Once in a while a new author will come around with a debut novel that makes you sit up a little straighter and take notice. Michael Kazepis is one of those rare authors. His debut, Long Lost Dog of It, was published by Broken River Books and got the kind of attention that ensures a second book is coming. However, Kazepis is doing much more with his time than working on his sophomore effort, Nothing Crown, which will be out very soon; he’s getting his own imprint under the Broken River Books umbrella, King Shot Press. Although it was recently announced, KSP is ready to roll and already told the world what’s coming in the first wave: a collection by Cody Goodfellow, Chris Lambert’s debut novel, and another collection by Eric Nelson. With so much going on, I decided it was time to get weird with Michael Kazepis and talk hustle, cartoons, LLDOI, and pancakes.
GI: The golden age of indie lit is here, but there’s also a ton of crap out there. Now that King Shot Press is a thing instead of an idea, how are you planning on not sucking? What do you hope to contribute?
MK: There’s an abundance of talented folks out there, this much is true, and it’s easier than ever to publish books, to start a press—but who’s hiding the readers? Much of the indie scene runs on an engine of writer-readers that are hoping someone will answer the door they’re knocking on. They do the footwork, they buy the books and promote them to their friends. This reminds me those Amway-type compensation diagrams. Get two guys who get two guys who all want to be millionaires, who will buy the products or help you sell them. How sustainable is this? How long before people are looking at the disparity between their wallets and their aims, thinking “This isn’t working, I haven’t made it, no one’s paying attention.” I see some bubbles built on expectations where some are seeing This Golden Age of Indie Literature. This is especially true on Facebook, which has become something of an echo chamber for writers and publishers. Maybe I’m wrong, I hope I’m wrong.
But this is also means there’s opportunity. With much of the publishing world consolidating or collapsing, we can be innovators. Broken River is doing a solid job of this so far, I think, at retrofitting existing models, trying new ideas that aren’t yet proven, jettisoning what hasn’t worked or works too slowly. Lazy Fascist Press and Civil Coping Mechanisms are, too. We’re not in bookstores yet, but we’re all on shoestring, so print-on-demand allows us a certain flexibility we can leverage until that can change. I think David and I considered, very briefly, launching a second Kickstarter for the literary imprint, because this got him a lot of press in 2013, it got some people excited. But we’re going a different route. I’m co-financing the imprint with Broken River instead. We decided to make it more of a partnership than an editing gig.
I’ve already got the First Wave of writers lined up. The first one I announced was Strategies Against Nature by Cody Goodfellow, with what’s really a departure for him—he’s in the past been seen as a weird horror or bizarro author—this is his literary offering, almost seven years in the making. I mean, those same influences are still there, only more subtle. He’s one of the greatest of his generation of writers. The second book I picked up was Leverage by Eric Nelson, a writer I wasn’t aware of prior, but whose work I took one look at and said Yeah this one. The third of the launch titles is Chris Lambert’s Killer &Victim. I’d read an early incarnation of it years ago and immediately thought about it when I was considering what kinds of books I should put out. There are almost six months between now and March to get it right. In the meantime, I’m drafting and redrafting ideas for the Second Wave in my notebook. For summer 2015. I’ve already got one locked down for that.
GI: Your first novel, Long Lost Dog Of It, had a very long title. Why? Why no vampires? Why all them Greek words in there?
MK: The title comes from a Black Flag instrumental track, from Family Man, which is one of my favorite records. John Skipp wrote in his Fangoria review that it had “Face-of-God moments, without a speck of faith in God.” As corny as this might seem, I always read that title as Long Lost God Of It. That seemed fitting since most of the characters spend the novel searching or grieving. Here’s where it’s kind of circular: There is a vampire in the novel. Mara Junesong’s character was inspired by Rudy Pasko from Skipp & Spector’s The Light at the End. It’s that same emptiness in her. So it made my year that Skipp liked my book enough to review it, and did so glowingly in a magazine I picked up regularly as a teenager.
