Tao Lin‘s novels include Eeeee Eee Eeee (2007), Richard Yates (2010), and Taipei (2013). Lin is also the author of the novella Shoplifting from American Apparel (2009), the short-story collection Bed (2007), and two books of poetry: you are a little bit happier than i am (2006) and cognitive behavioral therapy (2008). His most recent offering is Selected Tweets (2015), a collaboration with poet–and upcoming Fiction Points interviewee–Mira Gonzalez. Lin is also founder and editor of the press MuuMuu House and cofounder, with writer and filmmaker Megan Boyle, of MDMAfilms, which has released Lin and Boyle’s features MDMA (2011) and Mumblecore (2011), as well as their documentary Bebe Zeva (2011). He has taught at Sarah Lawrence College and presented his work at, among other venues, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City. He has written for Vice, The Rumpus, and a variety of online publications and platforms. Lin holds a BA in journalism from New York University.
Two nuns and a penguin approach you at a bar, and you tell them you’re a writer. When they ask you what you write about, how do you answer?
If I feel like answering the nuns and penguin in a curt manner so they don’t feel encouraged to talk to me more, or if I feel not in the mood to try to define my writing in a sentence or few sentences—which is most of the time—I mumble something like “I don’t know” or “novels” or “myself”. If I feel like talking to the nuns and penguin, or if I am in a good mood and feeling garrulous, I answer something like “my next book is about Terence McKenna and psychedelic drugs and it’s called Beyond Existentialism” then start talking about that more depending on how they respond.
Points is a blog primarily for drug and alcohol historians. What do you think this audience would find most interesting about your work?
My first six books have very little drugs except caffeine.
My seventh book, a novel titled Taipei, has these drugs: Xanax, Klonopin, Valium, Adderall, Ritalin, Cocaine, Tylenol 3, Codeine, Percocet, Oxycodone, Hydrocodone, Heroin, Alcohol, Flexeril, Seroquel, Ambien, MDMA, MDA, LSD, Psilocybin mushrooms, Cannabis, Caffeine. Characters ingest those drugs and the narrator of the novel often states the exact amounts ingested and sometimes—in elaborate detail, sometimes—the effects. (I have a file I used while writing Taipei in which I indexed things like drugs and characters and themes and places.)
My eighth book, Selected Tweets, is a double-book that is half by Mira Gonzalez. Both halves of our books contain many drugs. Mira has tweets about smoking crack. I have tweets about teaching John Barth and Donald Barthelme on Xanax. Mira has many drug-dealer tweets. I have a series of tweets livetweeting a drug-dealer interaction. I highly recommend both these books to historians interested in drugs and alcohol. I haven’t written much about alcohol but Mira’s side of Selected Tweets has a lot of alcohol.
What led you to write about drugs and alcohol in the first place?
Using drugs and being interested in drugs.
How would you describe the way that drugs function in your work, whether in terms of thematic concerns or the choices you make about how to craft a narrative? Do you think there are things that you wouldn’t be able to explore as successfully if drugs weren’t in your writing arsenal?
In Taipei drugs cause the main character, Paul, to speak more and go outside more. Because of drugs, he is in more social situations, talking more and doing more things and becoming more intimate and more involved in more people’s lives in concrete reality, eventually becoming married. Drugs cause him to have some of the most intimate, direct, stimulating, moving conversations he’s ever had. Drugs also cause him to experience emotions, or the lack of emotions, more intensely. He feels emptier and more depressed and more zombielike and “fucked” than ever before due to drugs. He also feels more excited and happier and cleverer and more moved by existence than ever before due to drugs. Psychedelic drugs—psilocybin mushrooms and LSD—cause him to think and feel and view the world in ways he had never, in his entire life, done before. (Though, in Taipei, Paul is still unclear on the effects of psychedelic drugs, and is fascinated but in a confused way about them. When he uses cannabis in the novel he doesn’t enjoy it, is only confused and troubled and physically discomforted by it.)
What do you personally find most interesting about how drugs work in your writing, and where do you see that interest leading you in future projects?
I’m most interested in psychedelic drugs now. My next book is titled Beyond Existentialism and it’s focused on Terence McKenna, who strongly promoted psychedelic drugs derived from plants and plants containing psychedelic compounds—DMT and psilocybin mushrooms and cannabis were the ones he promoted most. I’m more interested in psychedelic drugs’ effects on my mind and non-writing behavior than on their effects specifically on my writing. In my next book, I’m most interested in the combined effect of McKenna’s ideas and my experiences with psychedelic drugs on my life and worldview. I had used psychedelic drugs before encountering McKenna’s ideas and had not been as excited about them as I was after encountering McKenna’s ideas on them.
BONUS QUESTION: Let’s hope that one of your novels or other work gets made into a major motion picture. If you have your choice, which is it, and what song do you fantasize about hearing as the credits roll?
I’m interested in Taipei being made into a major motion picture that is deadpan and humorous and bleak. I would enjoy hearing the first movement of Chopin’s third sonata played by Martha Argerich as the credits roll.