An Interview With NYTYRANT In Four Parts

Giancarlo DiTrapano is the founder and editor of TYRANT BOOKS and New York Tyrant Magazine. He is also a good friend of Tao Lin, who I was trying to interview about Taipei last fall. I was studying abroad in Argentina at the time, and Tao was supposed to come to Buenos Aires for a screening of Mumblecore, but because of Hurricane Sandy and poor planning, he ‘flaked’ on the trip, posting nearly 50 Facebook statuses about his ‘flaking’. He also ‘flaked’ on our interview and an essay for n+1. Tao recommended that I interview Gian instead, so we made plans to meet up when I returned to New York in December. My first night back in the city, Gian emailed me that he was going to be traveling, so that night would be our only opportunity to meet. We agreed that he would come over with Tao. When they showed up, Gian did a few lines of an unknown substance off the table. He went to the bathroom to vomit, and when he got back, announced that he had ‘broken the toilet.’ Unfortunately, the results of that interview were mostly unusable. Over the past few weeks, we did this second interview via email with Mira Gonzalez also asking questions.

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PART I — TAO LIN

TC: How did you and Tao meet?

GD: At some reading. I arrived as one of the writers was in the middle of vocalizing what they had written in quiet. I tried to be quiet as well. I sat down in an empty seat across the table from Tao. Remaining quiet, I typed ‘hi tao’ on the Notes app of my iPhone and then slid the phone across the table in front of him. He picked my phone up, smiled, typed something, then slid it back to me. He’d typed ‘sip.’ I think it had auto-corrected ‘sup.’ We had met before that maybe, but I feel like that was our official meeting.

TC: What were your first opinions of Tao? Are they different than your opinions of him now?

GD: I think my first opinions of him were, “Jesus, this guy’s name and writing are everywhere,” and it was maybe too much for me and annoyed me. Tao’s presence online was almost invasive. I don’t think I gave him a fair chance though. I’d flipped through his early books and dismissed it without reason. Once I read Richard Yates, I was enamored with Tao. He seemed so full of love and kindness, like some kind of tender alien that’s entered my life. I think highly of him now… yeah, that’s it, I think highly of… so yeah my opinion has changed.

TC: Would you ever have sex with Tao?

GD: If he were to gain a hundred pounds, I probably would. I really like chubby Asian guys. They’re extremely soft. I already love Tao so much as a person though, it’s probably a good thing I am not sexually attracted to him. It would ruin our friendship. I could probably kiss him. When we first met, I always hugged him at hello and goodbye, which I don’t think he was thrilled with. Now it’s so that he initiates the hug (though maybe to get it out of the way).

TC: Have you ever been to Bareburger with Tao?

GD: Yes.

TC: Have you read Taipei yet?

GD: Yes.

TC: What was your experience reading Taipei?

GD: I fucking loved it. Read it straight through, I think. I think it deserves a Pulitzer.

TC: A lot of people seem to think that Tao puts on an ‘autistic’ front as part of his mystique. Do you think he’s faking it?

GD: Faking something fulltime like that seems like it would be exhausting. I don’t think he’s faking anything. I don’t think he acts autistic either. But I don’t really even know what autism is, to be honest. I notice when Tao is around a lot of people, he seems more quiet or something, and often sits alone. But a lot of people are like that. When it’s just him and me, or like 5 or 6 of us, he just seems like any other normal person. He came over to my place the other day and we walked out to the river and sat on a bench and looked out at the river and talked and had a really nice time. We saw the Space Shuttle where it’s parked on the Intrepid. I tweeted him once that we needed to hijack that thing.

TC: Do you think Tao is using less drugs on this book tour than he has in the past?

GD: I don’t know.

TC: How much of your relationship with Tao is based on drugs?

