We’re Not All Dave Eggers: An Interview With Susan Tomaselli
3:AM: Tell us a little about yourself, and how you came to launch Dogmatika.
ST: I’m 31 and am familiar with the Dewey system. Everyone has a blog these days and all blogs are started for much the same reason I started Dogmatika I’d imagine — too much time on my hands and frustration with the lack of a real alternative in both the newspapers and bookshops. I don’t believe the novel is doomed, or that people are reading less — they’re reading in a different way and Dogmatika is part of that.
3:AM: Were you familiar with the litblog/litzine scene before starting Dogmatika?
ST: A little, but I’ve learned fast. I’d stumbled across sites like Spike and Bookmunch before Dogmatika, but there’s a wealth of material out there. I come across a host of new sites daily, many of which I fail to bookmark, but that’s part of the charm of the internet.
3:AM: When was Dogmatika launched? Why have so many new litzines appeared on this side of the Atlantic in the past couple of years?
ST: Dogmatika has been going since January 2005 — the first blog post was on Haruki Murakami. Posts in the early days averaged at a couple a week, book reviews were more erratic. From that it’s morphed into a monthly zine, with regular contributions from Darran Anderson, Dogmatika‘s poet-in-residence.
As to why the litzines have taken off in Europe, I’m not sure. There’s excellent coverage of the arts in European newspapers, but, as in the heyday of punk, the zines offer an alternative to what’s covered. It’s very American isn’t it, the need to talk about and promote oneself, though thankfully personal posts are kept to a minimum on the litblogs. Europeans are more likely to be reading books than writing about them, plus, let’s face it writing about literature is not going to make you the most popular thing on the net — music is far sexier. It’s as Kevin Williamson said on your site recently, blogs and zines are fast DIY publishing. The net is the perfect place for marginalised thinkers. I think the litzines this side of the Atlantic offer something different again from our American cousins.
ST: Dogmatika is an attempt — I do not know how successful — to create a space to discuss literature and wider culture. I don’t really see it as related to the litblog scene and hope that it does forge its own identity. There’s nothing wrong with the litblogs — some of them are great — but at the moment, Dogmatika is more focused on reviews and, increasingly, original writing.
ST: If Dogmatika encourages one person to buy a book by a lesser-known writer, it’s been worthwhile. Dogmatika will continue for as long as I get a kick from it. Like most other litzines the site makes absolutely no money, it’s driven by a love of literature and I hope that comes across. My own personal taste is pretty eclectic, and if my tastes match with someone else’s, that’s great. Turning people on to good writing is all I can wish for. We’re not all Dave Eggers. If Dogmatika had a pile of money and a swarm of interns, it could do a swell job, too.
3:AM: How important is the blog?
ST: I’d rate it a little higher than a carrier pigeon … just, though one post resulted in Max Barry changing a book cover. It’s important and it’s not. No blog entry is of any importance in and of itself. However, it does fulfil a function insofar as people now routinely expect fresh writing daily. For me, the blog is important because it allows me to mull over ideas in a half-formed state which I can later return to. Anyone can have a blog, not everyone should.
3:AM: How on earth do you find all those great links (as well as the time to find them)?
ST: At the start there were a couple of contributors to the site, but they’ve either lost interest or fucked-off to paying jobs, so the links are literally a digital trail of where I’ve been on a particular day. I get occasional tips from readers, but I spend about an hour or so a day reading other sites and I’ll always scope out writers I’m into, see what they’re up to. I’m not keen on a blanket-coverage of all the literature news; Dogmatika is more your smoky coffee-house than your local Starbucks.
3:AM: What is your favourite interview on the site?
ST: Henry Baum. The Q&A’s are always with writers I have time for and are meant to be light-hearted in the Smash Hits ‘what colour is Tuesday?’ kind of way. From those, I’d pick Robert Newman (pictured), he’s made me look at Beyonce in a different light.
3:AM: Have you discovered and published any great new/young authors yet?
