Sam Lipsyte is the author of Home Land, a novel The New York Times Book Review recently compared to Philip Roth's Portnoy's Complaint—and not just because masturbation is a leitmotif in the life of his protagonist, Lewis "Teabag" Miner.
Like Portnoy's, Home Land is at times laugh-out-loud funny and at other times uncomfortably truthful about the creepy thoughts creepy men—okay, men period—have.
But, heck, we're not book reviewers. We're... something else. So we decided to interview Lipsyte over IM. After the jump, the author talks about his book, the web's Wild West days, and the world of high-stakes masturbation contests.
gawker: Tell our readers who Teabag is, since not everyone has read your book Home Land, even though they probably should.
gawker: This is what we call a softball.
Lipsyte: Teabag, AKA Lewis Miner, is a guy in New Jersey who scrapes by with odd jobs and writes crazy updates to his high school alumni bulletin fifteen years after graduation.
Lipsyte: Out of the park!
gawker: Where did he come from? 'Cause his voice is so fully formed. I could literally hear him saying "Valley Cats" in my head for weeks after reading the book.
Lipsyte: He came from some strange grotto of my mind, man.
gawker: I guess an obvious question is, were you like Lewis in High School? Did you write an editorial on Why racism is bad for your school paper?
gawker:(God, maybe I should've prepared...)
Lipsyte: It's too late now. I think I probably did write something like that for my school paper. Otherwise, I wasn't really like Lewis. I think I had a similar sensibility, but less justified bitterness.
gawker:So, you had some trouble bringing this book out. Why do you think that was?
gawker: Now it's time for hardball!
Lipsyte: Yeah, I had some problems getting the book published in the US. It came out in the UK a year ago. Lots of people have theories about why it went down that way. Political, cultural climates, the nature of the industry. But ultimately, I just think a lot of publishing higher-ups didn't get it.
gawker: What's not to get about a dude who obsesses about high school, masturbates to legwarmer porn, and can't seem to hold a job or pay his rent on time?
gawker: Seems like a lot of people could identify.
Lipsyte: Maybe they didn't want to get it. I don't know. Like Hollywood producers, they think they have a bead on what people can handle and what they can't.
gawker: Speaking of, any interest in Home Land, the movie, or did Garden State kill the Depressed in New Jersey genre?
Lipsyte:Yeah, there's some interest. I think some people are going to try and do it. I probably can't talk more about it right now. I didn't see Garden State. Is it any good? I haven't been to the movies in a while.
Lipsyte How could they steal Rick Moody's title, though?
gawker: Have you been taking it on the road? What sort of response is it getting?
gawker: (Man.... Barbara Walters got nothin' on me!)
Lipsyte: I hope she doesn't. I went out on the road a few weeks ago. The response has been great. My last book tour was a few weeks after 9/11, so compared to that experience these readings have been incredible. Nice crowds, nice people in those crowds. The lit blog nation has been out in force, too.
gawker: Speaking of blogs, for those of us who think the internet was invented in 2003, you were an early adopter, writing for Feed. What do you think about what's out there now as compared to back in the day?
Lipsyte: Things were just more wild back in the day. Drugs, orgies, harder code. Actually, I never learned anything about computers; I just worked on writing and editing good stories for the culture section. But I saw some of the best web designers of my generation walking the Soho streets at dawn looking for an angry latte. I think what's out there now is great. I miss Feed and Suck and some other old-timey sites, but there's just a lot more stuff out there now.
gawker: Those Feedsters and Suckas have all moved onto pretty sweet gigs: I wonder if big media companies will ever allow that to happen again.
Lipsyte: Not with this technology.
gawker: Back to Home Land: tell me about 'The Kid,' since he's a very unsettling character. Is he Lewis' id, or is that pretentious horseshit?
gawker: Do I sound like the discussion questions your publisher put on the web now?
Lipsyte: Wow, nobody ever asks me about the Kid. I don't think it's pretentious horseshit to raise that possibility. He's certainly a part of Lewis. One reading of Home Land, of course, is none of the characters are real except the Kid.
Lipsyte: How's that for pretentious horseshit?
gawker: Let's just sketch him: he's the winner of the world masturbation championships.
gawker: Is that a metaphor for writing?
gawker: Lewis writes *a lot*.
Lipsyte He's sort of modeled on the old riverboat gambler, except he goes from town to town participating in high-stakes masturbation contests. He's the greatest professional masturbator of his time, his time being the decades after the Civil War. It's more a metaphor for jerking off.
gawker: Are you glad you didn't call the book "The Under Miner"?
gawker: Wow...now I'm scraping the bottom of the barrel.
Lipsyte: Yes, quite glad. Let's see. Why don't you ask me what I'm working on next?
gawker: Hey, Sam: What are you working on next?
Lipsyte: Fuck off, you prying bastard.
gawker: Is it a book about a scrappy young girl at a prep school?
gawker: 'Cause you could do worse...
Lipsyte: That was my big mistake. I should have written Prep.
gawker: Oh, I wasn't even thinking of that book....I was thinking of the book I'm working on. It's called Millicent the Magnificent.
Lipsyte: It sounds wonderful. Why don't you call it Garden State, though.
gawker: And that's what we call a callback! Thanks, Sam!
gawker: So, should I run this with all the meta crap?
Lipsyte: I don't know. Is any of it funny?
gawker: No. But no one's gonna read it anyway.
Lipsyte: Well, keep whatever's funny, get rid of the rest of the crap.
gawker: And I'll be sure to link to your publisher.
gawker: That's key.
Lipsyte: That's what it's all about, my friend.
gawker: And I'll say "Home Land Rules."
gawker: In fact, I'll make that the headline.
Lipsyte: How about "This Home Land is Your Land"?