I actually cut down a lot of the native language—kept it to streets and surnames and common phrases—because I was afraid of going The Full McCarthy. What’s in the book is Greeklish, easy stuff. Some readers still think that’s too much. So where do you draw the line? I suppose I could have written a location like Argyroupoli by its translation, “Silver City,” instead. By that point, why not just set the story in the United States? Once you start compromising, it starts down the road of being a book someone else can write.
GI: LLDOI was superb and it put you on a lot of radars. Is the pressure on? Do you lose sleep over the next one being horrible? Do you cry thinking about the sophomore curse?
MK: I know I’ve been asked to submit to some anthologies because of it. This is my first post-release interview. Sure it’s popped up in Fangoria, Complex, some blogs. But no one’s been talking about the book in any one scene. I think the crime folks see me as a bizarro writer, the bizarro folks see me as a crime writer. Some of the horror guys that’ve read the book seem to like it because maybe they’re into David Lynch or because there’s some Weird Fiction influence there. It’s an unusual book. How do you market it? I’m not sure it’s neo-noir. Do we just call it Weird Crime? Alt Crime? I don’t know. But I think fiction like LLDOI, like J David Osborne’s Low Down Death Right Easy, Cody Goodfellow’s Repo Shark, much of Jeremy Robert Johnson’s We Live Inside You, these are the same genre of books. David James Keaton’s upcoming The Last Projector, too. And there’s been a coalition of readers steadily building around this stuff the last few years. Hopefully this will continue to spread.
Far as pressure goes, I’m not feeling anything external, no. There’s only this want to get the next book done on time. Make sure it’s as honest as it can be. It’s called Nothing Crown and it’s a road novel, it’s about a Palestinian teenager walking all the way to France with dreams of being a rapper. It’ll be out next spring.
GI: There’s a little something special coming with your next novel. Tell our lovely readers what it is and where you got the sweet idea from.
MK: We’re taking some chapters and letting other writers fuck with them. Think of a hip-hop record, the guest spots on it—‘featuring Artist’—we’re doing something like that. It’s my novel, but it also features J.S. Breukelaar, Tiffany Scandal, Axel Taiari, J David Osborne and Cody Goodfellow. Kind of a weird move, I know, but it’s a natural fit for this book. And I don’t want to say it’s never been done before, but I’ve never seen it before. I’ve seen tracklist chapters and B-sides in collections and such. This takes that further.
The idea came out of writing LLDOI. I was working on a scene and having a tough time of it. I sent it to Tiffany for input and she remixed it and added some bits she saw lacking. What came back was much better than where I started. We riffed on each other some more and built a potential throwaway scene into something that feels like the truest moment for a character. Always felt like that chapter heading needed “(ft. Tiffany Scandal)” attached to it.
GI: The novel’s release has been announced and the cover, by the great Matthew Revert, is out there. Is it weird to have a novel that’s already a thing but that’s also not all the way a thing yet? Am I making myself clear here? Potatoes?
MK: This happened with the last one and it’s happening with this one. Matthew Revert sends over a cover that’s nothing like I expected, because it’s better, and this really informs how the book takes shape. I don’t know if it’s a synesthetic thing or what, but I write and rewrite until the prose starts to match the color scheme. I really like having the art finished before the book is.
GI: If your yiayia could see you now and witness all that you have accomplished in this last year, what do you think she would say?
MK: My yiayia would say “get a good haircut and stop painting your arms” and she’d be right. I’d tell her Okay and disobey her wishes and she’d jokingly threaten me with a beating. When I was a child just learning to speak I was living with my grandparents on a farm south of Athens. My grandmother would invite the neighbors over and tell them to ask me what words I was learning. And she’d start laughing when I’d blurt out these equivalents to “cocksucker,” “wanker,” etc. My yiayia was like that, very sweet, often crude. Very clever. The de facto head of household. She was from a village in the Peloponnese and she was illiterate. My grandfather would narrate foreign soap operas for her so she could understand what was going on. They were married something like sixty years before her body gave out on her. I don’t believe in an afterlife—I believe all that’s left when we’re gone are the images we’ve burned into other people. The images of her in my head, right now they mostly repeat things she said long ago: “have more food, you’re too skinny,” “the next trip I take will be to the cemetery,” “stop painting your arms,” “Mihalaki mou, take care . . .”