GD: The beginnings definitely were, but so many friendships start that way. Same with drinking, or anything in which two people share a common interest. Tao and I became friends by scoring drugs for each other, then we started texting about our drug purchases and use with a humorous and enjoyable nonchalance regarding “overdoing it” and our possible deaths. Death, as the only unavoidable event in all of our lives, doesn’t deserve the respect it receives or the fear it instills. I think I get along with Tao because he has a similar posture as me towards life and death. At least I think we do. It’s possible that we don’t.

TC: In Taipei, the protagonist, Paul, says that he only cares about friends as a way to find a girlfriend. Do you feel like this is what Tao thinks? If it is, how has that affected your friendship?

GD: I don’t think Tao feels like this. Or maybe he does, I’ve never asked him. It doesn’t seem like our friendship is a means to meeting a girl through me though.

TC: What are some differences between your drug use and Tao’s?

GD: Tao seems to like Adderall a lot and I never do that because it doesn’t affect me. I’m like immune to it or something. I think Tao likes to attain intense focus with Adderall and I am like the opposite of that. I use drugs to become unfocused, to blow off steam. I think I drink a lot more than Tao does, and since I’ve gotten older, I get really tired after drinking a few so if I want to stay out I have to have a bump or two. But we probably have some neutral grounds like with painkillers and MDMA. I think we both do those just to feel nice.

PART II – NEW YORK TYRANT

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TC: Why did you want to get into publishing?

GD: I thought I had better taste than the people who were doing it when I started.

TC: How did you get your start?

GD: I interned at FSG and realized I needed to start my own shit. I was doing coke all day every day at their offices and was getting the day’s work done in an hour. And since I was done, I started leaving early. So they fired me. (N.B. I was the first intern without a resume to be hired at FSG. I went to the interview with no sleep and talked about Faulkner with Peggy Miller for an hour which I guess secured my internship.

TC: Where do you find the authors you publish on TYRANT?

GD: I find them by word of mouth and suggestions from friends whose tastes I trust.

TC: What kinds of things do you and Blake Butler do when you hang out?

GD: Drink and talk. He’s always trying to get me to play Magick with him or Fantasy Football, but I don’t like those games.

TC: Can you explain the name NY TYRANT?

GD: When I was starting Tyrant, and had been thinking of a name for it, I was walking through the countryside drunk one day in Italy and went inside an old barn to escape a hail storm. I fell asleep on the ground and dreamt it. “NEW YORK TYRANT” in exploding lights, like in Boogie Nights how Marky Mark sees DIRK DIGGLER in his mind. That’s how it came to me. I later noticed that the letters TRN found in the word TyRaNt, can also be found in that order in my last name diTRapaNo. That may be coincidence though.

TC: How did you and Scott McClanahan meet?

GD: Meth lab. Then a methadone clinic. But first I saw a youtube clip of him reading the story “Kidney Stones” and recognized the Appalachia in his voice. (I grew up in West Virginia, an hour drive from where Scott did.) I knew immediately that we would soon meet and become close friends and that I would publish him. And all of that has happened.

TC: What do you think about Marie Calloway’s story “Jeremy Lin”? Do you think that she was attacking Tao? Did you feel like you sided with either character?

GD: I like Jeremy Lin. I don’t think she was attacking Tao, but just being honest about her experience. I don’t think that story shows Tao in a bad light.

TC: How did you and Marie decide on the cover for her book?

GD: I asked what she wanted the cover to be and her first idea was to shoot her in front of a hotel (I forget which one). Then she decided on a portrait. I hired a photographer and we did the shoot and she chose the images. I wanted Marie (as I want all of my writers) to be included in every step of the book’s production, so that she might have a good experience publishing with Tyrant. But I think I failed this time.

TC: Do you consider yourself a feminist?

GD: No, because I don’t even know what that means exactly. I believe the Etruscans had it right. But gender politics, and most politics in general, interest me very little. Some people tend to get so wrapped up in the political texts, that they no longer know how to communicate sans academe.

TC: What do you think about ‘alt lit’?

