One of our six Pushcart nominations, Ocean Vuong’s “Self-Portrait with Exit Wounds,” has won a Pushcart Prize and will be featured in the next Pushcart anthology. The poem first appeared in ASSARACUS ISSUE 08. Congratulations, Ocean!
In mere weeks, How to Kill Harry by Leigh Binder becomes the first novel and the first digital-exclusive, full-length eBook published by Sibling Rivalry Press. Recently, SRP Publisher Bryan Borland and Binder traded emails and discussed the release of the book, the novel’s appeal, and the transition from print to digital.
Bryan Borland: Well, well, well. If it isn’t Mr. Leigh Binder. I thought I smelled cigarettes and waning testosterone. Ya know, I realize I have no idea how to pronounce your name. Is it Leigh B-eye-der? As in, “I have dozens of love poems written about a certain, sexy publisher from Arkansas organized by date and kept in my three-ring binder.” Or is it “Ben-der.” As in, “I’ve been clean and sober for nearly ten minutes. I need to go on a bender.”
Leigh Binder: Yes, the troubling name thing. It’s Binder as in binding contract, as in all the very embarrassing things you make me do for your amusement, the stuff in small print I didn’t bother to look at. The first name is Leigh as in “Drop off the key Lee and set yourself free.” Something my wife says quite often when I start to whine.
And really B, there’s only one dozen poems about your sexy legs. It’s sad really, because of my heretofore-mentioned “waning testosterone,” my wife is thinking of trading me in for, coincidently, one dozen eBooks.
BB: Glad to finally know how to say your name! After all, I’ve “known” you quite a while, electronically speaking. We were both part of a pretty close-nit group of poets and writers who supported each other’s work through the blogosphere in 2008 and 2009, a time in which the publishing industry really frowned on the concept of posting one’s work on a personal website. I never bought into that idea and found that sharing my work online did a couple of things. It kept me writing regularly and gave me confidence in my identity and ability as a writer. We both still post new and unpublished work on occasion. Can you describe your experience as a writer who blogs? Has blogging your work impacted your writing and your career as a writer?
LB: Before I dared to venture into cyber-space, I used to carry all these notebooks around. It was ridiculous, something Kerouac did, so I figured I should do it too! I remember moving into my Seattle pad; not a stitch of furniture but all these god damn notebooks filled with several thousand poems from over twenty years, rejection letters and scribblings from the ludicrous question machine aka my mind. A lot of it was written in longhand or on a typewriter, before computers, let alone blogs. Man, the notebooks were lined up against the walls and accounted for what I considered my life. It was a seriously fucked-up moment. “Now, I realize” he says! Seriously, if you’re not careful, a writer’s life can become totally pathetic.
THEN ONE DAY BLOGGING COMETH… It was perfect! All your shit contained, backed up, dated, copy-written (in theory, anyway), all sorts of cool categories and ways to get your stuff out to the world so people could read it? I was in heaven.
The coolest part was how I ended up meeting all these great writers, yourself included (No, it wasn’t in my contract to say that), all doing the same thing I was doing. Hey don’t get me wrong, I was discerning. I was way too busy to sit around and read some of the stuff considered “good” writing by political pundits and apologists. The writers I tuned into were raw and unapologetic, shameless in the blatant exposure of their souls. You and your crowd B, that’s where I found awesome words being put down and relentlessly put up for scrutinizing. I scanned, typed, edited, posted, pasted and made ready for ejaculation into cyber-space, 1500 posts in two years. Sometimes I’d put out two or three poems or flash fiction a day. That became four books in a single year. It was an adventure in self-expression I didn’t think possible.
But blogs are more than posting and commenting. To the writer who has to get it out, will die if they aren’t pounding the keyboard, who don’t give a fuck whether someone reads their stuff because some things have to be addressed regardless of outcome, you know what I mean, you’ve been there; to those writers like myself, having a blog was the answer to every question back then.
