“You are the Product,” by Nathan Leslie

May 9th, 2018 | By | Category: Fake Nonfiction, Prose

Why are you here? Strike that—you don’t have to answer that. It’s what’s called a rhetorical question, obvi. Also obvi: you came here for wisdom, for guidance, for that one little nugget of an insight which you can squirrel away and unleash upon the world in a big way. You came here with a plan, a tablet, a book rearing to go. Maybe it’s werewolves in space. Maybe it’s vampires meets Das BootDracula in a Submarine. Maybe it’s Bambi-grows-up-and-commits-Bambi-patricide. Turns cannibal.

I won’t guess.

You’re here in the fluorescent buzzing antiseptic room, furnished with cheap mass produced everything because you want to be humungous. You want to be naked on the Internet, going viral. Kimmy K times five. Who doesn’t? You want to be Tom Clancy on PCP. You want to be Harry Potter. You want readers in Nepal. You want to bathe in money. You want your words organized into Hollywood myth.

But we need separation, don’t we? We need to see how your Bambi werewolf vampire story is better than slash different than all the rest. Separation. Separation is the jangling key to glorification. Glorification is the clanking key to mythification. Mythification is the clinking clacking key to historical preservation.

Interlocking—like Lego pieces.

I’m here to tell you. And you. And you…the key to the keys is this: you. You. Are. The. Product. You are the product. Not the story. Not the characters. Not the book. Not the plot. Not even the cover. It’s all you.

My entrance into this world—the world that you and I entrance, the world of the word—my entrance was, as you may or not know, dinosaur sex. Dinosaur erotica. T-Rex orgies. Brontosaurus porn. Sauropod sixty nines. Everything you can imagine we do, dinosaurs did. Minus the lingerie, candles, Barry White and the vases of long stem roses. They went right for the gusto.

This is a domain which took an immense amount of imagination on my part. And research. Before I started I would’ve thought dinosaur penises were long and sharp, like spears, like tridents. But if I hadn’t believed in myself, in my art, I wouldn’t be here talking to you today. I had to realize that dinosaur threesomes were not the story. The story was—shocking, I know—me. The story was the story behind the actual story. The “platform” is everything. I knew dinosaurs because in a distant past life, I was a stegosaurus. You most likely were, also (they were quite common).

But even a good platform is not enough to become humongous. Succeed in your career and parlay that backflow into your writing. But you must, you must possess a good platform (former dinosaur, etc.), plus a go-getter mindset. You have to hit the streets. You have to cold call. You have to e-mail your old piano teacher, your cousin’s boyfriend’s mother’s sister. You have to tweet every five minutes. Twitter the shit out of everything. You have to be on Facebook posting about your project’s advancement every half-an-hour. Those are the metrics. Make the story of your book the story. Selfie your shit. Show a tit if you need to, blow an agent, wear cowboy boots and a pink feathered hat. Hand out post cards at truck stops. Become a spammer. Embrace the all!

There is no such thing as overexposure, no such thing as overdoing it. That argument is null and void.

There is also no such thing as bad press. Eat a live jellyfish. Streak through the high school parking lot. As long as they mention your name and your status as an author, you’re golden. You. Want. Eyes. On. You.

What is that buzz exactly, does anybody know? Is it the fluorescents? Is somebody’s Kindle about to explode? Well, let me know if anybody figures it out.

I actually didn’t begin with dinosaur sex, of course—nobody really does. I began writing restrained little stories featuring muslin and longing gazes and cobblestones and windswept plains. My first book, Sepia Dreamscape was, yes, self-published (nothing wrong with that!). But can you imagine! The horror. The horror! Yet were the stories less worthy as a result? Negative. Were the characters less acutely drawn than the latest New Yorker brilliance? Negative. Yet it only sold seventeen copies—and eight of those were to my mother-in-law.

I was mousy and of the mind that my readers should find me. Little did I know….

Then I tried my hand at magical realism, fabulism, whatever-you-want-to-call-it. Talking rocking chairs and television sets that walk the dogs and pillows stuffed with the innards of elves. You know, “imaginative.” I called the thing Gesticulations, Reverberations, and Mastications. “Everything is eating or eaten,” I said in my interview with Rainbow Express. But the collection only sold forty three copies—seventeen to my mother-in-law.

You might ask, why not try a novel? Well, that’s what I did. Nightmare on the Siberian Express was my great Russian work, which counted one thousand five hundred and sixty seven pages and featured two hundred and eighty one characters. It took me seven years to write, sold eighty three copies—thirty seven to my mother-in-law.

So. Not a winning strategy.

My marriage collapsed. My health declined. I lost my day job. All in the service of my art. Fuck art. Repeat after me.

I was in the library researching some kind of Flaubertian minutia on scoliosis for my fourth to-be self-published book when I came across an illustrated best-selling children’s book on dinosaurs. Voila, I thought. Just wrench that up a notch.

So I did. New job. Go to the gym five times a week and my doctor says I have the blood pressure of a nineteen year old. And I have a new fiancé, Dirk. Dirk—what a jerk.

This isn’t complicated, really. You go where the readers are. You broadcast your shit with a big-assed megaphone and you ignore the critics—they get their books for free.

I’ll be happy to stay and chat. I have all of my books for sale, of course (ha-ha-ha). And free fiction condoms, if you have a literary quickie planned. Each one features a line from a classic emblazoned along the shaft. And they work!

But don’t forget this: Words. They. Don’t.  Matter. Nobody cares. It’s all you. All the time. You.


Nathan Leslie’s ten books of short fiction include SibsThree Men and Root and Shoot. He is also the author of Night Sweat, a poetry collection. His first novel, The Tall Tale of Tommy Twice, was published by Atticus Books in 2012. Nathan also edited Best of the Web 2008 and Best of the Web 2009. His short stories, essays and poems have appeared in hundreds of literary magazines including BoulevardShenandoahNorth American ReviewSouth Dakota Review, and Cimarron Review. He was series editor for The Best of the Web anthology in both 2008 and 2009 (Dzanc Books) and edited fiction for Pedestal Magazine for many years. He was also the fiction co-editor for Slate, a fiction anthology. His work appeared in Best Small Fictions 2016. His website is www.nathanleslie.net

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