ST: More likely they’ve discovered me. Paul Kavanagh, an unpublished writer whose work I was a fan of through Thieves Jargon, has featured on the site a couple of times, as has Michael McCullough. I’d be disappointed if both these writers didn’t score a publishing deal. Nathan Tyree, David Swann, Tim Hall, Mark SaFranko, Stephen Graham Jones, Daithidh MacEochaidh and Tony O’Neill are all writers I admire and I’m blessed to feature them on Dogmatika alongside some great new writers. And I always have time for Lee Rourke.
3:AM: Do you feel part of the Irish literary scene?
ST: What Irish literary scene? I think that’s a rather grandiose term for a bunch of isolated individuals writing novels. Used to be most artists and writers couldn’t wait to get the hell off this island; now there’s this tax break that’s brought the likes of David Mitchell, Irvine Welsh, DBC Pierre, Michel Houellebecq and Alan Warner to these shores — all good writers in their own respect, but I’ve yet to see what they’ve contributed to the ‘literary scene’ in Ireland.
If you mean the ‘blog scene’, well, Ireland is probably too small for that. There are literary happenings in Ireland, some decent festivals and that, and a couple of groups forging a way forward — the Belfast Poets, The Vacuum, The Enthusiast, Knights of the Round Table, Dead Drunk Dublin, The Stinging Fly — but Dogmatika is not part of that.
3:AM: You seem to be very fond of the Beat Generation …
ST: Guilty. I admire them a lot. Like it or not, the Beats were a huge influence on modern literature. I like the idea of a gang of writers. For all the literature by and on them, there’s still something magical about the Beats. I was seduced at a young age. Like most teenage readers, I finished On the Road and thought: THIS is IT. I saw Allen Ginsberg read in Belfast in the early nineties. Rumour has it his fee was a tweed suit and a visit to Yeats‘ grave.
ST: Right now it’s Dan Rhodes, but I’m as fickle as the next person. There are very few writers whose entire works I’ve enjoyed completely. With the exception of Dan Fante and J. Robert Lennon, and maybe Richard Brautigan, most writers have a few duds. And I won’t accept that Rhodes‘ Little White Car was crap — it’s got everything his other books have, in spades. His writing is devastating.
3:AM: Who are your favourite publishers?
ST: Let’s be clear here, I’m not anyone’s bitch. That said, I like Faber and Faber — there’s some excellent writers on their roster, and a couple of recent releases I’ve enjoyed are The Giro Playboy, The Motel Life and Ludmila’s Broken English. I liked Tonto Press‘ recent anthology of short stories. Wrecking Ball Press is always interesting, as is Akashic Books. Kudos to Daithidh MacEochaidh’s Skrev Press, especially his Texts’ Bones series. I came across Cloverfield Press while researching Henry Baum and they produce beautiful, beautiful books. Metronome‘s paperback series has been excellent so far and I’ll always have a soft spot for City Lights, Marion Boyars, Henry Rollins’ 2.13.61 and Soft Skull Press.
3:AM: What are your favourite litblogs/litzines, apart from your own?
ST: The usual suspects: Maud Newton, Bookslut, Scarecrow, Bookmunch, Laura Hird and 3:AM Magazine. There’s some litblogs that perplex me, I mean, John Banville over Steve Almond? Syntax of Things has excellent posts on the Beats, I’ve been reading That Girl Who Writes Stuff, Onepotmeal and Yankee Pot Roast a lot recently and I rate Under the Bunker, Meat Mag and Thieves Jargon pretty highly — respect to Thieves Jargon editor Matt DiGangi who does it weekly. I know it’s not a litblog, but Drawn! always cheers me up.
ABOUT THE INTERVIEWEE:
Susan Tomaselli lives in Ireland, and edits the inimitable Dogmatika.
ABOUT THE INTERVIEWER:
Andrew Gallix is 3:AM Magazine‘s Editor-in-Chief. He writes fiction, teaches at the Sorbonne in Paris and lives his life like a string of beads tossed from a frilly balcony.
First published in 3:AM Magazine: Friday, June 23rd, 2006.