BB: So, your lovely better half, Julie, wants to trade you in for a dozen eBooks. Technically, you’d still be in her life if she made the swap, considering SRP is re-issuing your 2010 novel, How to Kill Harry, as its first digital-exclusive novel. Why did you allow Harry, which you originally self-published and refer to as your child, to be reincarnated in this manner?
LB: There are two answers to your question. The first being, I’m a bad parent. I created my boy Harry, and said, “Okay kid, you’re on your own!” Sure, I sent off manuscripts to the big publishing houses but became impatient and self-published with good results. It’s funny; I never received more glowing rejection letters than from HTKH. They loved my writing style, but there was always something that bugged them; mostly content. Let’s face it, there’s death on every page of that book. Death isn’t exactly a subject traditional publishers like force fed to them by an unknown.
On the second part of your question, I believe in Harry’s story and the philosophy behind it. When you get past the murder, mayhem and abuse, you’re still left with questions about why you feel the way you do about tragedy; which was my intent. Being a huge Albert Camus fan (nobody made smoking look cooler!) I decided to write the second half of the book in the theater of the absurd to take the edge off. It’s been my experience we can never see past the questions we don’t fully understand. I needed to explore death. Then I needed to share my findings because I’m a writer, and then move on with life.
SRP has graciously allowed Harry to still ask the question… why? The format isn’t all that important really, so it was an easy decision when you presented the opportunity.
BB: You will always have the distinction of being the first novel published by SRP. But you hold another distinction. You’re the first straight man to be published by SRP. I mean, you’re not even a little bit gay (though you have complimented my legs to increase your royalty percentage). Why should SRP’s big gay following read a book by Leigh Binder?
LB: I love firsts, they’re so…virgin-esque. Ya know B, everyone dies. HTKH is a book that explores the possibility that life is defined by death. It brings to light how we move through those feelings of tragedy and loss and how it defines us.
Is life/death meaningless? It is to the dead. The living are left to wonder; some with guilt, some with fear, some with a sense of adventure. Yet like it or not, we all must deal with it at some point. Nothing is proven; everything is based on conjecture or faith. What do we do with that? What happens when faith is no longer enough? Sadly, Harry inherited the sins of the father and was forced to the gutter of existence, the place you meet your angels and demons at the same time, the place you truly understand that when it comes to death, you’re fucked so it might be smart to get some understanding.
The book was dedicated to “Anybody who ever needed a ride.” By that I meant, anyone with enough courage to consider taking a ride past daily (safe) routine and into the infinite unknown via seedy back streets and alleys, the place where the real outlaws and misfits live. A place I like to think SRP has built a home, or maybe in my case… a midnight mission.
From my POV that’s a lot of folks who should add How to Kill Harry to their cart. But then that’s just my biased opinion.
BB: Mr. Binder, when Hollywood comes calling (and makes us both rich by offering you a movie deal), who should land the lead role of Harry Fein?
LB: Harry in Hollywood??? Ha! That’s easy… Adrien Brody. I just want to hang outside his set trailer in my Rocky Balboa sweats and yell, “Aaaaadrieennnnn!!!”
BB: You’re insane. But I dig it. This might be a good time to tell you I’ve decided to release your book on Christmas Day rather than the contractually specified January 1, 2012.
LB: Really, Christmas Day? You know I’m Jewish, right?
BB: Ha. I think it’s perfectly appropriate to give them Mr. Leigh Binder for Christmas, all wrapped up with a red bow. After all, you’re part of SRP now. It’s all about pleasing the reader. And speaking of being part of SRP, please close this interview the way you’re contractually-obligated to close every interview…
LB: (Exactly how it reads in my contract) Bryan Borland is a sweltering, well-endowed steamroller of lust and passion. Also, Levi Johnson, if you are reading this, you are to immediately report to the Sibling Rivalry Press offices.
BB: Thanks, Binder. But next time, I expect you to have that last part memorized. It’s in your contract.