GD: It’s just a name someone put on something. And a bad name at that. Alt? Sounds like Screaming Trees (respect) at its best. At its worst I give you… Toad the Wet Sprocket. “Alt” though is short for alternative, nay? And shouldn’t all writing, each book, be considered an alternative to every other book. Not all books are like this. Some are a lot like others. But if every writer has a unique life experience and a wholly original angle from which to look in on at things, then why aren’t books so different from one another?

TC: Who do you think are some of the best unknown writers?

GD: Kristen Iskandrian, Jimmy Chen, Lorian Long, The Kid Mero, Lord Crunkington, Hob Broun, Desus, Liam Adams (or @Aurist)

TC: What do you look for in a book? Do you have any criteria for ‘good’ writing?

GD: I have no idea. It either interests me or it doesn’t.

TC: What is the next thing you’re looking to publish?

GD: The Collected Works of Hob Broun.

TC: It feels like Tyrant is growing a lot; you’ve hired a publicist and you’re publishing way more books, are you trying to expand?

GD: No, I’m not trying to grow. I can’t. My books are consistent and that is because it comes from one person. When an editorial vision gets divided, it waters down. Plus, I don’t have the space. I live and work from my studio. I just want to stay the size that I am. Yes, I use publicists but that’s just because I finally learned that you can’t really sell any books without a good one.

TC: Do you have a favorite book that you’ve published?

GD: Can’t answer this one. Too many egos to hurt. But yes, I do.

TC: It seems like most of the New York publishing world respects you a lot. Has it always been like that?

GD: I don’t know. Kind of. It was weird. I put out two issues and all of a sudden, Tyrant was the mag everyone wanted a story in. But, also, I think I got associated with Lish early on and that caused people to pay more attention to me. In the beginning, Lish was a great help to me in suggesting writers to seek out. Yeah, I think that’s the reason for the respect. People think that because I know Lish, that I know how to do what he has done as an editor. I know next to nothing.

TC: What is your relationship with Gordon Lish like? Are you guys close? Do you have any good stories about him?

GD: Gordon is a friend and good man. We are not close, but he does call me sweetheart and darling. I once went to his place and ended up having to be carried out of there. I always keep composure, but there was something about that night. I got so drunk that I started spinning and had to lie down. I remember the silhouette of Lish bringing me cold damp washcloths and wiping my brow with them. Very kind of him. As soon as I could stand, I excused myself for the night so I wouldn’t puke all over his apartment.

TC: How did you become a contributor for the Paris Review? What has it been like working with Lorin Stein?

GD: Lorin Stein is an old friend of mine. When he took the Paris Review over, he asked me to write for them. Some things got published, some didn’t. As for working with Lorin, I have never had an experience like it. He is a true editor who can bring the best out of your writing. It’s an amazing experience, really. Compared to him, I don’t even consider myself an editor.

PART III – PORN, DRUGS, AND DYING

TC: Do you ever look at straight porn?

GD: Yes.

TC: What kind of porn do you look at, what are your favorite sites?

GD: I like to look at chubby older men with chubby hands. Preferably Italian or Japanese. I like beards and bald heads. I don’t like super-obese men. They have to be proportionate body-wise. They have to look like they might have been a model for a sculptor during the Italian Renaissance. I like bellies. Some men are just born to be big. You can tell by their faces. Those are the ones I like. Straight porn is fine with me, as long as the woman isn’t faking a bunch of loud screams. I don’t mind someone being verbal, but they have to mean it. Fake ass porn talk is like nails on a chalkboard and it wilts my boner. Jonathan Ames has a story where he mentions how only men make that little happy sound when they are fellating someone. This is very true, and I like that sound.

My favorite sites are samsonvideo.tv, chubold.com, and chubvideos.com.

If you go here, you can see all of my favorites from xtube.com.

(I apologize in advance for blowing your minds/making you sick.)

