Michael Seidlinger joins us to talk about his new book, Falter Kingdom, and the celebratory roadtrip he took to nowhere in particular.
About ‘Falter Kingdom’
Hunter Warden just wants some peace and quiet. He wants to watch unboxing videos and be lulled to sleep by the monotone voices and smooth talking YouTube hosts. He wants his parents that are always working to either totally leave him alone or be around for once. After a few beers, Hunter decides to get away from it all and go for a run in Falter Kingdom.
When you run the gauntlet at Falter Kingdom, a tunnel next to a park on the outskirts of suburbia where local high school kids go to drink and smoke, one of two things can happen — nothing or you catch a demon.
The cold spots, locked doors, scratches on the wall, and disappearing laptop immediately alert Hunter to the fact that a demon is haunting him. He knows the signs, he’s seen the videos of people that are possessed, and everyone knows someone that has had to get an exorcism. Hunter knows that he should get rid of it, but he can’t help but enjoy the company of “H,” despite this demon’s sinister intentions.
What the road to nowhere looks like by Michael Seidlinger
Transparency — your life online revealed as it happens, effectively embracing all aspects of social media as a platform for a curated broadcast or journal. It’s not so much the act of creating a persona as it is the revealing of oneself to the point of comfort. One could say I’m a proponent of utilizing social media in such a manner.
It’s ever-present and always there — the 24/7 cycle of social media — and if you’re like me, it’s as much a touchstone as any other part of your daily routine. So when I knew the publication date of Falter Kingdom, my latest book, and my first YA novel, was fast approaching, I knew I needed to celebrate its launch much like I’ve done with past books:
For The Fun We’ve Had, I lived in an airport for 48 hours, keeping in constant contact via a steady stream of posting and tweeting to those that followed my activity (or inactivity). I relinquished free will to social media for a weekend when The Strangest published, posting prompts from which many commented, voted, and inevitably lured me into taking random boat-rides, doing ballet (I am not a ballet dancer), and even coloring my hair near platinum blonde (my natural hair color being jet black).
I’ve found the performance aspect to be curiously invigorating, and wholly embedded in the principles of transparency.
Another demonstration is a series tied to my own independent press, Civil Coping Mechanisms/Entropy (CCM), and its authors. Dubbed #7daysofcoping, the first week of every calendar month, one author is given free reign of the press Twitter account as well as its community blog, Enclave. The idea is: allow the author to demonstrate transparency within their own brand.
I was worn down from work, moving to a new city, and a myriad of other life-related distractions. It didn’t help that the writing wasn’t going very well, something that always added more pressure than an escape. It was in this “wanting out” from responsibility that the idea of the road trip to nowhere came to fruition. During one of our frequent Skype meetings discussing all manners of CCM/Entropy business, Janice Lee (editor-in-chief of the online magazine of the press/community, Entropy) and I joked about just getting into a car and driving away. No reason, no care.
As was usually the case, after chatting about it for a bit, it became something irresistible to me. I just couldn’t let it go. Since we didn’t have an author assigned to August’s #7daysofcoping, there seemed to be factors in play to make it happen. So under the guise of #7daysofcoping, and the release of Falter Kingdom, we set out early in the AM Friday August 5, 2016, just after dawn, from Los Angeles, heading north, with nothing definite except that I would be using my phone to keep in touch with the community of literary readers, writers, etc. that knew of our intentions.
Though part of the seven days (of coping) was spent documenting the planning and general activity leading up to the trip, much of it had become a transcript of the trip, which, due to time and financial constraints, could last a mere two days.
I anticipated the need to use prompts much like I had with the “free will” social media performative stunt last year, but as we inched to the three-hour mark of the road trip, various food location suggestions poured in via Facebook chat. I received a request for a pictorial of everyone in the car sitting in coffee shops writing, looking decidedly frustrated and “writerly.”
I woke up the morning of the first day, jetlagged and with only an hour or two of sleep, to messages preempting my expected exhaustion, which led to me posting a picture of myself sans hairspray, the opposite of what was expected of me from countless years of built-up daily social media activity. The reaction was mostly positive (thank God). The image was made into an emoji and loaded into Facebook, shared via comments on the very same photo post. I received requests about turning the trip into a Pokemon Go quest. Sprinkled throughout much of the first day’s interactions was the general question of “what exactly” and more so “where” we were headed.
When I told people “nowhere, unless you direct me where to go” it seemed only to encourage them further. There was talk of us going back down south, back to LA; I had one request to head to New Mexico, sweetened with the promise of a place to stay, lots of great food. “We’ll show you around. There’s a great community of writers here.” Such was the general tone of a number of discussions.
