The interview below was conducted in the wee hours of the morning (from 1 to 4 AM) on the bed of Tao Lin, in his apartment on the east side of Manhattan, with a small party going on in the other corner of the room. Tao and I later tightened a few things up through email. This is the first, definitive interview with the author after finishing his novel, Taipei, which will be released this spring from Vintage.
PART I: ANNE SEXTON
VICE: Were you happier before, during, or after writing Taipei?
Tao Lin: I think… after.
During… I got into a routine of doing like 80 to 120 milligrams of Adderall and not sleeping for like 36 hours. Then using Xanax or Klonopin and eating, then sleeping for like 12 hours, or not sleeping another night and using more Adderall. Which mostly felt bad, like a constant state of desperation, thinking the novel was incoherent. And I would have days without Adderall, so that it would still work, but it gradually worked less—and on those days I would just eat and use Percocet or whatever I had and be zombielike, then sleep. Wait, did you say you didn’t want drugs in this?
Well, I was saying maybe we won’t mention them since we’ve done that so much already but it doesn’t matter. What were you reading while writing Taipei?
I was rereading Fernando Pessoa and Schopenhauer. I had eBooks of different editions of their stuff on my iPhone. I mostly read eBooks off my iPhone. I remember reading Elizabeth Wurtzel’s memoir, More, Now, Again, about her trying to write a book while using a lot of Ritalin and feeling interested because it was like what I was doing. Except she was writing a nonfiction book and rich enough to move to Florida to focus on her book. I was writing an autobiographical novel and borrowing from strangers on Twitter. When she described her worst times, like going into a shopping mall and feeling insane from Ritalin, I was like, “shit, that’s… normal, for me.”
When would you read? Before you wrote?
Mostly after. Like when I couldn’t work anymore and wanted to be asleep but my heart would be beating really fast. I remember thinking I was probably going to die of a heart attack… and [long pause] another book I read… it was a biography about… what’s that poet who killed herself?
The other one.
It’s a famous one? I don’t know.
Well, I read her biography and it was really depressing. She was committing suicide but not dying, and people were afraid to be genuine with her because anything might cause another suicide attempt. But people were afraid that she might sense them being not genuine… so it was just, like, impossible to be her friend. Then she finally killed herself. Reading was kind of my form of social interaction for like a year. I hung out like once a month, like I’d go to an event with you, but mostly had no IRL interactions.
Can you think of any books that directly affected the writing you did for Taipei?
For a while, because I felt like horrible about everything I was writing, whenever I read anything—even things by me, from my other books—I’d be like “that seems good, I should do it like that.” And desperately try to change the tone and prose style of my entire book, while viewing it as an unfixable piece of shit, compared to whatever I’d just read. I remember reading half a sentence of a Gore Vidal novel, like the first five words, and closing the book and feeling convinced that I must rewrite my novel in the tone and style of the five words I had just read… I was in a constant state of desperation about what choices to make in my book, except for like the two hours each day when I was peaking on Adderall. I used ecstasy a few times when I didn’t have Adderall, to get into a mental state where everything didn’t seem horrible.
Why write at all?
Well, I’ll talk about this book: why did I write this book. I was just barely making enough money… I don’t remember how. Oh, probably mostly off royalty checks every six months, and writing for Thought Catalog and other places, and selling art. The checks were getting smaller every time, and I think, at some point, Richard Yates and Bed became unavailable on Amazon and currently still are unavailable, except as eBooks, which I think means those books are out-of-print, so not in bookstores. So I was going to need to do something for money. I emailed Bill Clegg, who had reviewed Richard Yates positively for Amazon, and asked if he would be interested in trying to sell 20 pages and an outline of my next novel, and he was, and he did. So I got one-third of a $50,000 advance, and a timeframe, to write my third novel.
You know how certain writers are like, “I have to write. If I didn’t write, I’d die.” Do you feel that? That if you couldn’t write you’d die?
No, I never got that. I’ve never gotten the thing like “it’s a voice inside of me” or when writers say they start with an image, then try to figure out what it means, and like the image just “came to them,” so they really want to find out what it means… I’ve never related to that. And I think I view myself as always writing, like nonstop, because I view thinking and talking—because they use language, the same language as writing—as forms of writing.
Do you have another book contract?
How much money would it have to be for?
Not that much, I don’t think.
Like not as much as you were paid for this one?
If someone were offering $50,000 for another novel, I’d do it. I would like that.