|LJ interview with Lord Whimsy
||[Sep. 15th, 2006|11:00 am]
Illustration by silenceinspades
Perhaps one of the better dressed livejournal personalities, Lord Breaulove Swells Whimsy has collected several of his delightful essays and managed to have them published, courtsey of Bloomsbury. The satorial sage was kind enough to answer a few questions about his beautiful green tome, and take off his hat for some serious discussion about life and writing.
1) Are you your nomme-de-plume? Meaning, does the pseudonym, Lord Whimsy, help you conjure your dandy voice? If not, why do you use a pseudonym?
At the risk of sounding entirely too metaphysical (oops, too late), "Whimsy" is a face that is often taken for a mask. I don't really make much of a distinction between myself and my nom de plume, since I've grown into the name. "Persona" or "alter ego" are far too heavy-handed terms to apply anymore. Simply put, I'm hiding in plain sight, pretending to be what I really am, putting people on and revealing a great deal of myself at the same time. I think masks often reveal more than faces ever can, because the masks openly declare to others what we love, and what we yearn to become. As I've said before elsewhere: there’s a difference between self-embellishment and the outright misrepresentation of oneself. I am exactly what I've always wanted to be.
On a more practical level, being Whimsy also affords me both personal and artistic license, as a nom de plume or a stage name suggests to others an invitation to play. I grew weary of constantly explaining my habits and proclivities to others, so I simply started replying, "I'm Whimsy." Now I can wear my ridiculous shoes and ride my highwheel in relative peace, since others have stopped asking "Who are you supposed to be?" and now simply say, "Oh, that's just Whimsy."
2) How did you get started in writing? How did you feel about the various processes? How long did it take to get Affected Provincial on the road?
The book is based on the life I actually live out here in the Pine Barrens—I spend a lot of time raising moths, growing carnivorous plants, photographing orchids. I suppose my home is a sort of naturalist/aesthete outpost.
The writings started out as an exercise, a private game for my own amusement and that of my friends. Many of the chapters in the book started out as articles for the now-defunct Philadelphia Independent, a short-lived but widely praised independent newspaper that took many of its editorial and visual cues from nineteenth-century broadsheets.. The articles started to gather a following, and I was soon given my own page each issue. The more of my own interests and attitudes I incorporated into the charts and essays, the more I was compelled to regard it as a larger work, until it eventually took on its own momentum.
After the Independent closed its doors (Matt Schwartz, the editor, wanted to move on to other projects), I amassed the articles together into a self-published paperback 120-page pamphlet entitled The Affected Provincial's Almaanack, modeled loosely after Poor Richard's. The interest in the book surprised me—I was receiving orders from all over North America, as well as from Australia, Japan and Europe.
This attention from both readers and the media encouraged me to test the waters of the publishing world. In March of 2005 I sent a packet to a single New York literary agent that I had found quite by chance one evening: Peter Steinberg at Regal Literary. Both he and the agency had an impressive background, so I sent a ten-page sample of the book to his attention. Two days later, I received a phone call from Peter, asking if I could visit their office and discuss representation. To make a long story short, I had an agency and book deal offers within a week of mailing that one packet. In two weeks I had a half dozen publishers expressing interest.
3) Could you tell us more about the self-published version of Affected Provincial, Vol. 1? Was it very different?
Not much to tell, really. The Almanack was more of a personal project—a collection of essays and articles, rather than a truly cohesive book. The Companion is the fully realized form: the original chapters have all been re-edited and worked over meticulously, and over fifty pages of material were added, weighing in at 176 pages.
4) It seems you got complete artistic control of your Bloomsbury edition. Did you have to fight very hard to maintain design control? If so, what were the battles?
I suspect that in part because I presented to them a book in a relatively final form—fully designed and illustrated—my editors at Bloomsbury didn't wish to interfere too much with what I was doing, since my specific vision of the book was already worked out well in advance. They were very hands-off, only suggesting the smallest grammatical minutiae.
The only real concessions were to change the title to "Companion" (Schott's Almanack, another Bloomsbury title, was already well underway), and to forego the satin ribbon, which would have increased the retail price considerably. The foil stamping and all the other design flourishes were necessary to the book's overall conceit, and were made feasible because they didn't have to pay anyone to design the book, since I was designing the entire thing and supplying final files to the production dept. The deal was that I make the book, and they'll produce, promote and distribute. It's more like partnership rather than patronage.
5) What is the secret to your sucess as a writer or, merely, as being a happy human being?
I follow Franklin's example: Curiosity, Industry, Modesty, and Decency.
6) How hard was it for you to carve out your unique life? You say that in a way Dandies are ascetic, what are you having to give up of the modern world to live a life of beauty?
To me, the essence of modernity is that it is infinitely negotiable: it is whatever we say it is. In that sense, I am a very modern person.
I live very modestly, so that I am able to live a freely as possible, and pick and choose my extravagances, rather than assume the extravagances others feel I should pursue (huge cars, house, a wasteful lifestyle). I live in a former army barracks out in a rural area so that I can live as graciously as I possibly can, surrounded by gardens and other living things. I suppose I took Candide too much to heart.
7)It seems you weild your pen without trepidation, casting monosyllables over board to skim out into polysyllabic poetry--Do you worry about this alienating readers?
No—I did it to entertain myself, and readers seem to enjoy it, too. I never bought into the idea that art had to be some linear progression—and being self-taught, I was never indoctrinated into any way other than my own, so no one was around to tell me I couldn't employ what some might consider "archaic" flourishes—but they don't feel archaic to me. They feel fresh. So I go on, happily committing my literary heresies.
8)Sort of supplimentary to the above question. To me, there are two types of writers: those that write down to their readers and those that write up, lifting their readers up. You seem to be the later, have you gotten much criticism on your "higher" brow style and language.
Thank you. I guess in that sense, I am a classicist in that I assume everyone in the room is smart and cultured enough to be clued in on what I'm doing. I don't care for the romantic practice of dumbing down, appealing solely to people's baser appetites.
I don't really get a lot of naysayers outside of a few weird dandy-obsessives, who seem more fixated on me as a person than anything I might write. They tend to publicly rationalize their obvious bitterness by couching it in dismissive language, posting half-truths and deeply biased characterizations of me without having ever asked me a single question (they tend to get my given name wrong, so do the math). I have long since stopped reading whatever they post, because I find being associated with grown men who display such petty childishness embarrassing, and I'm not interested enough to find out what exactly is wrong with them. It's rather sad—they must be very unhappy people.
9)Why should people who have never heard of Beau Bremmel, or gasp, Oscar Wilde, bother to read your book?
Of course, the more you know about the subject matter, the richer the reading experience is likely to be—but I don't think you need to know everything about Brummell or Wilde to get something out of the book (there's more to the book than dandyism, anyway). I've tried to write it so that it can be read on a layman's level, or an enthusiast's. You can take it at face value, dig a little deeper or completely misread it, if you like. Could lead to something interesting, eh?
10) Is Volume 2 in the works? If so, what can be expected and when is it scheduled for publication?
Too early to say. I'm just writing, and waiting to see what patterns emerge. Could be a book on gardening, for all I know.