Tao Lin Asks, and Answers, Four Questions


Monday at 3pm  is the last chance to sign up for The Rumpus Book Club and receive Tao Lin’s new novel, Richard Yates, nearly a month ahead of its release date. Here are four questions, and four answers, about his newest work.

What was the writing process like for Richard Yates? How long did it take to write?

I wrote a short story in an early version of the final “prose style” of Richard Yates around February/March 2006. I began writing things that are in Richard Yates, in different form, though, some time around June 2006. I worked on it “idly” (1-4 hours a day 70-80% of days) until around March 2008 when I worked on it “pretty hard” (2-6 hours a day for 90% of days) until around August 2008 (at this point I had a “working” final draft, in that I felt the structure/length would be very similar to the published structure/length) when I sold shares in its royalties, gaining $12,000, and stopped working at my restaurant job, and worked on Richard Yates “very hard” (6-10 hours a day for 98% of days) until around October 2008, finishing what I felt at the time was a final draft (though knowing, to some degree, that I would work on it much more still). The next 15 months I worked on it 4-6 more times, each time 6-10 hours a day for 15-25 consecutive days. In mid-June I edited the advanced copy (“galley”) ~50 hours for 4 consecutive days. The final draft was completed some time in early July 2010. Thank you for being in The Rumpus Book Club, I’m excited about this.

Did you study any other books for guidance or inspiration while writing Richard Yates?

The End of The Story by Lydia Davis and The Easter Parade by Richard Yates. To a lesser degree, maybe, Good Morning, Midnight by Jean Rhys.

How would you summarize Richard Yates to potential readers if you didn’t write it but were a publicist paid to promote it?

In Richard Yates—Tao Lin’s second novel—22-year-old Haley Joel Osment, a writer living temporarily on Wall Street in Manhattan working part-time at a membership library on the Upper East Side meets, on the internet, 16-year-old Dakota Fanning, a high school student with a history of involvement with older men. After talking for hundreds of hours on Gmail chat, through email, and by phone Haley Joel Osment travels two hours by train to visit Dakota Fanning in rural New Jersey where they sit by the Delaware River and walk around and eat Chinese food. Haley Joel Osment says he doesn’t want to go back to New York City and that he feels happy in Dakota Fanning’s town, which he describes as “great weather, fucked people,” in part due to the number of people that “don’t have to go to school anymore” due to severe depression, according to Dakota Fanning, who says, with amounts of humor and self-awareness, that she herself is severely depressed but still has to go to school.

The next few months, in secret from Dakota Fanning’s mother, whom Dakota Fanning repeatedly lies to and whom they both “fear,” to some degree, Haley Joel Osment and Dakota Fanning visit each other dozens of times, with many “close calls” of being discovered. Finally, as the relationship begins to become quarrelsome, Dakota Fanning’s mother finds out about Haley Joel Osment and aggressively confronts him by phone before gradually welcoming his presence in her and Dakota Fanning’s lives, eventually inviting him to live with her and Dakota Fanning in their house, as his and Dakota Fanning’s relationship becomes increasingly fraught and out-of-control—the result, to some degree, of having naturally isolated themselves from their few friends and being already alienated from the adults in their lives—and begins to operate, to degrees neither of them have experienced before with another person, within a metaphysical context uninfluenced by most societal and cultural norms, resulting in a chronically lying and bulimic Dakota Fanning, an increasingly distrustful and confused Haley Joel Osment, and an overworked and screaming single-mother of two with a full-time job who, at one point, responds to a question from Dakota Fanning by saying that she doesn’t know the answer and that “[her] body is about to shut down.”

How do you view Richard Yates in terms of its seemingly autobiographical elements?

I view Richard Yates as something created to have a certain effect, and I wrote and edited it in service of that, using anything, ideally, as a means, regardless of whether it “really happened,” if certain people would think certain things about me, if it was “original” or not, if certain [anyone] would think [anything] about it, or [anything else]. Another way of saying that, I think, is that I try to focus on writing what I want to read. I try to focus on having the only influence on what and how I write be “what book/story/poem/essay with exactly what characteristics do I feel most strongly like I want to read right now?” ideally. I say “ideally” because I don’t view it as possible to be 100% uninfluenced by [a lot of things]. Also I think “what I want to read” changes, to some degree, every moment.

Tao Lin (b. 1983) is the author of novella Shoplifting from American Apparel (Melville House, Sept. 2009) and the forthcoming novel Richard Yates (Melville House, Spring 2010). He is the author of four other books and has a blog at http://heheheheheheheeheheheehehe.com/ and a store at http://www.taolinstore.com/. He lives in Brooklyn. More from this author →