picks rather than wading into the whole scene barefoot. i like the model of a place like la fovea or that mcsweeneys book of poets pickign poets, how the act of this aesthetic baton passing can spur aesthetic diversity while also highlighting the lineage of that diversity.
Frances: I like the phrase “aesthetic baton.”
Mike: A baton made of swirly lights and big lips.
Frances: You should make those and sell them to baton twirlers. good alternative funding for NOÖ maybe. not really though. but, NOÖ is free and, if this isn’t rude to ask, how is it funded?
Mike: haha, no it’s not rude to ask. we fund mostly out of my paycheck, but we do get a lot of awesome help from our rad poetry fundraising series. basically how it works is people send us any amount of money, and we write them a poem and make a video out of it: either of us reading the poem, or as the series has gone on of crazier iterations/imaginings. we are very grateful to all our donors. the only thing that could make that series better is if i would write poems faster. i try to do a good job with them, so sometimes it takes me a few months to finish the poem and make the video. not that it should take a few months to do a good job, just that i am a struggler and fingernail-gnawer.
Frances: on the note of fingernail-gnawing (temporarily moving away from NOÖ and to your own writing), at what point do you stop self-editing? your stories are tight and well constructed so i imagine a lot of editing goes into them. at what point do you have to make yourself step away?
Mike: thanks for saying so. I’d say you never really step away from them. even when I am reading the stories in Look! Look! Feathers, I notice stuff that I want to tinker with, that I want to angle a little. I think our sense of rhythm and our ears wobble a little depending on the day, so nothing is ever going to sound wholly on. But I also think of something I read somewhere once about writing a novel, which is that writing a novel is like trying to eat one of those rotisserie chickens you buy from the supermarket. You can pick and fuss but you can never really eat all there is to be eaten. Eventually you have to just give up.
I think there are a lot of funny problems with that analogy, like the idea of waste/conservation, and the whole eating a chicken thing, but I think it’s fun to think about because it’s kind of such a gross and violent analogy.
Frances: Yeah, it’s really greasy too. At the end you have to wash your hands.
Mike: When I was a kid my parents didn’t like to throw chicken bones in with the rest of the trash because they were worried about birds choking on them. So they put them in their own special little tied-up plastic bags.
Why the choking birds (or maybe it was dogs?) were more important than the chickens is a fair question, but hey, the snow outside is finally melting a little.
Frances: Where do your images come from? Has your writing always been image heavy?
Mike: Yesterday I was having a very frantic wonderful gmail chat with a few different people, and one of them mentioned mannequins tied to a bed, and that’s like the only thing I remember from the whole chat
I like images that are sort of unprocessable, at least on an immediate level
like images that transfix you, images that render you languageless for a little while
the sublime, etc.
I like harmony korine for this reason, dragging toy dolls around on dog leashes, spaghetti in the bathtub, etc.
and also this movie funky forest that I saw recently,
which is Japanese and i can’t even begin to describe.
I think when I was young my writing was more didactic but then i realized that was obnoxious
I think images are there to be shared; rhetoric is more a feeding process, which can be fine, but it’s less “in between” people, you know?
Frances: Yeah, I agree. Using images instead of rhetoric seems to imply the writer trusts to reader in many cases
Mike: Right, there has to be a space of trust for that “would you take a look at that” gesture.
Frances: Do you think there is a place for rhetoric in fiction/poetry/etc?
Mike: Oh yeah, sure, and I’m using these terms too sweepingly, by far. It’s more complicated than images vs. rhetoric, and there is for instance something really beautiful about the throttle of self-aware language, language that invites you to participate in the spectacle of itself rather than its ability to visit the senses. many of my favorite writers, I’d say, are out to make language its own image.
But I think a lot about what Emmanuel Levinas and Martin Buber talk about, this idea of how do we get to communication that’s pre-language, how do we sanctify the face-to-face encounter, how can we make language mimic a state of being with each other in a language-less way (which seems like a paradox or something, which is exciting to me, the challenge and absurdity of that idea).