GI: Rumor has it you cook a mean pancake. You live in Portland. I’ll be in Portland in November. Are you willing to go on the record saying you’re gonna hook me up with some breakfast?
MK: Tell you what. If you and I are in the same place and I’ve got access to a pan and some ingredients, you will get a fat stack. Bring your preferred syrup.
GI: Here’s a recycled question I ask all Broken River Books authors: how was your experience working with J David Osborne? How much grief did he give you and how much did you dish right back at him?
MK: David definitely earned his cut on that book. The experience was great in that I’ve known him long enough that we can speak in shorthand. He usually knows what I’m doing or trying to do. Aside from some plot suggestions early on and proofing, we were on the same page the majority of the time. The book you see is nearly identical to the version I turned in. You could more or less call it collaboration, because the way I write, a lot of my stuff is edited in real-time. Lots of feedback. Considering he was also editing Repo Shark at the time, the torture was disproportionate. He ate a lot of shit.
GI: Dolph Lundgren or Rutger Hauer?
MK: Rutger Hauer. That’s not even a comparison. Props to Lundgren for Johnny Mnemonic, though.
GI: Who would you like to see thrown naked and hogtied into a room full of Legos?
MK: Maybe ditch the restraints and invite the naked folks to help you build castles.
GI: Dudes who dress like Johnny Cash usually love cartoons. What’s your favorite cartoon?
MK: I wear a lot of dark colors because I don’t make much money. They’re usually the cheapest and easiest to keep matched when I have to replace something. Johnny Cash could afford all kinds of colors. What was his fucking excuse? Anyway, I always loved Transformers: The Movie. When Hot Rod lifts the Matrix and you hear Optimus speaking through it and it unlocks . . . oh yeah. But maybe Akira or the Voltron movie, which I think was just an edit of several episodes. I’m showing my age. These were VHS tapes I abused as a kid.
GI: If you could go back and talk to ten-years-ago Michael, what would you tell that broodster?
MK: Make more backups.
GI: If you had the opportunity to rewrite Predator 2 AND had access to an unlimited budget to remake the film, what changes would you make?
MK: In my version of the 1990s, Predator 2 would remain a simple detective story about serial killer in Los Angeles that turns out to be an alien that’s hunting men for sport. I would keep numbers out of the title. Treat it like the standalone it is. Maybe something functional that gets the premise across. Like Predator City. The script would have to be smarter, to address the fact that the audience knows what the killer is before the characters do. Get rid of that distracting, sweaty future stuff. Restructure the story to be bigger, better than Predator was—it’d be Apocalypse Now in the city. A natural progression of themes. It’d be three hours of cosmic terror, existential stuff. For fuck’s sake, we’re not alone in the universe! And Glover needs to act like the detective. Batman hunting down Kurtz. That’s how I’d frame it, anyway. But if you can’t do any of this, give the existing film some edits. New score, clean up the colors, trim it down. It’ll be most of the way there.
GI: A bunch of cool writers read Entropy; tell them what King Shot Press is looking for. When you’re done, tell them what it’s not looking for. Please refrain from using all caps. Thanks.
MK: King Shot Press is actually open for submissions from now until November 17, 2014. It’s the literary imprint of Broken River, so almost anything could potentially fit, but it’s got to fit me too. Characters are more important to me than concepts—think Cortázar over Borges. Sam Pink or Scott McClanahan rather than, say, Blake Butler, though if you do your thing as well as he does, this isn’t a concrete rule. I can get into almost anything when the writing’s there. 30-70,000 words, preferably. No hard genre fiction. Contact us through “kingshotpress at gmail dot com.” Extra points if you’ve got a sense of humor.