TC: Have you always been attracted to chubs, or is this a recent thing?

GD: Since I was little, I always thought that certain men (older chubby guys with happy faces) looked interesting and fun to me. But I never sexualized them, until I finally did have sex with one. Then I realized that this was what I liked more than anything else. It was like a moment of clarity.

Chubby, jovial men look like Gods to me. And I see God in them and it draws me to them sexually. It’s also the soft-looking features. I can almost break down my sexuality geometrically. I like round things. I like soft. I am a non-confrontational person, and I think this has an effect on my sexuality. But also, there is a thrill chasing a man who could easily snap your neck and kill you. Fat guys are strong. They are constantly weight lifting, if you think about it.

TC: Do you consider yourself depressed?

GD: Sometimes I get depressed, yes. But only when I’m alone. I never take my depression out with me and I try to talk about it very little. I just stay in bed until it passes. I also think my depression is just an intense recharge for the next time I see friends. When I go out, I like to have a fun time, and I think I’ve gotten good at that. I am pretty fun. I’m probably the most fun person to hang out with in the whole city. But that takes energy, so I gather that energy from bouts of depression in my bed.

TC: Do you believe the universe is inherently good or evil?

GD: I don’t know about the universe, but people are mostly good. Nature VS. Nurture though, I believe in nature. Some people are born as bad seeds and people never change. They only learn how to lie to appear to have changed.

TC: Are you afraid of dying?

GD: A hundred times no.

TC: What is your least favorite drug?

GD: Meth.

TC: If you could only use one drug for the rest of your life what would it be?

GD: Percocet.

TC: Are you afraid of dying?

GD: A million times no.

TC: Have you ever been addicted to anything?

GD: I have always been attracted to everything that gives pleasure to the senses, but I have learned to keep things in control. I happen to be really good at drinking and doing drugs. I never go over the line and have always been able to keep my composure (that’s why that night at Lish’s was so weird). I have healthy relationships, I don’t steal. I think I’m a good person. I just don’t like to let things get out of hand. They have before. It just takes a strong reining in of the black horse. My dad used to say to me, “Keep your wits about you,” when I would go out on the weekends in high school. That kind of stuck with me.

You have to decide something early in life: Are you good or bad at drugs and drinking? If you’re bad, you can’t do them. But if you’re good at them, and have control, and they don’t fuck up your life and relationships, then you must take advantage of your fortunate fate.

TC: What do you think is the relationship between your drug use and the art you make?

GD: I don’t really make art. I like to get high and play the piano though. And those things go really well together. If I’m writing an article or something, I need weed to think.

TC: When you play piano, what do you play?

GD: I can’t read music and I don’t know which notes are which. I just write songs and play them.

TC: Last December Tao was tweeting that he was going to ‘rehab himself’ in Taipei. Do you think that rehab facilities are effective?

GD: They can be effective. You have to have a certain kind of mind for them to work though. I think if you’re too smart, rehabs can be a waste of time. If you’re too smart though, you better be smart enough to know that you have to pull the reins in on the drinking and drugging so that you can continue to drink and drug for the rest of your life. That thought always keeps me in check. I love to drink and I love to get high. Why would I put myself in the position where I would never be able to do either of those things again?

TC: How do you think you’ll die?

GD: Long and gay story, but I have had a sort of “vision” of my death many times. It happens in the driveway of my family’s place in Italy. And in this vision it’s night time and cold and I am flat on my back on the stone ground, dead. Then I float up into the sky but there is a huge hole (that looks like it was made by a giant star-shaped cookie cutter) in my chest that I can feel cold night air pass through as I float up into the night sky. So, I’m guessing that means I’ll die from a heart attack.

TC: How do you think Tao will die?

GD: From old age, while tweeting something sweet.

TC: Which president would be the most fun to do cocaine with?

GD: Obama, or Teddy Roosevelt if he got horny from the coke and wanted my face in his lap.