I mean, all rhetoric means is making choices in communication, so all it really means is that you’re aware other people exist, which I think is a very graceful place to start.
Frances: I don’t really know how to continue the discussion of choice of language, you seemed to sum it up really elegantly with that last statement so I am going to make a non-sequitur. What are your feelings about being a writer in this age of changing medium? I have asked almost every person in this interview series this, so for the sake of consistency and my own curiosity, what relationship do you see between print and electronic media?
Mike: You know, I have really grown up with electronic media in various forms, so I almost feel like I am unequipped to make an experienced comparison. Any comparison I make, or anybody my age makes, is sort of based on an academic (not in the school sense but in the learning sense) understanding of media history. Print and electronic media have always co-existed for me, and comfortably. When I was a kid my dad used to participate in BBS’s, which were pre-internet computer-to-computer networks, where people linked their individual nodes together and had discussions that spanned the network, etc. that was a lot of fun. I remember having a friend over and we were reading all these messages in the professional wrestling discussion area, and my friend was like “are these people real?” and I said “what do you mean?” and he said “isn’t it just one person somewhere typing all this in?”
The artifact of a book is pleasing and portable and an addictive technology. The possibilities of global networked communication are another thing entirely. I am really into publishing in electronic mediums, erasing hierarchies and gatekeepers, and at the same time I’m really into communities that curate for themselves, friends who respect each others’ tastes and sniffing abilities.
Everybody should just read clay shirky and danah boyd if they want the real scoop on how communication and socializing will evolve in this zany iEra.
Oh fuck, I can’t believe I just typed “iEra.”
Frances: hahaha, I have never heard that term before.
Mike: I think I just mildly invented it, and I am ashamed for doing so
Frances: No shame!
Frances: I am studying communications in college, people make up terms all the time in that field.
What excites you about being a writer in this era? or if era doesn’t matter, what compels you to write?
Mike: Sometimes (okay, all the time) when I am doing my laundry, I will be carrying this pillowcase full of laundry down the street, and I know people will look at me because it’s weird-looking, and so I will be singing, not very loud, but loud enough that if they were to want to hear me they could. I think this is my way of coping with death, maybe. But I also think that if it were just me alone in my bomb shelter with my cheese and peanut butter Ritz and filtered water then I would still maybe write to do something with the language that is constantly crowding my head. i think there is a great loneliness that comes from believing any utterance will save you from loneliness and it’s all sort of inescapable if that’s the brand of loneliness you’re riding on.
Frances: What projects are you working on now? like, what is the future of NOÖ and what is coming up with your own writing?
Mike: Right now, I’m focusing a lot on the two most recent books we’ve put out through magic helicopter, Jason Bredle’s book of poems SMILES OF THE UNSTOPPABLE and Ofelia Hunt’s novel TODAY & TOMORROW. Jason’s gonna be doing some readings on the east coast in late April. He’s sly and heartbreaking and all those beautiful things you want out of a poet. Today I’m sending out galleys for Ofelia’s novel T&T, which is a weird and violent and amazing book. Plus, as you prolly know, we’re putting out a great collaborative e-book of poems by Ana C and Richard Chiem called OH NO EVERYTHING IS WET NOW, which is gonna be full of videos and multimedia splendor.
As far as my own stuff goes, I’m working on a novel, I think, called DEAR USER, which is in the form of a long notification of account termination letter to a youtube user who’s been watching too much weird porn on their youtube account, except the letter turns into this weird personal narrative of the youtube employee who’s writing it.
Frances: oh, right. sorry i forgot to ask about magic hellicopter.
Mike: It’s all good! we don’t want to overload your readers, haha
internet add
We should probably just replace this whole interview with GIFs of kittens eating disco balls.
Frances: Haha, yes. If you can supply, I will include that.
Mike: Reminds me of those fake kitten-as-bonsai-plants pics that were around the internet a few years ago
or the kitten sandwiches/kitten hot dogs
Mike: perfect!
so cute, so refreshing

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