Though we wish we could have steered the car south, the distance between destinations and the time it takes to travel from one to the next never seemed so real and limiting. It simply wasn’t possible given the time we had to spend. We kept north and passed through Big Sur, falling into a temporary social media radio silence, which both travel partners, Janice and Zachary Jensen, editor of Angel City Review, had planned without telling me. They had joked about figuring out how to get me off my phone for at least an hour. They were able to manage three.
As evening fell, I received an alert from my phone warning me of having almost exceeded my data usage for the month (by the conclusion of the trip, I burned through approximately 12GB of data). I couldn’t help register the absurdity of it all: the act of a road trip to “get away” becoming more of an opportunity to be “absorbed by” the very thing I half-wanted a break from.
We stopped by Santa Cruz to walk around the boardwalk while I tried to figure out where, if anywhere, we’d be spending the night. We purposefully had nowhere planned to stay. If we didn’t find anywhere, we’d end up in a Walmart parking lot, snoozing in the car. However, upon posting a picture I took while in Big Sur, I received a number of different reactions, one of which came from Luke B. Goebel, author of Fourteen Stories, None of Them Are Yours (Fiction Collective 2). In a demonstration of sheer generosity, Goebel offered his cabin in Los Gatos, CA. Out of town and busy with his own endeavors, he rushed around on his end, calling up nearby neighbors to ensure, upon arrival, the cabin would be ready for us.
And it was — a remarkable and exceedingly relaxing place, perfect for writing. We had found a place to crash, all via the simplest of actions, a comment on a Facebook thread. We sat around discussing our own respective works-in-progress as well as that of our closest friends.
It set the tone for day two, which began much similar to the day before: with a desperate rush of responding to messages, sending more, and navigating the next city we would be visiting via those suggestions and requests. We met with Scott Esposito, a prominent book critic, publisher of Two Lines Press, and an author himself, of The Surrender (Anomalous Press). What initially began as a means of getting another caffeine fix turned into an act of urban exploration; Zachary knew of a nearby Geocache, so we went hunting. Finding the cache, we made sure to leave our mark, CCM/Entropy stickers and bookmarks added.
Navigating the busy, congested streets of San Francisco was no easy feat. While Janice and Zachary quarreled with directions and traffic, I sifted through our options. Between offers of free drinks, talk of heading into Oakland to check out a writer’s space, getting tacos somewhere in the Mission district, skateboarding around the Golden Gate Park’s Bison Paddock where I surely would have suffered some sort of injury, we opted for Chinatown where, first and foremost, on our mind were soup dumplings.
Book critic, author, and frequent contributor to Entropy, Linda Michel-Cassidy had dropped hints over the course of the trip of being welcome in Sausalito, CA, not too far from San Francisco and surely one we had tried to make the night before. Amid amazing artwork and handmade jewelry, we found ourselves spending the night in a spacious artist studio, complete with a film projector, stacks and stacks of books, coffee, tea, and pretty much anything we could have ever needed to keep awake during our late night viewing of Paris, Texas.
By now my mind had become mush, my voice hoarse, and some sort of cold was setting in. There really wasn’t supposed to be a third day, but that didn’t stop things from continuing. By midday, I went silent, passed out in the backseat of the car. We turned back the way we came, destination: Los Angeles. As we drove our final miles to finish out our three day getaway, I skimmed through 200+ posts, tweets, messages, texts, emails, and other forms of banter that had originated throughout #7daysofcoping. The hashtag had become a transcript of the trip’s passing.
I had expected to use prompts — sending out coordinates, taking GPS pictures of our locations — in order to navigate the nothingness. Instead, the community directed me. They directed us with their generosity, hospitality, enthusiasm, and intrigue in what was countless hours spent in a car for the sake of something impossible.
Impossible if only because our work lives would have continued, our presence online wouldn’t cease, and yet, something felt different. Sure, it was celebration for my new book, Falter Kingdom, and sure, it was all in the name of #7daysofcoping and transparency, but in the end, I returned to New York City feeling like I had finally seen something I hadn’t noticed before. There are so many people in this community I can truly, without a shred of a doubt, refer to as friends. Though it’s easy to call everyone online taking part in all-things literary on social media a “community,” I never fully understood the strength and vibrancy of its various personalities and how it can spill over into everyday life.
I never noticed it until now.
About the author
Michael J. Seidlinger is the author of a number of novels, including The Strangest, The Fun We’ve Had, and The Laughter of Strangers. He serves as Electric Literature‘s Book Reviews Editor as well as Publisher-in-Chief of Civil Coping Mechanisms, an indie press specializing in innovative fiction, nonfiction, and poetry.