Crumlish/Asher: Writings From the Web

Double Feature: Bill Ectric Interviews Christian Crumlish and Levi Asher
Levi Asher, a Web Developer for various
corporations,  lives in Queens, New York.
He created
Literary Kicks, one of the oldest
literary blogs on the internet. Besides
co-editing
Coffeehouse, Levi's credits
include
Action Poetry (an anthology) ,
Tiger's Milk (a poetry chapbook),  Summer
of the Mets (
a novel), a primitive digital
video, Notes From Underground.
The ubiquitous Christian Crumlish is a writer  
and consultant living in Oakland, California with
his partner Briggs and his cat Fraidy. He calls
himself  "xian"  for short. He is the co-editor of  
Coffeehouse, Writings From the Web, the author
of
The Power of Many, and publisher  of the
Mediajunkie blog network.
Bill, to Xian: I've heard it said that self-publishing thru one of the print-on-demand   
publishers, like Lulu or iUniverse, is bad because (they say) once you do   that, "a major
publisher won't touch you." This sounds illogical. I would think that a major publisher
would pick up any book they thought would sell,   just like the major music labels pick
up indie CDs. What's the deal?

Xian: I think it all depends. It's true that publishers and agents want to see fresh
material and don't want to deal with copyright complications or issues of whether first
serial rights are still available, but there are also many cases of books that sell many
copies via self-publishing or print-on-demand services and then end up getting picked
up by major publishers for second printings or second editions.

Bill, to Xian: To a person who is new to blogging, the scene can be very confusing. I
mean, some blogs are really collections of links to other blogs and/or websites, or
collections of quotes, and then these quotes have clickable text that reference still
another source - sometimes I don't even know who I'm replying to. Is this something
one eventually gets used to?

Xian: Yes, but it is truly confusing at first. One issue is that on the web, context is fluid
and many people have trouble knowing "where" they "are." Add to this that many blogs
use similar default templates and that blogs encourage that classic alpha-wave
flow-state in-the-zone experience of free associating and drifting from an original path,
and you have a recipe for confusion. But most of us learn to like it and if we don't then
maybe blogs ain't for us.

Bill, to Levi: I read your story about meeting Allen Ginsberg. At one point, you say, "I
raised my hand and attempted to impress him by tying in Descartes' proof of the
existence of God to one of Blake's lines, just for the hell of it, but Ginsberg didn't seem
especially impressed."
What was the line from Blake and how did it relate to Descartes?

Levi: I wish I knew what his Blake quote had been. The book was "Songs of
Experience/Songs of Innocence" -- a big ancient illustrated book that he laid out on a
table in the center of the classroom.  I remember that the Descartes concept I was
referring to was that it would be impossible to conceive of God if God didn't exist.  
Blake must have said something similar to this.  I'm sure I was just trying to impress
Ginsberg with the fact that I am smarter than the average Brooklyn College undergrad
student (which is in fact questionable).

Bill: Did you get the Moby Dick tattoo before or after you tried to impress Ginsberg
with your knowledge of Melville?

Levi: I got my Moby Dick tattoo on my 40th birthday, 11/18/2001. I took my three kids
to the tattoo parlor with me, and it was quite a fun day.  So, this was several years
after I met Ginsberg. I think he would have been impressed by the tattoo, but I also
don't think his affection for Melville is as great as mine. He's more of a Whitman/Blake
guy.  I'm more of a Melville/Dostoevsky guy. I think the photograph of a tattoo of a
tiger on the cover of my poetry chapbook Tiger's Milk would have impressed him more,
especially if I told him it was a "tyger" a la Blake.
Bill, to Xian: You must be incredibly busy. How do you find the time to keep up all this
blogging as well as your other projects?

Xian: I am incredibly busy and it's difficult to keep up with everything. These days my
consulting work takes up so much of my time that I am struggling to continue writing
my novel ("For You, The Stars"), I am hardly ever practicing my ukulele, and I've given up
painting entirely at least for the time being.

