One word: Kei$ha. What the literary world needs right now are writers with dollar signs in their names. Or something. I mean, I want a dollar sign in my name. Since a student once unknowingly referred to me as Prof. Leslie Nielson, I’ve been pondering Ne$tle as a possible version of this moniker. It smacks of chocolate sauce and money or chocolate covered money or money to buy lots of chocolate—all good associations for a writer to cultivate! People like chocolaty money. Thus, perhaps this would mean more sales. Chocolate could become my shtick.
“Earnest.” That’s a good word to describe many of the literary goings-on these days. We wring our hands about the state of literature (fiction, poetry, fill in the blank). We fret so about the lack of readers. We tremble at the thought of a bookless future. Even the “ironic” writers are, beneath the POMO games, earnest.
Whither the literary Lady Gaga? Lady Didion? Lady Oates? I’m not sure how a meat dress would come across in an AWP panel, but it would be an improvement upon the usual mustard yellow sun-dress, henna, Birkenstocks and collection of tasteful hipster piercings and ankle tats. We need a writer with a name like Madonna—one word, something in-your-face and heretical.
We can do better; we can advance our “success” (however one might measure these things). What we need is more swagger, not more fretting. As a group, writers tend to be self-effacing, solitary types. We shy away from the limelight. We retreat into our zones of comfort. Let’s consider the music industry as a better model—a model that not only has swagger but builds upon a certain tongue-in-cheekness that the literary world often lacks.
Brass tacks: at this juncture in literary history most writers are writing for friends and family and other writers. It’s become a closed circle. The sooner we admit this brute fact, the better off we’ll be. This has been the case in the plastic arts for decades. Let’s not wallow in denial.
Speaking of hipsters: another route we could go in getting our swag on would involve using the Indie rock model. Here monosyllabic plays best—Beck, Feist, Smog. You want a name which you can’t easily forget. I’m personally obsessed with the name “Smog.” I had the pleasure of seeing him—real name Bill Callahan—in a Washington D.C. dive last summer. He recently dropped the Smog tag and went with Bill Callahan—decidedly less catchy. So there is a void in the ironic/hipster name department which some lucky writer could fill. May I suggest “Detritus”? It has all that grimy authenticity, without the L.A. connotations. If you want to go nautical this-and-that, “Jetsam” would also be an adequate substitute.
My point is this: the literary world needs some buzz, something else to add excitement to a fast-aging medium aside from David Foster Wallacy footnotes, excess profanity, and pinot-grigio-and-brie-heavy readings spurring on scintillating rounds of Words with Friends (but little exchange of literary book matter).
In the 50s Time would feature articles on Mailer or Roth or Updike. Back in the day mass media paid attention to what writers did, deemed us “important.” Now we are far less important than the latest World of Warcraft rip-off. When I started my writing career I never thought I’d be outdone by videogames. Back in the day publishers were awash in money and bookstores were plentiful. Now—I kid you not—the best bookstore in my zip code is Goodwill (they have two bookshelves of used books). Now writers have to be their own P.R. department. So 99.9% of writers are not making money; not successful; not on the cultural radar. Might as well have some fun at least.
Feel free to contact me with alternate moniker possibilities—with or without dollar signs. Until then, don’t pay attention to Amazon sales rankings (lest you become an online gambling addict—see Ted “Hella” Heller’s latest novel for allusion).
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Nathan Leslie’s six books of fiction include Madre, Believers and Drivers. He is also the author of Night Sweat, a poetry collection. His first novel will be published by Atticus Books later this year. His short stories, essays and poems have appeared in many literary magazines including Boulevard, Shenandoah, North American Review, and Cimarron Review. He was series editor for The Best of the Web anthology 2008 and 2009 (Dzanc Books) and edited fiction for Pedestal Magazine for five years. His website is www.nathanleslie.com.