TC: Do you think we will see weed legalized across America in our lifetime?

GD: Yes.

TC: What do you consider to be your worst drug experience?

GD: Watching a friend go through a really bad acid trip. He was in the corner all night with eyes wide open as could be and he wouldn’t say anything. He just looked at us like we were going to kill him. And he was shaking. The acid was very strong. It was the size of four blotters and had an image of the bird Woodstock crying. The dealer said, “Don’t eat the whole thing, split it in fours.” Of course we ignored him and took the whole things. My friend just snapped on it though. That night sucked. He was my best friend and died in a car crash a year or so after.

PART IV – GIANCARLO DITRAPANO

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TC: Do you have plans to write a novel?

GD: No. I don’t have the desire to. Writing really bores me. I don’t understand how anyone can do it. I write for money, and sometimes for fun, but I feel like my life is my book. I’m satisfied by just living it, without writing it down.

TC: What were you like at my age (21)? Did you use drugs, were you attracted to women?

GD: I was in college and yeah I smoked pot and did acid and shrooms and ecstasy and coke and drank a lot. I had a girlfriend at the time, but that was the year I slept with my first man and went full-systems fag.

TC: Did you have an interest in literature at all back then?

GD: Yeah, I used to read non-stop. Classics. All of them. A lot of philosophy too. I didn’t read anything contemporary until I was like 20. I think it was Donald Antrim who got me into reading current lit. I don’t read a 10th as much as I used to though.

TC: Who are your favorite authors?

GD: Joseph Conrad, Marie Calloway, Stanley Elkin, Eugene Marten, Clarice Lispector, Lillian Hellmann, Truman Capote, Christopher Kennedy, Jason Schwartz, John Cheever, Noy Holland.

TC: Do you consider yourself a superstitious person? (re: vision of your death, naming Tyrant, etc.)?

GD: Not really. I’ll knock on wood, but it ends there.

TC: What’s your favorite food?

GD: Two fried eggs over medium, bacon, toast, orange juice.

TC: Are you from Italy? How did you end up in West Virginia?

GD: My grandfather came from Italy at age 14 to West Virginia to work in the coal mines and raise a family. My dad was his oldest son and stayed in WV working as a lawyer and raised me and my siblings in Charleston. I left when I was 18.

TC: Have you ever fought anyone?

GD: I’ve gotten beat up a lot. Once when I was a 12-year-old skater, this big redneck beat my mouth in just because I had a skateboard. I got knocked out. All of my gums were red for a month. It was weird. I also got jumped by three guys in Dublin. One had brass knuckles. I got knocked out that time too. They stole my wallet. My friends found me afterward arguing with a bouncer about him not letting me into the pub. Blood from my face was squirting on the bouncer. My friends put me in an ambulance. The hole in my face was on my bottom lip and my teeth came through my lip and made a big hole. I could stick my tongue out through the hole in my bottom lip.

TC: Can you describe your daily routine?

GD: I wake up and sit at my desk until I have lunch with my boyfriend who lives a block away and also works at home. Then I sit back at my desk for some more. I also move to my bed a lot during the day. I quit doing Tyrant shit around 6 and then I make plans to eat with my boyfriend again or I go out with friends.

TC: What were your parents like?

GD: They are still alive and they are the best people I know. The most forgiving, the most generous, they are saints. They’ve been through a lot. They know what’s going on.

TC: Have you ever been to jail?

GD: Yeah but just for a couple hours until my friend could come prove the motorbike they arrested me on was his and not stolen by me.

TC: What kind of music do you listen to?

GD: Among other things, I listen to an album called L’amour by an artist named Lewis. Very rare. Here are links to his very interesting story and album download.

TC: Do you want children?

GD: No. Maybe when I’m old and rich though and could afford a troop of nannies. Taking care of a dog is a big enough responsibility, I can’t imagine having to take care of a human baby. TC mark

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