Bill: The book you edited with Levi Asher, Coffeehouse, is dedicated to Allen Ginsberg.
Did you ever meet Ginsberg?

Xian: No, I never did, but Levi did. He told him about his site, Literary Kicks, and
Ginsberg either had a hard time hearing him or didn't understand what he meant by
"kicks" although the word, I believe, comes from Kerouac and the Beat-transmitted
slang of the 50s.

Bill: What was it about Ginsberg that led to the book dedication?

Xian: He had just died and he was an inspiration to both of us. Levi and I met online
through a mutual interest in the Beats. He was more into Kerouac and I was more into
Burroughs but we both agreed on Ginsberg. My first webzine, Enterzone, was named
partly in homage to Burroughs' "Interzone," and Levi was one of our regular
contributors. Another Beat-fan online in those days was Mal Humes, and the three-way
dialogue among us in email eventually turned into a mailing list called "antiweb" that
still exists.

Bill, to Levi: Levi, can you elaborate on what it is you like about Melville and Moby
Dick. Why, for example, did you not get a "beat" tattoo of some sort?

Levi: I really overdosed on the beats as a result of the launch of LitKicks.  I finally
concluded that I like Kerouac, Corso and some of Ginsberg and that's about it.  My
devotion to beat literature is way overestimated by others. I like Melville because he
tried to capture the totality of existence in the form of the book "Moby Dick".  
Whether or not he succeeded, I respect him for trying.

Bill, to Xian: I like your book, The Power of Many. I read some reviews of it on Amazon.
com and of course, there are mixed opinions. One criticism was that you “used too
many personal experiences throughout the book� (Betty Burks). The thing is, I
believe that’s one of the secrets of good writing, going from the general to the
specific; focusing on something. So I like the fact that you did that.

Xian: Thanks, me too. You can't please everyone. Interestingly, when Levi and I were
editing Coffeehouse, we had written these intros / forewords that drew on our
personal experiences. I write something about seeing a Meters show at Tramps in New
York and making eye contact with the guitarist (Brian Stolz) and having an epiphany
about how the stage was being leveled and creators and audiences were becoming
(again?) peers. And the publisher objected to the personal POV and told us to make the
book less about ourselves and more general. Oh well.

Bill: I would like to hear your comment on the following statement by Mr. A. Pomeroy.
He says, “Ten, fifty years from now, a few people will wonder why the internet
didn't amount to more; just as today, people wonder why television or radio didn't
amount to more than just entertainment, why the telephone didn't amount to more
than just people talking about the weather or their day at work.�

Xian: Perhaps. I think more likely 50 years from now the Internet will be so deeply
embedded in everything we do that it will be entirely taken for granted. I may think
this because I'm reading a book now called Everyware that's about ubiquitous
computing.

Bill: I have to add one thing that I really kind of expected to hear in your reply:
Telephone and TV are important. People call the fire department, the police, and
paramedics on the phone. People call their congressmen. People talk to their relatives
from far away. Television debates changed history (Nixon & Kennedy was the first). We
saw the Vietnam War, the body bags, the protesters. I think TV is more than just
entertainment.

Xian: Which begs the question, what was he expecting from telephones? Of course i am
disappointed not to have a jetpack by now, but that is swiftly becoming a cliche.

Bill: Come to think of it, why can't we have jet packs? It doesn't really seem fair. Do
you think perhaps Levi Asher has a jet pack that he's not telling anyone about, and
that's how he gets around to all those literary events?

Xian: That would explain a lot.

Bill, to Levi: Crumlish and I think you have a jet pack. We could be wrong. We could be
right. Either way, I think you need to come clean.  

Levi: But Bill, I go to like four literary events a year.  I'm hardly the man about town.
There is no jet pack. There is a 98 Saturn that needs new tires and an oil change, and
that's about all there is.

Xian: Really! I have a 98 Saturn, too!
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